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Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Ten Words or Less Review: Colors 2: South Central Still Sucks

Before I watched this movie I should have gone back and seen Colors, the Sean Penn/Robert Duvall LAPD cop drama from the late 80’s.  I’d like to see how the aesthetic and attitudes match up.  To see what 25 years have done to the Hollywood perception of the worst parts of L.A. and the cops who patrol it.  My guess is that what producers saw as a dangerous, hopeless Hell hole then is seen as the same dangerous, hopeless Hell hole now.  Except there are more Latinos.  End of Watch is about two cops who spend their days patrolling this cracked corner of the world, where the most debased level of human atrocity is now the norm.

Jake Gyllenhal and Michael Pena play Brian and Zavala, two cops who patrol their assigned district with a kind of jovial determination to the job.  They show respect for people as much as they can but they know where the line is and expect both cop and criminal to adhere to it to some degree.  To say they see and experience the hard side of life is the understatement of all understatements.  Dealing with a crackhead Mom whose duct taped her kids up in the closet and forgotten about it is the least of the offenses they inevitably witness.  These two see the grizzly underbelly of the world day in and day out, but still remain composed and humorous in the face of the unimaginable.  One keeps expecting their psyches to warp and fracture but the narrative doesn’t delve into trite histrionics about cops breaking down in the face of humanity’s worst.  If you join the LAPD in this day and age you should known pretty well what you’re heading into and Watch knows that.  Watch is more dedicated to the tropes and procedure of the contemporary cop life, albeit amplified to some degree.

One could make a sound argument that the direction and screenplay by David Ayer places Brian and Zavala in one too many hair raising situations.  The burning building sequence starts to push credibility and then the duo become the target of a drug cartel.  One has to accept a certain amount of dramatic flexibility and though Watch pushes, it doesn’t snap.  David Ayer has been mining trolling through the LAPD for stories for a decade now, writing and directing less noted efforts like Harsh Times and Street Kings.  I haven’t seen either.  His screenplay to Training Day was top tier until its brain damaged finale act took hold and wrecked the effort.  End of Watch is perhaps the first time he’s succeeded in digging into the LAPD with a minimal amount of compromise.  His decision to adopt the handheld, found footage aesthetic doesn’t stress the viewer out.  You could even say there’s a symmetry to the style.  Couldn’t Cops claim to be the birth place of the hand held movie?  Ayers cheats this system when he needs to which works for the best.  Strict adherence to character POV isn’t always the best way to go.  In the end there’s the slovenly nature that the genre replicates, but it’s organized and composed enough to feel professional and well edited.

Watch rest on the shoulders of Gyllenhal and Pena and they accomplish something so few movies do, a believable spirit of friendship and brotherhood.  They go back and forth like two assholes who have known each other for too long, always knowing what the other is thinking.  So many stories pinned on the hope of chemistry between actors can be railroaded because the actors in question feel like they met 5 minutes before the camera started.  For Gyllenhal this is probably one of the few ‘normal’ parts he’s ever managed.  Though he did it exceedingly well he was getting too often cast as the perpetually distant or emotionally isolated weirdo.  This and Source Code show an actor trying to be just a touch less mannered and esoteric   Watch shows us that he can be a convincing charmer and all around everyday shithead, not just the strange kid talking to a tall invisible rabbit.  Pena, mostly an unknown to me, matches up against him beat for beat.  I don’t believe Pena has ever grabbed my attention in his long career but he’s great here.  While the fate of these two friends seems preordained, it still resonates in the unfolding because of the bond Gyllenhal and Pena have created.

While diligently built on the back of predictable but perhaps unavoidable cop movie cliches, End of Watch strives to rise above the text book nature of its plot and become something more than ‘another cop movie’.  It’s a top notch piece of drama that brings the viewer into the world of the LAPD with a convincing aesthetic.  Plenty of movies and cop shows have delved into this territory over the decades and as long as South Central remains a pit they’ll keep doing so, but End of Watch can claim to be being one of the best examples of the LAPD cop drama.

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPcMKd_73Ys%5D
Ten Word or Less Review: If Van Damme made David Lynch direct his movie.

Most of my Sunday evenings are spent hanging out with a couple of friends.  We watch movies too embarrassing to admit to seeing to anyone beyond those in the room.  I never write about these movies.  It’s tantamount to drunk texting someone.  You just embarrass yourself for doing it and the person reading it simply loses respect for you.  But embarrassment be damned, I feel oddly compelled to say something about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.  It’s certainly not good, but it’s definitely too damn odd to not say nothing.

In case you didn’t keep up, don’t worry no one did, there are now 6 movies under the Universal Soldier banner.  I didn’t realize that the original 1992 Van Damme/Lundgren effort had been quite so prolific.  21 years after that marginally noticed sci-fi effort the franchise now keeps chugging along with straight to DVD releases featuring a haggard looking Van Damme and a leathery Lundgren.  99 out of 100 times movies like this are terminally boring but director John Hyams had a moment of inspiration, maybe after making the last awful entry in this series, try to make an art house flick instead of a run of the mill kicks and guns movie that ends in an abandoned warehouse.  Instead of the usual dreary exercise in B-movie action shit, he decided to get in touch with his inner David Lynch.  He locked himself in a room with the Lynch movie library playing on a loop for a week straight, with extra Lost Highway viewings, and then set out to make Day of Reckoning, fresh, dream-like perversions in mind.

The first 30-40 minutes of Reckoning are pure Lynch inspired territory.  The movie sets up a dark, grim and thoroughly anxiety inducing atmosphere.  Some scenes may induce epileptic fits in more sensitive viewers.  When a character goes into a strip bar I figured I’d see Bill Pullman raging on a sax in back.  Van Damme eventually starts showing up in white face kabuki makeup.  It’s a bad acid trip of movie making and one has no choice but to be kind of impressed that such genuine psychedelic effort is being exerted in pursuit of what should be nothing more than a cynical, soulless action movie no one but the most undemanding moron would like.  The outbursts of violence are extreme and brutal and there’s just no pussy footing around anything.  It’s gory and harsh and the idea that someone has finally broken this repetitious action movie cycle starts to creep into your head as a real possibility.  But then reality sets in, nothing happens for too long and the freaky atmosphere runs itself into the ground.  With no real story or screenplay to get into, it all adds up to an extravagant zilch.

With all the weirdo quirks and oddities failing to amount to anything, you slowly realize a sense of tedium creeping into the thing and before long it’s killed itself.  In the unforgivable sin department Van Damme and Lundgren are no more than glorified cameos, leaving starring duties to some dude named Scott Atkins.  Looking at his IMDB resume it looks like he’s making a name for himself in the straight to On-Demand action market.  Meaning he’s a glorified stunt man asked to kick and punch and not gum up the works with creaky line readings or emotions.  I see exercise videos in his future.  A finale featuring Van Damme done up as a Col. Kurtz inspired loon, bald head painted with black/white makeup, almost brings it back to that fringe where it wanted to live, but it’s not enough.

There are some admirable and viscous fight scenes here, the punched bowling ball bit was a riot, and the warped presentation feels fresh for a while, but before long the same sensation of dull, crappy action flick weariness settles in for the remainder with just a different presentation.  Still, there’s a lesson to be learned here.  If you’re tasked with directing a shitty action movie sequel with a dopey subtitle, go for broke.  There’s absolutely nothing to lose.  All movies like this suck regardless so do your damnedest to make it as odd as possible.  The worst thing that can happen is that someone notices that you made something someone might remember after hitting the stop button.

JCVD AND LUND

2012 Best Movies

 

BEST OF 2012

I still haven’t seen a number of notable films.  No Amour or Holy Motors.  The French film fan in me is very disappointed in himself.  I think there’s too much action in this list but hey, that’s what worked this year.  Argo missed the cut by a hair.  I liked it a lot but it just felt it was too cut and dry in presentation for me.  I’d have loved to have put Ted on here but the last 20 minutes of that movie are a train wreck.  Dredd didn’t make it because The Raid is simply so much crazier.  Listed below are the rest of the years films.

Went for it and missed a little or are just fun efforts

ARGO
TED  
PREMIUM RUSH
DREDD 
LIFE OF PI
KILLER JOE
CLOUD ATLAS 
BERNIE 
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
GET THE GRINGO
FRANKENWEENIE

Some nice parts, performances or technique but the whole didn’t add up

ANNA KARINENNA
THE HOBBIT: UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
SILVER LINING PLAYBOOK 
JACK REACHER
THE BOURNE LEGACY
THE AVENGERS
PARANORMAN
JOHN CARTER
BRAVE

Overrated, silly or otherwise a missed opportunity

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
THE MASTER
21 JUMP STREET
CABIN IN THE WOODS
CHRONICLE
SAVAGES
HUNGER GAMES
HAYWIRE
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
GOD BLESS AMERICA

Boring, stupid and generally worthless efforts

WRECK IT RALPH
WRATH OF THE TITANS
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
EXPENDABLES 2
GOON
THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN
TOTAL RECALL
PROMETHEUS
LES MISERABLES
THE DICTATOR 
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
LOCKOUT

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Ten Word or Less Review: I dreamed a dream where my head exploded.

Some movies, no matter how packed with high caliber prestige and ambition they may be, simply cannot be digested by some people.  A movie like Les Miserables is difficult to critique because at no point does it fail on its own terms.  It is a handsomely produced, thoroughly dedicated and authentic recreation of a Broadway sensation that millions of people have seen and adore.  Its cast is top notch and clearly emboldened by the material they are bringing to life.  Director Tom Hooper (The Kings Speech) crafts a gorgeous film full of lively camera work and excellent cinematography.  Technically speaking the movie is nearly faultless.  For those people with built investment this movie is a going to be a majestic achievement few other efforts could ever hope to reach.  For those of us with a less reverent point of view towards the source material, Les Miserables is tantamount to a subtle, slow form of torture.

There’s a scene in Zero Dark Thirty, one of the controversial torture scenes, where a suspected Islamic militant is being deprived of sleep through the use of extremely loud heavy metal music.  This probably seems wildly flippant on my part but I honestly started to feel pangs of what someone like that must be going through as I watched Miserable.  The movie feels like one song sung continuously for 160 minutes straight at an incredible decibel level.  Dialogue isn’t spoken, it is belted out for the rafters to absorb and anything resembling subtlety is shunned like one of the poor rabble rebelling against their bourgeoisie oppressors.  It’s a merciless sonic attack at every turn and for those not in tune with what this film is about, it could prove to be a most arduous cinematic sit.  Only a few bits with Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter flirt with mischievousness, briefly breaking up the aural monotony on display.

Fans of this material have clearly voiced their appreciation for this production.  They have diligently applauded the effort of Wolverine, Maximus, Catwoman and the rest of the pack.  Leaving the theater fans hum and sing and feel elevated by the experience.  For those among you curious to see but maybe not sold on the idea, you have been warned.  This movie is going to sing until your ears bleed and ache.  Everyone in it is going to sing the fuck out of every single note and make sure you cry your damn heart out by the end.  If being tied to a chair and forced to endure the musical bombast on display here sounds like a winner to you, God speed and good luck on your journey.  If you thought this movie was destined to split your head open and make your brain run out your ears, it will.

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Ten Word or Less Review: Extra, Extra!  Burton makes movie that doesn’t suck ass!

Tim Burton lost his status as a must see director after too many garish remakes and awful CGI fantasy escapades. The man who shepherded Pee Wee, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands to the screen so long ago has become a filmmaker to not only dodge but dread, like finding a lump on your neck that wasn’t there yesterday.  Apes, Chocolate Factory and Wonderland are three of the worst kind of bloated and insufferable studio movies of the millennium   After Alice I really just wanted to tell Mr. Burton to go get a haircut and then go screw himself forever.  But it’s pleasant to report that Frankenweenie represents at least a modest turnaround for the director who hates combs.  Anything that doesn’t feel like CGI a poke to the eye and a kick to the shin is a joy at this juncture.

Frankenweenie is modest in scope, light on bombast and has a mostly genial spirit.  There’s barely a story present, boy’s dog dies, he brings dog back to life, shenanigans ensue.  Characterization is also super slim.  Unlike fellow stop-motion horror effort Paranorman, which had too many grating, annoying characters, the inhabitants of this small town are mostly all quiet weirdos.  I can’t recall an animated effort with so many subtle line readings as well as an absence of blindingly overzealous background characters.  Hero kid Vincent is so low key he barely registers with the viewer.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing but it’s at least it isn’t annoying.

One also has to appreciate a movie that embraces not one but two formats for which the audience at large has minimal appetite, stop motion animation and black and white photography.  Again, unlike Paranorman, Frankenweenie isn’t pushing any boundaries in the stop-motion format aside from its monochrome look.  Paranorman was out to set a new standard for the medium with it’s marriage of high class stop motion animation and CGI.  Frankenweenie is content to keep things fairly traditional.  If a labored, multiyear process as slow as this can feel like a small, modest affair among friends, Frankenweenie achieves that.  It maintains that old fashioned, low-budget quality that the original short had as it channels the same love of classic horror films that inspired the original.  A poodle becomes the monster’s bride, sea monkeys morph into little black lagoon creatures and a turtle becomes Godzilla.  The science teacher who looks like Vincent Price was an endearing touch.

When Burton announced his intention to revisit his first work as a filmmaker it smacked of laziness and maybe it is.  He certainly isn’t pressing himself to do anything adventuresome or amazing with this but it works well enough despite that.  After years of crass showmanship, heartless CGI and bloated budgets he’s finally made another movie which he appears to actually have some affection for and that’s probably why it isn’t atrocious   I don’t know if he’ll ever turn himself around and become a less cancerous filmmaker, Dark Shadows suggests not, but at least he doesn’t have to hang his head in shame this time around.

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Most Overrated Studio Movie

Final Mondo Avengers Poster

 The Avengers

Damn, this is a really silly movie. Why did entire an planet lose it’s shit for this?  I understand there was a lot of build up and that Marvel’s scheme to lead into this mega-event mash up was a stroke of marketing genius, but The Avengers is one huge marshmallow puff of a flick.  Why did everyone completely miss how vacuous and goofy it was?  I think everyone was distracted by the floating aircraft carrier.  Floating aircraft carriers can distract just about anyone from anything.  What do playing basketball, robbing a bank and having sex in a hot tub have in common?  All three can be exciting as Hell but you’ll stop doing all of them to check out a floating aircraft carrier.  The plot itself?  Loki has a stick that makes the Avengers bicker and as they squabble he gets the upper hand and then uses his mighty blue cube to unleash a big army of nondescript, segway flying aliens on Manhattan.  Okay then.

If Marvel has gotten one thing right with this series it’s in the casting and everyone from Downey’s Stark to Evan’s Cap is bringing the charm.  They are a delightful lot on occasion and it’s this reason why the show is watchable at all.  The guiding hand of Joss Whedon no doubt helps but he’s capable of more than what’s here.  Casting Ruffalo as Hulk was also aces and the movie has spectacle to spare come time for the finale but so much of it otherwise felt like candy colored filler.  No one in this movie is in real danger and nothing really terrible is going to happen to anyone.  O’ my God they killed the guy in the suit who has walk-ons in all the other movies!  Yeah big whoop.  Call me when Stark gets impaled in a telephone pole or something.  I bet anything that guy is back in two movies.  And then I’m supposed to get all happy joy joy geeky because some dude named Thanos flashes his mug at the end of the movie.  I don’t know who the Hell Thanos is and I don’t really care.  My friends who actually read this stuff had to explain it to me.  He’ll be the bad guy in Avengers 2.  Good for him.  His agent is probably thrilled.

All comic book movies are inherently silly but the best of them try to rise above that inherent silliness just a little.  When you don’t you wind up with movies like The Phantom or The Shadow.  Avengers doesn’t go for anything beyond what it is at its most base level.  We all know Joss Whedon can craft something with just a little more heft to it so maybe next time the gloves come off?  I’m not against silly or slight movies in general, it just bugs me when hundreds of millions of people look on in astonishment at all that silliness and don’t recognize it for what it is.  Because what it is is silly.  Treat it at such people.

 

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Best Movie To Act As A Fast Food Deterrent

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Killer Joe

I will never eat KFC again.  Ever.  Killer Joe has guaran-fucking-teed that healthy life style decision.  If you want to rid yourself of any lingering desire to nosh on the Colonel’s greasy servings dished out by minimum wage teenage slaves, just watch this story of a white trash family trying to knock off their mother for insurance money.  While the movie itself isn’t much more than an average/okay, Coen inspired, retread of morons trying to get away with murder and betrayal, director William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist) casting of Matthew McConaughey as killer for hire and local cop Joe is inspirational.

Sometime recently Mr. McConaughey decided to reclaim his soul from Satan’s clutches and once again be an actor instead of a prop for Kate Hudson.  His turn as Joe just reeks of twisted and malignant perversions.  He consumes the movie and Friedkin gladly obliges.  It feels like Emile Hirsh (Into the Wild) was meant to be the star of the piece but once McConaughey walked on set that all changed.  Hirsh’s dimwit criminal just couldn’t hold the camera.  When Joe barters to take the borderline autistic, virgin sister (Juno Temple) of Hirsh as a down payment for his mother snuffing services, the story just starts waiving the freak flag.  His first seduction of the willing adolescent is probably too sick for normal folk.  Decent people shouldn’t/won’t watch stuff like this.  Maybe that’s for the best.  Maybe go rent The Watch?  The whole thing slowly twist itself around like a snake on psychotropic narcotics, getting weirder and weirder until it’s amazing finale.

It’s in that finale scene when McConaughey does something with a KFC chicken leg which will live on in movie food lore forever.  It may not be Nic Cage eating a cockroach or that Korean guy in Oldboy eating a live octopus, but I’m pretty poor Gina Gershon will never think about eating chicken for dinner the same again.  I sure as shit know I won’t, and I only watched it.

Most Out of Left Field, Didn’t See it Coming, Awesome Movie of 2012

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The Grey

Liam Neeson did a lot of shit this year.  Sadly, he does a lot of shit most years.  Wrath of the Titans, Taken 2 and Battleship are all excellent examples of the kind of crap this great actor has continuously buried himself under recently.  I guess if my wife died in a freak skiing accident I’d loose my shit start making terrible decisions too.  But in a moment of clarity, or maybe just accidentally, the real Liam Neeson showed up for The Grey, a movie no one thought to take seriously until they saw it.

Neeson and a batch of Alaskan pipeline workers survive a horrible plane crash which leaves them stranded in the deepest, darkest parts of the Palin homeland.  No sooner does the wreckage cool than a pack of nasty wolves start hunting them down  With little to survive with in the wreckage, Neeson’s calm, cool, collated wolf sniper tries his best to keep the others alive, but to no avail.  This is a man against nature movie and nature just kicks mans ass like a bully who wants a nerds lunch money, and his life.  Neeson is electric and captivating here, playing a great movie badass, but at the same time constantly unable to save those around him.  It’s so common for movies to parade one invincible, macho stereotype after another out for an audience to eagerly digest.  Hello Jack Reacher!  It’s rare that the badass, as smart and capable as he is, can do so little to save anyone around him.

The Grey has quiet moments of pathos, mesmerizing and honest portrayals of death, exhilarating moments of terror, spiritual railing and in the end establishes itself as one of the great pieces of survivalist cinema.  If Jack London wrote Predator it may have looked something like this.  Nearly a year removed from seeing it I’m still thoroughly sure of how great it is.  I haven’t decided if it’s the best film of the year but nothing took me more by surprise than this.

Runner Ups: Lincoln, The Raid

Worst Movie of the Year

pro

Prometheus

This isn’t too hard a call.  I saw worse movies than Prometheus this year.  Not a lot but there were a few.  But since no one ever thought Lockout was going to be much of anything to begin with why bother labeling it?  And of course there were scores of shitty movies I never took the effort to see.  I’m sure Battleship, Red Dawn, That’s My Boy and Taken 2 are as awesome to watch as receiving a kick to the nuts but I’m not bothering to give them the privilege of walloping the family jewels.  Prometheus gets this grand distinction for being such a total failure of potential and execution.  It makes you feel like Tom Cruise in that scene from Risky Business when  his character thinks he’s called a hooker to loose his virginity to and instead winds up with a black guy in drag on his doorstep.  Only in this case the guy in drag doesn’t hook us up with Rebecca DeMornay who promptly comes over to screw our virgin brains out.  The guy in drag just kicks the door in, pisses on the couch and refuses to leave until he’s been paid for the privilege of pissing on the couch.

After all the hype and all the hope Ridley Scott delivered a junky, stupid, poorly plotted, epic mess.  It was a movie experience not just divorced from logic, but contemptible of it.  Watch science guy freak out and run away from dead alien bodies but then encounter the alien, penis creature and treat it like an adorable lost puppy.  This is what happens when too many people butt into story sessions with notes, suggestions and doodles on cocktail napkins they made the night before at the bar right before they passed out.  Most of the cast went to waste with the exception of Michael Fassbender.  It’s a testament to his professionalism that he could turn in such grand work in service of something so transparently ridiculous.  I can only wonder if he ever understood what his character was supposed to be up to.  What’s equally baffling about this whole affair are the Prometheus apologists.  Sometimes I see crap movies and despite my inherent dislike of them, I can at least empathize with another point of view.  No such luck here.  I have no idea why some feel the need to defend this nonsense.  Sure it’s pretty, but so the fuck what?  Ridley Scott could make an add for paperclips dynamic looking.  There’s no need to give water credit for being wet.

There were a lot of disappoints this year but none so complete as this.  All hopes and expectations for a glorious return to the Alien franchise lay crashed and broken at the feet of the once great director.  Scott may yet make great movies again but if this is what passes muster with him, someone take his camera away and force retirement.  Stop him before he goes back to Blade Runner and royally fucks that up too.

Also Sucked: Lockout, The Dictator, Goon, The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  Though that last one has one of the best line readings ever.
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django-unchained-poster-federico-mancosu

This is a top notch movie and I think it’s one of the year’s most consistently entertaining films.  The cast is uniformly excellent from Christoph Waltz’s compassionate, charming but calculatingly murderous bounty hunter to Leonardo DiCaprio’s despicable, ridiculous and savage slave owner to lead Jamie Foxx and the quiet but cool stoicism he brings to the table in a part which could have easily been outshined by his flashy co-stars.  It’s sure to be an instant favorite among Tarantino fans.  And sure to be the same kind of agonizing experience for those who don’t like the man or his films.  There’s plenty more to say but I just don’t seem to be in a mood to say it at the moment.  Regardless, it’s definitely on the best of the year list.