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Monthly Archives: July 2013

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th1NTVIhUQU%5D
Ten Word or Less Review – Hugh Jackman stabs people.  Again.

It just occurred to me that The Wolverine marks the 6th X-Men movie, Fox’s 13 year old franchise about mutants living among us.  Next to the wizarding adventures of Harry Potter, and maybe Saw, I’m not sure there’s been a more prolific series of movies in this young millennium.  The first movie is slapdash but executed with determination.  Its sequel stands as a high water mark in the ever expanding library of comic book flicks.  The third movie is regrettably terrible.  But then there’s the first Wolverine movie which is more terrible.  The whole X-Men franchise looked to be about done after that turdy fiasco.  Then First Class came along, free of expectations because everyone simply thought it would suck, and suddenly the X franchise has some vitality again.  So determined not to go out looking like a one movie chump, Hugh Jackman leads the charge in getting another stand alone movie for his character off the ground and he claimed to have learned his lesson.  Unlike the first Wolverine movie, the new film avoids painful action movie cliches, really bad FX and pointless mutant overpopulation.  You paid attention Hugh and we applaud you for that.  But instead of those attributes The Wolverine consist of dourness, tedium and, as proof that you weren’t listening completely, some pointed moments of real stupidity.  So congrats Hugh.  You’ve made your second lousy Wolverine film, and the first thoroughly boring X-Men flick.

To place The Wolverine in chronology among the rest of the series it takes place some time after the painfully bad X3.  Wolverine is all bummed out and riddled with regret over killing the love of his life, Jean Grey.  What choice did he have?  She had turned into a mutant psycho bitch.  Anyway, like any man who has killed his love because she went bananas in the head and started killing everyone by turning them to ash he’s retreated to the top of a mountain to be alone with his thoughts, a bottle of hooch and a friendly bear named Yogi.  After a couple of dickhead hunters shoot Yogi in the ass with poison arrows for stealing their picnic basket Wolverine comes down from mount moody to dispense some justice.  He’s quickly sidetracked by a character imported from an anime movie and told that an old friend wants to see him before he dies.  Before all this drunk on a mountain with a bear stuff we saw Wolverine in Japan where he saves a soldier from the atom bomb by shielding him with his body.  Apparently Wolverine can stop radioactive fallout too.  The movie doesn’t get into that.  But that guy he saved so long ago wants to see him.  So anime girl and Wolverine take off for Japan.  Yogi is still dead.  Unlike most characters in movies like this he doesn’t come back.  Which is too bad because he seemed like a nice bear.

They get to Japan and before you can say ‘Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto’ Wolverine finds himself caught up in the machinations of a painfully uninteresting plot that the viewer is supposed to enjoy because it’s less obviously shitty than the last Wolverine movie.  The man Wolverine saved went on to become a billionaire industrialist.  On his really cool deathbed he offers Wolverine the gift of mortality.  I really need to emphasize the coolness of that bed.  I mean it’s awesome.  It’s like a Seely Posturpedic for God.  It’s got all these rounded rods that respond to your every move.  It’s so cool that you might even phase the movie out looking at it.  It’s hypnotic.  Anyway, Wolverine is pretty leery of this idea but seriously considers it because he’s been alive a real long time and killing people has gotten kind of boring for him.  As he’s thinking about giving up the one thing that pretty much defines him as a person besides his knife hands the plot takes over.  He sort of loses his healing powers.  There’s a chase scene on a train that isn’t bad.  But to cut to the chase, The Wolverine settles into an unshakable boredom usually reserved for dramas you watch for 20 minutes on Netflix before saying ‘screw this’ and turning on Wrath of Khan.

Wolverine mistakes dourness for integrity and protracted, redundant dialogue for drama.  Director James Mangold does what he can to make a sharp looking film but he’s trying to breath life into a slab of marble.  The pretty movie lurches along with scene after scene of Jackman looking lost and confused.  He’s pretty much in a stupor for a good 45 minutes because every time he gets shot he gets woozy.  That’s his big change in character this time.  Instead of getting shot and pissed he gets shot and then gets woozy and the camera goes all fuzzy on us.  His character has to spend an eternity figuring out what’s going on but the audience should have it pegged in about 5 seconds.  And that’s the biggest mistake of all with The Wolverine.

Everyone involved seems very conscious of trying to transcend the limitations of the comic book movie but in its place they’ve constructed nothing more than a generic potboiler with boring Japanese guys in suits.  If you took out the higher sci-fi elements you’d have the kind of mundane movie Wesley Snipes made constantly through out the 90’s.  Then at the 11th hour, suddenly aware that this is a movie based on a comic property and that silly shit usually does happen in these things, The Wolverine shifts drastically back into silly comic book mode.  Ninjas suddenly start jumping out from everywhere.  A 12-foot tall metal samurai robot behemoth is unleashed.  Visions of Robo Cop 2 started to dance in my head.  A venom spitting snake woman sheds her skin.  The movie suddenly becomes a goofy, transparent retread of Iron Man.  Except for the snake woman bit.  They came up with that all on their own.  Way to go guys.

Roger Ebert lamented the X-Men movies to some extent because of their over reliance on the Wolverine character and maybe he had a point.  I’m not sure Wolverine ever had a chance at being a compelling leading character because besides being surly and psychopathic, what is there to the guy?  Knife hands?  He’s got centuries of knowledge and experience behind him and all he can really ever think to do is stab people.  Stabbing people is his solution for everything.  When he goes to the movies and someone looks at their cellphone does he stab them?  When he goes to a restaurant and the chef overcooks his steak does he stab them?  When the dry cleaner ruins his shirt is it stabby time?  Here’s an idea Jackman.  I know this is Wolverine and stabbing people is unavoidable, but developing a character trait beyond that attribute may be in order if you’re going to keep shoving this character down our throat.  Edward Scissorhands sculpted lawn art, could Wolverine maybe try painting?  I may not know the plot to next summers next X-Men adventure but I do know this much, your character is probably going to stab a lot of people.

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Ten Word or Less Review : Holy crap this didn’t suck…much!

The age of the revisionist fairy tale is in full swing and Hollywood is determined to leave no old fabled left unmolested.  Most of these endeavors, Alice in Wonderland, Oz: The Great and Powerful, Jack the Giant Slayer, are turned into CGI baby food for the family movie crowd to digest without effort or concern.  Grotesque amounts of money are dumped into paper thin stories and the simple morals of these elderly fables are drawn out so far that they crush under the weight.  The minds behind Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters have blessedly avoided such pedantic and misguided ambitions.  Their twisted fairy tale is barely 90 minutes long and it gleefully strives for it’s well deserved R-rating.  Horror, gore and blood are what H&G invests in and while calling it ‘good’ is out of the question, it is unabashedly fun.

H&G doesn’t have much of a story to dwell on.  There’s a tragic back story of a sort you’ve seen before.  <cough, cough, Sleepy Hollow, cough, cough>  The title siblings, Hansel, played with a begrudgingly shitty attitude by Jeremy Renner, and Gretel, played with less resentment by Gemma Arterton, roam the unspecified Eastern European landscape attempting to rid the world of witches.  Really, Renner seems mad to be here.  After two Oscar nominations and sitting at the Mission: Impossible, Avengers and Bourne tables he seems genuinely pissed to be slumming it in these waters.   The adventure at hand takes them to a town where children are being abducted by a witch (Famke Janssen) hoping to sacrifice them and make her flammable, stick riding kind impervious to fire.  On paper none of this sounds the least bit remarkable, practically a retread of Terry Gilliam’s sour tasting Brothers Grimm, but in execution H&G is executed with a kind of B-movie glee bigger productions seem too terrified to embrace.  Maybe being released to theaters by the skin of your teeth is a blessing in disguise.

I have no idea what year H&G is supposed to take place, (17th century?) but Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola quickly lets it be known that he intends to fart in the face of anything resembling historical accuracy.  Rapid fire cross bows, shotguns, machine guns, explosives, record players, it’s all fair game.  They should have just let go completely and had someone wield an ipod made out of sticks and squirrel entrails.  But more than the anachronistic weaponry, H&G revels in unabashed gore.  Wirkola’s style is more akin to Sam Raimi before the $200 millions budgets rotted his brain.  When go to movie asshole Peter Stormare (Brothers Grimm again!) gets his head squashed via a giant troll’s foot, you have to respect the splatterific effort on display.  Considering the frequency with which people get popped, squished and dismembered in H&G, one might be tempted to think that watermelon hating comedian Gallagher directed the movie.  Wirkola also doesn’t over cut or use any damned shakeycam when shooting action.  A schlocky action movie that doesn’t adhere to the ADD aesthetic so many others feel is mandatory should always generate at least a small amount of respect.  And though there’s some liberal use of middling quality CGI, Wirkola knows not to put such humdrum effects front and center.  The guy likes his physical effects and camera tricks, cheesy though many of them may be.  The psychotically violent and all ‘guy in a suit’ Edward the Troll looks like a refuge from 80’s fantasies like Legend or Neverending Story.  Delightful.

Hansel & Gretel doesn’t deserve any kind of shiny award for being trashy.  As fun as it is it is still junk food cinema and you won’t respect yourself much when its through.  But when compared to what passes for trash these days it at least deserves a hearty pat on the back.  Or as the makers of this flick might prefer, a club through the brain complete with brain matter on the walls.  Kudos guys.  Good luck with a sequel and good luck getting Renner to not be so pissed about it.

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

Ten Word or Less Review BIG MONSTERS!  BIG ROBOTS!  little people.

The ads and trailers to Pacific Rim left everyone with the vivid impression that director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) was crafting a monster movie for the ages.  300 foot tall robots, AKA Jaegers.  300 foot tall monsters, AKA Kaiju.  Thousands of people and big cities in the way of the two engaging in fisticuffs.  Cue up the mayhem.  But what the trailers skipped over was any pesky human element.  I saw a few fleeting images of some actors in goofy suits and Idris Elba declaring that the Apocalypse had been cancelled.  Sorry, no refunds.  But would Del Toro, a great writer of character and story, really abandon his fundamental strengths for nothing more than pure, unadulterated robot on monster carnage?  The answer is a profound yes.  So if you’re okay with that, prepare to be blissed out while watching Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim is about absolutely nothing other than 300 ft gargantuan adversaries beating the crap out of each other.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s not an insult.  When these behemoths do battle the movie achieves a level of epic no other contemporary special effects effort can match.  Iron Man can suck it.  And unlike another mucho hyped director of oversized robot destruction, name begins with B, ends in Y and has an A in the middle, Del Toro loves to photograph his action in clean, easy to follow action.  His army of special effects wizards have created stunning CGI imagery, so why chop the film up like it’s being processed through a blender and make it impossible to appreciate?  His ability to reflect the scale of his robot and monster creations is a sight to behold and is easily the glue that holds an otherwise rickety movie together.  And that rickety side can be hard to ignore.

To describe the plot would only take a couple of succinct sentences but Del Toro and story creator Travis Beacham’s screenplay labors under unnecessary pressure of trying to explain its overtly simple and silly scenario.  Aliens open rift under the ocean.  They send big monsters to destroy our cities.  We create big robots to stop them.  They fight.  The ending of The Avengers and Independence Day hangs heavy in the air.  Roll credits.  Rim expends far too much narrative effort to make sure the audience not only understands the scenario, but piles on even more effort for inner workings that aren’t nearly as interesting as the filmmakers think they are.  All this explanation feels unnecessary and drawn out.  We’re here to experience a 2500 ton robot smash a giant monster in the head with an oil tanker and when that happens, it’s awesome.  To fuss so much over ‘drifting’, the mind melding process which allows two people to operate a giant robot, starts to get old fast.  At 2 hours plus Pacific Rim could use some tightening.

Del Toro’s ability to create emotionally compelling characters has also been purposefully left off the table.  This is a guy who created an awesome character out of smoke, so to see him slip into this level of perfunctory character creation is a let down.  Within the confines of Rim he’s pouring his massive budget into his robot/monster battles and his visual efforts into the spectacle as a whole.  What we’re left with on the human scale is a group of passable performers wrangled up from the likes of the FX network.  Star Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is serviceable as the typical hero character who comes with standard issue back story.  The guy could be any lead in any action movie and he’d be the same.  Idris Elba (The Wire) carries the movie on his back with a firm determination and presence that makes you wonder why he’s not the star.  Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) are a pair of kooky, misbegotten scientist characters meant to channel an offbeat sense of humor but they’re a bit of a misfire.  If anything they distract more than any one other part.   Japanese actress Rinko Kinkuchi (Babel) rounds out the leads by handling herself just well enough to not be totally overshadowed by all the giant workings surrounding her.  Del Toro muse Ron Perlman (Hellboy) only gets to steal a few scenes as a sleazy peddler of black market monster parts.

I guess Pacific Rim is about the best an audience can expect during this particular summer movie season.  It’s huge and mindless and goofy but just fun and unique enough to enjoy.  Despite it’s shortcomings it never irks or plods or insults the viewer too directly.  I think its creators know quite well what they were making and one hopes that should a second adventure materialize, the robot gloves will come off.  They’ll be free to take their enormous instruments of destruction and go truly bonkers, sparing us the whys and the hows.  We don’t really want that.  We’re here for the monsters and robots.  The rest doesn’t have to be window dressing, but alas it is.

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTM0lAiSJ6w%5D

Ten Word or Less Review – Naked alien woman conquers the world!

Of all the old school tools the contemporary, incorporated Hollywood machine has rooted out of the sci-fi/fantasy filmmaking process, next to matte paintings and model work I think I may miss cocaine the most.  As Rick James was fond of saying “Cocaine is a Hell of a drug.”  As directors and storytellers dreamed up unparalleled ideas of gargantuan stupidity, in this case Texas Chainsaw director Tobe Hooper and Alien writer Dan O’Bannon, all the blow they snorted through their rolled up Benjamins made them impervious to any suggestion that what they were making may be less than the greatest movie ever made.  Such thinking is the only way to explain movies like Zardoz, The Keep and the film we’re here to talk about now, Lifeforce.

Lifeforce easily belongs among those classic ranks of the great, mind boggling sci-fi fiascoes.  It begins with a group of astronauts flying towards Haley’s Comet hoping to study the once in a lifetime cosmic event.  As they approach, their instruments detect the presence of another ship orbiting the comet.  A gargantuan space vessel that looks like a funky weed growing in your back yard that Round Up couldn’t dispatch, they enter the ship through a portal which can only be described as an enormous space anus.  Within the space anus they find a dead race of humanoid bat creatures as well as a perfectly preserved hot, naked chick.  There are also two naked dudes too.  With me so far?  Thinking this is certainly worth ogling, I mean ‘researching’, the astronauts take the naked people back to their space shuttle.  Cut to a month later.  The shuttle approaches Earth and when intercepted, it’s found with its crew dead and the shuttle’s insides burned up, except for the three hot naked people.  Still in their tubes and sound asleep, the recovery crew begin to ogle, I mean ‘examine’ the hot, frozen space chick, and promptly decide to take her back to Earth for ‘researching.’  Anyone still here?

Once planet side, the naked, alien space babe wakes up and promptly sucks the life out of an unlucky schlep who’s too curious for his own good.  When she does this it’s like watching a death scene from a Highlander movie.  Lights flash.  Lightning strikes.  Spooky blue smoke starts flying around.  A smoldering corpse with bug eyes is all that’s left.  You figure after this happens once someone would just shoot naked alien space babe and be done with it but once a hypnotic blue light emanates from her naughty, below the belt bits all bets are off.  The smoldering corpse gets up and tries to suck the life out of the next dummy.  One of the astronauts turns up in an escape pod and recounts a story just about the dimmest viewer could have figured out by now.  The naked space babe stays naked for a while longer but then she starts to jump into other peoples bodies and becomes decidedly less naked and things become a little less exciting but still wildly senseless.  The kind of senseless only drug fueled minds can make heads or tales out of.

What else happens in this thing?  Patrick Stewart appears as a doctor and his head melts.  After buzzing around the country trying to figure shit out our protagonists head back to London to find the whole city in flames with life sucking zombies running wild.  The astronaut has an Argento inspired wet dream with the naked alien space babe.  The movie copies the end of the first Star Trek movie except the two people being warped up in the great blue light are naked.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot.  Lifeforce really leaves you in a stupor.  It’s $25 million bucks of dope fueled wackness.

Hollywood only wants to make $200 million sci-fi bonanzas, most of which play like cinematic Valium.  If just once they gave someone that much money and an equally proportional amount of nose candy to go along with it, I’m sure a movie of unparalleled awesomeness could come into being.  A movie with rampant nudity, exploding dinosaurs, time travel via toaster and an all Funkadelic soundtrack.  It would star Keanu Reaves as Jesus Christ Jr., Gary Busey as the Nazi Pope, Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken III and Dolph Lundgren as himself.  And he would appear in the movie riding a flying shark that has the voice of Leonard Nimoy.  Of course none of this, or anything like it, will come to pass.  The powers that be will simply smear white face paint on Johnny Depp and call it fun.  And that will never be as fun as movies like Lifeforce.   Thanks Mitch.  After seeing this every movie forever will somehow seem inferior.

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The Last Stand – Arnold’s return to action movies proves to be far less rickety and stagnant than the efforts he was putting out 10 years ago when he left acting behind for politics.  Did anyone see Collateral Damage?  The plot of Stand is slim and almost too silly for words, a drug dealer escaping to the border in a really fast car, and the first half of the movie is too protracted but once the fireworks start going off Last Stand proves itself to be adequately bananas.  The movie becomes an unhinged battle of bullets and blood which feels invigorating when compared to the sanitized carnage on display in bigger budget flicks.  Sadly, Arnold’s nutty little action flick went seen by no one.  He said he’d be back, he was, where were you?

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Mud – Gritty, Arkansas set coming-of-age/crime drama featuring a stellar performances from Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Tye Sheridan.  Ellis (Sheridan) and his buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover an abandoned boat on a small island that they hope to claim for themselves.  Instead they find Mud (McConaughey), a mysterious, grimy looking character who immediately draws them into his confidence with his tale of ruined romance and murder.  There’s a lot to appreciate in Mud, it flirts with being great in places, but director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) seems afraid of applying momentum to his story when he could start to use it.  Things also gets thematically thick fingered and obvious in places.  Why did people yelp at the snake scene?  Despite the hiccups it’s a worthy effort and further proof that it’s okay to take McConaughey serious again.

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Much Ado About Nothing – Right around the time he was tapped to helm one of the biggest movies ever, The Avenger, director Joss Whedon decided to get his friends together and make an adaptation of this well worn Shakespeare comedy in his house.  Assembling a cast made up of refuges from his various TV shows, Whedon puts together a commendable effort that fans of the Whedonverse will love to play spot the actor while watching.  The effort is loose and fun and the black and white photography helps mask the no budget nature of the production.  Kenneth Branagh’s version from the early 90’s is still tops.  Amy Acker stands out as the fierce and feisty Beatrice.  Alexis Denisof’s turn as Benedict is the one bit of casting which feels off the mark.  An all around good time though I felt a little stiffed for paying the late night price.  When you see it pop up on Netflix, enjoy.