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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: The Guest

David Collins seems to be the perfect soldier. No, not like a super-soldier. More like... he's everything we want our veterans to be. He's polite, soft-spoken, protective, and honorable, a man's man with the guys and a puppy dog with the ladies. Immediately after being discharged, he heads to the home of recently-deceased squad partner Caleb Peterson, whose parents and two younger siblings are still grieving their loss. He has a message from Caleb for them, and while he's in town, he wants to do what he can to help around the house. Soon, he's become a surrogate brother to a nerdy young boy, a surrogate son to grieving parents, and a nonjudgmental friend to a troubled girl. But people around town - people who have done the Peterson family wrong - are starting to disappear, and it's becoming harder and harder to ignore that something seems very, very wrong about the family's new guest....

Played by Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, David Collins is part Captain America, part Terminator. His luminous blue eyes are gentle and seductive, until the moment they're completely dead, looking at the people around him like they're bags of meat, only periodically allowing sparks of real, genuine life through. It's a fantastic performance from Stevens, an actor who was always fairly milquetoast on Downton, and it's not the film's only one. Also impressive is Maika Monroe, the requisite Final Girl and the only member of the family who isn't immediately charmed by their guest, at least until she sees him getting out of the shower and her hormones take over. Monroe's character, Anna, begins the film as a fairly stock character, the sarcastic small-town waitress who dreams of something more, but Monroe gives her a lot of soul - and, just as importantly, plenty of grit.  

Less impressive is Lance Reddick (The Wire), the film's Dr. Loomis figure, who is given precious little to do besides escalate the problem at hand. Reddick is the only one who knows what's really going on, but director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett didn't make this to talk about what's really going on, which barely factors into the story at all. The Guest is about a lot of things - atmosphere, some surprisingly subtle character work, tension - but its barely-there plot isn't one of them. And that's fine; to me, Collins' arc and his relationship with the Petersons is far more interesting than whatever trite military-industrial conspiracy is faffing about in the background.

In some ways, you could view The Guest as a slasher film where the slasher is, at least for awhile, the good guy, the family's protector. Wingard and Barrett get a lot of mileage and a good few laughs out of the idea, particularly when Collins starts to mentor the family's bullied youngest son. Collins only knows one way to solve a problem, so he becomes a hammer in a town full of nails, and his awful advice reflects that point of view flawlessly. But The Guest is not a political film at all, easy as it would have been to nudge it in that direction; it's nothing more and nothing less than a group of smart, savvy film nerds riffing on The Terminator and having a blast doing so.

The Guest is a very good action thriller, and Wingard's inspirations are sure to draw in a lot of genre film fans. Pulling equally from John Carpenter and James Cameron, Wingard & Barrett have crafted a tense, funny crowd-pleaser in the vein of their excellent You're Next. Don't expect to see this on many Best of 2014 lists; do expect to see it as a Halloween cult classic for years to come.

The Guest is currently available to purchase on Amazon Instant Video, and comes out on blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios on Tuesday, January 6th. Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, The Guest stars Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, and Lance Reddick.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NBC Announces 'Constantine' Return Date For January

When NBC's take on DC/Vertigo's chain-smoking anti-hero struggled in the ratings, the network halted production on Constantine after 13 episodes. Middling critical response and a terrible time-slot (Friday nights at 10 pm) didn't help its cause, and the question became when/if NBC would ever air those remaining episodes after its mid-season finale capped out at the 8th episode.

Fans of the series took to social media with the #SaveConstantine hashtag, trying to stave off what seemed like the inevitable cancellation of the new series. Even executive producer Daniel Cerone got in on the grassroots action.

If nothing else, NBC has provided a stay of execution today, as the show's official Twitter feed has announced Constantine's return on January 16th at 8 pm, where the 5 remaining episodes will air.

Will a new time-slot provide a shot in the arm or will it just be a fulfilling of an obligation? Time and viewership will tell.
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Michael Keaton Reminisces About His Time In The Batsuit

Michael Keaton finally had his big comeback year in 2014. With Birdman, and his very meta portrayal of a washed-up superhero actor, Keaton now finds himself as a leading contender for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Recently, he sat down with EPIX, along with some of his fellow competition for the award: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), and Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher). Robert Downey Jr. was also in attendance for the roundtable interview.

At one point during the interview, the topic of Keaton's wearing the Batsuit came up, from his days in Tim Burton's Batman films, and Keaton's addressing the topic is as entertaining as ever.

Please put me down in support of Keaton playing the The Dark Knight Returns version of the character someday, a role he still has some affection for.

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'Age of Ultron' Promo Images Give More Detail on Vision, Ultron

It has been a little while since we have gotten some more details on the highly anticipated sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Today, Marvel Studios took to the forums of both SuperHeroHype and Reddit to show off some new promotional artwork for the film, as well as giving us more info on Ultron as well as The Vision, played by Paul Bettany in the film.

All speculation about Vision's origins are put to rest now as we have confirmation that the android is a co-creation of Tony Stark AND Bruce Banner, who helps the Avengers in the fight against Ultron.  Vision seems to have the exact same powers as he does in the comics.  Presumably Vision is created to stop Ultron instead of being created by Ultron at first as was done in the comics.

The details revealed about Ultron are a bit more surprising.  It would appear the film's villain is not completely a creation by Tony Stark, but instead has origins tied back to the Chitauri invasion from the first Avengers film.  Ultron having at least a somewhat extraterrestrial origin is an interesting change from what has been done before.  The villainous robot is obviously receiving a largely different origin than he had in the comics, where he was originally created by Hank Pym, a character we will not see until Ant Man.

You can check out both bios for the characters below and feel free to click the links above for more images from the upcoming film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron opens May 1, 2015.

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Best Comic Covers of the Year: By the Numbers

We've been picking out the best comic book covers of the week for over a year now, which means we get to start a new yearly tradition: checking out the stats on our picks! What artist caught our eye the most? Or series, or publisher? There are some definite surprises, and some winners you might have guessed. Either way, infographics and comics lovers, enjoy!

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Marvel's 'Daredevil' Leaning Towards 'The Wire' In Tone

With 2015 just a few days away, we're on the verge of another big deluge of superhero cinema and television; from Agent Carter, the return of The FlashArrow, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. from their mid-season hiatuses to the Fantastic Four reboot, the big-screen debut of Ant-Man, and of course the giant, sure to be mega-hit The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Despite all of that varying level of excitement, the endeavor that most has me running around my office in excitement is the upcoming Netflix series based on Marvel's hero of Hell's Kitchen: Daredevil. The first of four series (that also include AKA Jessica JonesLuke Cage, and Iron Fist) before leading into The Defenders event miniseries that ties all four shows together, Daredevil has been filming since July of this year and stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Vincent D'Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, and Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, among others. The series is show-run by Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus) and was developed by Drew Goddard (The  Cabin in the Woods).

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb described the scope of the new series, particularly its setting:
Within the Marvel universe there are thousands of heroes of all shapes and sizes, but The Avengers are here to save the universe and Daredevil is here to save the neighborhood. It’s a very unique look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York, where Matt Murdock grew up and continues to defend it from people who would harm the people that live there.
He also spoke about The Kingpin and the role he'll play:
Fisk has very many different aspects so it’s not all, ‘I want to conquer the city and make a lot of money.’ In our story, we tell the story of how he met his wife Vanessa and how they fell in love — our antagonist actually has a love story. That’s the love story you’re following, the one you’re invested in, and seeing how that affects him and changes him. I think Vincent just brings such depth to it, his performance is just astounding.
That very love story played a big role in the Frank Miller run, though I doubt we'll see any sort of sewer dwelling mutants (or whatever thdaredevil 2e Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent will end up being).

One of the bigger discussion points surrounding this effort relates to overall tone. Daredevil has been a comic that typically veers towards the grim and gritty side ofthings, though his origins as a superhero in the swashbuckling mold have led some creators (like Karl Kesel and Mark Waid for example) to runs that are just as cherished as those by Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker. Where will this new small screen iteration find its inspiration? Loeb touches on this subject:
We really wanted to take our cue from [films like] The French ConnectionDog Day AfternoonTaxi Driver, and make it very, very grounded, very gritty, very real. We always say we would rather lean toward The Wire than what’s considered a classic superhero television show.
It should be pointed out that this is not terribly far off from the take that director Joe Carnahan was aiming for when he was attached to the property when it was still under Fox's umbrella. You can check out his old concept sizzle reel here, but be forewarned, it's a bit violent.
Lastly Loeb discussed the possibility of future Daredevil villains appearing, specifically on-going arch-nemesis Bullseye, who appeared in the much lamented Daredevil film from 2003:
I wouldn’t say there’s no plans to include [Bullseye] in the series. It’s not not to say he wouldn’t be in the series at some point. But I think if you try to jam in too many characters, it just becomes a mess. And [Bullseye’s] story was told in the last iteration of Daredevil that anybody saw. My feeling was, ‘Why repeat it?’ And honestly, if you’re looking for a juicy, multi-faceted crime drama, Wilson Fisk was the obvious choice to play the antagonist. Bullseye is a little more cut and dry. Not to say you couldn’t make him fantastic over 13 hours, but Fisk really felt like the right yin to the yang for Matt, and for what we wanted to do this season.
There's no specific release date for Daredevil as of yet, but we know its coming in May of 2015. As with most Netflix original programming, I expect to have it all binge-watched within 24 to 48 hours myself, provided its actually good of course.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: Selma

The Buzz: Ever since it premiered at the AFI Fest to a standing ovation, Ava DuVernay's Selma has been seen as the film that could topple Boyhood's chances at a Best Picture Oscar. Taking a "slice of life" approach, DuVernay and screenwriter Paul Webb (though the director significantly re-wrote the script) focus in on the plight of racial oppression that occurred in Selma, Alabama in the 1960's; specifically the suppression of black voting rights by county registrars, State Police, and even Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth). In response, Martin Luther King (David Oyelewo) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference plead with President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass national voting rights legislation. Facing little support from the Oval Office, King and his fellow civil rights activists begin preparations for a march from Selma to Montgomery, all the way to the Alabama's Capitol steps in protest. A protest that carries the potential for horrifying consequences for those risking their lives in the name of their constitutional rights, including personal ones for King and his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo).

What's Great About the Movie: David Oyelowo, ladies and gentlemen! The British-born actor, probably only known to most American viewers as a guy that popped up in Interstellar for five minutes, inhabits Martin Luther King Jr. in a way that can only be described as Daniel Day-Lewis like. Oyelowo literally inhabits the man in the same way that the Day-Lewis channeled Abraham Lincoln and the results are revelatory. The mannerisms, the voice, the commanding yet soothing presence of the man are all on the display. Of all the performances by a lead actor that will be nominated for an Oscar, this is the one that deserves the big prize (and will likely be denied it, sadly). While there's much to praise here overall beyond that fantastically gripping lead, the film's other major MVP is DuVernay herself, who approaches this material unflinchingly. There's no grand Spielberg-like mythologizing here. Instead, everyone's flaws are on display, including King's himself. DuVernay's touch is immersive, yet simple, and the reality of its messaging resonates to this very day. This is the closest I've ever felt to sensing that a documentary was unfolding in front of me in real life, but thanks to DuVernay's gorgeous compositions, from King in a dark jail cell to protesters arm and arm in the middle of the rural Alabama countryside, the sense of "being there" is impossible to shake. It's one of the most impressive directorial feats I've seen this year, particularly in a genre that has far too many pratfalls that are easy to trip up on (see: The Theory of Everything). That final scene will sit with me for some time, I can't remember if I've ever felt that way about a docu-drama. 

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: There are tiny qualms I could pick, the very short detours into King's home-life felt a bit like brake-pumping here and there, and I could have used just a little more expressed nuance into the words that Tom Wilkinson had to work with as President Johnson, but these criticisms are minor and overshadowed by the immense strength of this tour-de-force.

Final Verdict: There isn't really much I can say beyond what every other critic has already contributed, so I'll just close with: Selma is easily one of the best and most vital films of 2014. Putting aside its obvious relevance to today's headlines, it's the kind of effort that I wish/hope would become a blueprint for filmmakers seeking to bring real events to the big screen. Much like Steve McQueen's masterful 12 Years A Slave, the craft here is undeniable. Make it real, make it hurt, make us want to stand up and shout. Selma does all of those things. Go see it.

Selma is available in select theaters across the nation.

Other recent Quick Take reviews from GeekRex...

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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 54

X-O Manowar #31
by Raul Allen

It's not often you see interlocking covers for the same issue–cool idea. This is the 2nd part of the two cover set, and I really dig the design elements and the color here.

 Earth 2: World's End #13
by Andrea Sorrentino

Sorrentino is a master of designing covers that utilize monochromatic ideas and incorporated text to tell a story. Well done!

 East of West #16
by Nick Dragotta

Okay, okay–so this is a big deal because not only is it the first issue not to use the sliver/monochrome format, but there are eight covers for this issue all done by Dragotta. That feat alone is worth applause, but they happen to be great bombastic covers as well, this one especially!

 All-New Miracleman Annual #1
by Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith on a mainstream superhero cover?! I'm all in. His menacing sharpened teeth look makes the villain all the more terrifying, and the darkened background makes the primary-colored Miracle Family pop like crazy.

 Star Trek/Planet of the Apes #1
by Tone Rodriguez

'The Primate Directive'? Count me in! Also, we folks in comic books know a little secret that Star Trek hasn't taken advantage of until now: apes sell.

Well, that's it for 2014! Keep an eye on Twitter or Facebook as we'll be posting a breakdown by the numbers of the cover picks tomorrow and our TOP TEN COMIC COVERS OF 2014 on Thursday!
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Comics Spotlight Review: Lady Killer #1

This year has seen a lot of female character led books that have gotten a lot of acclaim, both in the super-hero realm (Elektra, She-Hulk) and on the more indie side of things (The Kitchen, Low). Joëlle Jones and Jame S. Rich have been a part of this for a while, with both working together on Madame Frankenstein and Jones on Brides of Helheim. On this new miniseries, Lady Killer, hitting stores on the first Wednesday of 2015, Jones and Rich co-write while Jones provides the cover and interior art.

Lady Killer follows Josie Schuller, seemingly your average early 1960's housewife–she does wonders with her cooking and cleaning, takes care of her mother-in-law, and somehow manages to look beautiful in time for her husband's return from work. But in between the usual day's work, Josie does something else: kill people for money.

One thing I really dig about this first issue is the way Jones and Rich go about setting up the story. Rather than use the bait and switch (as I just did in my short description), they go about it from the opposite direction, showing you her clever cunning as she brutally murders a woman and then giving us her cover story and family life. It really lets us jump right in without basing the whole first issue on a twist that we already know is coming.

The first half, which covers the assassination, is comedic in an almost slapstick style as the target accidentally avoids Josie's attacks, but it soon turns brutal and breathless as the two women grapple for their lives. It's legitimately intense, both plotted well and drawn with an excellent sense of movement and impact. The second half at Josie's home as it is interrupted by a surprise call from the man that gives her jobs focuses more on the irony of the situation, but gives us a better sense of what Josie is like, and clues us in that her family is perhaps not just a cover story. Her banter with her handler is great, both tight and witty, and where it leads us for the second issue is fun and intriguing.

The issue is written well, but Jones' art is the real star here. It's not quite like most of her past work, with more grit and splatter, which is appropriate here. It looks and feels like an old school Dark Horse book. Jones puts a lot of extra depth in the art, never skimping on the backgrounds and letting these fighting characters feel as if they are trying to grab onto anything, including the reader, to save themselves. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the coloring, done by the phenomenal Laura Allred. They have a real pop to them that you don't often see with a scratchy style like Jones uses on this book. Together, Jones and Allred give us something that is bloody, funny, and undeniably sexy.

Lady Killer #1 doesn't give us everything in the first issue, but it certainly lays out all the pieces better than most, enough to bring me back for #2. Pair that nice script with the dynamic team of Jones and Allred on art duties, and I'm locked in for however long they take to tell the tale.

Lady Killer #1 is written by Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones, with covers and interior art by Joëlle Jones and colors by Laura Allred. This comedic action mini-series is being put out by Dark Horse and hits comic stores on January 7th.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kyle's Top Comic Series (Or One-Shots) Of 2014

2014 is the year I basically turned my back on superhero comics and embraced the wider world of small press publishing and creator owned work. My best of 2014 list below reflects that change for the most part.

I've abandoned an arbitrary ranking this year, as I find the debate between what makes #10 vs. #8 fairly pointless. Just know, these are the ten (technically 12; my list, my rules) best comics I read this year both monthly and in a one-shot form.

East of West

While The Manhattan Projects has started to tail off a bit from its very hot start two years ago, and his Avengers run was a total non-starter for me. Jonathan Hickman is doing career-best work on this alt-history western. The mythology on display is lovely and deep, and Nick Dragotta's style has jumped light-years ahead of his work at Marvel.

Fatale/Velvet/The Fade Out 

I can't really pick one over the other, as one series was reaching its end, and the other two were producing their first arcs...so instead, just call this the Ed Brubaker spot and buy all of these books.

Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 2

Getting away from the club and courtyard scene of rap's roots gives Piskor a much bigger canvas to work with. All told, it's dope, get on it. Afrika Bambaataa was born to be in a comic book.

The Love Bunglers

I don't know if I love a set of comic book characters the way I adore Hopey, Maggie and Ray, the main three protagonists of Jaime Hernandez's "Locas" stories from Love and Rockets. With The Love Bunglers, Hernandez put a cap onto the on-going love story between Hopey and Ray and its tear-renderingly beautiful. 

The Multiversity

No one can write a great pure superhero yarn like Grant Morrison (see All Star Superman), and his take on DC's multiversal worlds and the threat they must tackle, related to the comic books in which they inhabit, is by far the best thing the moribund Big Two produced this year. "Pax Americana", which won our Rexie Award for Best Single Issue and "Thunderworld" are the big stand-outs, but its all pretty awesome.

Satellite Sam

Matt Fraction's best and most complex series that actually released regularly in 2014. Yes, Sex Criminals has the potential to overtake it, but Satellite Sam doesn't get as lost in its own cleverness, and features gorgeous Howard Chaykin art.

Supreme Blue Rose

Kind of a weirdly abstract take on the same topic that Grant Morrison is tackling in The Multiversity, Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay have teamed for arguably the densest and most beautiful series in Image's line-up. Just don't ask me to explain it in full detail yet okay?

The Wicked + The Divine

Phonogram: The Singles Club was the first great shot, Young Avengers honed their talent, and now with The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson have produced their most promising work yet. Only six issues down, and its a world I just want to wallow in, each installment being better than the one previous. There's something really special here.

Wonder Woman

In 2012, I called the Wonder Woman run by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson the best comic being published. While its had stuff competition since, it still occupied a big place in my mind by the time it reached its end this year. Masterful throughout, this is THE Wonder Woman run for me.


Ales Kot's superspy epic is the most unpredictable title I buy monthly, both in artistic content (thanks to its rotating creative teams) and in subject matter (with a constantly shifting timeline).  Action packed, high concept, and poignant, this is the best work of Kot's career so far and is a meteoric step-up from Change and Wild Children, both of which I enjoyed.

Here's to 2015!

For my previous lists, here's what I thought of 2012 and 2013

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: The Interview

The Interview Review

The Buzz: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been on a hot streak for years, collaborating on the shockingly influential Superbad before moving onto superior stoner comedy Pineapple Express and last year's excellent apocalypse comedy This is the End, so when it was announced that they would make a comedy satirizing the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, audiences... wait, none of you give a shit about this. The real 'buzz' behind The Interview features a truly bizarre story about what just might be history's first real cyberwar skirmish, threats of terrorism, and leaked e-mails that have set Hollywood abuzz for weeks now. Lost amidst all the controversy: Is The Interview a good movie?

What's Great About the Movie: Plenty. While The Interview isn't on the upper-tier of Rogen/Goldberg vehicles, it is nevertheless a brisk flick with plenty of laughs. Particularly game is Randall Park (Veep) and relative newcomer Diana Bang (Bates Motel) as, respectively, Kim Jong-un and his head propagandist. Bang has a ferocious amount of comic energy in her tiny frame that she doesn't really get to release until the film's climax, and Randall Park absolutely steals the show as the lonely, insane dictator prone to rocking out to Katy Perry while he does donuts in a tank given to his grandfather by Stalin. The two of them have fantastic chemistry with Rogen and Franco, and I definitely hope to see more of them in future films. Plus? Best use of Katy Perry's "Fireworks" I've ever seen in a feature film, and a pretty hilarious early cameo from Eminem that the trailers haven't beat into submission as they did the Rob Lowe bit.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Plenty. The Interview isn't on the upper-tier of Rogen/Goldberg vehicles, and with damn good reason. While Rogen acquits himself reasonably well as the film's jokey voice of reason, James Franco never quite finds his voice as Skylark, and his overbroad performance gives the film many of its weakest moments. Franco is relentless and dedicated to his character, but, particularly surrounded by the subtler comedy of Rogen, Bang, and Park, he feels like he was ported in from a much broader film. Indeed, the entire movie feels like an epic struggle between a broad anus-obsessed goof-off session between a couple buddies and a surprisingly whip-smart satire, two tones that never quite come together.

Final Verdict: The Interview is... pretty good. Hell, at points, The Interview verges on excellence, particularly in the segments where American media guru Dave Skylark finds himself completely buying into North Korea's propaganda, more than happy to believe that the American media lies given how much shit he himself shovels every day. Indeed, The Interview is far more effective as a satire on American international relations, a thread that keeps popping up only to be buried amidst a barrage of rectum jokes. It's a ridiculous movie, and an enjoyable one, but there are a few long, laughless stretches in the early going and a climax that struggles to blend the manic energy of Rogen and Bang's scene with the more understated comedy of Franco's interview.

The Interview is available in select theaters across the nation and on streaming services like Google Play.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: Unbroken

It's an incredible story: High-school track phenom Louis Zamperini scores an incredible, come-from-behind Olympic victory in the 1936 German Olympics, breaking a record and earning a bronze medal before enlisting during World War II and, after a plain crash, survived 47 days on a raft at sea and a brutal stay in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. It's a powerful, uplifting story, captures by Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 nonfiction book, and now adapted to film by Angelina Jolie. I can see why she chose this - it's a big, bold, patriotic story about the persistence of the human spirit in even the harshest of circumstances, a paean to excellence. It's also, unfortunately, a bit rubbish.

It's a fine line to walk with a story like this, in more ways than one, and Angelina Jolie simply is not a subtle enough director to handle it. Unbroken is a blunt film that badly wants to be inspirational - there's plenty of Christ-on-the-cross imagery to get the tear-ducts working, after all - but Jolie leans heavily on visceral violence to make her points, and what shocks the first time is a bit dull by the fifth. Jolie would have been better served spending her time differentiating the film's many interchangeable characters, making us feel a few blows instead of merely showing us many.

The film's biggest problem, however, is the straightforward nature of its biopic storytelling. In the first third, Louie begins racing and enlists in the military; in the second, he starves nearly to death on a raft; in the last, he gets relentlessly tortured by the Japanese. Which means that fully two thirds of the film is relentless misery, repetitive and simply shot. More extensive uses of flashbacks could have broken that up. More exclusive focus on camp life could have found some humanity in the lives of the POWs. Instead, we get a straightforward adaptation that never really finds the heart beneath the suffering.

The acting vacillates wildly. Jack O'Connell (300: Rise of an Empire) is reasonably solid as Louis, mostly tasked with portraying grim endurance, but Alex Russell as his older brother Pete is impossibly wooden. Indeed, all the flashbacks to Louie's youth are wooden, clumsy little slices of down-home Americana emptily aping the warm humanism of Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill. Miyavi's performance as the vicious POW-camp overseer known as the Bird has a sort of aristocratic charm, but he has very little to do beyond attacking, attacking, attacking. The tone of the film doesn't let most of its actors really cut loose, O'Connell and Miyavi excepted; otherwise, the only way to stand out is to fail.

Like The Passion of the Christ before it, Unbroken falls way on the wrong side of the torture-porn line. Jolie may have a decent film in her one day, but right now, she's too busy wallowing in human misery to let her art breathe. Unbroken has its redeeming qualities and it is handsomely shot, a classic middlebrow palette that mostly gets out of the way and lets its actors act, but make no mistake: Unbroken is not a good movie. 

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review

The Buzz: More than a decade after Peter Jackson turned Middle Earth into a worldwide cinematic phenomenon and two years after he burned a few bridges splitting small children's book The Hobbit into a trilogy, Jackson is back one last (?) time with the epic, action-packed conclusion. The installment promises some of the biggest action ever seen on Middle Earth and an epilogue that brings it all back together with the much-loved original trilogy. But can he stretch a single page of text into a satisfying feature-length film?

What's Great About the Movie: After nearly 1 billion dollars and three full films, Peter Jackson has finally produced one truly great scene in The Hobbit: Galadriel's exorcism of the Necromancer. Everything else involving the Necromancer doesn't work, particularly the ridiculous CGI ghost fight, but when Galadriel goes face to face with the Necromancer, Jackson drops the overly-literal special effects and opts for a trippy sequence that wouldn't feel out of place in a low-budget '80s version of the story, and it's absolutely gorgeous. It's damn near the only scene in the film that works, but it's gorgeous. Jackson always had a talent for portraying magic organically in these movies, and this scene is his best by far.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Literally everything else. Of the film's 2 hour and 24 minute runtime, I'd be shocked if more than 30 minutes of it was not spent in combat, but Jackson's take lacks the ebb-and-flow that made the similarly epic battle in, say, Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins so relentlessly thrilling. While bits and pieces of it work, this clearly wasn't meant to serve as its own film - it is basically an effects reel pieced halfheartedly together. Particularly egregious given how little characterization is allowed for the film is Alfrid, an incompetent, greedy, malevolent fool who is nevertheless constantly trusted with important tasks by everyone around him over and over and over again for seemingly no reason. Come on, Peter Jackson: Never go full Jar-Jar.

Final Verdict

GeekRex reviews... The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
GeekRex reviews... The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
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Justin Lin Will Direct 'Star Trek 3'

Ever since Roberto Orci dropped out of directing duties on Star Trek 3, rumors ran rampant as to just what director would take over the once again struggling franchise.  Some of the more outlandish rumors suggested Edgar Wright may even take over.  Deadline has put those rumors to rest and confirmed that Justin Lin will be taking over the reins.

Lin is perhaps most known for working on four films in the Fast and Furious franchise, but he also directed several episodes of Community and will helm the first two episodes of season two of True Detective.

It is currently unknown if Star Trek 3 will follow Orci's original plan of going on a more deep space adventure instead of the more Earth-based Abrams films.  All of the cast from the previous films are expected to return.  No doubt fans are glad to see some fresh perspective brought in on these films.

Star Trek 3 has no set release date, but it is expected to come out sometime in 2016.

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Seven Christmas(ish) Movies Streaming Free For Your Holiday Pleasure

Like most of you, I spend many holidays quietly wishing there was something, literally anything, that could stop me from having to listen to my uncle tell me where Obama was really born. Thanks to the magic of the Internet(™), we finally have endless distraction at our fingertips! Of course, the Christmas movies we all know and love are mostly unavailable streaming for free. Sorry, no It's A Wonderful Life, Die Hard, Christmas Vacation, or Gremlins for you on this list. That said, there are a lot of great options still available.

So, as we did with Halloween and the Fourth of July, here's a list of some great, holiday-appropriate films on popular streaming services. Enjoy!

Bad Santa

Available on Netflix Instant

Terry Zwigoff's pitch-black comedy about a drunk, druggy mall Santa and his misadventures trying to rob a department store can be a turnoff for viewers not expecting something quite so bitter and bracing. But Billy Bob Thornton turns out to be fantastically funny, and he's joined by an excellent Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, John Ritter and more. Bad Santa is vulgar, mean-spirited, and bleak as hell. For a lot of folks, that alone makes it the perfect Christmas movie.

Love, Actually

Available on Netflix Instant

I get it. You're too hip for Love, Actually. No, it's okay. It's a cheesy movie, big and goofy and earnest, and it kicked off a genuinely crappy trend in romantic comedy storytelling that has damn near killed the genre on the big screen. And yet, despite all that, it's a movie that is very, very easy to love. Like an anthology film, everyone will have certain segments that speak to them more than others. Whether you're into Bill Nighy's segment on male friendship or the sweet-natured romance between a pair of body doubles played by Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, there's something for everyone.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Available on Netflix Instant 

Don't pretend like you haven't seen this movie before. Doesn't matter, watch it again. It's charming, the songs are great, and the animation is gorgeous. While often credited to Tim Burton, it was actually directed by Henry Selick, who would later go on to do Coraline, among others, and it fits perfectly with Selick's beautiful, elaborate style of stop-motion animation. If you want fun for the whole family this holiday season, you clearly want The Nightmare Before Christmas.


Available on Netflix Instant

Scrooged is a sloppy movie, and given the quality of the crew - a lead performance from Bill Murray, direction from Richard Donner (Superman), and a script from legendary Saturday Night Live writer Michael O'Donoghue - it shouldn't be. That said, this modernization of Dickins' A Christmas Carol remains a strong Christmas movie, thanks in large part to the fact that Dickins' story remains an absolute joy to watch. It doesn't always work, but when it all comes together, you'll fall in love.


Available free on Hulu+

This B-list thriller has all but vanished from the popular consciousness, but it is at least vastly superior to most single-location horror movies (like the abysmal Devil or the somehow-even-worse ATM). What's more, it has a strong performance by Rachel Nichols (Continuum), some pleasantly surreal touches from writer Alexandre Aja, a couple fun kills from the psychopathic parking garage attendant played by Wes Bentley. P2 is going to be precisely no one's favorite movie, but horror fans looking for something a bit under the radar this Christmas will probably dig this one.

The Hebrew Hammer

Free with Amazon Prime; $3.99 to rent otherwise
Yes, The Hebrew Hammer is basically a one-joke film: What would a Jewish Shaft look like? And yet, hey, for some people, that joke just flat-out works. The Hebrew Hammer, the most happenin' PI in his neighborhood, is a Jewish legend, and only he can save Hanukkah from a power-mad Santa (Andy Dick) bent on destroying the holiday once and for all. Toss in Judy Greer as a Jewish femme fatale and a small roll from blaxploitation icon Mario Van Peebles you've got a goofy cult comedy that speaks to everyone who grew up feeling divorced from the omnipresence of the Mandatory Christmas Machine.

Joyeux Noël

Free with Amazon Prime; $7.99 or more to purchase otherwise

Perfect if you're looking for something just this side of saccharine, 2006 Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film Joyeux Noël tells the story of a cease-fire during World War I when German, French, and Scottish troops all bonded over a shared love of Christmas before being forced to return to combat against men who had become all too human to them. It's heavy-handed and a little maudlin, but hey, 'tis the season. Christian Carrion's film gets pretty preachy in the end, but until then it's a charming, warm-hearted story about the power of shared culture overcoming the arbitrary nature of war.

And there you have it. Happy Holidays from the Geek Rex crew, and thanks for reading!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Best Sounding Movies of 2014

After seeing Wild a few nights ago and really being struck by the unique and evocative sound, I decided it might be fun to run down some of the movies this year that had the best sound. With end of the year award nominees starting to come out, the sound awards seem to be the ones that drum up the least interest and the most confusion...what's the difference between sound editing and sound mixing anyways?

Even for sound professionals, it's sometimes difficult to pick out good sounding movies–after all, if a movie is doing it's job properly, the viewer gets so sucked in that they don't notice the technical aspects (sound, editing, color, etc.), unless we're talking about a movie that draws attention to itself in that way. But good sounding movies are not just for audiophiles to discuss; a great movie that sounds bad can be at best distracting, but a movie that sounds fantastic can bring an emotional moment to a fever pitch, drawing on our most primal and indescribable senses.

Let's break this down:

Sound Editing refers to the placement of sounds in a movie. In years past, this Academy Award has been called 'Best Sound Effects', and this may alleviate some confusion while not really covering the breadth of sound editing. Editing covers everything from creating and adding sound effects to foley (recording live sounds to the motion picture, from footsteps to clothing movements) to recording ADR, which entails re-recording the dialogue that wasn't recorded well on set. Just a note on that last part that might surprise you: in a typical movie, the majority of the dialogue, up to 95% in some cases, is recorded after the fact, but excellent audio editors (and mixers) can make it so you never know the difference.

Sound Mixing refers to how all those sounds work together. Think about the last action movie you saw, where at any given 
 moment there may be hundreds of footsteps, lines of dialogue, explosions, robot movements, tires screeching, etc. After the sound editing team has placed all these sounds in the movie, the mixer's job is to somehow make them all play nice, sound balanced, and accentuate the right sounds in the right places–no easy task. They are juggling literally hundreds of tracks (including the music), making sure each element sounds great on its own and with all the others, while at the same time making sure that when the dramatic moment comes, everything else subtly fades out until all you hear is the breathing of the main character.

A great example that I use that helps separate the two: The Walking Dead. This is a show that has, for the most part, had excellent sound editing but poor sound mixing. The sound effects of the gun shots, zombie moans, and gory violence are visceral and realistic, but bad mixing draws attention away from that great work by pulling up the background cicada noise to laughable levels every time the action reaches a lull.

Now enough of that! Let's get onto some great sounding 2014 movies!


Possible Nominations: Sound Editing

Big monster movies always require intensive sound editing, but this year's reboot of everyone's favorite radioactive prehistoric lizard really upped the ante. There's a real sense of emotion that is portrayed excellently through the sound effects, making Godzilla seem both sympathetic and terrifyingly huge. The mixing in Dolby Atmos in addition to recreating the iconic original sound of Godzilla's roar for a modern audience really deserve some recognition. 

Check out this great video for a little bit more info on how they recreated the roar.

Possible Nominations: Sound Editing

As I mentioned earlier, the incredible sound in this film is what inspired this article. Wild really portrays the nature of memory in a fascinating way, and along with the picture editing, the sound plays a large part. We hear bits of Cheryl's thoughts along with her spoken dialogue, mixed with music (both real and of Cheryl humming or singing) and repeated bits from her past. There are some extremely bold sound choices made, as music comes in and is quickly cut as we move on to something else, which really captures a sort of stream of consciousness feel to the storytelling. Here more than in any movie this year, the sound plays a huge role in creating a character, from the scream that introduces the credits to the closing monologue. 

 Possible Nominations: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing

Nolan's films have several nominations and a few wins in these categories with Richard King helming the sound editing, but Interstellar in particular has actually brought up a lot of discussion of sound in films–and it's been quite controversial on that front. Many complain that the music is mixed far too loudly, overpowering the dialogue at key moments, but others insist that this is an artistic choice that elevates the emotion to stratospheric levels. Regardless of where you lie on that spectrum, it's hard to deny that the mix of the film is extremely powerful, both emotionally and physically–I remember noticing that I was literally gripping the arms of my seat as the huge sound washed over me. It's this bold attempt at using the sound in a new way that old schoolers might dub 'wrong' that will almost certainly earn it nominations in both sound categories.

This excellent featurette shows how much work goes into collecting and crafting the sound palette for a movie like Interstellar.

Gone Girl
Possible Nominations: Sound Mixing

Fincher's films almost all have excellent sound, but he really started to turn heads in the sound community with his partnership with Reznor and Ross on The Social Network. That team has really congealed into a well oiled machine here, working much more subtly and arguably more effectively rather than creating a listenable soundtrack. What really struck me however was the fact that in some of the earlier flashback scenes (which [SPOILERS] we later find out may or may not be true) the dialogue is perhaps purposely slightly out of sync and mismatched, which subconsciously plants a seed of doubt in the viewer's mind as to the reality of the scene in front of them. Using sound in such a psychological and understated way is an exceptionally exciting prospect that I hope this team goes on to explore further.

 Possible Nominations: Sound Editing

If you aren't familiar with this movie, stop reading and go see it now. I'll wait. But seriously, the movie is made to look like it is all done in one shot–this of course isn't the case, but it is nonetheless done in a series of extremely long takes that are precisely and carefully put together seamlessly. Just the sheer magnitude of the endeavor will almost certainly put it as the front runner for cinematography and editing awards, but the sound team had just as monumental a task. Throw in the phenomenal score by Antonio Sanchez and the way that it is creatively placed within and outside of the world of the film, and you've got some seriously killer sound.

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