Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tower Heist (2011)

This one will be brief.

I'm racing the deadline of posting all the movies I saw in February actually IN February. Well, that and "Tower Heist" wasn't so much bad or even unmemorable as it was OK, which is always pretty hard to talk about, because what are you supposed to say about something that's just...OK?

I remember hearing about how this was supposed to be Eddie Murphy's return to form after not being relevant for what seems like 15 years. Now see, I remember when Eddie Murphy was popular. But that was so long ago that it's hard to remember a time when a trailer for one of his movies was met with anything other than an eye-roll and someone in the back of the theater loudly groaning "Really, dude? Just retire already." Actually, come to think of it, most of the time that guy in the back was me.

After seeing "Tower Heist" I think that the best I can say about Eddie Murphy is that at the very least, it's a step in the right direction. It's not a glorious comeback akin to a Phoenix rising from the ashes like we would have liked to have seen, but it's not brutally painful like his movies normally are. It's also nice to see him NOT in drag.

Honestly, the biggest thing is that he can swear in this. I know it sounds juvenile to say that because he can swear, it means that it's better, but whenever I see Eddie Murphy in one of those stupid kid movies I can't help but feel like I'm watching a lion in a cage, pacing back and forth, wishing that he didn't have to be there. It would be like Bill Hicks being on "Blue's Clues." It would only end in tears and lawsuits.

It's just nice to see Eddie Murphy with some semblance of dignity, reminding us that he actually is a pretty funny guy.

Let's hear it for crawling your way back up the ladder to "average."
The rest of the cast manages to be entertaining as well, although with the possible exception of Matthew Broderick, none of them are quite as funny as Eddie Murphy. Broderick manages to come off as sad and pathetic as a live-action Gill from "The Simpsons," and as bad as I felt for laughing at him he was pretty hilarious. As far as the rest of the cast goes, it was all par for the course. Ben Stiller was Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck talked like he was constantly stoned. All is as it should be.
If there was a glaring issue I took with the movie, it would have been the ending. Now there are endings that are ambiguous and endings that just end. I don't mind the former. This one was of the later. Had I seen this in theaters I would have had a hard time guessing whether the movie was done or if the last reel hadn't been sent and the projectionist just said "screw it" and ran it anyways. There was a definite sense that the movie should have gone on other 5 minutes so that all the loose ends were tied up.

Oh, and by the way. Where the crap can you go to hock car parts made entirely out of gold? Just a question.

While it may seem like I don't have much to say about "Tower Heist," well you would be correct. It was good, but it was that weird kind of good where you don't have much to say about it afterwards. Almost as if someone typed in "HEIST/COMEDY/ENSEMBLE-CAST.EXE." into a MovieMakerMatic 4000 and "Tower Heist" was the result.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Tower Heist" was decently entertaining. It's neither overly good nor bad. If you want a few laughs, you could do far worse than this. See it if you get a chance, but don't go out of your way to.

Act of Valor (2012)

So if the "Call of Duty" game series is essentially "Michael Bay: The Game," and "Act of Valor" is essentially "Call of Duty: The Movie," would it be accurate to call "Act of Valor" the equivalent of "Michael Bay: The Movie?" Because that's so cosmic that I think my brain just folded in on itself. I think I can see time…

The big deal about "Act of Valor," in case you were unaware, is that it stars not actors, but real-life, active duty Navy SEALs, and the story is reportedly based on "real acts of valor" as the movie says in the opening disclaimer. What that means is that while the story is obviously a work of fiction in the most Tom Clancy-esqe fashion, the phrase "acts of valor" gives them a lot of wiggle room. Kind of like, "Yes, it's true that a SEAL dove on a grenade to save his squad once, but we'll put it into an entirely different context involving a shootout with the Mexican Cartel. Therefore the act is still true, but it fits into our movie now."

I don't know how I feel about that. I think on some level, I would just prefer a true story. Aren't the SEALs interesting enough to begin with? Why do real things have to be implanted into an over-the-top, blow-up-the-world fantasy that reads like Jack Bauer's fanfic? Maybe it's just me, but I almost feel like that diminishes it in some weird way.

"Act of Valor" was pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be: really good action with absolutely horrible acting. And I was right. When "Act of Valor" is in full swing in its comfort zone, that being the combat, it is an absolutely thrilling experience that is not dissimilar to being wrapped in an American flag, set on fire and blasted out of a cannon while cranking Ted Nugent.

It's kind of like that.
But for as often as it's in its comfort zone, there are plenty of moments when we are forced to strap in and endure some of the most teeth-grindingly bad acting you can imagine. I thought from the beginning that casting real Navy SEALs was a pretty sharp double-edged sword, because as good as the action might be, unless they were playing a squad who had had their vocal chords removed in order to ensure quiet approaches, it could get ugly quick. 

I mean, there's a reason we have actors in movies. They can act. Not every SEAL can be Jessie Ventura, as "Act of Valor" clearly proved. And Jessie wasn't necessarily that good, he was just in stuff that played to his strengths, those being holding big guns and grunting badass one liners about not having time to bleed. You don't need Willem Dafoe for that, although now I really wish he had been in "Predator," too.

What baffles me is how much of this horrible acting we are subjected to. They really wanted to push hard the notion that these guys can hold their own in the acting department and carry the drama of the story in their dialogue, but they just can't. Give them a gun and something to shoot at and they're golden, but that's only about half the movie. That's a lot of action, mind you, but it feels like less because of how long the talky scenes feel like they go on for, that feeling being "eternity."

The most complicated dialogue coming from these guys mouths should be variations of "America, F*#k Yeah!" and "GROG SMASH!" But they're given heart-wrenching monologues about making it home to your wife and babies and stuff, and you just feel bad watching these poor guys embarrasses themselves trying to do it. I almost wanted to yell, "They don't deserve this! That's too cruel! Let them shoot something, for Odin's sake!" It almost makes the action not worth it.


Hey, why don't you guys recon yourselves some actors?
There were a number of other little things that really bugged me. First and foremost were some very strange design choices. The movie is very fond of this weird heads up display that appears whenever a new SEAL is introduced, which pops up with his name, rank, photo, accommodations and other things, which are abbreviated in military jargon that I didn't understand. It's almost like you are on your computer and you get a little popup menu when you click on the guy. This fourth wall shattering gimmick is just so weird that I had to ask myself "why?" each time it came up. And it's not like it tells you anything. They all look the same under their helmets and camo anyways. Knowing their names didn't really help.

Another thing I'm on the fence about is the use of first person perspective, and boy do they use it a lot. It took me a second to process, but I realized after a while that it's like "Call of Duty." In fact, it's exactly like "Call of Duty." Huh. Imagine that. The movie that is basically "Call of Duty: The Movie" has a lot of FPS sequences. I would say that it's like the FPS sequence of "Doom," but honestly that scene in "Doom" made a lot more sense in context. I mean, it works in "Act of Valor," but it just comes off as being there just…because they could.

Oh! And remember "travel by map" from "The Muppets?" Yeah, they totally do that. A lot.

The opening scene. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything and is completely pointless, but enjoy the keys jangling in your face,

I've spent a lot of time nitpicking "Act of Valor" because honestly, I didn't like it when there wasn't any action on screen. In fact, I found a good portion of the drama, about half the film, to be unwatchable. However, like I said before, the action that is in it, although there should have been more, was very well done. My favorite segment was a rescue operation in the jungle which I would put up there with some of the most exciting and intense military action scenes I've seen in years. Everything was executed perfectly, with just the right amount of tension beforehand to amplify the chaos of the battle. Talk about slamming popcorn in your mouth.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Act of Valor" is half Rambo, half recruitment poster. Yeah, it's chest-thumping propaganda, but as far as propaganda goes, it's well done. However, the acting is going to hurt. Bad. Segal would look Oscar-worthy next to these guys. Ouch. Recommended solely for the action…but rent it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)

Oh I'm for real. This is not a test, yes that just happened, and no, I have not taken up Photoshop in order to make my worst fever-dreams a reality. I'm as serious as an aneurism. Do not adjust your television sets or check to see if someone slipped LSD in your coffee. I give you "2-Headed Shark Attack." Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Asylum.

The Asylum is a movie production company that has been around for a while now. They make what they call "mockbusters," which are low-budget (see also: no budget) rip offs of other, more successful and popular films. Think I may be nitpicking when I say they are rip-offs? Some Asylum movies of note are "Snakes On A Train," "The Day The Earth Stopped," and "Transmorphers." The point of that, of course, is so that grandma can buy the wrong movie in the clearance bin for Junior's birthday.

Ever since finding out about them, I have been a fan. I mean, how could you not love movies with names like that? The sheer audacity and testicular fortitude it takes to make movies that blatant is astounding. Now, don't get me wrong. Overall, these movies are god-awful. I mean bad. Most of the time, they aren't even the kind of bad that is enjoyable. They're just so bad they're boring.

Movies like "The Terminators" and "Megaquake" are painful to sit through due to their incredible lack of anything interesting happening, but every once in a while, The Asylum knocks one out of the park. "Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus" in particular is fantastic in its ridiculous nature, and "100 Million B.C." as well as "The Land That Time Forgot," are their best action films. And "100 Million B.C." has Michael Gross! That's awesome!

Come on! Burt from the "Tremors" series! Nothing? Ah, screw all you philistines.
The Asylum also deserves credit for even one-upping their source material on one occasion. Their version of "Paranormal Activity," called "Paranormal Entity," was FAR superior to the movie it is ripping off, not a difficult task mind you, but "Paranormal Entity" is actually not a bad piece of work by itself, even if it wasn't a rip-off, and is unquestionably their best movie.

But back to "2-Headed Shark Attack." The Asylum is kind of shackled to monster features like this, and they've made A LOT of them, most involving really big sea creatures. Most are pretty pathetic, and while "2-Headed Shark Attack" pretty much falls in the middle of the pack in terms of quality (it is generally just "meh" at best), it's their most efficient entry in terms of doing what it set out to do. And what does it do?

Babes. Babes in bikinis. Lots of them. Babes in bikinis is how this movie rolls, and it does it LIKE A BOSS.

I mean, that's all you really need to know, because that's the only reason this movie exists. The rather unnecessarily large cast is roughly 70% female, not a single one of them is harsh on the eyes, and all but two of them spend the entire film in bikinis or occasionally less. And every 10 minutes or so, some of them get eaten by a shark with two heads.

You know what? One, please.

I'm serious. After "Drive," "The Ides of March," and "J. Edgar," I'm ready for some entertainment, damn it. So you know what? I'm kicking back and enjoying the smut. Break out the popcorn and beer. Let's light this candle.

If I had to describe the story, I would say it's um…present. It exists, but it doesn't really like to make itself known. It's a very shy creature. Basically, there are a bunch of college students on a "semester at sea" boat, which is about a third of the size needed to house that amount of people at sea for a semester, but was obviously the biggest boat they could borrow from one of the director's rich friends. Along the way Carmen Electra, boobs, bad acting, and a 2-headed shark happens and an island explodes on itself. And that's about it really.

The attacks, which one would assume would be the highlights, tend to be some of the weakest moments of the film. There's effectively no tension at all, because the movie never stops to NOT do the same thing it's done before. The moment someone gets the water, they immediately go to the bad CG-shark swimming towards them, and after an ETERNITY it finally gets to the person and eats them in a series of bad edits. And since the shark has two heads, almost every attack involves two people falling in the water at the same time to be eaten by one head each, because we didn't get the fact that it's a 2-headed shark based on something like the title.

Hilariously, there's a CG shot of the shark chomping at the water (and nothing else) that is recycled several times throughout the film when the shark is eating someone, even when it was clearly shown in the shots before and after it that there was somebody in its mouth who disappears for that one shot. Then they're back in the next one. It's pretty funny and makes for a hell of a drinking game that can be played with any Asylum movie: "Spot the recycled shot." You'll be bombed before 30 minutes, which isn't a bad way to watch these movies.

Seems legit.
I mentioned the acting before and yeah, it's pretty rough. It's obvious that these kids were not chosen for their acting prowess. Let me put it this way: Brooke Hogan (yes, the Hulkster's daughter) is one of the better actresses in the film. Think about that. Carmen Electra actually isn't given that much to do, which I would normally say would be to the film's advantage, but it's not like she'd bring the movie down. Hell, I'm pretty sure she has the most acting experience of anyone in this thing.

It's just a weird thing when Debbie Gibson and Tiffany in "Mega-Piranha" were more convincing.

Debbie: "It's OK, Tiffany. I think we're alone now." Tiffany: ::SLAP::
There was one exception, however. Mercedes Young, who plays the token black girl is given the best lines in the movie, and gives amazing readings of them. Her finger snapping, head shifting back-and-forth delivery of such gems as "Oh, he gon' die!" and "You's a bitch" are hysterical, and are hands down the most entertaining part of the film besides the bikinis.

For anyone who watches this movie and complains, take a look at the DVD cover again. What the hell else do you want? If you picked up this movie, there's no way you didn't know what you're getting yourself into. And you have to admit, at no point does "2-Headed Shark Attack" lie to you. Trust me, movies lie to you all the time with this stuff. Low budget as The Asylum is, it's nice to have some honesty for once.

THE BOTTOM LINE: While not the best movie The Asylum has made, "2-Headed Shark Attack" is far from the worst. If you've seen and even halfway enjoyed any of their other films, check this one out. That being said, it's still low-budget schlock that's just a tad south of a Sci-Fi Channel movie, so unless you dig that stuff, I shouldn't even have to tell you to skip it. Me? I enjoyed it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

J. Edgar (2011)

"J. Edgar" is the story about a young man whose mother promises him that he will amount to great things one day. Sure enough, that young man rises to be the caretaker of a hotel, and soon enough becomes the general manager of the off-the-beaten-trail, yet still respectable establishment. Then one day, a young lady on the run comes to the hotel and takes a shower. He then puts on a wig and stabs her multiple times -

Oh wait. Right. Well, trust me, the movie could have easily gone there.

Seriously though. As is obvious from the title, it's about the life of J. Edgar Hoover, who started the FBI and is pretty much responsible for modern criminology. He's also the reason we use fingerprints as identification, among other things. He was also a paranoid cross-dresser with serious mommy issues, prone to self-promoting exaggeration and was reportedly a closet homosexual. Interesting guy, to say the least. I didn't know too much about him to begin with, which is not an advantageous position to be with this movie because it's pretty unmerciful with backstory.

When the movie started up, I seriously thought it had chapter skipped to the halfway point. You've heard the expression "drop you off in the deep end?" Well, "J. Edgar" fires you out a torpedo tube at the bottom of the Laurentian Abyss. The film has basically made the assumption that we already know these people, and are intimately familiar with their stories. The first time we meet Hoover's secretary, her name is dropped with the same gravity and weight as the bomb over Hiroshima, like it's some earth-shattering revelation that everyone in the audience is supposed to gasp at. THIS is it! THIS is the moment you've been waiting for! Oh yeah. Because everybody knows Ms. Gandy, J. Edgar Hoover's secretary. She's an American icon!

Eventually we do get to know these people, but unless you're really up on your 1920's U.S. government history, "J. Edgar" really doesn't hold your hand. You get the feeling that this movie was made for people who already knew Hoover's story backwards and forwards. In that way, it reminded me a bit of the equally tepid "Public Enemy" with Johnny Depp. I'm not saying I don't care about history, or am unwilling to learn about it, but I was born in 1983. And I'm sorry, neither John Dillinger or J. Edgar Hoover are intensely studied subjects in school to the point where you know his cohorts, friends and enemies by a first name basis.

All I'm saying is, cut us some slack, Clint. Not all of us were around when J. Edgar Hoover was learning his "ABCs."

That was a "Clint Eastwood is old" joke. You may laugh/applaud as needed.

Aside from the mountain of information given to us, not helping matters is the fact that chronology is all over the place in "J. Edgar." The film is framed in the form of Hoover giving interviews to someone writing a book about him. We get a little bit of talking and then it flashes back to what he was talking about. On top of that are constant voice-overs of Hoover talking to...nobody in particular that seem to come and go at random. It's quite similar to "Interview With The Vampire" in that respect. And yes, it IS kind of annoying!

One thing that "Interview With The Vampire" had going for it that "J. Edgar" does not, however, is the fact that Brad Pitt doesn't age. DiCaprio is forced to wear what has to be 50 lbs of makeup for most of the film, and it just looks ridiculous. In fact, when he is portraying old J. Edgar Hoover, he looks just like Philip Seymor Hoffman. I am not joking. It's hilarious. I half expected him to start saying "I'm a fuggin' idiot. I'm a fuggin' IDIOT! Fuggin' IDIOT!" at any moment.

Either Philip Seymor Hoffman or the Gerber Baby after falling into a vat of silly putty...

The most ridiculous makeup job, however, was anytime Armie Hammer appeared as the older Clyde Tolson, J. Edgar Hoover's BFF. This dude comes on screen looking like Lord Voldemort. And no matter how good the makeup department was, they couldn't change the fact that the entire cast looked like people in their 30's dressed up like people in their 70's. It just didn't work.

So what did I learn about J. Edgar Hoover from "J. Edgar?" You really get the feeling, based on DiCaprio's performance, that Hoover must have been an intensely unhappy person, which probably stemmed from his homophobic mother planting the notion in his head that "gay equals evil." Imagine how different the country might have been if one woman's prejudice didn't exist, meaning her son could have accepted the way he was born and been happy and gotten laid.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Speaker of the House...


THE BOTTOM LINE - "J. Edgar" is a boring, not well constructed story about someone who is a much more interesting character than the movie gives him credit for. There is a good movie to be had from the story, but this movie kind of has it's head up its ass, and needed more focus. Skip it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Anonymous (2011)

The name "Shakespeare" can be intimidating. In fact, the very word tends to scare people off. In much this way, Shakespeare is not unlike Nicolas Cage. While difficult to understand at first, they are both much beloved by people versed in their body of work, and once you get past the at times cryptic exterior of the language and style, something wonderful emerges.

In much the same way that Hamlet displayed every man's uncertainty with the world, pondering and debating endlessly with his emotions and inner turmoil, only to act too swiftly and rashly in a moment of passion, thereby sowing the seeds of his own destruction despite maddening contemplation, so to does Nicolas Cage portray the duality of mankind when he punches a lady in the face while wearing a bear costume. It really makes you think.

Am I comparing Nicolas Cage to William Shakespeare? No, I have no idea where I was going with that analogy. I just really want to see Nicolas Cage play Hamlet.

"To be or NOT THE BEES!!!! AAAAAAHHH!!!!"
Hey, why not? Keanu Reeves did it.

(Seriously. Keanu played Hamlet. Look it up.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is - It's OK if you looked at "Anonymous," saw that is was about Shakespeare and said "Ew, no thanks." It's understandable. Shakespeare isn't for everyone, although everyone should at least give him a try, because it's actually really good stuff. And also, you look smart while you're doing it. So there's that, too.

What may surprise and possibly reassure you if you were on the fence about seeing it, however, is that like Shakespeare's plays, "Anonymous" is not as intimidating as you may fear. Since the plays themselves aren't a main feature of the run-time, "Anonymous" is less a study of the plays of Shakespeare and more of a fast-paced thriller set to "Ye Olde Englishe Royale Intrigue" that doesn't require a great deal of knowledge of Shakespeare, or of the time period to comprehend.

For the most part.

It does not start out like that, though. The beginning of the film is pretty scary with the amount of English history thrown at you. There are names galore, lines of succession to the throne, and all kinds of places and events about things that you think you may have remembered hearing about way back in high school but you can't be 100% sure. You'll probably spend the first bit of the film trying to keep names straight and trying to remember what the hell an "Earl" is. But by the time the main hook of the plot is set, and the names start coming easier, "Anonymous" starts getting really fascinating.

The main hook of the film is that William Shakespeare never wrote any of his plays, and were in fact the works of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. It's a conspiracy theory that's been around a while, and is understandably a touchy subject amongst scholars. Is it true? I don't know, but the movie makes a pretty convincing case for it.

Not all men can get away with the frilly collar.
De Vere is played by Rhys Ifans, who does a fantastic job in being both wounded, cocky, and quietly intimidating. He's a fascinating character, and also tragic, because he knows that his works will never be attributed to him, and he is not a character who is content to sit on the sidelines. No, this guy is a mover and a shaker. He's the guy you hated back in school - the 4.3 GPA honors classes, all-star quarterback who leads the football team to a 14-0 season while also perfectly playing the lead in every play the drama club put on, all while having the most smoking hot girlfriend in the school. We all hated him. Except for the massive circle of friends he had. But everyone else hated him!

In general all of the cast was quite good, making this historical mystery really speed along at a nice, brisk pace. Vanessa Redgrave plays an older Elizabeth I with wonderful dignity and is quite regal, and Joely Richardson does a great Vanessa Redgrave impression as a young Elizabeth in one of the films many flashback segments. Rafe Spall also deserves mention as the actor who takes on the identity of William Shakespeare. I wasn't quite as taken with him as I was with the rest of the cast, since out of all the characters, he is the biggest ham.

And once again, thank you to Russell Brand for forever ruining any man with a higher-pitched voice and London accent. First you overshadow Nigel Tufnel, and now we won't be able to look at Shakespeare without imagining you in your tight leather pants. Jerk.

"Wot's dis, ey 'guv? Yew fink Oy'm copin' Oo's stoyle? Oy'm foyve 'underd years oller 'en 'em, 'ey wot!"
I think there were only two big issues I had with "Anonymous." The first was that it really become a taxing movie to watch at times, due to the constant flashbacks that seem to occur every five minutes with no warning. It doesn't help that a younger version of certain character in flashback looks a lot like another young character in the present time, which leaves it momentarily confusing whether or not we are in a flashback or not, until someone says their name. For that reason, chronology kind of goes out the window a bit.

Another complaint I had was the very beginning and end. It begins with Derek Jacobi getting on stage and announcing the play, "Anonymous" that is about to be performed. I'm not joking - the play is called "Anonymous." It's right up there on a marquee. Try to wrap your head around that. You sit down to watch a movie, the movie starts, and the first thing you see is people sitting down to watch the movie you just sat down to watch. Cosmic.

They did the same thing in "Beastmaster 2." You stay classy, movie.
And when it ends, people just file out of the theater as the credits roll over it, because they apparently were watching the play of what we just saw a movie of. My mind has been officially blown. Why that weird shattering of the fourth wall? It served no purpose and was just jarring and distracting.

Those two issues aside, the highlights of the film were, unsurprisingly, the performances of the plays. Since this movie is not for strictly hardcore Shakespeare scholars, the selections had to be gentle and recognizable. So we have the standards: "What light through yonder window breaks," "Now is the hour of our discontent made glorious spring by the son of York," "If we shadows have offended, think on this and all is mended," "To be or not to be," you know the drill. It would have been nice to see something other than those standards that everyone knows by heart at this point, but despite that, they were very well done. Seeing a full production of a Shakespeare play with that cast would have been amazing.

What is most notable about "Anonymous" to me is that fact that it single-handedly validated director Roland Emmerich's career. This is far and away the best film he has ever made, and in what has to be a total coincidence, it's the first movie he's done that didn't involve blowing up the world. I always used to say that as juvenile as Roland's films were, the worst Roland Emmerich movie was way ahead of the best Michael Bay movie, but now that analogy doesn't even work, because I'm calling it right here, right now:

Roland Emmerich, you are no longer to be compared to Michael Bay. That is now beneath you. Congratulations!

THE BOTTOM LINE: I really liked "Anonymous." It was thrilling, mysterious, beautifully shot, and has one hell of an ending that really left me floored. Is the conspiracy theory true? I have no idea, but it's a fun ride. Grab your tin-foil hat and enjoy. Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ides of March (2011)

Oh man. Get ready for some typical Liberal Hollywood Propaganda! George Clooney and the rest of those flag-burning godless hippies are up to their old tricks again! I'm sure the movie will end with them having gay sex on the White House lawn after having nailed the Communist Manifesto to the front door and having used the Constitution as a moist towelette to wipe the blood from the baby sacrifices off their hands!

(The editors wish it to be known that the writers of the previous statement have been sacked)

Hey, when did Glenn Beck get access to my blog? And why is he writing film reviews? Crazy people, I tell you...

So "The Ides of March" was interesting to me because unlike other political dramas, there is only one political party. The movie takes place over the course of a couple days during the Democratic primary, and while the Republicans are mentioned, they aren't a part of the story. What it all boils down to is the two candidates running for the Democratic nomination are working to basically tear each other apart, using Ryan Gosling's character as a chess piece in a game he doesn't fully comprehend.

In a way, this is a more poignant story than if they had done the typical thing of having the two parties spatting back and forth. This is exactly the kind of in-fighting that has made people so weary of politics, especially after four years of the Republican party stonewalling progress in the name of being sore losers under the guise of false patriotism. In this way, it really makes the story that much more tragic, because these are members of the same party - they shouldn't be tearing each others throats out like that. It's really sad to watch.

And as far "liberal Hollywood propaganda" goes, George Clooney's character in "The Ides of March" turns out to be kind of a scumbag. So...not biased I guess? At least they're playing to the "all politicians are sleazeballs regardless of party" crowd. I'm a card-carrying member.

Has anyone else noticed that Ryan Gosling's eyes are really close together? I just thought I'd throw that out there.

 It's like having a staring contest with a perch...

"The Ides of March" was actually a pretty good movie. I'm not always on board with political dramas but every once in a while one comes along that really captures my interest. "Frost/Nixon" was one, as was Oliver Stone's "W." While I wouldn't call "The Ides of March" as good as those two films, it certainly manages to approach them in terms of entertainment value.

What really helps out is the cast, which surprised me because to be honest, after this and "Drive," I am so over Ryan Gosling, and I never really liked him much in the first place. I'm not a huge Clooney fan, either. That being said, they were both pretty good in it, although I still get annoyed by Gosling's mumbling, halfway stoned way of delivering his lines.

It's the supporting cast which really makes this movie work. Philip Seymor Hoffman was quite effective, if not slightly irritating as Gosling's boss, and Evan Rachel Wood portrayed a very human and vulnerable temp who has made some exceedingly bad mistakes to great effect. But for me, the real standout was Paul Giamatti as Hoffman's rival. He just oozes slimy sleazeball and totally deserves his status as the film's antagonist, but he never comes off as a villain.

I thought it was fascinating to have a villain who is really just doing his job - and doing it damn well. Yes, he manipulates Ryan Gosling. Yes, he wants his guy to win no matter the cost. And yes, lots of people get screwed over because of his actions. But in the end, the people who got screwed over, like Ryan Gosling, really brought it on themselves. They can't really blame Paul Giamatti's character for taking advantage of other people's mistakes. That's his job. It's like blaming a shark for eating a seal. It's what they do. And Ryan Gosling was the stupid seal who offered to floss the shark's teeth. What did you think was going to happen?

And by the end of the movie, Ryan Gosling is as big a "villain" as Paul Giamatti is. Or at least, he has reached the same level of sleazeball. It's basically about an idealistic man's evolution into a cynical, back-stabbing douche, which is exactly what all the political players around him are.

And who says Hollywood is biased?

THE BOTTOM LINE - This is a movie which has grown on me since watching it. I think the discussions to be had about the themes are probably more interesting than the movie itself, and it may have its head up its ass just a little, since it IS Clooney directing after all, but "The Ides of March" is by no means boring. Recommended.

Monday, February 13, 2012

In Time (2011)

Oh I was not looking forward to "In Time." I mean, yes Justin Timblerlake is what he is. He's just there, eternally being Justin Timberlake. It's not his fault. And the movie even has Cillian Murphy, who I really like a lot. No, it's wasn't those two I was worried about. What scared me is Amanda Seyfried. I swear to everything and anything holy, she is like the harbinger of doom to any movie she's in. If she's in it, it will suck. It's unholy the amount of pain she causes. She's like a natural disaster that needs to be stopped.

And what do you know? I hated "In Time." It was terrible. But it's the kind of terrible where I'm not sure that everyone would agree with me. You see, my problem is that I think too much about movies. It's called "analyzing" and despite what people have told me for years, no, it's not something to be ashamed of. It just means that I'm not the lowest common denominator that this film and other movies like it are playing to.

You cannot analyze stuff like "In Time." Your brain will melt. The basic idea is that in this world, time is currency. You stop aging at 23, and after that, you have a year. Instead of money in the bank, you have minutes on your clock. If your clock (that you're born with wtf) ever runs down to zero, you instantly drop dead, but as long as you have time, you live forever I guess. So basically rich people live forever and poor people literally live minute to minute.

Here's a little taste of what goes on in my head during a movie like this:

"How did they genetically engineer every single person in this society to have a clock in their arm? What kills you when time runs out? How do you stop aging? Why would they limit it in such an obviously unfair fashion? How did time become the sole unit of currency? Why? Is this world-wide? Who implemented it? Why would anyone agree to it?  How did it ever get past Congress? Is this the United States? An alternate "stupid" dimension? Is time subject to inflation? Can you print more time? It seems like they would have to since it's constantly diminishing. But it seems like all it is is an electrical signal. If that's the case, instead of stealing it, why don't they hack one of those little machines to deal out more time whenever they want? WHAT HELL IS GOING ON IN THIS MOVIE!?"

At first I was all...
Can you see why these movies are painful to me? Sometimes thinking sucks.

As far as plot goes, J.T. lives in the ghetto "time zone" (har har) but due to a rather confusing and not very well connected series of events, he ends up with a hundred years to spend. His mom then promptly drops dead because of dramatic irony, and J.T. is off to the rich people's area, vowing revenge on...nobody in particular.

Umm, hey genius, maybe I'm not as smart as you, but what about taking it to the people who GENETICALLY ENGINEERED YOU TO DIE!? Instead of stealing from rich people, why don't you try to stop this from happening anymore? What about finding a way to stop you from instantly dying when your clock reaches zero?

Anyway, it's at the rich people's zone that J.T. runs into Amanda Seyfried, or as I shall call her, Squeaky McShorty. They decide together that he needs to become Robin Hood of Time, and she needs to rebel against her daddy issues. She's another one of those entitled brats that movies love to have that feel that the fact that they have a free ride to life (in this case, eternal life) means that they are totally shackled, a prisoner in their own body. She needs to fly free like a bird! The terms "gift horse," "mouth," and "shut the hell up" seem appropriate.

What gets me is that evidently, J.T. and Big Eyes McBadhaircut are the only two people in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD who decided to do something about this ridiculous system and stick it to the proverbial "man." Are you kidding me? If there's one thing people love doing, it's complaining. They will riot in the streets opposing a ridiculous non-issue like gay marriage, but apparently in this universe, something that will cause their imminent death is not something they feel they need to get all that worked up over.

I'm not joking, either. There's no rioting in the ghetto. People really don't even get that mad. Banks have basically no security. J.T. and Slack-Jaw No-Act just drive through a window and, meeting literally no opposition, just walk out with a few thousand years worth of time.

Oh, but that's not the first time. They've been doing this for six days at that point. I'll repeat that. Six days. They have officially gone on a crime spree, and bank security has not gone up one. single. bit. Someone get me David Cronenberg because that just blew my mind.

Then I was all...
Although the plot was grinding to my nerves like broken glass on a burn wound, what really floored me was the absolutely gut-punchingly bad dialogue. It was bad enough hearing J.T. attempt to pull of such gems as "No one should be immortal if one person has to die" with the same gravity as William Wallace saying "Every man dies. Not every man really lives." Although that was funny, the real mind benders came from Big-Lashes Von-take-off-your-damn-heels-so-you-can-run-faster. At one point, while balking at the thought of remaining rich, ergo living as long as you want, this brain genius says:

"Do I really want to live the rest of my life trying to not die by accident?"

That is bone-crushingly stupid. YES, YOU DUMB COW!!! Not dying by accident is one of the significantly major goals of life in general! If you're not doing that, what the hell is the alternative? Sticking your fingers in light sockets, licking strange colorful toads or taunting a bear while having fresh salmon in your underpants? Is she saying that she finds the thought of behaving in a manner that natural selection over the course of thousands of years has deemed worthy of allowing a species to continue to live offensive?

Clearly, this film is not for me. I have a natural aversion to movies like this. "Movies like this" in this case meaning "movies that require you to ask NO QUESTIONS." The concept is just so reality-bending stupid when looked at with any kind of reason or logic that it really makes it impossible for me to enjoy, because every 15 seconds, I'm asking another question about this ridiculous, poorly defined world.

I know that it's supposed to be allegorical, and you're not supposed to think about it any deeper than "what if the saying 'time is money' was literal?" will allow you think about it. But you know what? I can answer that, and it will certainly be a shorter, better answer than the hour and 40 minutes that "In Time" took.

If time was indeed money, it would be really, really, really stupid.

But by then my sexy was back, so I was all...

THE BOTTOM LINE - There is a market for this kind of movie. I'm just not it, and I can admit that. However, if you saw and liked "Source Code" or "The Adjustment Bureau," you'll probably like "In Time," because they all require the same amount of blind, turn off your rational brain acceptance. For those who like to think about what they're watching, skip it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dream House (2011)

I'm going to come right out and say it: There are spoilers a-plenty in this review.

Now that that's out of the way, let me assure that it doesn't matter. "Dream House" is so painfully obvious and transparent that spoilers don't really matter. You know what's going on in this movie. So take my advice and read on, because to answer your question: "No, you really don't care if it's ruined for you."

I will come right out and say that I was not expecting much to this movie, and I'll tell you why: Daniel Craig. I am not a fan. It's not so much his acting, although I do find him to be generally stuffy, dull and emotionless, it's more his face. I call him "Duck Face." Just watch him and you'll see it. He's eternally doing the Duck Face! Although I may have found a better comparison more apt to his acting method...

If Bond ever went to Easter Island, he could become INVISIBLE.

I kid, I kid. I will be the first to admit that Daniel Craig actually surprised me in "Dream House." He was good! "Dream House" had him act like a human being so much that it weirded me out. I wasn't used to actually LIKING a Daniel Craig performance but I have to give credit where credit is due. I had never seen him play a role where he was a loving, caring father who actually laughed and smiled before. Normally he's a blank slate that's pretty hard to read. I usually can't tell if he's bored, angry or sad but in this film, he actually has a range of emotions and really does a great job with making you like his character.

The two little girls in were also quite good, as far as child actors go. They weren't annoying, at least. But before I go off praising the cast so much you think that I'm giving "Dream House" a pass, rest assured that it was not very good.

The basic idea is that Daniel Craig is an author who believes his wife and two young daughters are being stalked by someone. Weird stuff keeps happening and everyone in the neighborhood he just moved into is treating him really weird. He then finds out the house he lives in was the scene of a triple homicide where the husband killed his wife and two young daughters 5 years ago. The man has recently been released from the asylum back into society, so Daniel Craig begins investigating into finding this man and stopping him, but nobody will help him or believe him, and in fact, treats him like an annoying freak.

Can you see where this is going? Yeah, he's the patient recently released from the asylum and he's constructed an alternate personality to help him deal with his family's death. Not hard to figure out.

There's not too much to "Dream House." If you've seen the trailer, which I wouldn't recommend, you're basically already 70% of the way through the movie. Any kind of twist that the movie was attempting to pull is so transparent that it really is hard to tell if the movie was even trying to pull it. Are we supposed to know he was in an insane asylum before putting the disc in the player? If you were to have watched the trailer, evidently yes, because they flat out tell you that he had been at about the 45 second mark. You know what, screw that. Read the back of the case. You'll figure it out if you've got 2 brain cells firing before even watching the thing. So where is the twist? And for that matter, where is the suspense?

I had a really hard time determining what exactly the goal of the film was. If it was supposed to be a twist-filled suspense film, it fails catastrophically because of not only the fact that the trailer and description on the back of the case ruin it, but because the story by itself is just so stock that it's impossible to not call it immediately. There is no way a fully functional adult human being, even having not seen the trailer or read the box could watch more than 5 minutes of this film and not call that he was the one imprisoned in the asylum for the accused murder of his family, and that they are either ghosts or just in his head. Maybe I just watch WAY too many damn movies, but come on. It's as subtle as the Hindenburg going up.

Now, on the other hand, perhaps that's not the point of "Dream House." Perhaps the point is not to be a twisty-turny thriller of Shyamalan proportions, but an inward gazing character study. And there may be something to that. Daniel Craig's character is reasonably fleshed-out and likeable, and it did produce enough of a desire to figure out exactly what this guy's deal was. Much of the movie takes place with us seeing through his eyes, since his family isn't actually there, so we are put in his driver's seat, so to speak. In that regard it would imply that this is a movie that is suppose to transplant us into this character's head, and have us discover what it is that makes him tick.

That, unfortunately, turns out to probably be the film's ultimate downfall. While it probably could have made an OK movie had it focused more on character, its problem is that it didn't go all the way down that road. Instead it had to be infused along the way with the predictable PG-13 pseudo-thriller genre in order to get the little teenagers in the theater because the movie was marketed to look all spooky. This movie didn't need more of crap like "The Unborn" or the remake of "One Missed Call." This movie needed some "Jacob's Ladder" to make it really pop. And I tell you, even though "Jacob's Ladder" isn't a horror movie, it's FAR scarier than anything these predictable snooze-fests produce.

See, the problem with infusing it with these kinds of movies means that there has to be a clear cut villain, solution, and ending. I didn't think that it would be possible to have a villain in a movie with a story like this but they manage to produce not one but two of them! How can you justify having a villain let alone TWO when the biggest obstacle the main character faces is his own brain? How can you justify having a solution to that problem? I didn't know mental illness could be so easily fixed, but apparently the cure for a complete psychotic breakdown is simply getting vengeance on someone who wronged you in the past.

And when he does get vengeance...oh is it stupid. So very, very stupid.

You know, in most GOOD movies, there's no cure for something like that. You know why? Because it's far more terrifying. You can't fix your own derangement like that, especially if it's something so severe as seeing your dead family and talking to them without even knowing they're dead. You know how most mental derangement ends up being solved in good movies? With a drill to the forehead or a pillow to face. Watch "π." Watch "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." Watch "A Beautiful Mind." Hell, watch "Sucker Punch." Each one of these films deals with mental illness and the horrors of it, along with the consequences of having to deal with it, and each one of them in a far, far better way than "Dream House."

There is one final thing I need to bring up, however, because it doesn't happen often with me. This movie did accomplish something. It offended me. I found myself VERY upset at a scene that involves the mother panicking over her daughters because of their gunshots wounds they received when they were killed. Now, they are all ghosts or figments of his imagination at this point, but to see those poor little girls standing there with bullet wounds staining their pajamas red, struggling to understand what was happening in their fever-like state was something that really pissed me off, and I don't even have kids. I can only imagine how mad I would be if I did.

Now I can tolerate a lot of DARK stuff, but that scene is done in such bad taste and is so exploitative of our feelings that I was offended. The movie didn't have enough foundations to fall back on that it was forced to pull out two little dead girls being paraded in front of us as their mother cries in an attempt to understand, all in an effort to draw out some emotion from this stock piece of crap movie. I found myself saying aloud "Oh, boo this movie! Boo!" and I would have proudly stood up and done so had I seen it in a theater. And loudly, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE - A stock piece of wanna-be thriller that could have had potential had it been more intelligent. Notable only for the fact that it offended me with its blatant manipulative use of the little girls. Skip it. Especially if you have daughters! >:[

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Drive (2011)

This is going to be more of a rant about style than the movie itself, for two reasons. The first is that as far as plot goes, the less you know about "Drive," the better it will probably be. This is because there are some genuine shocks in the movie that you probably won't see coming, which of course the trailer does a nice job of spoiling, so don't watch it, and I don't want to ruin anything either. The second is that the plot isn't what is going to make you want to watch this movie. What is going to interest you, if you're interested, is the fact that "Drive" is very influenced by the independent film movement, and if you like stuff like that, you're going to love it.  That for me, however, was the thing that ruined what could have been a very good film.

"Drive" stars Ryan Gosling as a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for robbers and such. He's very good at it, and seems to be doing well when he gets pulled into a situation with some mobsters who are shaking down the ex-con husband of a lady living next door he happens to have a thing for. In an effort to help them out, since he has come to like them, bad things end up happening and Driver (we are never told his actual name) has to become a guardian angel for these people. In essence, it's a remake of "Shane" with intensely brutal Robert Rodriguez level violence near the back half. At least, when the film feels like having stuff happening, which for the most part it's not too keen on doing.

I think that at its core, "Drive" is a good movie. I'm just not a fan of its direction. I regret to say that I've not seen any other film by director Nicholas Winding Refn, but if this is his usual M.O., I'm guessing I probably wouldn't like much of his other stuff, either. I know he's kind of a big deal in the more hip, independent film movement, and boy does it show, because this movie has "independent" written all over it. And if that's your particular cup of tea, by all means, disregard what I'm saying here and know that you'll probably like "Drive."

What do I mean by independent? I think the easiest way to describe it is "taking its time." There are long stretches of not much, if anything, being said by the characters in the so-called "conversation." I put that in quotation marks because whether or not it counts as an actual conversation can be argued. It's not that there isn't anything being said, it's that 80% of the content is what's not being said. And that's fine, I can dig that. It means that the actors are forced to emote without dialogue, which makes for good acting.

But I can only dig that to an extent. My problem comes from the fact that as an audience, we know what is being conveyed through looks and meaningful glances pretty quickly. Is that a point in the favor of the audience for being smart or for the actors for being really good? I don't know. But the fact remains that it's never very obtuse what's going on. And because of that, it always seems like the movie is playing catch-up with me. I understand the fact that Ryan Gosling is becoming attached to the family next door to him. I don't need to see 2 minutes of him staring at them with a slight smile on his usually stoney exterior to get that.

You may think this is a static picture, but it's actually 3 complete minutes of the film.

In some ways, as heady as "Drive" is, it really seems like it looks down on its audience. After all, if this was movie for smart movie goers, it wouldn't hold our hand or brow-beat us with emotions like that. We can read faces and expressions to deduce emotions. Overly long moments of the same emotion for so long just seems to scream "DO YOU GET IT?!" Obviously, this is not what was intended, so I can only assume that "Drive" is a movie for people who really like very, very long stretches of build-up.

And why do they like it? To look smart. That's my take on it, anyways. If someone gets a heightened sense of tension or emotional turmoil boiling up underneath from it then more power to them (far be it for me to judge) but I think deep down, that's what's really going on here. "Drive" and indeed, the whole independent film movement is basically tailor-made as a direct response to the faster paced, flashy Hollywood model, and the idea seems to be to just do whatever it is that Hollywood doesn't do. And because of this I don't think that it's always done because the filmmakers are passionate about this style. They do it because it's what is expected of them. Because independent movies are smart, see? And if they make a film this way, the director is smart as well.

I totally understand the purpose behind slowing things down. You do it so that when the action does happen, it's amplified. The juxtaposition of loud and quiet is important to any effective thriller, and sometimes a movie just needs to breathe. But sometimes it can just get obnoxious, especially when you have dynamite actors popping up elsewhere in the film, reminding you of how much more interesting the villains are than the two main characters. They are absolutely blown away by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, who knock it out of the park every time they appear, and provide far more tension with actually doing stuff than Ryan Gosling is staring intensely at someone. Why can't we see more of them? Why can't the movie be about these guys?!

Because decent pacing is for those Hollywood hacks who aren't "smart."

This is just my personal taste and grievance with pretentious movies in general. I wouldn't go so far as to call "Drive" pretentious, it's not like it's a piece of garbage Terrence Malick self-congratulatory wank-fest, but it is loitering in Pretentious' parking lot. There are definitely some noses elevated a few degrees above normal here.

There's a good movie in here somewhere. I like the story, the action scenes are downright inspired, including an incredible opening 15 minutes, and despite my comments earlier I like the characters both good and bad. It just needed another pass in the editing booth to shave 20 to 25 minutes off the run-time that it desperately needed. 

It really does have a great cast, though. I've said that before but it bears repeating. I don't particularly like Ryan Gosling, but he was quite good at playing a quiet, brooding, borderline psychopath. Bryan Cranston also fun to watch as always, but the real gems were the bad guys, Ron Perlman and particularly Albert Brooks. The screen was on fire when they were on it. Although with Albert there was something a tad distracting...

You can't not see it...

I'm thinking David Cronenberg could have done amazing things with "Drive." It's actually not too far off from a lot of his stuff as it is. Watch "A History of Violence" or even better, "Eastern Promises" and you'll see what I mean. Cronenberg knows how to pace a film, and knows how to take his time, but he doesn't go overboard with it. You never feel like fast forwarding through a Cronenberg movie.

This one, however, I did.

THE BOTTOM LINE - If you're a fan of independent movies, this is for you. If you go into it thinking it will be a fast-paced explosion fest, it's not. Worth it for some really good acting, but know what you're getting yourself into first. Also, fans of excessive, borderline comical gore would also do well to be warned. Cautiously Recommended, with a BIG "if."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Abduction (2011)

I really don't know how to feel about Taylor Lautner. Although he was god-awful terrible in "Twilight," I can't fault him for that. Everyone was terrible in that except for Billy Burke and Michael Sheen. It's the source material. You can't do anything respectable with it. I do think he has just the slightest bit of potential, given the fact that of the three leads in that so called "saga," he was the only one with more than 2 emotions. Don't get me wrong, I'm not marking any dates in my calender for when his next movie comes out, I'm just saying he has a range greater than a Chia-Pet. That's a legitimate compliment for someone cast in "Twilight."

So how does Taylor's first starring role hold up? Will he surprise us with some acting chops before now hidden by the shlock of the teenybopper material that was holding back huge amounts of raw talent? Or will he once again become an obnoxiously smirking sex symbol for jail-bait and soccer moms to fawn over as he stumbles around removing his shirt at every opportunity? Is this going to be his moment to prove to himself and the world that there is more to the Taylor Lautner Experience than just abs and hair gel? Will he -

Time into film: 4 minutes 32 seconds.

Ok then. Just checking. Matthew McConaughey would be proud.

Seriously, you could forge steel on these abs. This guy is amazing, and as much I complain about it, if I looked like that, I would develop an allergy to shirts, too.

As you may have been able to figure out, "Abduction" was not the gutsy, groundbreaking role that would define Taylor Lautner as a legitimate actor and launch him into the spotlight to run with the big dogs. No, this is just another teenage cash-sink with nothing substantial about it. It exists so that young girls can watch Taylor Lautner try to be Jason Bourne in a setting that isn't dark, gritty, or confusing (or bloody).

Oh and he gets a girlfriend. He has to get a girlfriend. That's of critical import. OMG!

Relationships in spy movies ALWAYS end well.

In order to dumb it down for the kiddies, "Abduction" had to be...well, just a little bit dumb. The idea is that for some reason or another, most likely for his safety, Taylor Lautner's character has been, without his knowledge, raised by foster parents. His dad was a spy or something, as are, without his knowledge, his foster parents. When the truth is revealed through a missing children's website in a rather silly set of coincidences, all of a sudden his identity is out, and people want him dead.

The plot isn't the worst thing I've ever seen. In fact, as silly as it may seem at the moment, generally speaking it does tie itself together well. Most times when something silly comes up, within a few minutes they do back it up with enough evidence to at least make it plausible, and there were a few times when a plot hole I found earlier was fixed by the end. So credit is due to the writers.

The problem, I think, mostly boils down to the fact that it is so blatantly marketed towards a demographic that needs everything clinically NEAT AND TIDY with no challenging ideas or non-happy endings. It broadcast where it was going at all times, and there was never any doubt as to its goals.

You may say that the same could be said of the Bond series, and while I admit that at its core the Bond series has always been about raw entertainment value, I remind you that you're comparing Taylor Lautner to the likes of Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, and that dog just won't hunt. As much as I don't like them, even the Daniel Craig Bond movies at least were doing something different and dark. This is just lite fluff.

Like there would ever be that many people at a Pittsburgh Pirates game.

One thing that was a plus in the movie's favor was Mikael Nyqvist playing the villain. He was the main guy in the Swedish "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" series, and despite my hatred of those films, I don't have a problem with him. In fact, he's a pretty solid villain, and has a certain quiet menace about him which is quite effective, and in a better, darker film could have been straight up scary. The man's no Ian McShane but he does seem like someone who would do very bad things to you if you pissed him off.

The rest of the admittedly impressive cast is pretty much wasted. Alfred Molina is yelling into a blue-tooth headset for most of the movie, Jason Isaacs dies far too soon to be of any real significance despite being the most interesting and believable character, and Sigourney Weaver is just there to look a little like the Crypt Keeper and depress us when we think back to when she used to be really attractive. And even when they are doing stuff, the dialogue coming from their mouths doesn't really sound natural. They don't sound like they believe what they're saying. But it doesn't really matter because this isn't their show anyways, it's Taylor Lautner and his pecs. For the adults, it's just a paycheck.

Hey, you know what? I just realized something. There's aren't any abductions in this movie! I feel cheated. Unless it's himself Taylor Lautner is abducting. Can you abduct your own self?

The best part of the movie, and the one thing I will give it credit for, is the scene where Taylor Lautner and Mikael Nyqvist meet face to face at a baseball game. The way they are walking down opposite sides of a section and the conversation when they meet up is quite well done, and again, in the hands of a better, darker film could have been quite intense. But because we're watching "Abduction" we know that it's going to end in a chase scene because Taylor Lautner still has to slide down that big glass structure and do some suspiciously CG-looking parkour.

Oh, and one last thing! I'm so sick of these movies that have these kids living in multi-million dollar homes, sporting perfect bodies and teeth, with brains and talent to do anything they want in addition to being really popular at school and having a smoking hot girlfriend having to go to a shrink and BITCH AND MOAN about how they "don't fit in" and how they "feel like they're not in control of their own life."

"The fact that I have a free ride to life pains me to my soul."

Shut the hell up, you little entitled brat.

THE BOTTOM LINE - Are you a 14 year old girl? Then you'll think "Abduction" is awesome. Are you not a 14 year old girl? Then you won't. It didn't make me angry enough to say that I hated it, in fact it was better than I thought it was going to be, it was just so forgettable that it's hard to see the point. Skip it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Top 10 of 2011

2011 was an admittedly pretty bad year for movies. This was actually a tough list to make, and not for the reasons that usually come up. Usually I'm forced into making hard cuts and quantifying why one of my favorite movies deserves to be on the list and another doesn't. This time I had to struggle to fill up all 10 slots. That's not to say that the movies that made this list are bad! I really liked all of these movies, but it was difficult filtering them through all the crap that 2011 piled upon us.

So without further ado, let's take a look at these diamonds in the rough that make up my personal Top 10 of 2011!

10. Insidious

"Insidious" may just be one of the only PG-13 horror movies that's worth a damn. What's unique about the film is that each act is pretty much a different horror genre. The first act is a classic haunted house movie, the second act turns into a possession movie, and the third act gets a little trippy and is somewhat its own niche with what can only be described as an "astral projection" movie, although it does remind me heavily of "The Others."

Most people who saw it commented on how scary it was, and yeah, there's something to that. It was pretty darn scary, although it is another one of those films that is fueled almost entirely on the "jump scare" tactic, which I hate. I feel they are cheap and are more startling than scary. "Insidious" gets a pass from me in this case, however, because the movie never fakes you out. Every time there's a jump scare, it's because something scary is jumping out at you. There's no kitten jumping out of a closet making a earth-shattering kaboom here. Every scare is legitimately earned, despite the fact that you may be able to see (some of) them coming.

"Insidious" isn't anything groundbreaking in terms of horror films, aside from being PG-13 and being good, but it's well made enough to stand toe to toe with pretty much any horror film to come out in the last 10 years.

9. Drive Angry
I love me some Nicolas Cage, and I apologize for nothing. I know that the hip thing to do is to hate the guy's guts but I honestly don't see how someone couldn't be entertained as hell watching him. Say what you want but the man puts more passion into every performance than nearly anyone else in Hollywood, and you can tell he's just having a blast doing it. And for me, that fun transfers over to my watching of the movie.

"Drive Angry" was exactly what I wanted to see: Nicolas Cage being a bad-ass. This is an exploitation flick, pure and simple. It's the same kind of drive-in B-movie schlock that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made with their "Grindhouse" double feature. "Drive Angry" is more "Planet Terror" than "Death Proof," though, for anyone worried about that. While it may not have the same level of gore that "Planet Terror" or even "Machete" had, it's still a fun, bloody romp that doesn't apologize for anything, and just takes the insanity and rolls with it.

If you're ready for this film, and you have to be ready for crazy, it's a hell of a ride. Along with Nicolas Cage being awesome and William Fichtner doing a very cool and unique spin on the Grim Reaper, "Drive Angry" was one of the most fun movies I saw in 2011, and left me with a big smile on my face.

8. Season of The Witch
Oh snap! A Nicolas Cage double header! I was waiting for "Season of The Witch" for a long time, since it got its release date pushed back, and then was only showing for like, a weekend. And of course it was in and out of theaters before I even knew it was released. But when I finally got to see it, I found a really fun action flick with two of my favorite actors, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman.Sounds like a good time to me.

Whereas "Drive Angry" was an exploitation flick, "Season of The Witch" is a B-horror movie flick. It's straight out of something that Hammer Films would make. Hell, it even has Christopher Lee in it! That's some serious B-movie royalty right there. I always love films with a great atmosphere and this movie nailed it. From the first scene to the last, it felt like a graphic novel with its very creepy and atmospheric sets. This is a movie you can just smell because it's so vivid in its scenery and style.

For my money, few things are as fun as a movie like this. And to the movie's credit, I didn't call the ending. It did not go where I thought it was going to go, and in fact took the gutsier of the paths it could have gone down. That, too, was a pleasant surprise because normally I can spot endings coming a mile away.

7. Moneyball
Out of all the movies on this list, this is the only one that's award bait. I usually don't like movies that are made to win Oscars but this one was actually pretty good. It embodied the same story of one man rising up against impossible odds to prove to himself and the world that he's worth something that classics like "Rocky" and "Rudy" have, and that's kind of unavoidable in a sports film, but it still strikes home on an emotional level that was very effective. I mean, yeah, that story has been done to death, but there must be something to it, right? 

Not too much more to say about that one. Besides, I already wrote one review about it. I don't need to do another mini-one. It's just a solid flick.

6. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Sometimes a movie makes the list purely on the merits of how fun it is. I think the Nicolas Cage double-header proves that. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" was one of the most fun times I had in a theater in a long time, and it's nice to be able to recapture the spirit of the first movie again. This is exactly what the series needed to bring it out of its rut.

I would love to see another "Mission: Impossible." Now we only have to wonder if they're going to start numbering them again. I swear, the titling of sequels needs to be left to people who know what they are doing. In other words, somebody other than Hollywood. Hell, hire me. I can't promise you fancy titles, but there won't be any doubt as to the order in which the sequels go!

5. Everything Must Go
I do not like Will Ferrell the Comedian very much, but I love Will Ferrell the Actor. People look at me cross-eyed when I say this but he is an amazing actor. Just watch "Stranger Than Fiction." Go ahead, I'll wait...

Amazing, right?! That's what I'm saying. "Everything Must Go" reminded me of "Stranger Than Fiction" a bit, despite the fact that it's not really like it very much, but it also felt like "Up In The Air" and "The Beaver," two other films that were also quite good. The thing about "Everything Must Go" is that it's not a comedy at all. If you go in expecting the funny-ha-ha, you'll be bored stiff. If you go in expecting a drama, well, it might choke you up a bit.

Will Ferrell went on record saying that he took this role about an alcoholic selling everything he owns after having the worst day of his life, because he doesn't get offered stuff like that. When a serious role like that came along, he jumped on it. I have more respect for Will Ferrell now for doing that, and I hope he keeps going. In fact, I think he's notably forgotten in this year's Oscar race for this film, because seriously...Best Actor. At least a nomination. Anything to encourage him to keep doing things like this!

4. X-Men: First Class
 Let's be honest with ourselves. The "X-Men" movies have never been very good. Yes, they have their entertaining moments and a fantastic cast, but they've never been objectively good. They're a bit overblown, characters have little identity past their mutant powers, and the stories don't make a lot of sense.

And now we have "X-Men: First Class," and it is the first of the series to not only be a really good comic book movie, but a good movie, period. The characters are (mostly) more fleshed out, which makes sense because there are far fewer of them this time, the story is riveting, and the struggle between Erik and Charles, two friends fated to be driven apart by immovable ideologies, practically sizzles there is so much chemistry going on between the two leads. You know that these two are destined to end up mortal enemies, but even so, the progression building up to that split is so well handled that when it happens, it's still a shot to the gut, and tragic as well as shocking.

Michael Fassbender is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, and he and James McAvoy absolutely tore it up in "X-Men: First Class." I don't know if another sequel would work, but it's exciting to think of those two in another "X-Men" film.

And now we come to the Top 3! I found it interesting that the criteria for the Top 3 wound up being determined by overall sense of feeling throughout the film. Of all the movies to come out in 2011, these 3 films were the most effective at eliciting an emotional reaction from me, which is something I hold in the utmost importance. Those feelings wound up being disgusted, pumped up, and happy. In that order, here's the best 3 movies I saw last year:

3. Red State
If Kevin Smith keeps making movies, he needs to do more horror. The man has a knack for it, and his first outing into horror with "Red State" is one of the most realistically scary movies I've seen in a long time. It's not a supernatural kind of scary, it's a real kind of scary because this kind of stuff is totally feasible. And it's so easy to see people doing these horrific things in the name of their own obscene, hateful version of religion.

It's not so thinly veiled that the villainous church in "Red State" is supposed to be the Westbro Baptist Church. You know, the "God Hates Fags" idiots. It's so easy to see people following the preacher in this movie, played with Oscar-caliber gusto and passion by Michael Parks (another actor unforgivably snubbed in this award season), because they're already following people spewing this same kind of hate speech that is in the movie. This is scary stuff. And you have to wonder if killings like this are already happening and we just haven't found out about it yet. I hate to say that I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

"Red State" may not be for everyone, and it will most likely cause a great deal of discomfort among its viewers, and that's the point. It's an ugly thing that this movie is looking at, and it's looking at it with some pretty high-intensity beams. If you're not squirming in your seat or slightly sick to your stomach during "Red State," you don't have a soul. If anything else, this is a movie that will get people talking afterwards. And potentially really mad.

2. Attack The Block
 If an alien invasion happened, would you fight back? Well, I feel sorry for any nasty alien who lands in the ghetto of London looking to cause trouble because they'll be in for a hell of a fight. "Attack The Block" is so much fun that it kind of defies explanation. You just have to experience it for yourselves. It's one of those films that you just kick back and enjoy. If movies were people, "Attack The Block" would be the guy who bought everyone in the bar a round the minute he walked in the door. You just know it's going to be a good time when he's around.

"Attack The Block" is the first movie from Joe Cornish, who has worked with and is friends with Edger Wright, and it shows. It is reminiscent of "Shaun of The Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," but it has it's own identity, despite Wright's obvious influences. I think it's more of a student learning from a master craftsman. Of course at first the work is going to emulate the teachings, but soon he'll carve out his own identity, and I'll be first in line to buy a ticket.

There wasn't another action film in 2011 that I had this much fun with. From beginning to end, this movie about a group of punks in the ghetto fighting back against aliens put a big smile on my face, and I needed someone to high-five.


1. The Muppets
 I think the word I'm looking for is "magic." There's just something magical about the Muppets. I haven't met a single person who didn't like them. The absolutely brilliant marketing campaign for this movie helped psych me up for it more than almost any other movie that year, and when I finally got to see it with some of my best friends, it wound up being the best experience I had in the theater that year.

Watching this movie was like having an hour and a half long childhood flashback. It was an amazing experience that left me feeling good all over, and anybody who has ever liked the Muppets will probably feel the same. Was it because there was nostalgia involved that I liked it? I don't think so, although it does help. Nostalgia can't hold something up on its own, after all. Fortunately "The Muppets" is a very well made, very very funny film that also tugs on the heartstrings. Pretty much like every Muppet movie, for the most part. And that's a good thing.

If I had to complain about something it would be that I felt there was probably a couple too many "why bother" moments where a character (usually Kermit) is ready to throw in the towel, but is brought back around by his friends. It's good stuff, but it happens like 5 times, and it starts getting old. But then Jack Black and Gonzo are doing something ridiculous and you're busting a gut laughing, and the other thing is forgotten about.

There are so many wonderful moments in "The Muppets," from Gonzo blowing up his factory, to Chris Cooper rapping about how evil he is, to the Swedish Chef's first subtitled appearance, to "Travel by Map," to Neil Patrick Harris' cameo wondering why he isn't in the movie, to the wonderfully catchy musical numbers including the immortal "Ma-Na-Ma-Na" (you KNEW it was coming), to every time another one of your old favorites appears on the screen that it seems like every 5 minutes you've stumbled across your new favorite part of the movie. And I guarantee that "The Muppets" will slap a huge smile across the most sour of faces.

After is a filet of fish. Yes, it is.