Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

You know that feeling you get when you're going to the dentist? You know, the one where you're walking into the room, sitting down in the chair, and you see all those nice, shiny, pointy instruments that will soon begin jabbing and poking and stabbing at your teeth and gums? You get this knot in the bottom of your gut, and this sinking feeling that you just plain don't want to be there? And even though you know that it will all be over before too long, it's still going to be a short period of your life that will be filled with lite torture...a short period of time you know you will never get back? Then you realize you're actually paying someone to do this to you?

That's not exactly the feeling I had going into the American remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"...but it was close.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I hated the Swedish trilogy based on Steig Larsson's "Millennium" series, since I've made my hatred clear and detailed. And although I respect the fact that a lot of people like them, I still stand by my position that the Swedish films are hateful, male-bashing yet at the same time misogynistic, sleazy, confusing shlock that features arguably the most despicable female protagonist I've ever seen, and for a series condemning rape as much as it does, it sure does seem to get off on it. I felt like I needed a shower after those films, and not in the good "A Clockwork Orange" way. So you can imagine, I was not looking forward to the remake.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the American version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" wasn't just far, FAR superior to the Swedish film, but I would go so far as to say that it was actually pretty good, and I found myself liking it a fair amount. Someone find the bolts to my neck, because my head is spinning at the thought.

Hard to believe, but she cleans up nice...
I've never done a 180 like this before. I can't remember the last time that an entry in a series, either a remake or a sequel, of a franchise I despised came out which drew such a positive reaction from me. Now, I'm not going so far as to say that I am now a fan of the franchise, because I'm not. Let me be clear - the mystery of the movie is still absurdly stupid. I still find Lisbeth Salander slightly irritating, even in this improved version. And I'm not about to rewatch the originals with a new sense of understanding and wonder...

But I cannot believe how much of a difference a better script and director can have.

Of course, from the beginning I knew that there was talent going on here. Director David Fincher has made some of my favorite movies ever, and although I feel he's been on a losing streak lately, I still see his movies when they come out, just because it's him. I'm not sure how much input he had with the script, but Fincher definitely had the right idea of how to make this film and seemingly get rid of or fix everything I hated about the original, almost like he read my blog.

The first thing they did was to cut back on the rape. Now, there's still rape in this movie, and it's still brutal, although I found it slightly toned down (but not by much). But they got rid of the rest of the assault and rape that was in the original. That really helped to make it not so in-your-face, obnoxious and exploitative.

The other BIG improvement was the casting. In the original Lisbeth was played by Noomi Rapace, who played her with all the humanity of a block of tofu left out in the sun for a week and slathered in hair gel. She was wooden, stiff, and looked almost bored most of the time. That is, except when she was being raped, which was roughly 87% of the time.

Now she's played by Rooney Mara, and while many mannerisms were carried over from Noomi's portrayal, notably the quick, cutting delivery of her lines and the slump-shouldered double-timing walk she has, Rooney manages to squeeze some humanity into this character. I think that overall it's a combination of her choosing to not act like a complete robot, and a script that isn't afraid to show her as something other than a walking ball of rage.

That shirt would make Joe Pesci proud.
The script does a lot to show Lisbeth as something other than a monster. It is obvious that was a very clear goal for this film. Lisbeth does have her psycho moments, no doubt, and she's still messed up in the head, but the remake changes her from a murderous psychopath who cares about nothing and would gladly stab you in the balls before talking to you, into a lonely victim who has had a rough life and has curled up inside herself, if only she could find someone who actually cared about her.

That's where I feel the stories have their priorities in different places. The original focused on Lisbeth's anger, while the remake focused on her isolation. And in the end, the isolation angle made me care about her much more. In fact, I felt sad for Lisbeth at the end of the film. I couldn't even fathom that before.

Bravo to David Fincher and the rest of the people who made this, because this is how this story should have been told in the first place.

I'm feeling slightly conflicted over my own feelings, though. Is it that I really enjoyed the film, or is it that I hated the originals so much that any significant improvement is enough to make me applaud and say "YES! THAT'S IT!" even though under normal circumstances I still may not have liked it?

I think too damn much.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I would actually recommend this film to people. I can't believe I'm saying that, but I am. If you've never seen the originals, don't. They're terrible. THIS is the version to see. The story is the same, but told through different filters. And based on discussions I've had with people about the books, this is probably closer to the feelings about the characters you are meant to have. Recommended. I'm shocked.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Casablanca (1942)

I got to do something really unique this past Wednesday, which was to see "Casablanca" on the big screen. It was the 70th anniversary of the film, and there were select theaters doing a single screening of it. Luckily one of them was a theater not 10 minutes from my house. So I dropped the money for an expensive ticket and sallied forth to watch what is regarded as one of the best films ever made for what would be only my second time seeing it.

I had seen the Blu-Ray of it a few years ago, and while the Blu-Ray undoubtedly had a better picture than what I saw in the theater, one thing still held true on a second viewing that I felt the first time I saw the movie: "Casablanca" is very, very good.

It's nice to see a movie that is able to live up to the hype surrounding it. "Casablanca" manages to be just as titanically good as everyone says it is. It's a rare feat, to be sure. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well that there are a number of classic films that I didn't enjoy, chief among them being "Citizen Kane." But I found "Casablanca" to be a very inspired, intense, and engaging movie that after 70 years still holds up, if one would take the time to watch something that old.

I know that a big aspect of the movie, the war, is lost on people who weren't around when it was released, since it came out in 1942, in the midst of World War II. These are the timely issues going on in the movie that are somewhat lost on people today, since we can't relate to them, and in that respect the film is a bit dated and shows its age. It would be like somebody watching "United 93" or "World Trade Center" a hundred years from now. It's not that nobody would understand or have emotions over what's going on, but if they weren't alive when 9/11 happened, you'd never really have the same connection. For that reason, I'm sure "Casablanca" was even more powerful when it was first released.

"You know, Paul, I'm actually smoking 3 cigarettes right now. I've discovered Quantum Smoking."

What was always surprising to me about "Casablanca" was just how intense it is. There are moments in the movie that are genuine nail-biters. Most of the movie takes place in "Rick's Cafe Americain," the bar Humphrey Bogart's character famously owns, and big portions of the movie are a revolving door of characters coming and going, politicking, scheming, and hunting, always barely ahead of the person gunning for them. The story unfolds naturally from this interaction of people swirling around each other, and there is little clunky exposition going on. The dialogue is just superb in this regard, as you get a lot of backstory from people talking in a fairly realistic fashion.

The cast is of course legendary for anyone who knows their film history. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are the most famous of the leads, but Claude Rains ("The Invisible Man" himself, as the intro to "Rocky Horror" reminds us) and Sydney Greenstreet were also big deals, as well as Peter Lorre, who is one of those actors who everybody is aware of, but nobody knows who he is. If you don't know him, he's the guy with the weird voice. Yeah, that one.

Something else noteworthy about the dialogue is that surprisingly enough, "Casablanca" has some pretty funny dialogue. Most of these zingers come from Bogart, although Claude Rains has some great moments as well. I think seeing it with an audience enhanced the comedy. People were laughing a lot at the funny lines, and it became infectious. Much better than when I saw it by myself, where I'm not sure if I laughed out loud or not. Probably not, but in the theater, I did. It was a great experience.

Of course the ending is famous, and yeah, it does deserve the praise it gets. It's a fantastic ending about sacrifice, sticking your neck out for the greater good of everyone, and as Bogart famously says, realizing that "the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." It's still a powerful ending today, but back in 1942 it must have been something else for sure.

There really isn't much more to say. Yeah, some of the dialogue might sound cheesy to our ears, and it may seem slower paced than what we are used to (even though it's not), it's a movie everyone should see. Don't let the fact that it's old scare you off. It's "Casablanca."

"Forget it Rick. It's Chinatown. Wait..."

THE BOTTOM LINE - The bottom line is that it's "Casablanca," one of the best films ever made. If you've never seen it, yes, it really is as good as you've heard. Very Highly Recommended.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Three Musketeers (2011)

There comes a time, every once in a while, when you are watching a film and you have a moment of clarity. It's a moment that truly puts everything in perspective for you. My moment for "The Three Musketeers" came when a scene from "Pirates of The Caribbean" was reenacted with blimps.

I think it was right around the time in this movie when the two steampunky-wooden-battleship-zeppelin-thingys were battling over 17th century Paris, only to end up being impaled on one of the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, looking not unlike two giant pancakes with cannons while dudes in poofy shirts swashbuckled all over the place that I realized "You know what? This is pretty silly."

Ok that last statement was not entirely accurate. I was saying "This is pretty silly" after the 35 second mark. It really hits the ground running in that respect. The blimp part was when I simply said it aloud, since at that point, it really needed to be noted for the official record.

So yes, "The Three Musketeers" is hereby award the official mark of Silliness.

"Now bugger off."

I have a confession to make: I've never liked any Musketeer movie. I remember seeing the one with Keifer Sutherland back in the day, and I didn't like that one either, even at the time. They just have this over-the-top ridiculous nature that irritates me, maybe because I just don't get it. It's not because it's over-the-top. Not at all. You're talking to a guy who loves Nicolas Cage and Reb Brown. I can handle over-the-top.

I think the big issue for me is that it seems all the Musketeer movies have tried to "modernize" the story in an effort to make it more "awesome." The action is filmed in such a way that you can tell it really desperately wants to be a Michael Bay or John Woo style explosion fest. The problem is that back in those days, there weren't bazookas or grenade launchers or Uzis or convenient barrels of gasoline to shoot and blow up. There also wasn't Arnold Schwarzenegger.

For that reason, things blow up that really have no business exploding, people seem to have super-human acrobatic abilities, and this really bizarre, unsettling "old-world-super-tech" exists that is clearly the result of the filmmakers having played WAY too much "Assassin's Creed." Zeppelin Battleships aside, there's some pretty ridiculous steampunk inspired weaponry in this movie that is the closest they could get to modern weapons, but it quickly gets stupid.

Why is this is the Queen's closet? How do her servants get in there? Do they take it down every time the Queen needs another pair of shoes? Who puts it back up? Wouldn't a locked door work better? How about a guard? Does Paul W.S. Anderson really need to rip off scenes from "Resident Evil?"

All I'm saying is that when you have Ye Olde Laser Trappes...just break down and give Athos a laptop complete with GPS tracking capability already. Just say Da Vinci invented it and satellites. That's your excuse for every other piece of absurd tech they have.

It's clear that the reason for all of this is to make the 17th century as "awesome" as the 21st. Because apparently, the filmmakers don't think just plain old swordfighting is cool. I got news for them: it is. Swordfighting is cool. It's always been cool. It doesn't need your help, nor the 21st century's help. And I can prove this in three syllables - Errol Flynn.

Pictured above - Awesome.

You see, in a movie about swordfighting heroes, I want to see swordfighting...not silly gadgets that read like someone's Jules Verne/"Mission:Impossible" fanfic. Is that so much to ask?

At some point I feel I should talk about such trivial matters such as the plot, but what's the point? Why should you care if the movie doesn't care? I you are wondering if the plot is like the book, no it's not. Next silly question, please.

I can't say that the main cast was entirely noteworthy for me. Logan Lerman is the main character, D'Artagnan, which I always thought was weird that the unofficial fourth Musketeer is the main character in a story called "The Three Musketeers." Anyways. Logan was Percy yeah...real excitement there. Luke Evans and Matthew Macfadyen as Aramis and Athos were essentially unknown to me. Ray Stevenson was the only one of the Musketeers I recognized, having taken over for Tom Jane in the second "Punisher" movie.

That isn't to say that the supporting cast wasn't made up of talented people - Milla Jovovich, Christoph Waltz and Madds Mikkelsen play the bad guys and they are all decent, although Milla seems like she's still playing Alice from "Resident Evil" at times. I like all these people...and then there's Orlando Bloom. He plays what I guess is supposed to be the "Big Bad" of the film, but ends up just kind of being...annoying and faffs about a lot.

The funny thing is that I had NO IDEA that was Orlando Bloom. Oh, I knew he was in it, but I thought he was Aramis! I saw Luke Evans and thought it was Orlando Bloom. For the entire movie. It wasn't until the credits were rolling that I saw his name under "Buckingham" and I was stunned. It made his character that much more ridiculous when it was revealed that annoying piece of crap with a 17th century mullet was Orlando Bloom. That's hilarious.

He looks like Danny McBride in Tropic Thunder.
Did I have a point here? Was this just a rambling diatribe with no real goal other than to say something -- anything -- about a movie that was just so loud and obnoxious that I honestly have a difficult time remembering specifics other than loud noises and poofy shirts? Not really.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Three Musketeers" is silly. Very silly. Absurdly silly. But you probably knew that from the trailer. It's just as silly as you thought it was. There is big, dumb, loud, stupid entertainment to be had if you dig that kind of thing, and there is one (1) good swordfight at the end between Lerman and Madds Mikkelksen which is admittedly really, really good. Other than that, stick a pot on your head and have a friend bang it with a hammer for two hours. Same effect. Skip it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)


I remember when Steven Spielberg used to be awesome. Do you? "Jurassic Park?" "Hook?" "Saving Private Ryan?" "Jaws?" "Schindler's List?" "Raiders of The Lost Ark?" Good times.

Now he seems to be a parody of himself. The soul seems to have been sucked out of his work now. Between "A.I." and "Minority Report", "War of The Worlds," "Warhorse"  and most (not me) would say "Kingdom of The Crystal Skull" it seems like you could replace Spielberg with a robot at this point and not notice much difference. To be fair, he has always, and will always have an amazing eye for incredible visuals. The man knows what he's doing, not doubt, but his films seemed to be more heartfelt before. Now it seems he's making movies because that's what he's supposed to do.

Then again, it's amazing he has time to direct anything in between all the movies he produces. I mean, just take a look at the number of things Spielberg has produced on his IMDB page. It's over 100, and a third of them seem to be in the last 5 years. It's insane.

"The Adventures of Tintin" looked like another Spielberg movie that felt very safe and formulaic, and it was. Don't kid yourself - even with all the flashy visuals and action and explosions, this is a kid's movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that by its nature, but I know Spielberg can make good movies, and I feel this kids fluff is tremendously beneath him.

Kids will love this stuff, though. Undoubtedly they will. I cannot take that away from the movie. In those terms, "The Adventures of Tintin" does exactly what it set out to do, and succeeded quite well. There's lots of shiny things to look at, lots of swinging around on stuff, lots of prat-falls and a drunk guy acting really silly because drunk people are hilarious and not to be pitied. In fact, the captain being drunk quite literally saves the day on more than one occasion, and the heroes literally could not have been successful in their endeavors had the captain not been a hopeless lush.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions and thoughts from that.
"Please, Captain. I know your liver is the size of a boogie board and the consistency of a used grease rag, but for the good of the plot and sake of the world, we need you to shotgun that last sixer of Pabst...

So it's a kids movie. Whatever. That's fine. I'll stop griping about it, with the exception of one last thing that just irritated the crap out of me: Tintin speaking his interior monologues and doing the detective work in his head out loud. This...was nails on a chalk-board for me.

Just so you know what I'm talking about, every time Tintin is thinking about something...ANYTHING, he has to work it out in his head, so he does so out loud. Now this is obviously a hold over from its origins as a comic strip, where there were limited ways of showing what he was thinking, but when it's in a movie it just comes off as obnoxious and honestly making Tintin look like he needs some mental help because he seriously looks like a crazy person rambling to himself about nonsense. But how else could they possibly get plot exposition out there for all us dummies in the audience?

Oh right. He could just think it. Naturally.

He's basically this guy.

What blew my mind watching the opening credits (which admittedly were quite well done) was the cast that has been assembled here. Jamie Bell is the lead, but it also has Daniel Craig, the amazing Andy Serkis, freaking Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Mackenzie Crook (the pirate with the wooden eye in "Pirates of The Carribean"), and Toby Jones! It's produced by Peter Jackson and the screenplay was co-written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, who are some of my favorite people making movies right now.

Holy. Crap. That's an awesome amount of talent. And to be fair, once again giving credit where credit is due, the cast does do a good job.

Of course, you can't really see them. You see, "The Adventures of Tintin" is CG. Why? I have no idea. It's filmed like a normal, traditional movie. Yes, there are stunts going on that are pretty outrageous but it's not like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," where these things couldn't exist in anything other than animated form. These are all people, and they are made to look fairly realistic, at least as much as the style of the characters can look realistic. It's actually kind of creepy, however. Some things should not be seen in realistic rendering.

What this ends up doing is giving a sense that there was no reason at all for this movie to be CG. Cast it in live-action and it would have still worked. The character models are already made to look a bit like their real-life counterparts. What's the big deal? There was nothing to justify it not being live-action. Heck, it might have made it better in making it not so cartoony and kid-oriented. Or maybe it's because I just want to see one movie where I get to see Andy Serkis' face!

I shall leave on this one final note of rage, because despite the fact that overall, I found "The Adventures of Tintin" to be kind of boring and annoying, there was one thing that legitimately made me mad. The rest of it was just kind of forgettable, but the one thing I can't overlook is the absolute waste of an incredible talent: Cary Elwes.

You see this guy? Right up there? Yeah. He's the man. What? Don't recognize him?
How about now?

Yeah that's what I thought. Cary Elwes is the bomb, and one of my favorite actors. I was so excited when his name appeared in the opening credits. He was listed as "Pilot" on IMDB, which I also had up and running, so I knew when a plane appeared, I would see him.

Well, the plane finally appeared! It gets shot down, and has to make a water landing. Oh man! He's getting out of the plane! He's gonna say something! Ok, he said something! What was it? Was that a French accent? Ok, they're near Morocco, that makes sense. Was that Cary? It sounded like him. Ok, now he's captured. They gonna make him talk? Is Cary gonna get to be all defiant and snooty? Wait, why isn't he saying anything? Why is he in the back of the plane just sitting there? It's been like 10 minutes, why hasn't he had another line? Ok so he's parachuting out of the plane now. And he's gone. Are we going to follow him? What happened to him?

::an hour later...credits roll::


One line. I couldn't believe it. You get freaking Westley from "Princess Bride" in your movie and you give him ONE LINE?!?! What's the damn point? How much did he get paid for that? He could have done that role on his lunch break! Wait, screw that. He could have done it in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee! WAIT, SCREW THAT! He could have done it in the time it takes for him to take a leak!!!

That blatant waste of incredible talent was by far the most upsetting thing to me in this otherwise lukewarm outing, and will probably be the thing I remember most about it, because of the shear incredulous nature of my reaction.

Joo kip using dat word...

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Adventures of Tintin" doesn't suck. But it's a kids movie, and I'm just not interested in that. If you have kids, they'll have a blast, and you won't want to stab yourself in the jugular just to stop the pain, because it's not bad. But I have better things to do with my time. I just don't care, and I want Spielberg to make a movie that floors me again. Is that so much to ask? Recommended, I guess.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Immortals (2011)

Did you see "300" and think to yourself, "This is cool and all, but couldn't it have less action and more English accents?" Well, here you go.

"Immortals" is admittedly not trying to be "300" exactly, since there is more of an emphasis on plot than flat-out action. It still attempts to capture some the same slow-motion bad-assery that was the trademark of "300," but also tries raise the IQ by having a hero's journey of self-discovery at the same time. And ironically, taking "300" and making it less meat-headed is exactly what makes "Immortals" not as good. The reason for this is because while "300" knew exactly what it wanted to be, "Immortals" kind of wanders about in an unfocused fashion. For this reason, it ends up being far less memorable than "300."

Perhaps a better comparison (and a more forgiving one) would be the remake of "Clash of The Titans." The two films do have a lot in common, and I don't think it's a coincidence that "Immortals" came out before the sequel, "Wrath of The Titans," since the two movies look so similar that I'll bet a lot of people went into "Immortals" thinking they were actually seeing an R-rated "Clash of The Titans" sequel. And honestly, I kind of like that idea.

I'm imagining a series of movies about Greek mythology that weren't interconnected at all, and just doing their own unique thing as opposed to following the same characters again. I think that would make for a sweet series. Heck, you could have a whole series like "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch!" OK, bad example, But it would probably be best to stay as far away from "Clash of The Titans" as possible since that movie was crap.

Maybe if "Wrath of The Titans" sucks too we can just call "Immortals" the unofficial sequel and say "Well, at least the second one was a bit better."

The story of "Immortals" is the story of Theseus, played by Henry Cavill of "The Tudors" fame. He's a peasant secretly chosen by Zeus to be the savior of the world. Or something like that. You see, the world needs saving because Mickey Rourke is out on a rampage looking for a magic bow that would let him rule the world. Or something like that.

OK, so it's not actually Mickey Rourke on a rampage, it's King Hyperion as played by Mickey Rourke, although Mickey Rourke playing himself as a tyrant trying to rule the universe would be pretty awesome. He'd get my vote. Anyways, the Gods can't interfere with mortal affairs, so Theseus is trained to do their dirty work. Or something like that.
The Gods are also training Theseus to make more silly hats for them.

The problem I had with the plot was the fact that I really wasn't clear on what, if anything, Hyperion's plan was. It is foretold that this magic bow would allow him to rule the world, so he basically wages war on the earth in order to find it. Theseus ends up getting it, but our hero, after using the magic bow ONE TIME loses it. It falls into the hands of Hyperion. After that point, Theseus never lays his hands on the bow again.

That's right. This mystical weapon which the movie makes a huge deal out of is used a grand total of a single time by our hero. That's it. He immediately loses it, and the bad guy has it. Thrilling. Glad it was in the movie. But what does the bad guy do after acquiring this weapon which makes him unstoppable, even to the Gods?

I'll give you a guess. Does he: 

A) Lay waste to every capitol and demand the populous bow to him
B) Climb Mount Olympus and kill the Gods
C) Simply flash the bow at people and watch them kneel
D) Release ancient monsters that will destroy the world

If you picked D, the dumbest answer, you'd be correct. Hyperion uses the bow to unleash the Titans, ancient immortals long imprisoned in a mountain. Why he does this is an utter mystery to me, since it seems that ruling over a planet with nothing on it would really suck.

"I wish I knew what the hell I wanted..."

This event also leads to a rather troubling conundrum. Remember when I said Gods couldn't interfere with mortal affairs? There's an ancient law against it or something. That's the reason none of them just go down there and kill Hyperion. In fact, Zeus actually kills Ares because him and Athena went down to earth to get Theseus out of a jam. Of course, he doesn't kill Athena (hypocrite) and in fact, didn't do anything earlier when Poseidon sent a tidal wave to help Theseus (hypocrite). And when the Titans are released, Zeus and all the other Gods suit up and go down to earth and fight them.

Sooooo what was that about not interfering? Why did he kill Ares? Zeus has been giving Theseus kickboxing lessons for his entire life. I'd call that interference. It seems Gods are perfectly capable of doing this all the time with impunity. If I were Ares, I'd be pissed off for being the only person punished for the B.S. that everyone was doing to begin with.

The cast is pretty lukewarm at best. Cavill is annoyingly British for a Greek person, and the token no-personality love interest is little more than a cardboard cutout to be hauled around. Most troubling was Stephen Dorff, whom I had thought was relegated to only being cast in Uwe Boll films. I felt a little bit of vomit work its way up the back of my throat when he showed up as a roguish thief, doing his best Christian Slater impression. I was having wild "Alone In The Dark" flashbacks.

If you stuck a ferret in a bag of garbage and swung it over your head for 20 minutes, then opened up the bag, this is what you would see looking out at you.

Mickey Rourke is menacing enough I suppose, but he can't save the movie by himself. He's trying though, I'll give him that. His problem is that he's a boring villain because I had no idea what his motivations were. He wants to rule the world but he's trying to destroy it too? Is there a plan anywhere in that huge head of his?

But if there is one thing that will make me more upset than anything else, it's when a great actor is cast in a completely useless cameo. Stephen McHattie is in this movie for a grand total of 3 minutes and it was just frustrating, especially when chumps like Stephen Dorff are running around being smug. I've never understood wasting a great actor like that.

Watch "Pontypool." Just do it.

I think the best part of the movie, for me at least, was the ending. If they do decide to make another film, it's got a good lead in. But as is the case with most movies like this, it probably won't get a sequel. Honestly, I can't say I'm too upset about that.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Immortals" wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good either. It's a bloody, R-rated version of "Clash of The Titans," which manages to be a little bit better. If that sounds like a good time, go for it. I can't see watching it again.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hugo (2011)

OK. You know what? No. Just no. I can't do this.

I can't be fair and balanced and objective with this.

This movie...this movie EATS.

And I wouldn't have such a problem with it if it hadn't won FIVE OSCARS. FIVE?! Are you kidding me? The only thing this movie should have been up for was a Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Award!

The only reason anybody gave two rat turds about this movie was the fact that Martin Scorsese directed it. If this had been ANYONE else, it would haven been written off as whimsical fluff on the same level as "Free Willy" or "Babe." Because that's what it is, and screw all you who tell me different.

This is the movie industry trolling you. I'm serious. They got a kids movie full of do-nothing, pointless characters, a story that walks around in circles while dropping plot thread after plot thread until I'm not quite sure WHAT the whole point of it was, pack it to the brim with bright colors and so many sweeping camera moves that even Spielberg would say "take it easy on the majesty," all so we can have keys jangling in our faces with the OOH-LOOK-SHINY in order to distract us from the fact that it's on the same intellectual level as Thomas The God Damn Tank Engine.

And then they get Scorsese to direct it. Give it ALL THE OSCARS.

Watching "Hugo" is like having some kind of steam-punk flavored cotton candy force-fed under your eyelids until it dissolves and works its way into your brain for 2 hours, and I for one felt condescended to. Or at least, I would have felt manipulated if "Hugo" was the least bit effective. But it's not. It tries desperately hard to take you on a proverbial journey of wonderment and childlike innocence. Oh, it's so whimsical. Just look at the whimsy. Can't you see the whimsy, children? This is ever such a magical adventure we're having today.

Shut up.

They think I'm a sucker over here, but I know lite, brainless fluff when I see it and I'm not buying it! I don't give a crap about whimsical. I don't give a crap about how "magic" you think your movie is. I don't give a crap about the culture you think the movie has just because it's a period piece. And I don't give a crap whether or not you're Martin Scorsese! I don't give a crap about any of this stuff unless you have a story that is worth telling, and characters that I care about!

News flash, "Hugo!" You don't have that! The story is not worth telling because the characters are completely pointless. And as proof, I'm going to write down the cast list of all the characters in the movie with speaking roles and discuss what, if anything, they contribute to the plot. Ready? Let's go!

Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret
Now, one would think that the title character is the main character, yes? WRONG. At the beginning of the film, Hugo is most certainly the main character, but as the movie goes on it becomes clear that Georges Méliès is the person the story is really about. Hugo is just along for the ride. And the ride happens to be free because he's EVER SO LOVEABLE. D'aww. A filthy street urchin/thief. Let's adopt him! What about the other orphan who gets sent to the orphanage while kicking and crying for stealing a half-eaten pastry someone threw away? Was he not charming enough for you? Asshole.

Main Contribution: Giving an old dude a robot.

Ben Kinsley as Georges Méliès
Georges Méliès is who this story is really about. In the movie, the famous filmmaker got super depressed after the industry tanked and became a toy maker in a train station. By the end of the movie, because of seeing a movie of his again and getting back his old robot, he has rediscovered his...pride I guess? Evidently this robot meant so much to him that his life was hollow without it. You know, because his loving wife and god-daughter...they're not really important I guess. Asshole.

Main Contribution: Receiving a robot.

Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle
She's along for the ride. She's also Hugo's girlfriend I guess. Saddled with some truly bad dialogue including the "I-refuse-to-believe-someone-who-is-such-a-good-actress-would-say-it-that-way" line: "Don't you LIKE books?!"

Main Contribution: Wears a key around her neck.

Sacha Baron Cohen as The Station Inspector
The bad guy, if this movie actually had an antagonist...which it doesn't. Runs around doing pratfalls and being wacky with that damn dog of his. Nothing he does in the entire movie ends up mattering.

Main Contribution: Saves Hugo's life...which wouldn't have needed saving had the Station Inspector not been there in the first place. Pointless.

Jude Law as Hugo's Father
Hugo's deceased dad appears to be the major lynchpin in Hugo's character and a major aspect of the story before the movie just kind of forgets about him and moves on to other things halfway though.

Main Contribution: He dies.

Christopher Lee as Monsieur Labisse
A librarian who directs Hugo and Isabelle to a book with information...where they immediately meet someone right afterwards who tells them far more information than the book could have told them.

Main Contribution: Gives Hugo a book...which Hugo never reads or talks about once. Pointless.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Rene Tabard
This guy actually does something somewhat useful. He tells the kids what Georges Méliès did...which the book would have told them anyways...but he also has a copy of one of his movies, which he shows to Georges at the beginning of the climax of the film. Hugo could have just as easily stumbled across a copy, though. He didn't need Rene. The movie is already full of coincidences as it is. One more wouldn't have been out of place. Pointless.

Main Contribution: Runs a projector.

Ray Winstone as Uncle Claude
A drunk who dies after 5 lines. He was there and gone so fast I didn't even know it was Ray Winstone.

Main Contribution: Gives Hugo a a place he could have lived had he just been homeless from the start. Pointless.

Emily Mortimer as Lisette
The love interest for the Station Inspector...who was a pointless character to begin with. But hey, she's there to show that the bad guy isn't completely evil. Which of course, might have been a useful character arc if the character mattered to begin with.

Main Contribution: Nothing. Pointless.

Helen McCrory as Mama Jeanne
Wife of Georges Méliès who doesn't do a thing. But hey, Helen McCrory played "Whore #2" in "Interview With The Vampire." So I guess that's something. Pointless.

Main Contribution: A tie between making out with Brad Pitt in 1993 and looking a lot like Signorney Weaver.

Frances de la Tour as Madame Emilie and Richard Griffiths as Monsieur Frick
Two bumbling, slack-jawed wastes who spend the whole damn movie awkwardly flirting. Do they do anything useful? TAKE A GUESS.

Main Contribution: Nothing x2.

I just went through the dozen most prominent characters. Nine of them could have been removed from the movie, and the plot would have stayed the same. The only movie with more banal, purposeless characters I think I've ever seen was "Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen." Hell, even in slasher movies the characters -- walking piles of meat as they admittedly are -- possess more purpose than they do in "Hugo." The characters in slasher flicks exist to be killed. Their purpose is to show how scary the bad guy is! The characters in "Hugo" eat up time. Freaking Paris Hilton in "House of Wax" was a more important character than Christopher Lee was in "Hugo." Oh yeah, that's right. I went there.

I can't tell you how sad that makes me.

The wasting of Christopher Lee aside, "Hugo" also squanders the phenomenal talents of Chloë Grace Moretz, who is one of my favorite actresses working right now. It's really amazing how good she is. I didn't know she was in this, but when she popped up I was like "HOLY CRAP! This might get good now!" Sadly, it didn't, and she and her talents are wasted with a boring character and terrible dialogue that you could tell was just acid on her tongue having to say it. The biggest shame is that this will be the movie that most people will have seen her in at this point. Not enough people saw "Kick-Ass" and freaking nobody saw "Let Me In," both of which she should have gotten Oscar nominations for.

No, "Hugo" will be the crap I'll have to bring up when talking to people about Chloë Grace Moretz now. And I just know some dumb-ass will say, "Wasn't that the girl from Harry Potter?"

I just know it's coming.

I could write a novella about all the crap in "Hugo" that just left me shaking my head and asking "why," not only at the characters and plot but the hype and acclaim that this movie received. I found it insulting, actually, when shiny tripe like this gets farted out by a director whom people are terrified of critiquing or questioning, and it gets more awards than Scorsese could load up in a wheelbarrow to take home to put on his shelf of Oscars that he's getting now because "he's due." Meanwhile movies that are genuinely and objectively powerful and challenging like "Red State" are completely ignored because directors like Kevin Smith don't kiss the Academy's collective ass.

Everyone in Hollywood should be ashamed of themselves for letting them get away with it. At this point why don't you just retroactively give "Jumanji" Best Original Screenplay? Crap like this flies but objectively amazing stories like "The Golden Compass" bomb and the sequels to it get axed? It's pathetic.

Oh and one last thing! Why is there not one single god damn person with a French accent IN PARIS!?!?!?
"Fish n' chips 'oy guv'na?"

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Hugo" is on the same intellectual level as any kid's movie starring Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy. And not good ones like "Ms. Doubtfire" or "The Nutty Professor," either. I'm talking "Flubber" here. I'm talking "Shrek" sequels. Just imagine one of those movies written to be really, really pretentious and full of itself. Piece of garbage. Skip it.

Session 9 (2001)

I was recommended this one by a guy I used to work with a little while ago. He said that based on horror movies I said I liked, "Session 9" should be right up my alley. I asked "What's it about?" He said "A mental institution." I asked "Is there torture?" He said "Nope." So I said "Cool" and picked it up. That's literally all the pretext I had before watching it. I knew nothing beyond that.

I have to say that was a nice change of pace. Too often I find my movie-going experience ruined by trailers or Rotten Tomatoes or other people coloring my opinion before seeing a movie. But since "Session 9" is over a decade old at this point, that wasn't an issue. So I was able to go into this totally fresh.

The story is about a hazmat team sent into an old asylum to clear out a crap-ton of asbestos. Of course the place is dilapidated and dark and creepy, with hallways roughly 25,000 miles long, and archaic instruments lying about which were used to basically torture people into being not-crazy. Ridiculously scary building aside, tensions are high because everyone on the team has some issues which are not helped by the fact that they have a huge job to do in a very short amount of time in this nightmarish location.

"Yeah, I guess this place is pretty scary. Could be danker though. I feel like the ghosts are skimping on the dank."
It's not a huge leap to spot where things are headed. It's laid on pretty thick right from the start that there is some haunted crap going down in this place, although it's so stereotypically "haunted" looking that a blind guy could probably pick it out of a lineup of photos and say "Demons live there." What was interesting, and something I really didn't notice until the film had been unraveling for quite some time was that for a haunted asylum, there really isn't much going on as far as paranormal happenings.

In fact, the first time we run into anything supernatural is almost an hour into the film. I feel the need at this point to inform you that the first scene of the movie is the hazmat van parked outside the front gate, waiting to be let in to the asylum, and the only scene that happens away from the asylum is a flashback composed of about four shots. In that way, the movie never really leaves the grounds. Now this may seem like a total load to not have anything happen before then, but "Session 9" actually does a rather good job at being fairly tense despite nothing much actually happening for the first act and a half.

The biggest (and most pleasant) surprise of the entire movie for me was the fact that it never degraded into conventions that are the norm for film stock such as this. One would normally expect to see some undead nurse in a bloody uniform, her lips sewn together hauling around hypodermic needles that she stabs people to death with. Perhaps a warden, his eyes ripped from his sockets, who slices people up with a straight razor. And of course, we can't forget the little girl with super long hair that falls over her face so she can't see anything, but can still crawl/teleport down hallways in really jerky stop-motion type movements.
"I can't see $@*!"
None of this crap is anywhere to be found. Hallelujah, Rock & Roll. It's so nice to see a horror movie that isn't afraid to not have these things, but it means that they need to find some other way of making things scary. What ends up being scary in "Session 9" are the people as opposed to some Michael Meyers type boogieman, which is far more scary, if you ask me.

In fact, (very minor spoiler) I'm not even 100% convinced at the end that there even was a poltergeist. I mean, I'm pretty sure there was but upon a second viewing I may be able to construct a fairly reasonable theory that all the things that occur were the doings of one person, and not an evil spirit. I'm sure that there could be holes-a-plenty poked in it...but there you have it: ambiguity!

The cast was also very good. Josh Lucas plays an outstanding asshole, and Peter Mullan was heartbreakingly convincing in his role as the main character, a man struggling with what can only be described as a LOT of issues, the full extent of which only becomes clear at the end of the movie. And by the way, yes, that's THE Peter Mullan. Oh come on. Mother Superior from "Trainspotting?" Get with it people.

Of course the person most people will recognize is David Caruso. Oh man. I loved Caruso in this movie. He was awesome. Not only does he do a great job acting freaked out when the time calls for it, but there is this fantastic intensity just under the surface with him at all times. When it does surface, it's pretty awesome, and showcases the fact that Caruso is a better actor than he is usually given credit for. "Session 9" is also notable for having Caruso deliver what has to be the single greatest line reading of "F#@k you" ever recorded on film. It is glorious.

I replayed this like 27 times. It's that awesome.
Overall I'd say this movie reminded me of "The Shining." Now, I'm not saying that "Session 9" was anywhere as good as Stanly Kubrick's masterpiece. It wasn't. But they both had a clear understanding of what it is that makes going into a scary place actually scary. It's not things jumping out at you and making really loud noises, it's not a bunch of gore being splattered in your face, and it's not a cast of annoying as hell characters waiting to get killed off as soon as humanly possible.

No, what makes a scary place scary is what it does to the people who are inside it. And when we enter their minds, like we do in both "Session 9" and (arguably) "The Shining," we as the audience lose our own perception of the reality we are seeing, which makes us unsure, uneasy, and ready to be scared when things finally start going to hell.

Oh man. Gotta fit a "CSI: Miami" joke in here somewhere before the end...ummm...

"Looks like I'm fighting...the institution."

That's better.

THE BOTTOM LINE - While I won't say that "Session 9" bowled me over, so to speak, I did notice about half an hour into the film that I was riveted to the screen, and I stayed that way till the end. Full of good acting and some genuinely creepy moments. I was pleasantly surprised. Recommended.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010)

I remember hearing about this movie when it first became available to rent. I was told that it was supposed to be this ridiculously awesome kung-fu extravaganza unseen since Bruce Lee. I was skeptical, but rented it anyway. There were a couple of things that immediately caused me to not really want to watch it. The first problem was that it's a post "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" kung-fu movie. I really have an aversion to anything in the wuxia genre, because I hate wire-fu. And "Ip Man" looked like it most likely contained it. The second was that it's a period piece about early 20th century Chinese history, which I know jack about, but if movies like this have thought me anything, I will need a master's degree in it to understand the plot.

But mostly I was confused whether to call it the movie "IP Man" or "Eye-Pee-Man." Both are stupid sounding in any case, but "Eye-Pee-Man" just has that flow to it where you can imagine Jeff Bridges saying it.
"Lebowski, what do you even DO in that bathroom?"
"Well, you know, like, I PEE, man..."

Anyways, long story short is that I didn't watch it. I returned it, never having spent the time nor money on it. I guess one of the benefits of working at a video rental store is that you can feel like you really let that DVD know who was boss. That's right, you stupid hunk of plastic. I'm going to keep you sitting next to my PS3 for TWO WEEKS having never been touched! And that weird looking guy in the ratty tweed jacket that always smells like weed and moldy bagels who comes in every day to ask if you're in will have to wait a few more days before renting you! Take THAT!

It's the little victories in life.

It wasn't until I visited some good friends out of state that I actually got around to seeing "Ip Man." Looking for something to do, we stopped by a Family Video to get a movie none of us had seen before. "Ip Man" it was! My initial fears were still there, but I had the support of friends this time, and I felt that if it did indeed suck, we could probably salvage it with a good riffing.

Man, I'm glad I waited to watch it with friends. This movie ate.

Sometimes a good group of friends can make even the stupidest crap worth watching. Something so objectively bad like "The Room" or "Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus" or the unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors of "Howard The Duck" can be very entertaining if you've got some witty friends to bounce jokes off of. And boy, did "Ip Man" fit the bill in terms of bad. And it got a fairly merciless treatment from us.

Oh, it started off respectful, to be sure. It wasn't until about twenty minutes into the movie that we started making our first jokes referencing "The Big Lebowski" every time someone said "Man," or going "WEE-OOO WEE-OOO WEE-OOO" every time the chick with the curly-q hairdo showed up. But at that point, we just didn't care. So we decided to forgo politely sitting through this painfully boring and confusing mess in favor of entertainment.

If you get this, you are in the Cool Kids Club.

I'm not so sure if it's a matter of abject "badness" so much that I just don't understand the appeal of these dang movies. The characters are literally just window dressing with absolutely nothing to make them special. They're not. I brought it up to everyone about half an hour into the film that we know next to NOTHING about Ip Man, who I remind you, is merely the main freaking character of the film. All we know is that he has a half-brother and he knows kung-fu. That's it.

I asked a very simple question: "If his name weren't on the case, why would we care about him?"

It's an easy question. What did he do? I can't remember a single thing about his character except for the fact that he learned kung-fu. I guess he learned it well, but the style looks so silly to me that I honestly can't tell. Besides that, I reasoned that the only thing that is special about him is that he's the main character. Every one else in the movie seems to feel the same way because they're all "Oooh, it's Ip Man!" and I'm like "He hasn't DONE anything!" I guess they just read the script.

Also, just because stuff like this always bugs me in kung-fu movies: here's a list of grievances!

1) Why do you all know kung-fu? All of you? Everywhere?
2) Is everybody's penis in China so MICROSCOPIC that they immediately challenge anyone to a fight for any reason? "You dare slouch your shoulders as you walk past me?! Looks like you need a lesson!"
3) Do they do anything else besides kung-fu? At all? Do you get a paycheck for that? How do you eat?
4) Why is the concept of the "dog pile" a completely alien one to a gang of ten men fighting a single person?
5) Why are people with knives and other short range weapons content to stand at an absurdly far away distance to their opponent?
6) Why don't you headbutt? Seriously, guy. Head butt.

Headbutt him! HEADBUTT HIM! You have no idea how easy it would be for you to headbutt him right now and he COULDN'T DO JACK ABOUT IT!!! DO IIIIIIIT!!!!

And so it was that me and my friends actually had a really good time lampooning "Ip Man." In particular, we enjoyed mocking the girly hand-slappy Wing Chun style that, while admittedly impressive, looks utterly pansy. It was also hilarious that Ip Man is the only guy in the entire style who can wrap his head around the concept of kicking someone in the head - an idea everyone else considers inconceivable and borderline blasphemous! We also got a huge kick out of The Stick...something that from the beginning of the movie to the end, we still can't contemplate the purpose of. in boxes. Hysterical.

But more so than pure mocking value, the boredom and confusion that came from this movie tended to override the fun. I can't imagine sitting through this impossible to follow or care about plot without buddies to put in perspective how little it's worth it to care. And I can't imagine sitting through it again.

"I implore you to reconsider!"
THE BOTTOM LINE - I think this is more of a case of me not liking the genre rather than "Ip Man" being necessarily bad. However I do stand by my opinion that while the action scenes aren't terrible (if you like Wing Chun) the story and script are one huge mess. If you want to see it for the action, fine. Girly hand-slappy kung-fu awaits you. Have fun, but as for me, I'd skip it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Confederate States of America (2004)

I have to say I had very mixed reactions to this film. On one hand, it presents a very interesting "what if" scenario: What if the South had won the Civil War? Logistics of this aside, one can't help but admit that is one heck of an alternate reality. On the other hand, to be perfectly honest, it wasn't exceedingly well made. In fact, most of the time it comes off as downright amateur. So the question ends up being "Does an interesting concept make up for something lacking in quality?" To that end, I have to come down on the side of, "no."

I think the biggest problem I had with "The Confederate States of America" was two-fold. First was the fact that the concept was so unbelievable. From a former Civil War junkie, I'll just say that for the South to win was...not likely. The only way they could have won was for England to have gotten involved on their side, which in the film's defense, they had happen. But it's still a load of hooey. The other issue I had was the idea that the Civil War was all about slavery. This is simply not true at all. I won't bother writing about it. Just read a textbook.

The "documentary" is told in the format of a BBC film. The problem is that it's not really told well. I can't really describe it, but suffice to say that I never really believed this alternate reality. It didn't unfold in an organic way for me. The steps from Point A to Point B to Point C didn't seem natural. Lots of aspects of the war seemed to be overlooked simply for the purpose of them rendering the plot impossible. The war was a lot more complicated than what the movie would have you believe, is what I'm trying to say.

So was the Apollo fueled by moonshine?

But it is pretty obvious that the credibility of the events is not the main focus of the movie. The focus is the racism. After all, the main point is the thought that slavery is still alive and thriving in our current times. And along with this comes what is also seems to be the biggest highlight of the movie, which is the commercials.

The commercials, all of which are about slaves, seem to be what the movie is really about. Because apparently, in this universe, the only thing that is advertised has to do with slaves. Really? That's the only product? No car commercials? No beer? Everything has to mention slaves? I know that it goes along with the theme of the film, but if you're going to break the fourth wall like that, it better be convincing. It just really smacked of wanting to shove a whole bunch of "funny" stuff in there without any other context.

That brings me to the "funny." How humorous the movie is determines on how willing you are to laugh at being offended by some pretty ridiculous racism. If that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable, you're probably going to walk away offended. If not, you'll probably going to get some good chuckles at the shear "what the crap" of it all. I personally found it to be somewhat funny, but not side-splitting. But then again, I consider myself to have something of a dark sense of humor, which will help with this a lot. However, there were still moments when I said "OK, that's a little much."

This dark humor, while obviously the lynch-pin of the film, was honestly not strong or smart enough to really salvage the amateur nature of the rest of it. What it really needed was some subtlety. Instead, what we got was "Hey! Check it out! Blackface! Isn't that hilariously racist?!" with all the grace of a monster truck smashing cars.

THE BOTTOM LINE - It's an interesting concept, and perhaps that will be enough to warrant a viewing. But to be honest, there wasn't quite enough quality to live up to the potential the idea had. If you have a really dark sense of humor there are definitely laughs to be had due to the pure audacity. Other than that, not really recommended, although I will suggest "Bamboozled" as an alternative.