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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

Film Review – Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol

Before anyone asks, yes I did see it in the IMAX format and yes I did see the Dark Knight Rises prologue. I’ll have a little editorial about that up in a little while. But this entry is specifically about MI4.

Let me start out by saying that I enjoyed this entry far more than any of the other films in the series. I guess number three comes closest. I think that the direction Abrams took the franchise and the followup work done by Brad Bird here on the fourth film is closer in line with my sensibilities than the first or second installments. I liked the first Mission Impossible and still regard it as a solid action/thriller. The second one kinda flew off the rails. I don’t hate it the way some folks do but I don’t think that it really worked. Part three was a damn good movie, and though JJ Abrams directing was a little shaky it did an admirable job of getting the series back on the right track.

Ghost Protocol shifts a little bit in style but retains much of JJ Abrams sensibility. Not surprising considering he stayed on as a producer. The film still hinges on the team-based operations that were jettisoned in MI2 and brought back to the forefront in part three. This time around we get much more of scene stealing Simon Pegg, as well as the added bonus of Paula Patton who looks a lot like Rashida Jones and I think my feelings on her are pretty well documented, and Jeremy Renner coming in and doing a bang-up job all around. Based on the trailers and online speculation I was prepared not to like Renner’s inclusion and was fearing that his purpose would be utterly cliche but the film wisely avoids all of that and instead works on molding him into the dynamic in a way that doesn’t feel forced. He adds something different to the group much in the way that Cruise, Pegg, and Patton do. They all have distinct character traits and each serves a function. I rather enjoyed that.

I have to say that never once was I bothered by Tom Cruise. Every once in a while in a film he’ll do something that completely takes me out of the moment and ruins the effect. Here he does a good job of reminding people why he rose to prominence as a leading man in the film industry in the first place. Despite all of his faults, he can hold a film together quite well and this is definitely a return to form for him. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed one of his movies so this was a nice change of pace in that regard.

The real star of the film however is Brad Bird, who has an eye for shooting action scenes unlike any other working director. His sense of direction doesn’t have the limited scope of his peers due to his long-standing work in the animation field. This being his first time working in live action I would have been prepared to overlook any sense of awkwardness he may have had behind the camera but he really knocked it out of the park. The only sequence I will question his judgement on was the chase through Dubai set during a sandstorm. In theory it seems like a cool idea but on camera you can’t really see too much and the kinetic energy of the moment gets lost in the confusion. That minor gripe aside, the film is spectacularly framed and a beauty to behold on an IMAX screen.

I would say this is probably your best bet for a good time in the theaters this December. Tintin looks promising but could swing either way and I doubt people will be seeing Dragon Tattoo for a lark. Best to slap down some money for this and enjoy yourself with a big fat grin on your face.

RATING: 8/10

Film Review – The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter is a filmmaker who I have a great deal of respect for. He knows how to work the system to his advantage to produce some truly classic movies. Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, Escape from New York, They Live… the list of great films the man gave us is pretty impressive. Granted he’s also given us some less than stellar work as well, as is the case with any artist. One thing that I’ve noticed about Carpenter has been that his works attract and almost unnatural fascination from other artists looking to remake them. Rob Zombie did his take on Halloween, we got a less-than-inventive but still serviceable remake of Precinct 13, there was also The Fog with Tom Welling and rumors and rumblings of remakes for Escape from New York and They Live pop up on film blogs every other week.

With The Thing, we get what is essentially a remake as it hits a good number of the story beats from the 1982 original but also a film that is intended to be a prequel, focusing on the events that transpired at a Norwegian site that ties into the beginning of the original film with a crazed Norwegian hunting a dog from a helicopter. The marketing on this film is mostly to blame for how it will be received as most people didn’t really know going in what the movie was supposed to be, and the film seems to not know for sure either. The 2011 installment attempts to recreate the tension of the original but can’t seem to get a handle on it and so in places it attempts to go in the same direction that Cameron went with Aliens in ’86 by trading scares for adrenaline. There is a more action oriented pacing for a good deal of the film, where paranoia gives way to pandemonium and while it helps to differentiate this incarnation from the 1982 film it isn’t as overtly satisfying.

The cast does a good job with what they are presented with. Mary Elizabeth Winstead struggles to overcome the fact that she seems almost a little too young for the role but handles the emotional and physical parts of the character well. Joel Edgarton is equally effective, though that should come as no surprise to anyone who saw his work in Warrior earlier this year. The man is on his way to becoming a top talent if he can get a breakout role.

It’s not a bad film. In fact it’s pretty satisfying and works well as a lead-in to the original movie. The main issues are simply that it doesn’t have a consistent tone and the glaring shoddiness of some of the CGI. On this budget the creature effects could have looked a bit better and this is the most repeated criticism you will hear with the film no matter who you ask. The inventiveness of the creature effects is debatable, but the execution just isn’t all that clean.

There are worse ways to spend your time. Is it really any more of a shoddy cash grab than Paranormal Activity 3?

Film Review – Warrior

I want to go ahead and make the obligatory joke that this is a prequel to Dark Knight Rises and is actually the origin story of Tom Hardy’s Bane. I figured it’d be good to get that out of the way early because I’ll be damned if this isn’t a contender for one of the finest films of the year. There have been some good releases thus far but most of the films I’ve seen have been enjoyable on mostly superficial levels where Warrior feels like something that should have been released closer to the Oscars ceremony because it’s the sort of thing that deserves a shitload of awards. Everyone in this film is top-notch and deserves whatever accolades they can be given. Tom Hardy plays the tortured war veteran with steely intensity that just does not let up and Joel Edgerton brings a calm warmth striped with aggression that serves his character well. Nick Nolte plays their recovering alcoholic father with a dejected pathos and subdued humility that would have helped salvage his blustering performance in Ang Lee’s Hulk film. This film is a damned fine acting showcase and everyone involved did a phenomenal job.

The sports film is not something that is easy to do well. So many have tried their hand at the genre that there’s nothing new left to bring to the table and most films attempting to do so will oversell something and end up wrecking the whole package. Warrior falls prey to a number of cliches but at the same time they are not able to detract from the film in any meaningful way because we’re not focused on the action on the mat so much as we’re invested in the drama unfolding in the character’s lives and that is where the film is able to pull ahead. Don’t get me wrong, the fight scenes in Warrior are quite well done and there is a drama to the fights that really packs a punch but this isn’t a film like Rocky where we have a protagonist and we only care if he wins or overcomes a certain obstacle, that’s not the crux of the film. The whole thing hinges on the ability of the people on screen to sell us on their characters and they do so amazingly well.

I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool MMA fan, so the fact that I was able to be engrossed in the film the way I was speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this particular film. I like that the first part of the film is a bit of a slow burn which enables the third act to move at a breakneck pace because we’ve earned that much having seen so much buildup. It’s one of the most effectively paced films of the year and while most viewers will not notice such a thing, it’s important to note that it’s not a short film with its two hour and twenty minute runtime. The fact that it feels like perhaps half that sitting in the theater shows how well crafted the narrative is.

All in all I would expect to see this one pick up some award consideration down the line if the rest of the year fails to produce anything of note. Tom Hardy is also appearing in the anticipated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy so his chances of seeing some love are quite high. Deservedly so, the man is quite amazing.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Film Review – Super 8

This one is coming up a little behind schedule because I didn’t get to see it until yesterday. I had planned on seeing it opening night but got distracted and then had to put my focus entirely on my trip to A-Kon in Dallas, which I’ve chronicled here for your viewing pleasure.

I regret not seeing it sooner as I would have loved to get the word out on how good it is and hopefully rushed a few more people into the theatre because it really deserves better than the paltry 33 million dollar opening it managed last week. While it’s nowhere near a flop I would have loved to see it open big because it’s got the sort of old-school charm that is lost on a lot of modern summer tentpole releases. Watching the first 2/3 of Super 8 is like watching a love-letter to classic Spielberg films like Jaws or Close Encounters. Other films would be hesitant to focus so much on young cast and guide the narrative more closely toward the “monster” element of the film. Here instead JJ Abrams makes the film about these characters to the point where the mystery surrounding the train crash becomes the b-plot. Everything rests on the shoulders of Joe and his budding relationship with Alice, played magnificently by Elle Fanning who is better than anyone at her age deserves to be. Really, this girl does an amazing job portraying an ordinary girl who is a superb amateur actress in a way that is surprising and feels quite real. The backstory between Alice’s family and Joe’s is handled with the same steady Spielbergian hand as the rest of the film’s style.

Only in the final act does the film diverge from the dyed-in-the-wool nostalgia narrative style towards a more modern sensibility and it comes due to the presense of CGI more than anything. The attack on the army bus that starts the film running towards its climax is highly reminescent of something like the attack on the Orca in Jaws and had there been a decision to go practical with the effects rather than CGI, I’m sure the tone would be different but it is only here where the film starts to feel as if it wasn’t made in 1979. The expression of “they just don’t make ’em like this anymore” really does apply to this film. The gradual pacing where events are built upon events with patient rising energy echoes a time when general moviegoing audiences had longer attention spans. I am honestly surprised to hear so many of my peers singing the praises of this film considering that this is sort of the opposite of what we have been conditioned to accept as the model for modern summer releases. It’s refreshing that people can see its merit, because there is a lot to like here, but it still caught me off guard.

The one complaint I do have about the film is that it does suffer from another element of Spielberg’s bag of tricks that I don’t care all that much for and that’s the somewhat sappy ending. I understand why Abrams would choose to go this way but it feels false in some small way and I think that it will take another few viewings for me to really come to terms with it. I think that the way the film ends works counter to the tone they’ve established in the previous twenty minutes and so it feels abrupt and out of place, but perhaps when viewed alongside everything else that is unbelieveable in the film it doesn’t rate so high on the list of flaws. It’s simply my assessment of the way it was executed.

Oh, and someone put a gun to JJ Abrams head and tell him to make a movie that has less than fifteen lens flares. I swear he won’t be able to. There are enough here, as there were in Star Trek, to make a pretty nifty drinking game.

Film Review – X-Men First Class

When was the last time you saw a prequel and thought it was in any way worth the effort? Wolverine certainly doesn’t fit that bill. Everything that a prequel shouldn’t be is exemplified by that movie. The polar opposite of that entry would be X-Men First Class. I know that’s hard to believe, but everything in First Class seems to work in a way that Wolverine wishes it would have. I would say this is the finest Marvel film not produced under their Marvel Studios banner to date. It is easily on par with X2, and that film stands as one of the best comic adaptations, sequels, and all around films rolled into one that I can think of off the top of my head.

Vaughn and company have made a bold move by making a prequel sans any of the original cast (Save for some crowd-pleasing cameos that I will not spoil for you) and focusing on second-tier mutants with the majority of the limelight being given to Xavier and Magneto in their most formative years. McAvoy proves that he deserves more attention with his depiction of Xavier, which is fun and focused in a way that you wouldn’t expect. His ability to mimic the Kirbian depiction of Xavier with his arched eyebrow and pointed stare is a subtle genius that really adds to showing where the roots of this story began. Fassbender is amazing as always, and makes Erik Lensherr into a character who by all rights is the true hero of the movie. He has been wronged and he goes out into the world seeking his own brand of justice. His feelings on mutant/human relations are all but validated by the end of the runtime and it is hard not to sympathize with him because Fassbender’s portrayal of his conflicted nature has all the gravitas that the the character deserves.

While some will take issue with the sixties setting I thought it worked wonderfully, as it gave the Hellfire Club, such as it was, a thematic reason for existing. Places like that seem locked into the lore of the swinging sixties. Playing against the backdrop of the cold war gave possibilities that would not otherwise have been available, and while the timeline might not line up with the original films in perfect harmony it is easy enough to blur the lines and let things play out. It’s easily one of the more inventive and expirimental ideas in a Marvel adaptation to date.

Granted there are some things that don’t work and most of them are January Jones and her bland vacuum that she calls acting. Emma Frost is one of the more interesting characters in X-Men lore and they couldn’t even manage to find someone who could fake a British accent. At no point did I ever really feel she had the seductive energy that the character embodies and I take that as the biggest misfire of the film. Other problems are largely there so that the focus can remain on Erik and Charles. Darwin, who is an interesting character in the comics when written properly, is essentially wasted here and I believe mainly thrown in the mix in an attempt to diversify the group. Sebastian Shaw’s lackeys, Azazel and Riptide really don’t have much to do at all, though I suspect that Azazel will get his due in the sequels when his interactions with Mystique are given a chance to bear fruit.

Overall it easily surpasses X3, Wolverine, and the original film in quality and matches that of X2. I hope that the sequel gets put into development straight away. Maybe move the action into the disco era so I can get some mutha-fuckin’ Dazzler on the big screen. Yeah. That’s right. Dazzler. That’s what the franchise needs damnit.

Addendum: I have a major crush on Jennifer Lawrence. None of you may touch her. She is mine. *swoon*

Film Review – Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides

Go read the reviews for this film elsewhere. All you will read is negativity. And I mean, HARSH negativity. One reviewer in particular equated the watching of this film to eating a biscuit filled with maggots. Last week Priest came out and there was nowhere near this level of vitriol. I really can’t understand it. I’m pretty serious when it comes to film analysis, I used to have aspirations of going through film school and all that jazz. But never in my life will you ever hear me devolve that far into hyperbole unless I am doing so ironically. I feel that when you get to that level of hatred over something so petty as a movie you lose all credibility as a reviewer. Especially considering that by the time you’ve written your little analogy the whole of your piece is more about your own prejudices and life experiences and any actual commentary about the merits of the movie are overshadowed by the reviewer’s baggage.

I’m not going to go so overboard in regards to reviewing this film. Because unlike what most reviewers have been claiming, this movie is really, really simple. What’s funny is that this time around they’ve returned to the quest-based narrative of the original film and people have supposedly been clamoring for that quite a lot during the last two movies where the story got so bloated and ridiculous. Streamlining the story and returning to the core elements that provided the structure for the success of the first film. Where the film falters however, is what the producers built on that foundation. There isn’t as much bombastic wonderment in On Stranger Tides as there was in Curse of the Black Pearl. I think the easiest way to compare and contrast is that in the original the fantasy elements were front and center in a way that drove the story forward whereas in this newest installment the narrative is played mostly straight with some fantasy elements thrown in that don’t ever seem to really matter all that much. Zombies, mermaids, possessed ship rigging, even the fountain of youth; all of them are woven into the plot fairly organically but they don’t have the sort of resonance that Barbossa’s curse did in the first film. They’re just there.

The other criticism I’ve heard thrown at the film is that everyone is just phoning in their performance. I don’t think that’s fair. By the time the fourth film rolls around everything that the main cast attempts is going to seem familiar. It’s just one of the pitfalls that happens when you have a successful franchise that hangs around this long. It’s not that anything is wrong with the performances it’s just that we’re trained to want something new but there’s not a whole lot that you can do with old characters at this point in the game. Even Blackbeard’s performance seems derivative of Ian McShane’s work on Deadwood. The thing that sinks this little ship is familiarity.

That isn’t to say the film isn’t good. It’s quite enjoyable. The 3D element doesn’t add much, admittedly, but it isn’t distracting like in lesser films like Clash of the Titans. I would say that overall the film doesn’t live up to the first film but it stand a little above the last two, just by virtue of the base elements working better than the bloated core of the past two sequels.

The main argument I’m trying to make is that you shouldn’t really care what most of the reviewers are saying, it’s the sort of hyperbole that can be expected from those sort of people. I’m more honest. I think it was okay. There’s no crime in it being just okay. It’s a disappointment, sure, but not on the grand scale that the critical community is making it out to be. And that in itself is a bit a disappointment.

Film Review – Thor

This is probably the first legitimite comics related article I’ve written in a while since I’ve been unable to get my books in a timely manner that is conductive to reviewing the actual comics. I guess the film adaptation of a comic is about as close to comics reviews as I can manage for the moment. I’m sorry. I may start reviewing books about a month after they hit stands just to make sure I get my opinion out there but I’m not sure I will even bother.

But the focus today will be the adaptation of Thor.

I am happy to report that it’s the best Marvel film they’ve made since Iron Man. I don’t know if it’s as good as that film, as I remember being dazzled by how entertaining it was but Thor does an admirable job of capturing the same sort of magic that Iron Man did. They also avoided the pitfalls of Iron Man 2 simply by virtue of not having the time to shoehorn an obtrusive amount of *wink wink* side characters into the story. There’s the obligatory cameo of a character who’ll play a major role in the Avengers. You probably already know who I’m talking about. But he isn’t mentioned by his hero moniker and if you aren’t familiar with the character you’ll wonder who the hell he is, what he’s doing and why the hell he chose that as a weapon when there was a perfectly good sniper rifle available.

The biggest achievement that Thor really grabbed was taking the source material and making it manageable in a way that it never felt hokey. The Asgardian elements could have been laughable but Branagh handles them in a way that seems reverent and respectful while tossing aside the needless “thou’s” and “thee’s” in exchange for dialogue that could have felt perfectly at home in the Lord of the Rings. Basically, the bombastic elements never felt overwhelming.

I have to say that Marvel is on a roll with their casting. Chris Hemsworth is charming as the God of Thunder and his natural charisma allows us to like the character when at times we have to agree with Odin’s belief that he is a petulant child with a rash attitude. Natalie Portman is a perfectly acceptable Jane Foster by way of her adoreable sweetness. Kat Dennings could have been cut from the film and nobody would have noticed but I still have a crush on her. I’m not going to lie, that chick’s busom is mesmerizing. Shamefully it’s not on display here and for that I will give the producers a disapproving shake of my head. Thor’s comrades are given a surprising amount of screentime and while I wished that Volstagg were more festively plump, Ray Stevenson plays him as you would imagine Volstagg should be. But the true revelation of the film was Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The man reminded me of a young William Fitchner who himself would have made a fine Loki were he about fifteen years younger.

It has its share of flaws, the somewhat abrupt ending being one of them, but it’s a step above Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk due to the sheer enjoyment factor. The film does a great job of sucking the viewer into this world and not just sucking.

“Just Because” Review – Tremors 4 – The Legend Begins

I watch a lot of dumb shit. Netflix seems to encourage it. I get all sorts of weird recomendations and I’m not one to ignore the pleadings of a computerized generation of possible late-night viewing options.

I saw that Tremors 4 was up on instant watch and decided to give it a go because it was, up until now, the only one I hadn’t seen and felt like I was doing myself a disservice by not completing the series. Besides, I love hokey junk like this. I figured it’d be a a nice “so bad it’s good” entry and then I’d move on.

The thing is, it’s actually not a bad little movie. I mean, the budget constraints are obvious. Probably why up until the last quarter of the film we really don’t see that much of the actual monsters. It’s not an uncommon tactic even in better movies. Hell, how much of the shark did we actually see in Jaws? How much worse was it when we actually saw more of it in the sequels? Remember how shitty it looked in part three? Yeah.

The movie here is good for what it is. Michael Gross is still the best part of the franchise, but this time he gets to play against type by portraying Burt’s ancester Hiram who’s a pampered city boy who has never fired a gun in his life. Seeing Gross reverse his role so heavily makes the film stand out among the other installments and it makes for a fun ride. The supporting characters all do their job well but this is Gross’ show through and through, much as it was with the third film and the better parts of the second.

The biggest improvement over the last two sequels is that we’re back to seeing the monsters simply as worms. None of the shrieking chickens or fire-farting birds. As infants the worms launch themselves from the ground to attack their prey but they grow up so fast that this really isn’t much of a factor in the overall film. Just another little glimpse into the creature’s asinine life cycle.

I may be delirious but watching character-actor/amazing creep Billy Drago play a gunfighter hired to help kill the beasts made me think he’d be a great Saint for an eventual Preacher movie but god knows that’ll never happen. Still, food for thought.

If you’re bored, go ahead and watch it. It’s only 100 minutes long and there’s much shittier stuff on Netflix at the moment. Believe me because I’v watched it.

Film Review – Hanna

This one is a little late but I feel like I should review it anyway. I’m sure most people who thought it was worth seeing have already done so but I have a tremendous ego and therefore I’m going to give my opinion whether they want to hear it or not. I’m sure that even a few people who have seen the movie want to know what I thought about it because I think that highly of myself. I know, it’s not an endearing trait, but I started a blog. The conceit is that you have to believe someone wants to read it, and considering we’ve had more hits this month than we have in our history I’m going to assume that people are actually reading the articles. I may be wrong but I hope I’m not.

The film is good. It’s not any more than that and it’s certainly not any less. It’s a good movie. I think it plays more like a European thriller than most American audiences are willing to deal with and so I don’t expect it to get much love until it gets discovered on home video by a younger generation getting into movies that never got the love they deserved. I get the feeling this will be the Leon for a new generation. The truth is that it’s a movie that feels like Gunslinger Girl meshed with Taken and that the majority of the film is just too quietly contemplative for most action junkies to appreciate and it’s too raw in places for people who enjoy the beauty of nuanced European cinema to embrace it completely. Hanna is a child of two worlds, in the sense of the film and the character. Saiorisesaorisie Ronieanon (because I don’t want to google the proper spelling) is at the same time the sociopath and the innocent. The film is both a thriller and a skillful photograph. The two collide at points and it makes for interesting viewing but I’m just not sure if it works on a whole.

Joe Wright is a tremendous talent, as evident with his previous works and the bits that actually do work in this film. I don’t doubt that he has an eventual Oscar win hidden somewhere in his soul but he needs to find the balance that Hanna never manages to. He knows how to assemble the pieces into something worthwhile but at the same time the pieces fit only loosely and the overall quality of the film suffers as a result. I think had the film taken a more firm focus in either direction it could have been a true perennial favorite of mine, as it stands it’s just a good movie that didn’t really move me in any direction.

Film Review – Scream 4

I was ten years old when the first Scream movie hit theaters. I think it’s worth noting that this is actually the first Scream film I’ve seen in an actual cinema as I was a lame kid who always went to the movies with his parents and I didn’t want to see horror movies with them. It wasn’t until I was sixteen with my own car that I started seeing movies on my own and I soon learned how easy it was to find theaters who would let you into R-rated movies even if you were like nine years old without parental supervision. Horror movies to me came in the form of late night broadcasts on cable movie channels or VHS tapes dying their last breaths after years of abuse. I saw Aliens at a friend’s house when I was ten. He also introduced me to Halloween and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I’d seen the box for in a video store two years prior and had nightmares about sight-unseen.

I didn’t see the original Scream until the third one hit VHS and a group of middle-school buddies and I marathoned the whole series. We enjoyed the first two but I distinctly remember the third one leaving the foul stench of acrid ass-juice in our collective mouths. By the end it had become a joke. And then shortly afterward Scary Movie came along and I think we all agreed that the slasher genre was pretty much done for. It just wasn’t doing it for anybody anymore. Jason X coming out my sophomore year in high-school furthered my belief that horror icons like Jason and Freddy and now Ghostface were pretty much a dead breed. They had been replaced by sopping wet girls crawling out of TV sets and meowing like cats or other such bullshit. Then the Saw franchise came along and gave us an all new kind of horror movie. Torture porn became the new standard with films like Hostel trying to raise the bar of gore tolerance while never being what you could call scary.

Wes Craven decided to go back to the well and prove that the slasher genre was still viable. And while the movie is clever and entertaining as all hell, it can’t be called scary even in the slightest. I don’t think he really wanted it to be scary per-se. There is a fair amount of tension, and Craven and writer Williamson never forget that everyone has to be expendable, thus creating a real sense of danger around every character. But for the man who was once called “the master of fear” this isn’t a return to that form. This is an excercise in showing that the horror film doesn’t have to be a dour energy-sucking marathon like the Saw franchise or any of its imitators. It borders on the edge of satire but doesn’t quite make it because it falls under its own gun at times.

But the good outweighs the bad by a rather large margin. Everyone here is on target. I was surprised at how Emma Roberts handled herself and for the first time since the first season of Heroes I found myself not entirely hating Hayden Panettiere (who really should have considered a stage name that I didn’t have to google for correct spelling. Maybe that’s why I hated her for so long…). For the longest time there was something severely offputting about her and I could never figure out what it was, but here she made herself seem like a girl you could envision yourself actually crushing on. The returning cast didn’t seem to miss a beat at all and Alison Brie drops an f-bomb, which gave me an awkward boner.

Seriously, If you liked any of the previous three you need to see this one, though. It redeems the series in a way that is more than admirable. You almost forget how bad that last installment was. Almost.

Film Review – The Conspirator

This one veers way off the beaten path for the content of this blog but I’m currently taking a Civil War history course to finish out my minor concentration and have sort of found myself immersed in the conflict as I find it mind-bogglingly interesting and certainly pertinent to today’s political climate. Granted we haven’t had any Congressman-on-Congressman violence but our nation is divided in a manner that is evocotive of the later half of the ninteenth century. And so today, on the 146th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, I went to see a film that depicted the trial of the group of persons charged with conspiring to commit that act.

Lincoln is one of our presidents who seems to get put up on a pedestal as a martyr all these years after his death. He was one of the most influential presidents in United States history and while his contributions to the nation cannot be ignored it is important to note that the man was a politician and in an alternate universe if he thought he could win the war and get a second term of office without freeing the slaves you had better believe the man would have taken that route. The emancipation proclaimation was a wartime effort that he made against the urgings of his cabinet in order to ensure a northern victory in the war. He wasn’t the crusader that time has sometimes made him out to be. My point is not to belittle the actions of Lincoln but to point out the perceptions that surround the actions of a president were as strong in the nineteenth century as they are today. I don’t want to get into a debate about Obama and health care or the budget, but if he were killed tomorrow how would history regard his actions toward universal healthcare? In the case of Lincoln, his actions made him a target of fierce hatred, whatever the intent behind his actions. It was that furor that led to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth. But as the film is quick to remind us, it wasn’t only Lincoln who was targeted for murder on the night of April 14th, 1865 but also his vice president Andrew Johnson and his Secretary of State William H. Seward who was brutally stabbed but fortunately survived with viscious scars that he would bear for the rest of his life.

What follows is the story of U.S. Army Captain/attorney Frederick Aiken taking on the case of Mary Surratt, the mother of John Surratt, a suspected conspirator in the assassination plot who invited John Wilkes Boothe into his mother’s boarding house and therein concocted their plans. Aiken is torn between his loyalty to his country and wanting to see those involved in Lincoln’s death brought to justice and also his intense belief in the rule of law as it pertains to one’s constitutional rights. The deck is so clearly stacked against him as the trial is held as a military tribunal where Surratt is not allowed to speak in her own defense and the witnesses are withheld in secrecy so as to keep Aiken out of the loop. The film portrays Surratt as a bystander whose only connection to the plot was her relation to one of the actual conspirators, and evidence exists in the historical record to indicate that this may have been the case. The production house involved in making the film, The American Film Company, has a track record of trying to make the most historically accurate depictions of their subjects as possible and while I believe that the film was made to make a statement on the suspension of Habeus Corpus as it pertains to Guantanamo detainees and terrorist suspects, the parallels are certainly there in the historical record. Most of the historical inaccuracies come from things that are not clear in either direction, such as the fact to the best of anyone’s knowlege Frederick Aiken was not married but is portrayed as such in the film. Other than that there are only minor grievances to be made, such as the appearance of certain characters not matching their historical counterparts or the fact that the fort where the trial was held didn’t have a moat as depicted in the film.

It’s a fine film, with some strong acting from everyone involved. Except for maybe Justin Long who felt out of place. I like the guy but he just didn’t look at ease anywhere in the frame of the picture. It’s definitely worth watching, both as a matter of historical record and as a piece of entertainment as it truly is one of the better courtroom films I’ve seen recently as well.

Film Review – Your Highness

I went into this one very apprehensive. I love me some James Franco, and I’m one of the few people who can find redeeming quality in Foot Fist Way, because Danny McBride can make even the shittiest character come off with a slight degree of charm. But my faith in Natalie Portman being able to not take herself seriously for two seconds was wavering at best. She’s been on a tear since the end of the Star Wars franchise to remind people that she’s a serious actress and she doesn’t care how many Family Guy cast members she has to make out with to prove it. But when you realize that this film was produced before she even began production on Black Swan it’s clear that she probably wouldn’t have appeared in the movie otherwise. Also she plays the part fairly straight-faced, with the humor of her character being that she’s essentially the only one who isn’t a joke. The joke is that she isn’t a joke, and before I start rambling about the Inception level layers of comedic theory in regard to why the straight man is usually the funniest in situations like these, I’ll just move on.

I think that Your Highness is a good film. It’s actually one of the best sword and sorcery adventure films we’ve had in recent years. I mean, it’s not like there’s much competition in that particular genre, as Lord of the Rings pretty much came through and said that nobody could hope to do it so well without a budget the size of our current deficit. It’s a shame that this film made me feel as nostalgic as it did with it’s constant references to the fantasy films I grew up with like Willow, Labrinyth, or Conan the Barbarian. Those films had an element of sheer fun and adventure to them that doesn’t really wind up on screens much anymore. Everything has gone in a more serious direction leaving a significant amount of fantasy out of the fantasy genre. Despite being a comedy on paper, Your Highness has the distinction of really nailing the action sequences. The carriage chase at the beginning of the quest is quite well done and director David Gordon Green really knows how to stage an adventure film. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Pineapple Express, while also being a comedy on paper nailed the gunfight scenes just as well as any serious action film would. I think underestimating Green is what leads to making his films so impressive. The fact that we keep doing so when we should know better by now is a testament to his skill.

The film is fun as hell. And vulgar as hell. A woman brought her kids into this film, who couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old and luckily they left after the first fifteen minutes because if they had made it to the third act I’m sure a nasty letter would have been written to somebody about the prominant minotaur cock. Nevermind that the dumb bitch brought her kids to an R-rated movie in the first place, someone would have to pay damnit.

What really works is the chemistry between Franco and McBride. They play off of each other in superb fashion. Franco is hard not to like, and I say that having watched the Oscar broadcast. I bring it up only because I know it angers him and I like to troll. So what? I’m human. The film would have sunk hard if the leads weren’t so endearing and I think they should be proud of that. It’s nice to see James Franco having fun, as you can tell when he feels out of his element. Like at the Oscars. Here he seems to be right where he wants to be and it’s quite entertaining.

If you’re looking for a fun movie, you really don’t have to go much further than this.

Film Review – Sucker Punch

I don’t really know where to begin in reviewing this one. It’s a divisive film all around. The hype on it was fairly sizable and yet when the movie finally opened last week it was critically maligned beyond even my expectations and rejected fairly roundly by the general movie-going public. I’m pretty sure that someone could write a dissertation on why the film failed to connect. The simple fact of the matter is that while the film is a technical marvel from a cinematography standpoint, the narrative structure is akin to reading a book that had every other chapter excised for reasons nobody can explain. The structure of the film is never clearly defined and leaves too many questions for the viewer. The best way I can describe this is that it would be if you were to watch a version of Inception where the mechanics of the dreams were never explained, or the fact that they were even operating in a dream were never mentioned. In Sucker Punch we understand that what is happening is a fantasy world. That’s not in dispute. What is lacking is a correlation between that world and the real world. Events don’t seem to sync and as such the story crumbles under its own ambition.

I’ve read from several sources that Snyder wasn’t pleased with the end result of the film, with the ending hacked and sliced to a point that barely resembled his original scripted intent. There are places where it feels evident that some serious editing has taken place and gaps in the narrative flow are fairly obvious. I think we can anticipate a director’s cut that differs quite a bit from the theatrical version when the film finally sees a home video release. Whether what was removed will really do anything to salvage the film is anyone’s guess as the film is flawed beyond the choppy narrative.

Snyder is not fully developed as a writer in any manner of speaking. Directing from others’ scripts he can apply his own sensibilities to dialog and actions that lack his tendency towards melodrama. Thus far he’s been attracted to films that allow for his love of over-accentuated melodrama can run rampant but he’s never been responsible for the bulk of it. I think we can blame Frank Miller for the more bombastic elements of 300. Snyder interpreted more than was present for Watchmen, as I don’t think the mood he set in various parts of that film were present in Moore’s original vision. I certainly don’t think that Moore would approve of Snyder’s interpretation of the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre sex scene. Of course, I doubt Moore will ever bother to actually watch the film.

The questions that are raised by Sucker Punch are more closely tied to Snyder’s future than they are about whether the film actually works. The film, as it stands, is an admirable misfire. The most frequent comment I’ve heard made is that Snyder’s grasp is not as far as his reach. He goes further than he has the ability to manage. So what does this mean for his adaptation of Superman? He’s certainly got an amazing cast. And visually I think he’s a perfect fit for something like Superman. The big question is whether or not the Nolans’ involvement can reign in Snyder’s bombastic nature. I would like to hope Snyder knows he has to realize that on a movie like Superman it is Superman who is the star and not Zack Snyder.

Film Review – Paul

When Simon Pegg and Nick Frost appear in a film there will always be a level of presumption in regard to what the movie will be like. Thus far the pair have been almost exclusively paired together when working with Edgar Wright. From Spaced to Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz, when the boys are together they usually have Wright as a guiding force. They are the holy trinity of film nerditry. Here they’re responsible for the script but it’s Greg Mottola of Superbad and Adventureland who is directing the action. Of course the tone is going to be a bit different. The thing that remains the same is the dynamic between Pegg and Frost, whose real life friendship permeates ever frame of the film and makes the whole thing work. You never don’t believe that these guys are lifelong pals because the two have such a natural rapport with each other. It’s endearing on many levels.

I’ve heard criticisms leveled at Paul decrying it as a self-absorbed fan-wank with little actual substance, existing only as an excuse for Frost and Pegg to indulge their nerdier side in a more direct way than they’d been able to in stuff like Shaun of the Dead. I would like to think that the movie works on more levels than that. There’s certainly enough genuine moments of friendship here between the two leads as well as their interactions with their new extra-terrestrial pal to offset the nudge-nudge in-jokes that permeate the script. What a lot of people don’t seem to get is that enough of what the script pays homage to can’t really be considered an in-joke because the setting and the characters within the film feel like everybody is a part of their culture just as much as they are. In their obliviousness, they don’t realize how the references to their nerd culture might sail right over the head of those not involved in the scene. Aside from that, who the hell doesn’t get Star Wars references. Star Wars can’t be considered niche in any way nowadays, much the same with Star Trek as it’s permeated into the popular culture so deeply that just about everybody gets the jokes almost instinctively.

Admittedly it’s not the best film of Pegg, Frost, or Mottola. I don’t think Mottola will ever be able to make something as perfect as he did with Adventureland and Pegg and Frost’s best work will most likely always be with Edgar Wright, as the magic that comes from their pairing seems to explode under his direction, but Paul is a worthy diversion and I hope it finds a bigger audience than its opening weekend numbers suggest.

Spring Break Boredom Buster Challenge : Day Five – “Ong Bak 3”

As previously stated, I’m not going anywhere for Spring Break. That being the case, I figured I would catch up on some movies that have been piling up on Netflix. I thought it’d be fun to go through and once a day watch a film that popped up as a “suggestion” from Netflix and review the experience here on the blog to provide the illusion of regular content.

So here’s day five…

The Flick : Ong Bak 3 (201o)
The Director: Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) Panna Rittikrai (Ong Bak 2)
The Players: Tony Jaa (Ong Bak)

Synopsis (via IMDb): Ong Bak 3 picks up where Ong Bak 2 had left off. Tien is captured and almost beaten to death before he is saved and brought back to the Kana Khone villagers. There he is taught meditation and how to deal with his Karma, but very soon his arch rival returns challenging Tien for a final duel.

Review: I love a good martial arts flick. The first Ong Bak is actually one of my favorites. This sequel that’s not really a sequel in any way other than the fact that people in charge wanted to bank on the name so silly Americans might actually see it. The problem is that this one suffers from a severe lull in the action department after the initial fight scene and then leading up to the finale. The middle ground sags like an old hooker’s funbags and as such it’s a little hard to give much of a damn when protagonist Tien recuperates from his savage beating with the help of interpretive dance. (No shit)

Really this one is just too boring to resonate in any way. I feel like Jaa was wasted in this particular vehicle. He’s spectacular when he gets a chance here but there’s not enough of it to keep a whole movie afloat. It’s a shame, because when the fight scenes are on they’re phenomenal. There’s just not enough to make a total package.

Spring Break Boredom Buster Challenge : Day Four – “The Good, the Bad, The Weird”

As previously stated, I’m not going anywhere for Spring Break. That being the case, I figured I would catch up on some movies that have been piling up on Netflix. I thought it’d be fun to go through and once a day watch a film that popped up as a “suggestion” from Netflix and review the experience here on the blog to provide the illusion of regular content.

So here’s day four…

The Flick : The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008)
The Director: Jae-woon Kim (I Saw The Devil)
The Players: Kang-ho Song (The Host), Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe – The Rise of Cobra), Woo-sung Jung (The Warrior)

Synopsis (via IMDb): A guksu western. Three Korean gunslingers are in Manchuria circa World War II: Do-wan, an upright bounty hunter, Chang-yi, a thin-skinned and ruthless killer, and Tae-goo, a train robber with nine lives. Tae-goo finds a map he’s convinced leads to buried treasure; Chang-yi wants it as well for less clear reasons. Do-wan tracks the map knowing it will bring him to Chang-yi, Tae-goo, and reward money. Occupying Japanese forces and their Manchurian collaborators also want the map, as does the Ghost Market Gang who hangs out at a thieves’ bazaar. These enemies cross paths frequently and dead bodies pile up. Will anyone find the map’s destination and survive to tell the tale?

Review: Director Jae-woon Kim describes this film as a “kimchee western” alluding to the spicy dish saying that the film is equally spicy and vibrant. He’s certainly right. The film is an entertaining bit of cinema and has the distinction of being the first film I’ve seen in a long time that was uniformly engaging. The pacing of the film is damned near perfect and the action is very well staged.  The story beats hit at just the right moments and the fight choreography is phenomenal, especially the shootouts in the Ghost Market and in the beginning during the train robbery. The finale is equally engaging, with an almost Monty Python-esque level of absurdity.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird was the most expensive movie in South Korean cinema at the time of it’s release, a figure which I’m not sure still stands and I haven’t been able to find figures either way. It definitely shows. There’s a lot of set piece extravagance going on and it all makes for some wonderful eye candy. Do yourself a favor and give the film a look sometime soon.

Spring Break Boredom Buster Challenge : Day Three – “Centurion”

As previously stated, I’m not going anywhere for Spring Break. That being the case, I figured I would catch up on some movies that have been piling up on Netflix. I thought it’d be fun to go through and once a day watch a film that popped up as a “suggestion” from Netflix and review the experience here on the blog to provide the illusion of regular content.

So here’s day three…

The Flick : Centurion(2010)
The Director: Neil Marshall (Doomsday)
The Players: Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds), Dominic West (The Wire), Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace)

Synopsis (via IMDb): Britain, A.D. 117. Quintus Dias, the sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus’ legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the Earth and destroy their leader, Gorlacon.

Review: This movie could act as a sort of prequel to this year’s The Eagle. It presents a possible explaination for what happened to the ninth legion of the Roman Empire when it decided it could take on the picts in the northlands of the British Isles. Like The Eagle this one doesn’t have much in the way of historical fact behind its plot but it does seem to have a higher pedigree in that the Roman soldiers don’t sound like American infantryman. On the other hand, this film has a less realistic portrayal of the picts and reminds me a little too much of that Clive Owen King Arthur vehicle from a few years back; the one where we all realized how fucking skinny Keira Knightley is and our sexual fantasies changed from wanting to gag her with our gentleman’s vegetable to stuffing her throat with some much needed foodstuffs to prevent her body from caving in on itself.

Anyhow, this film is directed by Neil Marshall who is an absolute psychopath when it comes to his films. He loves a frantic and kinetic energy that permeates the screen and exhausts you as you follow along. The perfect example would be Doomsday, a film that was silly and crazier than it had any right to be and the audience can only keep up if it has the stamina of a bull moose. See also, The Descent. So you would expect for that same energy to cross over with this particular film. And you would be right. The film is put together like a western in some places, with Marshall drawing some heavy influence from Butch and Sundance. It’s a chase film, and the feeling of the hunter and the hunted being locked in a very real and very visceral struggle works well in the film’s favor.

It’s not the most artfully made film, it owes a lot to Marshall’s love of 80’s schlock but damned if it’s not entertaining.