contact us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right.

           

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

The Movie Hole

Peacemaker Reviews - "Star Trek Beyond" (SPOILERS)

JJ Mortimer

 

"Star Trek Beyond" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  120 minutes

Directed by Justin Lin

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

I may be in the minority on this one, but I thought the "critically-acclaimed," often-lauded-as "original" Star Trek Beyond was not very good.  It's a decent "fantasy" film, but as a good "science fiction" film, this Star Trek is not.  This film feels more simplified and less convoluted in plotting than its two predecessors, but to its detriment feels more like a two-hour "away mission" or a second act of a larger story than it does a fully fleshed-out motion picture.

SPOILERS

This movie could have been directed by Roland Emmerich and it would actually have been better, believe it or not.  That's how much I disliked this as a Star Trek film.

From director Justin Lin of the Fast and the Furious franchise, Star Furious Trek Wars - Beyond starts off with what feels like the seventeenth time the U.S.S. Enterprise has carelessly, and unemotionally, been destroyed for the sake of plot.  In 1984s The Search for Spock, when the decision was made to sacrifice the ship, it was emotional and tragic, like losing a skin-and-blood character that has been established and cared for over the course of many years.  The Enterprise has arguably more at stake as an actual character than some of the human characters in the movies and television shows.  As a kid, watching Spock die in Wrath of Khan was sad, but I would argue that watching the Enterprise course across the sky in a fireball of debris was almost equally as tragic

In Star Trek Beyond, we are book-ended with a paper mache destruction of the Enterprise that rallies no emotional response and argues the ineffectiveness of "shields."  By the end of the film, the crew blankly stares out a window as the A-version of the NCC-1701 Enterprise is constructed in a quick montage that looks like the ship was already being built before the crew had time to take a constipated shit the day after returning from their mission.  The ship's completion took less time than an assembly line Toyota in 80s Detroit.  The Enterprise is treated like a simple bucket of bolts, and not as a beloved icon of space exploration and discovery.  One gets destroyed?  Who gives a fuck - build another in three hours.

By the way - fucking plot holes abound and beyoooooooond....

"Hey, fuck drama.  Blow some more shit up!  We don't want none of this 'intelligence' or 'SCIENCE' in our movie about space exploration and 'SCIENCE'."  Star Trek is supposed to be about science and space - the NASA counter-point to the George Lucas 'FANTASY' that is the Star Wars series.  In Beyond, never once did I feel at any point that I was learning something scientific.  I only blankly stared at the screen trying to figure out what the hell I was seeing during these shaky-cam laser blaster battles that were all shot in the dark.  I couldn't see shit, and when you can't see shit, you don't give a shit.  I didn't give a shit.  Mindless action for the sake of watching "bad guys" die generates hardly any response from me any more.  Gone are the days of an Enterprise captain trying to negotiate or settle a dispute.  What we are left with is a Kirk that says (and I'm only marginally paraphrasing) they need to insure that they "kill" the bad guy before they progress the story any further.

The bad guy in this film makes no fucking sense.  His motivation is non-existent, and if it was explained, I didn't hear or see it.  Actually, I meant to say I didn't READ it, because 90% of his lines were in another language and we were given an all-caps subtitling.  Filmmakers please be aware that if you want subtitled dialogue to be read easily by audiences, please don't use strange fonts or ALL CAPS, or have the lines do some strange dissolve graphic before and after appearing on screen.  Simple yellow font with uppercase letters where they need to be, and lowercase letters following, makes for a seamless transition from reading to seeing the reactions on screen.  End rant and tangent.

The villain commands a bee-like hive of alien space ships that coordinate attacks that don't appear mechanical in the least bit.  They tear through a space shit like balsa wood with no respect for shields.  Ok, cool - raise the stakes on the bad guy and their technology.  I'm fine with that.  But when you essentially give them god-like powers - a technology that isn't explained how it was even constructed and makes the Borg look like pussies - I have a hard time believing this race of aliens wouldn't just annihilate everyone in the universe.  Which is strange why the planet the Enterprise and her crew crash land on is full of other races of defeated space travelers, with these villainous race of creatures not expanding their horizons with their mechanical swarm army that doesn't feel like anything out of Star Trek as much as it belongs in a film like Flash Gordon or the third Matrix.

The Enterprise crew herself is fine, and at times they are finally given moments to shine outside of the preconceived notions of the already-established nature of their characters.  But not by much.  The relationship between Dr. McCoy and Spock goes through similar tropes as one would expect.  Kirk punches aliens over and over again, and for some reason so does Uhura, who can now be added to the list of random female characters in movies that magically possess fighting skills out of thin air that can dismantle, disarm and flip a 250-pound alien killing machine during hand-to-hand combat.

This film's portrayal of the characters is where some of my main problems come from.  This film was hailed as being the first "original" of the rebooted movies, and I disagree.  Being the third in the new series, they just couldn't resist destroying the Enterprise like the Star Trek III did before.  Bones brings up Captain Kirk's birthday again, and Kirk has to battle it out with the main villain (who looks like a Klingon during his reformation back into human form, because apparently he used to be a human) in a one-on-one fist fight.

Where many of the actors could have played their characters with a bit more originality, they instead come off often as caricatures of the actors who used to play the roles.  Karl Urban, an actor I actually enjoy and isn't bad in this movie by any means, is still the worst offender of this notion, playing McCoy with the most heavy-handed and obvious reference to DeForest Kelley rather than being more...himself.  And I was either surprised or disappointed, depending on my mood, that the new character Jayla (whom Scotty first meets) isn't turned into a love interest for the master of engineering.  They both have technical skills and are both shown to care somewhat for each other, but nothing is ever developed from it.  I guess it would have been too obvious had they walked off to bone at the end, but hey, it's not like the movie's trying to be thought-provoking or anything.  A film like this is going for the base carnal natures of action and sex, and you could barely see any of that in this film, whether by lighting, shitty cinematography, or a lack of sexual knowledge.  I half expected Kirk to push Scotty to the ground like the scene with George McFly in Back to the Future and just have his way with Jayla as Scotty pouts in the seat of his own diapers.

By the way, Sulu is a Japanese character, yet they inexplicably cast John Cho, a Korean, in the part.  I'm not one to scream "racism!" AT ALL, but how come nobody ever had a problem with this, which is one of the worst Asian miscasts since hiring a Chinese actress for the lead role in 2005s Memoirs of a Geisha.  And what's with all the controversy over making the Sulu character supposedly gay?  While I don't agree with the decision to change a fictional character to relate and give respect to a real-life actor who formerly portrayed him, the film didn't overtly show any sign that he was homosexual.  In fact, had the film makers had any balls, they would have shown him do more than just have an arm around the back of another Asian man.  They danced around the bush with the idea, never quite committing to it.  They even went as far as to have the other Asian guy carrying a small child, which easily could be seen as a relative - a niece, perhaps - and not a love child.  And why did the other guy have to also be Asian if they didn't want to confuse audiences enough already?  If they wanted him to be gay and let everyone know it (just short of having them kiss each other), the other man should have been of another ethnicity as to not confuse the possibility of blood relationship.  It's this "tiptoeing around the story" that highlights the low parts of this film's script and technical production.

There were a lot of little things that bugged me about the movie:  Fucking Bones and Spock perform a last-minute rescue that was reminiscent of the idiocy in the Star Wars prequels, with Bones flying a space ship for some reason in order to be Mr. Action instead of the doctor.  In an earlier scene, Spock is injured and Bones has to help heal him in a somewhat primitive way as they are stranded on an alien planet.  All I kept thinking to myself was, "This would have been a great opportunity for a reversal of roles," and had Bones injured with Spock helping to save him while the doctor argues and insults the Vulcan as he attempts to remove shrapnel from his abdomen.  You know - character development opportunity.  I also laughed a little on the inside when they planned their attack to rescue the captive Starfleet personnel by laying out models on a table to represent areas of the prison, in a scene that immediately reminded me of 1984s Top Secret, a film that poked fun at the "planning an attack with models" notion thirty-two years before Star Trek Beyond did it in all seriousness.

The use of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" would have worked well in the context of an action scene in a Galaxy Quest or Guardians of the Galaxy-style tongue-in-cheek space action movie, but in this Star Trek film it feels wildly out of place.  Actually, it feels in place in THIS Star Trek-based film, but in a true Trek film, you stick with something less abrasive and intrusive.  Had the scene NOT been Star Trek based, the way the song is used would have been fucking AWESOME.  But, I keep hearkening back to the slower moments in the Next Generation shows and the earlier Star Trek films, for instance, when Star Trek used to be smart, and the use of philosophical banter was always the precursor or the preventer of destruction and doom.  Men used to speak to each other and debate the incongruities of the human condition, and themes involving the dichotomy and coexistence of science and religion often brought weight, emotion, and thought-provoking discussion into the...

SABOTAAAAGGGGGEEEE!!  WOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAH!

BOOOOM!!  BLAAAM!  'SPLOSIONS!  VIOLENCE!!  DEATH!!  BOOOOOOOM!!!

The four writers on this film just couldn't resist, could they?  I could sense Simon Pegg's fingers all over this script, too. I don't dislike him, but his obvious pumping-up of the importance of the Scotty character was completely evident of his involvement in the writing of the script, which made it kind of hilarious that Sulu and Chekov were almost completely absent from the majority of the comings and goings in the film.  No bros before hoes, I guess, Mr. Scott.

One other dumb moment that got me a day after seeing the film was upon the discovery of the long-missing USS Franklin, and how it had been abandoned on the planet after crashing there may years before.  The Enterprise crew gets her running and is able to fly it off the planet and in turn use it, as well as the Beastie Boys, to defeat the organic-like alien space swarm.  After all is said and done, they head back to the Federation space colony and marvel at the construction of the new Enterprise, despite earlier showing its complete failure in the heat of the battle and the Franklin's complete dominance over the enemy.  Other than going with continuity of the series and the fact that they are REQUIRED to be on board an Enterprise-titled exploration ship, for script purposes and functionality they should have just refurbished and flown off in the USS Franklin as their ship for the following movie I'm sure they will make, before finally being gifted the model A of the Enterprise at the conclusion of said follow-up film.

Heading back to what I said before about Star Trek Beyond feeling like a large second act of a much larger three part story is made even weirder by the fact that, at just over two hours in length, it managed to accomplish less than Star Trek III: The Search for Spock which was almost twenty minutes shorter.  Everything involving the characters crashing on the planet and overcoming the obstacle could have been told in 45-minutes of screen time.  There were no evident arcs to the stories of any of the Enterprise crew, and I'd be hard pressed to think of any evident umbrella themes in the script. And the fact that the film is mis-directed by a man who made his cash from having Vin Diesel flex his arms while crashing cars makes it obviously fucking clear that the producers really don't GIVE A SHIT about the Star Trek franchise being a STAR TREK franchise any more.  They want their own Star Wars, and are too afraid to let audiences think about philosophical issues without spinning the camera around constantly without letting us see a straight-on shot of the Enterprise before they destroy her like an angry child mad at his big brother's Lego spaceship he made on a Saturday morning.

I want a villain that makes sense.  Idris Elba as Krall is actually very good in the role, despite being given very little of any substance to work with other than "he used to be a Starfleet Captain who went bad."  I would have been happy had they just went "fuck it" and had the Klingons again.  I would have liked the main characters to go through actual changes or learn something about themselves that they didn't know in the beginning of the film.  I would like to see a future Star Trek movie where the ENTIRE crew works together to accomplish a goal without one or a couple of them questioning their place aboard the ship or threatening to leave.  And make the USS Enterprise a character again, and not just a shitty, twenty-year old Honda a father gives to his mediocre son upon barely graduating high school.  There are no stakes if a destroyed ship can be rebuilt while our heroes get drunk and fuck each other after a birthday party.

END SPOILERS

As for a recommendation, I would say if you are a fan of action and fantasy films that take place in space, you might enjoy it.  But the only reason you'd probably want to see it is if you enjoy Star Trek, in which case you won't want to see it because this is only a Star Trek film by name.  It is more fantasy than science.  It is more dumb action than philosophical debate.  It's not Star Trek

So, I don't know who this film was made for.  I found mild enjoyment out of some pieces of dialogue, but the overactive camera, the dark lighting during mindless action scenes, the lack of villain motivation, and the lack of character development beyond what we already know about the Enterprise crew makes this film a pass for me.  See it only so you can have an opinion and argue about it.

I'm fucking fed up with producers not giving a shit about popular properties and literally dumbing them down to satisfy mass audiences.  I'm over it.

And where the fuck is Carol Marcus?  Did she DIE?

Peacemaker Reviews - "Independence Day: Resurgence"

JJ Mortimer

"Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  120 minutes

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

 

A competent sci-fi motion picture that feels more like a dark spinoff rather than a direct sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence misses the cornball charm of the original film, replacing it with a sense of realism and seriousness - for better or worse.

What made 1996's Independence Day such a hit with audiences wasn't just with its star power, but with its ability to take a world we know and live in, and throw it upside down by destroying the shit out of it.  Despite its cheesiness, it was easy to relate to and insert ourselves into the destructive events because it took place in the 1996 world we were already existing in.

With Resurgence, the alien technology left behind from the destruction twenty years before has been implemented into our lives, and the world has been rebuilt with the light-years advancements, which is great for a science fiction story.  The film captures many of these upgrades and elements brilliantly, showing a positive approach on how far the human race can advance when introduced to science we rightfully should never have, and how the world has learned to exist together and away from all the petty differences of cultural divide in the face of worldwide destruction.  This film's theme of the use of advanced technology for the good of the human race is the antithesis of the atom bomb.

Despite this, the film makes it very difficult for us to care about the Earth's survival a second time when its makeup no longer looks like the world we know and mostly love.  Landmarks have changed, buildings have been rebuilt, and we no longer know or can relate to this world that the sequel has created.  This is exactly a reason why the characters need to be very, very charismatic, entertaining, and memorable, in order for us to be able to relate to them and feel a sense of dread and fear when something horrible happens.

While fantastic to see Jeff Goldblum again, part of the fun of the first Independence Day was the chemistry between him and Will Smith in the later parts of the film.  With Smith out of the picture, the sequel misses some of the characterization marks by not allowing the major stars to spend a lot of time with each other.  Director Roland Emmerich does a good job of allowing the returning stars, as well as the few new stars, to have their heroic moments, but again the impact of their actions don't hit as hard when you don't necessarily care about what they're fighting for.

I will say that the final twenty minutes of Independence Day: Resurgence are very, very good involving a truly frightening Cloverfield-like "monster movie" moment in the middle of the New Mexico desert, utilizing terrific visual effects that were confident enough to be displayed in broad daylight.  A few shots, as well as the "ticking clock" urgency of the situation, add some good tension that the film desperately needed.

Independence Day: Resurgence is one of those odd, rare occasions where a sequel ups the ante by making the antagonists larger, scarier, and more destructive, yet somehow comes out looking like a smaller film with smaller stakes at hand.  While the new characters are basic and good, with typical Emmerich-style personality traits, Jeff Goldblum mostly takes a back seat and doesn't quite stand out the way I had hoped he would.  Bill Pullman as now-ex-President Whitmore is given the best moment in the film, but because we don't have the connection to the world the stars are trying to save, it doesn't quite have the impact that his inspirational speech had from the first film.

On a technical level, the film has fantastic visual effects and a neat grasp on the utilization of alien hardware and its integration into human life.  The look of the film is sadly less colorful than the first film, with cinematographer Markus Forderer choosing to desaturate many of the scenes with a cold, blue tone and in turn making the film feel less and less like the original.  The film's music from composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wander (replacing David Arnold from the first film) is unmemorable and lost among the entertaining battles, which made it such a relief to hear Arnold's ID4 theme when the credits rolled, again reminding us how much more fun some of these films were back in the 90s by simply giving them an inspired theme and score that you could hum when you left the theater.

Go into Independence Day: Resurgence as though it were a stepping stone to a third, larger movie, and enjoy the science fiction action and often fun moments.  Just don't expect a film as cheesy-fun or with the grandeur of the first Independence Day.

I will add that I originally disliked 1996s Independence Day a lot when it first came out.  I found it to be too cheesy, the characters to be too dismissive of the destruction around them, and the visual effects (despite winning that year's Oscar) to be cartoonish.  Over the years, the film has grown on me, and whether by nostalgia or a love for a time when movies mostly felt like they strove to entertain audiences as a FIRST rule, independence Day has become a go-to movie with which to compare other end-of-the-world movies to, and an example of how to make something as terrible as the annihilation of the human race an "entertaining popcorn summer flick."

Peacemaker Reviews - "Warcraft"

JJ Mortimer

world-of-warcraft-movie .png

"Warcraft" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  123 minutes

Directed by Duncan Jones / Written by Duncan Jones & Charles Leavitt

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

A passionately made but retardedly-written fantasy epic, Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment's film adaptation of the wildly popular video game series) sports amazing visual effects, costumes, and production design, but despite their efforts to create something out of a derivative subject matter with little cinematic value, writer/director Duncan Jones and his crew cram too much into a narrative that will cause the majority of viewers to turn to each other and ask, "Just what the fuck is going on here?"

I've been a fan of Warcraft for a large portion of my life.  As far back as my high school days, I envisioned what the game would look like in cinema form, even going so far as to write out a synopsis for a three-part film series and attaching film makers to their productions (journals and sketches I still have to this day).  Needless to say, I relished the day would come when I would finally see what Hollywood could make of such a lucrative fantasy franchise, even if I had to make it myself.

Then The Lord of the Rings came out and blew the fantasy genre out of the park.  Then Game of Thrones came along, and fantasy was no longer just a childish thing, but also an adult-themed, "grown up" property that proved drama could be mined from sources other than just the Holocaust or the Middle East.  The problem here is that Warcraft, being clearly influenced by the works of Tolkien and other fantasy writers and artists, comes at the heels of these more professionally-made properties and can't help but feel even more derivative. because of it.

At least it's not as bad as 2000s Dungeons & Dragons, but in a couple human-related scenes, it gets damn close.  The movie feels like, of the twelve (yes, twelve!) producers on the film, six did it with a legitimate intent on making a good, epic fantasy motion picture.  The other six decided to make it because they lost a bet.

The acting in Warcraft actually isn't all that bad, minus one minor....well, major...issue:  All the actors needed British accents.  There's just something about fantasy and British twang to language that sells cheese better than Dominoes Pizza, making all the mythology sound more legit.  But Warcraft instead insists that its actors all speak with their normal voices, like some dudes from Wisconsin drove to the set in their expensive Halloween costumes and started spouting a plethora (yes, plethora) of names and places that haven't been established or introduced, leading me to feel that the words they were saying were just "randomly generated fantasy sounds coming out of the actors' mouths."  In fact, in earlier scenes, it almost sounds as though a couple of the actors attempt British accents for about two sentences, and then said, "Fuck it, it worked fine for Kevin Costner to change halfway through Robin Hood."

Actor Travis Fimmel as our lead human hero, Anduin Lothar, actually attempts to act his ass off and give the empty dialogue some emotion and brevity, but unfortunately no time is spent with any one theme, thought, or coherent creative intention to give any of his words the heart that they deserved.  Fimmel often feels out of place in the movie, like he's willingly trying to act himself magically into next Sunday's Game of Thrones episode.  His attempts are humor are also evident but minor, as with a few of the other actors, who also all try desperately to make the audience care about what is happening with a seriousness that pays homage to the source material and its mouth-agaped fans, but comes across as too jokey for any other audience members intelligent enough to have made it past the condensed version of Shakespeare's Hamlet in ninth grade English.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is a marvel.  Parent visual effects powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic has gone to great strides to bridge the "uncanny valley," and with this film they've come as close to succeeding as any other movie to date.  The first shot of our hero orc, Durotan (played excellently in motion capture by Toby Kebbell), is emotive and damn-near photo-realistic, on par or better than the work Weta Digital created with Gollum, or Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  The motion capture, the green screen work, the environments, the cities and towns, the production design and set construction - all of it looks rich and big budget, but...something is slightly askew...

The lighting on this goddamn movie.  For better or for worse, the film version of Warcraft looks JUST LIKE the video game version of World of Warcraft.  For better - the film looks like it was pulled straight from the video game, easily immersing fans into the world that they've spent countless hours ignoring their children in.  For worse - it looks like it was pulled straight from the video game.  In many scenes, the shots are so over-lit that the lush, sound stage sets come across looking like more cartoon-y versions of the Ridley Scott-directed Legend, with many scenes of the humans in costumes looking like they are acting in a homemade fan film, or a cheaper version of a live-action advertisement for a fantasy video game.  I've never seen something that was made to look so good end up looking so cheesy only because the director of photography insisted the moonlight be as bright as ten 4000k fluorescent lamps shining down onto the actors' heads and surrounding environment.  And for fuck's sake, some of the green screen vista shots of actor's close ups were lit completely different from the outdoor environment (and time of day) surrounding them.  Some of the shots had that air of George Lucas "Oh I'll just click this button here and turn this interior library shot into an exterior exploding volcano shot."  Because fuck consistent lighting.

The battle scenes are the highlight of this film - thankfully, considering it has the word "war" in its title.  But, again, the stakes are lowered because there isn't much to care about with the cliche' and relatively paper-thin caricatures of obvious fantasy character roles.  There are a few highlights and a few moderately dramatic moments, mainly because the visual effects and production design are mostly amazing, but at the end of the day, the lack of heart and subtlety make for many of the scenes feeling tacked on without any real care in placement throughout the narrative plot line.

And then fucking Glenn Close shows up for twenty seconds as some black-hooded spectre.  Who the hell paid in human sacrifice to get a multi-Oscar-nominated actress in this film?  Seriously, I want to know who lied to her and told her it wasa script for a Game of Thrones episode and that her role would net her an Emmy award.  I want to fucking know what lies were told to her, or what favor she owed her grandson in order for him to be known as the kid whose grandmother was in his friends' favorite grade-ruining game-turned-movie.

Usually I don't notice errors or holes in stories right away while watching a film unless they are blatant, but Jesus forgive me, because this film has some plot holes the size of King Kong's asshole:

*Possible spoilers*

- The orcs come to the human world through a giant green portal, introducing themselves to the human for the first time.  The humans have no idea what to call them, proving that both races are from two completely different worlds (proved true by the half-orc, half-whatever green chick who looks up at a ceiling map and says her world isn't from anywhere around those parts).  So, why do the orcs know so much about the humans but the humans know so little about the orcs? 

-  Why is the green bitch looking like a half-human, half-orc hybrid if the orcs haven't had any contact with humans?  She claims that a human breeding with an orc would kill the human (or break all of his bones or some shit, proving that she must have a back breaker of a twerk).  Unless her mother was a black widow and killed some errant human traveling in orc lands after raping him to create the most hated half-breed child in all of the land, then her knowing so much about human tongue makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

-  How does the green chick speak English??

-  Why are the humans so quick to trust both the green chick and the young wizard dude when they both, not a few scenes earlier, were clear threats?

-  Why do the humans have such a large army (legions of men, it is described) when the only clear threat that is established in the film is the orc army that just magically appeared in their realm?

-  Again, what was Glenn Close doing in this movie?

If you say any of these things can be answered in an Appendice-style backstory outside of the movie and in the video game lore, you can go fuck yourself.  All of this needed to at least be hinted at in the movie or marginally explained for anyone who doesn't know the story.  Shit, I've played the Warcraft games for many years and I still turned to the nobody in the empty chair sitting next to me and imaginatively said "I have no idea just what the fuck is going on here."

Look, I didn't hate Warcraft.  For much of the first half I was marginally entertained, hoping the confusion of names and terms would turn into something understandable or relatable.  I could actually feel the passion behind the project, like everyone involved really wanted this film to be good.  The problem is the film makers (namely, the producers) spent too much time paying fan service rather than creating a coherent story.  The film is about a decade too late, and released at a time that benefits its technical aspects (the CGI wasn't good enough ten years ago, apparently) rather than riding on the coattails of the video game's height in popularity.

Warcraft needed to be something smaller, I felt.  The very first shot of the film, of a "present day" scene (in Warcraft terms) at the Crossroads, of a single human soldier picking up a fallen ally's shield in preparation to square off with a single orc tells a story far better in a word-less action shot than any other scene in the entire film, and made me ache for a film that was more quiet, with less dude-and-nerd-sounding lines of dialogue and more subtle, emotive scenes that make us care more about the lead human characters and the lead orc characters.  Doing so would have made their inevitable collisions (and/or demise) have more heft and punch to the outcomes.

From a technical standpoint,  Warcraft is a cheesy visual effects masterpiece with sloppy editing and lighting with a surprising and respected use of both practical and computer-generated props and scenery.  The CGI was at times so good I couldn't tell if some of what I saw was real or not.  Ramin Djawadi's musical score is heavy, bombast, and decently catchy.  The costumes are spot-on with the game's designs, and despite their often Velveeta look, the sets are welcome in their fake "realness."  Too many scenes are brushed through, giving little coherence to continuity or actor placement.  Travis Fimmel and Ben Foster both act the shit out of what they were given, and that, at least, has to be commended.  Overall, the film is full of missed opportunities - too many to list here in this overlong complaint of a review.  This movie needed to be good, but instead this is what we got - a movie for people to ridicule for years to come.

Otherwise, unless you are 14 or a fan of the World of Warcraft video game, or if you give a shit about coherence in cinematic plot lines, then Warcraft is probably a skip.  Go home and watch the extended versions of Lord of the Rings instead.

Peacemaker Reviews - "X-Men: Apocalypse"

JJ Mortimer

"X-Men: Apocalypse" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  143 minutes

Directed by Bryan Singer / Written by Simon Kinberg

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

 

The third in the First Class reboot of the X-Men series of films, X-Men: Apocalypse follows a familiar formula without breaking new ground or taking any serious risks in the comic book movie series, but does so in a fun and consistently-entertaining manner with a frightening performance by Oscar Isaac as the titular villain, and the best rendition of a popular character in the X-Men universe to date.

I must be seeing different movies than most people, because after hearing the negative reception of this film on its opening weekend, I once again went into the film with largely negative preconceptions and expectations.  What I saw from scene one was a violent, hard-punching origin scene of one of Marvel's most powerful mutants that had me excited and attentive.  Director Bryan Singer establishes a scenario with which our heroes will have to overcome a literal destruction of the world by fighting a villain that can grant other mutants their greatest wish, or tear them apart at the snap of a finger.  There are no stakes higher than that, and X-Men: Apocalypse sets that tone up rather nicely.  I was impressed in the early goings of the film.

X-Men: Apocalypse was yet another example of me watching a film, waiting for all the "bad stuff" that people had been complaining about to happen.  I waited a week to see this film, and this may be a new trend for me.  Some films deserve opening weekend viewings (the Avengers films, for example, benefit from audience excitement), while others seem to be disappointing people with expectations that supersede their willingness to sit back and be entertained for a couple hours.  Having said that, this film met my requirements for a positive review - if for a two-hour-plus run time, I don't once stray my thoughts into something other than the movie and find myself watching the screen without distraction, than the film has succeeded on a base level.

Most of the characters in the rebooted franchise are given good moments to shine and express their strengths and powers.  Cyclops is introduced as a young man and finally given a soul that earlier renditions just couldn't muster, and Beast finally comes across as a budding leader figure.  My favorite character moment was the pinnacle scene of the film, Quicksilver's slow-motion scene that outdoes his introduction from Days of Future Past by allowing him to be a cocky, smart-ass, multiple life-saving hero, all while having fun in an 80s vibe.  Bryan Singer's touch and film making vibe is all over this film, and his insistence upon balancing multiple characters and roles really elevates Apocalypse above what I feel many may not give it credit for.

I'm not a huge fan of Mystique's role (played by Jennifer Lawrence) being elevated to such a high standard, given that her characters was so minor in the comics, and I feel that this may be a case of a superstar actress delegating a more meaningful purpose to what should be a secondary role.  But, the film has rewritten the X-Men comic book history so much in the past few films that it isn't ALL completely out of nowhere.

The real heart and soul of this X-Men film once again lies in the performances and chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto (respectively).  Both men have been fantastic in their roles over the past three films, and Fassbender especially is given the better dramatic parts that make his Magneto one of the most powerful and tragic characters in the franchise.  His turns and motivations make him easily the most relatable of all the mutant characters.

Oscar Isaac is completely unrecognizable as Apocalypse, a truly frightening villain in his demeanor and purpose, one whose real powers have become so strong over the millennia that had me really thinking in the early parts of the film that this may be the supervillain that actually changes the world with his destructive powers.  I may or may not be right.  Either way, Isaac's Apocalypse is cold, powerful, and persuasive, but isn't really a deep character with emotions on the level of Fassbender's Magneto.  For the story, and the ability to drive our already-established characters forward, he is an effective ruse.

My final thought on this underrated film brings me to the cameo by a particular character, whose introduction was enough to make a grown man jump enthusiastically in his seat like a teenager again.  Without saying a single line of dialogue, this character finally shows the bloody, rage-filled nature with which comic fans have been starving for, and FINALLY is given the proper treatment and setup to a final solo film.  For the five minutes in which this characters is shown, X-Men: Apocalypse transcends itself and allows fans a moment to ingest the fulfilling carnage that has taken 16 years to witness, in as close a way as a PG-13 film will allow.

In summary, my opinion is that X-Men: Apocalypse was given too bad of a rap on its opening weekend by fans perhaps expecting something more along the lines of what they were expecting, rather than sitting back and enjoying what they were given.  The film is very well made, with mostly-great and dramatic performances.  The humor is there in large doses, as are the great visual effects and explosively-loud action set pieces.  At times I had forgotten some of the moments from the previous two films, but this film does a fine job of reminding us of some of those character interactions we may have forgotten.  Go into this film expecting to be entertained for a couple hours in a theater that is hopefully equipped with great sound, and you will be more impressed than many earlier critics have led you on to believe.

Of the rebooted X-Men films, I would put Apocalypse behind First Class and Days of Future Past, but in the list of X-Men films, I would put it somewhere in the middle (based on my grade of the films from when I first viewed them):

1) X2:  X-Men United

2) X-Men: First Class

3) X-Men: Days of Future Past

4) X-Men

5) X-Men: Apocalypse

6) The Wolverine

7) X-Men: The Last Stand

8) X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Peacemaker Reviews - "The Nice Guys"

JJ Mortimer

"The Nice Guys" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  116 minutes

Written & Directed by Shane Black

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Director Shane Black delivers his expected crackling dialogue and humorous characterizations, but despite the great chemistry and sharp performances from stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, Black's script falls under its own convoluted weight by stuffing the audience with too much information instead of giving us time to absorb what fun we have with the two main leads. 

Now, I'm a huge fan of Shane Black the writer.  He has proven time and time again to be a master of character development and dialogue, usually driving the audience's attention to a duo of main characters with an allowance of improvisation and catchphrase-worthy lines.  The man has come up with a handful of some of the best action movie scripts from the 80s and 90s (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boyscout, The Long Kiss Goodnight), as well as being responsible for almost single-handedly reinventing (and mastering) the "buddy cop" cliche.  Riggs and Murtaugh are his babies.  But as a film director, Black hasn't quite found his footing.

Off the bat I really enjoyed The Nice Guys.  I loved the 70s setting and the pace early on, as well as the violent and hilarious introduction of both main characters in their particular situations.  The first act is where the film is the strongest, building the hard-edged but humorous mood and the witty banter between both men, as Russell Crowe's character hires Ryan Gosling to help with a detective job, despite just having beat the shit out of him the day before.

Where the film fell apart a bit for me isn't in the initial film making process per say, but in director Shane Black's insistence upon jamming too much story into such a small film.  Where The Nice Guys could have benefited from being more centered on character moments (in my opinion), it instead clobbers us over the head with twists and developments that ask the audience to care about something other than the characters we've already quickly grown to love and enjoy, in turn taking the early established flow and energy away from what we were groomed to focus on from minute one.

As the story goes on and we learn who is involved in the case and how high up the political and ecological ranks it goes, I lost a bit of interest and tried instead to focus on the comedic banter between Crowe and Gosling, only to find that many of those moments were overshadowed by Black's convoluted narrative.

If The Nice Guys were a ten-part miniseries with Shane Black writing in his lighter-hearted True Detective style with a 70s vibe, the narrative would shine.  Our main leads would also be given more time to flesh out their partnership and their backstories - things that the film grazes upon but never quite bites down on.  There are a lot of buildups with little payoffs in this film, which hopefully isn't the reason as to why the film hints at a sequel in order to give us more about the characters.

Again, Shane Black succeeds in giving us two more great characters in the echelon of his film making career, but because he overfills his script with too much story than it's near two-hour run time can manage, The Nice Guys delivers less of what we want to see and too much of what we aren't given enough time to care about.  And besides, who doesn't want to see Russell Crowe break more arms and crack more skulls?

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Captain America: Civil War"

JJ Mortimer

"Captain America: Civil War" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  147 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Arguably the best of the Avengers-based films, Captain America: Civil War is the biggest, most thematically relevant of the series, thanks in great part to the deft hand at direction from brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who manage to balance large-scale epic action and entertainment with poignant dialogue, character development, and high-stakes superhero drama.

The sign of a great director(s) is balance - the ability to draw audiences to the edge of their seat and ultimately sitting them back in relief; the ability to make them laugh one moment and then cry a few minutes later; and in the case of Civil War, being able to present one of the biggest and best superhero fight scenes ever presented while also finding time and purpose for each and every of the dozen characters involved in the mayhem. 

I loved this film to death.  The giddiness of seeing the first pairing of characters in the 2012s Avengers had initially passed, but what I saw was a more adult motion picture that had the confidence to take more than double the amount of characters and give each and every one of them a moment to shine.  Even without having seen the prior films with which many of them were introduced (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, for instance), the audience is still able to get a grasp on the powers and purposes of heroes like Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and low-scale outlaw Scott Lang.  This is a film that has confidence in its audience, even introducing us to the next incarnation of Spider-Man without resorting to yet another origin story (we see him with Aunt May, but no Uncle Ben, meaning that part of the story has already been established, thankfully).

Despite its epic scale and feeling like a third Avengers film with its scope of character and dramatic consequences, Civil War is still a Captain America film at heart.  Continuing where Winter Soldier left off, the film keeps a centered focus on Steve Rogers and his search to find his friend Bucky, and learn the truth about the Winter Soldier program that turned his friend into a wanted terrorist and super-powered, brain-washed villain.

Going into the film and knowing what I knew about the Civil War story arc and how the government wants control on superheroes who are at times classified as "weapons of mass destruction," I knew I was going to side with Captain America.  But what this film and the writers do that truly amazed me was, for the first time that I can remember, we have a film where people could be on both sides of the argument without there being a clear "good guy" or "bad guy."  Each and every character who chooses what side they are on are clearly doing so with purpose and their personal influence.  Specific scenes have some of the smartest, most relevant pieces of dialogue I've heard about government control (or lack thereof) that I've ever seen in a motion picture.  The film's writers, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, took a staggering task of writing a film that easily could have seen Tony Stark as the bad guy, but instead gave him and all of the people he influenced good cause for their choices, while also giving Captain America's side a damn good reason to be where they are in the political division.

The action scenes are mostly shot well by cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who thankfully takes "giant" action and allows us to see every bit of movement clearly without all the shaky cam bullshit (a technique he used that ultimately ruined some of my experience in the film Elysium, which he at times implores in the smaller chase sequences in this film).  The initial "Civil War" battle between heroes is understandable and smart, with each character having checks and balances over each other (no hero is overpowered, with one or another having a power that seems to counter another hero's power, and vice-versa), with some surprises to comic fans thrown in for good measure.  The inclusion of Black Panther fit well into the story, with his character introduction and origin being at the foreground during the initial event that puts the story into play.

Small tidbits may irk a few fans and purists, such as Stark's involvement in the story of Spider-Man (namely his costume), but in the scope of the what the Avengers-based films have done, it works without taking away any of the genius or intelligence of Peter Parker.  The film's musical score, from composer Henry Jackman, doesn't stand out as well as a score should have in a film of this magnitude, but underscores the action giving it the little bravado it required.

If you pay attention to the smaller scenes throughout the film (specifically the first time we see Tony Stark presenting new technology involving extraction of memory, and a final scene involving Bucky and Steve), you may begin to piece together certain story elements that may come into play in the future.  I've come to realize that there is never a wasted scene in a Marvel film - no bullshit "oh hey let's just do this because it looks cool" scenes.  Everything has a purpose, and producer Kevin Feige must have this thing time-lined harder than the producers of ABC's Lost ever did.  Even one of Bucky's Manchurian Candidate-like code words for activation highlights the subtitle to Marvel's standalone Spider-Man film, Homecoming.

Overall, the film surprised me even though I had HUGE expectations going into my viewing.  Marvel continuously knocks their productions out of the park by finding the right directors, writers, and stars for each of their projects.  While Civil War may seem like a platform for future films (namely stand-alone films for Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the next Avenges team up), it is still a rather contained story that presents huge consequences that will ripple through future films, either bringing the Avengers closer together, or tearing them further apart. 

Captain America: Civil War is a worthy continuation of Marvel Studios' insistence upon making humorous, entertaining, and relevant comic book films.  On an entertainment level, as well as a dramatically-and-politically relevant standpoint, Civil War should do epic, Avengers-level numbers at the box office.  It's that good.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Hardcore Henry"

JJ Mortimer

"Hardcore Henry" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  95 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Like a live-action version of a Call of Duty game (both in perspective and story), Hardcore Henry is definitely a unique experience with some moments of genuine brilliance, humor, and potential, but overall becomes a gimmicky, long version of conceptual short film that can't sustain a coherent story for its feature length.

Through much of my viewing of this movie, I had a smile on my face.  I wasn't as lambasted by the first-person perspective (and didn't get vertigo while watching it, thanks to motion sickness medication taken before hand), and found the idea of shooting a film in this way quite entertaining.  The way director Ilya Naishuller is able to shoot the film looks to be inspired by the popular video games of today, as well as the "reboot and startup" scene from the original Robocop.  The film feels inspired, and the hard work the film makers put in to making this movie feel like a video game is admirable - and that much I enjoyed.

On the other hand, there is very little story for this film to go on.  Had it existed as a twenty-minute short film, the joy and wonder of the director's vision would have sustained itself, but after an hour of shooting and kicking and guts and gore, the experience begins to tire.  Set somewhere in the near future in what appears to be Eastern Europe, the movie sets up every opportunity for a gun fight and an often-hilarious encounter with multiple characters all played by actor Sharlto Copely (which the film explains, though even had they not put any logic as to why after one character dies another just like him shows up, I still would have found what could have been a great inside joke to be acceptable).  After each gunfight, foot chase or car chase, you can almost feel the movie "saving" with a "checkpoint reached" notification popping up on the screen.  After a while it seriously stops feeling like a movie - for better or for worse.

The stunt work is hands-down amazing, with a lot of parkour action all filmed with GoPro cameras, and the violence feels particularly real and abrupt.  Though in the end, too much is put in to just the action, with very little left to care about in regards to a Force-using villain threatening world domination with an army of re-animated corpses, which of course an amnesia-addled Henry must fight to prevent while also saving his kidnapped wife.

Fun for a moment and stylistically creative, Hardcore Henry is not a narrative game-changer by any means.  A great movie to watch at home after a few beers and a few good laughs, just before getting back online to shoot your friend's avatars in their damn faces.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"

JJ Mortimer

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  151 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a healthy balance of Batman movie and Superman movie, while simultaneously servicing as a setup to a bigger, Avengers-style mashup of DC comic characters (aka the Justice League).  The film is expertly shot and entertaining, while displaying easily the best film version of Batman in Ben Affleck's violent, grizzled, and dark performance.  I honestly don't know why this film was rated so low in the eyes of critics and fanboys.

To give my review some context, just know that I went into my viewing with full knowledge of all the negative shit that everyone (critics and audiences alike) had been saying about the film.  From the first scene of the movie, I tried desperately to look for all the "bad stuff."  The only gripe I had right off the bat was that I was disappointed there wasn't a cool opening credit/title sequence like 1989s Batman with a cool musical theme (two elements that have been sorely lacking to far too many blockbuster films in the past decade or two).  Then the movie began.

And I watched and watched, smiled and watched, went "hooooly shit" a couple times and kept watching.  I marveled at Affleck's seemingly and demon-like portrayal of a true "dark knight," a man disenchanted by older morals and motivated by a new anger.  I watched the dream sequences that had some people confused but, again, I was able to put into context of the characters and understand why the scenes were there.  I watched the hints at a bigger future movie that may thought didn't belong in this film, but instead I smiled like a giddy comic book fan hoping to see the next issue sooner than later.  The movie teased, the movie pleased, and then the movie gave me an action sequence that was the best Batman fight scene I've ever seen in any Batman-oriented film.  Lo and behold I couldn't find the movie-ruining moments everyone had been crybabies about.  Surely there was something terrible.  Given my hatred of Man of Steel, perhaps there was something with Superman...

Saying I "hate" Man of Steel may be a strong word, but I wanted to like it so much because of what director Zack Snyder had done in the past (I enjoyed 300 and Watchmen very much).  I felt his portrayal of Superman was misguided, dull, listless, and thematically all over the map without a moral center.  Here, in Batman v Superman, Snyder finally had a grip on the character and actor Henry Cavill was able to be the Clark Kent/Superman he should have been in that prior film.  For the first time since that first film, I was able to connect to his performance.  Even Superman worked as a character in this film.

And then we come to the "horrible miscast" of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  While I still would have much rather preferred a more distinguished actor for the role, I went into the movie knowing I was going to hate him.  And.... I actually really enjoyed his performance.  His version of Lex is a bit too close to the Joker in his quirky insanity, and may have actually been more frightening had he played the role a little more straight-forward and calculated (like you know a Bryan Cranston in full Breaking Bad mode would have), but given what we had I thought he was engaging and enjoyable.

Then we come to the battle, and all the criticisms on the "motivation" of why the fight had to happen and the reasons as how it is resolved.  I had no problems with any of the choices the writers went with here.  In all honesty, if you disliked how the skirmish either started or ended, try to think of a better way that would have made sense given the short period of time the characters had to resolve their issues.  They NEEDED something to connect the two heroes, and the film found a way by using another character's name that surprisingly, after all my years of reading comics, had totally eluded me. It all worked perfectly fine for me.  I won't spoil anything, so if anyone wants to argue why I agree with the choices the film makers went with here (especially given that these two characters will need to be on the same team one day), I'm open for all kinds of arguments about social character and psychological motivations that many of you probably haven't even given a thought to since this film came out.

One thing to note about this film's title is that it's not called Batman VERSUS Superman.  I honestly have no idea what the "v" stands for, but I'm assuming it's more of a purposeful misnomer like a disguised ampersand, and the film is more about the buildup to a future Justice League film, and with that I was surprised with how happy I was with how the writers went about building this up (Marvel still planned and executed it better with their Avengers films).  THAT element of pre-existing knowledge was something I was sure I would have been disappointed with before going in to watch the film, but instead I found myself wanting more and hoping the film would be longer than it was.  Yes, I actually wanted the film to be longer than its two-and-a-half hour run time.

In the end, Affleck's portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman is easily the best I've seen on film, and his planned solo outing is something that, if in line with what we saw in this film, will be a home run.  This isn't your "I don't kill people" Batman, either - he is scary, violent, haunted, and truly strikes fear (as well as knives) into the hearts of bad guys.  Cavill finally gets to play both Clark Kent and Superman to his liking with the limited screen time each alter ego gets, and the inevitable showdown with Batman (and an atrocity that foreshadows a dark moment in comic book history from the early 90s) amidst a country at odds with super-powered heroes is, at times, dramatically powerful stuff.

Over time I'm sure I will become more nit-picky with smaller details of Batman v Superman, but I found that I misjudged the film by nit-picking it before I had even seen it, which made me appreciate and enjoy my time with this film that much MORE.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may not be the huge beat-down, smash-em-up that many comic book fans had envisioned for years coming to a theater screen, but the movie they got is an enjoyable experience that felt more like an actual "comic book movie" than anything adapted from a DC comic since Tim Burton had his hands on Batman.  As much as I loved Christopher Nolan's take on Gotham City and as much as I disliked Snyder's original take on Metropolis, THIS film gets the comic book feel right and finally, FINALLY, has both cities in the same film together in a way that worked.  There truly is something awesome about hearing Superman say the word "Gotham" and then seeing him punching Batman in the face.

If you have yet to see the film, go in to it hating it, or with overly-lowered expectations.  In my opinion, I've seen worse films with better reviews, and I feel this film will be more appreciated in future years.  There will always be little things, and maybe even some big things, that could have been done or changed to make the film more to a fan's liking, but with the film we got and the enjoyment I had while watching it, I felt my money and time were well spent.  This film was a blockbuster at heart that allowed us to take everything we know about the backstories of both main characters and fill in the gaps ourselves.  And for that, I appreciated it.

 Also....hot.

Also....hot.

Peacemaker Reviews - "10 Cloverfield Lane"

JJ Mortimer

"10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  105 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

In what is to be a continuation of the franchise of monster-induced mayhem movies created by 2008s Cloverfield, the JJ Abrams-produced 10 Cloverfield Lane is a tense, claustrophobic, mostly-fantastic drama headed by a frightening performance by John Goodman.  Though depending on your expectations of what is to be expected of a Cloverfield movie, this film may either surprise or disappoint you in the third act's final moments.

10 Cloverfield Lane for the most part is a great drama/mystery.  Howard, and "end of days" survivalist (played by John Goodman) is frightening in presence, and what makes him even more terrifying is in trying to figure out if he is actually correct in his presumptions of what is happening to the world outside the bunker with which he is keeping Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) "captive."  Neither Michelle, or John Gallagher Jr.'s character Emmett (who fought to get IN to the bunker when all shit broke loose), quite understand exactly what is going on, and can only rely on the word of their surly, unstable bunker host to keep them believing that they are safe where they are.

Had the film stayed as just a captor/hostage film, we would have a great, subdued and tense thriller that would explore the psychology of captivity with a man of a questionable past who has spent his entire life preparing for the end of the world, and two people thrown into the mix who either have to learn to believe the man or fight to free themselves and take their chances with the outside world.  But, knowing we are dealing with a sequel to a giant monster movie, something is going to be more than it seems - for better or for worse.

In terms of 10 Cloverfield Lane's narrative switch, the film reminded me a bit of From Dusk till Dawn with a hint of Heston's Planet of the Apes thrown in.  While Dawn was a complete switcheroo in terms of what kind of movie it was supposed to be, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps you guessing (and second guessing) as to what may or may not be real until we finally discover it at the end of the film - much like Apes before it.  The fact that we already know that this is a Cloverfield film does answer most of our questions before we see it for ourselves, unfortunately.

This is a film where I largely enjoyed the slower moments, the quiet discussions between two people trapped in a claustrophically-small environment relatively against their will.  The dinner scenes are particularly effective, with a man so much a monster on his own that his "guests" are willing to risk whatever "monsters" are on the outside in order to escape him.

In its quieter moments, we connect to the able-minded Michelle as she tries her best to survive in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter with a man who believes every fantasy that gave him the notion to build one.  Director Dan Trachtenberg shoots John Goodman with such an imposing force that his character Howard, narratively and psychologically, stands toe-to-toe with the original Cloverfield monster.  As the film's tagline reads, "Monsters Come in a Many Forms."  Had the film ended with that, it would have worked even without the final resolution that felt rushed and a bit out of touch with the Michelle character that Mary Elizabeth Winstead spent the entire run time establishing.  Future films may make me appreciate it more, but I had more fun trying to figure whether or not I believed Howard, that either Russians or Martians had invaded the world above, rather than actually finding out the truth.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Deadpool"

JJ Mortimer

"Deadpool" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  106 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

In the wake of a plethora of comic book movies that take themselves way too seriously, Deadpool is a welcome breath of fresh air not only in its ability to be a creative, non-stop entertainment with its narrative approach, but in the simple fact that it was even allowed to be made.

It's no secret that 20th Century Fox has had some creative problems over the years in their handling of popular comic book properties (Fantastic Four and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, anyone?), but when a star and a lucrative fan base rally behind a particular character and DEMAND that he be given the proper treatment, sometimes we are graced with a gem of cinema that surprises everyone with how entertaining it is.  Deadpool is the result of Ryan Reynolds' years-long attempt to get the character on screen for the simple fact of giving the fans a true adaptation of the violent, joke-riddled, and dirty-minded "Merc With a Mouth." 

The film is true to the comics, with Deadpool displaying a genre-breaking awareness of the jokiness of the superhero classification, while often breaking the fourth wall in talking to the audience about his current situations.  One of my favorite jokes in the film involves X-Man Colossus dragging Deadpool away from a revenge-filled battle scene, saying he needs to take him to see the Professor [Charles Xavier].  Deadpool's response?  "Which one, McAvoy or Stewart?"  It's shit like this that many filmmakers are too afraid to put into their films out of fear that their audience won't get the inside jokes.

With this film we get director Tim Miller and star/producer Ryan Reynolds doing a fantastic job of staying true to the character of Wade Wilson/Deadpool ,while working with a limited budget that is shadowed in comparison to other big-budget films with longer run times and half the enjoyment.  Despite being a stand-alone film, there are still many tie-ins with the 20th Century Fox X-Men universe.  With current talks of a sequel already in the making after the record-breaking box office opening weekend, one can assume the budget will more than double the second time around with more X-characters making cameos.  And there-in lies a potential problem:

Deadpool is a hard-R-rated motion picture.  The X-Men films are decidedly PG-13 and bloodless, and any incorporation of this character into an X-Men film wouldn't work.  The character NEEDS to be R-rated.  In fact, the R-rating is part of the joke of this Deadpool film.  While faced with the opportunity to be a "hero," Deadpool's resulting choice amidst a heartfelt plea by another character results in said popular X-character vomiting from seeing what may be his first death by gunshot wound to the skull.  You know, things not usually associated with your typical X-Men, Avengers, or any family-friendly superhero film.

The film is not without some small issues.  I felt that there could/should have been even more gratuitous carnage in the film.  By turning the genre on its head, Deadpool had the opportunity to be even more over-the-top, and in some scenes I felt they could have pushed the limit a little more.  Some jokes fall a little flat, but the fact that they are so quick-witted and frequent makes up for the ones that don't land.  I've also not been a huge fan of origin stories, BUT Deadpool has an intriguing backstory that is decidedly dirtier (even in its romantic angle) than most would expect.

Deadpool feels fresh and colorful, with Ryan Reynolds being the star who was literally born to play the character.  This is a movie that will benefit from repeat viewings not because of its story, but because many of the jokes come so fast that you often miss them during the laughter.  The soundtrack also may very well be the most awesome part of the film, with Chicago and Wham! songs popping up at the most unimaginable times - and it works by being a fitting contrast to the bloody, hilarious destruction on screen.

A must-see for fans of comic book movies who want something MORE, or anyone looking for a good love story with a lot of bullets, boobs, and the word "fuck" used in a multitude of conjugations.  And damn if Pool's costume doesn't kick major ass.

To quote Ryan Reynolds himself (from IMDB.com):

"I think Deadpool's coming along at the right time, because it's speaking to that generation that has seen all these comic-book films and enjoyed them all; it's speaking to them as though the guy in that red suit is one of them."

Stay to the end of the credits.

Peacemaker Reviews - "13 Hours"

JJ Mortimer

"13 Hours:  The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime: 144 minutes

Review by JJ Mortimer

Michael Bay's 13 Hours is not only a good return to form for the director, but is a taut, action-packed film that smartly presents facts at hand and the military prowess of the ill-fated attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, while avoiding any political rhetoric that has plagued the situation since it occurred.  13 Hours allows the audience to see the action and hear the dialogue between the soldiers and secret C.I.A. operatives who were involved, while letting us make our own minds up on just how much of a cluster-fuck the whole situation was and how poorly it was handled.

All the actors involved got physically and emotionally into their roles, much like the actors of other high-profile military movies of the past few years (Lone Survivor, American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty).  James Badge Dale and Jon Krasinski act the hell out of their roles, especially a physically ripped Krasinski who surprises on just how much he has progressed since his days of comedic roles and lighthearted fare.  Scenes later in the film between Dale and Krasinski, who play Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Jack Silva, respectively, are particularly powerful, with a couple moments damn-near tear jerking.  The emotional buildup between the two men and their families gives the final act of the film the punch in the gut we all deserve.

What I liked most about 13 Hours was how well it captured and illustrated the chaos in Libya, and how little we as American citizens know about what it's like for our soldiers to operate in the Middle East.  Everyone is perceived as an enemy, and not until a bullet is fired toward your body are you completely sure of whether you can defend your life or not.  Seeing the soldiers utterly confused as to what the hell is going on in the streets outside the embassy is frustrating, to say the least.

Michael Bay delivers his usual sense of bombast in the well-choreographed action scenes, with a more subdued eye in the penchant for over-editing that was apparent in his other action films as of late.  There are some moments where some of the dialogue comes off a little corny and/or doesn't quite fit in with the scene (especially with actor Pablo Schreiber who portrayed Kris 'Tanto' Paronto), but in the end it didn't quite take away from caring about the characters - men who so effortlessly put their lives on the line to save others -  in their final stand at what can only be described as "The Alamo in 2012."

In the end, 13 Hours has a few Michael Bay moments with pumped-up Hollywood-style action and one-liners that may not fit in with the perceived realism of the situation, but many of the actors (with special note to character actor Max Martini who has been showing up in everything lately) delve into their roles and portray their real-life counterparts with equal parts patriotic respect and emotional heft so well, that the shortcomings are easily forgiven.  It should also be noted that I didn't feel that this was a political film AT ALL, which makes many of critics who derided the film based on said notion a complete and unfortunate bias toward what the film actually displayed - a good old-fashioned American action film based on real life events that became "political" when politics should not have been involved.  And may God bless the fallen "secret soldiers" and ambassador Chris Stevens.

Highly recommended.

13 Hours is one of the few films I've seen since last summer that I would consider seeing more than once with my complete attention.

Peacemaker Reviews - "The Revenant"

JJ Mortimer

"The Revenant" (2015) - Rated R / Runtime: 151 minutes

Review by JJ Mortimer

Dreary, grisly, yet visually stimulating, The Revenant is a showcase of premier film makers working at the pinnacle of their careers, eliciting a decades-defining performance from Leonardo DiCaprio in what very well may be the most realistic display of Frontier survival in contemporary film history.

The Revenant is a damn fine motion picture, though it will not be everyone's cup of joe.  It is like a beautiful painting of trees and snow, with dismembered bodies and scenes of carnage strewn about.  The film is relentlessly violent and disturbing; it is blood and guts amidst a tapestry of gorgeous winter landscapes.  But what sets this film apart from a Terrance Malick film (known for seemingly poetic yet narrative-less films) is that Oscar-winning director Alejandro Inarritu focuses this piece on character, hinging on the power of a mostly-dialogue-less and dedicated performance by Leonardo DiCaprio (who is put through the physical ringer), not to mention an awesome villainous supporting performance from Tom Hardy.

The film centers around early 1800s frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) who is hired to guide a fur trading expedition.  After a truly horrifying bear mauling scene that makes 1997s The Edge look like a Disney film, he is left for dead by the group and fights for his survival - and revenge - in the unforgiving wilderness.  The film is truly a wonder to look at (shot once again by Oscar-winning Inarritu collaborator Emanuel Lubezki) with many long, extended shots centered on the natural beauty of the forests and snowy vistas, with every intent on making the viewer feel the harsh coldness that Glass experiences.  I can't remember a film that made me actually feel cold despite being in a warm movie theater auditorium.  What's most impressive about the film (other than Leo's performance) are the long takes of brutal, bloody action that must have been mind-boggling to choreograph.

The only problems that I may see some people having with the movie is in its graphic violence and an expectation in this being a grand epic adventure, which it is not.  This is a survival and revenge film at heart that centers mainly on one character, and scenes are up front and close to him with much of the action being displayed in close proximity like a documentary camera man standing by a reporter as he views the action.

The musical score is minimalist and beautiful, the acting is powerful and damn near perfect, and the cinematography is an art form all in its own.  Writing a review doesn't do the film justice.  This is a film to sit down and ponder in discussion, and truly a film to absorb and experience on the big screen.  If you would go to an art museum to see paintings in their natural habitat instead of in a magazine, then The Revenant should be seen on the big screen and not set aside to be seen on a television.  I was blown away.

Half way through watching the film, I got the initial impression that I could play this movie in the background many times over in the future as I was doing something else that required more attentionThere's an ethereal quality to the film that doesn't require you to focus on the little details of the story, but allows you to experience the broad, environmental nature of the action and the harsh, unforgiving wilderness much akin to absorbing a viewing of a fine painting.  And at over two-and-a-half hours, the film doesn't feel droll and lifeless.  It flows, and encompasses your senses in every way a film truly can.

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

JJ Mortimer

SPOILER-FREE Review

"Chewie, we're home."

You're damn right we're home.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fantastic, well-directed motion picture that doesn't try to exceed expectations by shooting for the stars, but rightfully soars through the sky, entertaining in such a way that made it feel right at home with the original trilogy (with which it is a direct sequel).

There are so many things I want to say about this film, but I want to keep much of it under wraps so that for those of you who haven't seen it can uncover and experience it in a similar fashion.  The most important thing I want to say is that The Force Awakens is a perfect example of a Star Wars film that is made by a director who not only knows how to direct actors into great performances and string together a coherent and engaging narrative, but also a man who gives a shit about the Star Wars universe and its characters.

Director J.J. Abrams succeeds in once again making the franchise something of wonder and mystique, avoiding any connection to the prequel trilogy and instead focusing on the original trilogy of films we grew up with and loved.  No midichlorians.  No Jar Jar fucking Binks.  He even went as far as to hire Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi scripter Lawrence Kasdan to help bring to life the heart and soul of what made the films so great.  Another important element he added in keeping with the style of the original films was to employ physical sets and puppeteering.  Characters, props, and sets come to life by actually existing on screen, without resorting to an entire soulless CGI environment that was so prominent in the prequel films.

The Force Awakens introduces us to new characters that we actually care about, mainly because their performances are so good.  Abrams succeeds in expanding the universe by allowing time for new characters, played competently by John Boyega, Daisey Ridley, and Oscar Isaac, to develop and grow, even when first and foremost we are there to see our old childhood favorites once again. 

Which brings me to Harrison Ford.  Hands down, this is Han Solo's movie, and Harrison Ford is so damn good in returning to the role that you immediately fall in love with the character once again.  What's amazing is that, despite Ford's known history of having hated playing the Han Solo character in the past (most notably going on record as begging George Lucas to kill him off first in Empire Strikes Back, and then again at the end of Return of the Jedi), J.J. Abrams was able to draw from him an impressively charismatic performance that hearkens back into our roots in nostalgia while simultaneously showing us another, dare I say "emotional," side to him.

In staying with my general attitude of being honest with all my reviews, I will note my only little gripes with the film (which aren't even that big).  First, I'm not a huge fan of cinematographer Dan Mindel's work.  I would have much more preferred more steady shots rather than his penchant for sweeping shots and active camera angles that felt a tad out of place with the feel of the original trilogy.  But, given that this film takes place thirty years (or so) later, a change in style could be considered somewhat fitting to this new trilogy.  Despite this, there is one scene in particular involving bright light and then darkness and red light on a character's face at a pivotal moment that was a brilliant piece of film making from both Abrams and Mindel.

Sadly, my other only little gripe was the lack of punch from John Williams' score.  While the iconic music is still in tact, there was very little in the way of memorable themes that even existed with his work on the prequels.  I had hoped for something a little more memorable, but given that the man is 83-years old and has scored dozens of motion pictures, its understandable not to expect a score on the level of The Empire Strikes Back.  But, I was still hoping to take away something more from his work on this film, but I just didn't leave with that ability to hum anything that I heard.  Not a bad score by any means, but just not the bravado I was hoping for.

Overall, The Force Awakens is not only a great Star Wars film but a great film altogether that surprises, satisfies in many ways, and piques our nostalgic interests while supplying us with enough new characters and elements to warrant a care for the future two films.  By the last shot of the film (a true highlight of the franchise), I was excited, and at the same time disheartened, in knowing I have to wait another three years to see where this story will take us.  Bravo, J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Harrison Ford, & producer Kathleen Kennedy.  Bravo.

POST THOUGHTS:  I was pleased that the film makers chose not to open with the Disney logo, and instead opened with just the Lucasfilm, LTD. logo before giving us the iconic title scroll following "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."  This is probably the only film franchise that an opening DOES make a huge difference to the overall experience to the film.

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Creed"

JJ Mortimer

"Creed" (2015) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 133 minutes

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

11/25/15

A film that easily could have safely rested on the laurels of the six Rocky films before it, Creed instead manages to be a superb film on its own, giving us a lead character worth caring about while presenting top-tier, award-worthy film making and a surefire Oscar-worthy supporting performance from Sylvester Stallone.

The Rocky franchise is something I have held very dear to my heart ever since I was a boy.  Motivating, captivating, emotional, and exciting are words that always defined the iconic series, and with Creed, young director Ryan Coogler manages to stay true to these beats without making the story entirely about Rocky Balboa.  Simply put, he could have made this just another attempt to put the aging star back in the limelight, and I would have been totally happy.  Yet by making Stallone a supporting character (essentially the Mickey role from 1976s Rocky) who helps mentor the aspiring boxer and illegitimate son of the late Apollo Creed, Coogler milks every ounce of emotional heft that is left from the character and uses it to its best intention.  This film literally was made at exactly the right time in both the film's universe and in all the actors' careers, almost as though the narrative were allow to stew for the forty years it has existed.

Behind the scenes, Creed excels as a marvel of cinematic sports film making.  Long, seemingly one-take shots (reminiscent of last year's Oscar-winning Birdman and 2006s Children of Men) highlight a couple moments in the film, which made me admire just how much choreography was involved in the making of them.  The expert cinematography fully captures the cold Philadelphia atmosphere of the original Rocky, while even mirroring the color schemes and tone with an early boxing match to the first match we ever see Rocky Balboa partake in the 1976 original.  The boxing looked great and felt realistic, and star Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Johnson, a.k.a. Adonis Creed, clearly devoted himself to the training required of the role, and even made hints at mimicking the style of Carl Weathers' performance in the earlier films. 

The smooth editing keeps the film moving along at an even clip.  Certain points where another film would have lingered and made us witness every aspect of the relationship between two characters, Creed instead smartly cuts away at just the right times without overstaying its welcome (even at over two hours in length, which makes it the longest film in the franchise by a wide margin).

Creed is about moments, about discovering this new character who is introduced to fans of the Rocky series just as fresh as the character himself is to Rocky Balboa and the notion of legitimizing himself under the shadow of his late father's name.  Michael B. Jordan is dynamic under the direction of Ryan Coogler, who allows his actors moments to shine in emotional clarity.  And again, special mention must be made to Sylvester Stallone himself, who wisely takes a back seat and allows Jordan to make the film his own.  By doing so, Stallone is given some of the best and most emotional scenes in the film, as we witness the two actors share in two very different on-screen battles together.

This film makes us ask the question - "What's in a name?"  With Creed, a name is something to neither deny you from who you are or what you are to become, but also something to make you proud of the blood with which that name is connected.  Powerful, exciting, highly emotional, and simply one of the best motion pictures of the year.

There's something wonderful about revisiting many of the old locales of the Rocky films.  The restaurant and graveyard from Rocky Balboa, as well as the famous steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I nearly cried at two different moments in this film because of the emotional weight a lifetime with this character has created.  If Sylvester Stallone isn't at LEAST nominated for a 2015 supporting actor Oscar, I will be disheartened and somewhat devastated.

Peacemaker Reviews - "SPECTRE"

JJ Mortimer

Connecting the Daniel Craig-starring Bond films and tying them up nicely, SPECTRE is filled with fantastic stunts and the understated dark humor we've come to expect, though the reveal and utilization of its main villain (a popular figure from Bond films past) are poorly squandered in the film's messy third act.

Director Sam Mendes returns after the groundbreaking success of his Skyfall to bring us what feels definitely like a conclusion to Daniel Craig's involvement in the James Bond franchise.  Characters from the other three of Craig's films are mentioned and tied in with SPECTRE, showing that, throughout the four film reboot of the series, we indeed have been subject to a continuing story, which is very unlike the Bond films of decades past that acted as one-offs in the echelon of the late Albert Broccoli's brain child.  And therein lies some of the problems of this film.

Before I get into too many negatives, I would like to state the positive.  First off, the film had a HOLY SHIT $245 million dollar production budget, and a lot of it shows on screen.  Many practical stunts were used involving helicopter acrobatics, broken planes skiing down Austrian slopes, and extended car chase scenes with rare, expensive vehicles.  EXPLOSIONS GALLORE (Michael Bay would be proud)!!  The production value of this film is high, and the level of planning involved in the long, seemingly one-take tracking shot that opened the film alone is something to be marveled at.  Even the opening titles with the Sam Smith-sung "Writing's on the Wall" set a very dark and thematic tone for the film that fits the atmosphere of the narrative that followed.

Speaking of the theme song, of the four Daniel Craig films it is probably my least favorite, but I liked it more once I heard it in the context of the film and with the always-cool and creative opening credits sequence that is traditional with all James Bond films.  When I heard the song out of context days before the film's release, I absolutely hated it and felt that it was very un-Bondian in nature.  But, when I finally heard it on the big screen, it surprisingly fit in really well and made me respect it more..

Dave Bautista is also a high point for the film, portraying a quiet, Jaws-like behemoth of a villainous henchman that delivers some awesome moments of hand-to-hand destruction.  His character was probably one of the very few things that truly made SPECTRE feel like a 007 film.  Which brings me to the main villain (whose name I will not reveal, but will be quite the reveal for those fans of older Bond films) played by the great Christoph Waltz...

...and it pains me to say that, despite this two-time Oscar-winning actor's credentials, had the unfortunate part of playing a villain with such little to do (especially when compared to Javier Bardem's awesome work in Skyfall) and delivering lines and mannerisms that a couple dozen other lesser actors could easily have done with little to no difference in quality of character.  Waltz's character was someone I knew would show up the moment I heard they titled this film SPECTRE, and the moment we are treated with what I came to expect, the reveal and circumstances, as well as the stakes to James Bond's safety, are underutilized and ultimately convoluted in plotting and purpose.  The full power of Waltz's villain is told to the audience, but ultimately isn't really shown, nor are we put in a position to really feel ultimate danger from this man.  All of this is quite unfortunate, given that earlier in the film, we are delighted to see his silhouetted self creeping up the atmosphere while sitting at a large boardroom meeting with other bad people, seemingly making them all shit their pants with how apparently evil he is.  I just wish we could have been given more of him for us to fear, especially given the fact that he was apparently the boss of all the villains in the previous three films.

On top of that, the film is entirely too long.  At 148 minutes, there were many scenes I felt could have been trimmed down for the sake of tightening up the flow of the film, making me feel that the film was trying to be more epic and ambitious than it really was.  Outside of its large action scenes, there is very little in this film to ponder.  Even during the first big car chase, there were a couple humorous moments for us to enjoy, but overall the chase was far longer than it needed to be and came across as just being an action scene for the sake of being an action scene in an action movie about spy action.

Much of what made Skyfall an Oscar-winning film is missing from SPECTRE.  The script feels a bit rushed in its conclusion, never really satisfying at the end.  The story strongly involves the theme of spying via technology rather than the "analog" choice of a 00-agent, but all of that is used rather minimally in the shape of the film's plot.  There are a few little dumb moments involving the lack of disarming a world-renowned British agent and just why the hell the choice of meeting between hero and villain in the middle of the desert, but again, a lot of these choice story moments are used to propel the action more than the plot itself.

In the end, the Bond women are good looking, Daniel Craig is suave as hell, but the main villain didn't quite fit into this darker, post 9-11 version of the spy franchise.  Had the films abandoned the need to darken and make "more real" the stories in the wake of Batman Begins and other colorful properties that once relied on slight camp and humor more than death and destruction, Christoph Waltz's character would have sat happily in a secret base hovering over the middle of a distant ocean location, hidden from spy satellites and government observation, and awaiting Dr. Evil-like world domination.  Unfortunately, his power is reduced to the common cliche of the modern villain relying too much on technology, while the hero gets his rocks off shooting and punching the shit out of some bad guys.

POSITIVES: 

+ High-octane chase sequences

+ Good intro

+ Daniel Craig's perfection as Bond

+ Dave Bautista

 

NEGATIVES:

+  Underutilized main villain

+  Main theme of George Orwell-ian proportions is muddled

+  Too long

+  Rushed, pointless final act

 

In order of preference, I place SPECTRE fourth on my list of the best of Daniel Craig's 007 films:

#1 - Casino Royale (****)

#2 - Skyfall (***1/2)

#3 - Quantum of Solace (***)

#4 - SPECTRE (**1/2)

Peacemaker Reviews - "Bridge of Spies"

JJ Mortimer

There are good movies, there are well-crafted films, and then there are great Steven Spielberg films.  Bridge of Spies, inspired by true events, is one of the more solid pieces of work from The Beard in many years, building tension, suspense, humor, and political intrigue without the assistance of any form of rip-roaring action, while displaying flawless performances from both Tom Hanks and the superb Mark Rylance.

The script, written by Joel & Ethan Coen and Matt Charman, does a fine job of not telling the audience who the bad guys or good guys are in this particular Cold War skirmish, but instead allows the story to unfold from the points-of-view of a few noted characters from both the American and Soviet sides.  Bridge of Spies is a character film, not an action film, and the narrative expands upon how we feel about Rudolf Abel (the captured and purported Soviet spy, played by Mark Rylance, that Tom Hanks' lawyer James B. Donovan is given the unfortunate task of defending in an American court), and how strongly we as a nation uphold the Constitution of the United States.

The story has two defining purposes - the first is a discussion about the mindset of the American people and the paranoia of the 50s, surrounding the fears of atomic war and international espionage; the second is in building a tense drama revolving the release and trade of a Soviet spy for a captured American pilot.  This kind of story, and the power of its themes, are the hallmarks of Steven Spielberg's film making.  While the first part of the film has some of the thematic elements of courtroom drama found in a film like Amistad, Spielberg's Bridge of Spies really takes off in the second half with a more demanding approach (much akin to Munich) as Hanks' Donovan is hired by the CIA to negotiate the pilot's release, given his credentials as a non-government agent working for the United States.  The drama in the latter half of the film is more powerful, and defines the power of the film, yet Spielberg still finds his way to insert his particular brand of humor and whimsy in a few scenes to alleviate the mood.

What really drew me to this film was how captivating it was despite being what many impatient people would call a "talky movie."  The acting is powerful, as is the Oscar-winning team behind the scenes:  Michael Kahn's editing is on-point as always (even at 79-years old), and the cinematography from Spielberg staple Janusz Kaminski has that new-age, crisp and bright Spielberg look to it (Kaminski has shot every Spielberg film since 1993s Schindler's List).  This is also the first Spielberg film since The Color Purple that composer John Williams hasn't scored (the talents of ten-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman were hired this time around - smartly he did not try to emulate a Williams score, and focused more on what made him uniquely great in his Road to Perdition days).

Bridge of Spies starts as a courtroom period piece, but progresses into a minor espionage thriller.  While this film is not one of the greatest films Spielberg has directed, it IS one of the best he's made in the past fifteen years.  Not as darkly-dramatic as Munich, not as whimsical and often light-hearted as War Horse, and also not as deliberately slow-paced as Lincoln, Bridge of Spies is nontheless a very entertaining, captivating, and often educational motion picture on the Cold War era and how there aren't always clear-cut bad guys and good guys on either side.  There are, usually, only people with different accents striving to a similar goal.

Bridge of Spies is sure to be nominated for a few Oscars.  If I had a say, this film should easily be in the top ten for Best Picture, as would its screenplay.  But, the real surprise is the authentic and flawless performance by stage actor Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel.  My only wish is that he had a little more screen time, because his character was so charismatic and likable that any time away from him was a shame (even amidst the great Tom Hanks).

Peacemaker Reviews - "The Martian"

JJ Mortimer

Not a single minute went by in The Martian's 140-minute run time where I was not attached to the screen in sustained entertainment.  Director Ridley Scott has fashioned a fictional tale (based on the novel by Andy Weir) of an ill-fated Mars mission that strands botanist Mark Watney on the hostile surface of the red planet, yet somehow makes it feel as though it's based on a true story.  The science, the dialogue, and especially the narrative all feel like they are telling the audience a story of "fact," which is where the utmost power of this film lies - the fact that the film fees realistic in nature, allowing the audience to freely connect themselves to the strengths of Matt Damon's career-defining, Oscar-caliber performance.

The Martian is a true crowd-pleaser.  It's one of those rare motion pictures that everyone seems to get behind, and for good reason.  Where unfair comparisons have been made to the Oscar-winning Interstellar and Gravity before it, The Martian instead succeeds on its own merit because its story is supplemented, and not led, by the science introduced to the already-strong narrative of the survival of its lead character.  I would put The Martian more in league with Tom Hanks' Cast Away than I would any of those other space-based films.

While Damon's performance is what drives the film to its heights of greatness, the rest of the ensemble cast shines each and every one of them.  Many heroic and dramatic moments are presented to allow multiple characters their chance in the spotlight, giving the overall film a full, satisfying presence.  The Martian is on point with its humor, and while there is plenty of drama, the film strives more for entertaining than it does pushing the buttons of tear-shedding emotion.  Matt Damon's Mark Watney is a character of genius, ingenuity, and charisma that is very easy to like, especially in his ability to not force us to feel sorry for him, but to travel along on his mission as the people back on Earth scrounge to find a way to bring him home.

The Middle-Eastern locations pass for a realistic-looking Mars surface - benefited by the expert lensing of cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (a Ridley Scott regular) - lending to many of the shots and sets to already feel iconic in film history.  Editor Pietro Scalia helps keep the film tight and never rushed, making its run time feel a lot shorter than what it is.

The music is great, the editing is fluid, the acting is tremendous, and the entertainment value is top-notch.  Given his recent lack of outstanding work, Ridley Scott's The Martian is the nearest thing to a masterpiece that he's made since before 2001s Black Hawk Down, and could be considered one of the best movies he's made in his four-decades-spanning film making career.  Highly recommended.

"Fear the Walking Dead" Review - Episode 6 (Season One Finale)

JJ Mortimer

In a case of "too little, too late," Fear the Walking Dead attempts to draw sympathy for characters we've already spent too many episodes not giving a shit about for us to have any emotion if they expire into the bowels of a hungry zombie. 

Fear the Walking Dead's first season is an interesting piece of character structure (or lack thereof) for me; this is a show that literally has roughly a dozen characters, each one of which has very few, if ANY, redeemable qualities, yet they are kept alive when for far too long when all I wanted to see was a few of them die violent, horrible deaths.

There are so many things I want to say about this premiere season, but I want to condense it down for the sake of not dwelling too much on to what I don't like about this show.  Hell, here's one thing I liked about it - the harsh title intro, with that disturbing, horror-film feel to its one-musical-note theme. 

Sets the tone for a better show, though.  A better show that actually doesn't let their characters adjust from conflicted mercy-killers-of-their-neighbors one day, and then three episodes later become near-reckless killing machines without any breakdown of the notion that these were the same people who, more than once, approached clearly-infected brain eaters and tried to talk to them calmly after a dog was just eaten in their living room by said brain eater.  A show with a character who in one episode made a big deal about how he doesn't like guns, but then by the sixth episode is just using it like it's nothing abnormal to him.  There was no development to these changes in character - it just happened.  These were things we needed to witness develop, not just witness as, "Hey, guess what?  These characters are all now just FINE with killing infected even though the majority of the first few episodes was about them trying to understand and come to terms with just what the fuck is going on in the world around them."

Speaking of which...did anyone else not find it entirely out-of-the-blue and completely rushed in the decision making process to have Travis blow the brains out of his ex-wife a mere five minutes after discovering she was bitten?  Her basis on telling them that she "would turn into one of the infected eventually" felt like information (and resolve to said information) that could only be understood and reacted upon had the characters only been watching the other zombie show on which THIS show is based upon.  While I was fine with one of the characters finally biting the dust, I would have rather it been one of those shitty teenage brats (namely Christopher) being eaten alive behind a glass door while their parents stood by and watched helplessly because nobody knows how to resolve problems in this show.

Fuck, now I'm rambling, and NOT making this as short as I intended.  I just can't.  I can't let this show off the hook.  I can't ignore the deus ex machina that was Victor Strand, the black guy in the suit with the perfect beach house, escape skills, giant yacht, and all other necessary resources handy for our group of little heroes to utilize just in the nick of time.  I can't pretend not to be annoyed by the fact that the military was portrayed as a group of uncaring, unsympathetic pieces of shit with no apparent military training (or an ability to fire upon a crowd of slow-walking zombies while walking backwards in order to prevent being slowly eaten to death).

Speaking of which...what the fuck was the deal with the soldier that Victor and Nick came across (the one that Victor bartered for Nick's life with)?  A zombie was blindly eating his leg, but the guy was just sitting there, acting all paralyzed.  I...just don't know what to make of this.  Something just didn't fit.  Did he fall and hurt himself, only to realize that he was too tired to escape and decided to allow a zombie to eat his leg while he sat there and accepted his fate as a useless, shitty soldier that couldn't kill a solitary zombie?

Fuck, I hate this show.  This show makes many of the little shortcomings that I felt The Walking Dead had seems minuscule by comparison.  It's boring because the characters are boring and unrelateable.  It's boring because nothing adds up to anything that makes for any reason that shit show should exist.  Nothing new this entire season was brought to the table that we didn't already know from five seasons of The Walking Dead.  This show completely abandoned any concept of giving the audience another look as to how this outbreak occurred, or created any other overall umbrella of mystery for our "heroes" to have to discover.  Watching people who don't know the basics of survival is like watching Man vs. Wild if it were hosted by Justin Bieber.  Granted, it would be hilarious, but not for the right reasons.

If this show intends on giving us answers to anything of the overall "zombie apocalypse," then it already waited too long in my opinion.  If it intends to drag on with no apparent end, we ALREADY have a show like that with zombies in it, but with some characters that are far more interesting.  The show has already been renewed for a second season, and I truly hope they don't intend on keeping it any longer than that.  Some things are better left with the original. 

The Walking Dead is Richard Donner's 1978 classic Superman, where Fear the Walking Dead is Bryan Singer's pointless Superman Returns.  That should paint a picture for you.

Season One final verdict: 

D+

 

P.S.  I'm surprised the writers allowed Victor, the more unrealistic of the show's black character demographic, to make it out of the season alive.  They already killed Principal Obama, and he was just a normal dude doing his job.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Sicario"

JJ Mortimer

Bringing his penchant for expressing a realistic world to his drama with the superb cinematographer Roger Deakins at the lens, director Denis Villeneuve delivers another powerhouse of mood and acting with Sicario, his follow-up to the 2013's superb Prisoners.

Sicario is a very hard-edged film, showing the evils (and necessary counter-evils) in the war against the Mexican drug cartels running shipments, via tunnels, into the United States.  The film presents the concept that sometimes a temporary means to an end may be the only thing that can be done in the ongoing battle against those who murder in the name of money and drugs.  The film also shows that sometimes smaller, personal means in the battles against evil are more important to the overall fiction of a 'bigger picture' in the war on drugs.

Sicario is a clear front-runner for an acting Oscar for Emily Blunt.  She is fantastic in her role as an FBI agent who is asked to join an undercover task force of operatives to fight the drug war between the American and Mexican border.  Her acting prowess reminds me of a young Jodie Foster from The Silence of the Lambs days - she's given a range to work with, rather than being the clear-headed, in-the-dark government official with a confused look on her face all the time.  In fact, the way writer Taylor Sheridan's script is handled, we as an audience are forced to discover the mysteries of the story along with Blunt's character, so we share in her bewilderment as violence occurs all around her, and with barely a hint of disclosure from the Josh Brolin's 'maybe his/maybe his isn't with the CIA' task force leader character.

I also enjoyed the moody, grave-sounding score by Johann Johannsson.  Along with Deakin's cinematography, and a steadily-paced narrative, Sicario maintains a sense of dread throughout its run time, making the moments of violence that occur that much more impacting. 

At times, Sicario is a bit hard to follow, but as mentioned before, that may have been the case for the film makers as they want the audience to be with Emily Blunt as she discovers the true reasons behind the task force's mission.  Benicio del Toro's character, a man with apparently no ties to any government or agency, is perfect as a man with a quiet indignation whose purpose for being on the mission is quite unknown.

Sicario starts with a bang, draws you in with its realistic approach to the world and the dangers it holds (a gunfight at the border, in particular, is one of the most tense, realistically badass shootouts I've seen in a film of this nature in a few years).  While this film may feel like a less complex version of parts of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, the film is no less convoluted (for better or for worse).  Some parts of the film are hard to process due to the overall secretive nature of the story, but by the end many answers are given and purposes beheld.  Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro may very well be front-runners come Oscar time, namely Blunt for her connection to the audience, and del Toro for his raw, quiet power of a performance.

And give cinematographer Roger Deakins an Oscar already, damnit.

Since this is Oscar time, here are my guesses as to the categories this film will be nominated in:

Best Picture

Best Director

Best Actress (Emily Blunt)

Best Supporting Actor (Benicio del Toro)

Best Cinematography

Best Film Editing

Best Sound

Best Sound Editing

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Everest"

JJ Mortimer

Everest, based on the events of the worst disaster to ever occur on the slopes of the mountain, is a story about people with balls much bigger than their brains; people whose pride and sense of purpose outgrew their logic; men and women who wanted to stand closer to God than any other being walking the earth.

This film (and slightly ficitonalized version) of the mountain expedition (preceded in similar account by the IMAX film of the same name, and the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer) is impressive - much of the film has actual footage of Everest, skillfully shot and woefully done by cinematographer Salvatore Totino, with visual effect shots that seamlessly fit in with the practical shots.  I went into this film expecting a fake-looking, CGI-fest with actors working only on sets, but after some research found that many scenes were filmed at actual Nepalese locations and Everest base camps (with many mountainside shots filmed at the gigantic Pinewood Studios).  My respect for the actors, as well as director Baltasar Kormákur, boosted up quite a few notches knowing that they respectfully went to the actual locations, rather than immersing themselves behind screens of green.

As mentioned before, the cinematography is great, as is the 3D experience should you decide to see it in this format (which I did, and enjoyed how it added to my vertigo in conjunction with my fear of heights).  The acting is quite powerful and realistic, without drowning into the melodramatic.  The real standouts are Jason Clarke as Adventure Consultants front-runner and Everest expedition leader Rob Hall, and Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers, who is given one of the coolest moments in the film.  Jake Gyllenhaal is also great and unrecognizable behind a beard.

Overall the film didn't exactly have the tremendous dramatic wallop that I felt it deserved, though scenes toward the end with one character and his wife over phone and radio are quite powerful.  If I had one knock on the film, it's that it didn't have the musical score that it needed in order to really send those dramatic moments home.  Instead of a memorable, sweeping theme we are reduced to an unmemorable, generic "adventure score" from one of my least favorite of the Oscar-winning composers, Dario Marianelli.  If Jerry Goldsmith were still alive, he would have eaten up a film like this and given it a little more dramatic life to what is a very dramatic story.

Everest is a visually great film with some great performances all-around, and if you have a choice to see it in 3D, I recommend it in that format.