I’m at the point where I can pretty much take or leave 3D. As a techie, I want to embrace any technology that’ll expand the cinemagoing experience, but even I have to concede that most of the time 3D is employed as little more than an add-on, just a way to charge extra for stuff that’d be the same with or without depth (visual, that is. We’ll save a discussion of dramatic depth for another day).
Which is why I’m usually jazzed to check out the latest release from DreamWorks Animation. More often than not, those folk go the extra distance with 3D, using it to enhance both the visual canvas and the dramatic impact of their films. That was definitely the case with the original HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, the 2010 fantasy adventure where the third dimension became an active player in an already entertaining and visually stunning film.
So, yeah, there I was at my local multiplex, shelling out the extra bucks for my 3D experience with the new HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Did this new adventure — in which the young, Viking dragon-rider Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) faces down a powerful warlord (Djimon Hounsou) and has a family reunion with his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) — pay back my investment? In a way, yes; in a way… welllll… Check out my HOUR OF THE WOLF review for the details. Click on the player to listen.
Well, this is a ticklish situation. I went into EDGE OF TOMORROW a little nervous, knowing this much about it: that Tom Cruise played a soldier who, by some trick of the time-space continuum, was reliving over and over his death during a disastrous attack on an alien invasion force. Sounded intriguing, no question. But it also smacked, in general conception if not plot specifics, uncomfortably of last year’s OBLIVION, where Tom Cruise played a survivor of an alien invasion who was also confronted with the mystery behind his own existence. What was doubly dismaying was that I could conceive of a possible explanation for EDGE’s protagonist that would parallel a major revelation in OBLIVION. If that was the case, it’d be game over for me. I liked OBLIVION just fine, but there was no need to revisit it.
A lot of people may have been thinking the same way — not too long before EDGE’s release, the good folks over at Warner Bros. altered their ad campaign, filling in a bit more about what Cruise’s character was going through. That put me more at ease, but I was still concerned that, like Cruise’s soldier, we’d be reliving the same day over again.
Here’s the good news: EDGE OF TOMORROW is not OBLIVION redux. But here’s the conundrum: As a result, the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction. I explore the problem in my latest review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click on the player to hear the segment.
The speaker of the Louisiana State Senate. An agoraphobic starfish. Two copies of Playboy with their centerfolds torn out. These are probably the only things actor Doug Jones hasn’t been in his variegated career. In makeup and out, whether playing an amphibious scholar, a benevolent alien, or a mute, demonic organ harvester, Jones has managed to create roles that have been at once vivid, evocative, and memorable.
It happens to be a good time for Jones. Not only was there the recent video release of the ultra-violent grindhouse action film, RAZE — in which Jones plays the entitled overseer of an all-female death-match — but the complete third season disc set of FALLING SKIES, where Jones is the alien ambassador Cochise, has just come out, and now Jones appears as a wandering (and canny) minstrel in the dizzyingly eclectic post-apocalyptic/ROAD WARRIOResque/alien invasion/western, DUST OF WAR, which just became available on VOD. We’re thrilled to be able to talk with Doug Jones about all of this, and more, as we kick off our second season of THE CFQ INTERVIEW. Click on the player to hear the show.
Time is, time was, time’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. There were clearly commercial reasons why the latest chapter in the X-MEN franchise had to be a time travel tale: Having previously flubbed the introduction of a new, younger Professor X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the producers clearly wanted to recover a bit of the franchise’s mojo by bringing back the old band — namely Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen under the direction of Bryan Singer (plus Hugh Jackman) — while also trying to finesse the audience into a better appreciation for their replacements. The side benefit is that the time period decided upon for this film has interesting significance for the themes explored in the X-MEN universe. After my quick review of the surprisingly decent MALEFICENT, I turn my attention to what Singer has wrought. Click on the player to hear the review.
Turns out maintaining a presence in the social network only makes life more complex for a film critic. I had to delay my viewing of GODZILLA ’til Sunday, meantime trying to avoid the various hosannas and the occasional nay-say (not to mention Steve Biodrowski’s own in-depth analysis) being splattered all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. An impossible task, actually, and I went into the theater a little anxious over whether what little feedback had filtered through to me was somehow going to skew my reaction, for good or ill.
Happily, I was well pleased with GODZILLA. Not staggered, no, but grateful that director Gareth Edwards managed to pay homage to the history of the franchise while adding some crucial elements to the exercise, elements that I explore in my review for WBAI 99.5FM’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click the player to hear what I had to say.
I for one welcome our crustacean overlords.
Even if you’ve never seen ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, you probably still know it by heart. It is the perfect model of the drive-in B-movie, a sublime mix of papier-mache creatures, suggestive sexuality, and dodgy science, with just a bit of cold-war philosophy thrown in for tang. This is one of Roger Corman’s earliest films, and despite the bare-bones budget and having the ever-pressing theme of identity loss being delivered via the medium of giant, telepathic crabs with big, googly eyes, the master of the B’s makes the experience sixty minutes of pure hoot.
The Temple of Bad team of Andrea Lipinski, Kevin Lauderdale, Orenthal Hawkins, and Dan Persons welcome their special guest, Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, to giggle along at the silliness, praise the kind of good-bad film that’s all too rare but always welcome, and make far too many references to drawn butter. Click on the player to hear the show.
Okay, put away THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. That film has already caused so much pain (mostly from brain-strain as one struggles to figure out how such a major project could go so wrong), that it doesn’t really deserve any more consideration. Let’s focus instead on something more worthy of attention: a dystopic, Kafkaesque comedy called THE DOUBLE, based on a novella by Dostoevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg as a mousy little bureaucrat who finds his life upended when his job hires a charismatic and morally-challenged new employee who looks exactly like him. The film is directed by Richard Ayoade — known for his involvement with THE IT CROWD and GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE — and he uses his facility with unhinged humor to good effect in this sardonic glimpse into one man’s crisis of identity. Click on the player to hear the show.
To be perfectly blunt about it, big studio blockbuster releases typically don’t fail as spectacularly as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Oh they can be bad, but a comforting buffer of test screenings, focus groups, top-level executive intervention, and directorial and editorial wisdom tend to at least modulate them into some form of narrative coherence. Watching them isn’t akin to witnessing a trained chimpanzee trying to explain quantum physics.
Between the two super-villains, the romantic troubles between conflicted super-hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his ambitious girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the ongoing corporate espionage/missing parents story-arc, a new will-Spidey-share-his-blood-for-a-dangerous-but-possibly-lifesaving-procedure subplot, the ever-present exploration of the with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility theme (featuring a guest appearance by Denis Leary as Dolefully Glowering Ghost), Paul Giamatti in a tragically wasted role, and somewhere on the order of 23 discreet endings, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is one astoundingly awful mess. This is BATMAN AND ROBIN-grade disaster, so stunningly bad that the Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get a little giddy trying to suss out what went wrong. Click on the player to hear the show.
So because of Hour of the Wolf’s pre-emption last week, my review of TRANSCENDENCE, the science fiction romantic thriller in which Johnny Depp’s consciousness is loosed on the Web and a number of people — including Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy — fret about what that means for the fate of humankind (hint: How do you feel about nanobots everywhere?), was held for airing on this week’s show. Which is cool — I mean, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the promises of its premise, but the notion of what happens to humanity as it begins to intersect more and more with technology is so potent that I feel an examination of what director Wally Pfister did right and wrong in exploring the concept is still worthwhile. So, tardy though it may be, please enjoy this latest segment.
(Interestingly, HotWolf host Jim Freund so liked last week’s review of 23:59 — which was intended only to run on the Web — that he also included it in this week’s show. So we were actually ahead of the curve in that sense. BTW: If you tried to listen to that segment earlier this week and the player was broken, it’s now fixed. Give it a shot & enjoy!)
Click on the player to hear the review.
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A professor and his students perform experiments on a young subject, trying to prove that the paranormal experiences she claims to undergo are actually psychologically motivated. But the more they delve into the case, the more it seems that what’s going on is driven by powers not even the subconscious mind could imagine. What could these strange forces be? Sorry, can’t tell you, even if I wanted to — I unfortunately wasn’t able to see THE QUIET ONES, the newest entry out of the revived Hammer Studios, starring Jared Harris as the morally compromised scientist and Olivia Cooke as his unfortunate subject. But Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French got a look, and in this episode they’re able to clue me in on how effectively director John Pogue manages the scary stuff, whether the payoff is commensurate with build-up, and how this latest entry slots into the legacy of the legendary British horror house. Click on the player to hear the show.