Monday, December 31, 2012
Star Wars: Episode VII... Just thought I'd end 2012 by posting an entry about who would be interesting to see in the 2015 installment of the Star Wars saga. Even though it has been mentioned since Disney first acquired the iconic science-fantasy franchise from George Lucas last fall that the stories featured in the novels, comic books and even video games (a.k.a. the Expanded Universe) wouldn't play any type of role in the upcoming sequel trilogy, it would be cool if one particular character—the Dark Lady of the Sith known as Lumiya—appeared in the movies. A Force-sensitive human female whose original name is Shira Brie, Lumiya would look pretty intimidating (if portrayed properly on the big screen) taking on Luke Skywalker and whoever the next Jedi Knights will be in Episodes VII, VIII and/or IX. Seeing Lumiya duel with Jedi using her lightwhip (though I'm pondering if it would look cooler if the whip shot out of the lighwhip hilt like blades do on lightsabers, or if her whip should just be engulfed in a beam of light like the weapons used by Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2) would be just as much a kick-ass sight as watching Darth Maul weld his double-bladed lightsaber against Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace. Of course, I should temper my enthusiasm about all this...and cross my fingers that Episode VII screenwriter Michael Arndt has a totally amazing villain in mind for the film.
In terms of who I would like to see playing Lumiya, I think that Jessica Chastain (of this year's Lawless and Zero Dark Thirty, and next month's horror flick Mama) would be great in this role. In Lawless, she did a convincing job seducing Tom Hardy as a former Chicago showgirl (which would be effective if there were scenes of Lumiya trying to seduce a Jedi Knight or Padawan into joining the Dark Side of the Force in Episode VII), and was totally awesome playing a brooding but determined CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty. Even if Lumiya doesn't show up in the sequel trilogy (which is very likely), Chastain should still be offered a role in the new Star Wars flicks (with her hopefully saying yes). Preferably as a villainous Force User just like the classic character who I've devoted today's blog to. That is all.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Django Unchained... "The D is silent, hillbilly." So are the words of Jamie Foxx's slave-turned-bounty hunter before he offs a plantation owner's hired goon in Quentin Tarantino's new Western action drama. I saw the flick yesterday, and needless to say, Django Unchained is totally bad-ass. Much like how Johnny Depp appears in almost every Tim Burton (and Gore Verbinski) film and Leonardo DiCaprio shows up in the majority of Martin Scorsese's movies, I expect Christoph Waltz to have a role in Tarantino's next project or two. Which would be justified. Waltz did just as great a job playing a dentist-turned-bounty hunter (who liberates Django from captivity) in Unchained as he did portraying a charismatic but ultimately sadistic Nazi colonel in Tarantino's 2009 Oscar-nominated flick, Inglourious Basterds. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see Waltz get a Best Supporting Actor nomination next month for his role as Dr. King Schultz in Unchained. Whether or not he'll win it just like he took home the Oscar for his performance as Hans Landa in Basterds remains to be seen. And the same goes with Jamie Foxx...who is just as intense playing Django as he was portraying a Los Angeles cab driver trying to put a stop to a hit man's killing spree in the 2004 flick, Collateral (which Foxx won an Oscar for).
In terms of the other terrific actors in Django Unchained, Leonardo DiCaprio did a commendable job playing plantation owner Calvin Candie in the movie. It's clearly obvious that DiCaprio is very diligent in trying to win that coveted Academy Award...what with Candie going from a carefree um, slavemaster when Django and Dr. Schultz first meet face-to-face with him—to Candie literally being on the verge of shattering someone's skull with a hammer once he finds out that he was betrayed. Samuel L. Jackson, who played it calm and cool as Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels and Nick Fury in Marvel flicks such as The Avengers (and even as Jules Winnfield in Tarantino's 1994 classic, Pulp Fiction), was haggard but conniving as Candie's right-hand man Stephen in Unchained. We also get humorous cameos by Don Johnson as fellow plantation owner Big Daddy, and Jonah Hill playing one of his hooded lackies who try futilely to eliminate Django and Schultz after the two leave quite a mess at Big Daddy's plantation. (Oh, and it's about time you appeared in another Oscar-caliber flick besides Moneyball, Jonah.) And last, but definitely not least is the lovely Kerry Washington...who switched from being a former White House press aide in the ABC TV show Scandal to Django's beautiful but much-abused wife Broomhilda in Unchained. Not to spoil the ending of the film for y'all, but it's understandable why Django would kick ass before taking names after seeing how Broomhilda is mistreated at the hands of Candie and other slavemasters. That's why Dr. Schultz should get props for getting Django unchained.
All-in-all, Django Unchained is a nicely-done flick. From the gory violence and vulgar but humorous dialogue (even though the movie has gotten some criticism over the constant use of the "N" word) to the operatic opening song and constant hip-hop beats, Unchained has Tarantino written all over it. Which is a good thing. The movie also has amazing cinematography...especially during the montage where Django and Schultz are riding through snow-capped mountains and other Western terrain collecting bounty as they wait for winter to end. (I think most of these locales were shot in Montana. Just sayin'.) Django Unchained, just like Inglourious Basterds, is a feel-good flick in that Tarantino uses painful moments in history to show the bad guys getting their asses handed to them by people who they put down and persecuted in real life. Whether it's Hitler being gunned down by a Jewish hit squad inside a locked movie theater in Basterds, or Django using a slave owner's whip against him in Unchained, it's a thrill to see dark chapters in world and U.S. history get upbeat but (still) bloody twists to them. With clever Tarantino dialogue to boot. Happy holidays, everyone!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Zero Dark Thirty: Movie Review... First of all, Merry Christmas everyone! Just thought I'd finally post my review of Kathryn Bigelow's latest action thriller...which I watched at ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood last Friday. Just as a recap that I'm sure 99% of you don't need (otherwise you wouldn't have visited my webpage in the first place), Zero Dark Thirty revolves around the decade-long manhunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that culminated in his death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs more than a year ago. Controversy has recently arisen around the torture scenes that are prominently featured in Bigelow's new flick, voiced primarily by folks in Washington and those who actually work in Langley, Virginia (at CIA Headquarters). Hubbub aside, Zero Dark Thirty is an intense film—showing the frustration and ultimately vindication that folks looking for bin Laden felt when the code word for his death was finally radioed from bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan on the night of May 1, 2011: "Geronimo."
Zero Dark Thirty revolves around a real-life CIA operative who in this film goes by the name of Maya. Determinedly portrayed by Jessica Chastain (who I last saw in this September's gangster drama, Lawless), Maya originally begins this flick standing on the sideline as Dan, another operative played by Jason Clarke, is the one responsible for "questioning" detainees held at a CIA black site in Pakistan. Maya apparently has no qualms about the use of waterboarding, dog leashes and other methods that Dan utilizes to get information about bin Laden from this detainee...whose name in this movie is Ammar (played by Reda Kateb). Despite all the brutal and degrading situations that Dan puts him through, Ammar is resilient in not divulging any crucial info about bin Laden or even the next terrorist attack being planned. In fact, the attack goes as expected; with dozens of people killed in a housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia in May of 2004. It is after this massacre that Maya devises a scheme: to lie to Ammar and let him know that the names that he revealed (which he didn't actually do) during his interrogation resulted in numerous lives being saved at Khobar. Ammar had been sleep-deprived for 96 hours, and adding in the fact that he had no contact with the outside world whatsoever allowed Maya and Dan to fool Ammar into thinking that he began to cooperate with them over the course of his captivity. It was through Maya's tactic that the name of the courier, Abu Ahmed—who would ultimately lead to bin Laden's location—was revealed.
The remainder of the film before SEAL Team 6's raid in Abbottabad is about Maya and her CIA team pursuing every lead for the courier's whereabouts in Pakistan. Their investigation takes Maya to a CIA black site in Poland, with Dan visiting a contact (and even buying a Lamborghini for the guy to get his cooperation) in Kuwait who knows Abu Ahmed's mother. (The courier was Kuwaiti.) The search for Ahmed is not without its casualties though, with Maya's close friend Jessica (Jennifer Ehle) being one of the victims of a suicide bombing at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan on December 30, 2009. With other CIA colleagues having to withdraw from Pakistan due to outrage over civilian deaths caused by unmanned drone strikes (one colleague who was expelled being Joseph Bradley, played by Kyle Chandler), Maya slowly realizes that she is the only one left to continue the search for the courier and ultimately, his boss who was the mastermind for the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Zero Dark Thirty starts to get really intense once Maya and her colleagues finally locate the courier and his/bin Laden's home in Pakistan. The set crew who built a replica of bin Laden's compound (in the country of Jordan, where much of the flick was shot) for the film did a tremendous job making the fortress-like lair look exactly like the one that was featured on almost every newspaper and news website in the days following May 1, 2011. What makes Zero Dark Thirty really interesting is how Kathryn Bigelow and her crew visualize how the lair would look on the inside, and ultimately, how SEAL Team 6 would penetrate the fortress to get to the room bin Laden was hiding in. In terms of SEAL Team 6, I find it interesting that Zero Dark Thirty purports that the stealth helicopters the DEVGRU (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group...another name for SEAL Team 6) operators flew to Abbottabad in were secretly stored at Area 51 in Nevada. Hey, Bigelow had to find some kind of explanation about where these choppers were before coming into use for the bin Laden raid. Speaking of the bin Laden raid...
For me, the highlight of Zero Dark Thirty is when Maya finally meets the Navy SEALs who would complete the job that Maya had feverishly been working on since 2003. We get to know two of the DEVGRU operators (even though everything about them in this film is fictional), Patrick (Joel Edgerton) and Justin (Chris Pratt). Since we know that SEAL Team 6 didn't incur any casualties during the raid on bin Laden's compound, we shouldn't be surprised that Bigelow portrayed these soldiers as extremely confident and efficient (which I'm sure they are in real-life) on the big screen. When these SEALs finally don their armor and strap on their weapons, and lift off in the two stealth choppers with Maya watching from the ground, that's when we finally prepare to see bin Laden's fate conveyed on screen.
I don't know about the rest of the audience whom I saw the movie with last Friday, but I felt chills as the two choppers carrying SEAL Team 6 quietly made their way through mountainous terrain as they headed to bin Laden's compound. To watch as the choppers arrive at the lair, with the DEVGRU operators lowering their night vision goggles before extracting from the helicopters, was awesome. For folks who enjoy war movies, it is never too tiring to see soldiers head off into combat...whether it is in Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Bigelow's previous film The Hurt Locker, or this one. Knowing what transpired in the bin Laden raid from reading dozens of articles in newspapers and online, I couldn't help but be transfixed by how Bigelow dramatized the major events of 5/1/11 on the big screen...from one of the stealth choppers making a hard landing near the compound (due to rotor wash caused by flying too close to a wall), to how the DEVGRU operators eliminate the courier and then locating a vast cache of computer hard drives, CDs and other valuable sources of intel inside the main home. But ultimately, the biggest moment that brought chills down my spine (I'm exaggerating—kinda) is when SEAL Team 6 finally confronts "the third floor guy" and finishes him off.
A very nice touch in Zero Dark Thirty is the fact that we never fully see bin Laden's face before or after he meets his fate at the hands of U.S. special ops soldiers. Bin Laden was a phantom when Dan and Maya interrogated Ammar for his whereabouts at the beginning of the film, and bin Laden is still a phantom even as Maya stares down at his lifeless body when SEAL Team 6 returned to Afghanistan with it. In the final shot of Zero Dark Thirty, Maya expresses an emotion that she had no doubt been suppressing since 2003...and most likely before that. Two years before that, to be exact. Even if the majority of scenes in Zero Dark Thirty—especially the ones featuring so-called enhanced interrogation techniques—are exaggerated or flat-out fictional, the movie is still true in that the search for the man who caused the deaths of almost 3,000 Americans more than eleven years ago was a long and painful one. And seeing it come to an end finally allowed the people responsible for conducting this dogged but ultimately fruitful investigation to release their emotions. One word for why Kathryn Bigelow and other storytellers continue to deal with the topic of 9/11: catharsis. That is all.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
2012... Now that December 21 has came and went, Roland Emmerich's 2009 flick about this year's supposed apocalypse is both ridiculous AND dated. Sure, there are still 9 days left in 2012, but will we really see anything resembling a deluge of water engulfing the entire Himalayas within the next week or so? Probably not. Maybe another tidal wave striking an island country in southeast Asia (a bit much?), but that's about it. Don't worry, Mr. Emmerich... I'm still a big fan of Independence Day, though. Still bummed that it won't be re-released in 3-D next year.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Movie Review... Earlier today, I watched the IMAX 3-D version of the first installment in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy. In terms of the movie itself, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is well-made. In terms of the 48-frames-per-second (a.k.a. High Frame Rate, or HFR) format that I watched the film in, however, it was APPALLING. While I eventually grew used to jerky movements and extreme sharpness as the flick went on, the HFR presentation of The Hobbit increased my disdain for Blu-ray and other digital gimmicks that defeat the purpose of why movies are shot on film stock in the first place (which is why the majority of upcoming flicks are now being shot by digital cameras... Thankyouverymuch, George Lucas and company). Yes, I am a film purist. One of my friends whom I saw The Hobbit with got extremely defensive about HFR when I criticized it after the movie ended. He pointed out how it's a "new art form," and if you're a gamer like he is (my friend supposedly spent around two thousand dollars fixing up his computer so he could play StarCraft on it last year), you'd appreciate the video game quality of The Hobbit in HFR. Um— NO! Just because HFR is a new art form doesn't mean that it's a good art form. I'm sure the vandals who spray graffiti on freeway overpasses in the middle of the night consider their work an art form as well. And if I wanted to see a video game, I'D PLAY a video game... I have no intention of seeing quick and unnatural movements by characters outside of cut-scenes for Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed or HALO. Anyways... Onto reviewing the movie itself.
If you saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then you shouldn't be surprised with how The Hobbit turned out: Long running time, awesome helicopter shots of characters live-action and whatnot running across picturesque New Zealand terrain, the aforementioned characters breaking out in random chants and stuff, and numerous epic battle scenes throughout the flick. Unlike the first three films, however, The Hobbit has much more humor in it. Which is welcomed. An Unexpected Journey's lighthearted tone is not a surprise considering the fact that the only thing at stake with this installment and the next two movies is the young Bilbo Baggins (respectably played by Martin Freeman) successfully helping Thorin (Richard Armitage) and his fellow dwarves take their hometown of Erebor back from a dragon named Smaug (who is not fully seen in this film, not unexpectedly). The current danger to Middle-earth is so low in An Unexpected Journey that Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) has time to bicker with Thorin over seeking help from the Elves of Rivendell (who Thorin and his people despise for not coming to the dwarves' aid when Smaug arrived at their village on Lonely Mountain to wreak havoc years prior), and taking a roll call of the thirteen (or is it twelve... Not counting Thorin) dwarves helping Gandalf, Bilbo and Thorin reclaim Erebor once more.
The main highlight of The Hobbit is Bilbo's scenes with Gollum. Andy Serkis once again does an excellent job providing the movement (even in the crappy HFR format) and voice of the One Ring-obsessed denizen. Just like in The Two Towers, Gollum's schizophrenic persona is wonderfully conveyed as he decides whether he should help Bilbo find his way out of the cave that the two are mingling in, or just eat the little Hobbit. Yea, you heard me. Eat. When Bilbo does find his way out of the cave (which he was able to do as he escaped from Gollum after the creature-formerly-known-as-Sméagol discovers that the One Ring was stolen from him), it is at the expense of incurring Gollum's wrath...which Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) would unfortunately face when the two meet decades later in The Two Towers.
I've never read The Hobbit, but I've heard that Peter Jackson added a lot more elements from The Lord of the Rings to the story about Bilbo Baggins than what was originally written by J. R. R. Tolkien. The giant eagles that save Gandalf, Bilbo and the dwarves from Azog, the Orc Chieftain—for example—were supposedly not in The Hobbit. Ironically, just like at the climax of The Return of the King, the eagles coming to the rescue of our heroes pose a problem in terms of story logic. In The Lord of the Rings, why didn't Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring just use these giant creatures to fly all the way to Mordor? Instead of waging countless of battles that cost the lives of thousands of folks across Middle-earth, Frodo and company could've just flew over Mt. Doom and drop the One Ring into the mouth of the volcano and boom, problem solved. In An Unexpected Journey, why didn't Gandalf have the giant raptors take him, Bilbo and the dwarves all the way to Lonely Mountain...instead of landing on some hill dozens of miles away so the group could reminisce about the good ol' days at Lonely Mountain from afar? You probably didn't think that story point through, Mr. Jackson. In terms of other elements from The Lord of the Rings that were incorporated into The Hobbit, I was also going to mention the Necromancer [the shadowy figure who lunges at the wizard known as Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) in that dilapidated fortress]...but upon doing research online, it turns out that the Necromancer is actually Sauron, the Dark Lord, in spirit form. Pretty cool.
Nine years after the release of The Return of the King, it is cool to see Hugo Weaving reprise his role as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Ian Holm as the old Bilbo Baggins and of course, Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. It is interesting to watch Saruman confer with Gandalf as an actual friend, and not a traitor that he would become when Sauron enters the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring. To bring up the Star Wars prequels, this is akin to seeing Ian McDiarmid portray Senator Palpatine as a merely-ambitious politician in The Phantom Menace before he starts to become a galactic, lightning-shooting tyrant in Revenge of the Sith. Don't know if we'll see Saruman again in the next two Hobbit films, but it'll be awesome if this treacherous wizard shows up once more before this trilogy comes to an end. On another note, it's cool that Howard Shore returned to compose the music score for The Hobbit. Don't know why he wouldn't, though. Then again, Danny Elfman ended up not doing the score for Spider-Man 3 even though he worked on Sam Raimi's first two Spidey flicks, so things are never guaranteed.
All-in-all, The Hobbit is a good film. I have NO intention of watching any other movie in 48 frames per second on the big screen after the debacle presented by An Unexpected Journey, but I'd still watch this flick again...this time in the normal, 24-frames-per-second format. The 3-D aspect of The Hobbit was cool, though. My friend (yes, the same one who wants to see films become more like multiplayer games on Playstation 3 and Xbox) pointed out that the artist who worked on The Hobbit's storyboards actually drew them in 3-D, to make it easier for Peter Jackson to previsualize scenes before production started. Needless to say, this effort paid off well on the big screen. So in regards to bringing the majesty of The Lord of the Rings back to cinemas everywhere, Jackson succeeded—for the most part, that is. In terms of revolutionizing digital projection at the movie theaters the same way Lucas um, tried to do with Attack of the Clones in 2002, I say: Better luck next time. Or just give it up altogether. HFR blows... But welcome back to Middle-earth, folks!
Friday, December 14, 2012
Zero Dark Thirty... Check out the final theatrical trailer for Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming film about the successful manhunt that led to Osama bin Laden's death last year. Zero Dark Thirty will be released in limited engagement on December 19, and come out in theaters nationwide this January 11. Considering the fact that I rooted for The Hurt Locker to win the Academy Award for Best Picture back in 2010, I'm totally looking forward to seeing Bigelow's new flick over the holidays.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Man of Steel... Check out the newest trailer for next summer's highly-anticipated Superman film. Just a few observations about Man of Steel: Kal-El's real and surrogate fathers also played Robin Hood on the big screen (Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott's 2010 update, Robin Hood), and the music in this trailer—if it is actually from the orchestral score for Man of Steel—sounds very similar to that composed by Hans Zimmer for Gladiator (which Russell Crowe won an Oscar for in 2001). Not a surprise considering Zimmer will also be doing the music for the Zack Snyder-directed/Christopher Nolan-produced superhero movie.
Man of Steel gets released in theaters nationwide on June 14, 2013.
Friday, December 7, 2012
The Dark Knight on Display... Check out these photos that I took when I visited an exhibit showcasing the costumes, props, and vehicles of The Dark Knight Trilogy at L.A. Live (where STAPLES Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center are located) earlier today. The exhibit began on November 30th, and will be in downtown Los Angeles' premiere entertainment complex—free of charge—through next Friday, December 14 (from 12 PM to 9 PM). Check it out now!
L.A. Live address: 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015
LINK: Click here to view more photos I took at The Dark Knight Legend Exhibit at L.A. Live
Monday, December 3, 2012
Star Trek Into Darkness... Check out the new teaser poster for next summer's highly-anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2009 hit film. Judging from the title, methinks that Star Trek Into Darkness will be The Empire Strikes Back (or The Dark Knight) of this new Star Trek series. I'm cool with that.
Star Trek Into Darkness gets released in theaters nationwide on May 17, 2013.
Star Trek Into Darkness gets released in theaters nationwide on May 17, 2013.