Friday, March 30, 2012

Fast & Furious

  Justin Lin's second go round as director behind the wheel of a Fast & Furious movie, can definately be looked upon as the turning point for the series from neon hyped, juvenille, street racing, into respectable and quite servicable action movies. Even though to date its only succeeded by one other installment, the awesome Fast Five, we definately have a strong idea as to where the franchise is headed, and it looks like we're in for lots of excitement on the road ahead.

  The very first F&F movie is not that great when you look back on it. I seem to bring this up every time I review one of these movies, but its an unavoidable point of fact. But it is a great jumping off point for characters that we've come to like and enjoy seeing in action on screen.  By this point, regardless of how subpar the first one was, its great to see Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in a movie that shows they do have chemistry.  In this one, its fun to see them work together. Its a bumpy ride at first since their last meeting ended less than stellar obviously, but this is a great set-up for Fast Five.  Vin Diesel himself describes O'Connor and Toretto's dynamic by the time of Fast Five as being akin to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".  I couldn't agree more. This movie, shows you how it got there. And its certainly quite the ride.

  After a nearly-botched heist in the Dominican Republic draws police attention to Dom and his crew, they split up and go their separate ways. But some time later, he's drawn out of hiding to avenge the death of a loved one at the hands of a drug lord's henchman. On the flip side, FBI agent Brian O'Connor is tasked with capturing the same drug lord. Its a foregone conclusion these two are going to be reluctantly paired up to fight the badguys. And the movie even makes the whole car aspect fit. The drug lord needs good drivers to haul drug shipments, how better to recruit than holding a fancy street race? The rest should be pretty obvious by now. From a semi-simplistic story, I gave away nothing significant. The back of the DVD case probably spoils more.

  Not too surprisingly, this one handles character development (when theres even time for it) alot better than the other movies do.  Short of Fast Five of course. Which for me is the hands-down best F&F movie out of all of them. But if I had to choose a second place winner, its no big thing to say this one is right up there.
All the big stunts are impressive and a few are quite impressive and outright "WOAH" inducing, but somewhere along the line it gets a little muddy, and as a whole feels less impressive. I can't put my finger on it. However, its a fun movie with lots of stylish cars, plenty of sex appeal, and wall to wall action only exceeded by that of its successor: Fast Five
Not a bad way to spend a couple hours on a lazy friday night.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


   Even though this movie can be considered a bit 'old' now, its not one of those movies that just dates horribly a few years after its out. And in a time when theaters are full of over-hollywoodized obnoxious action movie dreck, you should stay home, rent S.W.A.T and have a different thrill ride altogether.

  Its not an in-your-face action movie. Theres a time and place for that. But its not here. Not now. Its kind of like... the anti-Die Hard. Its grounded. Its focused. Centered. And driven more by character than action. Not saying that Die Hard isn't a great movie in its own, but its fantasy next to S.W.A.T. The best moments in this movie come from character development and some really great dialog. Not shootouts or car chases. Those are in here, but this isn't Bad Boys. Things that happen here tend to try and adhere to 'what it would really be like'.

And we know not all cops get in shootouts every two seconds with slow motion, so what would it really be like? Boring you say? No, thats where the movie makes its smartest move. Placing greater importance on people and character rather than explosions and a body count.
   So few 'action' movies are willing to do that nowadays. There is a moment a while into the movie, even Roger Ebert pointed out: "The characters had dialogue and occupied a real plot, which involved their motivations and personalities."
Exactly. Theres a point when you realize that these characters aren't just action figures with big toy guns, they're well written characters inhabiting a real enough world. Just letting in enough fantasy to keep the action fans happy. It never rapes the line of realism though. John Woo movies do that. And like I said, theres a time and place for it. But real shootouts don't look like well coreographed bloody ballets. They're very short, very brutal, noisy and confusing.
S.W.A.T. may not be out to pin down the realist side of shootouts, but Samuel L. Jackson's character points out in a great scene: "They only roll in John Woo movies, not in real life."

   And thats the beauty of S.W.A.T. (aside from the always beautiful Michelle Rodiguez that is) its a well thought out, well paced, and clever movie, in a time when films like Bad Boys 2 and Live Free or Die Hard set out to assault and overwhelm your senses. To leave you plastered you to your seat with your eyes wide and gasping for breath when the end credits finally roll. And again, I'm not saying that I don't always enjoy those kinds of movies... but S.W.A.T. ends with feeling like you've been on this journey, seen something acomplished, and you can ride out that last minute with a grin on your face. The characters have established a great and snappy dynamic, reinforced with great dialog and a classic theme as they ride off 'into the sunset' ready to 'answer the call'. Its a great ending to a damn fine and thoroughly competant police thriller.

   It may not be an overall great movie per se, and certainly has its own shortcomings, but its a very very entertaining flick. Two hours of solid entertainment with decent characters, good acting all around from a great cast with the likes of Colin Farrell, Samuel L Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, and Jeremy Renner. All that and good writing and dialog? A common and frequent pitfall of the modern actioner? How can I not reccommend this?

The Perfect Host

  This film has been on my "to-see" list for quite some time. The trailer interested me, the synopsis was... interesting, and the cast was... well... interesting. But to say any one thing just said 'MUST SEE', no. That didn't happen. Instead it took a long and frustrating day that wound down into a mess of being bored and irritated for me to just flick this on, on impulse. Wow. Nothing could have prepared me for this movie.
   I'll get the synopsis and stuff out of the way before I start spoiling things for the people who don't like to be surprised, only intrigued instead. The movie starts with a man on the run, we presume he's a criminal. Before long, our suspicious are put to rest. His face is on the news as a bank robber, of course we know now that this is the bad guy. His foot is bleeding and he's on the run from the law. He's going door to door trying to lie his way in to use a phone, and possibly scam out a place to stay for the night. It seems pretty simple enough yeah?

Anyway, he finally finds one guy's house, gleans a bit of helpful information from raiding his mailbox and cons his way inside. Its some of the most tense and suspenseful scenes I've seen in a movie in a long time. Moreso if you've read the back of the DVD case. You know that this bank robber... just went from the frying pan and into the fire. He's clearly invaded the wrong house.

   But not in the typical sense, its not some guy fighting back to protect himself, its entirely different. Theres a line where the man in the house tells the bank robber, who's pretending to know his friend 'Julia', "-you'll be captivated!". I couldn't help but think to myself, 'captive' is more like it. I wasn't too far off. But if you think thats telling too much, then you're in for one hell of a ride. I could not predict this movie.

   If for no other reason to see it, see it for its unpredictability. Which is due in no small part to a hauntingly brilliant performance by David Hyde Pierce. He breaths a sick life into his character and injects the film with a healthy dose of dark in-your-face humor. Its not funny. But you can't help but laugh at the absurdity of what you're seeing sometimes. Mind you, its all intentional. Now if you don't want the ins and outs of this clever and amazingly written thriller spoiled for you, just stop reading, take my word on how good it is, and go see it. Find it. Seek it out. Its worth it.

   If you're still reading, then you're ready for any and all twists to be spoiled from here on out. No bitching about it. Although, even you people who'd like it all handed to them won't get it from me. Just fair warning for the anti-spoiler freaks. The movie does backflips around everything you think you know about these characters.
  When it starts you know this bank robber is the bad guy. How can he not be? He's threatening, cunning, deceptive, and very dangerous. And clearly we know he robbed a bank. Thats where this movie reveals its subtle brilliance, in how it reverses our perceptions of the characters. The good samaritan who lets this hurt and bleeding man into his home, is actually satan. Nevermind about this bank robber and the stuff he's done, for which he even has a sympathetic reason for, this "good samaritan" is a true psychopath. The likes of which is rare to see so wonderfully captured on film. Its creepy. Its funny. Its downright horrifying. And then the movie will throw you another twist.

   For each one, each twist, I was terribly unprepared. I cannot reccomend this movie enough to people who can appreciate 'A Clockwork Orange', 'Se7en' and the like. Its just brilliant. See it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

John Carter

  John Carter is a big loud adventure movie with old fashioned heroics and a straightforward plot. And theres nothing wrong with that.  Its simplicity overall may leave some viewers wanting, and its vagueness to certain details may leave other viewers confused, but despite all this odd and underperforming storytelling I don't think anyone would argue that John Carter isn't very exciting.

  With a largely unknown actor headlining the movie in the title role, it feels like a bit of a risky gamble in an age where actors are cast for popularity before they're cast for actually being right for said role. (See: The Green Hornet) This is a gamble that Disney made before, to moderate success nonetheless, with Tron Legacy. However, the advertising and tone of the marketing scheme for 'Carter brings to mind a failed Disney attempt to jumpstart a new franchise in Prince of Persia.  But not all their attempts at franchising failed. They turned some heads with the Pirates of the Carribean franchise, and despite people's personal opinions on the movies, the steady flow of PG-13's meant Disney wasn't taming this property down for kids. I was mostly optimistic John Carter was in good hands with Disney, however, looking back at the similarly marketed Prince of Persia gave me pause...

  Fear not, the dull action heavy promo scheme does little to capture the good old fashioned adventurous feeling in the movie.  It evokes an early Star Wars feel, with a simple good versus evil sensibility. There's your hero, your damsel in distress, and the bad guys.  Its a tried and true formula. We've seen this type of stuff before, but I never get tired of seeing it. What feels fresh is the look and execution of the movie. Its easy to see why it took so long to get this made properly.  Amazing special effects are manditory here. Theres a whole alien race that are practically nine feet tall, have four arms, long necks and tusks on their face. That would be hell to make convincing with subpar CGI and even worse with prosthetics and animtronics. Thank god it has been made in the right era. The post-Avatar era.

  The movie is never short of eye candy spectacle, from the sweeping desert-like Martian landscape to the gleaming glassy cities of Helium and Zodanga, their airships and locale, all of it is simply wonderous to behold.  Through the action scenes and the quieter moments, its all very colorful and interesting to look at. Visually, this movie is great. Plenty to take in.  The action scenes are of the higest swashbuckling caliber and at times they're fully enhanced by some clever tricks and alot of CGI. Good CGI mind you. It works for the real elements on the screen instead of replacing them.

  The actors do wonderfully in their roles and although you may not see anyone reconizable headlining this thing, there are plenty of familiar and famous actors peppered throughout supporting roles. It raises the standard I think, and it shows. There are real emotions on display here. You can see it. There isn't any 'weak link' that stood out to me. I was pleasantly surprised all around.
  And overall John Carter is a fun, classically minded ride thats full to the brim of high-flying action, genuine humor, and plenty of charm to make up for its narrative shortcomings. I fully recommend this movie. Its an ideal summer flick. Hopefully the blu ray will hit right smack in the middle of a summer heat wave, it'd be the one to buy.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

  For those who got excited about this movie because Steven Spielberg is directing...
You will not be disappointed. At all. This is a shining return to top form. Not since Raiders of the Lost Ark has an adventure movie been this much fun.
  For those who got excited about this movie, because they're familiar with the comic strips by Herge, won't be disappointed either. Not in the least. The story unfolds like a 'best of' amalgam of several of Tintin's greatest adventures.  I've read enough to know that all the characters get their due diligence and are brought to life with lots of respect and gusto.

  We need more kinds of these movies. Its action packed and clever enough that the adults trade knowing stares and smiles over the kids sitting between them, and the same kids will get quite the kick out of the humor and high-flying adventure. Its an all around ideal movie.  It brings to mind the Indiana Jones movies, and even ones like The Rocketeer.  The evolving dynamic between the two main characters is priceless and endlessly entertaining to watch. As is the entire movie.

  Its also rare to see a 'sidekick' like Tintin's dog Snowy, done justice.  Most are relegated to menial comic relief, not deserving of any respect. However, Snowy is a vibrant character here that steals the scene on more than a few occasions.  He does a good job as a sidekick too. Tintin is always finding himself in trouble, and his faithful dog is always helping him out.  For those familiar with the character, you know theres still a third party to be seen here that'll round out a very fun dynamic. Captain Haddock. Played by Andy Serkis in another iconic performance, he's the third part of the classic dynamic here.

  I think the story might've been better served by a live action treatment, despite the fact that several of the best scenes in the movie wouldn't have been remotely possible, or at least- plausible, in live action. But, there's a mild disconnect. The computer generated characters are some of the best I've ever seen, but It's still computer effects on display. It's just off enough to be distracting when you least expect it. It brings them to life, but not all the way.

  I won't delve into the story much, or give anything else away but its a really really fun ride that brings to mind classic adventure and high flying fun of the best caliber possible.  I stress that its faithful to its origins and manages to breath life into Tintin in a way even I wasn't expecting. I highly recommend Tintin to people of all ages, its not just a kids movie. Its for anyone looking for some good old fashioned fun and heroics. Not bad at all.  I'd see it again, and again. Its a Spielberg classic for this generation. A return to top form and a flashy one at that.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Machine Gun Preacher

  Like Lean on Me, Machine Gun Preacher has good things to say.  It has a good cast to say it.  Its something people would listen to.  But just like Lean on Me... alot of the message gets lost in the process.

  Unlike Lean on Me, which could've been fixed up easily with a few extra scenes, Machine Gun Preacher suffers from shoddy editing and haphazard directing. The movie can keep your attention and tug on the heart strings, but its put together so poorly that you'd think it'd be better off as a sunday sermon from a passionate preacher behind a pulpit.  Because the movie is preaching to you. Its speaking volumes.  Its a tale of redemption, salvation, perseverance and ultimately going the distance and doing good deeds.

  All the actors bring their A game here. Bringing their characters to life with gusto. You feel passion and heartbreak, pride and joy, from them its all believable.
But the movie constructed around these characters is pieced together really badly.  There are powerful emotional scenes that highlight the film throughout that are so damn good, you find yourself wondering how they pull that off, yet drop the ball completely with the simple stuff.

  Characters appear in scenes, apparently doing important stuff, stuff we feel we should know about. Yet we ultimately have no friggin clue whats happening until the scene is practically over. But no, don't worry, you didn't miss something. Thats just how awkward this movie can get.  Characters have revelations out of the blue, undergo fundamental personality changes, and do things with no apparent cause, and all this with very little and often no explanation at all.  When thats simply not bad enough, the editing makes it worse, cutting scenes prematurely, intercutting random stuff and overall doing a great job of confusing the hell out of me.

  All this is truly a shame because this movie could have been a must-see emotional powerhouse. As it is... its a mess. A mess with amazing potential and some truly moving moments of raw emotion and intensity. You have to weigh the pros and cons yourself.
I don't regret seeing it, but I'd have to think HARD before seeing it again.