Saturday, May 28, 2011

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES - 2011 - A VOYAGE WORTH TAKING!



Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth installment of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and I found it less complex and more light-hearted than its predecessors. There are several reasons for this, but I think it is largely in part because the Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann storyline that was pivotal to the first three films was concluded with the previous films. That enabled the filmmakers to start with a fresh new story with this film.
This is a classic quest story, with three different groups all vying for the legendary Fountain of Youth. Jack Sparrow is forced by the King of England to help his old nemesis Captain Barbossa – who now sails for England as a privateer – into finding the waters of eternal life before the Spanish do. Jack escapes, but is soon shanghaied by the pirate Blackbeard, who is seeking the Fountain of Youth for reasons of his own. Helping Blackbeard is Angela Malon, who as a former paramour of Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard hopes to use to his advantage. Finding the fountain is not the only part of the quest, as certain elements must also be procured in order to make proper use of the waters magical abilities. One of these is the tears of a mermaid and they eventually all must deal with the complications of dealing with these mythical creatures, before all parties arrive at the location of the youthful fountain.
Unlike the first three films, where the viewpoint character is Will Turner, this film the focal character is Jack Sparrow. As a supporting character, Sparrow was charismatically heroic and unpredictably goofy all at the same time. By placing Sparrow at the center of the story, he must drive the story and be slightly less capricious as a result. Jonny Depp manages to keep Jack just as naughty and nutty as always, while still making him likable. This is one of the reasons this film emphasized the comedy over the macabre, because Sparrow’s view of his world is emphatically whimsical.
I also think that a lot of the tone of this film could be credited to the new director Rob Marshall.  The writers for all four films are similar, so Marshall must have decided to accentuate the comedic components of the fantasy elements, than the darker chaotic aspects that Gore Verbinski focused on. I was concerned that a different director would change to look and feel of the Pirates of the Caribbean film, but it did most assuredly did not.
I really liked the new villain of this film. Finally, we get a truly evil and selfish pirate in the form of Blackbeard, played to the hilt by one of my favorite actors Ian McShane. I loved the interplay between Depp and his old romantic entanglement Angelica Malon, played with spicy exuberance by Pen√©lope Cruz. I’m glad they brought back Captain Barbossa and Sparrow’s first mate Gibbs, even though they take a definite back seat to Sparrow, Malon and Blackbeard.
Oddly, the character I missed the most was The Black Perl: the ship that is so dear to Jack Sparrow’s heart. Another major omission was the lack of any ship-to-ship sea battles that were so prominent in first three films. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that it would be difficult to top the massive fleet battle at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
The supernatural elements were not played up as much in this film. Yes, there was a haunted ship, magic sword, zombie pirates and mermaids, but only one of these supernatural elements played a major role in the storyline. These were the mermaids and even they had only one big scene in the film. I’m not saying I was disappointed with the supernatural aspects of this film, but I felt they were downplayed a bit more than in the first three films.
Still, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fulfills its prime objective, which is to entertain and amuse. There are plenty of fantastic action scenes, filled with humor and wit. At the center of it all is Captain Jack Sparrow, who faces danger and death with his usual mixture of zany aplomb and cowardice. That alone makes this pirate film a voyage well worth taking.

Monday, May 23, 2011

THOR – 2011 – A MIGHTY THUNDEROUS TAKEOFF!


With the plethora of genre films coming to theaters this summer, I decided earlier this year that I would carefully chose six to eight films, which I knew I could make the time to see. Thor didn’t make the “must see” list, not because I didn’t think it would be an entertaining, well-made film, but for the simple fact that it was one of four superhero movies that were coming out in the span of ten weeks and I didn’t want to burn myself out on the sub-genre by seeing too many of them. Of the four – Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class and Captain America – I chose Captain America; partly because I have more familiarity with the comics than with the others, but mostly because I love the fact that they chose to tell Cap’s complete origin and set it faithfully in its original WWII time period.

How, you ask, did I end up spending my hard earned money and precious free time to seeing the mighty god of thunder at my local theater? I was persuaded by my significant other to see it. Yes, ladies, there is a Bride of Freakenstein and has been for many years now. She likes to keep a low profile and prefers I don’t inform the readers of Guardians of the Genre of her activities – either genre or mundane. I will say The Bride has good judgment when it comes to genre fare, so when she asked me on several occasions prior to Thor’s theatrical debut if we were going to see it; like any intelligent and long-married male, I took the hint and we saw it as soon as our mutual schedule allowed.
I won’t bore you with too much detail of my background knowledge of Marvel’s version of the Norse god, but suffice to say, during the swingin’ seventies, I was a teenage mighty Marvel maniac and true believer! I read all of Marvel’s major (and not so major) superhero titles at this time and that included Thor. I read Thor all through the 70’s during John Buscema’s run as artist on the book and his slightly more super heroic portrayal of Thor is the one that is always the one in my mind’s eye. I was familiar with Jack Kirby’s Thor as well, thanks to Marvel's reprint comics in the 70’s and I really admired the way he drew Asgard as a fantasy setting. I last read Thor during Walt Simonson’s late 70’s/early 80’s run on the comic, but eventually I tired of the title. It has been long enough since I read any Thor comics, that I was fairly certain that it would actually keep me from nit picking the details and help me enjoy the film more. For the most part, I was correct.

Thor tells the story of how the son of Odin came to be banished to Earth and what Thor eventually learns there that helps him save Asgard from destruction by the Frost Giants. The film opens with Jane Foster and Erik Selvig surveying an aurora borealis like phenomena in the New Mexican desert, when a maelstrom funnel opens from the sky. Driving their RV to the site, they hit a man that is at the center of the vortex.
The film flashes back to a battle in 900 AD between the Frost Giants and the Asgards. The Asgardians win the battle and take the Giants’ casket that powers their realm. Centuries later, Odin must choose between his two sons Thor or Loki as the heir apparent. During Thor’s indoctrination as the crown prince, Asgard is attacked by two Frost Giants, who attempt to steal back their power casket, only to be killed by the Destroyer robot. Thor wants to attack the Frost Giants in their own realm for breaching Asgard, but Odin forbids it.  Speciously, Thor convinces Loki and his close friends, Volstagg, Fandral, Hogun and Sif to join him on a mission to the Frost Giant’s realm. They are captured by King Laufrey, but are rescued by Odin, who apologizes for his son’s infraction. Odin punishes Thor, by banishing him to Earth and stripping him of the magical hammer Mjollnir and his godlike powers.
That brings us back to the beginning of the film, where the dazed Thor is taken to the hospital by Jane Foster. Thor escapes the hospital and eventually rejoins the scientists who found him. Thor convinces Jane to return to the desert, where S.H.I.E.L.D. has posted an encampment to study the crater where Thor’s hammer Mjollnir lies buried in rock. Thor attacks the camp, but is unable to remove the hammer from the rock.
In Asgard, Odin has gone into the Odin sleep, and Loki takes the throne as King of Asgard. Thor’s friends go to Earth to tell him of his father’s plight and Loki’s seeming treachery. The film concludes with Thor regaining Mjollnir and battling Loki for Asgard and all the realms!
Thor does an excellent job of relating the complex backstory of Asgard, while developing the relationships between Odon, Thor and Loki. The Earthbound story is not quite as strong and I never really felt any attraction between Thor and Jane Foster. The center of the story is Thor’s growth from brash youth, to responsible man-god and Chris Hemsworth plays the part with charismatic ease. Anthony Hopkins is believable as the god-king Odin, even though he has very little to do in the film overall. Natalie Portman is fine as Jane Foster, but I never understood her affection for Thor, other than her interest in his ability to travel the realms via the Bifrost Bridge portal. Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki as a betrayed son and not as a one-note villain. I would have loved to see more of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas), Hogun (T.Asano) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander) who play Thor’s Asgardian warrior friends, but I understand the constraints of the plot that kept their participation in the story to a minimum.
Kenneth Branagh is to be commended for creating a film that makes the fantastic world of Asgard as real as its earthbound companion. Branagh makes a complex story filled with over a dozen characters flow well. In fact, the pace of Thor is so brisk that its conclusion almost comes as a surprise and certainly makes a sequel seem imminent. The few differences between the comic and the film – most notably, the absence of Thor’s human form Doctor Donald Blake – did not bother me. The look of Thor’s costume was altered to look more futuristic, which complimented idea that Thor was not a god, but a being of superior genetics and technology. Having not read the comic for some time, I’m not sure if Marvel has rewritten the Thor comic’s back story in this way, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Overall, Thor succeeds in providing a vast cosmic fantasy adventure, while still keeping the characters human enough to be appealing and relatable. Thor is not a deep film, but is an entertaining fantasy that leaves you wanting to join Thor in more mighty thunderous thrills!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

CREATURE SCI-FI HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE!


I was rummaging through some of Zombzany's betamax video cassette tapes and I found this old TV spot for a failed show that Zombzany and Major Mac Maniac tried to get aired on KRAP-TV 33 in the late 70's. They called it Creature Sci-Fi Horror Double Feature and it was supposed to be a double bill of science fiction and horror movies that would air every Saturday afternoon.

Apparently, at the insistence of the management of KRAP-TV, it was aimed at younger viewers who they mistakenly thought would enjoy the antics of the hosts Zombzany and Major Mac Maniac. Unfortunately, whatever they were paying the mismatched duo wasn't enough to convince Zombzany that he was to be running films that he considered to be beneath his cultured cinematic tastes.

This tape of the short promo for Creature Sci-Fi Horror Double Feature is all that survives of the unaired pilot episode. Clearly Zombzany would never be able to work amiably with Major Maniac and this disaster of a promo started a feud between the two that would continue on for decades! Enjoy this rare TV spot for Creature Sci-Fi Horror Double Feature!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

2011 GENRE MOVIE POLL RESULTS

My “Which 2011 genre movies are you looking forward to most?” poll closed yesterday and I want to thank the few of you who took the time to vote in it for doing so. I placed this poll at the bottom of our blog page, so maybe that is to blame for the small number of responses. Still, it does give myself and my fellow Genre Guardians an idea of which of the many genre films that are being released this year that you are interested in.

Cowboys & Aliens came out on top with 62% of the voters interested in seeing this film. I am interested primarily for its unique blend of sci-fi and western genres. I’m also a fan of director Jon Favreau’s Iron Man films, which proves to me he has the ability to humanize science fictional concepts. Also, the casting of Daniel Craig as the alien-weapon toting cowboy and Harrison Ford as the iron-fisted Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde is inspired!



Battle: Los Angeles gained the second highest number of votes, scoring 50% of the votes. I have already seen and written my review of this film. While it was not quite as good a science fiction film as I had hoped it would be, it was still a very good film overall.

 

Sucker Punch received 37% of the votes. I’ve also seen and reviewed this film. I was, and still am, uncertain as to what this film was actually trying to say or do. While I was both appalled and entertained by the film, I can’t say for certain that I actually liked it.

 

Also coming in with 37% of the votes were: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Super 8, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Thing. I look forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides the most, despite the loss of both the director Gore Verbinski and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner. I’m one of the few people who liked Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, so I have no doubt that Transformers: Dark of the Moon will entertain me as well. The more I learn of the plot of Super 8 (which admittedly isn’t much) the less I’m looking forward to seeing it. Still, with J. J. Abrams both helming and writing the film, I still am betting that this will be good. I’ve seen all but one of the Harry Potter films at the theater, so I have no intention of not seeing the final chapter Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 at the theater. I’m intrigued by what is purportedly a prequel to The Thing; but is it a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film or the novel on which it was based?

 

Of the films that received 25% of the votes, the two I am most looking forward to seeing are Captain America: The First Avenger (I love that they set it in WWII) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (I loved the first film and all the principals are back for this sequel). I like that they are going back to early days of the X-Men with X-Men: First Class (I particularly like the 60’s era setting), but not enough to see it at the theater. I’ve never been a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes series. I never saw the Tim Burton “reimagining” travesty. So I have little to no interest in Rise of the Apes, a purported prequel which is suspiciously similar to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (’72).

 

Of the films that received 12% of the vote, I have no intention of seeing any of these at the theater. I’ll most likely rent Green Lantern, I Am Number Four, Thor and Season of the Witch when they come to blu-ray, but Red Riding Hood, The Adventures of Tintin and Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage will have to be watched on cable, if at all.

 

As for the remainder of films that received 0% of the votes, I will definitely rent Scream 4 (I’m a fan of the original films). The remainder - The Green Hornet, Reel Steel, , The Witches of Oz and The Cabin in the Woods I’ll watch on cable; but I will pass on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, just as I did on the two previous films in the series.



Thank you again to all of you who voted. Let me know if you would like similar polls to this and what I can do to make them easier and more accessible to participate in.

 

Here are the full results of the poll:

 

Cowboys & Aliens 5 (62%)



Battle: Los Angeles 4 (50%)



Sucker Punch 3 (37%)



Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3 (37%)



Super 8 3 (37%)



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 3 (37%)



Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3 (37%)



The Thing 3 (37%)



X-Men: First Class 2 (25%)



Rise of the Apes 2 (25%)



Captain America: The First Avenger 2 (25%)



Sherlock Holmes 2 2 (25%)



Red Riding Hood 1 (12%)



The Adventures of Tintin 1 (12%)



I Am Number Four 1 (12%)



Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage 1 (12%)



Thor 1 (12%)



Season of the Witch 1 (12%)



Green Lantern 1 (12%)



The Green Hornet 0 (0%)



Reel Steel 0 (0%)



The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 0 (0%)



The Witches of Oz 0 (0%)



Scream 4 0 (0%)



The Cabin in the Woods 0 (0%)


Total Voters: 8