Saturday, April 25, 2015

Daredevil


  It's often hardest for me to write reviews on things I have no issues with. I love reviewing old movies, flawed movies, cheesy movies, hell- even bad movies. However, it's incredibly hard to write a review on a movie (or show, in this case) that you can't find fault with. Marvel's Daredevil (or is it Netflix's? What's proper at this point...?) is a great show. Not just a great comic book show, or a great superhero show, it's a great show period. There's real heart and emotion behind Daredevil and the entire cast brings their A game to the table. Not to mention, most importantly, the showrunners got the character. They understood.

  I hesitate to say that Daredevil, as a property, can't, won't, or couldn't ever be properly adapted into a 2-hour theatrical movie... but when your TV show works as well as this one does, why would you even bother with a movie? Comic books are written to keep going. That's just part of their fundamental nature. They are like TV shows in paper format. Storylines have to keep going, evolve, adapt. Characters have to grow and learn. All of these things extend past one or two issues. Thus your average superhero movie is essentially a condensed and commercialized version of the stories that originated in the comics.

  This show is the answer to that. It's saying, we don't need that. We can make it work even better... as a show. With roughly 9 to 10 hours to explore these characters and their history, we feel more for these characters because we've learned more about them and spent more time with them. It feels... more. That, as opposed to cramming all the important stuff into 2 hours and expecting that to do it justice. Even in a best case scenario, with a really good superhero movie, there's almost no way it wouldn't be better as a show. Daredevil is solid. More than that, it's the most human and weighty thing Marvel Studios has produced so far.

  The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, (a.k.a. the MCU movies- all the movies made by Marvel Studios that share continuity together) have a knack for making death seem like a trivial thing. Nobody but the bad guys stay dead. Except Loki. I really wish he'd stay dead. Think about it, I mean, this goes back to the nature of comic books in part. Comics have to keep going. You can't keep killing off main characters, so what happens? Resurrection chambers, ghosts, alien technology, possession, time travel, you name it- it's happened. This is fine in comics where you have to write thinking about the long term, and how to keep your stories afloat before everything gets rebooted... but in the movies it has a very bad and serious effect on everything.

  The weightiness of the danger is severely undercut when you know that no matter who dies, it's not permanent. How can you be afraid of dying, if you know you'll just come back to life soon? Ergo, how real can the tension and suspense of these shootouts and super powered battles feel real... if the stakes don't feel so high anymore? Bucky Barnes, Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, Groot. How much does heroic sacrifice mean... if no real sacrifice is being made? All those characters were presumed dead. Whether it was for more than a movie, or just five minutes inside a movie, and ALL of them came back. It's expected at this point. But then Daredevil happened.

  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not inferring Daredevil is Game of Thrones and everyone is going to die- permanently. I'm just saying, despite sharing a universe with guys like Thor and the Hulk- Daredevil feels so grounded that we believe actions have consequences again. Nobody is magically coming back to life on this show, so when peoples lives are in danger... the suspense and the tension feel real. Or real-er at least. For a Marvel Studios property, this is pretty game-changing. Daredevil has a weight and seriousness to it that is absent from even the best of the MCU line-up, which is why it's so easy to say "Daredevil is the best thing Marvel has done so far." Whether it is or isn't is not the point, the point is you can say that... and even the most die-hard MCU fanboys will pause before trying to dispute it.

  It's certainly the most emotional one so far. From Matt Murdock's past, to his painful life at present- the feels don't let up. They understood the Man Without Fear and they did it right. They got the right tone, they didn't compromise on the violence, and they cast all the right people. The dialog is sharp and well written, the visuals are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the fight scenes are so intense and well shot that I feel sore afterwards. On top of that, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the show is incredibly emotional without getting sappy. It's moving and sincere, and above all... it's very human. Which is high praise seeing as how it shares a universe with a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. As if I haven't made it clear enough, I'll sum it up: Daredevil is absolutely worth your time and attention. Get to it. If you haven't already that is.

Judge Dredd


  The 90's produced a lot of... interesting comic book movies. The good (Blade), the bad (Batman & Robin), and the ugly (Steel). Then there's Judge Dredd. I'll say it right now, for Stallone fans and action fans in general, you'll probably like this movie. It has all the right ingredients to make a fun Saturday matinee. It has slick production design, one of the coolest handguns to ever grace the silver screen, a giant menacing robot, ravenous cannibals, explosions, chase sequences (Not the least of which involve flying motorcycles. Basically...), and one liners by the truck load. It's big, it's loud, it's fun- and it fundamentally betrays the source material. Ouch.

  Much like RoboCop, which was actually heavily inspired by the Judge Dredd comic books, Dredd's world is a satirical one. It's humor should be derived from the concept itself. The comics were an unkind mirror, held up to the ridiculous politics and consumerism of the United States. It pointed out scary trends in our society, in our culture- and all we've (Americans in general) been able to get from the comics is that Judge Dredd is a super cop who shoots da bad guys. This movie didn't help that notion either. Stallone's Judge Dredd isn't so much the near-robotic facist he should've been, instead he plays the role like Dredd is merely emotionally bankrupt and socially handicapped. With enough help from his plucky sidekick and that hot lady-Judge, he'll get in touch with his feelings, finally.

  That was never the goal in the comics. Dredd was part of a borderline (if not entirely) facist government that enabled it's police force to judge and summarily execute criminals as they see fit. It was an in-your-face commentary on overkill. The movie doesn't understand that. Or Stallone didn't care to play it the intelligent route. He's gone on record saying he felt it should've simply been an action-comedy. I heard that the director, Danny Cannon, wanted to stay truer to the comics but Stallone wouldn't have it. Unfortunate. What was also unique about the comics was the fact that, despite pointing a finger at Americans, and satirizing our government, the comics were also frequently exciting. Blending procedural cop suspense with sci-fi villains and plots that would blow you away.

  Alternate dimensions, man-eating plants, homicidal animatronics, aliens, cyborgs, mutants, and lest we forget... cannibals. Dredd has gone up against it all, and despite the dumbed down and simplified nature of the movie- they certainly put Dredd through his paces here. Framed for murder by a psychotic criminal with strange ties to him, Dredd is betrayed by the very system he fought to protect. The whole first half of the movie leads up to an inevitable "poetic justice" line. Spoken by Rob Schneider no less. Ugh. I'll get back to him in a minute. Anyways, Dredd and his new sidekick never make it to prison and instead get swept back into the chaos unfolding in the city, discovering the bad guy's plot along the way.

  The movie's plot however is simply a vehicle for these big expensive action scenes. On that basis alone, by their own merit, they're really good. They certainly don't disappoint. All the practical effects and bombastic sounds help make Judge Dredd a fun ride despite it's massive shortcomings. It's ridiculously fun in fact. Shamefully so. There's something about 90's Stallone in a big glossy sci-fi blockbuster that's decked out with fantastic production design, huge elaborate sets, and awesome practical effects that I just can't help but love. Judge Dredd is a movie that builds up enough energy to be fun, not good, but fun. If you have no affinity for 90's action movies, you'll have nothing to stay for here.

  This is essentially a B-grade buddy cop movie, set in the world that Blade Runner gave us. It works exceptionally well in parts, like the scene with the cannibals, or anytime the ABC warrior is on screen. Beyond that it's a merely adequate story with a lukewarm plot that manages to insult the source material on the most basic of levels. I'm not even gonna talk about him taking the helmet off. That would be beating a dead horse. Not that... this whole review isn't doing that anyways... Oh well. Stallone fans will probably enjoy this. It feels not unlike a sequel to Demolition Man, but without the scene-stealing energy of Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix. Instead we have Armand Assante, trying his hardest to look like Stallone, and chew as much scenery as possible all while shouting "LAWWWW!!!???" at anything that moves. If that sounds ridiculously awful or ridiculously amazing... it's actually both.

  So is the movie. It's facepalmingly bad anytime we're forced to endure Rob Schneider's dialog, or his... voice, or his stupid little face. On the list of people who should've never been in this movie, he topped off the list with Andy Dick and Jim Carrey not far behind. Why? He's not funny, his lines aren't funny, he's not fun to watch. He sucks the fun out of the scene everytime he opens his mouth. His brand of humor so totally clashes with this movie that he feels like he stumbled in from a comedy filming in the lot next door and Stallone couldn't get him away. Odds are though, it was probably Stallone's idea to have him in the movie in the first place. Dammit Sly. Rob Schneider sucks, end of story.

  On the other hand, the slick action scenes, fantastic score, eye-popping visuals, and energetic pacing make Judge Dredd a wholly guilty pleasure. It has stuff that's great, and stuff that's undeniably fun, but it also has some total crap in there too. It's a mixed bag, and one that every man has to dig through himself. I love the movie. It's bad, it's frequently stupid, but it's also crazy fun, and it looks stunning. I'm not an absolute authority on what makes a movie worth watching, but I think this one's worth a look, again if you've seen it before. However, if you can't stand the idea of seeing it, go watch 2012's vastly superior Dredd instead. Or y'know... don't. I'm not the law or anything.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


  This movie worked best as a memory for me. Nine year old me, in the theater, watching Captain Nemo, Mr.Hyde, the Invisible Man, and some other literary characters of yesteryear team up to take down bad guys who like to blow stuff up. It was odd, and unique, and eye-catching. What's worse is, it stuck in my head. I bought it from a DVD bargain bin a few years later, where it sat on my shelf for a long time until I sold all my DVD's and upgraded to Blu Ray. It was always that one movie. The one with all those guys, and that one scene. Never existing in my head as any more than a collection of parts that amazingly existed in a real movie and not just an old dream or nightmare.

  Not that the movie is worth being favorable towards, even in memory. Revisiting it was a painful experience, but one I knew would be frustrating at best. The movie doesn't start off all that badly. In fact by the time we get to Sean Connery, it's rather promising actually. The movie's first real action scene ensues, and is properly thrilling. The dialog soon after though... it shows it's true colors, sadly setting the tone for the rest of the movie. It's written with the finesse of a Moore-era Bond flick. Every other sentence seems penned in order to be featured in the trailers. At one point, a villain fires his machine gun into one of the 'Extraordinary Gentlemen', at point blank range... and to little effect. Shocked, he asks...  "What are you?", the man replies, "I'm complicated." Boom. Coming soon to a theater near you. You see my point? 90% of the dialog in the movie is like that, and any sentence longer than several words is almost certainly exposition.

It's mindlessness at it's worst. Case in point, The Nautilus. Captain Nemo's ornate submarine. It looks fantastic. It's design is extremely cool, and the intricate attention to detail on it is simply jaw-dropping. It's a breathtaking sight, hundreds of feet tall, and ten times as long. Unfortunately though, any awe it inspires, is quickly dropped like a sack of bricks when you realize it's only a special effect. There's a part of everyone's brain that knows it's a special effect anyways, obviously. A smart movie goer doesn't need to be told that. However, the movie isn't supposed to make it look like a special effect. Not only does the movie make you aware of the fact it's a special effect, it makes it impossible to ignore. That's a rather serious misstep.

  Not that it looks cheap or fake, but the story has this gargantuan vessel fitting into places it couldn't possibly. The canals of Venice, next to a tiny London dock- and more. It becomes so show-stoppingly bad that you can't look at it and see anything but a special effect. It seems to magically change it's size constantly. One moment it's two ocean liners long, the next, it seems like it could be dwarfed by a regular cruise ship. It fits into whatever moment the story sees fit to jam it into. Logic and the most basic of physics are casually thrown under the bus where The Nautilus is involved. What's even worse still, is that I thought up a few easy fixes in the spur of the moment that would've prevented all the mind-numbing displays of lazy writing. Because in the end, that's all it is. Lazy writing.

  Whoever wrote the screenplay had no concept of scale, space, time, and weight. Not to mention a terrible lack of research into locale. The whole Venice sequence is mired in faulty logic from top to bottom. I could write a whole article on that scene alone gets wrong. The whole movie is like this though. It presents incredibly interesting concepts, outstanding designs and visuals, and then finds a way to undermine all of it by failing to make any of it work within the basic laws of reality. As an audience, we instantly become aware of the movie itself, and the things that don't work stick out like a sore thumb. These are the kinds of movies people say you have to shut off your brain to enjoy. Because you really do.

  Smart movie goers often take offense to that statement, and I wholeheartedly understand why. No movie should make these mistakes. It's rookie bullshit at the end of the day, and we shouldn't be subjected to it. It's insulting. On the other hand... I'm sure the person who designed The Nautilus put serious time and effort into making it look the best he could, and it shows. The costume designer probably went all out on the wardrobe for our stalwart heroes, and it shows. The production designer probably slaved to give the movie a unique and memorable look, and wow, it shows. There were probably countless hundreds who put blood, sweat and tears into making this movie the best it could be. Everything on the visual and design side of things is just fantastic.

  I think that deserves a lot of appreciation. Off the top of my head I can't really name another movie that looks like this one, or plays like this one. It's incredibly atmospheric, and it's logic-raping aside, seems to exist in a mysteriously macabre world of high-adventure and science fiction intrigue. It may not muster the seriousness or jaw-dropping awe it so desperately wants to, but it's still amazingly cool eye candy. Some of the shots in this movie look simply gorgeous. Do those things deserve to be ignored because the script is simply awful? I don't know. I can't say. I personally do not mind sitting down and watching this every few years. It's a bad movie with good elements. It's painfully stupid, but it looks so neat.

  You wish so hard it had a better story and better dialog. Even the actors (most of them) are trying their damndest, and with so little to work with at that. If you want to hang the blame for this movie on anyone, aim your hate at the studios and the writers behind it. Even the director proved he could competently handle comic book material with Blade, which was and is ridiculously fun. One wonders what would've happened if The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen got a sequel like Blade did, helmed by Guillermo Del Toro even. Now that's an exciting thought. But, in this day and age, why bother with a sequel at all?

  It's been over ten years, Watchmen happened, and reboots/remakes are everywhere. Why not remake this movie? It's ripe with potential to be done right and adhere a little closer to the source material. When all is said and done, "LXG" as the marketing department dubbed it, (just picture me rolling my eyes) is a strange movie that almost no one could possible deny is bad, but it exists only just outside the realm of guilty pleasures, alongside movies like Resident Evil, Van Helsing, and Wild Wild West. These movies tried something different, for all the right reasons, and failed for all the worst ones. Someone reading this will probably be throwing up in their mouth at the mention of all those movies in one sentence.

  Maybe I'm a masochist who keeps returning to these awful experiences because I like the torture. Or maybe... I can appreciate the elements of these movies that were so damn good. The art, the visuals, the cinematography, that they shine no matter how awful the movie around them is. People praise striking visuals when they are married to a good story. Yet in the absence of a good story, striking visuals are suddenly worthless and the entire thing is critically chastised, woefully branded a waste of time. I don't necessarily agree with that total and absolute judgment. I believe the visuals of a movie are as praiseworthy as any other part of it. Like a badly written storybook with gorgeous illustrations, the whole design team behind LXG clearly gave it their all, whereas the writers... did not.

  It all depends on what you personally can salvage from this mess of a movie. I think, if you watch it with an average mindset, it won't be much more than nonsensical drivel. The kind of crap that's dragging Hollywood down. Not even with my apologist's mentality could I argue against that, but if you watch it with the brain switched off (which is something I hate to suggest or endorse) LXG is a fun, sleek, stylish, once-in-a-blue moon adventure flick. It may not be compelling or well written, but it managed to create a world and an atmosphere unique enough that I would want to return to it. Of course, only after it's been softened up in my memory for a long enough time that I have forgotten just how bad the bad aspects really are. It's unique and sometimes... that's enough.