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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ten Word or Less Review: One of these movies is not like the others.

The Hunger Games – What an amazingly mediocre phenomenon of a movie.  It flirts with being uniquely ridiculous and stupid but gradually settles into a kind of action movie blandness that’s at complete odds with what it the story demands.  Really disappointing for a movie rooted on the plot of two dozen teenagers killing themselves for the amusement of a society of people who, based on their fashion sense, worship Boy George as a god.  I didn’t understand any of it.  For 74 years this warped society of poofdas and pansies call upon the outlying societies to sacrifice two teens to a game of death as a form of societal control.  Please, someone explain it to me how the Hell that works.  How does making a community send two kids off to certain death keep the rest of the ant hill in line?  Nothing about this scenario makes any sense to me.  Jennifer Lawrence is a captivating actress and she’s the glue that makes this silly thing passable, but aside from her and some decent supporting work, Woody Harrelson, there’s nothing particularly good about it.  It’s toothless and gutless when it should be hard hitting and have bite.  It’s poorly thought out and constantly begging for some kind of deeper explanation that never happens.   It’s at least well performed but always with a nagging sensation of being under imagined.  The sparse use of CGI is welcome but what CGI is here is embarrassing and cheap.  On a side note I was surprised to see the Hulk dogs from Ang Lee’s maligned comic book movie of the giant green guy get another job.  A real let down and next to the Twilight flicks, the most befuddling movie to garner mass fanaticism from an audience.

Expendables 2 – The first 15 minutes of Expendables 2 are some of the finest action movie porn one can hope to see in this largely neutered day and age.  See above.  Stallone and his buddies come barreling into a military complex to save an unknown hostage.  Their guns are enormous and their vehicles would be right at home in a G.I. Joe cartoon from Hell.  They blow away untold numbers of human targets like so many cans of spaghetti sauce popping open.  The madman Stallone who reveled in unabashed blood lust in Rambo a few years back gloriously returns for more guts!  Things escalate to such heights that when they use the cannon mounted to the front of their rickety aircraft to blow away a bridge full of baddies, sheer anarchy and a joy of reigning down death from above just flies off the screen in a perverted, giddy, euphoric wave.  And then the rest of the movie happens.  Those first 15 minutes promise a movie which never comes together.  There are lively bits here and there and the whole thing is light years better than the worthless bag of shit that was the first Expendables, but nothing matches that opening onslaught of carnage.  Yeah, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, Lundgren, Van Damme and a bunch of other meat heads are here, but they don’t need to be.  Van Damme and Norris are particularly unnoteworthy additions to this cast of aging saddlebags with guns.  Sly, quit dicking around with these things.  If part three happens, use those first 15 minutes as your inspiration.  You can ditch the rest.  And be damn sure to call Carl Weathers.  What’s the point of an 80’s action tribute piece if you aren’t going to invite Action Jackson?

The Raid – The real fucking deal of this trio of action fodder.  Made by a possibly insane Welch director in Indonesia, Gareth Evans’ The Raid makes most action movies look like wet noodles dropped on the floor and stepped on.  Every action movie director working today should have to see this movie.  Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil), Marcus Nispel (Conan the Barbarian), Len Wiseman (UnderworldTotal Recall), all those witless hacks who turn in vanilla flavored, studio garbage tied to PG-13 ratings need to view it.  I guarantee when it was over they’d stand up, look at each other and say, ‘We’re a bunch of fucking wussies who don’t deserve to make movies.’ in complete unison.  The Raid is about a swat team trying to quietly infiltrate a mammoth apartment complex being controlled by a drug dealer.  But once the alarm is sounded, all Hell is unleashed on the cops, the criminals, the audience, everyone.  This movie would make God cringe.  Faces are brutalized with fist and feet.  Bullets fly through anything and everyone.  Hooligans are tossed through walls and windows.  Fight scene after fight scene piles on top of each other until you’re exhausted, and then more people just keep the melee going till the breaking point.  A heart surgeon in his whole career won’t see so many arteries slashed open.  And it’s all done in long, unflinching takes which just put the carnage front and center and let it ride.  Every fist hurts.  Evans isn’t even afraid of quiet moments.  Amazing.  This guy should have made The Hunger Games.  If he had made a story about two dozen kids forced to kill each other for other peoples amusement he would have made it the ripe, mortifying horror show such a story needed to be.

Numbers Game – An Accounting Of That Which You Can’t Make Me Watch

This blog has been exclusively dedicated to observing, appreciating and/or bemoaning that which I have seen.  Here’s an accounting of that which I haven’t.*

0 – Kate Hudson movies I’ve seen since Almost Famous was released 12 years ago and she was supposed to amount to something.

0 – Ashton Kutcher movies I’ve seen.  Who the fuck watches Ashton Kutcher movies?

0 – Number of Saw, Hostel, Step Up, Paranormal Activity and Underworld movies I’ve seen.  Also go ahead and include Madagascar and Diary of A Wimpy Kid so the kiddies don’t feel excluded.

0 – For you old school folks I’ve never seen a Hellraiser movie

1/2 – Movies with Amanda Seyfried I’ve seen.  Half of Mama Mia is all I’ve managed.

1 – Resident Evil movie out of 5

1 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre flick out of 6

1 – American Pie movie out of 7

3 – Number of Friday the 13th movies I’ve seen out of 12 (Part 1, Jason X, F vs. J).  Don’t like any of them.

4 – Movies in the Halloween franchise I’ve seen out of possible 10.  Parts 1-3 and H20.  I still only like the first.

4 – Movies in the Nightmare on Elm St. franchise I’ve seen out of possible 9.

7 – Movies based on video games I’ve seen out of 28 possibilities.

8 – Dreamworks cartoon flicks I’ve seen out out of possible 24.  Though I can barely remember anything about those 8.  What the Hell was The Road to El Dorado and when did I see it?

15 – Nicholas Cage movies since 1999 I didn’t bother with.  How can a man work so often and own the IRS so much?

15 – Martin Lawrence movies I wouldn’t watch if you threatened me with death.  Pretty much his entire career.

15 – Eddie Murphy disasters since his ‘come back’ in 1996.

18 – Adam Sandler starring vehicles I haven’t seen starting with Wedding Singer.

28 – Movies starring Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn I passed on seeing.

29 – Movies starring J. Lo, Cameron Diaz or Reese Witherspoon I skipped.

Do I even have to mention Rob Schneider?

*I don’t account for voice acting or walk on cameos.  The list would be endless.

Ten Word or Less Review: Oh yeah.  This was happening too!

When Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass said no more Bourne films for us, the audience at large was okay with it.  Under Greengrass’ direction and with Damon as his muscular, haunted lead, the Bourne franchise had come to define action films for the first decade of the 21st century.  Smart, fast paced, diligently plotted and invigorating almost to a fault, the Bourne movies are the standard bearer and Greengrass ended his tale in an okay place.  They could have gone on but it wasn’t necessary.  So when the powers that be said ‘God speed and good luck guys.  Go hire someone else to make another one.’, there was a collective groan to be heard around all corners of the internet.  Replace Damon ala James Bond styled reboot?  Prequel?  Sequel?  Hire Brett Ratner to screw it all up?  None of the above.  Faced with the conundrum of continuing a franchise which was still healthy and in no need of retooling, the Bourne story has decided to take a sideways turn.

We meet Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) floating in an icy lake, much like we met Damon’s Jason Bourne at the opening of The Bourne Identity.  Cross hasn’t been shot and lost his memory.  He’s swimming to the bottom of this frigid pool to bring up a thermos of pills.  Like Bourne, Cross is a clandestine government project on two feet, a soldier with an altered identity being trained for top secret government black ops.  Cross’s abilities come from training, he can fight wolves better than Liam Neeson, but also from chemistry.  He must systematically pop pills to maintain his advanced mental and physical edge.  As Legacy introduces us to this new character, it doubles back into crucial events of Bourne Ultimatum.  The events of that film, a murdered reporter, Joan Allen’s aiding Bourne and alerting the press, Scott Glenn and David Strathairn’s sinister government guys in suits plotting nasty things under the guise of patriotism, all have a ripple effect over neighboring programs similar to Treadstone, the program which produced Bourne.  New hard-line government guy in a suit Edward Norton decides that his next generation program, dubbed Outcome, needs to be wiped clean in the wake of the media following Bourne and his whistle blowing.  He orders his project participants killed, Cross included, as well as the doctors who studied the science.  After a steady build up Legacy plants itself in the footprints of it’s forefather movies, having Cross dash across the globe with Rachel Weisz, a scientist who escapes assassination, as the two attempt to get Cross off the meds which keep him going and discover why they’re suddenly targets.

Legacy was never going to reach the heights of pure movie delirium Supremacy and Ultimatum both achieved so Tony Gilroy, series screenwriter and now director, doesn’t even try.  He follows the quick beats and steady pacing Greengrass established in the previous two efforts, aping the style well, even managing to match the general intensity those films achieved.  There’s a sequence in a lab with a guy killing his co-workers which is believably executed and eerie to a fault.  What Gilroy can’t achieve is the consistently explosive nature of previous Bourne adventures.  The Bourne franchise has slammed across the screen with such adrenaline and pressure that to attempt to escalate things even more would risk throwing the whole thing down the loony tune well.  Gilroy turns things down a level and simply avoids any tendency to try to one up his predecessors.  He instead works to build a nice steady rhythm for himself, stick the landing of his car chase sequence at the end, and otherwise massage the offshoot narrative he’s trying to graft onto the existing story.  And it’s this last part wear things get dicey.

While Legacy looks and acts like it’s bigger, older brothers, it isn’t as well thought out or as deftly constructed.  Legacy is far more successful at building on its ‘this is also happening’ story than one would imagine but it’s only half of a plot Gilroy has built.  When you boil away a few things Legacy is about nothing more than Renner’s Cross trying to find a pill to take, and then not take, and very little else.  The story all but dead ends well before it should, writing itself into a corner of sorts, then abruptly rolls the credits before anything more meaningful than Cross’s pill problem has been resolved.  The whole thing winds up feeling like 2/3 of a fine movie, the larger resolution being held back so the powers that be can have time to woo Damon back into the fold for one last go around.

New guy Renner has been building up this choice opportunity for a while now.  His recent career path has felt planned out as a grand attempt to lead into this.  After two Oscar noms in two years, The Hurt Locker and The Town, Renner took second banana duty in the last Mission: Impossible venture and then took a 7th banana part so he could merely be onscreen in The Avengers.  It’s considered a good career movie by some if you’re in a movie 300 million people will see.  With all these underwhelming but high exposure supporting roles, Renner finally takes the lead and as expected he’s spot on for the part.  Cross doesn’t come with all the moral baggage and ethical hand wringing Bourne was carrying around, he’s simply a guy trying to solve a problem and stay alive.  He could easily have been written as dull action fodder but Renner has too much going on behind the eyes.  He’s a spry performer and part of me thinks he could easily match quips with the best of them were he given the chance.  If they ever get around to that Escape from NY remake I say cast him as Pliskken.  But like the film, Cross as a character stops short because the movie gives him nothing to do but survive.  There are frequent hints and quick scenes which imply a deeper layer of character, but they don’t payoff this time around.  He’s mostly worried about taking his pill.

The always luminescent and vastly talented Rachel Weisz is here playing the unspectacular scientist/action movie girl part.  I’m guessing she’s here for money and exposure.  She’s fine in an undemanding but okay written role.  What’s more fascinating is that Weisz seems to be not aging on screen.  She’s quite possibly a vampire.  16 years ago she ran around behind Keanu Reeves in Chain Reaction and today at the age of 42 she looks not a day older than she did then.  Edward Norton is the stern, bureaucrat in a suit barking orders at subordinates this time.  Norton tends to bring a little something extra no matter how trivial the part and while there isn’t much of a character to play, he makes what little there is work.  The most we learn about his character is that he apparently likes to jog at 4 AM during a torrential down pour.  But like everyone else here he’s a part with out a finale, waiting for another movie.

The Bourne Legacy works quite well on its own terms, until it doesn’t.  The film wants to be its own thing but with a stalled, half story as a crutch to lean on it winds up feeling like the place holder it didn’t mean to be.  It has the intensity and the pacing to stand shamelessly next to its predecessors but when it’s over it feels like it’s being held back, waiting in the hope that Damon will come back into the fold so the series can resolve itself in proper fashion.  I hope he does return.  Renner and company deserve to finish their tale in more fitting fashion.  If Sean Connery can come back to play Bond, twice, then getting Damon back for one more shot shouldn’t be impossible.  The check he’ll want will make the studio feel like it’s passing a corporate sized kidney stone but it should be worth it.

Ten Word or Less Review: Swords?  Check.  Sandles?  Check.  Screenplay?  Oops.

Conan the Barbarian (2011) – It took 27 years to get a Conan movie to the screen.  Say that out loud.  27 years.  Reagan was just entering his second term as President when Conan the Destroyer bombed.  After Ahnuld’s disastrous sequel to Conan the Barbarian, the rights to the franchise bounced from one group to the next.  Everyone from The Wachowski’s to Brett Ratner tried to get another movie up and running.  What did 27 years of false starts and dead ends get Robert E Howard fans?  A totally forgettable action movie that leaves your head 5 minutes after its over.  New Conan Jason Mamoa would have made a great Conan, he has the insane pecs the part demands and even has some personality, but he’s saddled to a movie no one could ever give a fart about.  It starts well enough, battle scene C-section birth scene!, but before long everything has turned generic and paint by numbers.  Hack director Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder) should have been a sign to all that nothing special was going to happen here.  You couldn’t provoke the guy to do something exciting or invigorating if you put a knife to his mothers throat and threatened to do her in while he watched.

Immortals (2011) – It’s pretty much the same thing as those goofy, bombastic Titans movies, except director Tarsem Singh is a meticulous stylist who channels his opulent visions onto the screen in a whirlwind of dazzling, but soulless, grandeur.  He also embraces the feared R-rating that keeps the coveted 14-17 year old, blood thirsty boy out of the theater.  Billions of pixels of CGI blood fly across the screen with such enthusiasm it’s practically fetishistic.  But all the labor is spent on the look and there’s never a thing to engage anyone on an emotional or story level.  It has something to do with a magical bow and arrow that Mickey Rourke keeps mumbling about.  Newcomer Henry Clavill has the chiseled,  square jawed look and physicality of a leading man and he may make a fine Superman come next summer, but no one could stand up to the overpoweringly inane cliches Immortals works itself into.  Battle scenes, wise mentors, rousing speeches to armies, revenge for a dead parent, blah, blah, blah.  You’ve seen it all before.  Except maybe the scene involving crushed testicles.  You don’t see that behind every curtain.  Thank God.  Those who thought it looked like 300 Part 2 are pretty much on the nose.  If that movie got your jollies rocking then Immortals will work as a similarly flavored follow up.  If you thought 300 was goofy, ab obsessed, macho movie whackery, then prepare for another heaping dose of slow motion spears flying through peoples guts.

Ten Word or Less ReviewMad Max goes to Mexico.

It’s over Mel.  You’re done.  You aren’t going to be headlining any major features from here on out.  All the bad press, all the negativity, all the drunk insane rants, no one trust you to keep your shit together.  Someone could give you an opportunity at redemption but before they knew it you’d be on the nightly news verbally lambasting Jews, minorities and ex-girlfriends while you tear out Brian Williams heart and eat it, then set your hair on fire.  This largely accepted feeling of Gibson’s total fall from public favor is shared by many in the movie industry and it shows with the unheralded, straight to video/on-demand release of his newest starring feature Get the Gringo.  A gritty, grimy and very decent action flick, under better circumstances Gringo may have found itself playing to wider audiences in a darkened theater.  But thanks to the very vocalized and twisted opinions of Mr. Gibson, it’s a movie which has found itself stuck in the clutter of aimless releases that clog the displays of Redbox everywhere.  Yes, the man who was once voted Sexiest Man Alive and could draw in $200 million at the box office is now on the same playing field as Dolph Lundgren.

Get the Gringo is the kind of flick that fits nicely in the old Gibson wheelhouse.  A spiritual cousin of sorts to his crappy 1999 effort Payback, that movie had Gibson playing charmless and rugged as a thief out to reclaim his stolen cash from backstabbers.  Gringo uses a similar conceit but lets Gibson flaunt the action movie charm he was once so bankable for displaying.  Gringo kicks off with a car chase.  Wearing a clown mask and on the run from U.S. law enforcement, Gibson’s nameless protagonist races along the America/Mexico border trying to avoid capture.  He crashes through the border fence and comes under the thumb of Federales who immediately seize his $2 million in loot and throw him into prison in the hopes he’ll never be heard from again.  This isn’t just a prison though, it’s a self sustained community with rulers and victims and Gibson is the man with no name come to right the wrongs being done by evil men, all with that old Gibson grin planted squarely on his now weathered chin.  Money is stolen, people are tortured, organs are harvested but it’s all in good, grizzly fun.

As he did so recently in Edge of Darkness and even more so in The Beaver, Gibson once again shows that he’s a tried and true performer ready and eager to be in front of the camera.  An aging actor who can still demand attention and get it, exude charm when he needs to and basically win over anyone if given the chance, Gibson is still an invigorating movie performer.  Gringo doesn’t exactly push him into new directions as much as pull from some of his older ones, but this is the first time he’s had anything close to fun since lifting his self imposed exile from acting.  He’s ably supported by a mostly Latino cast, as well as a few fellow gringo character actors, but mostly this is the Gibson show.  Those of you who fondly remember Mad Mel from his heyday may feel a pleasant case of deja vu as he holds together this shaggy story of corruption and vile doings behind tortilla scented prison walls.  He can still charm and harm with the best of his contemporaries, old and new alike.

Gringo has adherence to an action aesthetic few bother with in this age.  Its always greasy and often bloody, innocent bystanders are killed, kids smoke, and when it’s over you’ll likely want to take a shower.  Those looking for an enlightened, romantic or sensitive portrayal of our south of the border brothers won’t find it here.  The Mexico board of tourism would probably hate this thing.  A life long assistant director with an impressive resume, Adrian Grunberg takes the director’s chair for the first time and puts together his story with a sensibility entrenched squarely in the aesthetic of dirt appreciation.  Everything in this film feels as if its been sculpted out of dust and blood.  Grunburg successfully dresses up a by the numbers action genre lark, putting a good spin on tropes and traditions lesser filmmakers can’t make fresh.  The Rock has been trying unsuccessfully to make this movie for years.  Under his direction Gringo runs a brisk 90 minutes, rarely pausing to linger aimlessly or wonder off its well worn path.  His only real misstep is a consistent reliance on an obtrusive narration from Gibson that feels forced over things.  Here’s hoping that the next time he directs a feature it doesn’t feature a meltdown prone leading man on the wrong side of audience forgivness.

Once again I’m left to lament the sad state of Mr. Mel Gibson.  In three years he’s turned in three diverse performances in a variety of films which show him to be as versatile and skilled as ever.  He’s got a face and demeanor meant for film and one day soon I hope someone thinks to make a black and white feature with the nutcase.  But as it stands Gibson looks to have a limited future in film acting.  With all those burned bridges the IMDB shows that his only upcoming job is in Machete Kills for Robert Rodriguez.  When you’re left slumming it in a Rodriguez flick with nothing else on the horizon, you’ve got nowhere left to go.