It's remarkable how much Veronica Mars feels like coming home again. Ms. Mars has had nearly a decade off from her detective duties, but the character and the series at large saunters right back into form with such a confident swagger, it feels like she never really left at all.
The product of a now infamous Kickstarter campaign, Veronica Mars is the film sequel to the much beloved but scarcely watched CW series that followed the adventures of a teenage private eye. Mars solved mysteries surrounding the seedy denizens of the fictional Neptune California, a beach town where the rich socialites and working class heroes clash quite frequently and often violently. The series was a terrific mix of Nancy Drew and Raymond Chandler, give or take a Buffy, airing for three seasons before being canceled. But thanks to creator Rob Thomas' audacious Kickstarter and a brewing cult of fans, Veronica Mars has been given a second chance at life, a chance that precious few shows receive.
The film picks up with Veronica (Kristen Bell) knocking on 30's door and enjoying a comfortable life in New York City with her long time boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell). Her youthful gumshoe years are well behind her, but her old life comes back into swing when former flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) is charged with murdering his starlet girlfriend. Veronica tells herself that she only wants to consult a friend, but Neptune's magnetic pull becomes too hard to resist.
The film is a ton of fun. It's still as whip smart as the series ever was, and the quips whiz by effortlessly and constantly... often right over the heads of those who aren't already baptized by the gospel of Veronica. The show quickly falls back into familiar rhythms, and the nine years away haven't dulled the character's verbal barbs. Prepare to be bathed in waves of wit. Even outside of the near-relentless banter, the show maintains a nice and heavy sense of tension when the mystery sets in, and things get serious. While the actual mystery itself is far from brilliant, it's still engaging enough to entertain. In any case, the main course here is the characters, and they are as stellar as ever. Keith Mars (the fantastic Enrico Colantoni) is still the easy frontrunner for dad of the millennium.
The most remarkable thing about the film is how much it feels like the Veronica Mars of old, and that's the best compliment we can pay it. The returning cast members slip into their old roles with so much ease, and the film never feels like it's straining to regain that old Neptune spark. It turns out that watching a near 30 Veronica is just as much fun as watching the sleuth in her teenage years. And the fact that the show's general formula doesn't feel out of place now that we're following a load of late 20-somethings instead of high schoolers probably says something about how smartly and strongly crafted the original show was in the first place.
Rob Thomas clearly isn't trying to broaden his formula to catch new fans, and it doesn't make sense that he'd do so anyway. This is clearly a film built from the ground up for Veronica Mars fans, as it should be. A hefty intro montage at the beginning tries its best to get newcomers caught up on the three seasons of the television show, but if you didn't spend at least a couple hours cruising along the seedy streets of Neptune all those years ago, some of the film's charm might be lost on you.
The Veronica Mars film, at its core, is basically a damned good two hour episode of the original series. Now, that's not exactly ambitious, but the fans that put down their hard earned money to fund the film weren't necessarily paying for ambition. What we have here is unquestionably and purely Veronica Mars. So self-assured and comfortable in it's own celluloid skin, it's a film that dutifully embraces everything that made that series so brilliant and fun in the first place. Welcome home, Veronica, it's been a while.
It’s finally time to see how far the Internet's dollar goes. Veronica Mars was a superb teen mystery comedy drama (if that genre conflation makes any sense) that centered around high school gumshoe Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), the daughter of a private investigator who solved mysteries centered around her hometown of Neptune, California. The series was two parts Nancy Drew, one part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with a dash of Twin Peaks and Raymond Chandler for flavor. Veronica's story ended well before it’s time, but the show was revived by a now infamous Kickstarter campaign that proved that the crowd-funding website could fund a feature film with fan’s dollars. And whether or not that's entirely ethical way to fund a movie is a question we'll be pondering for years to come.
But now we're getting an extended preview at what at all those donations look like on film, and it seems like we're in for a familiar stroll though Neptune, but one that shows the characters a little older, but not necessarily a little wiser. It's been 10 years since the last episode of the series and Veronica is living in New York with her good guy boyfriend Piz (Chris Lowell). But, as Veronica finds, one never leaves a place like Neptune behind for good. Veronica is swiftly called back to town when her old boyfriend, and the show's resident bad boy Logan (Jason Dohring) is charged with murder. The teaser hints at the love triangle brewing between the three friends, and has the cast place their votes on who should win Veronica's heart: Piz or Logan?
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The cast still feels like the same people we loved from the show, albeit older, but they still haven't quite moved on from their complicated relationships from high school. Even Veronica is seen falling into her old teenaged traps, especially when Logan, as slick and dangerous as ever, comes to her door fully draped in the promise of adventure. It's fun to see the cast come together to relive the show that they clearly had a blast filming, but it's really special to see creator Rob Thomas revisit his beloved characters for one last romp through Neptune's many mysteries.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.