Monday, January 30, 2012

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo


  I haven't read the book,or even seen the original movie, as soon as I learned David Fincher was helming this remake, I knew that I wanted his movie to be my first introduction into this story.  Its a decision I do not regret.

  There are plenty of place online to hear a recap of what the story is and such. And I find it saves time and space if I cut to the chase and simply deliver my thoughts and opinions on the movie.  I personally loved it.  I'm a David Fincher fanboy and can't help but compare this to some of his other movies. He has a penchant for wild opening credits and pushing the envelope there visually. Well I take my hat off to him with the opening credits for 'Dragon Tattoo. It has more wicked style and nuance in those couple eye-popping minutes than some directors have been able to invest in a lifetime of filmmaking. 

   This is dripping with style.  Which doesn't just end there, even mundane shots are shot with skill and they're simply eye catching. 

 It really is hard to take your eyes off of this movie.  Due also, in no small part to the charcters Daniel Craig and Mara Rooney have brought to life. Its very easy to get completely immersed in Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander's (Craig and Rooney, respectively) character development.  Because its handled so damn well.  Scenes and actions move forward their development, revealing more about them to us, which in turn pushes the movie forward. By the time the end comes around, you're left wanting more. Not that the film is lacking, but you want more of these characters. Their dynamic is something awesome to watch. Something that was actually developed, not something just cobbled together for the sake of plot cohesiveness.

   Its great to see something so well put together. The film is a great drama with classic mystery tropes and all the right ingredients of an edge of your seat thriller.  Its a damn good movie.

   Its not always a subtle movie, but its nuanced for sure. There is a really interesting piece of foreshadowing in there that I won't give away, but its pretty gripping when all that comes to pass. I can't stress enough how well made this is. I loved it.  Its not always easy to watch, some moments are pretty brutal, but its a movie that is worth it. What is promised, is delivered. And what we have as a result, is another fantastic David Fincher movie.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wanted


  Undoubtedly this movie has its legions of passionate haters. Which can promptly be divided into a few distinct categories. Fans of the comic by Mark Millar and J.G.Jones. People who think the movie is an offensive exercise in gore and profanity. And those who just can't suspend their belief when the movie starts spitting in the face of the laws of physics.  Well, I never read the comic, I don't have a problem with gore or profanity, and I'm really good at suspension of disbelief. It seems this movie was aimed at people just like me. If you fall into any of the above categories... you'll likely hate the movie. So do yourself a favor, stop reading this review, and go do something else. Seriously.

  If you're like me in the above criteria, and you're in the mood for a spot of nihlistic fun... then pull up a chair.  Wanted is quite a ride.  We follow cubicle-bound loser Wesley Gibbons (James McAvoy) as he discovers, through an explosive encounter with the sexy Fox (Angelina Jolie), that he's the son of a super assassin. And subsequently being a killer is in his blood. Quite literally.  After a little intense pursuasion, Wesley promptly ditches his menial office job, and goes to join "The Fraternity".  A fraternity of super assassins as it were. Led by the mysterious Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Wesley learns of the assassin who killed his father and left the fraternity, and how its now his destiny, issued by fate itself, to exact revenge on the rogue killer and put a stop to his murderous rampage.

  Sounds pretty awesome.  Who wouldn't like to ditch their pathetic boring lives and learn to be a super assassin who can fire a gun, and curve the bullet around corners with a simple flick of the wrist?  Hence the physics issue. But at this point... I could care less if its the most impossible thing in the world. It looks really damn cool.  As does most of the insane stunts and action scenes in the movie.  From flipping entire cars over other cars, to having a shootout in a derailed train thats dangling off the side of a bridge with a 2000 foot drop, to leaping out the side of one skyscraper to land on the top of the one across the street... everything in Wanted is pure adrenaline. More concerned with what looks amazing, rather than whats actually possible.
In any other movie, like say... Transporter 2. This kind of approach is just silly. But in Wanted, the rules of the world around the characters in the movie, bend to the will of the story. Its all tied together by a common thread, and explained away in tedious dialog by important sounding characters.

  Surprisingly, it all works extremely well.  James McAvoy fits his role perfectly. From loser to badass in the span of two hours and its irresistably entertaining to watch.  From his snappy and rather naive lines early on, to the "f**k you" attitude he quickly learns to adopt, he's great in this role. And impossible to take your eyes off.  Its pretty impressive too, that with a cast that includes Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, that McAvoy steals the show. Completely.  And what a show it is! Its packed from start to finish with graphic bloody violence, those clever voice overs with the snappy dialog that the 'Fight Club' generation seems to love, and lest we forget the incessant profanity.  Is the movie a little immature? Yes. Yes it is. But its also intelligent and emotional despite its bold and crass exterior.  It has a bit to say if you listen closely enough.
But even if you don't, and you're just here for the action, you're in for quite a treat, and a breath of fresh air.

  Wanted is fast, fun, bloody, clever, and original. So what it strays from the source material like its the plague? Its its own beast. Like it for what it is. If you don't, feel free to hate it for what its not. The rest of us will continue to have a damn good time with it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

District B13


  District B-13 almost embodies everything thats wrong with modern action movies. However it gleefully skips over the biggest pitfalls of all, which not only saves it from being a gimmicky mess, but makes it a wholly entertaining ride that I can reccomend on a clear conscience.  From the Transporter movies, to The Fast and The Furious movies, and beyond, modern action movies feel too poorly thought out. I can't tell if they haven't an intelligent thought behind them, or if they have just too many to make anything worthwhile and cohesive.
And lot of the time they're chock full of unwanted and unnecessary CGI which lends a glossy feel to the movie, and disconnects us from the action.  However, every once in a while, you find one of those movies that should have no right to be as awesome as it is. It uses every tired gimmick possible, but does a good job of embracing such stuff instead of pretending like its more important than it is.

  If any of that seemed at all a little confusing, I don't blame you. The state of modern action movies, is confusing. And its hard to find the right labels to slap on there. For now I'm gonna go with "sloppy" and "careless".  Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. For instance, The Bourne Identity, and Taken to name a couple. Both movies operate like a well oiled machine. Whereas the typical musclebound schlock tends to stumble from one mind-numbingly implausible situation into the next with no regard for continuity (or the laws of physics for that matter).  While I can't say D-B13 is anywhere near the calibur of Bourne or Taken, it feels fully thought out. Like they had one solid idea, fleshed it out, stuck with it, and made a flashy, over the top, action movie that feels right at home within this idea.

  The movie's gimmick is parkour.  The characters, especially the two leads, are damn good at parkour. And the insane stunts they do look really really cool.  Its not CGI folks. As far as I can tell, this stuff looks 100% real. Which only makes it cooler, because people doing dangerous stuff for real obviously has a quality differential between wire frame animations cranked out by a computer. Real stuff has gravitas and impact.  CGI, when used right, can augment a situation or scene in a movie. But I do firmly believe that it has almost no place in a standard action flick. Unless we're talking... Wanted, or Ninja Assassin.  But those are a whole 'nother matter entirely.

  Another thing D-B13 has in spades is personality and charisma. The lead characters are simply fun to watch. They're never given much time outside of action scenes to expand their characters beyond plot devices and such, but the actors clearly do bring their a-game to the roles and they do it with gusto.  Its just fun to watch these guys trade off one-liners with a dead serious face and then flow right into kicking ass.
In any other movie this would've been so hokey. But these guys really sell it. It works surprisingly well.
  The movie is set in a 'future' where the ghettos in france have become so bad that they've built massive police patroled walls around them. Keeping in the 'riff raff'.  And also, keeping in about a million innocent people who just want to live their lives. But now they're boxed in with the worst of the worst, with no way out... and no law.  Thats just the setup folks. Now, the government lost a new experimental bomb they were transporting through district B-13 when the transport van was hijacked. So they assign their token super cop to go in and disarm it before all of 2 million people in this mega-ghetto are eviscerated when the bomb goes off. But the cop needs a guide to navigate the concrete jungle of district B-13, enter his partner to be, the vigilante: Leito.  Born and raised in the district, Leito fights off the drug dealers and gangsters to keep his own building to himself, his crew, and his family.  They find out that the same drug lord, Taha, who has the stolen super bomb (which had been accidently primed and is on a 24 countdown to 'boom') is the same drug lord who had kidnapped Leito's sister, Lola, 6 months earlier in a face off that landed Leito in prison instead of Taha.  "Lola and the bomb. Two reasons to stick together." the cop says to Leito after he breaks him out of prison. Its clearly a plot device to keep these guys together. But its one that works regardless of how obvious it is.

  The movie has style, flair, and decent camerawork showcasing all the action scenes, and they're all really intense and cool to watch. Theres not much more I could ask from a movie like this. Its just total shameless fun. Totally recommended.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pray for Death


  Another Sho Kosugi action vehicle where he moves to America, gets mixed up in some bad business, his family's safety is put at risk, and he must once again unleash the ninja and kick some serious ass.
This doesn't differ too much from his last movie I saw, Revenge of the Ninja, however, this one is nowhere near as corny. Its actually made far better and can be taken almost entirely serious throughout.  There are, of course, stupid moments, silly dialog, flat acting, and the like. But thats to be expected here. Unlike Revenge, these moments dont scream and holler and draw attention to themselves like a man-child at Chuck-e-Cheese's. 

  Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi) plays a mild mannered businessman in Japan, with his perfectly normal family, in their perfectly nice looking house.  His wife however wishes to move back to America, where she's from. Against his better judgment, Akira agrees. They all move to Los Angeles, California, if I remember right, and they plan to open a nice Japanese restaurant. In the ghetto. Yeah.  But no no no, its okay see? "All the big business is coming out this way. This whole neighborhood is up and coming!" says the kindly old man who sells them the property. Unaware that crooks have been using the abandoned part of the building to store stolen valuables. And when one of the crooks gets a little too greedy and decides to keep the stolen jewels for himself, the blame gets tossed around until it lands on the building's new owner: Mr.Saito. Instantly placing him and his family in harm's way. He must "flash his fighting spirit" once again to protect the ones he loves and clear his name with the criminal underworld.

  Now, aside from a little teaser in the beginning of the movie, Sho Kosugi only actually dons the ninja gear towards the end in the big climax. Which isn't a problem at all, unless you came here looking for wall to wall ninja action.  For that, I suggest you go back to 'Revenge of the Ninja'.  This isn't to say though that the movie isn't totally action packed. There isn't five minutes without some kind of action scene going on.  And a particularly fun car chase with Kosugi, again, running after a moving vehicle. He seems to have a knack for that. Lots of fun to be had here. If not a bit dated. Its not a movie thats aged terribly well. Some movies can be timeless and still dated, this one really shows its age though. And seeing as how its bereft of the hilarity and ocassional awfulness of Revenge, you're left with a mixed bag. Its not corny enough to land it in cult classic territory, and its just competant enough to reccomend for a simple two hours of fun, but don't expect pure awesomeness.

   That being said, Pray for Death is pretty fun for what it is. If you dig the eighties and like Sho Kosugi and all his ass-kicking awesomeness, then you'll probably love this movie.  There definately are some great moments in here, and the climax is super cool, but overall its just pretty standard martial arts/ninja flick fare.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Revenge of the Ninja


  Digging through old musty VHS bargain bins at out of the way pawn shops and old rental joints and you're likely to find plenty of 'Cannon' movies. A film studio that would produce hundreds of low to medium budget movies from 1963 to 1993.  These movies are cinematic junk food. Most made on a shoestring budget or on a quick money-grab whim. They aren't exactly synonymous with terms like 'good' or 'quality', god forbid the terms ever meet 'good quality'. To call anything in their lower rung of titles 'good quality' would be an insult to the adjectives themselves. However... you can definitely, and with clear conscience, attach 'fun' and 'carefree' to most of these flicks. Enter: Revenge of the Ninja.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master


  Its rare I review video games on here.  But this is actually the first time I've reviewed a game that isn't for the PS3.  It was actually for the Sega Genesis. And it was released in 1993. And it currently stands in front of Dead Space 1 & 2, as my favorite game... of all time. And not without just cause either.  Read on to find out why.
  Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master is as classic as they come I suppose. I've played one and two, but wasn't nearly as impressed. They're both solid games. But they feel fairly standard. Whether thats because I'm used to newer games, or whether its because they play more towards difficulty and Shinobi III plays more towards speed and action, I can't honestly say. But Shinobi III still holds up today. For what it is, its perfect.
 
  I play lots of flash games, and find that the good ones, the fun and addicting ones, strongly echo lots of early cartridge games. Their simple design asthetic, or their simple yet satisfying control scheme, theres lots of inspiration to draw from a whole generation of cartidge based games.And what better setup for any simple sidescroller than Super Mario Bros.? Its simple, fun, and addicting. However, if you're into a more action based game, and would rather fight ninjas right now than go jump on mushrooms or something, Shinobi III is the game for you.  Its now just as easy access as any garden variety flash game, and its way more fun. It can hold its own with the best of them and come out on top.

  Each level is unique and actually pretty neat to look at. Despite the dated graphics, it still looks really really cool. Theres a surprising wealth of detail and nuance to the design of this game. You can tell they really pulled out all the stops for this one. The gameplay itself is also something to be praised. Its fast, and fun, but also as the game progresses it forces you to be creative and intuitive.  You feel as though you're an expert ninja by the time you're done. And its really cool because the bad guys aren't limited to just ninjas... theres four armed mutant samurai, hi-tech futuristic soldiers, mechanized brains armed to the teeth with lazers, machine guns, and frag grenades. Lets also not forget the giant mecha robots, and flying ninjas. Oh and theres a Mecha-Godzilla you'll have to fight too. Pretty cool huh? 

   With all the skill and finesse of the game's iconic protagonist, Joe Musashi.  You stick to shuriken and your faithful katana as your go-to attacks through the game, but its not always as simple as that. You must have a sense of timing, and try to anticipate whats coming ahead, which in and of itself is quite a trick.  The result of all this intense gameplay is quite satisfying. Its one of the most involving and unabashedly fun games I've ever played. And if you compare it to the pantheon of flash games or gameboy titles, it still holds up really damn well, and kicks all kinds of ass in the process.

  In conclusion, Shinobi III, is the quintessential sidescroller ninja game. You jump, run, and slash your way through 7 lengthy and action packed levels that are classic tests of skill and patience.  As the iconic white-clad ninja, Joe Musashi, fight your way through legions of ninjas, samurai, soldiers, mutants, disembodied brains, dangerous mecha robots, mystical creatures, deadly traps, hi-tech fortresses and finally... your arch nemesis: Neo Zeed.  Next to the classic Sonic the Hedgehog and titles like Comix Zone and Altered Beast... Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master was the best thing to happen to the Sega Genesis way back then, and its still a damn fun ride today.

Ninja Assassin


  Everyone has their own concept of what an ideal ninja movie would be.  Set in modern day? Or in the past?  Slow burn character study about honor and betrayal? A cheesy mystical fantasy take? Or perhaps a balls-to-the-walls slaughterfest?  In case you couldn't tell by the picture above, Ninja Assassin was made by a bunch of dudes who shared in the mutual idea that the perfect ninja movie would indeed be a gory slaughterfest. And, while I think its lacking a few elements to make it the quintessential ninja movie of all time... its certainly a perfectly awesome slaughterfest.

  Ninja Assassin is about Raizo, a trained killer who defected from his clan, and now they're out to kill him for vengeance. Its pretty much just like that more or less.  Eventually an Interpol agent gets caught up in the whole thing and Raizo has to save her life because she knows too much and now they're trying to kill her too.  There's a wealth of detail I'm leaving out, but since these reviews normally feature a plot synopsis, I had to put one in even though its inclusion is pretty irrelevant. The movie's title generally speaks for itself...

  Well, Ninja Assassin speeds ahead at a breakneck pace, only stopping when absolutely necessary to deliver essential backstory, character motivation, and plot details. All of this is handled well. Especially the backstory.  The overall plot is rather thin, but if you stayed past the opening sequence, than you're probably part of the demographic who in this case, just doesn't give a shit how thin the plot is.  Even though, typically, I do give a shit, in this instance, it really isn't necessary...

  This movie coasts by on, and boasts about two things... Lots and lots of ninjas.  Which we get. In spades. And endless loads of gore.  Which is awesome.  Buckets and buckets of blood flash across the screen in each spectacular action scene which all evolve into awesome set pieces that keep escalating and escalating until its time for more story.  Each action scene is bloodier and longer than the last. And they keep coming at an insane rate.  This is why I love this movie.  It sounds incredibly two dimensional and shallow... but its a perfectly ideal gory ninja movie.

  Its a massive slaughterhouse full of bloodthirsty ninjas and anyone who gets in their way is just more meat for the grinder. The bodycount in this movie... is ridiculously high. I don't think anyone in their right mind could keep track.  Its just brutal.  Its incredibly graphic in its swordplay and such, which results in many many MANY dismemberments, decapitations, impalings, and the like. Is it weird to say this is what I've always wanted to see ninjas do? Eviscerate anyone in their path?  Its a nice word. Eviscerate. Very appropriately used too.

  In conclusion, if you're looking for something intelligent, mature, and emotional... stay away. Please. The people who love this movie are tired of hearing the same complaints from all the haters. Yes, it hits all the pitfalls of your standard action fare, but it pulls off its meal ticket: the action scenes, with style, and skill. And in something like this, that's all I signed up for. Action. And I got it. Lots of it.  Thats what this movie does well. Taking some pretty standard concepts, putting a fresh spin on it, and delivering a stylish, intense, blood soaked action flick. If you're not super freaking eager to watch an hour and a half of nonstop graphic sword fights with legions and legions of ninjas... then don't bother. However, if you're like me, and never tire of seeing such awesomeness as this, please go ahead and treat yourself to this epic piece of cinematic junk food.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Raging Pheonix


  From the Netflix descriptor, the box art, to the actual first ten minutes, none of them seem like they belong to the same movie. Its wildly off putting. The box art boasts gritty stylized action, the descriptor promises a low rent revenge flick, the movie in its first act... is colorful and silly as hell.  However... is it possible that by the end credits, I've experienced all three?  Its a madcap, silly, gritty, action packed revenge adventure that is totally unexpected and one that I was totally unprepared for.

  Half an hour in, and I'm sitting through some intense overacting, thats coming across blatently silly, and the tone is wacky.  I'm incredibly close to turning it off and looking for something else.  Characters jump into the scene without being introduced, legions of bad guys appear from nowhere, and the movie takes its damn time to explain itself. We dont have answers to wild shit from the first act, until the third.  Its also so frequently silly and goofy that its, at those moments, impossible to take seriously.  Human trafficking, murder, revenge, rampant alcoholism.... and theres still room for slapstick humor? Getting your ass stuck in a bottomed out chair. Yeah. Sorry, what?

  Tonally, this movie is ALL over the place, and some stuff moves WAY too fast narrative-wise, its hard to keep up, but its even harder to actually buy whats happening.  The lead character goes from being an angst ridden, whiney, girl in a grunge band... to martial arts MASTER in days? Well, wait, the movie is never quite clear on that. Has it been weeks? Months? A year? Come on guys. A training montage doesn't really tell us how much time has passed.   The movie eventually explains everything it needs to, but by the time it does... we're in completely new territory, mentally unprepared for whats going on.

  That being said, the characters have nice dialog, great chemistry, and they all do their damned best to bring believeability to their roles. Its no easy task, but eventually you learn to just... go along with it.  Once you can just surrender and take whatever comes at you, you might find that this movie is a real gem.  For starters its visually impressive. Colorful and well defined, locations and settings are vibrant and alive. Its a gorgeous movie.  Secondly, the fights, when played seriously... are awesome.  They have impact and gravitas, and at just the right moments, they're slowed down so you can drink in that epic kick and watch it connect to that guy's face in slow motion.

When the fighting is on display, it makes the movie make sense. Not the narrative, not the plot, not the drastic sharp turn into "where the hell did THIS come from?" not any of that...
The fights inhabit their settings so damn well it gives the movie a reason to exist and it gives you a reason to watch it. Also the girl is really cute. Two reasons. There. Go watch it. Have fun.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Deep Rising



  If you're only familiar with director Stephen Sommers via 'The Mummy''Van Helsing', or  'G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra', boy are you missing out.  If The Mummy is his best movie, then its not hard to say Deep Rising is a strong second.  Its a great movie, but its strengths aren't in its originality, or its script, or its plotting, or the acting, or any of that really.  Its great because its fun.  All of the stuff mentioned above is competent enough, to be passable.  Which is where the rest shines through.  Its chock full of great one liners, a thoroughly likable lead, a cool looking creature, lots of slime and tons of awesome gore. And like another personal guilty pleasure, 'Critters', it never takes itself too seriously.

   In Deep Rising, there's always time for another grin-inducing one liner. Even if the characters are on the run. The movie starts with our hero Captain Finnegan and his two person crew, who have been hired by a small squad of mercs to sail them out to apparently... the middle of nowhere - no questions asked.  We're soon privy to Finnegan's motto: "If the money is there, we do not care!" Catchy isn't it?  We soon find out, that the merc's destination is actually a massive cruise liner.  They're in business with someone aboard it, to sabotage the ship, and loot it for all its worth. But before Finnegan and crew actually get the greedy mercs to their destination,  the cruise ship is suddenly ravaged by giant mutated deep sea creatures who've surfaced... with an appetite.

  The movie takes off rather quickly, and only builds up more tension and suspense from there.  Every technical aspect is handled exceedingly well.  The music, the score, gets occasionally tacky, but it does its job when it needs to.  Visually, the movie is pretty standard for something like this, until you get to the special effects. Which are awesome.  The final big reveal looks a bit dated, obviously, but the creature itself still looks pretty badass! Then comes the gore effects, which both cgi and actual made stuff, both look stellar.

   In vein of the Roger Corman flick, 'Forbidden World', all the bloody, slimy, gory stuff is delightfully realized and incredibly well handled.  Its rare you can take a movie that on most accounts should be a contrived, cliche, boring, mess, and say wow... this is loads of fun.  I keep saying "well handled" and "awesome" over and over, but I do firmly think those two descriptors fit this movie best because all the usual pitfalls a movie like this stumbles into, Deep Rising avoids it with some 'well handled' decisions and lots of 'awesome' B-movie attractors.  Its full of big guns, classic corny dialog, a damn cool looking creature, and a rather pre-X-Men Famke Janssen. I also just can't get over how likable Treat Williams is as the hero here. He handles the leading man role very well.

  The supporting cast is just as fun with genre favorites like Kevin J. O'Connor (The Mummy), Wes Studi (Heat), Djimon Hounsou (The Island), Jason Fleyming (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), and Trevor Goddard (Mortal Kombat)- all in full scenery chewing mode. If their melodramatic acting wasn't crazy enough, their over-the-top death scenes won't disappoint! Well, for the ones who do die at least. There's yelling and running and screaming galore, with a healthy dose of profanity and macho posturing. The pleasantly familiar sounds of the sci-fi/horror/action genre. And, it is indeed all three- Sci-fi, horror, and action. It delights in being equal parts of all three, and to a crazy extent. The climax involves an indoor jetski chase, while the hero is armed with a shotgun. Are they outrunning explosions? The creature? Both? Does it matter? It's awesome looking either way.

  It's a self aware movie, because how could it not be? It's Die Hard, Titanic and Tremors all rolled into one. The movie is gleefully over-the-top with big guns, bigger explosions, icky monster creatures, and the stickiest and slimiest gore effects you could imagine. It's a big budget B-movie. A throwback to a simpler era of movies where rip-offs were excusable so long as they were entertaining, and that seems to be the creed by which the filmmakers behind Deep Rising lived by. It's not high class cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but it is imaginative. It's big, loud, slimy, bloody, bullet-riddled fun. That's more than enough for me.