Iron Man 3 (Brian Tyler) – 

With the exception of Alan Silvestri returning for The Avengers after scoring Captain America, Marvel has generally sought a different musical identity with each of their Phase 1 films. But with this new Iron Man score and Tyler assuming duties for the upcoming Thor: The Dark World from Patrick Doyle, this looks to change up a bit for their Phase 2 movies.

The Iron Man movies all stand apart from one another, part of that being due to each movie having a different composer and, by default, a different theme. Ramin Djawadi’s score for the first movie had its simple, catchy moments and a decent theme, yet felt smaller than a movie like that might suggest. John Debney amped things up a bit for the sequel and kept things fun and light but the music remained in the standard fare category.

So how does Marvel newcomer composer Brian Tyler’s score stack up in this series? Surprise or not, mostly in the same league as the others while adding some new strengths to the mix.

Tyler’s score is by far the biggest Iron Man score yet and occasionally outshines other Marvel scores that are more inclined to be so grandiose. We’re talking full orchestra, choir, added guitars — the whole deal.

While it’s not expected to become legendary any time soon, the theme of Iron Man 3 is a few steps ahead of its predecessors. The motif for Stark and his metallic alter-ego makes no bones about being a full-fledged hero theme and even plays around with something of a key shift in the end of the phrase (geeky little aside).

Unfortunately, like the last two movies and most Marvel movies in general, we still don’t have a real, standout theme for our villains. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to get more than just seething bass figures and expository drum hits.

Iron Man 3‘s score essentially has three modes: action/intense brooding stuff, badass tongue-in-cheek moments, and everything else.

“Everything else” boils down to the cutesy emotional moments like the tracks “New Beginnings”, highlighting Stark’s new lease on life and “Extremis”, meant to convey the wonder of this new virus’ capabilities. These tracks don’t add terribly much to the mix but are a nice breather from the overall seriousness of the album.

The action and intense brooding tracks are often intermixed, making it hard to differentiate the two. A standalone brooding track is “The Mandarin”, used during the terrorist’s videos. “Dive Bombers” is an interesting mix of the two, being technically light on music, using rhythmic percussion to drive up intensity during the Air Force One rescue scene and ending with the Iron Man theme in all its glory.

“Heat and Iron” and “Battle Finale” make up the final battle music at its most thematically bombastic, just like “Attack on 10880 Malibu Point.” These three tracks are the definitive action tracks of the score and should easily satisfy anyone seeking true action music.

But it’s in the two badass tongue-in-cheek tracks that really give the score it’s shining moments and sets it apart from previous Iron Man scores. The second half of “The Mechanic” sees Stark’s McGuyver/Unibomber stint as he infiltrates The Mandarin’s compound and  brings it to life with a jaunty super-spy basis, complete with added guitar and the theme weaved in. Let’s not forget the quick cameo by sleigh bells. It is a highly addicting deviation and one that shows this score wasn’t just going through the motions.

The other definitive track on the score is “Can You Dig It”, the infectious ’70s TV show rock version of the main theme played over the end credits. It was an original way to do an end credits sequence in the movie and its a memorable way to do it musically.

Most of the tracks are solid but these two are exceptional — almost worth the whole album price.

However, just like many score albums these days, the tracks are not in the same order as the movie. This is something I still cannot understand because if it’s good enough to successfully match the flow of the movie, why can’t it do the same on its own?

As is, the album runs a little long with things getting somewhat stale in the middle.

Gripes aside, Tyler’s work on Iron Man 3 is good solid fun with two phenomenal standout tracks. Pick and choose what you will for most tracks but be sure to listen to “The Mechanic” and”Can You Dig It”.

On CD: 3.5/5
As Written for Film: 4/5

Star Trek Into Darkness (Michael Giacchino) – 

There’s a reason people call Michael Giacchino the new John Williams. Since he first appeared on the scene with his work on Pixar movies, his scores have become something to look forward to in their own right (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has even more going for it now). 

His breathtaking work on the first of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies did the movie an enormous service in bringing that world to life. Now, Giacchino is back for the sequel and, like the movie itself, upping the ante for a more intense second outing.

Star Trek Into Darkness is comprised of big moments and appropriately its score is a massive one, utilizing the full orchestra every chance it gets for those big moments. Big action set pieces are met in full with big emotional beats.

Nothing encapsulates the full raucous action/adventure spectacle like “The Kronos Wartet.” Many tracks have whimsical adventure seeping from them but the first minute and a half of this one tops them all in intensity. The full-on ferocity of the Klingon pursuit scene’s music, complete with chanting choirs and 7/8 time, is a thrill ride in itself and had the 5:30 track not been comprised mostly of buildup music to the next action scene, it would have been a masterful track to play on loop. As is, it’s simply memorable and fun.

On the other side of the coin of massiveness is “Warp Core Values,” a sweeping track of sacrifice for the greater good, which will rip those emotions out of you, whether you want it or not.

And yet, for all the big sounds at play, it’s the more restrained tracks that make more of an impression. The intimate sounds of the piano in “London Calling” and “Buying the Space Farm” bring a depth that the script couldn’t, the former being something of a revelation for a summer blockbuster score for just how personal it sounds.

Even the big baddie’s theme (a simple three-note figure on loop, of which there is somehow still not enough of on the album) works best when it’s creeping around in the background instead of blaring in the forefront.

One of the movie’s biggest flaws was that its parts were impersonally harvested from previous Star Trek movies. Thankfully, that’s not a problem that carried over to the musical side of things. The theme established in the first movie returns but by and large the music presented here is written specifically for the movie. While it’s good that Giacchino isn’t falling back on previous material, it almost goes too far in the other direction.

In writing music specifically for each scene, there is a lack of thematic flow-through. Everything presented can feel segmented instead of being one big musical piece. It’s not the worst problem to have since much of the music fits what’s on screen like a glove but it keeps the album from being truly top-notch.

The future of Abrams’ Star Trek movies is a mystery (seeing how another well-known space epic is set to go under his hand) but even if number 3 is not to be, we can all rest easy knowing that Giacchino has put forth another saga of great movie music.

On CD: 3.5/5
As Written For Film: 4.5/5 

Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer) –

Before we begin, a question for you: Is it even feasible to still compare any score to the work of John Williams, the undisputed king of film music?

Answer: No, stop doing that.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the scoop. Hans Zimmer’s work on the now finished triage of Batman movies left quite the mark on modern film music, enough to bring serious consideration his way for DC’s other, more colorful and optimistic hero.

While the darker, more aggressive style Zimmer has perfected as of late may not seem automatically suited for the normally cheery Superman, his work here sets the tone for the entire new take on the man of steel, not just in the more somber, intense action of it but in personifying the themes of hope and pursuing goodness that are prevalent in the movie, making for a unique score all its own.

Zimmer’s score here is powerful. Not loud — powerful. Yes, it’s high on the decibel meter (what score of his isn’t?) but for every drum hit or synthesized effect, there are both swells and quiet moments that tap into the themes that run under the surface in a gorgeous way, be it both bombastic or intimate. Much as his work on Batman was a turning point for that character, his work here is key to establishing the current take on the character and he nailed it. The score to Man of Steel is one of the best so far this year.

True to his approach on the Batman movies, Zimmer works by layering themes for certain parts of the movie rather than one main one. The use of triplet figures and the major fourths and fifths theoretically ties together the whole sonic universe while different motifs and instruments signify their own things.

Zimmer has an array of new sounds at work, including an ethereal synthesizer akin to a wet finger circling the rim of a half-full wine glass to signify big blue’s home world and slide guitar to capture the magic of flight.

The very first recurring aspect is the repeated use of the major fourth sound, which acts as effective foreshadowing. We know that Superman is off in the distance but as the simple musical idea develops from backing to theme, so too does our hero’s path to superheroism.

The first and biggest emotional impact that is made in the movie is found in “Goodbye My Son.” The lullaby-esque female voice humming those sorrowful notes as a mother and father give up their son hits home. Lucky for us the goosebump-inducing theme we’re introduced to does come back several times. For clarity’s sake, it morphs into what could be called the “Superman theme.”

Almost as a dark mirror to the aspects in Superman’s theme, the theme for Zod and his fellow Kryptonians is an identifiable, assertive march forward that will beat its way into your consciousness once heard. Not as overwhelmingly aggressive as Bane’s theme but still in that vein of repetition for a similarly powerful military villain. The tune hits its biggest point in “I Will Find Him,” titled after the lolsy line in the beginning of the film.

As an album, this is Zimmer’s least aggravating release in quite some time. Nowhere in sight are the countless remixes that plague his albums (unless you buy the delux edition). Although in somewhat jumbled order, most of the material that appears on screen makes it to the final album cut. Only Lois’ escape from Zod’s ship is noticeably missing. Otherwise, even with the slight changes in order, the album itself is highly listenable, with all but a few tracks building upon each other whilst providing new material to enjoy.

As a score, Zimmer’s work here is fantastic. The breathtaking new soundscape does a perfect job of conveying the tone of the new world and gives some more-than-decent themes as well. Zimmer’s music not only fits in perfectly with this new Superman series, it’s a cornerstone in defining it.

On CD: 4/5
As Written For Film: 5/5


Watching train-wrecks can be just as entertaining as watching something with actual grace.

Knowing things won’t end well and keeping an eye on all the hiccups along the way before the inevitable fiery end can be counted as a victory as long as it still ends up entertaining. What’s not so fun is watching the train sputter to be put out of its misery over a 150 minute period.

That train is the one that The Lone Ranger finds itself on. Slated to be a train-wreck almost from the very beginning, this joyless mess fails to even succeed in being a bit of bad fun. Instead, it’s just really bad.

Director Gore Verbinski gets a lot of crap when he turns in movies like this. These crap-givers must not have seen his previous film, Rango, which is one of the best animated movies in recent memory and probably the best movie in his cannon, with this movie wisely sharing lots of its visual old west beauty and detail.

Even on his lesser movies, Verbinski still retains the ability to craft some highly entertaining action set pieces, which is one of few things that keep The Lone Ranger from being a complete disaster. But when they only appear at the beginning and end of the movie, the entire middle is left to question. All two hours of it.

No, Verbinski shouldn’t take blame for this misfire. Rather, the movie reeks of having too many cooks in the studio kitchen. The movie is a mind-numbing hodgepodge of disparate ideas that all clash with each other for the entire time. A traditional action western trying to mesh with a dark comedy, supernatural twist included, while still trying to be kid friendly could be done under the right guidance but comes off here as misconceived.

After two hours of jumping between horse poop jokes, a man getting his heart ripped out and eaten,
a wide-eyed little kid listening to the story of his idol, and implied molestation via a petrified duck foot, it never really becomes clear what the movie is supposed to tonally be, nor who it’s meant for. It certainly won’t be fans of The Lone Ranger.

Despite mugging it the whole way through, Johnny Depp has a small handful of those amusing moments that come naturally with him and William Fichtner is serviceable as the villain. Everyone else in the supporting cast is wasted.

Not faring as well is Armie Hammer as the Ranger himself, thanks to the bloated script’s insistence on treating his character as a joke — a foppish buffoon who’s barely on the level of competency as his Native American counterpart. It’s a bullshit move to pull with someone who’s slated to be the main character and when no one in the movie takes him seriously, how are we expected to?

It was fairly apparent that a Lone Ranger movie from the creators of the Pirates series would mean both over-plotting and a gargantuan running time would be at play and sure enough, they didn’t disappoint (as in, they really disappointed again). The irrelevant tie-through with old Tonto and the kid, along with the two subplots with the remaining Comanche and Helena Bonham Carter’s character could all have been cut from the expansive middle part, making for an at least somewhat more straightforward story.

The last 10 minutes when the “William Tell Overture” kicks in as the Ranger and Tonto save the day is what those familiar with the character want to see from the start, not Pirates shenanigans dressed up in a cowboy hat. When the final tone shift does come, it’s too little too late.

There was little hope for this movie from the start and it certainly lived up to its expectations. It’s not the smallpox blanket to movies that other recent action westerns are (Research: Wild Wild West, Jonah Hex) but two action scenes and the Johnny Depp charm isn’t enough to say it’s good. Maybe this will serve as an example of what studio meddling causes and right the wrongs for future adaptions to come.

Oh, what am I saying? Brace yourselves for Pirates 5.



In a world where movies try to appeal to the broadest variety of tastes, one film dares to play to… like, two or three of them.

After delivering what most would call “the most awesomest movie ever,” Joss Whedon has tapped into his more scaled back side and given us his rendition of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed at his home over roughly two weeks, Whedon’s adaption of the Bard’s story of love, treachery and comedy is all black and white and features regulars of the Whedon universe, such as Nathan Fillion, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, and Amy Acker, among many others.

There’s no mistaking this is Whedon’s work — the comedic relationship he has with his troupe of familiars is as stellar as ever, with their humor breaking through the gap of them speaking in the original iamic pentameter and giving the movie that familiar Whedon stamp. It’s thanks to this that the movie isn’t the completely stiff adaption one might think of when Shakespeare comes to mind.

Scaled back efforts have their perks but they also have their pitfalls. In order to fully appreciate Much Ado About Nothing, it feels as if you need to be a fan of Shakespeare, art-house films and the Whedon-verse. In appealing only to such specific tastes, it’s like there’s a hefty wall of separation between the viewer and the movie.

This isn’t a modern Shakespeare adaption you would want to start off with. By keeping the original speech in a modern setting, Whedon’s assuming you’ve already been familiarized with the story and the point is to notice his take on it. For those who have not been overly familiarized with the story, it’s going eventually prove difficult to keep up in deciphering the dialogue and some may even give up.

As if becoming detached due to the vernacular wasn’t enough, the whole tone of the movie is almost made to be looked at from a distance. Filming in black and white in one location with the director’s closest group of friends gives the vibe of being a senior film student’s final project; a cool, collected inside effort by the main creative mind and his people that can only be fully enjoyed by those belonging to all three groups and simply appreciated to varying degrees by others.

However, Whedon’s strong ability to amuse seeps through and keeps the film from being too removed. He knows just how to get his actors to deliver the lines in a way that speaks volumes (and writes a few good tunes as well).

Odds are most of you won’t see this arrive at your local theater and that’s ok. Unless you belong to all three interest groups and have decided you need to rush out and see it, there’s really no reason to spend money on theater prices. Nothing about it screams that it needed to be in theaters in the first place. You will not lose anything if you only view it at home.

Whedon’s adaption isn’t bad. There’s maybe 20 minutes before it ends that stretch on forever and that’s about all that needs to be said negatively on a technical level. In all fairness, its solid performances are what to watch for. But for most people it is a movie that will be appreciated more than enjoyed and if you don’t belong to all three demographics, you may sense the distinct feeling that you’re not part of the club.



The only thing that seems to have lost its bite more than the zombie genre is the enthusiasm for the movie adaption of Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z. Fan outrage at changes to the source material and reported trouble on the set effectively put a dent in early enthusiasm, this writer included.

Well, turns out there’s no reason to lose your head because WWZ may just be the surprise hit of the summer.

I’ve not gotten around to reading the acclaimed book, so I won’t claim to know any changes made but what I will claim to know is that the movie adaption works as a zombie horror movie, an epidemic flick and a tried-and-true thriller. Long story short, it works.

In a summer where tentpoles decide to shift gears half way through, usually for the worst, WWZ remains absolutely consistent in its excitement. I’m usually not that fond of Brad Pitt but, dare I say, he gave a pretty solid performance here. Following him across the globe, trying to pick up clues about this epidemic and staying just one step ahead of the chaos before things go to shit, stays thrilling throughout and keeps the movie going at a great pace (another thing this movie has going over almost every other blockbuster this summer).

Having this story play out on a global scale is a fresh look at a situation that so often is shown about a small group of roaming survivors who can’t help but fight amongst themselves, aka a once interesting story that has been beaten to death for the past decade. The sheer scale of the Israel sequence showcases the overwhelming odds of this mass extinction and is terrifying to no end.

And yet the scene where our protagonist, along with a few others, must sneak down a dark hallway and avoid the zombies at the same time has that old-school horror genre thrill to it. The combination of these two strengths makes the movie almost unpredictable.

Also returning to the days of old: the actual word “zombie.” Gone is this “walker” or “infected” nonsense and thankfully the creatures themselves are practically on par with the idea. Yes, this is a PG-13 movie so the gore can’t go beyond a certain point but director Mark Forster does a proficient job at getting the idea across without indulging in it (after all, you can turn your TV to AMC to see all the “walker” gore you want and little else of interest on that show).

Pitt’s family in the movie is mostly ineffectual but that can be forgiven since they work as a big incentive (also a terrifying situation when you see it and realize what’s happening). While that can be forgiven, the final five minutes of the movie scream that they didn’t know how to end it (another problem of the genre) and fall back on bad narration that comes out of nowhere.

There will be some who avoid it simply because of their obsessive devotion to the book and that’s fine. Wait… no it’s not. Yes, it has the same name and is a much different take but it has such dominant strengths that shunning it simply because it deviates would be a mistake.

World War Z was slated to be a failure long before it came out. Here we are at the time of release and thanks to it being two hours of consistent thrills it’s better than both Star Trek and Man of Steel. Wonders never cease.



Despite being arguably the most iconic superhero ever (this coming from a diehard Batman fan, no less) Superman has had only a fair share more luck getting traction on the big screen than his lower tier friend Aquaman.

It’s a little surprising to think that over 30 years Supes has had just five big screen adventures, with only one reaching beyond the general consensus of “really good.” Richard Donner’s Superman is still hailed as a quintessential superhero movie while its three sequels saw the effect of diminishing returns, whereas Bryan Singer’s 2006 revisit, Superman Returns, was generally met with a resounding “meh,” effectively putting any future Superman movies on hold.

Now, Man of Steel has arrived to bust down our doors.

This is not your father’s Superman. He still stands for doing the right thing but gone is the campy humor and tongue-in-cheek joy the character is widely known for, instead adapting the material for the complexity of modern superhero movies. Maybe this is due mostly to the fact that Superman can often be a very cut and dry, plain character (read: boring). Nothing can hurt him, he always does the right thing and the people he surrounds himself with are usually just as cookie-cutter.

Honestly, this movie is all the better for dumping the old and trying a new approach because even if it’s far from perfect, Man of Steel has succeeded in doing something that needed to finally be done: make Superman exciting.

Man of Steel‘s savior is its simplicity. By focusing the story into a straightforward sci-fi actioner, the filmmakers have allowed for the themes in the story to flourish, such as finding your place in the world, choosing your own destiny, and a father’s wisdom. These themes help bring a richness and emotional satisfaction that this character deserves and will hopefully continue to display.

David Goyer of Dark Knight trilogy writing fame follows a pattern of similar strengths found in the recent Batman movies, utilizing several flashbacks to explain why our hero becomes something greater and delivering the raw emotional moments that elevate both movies.

Much as it is a superhero movie, this revamp holds just as strong roots in sci-fi. The opening 15 minutes on Krypton are surprisingly realized and put any sci-fi elements in the recent Star Trek sequel to shame. Likewise, Zod’s threat to Earth plays out much like a grand scale alien invasion plot, which sits well in this universe.

Superman Returns was largely criticized for its lack of action, plane scene excluded. No one is likely to find issue there with Man of Steel. In fact, it’s now gone to the other extreme. Director Zack Snyder knows a thing or two about over-the-top action and for some it may be too much (with good reason). Just like Star Trek Into Darkness and even Iron Man 3 among other blockbusters, Man of Steel exists in halves: the first half is made up of character building moments and emotional beats while the second half dives headlong into balls-out action scenes.

True, the first hour or so is definitely more rewarding on a story level but it’s not as if the action half is boring (this is what some people solely want to see in a Superman movie) — it’s more like having a hyper puppy: fun and amusing but occasionally draining.

What may push people past patience is the instances of wholly unnecessary action (giant robot tentacle thing, anyone?), Superman inadvertently causing more catastrophic damage, product placement more rampant than Supes’ Kryptonian adversaries in the battle of Smallville, and a controversial choice our hero is forced to make (for my money, it’s an appropriately buzz-worthy one).

Even if the second half drops the character development the first had for more wow-factor moments, the cast assembled here is still impeccable — seriously, they nailed it. Henry Cavill delivers the earnest, good-heartedness of Clark Kent all while exploring a more conflicted version. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane goes through a few adjustments that make her a stronger, more believable female character. Michael Shannon is held back as Zod but still exudes the requisite menace, and the likes of Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner, Antje Traue, and Laurence Fishburne all get their supporting moments in the yellow sun.

Thanks to the team of Snyder, Goyer, producer Chris Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer, what we have here is a technically masterful, fulfilling movie that keeps the ball rolling full steam ahead, enough so to even make you miss some of the bad dialogue here and there. While it may run more than a bit long, the gorgeous, Malick-esque camera work, Zimmer’s epic score, and the cast’s terrific performances set the movie in its own territory.

There are no doubt those who will say that this movie is lesser for its more serious tone and that the supposed magic of Superman is gone. Don’t be one of those people.  The magic is still there, this time supplemented by some actual weight. Man of Steel finds a good tonal mid-ground between the dire Batman movies and the weightless Marvel movies, providing the fun sci-fi action adventure this series deserves while giving a reason to care about the danger.

A sequel is all but assured at this point and this is nothing but good. With the straightforward, though imperfect introduction in place, this universe now has the ability to expand into even more exciting new places.

It may be overlong and it may go overboard (“over” seems to be the operative criticism here) but it’s never not fun in its excesses. It may not be an instant classic but it stands on its own and is a promising new start. Say what you will about where Man of Steel stands in Superman fandom lore — in the lore of superhero movies and summer blockbusters, it lifts off.



Something has gone terribly wrong. A catastrophe similar to the one our world experiences in M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie (surprise!) has happened and has similarly made me want to flee the planet. It’s called After Earth.

After they crash land on a dangerous little planet called Earth, Katai must reach the remaining wreckage of the destroyed ship to save his stoic father’s life and master his emotions to survive the deadly wilderness that has adapted to kill humans.

Did anyone happen to miss the name M. Night Shyamalan? If you did, it’s understandable — a ridiculous amount of effort has been made by the powers that be to hide the fact that he is behind this latest blockbuster.

But there is no hiding the awfulness of one of his movies — it can’t be unnoticed.

Let’s not beat around the surprise-plot-twist bush: After Earth is terrible. Not the kind of terrible that makes you angry, since it was bound to be bad out of the gate due to its origins. Rather, it’s the frustrating kind of terrible that comes from just wishing it was over already.

It feels like there were two interests at play here: Shyamalan going for more of a slow-burn father/son story and the Smiths and other producers looking to make the next big-budget Avatar knockoff. What we have here is the smoldering wreckage of both. Only much more boring.

Shyamalan is known for his more elaborate pacing but making a movie that’s an hour and forty minutes feel like that and a half is criminal. After some unintentional hilarity in the opening prologue and general setup, the movie starts to clunk into an hour and a half of slow motion agony. A drinking game could be formed for every time Will or Jaden Smith blankly stare into the camera for an uncomfortable amount of time, desperate for a line of dialogue. There was more than one point in the movie where the ceiling of the theater was more interesting than what was going on on screen.

Shyamalan uses many flashbacks to a backstory involving Katai’s sister but it’s a mishandled case of show, don’t tell. No less than five scenes showing Katai’s sister and what happened to her are retreaded to the point of being redundant. Conversely, there is a scene in which Katai’s father vocally tells him about an encounter he had with a hostile alien, for which a visual flashback would have been much appreciated, if not necessary.

The reason the flashbacks come off as so redundant and the whole movie isn’t interesting is that the characters are planks of wood. Even if it’s a narrative necessity, having your characters lack any emotion is dull beyond belief. Being subjected to both Smiths mumbling through their distracting, misconceived accents is a test of patience — one which I failed.

It may be a nice gesture to give your son the starring role in a summer blockbuster, or maybe it’s nepotism, but it would be a bigger favor to let him cut his teeth and work up to such a thing first before throwing him to the wolves. As is, Jaden Smith is not up to task. His performance here is stilted and lacks the charisma his famous father used to show eons ago. Yes, he’s just a kid but someone higher up should have known better than to let this happen.

Even if it’s a disaster, there is some minuscule thing to be said about the movie having production values. The ships have a cool organic look to them, the wild environment is palpable and James Newton Howard continues his trend of writing terrific, effective scores to abysmal movies.

But doesn’t that say it all? One has to look to the minor production details to find something to praise because the story, direction and acting is so tragically lacking.

Some have said that After Earth acts as a recruiting tool for Scientology with its strong theme of controlling emotions. Whether or not it does isn’t perfectly clear but if so it’s about as effective as handing someone a brochure, then pumping them full of horse tranquilizer.

As sad as it may be to say, After Earth is a low point in the careers of everyone involved (not godawful like The Last Airbender, but awfully boring). Maybe they all just need a long nap to regroup and figure out what to do next. Luckily they’ve provided one of the best anesthetics ever.



Magic is a, pardon the pun, tricky thing to pull off on screen. With movie magic added into the mix, the line between plausibility and implausibility often blurs, especially in the case of stage magic. One must also take into account how much the story relies on the magic itself and how much comes from character interest.

Even with its all-star cast and some fun moments, Louis Letterier’s Now You See Me is a modestly put together trick that reveals itself to be a little underwhelming by the time it’s over.

Four separate magicians — a street performer (Jesse Eisenberg), a mentalist/hypnotist (Woody Harrelson), an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a trickster thief (Dave Franco) — are called together under mysterious circumstances to perform a trio of shows across the country under the name of the Four Horsemen. After their first act finishes with them robbing a French bank and giving the money to the audience, a haggard detective (Mark Ruffalo) is put on the case to nab them before their grand finale.

Now You See Me is a movie made up of good moments. Most of the magic acts in the movie are portrayed by Letterier in interesting, snappy ways as are the exchanges between our four magicians and the ones between Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo’s characters. The action is shot kinetically, there’s some fun jaunty music from Brian Tyler and the movie goes by at a good clip. All in all, Letterier’s latest is a pretty solid example of going in and having a fun, breezy but forgettable two hours at the movies in the summer.

But with some better care in writing, Now You See Me probably could have stolen the show. Characterization is completely left behind to focus on the magic tricks (some of which also bugged the hell out of me by using bad CGI when the trick could have been done practically).

We are introduced to our four magicians in the very beginning and given the requisite knowledge we need on them and then the focus in them is completely gone. They’re given no new chance to grow and instead the rest of the movie focuses on Mark Ruffalo, which is unfortunate because he’s a poorly written character. We’re barely told anything about him for the entire movie, even in the extended stretches where it’s just him, and in the end when we’re supposed to learn something new, looking back it’s just more obvious he wasn’t fleshed out at all.

Trying to fit in a romantic subplot between him and his Interpol partner wasn’t at all necessary because that too wasn’t paid proper attention.

The dialogue at times verges on being atrocious. In the absence of something good to say characters mostly revert to saying things like “shit” and “now, now, now” over and over. The main four survive on the actors talent at trading barbs but it’s still hard to be invested when most of what people are given to say is banal or just plain bad.

There is a twist in this movie. Shocking I know, but it’s pretty prevalent and comes late in the game. Some have said that it goes way beyond the boundaries of being plausible, which it kind of does. It is the sort of twist that erases a large portion of what we knew before it, so naturally some will take issue with that as well. What helps is that nothing in the entire movie is plausible to begin with, be it the ludicrous plot or the faked magic tricks, so taking it with that mindset helps out quite a bit.

That said, viewing the movie in that mindset puts a bit of distance between you and the action. So look closer: you may think you’re watching the next great magic movie but you’re being distracted. What’s really going on is the use of light and sound to trick you into thinking there’s something more important going on.

Instead, it’s just smoke and mirrors.



Early critic reactions to Only God Forgives have hit and are almost acting as an apology for getting Drive so tragically wrong

I can’t stand 2011’s Drive — not in the slightest. An intended homage to sleek ’70s crime thrillers, the movie is a hollow, style-over-substance slog that squanders its cast on a cliched story and roughly 40 total lines of banal dialogue before easing into its gratuitous, yet un-engaging action at a snail’s pace. 
It is without a doubt the most pretentious and boring film I’ve wasted my time with at a theater (and for some reason again at home), maybe ever.
And the worst part? Somehow it was hailed as one of 2011’s best movies. The bane of my movie existence still sits at a lofty 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with its non-existent praises being sung night and day. I wish I could rise above it but constantly hearing this undeserved acclaim only strengthens my resolve to prove its falseness.
So when director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling re-teamed for a new, upcoming revenge thriller titled Only God Forgives (in the style of its predecessor), I braced myself for the inevitable tidal wave of critical praise and prepared to continue my mission to make this Danish fucker pay for what he did to myself and the others who saw though the fog bank of neon lights and techno music.
And then, ironically, it was like an act of the almighty happened…
This is the summary from IGN’s review of the film. As you can probably tell, they are not mincing words in their negativity, with “Awful” being quite a bold label.
But that’s just mainstream IGN, you say. They’re a videogaming site that doesn’t usually focus on arthouse films, you say. True, but remember this is also the site that gave Drive a laughable 10/10.
So where are the “true” critics in this whole thing? When are they going to ride in, noses up, scarfs (sorry, ascots) tied and cups of tea primed to shower refined admiration on Refn’s latest? They’re at the Cannes Film Festival… booing the movie.
Yes, the supposed high-brow critics invited to such prestigious events are also taking the movie to task and in a not-so-polite way. Almost seven weeks away from its official release, Only God Forgives has sputtered out of the critical gate with a mere 3 out of 15 collected reviews being positive on RT (20% as of May 31, for those keeping track).
While I obviously have yet to see the movie and likely won’t jump at the chance to spend money on it, I’ll reserve some measure of judgement. Who knows, it could be tolerable. Still, the question is this: 
Where was this reaction two damn years ago with Drive?!
Every single thing highlighted in IGN’s review is almost word for word what I took serious issue with in Drive, and admittedly, their few positive notes are also things I didn’t hate about that one either. 
So how does “dull”, “style over substance” and “caricatured characters” translate to this movie being awful and the exact same things make Drive a masterpiece? What is so incredibly different about the two (other than two different reviewers, keep in mind)? Is some great veil being lifted, finally revealing Refn’s recent works to be the indulgent slogs they really are? Are reparations at last being paid for this previous injustice? Am I asking too many questions?
The suspense is killing me.
Only God Forgives sees Ryan Gosling taking vengeance for the murder of his drug-running, rapist brother. I would say it’s impossible to make such a despicably trashy concept boring but we are talking about a man who made another story of revenge and hyper-violence into a black hole of interest.
Only God Forgives opens in limited release July 19. General audiences might be more forgiving but odds are I won’t be.


A musing on the success and mostly failure of concealing your true villain

Villains are a crafty bunch. Dealing in lies, trickery, and deception to get what they want, a good villain will string you along until they turn on you at the right moment, revealing their true, sinister motives.
By that standard, filmmakers Shane Black and J.J. Abrams are on their way to becoming terrific villains.

I won’t lie, before this summer started I was pumped that in the span of two months we’d be seeing Iron Man’s arch nemesis, The Mandarin, Superman’s super-powered antithesis, General Zod, and Benedict Cumberbatch playing somebody nefarious, all on the big screen. In at least one category, it looked like summer ’13 would match the lofty standards set by summer ’12.

I wish I knew how two of those examples would turn out — then I could have curbed that enthusiasm earlier on.

Since this article talks about, arguably, the biggest twists in both Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, you’d be right in assuming this is spoiler filled, which means turn your gaze away now if you want the mystery intact.

The Mandarin is an incredibly tricky character to bring to life. Essentially a dated/racist manifestation of communism, it was always assumed that some liberties would be taken to properly translate his character after three movies of buildup without offending as many people as possible. That said, having The Mandarin turn out to be a drug-addicted British stage actor who is meant to cover for Aldrich Killian’s Extremis experiments, and not a villain at all, the liberties taken here were a bit on the extreme side.

Meanwhile, Khan Noonien Singh is Star Trek‘s biggest baddie and any attempts to conceal his true identity were made in vain from the very beginning. But like our previous foe, Khan was not the only villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, with Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus acting as the schemer behind the curtain and Khan filling a secondary villain role for most of the movie.

One of these twists was mostly expected, one was most definitely not. Regardless, neither of them worked to their full potential.

Nobody saw The Mandarin twist coming. Shane Black masterfully concealed any clues from the audience about the truth and even our entourage of bad guys dedicated themselves to the illusion throughout, referring to Kingsley’s character as “The Master.” All in all, it’s a very smart way of going about such a problematic character and doing something fresh and new with the narrative. For that, it has my respect.

The problem is nobody wanted this twist. The buildup to see who the man behind the group that kidnapped Tony Stark in the first movie and got Ivan Vanko onto that Monaco race track in 2 was finally coming to a head and to reveal that not only was he not what he seemed, but not a villain at all, was nothing less than disappointing.

Truthfully, I could have perfectly lived with that twist had the true villain of the movie been a show-stopper. Needless to say, he wasn’t. Aldrich Killain is a cool idea for a villain in some ways, finally providing an adversary who’s not a bruiser and can still go toe to toe with Iron Man without the aid of another robot suit and Guy Pearce is certainly fun and fierce in the role but the character is lacking something. Namely, clear motives (how do you own the war on terror and profit from it when the terrorist isn’t real?) and abilities that differentiate him from his other Extremis minions. It’s like they traded one group of bad guys that are all the same (Vanko’s drones) for another.

Not offensive enough to be The Mandarin

Fuzzy implications that Killian is supposed to be some iteration of the actual Mandarin are almost insulting and are an underlying  reason why this twist may be so off-putting. Maybe with a lesser villain in Iron Man lore, there may not have been such a huge backlash but as is, it’s a creative risk that only half-way paid off.

Meanwhile, having the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness be Khan was a twist almost everyone saw coming, with it possibly being one of the worst kept secrets of this summer.

One might think having Star Trek‘s most fan-favorite villain in the new movie would be an opportunity for an exciting and memorable new interpretation. If so, opportunity squandered.

For much of the movie, Khan is lacking a certain weight. He fights and menaces from the sidelines as the mannered Cumberbatch delivers his lines in super-bass mode but there is something underwhelming about him. Like Mandarin, it is also revealed about half way through that there is another devious mind  at work, this time being Peter Weller’s character of Admiral Marcus. Marcus woke Khan up to develop weapons for an upcoming war against the Klingons and when Khan escaped to their world, Marcus intended to use the Enterprise to start a war with them.

Even with his extraordinary strength, intelligence and casting choice, Khan is just a little boring. His background is hazy, the true core of why he’s an antagonist isn’t made clear until later in the movie with one sentence (the whole extinction of “inferior” races thing) and despite him being heavily featured in the marketing, he’s sidelined for most of the movie as a secondary villain.

By comparison, the idea of Marcus being the villain is a lot more original and actually gives something to think about. The leader of Star Fleet is actually a war-hungry schemer who awoke a centuries-old, genetically modified conqueror to build advanced weaponry and when it went sideways, he tried manipulating a captain and his ship into not only killing his enemy, but killing him with said enemies friend’s as the weapon and erasing the evidence of his supposed wrong-doing in the process. Not only that, but by firing these people-filled missiles and disabling their warp core, Marcus has a patsy to start the war that he always wanted in one move.

Maybe its just me, but those actions seem pretty villainous and hold more water when you leave the theater. This speaks to a question that seems to be prevalent in the Star Trek universe: is Star Fleet an exploratory organization, or a military one?

And yet, our villain with the true interest is played off as a plot complication and the hyped villain just sits around, boringly, until he’s needed for the next action set-piece.

Interestingly enough, both of these twists operate under the exact same theme — the true face behind terrorism. Killian and Marcus both operate in secrecy and pass the blame for these terroristic attacks onto someone else, be it as a distraction or a means to an end, to continue their devious work. It’s a timely and important topic, one I hope continues to be explored, but one I also hope is executed better.

For comparison’s sake, last summer’s two biggest villains, Loki and Bane, also had the invisible hand twist in their stories, with Thanos giving Loki the army he needed to invade Earth and Talia al Ghul actually leading the League of Shadows. The thing is that once those specific things were revealed, neither Bane nor Loki stopped being villains. They were still a real threat and their actions weren’t eliminated or outshined.

Iron Man took a big threat and revealed him to be a fraud but left us with an actual villain who was just standard. Star Trek took a small character and revealed him to be larger than life but never utilized him correctly and probably should never have used him in the first place. Some twist and turns are appreciated but they must be done with more care. Otherwise they’re just cheap and betray their message.

My fingers are firmly crossed that there’s no scene in Man of Steel where the man we know as Zod is revealed to be a cadet and his right-hand accomplice, Faora, is revealed to have gone by the name of Zod. Going by this summer so far, it may be a legitimate concern.

Pictured: my face if that happens


Nobody killed Star Trek — it grew stale and died on its own after people got bored.

Instead what we have here is more akin to a mad scientist digging up its corpse, Frankenstein-ing something together out of the best bits and pieces and supercharging it with a bolt of lightning. And while it certainly has far more basic brain functions, this new being known as Star Trek works entirely on its own.

After betraying the prime directive in order to save Spock’s life, Captain Kirk is dressed down in an effort to learn some humility. When two terrorist attacks by the mysterious “John Harrison” leave Star Fleet shaken, Kirk and his crew are given permission to track the elusive fugitive down and destroy him. However, the mission is not all what it seems and the Enterprise may have ventured too far into darkness to return unscathed.

Even if you’re one of the people that thinks the new Star Trek is some kind of desecration, you must admit that the property has never been more popular than it is now thanks to what J.J. Abrams has done with the material. Say what you will about his unmistakable lack of respect for the original show or the loss of the low-budget, cerebral quality it was originally built upon — audiences have responded to these new films being big, dumb action movies and as big, dumb action movies, the new Star Trek films are some of the most entertaining.

The danger in 2009’s Star Trek was tense; the threats presented in Star Trek Into Darkness leave you with little time to breathe. One by one, things go horribly wrong and our crew of protagonists is put in mortal peril, displayed in some jaw-dropping action set-pieces. A visit to the Klingon home planet and several instances of the Enterprise almost kicking the bucket (often piled on top of each other) gets the blood pumping and the nerves on high even more proficiently than the last.

Of course, we wouldn’t be all that invested without a cast that continues to knock it out of the park.  The banter between the cast continues to be great. The expanding relationship between Chis Pine’s Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Spock has some genuine heart and care put into it, along with Kirk’s journey towards humility. Zoe Saldana has more to do in the first hour of this movie than she did in the entirety of the last one. Side players Simon Pegg and Karl Urban continue to absolutely own with relative ease in their roles as Scotty and Bones, respectively.

Newcomers Alice Eve and Peter Weller hold their own well but the big addition is no doubt Benedict Cumberbatch as our big baddie who, I’m a little disappointed to say, was simply really good. The man is a terrific, gifted actor but he’s too good for what they have him doing here.

Awe-inspiring action, scene stealing performances and a layered emotional arc are strengths carried over from the first movie that essentially make this series what it is and what’s so appealing about it.

And still, what we have here is, at its heart, a big, dumb action movie script that unfortunately pushes into a frustrating area of either laziness or idiocy the first movie barely even touched.

The reprehensible Damon Lindelof (seriously, why are they still giving him movies to make mediocre at this point?), under Abrams’ hand, delivers the final screenplay that’s built on basic familiarity of the brand with an overabundance of throw-away fan service moments.

The previous Star Trek movie did itself a huge favor by establishing this as a separate timeline, which gave the filmmakers free reign to explore new stories and ideas. So when this movie essentially settles for being a louder reworking of *SPOILERS* The Wrath of Khan*SPOILERS* in many parts, it feels like a huge slap in the face.


The half-baked (and unnecessary) twist midway through, along with excessive, obvious foreshadowing on no less than two huge events doesn’t do the movie any favors either.

The first two acts survive while the third eventually sinks following a heavy-handed and cheap plot throwback that’s then followed by a big, dumb action movie chase/fight you can only scratch your head over.

A strong argument could be made that this new Star Trek is following a parallel path to the two new Sherlock Holmes movies: both the originals, while more action-oriented re-imaginings, retain the spirit of their source material and thrive on the strong chemistry of their main players to make for a fun, exciting update. The sequels, both featuring the series’ most popular villain, still retain the chemistry but lose some of the magic that made the source material special, opting more to be a big, dumb action movie. Some plot points from A Game of Shadows and Into Darkness are practically identical.

Still, it can’t be said there’s nothing smart about the movie. Into Darkness does make an interesting (dare I say thoughtful) point about why Star Fleet seems so militarized lately and most of the emotional beats between the main characters ring surprisingly true and mature (with one notable exception), helped out in part by another fantastic Michael Giacchino score.

With only the defect of blurry 3D, Into Darkness features some simply amazing full IMAX scenes and is one to make the Trek to see in the superior format.

The old Star Trek isn’t going away forever, so there’s really no harm in this new creation having its moment in the sun. One can only hope any further adventures will have the drive to boldly go where no man has gone before in the plot department but if it continues to be as strong on visuals and character, we’ll still have one of the best popcorn movie series around.