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The Wolverine

… a holdover to distract us from what we’ve been craving all along… it’s still better than the last Wolverine sorta-solo outing, so there’s that.
-Kevin A. Ranson,

The Wolverine is surprisingly dour and uneventful, at least by the carnage-n-claptrap standards of modern superhero movies
-Luke Buckmaster, Crikey

What they did to me, what I am, can’t be undone.
The Wolverine, the latest from James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) is a very unique film especially considering the summer of destruction we’ve had so far:

  • Star Trek: Into Darkness left San Fransisco and London in ruins
  • Humans fled planet Earth in both Oblivion and After Earth
  • Superman and Zod completely destroyed metropolis in Man of Steel, with complete disregard for innocent human life
  • Iron Man 3 featured major Los Angeles landmarks being blown to pieces by Extremis
  • The world all but ended in Pacific Rim and World War Z
  • This is the End…enough said

We’ve seen so much destruction that even Damon Lindelof is getting tired of it.

The Wolverine tries to be the opposite of the films mentioned above: A comic book adaptation with a small scale, very little carnage and a minimal body count.

“Eternity can be a curse. The losses you have had to suffer.”

It’s not quite a character piece but not quite a superhero movie. With much smaller set pieces and scaled down action sprinkled throughout, this film is essentially a look into the character’s psyche. Not quite what we’re used to in a big budget summer tentpole release, it’s almost a jarring change of pace and even slightly refreshing.

“A man can run out of things to care for, lose his purpose.”

The year is 1945. Wolverine is imprisoned in an underground cell in a Japanese detainment camp in Nagasaki. As a pair of B-52 bombers appear in the horizon, his cell is opened by an officer named Yoshida, who begs him to escape and save himself. Instead, Wolverine pulls him inside and shields him from the blast as all other human life on the island is decimated by the bomb. Yoshida watches in horror as Wolverines body is burnt to a crisp then heals itself before his eyes.

“That day ain’t here yet.”

Flash forward to 2013. Disheveled, lonely and living off the land in the Canadian wilderness, Wolverine is haunted by visions of Jean Grey, whom he killed in X-Men: The Last Stand. Eventually located by a mutant named Yukio, Wolverine travels with her to Tokyo per the request of Yoshida, who is now on his deathbed. The reason? Immortality.

“You have struggled long enough. I can end your eternity…”

“I can make you mortal.”

For the great majority of the The Wolverine, it plays as a straight old-school samurai action film with Wolverine fighting bigger and better enemies as he progresses, resulting in his confrontation with the “big bad” as his biggest challenge yet at the end of the film. And for the most part, this progression works well. At least enough to keep an audience entertained. The opening scene in Nagasaki is incredible, most of the characters are impressively written and compelling, and there is even a fascinating sequence on a train that puts a similar action beat in The Lone Ranger to shame. Not to mention the ending post-credit tag is easily the best we’ve seen in quite a while.

“Trust me, bub, you don’t want what I got”

But there’s still something missing from The Wolverine. It’s not boring and it’s very well acted but it almost feels as if the events are taking place in slow motion. Some of the lesser action sequences seem dull and uninspired and the setting for much of the film takes place in drab and ugly environments that aren’t exactly fun to watch. One of the villains named “The Viper” makes no sense within the context of the movie and is shoehorned in, presumably to balance out the cast between mutants and human samurai.

“You’re a soldier, and you seek what all soldiers do…”

“An honorable death, an end to your pain”

Despite the natural progression of enemies Wolverine faces throughout the film, the final battle goes off the deep end and is laughably ridiculous. It’s the kind of ending one would expect from a more traditional comic book movie that feels the need to escalate the stakes to the point of absurdity instead of trusting the audience to understand the character without blatant symbolism.

Better than all of the comic book adaptations we’ve had this summer and BY FAR superior to the atrocious X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine brings a slightly refreshing change of pace and a much lower body count. Despite it’s pacing issues and uninspired final battle scene, it’s very unique and worth checking out if you’re a fan of the X-Men.

FilmFire review:
3.75/5 forms


Pacific Rim

As adventures in mechanised mayhem go, the picture does, of course, crush the Transformers franchise into iron filings.
-Donald Clarke, Irish Times

Is this going to give me enough of a story and enough characters to carry the amount of rocket-punching and monster-bashing that I want to see? The answer is yes.
-Widgett Walls,

We always thought alien life would come from the stars, but it came from deep beneath the sea; a portal between dimensions in the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro living out his wildest cinematic dreams: Giant robots battling giant aliens for the fate of mankind. The ultimate “fanboy” movie, Del Toro pulls no punches as blood is spilled, cities are destroyed, and millions are killed in the wake of a global-scale alien invasion through a portal in the Pacific Ocean.

“Something out there discovered us”

The year is 2013 when the first “Kaiju” attacks. (Literal Japanese translation of Kaiju: strange creature. Think Godzilla, Gamera or Mothra.) First just thought to be an earthquake in the middle of the ocean, a creature later emerged off the western United States coast, attacking and destroying the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, causing much destruction to city. Finally, it was killed by a nuclear bomb but the resulting carnage was devastating. This incident later became known as K-Day, the day the Earth went under attack.

The world prematurely took a collective sigh of relief, but the devastation had just begun. The next cities attacked were Manila and Kabo; the Kaiju started appearing in increasing frequency as traditional means of warfare had lesser and lesser affect. The top scientists on the planet began to brainstorm betters means of protection from the Kaiju. Inspired by robot and monster action figures, a prototype was created that would eventually become the Jaeger, Earth’s best hope for survival.

“There are things you can’t fight – acts of God. You see a hurricane coming, you get out of the way. But when you’re in a Jaeger you can finally fight the hurricane. You can win.”

Essentially a massively scaled suit of armor, Jaegers are a mobile exoskeleton weapon and the Pacific Rim’s first, last and only line of defense against the Kaiju. They were designed as giant humanoid mechs that could stand up to the Kaiju without resorting to nuclear weapons.

In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own.

“The Yaeger program was born. Two pilots, our minds, our memories connected. Man and machine become one.”

Jaegers are simultaneously controlled by multiple pilots from inside the cockpit, located in the “head”. The pilots are equipped with a special armor plating, allowing them to connect with the machine itself. The minds of the pilots are also connected to each other through a “neural bridge” that allows them to control the movement of the Jaeger as a team.

By 2024, there were forty six confirmed Kaiju attacks on Earth, resulting in astounding Jaeger losses. It was speculated that the Kaiju were beginning to adapt and learn how to defeat the Jaegers easier and quicker, in both land and water. The frequency of Kaiju had begun to increase so quickly that the world began to fear and prepare for multiple breaches at once, known as the Double Event and Triple Event.

This is where the events of the film begin.

Pacific Rim is a complete spectacle to watch. The astounding visuals and creature design are absolutely breath-taking. One major flaw of a lot of science fiction is boring or monotonous battle/fight scenes. This is fortunately a problem Pacific Rim does not have. The progression of Jaeger/Kaiju battles escalates to great effect throughout the first 2 acts of the film. As the stakes get higher and the body count climbs, the Kaiju become stronger and more intelligent. However, if Pacific Rim has one problem, it’s that the second act is so good the finale has nowhere to go but down. Because of this, the ending did leave me ever so slightly underwhelmed, but only due to the expectations set by the previous events of the film.

Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time..

Most action films depict little about the setting and surrounding environments outside of the immediate story taking place. In Pacific Rim, the world building around the story is impeccable. The global effect of the chaos is shown as various countries around the planet try and fail to come up with solutions to stop the invasion. Kaiju religions spring up, organ harvesters sell body parts on the black market, the political and social ramifications of the tragic events are on full display here. It’s very refreshing for a film to broaden it’s scope outside of the main story arc.

..We have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other..

The characters of Pacific Rim are all fun and incredibly likable, although they hit every cliché in the book. Clichés are cliché for a reason: they’re entertaining and they work. Here we have the American badboy rebel who disobeys orders, the hard-nosed but noble British leader who motivates with an epic speech, a small-statured but deadly Asian woman with a tragic past, etc. All by the book action characters, but incredibly enjoyable and fun to root for.

..Today we face the monsters that are at our door..

This film is an absolute blast. It far surpasses the disappointing sequels and superhero films we’ve had this summer. Pushing the meaning of the word “Blockbuster” to a new level, Pacific Rim breaks new ground in the action/science fiction genre and hopefully is just the start of a very exciting new franchise helmed by Guillermo Del Toro.

..Today we are canceling the apocalypse!

FilmFire review:
4.5/5 forms

World War Z

Almost more action movie than zombie movie, World War Z is less about the zombies than it is about the effect the outbreak has on the world. And it works.
-Tim Martain, The Mercury

A supremely well designed film, WWZ re-animates the zombie genre as Brad Pitt outsmarts the voracious undead in a compelling, creepy take on how the world might face its end.
-Simon Weaving, Screenwize

If you can fight, fight. Be prepared for anything. Our war has just begun.
World War Z was under a lot of pressure going into it’s opening weekend. A very troubled production had led many to wonder if this could be one of the biggest busts of the summer. Horribly over budget and faced with an entire rewrite (by none other than Damon Lindelof) and reshoot of the third act, World War Z was going to have to do gangbusters to be considered a success.

Fortunately, it did just that. Already eclipsing 160 million after it’s third weekend, it’s apparent that audiences weren’t concerned with any of the behind the scenes drama and just wanted to watch Brad Pitt vs the zombie apocalypse. So much so that sequel talks have already taken place, with Pitt set to produce and star in future installments.

Someone could probably use a breath mint
World War Z is an incredibly fun, expertly paced zombie movie. Essentially the zombie version of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, World War Z dives deep into mystery/thriller territory, bringing the search for “patient zero” to the forefront. This mystery element works really well as it allows the film to mostly forgo the usual tropes and jump-scares of a traditional zombie movie. With something more important at stake than scaring the audience, the film can strive for a lot more.

For the first two acts, the film essentially implements video game logic to progress through the story. The characters find clues in various locations that lead them to the next piece of the puzzle. The action climax of the movie takes place at an enormous set piece of Jerusalem, and is definitely one of the better action sequences we’ve had in any film this year so far. The third act (Lindelof’s contribution) slows the pace down substantially and sets a different tone for the end of the film. It is slightly jarring but is really fun to watch and does a good job wrapping up the character arcs and plot points the audience has become invested in.

Life as we know it will come to an end in 90 days. It’s on us to change that.
Brad Pitt plays a typical Tom-Cruisian role as a mild mannered every-man who is pulled into the middle of a global emergency. It sounds like a cliche action movie role but there’s a reason we keep seeing it over and over: it’s entertaining and works really well. It’s fun to watch Pitt run around, piecing clues together, saving the world, murdering his infected friends and neighbors, etc, etc.

His family, on the other hand, is almost entirely expendable and only exist to try to humanize Pitt a bit more and tug at the heartstrings a little. It doesn’t work. Most of what happens to the family in this movie is completely unrealistic and directly contradict the motiviations of quite a few different characters.

That’s a big pile of zombies
Smarter and a lot more fun than the most of the offerings so far this summer (the disappointing Man of Steel particularly), World War Z is an entertaining, well paced and mostly intelligent zombie film. There are some incredible action sequences and a solid performance by Brad Pitt the action star. As a unique and interesting take on zombie movies, World War Z is highly recommended.
Every human being we save is one less we have to fight.

FilmFire review:
4.25/5 forms

Monsters University

Although it falls short of the best Pixar has brought to the screen over its long association with Disney, it’s nevertheless worth a trip to the theater, especially for kids.
-James Berardinelli, ReelViews

Very, very late in these 106 minutes, we get a startling blast of meaningful Pixar storytelling that reminds us of what this team can do when they bring their A game.
-Jeffery Overstreet, Looking Closer

Just reach deep down and let the scary out!
Pixar, the once invincible animation house that could do no wrong, has really let us down with their last 2 efforts. After essentially a perfect run of 11 straight great films, (the original Cars possibly being the only exception) they went for a cash grab with Cars 2 and put out a very mediocre take on fairy tales with Brave.

What’s interesting is that their streak of below average work all comes after the Disney acquisition. Could an upstanding company like Disney be so bold to put financial gain ahead of artistic integrity? With yet another sequel to a franchise with unlimited merchandising potential a la Cars, does Pixar get back on track with their unique brand of emotionally driven story telling? Or do we see more evidence of their recent films being influenced by the money grubbing paws at Disney?

A monster road trip?
Fortunately for us, Monsters University is VERY good. It’s obviously not going to reach the heights of the glory days of Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3, but it’s no throwaway cash grab either. It perfectly stands on it’s own as a film, but also enhances the characters and story of Monsters Inc. Although not as emotionally moving as the original, or most of the recent offerings from Pixar, this might be their laugh-out-loud funniest film to date. Monsters University never lets up on the one liners and slapstick and is more or less hilarious because of it.

Technically, Monsters University looks absolutely fantastic. Despite the decline of their recent scripts, Pixar always put out a gorgeous looking movie and this is no exception. There are dozens of intricate and complex monster character designs on screen at the same time, it’s hard to imagine the hours it took to animate this. Down to the finest detail (you can see every last strand of hair on the furry characters), it is an incredible achievement and needs to be seen.

Wanna join Oozma Kappa? We have cake.
One complaint I do have is how inconsequential Monsters University seems compared to the original. Because of how sweet and heartbreaking Monsters Inc. was, matching those same emotional heights in a prequel with the same characters again is tough task and University never quite gets there. It does have a fantastic third act that reverses some roles and ratchets up the stakes but still just doesn’t hold quite the same weight.

Monster College – obviously a rite of passage for all young monsters
MUCH more satisfying than the Cars films and Brave, Pixar seems like they’re back on the right track with Monsters University. It’s a little less consequential and “deep” than their best, but it is definitely a worthy successor to the original Monsters Inc. Visually outstanding and hilarious, Monsters University is a must see.
If you’re not scary, what kind of a monster are you?

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms

Man of Steel

There’s plenty to like in Snyder’s hectic, rowdy film. But by the time we reach the bludgeoning excesses of the last half-hour it’s hard to shake the sense that this was an opportunity at least partially missed.
-Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

DC still has much to learn from rival Marvel in the filmmaking realm, but Man of Steel at least offers hope. Hope, and a slight headache
-Tyler Hanley, Palo Alto Weekly

Every person can be a force for good, free to forge his own destiny.
Superman has never been one of my favorite characters. I don’t care much for any of the previous film incarnations of the Superman mythos, in fact I think Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns from 2006 is pretty atrocious. To me, he always seemed more of a god than a superhero. I much prefer characters like Batman or the X-Men who are more human and relatable, with actual weaknesses. Given all of that, I was extremely excited for Man of Steel. The trailers were mesmerizing, the cast is phenomenal, I bought in to the hype and was ready to love this updated take on the hero.

Unfortunately, this film is a bit of a mess. Most of the individual scenes are fine by themselves, but there is an extremely jarring pacing between them. The film opens with an overlong sequence on Krypton explaining how baby Superman found his way to Earth. Not only is it a very confusing and abrupt way to begin, the events of what happened don’t entirely get explained until much later on.

The film cuts to various flashback sequences that break up the main storyline in somewhat awkward ways. All these flashbacks are excellent and really help flesh out Superman’s character, but when it comes to the the main plotlines that are driving the movie forward, they are real momentum killers.

General Zod is getting angry.
The pacing is a real issue, but the film still does a lot of great things. The cast, in particular, is incredible. If this wasn’t a summer movie based on a superhero, Michael Shannon would be considered for some major acting awards for his off-the-wall crazy take on General Zod. Russell Crowe redeems himself after his humiliating Les Mis performance with an eloquent portrayal of Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian Dad. Though he doesn’t have nearly enough screen time, Kevin Costner does his usual great work playing Jonathan Kent, adoptive Super Father. Lastly, Henry Cavill puts on a really fun performance as the Man of Steel himself, putting Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) to shame.
You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.
Man of Steel is a really dark film. For being a seemingly fun summer blockbuster with aliens who wear capes, it’s strangely lacking any sort of comedic touch or light hearted moments. If it’s not diving into gritty moments from Kal-El’s backstory, it’s showcasing the absolutely brutal fight sequences between Superman and Zod’s army.

Speaking of the fight sequences, they are almost insane to the point of being incomprehensible. The complete utter destruction and mayhem these characters cause is fun to watch, but quickly becomes mind numbing after the third or fourth time a ripple effect from a sonic boom destroys a skyscraper.

Nope, no religious imagery here
Overall, I was entertained. It certainly doesn’t live up to the crazy positive hype and outstanding marketing campaign over the last year, but it is still leagues better than Bryan Singer’s failed attempt at a reboot in 2006. The cast is great, the action is bonkers and there are some really well done individual sequences. Unfortunately, the sum isn’t quite equal to the parts here and it feels like at least a slight disappointment. Hopefully we can just chalk this up to growing pains and a slow start to what should eventually become a fully realized DC Cinematic Universe concluding in a Justice League film.
My father believed if the world found out who I really was it’d reject me. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?

FilmFire review:
3.5/5 forms

Star Trek: Into Darkness

While it doesn’t quite reach the giddy heights of its 2009 predecessor, this new picture is terrific popcorn entertainment, the sort of bright, brawny blockbuster that used to define the summer movie season.
-Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing

A safe sequel which, while certainly engaging and entertaining enough to recommend, fails to live up to the franchise’s daring, appointed mission ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before.’
-Kam Williams,

You think your world is safe? It is an illusion. A comforting lie told to protect you.
JJ Abrams is a pretty divisive director. He has been behind some pretty big busts throughout the last decade: Alcatraz was a disaster, Super 8 a glorified Spielberg ripoff, Cloverfield was a mess, The Undercovers failed right out of the gate and Revolution is an overproduced imitation of a good show.

Despite these failings, he is also the mind behind some of the most creative and memorable properties of recent memory. Fringe was mostly fantastic, Lost was great until the screenwriters ran the show into the ground in the final season. He has really put his own stamp on the last few entries in the Mission: Impossible series, directing the impressive 3rd installment and producing the instant action classic, Ghost Protocol. 2009’s Star Trek was a borderline genius way to revamp the stale property in a way to not alienate the fans of the original. Clearly, his work is hit or miss, which is how I could sum up his latest film and second go-around into the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: Into Darkness

JJ Abrams second turn at directing Star Trek on the big screen plays it safe. A much more self contained and inconsequential movie than his first, Into Darkness is a lot of fun but has much smaller stakes than you would think for a film set in the expansive universe that the Star Trek mythology provides.

The latest incarnation of the USS Enterprise
Along with Abrams as director, the entire crew of the USS Enterprise is back and we get the same great performances from them this time around. Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Doc Bones were great in comic relief. Zachary Quinto is remarkable as Spock. Channeling his inner Leonard Nemoy with great nuance, Quinto shows an appreciation and respect for the source material that is very refreshing to see.
Zachary Quinto, doing his best Leonard Nemoy impression
The same crew is back, but this time facing off against a new mystery villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Most known for BBC’s Sherlock, Cumberbatch puts on a great menacing performance as a one man weapon of mass destruction, laying waste to Star Fleet however he can. Expect to see him get more high-profile roles after this one as he does a remarkable job.
Enjoy these final moments of peace. For I have returned to have my vengeance. So, shall we begin?
Into Darkness is full of great action sequences and visuals, there is a scene with the Enterprise crashing into the earths atmosphere that is absolutely breathtaking. This films weaknesses lie at the script level. The story has great momentum and flows pretty well until the third act, where it becomes fairly predictable and problematic. At one point the film backtracks out of a pretty important and major plot development in a way that is telegraphed and poorly executed.

Captain Kirk runs for his life
Great acting and visuals aside, Into Darkness is not as good as JJ’s first effort in the Star Trek Universe. This film isn’t going to blow your mind but it’s a solid action/sci-fi film and competently directed. It’s a fun summer action movie, but don’t get your hopes up for the groundbreaking storytelling of the 2009 Star Trek.

Spock, setting his phaser to stun

FilmFire review:
3.75/5 forms

The Great Gatbsy

Baz Luhrmann’s vision of the Roaring Twenties dazzles as a purely sensory piece of sight and sound. The hollow narrative doesn’t stop The Great Gatsby from entertaining as a gorgeous, glittering work of visual art.
-Diva Velez,

It looks great, and it’s an impressive tale to bring to the big screen, but the lack of interest in telling the story keep “Gatsby” from being a great film.
-Kristian Harloff, Schmoes Know

And so we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past

There’s never been a movie quite like this. A 3D romantic drama is new ground for Hollywood and if Gatsby’s success is any indication, we will see a lot more of these in the future. I wasn’t too sure what to expect going into this film because I intentionally neglected to read the novel in high school. It turns out, going in without any context was a a good move. The film really surprised me in a way I don’t think would have been possible had I been more familiar with the material.

The cinematography and time period of this film is every bit a character as Leonardo DiCaprio or Toby Maguire themselves. New York City becomes a living, breathing creature as the characters travel from the mansions of West Egg through the grimy dust of the isolated coal mining town, the “Valley of Ashes”, connecting the wealthy to the sparkling skyscrapers of Manhattan.

The bright lights of 1920’s Manhattan

This movie’s biggest strength is it’s incredible visual style. It is by all accounts a Baz Luhrmann film. The Great Gatbsy looks absolutely fantastic; filmed with precise detail, Luhrmann brings his frenzied visual sense to every scene. The parties, street races, and even moments of dialogue are framed with his own unique stamp.

The decade of the Roaring 1920’s and all the excesses of wealth are on prominent display here: fancy costumes, fast cars, giant parties, extravagant furnishings, bootlegged alcohol. The divide between the rich and the poor is vast and it really takes a toll on the less fortunate. The film does a great job showcasing just how this particular lifestyle dynamic alters the fate of Gatsby and his acquaintances.

Gatsby is no stranger to extravagant house parties

This film has more to offer than just a unique visual style. A great, anochronistic soundtrack composed by Jay-Z pumps through all the party scenes and brings a cool modern twist to the otherwise period setting. All the acting is more or less first-rate, albeit deliberate. Often lines are recited or narrated like being read from the pages of the book. Although intentional, it can be kind of jarring.

Gatsby’s lavish mansion in West Egg – a bit excessive

The Great Gatsby is a ton of fun and deserves to be seen on the big screen. It is the first of its kind, a 3D drama that comes complete with director Baz Luhrmann’s unique and energetic visual style. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, it does seem to drag just a bit in parts of the second act, but not enough to deter the overall enjoyment of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio puts on an outstanding performance as Gatsby that will help this film become the definitive version of the literary classic for years to come.

FilmFire review:
4/5 forms