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Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Ten Word or Less Review – 50% less Riddick?  What?!?

Vin Diesel has been busy making Universal Studios $1.7 billion.  In 2009, with his career staled and not many options left, not even a Pacifier sequel on his plate, he crawled back to the car chase franchise he started and salvaged it and himself from total ruin.  With that much money in the til because of his bald head and gravel voice Universal decided to pony up and let Diesel make another Riddick flick, even though the last one, Chronicles of Riddick (2004), blew up in their face like a faulty hand grenade.  Letting Diesel and director David Twohy back into their sick little universe with a limited budget and something to prove should have been a no-brainer.  Not much money, nothing to lose, go batshit guys!  If you lose your ass we’ll make it back on Fast 7.  But sadly, this inexplicable series of movies has probably reached its end.  Riddick is the last thing it ever needed to be, a retread of the first movie.

Riddick doesn’t waste time.  With his hand sticking out of a pile of rocks the injured pseudo-psycho grabs the neck of a pecking vulture thing and promptly strangles it to death.  If Riddick has one thing to commend it’s the first act.  The opening pages of the screenplay are crafty, focused and concise.  The story dispatches with the unconstrained nonsense of Chronicles fairly quickly, letting us know that Riddick has been betrayed and abandoned on a hostile world by the silly costumed Necromongers.  The first half hour of the movie is a pure survival tale, building towards a sort of sci-fi styled The Grey.  Riddick uses craft and ingenuity to survive and no real plot takes shape.  He rescues a vicious little hyena/dog creature and makes it his pet.  He inoculates himself against the poisonous critters that live in the watering hole.  It’s all pretty fucking cool, for a while, and Diesel clearly relishes playing this character to the hilt.  Then with the flick of a switch, literally, Riddick kills itself.

Before long the Rid Man realizes the hostile alien environment is about to become a nasty soup of hungry alien beasties.  He activates a beacon and right away two teams of mercenaries show up to do two things, catch him and ruin the movie. They only succeed at the second thing.  For a solid 30+ minutes, in a move which grows with stupidity the more I dwell on it, the movie hands the story over to this lot of dummies with guns and commences to watch them bicker among themselves.  Did Diesel demand a vacation in the middle of production?  How did this happen?  It’s instant narrative death the minute their boots hit the ground.  The movie flirts with turning Riddick into a Jason/Freddy type, dispatching one dumb goon after another through increasingly grotesque methods, but the idea never takes hold.  I could have lived with that, Hell it could have been a hoot, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The Riddster is ostensibly gone from his own movie, not to appear again until you’ve given up on the thing.  The third act tries to make amends but it turns into is a retread of the first film we never needed to see.  Diesel and Twohy were clearly gung ho about avoiding this kind of creative bankruptcy in the past so why their story suddenly turned chicken shit is beyond me.

Pitch Black dodged going straight to DVD by the skin of its teeth and through the skill and tenacity with which it was made became a well regarded cult hit.  Chronicles of Riddick wasn’t good for much but it had the audacity to be totally different from the original and completely fucking goofy to boot.  Time has been kind to it as it works better on TV than it did in theaters.  It kind of looks like a fancy schmancy movie for TNT anyway.  I don’t see any kind of forgiving future for Riddick.  It’s got it’s moments, the machete kick, but the gaps between those moments are long, crushing and dull.  Maybe this character can continue on regardless.  Maybe this series is destined to be just like its central character, an indestructible force that no amount of stupidity can kill off.  At the least, another billion bucks in Fast & Furious money should get another one off the ground.  If so, do better next time guys.  And don’t forget, we’re there for Riddick.  Everyone else should be there to say as little as possible before he kills them.

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Ten Word or Less Review: Wall-E + Terminator + ID4 + Moon = Dumb

Oblivion cinches it.  I’m absolutely certain that Director Joseph Kosinski is not a real person.  I mean he is a real guy, but he’s an actor of a sort playing the part of young, hot shot director for the studios.  The real director of Oblivion, and I suspect Kosinski’s last film Tron: Legacy, is a computer program.  Oblivion makes me feel as if some A.I. software has been developed in secret and tasked with making a movie to see if we grasped the programming language to achieve such a thing.  We will call this A.I. Directo-Bot.  Hollywood has been eager to turn over the movie industry to the tech community for a while now.  CGI slathered over everything, digital performances, digital stuntmen, digital projectors, Directo-Bot just takes it to the next level.  No more hassle dealing with agents and egos and commanding personalities.  I can see the conversations now going on in executive offices.  “David Fincher wants to spend how much on what?  Screw him!  Get me Directo-Bot!”  Just a computer and a camera and, for the time being, a few people running around in front of both.

So how does this A.I. program work?  We can only speculate.  I would guess Directo-Bot first creates crisp digital imagery as if it’s crafting the world’s most desirable screensaver.  I say this because most of Oblivion looks like a really pretty screensaver.  These high-res screensavers are what is used to sell the movie more than anything so their execution is paramount.  Of course, the dazzling imagery is impossible to argue with in terms of quality, but that’s the rub.  The end result winds up being a movie like Oblivion, which feels scrubbed of anything which could be an imperfection.  A sort of digital antiseptic vibe permeates every sanitized frame and passes it off as story.

And as for story, Directo-Bot creates a scenario based on the success of past science fiction efforts like Wall-E, Terminator, Moon, Independence Day, etc.  It pulls elements from each that it deems integral to its success and jigsaws them into a narrative which feels familiar and inoffensive.  Oblivion has this in spades, right down to the end where the alien menace is thwarted by a big, secret bomb.  Can alien invasions be thwarted any other way?  And since Directo-Bot is a computer it’s unable to understand genuine human emotion, but none the less realizes it as a necessary story component.   To account for this it minimizes the amount of emotion on display to smiles, single tear drops and occasional shouting from the actors.  My guess is that Cruise absolutely loved working with this thing.

When the imagery has been compiled, rendered and processed Directo Bot edits and scores the feature to a smooth, cool techno soundtrack.  Even though large holes in the story are abundantly clear, it deems these narrative gaffs as inconsequential.  To fix them would have require a whopping 20 additional minutes of pre-production time.  Those are precious minutes Directo-Bot needs to dedicate towards CGI rendering and the day’s lunch menu.  The fact that the story is without logic is assumed to be unimportant to the intended audience anyway.  They are here to see the entity known as Tom Cruise and all the pristine digital landscapes.  As long as both of those requirements are met the remaining elements are given lesser priority.

In the end the finished product is uploaded to digital projectors and content providers around the world for carbon unit consumption.  Directo-Bot hopes that you enjoy your feature presentation.  Maybe when the audience is made up of robots, that will happen.  Until that time, it sucks.

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Ten Word or Less ReviewHumpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Think of Blue Jasmine as a story of two eggs, a Faberge egg and one of those plastic Easter eggs you buy a bag of at Wal-Mart for $2.  The Faberge egg, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, is beautiful and refined.  It sparkles in the sunlight like a diamond and draws the admiration of many.  People talk about it at great length with eloquence and grace and its value is considered priceless.  Then there’s the plastic egg, Sally Hawkin’s Ginger, Jasmine’s sister.  There’s nothing special about the plastic egg.  It sits in the bag with all the other plastic eggs doing what plastic eggs do.  The real test comes when you take both eggs and drop them on the floor.  The plastic egg splits into two pieces, you pick them up and put them back together and everything is fine.  This is Ginger.  The Faberge egg shatters into millions of pieces.  It cannot be put back together.  No amount of care or attention will ever fix it.  It’s ruined.  This is Jasmine.

We’re introduced to Jasmine in an airplane.  She’s talking to a fellow first class passenger and as we continue on, off the plane and to baggage claim, she simply never stops talking.  Jasmine is clearly a wrong moment away from imploding.  Just getting to her sister’s apartment seems like an ordeal which may rock Jasmine right out of her tailored clothing.  Blue gradually reveals to the audience that Jasmine’s husband (Alec Baldwin) was a Bernie Madoff styled crook whose fake empire has fallen, leaving Jasmine destitute and ruined, mentally as well as financially.  The movie commences to go back and forth between the life of blind indulgence before the fall, and her crumbled life of the now, living with a sister she barely knows, contempt for which she can barely mask.

People of refinement, intellect and/or stature are who Allen is comfortable making movies about.  His films have more often than not been populated by those who are well off or plan to turn out that way.  This isn’t the first time Allen has turned his sights on the destructive nature of privilege and the facade that comes with excess but Jasmine marks his attempt to update the discussion for our current economic age.  The questions which hang over the story become partially about Jasmine ability to save herself, but eventually, is Jasmine worth saving?  Was she ever someone of value?  How completely does the pampered life leave one unable to function away from it?  And maybe most importantly, if Jasmine ever was someone of note, can she be again?

The movie doesn’t give us much hope in the last question.  Blanchett’s high strung creation keeps popping Zanex like Tick Tacks while downing vodka like a burly Russian lumberjack.  Jasmine’s attempts at rebuilding seem halfhearted and doomed from the get go.  She can’t stop reliving moments from her past, talking to no one, totally unaware that others are giving her the crazy lady look.  So it’s the other question that starts to take shape instead.  Was Jasmine ever somebody worth something?  The answer there is a little less clear and perhaps somewhat of a letdown.

Sympathy for Blanchett’s creation may be hard to grasp but we can’t help but watch and be drawn into her orbit.  Blanchett is too keen a performer to make Jasmine truly detestable or loathsome.  She’s a broken woman with little in the way of positive attributes but really hating her stays just out of reach.  We’re magnetized by her delusions and the wreck as a whole.  Blanchett, a charmed and graceful performer who is hard not to take as a paragon of elegance all the time, achieves panic and blind self-destruction with deft skill.  Hers is a great performance of an unflattering character that we should detest, but in the end don’t.  Though we see her complicit in her own destruction one can only speculate that they would do anything different.  Really, how much would you lie to yourself to stay on top of the mountain?

The rest of Blue world is made up of working class types who Jasmine can relate to about as much as a flamingo can relate to a plastic turtle.  Her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkis) is a divorced mother of two bagging groceries for a living.  Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is essentially a day laborer/handyman.  Baldwin’s husband character destroyed their life as well when his cookie crumbled.  Ginger now dates a grease monkey (Bobby Cannavale) and then gets sidetracked into a dalliance with a sound system installer played by Louis C.K.  This side of the movie feels less involving, using Ginger’s romantic ups and downs as a dramatic opposite to the overblown drama of Jasmine’s.  Of course, seeing the Diceman in a real movie, a Woody Allen movie of all things, and actually holding his own is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself.  But Allen has less of a grasp or interest in characters like this.  His screenplay, which feels hurried in that way most of his do, eventually gives way to circumstantial plotting around too many corners as it hurries to wrap itself up in a time frame Allen seems adamant about adhering to no matter the cost.

Blue Jasmine is not the best Allen has had to offer as a filmmaker but it is at least an interesting attempt at meaningful story, character.  It’s a cynical piece and those looking for uplift and humor will only find barbed observations.  Blanchett’s full force performance is enough to hang the movie on with ease and watching this person disintegrate before our eyes makes the film worth the effort.

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The World’s End  – The most fun to be had at a theater all summer.  Superman, Star Trek and their insane budgets can suck it.  Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and his two muses (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) complete their trifecta of genre movie love.  After manipulating the tropes of zombie and cop movies the trio have turned their sights on the alien invasion flick but done it by way of a drinking movie.  Wright’s direction is electrifying as always and Pegg and Frost maintain the kind of convincing and cathartic on-screen chemistry that has made them nerd movie gods.  Silly as Hell but whip smart and not to be missed.  Not many people may be saying it now but this is the best of their films together.  Easily.  Like everything these boys have done together the larger audience seems to miss the boat but the cool kids know.  If you’re one of the cool kids, you know who you are, it’s an experience which will not disappoint.

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The Way, Way Back – One of the sleeper hits of the summer isn’t anything more than your average coming of age movie 101.  Sullen and insular young teenager goes to beach for the summer with Mom and her asshole boyfriend and learns life lessons.  Cliches run rampant and asshole characters lurk behind every corner.  Sam Rockwell, who looks like he may be turning into the new Bill Murray, turns on the left field, stream of conscious wit and almost makes the movie worth watching.  Almost.  Adventureland was way better.