Thursday, April 30, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron ★★★

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    As "Avengers: Age of Ultron" descends into theaters with no regard for one's financial stability, it only alludes to the notion that Hollywood blockbusters are still very much in demand, especially if they contain characters of superhuman capabilities and costumes that utilize the synthetic fiber of Spandex, among other aspects. Although the film hits on several key notes that were regrettably forgotten in the first installment, "Age of Ultron" does little to make that progression towards something that is more sophisticated than what it actually is: An adequate action film, with a central concern of plot and character, whose CGI is as overbearing as the picture's reign on the weekend box- office.

    After Loki's plans for world domination were derailed in the first go-round, his all powerful scepter was taken by an organization that goes by the name of Hydra, a group who does little justice to the creature of Greek mythology and whose appearance would certainly conjure the distinction of unintimidating. In an opening scene that would surely make any action picture grimace with envy, we are taken through a snow filled terrain, as our ensemble cast of characters proceed to dismantle any resistance with relative ease. The scepter is retrieved for safe keeping and the heroes retire back to their glamorous base, which also seems to double as a penthouse.

    In a plot line similar to that of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," Tony Stark, our resident egoist maniac, indulges in a scientific study of the jewel that powers this weapon, ultimately finding an intelligence that can be utilized for personal gain. (Stark has created a line of robotic beings, which he believes can be infused with this intelligence, all in an effort to provide the world with a united defense program, so that The Avengers can take a permanent leave of absence.) This backfires, however, and the group is confronted by Ultron, a personification of the foreign intellect who found refuge in the battered frame of one of Stark's creations.

    This leads to a complication of relatable proportions, as Ultron essentially adopts a Manifest Destiny approach to contemplation, as he believes that the world must be allowed to kill and expand in order to evolve. (This can also be seen as a satire of today's foreign relations, as The Avengers take on the image of the United States, with their worldwide policing intentions, and Ultron comes to reflect a short list of countries who want to rid the Earth of this obstruction--i.e., Iran and North Korea.) Our heroes must stop this irrational enemy in order to keep the peace once more.

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    If there was one facet of "The Avengers" that I heavily scrutinized, it was the lack of humanness attributed to the cast of heroes. This is not only important for basic characterization purposes, but it appeases the notion that these characters aren't immortal (outside of Thor), and that they can become vulnerable and relatable to the average joe. In essence, it recalls the virtue of courage discussion conducted by Plato, in which it becomes evident that an individual that projects himself in a life-threatening circumstance is only being courageous and brave if they are not skilled in the matter at hand. (Superpowers certainly come in handy when one is bashing skulls, and if no weakness is conveyed, then the picture not only becomes predictable, but it would relish in tediousness.) Yet, the film brilliantly executes this much-needed quality in two particular sequences, which not only gives us an insight into the man or woman behind the costume, but it gives the film a sense of authenticity.

    Nevertheless, this newest installment, in what is surely a beloved franchise, continues to falter in several areas, namely the treatment of the villain and the atmosphere. Sure, Ultron is rather menacing in appearance and promotes that distinctive witticism that all comic book villains strive to achieve, yet his formidability is completely lagging, and he essentially becomes nothing more than an extension of his henchmen, which seem to be our heroes' main focus for both films. (Can we see an Avengers picture in which the characters actually fight the central antagonist for more than a handful of minutes?) I am assuming that this Thanos character, who has been brought to our attention several times during mid-credit scenes and over several different comic book universes, will rectify this imperfection.

    As far as the ambiance is concerned, there is no doubt that Marvel caters to younger audiences with its lack of gore and the nonexistence of a comfortless mood, yet these things are direly warranted. If they ever hope to compare to the likes of Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, then these aspects must be included--not only to give the film a hint of poignancy--but to relinquish art in its most purest form; Marvel is ultimately robbing us of a key attribute of masterful filmmaking: an indulgence in human emotion, which basically stems from a dreary and unforeseeable tone.

    There is a scene in the latter portion of the film when our heroes boldly circle and defend a vital ingredient to Ultron's sinister scheme, that ultimately brings about a feeling of disappointment. As Captain America indulges in a "Matrix-esque" set of moves, the overbearance of the computer generated imagery rears its head and becomes quite laughable to a point. (This is in addition to a previous sequence littered with rescue attempts, where it is blatantly obvious that the film's events were created in front of a green screen.) When it comes to a picture of this stature, CGI becomes the ultimate paradox. Of course, it is needed in an effort to replicate the actions at hand, but if not used in moderation, it simply becomes forced and rather ludicrous. If anything, however, it is a disheartening feeling to know that the majority of a film was created by a computer.

    The financial success of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (I wholeheartedly expect the film to break the record for fastest to one billion dollars revenue worldwide, recently set by  "Furious 7") can be attributed to numerous individuals, but one group in particular stands firm and this would be the marketing and public relations team. There is no question that branding plays a major role with triumph here, and it is no coincidence that the global empire of Disney plays the role of puppet master. For, they are the quintessential branding machine.

    Although there is nothing politically incorrect with this sentiment, there is a rather annoying ramification of this process. Millions of individuals will flock into this screening already loving the picture, and it certainly clouds their minds during the viewing and afterward. What ultimately takes place here is a democratization of talent. Does this picture deserve the recognition it has received or is this just a consequence of placing several beloved heroes together, accompanied by promotional ties and action figures? I guess only one question remains: Why has it taken so long for DC to catch on to this formula?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ★

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    "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" is not only a dismal film that will bombard you with countless scenes of stupidity and send you reeling to the exits in a disheartened state of regret, but it is a comedy that adopts the personality of its main protagonist. Much like how the static persona of Blart is oblivious to his embarrassing and absurd tactics, which would never actually succeed in their aims, this picture is quite incognizant of the fact that it simply isn't funny.

    Although it is true that the designation of a comedy picture as amusing, hilarious, or any synonym of the like could be deemed a highly subjective process, there is still a nagging question to be asked here: Why would anyone find this material to be entertaining? I mean, who desires to watch a middle-aged man, in poor physical shape, tumble across the floor as if he was a small child engaging in a scene of adolescent imagination?

    The only logical basis for this unwarranted yearning would be the fact that our hero is quite overweight, and this apparently contributes to his comical allure. (Even the name "Blart" signifies lethargic behavior and obesity.) As far as who actually finds this subject matter to their liking is concerned, I'm sure it consists of very young children and individuals who would never understand the Joseph Conrad reference that our protagonist ultimately butchers.

    In a storyline eerily similar to that of the original, "Mall Cop 2" once again places our main character in an "against all odds" type scenario, and this lends the opportunity for a theme of human dignity and the struggle to rectify one's life and reputation. After several unfortunate events place a strain on Paul's life, he receives an invitation to a mall security convention in Las Vegas. (Although this setting has become renown for its visual impact, it lasts all but about two minutes; unless, of course, you find the inner dwellings of a hotel to be as grand as the Vegas strip.)

    A conflict consisting of high-tech art thieves is never fully developed and throw in the complications with Blart's teenage daughter, Maya, who is finding her way into womanhood, and you pretty much have the gist of a film that not only should never have been produced, but it makes the genre of comedy appear to be on its last legs. The dialogue, although eccentric, never fits the mold as funny, and the film's reliance on physical and situational humor is undoubtedly pathetic, although I assume that was its purpose. There is the classic hypoglycemic tumble, a plethora of scenes where Blart strains his face for comedic effect (to no avail), and several tactics that allude to the skills of "MacGyver," yet none of these instances evoke actual laughter; and, for the most part, this would summarize the historical efforts of Happy Madison productions.

    What this all basically comes down to is an issue of consumerism with regard to the movie theater chains. If they are going to show a picture of this magnitude, then it becomes perfectly reasonable to uplift the Prohibition-esque banning of alcohol. In fact, one should not be opposed to the idea of a free drink with the purchase of a ticket. I'm not saying that a shot of whiskey and a good brew will magically induce a feeling of amusement when it comes to films such as "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2," but it couldn't hurt.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fast & Furious 7 ★★

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    "Fast & Furious 7" is not only a substandard film, but it exemplifies the poor taste in entertainment that the general audiences of the United States have obviously become accustomed to. Are we really going to sit here--looking through an objective lens--and praise this picture? I for one will not succumb to this mystifying unfaithfulness with regard to the filmmaking industry, and any contemporary of mine who deems this "the best of the franchise," or as a superb film altogether, is clearly delirious and would not know a quality action picture if it walked up and smacked them directly in their untenanted noggins.

    If anything, the "Fast & Furious" franchise has become nothing more than a drawn out soap opera, complete with storylines infused with outrageous heists, crackdowns on crime and drug lords, tales of revenge--and what has become a faint whisper over the last several films--a focus on street racing and swift automobiles. (The glamorous cars are still present mind you, however, they act as more of a prop than a catalyzer; the emphasis has now been placed on stunts and action sequences that the resident actors would never be able to execute in actuality.)

    Additionally, character's deaths have been rectified, links have been tied to previous films (which have subsequently been shifted in sequence to essentially create a script), and the budget has expanded in a blatant effort to supply audiences with more foolishness and less imagination. The newest installment is rather loyal to this formula, although fresh faces do make an appearance and the final product recalls the phrase "over-the-top" more so than before.

    For those of you who have actually kept up with this helter skelter series of films, here is the summarized plot:

    After renegade mercenary Owen Shaw passes away in a coma, his older sibling, and trained assassin, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), appears to exact revenge. Shaw, who is coined as a "legitimate English badass," first encounters Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a current DSS agent and ally to our main protagonists. The ensuing battle, which features a poorly filmed fighting sequence, leaves Hobbs in the hospital until further notice, and Shaw escapes to continue his manhunt.

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    From here, the film makes ties to the third installment and centers on this feud between Shaw and the team that killed his brother. Enter Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), a nonchalant government agent of sorts, who now proposes that Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his group of flunkies shift their attention to a device called the "God's eye," which utilizes digital technology all over the world, including mobile phone cameras, to track down specific targets. (This is not only unethical, but it would seem to be a poor satire of the government's ambition to exploit the population to achieve executive objectives.)

    In turn, Toretto will have full access to this instrument in order to find Shaw, even though the latter is in a constant search for the team himself. The acquiring of this gadget will lead to numerous scenes of disbelief, including a rescue sequence that features parachuting vehicles from an airplane--which is as entertaining as it is preposterous--and a scene in which a high-powered automobile leaps through three skyscrapers in an outburst of absurdity.

    What we essentially have here is an ensemble cast, which has its moments, yet they are ultimately drowned out by a less than stellar script and by enough explosions to make even Michael Bay seem rather reserved. There is the Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) subplot, which not only adds little depth to the story, but serves as more of a distraction than anything. When the film attempts to inject moments of sentimentality, it not only disrupts the flow of action, but it places a strain on the actors, particularly Vin Diesel, who certainly lacks any sense of emotion.

    I understand that action stars are quite opposed to the subtle techniques of those in drama, yet even with a dialogue consisting of nothing but one-liners, Diesel seems to be in a realm of bewilderment. To put the performance into context, I have seen more conviction in a high school rendition of "Robin Hood."
    There is a moment in the picture in which our lovable cast of characters come face-to-face with the enemy and have the opportunity to conclude what has been a dreary production. Of course, however, this never happens, and we are left to endure a half hour resolution that evokes a feeling of torment. The late poet Edgar Allen Poe once put forth the notion that a short story should be capable of being read in one sitting; the same idea applies to film. "Fast & Furious 7" not only refuses to end a terrible outing, but it adds further injury to an already tender wound. If there is one aspect of the picture that could serve as an indicator of its incoherence, it would certainly be the numerous sequences in which the art of editing was seemingly forgotten. Editing does serve a purpose, and even films of this caliber should be able to accommodate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Home ★

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    There is something rather nostalgic about the picture "Home," a children's animated film that attempts to persuade us into thinking that it is ok to be different and that "nobody's perfect." These wistful feelings come into existence simply because it reminds us all of how inattentive Dreamworks has become with its children's productions as of late (outside of the "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise), and leaves one longing for the days of when "Shrek" first came to fruition, among other notable titles.

    In what is to surely become one of the most idiotic storylines of the year: The Boov, a small alien race who can change color according to their emotional state and who tend to run away when trouble arises, invade Earth in an aim to--what else?--escape the Gorg, another extraterrestrial race whose intent is to destroy the Boov. Humanity is consequently relocated to Australia (as a result of this inexplicable invasion in which our attackers disable our source of gravity) and the Boov swoop in and take refuge in our furnished city and suburban homes.  

    Enter Oh (Jim Parsons), a problematic and awkward member of this unsightly group of beings, who tends to scare off any intimate relationships that come his way. After becoming ostracized from the community, Oh fatefully runs into Tip (Rihanna), a young teenage girl who avoided the human "relocation," and whose only goal is to become reunited with her mother. The two set off on a quest to track down Tip's only remaining family and to rectify Oh's mishap, which has not only made him a fugitive, but has placed the Earth's well-being in immediate danger.

    Beyond the fact that the plot relies too heavily on its cheap physical humor (a favorite among young children), the conflict is overly forced, and to be quite honest, could not be more brainless. For, Oh is condemned among his own people for good reason. In a moment of intense excitement for the Boov's new dwellings, Oh mistakenly sends a party invitation to every being in the universe, including the Gorg, the before mentioned sworn enemy of the Boov. Now, if one ignores the fact that the Gorg are somehow on the Boov's e-mail list, as thoughtless as that may seem, it becomes obvious that Oh deserves harsh punishment. In fact, I believe treason, even if performed in error, becomes punishable by up to five years in prison here in the United States.

    "Home," in its most primitive design, attempts to define success by giving audiences a miscalculated story, an unattractive lead character, and a large dosage of music composed by Rihanna, herself, in a blatant exhibition of self-promotion. Nobody would have claimed E.T. to be a friendly looking character among first examination, however, he ultimately won us over with his warmth and subtle affections. Oh not only consists of none of these desirable qualities, but he certainly takes on the persona of Parsons, who thrives in an air of annoyance. If Dreamworks has any shot of reclaiming its dignity and becoming comparable to Disney once more, then productions of this magnitude must be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Avengers ★★★

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    It seemed like only yesterday when superheroes were yet to be fashioned in the medium of film; and yet, here is a picture that not only features several of these personas, but it relishes in the mere fact that this "teaming up" of individuals is actually plausible. I could only imagine how Stan Lee felt when it was realized that these heroes were going to be lifted from the pages of his beloved comic books and onto the silver screen. This old-fashioned notion has now become a reality.

    But let's face it, "The Avengers" is simply that. It is undoubtedly the truest of the comic book films to the actual medium itself, as its rudimentary plot and simplistic characterizations lend the opportunity for fast-paced action and events. There are tawdry one-liners and little doubt as to what is going to take place, yet the artistic semblance of truth never wavers in its attempt to ensnare the audience.

    The plot, in its most primitive design, essentially focuses on a small power source, named the Tesseract, and its potential to do--what else--destroy the Earth. A bad guy from another dimension, Loki, (who basically takes the form of a middle-man as he has more prominent employers) transcends time and space to retrieve this object, as he is promised the remains of the planet after an alien invasion destroys its inhabitants. (This not only sounds questionable, but it would seem that Loki is getting the business end of the deal.)

    We are then introduced to our protagonists, whether begrudgingly or not, through one-dimensional executions of character; for example, we know that Nick Fury is a man of a strict disposition, if for no other reason than for his demeanor and his rugged eye patch. Additionally, we learn through other characters' reactions that Captain America is a symbol of freedom and a legend amongst men, that Bruce Banner is highly sought for his expertise in gamma radiation (not to mention for his keen ability to smash anything in sight when trouble stirs), and that Thor is a God indulging in a common case of sibling rivalry.

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     Iron Man easily obtains his egoist type traits by way of his charisma and humor, and the two lackeys of the group, Black Widow and Hawk-eye, are introduced through a short monologue, as their personalities obviously have not had enough screen time to be conveyed properly. This inevitable assemblage leads to a half-hour free-for-all, in which each superhero earns his or her own slow-motion action scene.

    One would think that a conflict of such a devastating force would be sufficient enough, however, as the tensions within the group rise (due to the rather large egos and certainly heightened levels of testosterone), they become utilized in an effort to produce more fighting and to produce situations that would only seem conceivable in the mind of every eight-year-old boy who has ever picked up a comic book. I must admit, that I've always wondered what would happen when two unstoppable forces, such as The Hulk and Thor, suddenly become pitted against one another.

    Yet, despite this good-natured comic book ambience, two complications seem to arise. Although Loki claims to be "burdened with glorious purpose," he is quite dull in character, and when it comes to formidability, he crumbles within a few moments. Not only does this hamper the film in its capacity to provide interesting characters, but it quite frankly makes things a little too easy for our heroes. Secondly, this picture obviously relies on its ensemble cast to succeed, however, Tony Stark is the only persona of interest. Captain America seems as if he has not quite shaken his icy past, considering his emotionless manner, and everyone else is so fixated on their own issues that they become unable, or unwilling for that matter, to contribute much conviction.

    To say that special effects hardly impress me would be an understatement, as it has become quite evident over the years of cinema history that any film with an over exertion of computer graphic imaging surely lacks in other areas of filmmaking that can be deemed essential. Nevertheless, it is not the quality of special effects that "The Avengers" excels in (just about anyone can create realistic images with today's technology), but it is the integration of said ingredients into the film that becomes quite splendid. Whether it is the construction of The Hulk, the stylish suits of Iron Man or the reflection mapping of a camouflaged aircraft, there never seems to be that moment of disbelief. Sure, there are several unflattering scenes that express a sense of forgery, most notably an instance in which Captain America dangles from an aircraft, although these are far and few between.

    There is no secret as to what "The Avengers" direly needs, and that would be a hint of humanness. As Iron Man becomes an integral portion of the climax, in which he ultimately risks his life for humanity, he stops to call his beau in a tense moment of uncertainty. Of course, it is the right judgement on behalf of the script, yet the woman never answers and the opportunity to divulge into that emotion becomes lost, much like the film itself as it ignores this aspect of its heroes. We understand that they are "super-human," but they are still human, regardless of whether or not they have an impeccable aim with a bow or transform into big green monsters when irritated. (Except, of course, for the character of Thor, who is immortal.)

    You know, it's funny. One individual, shortly after the viewing and as he made his way to the nearest exit, put forth the opinion that "The Avengers" is nothing short of a regurgitation of previous exploits, and that its formulaic approach is so tiresome that its success is a reflection of just how dishonorable the film industry has become. It would seem that audiences have become so accustomed to bad pictures that this film has coaxed us into believing it is grand when it is anything but.

    Although I would never refute the notion that the film industry has become a shadow of its former self, with regard to the twenty-first century, one must never forget that when critiquing a film, genre must be accounted for. "The Avengers" is an action picture and it surely does not pretend to be anything else. Even if the intention to mindlessly entertain becomes worrisome at times, that is the motivating force here. When judging a film for worth, these fundamental differences must be noted--otherwise, we will be comparing "The Avengers" to "Casablanca."