Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: September 2012

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLmnJvK0DjI%5D
Ten Word or Less Review: Guilty…of kicking ass.

17 years ago I went to the theater and saw Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd.  A decision I still regret.  I can’t tell you why I did it other than I had no life and thus nothing better to do.  It looked like it would be loud, agonizing crap.  It was.  Every thing about it was awful, hokey and stupid.  From its hammy performances, everyone is always ACTING, to its idiotic costumes.  Stallone looked like a shiny, idiotic, football player from a planet in the Flash Gordon universe.  The plot was stuffed with silly conspiracies about clone judges, there was a 10 foot tall killer robot, an evil twin brother, cannibal hillbilly mutants and Rob Schneider screaming at all of it.  He’s practically a template for Jar Jar Binks.  Judge Dredd stands as a textbook example of how bloated, big budget movie making can go completely haywire at every single turn because bad ideas and egos run unchecked.  It was a massive failure for Stallone and indicated that the comeback he was on after Cliffhanger and Demolition Man was not meant to last.  Despite all of that,17 years later, I went to go see Dredd again.  Even though now I have a life and better things to do.

Dredd fans, whoever they are, kept hope alive that someone would eventually adapt their violent, sadistic underground comic with a bit more respect to the source material.  Something as simple as keeping his helmet on, one of Dredd’s defining characteristics, was something the old movie couldn’t adhere to.  Stallone lasted 10 minutes in that helmet before he had to flash his meaty mug.  Patience pays off and 17 years later this Dirty Harry of the future has another chance at movie success, and lucky for him, the people making Dredd took note of every single thing Stallone’s movie attempted and have done the exact opposite.  Where there was gloss, there’s now grit.  Where there was sprawling, incoherent story, there’s concise, tight plotting.  Where the first film was tepidly R-rated, the producers were begging for a PG-13 rating, there is now uncompromised R-rated mayhem.  Where the helmet came off, it now stays on.  That’s more like it.  Dredd is a grizzled piece of sci-fi pulp which stays focused and on target, refusing to be distracted by killer robots, twin brothers or annoying sidekicks.

Set in the distant future, America’s remains are walled up in Mega City, a sprawling, metropolis which houses the remaining populace, stretching the entire northeast of the continent.  The rest is nuclear wasteland.  Chaos and mayhem reign supreme and left to control the anarchy are judges, cops who confront, prosecute and judge law breakers in a matter of seconds.  It usually results in people being shot and recycled.  Visions of Soylent Green?  Dredd focuses it’s story on one 200 story apartment complex, there are hundreds, where a drug lord named Mama (Lena Headey) distributes slo-mo, a mind altering substance which slows down human perception to 1% of normal speed.  In short, everything becomes incredibly psychedelic and groovy looking in the best White Rabbit kind of way.  Mama has some underlings skinned, yes skinned, and thrown off the 200th floor for being stupid, which is just sick and twisted enough to warrant the attention of the authorities.  It’s a judgement call really.  Dredd shows up, rookie partner with psychic abilities in tow, and the carnage begins.  Mama walls up the building and sets her small army out to kill Dredd and the mandatory rookie partner, something which of course proves much more difficult than anticipated.  That’s Dredd in a nutshell.  Two cops stuck in a building with a bunch of people out to shoot them in the head.  And everything is so much better that way.

The scope and tone of Dredd is more compact and accessible than it’s gargantuan, cartoonish predecessor.  Mega City is 100’s of square miles of urban sprawl we can get a sense of realism from.  Director Pete Travis doesn’t over glitz his urban Hell of the future, instead opting to build a world which looks convincing and believable.  His FX guys use CGI to construct visuals we can believe in, not create a fabricated fantasy land which feels tactless and looks silly.  Also, the contained, ‘day in the life of a judge’ styled story keeps all the tendencies to indulge in future shock at arms length.  There are even some clever satirical barbs here and there.  After a massive gun battle with scores of dead pedestrians the PA system flippantly states that the food court will reopen in 30 minutes.  Paul Verhoven would approve.  Alex Garland’s screenplay sticks to the basics and doesn’t wonder off task, but if there’s a downside it’s that the grim sense of humor is dished out too sparingly.  A few more pointed barbs could have lightened the mood which does grow somewhat oppressive as things march on.  For a bit I thought Dredd might be an heir to Verhoven’s classic Robo Cop, but such grandiosity not in the cards.  Those who complain that Dredd is too similar too this years underground Korean import The Raid will be hard to argue against.  They are nearly identical movies and in a fight I take The Raid, but that’s no knock against Dredd.  It isn’t fair to complain when something isn’t as crazy as the craziest thing ever.

Stallone’s performance has been rightly ignored and forgotten by new Judge Karl Urban (Star Trek).  The go to guy when you need a third tier character to carry or gun or wield a sword has been looking for his own stand alone action vehicle for a while now.  May Doom and Pathfinder be mercifully wiped away from movie history.  Urban sticks the helmet on, turns the growl factor up to 11, turns his mouth down, makes with the coldhearted quips and just runs with it.  None of this is that hard.  Jason Statham could have done this in his sleep but Judge Dredd doesn’t kick anybody.  Dredd is straight, one-dimensional, macho sadism and Urban is fine with this.  He makes no effort to over complicate that which isn’t.  Helping out a great deal is a decent costume.  Stallone’s Dredd looked like a flashy moron in golden shoulder pads.  Urban looks like a weathered cop in a dirty uniform.  The rest of the cast is fairly minor.  As rookie partner with psychic powers, a gimmick that doesn’t blow up in their face, Olivia Thirlby holds her own against Urban and his upside down smile.  Lena Headey is the one underwhelming spot.  She’s okay as a scarfaced, drug dealing crazy but she’s nothing special.  Those hoping for a radical turn from the Game of Thrones scenery chewer will probably feel a little underwhelmed by her generally subdued screen presence.

17 years after Stallone laid a monumental turd on his skeptical fans a couple of smart lads have come along with a fraction of the money and pulled the character he wrecked out of the garbage.  Make no mistake, Dredd is not important, deep or meaningful.  It’s nothing more than pulpy, sadistic, comic book nonsense done right.  But that in itself seems to be so elusive for so many, it’s fun to enjoy when it happens.  Here’s hoping that we don’t have to wait 17 years for Dredd to return to screens again to blast some ballsy action movie carnage into our movie going lives.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV2yoL_GkEY%5D

Highlander II: The Quickening (Formerly know as) – I wait 21 years to see a notoriously awful movie and the most notable thing about it, THE QUICKENING, is fracking gone.  It’s a travesty that one of the greatest subtitles ever attached to a movie has been quietly discarded.  Yes, Highlander II no longer carries that glorious ‘The Quickening’ after its II and all mentions of it, whatever the Hell it was, have been scrubbed and dubbed away from the film.  The tarnished, campy reputation of this first Highlander sequel apparently rubbed a few too many producers wrong.  The term ‘The Quickening’ long ago became a well worn joke among movie nerds.  Right up there with ‘Electric Boogaloo’ as a go to put down jab for shitty sequels.  ‘Coming Soon!!!  Battleship II: The Quickening!!!’  So because of this well deserved slight, Quickening’s makers set out to right what they perceived as an unjust wrong.  In the 20+ years since its initial release Highlander II has gone through numerous re-edits for home video in an attempt to pull its reputation out of the muck.  But no amount of re-editing, rejiggering, re-sequencing  dialogue alteration or special effects updates can fix a movie so hopelessly fucked up.  Hitler might as well come back from Hell and make the argument that he wasn’t all that bad a guy.

The Highlander II that exist now is 110 excruciating minutes long, 20 minutes longer than an original 90 minute run time which sounds much more merciful.  It’s dreary and depressing to look at as it shamelessly apes Blade Runner minus the style.  It’s a flagrantly hopeless thing to watch and with the exception of Sean Connery’s jacket there’s not a speck of color in the movie.  The only way to describe the color scheme would be ash on ash on top of more ash, all poorly lit.   Despite all the effort to make it otherwise, it’s still utterly senseless and confusing.  The producers thought that by removing the notion of the Highlanders as aliens, which was profoundly dumb, and making them instead from the distant past, also profoundly dumb, would suddenly fix everything.  It doesn’t fix anything and only creates more story which is profoundly dumb.  What distant past in Earth’s history had machine guns and televisions that can see into the future?  Is there a lost chapter in Egyptian history I need to read about?  Did I mention the hoverboard riding bird men?  I can only imagine what the 90 minute version of this movie, with full on Quickening action, plays like.  What was the Quickening?  Will I never know?  I’m not watching this again to find out.  The only real way to fix a movie as misguided and stupid as Highlander II is to burn it from existence.  There really should only have been only one.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Of0gxSz8Vk%5D

Domino – With the passing of Tony Scott the world lost a great director.  I’m sure plenty of people wrote that or something like it out of respect for the recently deceased but it’s far from true.  Tony Scott was rarely a great director.  He was a purveyor of flashy trash, high calorie junk cinema.  He never compossed a shot without a sunrise/sunset effect and generally was a well funded hack whose pictures more often than not made money.  He did have one great movie (True Romance) a few fun ones (Crimson Tide, Taking of Phelam 1,2,3), a lot of filler (Deja Vu, Unstoppable) and no small amount of outright crap (Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Fan).  Probably the most divisive movie Scott ever made was 2005’s Domino, sort of based on the true story of human train wreck Domino Harvey.

The daughter of actor Lawrence Harvey (Manchurian Candidate), Domino (Keira Knightly) forsook a life of privilege to become a low rent bounty hunter.  The movie that Scott loosely builds around her life could have most likely been a good piece of pulp action nonsense, maybe a bullet ridden black comedy or even serious drama if the aim had been there.  Harvey’s life sounds like a grim series of spectacle and failure and she died of a drug overdose at the age of 36 right before the movie was released.  But what Domino is mostly about is Scott going nuts in the editing bay, working like a coked up bastard trying to give the audience a migraine with his movie.  Take an average flick and throw it a blender, then put strobe lights all around the blender, then film that, then take that film and project it on a screen as you drop acid while riding a rocket.  And then you ride the rocket straight into a giant blender surrounded by strobe lights.  That’s what Domino is like to watch.  Every scene of it is cranked up, over lit, over edited, over kinetic, over acid washed mayhem for the brain.  If you have epilepsy don’t watch it and if you don’t have epilepsy you probably will when it’s over.  Character still manages to peek through and the story can be followed, but it all feels distant and inconsequential next to the editorial tornado going on in front of us.  Chaos or no the movie loses points for shamelessly copying the climax of Scott’s own previous best effort, True Romance.  Some felt inclined to give Scott credit for pushing the editorial envelope, but why push it so far your movie becomes exhausting visual mush?

The Hunter – Ever reliable Willem Dafoe stars as a methodical, lonely, game hunter enlisted by an invisibly ominous medical corporation, is there any other kind, to head into the outback of Tanzania and locate and kill the last known specimen of the Tasmanian Tiger, a breed thought to be extinct.  Once there he takes up residence with a woman and her two children, using their home as a base of operations.  The husband has been missing for months, quite possibly in connection with the same reason he’s been sent there.  Dafoe’s character slowly becomes a surrogate protector/father figure, getting the ramshackle home and family back on its feet.

The Hunter is the kind of movie which seems admirably straightforward, perhaps too predictable in places, but made well enough to rise above that issue.  It doesn’t go in for maudlin moments and some of the more obvious emotional outcomes don’t come to pass.  The outback of Tanzania make for an endless buffet of beautiful scenery rarely caught on film.  It works for what it is and makes for decent viewing, in no small part because of Dafoe.  This aging character actor effortlessly embodies whoever he’s been tasked to portray and it’s virtually impossible for him to seem boring or disinterested as an actor.  The movie’s final moments may strike some as very grim but you have to afford a movie like this a certain amount of appreciation for not believing in or going for the nice and neat side of storytelling.  I’d also advise animal lovers to tread around it lightly.  It’s available through Nexflix on-demand.

Bernie – An idyocyncratic, psuedo comedic/psuedo documentary effort from director Richard Linklater, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacClaine, Matthew McCaughney and a whole bunch of people from the town of Carthage TX.  Based on a true story, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) was Carthage’s assistant funeral director and by all accounts one of the greatest people within the community.  He effortlessly won over all he met, was a talented singer for the church and became a great creative presence for the theater.  Though the town tended to think Bernie may be a homosexual, a Texas no no, they generally loved the guy and were proud to have him as part of the community.  The over compassionate Bernie befriended Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacClaine), an aging town pariah with a nasty attitude and a lot of money.  They formed an unlikely friendship which soured over time.  Marjorie gradually enslaved Bernie to her everyday needs and one day Bernie shot her in the back four times and stuffed her body in the garage freezer where the unpopular spinster went undiscovered for nine months.  Over those nine months Bernie generously gave away Marjorie’s money, spending ten’s of thousands of dollars on community projects, church projects and favors for friends.  When Marjorie’s body was discovered, Bernie confessed immediately, but no one wanted to see him go to jail regardless.  He was too well liked.

Bernie’s half documentary/half dramedy re-enactment story telling scheme leaves the film in the audiences judging hands, what to make of Bernie your choice.  Is Bernie a victim who justly defended himself from a tyranical old lady who was controlling his life?  Or was he an opportunistic huxster exploiting an old widow for her money?  Linklater heavily leans towards the first explanation but doesn’t completely disregard the later.  Black’s Bernie is never given a malicious slant or implication that Majorie’s murder was anything other than the act of a man who had snapped.  For Black, it’s one of his best performances to date and shows he’s capable of something a little more than bloated tomfoolery.  It’s more interesting than most movies but all the same when it’s over a sensation of the slight seeps into it once it’s done.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlsM2_8u_mk%5D

Ten Word or Less Review: These toys don’t seem so wonderful anymore.

The defacto ‘it’ movie of 1989, Batman had audiences enthralled the entirety of that summer.  Though it’s remembered as a pivotal summer movie season several major event movies floundered hard.  Star Trek V nearly killed the whole franchise about boldly going where no one had gone before.  Karate Kid III embarrassed itself and everyone who paid to watch it.  Timothy Dalton’s second James Bond effort Licence To Kill washed out and saw the character on its way to a 6 year hiatus.  Ghostbusters II typified the idea of the mediocre sequel.  All that failure was just more audience for Batman to consume.

The comic book movie was still a novel concept in 1989.  Till then only Superman from a decade earlier had successfully launched a comic book based movie franchise but it had crashed and burned two years before with it’s woeful fourth installment.  Batman was a long dormant American icon being salvaged from his camp crusader label of the 1960’s.  A young miscreant  named Tim Burton had amused audiences with his imaginative, offbeat comedies (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice) and many wondered what this odd duck with weird, uncombed hair would do with the pointy eared avenger.  The press was as jazzed at the prospect of Jack Nicholson playing Joker as it was flummoxed at the idea of Michael Keaton playing Bruce Wayne.  The movie opened under a huge weight of expectations and to many viewers delight, mine included, it delivered.  Big time.  The audience was awestruck with what they saw.  It was new and totally different than other tentpole movies of the age.  Nicholson stole the show with his showboating turn as Joker.  We hummed Elfman’s amazing score as we left the theater.  No one seemed bothered by the rather mundane Caped Crusader shoehorned into his own story.  It quickly became one of the most successful movies of the decade (4th) and audiences today can largely thank its success for the plethora of spandexed super dudes who grace our screens today.  I thought it was the best thing since Star Wars and watched it endlessly on VHS and cable.  It was even the first DVD I ever bought.  But now, 23 years later, how does this grandfather of the most dominant film genre of the new millennium hold up?

Tim Burton’s Batman was defined by its look, a flagrant and worshipful interpretation of German expressionism thrown up for the main stream to soak in.  The end of the film is a direct riff on the climax to Fritz Lang’s iconic sci-fi work Metropolis.  Burton built a rain soaked Gotham City which seemed devoid of sunlight or hope.  His grand city was built of dark cathedrals, ornate skyscrapers and dangerous alleys, an eccentric cousin to Ridley Scott’s sunless Los Angeles of Blade Runner.  Those towering skyscrapers served as housing to a city which contained nothing but criminals, prostitutes and thugs as well as the powerless politicians and police who have no way to stop them.   This kind of atmosphere immediately established that Burton would be steering very clear of anything remotely resembling the goofball 60’s interpretation of the character.  Burton was a young but successful director at the time with demanding, heavyweight producers (Jon Peters, Peter Gruber) and an eager Warner Brothers studio bearing down on him hard.  It’s well documented that the pressure on him was immense and he didn’t relish the experience of making Batman.  For him to get such a grim, dystopian vision to the screen says something about his fortitude as a visualist and that at least when it came to looks, he was the right guy for the job.  His influence in this regard would hang over Batman for years to come.  Burton built the right Gotham playground for Batman to swing through, but it’s his inhabitants who posed problems then and even more so now.

Watching it now, Batman clearly makes some strange and misinformed character choices right from the start.  If you’re reading this you’ve probably seen Batman, chances are many times.  I’m not going to linger on plot details because you know them and to cover it’s holey nature would be a long pointless slog.  But ask yourself this question: Who is the actual star of Batman?  Of course it’s not Keaton and his turn as Batman.  This criticism was duly noted when the movie came out and we’ll get to that.  It’s not Nicholson and his Joker either.  Many stood in shock and awe at Jack and his purple suited nutcase and since the movie came out Batman has been routinely labeled as his showcase vehicle.  But The Joker isn’t really the lead character either.  The star of Batman is Kim Basinger.  If you want to be totally honest this movie should really be called Vicki Vale.  She’s the through line which the narrative follows.  We meet her early in the movie, she’s introduced before Bruce Wayne and we meet him through her, and I’d be willing to bet she has more screen time than either Nicholson or Keaton.  The movie frequently relies on her to deliver important parts of the narrative, she has the clearest dramatic arc in the story, she’s always in the middle of whatever action is happening and the film even ends on a scene with her and Michael Cough’s textbook Alfred.  She’s essentially the boring person the audience is supposed to relate to because the rest of the cast is largely rounded out with freaks and weirdos.  The decision to make the movie from Vale’s point of view leaves everything else feeling secondary, including Batman.  If Vale were a more inherently interesting character, Basinger actually plays her fairly well, then this decision may not be so confounding, but considering the dramatic potential of Batman/Bruce Wayne the decision to marginalize the central character, the very reason we’re here, seems like a shameful dodge of storytelling.  Do you ever think for one second Christopher Nolan said to himself, ‘Self, I think I need more Katie Holmes in this Batman movie.’

By 1989 there was a whole new catalog of grim Batman stories to choose from.  The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One were all there for the taking in addition to the 50 years of character work already in existence.  There was even a dead Robin by then.  The decision to ignore all of this rich material and go their own, watered down origin story way seems unimaginative and shortsighted on the producers behalf.  Christopher Nolan eventually pillaged parts of these iconic Bat-stories for his own movies.  Screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skarren supposedly had their adventurous, original screenplay overhauled quite a bit and what winds up on the screen now feels like Batman filtered through too many story sessions.  The decision to build a lot of the story around the mysterious Bruce Wayne and his past may have seemed necessary at the time, Batman had been out of the larger public eye for 20 years, but Batman’s origins have been so thoroughly picked over by now that the movie now feels like a prolonged and unimaginative retelling the audience is way too familiar with.  There’s no mystery in it, there never really was, but since the overall execution of the movie feels like narrative slog, the final result is a film which looks great, but too often feels stodgy and lead footed.  Tim Burton’s limitations as an action director were never more apparent than they are here.  It takes him half the movie to really kick things out of first gear and even when that mercifully happens, we’re still stuck in a story about a boring reporter, the stoic Batman she’s chasing and a goofy maniac in a purple suit who kills numerous glorified extras.

Keaton and Batman were an interesting match never meant to be.  Keaton just doesn’t have much to play or hang onto as either character.  He’s not given nearly enough screen time and is overshadowed at every turn by either the production design or his costars.  Robert Wuhl and his obnoxious Alexander Knox character feels like he’s given more attention in terms of pure character development.  If Basinger’s Vale weren’t the defacto star of the movie it would be Wuhl’s Knox.  Keaton’s glorified supporting character only makes a fleeting impression, which is sad and shocking as Keaton could be such a dynamic performer and this couldn’t have been lost on anyone.  His turn as Beetlejuice for Burton just two years prior sort of explains why he was cast as Batman, but why not cast him as Joker instead?  Keaton at his most unhinged and maniacal could’ve made a wonderfully sick and twisted Joker.  Keaton has always been a performer who looks like he’s three or four seconds from jumping out of his skin so why cast him as the guarded introvert?  My guess would have to be that A) the studio wanted a name like Nicholson on the movie, ala Marlon Brando in Superman, and B) Keaton probably didn’t want to get typecast as a white faced, freaky haired nut jobs for the rest of his career.  What is Beetlejuice if not a cranked up, after life variation of Joker?  If we ever achieve time travel I say go back and talk Burton into making Keaton The Joker and cast someone else as Batman/Wayne.  Michael Biehn perhaps?

Then there’s the showboat of the piece.  Nicholson’s Joker was probably the most talked about performance of the year but he got no awards love come years end.  Everyone knew this was Jack playing Jack in white face for huge amounts of money.  But despite all the adoration from viewers Nicholson’s Joker simply feels too much like Nicholson.  Maybe he’s more menacing than Cesar Romero’s TV scenery chewer, but he’s a blip compared to the appropriately sick, murderous nature of Heath Ledger’s Joker 20 years later.  As time as worn on Nicholson’s Joker is still mildly amusing to watch but it isn’t the sustaining force many once took it for.  It’s all too one dimension and silly.  If his Joker had actually done something shocking and horrible towards someone we cared about in the film, like maybe kill Knox, he could have gotten the character to a different level and perhaps take the audience there as well.  Watching him now one just consistently thinks about how much better this was done not only by Ledger, but even Mark Hamill’s voice performance as Joker in the Batman cartoons.  Behind an animated creation Hamill expertly delivered the bad jokes disguising the smoldering, homicidal rage that defines the character much truer than Nicholson ever does here.  All that being said comic book movies owe much of their existence to this movie and this movie owes its success to Jack.  He sold it to the masses and we bought it by the gross.  Without it we don’t have Nolan’s trilogy, X-Men flicks, or Raimi’s Spider-Man.  Of course we wouldn’t have shitty Daredevil, Wolverine, Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four movies either.  It seems everything comes at a price.

So if the performances are backwards and the story soggy, what makes this Batman still watchable?  A few things hold up and give the movie lift.  Of course there is the a fore mentioned look of Gotham City itself but in addition to that there’s the amazing music.  The rousing, Wagnerian score by Danny Elfman was an instant classic of film music composition and sits up there with John Williams Superman theme as one of the most definitive pieces of music written for a comic book movie.  Elfman, the one time Oingo Boingo frontman, had left the pop rock scene to peruse a career in film music.  He quickly fell in with Burton at the time of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and then went on to score Beetlejuice.  The two fit together like two peas in a black, gothic pod.  Nearly all of Burtons movies have been scored by Elfman since and Elfman himself was pigeonholed into the hero genre because of his iconic work here.  He went on to do theme music work for Batman Returns, Dick Tracy, Darkman, The Flash and Raimi’s Spider-Man movies.

What else works?  The car!  The Batmobile is an awesome gothic creation on wheels.  The single most stylish ride one can get.  I love Nolan’s version of Batman and his Bat tank design is perfect for his movies but for my money this is the coolest looking movie car ever.  It’s instantly identifiable as a Batmobile but never looks ridiculous or stupid.  That would come later under the guidance of Joel Schumacher.  By Batman & Robin the Batmobile was turned into a monstrous Christmas ornament on wheels.  If a studio had poured serious money into a Batman film in the early 40’s the Batmobile would have looked like Burton’s baby.  The Batplane which appears at story’s end isn’t quite as cool but it runs a respectable second in the badass column.

With his wonderful toys, grim visuals and a dizzying soundtrack to accentuate things, Burton’s Batman has been able to stay just this side of watchable, but it seems like each time I revisit it one more stich burst and it falls apart a little bit more.  It may have been able to hang onto its relevance had Christopher Nolan found another hero to bring his style to but now that he’s had a crack at The Bat Man, Burton’s first effort just feels antiquated and worn out.  Though his second stab at the Dark Knight is equally problematic, Batman Returns is a much rowdier and freaky thing.  It’s endlessly more watchable than this.  In a way Batman formed the template that Burton would use for many of his movies after.  Everything is style over substance.  Visuals over character.  Logic is flexible as long as it all looks right.  Some directors grow more into character as they progress as artists but Burton has grown progressively worse over time.  We can probably consider ourselves lucky.  If he made Batman today we’d be starring down the barrel of another white faced Johnny Depp as Joker while some bland hunk of flesh was tossed into the Batsuit with a few lines of dialogue to garble out.  I’ve lived with this Batman for most of my adult life and I will always be able to watch it, but it’s pretty clear I shouldn’t do so with much frequency.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pn6ie1zCkZU%5D
Ten Word or Less Review: Good movie hiding behind title that sounds like energy drink.

The bike movie.  A small but consistent genre during the 1980’s, the movie built around bicycle riding pretty much dried up once that peculiar decade of synthesizer worship and parachute pants ended.  Movies such as Quicksilver, American Flyers, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure kept audiences entertained with their 10 speed shenanigans.  There’s no basement in the Alamo!  Even in 1979 we saw Breaking Away nominated for Best Picture.  The most iconic movie of the decade features a kid and an alien riding a bike across the sky on its poster.  The bike movie genre even had a subgenre, BMX movies!  Someone ask Nicole Kidman to do a commentary for BMX Bandits.  But as time and technology progressed the bicycle started to seem a little antiquated as a narrative crutch.  Torqued up automobiles and flashy motorcycles were just too much.  Who would pay to see Vin Diesel wreck havoc on a Schwinn?  So the bicycle movie quietly faded into obscurity and hasn’t been heard from until now.

Premium Rush centers on Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a bike messenger riding wild through New York City.  He lives for the thrill of coasting down traffic cluttered streets, buzzing in between cabs and pedestrians, getting whatever package he has to deliver to wherever it must go, all the while flirting with death and dismemberment in cavalier fashion.  The idea of a suit and a desk are infinitely more terrifying in his speed infused brain.  One day a routine pick up turns out to be far more than the $30 he bargained for.  As soon as he’s got his envelope to deliver in hand he’s approached by a strange cop (Michael Shannon) who starts spinning lies trying to weasel it away from him.  Before long he’s being chased by the determined and increasingly infuriated officer, his life is in danger and the little envelope going to Chinatown becomes an albatross around his neck.  The plot gradually thickens and Wiley (Coyote) must face the fact that he may not live out the afternoon because of the small piece of paper he carries.

Once again studios show they don’t know how to promote anything outside their comfort zone.  If it’s not a movie about demonic possession, inane relationship hijinks or superheroes fighting against Earth’s end they turn into panicked, hand ringing nitwits.  Based on the box office to date Premium Rush has garnered little attention from audiences and it’s a damn shame.  Unceremoniously bumped from an April release and thrown into the dog days of August where so many deservedly wretched crappy movies go to die, all indicators pointed to Rush being a forgettable clunker, but it’s not in the slightest.  Premium Rush is a high calibur chase flick with strong actors giving good performances in service of a tightly scripted and strongly executed story.  Why it has been unceremoniously dumped by its studio is a confusing and pissy move on their part.  Director and writer David Koepp (Stir of Echoes) utilizes a clever screenplay he wrote, a twisty, back and forth editing style and fast, but not too fast, pacing to build a sturdy suspense thriller which should entertain anyone who decides to see it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt again carries a movie on his shoulders with ease and finesse.  I’m not sure there’s an actor working today who seems more suited for big screen success than he who would almost be Batman.  Between Brick, 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and now this, he’s built up a diverse and impressive resume of quality projects.  The upcoming Looper  looks like a hoot as well.  Being in Christopher Nolan’s good graces doesn’t hurt your career either.  While few may see Premium Rush I doubt Levitt will dwell on its failure for long.  It’s another strong piece in his ever impressively expanding resume and he has no reason to dodge it.  It’s a failure marketing and nothing more.

Playing off him with even greater success is scenery stealing Michael Shannon (Take Shelter).  I take that back.  He doesn’t steal scenes.  They’re his by right to take.  This new king of smoldering freakishness does such hilariously tweaked line readings that he can draw no small amount of laughter from his dialogue, no matter how inane it looks on the page.  His short rif on saying ‘suck it’ is priceless.  Somewhere Nicholas Cage is probably having a fit of envy as this new guy muscles his way into Cages wheelhouse.  Next summers Superman movie may be all kinds of bad but I cannot wait to see Shannon’s General Zod go bonkers on the last son of Krypton.

Premium Rush is the kind of movie there should be far more of.  It isn’t mind blowing or genre defining.  It’s simply disciplined, entertaining, has some wits about it and doesn’t insult the audience by being crass or moronic.  Why so many films have trouble getting to such a place is a larger question for another time.  We have this here and now so ride your 10-speed to the multiplex and see it.  You’ll enjoy it far more than the geriatrics with guns fart fest that is Expendables 2.  Promise.

[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYplvwBvGA4]
Ten Word or Less Review: An Adam Sandler movie wearing a beard.

It’s been six years sine Sasha Baron Cohen stormed the beaches of American comedy with Borat.  That unexpected comedic gem put Cohen squarely in the middle of cinemas top comedians.  Expectations for long term greatness were considerably deflated three years later with Bruno, an endevour I still haven’t seen and don’t really plan to.  Now comes The Dictator and expectations for Cohen’s future output seem absolutely abysmal.  A misbegotten satire of epic magnitude, The Dictator feels like a retarded Adam Sandler vehicle with offensive, unfunny jokes slathered all over the typically sophomoric plot.  As Cohen’s first foray into purely narrative movie making, it’s a fucking disaster.

Aladeen is the dictator of Wadiya, a fictional Middle Eastern country meant to mimic such cuddly nations as Iran and Afghanistan.  Not only is Aladeen a blood thirsty tyrant, he’s a lonely moron to boot.  Adoring his bedroom walls are Poloroids of thousands of celebrities he’s paid to have sex with over the years.  Lindsey Lohan.  Oprah.  Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The joke really makes no sense.  Megan Fox bears the brunt of this comedic jab in person but she’s as unfunny as she always is.  Aladeen has people shot on the slightest whim.  He has obscene statues and paintings of himself everywhere.  He wants nuclear weapons for destroying Israel but insist they be pointy.  As this nuclear situation escalates Aladeen goes to New York to address the United Nations but his underhanded secretary, Ben Kingley taking a paycheck, tries to have him killed and replaced, using a goat lusting mountain hillbilly as a double.  The arrogant Aladeen finds himself on the streets of New York penniless and powerless.  He’s taken pity on by an Earth loving, organic grocery store owner with hairy armpits (Anna Farris) who mistakes him for a political refugee.  I’m already bored regurgitating this.  The Dictator sucks.

Cohen has no skill for more traditional movie comedy.  He ignores the fundamental necessities a comedy like this requires, first being that we actually like some of the characters.  His Aladeen is meant to be endearing despite his racist and ignorant nature but he’s just a moronic jerk who spews bad jokes for shock factor.  I’m not against jokes in poor taste but Dictator  doesn’t know when to quit.  Aladeen raped all the members of Menudo and some of them committed suicide because of it?  Ha ha.  Anna Farris can do nothing but play clueless here trapped in crap like this.  It’s another proto-typical comedy which requires a supposedly intelligent woman to act like a blind dolt for the sake of the story.  Cohen runs jokes into the ground ruthlessly and redundantly.  Seemingly never tiring of a gag which he can’t exploit well past the breaking point.

Nothing in this movie works on any level.  The few jokes that do work seem like accidents.  The term ‘lesbian hobbit’ invoked a chuckle.  But otherwise it’s a complete waste.  The satire is obvious.  The comedy is painfully flat.  The story is rickety and dull.  This is a joyless comedy and if it’s all Cohen can produce, it’s time for him to pack it up and set sail.  We have enough morons making movies like this, he need not add himself to the list.