Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review of "Star Wars:The Clone Wars" (2008)

Star Wars : The Clone Wars (2008)

If you loved Episode 2 : Attack of the Clones, then you'll love this thing.

Episodes 1-3 have made the Star Wars universe rather irrelevant. I blame George Lucas, since it was he that made it this way with the "quality" of the prequels. This was an opportunity to follow up the decent Star Wars : Clone Wars animated series and bring back some of that relevance. George Lucas had different plans. George thought it would be best to take his "opus" film series and literally defecated on it for the sake of making more money than he can spend in his or his children's lifetimes.

There were warning signs to the quality of this before the movie even started. I saw this at the AMC 84th St theater last night at a free preview. Lets just say the "over-sold" event was anything but (more than a dozen empty seats remained). The rest of the seats seemed to be filled with house-less people (as George would call them). I felt as if I was a stadium extra on the set of Major League 5. There was a row reserved for the press, but strangely it remained empty. Phones were confiscated and placed in zip lock bags with raffle tickets. Bags were searched and people were scanned with metal detectors. Funny, I still managed to get in with a camera. I didn't use it and also didn't have any notions of doing so. I am trying hard to forget the 90 minutes of my life that were wasted. Sadly the neuralizer has not been mass produced yet.

The movie starts with a Starship Trooper introductory narrative, disembodied reporter missing. The story takes place somewhere between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The war between the Separatists and the Republic continues. Jabba the Hutt's tadpole-like son is kidnapped and the Republic's traveling rights through the Outer Rim (controlled by the Hutts) is in jeopardy. Skyywalker is sent in to the rescue, a new unwanted (and quite annoying) padawan (Ahsoka Tano) in tow. Hilarity and adventure ensues..... I wish.

The story is trite and predictable. The voice acting is generally atrocious, Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano) being the worst of the bunch. Matt Lanter (Skyywalker) doesn't fare much better. Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson both reprise their roles, but much like Yoda and Obi-Wan, their presence is mostly filler and in for the backseat role. This is mostly the Anakin and Ahsoka show and boy it sure sucks. The jokes are juvenile at best as well as the character motivations and plot. Lucas spares no movie from his creative racism, this time, by including an English speaking Zero the Hutt, who sounds a lot like Truman Capote. The animation, the savior of most bad CG movies, was rather distracting and flat at times (i.e. R2D2 running over the patterned floor in the monastery).And why are the clone warriors called Cody, Rex and Odd-Ball? Sounds a bit like the cast of High School Musical. Even the battle sequences, I felt as if I were watching a capture the flag session of Star Wars : Battlefront, complete with first person perspective. But I wasn't playing.... for an hour and a half.

This is very obviously meant for an audience of pre-teens and should never had been released on the big screen. It is, at best, a straight to DVD release. I feel it should have been more appropriate as a 3 part event on Cartoon Network or as a downloadable in the iTunes store and no more. George is no longer a film maker (to me at least). He is a hack and anything he touches turns to dust. He has reverse Midas syndrome. He should only be allowed to touch Disney movies or remakes of Disney movies.

Star Wars is officially dead and irrelevant to me now. I will still hold on to episode 4-6 and some of the comic books, but anything new will be ignored, as it will likely have George's mark on it. This new Star Wars is marketed towards a certain group of people, such as the young man who sat in front of me during the movie. He was explaining to his friend how Revenge of the Sith ended on a high note.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Review of "Iron Man (2008)"

Iron Man (2008)

Without the man on the inside its just an empty shell.

The easiest way to sum up this movie is Robert Downey Jr. He is this movie. Robert is Tony Starks. Without Robert this movie would have been empty gadget porn. Don't get me wrong, I like Jon Favreau (the director, who also makes a nice cameo as one of Stark's bodyguards). I really, really like him. I feel a certain kinship as we are both Librans (with birthdays very close together) and both grew up in Queens. I think his role as Mike in Swingers will be forever burned into my consciousness, however, without Robert this movie would have been a flat, ordinary, predictable and gadget ladened comic book based movie.

The movie is a very straight forward narrative (and very predictable) of a talented person caught up in the money, fame and drugs of living the "good life". To say that Tony Starks has an ego is an understatement. You can hate him at the same time you really like him. He is the charismatic rogue and frankly what most men want to be (lets be honest). At the beginning of the movie, Tony lacks a purpose. That purpose is given to him inadvertently when he is kidnapped by some Islamic terrorists (do we really need to get his clichéd?) and forced to build his company's top of the line missile in a cave out of spare parts. Instead he creates an iron suit and decides to escape. The experience infuses Tony with a purpose to make a positive difference in this world, of which the result is Iron Man. There are several subplots, twists and turns, but all are quite predictable (and wrap up quite nicely by the end of the movie).

The supporting cast is good, though I think they're not suppose to overpower or even make much of an impact. They are props for Downey to envelope us in his magic. Does it matter that his personal assistant is played by an Academy Award winning actress (Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts) or that his "friends" have 5 Academy Award nominations between then (Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard)? It doesn't. They are they simply there to fill in any of the rough patches and makes this movie look smooth. For the most part, they succeed, but in a behind the scenes and supportive way. They hardly stand out.

While this is a showcase for Downey, Favreau adds some nice easter eggs for the fans. There are several important easter eggs that Favreau throws out during the course of the film.* He also delves into Stark's relationship and alcohol problems of which Downey has adequate life experiences to base his method acting on. There are adequate crumbs here to lead one to at least one more film. The rest is Downey interacting with technology. What can one say about the special effects of Hollywood that hasn't already been said? This is a prime example of the technical proficiencies of a good Hollywood production, while Favreau keeps it from becoming ridiculous. Tony Starks lives & breaths technology, so it is quite appropriate. Are you taking notes Michael Bay? This is what Transformers should have been like.

To read this review you might think that I didn't enjoy this movie or perhaps have an unhealthy fixation on Robert Downey Jr. Both are not true. I liked this movie and I have never had any doubts about Robert's talent. Iron Man has joined the ranks of Spiderman 2 as my two favorite (and best) comic based movies. Both are very enjoyable, yet flawed (and definitely not horrible. Yes, I'm looking at you Fantastic Four).

Other have dismissed my qualms with the movie by reminding me that this is a comic book based movie. To this I respond with why does a comic book or comic book based movie have to be simple, predictable and clichéd? There are numerous instances of the medium's seriousness and complexity. Why does a summer blockbuster have to be flashy, trite and predictable? It doesn't have to be that way.

This movie is much like most staged performances. You don't want to get to close to the sets/stage or you might risk dispelling the illusion. The same goes for Iron Man. Sit back and enjoy the ride.



-Rhodes makes a comment about a second suit, alluding to War Machine (spin off or next movie??)

-S.H.I.E.L.D is formed.

-In the final scene (pre-credits), Starks admits publicly that he is Iron Man essentially doing away with the duality of superheros (the hero and the disguise).

-After the credits Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance a Marvel's Ultimate Nick Fury.

-Many allusions to what could be the next movie featuring the Mandarin

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Review of "The Starfighters (1964)"

The Starfighters (1964)

It's a Man's Life in the Air Force

I would love to lie and say this movie is epic and memorable, but much like its title, it would be misleading. I will save you the trouble right now, there are no Starfighters (people or ships). The Starfighter is just the name of a prototype jet that is being flown by our protagonists. This is an Air Force melodrama (think Top Gun but boring and unfunny in every possible way) surrounding 3 test pilots and their day-to-day operation, like refueling drills. It seems to have been funded by the US Air Force and might have been used at one time as a recruitment film (until the Air Force found it detrimental to recruitment).

I have only seen this movie in MST3k form and cannot possible imagine trying to survive this movie without some robot companions. To give you an idea of the amount of pain it causes, I will rate this movie at 9 shots of Jameson. Even after 9, I didn't feel sufficiently numbed to the effects of this movie. I just hurts from start to finish.

Exciting things occur like : stock footage of jets, jets refueling, pilots going out on dates, pilots talking to father over the phone, pilot's dad talking to son's commander, more stock footage of refueling, scenes of pilots attempting make out sessions in the desert, awkward angled conversations between pilots, more stock footage and refueling sequences. That is the extent of the recall I wish to retain from the watching of this film. To quote Bela : "Bevare! Take Care!" and skip this movie.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review of "Undersea Kingdom (1936)"

Undersea Kingdom (1936)

Next week : Arena of Death. Follow Me!

I have only seen episode two which was included as the short on the MST3000 episode where they watched the Indestructible Man. The likely reason it was included was the presence of Lon Chaney Jr in both. Lon's the key. Anyway.

I think that is the most memorable aspect of this episodic serial from the 1930's, as the rest appears to be rather common and what one would expect out of a serial of the period (cheap sets, cheap costumes and props, atrocious acting and simple plot lines). If you have seen the Flash Gordon or Batman serials of the same period, then you know what to expect. These serials have not aged well and can be especially (and usually unintentionally) comedic.

Atlantis. Unga Khan (think Ming). Ray Corrigan as Crash Corrigan. Thats an easy one to remember. You're playing yourself, dummy. Horses. Fighting. Robots. "Lasers". What's more to tell? It's not as exciting as it sounds. Outside of a 5 year old, the only entertainment value that can be derived from this as an adult is as some sort of stress relief comedy. Accompany the viewing with others and include at least 3 shots of Gentleman Jack.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Review of "Southland Tales (2006)"

Southland Tales (2006)

Movies like this don't kill themselves, unfortunately they end with a whimper.

Richard Kelly's second directorial feature film is schizophrenic mess. There have been rumors of several versions of this movie, but I have only seen the 144 minute version.

In an alternate version of America, after a nuclear attack on American soil, the country turns into a militarily fascist state. In present day (2008 coincidentally), a well known actor (the Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson) disappears and then re-appears somewhere else, but with amnesia. What happened? What happened is perhaps Richard Kelly has been over-interacting with giant inter-dimensional talking rabbits. The plot is a convoluted mess of previously done material. It felt like I was watching a mash-up of Escape from New York, Total Recall, Running Man, Death Race 2000, Robocop, Minority Report, TimeCop, Enemy of the State, 6th Day, Gattaca, Dark City, and probably a mess of other movies.

There is nothing inherently wrong with creating your own dystopic universe as long as you have a story to back up your universe. In most of these movies the plot is usually overly (and sometimes unnecessarily) complicated and convoluted. I can live with that so long as I come away with something. First and foremost about Southland Tales is that the introduction is storyboarded, accompanied by faux "internet" and regular news, and a narrative by Justin Timberlake. Not that this isn't informative, but it goes on a little long and Kelly reuses this method a few too many times to move the story forward.

In this new and complicated world, there are many factions at work and everything seems to revolve around Boxer Santeros (The missing Rock) and a police office, Roland Taverner. I won't try to unravel the mystery, as it seems to be more of a Russian doll set with the final doll containing nothing but air inside.

The biggest problem is that the movie spends an enormous amount of time building the story, only to leave you hanging out to dry at the end. The world ends? Really?? Really? It ends dramatically instead of a whimper? Really?? Is it implied? Does it happen after the fade to black? I appreciate the director's attempt at a possible and alternate world, his use of Biblical reference and cross-reference to events in the movie and the Total Recall story line (is it all a dream or is this real), but in the end it is all for not.

The amazing cast is also wasted as is the opportunity to make a timely and relevant message. I guess thats Hollyw0od for you. There is a message but it never delves past the superficial. In my opinion the message is a bit "DUH" (the response to someone telling you something obvious like water's wet, the sky is blue and the world is spherical), especially in light of all the previously mentioned futuristic predecessors.

Just because Richard Kelly discovered what most should already know, does not make it a good film. Instead, Richard would have to offer a different perspective to make it relevant, but instead he decides to hide his lack of originality in subterfuge. Richard also does not do action well, further handicapping what could have been an enjoyably, exaggerated action movie world. This isn't a bad movie, but because the director feels the need to disguise it in non-existent layers just hurts everything.

Normally I would offer an alcoholic recommendation for movies like this, mostly for the pain, but in this case I don't think it will help. I recommend you try any one of the movies I referred to earlier and hope that Richard Kelly isn't a one trick pony.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review of "AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007)"

AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007)

This isn't for our world. 5224-160, I got your nose.

An idea is sometimes better in theory than in execution and two heads are not always better than one. The Aliens vs Predator series has so far proved my previous statement to be an accurate one. The Aliens and Predator franchises, individually, have proved very popular and enjoy a large enough fan base. Their combination has so far only worked in print. Please see my review of AvP for reference. The Alien-Predator hybrid wants to propagate and enjoys the company of pregnant women. The humans are stuck in the middle because this takes place on Earth.

This being the second movie and continuation of Aliens Versus Predator, the story begins with the end of the previous movie. This would be the eruption of a Predator-Alien hybrid (fully grown it resembles a large Alien creature, with a larger head, Predator mouth and Alien dreadlocks - its a composite of both species, duh) out of the dead body of a Predator. For some unknown reason the ship with this new creature is then jettisoned back to Earth after it kills the entire Predator crew. A message is then relayed to an unknown Predator (I would like to refer to this Predator as Sherlock from now on since he seems to be part investigator along with being a tracker and a warrior) on the Predator home world(?). This is all speculation, of course, as none of the Predator's actions, motivations or purpose is ever revealed to us.

I cannot wait for the day when someone will actually make an AvP movie without the humans, as they are the weakest link and generally used as filler. Considering this movie doesn't have human in the title, we spend a lot of time focusing on them. If you want to make a mindless action movie, why go 1/2 way? Go for the gold and nix the humans out of the story. Was there a need to include a budding romance arc in this film? No. Was there a need to vignette the lives of some of the people in this Colorado town? No. This isn't Magnolia, Babel or Crash. There is no need for all this background especially when the people are so cardboard and easily prone to sudden and untimely deaths at the hands of various alien creatures.

The Brothers Strause, as they are referred to in the credits, attempt to create a dog-eat-dog environment with the humans, aliens and predator each as a separate and self interested group with its own agenda. Though the brothers have worked on many visual projects on many movies this is their first theatrical endeavor and it shows. Though visually stunning at times, the pacing is extremely and unnecessarily uneven. The Brothers start out by including more of the Predator behavior and world. I like this aspect (the only aspect I like). We are just given images of "alien" things and we are forced to extrapolate purpose and reasoning. It then turns into a human survival movie. It no longer matters why the Predator pours neon-blue sulfuric Gatorade over some of the corpses, as the now humans are the focal point.

The worst part of the movie is that these two visually experienced "directors" have no clue what an action movie is suppose to have. A good action movie does not need a story line of any quality. A good action movie, much like its' heroes/heroines, includes a single-minded purpose. This is sorely lacking in Requiem as the true action doesn't start until well into the 2nd hour (last 20-25 minutes). The rest of the movie is a slow build up around the lives of boring and stereotypical people of a no name Colorado town. I couldn't find myself caring about any of the "characters" portrayed in this movie. There are no stand-out performances for a movie that should have gone straight to video.

Ultimately we are left with aliens that showed up seemingly as an act of god, amass huge collateral damage and are ultimately nuked by us humans, along with the entire town, with the scope of attacking some alien home world (in the future? or possible AvP 3) that the Illuminati and our world government leaders have already known of. The End. And here I thought the end of Sweeney Todd was sudden. What is even more disheartening is the realization that Requiem is worse than AvP (something I thought impossible).

To quote the homage to the first Predator movie "cleverly" and randomly inserted into Requiem, "Get to the chopper". If you or someone you know is thinking about watching this movie (where sober or not), just remember those 4 simple (and often quoted) words and just skip it. However, if you really, really, really, really feel like you need to be ready for AvP3, then just watch the last 25 minutes of the movie. You really don't need to watch anymore than that, if any at all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)"

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Going against the grain, 10 April 2008

First of all I am not a big fan of musicals. I have seen several good ones and many, many bad ones. Where a bad play can induce laughter, a bad musical just induces nausea, anger and boredom. Unfortunately the latter two describe my feelings after watching Sweeney Todd. These feelings were probably accentuated by my dislike for almost anything written by Stephen Sondheim (West Side Story being the exception), Tim Burton's drab, dull, and lifeless direction and unfortunately not one of the actors has much in the way of a gifted voice (I'm sorry Helena, Alan and Johnny).

The story revolves around a gifted barber named Benjamin Barker (Depp) with a beautiful wife and child. The envious Judge Turpin (Rickman) covets Barker's wife and proceeds to frame him to get him out of the way. Barker's innocent wife is taken advantage of and his child becomes the ward of the lecherous Judge. Years pass and Barker returns to London after being released from incarceration. He is now Sweeney Todd and has returned to enact his revenge. He meets Mrs. Lovett (Carter) who becomes his villainous accomplice. If you didn't figure out the predictable plot, his victims become the stuff of the meat pie Mrs. Lovett sells (and yes Soylent Green is made of people too).

I have not seen or heard any of the original musical so I do not have anything to compare this movie to. I can only judge it based on its own merits, of which there are few. Tim Burton (who has a tendency for great visuals but not telling stories well) has created a dull, drab, dirty and lifeless London. You would think with the vast amount of bloodletting in this mostly gray movie, it would show up in vivid and cherry red. Instead it looks like dull paint. I have found Johnny Depp's presence in most movies to make any film better. It sadly fails here. The cast is pretty talented consisting of the aforementioned Depp, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Timothy Spall and even Borat himself, Sacha Baron Cohen. None of them is particularly gifted vocally (this could also be a limitation of the musical itself, but I doubt it). After seeing the ultimate in revenge movies (Chan-wook Park's trilogy), this movie turns very predictable. Other reviewers talk about the dark comedy aspect of the movie, of which I saw little. Perhaps the musical had some, but it has been completely stripped away by Burton, much like the visual representation of London.

The last 20 minutes of the movie is the best of the approximately 2 hour runtime, most likely because no one is singing. I would have liked to have seen a version of this movie without the music. An adaption of a musical without the music, now that might have been interesting. That along with the usually talented cast is the sole reason this movie got a rating above 2 in the first place. If you like to be bored, disappointed and annoyed then this movie is perfect for you. I do believe that a film aspires to be the vision of a collaborative effort, with the director at the helm. The goal is to make you see something or feel something they want, not what you want. It is to make you feel something other than what you would be comfortable with. I seriously doubt Tim's vision was to bore, disappoint and annoy. If you are curious about Sweeney Todd skip the movie and go straight for the musical.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review of "Beowulf (2007)"

Beowulf (2007)

Helloh IMAX !

Beowulf (if you have ever studied the English language you have probably been aware of the epic poem of the 8th Century and most likely already have read it) is the story of a 6th Century King (Hroðgar), who built a great hall (Heorot) that is attacked by Grendel. A young warrior from Geatland (Beowulf) hears of the incident and goes there to help. The second act is about Grendel's mother and the third act takes place many years later and involves a dragon.

This movie is rendered in 3 dimensional animation and looks incredibly amazing. Stupendously something something. You have to see it to believe it. True, it is not quite indistinguishable from "real" people on film, but animals and panoramic landscapes look just right. I think it is something in the eyes of the people, even with digital scans of the real actors, that gives them away. There is a sort of melancholic, sacrificial cow look to them as if there is no one home. There were several scenes where I was unsure if I was looking at photograph of the actor. I think that had to do more with the pose and that the eyes were not facing forward. The voice acting is very good and the confrontation scene between Beowulf and Grendel gave me goose pimples and I felt a shiver on the back of my neck.

Maybe it was the IMAX talking but I don't think I liked the movie as much visually if it wasn't in 3D. However, I actually found myself focused more on the story and my appreciation of it as a film increased when I saw it again on DVD. The IMAX version distracted with the 3D gimmickry, which at times is appealing and by the end quite tangible. On DVD, the magician's "trick" is revealed and now we have to focus on something else; the story.

This is a "Wicked" version of Beowulf as it differs from the poem and suggests that the characters existed and their life becomes the poem (the poem though fictional is based on actual historically known people). Many themes are touched upon: adultery, deception, the nature of a monster, bravery, a hero, sacrifice, death, life, guilt, temptation, glory, legacy, determination, lust, greed, envy, and legends. I think it works quite well and can be described as logical or at the very least plausible (for a universe where dragons, magic and monsters exist).

Some have compared this film to 300 and in some instances even surpassed it, however, I do not feel the same. Beowulf is by far the better movie. It takes artistic license with the original text only, where as 300 is based on Snyder's over the top interpretation of Frank Miller's sandal Dark Horse mini series based on the historical documents of the Battle of Thermopylae. You can see the derivation is diminishing the mixture. 300's ambiguous political message, CG blood-stain-proof bloodletting and hypocritical motivational speeches have been already over done in the last 20 years (Braveheart, Glory, and just about every football movie ever seen). 300 is a good movie (slightly better upon second viewing) but Beowulf is more original and captivating.

Perhaps it was something else entirely. Most theater experiences these days consists of frustration at the immaturity and gold fish attention spans that think going to the movies is synonymous with walking on the street. Also the products released these days are severely underwhelming and homogeneous. With the rise of home theaters, high resolution and large displays, more and more people are just staying home and watching DVDs (this also explains why DVDs come out a mere few months after the theatrical release, some going straight to DVD and others limited day-only-screenings on HDTV channels like Mojo or InHD). Perhaps this unusually energetic and participatory audience stirred some emotional connection, however small. Much like the world in 2000 AD (the comic) ours has become an automated gray limbo where all you care about is your next vice to make you feel something, anything.

Both versions appealed to me and I would put them on equal footing if not for the above recollection of my initial viewing. The IMAX version wins out slightly simple because of the spark that still exists in humanity. Even if it lasted for 1 second or the story ended in disappointment, it would have be sufficient for the price of admission. Don't skip this one.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Review of "I am Legend (2007)"

I am Legend (2007)

Damn shame what they did to that dog.

This is the third (so far) adaptation of Richard Matheson's book of the same name. The first two being the 1964's Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and 1971's The Omega Man with a rifle-toting Charlton Heston. You have probably read or seen something of Richard Matheson's and didn't even know it. His stories were used in several Twilight Zone episodes and Night Stalker. This movie ,however, is best for anyone that hasn't seen any of the previous two attempts. If you have seen one or both of the previous versions, this repolished version is unlikely do anything for you.

Robert Neville (Will Smith) is living alone in New York City, the only survivor of a cancer cure going wrong. 90% of the world's population is dead, with the remaining either becoming the creatures from the Descent or lunch. Now remember that hypothetical situation "if you are alone on a deserted island, what would you bring with you?". That is what is happening for most of the movie. New York City is by far the star of the movie (though Will emotes more than his usual fare). The rendering of a lifeless and decaying New York City is simply phenomenal, until the CG lions and antagonists ruin what is an incredible achievement. Also an amazing performance by the dog. I want a dog like that someday.

This is technically director Francis Lawrence's second film endeavor after the "it really wasn't as crappy as it could have been" Constantine. The problem with Francis is his tendency to break down a movie into a tapestry of music videos vignettes. His movies, so far, look good and are tip-toeing the line of actually being good. I don't think this is because of his skill as a director but more of a credit to the original source material (Matheson and Gaiman/Ennis/Ellis) and Francis' sweet tooth for flashy imagery. We will have to wait and see what he does next.

The movie is average interesting for a seasoned viewer of the previous versions and slightly better for neophytes. The turning point is when Neville's dog dies. The movie spirals from that point forward. It is the top of mountain and end of the road, on the way down to crashing into the chasm below. This isn't a terrible movie and impressions will vary based on the viewers filmography.

There are two endings to this movie and I have prorated my review score based on all the criteria : theatrical ending, alternate ending, seen the previous two versions of source and first time viewing. Obviously the highest rating would have been if I had seen the alternative ending of this movie and never saw the Omega Man or Last Man on Earth (7.5). The worst ,obviously, would be seeing the previous movies and the theatrical ending (of which I had the pleasure of seeing and rated a 5). The alternate ending does make a big difference, especially when the movie seems to point to the alternate ending and then suddenly throws the pie in your face. The theatrical ending is just too sudden along with the 2nd half of the movie. The pacing is off. Most of the movie is a slow, deliberate elaboration of Neville's current situation. How without people, his life is just an endless rinse cycle. Then the end.

Time for me to reciprocate.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review of "George Carlin... It's Bad for Ya! (2008)"

George Carlin... It's Bad for Ya! (2008)

The Transformed Man in Comedian's Purgatory (a.k.a. "Heck")

George Carlin is probably my favorite comedian. I have seen so many of his specials and even had the opportunity to see him perform live. He had a certain cynicism that always appealed to me. His last 2 specials (Life is Worth Losing especially and Complaints and Grievances) have lacked a certain spirit and content. George appeared overweight, old and tired (not to mention coming out of rehab). "I SAID NOT TO MENTION IT"! Anyway. Life is Worth Losing was especially tragic as he was overweight, disgruntled, coming off of rehab (there we go again...) and extremely unfunny. If there was a way to feel sorry for a comedian without heckling him off stage, George achieved it with Life is Worth Losing. It is as if the New Millennium and Post 9/11 America was trampling George's spirit. The bs had become too large to manage.

The comeback is partially successful with It's Bad for Ya! This special is the transmutation completed. George is no longer trying to rekindle his glory days. He is in full acceptance of his age, being old and dealing with the looming prospects of death. He has accepted being a crusty old SOB and is relishing in it. This is better than his previous specials, yet far from Jammin' in New York. It is a little tragic. His observations are not cutting edge anymore and seem more Andy Rooney than Lenny Bruce. George isn't George anymore. He is no longer criticizing us but is the man in the high castle pointing out how things were and how dissimilar modern life is.

This is an improvement over the previous two specials, but George does not, as of yet, recoup his old glory (if ever). He has been reduced from critical social and political stinging commentary to mostly personal peeves. When he goes political, he still has something to say. It is heavily derived (especially if you have seen any of his previous work), but it still works somehow, as opposed to his random rantings which lack a certain relevance outside of the baby boom generation. The last 25 minutes is the best this special has to offer.

For now I will worship the Sun and pray to Joe Pesci that George can recreate himself as a cutting edge septuagenarian. It's a 50/50 chance. Life seems to have become more tedious for George and his "art" is now his life. This is a step in the right direction from his previous 2 specials, but is far from his old self. Where does he go from here? He may never recoup but maybe he can further metamorphosing/refine this new ornery old man routine. Heres to hoping for 7 more words you can't say on TV or at least a windmill he can handle.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Review of "Across the Universe (2007)"

Across the Universe

All you need is love...... sort of.

It would be nice if all you needed in this world was love to make things work out, but this isn't an ideal world and other things are required (dedication, persistence, perspiration and sacrifice to name a few). About the same could be said of this film. It is more of a musical than a film. It is a filmed musical. Think of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, except all the music is from the Beatles.

If this film came out sometime in the 70's or 80's, it may have had more relevance. As it stands it is more than 30 years removed from the end of the Vietnam War. The current political situation is obviously paralleled in the film, but in a rather tertiary way. The movie, however, seems to deal more with relationships in the backdrop of that time and one in particular (Lucy and Jude).

Jude is a Liverpool welder who travels to American to find his dad. He meets Max, who leads him to Lucy and the rest of the cast through "random" chance. The progression of the story is rather predictable : move to New York, subcultural references, drugs and the psychedelic, the War, anti-War movement, music, break-ups, reconciliations,etc. Throughout all this is the music. All Beatles all the time. There's also some nice cameos by Bono, Joe Cocker, Eddie Izzard, Salma Hayek and even Cousin Brucie.

The bottom line is though this film is quite flawed and the characterizations could be called paper thin, this is a stylized love story psychedelic movie musical. It would probably be better if Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and other psychedelic experiences didn't already exist. At the same time this film does not contribute in any way to the third wave of psychedelia. Though heavily derivate, predictable and depthless, I did not hate it, surprisingly. I found it strangely enjoyable.

I can't say I recommend this movie to others, especially since a movie like Once (which was highly recommended by so many and made Devin of CHUD cry) I found quite dull, underacted and generally underwhelming. I say if you liked Moulin Rouge and you don't hate the Beatles, then you should give this a try. Maybe all we truly need is more Beatles based films?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Review of "Smiley Face (2007)"

Smiley Face (2007)

A sub par stoner movie with a random ending. A to B to Crap. If you are interested just watch the trailer.

Save the remaining 85 minutes for something more important, like cleaning your cuticles. I always thought the Anna Faris was the most likable (a.k.a. least annoying) aspect of the Scary Movie franchise. In this movie it looks like she is desperately trying to recreate being stoned, funny and yet still managing to be cute while clinging desperately to a mid-20 something youthfulness. Unfortunately she comes across more like Meg Ryan on sedatives.

I wanted to like this movie, ever since I saw the trailer. Another sad example of a trailer that is better than the movie itself. It had possibilities. This is a "stoner" movie, or rather it tries to be one. The quintessential element of every "stoner" movie is the characterizations. The "stoner", though unreliable at times and high the rest of time, is generally quite likable. The "stoner" encounters unusual people and situations while under the influence. There is usually a convoluted, yet complicated story arc or a ridiculously easy plot masquerading as convoluted one. Then the "Happy" ending.

Anna's "Jane F" is pretty stupid even for a severe homeopath. There is hardly anything likable about her character. The crazy wobbling and ,"pause", Memento moments get old quickly. I do declare from the back she looks like an elderly man. Also the crows feet do not help her "youthful" exuberance. Her performance actually manged to sever any sex appeal Anna may have had left. It's all down hill from here. The movie left me empty, saddened and depressed, like Anna's facial expressions. She didn't look stoned, she look like she had Alzheimer's, needed to be committed (nervous breakdown) or is suffering from progeria (all three or in any random combination). The movie also feels as if the people making this movie are faking it (never tried the product). Her "trips" are more indicative of acid or special k, rather than cannibus. I was half expecting her to jump off a roof top or claim that she is hearing colors. And what's with all the paranoia?? Skinny (not cute), white blonde girl. What does she have to worry about from the "man"? America loves skinny, white blonde chicks. It is like making a movie with Paris Hilton and expecting the audience to feel for her character instead of cheering when that character gets horribly dead. Its just not going to happen.

Jane gets stoned, inadvertently gets more stoned when she steals (twice), then ends up in a crazy, random adventure that really was pointless in the end. For a "stoner" she also manages to flush more product than she actually smokes. The acting would have made more sense if she was a NARC trying to "act" high (instead of getting high). This movie may have worked if there had not been any other "stoner" movie in existence, except for Reefer Madness. You expect the "randomness" and some questionably impaired judgment calls. It is the way the characters deal with each other and the situations that makes it enjoyable.

Alcohol did little to impair me from the truth and pain of this movie, so I doubt smoking ganja will help the situation (unless of course you smoke enough that you pass out and do not awake until the movie ends). Grandma's Boy is a recent stoner movie that was unexpectedly good (other better possibilities include Harold and Kumar, any Cheech and Chong movie, Dazed and Confused, Half-Baked, etc). See those instead. And though I didn't like Knocked Up, it definitely was better than this.

I have been giving movie the 2nd opportunity to change my mind. If I felt negatively about a movie, I will reserve the review until I had given the film a 2nd viewing. If I have the same reaction a 2nd time, it was meant to be. The first time I watched this, I was confused and a little sad. The 2nd viewing just made me mad and annoyed. "The Irony of It All."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Review of "The Rebel Set (1959)"

The Rebel Set (1959)

It's a little late for acting lessons, welcome to the devil's workshop. See what coffeehouses can do.

In the same tradition of "The Beatniks" comes this little gem, from our friends on the Satellite of Love. And if you are thinking you know what a beatnik looks like, then think again. About the only thing this movie has in common with a "beatnik" is the club at the beginning of the movie. Beatniks are really nothing more than the backdrop and comedy relief. It's like they're part of set.

The movie itself resolves around the schemings of "Mr.T". If you are thinking of a tough and athletic black man with many gold chains and rings when you hear that, then is the wrong movie for you. Instead this "Mr.T" is a bald white male, accessorized with a "sitting cane", removable goatee and cigarette holder. He is a Beatnik because he plays chess there as his front. The rest of his crew is a bunch of drunks, losers and squares. Perhaps it is the director's subtle message that radical and subversive behavior exhibits itself in the mind of regular looking and average drones. I should stop thinking so much as this is a bad movie. Trying to analyze it any more, just makes my gums hurt more.

If you haven't figured it out already, this is a heist picture with a twist. If you have seen any of the Ocean 11 movies (Frank,Dino,Sammy,Brad,Matt and George versions are all prime and easy examples of the type of story this is attempting) or any of numerous heist related movies (too many to name),there are good and better ones than this one.

Do yourself a favor and stay away from this movie if it is not accompanied by two robot friends and a guy in a red jump suit. They are the only reason to watch this movie at all. I also recommend some Bulleit Bourbon with it, 5 shots-worth. Spread it out evenly, as the slow parts will require medicine. It is a homage to a true beatnik, "Moonie" : "I KILLED THAT FAT BARKEEP!!!"

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Review of "Harsh Times (2005)"

Harsh Times (2005)

A walk on the wild side, with Christian Bale

This movie may give you more deja vu than Deja Vu (review coming soon). If you have felt this way while watching this movie then you have probably already seen Training Day. While this is David Ayer's directorial debut, he wrote, produced, acted and even performed stunts in Training Day.

The movie revolves around the shenanigans of two long time friends, who are reunited in the streets of their old stomping ground, the streets of Los Angeles. Jim (Christian Bale) is a returning Army ranger looking for a job. Mike (Freddy Rodríguez) is also looking for a job to appease his girlfriend (Eva Longoria). Together they spend their days getting high, getting loaded and generally slacking off. They also end up committing some petty crimes.

The conflict in the movie arises when they meet up with their past, acquaintances and their baggage. Jim is a hard headed, hard case with more trauma from his service than he is willing to admit. Mike is in a transitional period and easily influenced. Tough decisions are hard to make and it is easy to procrastinate. We all do it.

Much like Training Day, you see the situation deteriorating quickly. For most of the movie you are expecting something bad to happen, but each postponement makes the movie that much more interesting. I did not expect much from this movie. I was expecting another "Sentinel" or "SWAT". Even though the ending is quite anti-climactic, brisk, and mostly predictable, it did not deter from the movie.

The perspective of the movie is heavily masculine, with the feminine characters being mostly man-handled. Even as a successful lawyer, Sylvia (Mike's girlfriend) is still branded. Even though woman are apparently secondary to men, they are somehow responsible for holding everything together. This is more likely a reflection of the attitude of the "street" than of the director himself.

It is finally nice to see Christian Bale laughing, getting high and drunk in a movie. He then reverts back to the brooding, dark character he is known for. He is quite due for a comedy part. One in which he is not the straight man. I think it would vastly improve his perception. Overall, the movie is a good first step. I am eagerly awaiting to see what else David Ayer can pull off. I know he can do Los Angeles inner city. But what else can he do?

Review of "Deja Vu (2006)"

Deja Vu (2006)

This all seems so familiar.....

TimeCop. This is TimeCop without the "Muscles from Brussels". The plot is not the same yet the vehicle is. Also, do not forget the 2 drink minimum with Denzel Washington.

A ferry blows up in New Orleans carrying mostly servicemen and civilians. Denzel Washington is an ATF agent sent to investigate. The first half of the movie is your typical police drama/investigation. It is the second half of the movie that feels like someone sucker punched you in the gonads. Let me rephrase that. It is so completely over the top and full of paradoxes that it makes Millennium seem like a Broadway musical.

It isn't that this is a bad movie. The problem is that it isn't consistent and that hurts it dramatically. If it went full on science fiction or basic detective story, it would have worked. The problems is the sudden flip. I thought there was something wrong with the DVD or maybe the director had seen too much of Memento recently. And yes, Paula Patton is easy on the eyes, but she spends half the movie being dead. I don't swing that way, sorry.

TimeCop worked on a purely science fiction and campy level. It is like that from beginning to end. Deja Vu tries first to be realistic and then sneaks in the incredible midway plot twist (like we were sufficiently drunk enough to try a rear entry through the back door without anyone noticing). It just becomes ridiculous. This is further complicated by the happy, yet somehow implausible and strangely creepy, ending.

This is a pure rental. Unless you enjoy happy, yet implausible endings, love stories involving dead people and/or science fiction so watered down you can't taste it , I suggest you try something else.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Review of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)"

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Do motorcycles come with a gun rack or is it optional? Oh yeah, what about the Great Schism?

2:14 AM, August 29th,1997. The day the world ended, sort of.

This is where the series ended for me. Much in the same split as the great Christian Schism (in 1054) or the fundamental difference between Shi'a and Sunni Islam, this film is the fulcrum upon which the "Terminator" universe is divided. The first and second films being the canon of this universe and all the follows as filler, but not all together relevant in any way (anyone remember the Dark Horse series of the 90's?).

About the only thing that doesn't work in this film (believe it or not) and the thing that keeps it from being perfect is Edward Furlong. Robert Patrick, the Austrian Oak (Schwarzenegger) and Linda Hamilton (the one and only Sarah Connor, beefed and bad ass) are excellent at anchoring a convoluted, yet somehow plausible situation/plot for Cameron's dystopian future. It is hard to believe this film is less than 20 years old, yet has become a part of science-fiction canon.

While there is more of everything in this film (by comparison with the first), including a larger story arc with psychological tension, which is supported by the state of the art (at the time, which still hold up pretty well) special effects cache, lots & lots of action and explosions, you would think this would put it ahead in every category. Unfortunately the "edge" still goes to the first film. It does break the sophomoric jinx (a.k.a - sequel syndrome), sacrificing some of the "edge" for a broader arcing and more complicated story arc and becoming a much better film in the process. There is something to be said for the simplicity, darkness and fog of war of the original.

So this time around, after Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) returned from the stormy desert of Mexico (at the end of the first film), many years have passed. John (Furlong), her son, is now a whiny and "troubled" foster teenager and Sarah herself is committed and certifiably nuts (not to mention beefed up and ready to kick ass of any kind). A new, upgrade model of the Terminator (Robert Patrick) is sent by Skynet back to the 90's to kill John. The John of the future (2029 or so) trumps this gambit by sending a reprogrammed version of the T800 model (Schwarzenegger) to protect himself in the past. Add some bonding, Sarah's plausible paranoia, 2 Terminators, 1 Austrian Oak, many explosions, lots of guns and fighting, a tongue-in-cheek humor system and a rather satisfying ending and you have a recipe for a great movie.

The "Extreme" DVD viewing is not required, but it will expand certain aspects of the story arc more thoroughly. I do prefer it over the theatrical version, but that's just me.

This is an archetype of the possibilities of a good summer blockbuster. Everybody loves the Terry Brooks endings. Happy endings can occur, they just require a sacrifice. Also, time travel is a tricky thing. Gray is gray, and the future is not yet written.

Review of "Johnny at the Fair (1947)"

Johnny at the Fair (1947)

Boring.... Let this be a warning to you.

This is a short that generally precedes the MST3k "Rebel Set" main feature. It revolves around a young boy, Johnny, who gets separated from his parents at the Canadian National Exhibition held at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada back in 1947.

This separation, while mildly traumatic for the parents, was exhilarating and exciting for Johnny. In his "walk-about", he encounters all kinds of wonderful things and celebrities : Joe Louis (heavyweight boxing champion) , chemical balls, circus performers, speed boat racing, a "hela-copter airplane", McKenzie King (prime minister of Canada at the time), Barbra Ann Scott (Canadian ice skating champion), some Vaudevillians and children's jail.

40's newsreel masquerading as a heart warming story or "real"? You decide, but don't skip to the main course if you're in the MST3k stew. Savor the flavor of a comical stew shared with the robots and Joel. A nice bourbon or single malt whiskey couldn't hurt while you're at it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review of "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)"

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Mockumentary of a "Halloween" archetypal killer using the Scream equation.

Have you seen Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc? Even if you haven't seen these movies, you have at the very least heard the names somewhere. This film begins as a documentary about a fictional killer, Leslie Vernon. Leslie is very much in the vein of Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees. He also follows a series of "guidelines" by which he operates (Scream made fun of these "rules").

The first 1/2 of the film is presented as footage from a documentary crew as they follow Leslie around and are given a first row seat and are even asked to participant in his "craft" and its planning. This is the part of the movie that is fresh and quite entertaining. Leslie does not come across as a psychopath but is presented as more of an artisan or artist. He even has a mentor, who was a serial killer in the 70's/80's. Most of the flavor of this part is humorous .

The second half of the movie (a visible switch from documentary crew perspective to phantom camera) turns basically into a slasher movie. It is a slasher movie with a twist, which I didn't realize until one of the characters points it out. Its cute, but I generally found this second half of the movie to be derivative, albeit with a twist. The sudden seriousness of the situation is meant to confuse us into shock. This is all but nullified by the character's knowledge of the upcoming events. Even though the plan changes nonetheless, their awareness of the situation diffuses most of the impact. The first kills in these type of movies occur in the fog of war. When the threat is revealed, this usually signals the demise of the killer (sheer overwhelming numbers and physical trauma from those numbers attacking add up).

Nathan Baesel does a great job as the killer, Leslie Vernon. The camera men are mostly invisible (until the second half), except for the fact that their snark remarks seems ever present. The reporter (Angela Goethals, related to the bridge of the same name in NYC) is the 2nd most present character, after Leslie, and unfortunately is quite annoying. I'm not sure its the acting. Also a nice cameo by Robert Englund as the good guy for a change. He isn't more than a Vincent Price cameo, however.

The movie flows very much like Rob Zombie's Halloween remake (first half good, second bad), except better. This is not a great movie, but not a dud either. If you need a hand in guessing if you should see this movie, ask yourself a question. How did you feel after you saw Haute Tension (High Tension)? If you liked that feeling, watch this movie.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review of "Halloween (1978)"

Halloween (1978)

30th Anniversary and counting.

As I mentioned previously, John Carpenter's 1978 classic is one of the first two movies I can remember seeing and being heavily influenced by (the other being the classic Conan the Barbarian). It so truly scared me that the only monster under my bed was Michael Meyers, whom I eventually befriended (imaginary friend) to keep him from killing me in my sleep. Now that is terror for a 10 year old.

It is a horror classic and I am sure my modest review will not do it the justice it deserves. The most surprising thing of all is that the movie still works, perhaps not in the guttural reaction but more of a cognitive possibility or immediate subconscious. This all could happen. It isn't in the realm of impossibility or located in a foreign country (as most modern horror is, i.e. Hostel, Touristas, Cry Wolf, Saw,etc). At times it is graphic while the rest is relegated to our imaginations. I believe it is this element that keeps people terrified or at the very least wary of going outside at night with the signature soundtrack still vivid in their head. It still works because we can substitute implied or tertiary killing with anything more terrifying that our mind can create. So we ourselves are contributing to our own fears and anxiety.

Carpenter weaves a simple story about an everyday, middle class, suburban and relatively benign child who snaps on Halloween and kills his sister. He then spends the next 15 years in an institution (which we thankfully do not experience) only to escape and return to his hometown, the infamous Haddonfield. On his way he kills and kills. The child's name is Michael Meyers, though he is not a person. John Carpenter uses Michael Meyers as a metaphor against the implied safety of middle class suburbia. In the bastion of American safety and security, chaos can still strike.

Michael ceased to be a person once he killed. He is not a serial killer, human being or psychopath. He is as unstoppable force. The generic overalls, bleached-white Shatner mask, and lack of any dialog other then some breathing, helps to dehumanize and complete Michael's generification. This is the source of all his power. He is faceless, speechless and unremarkable in any way other than as a source of unrelenting chaos. This is helped by the cinematography (post card effect), a lack of information/motivation/explanation and the veteran narrative experience of Donald Pleasence (Dr. Loomis). His over the top performance and uneasiness sells "the Shape". This is also the first film performance by Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the innocent girl who deters chaos in the face of overwhelming odds (at least for a little bit).

Though this isn't the first movie of this new niche of horror films (Black Christmas came out 4 years earlier), it is the most successful and does not diminish upon reviewing. If you haven't been scared by horror movies in a long time (like me), this will probably make the hairs on the back of your head tingle at the first chords of the signature soundtrack. I highly recommend this movie as a must see horror movie and as one of the pinnacles of John Carpenter's career.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review of "Halloween (2007)"

Halloween (2007)

Can Zombie do more than redneck chic?

John Carpenter's 1978 classic is one of the first two movies I can remember seeing and being heavily influenced by (the other being the classic Conan the Barbarian). To prepare for this re-interpretation I decided to watch the original, for a competent comparison. Too bad there is very little to compare. After seeing Rob Zombie's previous films (which were heavily stylized and derivative, but enjoyably distracting), I could see sparks of potential. This movie makes me question those sparks of creativity. An aftertaste of redneck dis-functionality and a mild burning & itching sensation is all that remains.

The first half of this movie is an origin story. The origin of Michael Meyers prior to and after the killing of his sister. Zombie attempts to fill in the gaps of the original; Michael's turning into the killer and the years in the institute before he escapes and how he escapes. Where John Carpenter used Michael Meyers as a metaphor of the dysfunction that can occur in middle class America and the suburbs (places that are considered safe), Zombie almost justifies the creation of Michael Meyers as probable and even sympathetic. His first kill isn't a sudden urge to kill his sister on Halloween night, but rather a progressive transition from animals, to classmates, to his sister and then his father. It is this first 20 minutes that although not in the spirit of Carpenter's "Shape" is actually quite graphic and made me quite uneasy(not since I saw Jesus Camp). This 20 minutes is the only good segment of the movie.

Zombie's Meyers isn't a faceless, person-less killing "Shape", but rather is an abused prototypical serial killer. His parents and sibling are "suburb rednecks" who do nothing but pick on him (obnoxious and despicable members of his family, unemployed, working as a stripper and whoring). Is this really what a typical American middle class, suburban family looks like to Zombie or is he deriving from his own experiences? He doesn't kill for no reason, he very clearly snaps. By showing us his face in the early minutes of the movie, Zombie shows us that there is a human being behind the mask. A goofy looking child. In and of itself this is not necessarily bad. When taken in the context of the second half of the movie is where the problem develops. If Zombie continued on his initial re-imaging, this would have been a graphic and watch-ably average movie. It wouldn't be great but infinitely better than this reject.

Unfortunately, Zombie feels the need to re-shoot (almost scene for scene) the 2nd half of the movie exactly as Carpenter's "Shape". It just doesn't work. Meyers cannot be a "Shape" when you spent the first half of the moving turning him into a textbook serial killer. You spend the first half of the movie almost sympathizing with Meyers. The second half just ruins everything. It's almost as if Zombie didn't know what to do or how to finish what he had started, so he just defers to Carpenter. The second half just becomes a series of forgettable massacres. Where the original had little gore and worked the inclusion of a bloodbath desensitizes any thrill. Thankfully I cannot remember any of it.

This movie is a series of contrasts. I did like all the masks Michael creates to hide behind, almost as a different mask for every emotion he is burying. At the same time his killer mask is a worn, gray and cracked mask. It just looks dirty. It doesn't emote as well as a bleached white and faceless Shatner mask (original). I also felt the inclusion of the other-sister angle (brought up in the lesser sequel Halloween 2, which never really worked for me nor was directed by Carpenter) seemed even more rushed and random in this movie. His mother (Zombie's wife Sheri Moon) further cements just how bad of a mother she is and how mediocre an actress Sheri is. The bard of Carpenter's original, Dr. Loomis, is played by a hippie Malcolm McDowell (very reminiscent of his over-the-top Caligula performance, very hammy). Adult Michael is also no longer average but a brutishly gargantuan (played by X-Men's Sabertooth, Tyler Mane). He's become a caricature and not the kid-next-door turned faceless monster for no reason. Also not helping the movie is when you are sympathetic to the psychopath because the protagonists are so annoying.

The movie should just start with a montage of people's faces, of various shapes, colors and sex, whom all say "I am Michael Meyers". Zombie shows us how the right circumstances of genes and environment can turn one into a serial killer. Hard to be terrified by the explainable. The Unrated DVD does nothing more than add gore to an already dysfunctional and bad movie. If you must watch this, just watch the first half. A better solution is just to go back to the original.