Saturday, December 31, 2011

Speed Racer



  This movie is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  In a movie that deals with crime bosses who try and feed people to his pirahnas, stock market cheats, someone faking their own death, the loss of a family member, coming of age, and big corporate sell-outs... things like cute little chimps, and bee-hive catapults welded as a weapon onto a race car, feel slightly out of place. It'd be one thing if the Wachowski's juggled the vastly different tones really well, but they don't. For every moment of seriousness, its either suddenly interrupted or intercut with something silly and juvenille. Does this severely detract from the enjoyment of the movie? No, not really.
You have to accept it and just push forward. Trust me. Its worth it.

  I wanna make a note of the designs. Everything from Speed's helmet, to the engines in the cars, and Racer X's outfit are wonderfully designed and more intricate than you might expect. They're sleek cool and futuristic, and look like they belong in this vibrant and colorful world brought to life.  The world these characters inhabit, seems to be pretty oversaturated.  Every color is cranked up to '10' and the whole damn thing feels at first like maybe your TV is out of whack. Not even the cartoon was THIS colorful.  However, the Wachowski's set their trippy tone very quickly, and its essentially a warning. If you can't handle all this color and oversaturation... get out now.  Its not a realistic movie at all.

  Furthermore, this cast is great. Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Matthew Fox, Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and more. Every cast member inhabit's their respective role perfectly.  Not much more can be said really.  The do their absolute best with what their given. It shows.  Even when their in ridiculous situations, or delivering hopelessly corny lines, they all play it straight, which is a very good thing.  Even the hammiest line in the movie can be met with at least a chuckle instead of a facepalm. It seems pretty aware of how corny it gets.  Its ideal audience would be one who can embrace that corniness as much as it does too.

  Fortunately for the rest of us, beyond its corny moments, is some damn impressive special effects and some pretty jaw dropping action scenes.  Each action set piece eclipes the last in a big way. The drivers use their cars as weapons pretty much. Or really, as an extention of themselves. And its a massive kung-fu fight with their cars going at insane speeds. Theres all kinds of cool little surprises in store here, and lots of mind blowing eye candy. Its in these races and action scenes where the movie excels from 'good' to 'great' and then kicks into gear 'awesome'.  All this leads up to an extremely well constructed and pretty emotional climax that gets me saying 'wow' every time.  Its impossible to not get impressed by how well this climax was handled. Its purely awesome.

  I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a heart this movie had, even more so than it's source material. There was a strong emotional core to the entire thing and all the actors brought their A-game. Speed's storyline, faithful to the show, certainly tugs at the heartstrings- and for every big action sequence, the Wachowski's set up a parallel emotional conflict to compliment it. The movie is more than your average racing flick, by far. It's a globe-trotting adventure movie with epic scope. You won't find another movie like this one anywhere else. It's visually stunning, and the races are flat-out spellbinding.

  In a day and age where complaints about CGI in movies are 90% of the entire internet, Speed Racer embraces it's effects-heavy nature with confidence and gusto in a way few movies could ever be brave enough to. Though one should expect nothing less from the Wachowskis. They're great at this sort of thing.

  All in all, Speed Racer isn't for those who can't handle a little silliness now and then.  But if you're willing to brave it for the spectacular action scenes, then be my guest. It won't disappoint.  But if you're one of the ones who absolutely love this movie, every line, every scene... then I commend you. I wish I could love it as much as you do. But unfortunately, the in-your-face silliness in some scenes is just a total turn off for me. Otherwise, Speed Racer is thoroughly enjoyable and damn fine eye candy and an amazingly faithful adaptation of the cartoon. In that regard... it's close to sheer perfection.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol


  Wow. That word can pretty much sum up this movie. In an age where 'mindless fun' and 'popcorn movies' are synonymous with 'pretty damn horrible' and 'Michael Bay' (not saying there's a huge difference) its incredibly refreshing to see a mindlessly fun popcorn movie thats smart, sleek, fast, and very exciting.

  Having said that, it's nigh impossible to not compare this one to the others. Thankfully, this one avoided all the pitfalls of the second movie, hits all the high marks of the first, and matches the adrenaline-pumping pace of the third. Is it the best one yet? I'd say not exactly.  But its so damn good its on par with the best of them.  The plot itself is pretty easy to follow, not sure if thats good or not but it looks like complex plotting is a thing of the past.  I wish I could just say each movie gets simpler than the last, but M:I:2 was an all time low.

The story is simple. On a mission in Russia to uncover a potential terrorist's true identity, Ethan Hunt and his new crew of IMF agents are framed for the bombing of the Kremlin.  The entire Impossible Missions Force is disavowed and the secretary of defense himself briefs Hunt on his next mission: Find the terrorist bad guy. Stop him from inciting global nuclear war.  But be careful, if you're caught... the blame for all of this will be swiftly placed on your shoulders.  Fun times eh?

  Series star Tom Cruise returns to the only franchise he's really taken seriously for anymore.  I bet he could do this in his sleep. Although, his performance feels a bit more dispassionate than what we saw in M:I:III, Cruise still blazes through one massive action set piece after another and he looks right at home.  Its a welcome return to the world of espionage and action.  Also starring Simon Pegg from the third movie, and newcomers Jeremy Renner and Patton, they all slip right into this established formula laid out by what you've come to expect from a Mission: Impossible flick. Its really cool. They all gel exceptionally well. Especially Renner and Pegg. Some of they dialog they have just makes some of the movie's funniest moments.

  Which brings me to another point, the humor.  Its nice to see a M:I movie with a sense of humor. I think the first one was pretty subtle when it came to that, the second one was a bit wonky, and the third, the grittiest out of all four, had maybe two-three brief funny moments in the whole thing?  Simon Pegg's expanded role from the third provides some decent humor. Occasionally it feels slightly out of touch with the tone of the scene, but never out of touch with the character.  I had quite a few laughs in this one. Every funny moment was well written and nicely handled. Top honors guys.

  Next is the action. It can go without saying that action was never the series weak point.  But they've really truly hit their stride with Ghost Protocol.  Its not just shootouts and such, there are big action set pieces that will really keep you on the edge of your seat. They're expertly crafted, and as they go on, they kind of evolve.  Nothing ever pans out 100% the way it's planned for Hunt and co.  Instead it escalates, and escalates. You find yourself saying "Oh geez, it can't get any better than this."
And then it does.  From rappelling down the side of the tallest building in the world, to a gritty and powerful car chase during a massive sandstorm, to a clever and intense climax thats happening in two-three different places at once. Its a globe-trotting adventure that makes good use of its varied, eye catching locale.  Its stylish and loads of fun.

  You really can't go wrong here.  Although it has little to elevate it from a simple, entertaining popcorn flick to a masterful action outing, its two hours of wall-to-wall expertly crafted action and excitement. Everything you could expect and more from the fourth movie in a franchise, and its precisely the kind of movie a Mission: Impossible should be.
I'm up for more. Maybe even two more?  C'mon guys... your mission should you choose to accept it...

Keep up the good work and keep us coming back for more.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie


  Power Rangers ruled my childhood from the time I was old enough to watch TV. So basically three years old.  Fun times.  It just must have been the horrible acting and super obvious plots that kept me coming back week after week to see if the Power Rangers would defeat Rita Repulsa's latest monster. Soon enough, there was a new head honcho in the house: Lord Zedd.  As Martin Lawrence of Bad Boys fame would say...
"This shit just got real." 
And for a while, the rubber monsters, outdated effects, colorful outfits, and bad catchphrases of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the coolest thing in the world.  Unfortunately its not the early nineties anymore.

  Now, its hard to review this movie without factoring in a huge chunk of nostalgia.  If you obvious don't have the same enthusiasm for the show that I did, this movie will be a cliche',  kid-pandering, colorful, mindless, wreck.  If you do have a penchant for the rubber monsters, colorful outfits and bad catchphrases, you'll feel right at home more or less.  Anyone over the age of 12 that likes this movie, accepts it for what it is. And what it isn't. To be completely fair, its not a good movie.  And even as a Power Ranger's movie its simply okay. Partly because half of the charm of the show, from where I'm sitting, IS the rubber outfits, the tokyo looking miniature cities, and the really outdated effects. All that is gone in the movie.  We now have actual body armored outfits for our colorful protagonists, the fight choreography is better, and the monsters have halfway decent animatronics. The special effects are much improved (as much as can be expected from anything in the 90's) and the villain can be vaguely taken seriously. Somewhat.

  Personally I have to say, when they're all suited up, kicking ass, spouting cheesy one-liners in the heat of battle, and saving the world in all six colors... I like it. Its a saturday morning live-action cartoon with a proper Hollywood budget.  Its fun in a young-at-heart popcorny way.  However when the movie take stabs at character development, only one or two actors in the whole cast has enough believability to carry any development at all.  Its unfortunate too. It seems like they really have their heart into it.  But sadly in these kinds of serious and mature moments, it falls flat on its face and fumbles the ball.  Its like a dog trying to be a cat.  This kind of movie, based on this kind of show, will never be critically accepted. It'll never be synonymous with anything but the kid's section at a rental joint and 'nostalgia'.  Perhaps it should stay that way.

  So, alas, we have our fully American big-budget Power Ranger romp.  With probably one of the best villains the franchise has ever seen. Ivan Ooze.  Say what you will about this movie, but Ooze still makes me laugh. He's the best written, best acted character in the whole movie. He gets all the best lines, a killer outfit and the actor is clearly having loads of fun.  He's a blast to watch.  Otherwise, the big budget charm of this movie wont do much to win over anyone who isnt already a fan. Its a one-off deal. And already a mixed bag at that.  Anyone not nostalgically attached whatsoever should stay away. Its Power Rangers! What did you expect? Good writing? Decent acting? A good story?
No, sorry people. On principle alone, 'The Movie' isn't a good movie.

But, those hungry for a shiny, colorful piece of 90's nostalgia with all the fancy gadgets, blinking lights, bells and whistles one could ever hope for...

It's morphin' time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Abduction

 
  Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame is clearly desperate to expand his fanbase. Why else would he star in a mindless, hopeless, piece of teen bait that has been ruthlessly advertised since its theatrical release? Oh right... its what he's been doing all along. Why stop now?

  Its actually sad at this point. I mean I'm sure he loves where he's at. Legions of screaming fangirls. Dying to be with him. Lets face it, he may be playing second fiddle to that other guy, but still. I hear he gets lots of shirtless scenes. Despite all that, he's still stuck in a critically reviled franchise.  Aside from angsty romance-hungry teen girls, and bored harlequin-reading housewives, no one else is INTO Twilight. Everyone else can see they suck. No pun intended.

  So with Abduction, which is mercilessly advertised as a heavy hitting action movie, it confuses me from a certain standpoint.  On one hand, it looks like he's trying to break free from his ever-growing stereotype, but in the movie he does little that isn't pandering to his legions of fangirls.  The inclusion of such seasoned actors like Alfred Molina and Sigourney Weaver is puzzling to say the least. They're given little to do, and even less screentime in which to do it.  It'd almost be commendable to Taylor, if this movie had been good. Unfortunately, the great cast, decent editing, and competent action choreography do little to elevate it above anything worth seeing.

  The typical high school teen drama crap is of course first runner up here. Its tired. Its boring. I've seen it a billion times. I almost couldn't sit through it in Fright Night, but Anton Yelchin is charming and has charisma. Lautner does not. He can play popular teen well enough, but in the first half hour the only interesting thing is his parents.  They're pretty well acted.  I only wish we had more time with them.  Not soon after the ball gets rolling, the story forcibly shoehorns in a love interest and writes the parents out of the equation.  The young actress playing his girlfriend-to-be, is not bad in the role, shes a competent actress. But dammit the mere existence of her role dilutes the movie even further.  By the time you realize she's been sucked into this 'game of life and death' you realize that it was merely a maneuver by a writer penning a script. And a bad writer at that. Her inclusion is so obviously forced, its distracting, annoying, and the second big black mark towards this movie.

  The plot is already so bland and standard, I can't believe they actually went nowhere interesting with it.  You wanna break your stereotype? Then break it.  Star in something that'll push the envelope.  The story and the plot feels afraid to go places. Dark places, thought provoking places. Anything remotely interesting. His acting skills aren't challenged at all here. The story seems written around his apparent inability to act. His lines are written so poorly, that even a good actor would have a hard time convincing us someone would actually talk like this.  He delivers them flat and without emotion. I can't say I'm honestly surprised though. These are the same kind of complaints that I've seen hurled at the Twilight movies.

  If anything good can be said about the movie, is that it has some decent editing.  It showcases alot of the action scenes nicely. But when the action scenes themselves aren't much you haven't seen before, good editing isn't going to do it a huge favor or anything.  So after a dismally mediocre story, an incredibly predictable plot, and some pretty wooden performances all around... who the hell am I supposed to reccomend this to?

Self respecting movie-goers?
Save your money. Find one of the Bourne movies and watch any one of those instead.

Fangirls?
Eat up. He has a shirtless scene.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bronson


  I can't pretend to say I was familiar with this movie at all before I saw it. I knew nothing about it. I hadn't even heard much anything about it. Until, on the online forum I frequent, a friend of mine posted his review of it.  Its a fantastic review, convinced me Bronson was a definate must see before I even finished reading it.  You should check it out as well, cause I don't even think I could put it into better words. Read it here.

  The easist thing to catagorize Bronson as is a 'biopic'. It tells the story of a very real person, in very real times, doing very real things.  But the way this film is crafted, it'd be a crime to catagorize it as anything but 'art'. Its a masterpiece of a movie, that is also simply a stage for Tom Hardy's mind blowing performance.
From role to role, Hardy is never the same.  He becomes the character on the page, and brings him to life in an amazing way.  You hand him a character like Charlie Bronson though... (no direct connection to the actor)
and he'll blow you away. 

  Right out of the gate, you know, that you're seeing something special. And its captivating.  The movie is about Britain's most infamously violent prisoner, Michael Peterson. He's eventually dubbed Charlie Bronson as a fighting moniker from a boxing promoter,  it pretty soon becomes very apparent that "Bronson" fits him much better.  He's shown from a young age, being a very violent person already. But his first incarceration is for the attepmted robbing of a post office.  Only given a seven year sentence, but it ended up turning into a fourteen year stretch because of his incessantly violent nature. He caused so much chaos and unleashed so much violence on the inside, he was constantly shuffled back and forth between various prisons. We're there every major step of the way and its an undeniably fascinating look at this man and turns his story into a captivating journey. By this point he's costing the government so much money in damages and medical expenses, that they certify him sane and set him free.  He'd become far too costly to stay in prisons.  As you may have guessed, its only a couple months before he's back inside.  I won't say too much more about what happens, but its impossible to take your eyes off it.

  We see Bronson in a unique light in this movie. We're able to explore aspects of his personality and internal drive that would be nigh impossible to derive from a typical documentary or a web article.  If I ever had to learn about someone, more than I ever needed to know, I would hope they have a biopic as classy, entertaining and artful as this.

    Its completely Bronson's show here. He's the main character in a very closed off, spotlighted way.  This is kind of tough to pull off well, not letting us really connect to any supporting characters. And its hard enough as is hardly having any supporting characters worth connecting to.  It also doesn't help that Bronson isn't a relatable character. Its often like watching a wild animal pace back and forth in his tiny cage. Full of pent up power, itching to be unleashed, looking constantly for an out.  Prison is like his Motel 6. After a while, it feels more natural for him to be inside, fighting it out over every little thing. He becomes a celebrity, reknowned for his violence. All of this is made real by Hardy's impeccable and nuanced performance.  Every movement is calculated, every emotion brought vibrantly to life, and every line delivered with extreme precision and care.  He has gravitas and incredible physical presence. Its amazing to watch. Even more amazing if you're used to him in movies like Rock N Rolla, Inception, Layer Cake, and such. You have grounds to compare. Hardy's physical transformation is astounding.

  Bronson's whole journey, character arc, whatever you want to call it... is simply captivating. I've probably used that word too often in this review, but it basically sums up the entire movie for me. Bronson is utterly unmissable, incredibly well made, a thrilling work of art thats relentlessly entertaining, and mercilessly captivating.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rock N Rolla


  Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies feel very hollywood in comparison to this. They're action movies. Every other scene climaxes with an action piece. And while he's proved himself quite adept at producing thoroughly entertaining action setups,  by this point it feels like oversaturation.  I have my complaints about the latest Holmes, and even there its "nevertheless" and it is a fun movie.  But Rock N Rolla just ticked all my boxes in a whole 'nother way. 

  In many scenes it feels almost like neo-noir. Or like its a piece of Pulp Fiction, and while it may never quite reach the heights of pure unbridled entertainment like 'Fiction, it entertains in much the same way.  They feel remotely connected in tone and substance, and its a very welcome feeling of familiarity. I enjoy crime dramas alot. Especially the punkish ones like this. The ones who realize they have style. But just short of being labeled 'classy'.  Its too gritty for 'classy'.  Too ballsy. Or at least, it would want you to think it is.

  The in's and out's of the plot, for the sake of keeping this review at a reasonable length, is pretty much irrelevant for the time being but I'll highlight what I can. Its about these massive property deals, and going through unnofficial channels to aquire said property. But when two big wigs of the game, one a london player, the other a russian immigrant, try to cut a deal, and their mutual accountant keeps screwing things up with the help of a local group of troublemakers, things begin to spin wildly out of control. And it all ends up tracing back to a supposedly dead rock star: Johnny Quid.  The film isn't primed as so much to really get you looking for twists and turns, because every plot point seems to be a twist or turn in itself, but there is a massive twist towards the end I totally didn't see coming. It was really well handled too.

 And I can't conclude this review without mentioning the fantastic cast here with Gerard Butler, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, and Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges. Every single one of them turns in a strong memorable performance. If any complaints can be made, is that certain characters feel underused or out of place. But in the long run, its because it feels like an episode in a TV show. Like we're already familiar with these guys; backstory and introduction not nescessary right? Wrong. We're given alot of characters to follow, but only given the slightest most basic detail about them. Maybe I missed a tid bit here or there, but the 'lead' character in this movie 'Mr.One Two' (Gerard Butler) actually ends up feeling just a little peripheral. The movie is clearly Achibald's movie (Mark Strong). He's the narrator and the main bad guy's long time right arm.  He steals the show on more than one occasion, and provides some quite memorable dialog.

    The film is throughly enjoyable, and it rides on the typical snappy Guy Ritchian dialog we've come to expect, with lots of wit and charm. The lead characters are fun to watch and the chemistry between them is palpable and classic. Every aspect of Rock N Rolla is handled well. I loved watching these characters navagate this messy maze of crime, double crosses, coincedences, and mystery.  Its smart, fast, funny and total entertainment. Top shelf Guy Ritchie movie. Not to be missed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


  I'm a big fan of what Guy Ritchie did with Holmes in 2009. It practically reinvented the character entirely. Giving him a witty, gritty, and action packed makeover, leaving the catchphrase and the deerstalker hat in the dust. I don't think many were complaining. A sequel was obviously... inevitable.  Insert catchphrase here.

  The trailers for A Game of Shadows promised the same witty dynamic between Watson, (Jude Law) and the eponymous Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and obviously lots of Guy Ritchian action.  Well, that was only part of what made the first so good and ultimately endearing.  If they abandoned all the heart of Holmes and just crammed it full of more action, I was going to be sorely dissapointed. Even though I love what he's done, I'm the guy still pining for a Ralph Fiennes or a Hugh Laurie Holmes that would be a clever slow burn drama/mystery. Amazingly, Ritchie amps up the action and excitement to a blazingly hot level, and STILL manages to preserve, if not build upon, everything else that made the previous one so damn good.

  It could just be me, but, the opening ten minutes felt off to me.  It felt kind of awkward, out of touch, and rushed. I was already anticipating the worst.  However... very shortly afterwards, the movie immediately finds its stride and opens into a breakneck pace that pretty much never slows down.  Quiet moments between Holmes and Watson behaving and bonding like brothers, are always riding the coattails of a brilliantly executed action set piece. Theres style and flair in these action scenes and lots of character and heart in the quieter moments. Just like the last one, this one is incredibly and expertly stylized, and then some. The fights are carefully calculated and narrated step by step in Holmes' mind before he executes it in reality. These exceedingly clever moments have already become a welcome trademark of Ritchie's Sherlock.  But whats a sequel if it doesn't bring some freshness to an established formula? There are some really clever twists regarding those moments of careful calculation thrown in there.

  The wit, is wittier. The plot, is thicker. The humor, is funnier. The action, is slicker. Any rough edges the previous film may have had, have all been smoothed out now. Guy Ritchie is only on number two and I have a feeling he could do this blindfolded again and again. Its awesome watching it all unfold.We know the characters, and they slip back into the swing of things as if they had never left.  We expect it to be more. And it delivers it all in the best ways possible.  Every person cast, is perfectly cast. From Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Sherlock's brother, to Noomi Rapace as the fiery gypsy Madam Simza, to Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty.  Its hard to see anyone match Downey's manic genius as Holmes' but Harris as Moriarty is the perfect counterpoint to Sherlock. They match wits in a big dangerous game, and at times they're clearly the only ones who really know what is going on. Its a massive chess game. As it should be and these are the two cunning players operating at a level that flies about everyone else's heads.
And for once... Holmes has met his match.

  There are moments of perfection in the movie, where you can see it eclipsing the last one entirely. These moments left me breathless and aren't in the least spoiled by anything, namely trailers, you've seen thus far.  The movie comes to close with an awesome climax that fits excellently in everything we know and love about Holmes.

  In total, seeing this today has been one of the best theater-going experiences I've had in years. Lots of pure fun and genuine entertainment. Some may be put off by the relentless pacing or Sherlock's escalated antics, but I find it welcome and exciting.  I can't think of any serious complaints about this one. Certain moments feel disconnected and out of touch with the rest of the movie, but these moments are brief, fleeting and not worth fussing over.  I loved A Game of Shadows much more than I expected to. Its an exhilarating return to the world of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. And while I do belive his rendition of Holmes, so to speak, is not the ideal or definitive version, but it certainly makes for an excellent blockbuster popcorn movie.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Starship Troopers



  Starship Troopers is a zany movie. Its essentially summarized as "Soldiers must wage war against giant alien bugs halfway across the galaxy."  But thats only half of the whole thing. Its equal parts in-your-face satire, and big sci-fi blockbuster.  Its heavy on symbolism and sly jabs at social commentary, and its also quite heavy on big budget special effects and lots of blood and gore.  Both aspects of the movie are insanely over the top. Theres no subtlety here. It may take several viewings to take it all in, but trust me.. just because this movie is the bluntest object in the whole tool shed, doesn't mean its not a whole lot of fun.

  The director has said that the casting of such pretty ideal young actors (with not alot of experience) was intentional.  I somehow get this. Some have critiqued the whole cast of being wooden. However, I just think it fits in a very odd and manufactured kind of way.  They're almost not even playing characters per se, it feels like they're playing archetypes of characters. Like, the young youth leaving home to join the military. We've seen it before. So in a way, Johnny Rico might as well be saying "John Hancock". Johnny Rico is not a character, he's an archetype.
It encompasses many different material views of the ideal action hero. Tall, muscular, blonde, blue-eyed, et. cetera...

   Most of the characters in the movie are like that. So, in a way, every actor's performance had to be blank enough for us to project our own ideas onto them. Or maybe I'm just reading into it, the director is saving face, and they're all just shitty actors. The story is pretty straight forward and serves as a broad all-encompassing coming of age tale too.  The youth of today, the heroes of tomorrow. Its a common phrase for those familiar with Starship Troopers. I can't remember if its ever actually said IN the movie, but it describes it pretty damn well. This trio of friend, young adults, fresh from high school (although they never look that young) ship out to join the Mobile Infantry and combat the intergalactic "arachnid" threat. Subsequently, they are forced to grow up through the most intense hardship ever.

   Friendships destroyed, lives lost, knee deep in blood and guts on the battlefield with people you hardly know... it'll change a person at their core. Unfortunately the physchological aspect and trauma of all this is sidestepped, the question "was joining up worth all this?" is never addressed. Mainly because by the time the end credits role, the narrative is so final in its unwavering satirical propaganda view on everything, we're not supposed to agree with any other answer but "Yes."...
So why even ask the question? These aren't complaints mind you, they're merely observations.

  If I had any actual complaints about Starship Troopers it would be how it never fully manages to find its footing. When you're in the big special effects laden action scenes, you forget about the satire and the social commentary, and when it snaps back, its jarring. It doesn't quite gel 100%. However, each on its own merit is done surprisingly well. The action scenes are incredibly thrilling and quite intense, the special effects, even over a decade later are still damn impressive, and everything has an immense sense of scale and scope.

  Massive CGI creatures feel and look like they inhabit the same space as the actors around it. This is a most impressive feat that even some very recent movies have failed to pull off. The least convincing effect in the movies is the CGI gore. It doesn't look... real. To be fair, few movies have ever pulled off CGI gore convincingly.  But all in all the part of Starship Troopers that would appeal to the summer blockbuster crowd, works perfectly. Its fast, fun, bloody, gross, and incredibly action packed. Lots of fun to be had here.

  Then on the other hand, we have the social commentary and satire. It shows a "perfect" society where almost everyone is handsome and happy.  Its also very communist, facist, and controlling. Does anyone look oppressed? No. But it certainly looks bland.
The ludicrous nature of a society like this actually working is boldly underlined in overly-satirical faux-commercials that kind of act like scene transitions. Bridging one scene to the next, and providing a look into this totalitarian society. "A Society That WORKS!".  As if they're trying to convince their own citizens.
The way the Mobile Infantry pretty much resembles the Nazis might be met with knowing nods, chalking it up to more satire, but what shocked me is how much the media attacked director Paul Verhoeven over this. Going so far as to call him "Pro-Facism".  The satire is so bold and obvious, I think it was TOO obvious, flying over audiences heads and critics alike, robbing them of half the experience here.

  In total, theres alot to take in with this movie, but that doesn't mean its hard to.  Its not hidden or burried under layers of subtext. Its right friggin there. In your face. So close in fact you may have to step back to see it.  But at the same time, if you want to turn off your brain and take in the movie as a big intergalactic space faring adventure, it works just as well like that. A massive sci-fi romp through the galaxy waging war with giant alien space bugs. Lots of fun. Reccomended for a saturday night and of course, with popcorn at the ready.

Rolling Thunder


  Rolling Thunder is for all intents and purposes, First Blood meets Walking Tall. But that doesn't mean once you've seen those, that you've seen it all. I suppose you could call this movie an exploitation flick considering the era it was made and how it coasts by most of its latter screentime on a catchy gimmick (the hook hand) and lots of action. But it has alot more brains and emotional power than you'd typically expect in your average exploitation flick.

  William Devane plays Major Charlie Rane. Him and his war buddy, John (Tommy Lee Jones), have just returned home from a tour of duty in Vietnam. They're welcomed publicly as heroes having survived being prisoners of war, but they quickly find that home life isn't what it used to be.  Charlie's wife, having presumed him dead, has moved on to another man. Charlie's son doesn't even remember him.  Theres not much left for Charlie. But when a group of ruthless thugs break into his house and torture him to try and find the $2,500 worth of silver dollars awarded to him by the town in the welcome back ceremony, they destroy his hand in the sink's garbage disposal, shoot him, kill his wife, and murder his son.
 
  Its pretty much a no-brainer what happens next. He recruits this town girl who's essentially, his groupie, to help him hunt down the sons-of-bitches that did this... and make them pay! Its pretty cool to watch how this all unfolds. Even despite how many times I've seen this exact formula play out, Rolling Thunder manages to feel fresh in a very welcome way. Its not set at a breakneck pace, but there are at least three really exciting set pieces places evenly throughout the film.  Each one eclipsing the last in intensity and dramatic flair.  Its a very bloody movie when it wants to be, but fortunately for us, the things we don't want to see... like his hand being chopped up in the disposal, or his wife and son being shot, aren't shown to us directly. Some may complain, but I think its rather tasteful. The graphic violence is only unleashed on those who have it coming. Namely, the bad guys.
 
  Which Leads me to my only real complaint about the movie. The bad guys aren't really developed at all. They're just thugs. Murdering thugs. I suppose the writer thought that greed was enough of a motivation, but nobody wants a murder rap on their hands. They showed no hesitation whatsoever to kill the wife and kid.
It didn't particularly strike me as cold blooded, but rather, lazy writing. Out of the quartet of thugs, not one protested. Right. Because $625 apiece is totally worth killing two almost three people over. To me that doesn't make sense even from a bad guy's viewpoint. There just isn't enough motivation to justify their extreme actions, and not even play it up. From an acting standpoint, they're all quite bland. The ringleader should've been played up, the others could've been fearful acomplices. We've seen it many times before. Hundreds of times before. It just struck me as odd they didn't do that here.

  But not even that hampers the enjoyment of this gritty revenge tale. Its merely about the principle of the thing. These guys killed his wife and kid. They're the bad guys. They must be killed.  That logic is hardly ever questioned in the movie. Not once is Charlie Rane's vigilante crusade actually challenged. There was a sub plot with this guy, Cliff, who's not only the other man in Rane's wife's life, but also happens to be a police officer. The tension between Cliff and Rane after the murders is quite downplayed from the go. There could've been some rich dramatic material there, but they almost sidestep that entirely, leaving Charlie to his vengeful business. Giving him the means, ability and know-how to unleash hell on these guys. Thats the ultimate drive of this movie. To unleash this force of nature and watch him destroy the bad guys.

  I can give this movie a solid reccomendation for anyone looking for an hour and a half of drama and vigilante justice. Not a bad flick at all. Quite enjoyable and definately servicable for what it set out to do.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fight Club


   First off, lemme just say this movie is brilliant. Secondly, its not just a punch-em-up movie, if anything its a slick, gritty, modern, psychological thriller. Or you could just call it a "mind-fuck".
In fact "mind-fuck" might be a VERY apt description here. Edward Norton's character who's listed on imdb as "The Narrator" since he's never really given a straight-forward name in the movie, is at first glance, content with his admitedly boring, lame, and ultimately cookie-cutter life.  But he has chronic insomnia. His whole life can be summarized as just a sequence of mundane formulaic events that happen over and over every day. He clings to part of this dearly. The commercialized, ideal, material life he's worked hard for.

But it brings him no happiness. He'd like to think it does. However, he knows it doesn't.  I won't say too much else. Cutting to the chase. So, when he meets wild man Tyler Durden, a man with a unique perspective on just about everything, his life is turned upside down. And that's a massive fucking understatement. Together, through a series of not-so-awkward male bonding moments, among which include beating the hell out of each other just for kicks, they end up creating an underground 'Fight Club' in which men of any all ages and social stature can kick the living crap out of each other.
All these men... who were merely trudging through their boring miserable excuses for a 'life', now have something dangerous, exciting, and dare I say... life-affirming(?) to look forward to.

Yikes.

But when Tyler begins to act increasingly strange, the Narrator's new found life begins to violently self destruct around him leading up to a mind blowing twist and an insanely unique climax.

The movie is cut together in a brilliant way so that even the most mundane scenes keep your attention glued to whats happening. Its almost impossible to look away.
Its a great story with a stellar cast. They all deliver amazing performances.
Although Brad Pitt just barely edges out his fellow cast mates with an unforgettable performance as the thoroughly bizarre and oddly likable Tyler Durden, who really just... makes the movie.
I can't stress enough how awesome Fight Club is. It will totally defy your expectations.

This movie is quirky, funny, iconic, timeless, manic, genius, and one of the strangest genre-defying experiences I've ever had the good fortune to sit through.
Definite must see, if you haven't already.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Videodrome


  This was... beyond trippy.
Its a great high-concept movie with loads of pure weird. Directed by the amazing David Cronenberg, Videodrome is about a sleazy cable TV programmer, Max Renn (played wonderfully by James Woods), who uncovers a strange and unknown broadcast called 'Videodrome', featuring nothing but nonstop S&M, torture, mutilation and murder 24/7.  Max is captivated by the show. He finds himself wondering if its all staged, or if its as brutally real as it looks.

   He sets out to get answers, but at every turn he's left with bigger and more serious questions. Pretty soon... some very strange things begin to happen to max. His life begins to turns upside down, and his world spins wildly out of control. The deeper he digs, the more the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. Is Videodrome a government experiment? Or is it part of something far more sinister...? Its almost like 8mm, with a Sci-Horror/surrealist twist.

  One great moment in the movie is when Max comes to realize something quite shocking that I won't spoil here, but a character in that delightfully creepy scene says to him... "Why would anybody watch a scum show like Videodrome...? Why did you watch it, Max?"
The line is chilling. The implications are chilling. And not just in this scene, and not just pertaining to Max... you could very well ask the same about the movie itself. Its wall to wall surreal gore and strange sex.

  Why did you watch Videodrome? Another scene in the movie highlights my point exactly.
Its an exchange between Max and a business friend of his, Masha. He says about the show:
"It's just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it's what's next."
And she just replies: "Then God help us..."
Its a wonderful little conundrum. Is this stuff entertainment? What exactly do you get out of it?
Of course, the movie feels rather tame next to 8mm in terms of impact, objectivity and seriousness.
The movie often dips into extremely surreal territory, especially in the last half of the movie. This unfortunately renders any social commentary it had, into a mere whisper in the background.

  Of course this whole theme could've supported a whole movie and produced quite a gripping thriller. But this isn't primed to do what 8mm was, you know. Its a horror movie first off. Set up to screw with your sense of reality. And that is honestly fine. It works wonderfully as late night fodder for some really messed up dreams and such. It really does practically feel like a bad dream. This urging sense of dread pushing forward as it gets stranger and stranger. And like any good bad dream it flirts with some dark erotica too. The erotica in Videodrom is far too odd to make you uncomfortable and squirm in your seat, but fear not, the rest of the movie is chock full of mind-bending, hair raising, cringe inducing, squirm worthy moments.

  Videodrome is a full-on weird trip that is ambiguous in all the right ways to keep you guessing. You're unsure about everything. Its a very creepy feeling that will leave you saying... "What the hell did I just watch?" Any other movie, and that would be an insult. But Videodrome kind of stands apart from a select crowd as a movie thats weird for weird's sake. Its not supposed to be wrapped up neatly.
Its one of those late night gems that you wanna show your friends, just to weird them out. It takes pride in its strangeness. It embraces it as few movies do, and for this, its an awesome flick thats worth checking out.

Evil Dead 2


  Evil Dead 2 is straight up entertainment. Its frighteningly funny, insanely over the top, and a totally fun ride that doesn't let up not for a second.  It succeeds on many levels. Its a madhouse of gore and thrills and manages to STILL be fresh and original.

  It kinda recaps the first one in a short remake kind of way. Its definitely a sequel to The Evil Dead, but since the makers couldn't get the rights to use footage from the first one, they had to re-shoot a recap and kind of retcon certain details to make Evil Dead 2 work. It opens with a flurry of awesome camera work, eerie sound effects, and some brilliant B-movie special effects. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie, firmly establishing a great and creative thrill ride that infuses horror with comedy in an genius way.

  It picks up and shoots out new gags and wacky ideas at a mind numbing rate. Its manic and creepy, and perfectly delivered. The first 30 minutes of Evil Dead 2 are pure classic. Unrivaled in its breakneck pacing and avalanche of twisted gore and giggles, the first 30 minutes are the most creative and inventive part of the whole movie. Not to say the rest isn't just as fun, but it starts recycling some gags and ideas by the halfway mark. It never feels dull thankfully. Some comedy/horror movies can't balance the two genres well. Some forsake all pure scares, for silly gags wasted on even the easiest audiences. Others abandon any actual laughs, and focus on countless (and redundant) jump-scares instead, leaving all comedic moments an empty vacuum, devoid of any entertainment value whatsoever.

  After having been force fed movies like this for years, its so refreshing to go back and see a movie that does it absolutely perfectly. As Roger Ebert said, and I paraphrase, "The movie is timed for comedic effect, not horror-" but this is a brilliant move because I think there is a little bit of humor inherent in everything scary. So while you're being freaked out, you also can't help but feeling like you're also seeing comedy gold.  Furthermore, Evil Dead 2 cements its protagonist, Ash, as a reservoir of t-shirt worthy one-liners and iconic sayings. He's the ultimate B-movie protagonist. He works as the ideal, square jawed,stalwart action hero, and as a comedic genius who can carry a straight-up comedy entirely on his own. 

   Bruce Campbell plays Ash, and for the first classic 30 minutes, he's acting off of pretty much nothing but special effects.  Stop animation demons, a puppeteered severed hand, and "possessed" furniture. It takes skill to react to this stuff with palpable emotion and a whole lot of gusto. A friend of mine said, if it weren't for his awesome facial expressions and timeless reactions throughout, the movie wouldn't have been even half as fun. I'm inclined to agree.

  Aside from the comedy, it also excels in being very very creepy. Its full of demonic possessions, bloody dismemberments, evil disembodied spirits, excellent eerie sounds, and lots of clever tricks up its sleeve.  On top of all that, the last act of the movie also works as a delightfully creepy adventure haul. Like the climax of Aliens, the protagonists have put up with so much crap by this point, they're ready to fight back. And this leads to one of the coolest, most unforgettable and creative things I've seen in a movie like this... ever. If the iconic sayings and such cemented Ash as a timeless protagonist, this little thing in towards the climax is the proverbial icing on the cake.

  This one ticks all the boxes. Its creative, exciting, funny, scary, and full-on entertainment.  Its something I can watch over and over and find something new to love about it each time.  Its classic drive-in material. I can't stress enough how fun and classic this over-the-top gory horror/comedy is, and how much you need to see it if you haven't already.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stargate



  It had been years since I'd seen this movie. I'm also pretty sure the last I saw it was on VHS. Yeah.
So today, on my latest Blu Ray run, I picked up Evil Dead 2 (25th anniversary edition), Stargate, and finally, Hancock, which I reviewed earlier. I can't say I was particularly ecstactic to see Stargate again, but I remember it being pretty good, and at $5.00... who can argue with picking it up?

  Its definately not the same 'great!' movie it was to me five years ago, and its still not bad, but I can definately see the flaws now.
  To start off with, the movie is about an ancient portal that the military discovers in Egypt or someplace and they hire this guy Daniel (James Spader), who's a right wing 'expert' on this stuff that no one takes seriously because of his radical theories, to decode the symbols on this portal device to make it work. Well hoo rah, he does in two weeks what their own team hadn't acomplished in two years. Geez. This guy is seriously under-appreciated! Anyway, him and a team of soldiers, led by Colonel Jack O'Neill (Kurt Russell),  go through the portal and wind up on a planet on the other side of the known universe. Literally. The planet is home to some opressed  slaves who also happen to be human, and their "gods" are aliens who possess the bodies of men because apparently human bodies are "easy to repair".  So after the typical language barrier is overcome (sorta) Daniel and crew end up leading a rebellion of sorts against these all powerful "gods" who reside in a pyramid spaceship, whilst also trying to find the right symbols to decode the Stargate on that planet so they can go home.
 Also includes, obligatory love intrest, and obligatory overly-evil villain who likes to blow shit up for the sake of blowing it up. Namely Earth. But it's all good! And for the most part it is!
 
  Its not an outright bad movie, its actually a pretty good time! But my complaints are as such...
No one seems to be impressed or in awe or have any appropriate reaction to the fact they're on the other side of the UNIVERSE! And have found evidence of aliens! In fact they just seem vaguely pissy...
Second issue is how the soldiers in the movie dont conduct themselves like trained professionals. They act like spoiled bratty teens on a vacation they were forced into. I swear to god they spend more time whining than doing anything productive.
Lastly is the villain thing.
His motivations are so unclear. Why did he show up only after the Stargate was reactivated?
What's his vendetta with Earth? Now he wants to blow it up? Why?

  Pretty dumb crap I know. But if you have an appreciation for mindless adventure epics that manage to be pretty entertaining when all is said and done, then don't waste anymore time. Go find this movie.
It has plenty in it worth seeing it for. It has fantastic production design that merges an otherworldly feel with an ancient egyptian style and the result is wonderful to look at. Its simply gorgeous. Even though this is limited to the interior of the alien pyramid ship and their armor and such, its still totally cool to look at. It invokes a proper sense of scope and awe.
Next is the brilliant music score that maintains this dramatic yet adventurous theme that just draws you in completely.
Lastly, the acting from the leads is not bad at all! In fact at some times its strikingly good. And there are plenty of laughs and legitimately engaging action scenes to keep you coming back for more. Its simply a fun sci-fi adventure. Sad thing is, I think it aspired to be far more. And it could have been an absolute must-see classic if it actually acomplished what it set out to... but it falls just short of that.
Don't let that stop you from seeing it though. It still is pretty damn fun even if its own logic just falters at times.

Hancock


  Hancock is by all means, a totally fun movie. Its a good time. On the whole, it has a great cast, a halfway decent script, great dialog, great special effects, and it all gels rather well. The problem is the direction the second half of the movie takes. Its out of the blue, poorly handled, and rather unnecessary.
It has a brilliant premise. It focuses on the real world ramification of the physical hoo-hah and meyhem a superhero would actually cause.  Now crank the meyhem to 10 because the clincher here is our superhero is an irresponsible, belligerent, alcoholic, hobo. Enter: Hancock.

  It works on a wonderful thematic level, and instead of Will Smith playing Hancock as a goof or something of a comedic role, he plays it super serious. Like an outcast from society with anger issues. He plays him dark, serious and quiet. And surprisingly this provides alot of laughs. But Smith is only half of said comedic dynamic. On the flip side we have the completely likable Jason Bateman, who's character's name eludes me at the moment. But he's awesome in this movie. He's the perfect counterpoint to Hancock's recklessness. And it succeeds on an unexpected emotional level because Bateman's character, who's really well fleshed out, is a very compassionate person. And even when the whole world manages to hate and despise Hancock, he sees a person there. Someone who deserves a chance. So being a public relations guy, he decides to help Hancock and revamp his public image entirely.

  Its a great direction. I would've been content with a whole movie about just this dynamic little situation. But unfortunately the movie cuts this stuff short with what I'm sure they thought was a brilliant twist. But all it did aside from shock me, was annoy me. Its unfortunate because it just seems like they didnt know what to do. But aside from that, its great. It really is. So I can definately reccomend this movie to anyone looking for a simply fun filled time, but...
But dont expect the whole thing to be as awesome as the first half. It is a great popcorn flick though with lots of cool parts in it, but its not quite what I expected. Even after seeing it three times.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Last Circus


  The Last Circus is certainly one hell of a movie. Its out of  the blue and seems to take pride in its weary blood drenched humor and its sickly sense of the macabre. Its also very wild and at times surreal. On one hand, it doesn't appear to take itself that serious, and then on the other hand at times its so serious and straightfaced that you're caught off guard by it.  It feels like... a circus act. In any other context this would be an insult rather than a compliment, but The Last Circus juggles themes and tones, like an expert juggler with 20 flaming apples. Its something to marvel at. But after all is said and done... I can't help like I've also seen a car accident. It feels like a bad joke at times. Like instead of watching a display of skill, we're seeing something suffering from ADHD.

  But in the end, it does click. I'm not sure if theres anything to get. No striking revelation. No big aha moment. But it does somehow make sense. Not in a logical way, because there is often no logic to make sense of the batshit events leading up to the final scenes... but in an emotional way. Its powerful. Its what was coming all along. And I knew it. Nevertheless it is a sad movie. Its sad from 'go'. But its also not a depressing movie. Its too snappy and stylish to be a downer entirely. 

  My chief complaint is how often we're pulled out of it. We connect to the characters, sympathize with them... and then something happens that just disconnects us. Its not shocking or anything, its just random. And such scenes just seem to happen for the movies sake, to allow it space to expand on its weirdness and try to mold it into symbolism. But by the time we get to possible symbolism, its too much of a mess to be anything coherant. Its subtexts fouled up by pure strangeness, its emotional resonance is damped by its haste to be crazy, and all this feels like its just for the sake of itself. Its like a mad person begging to be noticed. He'll do anything to get your attention, even at the risk of losing credibility and looking like a fool.

  Having said all that, there is something wild, wacky, insane, and oddly likeable in this macabre tradgedy about love, revenge, and apparently... going crazy.  Its an experience you can't take you eyes off of. Despite my complaints about it, I feel like I watched something artful. Something pretty much worth seeing. Its not a masterpiece, but its destined to be a cult classic, and its a triumph for odd and weird movies everywhere.  I'm not going to waste time telling you a plot synopsis, because theres a billion places where you can get that, but I will say its worth watching if you're interested. But this movie is not for everyone to see. It can disturb some people with its violence and such. But I guess I'm desensitized. The only thing I flinched at was the sad ending. And thats probably the least flinch-worthy moment in the whole movie.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, tonight you shall witness a show like no other, and one you shan't soon forget!

Mission: Impossible


  Its taken me about... 6-7 viewings to wrap my head around the plot. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you're gonna wanna read this whole thing. Spoilers and all. Because, lord knows, if I had a plot synopsis in front of me while watching this the first few times, I might've enjoyed it more. Mission Impossible's biggest fatal flaw is its severely overcomplicated plot. Its biggest strength is that you're so caught up in the relentlessly paced espionage thrills, that something you had a question about 10 minutes earlier, is now rendered completely irrelevant.
 
  First off, the plot. Ethan Hunt is our main man. The point man of an IMF team, (impossible missions force) and him and his team are sent to Prague to apprehend a traitor who plans to steal and sell to the higest bidder, a CIA 'NOC' list. Its a computer document that contains a list of all the real identities of every undercover agent... in the whole world I suppose. Anyway, the whole operation goes tits-up and Hunt is the last man alive. It turns out, the list that the traitor stole was a fake. The whole thing was an internal mole hunt, and the whole thing is hung on Ethan as being a traitorous mole. So, now disavowed and,on the run from his own agency he plans to find the person who set him up. "How?" you might ask, by stealing the real NOC list of course and using it as leverage to find out who the real mole was.

  I'm pretty sure I got all that right. Some of the details may be fuzzy, even after I've just watched it, but you always get the impression that something intricate and important is going on. The story climaxes in areas where the suspense and tension come to a head in exciting sequences like the heist of the real NOC list, and the massive climax at the end involving a speeding bullet train and a helicopter. The runtime inbetween never feels dull, because there hardly is any down time. Its 'GO' from the start, and it hardly lets up. Its one big climatic event after the next. In a lesser movie, all of the problems would have been solved with gunfights and painful car chases, and while if done right, thats perfectly fine and just as entertaining, but Mission Impossible has too much class for that. And at certain moments... it has echoes of classic and timeless spy/thriller noir. The rest of course is cutting edge stuff (for 1996).

  As a big spy thriller, Mission Impossible succeeds on all counts. It has a great cast with the likes of Jean Reno, Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, and of course... Tom Cruise. Its a slick action vehicle that doesn't let up, and keeps a breakneck pace, too fast to pause even for a minute... even when you're stuck scratching your head, confused as all can be. This could be a major drawback for some, but for others, they keep pace with the film, letting it play out, and enjoying each scene as it skillfully unfolds.
Total action packed fun. Highly reccommended that you choose to accept this mission... but, of course, not without some tasty popcorn at the ready.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Princess Mononoke


  I've been a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki ever since I saw Laputa: Castle in the Sky at a pretty young age. 
It impressed me immensely. The animation, the story, the characters, the scope and scale; all of it was breathtaking. And I knew I just had to get my hands on more. Enter: Princess Mononoke.

  I knew next to nothing about the story and such, but I knew it was a movie that was very eco-centric.
Like, Avatar, its ecological message was clear as day. But instead of feeling like a sub plot or something tacked on last second, the message and the story are pretty much the one and the same in Princess Mononoke. Its very well handled too. The characters are all well fleshed out, and many of them fall into the 'grey' area. Where its not so easy to simply say "He's good." or "He's evil.".
This is where Princess Mononoke intrigued me. Certain characters aren't bad, but do bad things. The movie never makes it easy on you to decide these things. And in the end, the villain turns out to be harmful notions like greed and hatred. The struggle in the plot is for our protagonist to help these opposing parties overcome such blinding notions when both sides feel completely justified in taking extreme measures to acomplish their respective goals. This analytical breakdown of the movie may feel cold, or make it sound boring, but its not. Its an emotional movie. We grow to know the characters and understand who they are by what they do, and the choices they make.

  The other massive part of this movie is the visuals, and the animation. The visuals are breathtaking, thanks to top shelf animation. Princess Mononoke really draws you into its fantasy world full of wonder and excitement. Not the smallest details on anything are ever overlooked. Massive landscapes and epic battlefields, thick lush forests, and thriving villages are wonderfully and brilliantly brought to life through superb animation.

  I cannot say much else without spoiling the movie. But its a great one. A masterpiece of animation and a triumph of a movie in general.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tiger on the Beat

 
  As a movie itself, Tiger on the Beat, seems at times unsure whether it wants to be a screwball comedy, a send-up of buddy cop movies, or an actual buddy cop movie. Despite its uneven footing, it actually succeeds on all those counts.

  You may be put off by how silly the movie is at times. The poster boasts its like "Lethal Weapon, only far funnier-" I can see the connection to Lethal Weapon, but far funnier? I'm not sure I can agree to that.
Far sillier, yes. More action packed, yes. And, on occasion, there happens to be a truly funny moment that just genuinely made me laugh. So I can't really reccomend this as a straight up comedy, because its not. Honestly. The action scenes are incredibly intense and serious, they dont make light of these moments, instead they play to their severity. Which ends up making the movie a mixed bag. Those looking for kick-ass action will mostly likely be turned off in the first ten minutes at how unrelentingly silly it is, but if they stay and watch it through to the end... they will NOT be dissapointed! This has some of the coolest, most creative action set pieces I've ever scene. Mostly at the end, but that doesn't mean this whole movie isnt worth watching. Its so fun. Whether or not you buy into the overacting, and the silliness, its totally fun. Unafraid to be goofy at times, and bloody at others, Tiger on the Beat is a movie that doesn't require close inspection. Just take it for what it is:
A damn good time.

(mild spoiler alert ahead)

Also... if you're still not convinced to see this movie:


Chainsaw duel.


And its every bit as awesome as it sounds.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hunt, Ethan Hunt.


  With Ghost Protocol on the way, my attention has been recently drawn back to these Tom Cruise action vehicles. Having seen the first and third Mission Impossible movies countless times, and the second one, only once... it was long overdue for a revisit.
 
  Sometimes things tend to age better in your mind. As if  your memories of the negative aspects of such a thing tend to blur and fade. Perhaps, with a fresh perspective, you might enjoy that one particular movie you never really thought was all that good to begin with. Well, such is the case with "M:I-2". I thought I might really enjoy it. Yeah...

  Directed by one of my all time favorites, John Woo, I almost feel guilty for not liking it more than I do.  But Mission Impossible is the wrong franchise for you John. Sorry.
  The overly stylized shootouts, the excessive slow motion, and the slew of other time honored cliches of big blockbuster action movies feel so very very out of place here. And thats the least of the issues.
Like Jason Bourne, and to a lesser extent, James Bond, these men of action thrive under pressure. More specifically, when things go wrong. A setup, a double cross, and stuff like that. Which is what Mission Impossible did so very well. A massive setup and a twisting plot, wrapped around pulse pounding set pieces. Like a well oiled machine, with a dizzying array of moving parts, the first Mission Impossible outing, managed to excite and thrill.

  M:I-2, however, manages to feel less like the brainy and exhilarating ride of its predecessor, and more like a Brosnan era Bond flick. This is not good. Ethan Hunt no longer feels like Ethan Hunt. He acts JUST like James Bond. And this time around he's simply on an assigned save-the-world mission. No government setup, no big internal mole hunt, nothing thought provoking. No story capable of delivering anything clever. Expect no twists and no turns.
  You can expect a Bond villain though. And a typical Bond-like plot. Hell, theres even a Bond girl, and she does a great job of being a Bond girl.
  Further irritating me is the the use of those extremely cool masks they used in the first movie to look exactly like someone else. But instead of utilizing them in a clever manner, they appear extremely conviniently, and almost everytime the plot is in dire need of something to keep the audience interested... which is just about every 5 to 10 minutes. By the fourth time I saw someone peel someone else's face off, I was wondering if they keep these masks in their coat pockets or something. Like someone keeping a condom on them just in case you know? Its annoying. Not cool.

  I'm losing objectivity here. My ultimate point is this:
Its too much of the wrong thing.
  Most people won't mind the excessive action over a decent plot, or the fact the villain isn't really all that scary, or the fact Ethan Hunt looks like he stepped out of a damn movie poster the entire time, or the cookie cutter romantic sub plot, or the fact there even IS a romantic sub plot... but I mind. It all belongs in a different series. A different franchise. Wheres the intrigue? Wheres the mystery? Not here unfortunately.
And let me clarify on that "movie poster" bit there.
 Take note in a movie like Die hard, by the end of the movie, the hero is all cut up, banged up, shot, bleeding, and his clothes only hanging on by a thread here and there, the rest is all blood stains and such. This should be what Hunt looks like by the end of this movie, but he doesn't. He has to look cool and stylish for his slow motion close ups in his ultra-cool leather jacket and such. Which is exactly how they would show him... on the movie poster.
I... can't even begin to say how incredibly corny that looks to me now. I'm also pretty sure theres a scene towards the end where we cut away, then back, and stylish black sunglasses have just managed to appear on his face out of, apparently, nowhere. Wow. Now thats a cool trick.

  Now, in any other movie, I wouldn't mind all this as much. I might even love it. But it is not what a Mission Impossible movie should be like. And for the life of me I can't get over that. Its tone is so drastically different from the others I find myself waiting for that specific cue where Cruise will have to say 'his' name: "The name's Hunt...... Ethan Hunt."
 Ha. No. It sadly does not feel like a smart and exciting movie. They've stripped it of what made the first one awesome, and injects the standard ingredients for a typical summer blockbuster. It feels like just another summer hollywood movie. I have more complaints, but I won't waste anymore time listing them. This movie is best seen a couple times, once to get a feel for it, twice to criticize the hell out of it, and then again to accept it as a guilty pleasure and simple weekend action fare. I've yet to get to my third viewing.

  However I cannot conclude this review without giving the movie its due diligence. Despite my feelings towards it, I can't help but also kinda... kick back, be mildly entertained, and take it for what it is apart from the others. Its a serviceable action movie. The action is well choreographed and very good eye candy, which is about the best compliment I can level at M:I-2.
It is decent eye candy.
Of course, not to be had without a nice bowl of popcorn though.  :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fright Night


  I'm thoroughly convinced Colin Farrell is a cinematic chameleon. He may not be as versatile as the greats, but he's certainly a damn good actor, and brings something silently refreshing to the role of "Jerry" the next door neighbor/vampire.  Also worth seeing this for is young actor Anton Yelchin, showing up in 2009's Star Trek and Terminator Salvation. Turning in very good performances in both.
I found that this role of teenage horror movie protagonist fits him very very well. He's young, likeable, and isn't obnoxious in the role. A problem I find with many teen actors.

  I haven't seen the original Fright Night so I cannot really compare, but on its own merits, I found this remake to be lots and lots of fun. Creative and scary, and at times has a nice streak of humor in it, (as all horror movies like this should have). I can't elaborate alot on the movie. It has lots of great moments and clever pieces of dialog, and a really really cool and satisfying climax. I enjoyed this movie thoroughly and its definitely worth recommending. 
  Fright Night is a pretty competent movie overall, having only spotty flaws here and there, and manages to be a surprisingly good time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Saints Row: The Third


  Scroll down just a bit and you'll see its no big secret I loved Saints Row 2. It was wild, fast, and able to be completely yours. Unlike other specific sandbox games  where you can create your own protagonist, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas (both of which I am very familiar with and are personal favorites) the character creation options didn't stop at just your face. In the Saints Row games, you can pick your own voice. Although choices are limited, you can understand how a Fallout veteran like myself might be thrilled with the prospect of not having to read every line your character says, instead, he actually speaks it.  In Saints Row The Third, I went in with extremely high hopes, and massive expectations. I don't think I'd ever been so excited for the release of a new game.  I will buy almost any game that boasts extensive customization capabilities, and I think its a tad unfortunate I discovered Saints Row 2 first.

  Lets start with the cons. Saints Row The Third, on its own footing, hardly gets anything wrong at all. A few glitches here and there, some mildly annoying AI, but otherwise its a strikingly solid game.
But for people who've experienced the second game... we felt the loss instantly.
  For those who pay attention to detail, several facial detail sliders had been summarily condensed into one new 'Style' slider for each tab: Eyes, Crown, Forehead, Ears, Nose, Lips, et cetera...
While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact its a welcome change, but it does sacrific some finer tweaking options that were a must for people creating well known faces. In my case... I made Vin Diesel... but now I can't get the slant of the eyes just right. See? For most this will be no problem at all, but for Saints Row 2 players, we felt the pain. You know how many hours can be spent running around as your favorite celebrity? Beating random people senseless and running over old people?
So anyhow, ontop of those tiny almost irrelevant details being axed from SRTT, the clothing situation has also been changed.
  Gone are the layering options. You can no longer equip seperately an undershirt, overshirt, and coat.
Tops and bottoms are solid pieces now. If you buy an open zip-up hoodie with an ugly shirt underneath it, you're welcome to change the color for the most part, but nevertheless... you're stuck with said shirt. In #2, that wasn't an issue. At all.  Along with reduced clothing options, gone is the need for so many clothing stores. Sloppy Seconds, Branded, Impressions... all gone. Here to stay is Leather & Lace, Nobody Loves MeLets Pretend, and the new Planet Saints.  Yes people, these are just clothing stores.
  But again, for those who aren't so fickle about their appearance... no harm done eh?
Also missing is the size, varried terrain, and scope of Stillwater. The city from #2. Now you're in Steelport. A mostly drab town. Not really all that unpredictable as far as pedestrians go. In #2, the streets and sidewalks were thriving with personality and such, this feels mostly gone from SRTT.

  Now moving on to the pros.
Stillwater was way more "alive" so to speak. Thats not to say that Steelport isn't without merit. This new city is much more atmospheric and colorful than the rather ordinary looking Stillwater. Nothing in Steelport looks generic. Its a banal cesspool of neon lights, hookers, pimps, and flashy looking S&M clubs. I'm sure I'm overlooking some notable locale worth mentioning, but make no mistake, there are LOTS of memorable locations.
  The hand-to-hand combat mechanics have been revamped as well. Gone are the 'fighting styles' of #2, and while many may mourn their absense from this game, I am MORE than happy with the new lil sweet spot button they've put in there. For the PS3 users, clicking R3 at someone while sprinting will unleash a short but brutally sweet melee move on them. Whether you're flipping over them, flipping them over you, or just using your shotgun like a bat and slamming it between their legs right into their nads', you can be sure it never gets old.  Dont worry, you can also use your standard attack buttons to delve out some good ol' "one-two" action when you don't have any weapons equipped.
  And now, with a reduced weapon roster, we're able to upgrade our weapons now! Extended clips, snap-on grenage launchers, lazer sights, scopes, special ammo types, silencers, and more. Its a very very welcome feature. Your two lil .44's may not do much against combat armor when you first set out to wreak some meyhem in the city of Steelport, but upgrade them to level four and you're a force to be reckoned with.
  Also as well as having some cool new cars to trick out in your personal garage or at your local Rim Jobs, driving mechanics have been overhauled. In #2, driving was unexciting and kinda clunky. In SRTT, driving is a blast. You feel like you're going much faster, and nitrous isn't a completely useless thing anymore, and its also super fun to just drift around corners and break out into doughnuts. Super fun.
  Ontop of all this, the missions themselves are as exciting as any number of cinematically inclined cutscenes. You may consider this spoiler-ish, but trust me... having a mid-air fire fight after jumping out of an airplane is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

  There are so many situations here where you feel like you're an action hero in a summer blockbuster as bullets fly, cars explode, and you're making sure you look as damn stylish (or absurd) as possible in the middle of it all. Certain missions feel like you're pulling off a Mission Impossible stunt, rappelling down the side of a building, or jumping out of a helicopter to crash an enemy pool party on top of their huge skyscraper. Certain other missions fell like you're in the middle of an urban war movie, or a full on John Woo crime movie with the slow motion shootouts and all the jumping over sofas while shooting two large calibur bullets. Its all very intense and dynamic and feels very natural in SRTT, the gameplay itself, during these epic battles, feels very fluid and vastly improved over #2. Everything does. From running, to jumping, to beating someone's face in feels and looks much more natural and fun.

  Also Saints Row The Third is not without a certain emotional weight, even though it doesn't hang karmic choice on you like inFamous, there are choices you make that will affect the game, and other stuff happens thats completely out of your hands, and its all kind of emotional because you've stayed with these characters for a long time, You get the in-jokes, you know their quirks, you can feel all of it pretty closely. You're definately connected to it all. Without this weight and sense of family I think that SRTT would be a completely hollow experience, and given the fact I'm saying this about a game in which you can beat someone over the head with a giant purple dildo-bat whilst dressed up as a big furry animal mascot... its pretty impressive.

  If you give it a chance, and overlook whats not here from #2,  you'll find a wacky, crazy, funny, intense, action-packed, and rewarding gaming experience thats FULL of clever surprises and twists, and definately worth investing your time in.  Although if wacked out raunchy humor, or over the top violence isn't your bag... stay far far away.
However if you can appreciate this stuff, and if you chuckle at all those nut shots in "America's Funniest Home Videos" than this is definately for you.  I love this game, and I deeply enjoyed every second of playing it.  It gets my full recommendation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saints Row 2

 
  I don't think its any big revelation that lots of video games take themselves very seriously now.
We have widely appealing crime stories ala Grand Theft Auto IV, intense sci-fi thrillers like Dead Space 2, and flat out action games like the Uncharted series. Going to buy a video game now, is almost like browsing for a movie at a rental joint. 

  Call me nostalgic but despite my love for the current wave of cinematically inclined video games, begging to be taken seriously, I miss a slightly older generation of games. Ones that came attached with a laundry list of cheat codes, and hidden areas and all kinds of fun stuff. Now, we have to pay for 'DLCs' to get all the extra stuff. Back then you had to either enter a ridiculously long code straight into the menu, or defeat some mega boss on insane difficulty levels. I miss that kind of gameplay.
  I want to now slap myself for not discovering Saints Row 2 sooner. Or maybe I discovered it at the perfect time. Either way... it was a godsend.
 
  Its frequently compared to GTA IV because of its sandbox open world style, its focus on the criminal underworld, and its general approach to gameplay. However, Saints Row 2, is not a game on its hands and knees begging to be taken seriously. In fact it seems to be doing the exact opposite: pistol whipping you over the head, yelling obsceneties in your ear, telling you to just enjoy the ride.
  Its an insanely immature game. Loaded to the brim with tasteless wanton destruction and bloodshed, and removing all moral and ethical consequences from sight. Its wall to wall guns, pole dancers, fast cars, foul language and lots of loud explosions.  Despite it unfolding like it was written by a teenage wannabe white boy rapper with a predilection for all things violent, it is most definately cinematically inclined and gloriously so. 

  Although the graphics aren't the best, or even remotely so, the cinematics at the beginning and end of every action packed mission, feel like you're watching an action movie, with big impressive stunts (i.e. jumping out of a helicopter, and into the top floor of a towering sky scraper) and fast paced action scenes. Mind you, this is just in the cinematics, and its also just the tip of the iceberg.

  I played through the game with select cheat codes enabled, never feeling guilty, because the game is already so over the top its not a big leap to want to feel invincible in this world. Even with infinite health, ammo, and my pick of military grade weapons, thats not to say I had the whole world in my hands. I found myself constantly fighting against a timer, or racing against a time restraint, trying to keep my "homies" alive, or struggling to complete a mission in general. Its no cake walk, but the codes certainly made me feel like I was an invincible action star in the latest summer blockbuster.

  I also found the amount of customizable things to be wonderfully self-indulgent. You start off the game, and you're allowed to create your own protagonist. Sex, age, build, facial features, hair styles, personality traits, and even a choice from three voices (per gender). This in itself had me sold already. I love personalizing my own protagonist in any game, getting to create a completely unique one from scratch is always a special treat. Especially so in this game.  The customizing doesn't end there either.

  The story begins with your character emerging from a coma, induced by some explosion taking place in the previous game, and now you find your gang, the 3rd Street Saints, to be gone, your home drastically changed, and several other new cutthroat gangs have dominated alot of territory. Welcome home to the city of Stillwater.
  You have to recruit new gang members to resurrect the Saints, and fight your way to your rightful place at the top of the food chain once again.  So in this epic urban adventure, you can customize the general look of your gang (ninja clan anyone?), the cars your gang use, your own personal garage full of cars and such, and even eventually... aircraft. Fun yes? I thought so too.
  You can also buy up "cribs" all over the city and add your personal touches...
*cough-stripper poles-cough*

  And from there access your wide inventory of purchased guns, and general weapons, your ever expanding wardrobe, a mini game about a zombie apocalypse, the option to re-view those epic cinematics, and your personal cash vault that restocks over time. All this is an epic setup to hours and hours of open world fun and getting sidetracked on mini-games and tongue-in-cheek 'activities' even long after you've completed your last mission. The game is blessed with a dark sense of humor, and at times even a well placed bit of satire, and it all goes towards creating a very enjoyable and unique game that is for the power-hungry gun-freak in all of us.

  If the point of video games is to be totally immersive, this game does it in spades. The only things that could possible have as much totally immersive, open world, reckless, limitless, fun... is Saints Row: The Third, (which I will be buying)... and/or a Star Trek holodeck.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

  Justin Lin's first entry into the well known franchise is just flat out fun. Its maybe not better than 2 Fast 2 Furious, but definitely on par with it. In short, it has the same weaknesses but, a whole new set of strengths. Its not as action heavy as the first two giving way for some respectable stabs at character development. Its less about crime lords and cops, than it is more of just a fish out of water story, set in the underground racing scene of Tokyo japan. Alot like the very recent remake of the Karate Kid, only instead of karate or kung fu, its car racing.  It works pretty well too.

  The protagonist is a fresh face to the series, avoiding the typical kinds of 'heroes' seen in the previous two. He's just a guy. Not a criminal or a cop. Just a high school guy who happens to be very good behind the wheel of a car. But theres a catch, in THIS racing scene in Tokyo, its not JUST racing. Its drifting.

  Where according to wikipedia drifting is when a driver intentionally over steers, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through turns, while maintaining vehicle control and a high exit speed.  It looks way more interesting that it sounds. Well this new guy has to learn how to drift or he's pretty much useless in the racing world here. Its pretty cool and fun. But again... ridiculous dialog, plenty of overacting, and hammy characters. Except by now, those feel less like flaws and more like trademarks of the franchise. Is that a good thing by now? Or a severely bad one?

Well, I'm still unsure. But I had a good time watching the movie. Its nothing spectacular, or even anything special, but its fun. And isn't that all we really want from a movie like this?

  I don't have as much to say about this one than I did about the first two, because it doesn't feel like there is as much to critique. Also in some respects there isn't much to say because it sticks out like a sore thumb in the series. We're not really catching up on Dom Toretto or Brian O'Connor, so I can't really measure the movie next to the first two.  It feels very different. Better? I'm not sure. But its definitely not worse.