Saturday, July 30, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

"I don't want to kill anyone, I just don't like bullies"

The First Avenger is, as far as I'm concerned, one of Marvels best super hero movies to date. It had plenty of action and explosions to satisfy the popcorn crowd, but at the same time the story made sense and the characters were interesting. Also of note is how flawlessly this movie ties into the other Marvel flicks that have come before it. The First Avenger is, I think, the first Avengers tie in that doesn't feel like it's had to sacrifice story for the sake of the 'bigger picture.' More than anything else though, the movie owes its success to Chris Evans (who owns the role of Cap) and Stanley Tucci, who's small but pivotal role adds a lot of heart to what might have otherwise been another pedestrian hero story. The critics have been fairly positive about Cap as well; currently the average on RT is 77%

The movie follows the rise of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as he goes from wannabe soldier to the pinnacle of the US war effort. Poor Steve is desperate to serve his country, not because he's a glory hound or because he wants to kill Nazi's, but because he's genuinely a good guy. This is a theme the movie pounds into our head repeatedly, but it really does work. Steve wants to serve because he believes he has no right to sit on the sidelines while other men are giving their lives. It is this inherent 'goodness' that catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who then invites Steve to be a potential candidate for a top secret super soldier program. After Steve's successful enhancement a saboteur destroys the lab, preventing any more soldiers being created and leaving Steve as a lone science experiment instead of part of an elite team as the army had envisioned. Not to be dissuaded Steve takes it upon himself to be more than just a poster boy for US recruitment and takes the fight directly to the man responsible for the sabotage, Johann Schmidt a.k.a. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

As I said, I think the strongest contributors to the movie are Chris Evans and Stanley Tucci. Evans does an excellent job bringing Steve Rogers to life. I was fairly confident in the casting choice when I first heard about it almost a year ago now, and I'm happy to say my confidence was well placed. Evans successfully blends tough guy action hero with a warm personality that makes him all the more believable on screen. Stanley Tucci's character is also portrayed very well, assuming the role of kindly old mentor in a way. One of my favourite scenes in the movie was between the scrawny Steve Rogers and the wise old Dr Erskine on the night before the procedure. The actors have a great chemistry on screen and their time together feels very genuine. I would of course be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful Hugo Weaving, a man who can chew scenery like no other. In my mind there was really no other actor that could have played The Red Skull, Weaving has that perfect sneer that lends itself well to playing a villain. Even more so than Evans as Cap, Weaving really looked the part.

Notable supporting roles include Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), and Niel McDonough (Dum Dum Doogan). All of these actors, especially Stan as Bucky, played very well with the leads. The brotherly relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes was very clear even when the characters were just on screen together and not conversing. Love interest Peggy Carter was also nicely portrayed in the movie, the relationship was developed well; always just one step away from actually 'getting there'. I was very happy to see Dum Dum Doogan an the rest of the Howling Commandos get some screen time, as a fan of the comics I was looking forward to seeing these guys working with Cap. I would have liked to see Nick Fury as part of the team too, but sadly the movies have gone a different way in that regard. The only real disappointing casting in my view is that of Howard Stark. Following up from the impressive screen presence of John Slattery in Iron Man 2, Mamma Mia alum Dominic Cooper was something of a let down in the role.

As one would expect from a big budget Marvel Studios flick, the special effects were terrific. The Red Skulls' Hydra tech looked terrific on screen. Even the simple things like his car were lovingly detailed. It was also great to see set pieces like the Stark Expo show up again (though in 40's style). Even the retro look of New York looked flawless on screen. The F/X and the costume team deserve a lot of praise for the overall look of the picture. I'll admit I wasn't too sure about the 40's Captain America costume when I first saw the stills, but on screen it actually does work very well.

As I suggested in my opening summary, this movie is the first Marvel Studios flick that seamlessly integrates the Avengers tie ins. Iron Man 2 suffered story-wise by trying to shoe horn in elements from the Avengers and Hawk Eyes cameo in Thor seemed a tad superfluous. Not so with Captain America, where casual references are made to Odin's Vault (Thor), Stark Industries (Iron Man) and obviously the super soldier serum (Incredible Hulk). The integration is so smooth that it really helps sell the idea that all these heroes exist in the one universe.

I really don't have a lot of criticism for the movie as I really had a fun time watching it. However, if I were to really scratch my head and think about it I suppose there is one major point I could nitpick at. If you plan on seeing Captain America, don't waste your money paying for a 3D ticket. I did catch a 3D showing, but only because the time was more convenient than the 2D alternative. I can tell you that aside from a couple of scenes (perhaps 5-8 minutes out of the entire movie) the 3D is barely noticeable and certainly not worth the extra £2.50 I paid for it. As much as I enjoyed the movie I really do feel that, as in most cases, the 3D added nothing to the value of the experience. I've made my feelings pretty clear on 3D before so I wont go into a whole rant on it again, but suffice to say I'm not a fan. Tell the studios how you feel about 3D by acting with your wallet... see it in 2D instead.

Overall I think Captain America: The First Avenger is an excellent final step into the epic movie event that is The Avengers. Furthermore it has a host of great characters/actors coupled with an exciting story and stunning set pieces/special fx. Stop by your local multiplex and check it out for yourself, even if you're not a diehard Marvel Comics fanatic there is a lot to enjoy in this latest Summer blockbuster.

Final Verdict on Captain America: The First Avenger:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

"The monsters you read about as a kid, they're real."

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night harkens back to the classic noir private detective stories of old, and in my opinion it does so very successfully. The movie consists of a very particular blend of mystery, humor and the supernatural, a combination that reminded me very much of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files stories (of which I am a fan). If the movie has a failing, it is probably that it is centered on a niche character. Personally I had never heard of the series of comic books upon which the movie is based, so there is certainly no built in fan-base (or at least not a very big one) from which to draw support. As a result Dylan has dragged somewhat at the box office. It has also been critically panned with an average rating of 3% based on 30 reviews at RT (more on this later), which certainly doesn't help its chances.

The movie opens with our hero Dylan (Brandon Routh) working as a regular gumshoe having given up the supernatural life after the loss of his fiance Cassandra. He gets by on simple jobs with his new assistant Marcus (Sam Huntington). At least he does until he answers the call of a woman named Elizabeth (Anita Briem) who wants Dylan to investigate the murder of her father. Dylan initially turns her down when he realizes there is a supernatural element to the crime, but like all good detectives simply can't stay away for long. Circumstances quickly become clouded and it's up to Dylan to discover what is really going on, why Elizabeths father was murdered and how it's related to increased aggression between Vampires and Werewolves.

First off, Brandon Routh carried the titular role very well. He wouldn't have been my first choice for a supernatural noir detective story, but none the less he tuns in a good performance here. I think part of the success is down to the buddy cop dynamic between Routh and Huntington. The two play off each other well, and given that they are real life friends, they have a very easy going manner on screen that conveys a close friendship even when the movie doesn't have time to explain their past or how they came to work together. You might argue that Routh is a little to clean cut to be a gumshoe, and you may have a point, but there is enough comedic elements in this movie to offset the serious tone. In some ways it's very similar to Serenity in that it wildly shifts from fun and lighthearted to full on dark horror in the blink of an eye. Anyway back to the actors, special attention has to be given to Peter Stormare who once again steals the show even with very little screen time. I really love the actor, he does very good work and has a very wide range of performing ability. For example watch his antics in Armageddon and then immediately watch his turn as Satan in Constantine. In this movie he plays Gabriel, the patriarch of a werewolf clan Dylan has crossed paths with in the past.

Not quite as strong are the performances of Anita Briem and Taye Diggs. Anita is perhaps not entirely to blame for this in that she plays the typical two dimensional damsel in distress who must be rescued and cared for by our protagonist. As such she isn't given a whole lot of screen time, and her character doesn't get much in the way of development. I don't know, I just felt she was rather bland. Taye Diggs portrayed Vargas the leader of the local vampire house and as such was intended to be the chief antagonist. I rather think the head of a group of vampires should be imposing, sinister and even terrifying to some extent (see John Carpenter's Vampires for reference). I've never once thought of Taye Diggs as a villain. They tried to do it in Equilibrium too and he just doesn't have the right characteristics to be scary. I certainly wasn't worried about Dylan when he goes up against the evil vampire chief ... played by Taye Diggs. I have nothing against the guy, I just think maybe he should stick to the lighter side of acting, perhaps he should get a new agent or something. In any case these two characters/actors were the weakest elements in the movie.

Obviously the movie has been completely panned by the critics, as the 3% rating on RT would indicate. However, I'm going to argue that the movie has been unfairly treated. There is no rational way this movie should be scoring worse than Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne movie (which scored a 4%). I'm not going to stand here and argue that it was the greatest movie I've ever seen, because it certainly wasn't, but it also wasn't the worst (I actually saw Bloodrayne for example). One reviewer summarizes the movie as "entirely derivative and utterly wretched". There are certianly genre tropes all over this movie so yeah I'll give him derivative, but show me 10 movies in the last year that were not entirely derivative. Hollywood has run out of ideas, this is common knowledge. It's also why we see so many reboots, remakes and re-imaginings these days. Moving on to 'utterly wretched'.... now I'm just thinking this guy is trying to stir up a buzz word to get his review noticed. If I were to describe a movie as utterly wretched, I believe I would be describing something like Uwe Boll's Alone in the Dark or perhaps that fucking Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (yeah I know there's more than one, but really they're both equally dire). Dylan Dog has it's high points, it has a coherent story from start to finish, it has good chemistry between its leads and it has pretty damn good production values for the limited budget it was made with. So when I hear the words 'utterly wretched' used to describe it... I have to assume that reviewer is just being a dick for the sake of being a dick.

On the whole I thought the movie was good. It's not going to win any awards and it's not the most original story in the world, but at the end of the day it was a fun entertaining way to spend a Sunday morning. You'll be hard pressed to find this in theaters anymore. It was only a limited release to begin with, being based on a foreign comic book with a cult following, and with the abysmal reviews it disappeared pretty damn quick. I would still advise you to check this one out when it gets its DVD release though, rent yourself a copy and enjoy a classic noir detective tale in a modern setting... with you know, vampires and stuff. 

Final Verdict on Dylan Dog: Dead of Night:

Sunday, May 15, 2011


"Where have all the reviews gone?"

It has just come to my attention that it has been a solid month since I last uploaded a review to Fifth Row. This is clearly a bit of an oversight on my part, so please accept my sincere apologies for my procrastination. I have in fact seen several new movies over the last month, sadly I've just been rather lazy when it comes to churning out the reviews for them.

Just want to assure my readers that I have not abandoned the blog and am currently writing reviews for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Fast Five and Thor. While I can't give you a solid e.t.a on when they will appear, rest assured that I will upload them as soon as they are complete.

Additionally, I was finally able to catch a showing of Limitless... so assuming I'm able to catch up with the above reviews in a timely fashion I shall endeavor to share my impressions of that movie as well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

"I am trying to make it right!"
An exciting and engaging legal thriller, The Lincoln Lawyer delivers a compelling story and some very strong performances from the cast. I'm the first to admit that I'm not exactly a fan of Matthew McConaughey (especially after the disaster that was Sahara), but I was fairly impressed by what he puts into this movie, somewhat reminiscent of his time on the terrific A Time to Kill. In fact I found myself just generally impressed by the whole movie, and I certainly left the cinema feeling entertained. Currently the movie is sitting at a solid 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The plot follows the exploits of Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a defense attorney with a reputation for being an ambulance chaser, when he takes on the case of Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe). Louis is accused of assault and attempted rape on a prostitute, he is also the son of a very wealthy family who are prepared to let Haller name his price. Naturally Haller figures this is a great deal, he doesn't see any particular complications in the case as it's presented to him, and he gets to make a fast buck of the family. Naturally though, when something seems to good to be true, it probably is. As Haller and his long time friend, private investigator Frank Levin (William H. Macy), dig deeper into the case, they begin to suspect that their client is being less than truthful with them. Haller quickly finds himself in the middle of a deadly game, and he's not the one making up the rules this time.  

As I pointed out in the introduction, I was very impressed with McConaughey's performance in the movie. After seeing him embrace the cliched romantic comedy lead for so long, it's very refreshing to see him tackle a role with some depth. I admit that I have not read the novel on which the movie is based, but McConaughey does a great job of giving Haller a great degree of personality and character. Within minutes of seeing him on screen we have a good idea of who this guy is and how he does his job. Equally impressive was William H. Macy's Frank Levin. Sporting a somewhat unconventional hairstyle for Macy, Frank Levin is a competent by humorous P.I. that seems to act as a kind of moral compass to the more reckless Haller. The easy friendship displayed by these characters is a testament to the fine acting on display, I really bought that these guys were life long friends, and Macy doesn't even have that much screen time. I wonder if it is a compliment to say that Ryan Phillipe is good a playing a creep? The first movie I ever saw the actor in was Cruel Intentions, and almost every role I've seen him in since has had that same smarmy creepiness about it. I think perhaps in the this movie he does too good a job of conveying that character, it immediately makes the audience suspicious of him (though granted the trailers for the movie pretty much spell out that Phillipe's character has something to hide).

Another supporting actor of note is Marisa Tomei as Hallers ex-wife and the mother of his child. Again in a very short space of time the actors establish the complex relationship these two have, as well as their history and what drove them apart. I always enjoy Tomei's performances, she is of course well known for her role in My Cousin Vinny, but I found her small supporting role in The Watcher to be far more compelling. I think the latter performance is more in keeping with her character here.John Leguizamo does have a small role in the movie as bale bondsman Val Valenzuela, but honestly it is so brief that he really doesn't have the time to build the character at all. Such that I feel pretty much any actor could have played that part.

The movie does a great job of keeping the audience guessing. Personally as much as I knew there was something off about Roulet, I could never quite establish his guilt or innocence for myself. Additionally the sense of tension builds very gradually over the course of the movie to effectively draw you in. As time passes I felt much more invested in Hallers situation and really related to the character... I wanted him to find a solution. The one complaint I could probably make about the movie is how neat and tidy the ending winds up being. I'm always on the fence about criticizing endings, they are definitely the hardest part of the story to get right. Even more so in a typical Hollywood movie when you have about 2 hours to tell a complete story. The more background you build in to flesh out your characters the less time you have to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion. Which isn't to say that The Lincoln Lawyer's ending is unsatisfying, it's just rather quickly resolved. Especially after the movie builds up and builds up, it all just felt a little too easy in the end. 

Overall though I really enjoyed the movie, the acting was very good, the script was well written and felt natural and the pacing was almost perfect. There was pretty much no segments in the movie that I felt needed tightening up. If you enjoy a good legal drama, The Lincoln Lawyer should definitely leave you entertained.

Final Verdict on The Lincoln Lawyer:

Sunday, March 27, 2011


"There is an alien in the kitchen making bagels and coffee"

Paul doesn't lack for laugh out loud moments, but it wouldn't be unfair to say the entire movie amounts to nothing more than a collection of humorous skits. The writers managed to cram a plethora of sci-fi movie references into the film (aside from the obvious ET gags), and as a geek I loved that, but I can see why some people might be less than impressed by it. At the very least I think every viewer would agree that Pegg and Frost make for a terrific comedy duo, and once again they are in top form. Paul even manages to score a fresh rating on RT, something that seems to be pretty hard to do these days, with an overall 71% score.

The basic gist of the movie is a fairly obvious riff on ET. Two bumbling nerds Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are on a once in a lifetime trip to states, beginning with a trip to Comic-con and culminating in a road-trip across the U.S. to visit all the UFO related sites. Along the way they encounter friendly, but kinda rude, alien Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan) who is attempting to flee the Government and meet up with some of his buddies for a trip off world. The two Brits agree to help him get to the rendezvous point and wackiness ensues... roll credits.

The Pegg/Frost team once again deliver a solid comedic performance, continuing the easy going fun they began with Shaun of the Dead. Though I admit it took a little bit to get used to seeing Nick Frost with so much hair. It's also nice to see Pegg still doing the roles that started his career, even in the face of his wildly successful take on Scotty in the new Star Trek franchise. Highest praise is reserved for the criminally underused Jeffrey Tambor who played a sci-fi author at the faux Comic-con event. He's becoming quite the scene stealer these days, first Hangover and now Paul. We can only hope to see more of Tambor in the future. Also noteworthy is the performance of Jason Bateman as the hard nosed federal agent attempting to track down Paul, he played it with just the right mix of soicism and slap stick comedy timing.

Quick note on Kristen Wigg too, in the past I've not been a fan of her outrageous Saturday Night Live characters, but in the case of Paul, I actually didn't mind her presence. Another actor in the movie that I've never been particularly taken with is Seth Rogen (granted only his voice appears in this movie). Again I felt that he was really quite well suited to the role, his voice really brought Paul to life, and he seemed to riff off Pegg and Frost well (granted I don't know how authentic that is, since I don't even know if they were in the same room when he recorded his stuff).

Speaking of the cute little CG alien, props to the effects department on that one. He blends in seamlessly with the actors to the point that you actually believe he's right there with them. Which in turn helps with the sense of immersion. Even when he has to physically interact with the environment, like holding hands with the actors or diving through a doorway to avoid gunfire, he always looked like he belonged. So in short, the effects were terrific. We were also treated to more than a few practical effects in the form of car crashes and explosions, which also looked great, so good job all round from the effects guys.

The most controversial element of the movie is likely to center around the treatment of religion. This movie is not particularly friendly when it comes to dealing with religion. The jokes on this subject are really 'in your face' and lack even the smallest shred of subtlety. Now personally I thought the jokes were pretty funny, but I'm not a particularly religious person. I can certainly see how some folks would be offended by the movies portrayal of religious people, and I accept that. Clearly those jokes were not written with such viewers in mind, I'm not going to comment on what the intention of the writers was or was not. I will simply say I thought it was funny, if you're a deeply religious person, you might think otherwise.

Overall I thought the movie was very well paced, it presented a somewhat typical chase movie, but I think Pegg, Frost and Rogan were strong enough to carry it on the strength of their acting. Combine that with some terrific supporting actors and cameos and you've really got something. The effects were great, the plot kept me interested and the characters were fun to watch. I'll most certainly be picking up the unrated version on DVD.

Final Verdict on Paul:  

Friday, February 25, 2011


"I didn't forget everything"

Unknown is certainly a classic thriller/mystery tale, but it does lack the pulse pounding drive of Neeson's previous hit Taken. One complaint you will likely hear in reference to Unknown is that it uses too many cliches from the suspense genre, including amnesia, conspiracy and mistaken identity. However I often point out cliches are cliches because they work. Unknown may be somewhat predictable, subscribing to certain genre tropes, but in doing so does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. An opinion my fellow critics at RT seem to disagree on, with the consensus settling on the term 'derivative' and an average score of 57%.

The premise of the movie is that Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) have just arrived in Berlin for a bio-tech conference. Unfortunately after arriving at the hotel Martin realizes he has left his briefcase at the airport. He quickly hails a cab to go back for it, and on the way is involved in a fairly major car accident, which leaves him in a coma for 4 days. Upon waking he discovers that someone else has assumed his identity and his wife appears to no longer know him.

Neeson, as is always the case, delivers a great performance throughout the movie, I like Neeson as a Bourne type character and I think he pulls it off very well. Diane Kruger was also perfectly cast as Gina, the young woman whom Martin enlists to aid him. The two actors have good chemistry together on screen, forming a kind of father, daughter dynamic. It adds a lot to the story when we really feel that Martin wants to protect Gina from the danger he has unwittingly put her in. Also of note is the appearance of Frank Langella in the movie. Langella has been taking smaller supporting roles in recent years, but even then he adds a level of class and depth to everything he does. Such is the case in Unknown. Of particular note is a scene between Langella's character Rodney Cole and Ernst Jurgen (played by the equally imposing Bruno Ganz). This scene, between these two great actors, is without doubt the strongest moment in the movie. I don't want to spoil the specifics of the scene, but you will definitely appreciate it when you see it. I have to give credit to Ganz, his performance in the movie is outstanding, everything from the way he carries himself to the subtle expressions on his face builds his character and is a real joy to watch.

Less convincing was January Jones. I have to admit that I don't watch, nor have I ever watched, Mad Men so I really have no basis for comparison, but based solely on Unknown I am not particularly enthralled with her acting ability. As a side note, now that I have seen her on screen I think she is far to old to be a convincing Emma Frost in the new X-Men movie. Anyway, she only plays a small part in this movie, but her character seems rather bland, I think perhaps the movie would have worked just as well without her. Elizabeth Harris just doesn't contribute all that much to the story. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on her because of her involvement with X-Men: First Class, which I have publicly denounced to anyone who will listen, but I just felt that she was... kinda wooden.

This movie is a much slower paced affair than either Bourne or Taken, which it is being compared to by the studio. This isn't a bad thing though, in the case of this movie a slower pace works much better. I just think that it might be a mistake of the studio to compare Unknown to more action packed and adrenaline fueled capers. If they had tried to film this one at the same breakneck pace of Taken, it would probably have been over in 40 minutes. The hook in Unknown is the mystery. It's easy to engage with the character of Martin Harris when the audience is learning things at the same time he is.

I thought it played out very well, the screenplay felt real, the on-location settings were terrific and the action sequences were suitably exciting without diving into the realm of popcorn-action. If I have one complaint it's that, not unlike Taken, the ending is a little too convenient (again I don't want to spoil it, I imagine you will understand if/when you see it), but that does seem to the trend set by Hollywood these days, so I suppose we just have to roll with it.

Final Verdict on Unknown: