Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods


  The trailers did so little to actually get me interested in this movie. But its not their fault. Had they shown me the stuff that would've made me run the fuck outside and buy a ticket right then and there... it would've spoiled some of the best stuff about the movie. Which leaves every review in a predicament. We can't tell you all the reasons why this movie is great. We have to talk about it, without really talking about it.  Its a love letter to classic (as in 80's) horror movies.  It pays tribute to just about every horror movie ever. And it manages to slide all this under a story that takes typical done-to-death horror tropes, and turns the entire concept on its ear. Fundamentally so.

  I think, you have to be a fan of the horror movies that this movie pays tribute to in order to enjoy it as much as me and my fellow nerds did.  I hate to say that. But some movies pander directly to a specific demographic.  It would seem cool and creative to everyone else, but this is made FOR the nerd crowd. We can point out stuff and say "oh look! thats a reference to *insert 80's horror movie here*! Isn't that brilliant?" whereas the crowd around me in the theater just scratched their heads.  I don't wanna say the movie is without merit for people who aren't steeped in movie knowledge, but its a sweeter experience for those who are.  Theres a really cool cameo at the end; the people in the theater who gasped, grinned, and went wide-eyed, they got it. The people who didn't... they already didn't like the movie.

  The movie is a wild, scary, creative and fun ride on its own merit.  Even those who can't point out every little thing will recognize the broad strokes and how this one brings something incredibly fresh and inventive to the table. The acting is superb and everyone fits nicely into their respective roles.  I did manage to unfortunately miss the first 8 minutes, and as a result my perception of the pacing might be off a bit. But I've been filled in, in detail, by a fellow movie geek.  I don't think it'd actually sway my opinion. But the movie's pacing was insanely fast. Just... breakneck pacing. And I think it might've been a bit too fast? But no thanks to google's incorrect showtime listing, I walked in 8 minutes late, thinking I should've been early. As a result, my whole perception was thrown off. "How late am I? How off was google?"  The movie kicked off so fast and so intensely, I felt as if I was watching the climax. "How can this be happening so soon?"

  One look at my watch let me know, I had actually already been sitting there for thirty minutes. It felt like five. My whole sense of time was fucked with.  However the movie itself began to set me straight,  once I saw where they were going with this wild new take on things... I realized it was FAR from over. In fact, the best was yet to come. And oh my god, I was totally unprepared. Totally.  I've not seen this much pure "awesome" crammed into the last 20 minutes of anything in a long time. I would argue my own point with the awesomeness from The Raid, but that doesn't count. This is a totally different genre. But these two movies are must-sees that warrant a theatrical viewing. I'm seriously considering seeing both again in theaters. However, The Avengers assembles next friday. My wallet is going to be in sheer pain by the time the summer is over.

  Overall, Cabin in the Woods is a breath of fresh air that feels slightly experimental, but also a rip roaring fun time for genre fans. Theres even a decent dose of humor in there as all proper horror movies should have.
I can't wait for the Blu Ray. Theres parts, specifically the last 10-15 minutes, I'd love to go over with a fine tooth comb on a hi-def TV. The climax of this movie, the last 20 minute stretch was worth the price of admission alone. It was amazing. And evoked many a grin from the audience members in-the-know. I can't praise this movie enough. It does have its flaws, and the way it ends may make or break the whole movie for you, but it takes a true cold cynic not to appreciate everything that came before. Such good, creative, and scary fun. I loved it. Alot. I totally recommend it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow


  First off, let me say that I didn't actually catch about... 80% or so of the plot, because I couldn’t hear most of the dialog. The why-fors and what-nots as to why I couldn’t hear it, is largely irrelevant because unless you’re watching a DVD screener rip of this in the middle of the night in a place with lots of light sleepers and thin walls, you shouldn’t have the same problem. Anyways, from what I gathered, it’s about a young woman named Elena, who’s being experimented on in a quasi-futuristic commune called The Arboria Institute and her subsequent journey, trying to escape it. It’s… quite the trip.

  The acting is great all around. The villainous Doctor Barry Nyle (I’m assuming he’s a doctor of sorts. They weren’t entirely clear on that. Or maybe I just didn’t catch it) has quite the presence here. His performance brings to mind some early David Warner stuff. Only with the brooding dial cranked up a notch. When Warner spoke, it gave you chills. When this guy speaks, it’s not as powerful, so the lines have to be written in a certain way. I think they pulled off his character wonderfully though.  He’s creepy as all hell and a real on screen presence.

  Secondly is the actress who played Elena. She is really only required to display two or three emotions, but that’s not a weakness in the script. Her character is trapped and rather hopeless, so there’s a lot of despair. But you also can see she has telepathic powers, so there’s a big underlying strength that’s there too. And there’s more you know, but the actress really does pull it off very convincingly and with hardly ANY dialog. Maybe ONE line? The entire film? Again, this isn’t an issue. It just sells her character that much more.

  I’ve browsed through online forums and boards that discuss the plot and story in great detail, and I’m not sure I’ve actually missed much. The movie is spread thin, and although it’s bursting with plot, there’s very little discernible story. Everything is open to interpretation like a really rich dream. Its takes you weird places and shows you fantastic sights, there’s a story to it… but it’s almost impenetrable. Like if you look hard enough, it all falls apart. I’m not saying ‘Rainbow’s story is weak. I’m saying it’s aloof from conventional storytelling. It literally feels like a dream. Not a nightmare, but a really strange dream with drug trippish visuals.

  I suppose that’s its selling point. Its visuals. There is a lot to see and take in. In this movie, you’re shown some insane looking stuff, some cool looking stuff, and then stuff that’s on the fringe edge of sci-fi concepts and designs. From that standpoint? I absolutely LOVED this movie. It’s a trippy visual feast for the eyes, and its dream fodder for the imagination. The imagery in this movie will stick with you for a long time. The music as well, it has a very 80’s electro synth vibe to it. It fits so well with the future-retro style and tone that it’s nigh impossible not to completely love it as well. It compliments the visuals and imagery insanely well. They’re inseparable.

  And I suppose in the end, the drastic shifts in tone, the glacial pacing, the retro-ish tone, the outstandingly weird visuals, and the sparse dialog is what cements the dreamlike feeling. If you’re looking for something vague and creepy, this is where it’s at. It’s a colorful and expertly constructed art-house exercise in… pure weird. If you can’t love it for that, you won’t even like it. At first, I was largely on the fence. But once I embraced the dream-like perspective my whole opinion just… shifted. I’m a fan. Can’t find much else to say about it, but I seriously can’t wait to see it again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Raid: Redemption


  Theres a point in this movie very early on, the first real confrontation between our protagonists and the bad guys, where I found myself recalling a scene from another movie. My favorite movie in point of fact: Aliens. Theres a scene in Aliens where the colonial marines get into their first horrific skirmish with the iconic monsters who all but 'tear them a new one'. Up until that point, all the guns and hardware really made them look tough as hell and ready for WWIII. But you quickly realize these poor guys are up to their knees in shit. They're so far in over their heads, that we're bound to sit through one hell of a relentless, unforgiving, balls-to-the-wall, roller coaster ride.  You get that same kind of tip-off in The Raid.  Buckle up.

  First of all, believe the hype.  This movie is wall to wall violence. The kind of in-your-face action that genre fans have been desperately craving for a long time.  Its everything movies like The Expendables promised, and failed, to deliver.  Simply one "Holy shit!" moment after the other.  Indonesian star and star of The Raid, Iko Uwais really steals the spotlight off guys like Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) in one fell swoop. Some action stars can burn through years of movies and an entire filmography and not get a hit this awesome.  It brings to mind the climax of 2008's Rambo. Except, it takes the intensity and impact of that glorious 15 minutes and multiplies it into an hour and a half of brutal carnage.

  Theres another moment when you realize that the movie is also kind of manipulative.  The hero is the hero because he can't be bought out. He's not a corrupt cop. And he has a pregnant wife at home. And he prays. So he must be a spiritual man. My point is, its like telling apart chess pieces. These must be good because white is pure, and black symbolizes darkness.  But in reality, these attributes of his don't make him a compelling character. You're supposed to care if he lives or dies. After all... he has a pregnant wife at home. Thats obviously excuse enough to care.  But its still an excuse. Not a reason. Theres no time to develop him fully as a multidimensional character. Its sad the movie can't be bothered to really flesh him out, yes, but in a flick like this... its hardly a necessity.

  In that same moment you realize the movie is essentially a video game on autopilot. Headshot. Ten points. Action figures with big loud guns and swords shooting and chopping each other up until we can see what's inside.  Blood and guts of course. And lots of it.  The video game jab would've been an insult several years ago, but now, with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and its successors reaching cinematic heights of raw entertainment, its a total compliment.  Like a video game, you can skip the plot heavy cinematics and cut to the chase. Which of course is the action. Shootouts and knife fights, and outside of the Call of Duty comparison, martial arts.  Apparently a specific kind of indonesian martial arts called Pencak Silat. Whatever it is, its impressive as hell and brutal all the same. Please sir, I'd like some more.

  Though that can hardly be said after sitting through The Raid.  If anything you'll be in action movie detox after its over. Its an expertly balanced excercise in well coreographed overkill and chaos.  Its a bloodbath of epic proportions. Every bit of effort that went into it, from the amazing score by Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park and Fort Minor fame) to the camera work itself, is all focused on intensifying the action on display and contributing to the preceedings in a very impressive way.  The usual shaky cam plague that haunts modern action movies is significantly toned down. Used here in careful moderation to simply accentuate a fight, not send a 9.5 earthquake into your face.  So in short,  The Raid plays like a huge climax to a massive action movie. Its bare bones plot and lack of character development are hardly drawbacks, but you really do wonder what it would be like if you actually cared about these characters. If we had some time to see them develop outside of gun fights and such. 

  Of course it'd be an even better movie.  But there is no reason why you can't enjoy The Raid for what it is: pure action. I loved it. I really enjoyed myself. With the theater room almost all to myself, there was little to stop me from saying "Woah!", "holy shit", and "Fucking hell!".  Not to mention, I was able to put my feet up without anyone bitching about it.  It was a great time and a great movie. I'd see it over and over. Maybe even in theaters over and over.  But with upcoming films like The Avengers, MIB 3, Prometheus, The Amazing Spider-Man and others, I may just have to wait for the blu ray. Rest assured, its one to see. Though, in case I haven't stressed it enough with the comparison to Rambo, this movie is NOT messing around.  It IS a bloodbath. And if that sounds like an hour and a half of heaven on a stick to you...
without hesitation, go. Go now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Brick


  Watching Brick was an experience. The proceedings are simply enough described, but theres so much more under the hood than you might assume.  "A loner navigates the dense social network of his high school to uncover a crime ring and solve his ex girlfriend's murder."  Simple enough. Right?  But what the back of the case can't possibly tell you is how much this feels like a big, noir, 30's detective mystery.  Once you think of it like that, the parallels nearly jump off the screen at you. Its wonderful.

  Joseph Gordon Levitt is undeniably a very good actor. But I had only been familiar with him in supporting roles. For some reason, movies like Brick, Hesher, and 500 Days of Summer keep falling through the cracks of my "To See" list.  However, last night I was bored and in need of a decent murder mystery. Without hesitation, a couple friends of mine recommended Brick.  Familiar enough with the title, and the actor, I thought: "Why the hell not?"  I'm so glad I didn't hesitate or get distracted by something else. This movie was deserving of my undivided attention.

  Visually the movie is stunning. It creates a foreign atmosphere using often overlooked sides of familiar places. What movie hangs around behind coffee shops and in the back of big school buildings? Parking lots, gutters, ditches and sewers? Theses are all places we take for granted. But to have settings placed almost behind the main lines of what we normally see... is rather unique. And refreshing to be honest. It all has a grimy feel to it. These are the places that harbor the goings-about of shady individuals up to no good. The look of the places often match the individuals that populate it.  For a movie thats so high-school centric, we hardly ever see the typical adolescent bullshit that goes on in teen drama movies. The teens here operate in their own world, they plot, navigate, and survive in ruthless social circles. Someone is always keeping tabs on someone else.

  Coming to my ultimate point, it doesn't feel like you're watching a bunch of teens.  This is where I started to connect the dots with the noir-ish P.I. tropes.  Brendan, (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is obviously the private eye who gets the call from a dame who's deep in trouble. She's in deep with the wrong people and needs help getting out.  The private eye tries to help but before he knows it, she turns up dead and the case just turned into a revenge thing.  Its a classic story, but instead of dirty trenchcoats and cold city nights huddled under a streetlight, or lounge singers in nightclubs, we have the settings and characters provided to us by this world the teens inhabit.  There is in fact a femme fatale, a red herring, a drug lord, his muscle bound goon, the hero's usful informant/sidekick and of course the slowly unraveled backstory of our protagonist and his girl.

  Ontop of this brilliance, we have fantastic camera work. It shows off the preceedings in a very fresh and undeniably unique way. Its awesome. Every other scene has a clever camera maneuver or editing trick to keep it visiually interesting and endlessly stylish.  It never descends into gimmicry. Its just subtle touchs here and there, and occassionally an artistic flair. In short, Brick is a fantastic movie to simply look at.  Its all the better that it has a great and engaging story, and a protagonist as timeless as the classic tropes upon which the movie builds on.  And if this sounds too "art film-y" for the rest of you, fear not. Brick is at its core a fast paced murder mystery with a fair amount of intense parts.  Like one of my favorite movies, Drive, it contains the action to necessity, not excess. There are a few fight scenes, and they are well edited, but it works off of character. Which I personally think makes them entirely more entertaining.

  As is the case with the whole movie. It actually has a breakneck pace. Stop paying attention for a few minutes and you're going to miss important details. Its raw entertainment with very few drawbacks. Its doesn't ever fumble the ball or have a crap 3rd act, or have poor acting, or any of the usual stuff.  Its that... when you break it down, the characters are merely archetypes, and the things they're going through is an outline. Its flaw is in its design. But because the design is something so awesome to experience and take in, theres no possible justification for calling it on the carpet for it. 

  In conclusion, Brick is a fascinating movie thats thoroughly engaging and wholly entertaining. Its a murder mystery and a crime thriller of the finest degree. It gets major points for originality and uniqueness. In my humble opinion, Brick is a must see.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

TITANS WILL WRATH! (2 in 1 review)


  I actually really liked Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans. It was a remake of the 1980 ‘epic’ of the same name. Going back to the original, I find its only eye candy. It’s a plodding, poorly acted mess. Not saying this one is any better, but the eye candy is far better and the action scenes have scope and feel really intense. I’m pretty sure this butchers all kinds of mythology, but I don’t really care. It’s just a silly action movie. As a critic, I’m pretty sure I should be calling it out at every turn and pointing out that accepting movies like these just allow studios to get away with mass producing endless crap. But I’ll let this one slide. Those scorpions were really freaking cool. And now they’ve made a sequel…

  In Clash’ Sam Worthington was a muscle-y demigod with a buzz cut. Which in and of itself made little sense. But okay. I put that aside. The role called for very little acting chops. This was… alright. The original may have had a good cast but so many of their performances were just horrible. So in conclusion, the remake trumped the original in the only area that mattered; even back then: Special effects and eye candy. It has a grand scope and top shelf CGI. It’s kind of a symbol of the issues with modern action movies.
A- Its a remake of a property that could’ve been left well enough alone.
B- Every fight scene is a slick and polished mess with camerawork rarely accommodating the decent choreography.

  There are moments in Clash that simply work really well and pay off all the spectacle and action, and these scenes are really good. Though as a whole the movie fails to elevate itself to any respectable measure. It seems not just content to be a mindless summer action movie... it revels in it.  It all the abundance of CGI, the rapid-fire action editing, the grunge-y punk music in the trailers that sneaks its way into fight scenes, and all of it.  But... I love it.  The movie has no right to be this fun and yet fall face down into every pitfall imaginable.  In fact, it doesn't just fall.... it dives.

  The supporting cast is great obviously. And even a few of the lesser known actors get entertaining roles that are fun to watch. Especially the hunters, and Mads Mikkelsen as that cool guy who's name I can't remember right now. So yeah. Suffice to say, that despite all its glaring shortcomings it manages to be a serviceable piece of fun eye candy. Its the base of my expectations for this new one. And that's really what I'm here to review, but so much of it was overlapping so without further ado...

--

  Now, its 2012 and they’ve released Wrath of the Titans. Thus making way for more insanely simple minded taglines: “FEEL THE WRATH” As if “TITANS WILL CLASH” wasn’t bad enough. But oh well. Who’s to judge a movie by its tagline? Suffice it to say since all the first one way was simple eye candy, I wasn’t about to expect any iota more from this new one. Which was a smart move. Wrath moves so very very fast we don’t really have time to connect with the characters (I’ll not reinforce this point to heavily since I missed the first five minutes). We’re given a painfully simple setup and CGI with scope that eclipses the last one within seconds. If all you want out of this one is monsters and CGI, you’ll be happy.

   Like a kid in a candy store. There are all kinds of new re-imagined creatures for our oft blank protagonist to fight and defeat this time around. Though you wonder, at a certain point in the movie, if that’s not bad acting at all and Perseus may simply be used to giant hellish monsters. What else could explain his extraordinarily bland performance here? Sorry folks, I like Sam. Liked him in Avatar, in Terminator Salvation and Clash of the Titans. But if you thought he was flat there… he falls exceptionally flat here.

  Except… in the humor. That’s right. This movie excels with the humor. Due in no small part to the entire cast (sans Rosamund Pike) has a “screw it, let’s just have fun” attitude. The result is a cast who looks like they’re having fun. Like a bunch of kids playing with toy swords in their buddy’s backyard. They smile, they run around, they stab things, they jump and roar at each other. Good times yeah?

  But yes, the humor. There are actual scripted funny moments, and a comic relief character who’s not facepalmingly bad and actually quite fun to watch. His personality alone steals the scene on multiple occasions. And he seems to have good chemistry working off of Sam’s frequent blankness.

  The movie has great effects, but there’s no build up to it. Fantastic sights and breathtaking locale aren’t given proper attention. We’re rushed there, shoved around, and yanked right back out. The movie sacrifices a feeling of grandiose for a relentless pace. The result is a mixed bag. I’d like to see panoramic shots of the underworld. Maybe a close-up of the soldiers’ faces and the calm before the storm as their impending doom bursts out of a mountain to smite them with waves of lava. The effects themselves are flawless, but their effect leaves much to be desired. In a world full of danger and monsters, it feels rather hollow. However, there are some scenes where Sam actually does pull through a strongly convincing emotion, and there are some scenes where everything just works. It just does. Which is amazing.

  And the movie itself, more often than not, is just flat out fun. There’s no time for character development or anything like that. Monsters. We need more monsters. These would be complaints at any other movie, but Wrath has a certain charm to it. It has the precise depth of a Saturday morning cartoon (and that’s being generous too) but it succeeds with raw spectacle. Even though it may be rushing through the motions, the fights are well set up and well choreographed, the monsters are cool to look at, the CGI is awesome, and there’s a smattering of well placed humor.

It’s a popcorn flick. The kind one could easily despise. But… as for me? It was just as easy to have a great time with it. Through all the nitpicks and complaints, Wrath of Titans is seriously just a lot of fun. Dumb fun, sure. But still. Fun.

Monday, April 9, 2012

xXx


  Director Rob Cohen's xXx is a total Vin Diesel vehicle. And while it has its moments, it should work better than it does. I'm pretty sure that xXx was a direct response to the James Bond franchise. Only, instead of doing a simple James Bond retread, the idea was to find a muscle-bound icon of current 'cool' to headline the secret agent role. Replace the suave Englishman and his well tailored suits; instead we have pimp coats and hard rock/hip hop music in place of such 007 trappings. Cool nicknames must be catchy, short, and easy to fit into a repeat gimmick. Bond had 007. Xander Cage (Diesel) has XXX. Oh my! It’s even tattooed on the back of his neck. That’s so cool.

  So much of this movie seems self obsessed with how 'cool' its protagonist is. The whole premise is that undercover cops are too text book and they need an undercover man who's hip to whole current scene. So? Solution? Force a well known criminal to do your dirty work for you. It’s such a self serving premise. Like the movies where the plot makes an excuse for the cute dog to play basketball or for monkey's to team up with secret agents. It’s ludicrous. Those are extreme examples, and xXx's plot isn't that horrible. It just is a simple excuse to take a street thug and make him a secret agent. The excuse is the plot, and the plot is an excuse. There are also quite a few excuses to have Xander on a BMX motorcycle, snowboard, or hanging from a parachute every five minutes. Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention, he’s not just any street thug… he happens to be a vastly popular extreme sports personality. Way to go Vin!

  I will be fair and point out that the movie itself is not entirely without merit. Vin Diesel does what he can with the character and surprisingly he works best in the humorous moments. That’s not to say that he doesn’t pull off ‘badass’ quite well, but to say he nails the entire role 100% would be far too generous. That’s the same with the movie overall, it doesn’t quite get it right. Not all the way. Its definitely the stuff popcorn films are made of. Sexy women, international spies, large explosions, cool looking cars and gadgets galore. But something is simply off. The story feels downright cartoonish at times, and some of the action scenes look corny. If it had focused more on being its own beast, and not a James Bond homage, it might’ve been better.

  Samuel L. Jackson is in here. And he sleepwalks through his role as Diesel’s recruiter; playing a character we’ve seen from him dozens of time. Although it’s nothing new, it’s actually quite a fun character to watch. Jackson brings him to life, providing a decent counterbalance for Diesel’s rampant recklessness. Xander cage is told to infiltrate a Russian gang, bent on destroying the world with chemical weapons. To accomplish this task, he’s given unlimited access to field resources. So many guns and gadgets he’d have James Bond and Ethan Hunt jealous as all can be. Speaking of Ethan Hunt, M:I:II tried to be a James Bond homage. It wound up feeling like a rip off. If there’s any great compliment I can level at xXx, is that it succeeds in being an homage.

  The movie itself is as self indulgent as its own protagonist. It finds every reason possible to jump off cliffs, show loud clubbing party scenes full of scantily clad women, blow up cars, get into chases, and shoot things. This isn’t such a bad thing. But it feels forced sometimes. The movie has dated rather poorly too. It languishes in the styles and music of the late late 90’s and early 00’s. Some of it is facepalmingly bad. And surprisingly, some of it works. Getting down to the bottom line here, xXx is consistently fun; sure, however it does have plenty of missteps in it. When it’s good, its great fun, when it’s bad, it just feels awkward. Vin Diesel does a lot to keep it in the “guilty pleasure” section and out of “total waste”. His charisma is always fun to watch and he’s an ideal action figure to gallivant around looking cool while blowing things up. That’s xXx in a nutshell.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Chronicles of Riddick


 Vin Diesel has certainly cut out a name for himself in action movies. But one of his best was undoubtedly Pitch Black. An early 00's sci-horror flick in vein of Alien. Who could've predicted that the sequel would be a massive big budget sci-fi epic in vein of Dune and/or Star Wars. But with a leading man like Riddick, it’s obviously going to be darker and more violent than either of those.
Insert Vin Diesel's trademark smirk here: Obviously.

  The Chronicles of Riddick is massive in scope and vastly different in tone from its predecessor. Pitch Black inhabited a gritty futuristic world like you might see in Firefly and Blade Runner. However our look into this world was narrowed to a mere glimpse. We see a ship, its crew, and small insight into the kind of environment it operates in. This is all flipped drastically in The Chronicles of Riddick. The world we're put into is still the same gritty future, but its inhabited by villains who wouldn't be out of place in a sweeping medieval epic. Instead of scary looking black horses on which to ride into a scene and slash away at the innocent villagers, they have scary looking spacecraft, impeccably designed to evoke a gothic and futuristically regal look. Its an odd balance of tone.
 
   We expect characters like Riddick to be up against bounty hunters, law enforcement, and mercenaries. The vicious aliens in the first one fit the plot so well that it’s hardly relevant to the point I'm making here.  Seeing Riddick end up being the reluctant hero tasked with avenging his race and saving the universe from a whole legion of space-faring bad guys is stunning, overwhelmingly different, but not at all unwelcome. He went from a mere badass to mankind's savior over the course of a movie. And given the character, and how Vin Diesel inhabits him so well the movies may feel a world apart, but they’re linked very nicely.

   There still are mercs, and prison planets, and all the tropes a sequel to Pitch Black should have, but those are tiny plot points. The scope of the narrative has exploded and multiplied exponentially. We’re no longer confined to the sci-horror/survival nature of the first movie. This is a movie where the fate of all mankind hangs in the balance. And Riddick is the prophesied savior. And that’s the point I’m making. There are elemental beings, and prophecies, a villain who is half dead and has been to the gates of hell apparently, and its very fantasy oriented. Sci-fi fantasy, granted, but the world from Pitch Black didn’t seem like home to these characters and their mythical prophecies. It was a gritty world. Devoid of such things.

Was the shift in tone a bad one? No. It expands the universe that Riddick inhabits in a big way. Some may not care for the tone of this one, and it’s understandable. It really is like if the sequel to Alien had Ripley joining a cause to save the universe and fight Darth Vader and blow up the death star. That’s how drastic it feels. But doesn’t that sound awesome? That is indeed the case with Riddick. Dropping him into a situation like this creates for massive spectacle and intense eye candy. Because we’ve dropped those confines, we’ve got a character-faithful space adventure with insanely high stakes that speeds from one big action packed set piece to the next.

Visually it’s incredibly unique. You’ll be hard pressed to find another movie like it. The closest I can even think of, is David Lynch’s Dune. Spacecraft and weapons aren’t the typical rocket powered, and pew pew stuff from Star Wars. Stuff looks fundamentally unique and incredibly different here. If for that reason alone, see it. It’s a refreshing bit of eye candy that doesn’t feel like a run of the mill sci-fi actioner. It’s a big budget space faring epic at its Hollywood finest. Vin Diesel and cast all bring their A game and deliver some very good performances.

   The story is a little heavy on things it never takes the time to adequately explain, but it seems well written, and the dialog isn’t bad. All the acting is very good. Its overall very well put together. And it certainly shows. This never once feels second rate. Its first class action and adventure all the way. And with a character as badass and iconic as Riddick who’s simply a whole lot of fun to watch, this movie is pure entertainment.

  It does however; help to see both movies to get the full weight of the character development and what these guys have been through. But given the grand scale of this one, Pitch Black would feel merely like a prologue. And from that perspective, The Chronicles of Riddick hardly wraps up the book. It’s merely chapter one. We still have many questions, many loose plot lines, and a huge cliffhanger.  It doesn't feel like we got a crap ending. It feels like this was simply made to extend over a few more movies. And it helps that we actually would like to see more.

I’m enthralled. It genuinely has me. I’m ready to start reading the next chapter. Hurry the hell up Diesel, Twohy, I’m ready for it. And I have a feeling, so are a lot of other people.

P.S. A third Riddick film is already filming and slated for a 2013 release.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mortal Kombat


 
  It’s a definite product of the nineties, and it has the director's trademark stamped all over it. So how about the source material? The ever popular Mortal Kombat video game? The thumb-numbing brawler with supernatural opponents and a disturbing predilection for blood and gore? Yeah well, the movie leaves out the game’s #1 trademark. Its blood and gore. The over the top-ness and edginess that garnered so much controversy and attention for the iconic game, is woefully (or thankfully for you weak-stomached viewers) absent from this 90’s beat em’ up flick.  I actually love this movie though. I don’t think anyone will disagree it’s a first class movie in a sub-genre renowned for being universally horrible.
And while that doesn’t say much for the movie itself in all honesty, it still manages to be a fun ride after all this time.

  You know those movies that are so bad they’re good? Yeah, Mortal Kombat isn’t one of those movies.  Its humor isn’t the unintentionally bad dialog, in fact quite the opposite. Some of these jokes, however immature, (not slapstick, thankfully the movie doesn’t stoop that low) are carefully set up and paid off in a snappy fashion. Some are hit and miss, and some still make me smile. Linden Ashby, as Johnny Cage, is not a muscle bound movie star like Jean Claude Van Damme (kudos if you get the connection) but he does a good job of inhabiting his character, kicking his way through the choreographed fights and carrying the heft of the movie’s lighter side on his back; shouldering nearly all of the comic relief and one liners. Pretty much every funny moment in the movie is related to Cage somehow. And most of them work really well. He’s certainly one half of the major charisma in this flick and definitely worth mentioning first.

  The cast has decent chemistry, but nothing insanely strong.  The characters are all pretty much archetypes, but they’re based off two-dimensional video game avatars with miniscule bios (at the time).  The movie does a respectable job at building personalities for these people, and giving them distinct motivation.  Now, this is pretty standard stuff for any halfway decent movie, but video games movies, like I pointed out are usually flat out awful; making embarrassing and painful to watch pitfalls out of even basic stuff.  So it’s surprising to see Mortal Kombat, a movie which forsook its own source material’s winning trademark, nail all the basics, and pretty competently too.

   It’s really sad that the female lead here is relegated to such an unimportant role, and ends up being a mere damsel in distress by the end. However, she gets her moment to shine, even if it is a fight that’s own choreography is horribly outdated.  The star hero, Liu Kang, is competently acted, nothing great, but he gets the job done. His strong emotions may be convincing, but as a character he’s a walking cliché until he ends up developing a dynamic with his costars. Most famous of which is Christopher Lambert. If you don’t know who that is, and you consider yourself a film buff, this movie will hold no star appeal for you at all. So don’t go looking for a-listers here. Lambert plays the thunder god Raiden, the would-be typical Ben Kenobi role if it wasn’t for his winning smile, trademark laugh, and the fact that he’s just having fun with this role. And it shows. He’s a real pleasure to watch in this movie.

  “A handful of people on a leaky boat are going to save the world?” a character asks the thunder god early on.
   “Exactly.” He replies. And chuckles.  The movie is so preposterous, yet it asks a self-aware question like that, poking fun at its own plausibility. It’s a scene that sets the tone for you. When it’s serious, its dead serious, but it’s also a lighthearted martial arts romp through supernatural realms with otherworldly opponents and lots of special effects. Its silly and it knows it. Hell, it outright acknowledged it.


  But silly or not, the sets are great, the one liners have decent shelf life, and it has a kicking soundtrack. The villains (especially Shang Tsung played by Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa) chew scenery like bubble gum, and it’s fun to watch their over the top performances as they brood back and forth in colorful lairs and intricately designed dining halls. All these places that are simply destined to be reduced to rubble by wire-fu and plenty of eye candy super powers.  The fights are synced to snappy bass-heavy techno beats, and it works. It enhances the pacing of the fights, making them seem more intense.

  It stays true to the imaginative tone of the games, keeping character designs and entire locations as faithful and relevant as plausibly possible, the result is a fantasy adventure which certainly has scope but at times lacks the hard edge a movie based on these games should have. But visually and tonally its incredibly faithful. And it really pays off more often than not.  Catchprases, cameos, and sly nods towards the more knowing audience members are peppered throughout and the fans really appreciate this stuff. Myself included.

  You can also tell which actors are actors and which are actual martial artists though. In that respect they balance almost each match up perfectly. To compensate for the actors’ lack of martial arts knowledge, their opponent is a super powered fighter with enough special effects spectacle to make up for occasionally sub-par choreography.
But when a martial artist is fighting a martial artist, most specifically the final showdown, it just seems that much more intense. Which in an odd way, actually adds to the climax of the movie.  ‘Saving the best for last’ as it were. It’s certainly something to really look forward to at the end of each viewing. 


  In conclusion, if you know what you’re getting into, Mortal Kombat can be thoroughly enjoyable and even warrant repeat viewings. Its a simple competant action film with an old fashioned, Harryhausen-esque epic sensibility that enhances the fun factor of the atmospheric proceedings. Its a flick that may not always hit the right marks, but its always fun, and has great, stunning production design, and lots of special effects laden fighting to watch. Even if its all a tad outdated.  Flawless victory on account of a perfect adaptation? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean its a particularly bad one either. I, for one, love Mortal Kombat.