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Category Archives: 2013 Movies

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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.

Ten Word or Less Review – World War Zzzzzzzz

Brad Pitt spends the majority of this film running to catch helicopters and airplanes.  It’s amazing what Hollywood can spend $190 million on.  Max Brooks’ book, an acclaimed oral history of the zombie apocalypse told from the perspective of dozens of characters, gets its title adapted and not much else. The multitude of stories and personalities he created have been hacked down to a threadbare narrative in which Brad Pitt tries to solve the riddle of the zombie attack which is taking over the world.  At least Director Marc Foster can be given some small amount of credit for keeping things moving.  WWZ has a merciful sense of quick pacing most movies this summer couldn’t be bothered with.  But you get the feeling that things move so fast to disguise the simple fact that there’s almost no story to follow or invest in.  And the PG-13 rating means that everything has been scrubbed and sanitized to a fault.  The much troubled production, complete with release delays and a newly shot finale act, isn’t any kind of epic foul up, it’s just another movie with a lot of people running in circles for very little purpose. Ho hum.

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Ten Word or Less Review – Big ideas and exploding people.

Director Neill Blomkamp is establishing himself up as a politically charged sci-fi guy, but he needs to think a lot harder before attempting more movies like Elysium.  Much like his first movie District 9, Elysium is ripe with political hot topics.  With his new film Blomkamp wants to address issues such as out of control upper class privilege, immigration, ineffective medical care and abusive political control.  But by the time the credits role he’s said nothing useful about any of those things other than that they do indeed exist.  This is what passes for insight in modern movie making.  Exactly like District 9 Blomkamp throws his ideas out the window after an hour or so and becomes preoccupied with making people go kablooey all over the screen.  After two films it’s clearly a fetish with him.  Maybe he played with explosives to much as a kid.

As a weekend action movie Elysium is passable.  It has very commendable special effects and the first half of the movie is engrossing and well constructed.  There is an inescapable sensation though that Blomkamp’s scenario as a whole hasn’t been totally thought out.  What exactly is the plan for people who escape to Elysium, the great haven for the rich floating in Earth orbit?  Some of the satirical bits are pretty sharp and star Matt Damon fits right into heightened chase escapades like this.  But as the plot escalates more inconsistencies creep into things and the general attitude of action movie nonsense takes over.  The whole exploding people thing again.  The film culminates in an ending which is somehow upbeat but completely divorced from any logic the movie has spent more than enough time establishing.  In short, the world is still a total environmental and economic disaster and billions of people live in filth and poverty but they’ll have some fancy medical robots to help them out.  That makes everything okay?  Blomkamp seems to think so.

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Ten Word or Less Review – God might forgive this crap.  Maybe.

This is what happens when you let a talented guy make whatever the fuck he wants without question.  Sometimes it’s as if filmmakers with unique perspective and genuine skill, when left unchecked, will set out to make a film guaranteed to be loathed and hated by the audience who has elevated them to their respected position.  After Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese made the New York, New York, a wretched musical drama that had Robert DeNiro looking like he wanted punch Liza Minnelli in the face for three hours.  Steven Spielberg followed up Close Encounters with 1941, a film that ran on the assumption that lots of noise was funny.  In all fairness neither guy likely had audience alienation in mind with their respective efforts.  But I’m not sure about Nicholas Winding Refn.  He isn’t in the same rarefied class of those filmmakers but his last effort, Drive, was instantly granted cult status among film nerds.  With it’s smooth groove soundtrack and hip vibe of McQueen styled machoism, Drive became an instant part of modern film worship over night and many assumed Refn was a new golden boy.  So it was with extreme enthusiasm that people anticipated Only God Forgives and it was with muted glee that Refn looks to have spit blood into the face of his audience.   Only God Forgives is a fiasco of overindulged bullshit that no one could make with any other purpose other than to test the patience and morals the poor assholes watching.

For Only God Forgives, Refn sets his sights on the neon hive of perversion and illicitness that is Bangkok.  He drops Gosling into his misguided story about revenge and parenting gone awry as a lure for the audience.   Gosling character has a scumbag of a brother who kills a 16 year old prostitute, though he really was hoping to kill a 14 year old.  Even in Bangkok you can’t get everything all the time.  No one told Refn that no one wants to watch a revenge tale established around the demise of someone we’re happy to see dead.  The quixotic and cold-hearted police investigator in charge of the crime lets the dead girl’s father beat the brother to death with a club.  Then to amend that act of retribution, the investigator cuts off the father’s arm.  Don’t complain about J-Town cops so much people.  Then Gosling’s Lady Macbeth of a mother shows up.  She’s played by Kristin Scott Thomas and if they still used actual film she’d literally be trying to remove it from the camera and eat it with her bare hands, shoveling mouthfuls into her makeup caked face.  Her schemes at vengeance, which ensnare her surviving son, are thwarted by the coldly psychopathic Bangkok policeman.  He comes across like a Bangkok bred Terminator with a sword strapped to his back, though oddly enough we never notice it there.  It appears almost at will like some kind of disappearing/reappearing third arm.  Dispassionately dispatching one person and then another and another and another, Only God Forgives follows this guy as he dolls out death with a blank stare on his face.  When it’s over most of the cast is dead or missing a limb and then karaoke is sung.  The End.

Forgives plays like a 90 minute psychopathic fever dream.  Refn shoots every scene in over-saturated, neon colors which practically bleed off the screen.  It’s supposed to be hypnotic and beautiful but it mostly just gives you a headache.  The film has so much amped up red that after a while I started to pray for the onset of color blindness.  Refn’s thread bare story is told with heavy-handed symbolism and stoic gestures at every turn.  It’s biggest issue, among many, is that it’s intensely one note in nature.  The dreamscape atmosphere never subsides for a minute, eventually becoming mundane.  Even David Lynch knew to break up the odd with a grounded scene at one turn or another.  What’s here is a droning and dull story punctuated by fits of bloodletting and murder.  And poor Gosling gets drug down into it willingly.

Gosling is playing a white piece of paper posing as a person.  His mother calls him a drug dealer but we never see him actually deal drugs.  He hangs out in a boxing arena but he’s not a fighter.  Or at least not a good one.  What he is is a hollow statue.  I can understand Gosling’s desire to take a break from acting after a film such as this.  His character has been written as nothing more than an empty vessel to signify impotence and inaction in the wake of twisted maternal issues.  The wave of admiring man crushes and female desires he inspired in Drive have been amputated completely.  Gosling’s character frequently visits an attractive Bangkok call girl that he passively watches but never lays a finger on.  He seems to work in the fight field but when he goes toe to toe with psycho cop he gets his ass whupped.  His venomous mother degrades his existence and he sits there like a wide-eyed, unresponsive lump of unchanneled tension.  His dialogue is sparse and his facial expression a constant, locked in void.  Refn looks to have directed him to be as remote and emotionless as possible at every moment, creating not a character, but a shell that absorbs physical and emotional abuse.  It’s a stunning piece of non-performance.  Scott Thomas is the only other performer to note.  She says outlandish and gross statements meant to provoke shock, basically flirting with turning into Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.  Hers is a disingenuous performance right down to her bad blonde locks.  It’s attention grabbing to be sure but it’s also ridiculous and silly.

The worst thing about Only God Forgives is that, despite everything I’ve said about it, there isn’t much special in how bad it is.  It’s unabashedly lousy, dumb and boring but at the end of the day it’s just a crummy art house flick that no one will remember for long.  I doubt even Refn and Gosling are going to strive to recall things about this one at the end of their day.  The only thing really special about it is that everyone went in expecting a lot and what we got for our expectations was a lot of neon lights, severed arms and blood.  And one more reason to hate karaoke.  I won’t write off Refn though.  After New York, New York Scorsese made Raging Bull.  In the wake of 1941 Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If someone tells Refn that there’s no future in bloody, neon soaked nihilism, there may be hope for him yet.

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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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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9246msCh7x4%5D

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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