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Posts tagged “Film Review

Film Review : Kick-Ass 2

Kick-Ass-2-Poster1I enjoyed the first Kick-Ass film quite a bit when it came out back in 2010. I felt like it improved on the source material pretty heavily. When Kick-Ass 2 started to see heavy promotion, my interest didn’t really pick up all that much. I read maybe three issues of the source material for the sequel. I didn’t care for it. I had hoped that whatever inspired the uptick in quality of the film adaptation might have rubbed off on Mark Millar and guided his hand. I left feeling like there was nothing there of substance.

The film of Kick-Ass 2 is a mixed bag. I don’t feel like it has the level of winking acknowledgement regarding over-the-top violence that made the first film work so well, and I don’t think that in terms of the narrative it holds together as well. I can’t compare it to the comic this time around, so if I let it stand on its own feet it can walk unaided but it definitely has a limp.

The casting is again in top form. Jim Carrey, for the limited screen time he gets, sinks his teeth into the character of Col. Stars and Stripes and plays it completely straight, which is the only way the absurdity of the character can really work. Chloe Grace-Moritz loses some of her charm from the first go around based solely on the fact that we’ve seen her schtick before, but makes up for it by showing how she has genuinely matured as a capable actress in the time since she knocked everyone’s socks off in the first film. She shows some real depth here and handles the melodrama of having her character dropped into the usual round of high-school hell with aplomb. She isn’t the film’s savior, but she is a bright spot.

Much has been made of the controversy surrounding Jim Carrey denouncing the film for its violence. Honestly, the film doesn’t feel overly violent, especially when compared with the original. Everything is amped up in terms of scope but the violence and the action seems restrained compared to what we saw in 2010. The torture scene in Kick-Ass was brutal and effective. There is none of that here. Blood splatter is kept to a minimum, with a severed hand and a few stabbings being the most noticeable blood-lettings. Carrey seemed to be most offended at the casual promotion of gun violence in the film and really, there’s not much to write home about in that department. If you’re expecting anything worthy of a boycott on moral grounds, honestly you’ll have to dig if you’re looking to find it here. The script is juvenile and sophomoric but its an adaptation of a Mark Millar book so what can you really expect. Hell, they cut the animal violence and graphic rape so you know they were hoping that people wouldn’t get too uncomfortable. Although I will admit that the mockery of attempted rape in the film was just as offensive as if they’d gone through with the scene as intended.

Essentially, Kick-Ass 2 is a nice diversion. It doesn’t live up to its predecessor but it isn’t a total wash. Some of the action scenes are quite well staged, even if the finale lacks the punch of the original. Things certainly could have gone down much worse. And for that we can all be thankful.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Film Review – End of Watch

My dad was a cop for most of my childhood before he decided to leave the force and become a private investigator. I shit you not, that’s a real thing. I’m not making that up. A good portion of my time as a youngster was spent in the police station with my dad and his police buddies. I can still vividly remember the hum of the fluorescent lighting and the furnishings leftover from a hodgepodge of decades gone by. In my mind the accident division room is perpetually stuck in the early eighties and nobody was allowed through the door without a prototypical mustache.  Even though my dad retired early, he never lost contact with his former friends in the department and some of them were so close they were practically family. Basically, I’ve been around enough cops to know what most people don’t really understand; they’re people. Some of them are assholes. Some of them are the nicest men and women you will ever meet. Some of them have strange hobbies and some of them are smarter than you could ever hope to be yourself. Some are as dumb as dirt. Police departments are walking samplings of the community they are tasked to serve. If you truly wish to find one police officer to fit a profile to a T, chances are you can find that officer somewhere. They are exactly what you think they are as well as everything you never would expect.

David Ayer’s End of Watch tries to show us the world of law enforcement through a lens that is far more positive than what you generally get from most cinematic outings. This is one of the few cop films I have ever seen that doesn’t feature the trope of the corrupt police officer. This is a film that wants you to come out of the theater feeling a little more respect for what cops do and it does it in the only way that you can manage that feat; by focusing more on the fact that there are men and women wearing those uniforms who have lives and feelings and families. Although the film features plenty of on-duty heroics and action, the script seems far more focused on showing you that even if these men and women don’t take gunfire at every turn they still operate under the constant threat of violence and bodily harm and they do so with wives and husbands and young children at home. Essentially, the film wants to take the patriotic love most Americans have for soldiers and sprinkle that a little bit towards the police. It’s easy to love soldiers. They’re overseas fighting the good fight and how much daily interaction do we have with them while on duty? Very little. The public will always have a resentment towards the police because they are policing us as citizens. If the military were the ones telling us not to drive over 55 or not to run that red light, I’m sure there would be far fewer “Support the Troops” bumper stickers around. I’m not saying that the police are perfect and that each one deserves our undying love. I read an article this morning about a Houston cop who shot a man in a wheelchair. This is that officer’s second shooting in five years. There are plenty of questions to ask about law enforcement in this country. The militarization of most American police departments as part of the escalating war on drugs has bled over into everyday tactics and has had serious repercussions in the way we view our police officers. That having been said, you can see why they might get a little defensive when most people have a blanket “Fuck the Police” mindset.

I think films like End of Watch need to exist to balance out the “dirty cop” genre. Not only does it serve as a chance to remind people that cops really are out there trying to help, but the counterpoint feels exceedingly fresh among the crop of films that seek to push the opposite image of law enforcement. I feel that for every show like The Shield or every film like Bad Lieutenant, we need something like this to balance things out. If it weren’t a good movie in and of itself, regardless of the message behind it, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review at all. The thing about End of Watch is that it is entertaining in and of itself. It feels like an extended episode of COPS that doesn’t leave you feeling like you need a shower. The acting on display is excellent. I’m not really a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal but here he really turns in a great performance as an everyman who the audience can relate to and empathize with. He is equal parts immature and stoic and he pulls it off well. Michael Pena really deserves to be showcased more often because I feel he is insanely talented. He and Gyllenhaal really do feel like they’ve been rolling in a shop together for an extended period of time. Their chemistry rings very true and because this film works so hard to sell the “people behind the badge” aspect, that element cannot be undersold.

I don’t know how well this film will go over. I think people will go in expecting something more action oriented and be surprised that it is about 85% character drama with rare flare-ups in violence. It’s a seemingly realistic depiction of law enforcement in that when the shit does hit the fan it does so unexpectedly and it catches you off guard. The audience I saw this with were visibly and audibly shocked multiple times during the showing and had a very visceral reaction to the film as a whole. It was also a packed house, so maybe the film will do well enough to make it a success. It is definitely a film that had the crowd talking afterward and that’s always a good sign.

Film Review – Total Recall (2012)

You know how some people with a staggering problem will deny, deny, deny their issues until they get help? I was in that stage when it came to the Total Recall remake. I didn’t think it would be that bad. There’s no way they could screw the pooch in such a colossal way that it wouldn’t be worth the $4.25 matinee on a Saturday morning. There is no way they would spend the budget they did on this thing and have it turn out as anything other than passable. I figured we were in for something tepid and at least competent. Why did I lie to myself in that way?

Total Recall 2012 is absolute garbage. Sit on that thought for a moment, because the original film is not all that great either. It had the virtue of groundbreaking special effects and enough sense to play the material with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I mean, its a film that expects us to roll with the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an everyman. They expect you to take that at face value. That takes balls. Casting Colin Farrell this time around I knew they would be playing things completely straight, but I figured that Len Wiseman would have had the good sense to have fun with it. But Total Recall 2012 is a joyless bore. I hesitate to call any film boring but that is the most apt descriptor I have in my vocabulary. When using it to describe an action film it is pretty much the kiss of death. Aside from some competently staged fight choreography, this film is positively lifeless. The hovering car chase fails to deliver anything new. The shootouts are dry (and I’m not just talking about a lack of blood, which the original had in spades) and the dialog is delivered with all of the conviction of a child reading Shakespeare in an elementary school play. The film is a lifeless corpse of a movie.

This is a film that manages to waste both Bill Night and Bryan Cranston. This is a film that took the cinematography of Blade Runner if it had unprotected sex with I, Robot and peppered it with all the lens flares that JJ Abrams thought would be TOO ANNOYING for Star Trek. This is a film that states openly that the sole remaining governing body in the future is British and then has all the vehicles sporting Dodge and Chrysler logos. This is a film that insults the intelligence of anyone who bothers to watch it. Although I suppose we deserve it for thinking that it would be any better than it is. Those trailers should have warned everyone away. I should have listened to my gut.

Seriously a candidate for one of the most ill conceived if not worst films of 2012. Sit on that thought and see if you want to test your mettle by paying money you earned doing something you probably didn’t enjoy to sit through this dreck.

Score: 2/10

Film Review – The Watch

Comedy is a tricky thing. You can have all the ingredients necessary for a truly amazing film and everything goes wrong simply by virtue of a single element being slightly off. The trailers for The Watch seemed to indicate that we had a rollicking good time of a comedy on our hands. I can tell you that while the film has its moments, and is pretty damn funny most of the time, the whole thing doesn’t come together in any real way to make something that will hold up to repeat viewings the way a comedy with this many great players really should. Compared to Ben Stiller’s turn in Tropic Thunder, this thing really falls flat. Nobody here really nails anything with the kind of confidence that Stiller and co. did in that particular film. Here we seem to be expected to laugh because of the manner in which the joke is delivered without the joke being actually clever. We are expected to chuckle because of Vaughn or Hill or Ayoade’s cadence and delivery rather than the fact that what they are saying may be funny. Most of the time it works, because the dialog falls into absurdity and nonsense and our brain, in an attempt to reconcile that, interprets it as comedy. Upon repeat viewings, I don’t see those jokes holding up. Unless the underlying premise is solid, delivery alone can’t save it.

The film doesn’t really commit to anything. It doesn’t want to dwell too much on the alien aspect of the storyline, focusing more on the people in the eponymous neighborhood watch, but in doing so they have to manufacture drama to make their lives interesting and this comes at the detriment of the comedy. That is the number one flaw with the film. When the film does work it is because someone decides to fully commit to the premise. Will Forte shines in every damn second he has on screen because there is something there beyond a tilted line delivery, though he does bring his own brand of wacky characterization to the table as well. He just doesn’t hinge his entire performance on it the way Hill or Vaughn do. Hill is the worst offender, as his character is very one-note, and it’s not  a pitch-perfect note either. Vaughn plays the same character he always plays, so I’m sure his usual crowd will be pleased but he didn’t do much for me.

I think this is one of those films that would have benefited from a little bit more of a backbone. If they had the guts to really commit to any level of the premise it could have been a great film, but unfortunately that’s just not the case. I would recommend just catching it when it hits cable or redbox because I feel paying theater prices for this sort of mediocre offering will leave you feeling more disappointed than you really should. It’s not terrible, it’s just so middle of the road that any effort made to see it will taint your opinion of the overall product.

Film Review – Prometheus

I am going to say something at the start that everyone needs to understand. It takes a lot of work to fully appreciate Prometheus. This film is something that many people have been clamoring for and yet at the same time will be shocked to find that they don’t want at all. Expectations get toyed with and as such it is best to see this film at least twice before making your mind up on it. Watch it once without knowing what to expect and then again knowing what it is and you will find yourself judging it less harshly than a majority of the critics who are trying to drag it down. I recently went through the entire Alien franchise in anticipation of this film and now I almost wish I hadn’t because the film in my head was not the film I saw. I should have been prepared for such an eventuality, because each film in the series evolves and never follows the style of what came before. I suppose with Ridley Scott returning we would get something similar in style to the original Alien, but that is not the case. Make no mistake about it, this is the genesis of the Alien legacy. Does it sync up in a nice package? No, but we’ll get to that later.

The film begins at the birth of mankind. We witness our creation out of the sacrifice of space-faring engineers in a scene that is simultaneously wondrous and confounding. Much of the film plays this way. Either things are spelled out too directly, or they are left as questions dangling in the back of our mind. I suspect this has much to do with Damon Lindelof’s involvement with the script. I could be wrong, but if it walks like a Lost duck… We then flash forward to 2089 when future archeologists digging in Scotland discover a cave painting pre-dating anything on record featuring symbols that have been discovered at sites spread out across the earth and multiple time periods with no interconnection of the societies that created them. They all feature a star pattern that our group locates and journeys to in the hopes of finding the creatures these early civilizations worshiped as gods. The team is led by Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, who has previously failed to impress me but carries herself well here. Her staggered speech patterns that bothered me so much in Sherlock Holmes have been corrected and she feels far more at home delivering dialog as a result. She is accompanied by her colleague and lover played by Logan Marshall-Green who really doesn’t leave much of an impression whatsoever. That’s not too big of a slam because a majority of the cast are faceless ciphers who don’t really give off any defining character traits. The cast is around the same size as Aliens but it doesn’t have the same level of personalization to the cast. We got a real feel for the individual personalities of the marines in Aliens but the crewmembers of the Prometheus don’t give us much to work with. Idris Elba acquits himself nicely, and plays perhaps the most affable and relatable character in the film. Unfortunately he’s not much of a major player in what transpires. Charlize Theron does well but also has a tendency to simply exist in the framework without adding very much at all. The real star of the film is Michael Fassbender, who unsurprisingly steals the film with his portrayal of the android David. This is perhaps the first film in the series that does not hide the android’s nature and as such his mannerisms are far more robotic than Ian Holm’s Ash or Lance Henreiksen’s Bishop. His every movement is calculated and Fassbender imbues him with a sense of methodical unearthliness that truly makes him a wonder to watch.

The film’s story works well. It isn’t as tense as Alien but I do not believe it is meant to be. I also believe that there will be an eventual extended cut that allows several things to fall into place better than they seem to in the theatrical release. The only ones who will decry the narrative flow of the film are those who want it to run parallel to Alien. That isn’t what is in play here. What is in play here is a new series that has a timeline that will eventually sync up with those films. Ridley Scott has said that the ending of this film, which I will not spoil for anyone here, does not line up with Alien. He has stated that there are at least two more films worth of content before the timelines connect ant you see how everything developed from point A to point chestburster. It is best to view this story as something standalone. Something detached from Alien so that what this movie does well is better consumed by the viewer. Trying to compare it to Alien will result in a disappointment. It’s not a disappointing film unless you make it one. Judged on it’s own merit it is a spectacular film, with a few minor flaws. If nothing else it is a technological and visual marvel. The 3D screening I saw was absolutely flawless. One of the prettiest films I have seen in ages.

Essentially, the film is going to be divisive. That is the mark of a film worth viewing, in my opinion. What you take away from the film is largely dependent on what you want to take away from it before you ever set foot in the theater. Like I said, I would recommend viewing it twice. For the sake of your own enjoyment, you should be willing to examine the film from multiple angles. I’m certain I’ll be seeing it more than twice.

Preparing for Prometheus pt. IV – Alien Resurrection (1997)

Here’s the truth about my love affair with the Alien franchise; back when I was 10 years old I learned they were preparing a new Alien film for release into theaters the following year. I had never seen any of the movies and it was because of discussions with a friend who was familiar with the series that I started going down the rabbit hole. I found out that there was going to be a showing of the second film late one night on the local Fox station and I recorded it hoping to get an idea of what the series was about. My friend sold it to me as one of the bloodiest, scariest alien monster-fests ever put on film and I really wanted to be able to see the new movie with him when it came out in theaters. I’ve recounted the story of what happened next several times over the course of this editorial series and now its time to wrap things up.

The short story is that I did enjoy the first three films and was looking forward to part four. I thank god that I was the age I was and was as uninformed as I was because had I been a little bit older, I think Alien Resurrection might have turned me relentlessly cynical and angry. I mean, I am those things now but for different reasons and I mostly keep those things in check. Mostly. But with Resurrection, there is a lot that could have turned me against the world of film had I been old enough to have deep attachments to the series or people involved. I don’t think that an older me would have been able to forgive Joss Whedon for his involvement in this, but as I was just an 11 year old kid when it hit the theaters, I didn’t even know who he was so I couldn’t fault him the way I might have had I been an angsty teenager. (Fun fact : I picked up a copy of his shooting script from Half Price Books about a year after the film came out, because I actually enjoyed the piss out of the movie when I was young)

I really did dig the film when I saw it as a kid. I had to wait for it to hit VHS because I couldn’t make it to the theater with my friend, but I did get to see it with the fresh eyes of someone who had really come to like the series. Considering the movie is fifteen years old now, I have a somewhat different opinion. I don’t hate it. I don’t think it is anywhere near the level of an abomination that many do. I reserve that hatred for those horrible AvP movies. I’m not even going to dignify those movies with any sort of analysis. Alien Resurrection has many problems. I’ll be the first to admit that. This is the first time where I felt like the cast wasn’t putting out A-game style work. Most of the principle cast do a good job, and Brad Dourif is amazing in particular, but some of the side characters just do not mesh well at all. I attribute this mostly to a French director operating through a translator and a poor gauge of the tone of the script by the actors. Joss Whedon has said that he doesn’t dislike the film because they altered his script but because they mangled the tone. He wrote the thing to be a comedic satire and when played straight, it just comes off as tone deaf. I don’t think that playing the whole thing as a dark comedy would have been so bad. It wouldn’t have been any more a change in direction than from Alien to Aliens. Instead we get the product that was presented, something that had Whedon’s fingerprints all over it but none of his ability to make it sing.

There are some truly great moments in the film. I LOVE the underwater scene. Unabashedly. I think it gives us something we haven’t seen before and I liked the twist of how the aliens set a trap for the surfacing swimmers. Granted the CGI was horrible, which is a universal theme with the Alien films now. Practical effects look great but computer generated aliens are universally off-putting. Another great element of the film? Anything where the aliens and Brad Dourif get to interact. I love the scene where the doctor instigates trouble with the alien causing it to attack only to punish it with a blast of liquid nitrogen. The alien moves in to attack again but hesitates when the doctor threatens another retaliation. Its a great moment that shows how quickly the creature assesses danger and stores information. The alien escape scene is another great moment. Two of the creatures rip a third apart and use his acid blood to burn a way out. It is inventive and plays out especially well on film.

My main contention with the film is that it just does not look visually interesting most of the time. The direction is flat and doesn’t have the reserve of Ridley Scott, the frenetic energy of James Cameron or the determination of David Fincher. The film looks cheap and shoddy for most of its runtime. For that reason it fails to live up to the others. It isn’t the story that sinks the film, its the execution of that story. A better director could have made this film work better. It’s also important to note that the SFX supervisor for this film went on to direct the Halle Berry Catwoman. So, take from that what you will.

Film Review – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I am going to begin this review by saying that I started the novel on which this film is based and never finished it. I thought it was poorly written and more than a little dull. Don’t bombard me with hatred over it, it is only a matter of personal preference. I thought, structurally speaking, that it wasn’t very well constructed and it doesn’t deserve the praise that gets heaped upon it. It is a lot like The DaVinci Code in my eyes. A book that garners a lot of attention due to manufactured controversy with the actual content between the covers being average at best.

That having been said, I have seen the original film adaptation and felt that all of the problems with the book were still present on film and that it was highly unlikely that they could be fixed without a major overhaul. When talks of the remake started popping up I wasn’t interested simply because of my problems with the novel and the original adaptation. I figured that a remake wouldn’t help those problems and that the film wouldn’t be worth my time. Then I found out that David Fincher would be involved and that the cast included Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and Stellan Skarsgard. I was starting to think that perhaps there could be something there of interest to me. I heard rumors that the script by Steve Zaillian deviated quite a bit from the source and that Fincher would be doing a true “adaptation” rather than a direct translation from book to screen. I began to put my trust in a film that I could be forgiven for dismissing.

Then the trailers started to hit and I’ll be damned if it didn’t look like a real Oscar contender of a film. Fincher had seemingly crafted something stunning in terms of texture and mood that hooked me in and really made me want to sit down and watch with an open mind. I went in willing to give the material a fair shot and be proven wrong in regards to my feeling that the story was a dull, plodding mess that strove for intricacy but collapsed under its own sense of grandeur and intrigue.

I will say that this adaptation has mood and texture in spades. It is a well made film. It’s crafted and acted in a way that really is quite amazing. Rooney Mara gives a performance that really showcases her range and subtlety and Daniel Craig does a great job handling the part handed to him. The problem with the film, once again, is that the story is a muddled, dull, and honestly not-that-interesting mess. The narrative is extremely disjointed in the first hour and a half and by the time Craig and Mara finally pair up I had pretty much lost patience with the flow of the story. If someone like Fincher who did such an amazing job weaving the narrative of a film like Zodiac has trouble with something as pedestrian as this you know there’s a problem. The film really did not need to be as long as it ends up being and calling it a slog is being a bit generous. As an acting showcase it’s quite interesting but as an overall film it’s a disaster.

Fans of the novel will probably be pleased with this American adaptation but I can’t muster much excitement about it. I had hoped that Fincher could pull together the parts that did work in the novel and weave them effectively into a manageable film but what he released is a choppy, disjointed, over-long mess and I can’t really say that it was worth the money it took to make with the original Swedish version doing everything this one did. The only difference is a perceived upswing in production value and I do think that Craig did a better job in his part than his Swedish counterpart (who incidentally played the villain role in Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol and didn’t really bring much to the table there either).

Sad to say, this was a real disappointment, even looking through the lens of my initial low expectations. Hopefully Fincher will put out something with the same sort of zing that The Social Network had before getting locked into the sequels for this because I’m almost certain that my sentiments will not be echoed by the majority of people who will see this and consider it cinematic gold.

RATING: 4/10