Justice League (2017): A Step in the Right Direction (Review)

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Justice League, the latest DC superhero film to grace the screen, almost has the mixture down pat. Perhaps a tad too much as the film does feel a bit formulaic. Still, this latest comic book hero adaptation is huge step in the right direction. There is just enough comedy to make things enjoyable and enough action to keep even the most jaded fan happy. The film is not, however, perfect.

The decision to make Barry Allen (played by Ezra Miller) not only gormless but slightly nebbish as well, reeked of Marvel’s inclusion of an overawed Spider-Boy in the latest installment of that universe. However, if one takes away that annoying element of the film, Justice League manages to entertain thoroughly.

Directed by Zack Snyder, the film had a screenplay written by Chris Terrio with later input from Joss Whedon. The story came from Snyder and Terrio together and it features the “origins” of the Justice League.

The film begins with the death of Superman, something that  directly results in the return of Steppenwolf. The angry entity is ready to wreck havoc on the denizens of planet Earth and it is his actions that cause Bruce Wayne to start the Justice League.

Diane Lane reprises her role as Martha Kent and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane, Superman’s other half, and  Connie Nielson comes back as the Amazon Queen.

The story is fairly straight forward. There are three boxes of power (the DC version of the tesseract, if you will) that, when combined, will allow Steppenwolf to destroy earth. Batman begins to recruit his league members and the usual problems surface. These superheroes do not, as a rule, play well with others so a number of teething pains are encountered before they lose the “i” in team.

Jeremy Irons is back as Alfred. (Another mild annoyance as Michael Caine is almost the definitive Wayne butler – on the big screen but on the small screen it is personal favorite Sean Pertwee who has managed to perfectly fill Alfred’s patent leather shoes…) The butler is a major supporter of Wayne and he aids the new group in their battle with Steppenwolf.

Jason Momoa as Aquaman is good value for money as is Ray Fisher as Cyborg. J.K. Simmons is a tired Commissioner Gordon and Amber Heard has a blink and you will miss her turn as Mera.

There are things that irritate about the film however. The tendency to use Gadot’s bum as the focal point of many camera angles, for example. As the camera zooms up and in on the male protagonists, Gadot’s bottom is used almost like a fulcrum for far too many scenes on screen.

It also does not help that Justice League shows all too clearly the DC versions of Marvel heroes, and vice versa. That said, the film works well and it entertains in all the right places, despite the closeness to its Marvel counterparts.

The only thing that does not really work is the Barry Allen character but that may well be down to personal preference to the TV actor who plays The Flash on CW.

Justice League  looks brilliant and the pacing is spot on (the film runs for two hours and never once lags). The fact that personal tragedy kept Snyder from finishing his directorial duties is not obvious in the film. Joss Whedon took over the reins and managed to seamlessly carry out Snyder’s vision.

The film earns a full five stars, despite a somewhat meandering plot line, as it keeps on giving throughout. Catch it at your local cinema, grab some popcorn and enjoy this latest DC offering.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): The Beginning of the End for Comic Book Adaptations?

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Directed by personal favorite Taika Waititi (who directed the brilliant 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople) Thor:Ragnarok can be seen as the beginning of the end for Thor in a number of ways. By the film’s end, Thor resembles Odin and has truly become his father’s son.

The film is a direct lead in to the next “big” thing in the Marvel-verse and, somewhat disturbingly, seems to signal an unwanted change in the comic book adaptations that we have all grown to love.

Thor: Ragnarok is more action comedy than all out action with a touch of humor (a’la Joss Whedon’s first two offerings in the Marvel arena of Avengers and all those who sail her…). Chris Hemsworth proves that underneath all those muscles and good looks there beats the heart of a comedian. 

He is almost hysterically funny and while this speaks volumes of his talent as an actor, it serves to “humanize” the God of Thunder too much. Granted the character is somewhat unnerved when his hammer Mjölnir is smashed to bits by Hella and he has been shaken by the death of Odin.

However…

Thor screaming in terror just before meeting the Grand Master (a star turn by the delightfully eccentric Jeff Goldblum) and then begging for his long tresses to be uncut takes the “God”and makes him puny and human. (But funny.)

There are a number of comic moments in the film. They are well presented- the build up to meeting Goldblum’s character with the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” music playing in the background is simply delicious – but they detract from the verse as presented by Marvel and Disney thus far.

The films have always taken a moment to poke fun at the very premise of superheroes that suffer from an inflated sense of hubris and taking themselves far too seriously. “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” These moments come almost invariably from Tony Stark and although Thor does have a sense of comic timing “He’s adopted,” he is not overtly funny.

Thor: Ragnarok feels a little like Universal’s move in the late 1940’s to add comedy to their horror films. (Abbott and Costello Meet: Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman – “I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but… in a half-an-hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.”  “You and 20 million other guys!”) This move (to comedy) resulted in the death of the golden goose that make Universal a mint from horror and ultimately killed the genre.

The moment comedy becomes the main focus of a genre, even a “sub-genre” like comic book adaptations, the original intent is lost and the target audience drifts away. Studios have  learned, to their chagrin, that comedy in the superhero verse is a fragile thing.

Look at Suicide Squad where a clear conscious decision was made to “Marvel-ize” DC characters. The end result was a mess and lacked the darkness that sets the DC verse apart from Marvel. (There are exceptions of course, but overall, the heroes in DC-land are quite dark and tortured.)

Thor: Ragnarok is a great film though despite all the comedic moments. It looks great, there are cameos galore and Karl Urban is brilliant as the “baddie” that we know will redeem himself. (Kudos also go to the beautiful and oh so talented Tessa Thompson, she has, in one role, managed to fill the spot of new female action hero that Michelle Rodriguez first introduced “way back when.”)

Cate Blanchett kills it as the God of Death “Hela” and the only downside to this entire film is the death of almost all of Thor’s Asgardian cronies. Although Lady Sif is spared a grizzly death as she is oddly absent in this latest adventure in the Asgardian verse…

The interactions between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor are brilliantly funny and the director’s playing of the gladiator “rock” creature is nearly sublime. All these moments add up to a film that is fun to watch and one that the audience clearly enjoyed. 

There was, however, too much comedy and it does feel as though this particular brand of franchise may be losing steam. Thor: Ragnarok is, despite the overused comedic element, a full 5 star film. There is enough action to satisfy and the FX are, as usual, spot on.

This is a film that deserves to be seen in the cinema and it is highly recommended that Marvel (and Thor) fans rush to catch it before the DVD and streaming stage. We enjoyed the film immensely although there was that sense of unease at the amount of comic circumstance that seems too much like Universal’s death blow to 1930’s and ’40’s horror. (“You and 20 million other guys!”)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of “The Chinaman” (Trailer)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of "The Chinaman"

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by David Marconi, is the big screen version of Stephen Leather’s taut and very entertaining novel “The Chinaman.” Jackie Chan plays the lead character and he faces up against Pierce Brosnan and a group of “new” IRA members who are hell bent on starting up the old campaign of terror anew.

Fans of Leather’s work will no doubt notice a few changes, with the title change being the first as well as the character’s nationality change, but this does not affect the story at all.  Overall, the tale’s message is the same and it is very easy to get caught up in Quan Ngoc Minh’s personal vendetta against those responsible for his daughter’s death.

The Foreigner is all about Minh’s search for justice after his daughter is killed by a bomb blast in a small clothes shop.(In the book it is Minh’s daughter and wife who die.) Minh visits the police everyday in order to get the names of those responsible. He even offers to pay for the names but the police, despite not operating that way, do not know who is in this new IRA cell.

Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, an Irish deputy minister with a few too many irons in the fire, who offers to help the British government find the new cell and stop them. He also has a lot more going on than is immediately evident. Minh goes to meet with Hennessy and soon the two men are locked in battle.

The Foreigner, like “The Chinaman” offers a main character who is much more than he appears. Minh may well be the owner of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant but he is the sum of his past experiences. These turn out to be all too deadly as Hennessy soon learns to his chagrin.

The pacing is spot on, like the novel it is based upon, and it feels like a splendid throwback to gritty films like the 1980 Bob Hoskins Helen Mirren gangster movie The Long Good Friday(A film that features a very young Pierce Brosnan as a young IRA assassin and one that also deals with bombings.) It has a touch of “Who Dares Wins” to it and features solid performances from all the players.

Campbell manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace and Chan proves that he is adept outside the action/comedy roles that have made him an icon in the industry. The film looks brilliant with everything meshing together perfectly.

The locations, the film is mainly set in London, are spot on and all lack the glamorous appearance of the capital city in films like “The Kingsman 1 and 2.” The action in The Foreigner steadily increases and while the timeline has been “moved up” to fit the present, the tale loses nothing in this shift.

Anyone who has read the book will find that the film delivers Leather’s story well and one has no problem getting behind Minh in his quest for vengeance and his own personal closure.

This is a full five star film that has been, somewhat strangely, given a limited release. (In the cinema where we viewed it The Foreigner was showing in only one theater cubicle.) There is some cursing (the worst being the “C” word), a tiny amount of vague nudity and a lot of violence.

The Foreigner is playing in cinemas now and is well worth the price of admission. Check it out.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Comic Book Genius

Co-written by director Matthew Vaughn (who shares authorship with Jane Goldman) and based, again, on the comic series written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the remake that Kick-Ass 2 should have been.

In short it is catchy, uber-violent, on-point and, despite the brilliant wire-work violence and gun play, damned funny. It is, of course, somewhat topical in places but it works for all that.

Vaughn cheekily has two of his leads, Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) make a joke so topical that unless you are English you won’t get it.  After the organization is blown to smithereens by baddie Julianne Moore (who plays Poppie) Merlin and Eggsy perform the “Doomsday Protocol.” 

This involves drinking almost an entire bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Eggsy realizes that the bottle itself is a clue and tells a sozzled Merlin that they will have journey to Kentucky. Merlin replies “Kentucky? I love fried chicken!”

It was, in the ’80’s anyway, the way the local denizens referred to the Colonel’s eatery, aka KFC in the UK. “You fancy a Kentucky?” was how one suggested eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, “back in the day.”

This “in-joke” set up the rest of the film beautifully and Vaughn managed to include stereotypical jokes about Americans, aka “Yanks” and the English “stiff upper lipped-ness” along with other bits of irreverent humor. The comedic moments mixed nicely with the oh so over the top violence and “Bond-ian”gadgets that filled the movie.

Anyone who has seen the trailers already knows that Colin Firth is back as the original “Galahad” and Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Narcos star Pedro Pascal, who manages to look a bit like Burt Reynolds and sound like Nathan Fillion, all make up the American Contingent. 

Strong reprises his role as Merlin, Roxy “Lancelot” reappears, albeit briefly and the brilliant Michael Gambon is Michael Caine’s replacement for a short while.

Kingman: The Golden Circle is adrenaline pumped, glorious escapism at its finest. Like “Kick-Ass” (Vaughn’s first uber-violent film based on a comic.) this sequel combines the best of all worlds. A certain grim humour combined with spectacular wire-work, cracking CG and stunts that match almost anything done on a real Bond film.

Sir Elton John has a splendid cameo and proves that, given the right conditions, he can act his little cotton socks off.  Moore makes a better villain than Samuel L. Jackson’s weak-stomached bad-guy, who actually seemed to kill Galahad in the first film.

(Sadly, this film marks the last appearance of the excellent Swedish actor Björn Granath.)

The cinematography by George Richmond, who worked on the first film, is seamless and practically perfect.  Everything snaps, crackles and pops in the fast paced sequel and it nearly takes your breath away with a pace that makes the two hour and 21 minute film speed by.

(On a side note: The keen eyed viewer will notice something very familiar about the Kingsman tailor flag outside the shop. Think Kick-Ass and you will get it immediately.)

Halle Berry makes a great American counterpart to Strong’s Merlin and it was nice to see Eggsy’s mum, played by Samantha Womack turn up again. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is enough of a treat that one can forgive his miscalculation with Kick-Ass 2. All is forgiven Mr. Vaughn and we await a third installment in this franchise.

“Kingsman 2” is a full five star bit of entertainment that enthralls and captivates throughout. It is well worth sitting through and proves that Vaughn’s films are fun and clever.

As the film is rated ‘R’ the language is a tad coarse as is some of the humour. We strongly urge you to see this in the cinema, although it is a bit loud, to get the full impact of this outstanding sequel.

Dark Matter: Season Three Catch Up – All the Time in the World (Review)

DARK MATTER -- "All the Time In the World" Episode 304 -- Pictured: Zoie Palmer as The Android -- (Photo by: Stephen Scott/Dark Matter Series 3/Syfy)

Despite missing the boat a bit (or in this case “the Raza”) we have done a bit of binging to catch up on all that has transpired in season three of Dark Matter. A lot has happened since the explosive finale of season two with everything reaching dizzying heights of excitement and more than a touch of mystery in “All the Time in the World.”

Season three has rung in some amazing, as well as disturbing, changes in this world we have all grown to love. There have been losses. Nyx is dead and Six, aka Kal Varrik, has left the Raza to stay and guide a revolution. Two new crew members are on board – and Shockley’s interaction with Marcus (Three) provided one of the funniest moments in episode 4 “Deal! Ahhhhh!” while Ryo has shown that underneath all that cold exterior there beats the heart of a lover.

Episode four takes a now familiar plot line (a temporal time loop – aka “Groundhog Day”) and stands it on its head. Three, Marcus Boone, is reliving the same day over and over. More importantly, he has been doing it for some time.

We are allowed to see only a small portion of this repeat cycle – to hilarious effect – and this adds to the riff on this plot device. Initially this loop affects only Boone, who is rebooted when he sleeps or when Shockley knocks him out. Later it also affects Adrian and even later The Android.

It is The Android who manages to steal the show full stop with her mind numbing, and, in places, damned terrifying, five second trip into the past. The journey takes the robot to some dark and disturbing scenarios one of which entails The Android being told solemnly that the scientist who has dissected her is not a monster – while she looks at the various body parts removed and placed by her side.

Lemke, who shines in this episode more than most, does what he does best; he acts his little cotton socks off…effortlessly. Straight-faced and completely serious he faces his own personal Groundhog Day with an aplomb that speaks volumes about this man’s talents.

Stand Out Moment:

Marcus trying to remember the name of the particle accelerator and getting the name wrong repeatedly after each reboot. “Reboot…Sh*t!”

Other Matters:

Palmer manages to keep up with Lemke throughout. She does, however, speed past her costar with ease in that short and upsetting montage with her very short trip down memory lane.

(Kudos to Ferland in those last moments of that five second trip. Her aged and creepy Five, complete with milky eyes that dart suspiciously as she tells The Android to destroy the device, is top notch and a throwback to those old days when creepy kids were her forte.)

Mallozzi and Mullie have managed to ring in the changes with scary ease. They have taken an almost stock plot in this latest episode and managed to make it new. I found myself second guessing (incorrectly) throughout  and was completely surprised at the end to find that what caused the loop fell outside of my list of choices completely.

Final Thoughts:

There are indications this season that the blink drive from season two may be the spanner in the works that upsets everything. It has clearly  introduced parallel worlds, or at least parallel lives and times. The “jumps” made by The Android provokes a number of questions about the verse and its temporal stability in general.

The biggest question, of course,  being whether or not the original crew of the Raza are not still working together in another dimension. A verse where One is not dead at all and Ryo (Four) has not gone against his comrades.

Dark Matter is still addictive television and, along with Killjoys, one of the best things about SyFy on Fridays. Despite this shows move into a dark and more disturbing direction this season, Dark Matter still has the ability to make me laugh and cry; often at the same time.

 

CAST:

Guest Starring:   Ellen Wong  as Misaki Han-Shireikan,  Torri Higginson as Commander Truffault, Natalie Brown as Sarah