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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tyrannosaur (2011) – When Joseph (Peter Mullen) walks out of a bar in the first scene of this grim as rust British drama, he’s in a state of uncontrollable rage.  We aren’t privy to what’s set him off but in his rancor he kicks his pooch so hard he kills it.  Most people will probably walk away from the movie at that point.  Who’d want to watch a movie about a bastard who kills his helpless dog?  Those who manage to stay will find a rewarding and uncompromising drama about alcoholism, anguish and desperation.  Tyrannosaur doesn’t believe in easy redemption or tacky uplift.  All of its characters, especially the men, seem Hell bent on destruction of the self or those around them.  When Joseph haphazardly befriends a good natured catholic worker her life turns out to be just twisted and sick as his, if not more so.  Married to a guilt ridden, sexually abusive shit who can’t control his vile impulses, Tyrannosaur just keeps going further down the emotional abyss.  These two people clearly need something, possibly each other, but they’re so damaged one is left to wonder if any kind of salvation lies at story’s end.  I won’t spoil that part but if this summers tide of emotionally tepid dreck has left you feeling void, this should be a admirable but bleak change of pace.

Goon (2012) – The protagonist of Tyrannosaur lashes out in violent fits and is immediately horrified at his contemptible actions.  Goon goes the opposite direction.  Its protagonist proudly knocks peoples teeth out while crowds cheer and celebrate at the subsequent blood splatter that flies across the ice.  Goon is a hockey movie, strike one, starring the forever untalented Sean William Scott as a witless bouncer, strike two, who becomes an hockey enforcer, AKA a goon, who excels at knocking the crap out of people on the ice, strike three.  Maybe my sports metaphors are all wrong but it would be difficult to imagine a movie so fundamentally rooted in things I don’t want to watch.  And FYI, I don’t hate hockey because it’s barbaric, I hate hockey because it chooses to be barbaric and Goon is a movie which gleefully embraces and loves the near criminal side of this celebrated Canadian past time.

The real corker is that Goon is not a poorly made movie.  It actually displays effort and skill behind the lens, understands themes and how to express them, sometimes deftly, and tries in its own weird way to be offbeat and charming.  It’s efforts though are wasted on unappealing subject matter and characters whom I’ll never want to dwell on after writing this.  Liev Schrieber is really the only presence who warrants much attention.  His aging hockey enforcer, grinding his way through his final moments in the sport, has so much more potential as a leading character we keep hoping the movie would be about him.  Alas he appears in what amounts to a protracted cameo.

Goon is a strange movie in that it champions and encourages the worst parts of a professional sport.  It’s completely oblivious to itself in this way.  Maybe next time the makers of this movie can delve into the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and find the winning, uplift at the heart of that tale.  Or maybe show the world how misunderstood and unrightly maligned HGH users are.  ABC Family presents The Barry Bonds Story.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GokKUqLcvD8%5D
Ten Word or Less Review : Rise indeed Bat fans.

I’ve been making a joke about The Dark Knight Rises for a while that goes something like this.  After the relentlessly serious events of The Dark Knight, in which the good guys take a Empire Strikes Back level psychological pounding at the hands of a face painted freak with greasy green hair, I figured director Christopher Nolan should find an angle to make his story a little less dire and stressful on everyone for his final go around with Batman.  I thought he should tear a page out of the George Lucas playbook, something rarely recommended, and have Batman fall into the sewers of Gotham, broken and beaten by a buff Bane, then emerge with an army of fuzzy teddy bear people to fight and reclaim a fallen Gotham City.  While Nolan does in fact utilize a subterranean army that rises up to fight with Batman during its epic finale, it is not of the stick and stone wielding, teddy bear variety.  The lost plush toy revenues are palpable.  None the less, Nolan has essentially made his Bat series equivalent of Return of the Jedi.  Like Jedi, The Dark Knight Rises finishes off his trilogy in rousing and entertaining style.  It’s engaging and well performed if not quite the equal of its gut punch of a predecessor.

The Dark Knight ended with Batman speeding off into the night, a hunted man on the lamb for the murder of cops and criminals a like, as well as the insane and freshly demented Harvey Dent.  Rises picks up 8 years after that catastrophic night.  Bruce Wayne is now a reclusive hermit walking with a cane, no cartlidge left in his knees, lamenting the loss of his murdered love Rachel Dawes.  Batman hasn’t been seen since the night Dent perished and Gotham is a place of surprising calm that celebrates Dent as a fallen icon of unwavering justice.  In Dent’s death the city finally galvanized itself into putting an end to mob criminality once and for all.  The tranquility though is about to end.  League of Shadows baddie Bane is out to finish the work Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) started in Batman Begins.  With a plan which can only be described politely as insanely convoluted, Bane plans to send Gotham into anarchy, make Bruce Wayne powerlessly watch it all happen, then nuke the city when he’s finished.  The Dark Knight Rises tumbles in all kinds of directions as it feverishly works to build its story to a fever pitch.  And if Inception weren’t proof enough, Nolan aims for the kind of prolonged, dizzying climax no other director working today can pull off with such force and tension.

Nolan has always been a touch cavalier in his presentation of comic books most brooding icon.  The man clearly doesn’t obsess over the minutia that comes with the territory as much as give it a passing nod and then go his own way.  He respects the history of the character but he’s refused to be tied down to dogmatic details.  I doubt Nolan would ever sit around and argue the finer points of organic vs. mechanical webslingers that always get Spider-Man fans in a fuss.  As he did with his first two efforts, Nolan has Frankensteined The Dark Knight Rises out of unrelated Batman stories, thrown in ideas of his and his writers own devising, and formed a huge canvas with which to paint this gargantuan effort.  And while it is clearly silly as Hell, the police force spends how long trapped underground?, Nolan won’t let you dwell on it.  He’s too busy charging his story ahead with such speed and determination that whatever giant gaps in logic or story exist don’t really matter to the viewer.  It’s the larger picture the viewer is wrapped up in and because of his unwavering determination, Nolan avoids the third picture comic book movie curse (Superman 3, Spider-man 3, X-Men 3).  Even at a eye popping 2 hours and 40 minutes the movie zooms by like an ice skater on grease and even feels skimpy in places.

Working in Nolan’s favor from the get go has been his ability to cast these films with well selected, top tier talent.  At this point Christian Bale can easily lay claim to being the definitive screen Batman.  Because of his off screen temper he may be seen as a prick to many, but he’ll be Batman long after the verbal tirades on youtube are forgotten.  He easily overshadows the poor fellows (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney) saddled with the thankless task of donning cap and cowl for the previous, Burton era Bat efforts.  Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a suitably noble and tragic figure, but without being sanctimonious or dull.  Like James Bond, there will be other Batmen in the not so distant future but they will be sized up against Bale no matter what.  May we all pray no Roger Moore lies in wait to his Sean Connery.

The rest of Rises cast is a pleasant mixture of old and new faces.  Anne Hathaway surprises a skeptical public as Selina Kyle.  I feel wrong calling her Catwoman because the movie never addresses her as such, though she clearly is.  A nice, subtle touch to be sure.  She and Bale have a charming give and take which lends the movie a slyness it’s predecessors occasionally showed, but never between Wayne and the deceased Rachel Dawes.  Theirs was a gloomy and doomed relationship.  The only drawback is that the film is often too busy to give Hathaway adequate screen time.  Her presence is welcomed and rewarding, but feels fleeting all the same.  You could say the same of many in this film.  Joseph Gordon-Leavitt also puts out a great deal of effort as a Gotham cop trying to make sense of Bane’s plan, as well as inspire Wayne to put on his cowl one more time.  For once it’s a shame a comic movie series won’t continue as Gordon-Leavitt would make a great anchor for future Bat flicks.  Nolan even dust off Matthew Modine and makes him act to decent effect.  A Herculean task for any filmmaker.  Series regulars Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and especially Michael Caine all still bring the class and credibility to the roles they have worked well to define as their own.  Caine in particular tries to illicit a tear or two and cold is the heart that doesn’t give it up.

Not so completely successful is Thomas Hardy as the bulked up and malevolent Bane.  It’s no fault of Hardy’s to be sure.  He’s acting behind a gas mask for the duration of the film and his much discussed voice looks to have never been fully figured out.  After teaser previews left audiences wondering what the Hell he was garbling about, Bane’s voice now sounds as if its being overly dubbed and scrubbed clean to a fault, as well as projected from another room.  Not helping matters is the odd tone of voice Hardy uses.  If people insist on giving Bale grief for his throat cancer victim Batman voice, I’m not sure what you’d peg Hardy’s verbal choice as.  Sinister, British gent?  I kept expecting him to destroy Gotham and then serve tea to its chard ruins.  It takes a few scenes to get used to the verbal snafu Rises makers have made for themselves in this respect.  But beyond the nature of his voice Bane simply has the misfortune to follow on the heels of Ledger’s legendary turn as Joker.  Following up such a performance piece of maniacal energy is truly thankless so it comes as no shock that Bane is hardly more than a run of the mill Bat villain.  As the movie reaches its fevered finale Bane’s character suddenly deepens a level and his passable status as a bad guy elevates just a notch or two.  It’s a welcome touch of empathy Hollywood villains are rarely afforded.

Not ruining a series of movies with the third effort is something Hollywood rarely figures out.  You’d think that with several decades of blockbuster, franchise obsession under its belt filmmakers would have a better road map of what not to do with movies of this magnitude.  But then you see Peter Parker strut across the screen with mood hair and doing dance numbers in Spider-Man 3 and it’s as if no one’s learned a damn thing.  Christopher Nolan and his collaborators were too smart to destroy their fine creation by deploying any kind of suicidal tendencies.  They may not have hit a home run of epic proportions, some of Rises bigger thoughts seem fleeting and tacked on, but a satisfying sense of closure hangs on The Dark Knight Rises.  For once a comic book movie throws out the mandated sense of perpetual continuation and ends its story in a proper fashion.  Well, sort of.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o29VoxtsFk%5D

Ten Word or Less Review: World Exclusive Interview With Sam Raimi!

Me: Hi Sam.

Sam: What up Ains?

Me: How are you feeling these days?

Sam:  Pretty good.  Staying busy.  Not by directing Spider-Man films though.

Me: You sound a little bitter.  Is this a sore spot for you?

Sam:  It was till this past weekend.

Me: What changed?

Sam: I saw the new Spider-Man.

Me:  What did you think?

Sam: It was fine I guess.

Me: Only 7 people read this site, you can be honest.  It won’t get back to anyone.

Sam:  Jesus H. Christ on an avocado taco!  How could they screw Spider-Man up so colossally?  It’s not that hard to get right because I got it right not that long ago.  And it wasn’t that hard to begin with.

Me: I think they had to try something a little different.  They couldn’t just make a straight up remake of your film.

Sam: But they kind of did.

Me:  Right.  Except they got it all wrong.

Sam:  Exactly.  I mean right from the get go it was totally boned up.  Peter Parker is a dweeb.  Tobey Maguire is a dweeb.  Ergo, Maguire made a great Peter Parker.  This Garfield kid is a great actor.  I saw him in Never Let Me Go and he made me cry like a little school girl who scraped her knee.  But a dweeb he is not.

Me:  I totally get you on that.  His faux bedhead hair is way too hip to come even remotely close to dweeby.  Peter Parker does not have faux bedhead.

Sam:  And Peter skateboards and uses a real film camera.  Real film!  Where do you even buy that anymore?  Who has a darkroom?  He’s tall and cute and so the illusion of undesirability is horseshit.  If I sent a kid who looked like Andrew Garfield into a high school with those qualities he’d be getting head in the janitors closet by lunchtime.

Me: It’s like deep down they wanted James Franco to be Spider-Man all along and this was their way of getting back at you.  On the other hand Emma Stone was pretty darn cute.  Those thigh high boots she kept wearing got my attention.  The boot budget on this movie must have been extensive.

Sam: We could sit here and wax poetic about Emma Stone’s creamy white thighs all day, and she was fine as Gwen, but there’s no arc to their relationship.  They meet, she likes him, he likes her.  That’s it.  The whole navel gazing Twilight vibe was awful.  It reminded me of Superman Returns.  And I don’t mean that as a compliment.  My brother Ted and I got so bored watching it we started spit balling ideas for a 4th Evil Dead film.

Me:  Get anywhere with that?

Sam: Fuck no.  If you can’t think up a good sequel idea within two decades, stop trying.  I wish George Lucas would’ve known that.

Me:  Spider-Man vs. the Evil Dead?

Sam: Don’t be an asshole.

Me: Spider-Man & Ash vs. the Evil Dead?

Sam: Better.

Me:  We’ll stay on target.  I’d agree about the boredom factor.  It’s pretty stagnant.  It just goes on and on and never goes anywhere.  It’s like a whole new movie every 40 minutes or so and the previous movie is just forgotten.

Sam:  I don’t think anyone involved knew how to write a screenplay.  The movie sets up a big mystery about Peter’s parents.  No resolution.  It sets up a hunt for Uncle Ben’s killer.  No resolution.  It name drops Norman Osborne and that he’s dying.  No pay off.  You finally end up in a comic book at the end with Spider-Man fighting the lizard but it’s incredibly trite.  Been there, done that a thousand time.  And C. Thomas Howell saves the fucking day.

Me: WOLVERINES!

Sam: WOLVERINES!

Me: It was still stupid.

Sam:  Yes it was.

Me: Any other gripes?

Sam: A bunch.  Most of these story problems come from the fact that they’re trying to build in sequels.  But why do that?  It’s Spider-Man.  Everyone knows there will be sequels.  Why waste half your movie building up plot you won’t address for three years?  You can achieve that same effect in one scene.  It was like watching Prometheus all over again.  Worried about shit that isn’t even happening in this film.

Me: What else?

Sam: Why is everyone in this movie inbred.  This film takes place in a universe of 6 people.  Everyone knows everyone.

Me: It’s usually like that in these flicks though.

Sam: Not always and not as bad as this.  Peter Parker goes to school with and pines for Gwen Stacy.  Gwen Stacy is a lab assistant to Curt Conners.  Curt Conners was the lab partner to Peter’s Dad.  Gwen Stacy’s Dad is the police chief who is out to capture Spider-Man.  It’s the worst kind of incidental and lazy screenwriting.  Not everyone in the Superman universe is incidentally related to each other for the sake of convenient plotting.  I mean Lex Luthor isn’t Lois Lanes uncle.

Me:  Spider-Man 3 was a lot like that.

Sam: What’s Spider-Man 3?

Me: Do you think they should ditch Mark Webb as director next time?

Sam:  Yeah, they should ditch his ass.  He didn’t really bring it.  My two movies had personality.  If you transplanted one of my fans from 1996 to 2002 and showed them Spider-Man, they’d have known I made it.  This movie, it feels more like a corporate mandated kind of thing.  He’s not bad with actors and he cast it well enough but if he knew anything about Spider-Man and loved it he wouldn’t have made this movie.  I’m pretty sure he saw it as an in to big money, big budget movies and grabbed the opportunity.  And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that his name was Webb.

Me: Speaking of money, how much money did you make off your three Spidey films?

Sam: I only made two.  And I made a ton.  I eat cereal out of gold, jewel encrusted bowls, my toilets are carved from the worlds largest diamonds and when I skeet shoot I use Lamborghinis.

Me: You mean you drive Lamborghinis while you shoot skeet?

Sam:  No, I use Lamborghinis for skeet.

Me: Where’s the challenge in shooting a flying car?

Sam: Don’t knock it until you try it friend.

Me: Go it.  Anything else about this not so amazing Spider-Man flick?

Sam:  I know who the guy is in the end who appears in Curt Conners prison cell.

Me:  Who?

Sam: It’s me.

Me: Wha?

Sam: It’s me.  I know it’s me.  The guy is holding my hat and everything.  He can even teleport like me.  They’re going to use me as the bad guy for their sequels.

Me: Can they do that?  Why would they?  Wait.  Teleport?

Sam: Sony hates me.  I made two great movies for them and for some reason they’re pissed.  My guess is that a Sam Raimi from another dimension is coming into this one to destroy Spider-Man and his family.  And yes, I can teleport.  (POOF!)

(POOF AGAIN)

I just went to Switzerland.  Here’s some chocolate.

Me:  Yummy!  That’s amazing.  But Sam, you made three Spider-Man films.  I saw the last one.  It was horrible.  Maybe that’s why they’re upset.

Sam: I don’t know what the Hell you’re smoking but I never made a third Spider-Man film.  Get your facts straight.

Me: So what were you doing in 2007 & 2008?

Sam:  Hmm.  I don’t know really.  What was I doing then?  I’ll have to check my calendars.  I’m not sure.

Me: Can we try  an experiment?  I want you to watch this DVD.

(Puts in DVD of Spider-Man 3, credits start.)

Sam: NO!  NO!  NO!  BAD TOUCH!  BAD TOUCH!  MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY! TAKE VENOM AWAY!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

(Hit the stop button)

Sam: What happened?  What was I saying?

Me: I think I lost track of things myself.  Let’s wrap up.  Any last thoughts about The Not So Amazing Spider-Man that you wish to voice?

Sam:  I think we’ve covered most of it.  It’s a really long and drawn out comic book flick that takes forever to go anywhere, which is really nowhere, and doesn’t add much of anything to the genre.  At this stage of comic book movies being so redundant is a death wish.

Me: Should Bruce Campbell have been in it?

Sam: If he had agreed to be in it in any capacity I’d have had him killed and his existence wiped from the face of the Earth.  I can do that too.

21 Jump Street – It’s really just a remake up Superbad with guns.   Honah Jill and Tanning Chatum update a long forgotten 80’s TV show, one which eventually lead to Johnny Depp being so rich he could beat God in a thumb wrestling contest.  Somewhere Richard Grieco is crying salty tears into his ramen noodle dinner, eviction notice in clinched fist, as a hateful Korean couple argue in the apartment next door.  As he puts down the fork of .97 cent nuked pasta and picks up the revolver that he holds to his temple every night he quietly whispers to himself, ‘Why did I do If Looks Could Kill?’  Anyway, this mildly amusing action vehicle seemed to entertain most.  It has a chuckle here and there but it often forgets that it’s a movie.  I suggest that when the sequel happens they hire Michael Cera as the Mexican drug kingpen.

Wrath of the Titans – Clash of the Titans was a hit film everyone hated, even the people who made it.  It’s one of those regretfully successful, piece of shit blockbusters that even your emotionally warped, animal torturing cousin didn’t like.  He put his head in a shoe box and went to his happy place instead of finishing it.  All the same it made so much money Warner Brothers assumed people wanted more.  Dipshits.  This actually is an improvement on things.  A mercifully thread thin plot is pumped up with enough CGI bombast that no one should notice how anorexic it all is.  It has sequences of decently executed action scenes where Sam Worthington waits for James Cameron to call him and tell him Avatar 2 starts filming next week.  I think I fell asleep for 10 minutes or so in the middle but when I woke up everyone appeared to be doing the same thing they were before I nodded off.  The ending seemed appropriately flashy as a giant lava monster the size of a mountain tries to talk Liam Neeson into doing movies not like this.  Neeson shows it Battleship and it dies an agonizing death.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNIVpMXHqlk%5D
Ten Words or Less Review: A love letter to Flash Gordon.

The bromance conventions get a thorough going over by TV mega-producer Seth McFarlane in his first feature.  It’s taken well over a decade for the critic antagonizing TV magnate to finally break into movies.  Many feared the day would come when the obnoxious, pop culture, super geek would bring his tactless, cut away obsessed humor to multiplexes.  As Family Guy grinds on forever and viewers continue to be scared by American Dad I think these fears were well founded.  It turns out though the only person who should really live in fear of MacFarlane’s first directorial effort is Jason Segal.  Why?  His bread and butter movie role has been perfected by a CGI bear.  Seth Rogen should also consider his career in jeopardy.

When John, an unpopular little Boston boy, gets a huge teddy bear for Christmas he makes a wish for his stuffed mate to come to life.  The power of this wish proves strong enough to make it come true and the next morning this cute, lovable toy is walking and talking on his own.  Cue obscenity laced, parental freak-out.   The whole world losses its shit in fact.  Ted, as John names him, becomes an overnight celebrity but eventually, as narrator Patrick Stewart tells us in his best fairy tale tone, no one gives a shit and life moves on.  Fast forward 25 years and John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are still inseparable.  John’s got a great girlfriend in Lori (Mila Kunis), a mediocre job (car rental employee) and his pot smoking, foul mouthed teddy bear always at his side.  Lori wants John to put down the bong, propose, hang out with Ted a little less and grow up just a bit.  But it’s hard to grow up when your best friend is a hooker loving teddy bear with a fun loving personality.

Movies about men stuck in perpetual adolescence are nothing new, Fellini made movies with this theme, but they’ve become a constant staple of megaplexes in the past 10 years.  This kind of flick has made stars out of actors like Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen, amiable schlub types who until this century wondered the cinematic wasteland like unwanted vagrants.  MacFarlane doesn’t stretch or reinvent this type of movie so much as give it his distinct coat of tasteless paint, that coming in the form of insanely odd pop culture jokes and Ted the bear.  Ted as a character is such an amusing creation of endearing vulgarity that one easily forgets we’ve run through this scenario many times before.  He’s a better version of what Simon Pegg went for in last year’s mostly miss comedy Paul.  That dopey feature had Seth Rogen voicing a CGI alien.  I can still hear one joke after another from that movie bombing.  Ted though is a gimmick idea made successful character through great CG and excellent joke writing.  MacFarlane may be a hack most days but he can write a tasteless, spot-on piece of  obscenity better than anyone.  It helps that he indulges in his weirdest pop culture fetishes, audience understanding be damned.  There’s an obsessive run of jokes about the 1980 bomb sci-fi flick Flash Gordon,  it’s leading man Sam Jones, Top Gun character actor Tom Skerritt and singer Norah Jones.  I suggest boning up on the old Flash movie if you want to get the whole range of jokes on display.

MacFarlane as director turns out to have a deft hand with actors and technology.  He seamlessly integrates the CGI performance of Ted with Mark Wahlberg creating one of the hardest things to do when CGI characters are at play, create actual chemistry.  There’s no feeling of barrier between the two or sensation that Wahlberg is starring at no one or nothing when he’s with Ted.  The whole movie would have died if that had happened.  The two have a fight scene that while ridiculous, is so convincingly brutal it will probably mortify young kids foolishly lead into the theater by dimwitted parents who think this is a kids movie.  Doubling the sense of accomplishment is MacFarlane’s successful use of Mark Wahlberg as something more than a prop holder.  The former leader of the Funky Bunch can sink a movie in the wrong hands if he’s given little or no direction.  No lead actor working today seems harder to peg than this frequent star of bland action movies (Shooter, Max Payne, Contraband) and embarrassing dramas (The Lovely Bones, The Happening).  But he can do admirable work when he’s allowed to play genial (Boogie Nights), humorous (The Other Guys) and down to Earth (The Fighter).  Wahlberg also has a great give and take with Mila Kunis.  Too often the romantic relationships between actors in comedy can feel like they’re taking place between people two who just met, but the duo have an effortless give and take.  Kunis, with help from MacFarlane’s saavy screenplay, avoids the traps of a role like this which could be easily twisted to make her into the demanding, bitchy girlfriend.

As well put together and executed much of Ted is, like a drunk behind the wheel of a sports car it nearly wrecks itself two blocks from home.  MacFarlane’s screenplay works too hard to flesh out John, Lori and Ted.  At 110+ minutes Ted really could use some trimming down and it’s easy to see where.  A subplot about an obsessed fan (Giovanni Ribisi) of Ted is achingly bad, out of place and eventually leads the movie into a dreadful climax.  It’s a 20 minute detour into derivative, chase movie crap no one needs to see.  When this part kicks in I suggest stepping out for a bathroom break and coming back after a nice long talk with the usher about other movies playing.

Lousy ending aside Ted is the best studio comedy of the year to date.  It’s rooted in a traditional story we all know but executed with a spry sensibility that could lead one to believe Seth MacFarlane is an actual storyteller.  Maybe behind the annoying producer of the well past its prime Family Guy lies a genuinely talented filmmaker.  Any guy who can pull off a sex scene with a teddy bear and make a viewer nostalgic for a tragically bad science fiction movie from 30 years ago must have some degree of movie making skill.