Monday, January 30, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

There are few words adequate to sum up my feelings towards the "Paranormal Activity" series. But I can try! Here are some choice ones to get the ball rolling: "boring" and "stupid." Ok so maybe there are enough words.

I'm guessing that I've already lost the attention and respect of anybody reading this who is a fan of these movies, and that's fine. The fact remains that there is not a single thing about this series that works for me. It's terrible. It's slow and boring as all holy hell, and there is not one thing in this ENTIRE TRILOGY that functions as a proper scare. And I don't understand how anybody could think otherwise. Are people so easy to scare? Because I can bang pots around, too. Where's my movie deal with sequel opportunities?

Here's the setup: It's going to be security footage from a 7-11. It's going to show the hot dog warming rack. Of course, it will only show the warming rack for 10 seconds, since it's going to have to cycle through the other cameras, too. So for 10 seconds we'll get the front door with nobody coming in, since it's the middle of the night. Then for 10 seconds we'll see the clerk standing behind the counter, reading a Maxim and scratching his ass. Nothing happening there either. Then it's back to the hot dogs. After about 15 minutes of this establishing of normalcy, we'll start with the scares! Every few minutes...the mustard will be slightly neeeeearer to the hooooooot doooooogs! OooooooOoOOOooo!!! They're gonna get eeeeeeeaten!!! With muuuuuuustaaaaard!!!

Of course, this inching forward of the ghostly mustard will only happen about every 10 minutes or so. Most of the time, it'll just be the clerk doing nothing, but every once in a while he'll look over his shoulder and very unnecessarily slowly walk around the store before going back behind the counter. But see, that's the beauty of it, by showing NOTHING for 90% of the movie, we establish that when something DOES happen, it's super-duper important and scary and terrifying and oh-my-gosh-I-just-peed-my-pants.

"Hey Dante, you think ghosts are naked?"

 The third film is actually a prequel that focuses on when the sisters were little girls in the late 80's. Now, if you remember from the first film, there was mentioning of weird things happening to the sisters back when they were young. Now we finally get to uncover more of the mystery of the demon that has plagued this family, and witness the horror that has haunted the sisters for years.

In theory, that is.

*SPOILERS BELOW*

In reality, nothing about this movie makes any sense to me. The girls, Katie and Kristi, are witnessing all this crazy crap going on and being scared out of their minds. I remember them saying that they had mentally blocked a lot of that stuff out, that they didn't have clear memories of it, but that starts to not fly because people are dying here. This is stuff that would get investigated by the authorities. Not only that, it would appear (and I'm assuming this is the case) at the end that their mother was killed.

Now I don't remember what they said about their mother in the earlier films, but I think her HORRIBLE GRISLY DEATH would not be something you just conveniently forgot about. What about foster care? Were did they go after the mom died? I don't recall them saying they grew up in foster homes. What about a police investigation? I'm not saying they had to remember all of it, but there must be a file on these sisters somewhere. And it's never been brought up? A double homicide of the girl's mother and her boyfriend? Not to mention the fact that it's all on tape.

That brings up the absolute biggest canyon of a plot hole in the film: the tapes. They had a box of tapes that proves the existence of supernatural events, something that could rip open the very fabric of our perception of reality, and it's sitting in a box in their basement. Are you seriously telling me that nobody ever looked at these? Someone like the police? In nearly 15 years of having the tapes, nobody ever said ONE TIME:

"Hey, these tapes owned and shot by Dennis in a box full of tapes by Dennis are dated right when Dennis was killed! Oh, Julie died then too, didn't she? These might offer insight into what happened to them! Never mind the logistics of how the tapes managed to get into this box considering he died, because the possibility of any kind of nefarious goings on would imply that anyone having to do with Dennis' death most likely wouldn't nicely package them up and give them back to the remaining family, they would just destroy them to get rid of the evidence, otherwise that would just be stupid. LET'S GIVE THESE TAPES A LOOK!"

Do you not see the glaring problem here? The insane cult just gave the tapes back? I can buy brainwashing the sisters, but the point is defeated if they just gave the sisters a box of tapes detailing everything that happened. What about Dennis' friend who witnessed these events firsthand, and also shot some of the more insane moments? Did he just not say anything to anyone? He didn't go to the authorities and say "There's crazy stuff that we taped that you need to see which directly relates to my friends death, also I'm going to be crazy famous because I helped prove the existence of demons" and point to the box of tapes that were STILL THERE AFTER THE CULT GAVE THEM BACK?!


To be fair, the movie begins with a flash-forward to the second film, where we see the box of tapes has been stolen from their basement...about 15 years after the fact. But why now? Why steal the tapes back after such an absurdly long time? If you wanted to keep a secret why did you let them have the tapes in the first place!? Ugh. These movies are so stupid.

*END SPOILERS*

I suppose at some point I should talk about the film itself, but what's the point? You either love these movies or you don't. It's as simple as that. And there's nothing in the third film which isn't in the first two. It's the same damn movie over and over again. If there is a difference it's probably that the hauntings are more violent than in the other films, which doesn't make much sense either, since that means the demon has been getting progressively more lazy over time since the first film is still the last one chronologically.

The demon does this at one point. I am not joking. Scary? No. Hysterical? Oh you're damn right.

I know part of the "horror" is that demon is just screwing with these people, but I don't understand how making a door open or a pan drop constitutes as an evil entity out to torment and enslave. If I was an evil demon, I'd be evil! I'd cause havoc all the time! I wouldn't lay dormant for years and just make scuffling sounds at night and make light bulbs pop. It's like Professor Chaos switching soup orders. It's not diabolical. And how bored must this thing be to only do that for years? Maybe if the demon had a hobby it could find more constructive things to do with its time instead of making a liiiiiiiight swing baaaack and fooorth when noooobody is looooooking at it WooOOooOoOO!!!!

I hate this series so damn much.

THE BOTTOM LINE - If you like these movies, it's probably the best one of the three, since there is more going on with the "scares." Me personally? I've gotten more fright out of smelling the milk to see if it's gone bad. And milk-smelling was more entertaining.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Margin Call (2011)

You what would make any movie about the stock market better? Scrooge McDuck. I mean, "Ducktales" is due for a modernization, isn't it? Although Scrooge is probably wise to invest in gold, what with his massive vault of the stuff that he uses for a swimming pool, can't we bring the show back to teach kids about Wall Street? Maybe instead of hunting for treasure, he's going on adventures all around the New York Stock Exchange, yelling in his Scottish brogue into a blue-tooth headset to Heuy, Duey, and Louie who are negotiating a deal to buy stock at a ridiculous price. Scrooge would be screaming "Ack! I'll nae be oonda-bid by dat greasy scoundrel Flintheart Glomgold! Tell 'em we'll buy the stocks fer 325, an nae a farthin' further!" as he slides down the cables of an elevator shaft with his cane on his mission to stop the bell from sounding at the close of the day so his nephews have more time to haggle.
 
Meanwhile, Ms. Beakley will shoo all the "Occupy" people away with a comically large broom.

What? That show would be the bomb. I'd watch it. 

"Margin Call" is a movie about the stock market. I've lost you already haven't I? Eh, I can't really blame you. It's not that the biggest stock market crash of our time wasn't a big deal, or indeed, isn't something worthy of making a movie about, but it's not exactly on par with storming the beaches of Normandy as far as nail-biting suspense goes. Unless you're really into economics or something. Whatever makes you happy, I guess?

The film takes place over a roughly 48 hour period of time in 2008 when an analyst at a large firm found out that the market is about to implode on itself, with the potential to be basically the economic apocalypse. That's some pretty big tension, but it's fairly easy to sum up how "Margin Call" goes about it using the following steps:


1) Man A stares at computer screen a bit and then says "Oh my god."
2) Man A shows his Boss the screen and explains what it means.
3) Boss says "Oh my god," takes over the role of Man A, and shows his Boss.
4) Return to Step 1 and repeat.


This is 90% of the film.

Okay so yes, there is more to it then that, but essentially that's what it boils down to: a bunch of men with ties say "Oh my god" to their computer screens and then they all proceed to have heart attacks. The way they pale when they gaze upon the information on the screen you'd almost expect Hexadecimal or Megabyte to be reaching through the monitor to enslave them. Although that would make for a much more interesting movie, and make the situation a lot easier to grasp. 
 
Fools! Your economy is doomed! All hail Megabyte!!!

And no, I don't know why I'm referencing all these kids shows today. Feeling nostalgic, I guess.
 
Perhaps it's my personal lack of understanding (or caring) about how the stock market works that prevented me from truly grasping the gravity of the situation, but "Margin Call" just never really hit home for me in terms of tension. They do explain most things in a purposefully dumbed-down fashion at several points for those unenlightened, but those scenes just took me out of the movie because they may as well have just slapped "THIS IS WHEN WE EXPLAIN THINGS TO THE AUDIENCE" at the bottom of the screen, just for those playing along at home. There's even a part when Jeremy Irons says "Explain it to me the same way you would explain it to an intelligent cocker-spaniel." I couldn't help but wonder if that was a dig at the audience or not. Either way, that's pretty funny.


The one thing it does have going for it is the cast. Any redeeming qualities that the movie might have are pretty much contained in the list of the cast in the credits. This is unsurprising, considering the amount of talent, but not all ensemble casts work. A star studded cast does not a good movie automatically make. (Case in point: "The Expendables")

Kevin Spacey is given most of the meat off the movie's bone to chew on, and he chews it well, but Zachary Quinto and Paul Bettany deserve some props as well. Zachary wins the award for best slack-jawed staring at a monitor and Paul takes home the prize for most aggressive cigarette smoking. But the guy I liked most was Jeremy Irons. Every time he got on screen the movie was alive like it just got a coffee enema. Then he goes away and it got a bit more dull as people yell at their computers again.

The market can't crash. I didn't say "Simon says."


Lastly, was there a message to "Margin Call?" I don't know. At one point, in a monologue by Paul Betteny, the movie seems to come down on the side of the people working there, basically saying that it's not THEIR fault that the market collapsed, it's the public's. But then throughout the rest of the movie the stock brokers are made to look like irresponsible jerks who don't know what the crap they're doing. And the movie ends with Kevin Spacy standing in a grave he's digging. Really subtle, you guys.


So who's side is the movie on? Honestly, it pretty much comes out a wash. Nobody really seems to know what they're doing, so how can anyone really be to blame? I guess that's the message: "Whatever! Who knows!? Flip a coin, heads sell, tails buy. Let's have a pizza party!"


Pictured above: Our top analyst.

THE BOTTOM LINE: "Margin Call" isn't bad. It's just not that exciting, especially if you really don't know jack about what they're blathering on about. Really good cast, though. Worth a (cheap) rental.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Grey (2012)

Is it too early in the year to call that something is probably going to make my Top 10 of 2012? I hope not, but on the other hand, if there are 10 other movies that come out this year that are better than "The Grey," I'll just call myself a lucky S.O.B., and pat myself on the back because I called it back in December that 2012 is looking to be an unbelievably good year for movies. This my friends, is a good start, and the question "will 10 better films be made this year" is the kind of thing that makes me excited just thinking about.

The thing I don't understand is why on Earth is Liam Neeson not huge? I'm talking Johnny Depp (but not annoying) huge. Mel Gibson (but before he went crazy) huge. Marlon Brando (but not fat) huge. I swear that this guy is the single most charismatic actor over 50 around right now, and I don't understand why he's not more popular than he already is. When you say "Liam Neeson" people usually respond, "Oh yeah, the guy from "Taken?" Yeah, he's pretty cool." That's not acceptable. Liam Neeson's name needs to be on the lips of every single person who watches movies, because he deserves it, and his name alone should be worth $200 million in the box office -- to start.

AND WHERE THE BLOODY HELL IS HIS OSCAR?! Do you have ANY idea how many amazing roles this guy's done? Only one nomination for "Schindler's List" back in 1993? Please. That's an insult to a guy who could take anyone in Hollywood to school. Give me a name. Liam's just as good, if not better. Sean Penn does NOT need another Oscar. Why don't they give it to the greatest actor to ever come out of Ireland? And while we're at it, give one to Sean Bean, too! He's runner-up!

Also, if he's not doing books on tape, he needs to. Listening to his voice is like having sex in your eardrums, it's unreal.

So what if I'm sporting a total man-crush on the dude? I apologize for nothing!

He's a dreamboat.

In "The Grey," Liam Neeson is a guy working for an oil pipeline in Alaska, and his job is to work like a sharpshooter, protecting workers from any wolves that may attack them. So when the plane he's on with a bunch of workers crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, right in the midst of a pack of killer wolves, it's probably a good thing he was along for the ride. At first it seems like it will be a survival movie, but it isn't long until the wolves show up, and from there it essentially becomes a slasher flick as the survivors get picked off one by one.

WASSUUUUUUUUUUP!!??!?!

It's a bloody movie, as one might expect. The violence is brutal and savage, and there were a couple moments that elicited a hardy "OH! DANG!" from me as somebody become a nice freshly made corpse. But it never came across as gratuitous, in my opinion. It's just that it's really effective. This isn't like Jason Voorhees thinking up new ways to creatively kill you with various pointy objects. They're wolves. They eat stuff. They kind of have a one track M.O.

To be fair, it was impossible to not nitpick it a little. "The Grey" does hit a bit of a speed-bump about halfway through when we get a lot of character background in a couple talky scenes. It's good stuff, but it kind of diffused the tension a bit since I'm thinking "Umm...have we forgotten about the wolves? You guys sure are chatty for people being hunted." Also, their survival technique may not have been the best. Why don't they ever attempt to build shelter? Why do they sit with their backs to the woods where the wolves are coming from? Why don't they climb a tree since wolves don't freaking climb? Where's Les Stroud when you need him?!

"Ya'll chill. I got this."

"The Grey" is a movie that should be stock. It should be an average, by the numbers story about survival that you've seen many times before. And at its core, it is. This is not an original or a groundbreaking story, but what makes "The Grey" shine is the way it is presented and told. By utilizing phenomenal camera-work and set design, the scene is set to show a very cold, harsh and brutal climate in which the characters are forced into, but the editing of the film, along with the moments when we enter Liam's head/subconscious, serve to place us in another world of almost surreal quality. The landscape is dangerous to begin with but with "The Grey" we may as well be on another planet. It's almost Aronofsky-esque, which is a HUGE compliment.

What will stick with me most about "The Grey" are the absolutely gorgeous shots that are some of the most striking visuals I've ever seen. The best among them include the first time the wolves appear. Coming in from the darkness, we see only one pair of glowing eyes at first, then another, and another, and before long they are filling the blackness beyond the dim torchlight. One of the survivors, unable to go one step more, sits down to die beside a river beside a sprawling Alaskan mountain range, and as the camera very slowly zooms in on the back of his head, as he silently contemplates the end, off in the distance is the very faint sounds of something coming for him from the woods. A crest of a hill at night as wolves howl from just beyond the ridge, with only their breath visible as it slowly rises up, and we can only guess at their numbers by the plumes of steam appearing.

O hai.


All of these scenes are just positively chilling to the core. I mean, when was the last time in a horror movie you knew the villain was coming because you saw their breath in the frigid, winter night air? Brrrrrrr! That's scary stuff!

And what's best about those scenes is that it showcases what I loved most about "The Grey," which was its subtlety. You don't need to see the wolves. You hear them. And since the film does enough with establishing the fact that they could be anywhere at any time, the tension is essentially never broken. It's like the shark in "Jaws." You didn't need to see the shark to know that it's out there in the water. And like "Jaws," this movie played its hand pretty close to the chest, and only pulled out the wolves for a good reason.

The sad part is that this is pretty standard stuff for a suspense film. These are not ancient secrets long buried and forgotten. This is film making 101, but so many movies like this would be far more upfront and obnoxious with hitting you over the head with either the gore or the "monsters" in fear of having the audience grow bored, and that's a bunch of crap. Just see the 2011 prequel to "The Thing" (actually, don't see it) for absolute proof that not having subtlety is absolute death for suspense. Otherwise you're banging pots and pans around going BWARGARBLRAGH!!!! And that's just annoying.


What's great about "The Grey" is that it's a movie that's not afraid to NOT show something, and let the audience fill in the blanks and do some work, which is far more effective in the long run. And that's what subtly is all about.
Pictured above: Taping knifes and broken bottles to your hands. In other words, a standard Irish wedding.

One thing that may annoy people is the ending. You know what? If you hate the ending, shut up. It's great. It ends on the absolute climax of the main character's emotions, at the end of his journey, the defining moment of his life, and not a second more is spilled over. In that way it's like the closing frame of the first "Rocky." It's a fantastic ending.

Once more into the fray...
Into the last good fight I'll ever know...

Live and die on this day...
Live and die on this day...

That about says it all.

THE BOTTOM LINE: I was blown away by "The Grey." Unless 10 better films come along, this is making my Top 10 of 2012. Very Highly Recommended, although a liking of "different" movies will be helpful since it is slightly unconventional. Fans of Darren Aronofsky do not want to miss it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (2009)

(This is a re-posting of a Facebook note I did in December 2011.)

You know, I think I just figured out one of the reasons I don't like these movies. It's Noomi Rapace's face. No, not in that way. I'm talking about her expressions. Or lack thereof in this particular case. Now, I'm not saying that Noomi is a bad actress, because I don't think that she is. I just think she's been given a boring as hell, obnoxious character that I am incapable of feeling anything towards. And I don't think that is supposed to be the case.

Anyways. Noomi seems to want to play this character much the same way Kristen Stewart (who IS a bad actress, mind you) chose to play Bela Swan, that being a blank slate with 2 expressions. Now, Noomi's two expressions for this series is 1) pissed off and 2) spaced out. Of course to Noomi's credit, that's one more expression than Kristen Stewart was able to conjure onto to her chipmunk-cheeked, stoner-eyed, big-forheaded stupid face. (Sorry getting sidetracked. Stupid Twilight rage.)

Can't tell if she's scared or if she remembers she left the tap running at home

You see this blank deer-in-headlights look? This is her face for nearly every single scene. Eyes bugging out of her head, mouth agape as her chin digs into her throat. When you see her in profile she looks not unlike a snapping turtle. It's just such a weird expression that I don't know what it is that she's trying to convey. Is it fear? Intense concentration? Apathy? Her war face? Constipation? (The answer to all of these is "yes," by the way.)

Come to think of it, she kind of has the same expression as Jessie Eisenberg.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is really a courtroom drama at its core. Lisbeth is rescued and is recuperating at the hospital after getting shot in the head, but the same people who wanted her dead now REALLY want her dead. The whole movie is leading up to her trial, and I never really quite understood WHAT she was being charged with, because the confusion from The Girl Who Played With Fire kinds of spills over into this one for me.

I mean, I know that she has been charged with attempted murder, but the movie seems to conveniently forget that, and instead focuses on her being accused of being crazy. Instead of focusing on the charge that Lisbeth performed some armed B&E with the intent to kill her father (which she totally did), the trial becomes more of a question of "does Lisbeth belong in the nut house?"

I was wondering why this was, then I found the answer: Because that way we can show that she was abused and raped by her doctor. Rape quota met.

GOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!!

And no, I'm not going to stop gripping about this. The rape just really bothers me with how predominant it is. Because at this point, that's all Lisbeth Salander IS. She is a walking lump of rape. Her entire existence is defined by this one thing, and I just don't see how that makes her a strong, likable female character. Would YOU like to be defined by that one thing if you were a lady (if you're not)? I think I would find that degrading and insulting, if you ask me. But that is what we are given with the character of Lisbeth. Congratulations, all the fans and followers of this series: Your protagonist is a walking billboard that says "I WAS RAPED AND THAT'S ALL I'VE GOT."

You know there's more to life than just that, don't you? I mean, yes it's tragic when something like that happens but isn't it a stronger sign of one's character to rise above it? Otherwise, like I said, that's all you are.

Another thing sticking in my craw is that it is brought up time and time again at the trial that Lisbeth is not capable of making adult decisions, because she is mentally incompetent. The defense argues violently that she is totally competent, and more than able to make adult decisions and take responsibility. Kind of a weird strategy when the main defense is that she was made to do these things because of a lifetime of abuse. So what exactly is it, Lisbeth? Are you incompetent and simply a walking ball of inconsolable rage, or are you an adjusted adult capable of making mature decisions? YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.

But here is the kicker. The real coup de grĂ¢ce. Remember me saying in the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo post that I could see Lisbeth being found not guilty on account of "She was raped that one time." Well, guess I'm psychic because that is EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS.

I couldn't believe it. The court skips past all her transgressions because they show the video evidence of the dude in the first movie raping her to the judge, and that's all it takes for her to get a free pass for everything she's done.

Excuse me? I don't want to sound like a total asshole but what possible relevance does that have to her attempting to kill her father? The correct answer is F@#! ALL. If I were the judge I would have that thrown out as inadmissible so fast it'd make Lisbeth's mohawk spin. It's a court of justice for a reason, and for a series which gets so hung up on justice prevailing in a corrupt system, it's the system being corrupt and inept that gives Lisbeth her free pass to get away with anything, which the movie considers justice!

Makes about as much sense as this.

Am I the only one who has a problem with this? I guess so, since I haven't heard anyone else bitching about this stuff. But you know what? I stand by my opinions, and anyone who disagrees, well, good for you, but I prefer my protagonists to be better than this.

Oh, and the ending is crap, too.

Well, glad THAT'S over with. Now if you'll excuse me, I feel like I need a shower after all that sleaze and hairspray. I'll be sure to be looking over my shoulder for the Stieg Larsson fanboys ready to go all "Lisbeth Salander" on me.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

(This is a re-posting of a Facebook note I did December of 2011.)

Once again, as was the case with my first little tirade about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I should probably make it clear that none of the following is meant to offend anyone. Of course that is basically asking the impossible. The odd thing is that the things that I thought were going to be hot button issues turned out to be barely mentioned. In fact, in both my last note and talking with others IRL, as the kids say nowadays, people mostly agreed with me about the controversial stuff like rape. Imagine that! So I guess this time, I'll just mention that there will be more talk about rape, so prepare your fragile selves.
The sticking point, however, came when I talked about Stieg Larsson. Ah, Stieg. Good old Stieg. You were such a hack.
(You didn't see it, but about 100 million people just willed my head to explode)
People like him, though! And there are a lot of people who really liked the books. Then again, a lot of people also liked The Hanson Brothers. But to remind everyone once again, I'm not talking about the books, so we'll leave Stieg's writing out of it. That's really the only big problem I had with the guy anyways. I couldn't stand the way he wrote, which is purely a personal preference. Well, that and his stories and characters and their motivations...
Huh. I guess I do have some bones to pick, huh?
Honestly, I just found this story to be confusing as all holy hell. There was not one point in this film when I felt that I had a firm grasp on what was going on past the opening credits, when Lisbeth is having 'Nam flashbacks about being raped in the first movie. Naturally. It takes them 43 seconds to get to the rape. Joy.
But I digress. To the film's credit there really isn't THAT much rape in it. It does kind of begin to focus on other things besides that, which is a nice change of pace. Of course, it just can't help itself and there is a scene where two bikers find her snooping through a cabin and one of them OUT OF NOWHERE just looks at her and says to himself: "You and me, it's like we got a connection. I think I'm gonna rape you!"
A couple of you out there just got a big laugh from this.
Of course, it doesn't actually happen because Lisbeth hits him in the face with enough pepper spray to season a wooly mammoth and then shoots him in the leg. So we don't have to suffer through ANOTHER rape scene, but the spirit was still there, almost like the movie snapped its fingers and said "Darn!" as she got away on his bike.
That doesn't mean there's no sex. Oh no, there is. The first 10 minutes shows a lesbian sex scene in not-too-graphic, Showtime-level detail, but it does bring up the first thing here that's going to make me sound like a really big jerk, but it really pissed me off by the end of this series: For a girl who spends a whole lot of time naked on screen, Noomi Rapace is not pleasant to look at.
I can't believe how often this series made me look at her muscled, flap-jack, empty leather water-skin dugs. There's nothing wrong with small breasts. None at all. But that doesn't mean all of them are nice to look at. She looks like if Robert Smith circa 1985 shaved his chest and hit the gym. I have a nicer rack than this chick. Do you have any idea how weird that is for me to watch? I'm not even going to bring up the topic of the armpit hair. Europe is weird.
All I'm saying is that if you're making a movie starring a woman with a small, boyish figure who spends a lot of time naked, fine, but could you at least cast someone with tits that don't have the same texture and consistency as Sylvester Stallone's face?
Anyways, now that I've exposed myself as a total chauvinist pig, let me also show myself to be a total idiot and reiterate the fact that I found this movie to be insufferably confusing. Perhaps it was the foreign names, but I never had any idea who any of the characters were ever talking about past the two leads. The plot is so convoluted and twisty-turny that it makes my head swim keeping the names and facts straight, and the plot is all revealed through one talky scene of exposition after another.
See, this is the same reason I don't like mobster movies in general. There's always that scene in the police headquarters where they have the white board on the wall with dozens of photos on it, and the chief investigator on the case starts flapping his gums and pointing at the board. He says something like "Vinceti is Lazaro's nephew who was working for Cabrone, but he was also working as a mole for Panini. Don Ricardo found out and had Vinceti whacked, but Johnny C., who was Lazaro's concigliere ordered the hit on Ricardo without Lazaro's say-so, so he BLAH BLAH BLAH GLAAAAAAHHHH"
I never have the slightest clue what they're talking about. And that's where the movie always loses me. Whenever a lot of names get thrown at me like that, I can never keep track. It also doesn't help that I'm not too good with faces. Working in retail for a decade will do that to you. That's exactly what happened to me with The Girl Who Played With Fire. So many Swedish names and connections fly by that I have no way to keep track of them all, and they all sound like variations of "HONG-FLUUR" or "BLURN-QWIST," so I don't know who anyone is.
I know that it has something to do with a shadowy section of the government trying to hush up Lisbeth because she...knows something, I guess? To be honest, that was really never made clear to me. Why do they want Lisbeth dead? I don't know. Why is anyone doing anything here? Something to do with the sex slave trade. And naturally nearly every male member of the Swedish government is involved with it, and some even have their own personal sex slave they keep chained up in their guest room. I hope to one day be that well-off. Once again, yay, Stieg Larsson.

Waaaarriors...come out to plaa-aaaay...
One thing I did find out though, that I must correct from my last note is the fact that Lisbeth's father is not, in fact, dead. She did set him on fire though. Oh boy, did she ever set him on fire. But he evidently was some kind of Russian defector who...I guess did evil things back there and continued to do them in Sweden even after he defected. I guess.
I swear I watched this thing and paid attention. Anyway, he's still alive and she tries to kill him but ends up getting shot 3 times and buried alive. But she lives.
What.
In what is probably the most ridiculous "Oh shit we can't have the main character die" moment I think I've ever seen outside the Harry Potter franchise, Lisbeth gets shot 3 times INCLUDING A SHOT TO THE HEAD, and then proceeds to get buried, straight up Joe-Pesci-in-the-desert-gangster-style, for what could not have been less than a half hour. I judged this based on the fact that she was buried at night in the pitch black dark, but clawed her way out in the full out daylight. Giving the movie a HUGE benefit of the doubt, I'm saying it must have been early morning when they buried her. Even so, there is no way that much sunlight arrived in anything less than the time it would take to make a full spaghetti diner, including the garlic bread. Call me a skeptic but I don't think you could hold your breath for that long. Especially after you were SHOT IN THE HEAD.
Then the movie abruptly ends like it's tired of this game and is taking its ball and going home. Lisbeth is really messed up, her dad is slightly less so, having only suffered an axe to the head and leg, and the male lead arrives to say the only line of dialogue he says to her in the whole movie. "Don't worry. It's me." That's the only scene the two leads have together, and I don't think it really counts because I don't think she was really conscious. They get Lisbeth to da choppa and then...credits. Awesome.


"Lisbeth...can I borrow 5 bucks?" 

 I can't help but draw comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back with this ending. Seriously. The spunky underdog who isn't ready for the challenge bravely but foolishly rushes into the final confrontation, the "I AM YOUR FATHER" moment, someone *almost* loses a hand, the hero is saved from the brink of death but really beat up, and we end with a ship (helicopter) flying away into the credits with absolutely no closure whatsoever.
Only it wasn't awesome like The Empire Strikes Back.
That's all I've got for The Girl Who Played With Fire. In the end, it was just too confusing for me to care about what was happening.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

(This was a Facebook note of mine from December 2011 that I'm posting here in anticipation of seeing the remake. I'm not excited about it, for reasons that will be made clear soon.)

Be forewarned: The things I am about to say may upset some people. Just know I'm not looking to start a fight on teh intarnets, or cause ye olde Dramae. These things may be especially upsetting to fans of Stieg Larson's novels, because I know that a lot of people really enjoyed them. I, on the other hand, did not. And darn it, there are some things I have just have to throw out there like so much gasoline on a fire. I am expecting smoke.
Let's clear some things up quickly before I begin, because I know there a couple things that some folks may call me out on immediately.
1) No, I did not care for the novel, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." In fact, much to my (eventual) shame, I didn't even finish it. I made it about 200 pages, then "rage-quit" when I just couldn't take Larson's plodding, over-blown, spinning in circles, full-of-itself style for one more sentence. It really was Larson's writing that I couldn't stand more than anything else, and the same thing happened to me and Dean Koontz. In fact, the only Koontz novel I attempted ("The Face" I believe it was called) only lasted 7 pages with me before I said "Good god, do you suck, Dean. Bye."
Anyways, I say "eventual" shame because in all honesty, I was glad that I stopped reading it. I really was, and I still am. I loathed nearly every sentence in that book from page 1, and I think it's a credit to my stamina that I made it as far as I did. Of course, nobody will EVER listen to your opinion about a book if you didn't finish reading it. Hence my "eventual" shame. Everybody was talking about this book, and when the topic of my dislike of it comes up, it's impossible for me to defend my position. How can I? I didn't finish it. I am not worthy of opining in any kind of negative way, because I didn't even get the whole experience, they say.
And you know something? They're right.
So I'm not going to talk about the book. I'm talking about the movie. So if anyone has a problem with my problems based on the old standby "Well in the BOOK you find out-" No. You know what? I don't care. Larson could have turned the book into "Salem's Lot" meets "The Jetson's" in the last act and I still wouldn't care. If my opinion on the book is totally negated by my not finishing it, than it shouldn't matter anyways, should it? After all, since I am not ALLOWED to have an opinion of the book, anything involving it is null and void in my discussion of the film.
2) I am NOT making light of rape. This will become more clear later, but I'm just throwing this out right here, right now. It's a very sensitive subject dealing with a terrible, terrible thing, but some may be offended by my words, which may be read as insensitive or overly cynical. That is not my intention - I'm just bringing up my issues with the way the film deals with the subject, which I consider to be valid points.
3) I realize that because I'm a man, some may say I have no right to be bringing up these points about rape, because it couldn't happen to me. I would like to say "Bullshit."
I have an anus. I could be raped. And anyone who would claim that somehow rape happening to a woman is somehow worse that it happening to a man is a fairly big hypocrite. Don't forget your Dr. Seuss: "A person's a person."
(My god, I wrote "anus," "raped," and quoted "Dr. Seuss" in the same paragraph. I write weird things when I'm tired.)
----
Before talking about the main point, one thing I must get out of the way is this: Is this not the most stupid mystery of all time? Is it just me? Because this mystery, the whole point of the film (well, besides rape, which we'll get to) is that a girl went missing 40 years ago. She has never been found. Her uncle believes that one of his evil family killed her. Her dad was a Nazi who raped her (of course), her brother was even worse than that, her mom was a terrible, evil woman, and basically almost everyone in this family is an evil S.O.B.The girl once gave the uncle a pressed flower for his birthday. She would do this every year. It has continued...even after her disappearance. The uncle thinks her murderer is taunting him. At no point does it cross ANYONE'S brain stem that she may have done something like...oh I don't know...RUN AWAY FROM HOME.Well, guess what? That's exactly what happened. The dumb-ass didn't have the thought that her sending him a flower EVERY YEAR SINCE SHE DISAPPEARED was her telling him she was alright. No, he thought the killer was taunting him. That's dumb.(BTW, spoiler alert ::trollface-I-don't-care-if-I-ruined-it-for-you-it-was-so-freaking-obvious::)

"I'm here for my Stabbing Westward audition..."

Anyway, on to the awkward stuff that might get people mad at me. I would like to start by diving headfirst into the main problem I have with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: rape. Yeah, we're just diving right in there, getting it out in the open. Rape. It's a nasty word. It's nasty to even type. Almost as if by typing it my words are tainted. But my problems are not what you might expect. I don't have a problem with the fact that there is rape in this film (as horrible of a thing as that is to say). I'm not even upset that there is lots and lots and lots of all manner of sexual abuse towards women in this film.

My problem is that the film LOVES IT.

Oh yeah. It's true. As much as the film preaches, pontificates and soapboxes all over the place about how much women are all victims just seemingly waiting to get jumped at any given moment, it's almost like it gets off on it, as disgusting as that analogy is.

There are so many occasions in this film were a female character gets molested or raped, or brings up the fact that they were molested or raped at some point(s) that it goes beyond shocking or disturbing, and just becomes ridiculous. Lisbeth, the eponymous "heroine," is assaulted by a gang, forced to perform oral sex, beaten, and raped. And that's not all at one time, mind you. That's spread throughout the film. The bad guy is also planning on raping her before he murders her, and her father also raped her when she was a child (although that's more implied). Lovely, movie. Perhaps you can mutilate her some while you're at it. Maybe whip her a bit? I don't feel DEFILED enough yet. I mean, as long as we're being disgusting over here, why not? Oh wait, I forgot, you whip her at one point, too. Well done.

It seems to me that the film is at its most "alive" when Lisbeth is getting victimized. The rest of the story is a really REALLY boring who-done-it. But when Lisbeth is getting assaulted, it's almost as if I can see the director hunched over behind the camera, licking his lips as he grins while thinking to himself, "Yes, YES! We will make this so brutal and horrible to watch that Lisbeth will be able to do ANYTHING we want to people, and they'll still think of her as a strong female character! Now, let's find the biggest thing she can field-goal-kick up that guy's asshole!"

Pictured above: Subtlety

See, I get it. I really do. A guy does something horrible to you, you want revenge. That's fine. I understand. And the revenge she takes on the guy who raped her (in the movie, god knows how many times Stieg Larson wrote that she has been raped in the books) is savage and ironic, and I'm sure it was cathartic for anybody in the theater who had ever been assaulted. But you know what else is a good revenge? CALLING THE GOD DAMN POLICE AND HAVING HIM ARRESTED.

She had him on video tape. I'm going to repeat that. She taped him raping her. There's no mystery. He would go to jail. For a long time. He'd probably get get the Swedish Meatballs raped out of him in the showers there. I think that's also ironic and cathartic.

You see, for me, the idea of a strong, positive character is one that chooses to not be a total psychopath. And for those who would argue that Lisbeth is not a total psychopath, she set her dad on fire. Seriously. Of course, this is after he raped her (I think. I know for a fact he at least abused her mom. Of course.). All I'm saying is that there are places called prison, and it's where normal people like to send bad people. They don't immolate them.
But no, since The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a revenge fantasy, we have Lisbeth, who has the entire universe out to rape her. As a man, it actually made ME feel like something of a victim. I've never raped anyone. I've never known anyone who has raped anyone. But according to this film, there's a roughly 127% chance that I'm a total rapist sleazebag. I'm sure if I had seen this in the theaters, any eyes belonging to women leaving the building would have been drilling into the back of my skull, trying to see the filth oozing through my sick, twisted, penis-owning black-hearted self.
So can Lisbeth just be a psycho and we call it even? Sure. Of course. Plenty of literary characters have been total psychos, but seldom are they portrayed to be good people. My problem is this:
From the beginning, it is clear that we are meant to not only identify with her, but we are meant to like her and root for her.
We are meant to cheer a character who does these monstrous things to people. Someone violated her. She violates him right back. Huh. That kind of makes her just as bad as him, doesn't it? Go team, Lisbeth. Truly your eye-for-an-eye policy will give 20/20 vision to us all.
I can see her trial now: Lisbeth Salander arrested for the deaths of 3 people, found not-guilty by reason of "she-was-raped-that-one-time." YOU ARE FREE TO GO! Hooray!
And the weirdest thing is that she really doesn't feel like she's even from the same story. She's got this "Hackers" meets "Death Wish" meets "The Sex Pistols" thing going on, so she's obviously the most interesting character. Of course, when you look at the rest of the characters they are so bland and vanilla they would make William H. Macy wearing a plaid tie look like Ziggy Freaking Stardust. I couldn't help but think to myself at several times throughout the movie, as she is sitting there looking gloomy while furiously typing on her laptop doing HACKER THINGS (TM), "I'm sorry, why are you here again?"
Oh right. The rape. We can't NOT have the rape.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

I'm going to ruin Tom Cruise for you forever. And when I say "ruin" I'm not referring to what you would probably think of. Let's be honest, he needs little help in that department. But there are two very different sides to Tom Cruise. There is Tom Cruise The Person and Tom Cruise The Actor. Tom Cruise The Person has become a walking punchline with a weird nose and he probably gets his spiritual guidance from Captain Crunch, but the world loves Tom Cruise The Actor, which is obvious considering how utterly crazy Tom Cruise The Person can be and still maintain his alter-ego's massive fan-base. The dude still has crazy box-office draw, but he has always been a big star who is easy to watch for most people. Personally, I like Tom Cruise The Actor, but I'm going to ruin him for you all right now. You ready?

His teeth are off center. Rather severely.


What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Just try and pay attention to his acting now. It's not possible. There will only be funky teeth. You're welcome.

I was a really big fan of the first "Mission: Impossible" from way back in 1996. That movie was the bomb and it still holds up today as one of the best action movies of the 90's, and possibly the most entertaining spy movie ever made outside of a Sean Connery Bond outing. Also, it had Jean Reno, which means that it's at least partly awesome by default.

The second movie was an abomination that still hurts me when I think back on it. Although if I'm being completely honest, there's only two things I remember about that piece of trash: Slow-motion doves and Ethan Hunt suddenly and inexplicably knowing kung-fu. Both of these
stupid elements can be attributed to director John Woo, who is one of the worst things to happen to action films since Michael Bay. I think "overindulgent" is about .2% of the strength of the word needed to describe both of their styles, but where they differ is that John Woo uses doves flying in slow-motion and Mexican standoffs, whereas Michael Bay uses helicopters flying in slow-motion and wants to have sex with the U.S. Military. Subtle differences, I know. You kind of have to pay attention. Oh, and Michael Bay also has racism. Can't forget that.

ANYWAYS. "Mission: Impossible 3" was actually pretty good. It's another one that I don't have too clear a memory of, which is weird because it's the one I've seen most recently of the original trilogy. The only thing I really clearly remember is that Philip Seymor Hoffman would have been a much more threatening bad guy if he didn't look like a dude who should be running a Magic: The Gathering tournament. You can't make something that pasty and doughy scary. It's just not feasible, and having him fight Ethan Hunt at the end in hand to hand combat and lasting more than 25 milliseconds was a joke. Other than that it was a solid flick.

So now we come to "Mission: Impossible - We're Not Numbering Them Anymore For Some Stupid Reason." (Is that a rule now? Are movies not allowed to be numbered past 3?) I was looking forward to this one. It looked like a pretty fun romp despite the use of Eminem* in the trailer with that song of his that's been in every trailer for everything now. It also seemed that Simon Pegg was still in it, which I was all about. So yeah, why not?

*Oh geez, spellcheck didn't list "Eminem" as a misspelling. It's in the freaking dictionary now. Seriously?


Above: Tom Cruise in the facility where they keep all his crazy.

Well, turns out that "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" was indeed a fun time. It was a blast, an action packed thrill ride, a non-stop rollercoaster and all those other stupid buzzwords that are slapped on the cover-art of the DVDs. Gah. I feel dirty writing those phrases, but the fact remains that it was a good time which was very much what you would expect from a (not disappointing) big summer blockbuster, except that it came out in winter. Out of all the other films, this one came closest to capturing the awesomeness of the original. It's not as good as that one was, mind you, but it came pretty close.

I think something that "Ghost Protocol" has that the other sequels were lacking in somewhat was gadgets. Part of the fun of "Mission: Impossible" and super-spy movies in general are all the cool toys they get and how they use them. It's kind of like Batman and his utility belt. You have no idea what he has in there, or indeed how he ever packed for all these contingencies, but whenever he whips out a new gadget you're just forced to sit back and say "Of course he had that. He's Batman." It's the same with "Mission: Impossible," but the other sequels didn't give us too many new things. "Ghost Protocol" gives us nifty contact lenses that function like a personal HUD (complete with camera!) magnetic gloves without the magnets, numerous insta-forging devices, a levitation suit, and an absolutely ridiculous "make you invisible" projector screen which has to be seen to be truly understood. It's crazy, but the series definitely needed some super-gizmos again. It just made it far more fun.


"No, Pandora! I DON'T want you to play "Sandstorm!" I don't care how funny it would be!"

Another plus the film had going for it was Simon Pegg. I'm a big fan of his, in fact I consider him to be one of the 3 funniest people on the planet, and I was hoping they would have him in a more prominent role this time out, since he was pretty underused in his introduction in "Mission: Impossible 3." Fortunately I was right, and Simon does have a pretty prominent role in this film, and does more than just provide computer support and provide quips over a headset. And, to the filmmakers credit, they never have him get goofy. You see, "Pirates of The Caribbean?" You can have comic relief with some dignity! Imagine that!

(On a side note, however, I am still baffled how they could get Sawyer from "Lost" in this movie and not get one single funny, smart-ass remark out of him. That just blows my mind.)

The plot is honestly nothing too incredibly special, but then again, it seldom is in movies like this. Bad guys have hurty thing, good guys need to get hurty thing, good guys go all over the world and do outlandish things with spy tech to retrieve hurty thing from bad guys. It's not brain surgery over here. Like I mentioned earlier, that's not why you go to these movies - you go to see them use the cool gadgets.

However, "Ghost Protocol" did something interesting because (slight spoiler alert) Ethan Hunt and team fail every single mission in this movie, apart from the opening mission and the last, final battle. Every other mission in the movie goes bad by the end, and it's really incredible that they succeeded all things considered, because they were not sporting a good batting average.


"Hey Ethan! As long as I've got your attention here, you think I could get a raise, boss?"

There are set pieces in this film which rank among the very best that (the admittedly somewhat paltry) 2011 had to offer. From an exciting and often times funny opening prison escape set to Dean Martin to the much-touted Dubai skyscraper climb which was almost unbearably intense, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" may have just saved a series which was looking to be pretty much washed up.

THE BOTTOM LINE - A really fun time, and the best of the series since the first one. Will most likely make my Top 10 of 2011...somewhere in the back half.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Devil Inside



It's "Paranormal Activity" meets the "The Rite."

There. Can I go home now?

OK, so there is more to "The Devil Inside" than that (not much more, granted) but when you cut to the chase of it, that's the general idea. The film is in the same vein as the now wildly popular genre, being that of the "OH-EM-GEE-THIS-IS-TOTALLY-A-DOCUMENTARY" style. I think that this documentary style can work very well when utilized properly. I thought "The Blair Witch Project" was brilliant, and "District 9" and "Cloverfield" were quite good, as was "The Last Exorcism." Of course I hate the "Paranormal Activity" series, so I guess my tastes for this genre aren't the most consistent. I guess it all boils down to subject matter and execution, and the other films did well on both counts. "Paranormal Activity" is an interesting subject which was horribly executed.

Which brings us to "The Devil Inside." There really isn't too much to explain with this one, because movies about possession are so tired and derivative that you could pretty much sing along in the theater. Yes, you know the priest isn't going to "play by the rules" of the stuffy hypocritical church. You know that doctors are going to mark the possessed person down as crazy even if she starts growing devil horns and breathing fire. You know the demon is going to turn one of the good guys. You know that demon is going to somehow escape being exorcised with a SHOCKING TWIST ENDING. It's like a montage of every other possession movie you've ever seen, only done with a lower budget and worse camerawork.

Oh yes, the camerawork. It's handheld, which should be obvious because of the style, but I have a particular bone to grind with "The Devil Inside" because the character making the "documentary" is a terrible filmmaker. Let's put aside the fact that he is a one man production, which even for a low-budget documentary is ridiculous. My big complaint comes from the fact that it's done in that really obnoxious faux-realistic way where the camera will go out of focus all the frigging time, the shot composition and framing is crap, including way too close close-ups, and the camera is bouncing around like the dude mainlines espresso. The worst thing about that though is the camera's habit of really quickly zooming in on something, just a little bit, going out of focus, and then refocusing before zooming really quickly back out. They do this all the time. It's nauseating and so ridiculously amateur that no filmmaker of any reasonable quality would do it.

The bottom line is that this guy eats it as a cameraman. I just wanted to grab that little donut puncher by the nostrils and tell him to HIRE SOMEONE ELSE TO WORK THE CAMERA BEFORE OUR EYES EXPLODE.

The most elaborate gang sign ever invented.


At this point however, it must be asked if the film accomplishes what it set out to do. I have to admit there were times when it did get uncomfortable to watch, and not because of the camerawork. There are scenes in "The Devil Inside" which are admittedly pretty disturbing. In particular was a scene with an incredible contortionist who must not have a spine or something for all the grotesque positions she got in. Props to her. More than a couple times I found myself squirming in my seat a little bit, which is a good thing for a horror movie. But the other thing that horror movies should do is scare you, right? Was "The Devil Inside" scary? No, it wasn't. Not at all. I think a lot of this was just because it has been played out so much. It's hard to be scary when you know exactly what's going to happen.

Something I did have mixed feelings on however, was the thought that a films limitations in terms of style can have a positive impact on the intensity of the film. For instance, a really big part of "The Devil Inside" is eyes, specifically the dilation of the pupils. They use that a lot, including really uncomfortable extreme closeups of eyes with what they call "Pupil Cam." I wish I were making that up. The theory they have is that when a demon shows itself the person's pupils will dilate to an extreme degree.

Honestly, the "Pupil Cam 3000" never really shows the dilation happening, from what I could tell. For some bizarre reason they cut away from that whenever someone freaks out, which would have been an ideal time to show us what they were talking about. Instead, when someone in the movie becomes possessed, we see it from a further distance away with the handheld camera, and at that range and with that quality of picture, it's really hard to tell. It's more of a hint, really. I did think to myself at a couple points that their eyes looked a bit more black than normal, but that could have just been my imagination. Or it could have been them acting really really creepy that gave them away.

The point of this is that there are several moments in the movie where pupil dilation is a big deal. It's basically the crux of the whole climax. It's supposed to function as a dramatic beat and a terrifying moment where you realize that another one of the characters is possessed, and bad things are about to happen. But how can that function as a horrifying moment when you can't even see it? Or is that the point? Is it there to begin with, or are you just projecting it? Are they going for a "you don't see the shark" mentality? Is the fact that you can't really see supposed to back up the validity of the thought that these are real events?

Or did they just overestimate how well the effect showed up on the screen? You make the call.

Oh, and the ending sucks, too. Since when did "no resolution" become "everything is resolved?"

"You think you have won! What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all. You can never defeat me! What? I totally won? Oh. Never mind then."

BOTTOM LINE - If you hate this kind of movie, it's no different from the rest of them. You'll hate it. If you like this kind of movie, just watch "The Last Exorcism." It's far superior to this crap.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Killer Elite


I have a theory about Robert De Niro. I believe that his mole is actually a sentient life form, born of some malicious other-worldly dark deity. It spreads its minions among us in order for it to sow despair and sorrow, and De Niro has become an unwilling victim of its whims. Every night, the mole whispers horrible secrets, Lovecraftian in nature, of the coldness and insanity-provoking terrors of the universe, and urges him to go out and spread these horrible truths, thereby doing its bidding. This endless torment has caused him to become corrupted and worn, hanging on the brink of insanity every minute of every day -- a dessicated husk held together only by the machinations of his new Dark God.

And that's why Robert De Niro scowls all the time.

That's also why people with big moles on their faces creep me out. I'm always waiting for them to scream "Cthulhu f'tagen!!!" and stab me to death with ceremonial daggers. And before you call me on it, no, Val Kilmer doesn't count. In fact, the reason why I'm such a big Val Kilmer fan is because he has been the only person able to combat the Dark God's power! His mole may make the attempt to corrupt him, but Val's shear bad-assery stops it cold every time. It's more like a trophy Val Kilmer allows to stay on his face, so that he can mock the Dark God's impotence. And the Dark God knows better than to push the issue further, because like any self respecting life form, he's seen "Top Gun," and after that, he knows that to combat the awesomeness that is The Val is useless. He's our only hope, people!
We need Val Kilmer back!!!


Our first and last line of defense...

Going into "Killer Elite," I was...hesitant. It was like a mix and match of things I like and things I don't like. Jason Statham is pretty sweet, but although he's a national treasure I just can't get excited about seeing Robert De Niro again. Let's be honest with ourselves here. The man has been doing an impression of himself for some 30 years now. Just squint your eyes, scowl, shrug a lot, and repeat yourself when you are being intense. That's the De Niro Method at work. The worst part is that it's considered light treason if you don't worship the ground the guy walks on. Is it just me? I can't be the only one who is annoyed by Robert De Niro, can I? Don't get me wrong, if I met the dude I'd tell him "You was the bomb in "The Godfather Part II"...in 1974" but I probably couldn't bring myself to say anything else.

I assumed that De Niro probably wasn't going to have a huge role in it, since it appears to be an action flick and De Niro couldn't out-action a rack of lamb nowadays. So Statham is was then. I then noticed that Clive Owen is in it, and my expectations sank that much lower. Ugh. Clive Owen? I do not care for him much at all. It's probably more his track record being in movies I didn't like than him as an actor but maybe this will be-


Ha. Ah ha! HA HA!! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

Awww. Isn't that just the cutest little mustache? Has Selleck Claus been leaving little gifts on all the good boys and girls upper lips? That's just precious and deserves a mocking ^_^. In truth, it's closer to an unrefined version of a post-2000 Burt Reynolds than the powerful Tom Selleck 'stache, but either way it's ridiculous. How can you take that seriously? And dig on this: He's the bad guy. Isn't that hilarious? During the fight scenes I kept imagining Ron Jeremy instead and it lost all sense of tension. Would have made "Killer Elite" a better movie, though.

Since I've beat around the bush long enough with this, I'll just come out and say it: I didn't care for "Killer Elite." And it wasn't so much that the movie was bad, necessarily, it was just impossible for me to care about, silly mustaches aside. I say it wasn't necessarily bad because this is more of a problem I have with the genre in general than any kind of lacking "Killer Elite" had in the way of film-making. I don't like spy thrillers. I hate to say it but I've been forced to come to that conclusion after many attempts to try and prove it to myself otherwise. I especially have an aversion to modern "serious" spy thrillers.

The problem is that they are so frigging complex. Too complex. I'm not a stupid person but I have a real problem following names, especially if there are a bunch thrown out all at once, which they always are, and that's a pretty big issue if you're trying to follow one of these movies. Maybe if these movies were allowed to take their time it wouldn't be so bad, but they always rocket forward like everyone in the audience has a photographic memory for names and faces. But I don't, and it's always thumbscrews for me to figure out who is shooting who and for what purpose. The same thing happens to me with mobster movies, and that's why I don't like them much, either. My head begins to spin, and I realize I have no idea who anybody is, or why they're doing what they're doing. And you know what happens when I reach that point? I stop caring.

I reached that point in "Killer Elite" about 30 minutes in. It's a 2 hour long film. For the last 3/4's of the movie, I had no idea what was happening, and not in a good Christopher Nolan "Memento" kind of way. It was a "I'm bored out of my mind" kind of way. It has to do with an Arabic Sheik forcing an assassin (Statham) out of retirement by kidnapping his friend, another assassin...who got caught and is helpless for some reason. He's a frigging assassin...oh wait it's De Niro. No action for him, got it. He's contracted to kill a bunch of ex-SAS officers who killed the Sheik's sons in a war, and Owen is...some kind of secret agent person or maybe SAS who is trying to stop the killings, I guess. Maybe?

See that's what I'm talking about. I never even had a clear understanding of who one of the main characters is. Is he a cop or a spy or what? Why does he care? The assassinations are made to look like accidents, why is he running around with a gun and sending scouts out to the desert to tail people who they don't even know? I'm sure the movie explains it but I feel like I need Cliffs Notes just to watch this thing. And with these kinds of movies, I can't help but think, "What's the point? The only thing I know for sure is that at some point one of the characters you least suspect is probably going to double-cross the main character, and it's going to end with him finishing the last job and retiring." Because that's how they almost all end. For as many twists and turns as they try to have, they sure are formulaic.

"If we introduce enough character names, it will make our movie seem really, really smart."

Every once in a great while there is an admittedly well filmed scene where Statham punches or shoots something, and that's cool, but I was so uninterested in the plot of "Killer Elite" that it ruined any enjoyment I may have been able to squeeze out of the film. Who are these people and what are they doing? The bigger question is: "Who cares?"

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go and write the screenplay for my new movie where Val Kilmer battles Shoggoths...

The Bottom Line: I am no great judge of spy thrillers, since I generally don't like them anyway, but this was a boring, overly confusing mess with unfortunate facial hair. Unless you're a die-hard fan of the genre, skip it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Moneyball


"This is where you talk about Moneyball. You liked it."

Those two sentences have been sitting in my "drafts" folder in this blog for roughly the past 15 hours. Usually I write the entry immediately after seeing the movie, so that it's fresh in my mind. But last night, after the credits rolled, and I watched some behind-the-scenes extras on the Blu-Ray...that's all I could type, and after a while I realized I wasn't going to be able to write anything more that night. So I went to bed. It was late anyways, and my sleep schedule is hilariously whacked out. I didn't need to be up until 4:30 AM again.

I found it really hard to write anything because I found it really hard to be funny about "Moneyball." It's a lot easier to make fun of a bad movie than a good one, most of the time, and "Moneyball" definitely qualifies. It's rock-solid. And I liked it, so I guess it's time for my "serious face" to come out.

Knowing nothing about the events that "Moneyball" covers, the only background I can give is what the movie told me, so for anyone who is a die-hard baseball fan, forgive any ignorance in the following paragraphs. "Moneyball" is the true story of Billy Beane, who was the GM of the Oakland A's in the early 2000's. Along with a Yale-educated economics major, Peter Brand (which wasn't the real guys name) they broke down the scouting of new players into a numbers game, assigning a value to every player based on how beneficial they are to scoring runs. Personality doesn't count, history doesn't count, age doesn't count, looks don't count, nothing but the numbers count.

It sounds like a "duh" idea but this was revolutionary, and flew in the face of over 100 years of baseball tradition, and it really was an ostentatious notion to a lot of people. For years baseball scouts had looked at potential players and rated them on things like their personality, looks, and what was perceived as their potential, what they
could be instead of what they were, and it was more of a "gut feeling" than a hard science. This meant a lot of potential fell through the cracks because someone "pitched funny" or something, even though they were performing really well. But here comes Billy Beane saying "Everyone is baseball has been dead wrong about scouting since the beginning."

So the Oakland A's, who had a miniscule budget, had to assemble a rag-tag team of outcasts and throw-offs that nobody else wanted, but the formula said they were winners. And to everyone's shock, the formula worked. The A's set an MLB record by winning 20 games in a row, something never done before, and ended up winning just as many games as the Yankees...with a third of their budget. And baseball was never the same, because now, everybody uses this system.

What was interesting to me with "Moneyball" is that I'm not quite sure how we as the audience are supposed to feel about Billy Beane. Obviously, we are meant to root for him and the A's, but at the same time the man is changing everything. Him and Brand seem to be taking the soul out of a the process of baseball, and implementing a very cold, mathematical formula that treats people like numbers. But by the end, I don't think it really comes down on one side or the other. I think the only real opinion the movie puts out regarding the state of baseball is "screw the Yankees." And I can get behind that.

I know that comparisons to other sports movies are inevitable, and yeah, maybe there is something to comparing "Moneyball" to "Rocky" or "Rudy," considering that it's about a guy overcoming insurmountable odds in sports to prove his life is worth something. Huh. That's kind of sad when you look at it that way. Anyways. It even has a "Mighty Ducks" vibe, not in terms of film-making but in terms of "fist-pumping in the air after the wimpy kid finally knocks one out of the park." Dare I say, it may even have some "Cool Runnings" in it, what with the idea "it's not about winning, but what you prove to yourself" ideology at the end.

From a technical standpoint, it's a beautiful film. The baseball scenes are wonderfully shot and edited together with what appears to be actual footage from the games, although those could be recreations. The sound design is also very nice. When they want you to feel the hit of a bat, man do you feel it. The *crack* that comes off that thing is crazy well done, and works to give intense moments in the game that extra "oomph" that almost gets you half-way standing up, craning your neck to see if that sucker is long gone. It's like baseball without all the boring parts!

It's pretty clear from the beginning that this movie was groomed for an Oscar or five. First of all, it has Philip Seymor Hoffman in it, which is just coming right out and saying INSERT OSCAR HERE. I don't know what it is, but man, the Academy loves that pasty tub of mumbling dough. Second, It was directed by Bennett Miller, who did the not-too-bad-but-kind-of-dull Oscar winner "Capote," and finally, it was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, which is basically guaranteeing you at least get a Best Picture nomination, especially after the inexcusable ass-kissing "The Social Network" received at last years awards.

Does "Moneyball" deserve it? Well, I'd say it's a hell of a lot better than "The Social Network" for starters. That's not even a contest. So I guess I'll say that if "The Social Network" won three Oscars, "Moneyball" is worth at least that. But then again, who says these things are fair? To that end, who says they even matter? (They don't.) I'm just surprised that I like a movie so much that was clearly Oscar bait. That's usually a sign that I'll hate it.

But one thing we can all agree on, whether you like the movie or not, whether you think it deserves some Oscars, whether you like baseball or not, whether you're a human being or not...

Screw the Yankees.

BOTTOM LINE - It may be Oscar bait, but it's damn fine Oscar bait. To my pleasant surprise: Highly Recommended.