Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shoot 'Em Up (2007)

"Shoot 'Em Up" has been recommended to me for a few years now that I think about it, but for some reason I never got around to watching it, though I recall renting it once. Perhaps I just wasn't ready for the insanity I knew was headed my way because you really do have to be in a particular mood to watch something that is purely crazy for the sake of being crazy.

And yeah, "Shoot 'Em Up" certainly fits that bill. It's crazy. It's nuts. It's insane. It's so over the top that it would be most accurate to classify it as a comedy rather than an action movie. Of course, now that I think about it some action movies are two steps from comedy anyways. Look at "Commando," "Die Hard with A Vengeance" or "Machete" and tell me you're not supposed to laugh. I suppose that's kind of the point, and to be sure it's a lot of fun to watch a crazy action movie, which is certainly what "Shoot 'Em Up" is trying to be.

But you know what? After seeing it, when all is said and done, I'd rather watch "Crank" or "Escape From LA" or some other crazy action flick over "Shoot 'Em Up." I mean, yeah it was nuts, and yeah it had an absurd amount of action and a raging sense of humor about it, but I think it fell flat for two different reasons, and the second one I surprise even myself by saying.

First, I do not care much for Clive Owen. I find him uncharismatic and dull. He's what would happen if Daniel Craig was homeless for a couple months and somehow had the small amount of personality he had sucked out with a straw. He's just not charismatic at all, and he delivers his lines with all the gusto of a sack of onions. And this guy is supposed to be an action hero? Where's the panache? Where's the style? Where's the humor? Where's the badassery?

I just can't get behind a hero who looks like Ben Stiller.

The thing is that he seems dreadfully miscast. He just doesn't look like a tough guy. He doesn't look like someone who could jump through a plate glass window and put bullets between the eyes of 5 guys before he hit the ground. I'm sorry, I'm just not buying it. He looks like the catcher for a minor league baseball team, not a trained killer.

That and he can't pull off a one-liner to save his life.

There's also these really weird character traits they give Clive Owen, one where he gets really angry about random stuff and is always starting sentences with "You know what I hate?" Usually that means he's about to shoot somebody. Because you know, he's the good guy. There's also this running gag with him eating carrots. I don't get it. They do give him a one liner after he kills a guy with one, jamming it through the back of his throat and then saying "Eat your vegetables," but it comes off about as good as you'd expect it to. Schwarzenegger this guy ain't.


The other thing that was kind of a weird thing to have a problem with was the fact that the story is at best nonexistent. Within the first minute and a half, Clive Owen is running through a warehouse shooting a bunch of guys he doesn't know. They don't know him, either. He was just there in the middle of something, so they send in like 50 guys out of nowhere to kill him. And while I would usually applaud an action movie for getting started really quick it's really hard to care about what's going on when you have absolutely no frame of reference.

In fact, despite the movie barely clocking in at 85 minutes, we are not given context to anything plot-related until nearly an hour into the film. Imagine if in "Die Hard" you didn't know there was a robbery going down until the beginning of the third act. It would have just been a guy without shoes running around an office building shooting people. That would have sucked.

There have been movies that have gotten off to a really fast start and been good, but they were either sequels, where you know these people already, like "The Expendables 2," or they gave you context really quick, like "Crank." In fact, let's take "Crank" as an example. That movie too was ridiculous action packed comedic madness, but in the first minute of the film, you know Jason Statham's character's name, what he does, who he pissed off, and what his predicament was. From that point on, it's action that doesn't stop, just like "Shoot 'Em Up," but we actually care because of trivial things like knowing what the hell is going on.

Shockingly, this has more context.

"Shoot 'Em Up" begins with Clive Owen sitting on a bench eating a carrot. A man runs past him trying to kill a pregnant lady, so he chases after them, kills the dude, and then starts shooting everyone else who starts flooding into the building to kill him. That's it. That's your setup. And you don't know anything about anything until the movie is almost over.

I can't believe I'm saying this, because even though it's really over the top and super charged, it really makes the action boring. I was actually bored by "Shoot 'Em Up," simply because I had no context, so I didn't care.

The one good thing about "Shoot 'Em Up" was Paul Giamatti as the hitman trying to kill Clive Owen. He's this really dumpy, unassuming guy with a bad comb-over, but he's probably the thing most people will remember before anything else about the movie. It was particularly funny watching him get more and more frustrated with not being able to take Clive Owen out, including a rather good line where he yells in exasperation, "My god. Do we suck or is this guy just that good?"

Ugh. I need an adult after just looking at that expression.

Also, Stephen McHattie shows up in a upper-echelon baddy role, but I'm not even sure where he fit into the whole picture since by that point, I really didn't care. Oh well. It was still nice to see him.

You know, I enjoy brain-dead action. I really do. But there's got to be some kind of reason for the explosions and bullets and blood splatter. Otherwise how am I supposed to care? At some level, I have to be somewhat invested so that I'll at least like the character. Or at least know what they're doing. Because without context or plot or reason, all you have is explosions. And that's why we have Michael Bay. And screw that.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I can see someone really enjoying "Shoot 'Em Up," but it wasn't for me. I just don't like Clive Owen, and I found it more like an experiment in showing purely action with no plot than an enjoyable movie watching experience. Maybe fans of gratuitous over the top silliness will like it, but really, there's plenty of movies that do it FAR better, like "Crank." If you're curious watch it, but if you skip this, you're not missing much.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

100 Ghost Street - The Return of Richard Speck (2012)

On certain occasions I'll pick up a movie based solely on the title. The Asylum's "100 Ghost Street" is one of those movies. I just love going way too in-depth than I probably should. "100 Ghost Street?" Is that the name of the street? How ironic would it be if you moved into a house on a street named "Ghost Street," and it turned out to actually be haunted? I don't even know if I could be mad at that point.

Or is it that there are 100 ghosts living at that location? Well, the subtitle seems to suggest that this Richard Speck character is the ghost. Of course there could be more, but why wouldn't they be mentioned? Are the other 99 ghosts just not good enough? Is this going to be a house full of a single decent ghost and a crap-ton more that just suck? And where did Richard Speck go before he returned? I didn't think ghosts went on vacations.

And on top of everything else, "100 Ghost Street - The Return of Richard Speck" is just a dumb title.

Lousy titles aside, in a small way I had a bit of hope for this one. Not much hope, granted, but a bit of hope. The Asylum's best film (in my opinion) was their ripoff of "Paranormal Activity" which was called "Paranormal Entity," and it is notable for two reasons. The first reason is that I can almost guarantee you that it is the only Asylum film that had a bigger budget than the movie it was ripping off. The second reason it was notable is because it's also the only Asylum movie that was actually better than the movie they were copying. "Paranormal Entity" was actually pretty good. It wasn't great, but it was pretty good, at least good enough to the point were I unironically own it.

So "100 Ghost Street," being a found-footage genre horror film, did have some precedent in terms of being passable. Did I expect great things? No, but I was willing to give it a shot.

Well, what it all boils down to is the fact that "100 Ghost Street" isn't the worst Asylum film I've ever seen, in fact it's not even close to the worst, but it's not that great. At least it's not as good as "Paranormal Entity." But it mostly has a decent pacing to it, it's actually fairly well acted, and there are some memorable moments to be found. It might not stick in your head, in fact I've forgotten much of it in just a few days, but overall there's not too much to get mad about.

The idea is that a ghost hunting film crew shacks up for the night in an abandoned dormitory where years earlier a psychopath named Richard Speck raped and murdered a bunch of women. I think he was executed in prison afterwards, but the movie isn't really that clear about it, at least not to the point where I remember. In any case, he's dead. Predictably, as the night goes on the ghost of Speck starts killing people, the characters find they are hopelessly trapped inside, and everything plays out exactly as you'd imagine it would.

If you're going to be the douchebag who's the first to go, you better be rocking a soul-patch.

Not helping the predictability of the plot is the fact that the very first thing we see is a black screen with text telling us the typical found-footage BS ending with "The film crew was never found." Yeah, thanks for that spoiler. I honestly don't know why they even bother with that disclaimer in the beginning of these movies. Everyone always dies at the end of them anyway. I think the bleak "no survivors" ending is a prerequisite of the genre.

The biggest question I always have with movies like this, and indeed an issue which can really make or break the movie for me, is "Why are they filming, and why do they continue to do so when stuff gets nuts?" Most of the time they don't really bother addressing that, but "100 Ghost Street" did throw out a valid reason they are still filming while they are being killed, which is that often times the camera is the only source of light that they have. Also, at later points in the film, they find out that the night vision mode on the camera is the only way to see the ghost. So okay, they get a pass for that. It's better than the standard "I just think someone should be recording this" crap explanation.

As far as horror goes, there's really not much to talk about. None of the jump scares really work that well, since a movie like this is basically a paint-by-numbers affair in terms of spotting a scare. Where "100 Ghost Street" fairs a bit better is in the moments where they use a bit of a slower burn, or unique and freaky imagery. Most notable amongst those involve a blood trail leading to impossible to reach places, and ghost rape. Yeah, I'll type that again: Ghost rape.  And although it's no "The Entity," that scene needless to say is a bit disturbing. Other than that it's a fairly tame affair. But those scenes were well done.

He's following Iggy Pop up into the vent.

I also got a bit of a morbid kick out of a scene where someone is drafted to go into an insanely scary place despite her objections on the basis that she's making more money than everyone else there. I have to say, that was pretty funny. And it also provided one of the more intense moments of the film afterwards, when she is face to unseen face with her inevitable doom. They do this thing where the other characters can see the ghost right next to her via a remote camera, but she can't see it in hers, which makes for a pretty tense scene.

In all honesty the only other thing I'll probably remember from "100 Ghost Street - The Return of Richard Speck" is that I really liked Jennifer Robyn Jacobs, who becomes our main character out of the slowing thinning herd. She was really good, in fact she was better than most movies like this get. She and Jim Shipley, the second to last person alive, have a good chemistry, and I have to admit I was really pulling for them both to make it out of there (yeah right). I wouldn't mind seeing her in other things, actually, because she could have a decent career in front of her.

That and she's really cute. I'm just saying.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "100 Ghost Street - The Return of Richard Speck" is for people who are big fans of the found footage genre. If you hate that kind of movie, this isn't for you. For someone who likes it, or can at least tolerate it if it's done well, this is a "C average" movie for the genre. The only thing separating it is some decent acting and ghost rape. Unenthusiastically Recommend for genre fans.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)

What do you think of when the word "awesome" is said? Webster's defines it as:

awe·some (adj.) - 1. Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear 2. Extremely good; excellent.

But there's more to it than that, isn't there? When faced with something that is truly, unequivocally awesome, it's more of a mindset, a state of being, almost a form of ecstasy bordering on enlightenment. To know it is to reach a state of Nirvana as your feeble, mortal vessel puts out a hand, slips the surely bonds of Earth and touches the face of God.

One would imagine hang gliding from the top of Mt. Everest, swimming with a 30 foot Great White Shark, witnessing the birth of a star, or seeing that really big weird cylinder thingy from "Star Trek IV" up close and personal as valid examples of things that are awesome in the textbook definition of the word. And these would be perfectly acceptable answers, but for me there's really only one thing that comes to mind when I think of "awesome."

Reb Brown is known to be so manly that the mere act of watching him can cause your eyeballs to grow beards.

That's right. See that beefy slab of meat up there one-arming an M-60 like it was a pool toy? That's Reb Brown, one of the great unsung 80's action deities. He's a man so macho, so badass, and so indescribably hardcore that he once used a dead 10-foot bat-monster as a hang glider in order to dropkick a caveman in the face. That's not a lie, that is a note of record. He was also Captain America. Twice.

Anyways, the point is that for me, Reb Brown is so awe-inspiring with his aura of awesomeness that it's almost transcendent watching him. It's not that he's a great actor (he's at best just okay) or even that he was in good movies (they're at best enjoyably bad), but he's having such a good time, and he's so unbelievably pure and sincere about what he's doing that you can't help but have a smile on your face. And come on, anybody packing enough ridiculous heat to kill the entire world, something Reb does on a daily basis, is pretty much demanding of your respect, envy and undivided attention.

It also helps when little robots are calling him things like "Big McLargehuge," "Slab Bulkhead," and "Punch Rockgroin."

Which brings me to "The Expendables 2." Why isn't Reb Brown in this movie? At this point they've gotten nearly everyone else. Why not him? I know that the most mainstream he ever got was being featured on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," one of the best episodes ever by the way, but why not? I thought the whole point of "The Expendables" was to have every action star they could find in it, and Reb does have a bit of a cult following, especially thanks to the internet. I don't care if it's just a small part, just give him a gun, have him scream "MOVE MOVE MOVE" in his shrill, raspy, womanish shriek, let him shoot something and there you go. You made the internet happy and you gave someone a paycheck. Sounds good to me.

When talking about "The Expendables 2" it is probably worthwhile to mention what my impressions of the first film were. To be perfectly frank, I found "The Expendables" to be pretty lackluster. I was pretty let down in fact, since it was near impossible to look at the talent involved and not assume that "The Expendables" was going to be roughly the greatest thing ever made. And I don't care if they cast some WWE guys - they cast Dolph Lundgren. And that is hardcore.

Here's Dolph looking for someone to break.

And then I saw the movie and realized that it had its priorities completely whacked out, and instead of Jet Li, Jason Statham and Sly killing everything that moved, we got roughly an hour and a half of action stars monologing. It was a yak-fest with the same plot as the new "Rambo," except with more people and less action. And as much as I love these guys, let's face it, forming words with their mouths is not top on the list of things most of them are good at. Now, ask them to drive their fist through the brain-pan of a bad guy and they're all over it, but that other thing is just asking a lot.

That's not to say "The Expendables" was a bad movie. It just could have been so much more. And fortunately it would not be an exceedingly difficult fix to pull off. All they would have to do is cut way, WAY down on the talking and just have these guys do what they do best: Kill Things. That and have Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger in it for longer than 2 minutes. That's all it would take.

I have to tell you, it's quite the nice surprise when a franchise comes along that recognizes the problems of the first film, and instead of repeating them fixes everything that was wrong. "The Expendables 2" was superior to the first film in nearly every possible way you could have it be superior.

Pictured above: Fixing problems.

The first thing I have to praise it on was how much better filmed the action was in this film than it was in the first one. The first film had action that was lit way too dark, was edited way too choppy, and filmed in such nauseatingly close and incomprehensible shaky-cam that it was borderline amateur. "The Expendables 2," in contrast, has the camera (usually) pulled back far enough to see everything, is kept only minimally shaky, and has shots that last for longer than 14 milliseconds. It's still very intense but far less frenetic, making it seem wild and brutal but always in control, like a laser guided missile shot right down a chimney.

And while there is time spent on a bit of character, mostly on Liam Hemsworth's character of Billy, it doesn't overstay it's welcome. It's generally the same amount of character development you'd get in an 80's action flick, which generally equates to being able to recognize their particular stereotype, if they're close to retirement, and whether or not they have a girl waiting for them back home. Those last two, by the way, are pretty good indicators on their chances of dying. If the answers are both "yes," I wouldn't advice them to step outside without wearing at least 7 bullet proof vests and a tank.

As a result of this "down to business" attitude that "The Expendables 2" has, it succeeds in being what the first film was trying to be to a far greater extent, and what it's trying to be is an old school 80's action movie. That's why it cast a bunch of 80's action stars. The pacing, the large amount of action, the humor, and it must be said, the cheesiness comes through gloriously. The only thing that really makes it not seem like an actual 80's action flick is CGI blood and the lack of keyboard in the soundtrack. Other than that, this could be a double feature with "Delta Force" or "Red Dawn."

So the action was great, which means that it wasn't disappointing, but the real attraction here is the cast. Of course it's got some of the greatest action movie heroes ever the grace the screen. Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li and Jason Statham are amazing. And then there's Randy Coulture and Terry Crews. They are not the greatest. Honestly, if you wanted to cast wrestlers, I would have gone with Rowdy Roddy Piper, but that's just me. Crews and Coulture do their jobs I guess. I just still am trying to figure out what they're doing here.

Of course the exclusion of Mickey Rourke sucks, but he didn't really have much to do in the first movie anyways, so his absence isn't felt too much. Instead we have a LOT more Bruce Willis and Arnold, which I was hoping for so hard since their 2 minute cameos in the first film wasn't nearly enough. True, they're not in a majority of the film but they do come back for the final battle and provide some of the best moments in it.

Seriously, this is one of the greatest things I've ever seen. It is glorious.

But everyone was talking about only 2 people: Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. I'm going to talk about both, but with varying degrees of detail.

Van Damme plays the bad guy in this, and it is amazing. I'll come right out and say it, I loved him in this movie. And it was almost to the point where during the final confrontation during him and Stallone, which was a very good fight by the way, I gotta say I was almost routing for Van Damme, not because Stallone was bad but because Van Damme was so freaking awesome. I think it had less to do with his character, because it really was a nothing character, and more to do with how completely badass he is while doing it.

It takes a true villain to pull of sunglasses like that.

And like any Van Damme movie there is much entertainment to be had from hearing "The Muscles from Brussels" butchering the English language like a hog. One of the reasons I love Van Damme is listening to him putting emphasis in the most bizarre places within words. My friends and me were laughing close to tears as he sneered and said in his very Belgian way "Dew nawt chall-AN-ge me." I instantly knew that was a new catch phrase for us to abuse. And that is why you get Van Damme.

It's best if you didn't know that much about the Chuck Norris role going into it, because let's face it, the whole thing is essentially a joke, and you don't want to ruin the punchline. The only reason he's in this movie is because his fame on the internet is legendary to such a mythical extent that I'm not sure if it's praise or mockery. Maybe a bit of both. And yes, his role is essentially that of an indestructible walking stereotype to the point where they actually make a "Chuck Norris Fact" joke, but it's perfectly in line with everything else going on. And like everything else, it was badass.

And yes, the "Chuck Norris Fact" joke is pretty damn funny.

The only thing Chuck did to that car behind him was pee in the gas tank.

Honestly, there were only a few problems I had with "The Expendables 2." The first one was that Jet Li is in it for all of 25 minutes. If that. I don't know if he only had a week to film or something, but he's out of there pretty damn fast. That was a disappointment.

Also, this is probably the absolute worst introduction in an action hero movie I've ever seen. Usually there's a dramatic reveal, or a big explosion followed by a closeup and a snarky one-liner. Look at any random Bond movie. They know how to unveil the hero. In any case, there needs to be at least a little bit of a buildup and tease to get the audience invested a little bit to show that the movie is at least trying to get you excited. "The Expendables 2" literally just cuts to Stallone and company driving towards an enemy base. No buildup, no reveal, no tease. Just straight cut to Sly driving a truck, wearing some really silly goggles. Pretty weak intro.

Lastly, while I was glad Arnold was in it a lot more, there were 4 occasions in this movie where I face-palmed, and they were all due to one liners involving him.

Now, don't get me wrong. One-liners as said by Arnold Schwarzenegger get me more excited than any heterosexual man has the right to be, but these just did nothing for me because of the fact that none of them were new. They were all recycled, and that just isn't cool. This film has him making an "I'll be back" joke twice. They also use the phrase "terminate" in regards to Arnold. And I'm pretty sure there's a "Total Recall" reference there, too. Oh also, he says "Yippie Ki Ay." Because you know, that was in "Die Hard." Which he wasn't in. It's just so lazy.

"Sorry. Have to SPLIT!!!" See? It's not that hard.

All I'm saying is that if you get the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World for Action Movie One-Liners in your movie, give him one liners! Don't have him recycle the old ones! That's boring! Thinking up bad puns and one-liners is not that difficult. Thinking up immortal classics like "See you at the party, Richter" or "Enough talk!" is, but it's not that hard to crank out a C+ quip. That's why you have Arnold, because he can take that and turn it into an A-!

That aside, this is exactly what I was hoping it was going to be. It was a big, dumb, absurdly fun action movie harkening back to the 80's. We can only hope that "The Expendables 3" will get made, because after the disappointing first film, it seems they've found their formula. Now they just need Reb Brown!

THE BOTTOM LINE - I really liked "The Expendables 2." For action packed awesomeness with a dream team of action gods, this is the money right here. Props to everyone involved for improving on the first film in every possible way. Recommended.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

You know, spy movies are like making bacon. To make sure it is perfect, there are certain things to look out for.

First, when frying it in a pan, be sure to only cook it in its own greases, as it needs nothing else. For this reason it is also advisable to cook more than simply a few strips at a time, so as to be sure there is enough grease to go around, otherwise it may burn.

Also, there is no need for constant flipping. Once per side is enough, similar to if you were cooking a steak.

Finally, never put cold bacon straight into a hot pan. Always lay the strips in a room temperature pan first, then put the pan on a burner at medium high heat. This will ensure an even cooking, and prevent burning.

You see, if the bacon were the characters, and the pan is the script, and the grease is the action, you have to make sure that the script isn't too hot, because the characters might start splattering action everywhere and make your stove-top all greasy. Maybe some might splash on your arms and it might string real bad, and you want to wipe it off you quick because it's burning your arm, but your hands are full because you're turning the characters with a fork and if you drop it than a bunch of action is going to get all over your shoes and the floor and it might cause moderately severe burns and grease fires suck to put out so you better just take the pain.

The point I'm trying to make here is that I don't like the Bourne movies. But I do like bacon. Hmm. That analogy made more sense in my head...

Pictured above: Espionage.

Going into "The Bourne Legacy" I had been made aware that unless you were a big fan of the Bourne series up to this point, and had a pretty good knowledge of them going into it, this was going to be a really rough movie to watch. The word "confusing" popped up more than a few occasions. Apparently "The Bourne Legacy" takes place while the events of the third film are going on, kind of like a companion piece to it, if you will. However, from what I understood watching the film, while events from "The Bourne Ultimatum" affect this film, the events from this film don't affect "The Bourne Ultimatum." I think.

I get the feeling I'm going to have to fall back on the phrase "I think" more often than I'd like when talking about this film. In the case of "The Bourne Ultimatum" I have to resort to it because honestly, I slept through a good chunk of that film. That was an intensely boring experience for me, and I literally have no memory of it. None. The only thing I think I remember is a shot near the end where someone sitting in their car looks in their side mirror and sees someone else walking down the street. That's it. Mothra could have gotten elected as the new Pope in that movie and I wouldn't remember it. Although since I can't remember otherwise, I have to assume that Mothra becoming Pope could have indeed happened.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't care for this movie any more than I cared for the others, which was not a lot. And while I had no idea what was going on in the Matt Damon Bourne movies, at least they had the decency to have a modicum of action in them. Well, at least the first one did. I can't remember the others.

The biggest problem with "The Bourne Legacy" is that it's boring. It's a bunch of talking heads spewing lingo-laden techobabble. Remember in any of the various "Star Trek" series whenever someone, usually Spock or Data would start rattling off some indecipherable science speak which basically boiled down into something really simple like "We need to increase the power to this thing" except it sounded really smart? That's "The Bourne Legacy" in a nutshell. Just 2 hours and 10 minutes of just that, except they're replacing science-speak with espionage-speak.

Every line of dialogue Edward Norton has could be followed by the question, "What?"

I could figure out the "what" of the movie. I knew what was going on, because at the core it's really not difficult to "get." Jeremy Renner is part of what can only be described as a super solider program. He needs meds to stay alive. Jason Bourne happens. The people running the program flip out and try to kill all their agents to cover it up. Jeremy Renner grabs a doctor who worked on the meds to make it so he doesn't need meds anymore. They go to Malaysia, get the cure, and now he doesn't need meds anymore. The end.

That's the plot. I knew the "what" but the thing that made it really frustrating was that I had no idea what was going on with the "who" or "why." It's just a bunch of people talking about whatever and doing stuff and running from some other people because of who knows why and they need to get this thingy because they need it for that thingy and oh look a motorcycle. I know what one of those things are. So hey, is anyone going to get shot in the face in this thing or what?

"Oh, this? Naw, man. This is my cell phone. I made it look just like a gun. And in hindsight, I'm not sure why."

I shouldn't have to tell you that it's a very annoying way to watch a movie. But such is the current state of the "spy thriller." Nothing can be simple like blowing up Fort Knox to make the price of gold skyrocket. No, you need plots within schemes within conspiracies. And you know, it really makes me miss the overblown, exposition laden monologues the villains give where they explain what their plan is, because trust me, some clarity in this movie would have been nice. Not that it would have mattered much, since "The Bourne Legacy" doesn't even have a central villain.

That's right, there's no antagonist. Oh sure, there are people out there trying to shoot him for various, poorly defined reasons, but really, the antagonist in this film is the fact that he has to take medication. Oh, take THAT Blowfeldt! That's some hardcore conflict going on there. What's next, is Wilfred Brimley going to get into a high-speed helicopter chase with his diabeetus?

Oh man. Now I want them to bring back "Airwolf" and cast Wilfred Brimley in the lead.

And for those of you who saw the film and are going to bring it up, no, the little Asian man on the motorcycle doesn't count. I said "central villain." You can't throw a random little Asian man in with 20 minutes left for a chase scene and call him the antagonist. And Edward Norton doesn't count, either. With the exception of a flashback which makes little sense and adds nothing to anything, the two are never on screen with each other, and I'm not entirely sure that Renner's character knows if Norton is the one trying to find him. So it's entirely possible that our protagonist isn't even aware of the "bad guy." Truly an earth-shaking rivalry equal to Holmes and Moriarty!

Don't lie to me, press photo. This 35 second scene is the only time they share screen time.

The action that's in it, when it feels like having it, is at best just OK. Certainly it's not good enough to make us wait for as long as they do. There's a shootout in a house that's halfway passable, and there is the centerpiece action scene with the motorcycles, but I honestly found that last chase to be kind of redundant to the point of boredom. It also didn't help that I had no idea who the guy chasing them was supposed to be. And of course it's all filmed in that patented Bourne style shaky camera which guarantees that you'll have no idea what's going on, although to be fair it's better shot than the rest of the Bourne movies.

But there was one other thing that "The Bourne Legacy" had that the Matt Damon series did not. And what that thing was is quite possibly one of the singlehandedly greatest moments that I've seen in any movie ever, and I'm dead serious. There's a scene in this film that is Barney Stinson level Legendary. You can't even contemplate the awesomeness. Or the hilarity.

Allow me to set the scene for you.

So Jeremy Renner is 2 miles from the middle of Nowhere, Alaska, right? He has a tracking device in his hip. The people trying to kill him are using that device to lock on to him and fire missiles at him from a drone aircraft. So he cuts out the tracking device and sits by a tree to wait for the wolves that have been following him for days to find him.

As the wolves find him, Jeremy Renner straight up tackles the pack leader like Warren Sapp, an act which is by itself so absurdly hardcore that it deserves its own discussion. As he wrestles the wolf into a full-nelson headlock, he manages to jam the tracking device down its throat.

See where this is going? Yeah, it's going exactly where you think it's going.

"Oh crap."

Jeremy then starts running away from the wolves as we see the drone lock on to the signal. As the missile is launched, streaking towards the target, Jeremy, in slow motion action hero glory, makes his final dash through the woods. And then BOOM! A massive explosion behind him completely annihilates that poor furry bastard who had no idea what was in store for him when he woke up that morning.

And I could not stop laughing. It was one of the most hysterical things I'd seen all year up to that point. I mean, how many movies have the hero taking out a wolf with a goddamn Stinger missile? That's one of the best uses of "overkill" I've seen. That's Schwarzenegger level ridiculous. That's like John Malkovitch's death scene in "Con Air." That's like dropping Knights of The Round on an Imp with 3 HP in "Final Fantasy." That's like the Mythbusters cleaning out a dump truck with 500 lbs of high explosives.

That, my friends, is awesome.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I will be the first to admit that I am not the best judge of these movies based on the fact that I plain don't like them, but I did not like "The Bourne Legacy." Maybe if you're a huge Bourne fan you'd dig it. Maybe. But for me, with the exception of the exploding wolf scene, it's just boring, unmemorable, and confusing. Skip it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys (2012)

I normally don't do TV shows for this blog. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Write an entry about the show as a whole or every episode? Because for the first option, I'd have to watch the entire series to write about it, and that would just take a really long time. Perhaps I could change that by simply making sure I only watched shows that were on FOX, because as well we all know, the average FOX show lasts for roughly 14 minutes before being cancelled. Hell, you could probably watch the entirety of "Firefly" in less time than it would take to have an extended-cut marathon of "Lord of The Rings." Or at least, it would be close.

And do you really want me cluttering up this blog with entries all of 4 paragraphs long about the monster of the week Mulder and Scully took down or if Nemoy's ear prosthetic was convincing or not? I mean, what am I supposed to say about a single episode of "Mythbusters?"

"Well, Adam and Jamie blew something up, it was awesome, and I am still firmly set in my commitment to happily cut off my left leg for a chance to be with Kari Byron. The end."


In this case, "Hatfields & McCoys" was a mini-series on the History Channel, when in a surprising development they found a block of time to show us something that wasn't Hitler. Normally I would have been only slightly curious about it, mostly because after seeing "Deadwood," I'm not sure that I'd want to see that kind of setting done outside of HBO. I'm not sure I'd want to commit to its 3-part, roughly 5 hour run time unless there was something really special about it.

But I saw the commercial for it during another soul-sucking, methamphetamine-level addictive run of "Pawn Stars," which of course they can never show a single episode of. No, when you're watching "Pawn Stars," they will be playing that mess for 15 hours straight, and there will be neither rest nor reprieve for you until it has run its course to its conclusion. But that's another discussion which can be summed up with the warning "For the love of god, never watch "Pawn Stars.""

While waiting to find out whether or not the dude's collection of Donald Duck comics are worth anything (seriously, why do I even watch that show?), the commercial for "Hatfields & McCoys" came on, and I must admit that it did look promising. The production values looked good, it appeared to be surprisingly violent for regular TV, and to be honest, I really don't know anything about the Hatfields or the McCoys, so learning about them seemed like something that would be cool. And the fact that it had Kevin Costner was a plus.

I like Kevin Costner, but only to an extent. Honestly, I really don't think he's that great of an actor much of the time, but I don't think it's always his fault. I am of the opinion that it's the roles he's in. He's not good at playing action heroes, but he's good when he's playing an average Joe. "Field of Dreams" and the excellent straight-to-DVD affair "The New Daughter" are good examples of that. Just compare those to "Waterworld" or "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

So Costner playing "Devil" Anse Hatfield I could see happening. At least he's rocking an awesome beard. But "Hatfields & McCoys" needed something else for me to really be interested in it. Something that would put it over the edge. Something that screamed "Dude, there's no way you can miss this." It needed some top-echelon, hopeless man-crush, I-want-to-buy-this-man-a-beer talent.

You rang?

Oh thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you "Hatfields & McCoys." You've been reading my "Suggestions on Making Everything Awesome" list, haven't you?*

Bill Paxton is one of my all-time favorites, as you can plainly tell. And while I do enjoy how absolutely over-the-top he can get at times, I find Bill to be an inexcusably underrated actor. It seems that as the years have gone by he has become a bit more acknowledged as a legitimate actor, probably thanks to "Big Love," but I've been a fan of his for years. Honestly, when you look back on his earlier roles, oftentimes he's one of the most memorable aspects of the movie, even if it was a small part.

*By the way, "Put Bill Paxton in it" is number #4 on it.

Think back on "True Lies." Aside from Arnold in a jet, Jamie Lee Curtis' body double stripping and the fact that it was the last good movie James Cameron made, the next thing most people would probably remember is Bill Paxton's scumbag car salesman who has what is the single greatest scene of cowardly self-emasculation ever filmed. Remember "Predator 2?" The answer is probably "Barely," but you probably remember Bill Paxton getting killed in the subway, since that was the point where the movie becomes not worth watching anymore. And what is always the very first line quoted from "Aliens" when it's being talked about? That's right, it's "Game over, man! Game over!"

And yes, Bill was kind of goofy in all those roles, and he plays the comic foil shockingly well, but if you watch something where he's serious you'll see that the dude's got some heavy duty acting chops. I'm not joking. Remember him in "Apollo 13" and "Tombstone?" Just watch "A Simple Plan." Watch "Frailty." He's AMAZING in that. The man knows what he's doing, and when he's playing a serious role, he has this aura of sincerity just pouring off him, and that makes me completely buy every single line coming out of his mouth. He is one of the most believable actors around, because he really doesn't look like he's acting at all.

And when watching "Hatfields & McCoys," for me at least, that made the whole thing worth it. To be honest everyone does a fantastic job of acting throughout the whole thing, particular Costner, Tom Berenger, and Powers Booth who all consistently just light up the screen like napalm, but Bill Paxton is the real standout here. He is just killing this role, and of the two leads, between him and Costner, Bill's got the juicer part as Randall McCoy if you ask me.

Anse Hatfield is more of a calculating badass, and he suffers a lot of loss, but McCoy is the guy who really has everything taken from him. This part must have been actor's dream for Bill as he gets whittled down smaller and smaller as more and more of his family dies, until by the end he's practically a dried out husk. There are scenes in the third part with Bill that are absolutely heartbreaking, one scene in particular where he is sitting outside the burned remains of his house, seeing drunken visions of Costner mocking him, but most of the third part consists of Bill giving a master's course on acting.

I don't think the story needs much explanation, because it's part of American culture that the Hatfields and McCoys hated each other and were very good at making each other dead. Of course, finding out all the details of the (we're assuming true) story does make for compelling television. What is surprising to me was the scale of the conflict into which the whole thing escalated, because it gets pretty nuts. I had no idea that there were actually mini-battles that occurred with full out charges on horseback and whatnot. I guess I just didn't realize how many people were involved in the fighting. Of course this was back in the day when it was common for one family to have so many siblings and cousins that you could fill the cast of "Les Misérables."

"I dreamed a dream of shooting you in the brain."

It is fascinating to see the origin of this famous feud, which really stems from Kevin Costner quitting the confederate army and Tom Berenger shooting a guy because the guy had been a union solider. Because of that, these two families are forever going to be going around in this inescapable cycle of revenge that wipes out a good chunk of both families, although the McCoys really do get hit the hardest.

As well acted and written as the show is, "Hatfields & McCoys" does suffer slightly from "Band of Brothers" syndrome, meaning that there is an slightly absurd amount of characters to keep straight. But whereas "Band of Brothers" had 10 hours to tell its story, "Hatfields & McCoys" has less than half that, and covers a much longer period of time. For that reason the characters aren't dwelt on for too long, with the exception of the ones that actually live through to at least the final part. I didn't even know 80% of their names, and it's not like you can just look at a guy and say "Oh, that dude's a Hatfield."

That brings up what is the biggest flaw in the series, which is that as early as the beginning of the second part it really just degrades into a whirlwind of violence, and it has a tendency to become pretty redundant. Nearly any time a gathering of people occurs, someone gets drunk, sees a member of the rival family, gets in a fight with them, and then they or the other person gets stabbed to death and/or shot. After this, the other family gathers up a posse and haunts them down, swearing revenge. Then when that's done, the first family calls it injustice and swears revenge on the posse. Then Powers Booth kind of calms everyone down, bringing them back to Defcon 2 from Defcon 1. Then there's another gathering of people. And it goes on and on like this.

How is it possible that he's actually more intimidating here than he was as Sgt. Barnes?

Sometimes it wasn't even that complicated. Sometimes a McCoy just sees a Hatfield and shoots him in the face since, hey, it's the weekend. By the end I got to the point of not really concerning myself too much with who the characters are, because odds were pretty good that they were going to be dead soon anyways. Really the most important thing to discern is which team they're playing for.

You know, the inevitable thing you think about while watching a show like this is how close it is to real life. The characters here act like such animals, oftentimes being slightly less civil than your average raging, blood-lusting barbarian, and it's easy to really not like any of them at all, because they're all horrible people. One would like to think that it's highly overblown and dramatized, but unfortunately it's probably pretty close to the truth. And watching "Hatfields & McCoys" is an interesting look into pure, blind hatred for no reason other than it being the status quo. And for that reason, it's kind of scary.

And quite sad.

THE BOTTOM LINE - If you've got roughly 5 hours to kill, "Hatfields & McCoys" is a solid period piece with top notch acting by a powerful ensemble cast. As redundant as the plot can get by the end, this look into American history is well worth the time. And hey, 5 hours with Bill Paxton sounds like a good time to me. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Sometimes I really wonder what the criteria for "the next big thing is," because to me it seems really inconsistent. Why is a boring story about a bland, useless sack of teenage sociopathy having to choose between a possessive, borderline rapist stalker and a dull, uncaring asshole of a monster (because those are obviously her only two possible choices) so popular? Is it just because teens are told that it's the new thing, and that they have to like if they want to be cool?

I think about stuff like this because sometimes something will come out and become massively popular, and I can't figure what it is that made it so huge when I'd seen it done before, but the most that happened was perhaps a bit of a cult following. Take "Twilight" for example. That was not the first time someone thought to themselves "Hey, vampires are sexy." The first notable example one would probably think of would be "Interview with The Vampire" back in '91, which is actually a good vampire story, as opposed to Edward and Bella's "epic," and far more heartbreaking and tragic, but don't forget the chairman of the board himself, Dracula. And I'm not just talking about the Coppola version. Even the original Bela Lugosi film is actually pretty sexy. And it does it while remembering the vampire is A BAD GUY. What a novel concept, right?

But where were the Louis backpacks and LeStat posters on the walls of teenage girls? LeStat was way more of a bad boy than Edward freaking Cullen, not to mention better looking and more charismatic. Oh, and he was actually bad, which is a nice touch. Not to mention Antonio Bandaras' character of Armand, who Jacob Black wishes he could be as gay as. Where were the "Team Lugosi" t-shirts? Where were the soccer moms fantasizing about Christopher Lee?

"Bitch, you couldn't even handle this."

The point here is "Why Twilight?" It's been done before, and done much better. At least those other films had the decency to get vampire lore right.

And now we have "The Hunger Games," another "young adult" book series. Now, I didn't even hear of this until the movie was set to come out, but my friends who read it informed me that it was very good. Then again, I was told the same of "Twilight." Then again, I was also told the same of "Harry Potter," which actually was quite good. So...coin toss?

The thing that struck me most about "The Hunger Games" was the story. This was because when it was described to me the first time, the very next words out of my mouth were "Soooo it's "Battle Royale," huh?" And without fail the person describing it to me said "What's that?" By then I was in full snob-mode and said with a fair amount of incredulity "You've never seen "Battle Royale?" Oh man."

Of course they'd never seen "Battle Royale." Why would they have seen it? An actual good movie where you have to read subtitles? Forget that. I need to catch up on "Jersey Shore."

Ok, I know what this looks like but seriously, it's a good flick. What? It is!

Fans of "The Hunger Games" have probably heard enough about "Battle Royale" to make them sick at this point, because I know that people like myself certainly brought it up enough to make sure that they'd never watch it, simply out of spite. But there is a reason we bring it up, and that's because it's pretty freaking identical to "The Hunger Games," only it's not backed by a raving mob of fangirls and soccer moms.

Which brings me back to my original point once again: Why this instead of "Battle Royale?" What's the big difference?

Ah. I see.

Oh right. Heaven forbid our violence be disturbing. Gotta get the kiddies in the theaters to watch people KILL EACH OTHER. That's good old fashioned family entertainment. As long as the girl and boy hook up at the end, then you can do whatever the hell you want and call it teenage oriented. You know who else had a happy ending? Mickey and Mallory from "Natural Born Killers!" Let's show the kids that! It's a romance!

Still a better love story than "Twilight."

Geez, that's the longest opening tirade yet. Should probably talk about the movie I saw at some point, huh? I suppose I'll get to it, seeing as it's what I do here.

As is probably evident, I went into "The Hunger Games" with the mindset of "Okay, movie. Impress me. Show me what all the fuss is about." Maybe not the healthiest attitude, to be sure, but it's hard to not be a tad cynical with something this huge. And that's particularly true when the fan base is partly composed of the teenage demographic which, let's face it, has the absolute worst taste in movies. So yeah, I was skeptical.

After seeing "The Hunger Games," I'm left at something of an impasse. While I thought that it was a well put together film, in fact it's made far better than most teen blockbusters are, at the end of the day I still don't get the "why this" aspect of it. Is it good? Yeah, it's pretty good. Is it a sweeping, multi-billion dollar saga to rival "Lord of The Rings?" No. The story is pretty weak sauce. Having not read the trilogy, I don't know where it goes from here, but as for the first installment, I'm not picking up much of a sense of epic.

Before I say enough negative stuff to give the impression that I didn't like "The Hunger Games," let me be clear: It's a very well made film. It really is. The visual style is quite striking, albeit a bit shaky and jittery with the camera at times, and it does do a very good job at transporting you to a different place. If "The Hunger Games" does one thing quite well it's to immerse the viewer in the world they have created. Now, whether or not the world makes sense is another matter, but it still immerses you.

And when it has to be dramatic and emotionally charged, for the most part it is pulled off very well. In particular, the opening 20 minutes is among some of the best dramatic moments, during what is known as "The Reaping," which is just a really sinister way of saying "a lottery." I know some complaints were made about "The Hunger Games" starting off slowly, but to be honest with you I thought that was some of the best stuff in the movie.

Look at that suit. Richard Dawson would be proud.

The first hour focuses on their training and the whole rigamarole behind the game, which is basically a TV show which follows the battle to the death that these kids are forced to participate in. It's essentially "Battle Royale" if it were "Ender's Game" if it took place in ancient Rome as interpreted by "The Running Man." If that makes sense. In any case I found the exploration of the theatricality involved, and the fact that almost everyone involved is totally aware how much of a hollow, flashy, soulless spectacle it is to be the most interesting part of the film.

As far as action goes, despite the shaky cam being abused a bit, for a PG-13 film it did come off as reasonably brutal, at least as far as that rating can take you. I personally think they could have gone a bit further with the violence and kept a PG-13 though. I get the feeling most of that came from the fact that these are kids being killed, and less about what you see. I think a bit more gratuity would have helped the film's impact, but for being PG-13 it was well done. It's just hard to not compare it to the many other films with similar plots, all of them I remember being a hard R rating.

Of course the biggest selling point of any "saga" is the story. In a bit of a surprise, despite my problems concerning the Games themselves (which I'll get to), this is a story that I wouldn't mind seeing the rest of. The reasons for this aren't for the characters, but just the idea of where the plot is going to go next. I'm not invested in the plot so to speak, but I'm interested in the possibilities of where it goes next, if that makes sense.

As far as cast goes, I don't know. Jennifer Lawrence is/was an indie-circuit darling, and supposed to be this rocking Titan of Acting, but honestly for a good portion of the movie I found her to be fairly bland and uninteresting. Most of the time she just kind of stood there with her mouth hanging open looking like she was trying to remember whether or not she set the TiVo to record "Scrubs." It's one thing for Katniss (stupid name #38 for this film) to be scared and speechless but Lawrence just plays her so boring, with the exception of a handful of scenes where she's mad.

"Meh. I'll shoot you with this arrow. I guess."

That was actually the biggest problem for me with Katniss, was that she really didn't display much emotion at all. I kept waiting for her to go off the deep end, and she starts to, but that never really pans out. Even after she's watched her friend die in her arms, which would have been quite moving had it not been kind of forced, and she's had her "MENDOZZA!!!" moment, after that's done she really never gets too upset. What I had been hoping for was for Katniss to pick up her bow, say "All you bastards are dead" and reenact "Rambo: First Blood Part II." Instead she just has a good cry and goes home. Way to protagonize, protagonist.

And the whole time we're being told that Katniss is the great hope of these Games. She's the one that has the best shot at winning, even more so than the trained killers from the rich districts that volunteered for this thing, I'm guessing just because they want to stab something in the face. No, these guys are ranked lower than Katniss to succeed, because she shot an apple.

I got a much bigger kick out of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (stupid name #65) their mentor and former Hunger Games winner, who has turned into a slopping drunk to deal with the torment of helping send young people off to die. There's some real pain in his performance, and it was quite effective. Even Lenny Kravitz as their producer Cinna (#89) was actually quite good in a similar role. I also thought that the quiet fatalism of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta (#115) had a nice, quiet dignity about it, especially when he starts sabotaging his own chances to make Katniss look better, giving her theoretically better odds at surviving. I liked that, and it would have made for some pretty gripping and dramatic moments if "The Hunger Games" hadn't chickened out on itself.

Yeah, here's where I start having some problems not with the cast or the way the film is made, but the story itself. This could have been a brutal, tragic tale but it really just ends up playing it way too safe, and comes off as blatantly catering to the demographic that it's trying to ensnare. It's odd to say that considering how many young people get slaughtered, but it's the way they handle the ending that really kind of spoiled my experience a bit.

The whole point of these games is that there can be only one winner. Everyone else is going to die. That's the way it's been for 73 years up to this point, and to change it would be stupid, since the entire reason for the games to exist is subjugation of the districts being forced to supply these kids. To change the rules would make the regime look soft, which is against everything they're trying to do. Well, this may be spoiler-heavy for anyone who hasn't seen the movie or read the book, but all you have to do is remember that it's a movie for teens to realize that there's no way that "The Hunger Games" is having either the main character or her love interest die. Because you see, there can be more than one winner. Only there can't. Except when there can be.

THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!! (except when there can totally be more than one)

They try and make it so that the guys running the Hunger Games kind of shoot themselves in the foot by implementing a "two-winner" special rule in an attempt to try and appease rioters in a district that (SHOCK!) had one of their young people killed in the Games, but it really doesn't make any sense. First of all, the entire reason the district was rioting was because one of their children died. But I crunched the numbers, and assuming that the "winning" rate between all the districts is statistically even, that particular district has lost roughly 138 kids over the years to the Hunger Games. Are you telling me that they only now care enough to riot? Was 139 just the final straw? It seems to be the case because it's only now that the regime is scared enough of this rioting to change the rules that have been in place for the better part of a century.

The second reason that doesn't make any sense is the fact that it's really a meaningless gesture for the regime to do for the district that is rioting because the rules are absurdly specific and transparently tailor-made for Katniss and Peeta, who aren't even from the rioting district. Who is this suppose to appease? You think that district is going to be totally okay with the fact that both of some other district's kids made it back when both of their kids are dead? What do they care at that point? They'll still be pissed off.

Thirdly, let's say that they actually succeeded in placating the rioting district with this two-winner amendment. That's rendered completely useless at the end because when Peeta and Katniss are the last ones standing, they revoke it anyway in a "MWAHAHAHAHA!!! WE'RE EVIL!!!" moment which is bashing-your-forehead-on-the-desk-stupid. Did they think the people that were mad weren't going to get mad AGAIN when you overturn the thing you did to make them not mad?

And finally, why is the regime even bothering in the first place with trying to make everyone happy? You have abducted children as young as 8 years old to FIGHT TO THE DEATH FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT. I don't think any amount of PR is going to get around the fact that you are an evil, tyrannical bunch of douchebags. When the hell did the notion of doing someone else a solid ever seem like part of your business model?! I just have to keep going back to the question "Why do they care if people are happy?" They have to know that the districts hate them.

"Jennifer! I'm glad you're here! I think my wig is plotting against me, and I'm freaking out."

You would also think that a clearly advanced society would not be forced to do these barbaric acts to subjugate its people in the first place, since the technology they are using in the Games could easily be used to utterly crush any resistance immediately, considering that based on what I saw, they literally have the power to instantly create any damn thing they want. But given the fact that in the city they're pulling stuff out of the aether, while people in the districts appear to have never seen a flush toilet before, I'm not sure that a rebellion is a real threat to this government. It would be like the hordes of Mordor versus a country full of pandas. I think the pandas would surrender.

At least it wouldn't be a threat if they didn't have these comically villainous games which unsurprisingly do little except guarantee that the Districts are never going to not be thinking about rebelling. I guess I'm just not seeing the Big Picture of the plan here. I mean, it just seems so over-the-top cartoonishly evil. Although that may have to do with Donald Sutherland and his eyebrows.

When you look like a cartoon villain, I guess cartoonish villainy is inevitable.

This whole "changing the rules" thing really tainted my impression of the film. It came off as insultingly convenient, almost like they panicked halfway through the final act and were forced to pull something out of their asses to make it so they could both get out of this alive. While these are valid complaints to bring up, the reason for it lies in the fact that it's a movie for teens, and we can't have dark stuff happening to make it so the two attractive people don't hook up at the end. Of course the end of "The Hunger Games" implies that darker things are in store, but it still felt like a cop out.

On an up note, I did appreciate how Katniss and Peeta aren't really "together" at the end. That would have been the easy way to go, and while they dip their toe into those well-tred waters, it's not all the way there. It's more of a lie that's grown into something they both are contemplating making real, which is much better. But since one of the last things you see in the movie is Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Helmsworth staring intensely at each other across a crowd while she's holding hands with Josh Hutcherson, I'm guessing that "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" will involve a love triangle. Because we can't have a movie for teens without THAT. Heaven forbid.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I spent a lot of time complaining about the things in "The Hunger Games" that bugged me because I felt they took away from what was otherwise a pretty solid flick. Am I going to read the books? Probably not. Will I watch the others when they make them? Sure. Would I still rather be watching "Battle Royale?" Yup. Even so, Recommended.

Monday, August 20, 2012

ATM (2012)

Ah. Hello, American Investor. Welcome to the third and final part of my "IFC Midnight Trilogy Weekend Thingy." For the past three days I've been watching some movies from one of my favorite film distributors, IFC Midnight, and writing down my thoughts about each one. The first film, "Kill List" was an intense, tripped out crime drama that I found to be quite good. The second one, "The Corridor" would have been more enjoyable had it made a bit more sense.

For the last film, I took a look at the thriller, "ATM." Like the other two, this one was sold to me on the premise alone. All I did was read the back of the case. Other than that I had no idea what I was in for.

Reading the description I thought that "ATM" had some promise. The concept was that three people are trapped inside a walk-in ATM in the middle of the wintery night by a masked man who won't let them out. I'm sure that very concept sounds dumb to some people out there, but keep in mind that I was one of the few people who liked "Phonebooth," so you can't blame me for being slightly optimistic.

I think the thing I like about movies like "Phonebooth" is that they really tend to humanize the characters. You really get to know someone when you're trapped in a box with them for a few hours, and as long as the actor does a good job, there's some real drama to be squeezed out of a situation like that. I mean, as long as the characters are not horrifyingly stupid. I mean, can you imagine being trapped in a small space with a bunch of absolute idiots?

Wait. That sentence sounds eerily like foreshadowing. What the hell am I in for?

Well, I guess it had to happen eventually. I had a feeling that I may finally come across an IFC Midnight film that I hated in this little experiment. And well done on that, because "ATM" was freaking terrible. I hated this goddamn movie. Hated it. Hated hated hated hated it.

I almost want to watch the film again, and from beginning to end chart down and record on a minute by minute basis everything about "ATM" that pissed me off. Trust me, that could fill a novel, but most of it would be me simply typing YOU ARE STUPID as hard as I possibly could type it without breaking my keyboard, so it would get redundant pretty quickly. That and I would have to watch "ATM" again, and screw that.

Okay, so let's get this over with, because the less I have to relive the experience of watching this turd the better. The film begins with David and Corey, our two male leads. David is played by Brian Geraghty, who you may remember from "The Hurt Locker," and he's playing your "average Joe," which means he's quite bland and has no real characteristics that make him memorable in any way. Corey is played by Josh Peck, who you may remember from nothing unless you watch Nickelodeon, and he's the comic relief, which means he's the biggest douchebag you've ever had to suffer through.

God, just looking at him makes me want to put my fist through the monitor.

Just imagine if some sick mad scientist combined Jonah Hill and Dane Cook, made him a fratboy with a New York "Ey, buddy, I'm walkin' 'ere! Fowgitabowdit" attitude, then got that abomination onto the Multiverse drunk, and put him in a stressful situation where he could not physically stop talking because of nerves.

Isn't it a special occasion when you just know the next hour and a half is going to be like reeds under your fingernails after a character has been talking for less than ten seconds? And the amazing thing is that I really do believe that "ATM" wants us to like this piece of septic runoff. The movie honestly wants me to NOT want him dead?! At this rate one of us will be dead soon either way.

Don't you dare try to stop me...

Rounding out the cast is professional Nichole Kidman clone, Alice Eve as Emily, who is meant to function as David's love interest. I say "meant to" because what she actually does is provide 110 lbs of dead weight that does nothing useful at all, and simply sits in the corner, flails about, and whines "I can't!" whenever she is asked to contribute to their escape. What I love most about that is the fact that on the interview on the DVD, Alice referred to her character as "strong." Lady, your character is as useful as Princess Peach is to Mario. Don't flatter yourself. Your character sucks and you know it.

So the three of them wind up going to the ATM in the middle of the night, and we find the first dumb thing of the movie. David seems to think that at 1:35 AM, when it is literally -3 degrees outside, it's a good idea to park about 100 feet away from the ATM. He parks halfway across the damn parking lot. Perhaps he read the script and knew that would make the killer's job way too hard if the car was closer.

"Jerry, I don't see nothin'!"
"No, jus' kip lookin' dare. Does'r'sum noice crappies right in dare."
"Oh yah, Jerry, now I sees 'em. Oh yah, dem's good eatin's."

Then, when they are all inside the ATM, the killer just stands outside. He never says a single word. I'm serious, too. Not once in the entire film do we a) hear the killer speak or b) see his face. Hell, I can't even be 100% sure that it's a "he." At no point do you get the slightest explanation as to why he's doing what he's doing. And I know what they're going for with this: the idea is that it's really scary when there's no rhyme or reason to violence. But even the most chaotic evil villains tend to have some kind of reason for it. I mean, The Joker had a method to his various kinds of madness. And when he talked about it, that's when you realized how sick and scary he was.

Imagine if The Joker hadn't said a word in "The Dark Knight?" Do you really think that scene in the hospital where he turns Harvey would have been the same if he had just handed him a gun and pointed to Harvey's coin? No, it would have been stupid. Instead we got dialogue like "Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos? It's fair." It's at points like that when we see how twisted and warped The Joker is, and that's what makes a memorable villain.

Seriously, Team Rocket is more intimidating than this guy.

There's so much stupid going on that it really becomes difficult to list it all. The most problematic thing about "ATM" is that it asks us to believe that the killer has them completely screwed when I lost count of the number of times that they could have made a break for it without the killer ever knowing. Because here's the kicker: the killer leaves all the time. On several occasions he's snooping around out back, just doing whatever, and the three doofuses just stay there like he's right outside the door. Usually they end up having the same conversation every time consisting of David and Corey switching back and forth between wanting to stay and wanting to go (seriously it's like the script flipped names at points as far as characters state of mind goes) and Emily whining and saying "No! You can't go out there! Please don't leave me!" because there's no way she's attempting to survive this, and she has to drag everyone else down with her.

These really do become forehead slapping painful to watch, especially when it's paired with dialogue like:
David: "I can make it! I'll be halfway across the parking lot before he knows I'm gone!"
Corey: "Yeah?! And what about the other half?!"

"Me and my Tin Tin hair will run like the wind!"

Ugh. Just ugh. That's all I can say to that stupidity. I mean, what do you want me to say to a guy that doesn't realize that, assuming the killer is not indeed The Flash, David will probably be out of the parking lot by then? Does Corey really think that the killer can run more than twice as fast as David? See what I mean about the whining? It's an hour and a half of this.

And while I realize that not everyone is capable of defending themselves in a freaky situation, I really can't get behind characters who are so disinterested in surviving. For example, I counted no less than 5 objects inside the ATM that the characters could have used as weapons to defend themselves, and many of those would have probably been pretty effective, especially if they attacked the killer together.

And before you go off thinking that perhaps they didn't have it in them, guess what? They totally kill a guy they think is the killer. Yeah, that probably needs a little explaining. About halfway through the film, a guy wearing nearly the exact same outfit as the killer walks into the ATM. Corey and David immediately jump him, beat the holy hell out of him, and David ends up strangling him to death with a cord. Now, why the killer let this guy just walk into the ATM when he'd killed two other people at that point for simply being in the vicinity I have no idea. But that's not the point.

My point is that the two of them took a guy down, and they are both clearly okay with the thought of killing the person tormenting them. And yes, they are greatly upset by this intensely stupid occurrence, but the fact remains, they have it in them to take someone out. So why don't the three of you grab that steel trashcan, that bottle of liquor and that pen and open that door, tackle that parka-wearing nutjob and start swinging, smashing and stabbing until he no longer occupies this realm of existence!

What? Did you use up all your encounter and daily powers or something?! KICK HIS ASS!!!

Oh, I'm sorry, I forget. You must not want to live. And you know what? After seeing this movie, I really was rooting for the killer, because he was doing the world a favor by killing these idiots.

And there is no scene that exemplifies that more than a scene near the back end of the film where David and Emily, as the killer is pounding on the back wall of the ATM, in other words CLEARLY in no position to know where they are, and telegraphing exactly where he is, run outside to aid Corey, who was stabbed earlier during his escape attempt. After making it to Corey, they pick him up. Now, at this point I should remind you that the killer is still behind the ATM, and does not know they're gone. There is also a functioning car not 20 feet away from them. For $10,000, what do they do?

That's correct! They drag Corey back inside the ATM to die of his wounds! Because THAT makes sense!


THE BOTTOM LINE - "ATM" is bad. Ungodly bad. I can't remember ever seeing a group of protagonists I hated more. This is making my "Worst of 2012" list. It's not even enjoyably bad. It just hurts. Skip it, and punch anyone you see watching it in the face.