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.