Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012

2012 was a year of great expectations. I had predicted that after the tepid offerings of 2011, the blockbusters scheduled for this year had the potential to be fantastic. And thankfully that turned out to (mostly) be the case. There were few big titles that disappointed, which was a nice change of pace.

On the other hand, that means that this year's list is going to contain fewer than the normal amount of weird, smaller movies nobody had heard of, something that I usually take pride in. I swear it's not on purpose, but between the big movies actually being decent for a change, combined with the fact that my overall movie consumption is less than usual for this year since this blog keeps me from devouring everything on the shelf like I normally do, I'm guessing most people have at least heard of the majority of these films.

Sorry, I'll try to be snootier in the coming year. It's a promise. On with the Top 10 Best Movies of 2012! (plus an honorable mention)

Honorable Mention: Brave
Pixar's latest effort caught me off guard with a movie I actually really liked a lot. I found the characters and story far more likable than their average fare, and I had a very good time with it despite myself. I'm still not a huge fan of Pixar, but I always give credit where I feel credit is due. "Brave" is probably my new favorite Pixar film.

And once again, I must commend "Brave" for having a fairy tale story about a young girl which doesn't feature a love interest at any point. I can't describe how refreshing that is.

10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I'm not going to lie to you. "The Hobbit" is going on this list purely out of fanboyism. I can't help myself. Was it a great movie on par with "The Lord of The Rings" films? No. Did that matter? Not to me. It's still "The Hobbit." And I am such a huge mark for it that there's no way I'm not loving every bit of it.

Look, I won't blow smoke up your collective asses and be dishonest. This movie had its issues. The biggest thing being the fact that it's an hour too long for no good reason. Had that been fixed it would have been WAY higher on the list. But despite my nerd-love for "The Hobbit," I can't bring myself to place it higher. There are just too many problems with the pacing. But it was still awesome despite all of those problems, and it still deserves a spot on my Top 10 of 2012.

Now, just wait until "The Desolation of Smaug" and we're talking guaranteed Top 3 spots! At least. I'm calling it right now. That just have no idea how awesome it's going to be.

9. The Flowers of War
This is the only movie on this list that I can't say I had a fun time at. "The Flowers of War" is a slog to get through. It's rough. It's brutal. Horrible, awful, unthinkable, "Schindler's List" level, tear-inducing things happen in this film. It's enough to make you cry. It's enough to make you not want to watch anymore. It's enough to make you want to retch. And my goodness was it amazing.

This isn't lite watching by any means. But if you can stomach it, and I recommend you do, you'll understand why it made my Best of The Year list. It deserves it. Any movie that is that powerful and moving is doing a lot of things right. Even if those things aren't things you'd ever, ever want to see. The scenes from "The Flowers of War" that have been burned into my mind are never going to leave. I can't say I would have willingly chosen to have them there, but I'm glad I saw such moving images that left such a strong impression.

8, Wreck-It Ralph
One of the bigger surprises for me this year came in the form of John C. Reilly as a video game character in "Wreck-It Ralph." I wasn't holding out high hopes for this one, but it ended up being both charming, well written, very entertaining and funny as hell. Much like "Bolt," another film from Walt Disney Animation Studios that I really like, "Wreck-It Ralph" also managed to be touching and heartbreaking at times without ever feeling like we were being overtly manipulated into it. On top of everything else, it's also a gorgeous flick.

Also, having been a gamer for many a year, this was a nostalgic kick to the spine that dropped references that only 30-somes like me would get. I mean, when's the last time you saw a "Metal Gear Solid" reference in a movie? I love when stuff is catered towards me!

7. The Grey
This tale of Liam Neeson in the woods trying to save himself and a small group of plane crash survivors from a vicious, extremely territorial pack of wolves in Alaska was part "Heart of Darkness," part "Alive" (only good) and part "Jaws." It's also a moving tale of courage and personal strength in the face of overwhelming odds and crippling despair.

Is it even possible to survive something like this? Probably not. Is the fight worth it? Maybe. Is that the point? No. Will it mean everything if you look despair in the eye, spit at its feet and sneer "Do your worst, you son of a bitch" even while standing on the edge of the cliff? Absolutely.

6. Skyfall
After the crushing disappointment that was "Quantum of Solace," the odds were not in Bond's favor with "Skyfall." Leave it to Sam Mendes to bring Bond back to the forefront of ass-kicking with what was the most ass-kickingist Bond movie since Pierce Brosnan's debut in "GoldenEye."

"Skyfall" was a grand-slam-in-the-bottom-of-the-9th success in every way that I can think of. Even the last half hour, which I thought did the film a disservice by going more Jason Bourne than James Bond was still awesome, despite my complaints. We also got the first memorable villain since "GoldenEye" with Javier Bardem, playing the only Bond villain that I can recall seeming like he was threatening to sexually molest 007. It was a fun time.

This is just what the Bond franchise needed. Now they need to do exactly that again. Forever.

5. Looper
Like there's any way the best time travel movie I've seen since "12 Monkeys" isn't going on this list. "Looper" is just as twisty-turney in the genre it occupies at any given moment as the plot that it weaves, and twists and turns it has a-plenty. What's amazing is that as often as it changes, so drastically so that if you were to watch the beginning and the end there's a good chance you'd think they were different films aside from the cast, it never once doesn't make total sense or feel out of place.

If there was a guy looking to take up the mantel of "The Next Christopher Nolan," director Rian Johnson is it. I can't wait to see what he does next. If "Looper" is any indication, whatever it is, it's going to blow our minds.

4. The Dark Knight Rises
The final chapter in Christopher Nolan's superb Batman trilogy was a movie that was met with some, let's be gentle and say "mixed" reactions. In actuality it was closer to "half the audience loved it and the other half wanted to burn down Hollywood over it." It's always normal to have backlash to any highly anticipated movie, but people seemed really viciously torn over this one. I don't understand why because I thought "The Dark Knight Rises" was a towering, powerful end to one of my favorite film series. I loved it, despite some problems with pacing, which is why it isn't higher on the list.

This film was a big bite out of a huge sandwich, maybe a little too big to be sure, and there's a lot to chew. There's a lot of character stuff going on, and it's less about Batman than it is Gotham as a whole. But that didn't seem out of place to me. Gotham has always been what Batman was fighting for the whole time. And thematically it's appropriate since a large aspect of the story is dealing with how the people of Gotham are going to function without Batman. You think Bruce Wayne wanted to have to protect Gotham forever? No, he wanted them to not have to need him. This isn't Batman being pushed out of the picture, this is his story coming full circle. This was the point this whole time, if you care to pay attention to the two films that came before.

And I don't care what you say. Bane was amazing. And I understood him perfectly fine. Ya'll need your hearing checked. Or maybe go to a theater with decent sound.

How did it come to this? Here we stand, at the turn of the tide. We now come to the TOP 3 OF 2012. In a year of much anticipation, there were some ups and there were some downs - but which 3 films were solid enough to make the upper echelon? One had me doing one of the biggest nerd-outs I've ever done over it, another I just assumed was going to be incredible (and I was right), while another was actually a complete surprise. Which ones? Let's do it! Here's what I consider the absolute best of what 2012 had to offer!

3. Prometheus
Few movies this year, well besides TDKR, was as divisive as "Prometheus" was. Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi was met with high expectations and intense backlash as it turned out to be, to the OUTRAGE of fans of the "Alien" franchise, something that was unthinkable! It was...brace yourselves, children...


Gasp! Do you mean to tell me that Ridley Scott had the temerity to make a film with huge, bold ideas that may not have any easy answers, which takes its time in actually setting up an atmosphere to portray and develop the futuristic world it takes place in, and has a grand sense of discovery and exploration, and leaves you with more questions than answers, in other words "great science fiction" instead of simply remaking "Aliens" and calling it a day?! What a travesty!

I seriously don't understand the rage that "Prometheus" inspired. I hate to sound like a snob (okay that's a lie) but honestly, if you're one of the people who hated "Prometheus," I seriously don't know what you were expecting. Was it "Alien?" If that's the case, you got it as the plot is essentially the same in its barest elements. Was it "Aliens?" Then just watch "Aliens." Don't tell me that's what you really wanted, either, because then you'd call it derivative. Did you just want "a sci-fi movie?" THAT'S WHAT YOU GOT. I hate to break this phrase out, but I have to assume the people complaining just didn't "get it." This movie is fantastic, and a wonderful, brainy addition to the "Alien" franchise. I can't wait to see where it goes next.

(And by the way, as to the complaint that the scientists "act stupid," all I have to say is "I'm the first person on an unexplored planet uncovering what may be the secret to not only how human life began, but I'm the first son of a bitch to encounter AN ALIEN GOD DAMN LIFEFORM. Quick! Let me hide in my room and not go anywhere, do anything, or perform any acts of exploration and discovery, or in other words why I came here." And remember, it's not like they know they're in a horror film.) I think this may deserve it's own entry on exploring the misdirected hate.

2. Django Unchained
Come on. It's freaking Quentin Tarantino. The man is the sugar to my Kool Aide. The vodka to my martini. The cheese to my Royale. You think he's not making an appearance on here? I'm not sure where I'd rank "Django Unchained" next to the rest of his films, since they all shine in their own way but still feel very similar, but it's up there among his best, I think. It's probably his most streamlined, least self-indulgent outing, which may relieve most and disappoint a select few others. At least, it certainly flies by faster than the others despite being the longest movie he's made at nearly 3 hours.

Tarantino always populates his movies with the most incredible cast you can imagine, and here is no different. Seeing Christoph Waltz give another Oscar nomination assured performance was no surprise, but what was a surprise was seeing Leonardo DiCaprio actually stealing the show from Waltz to give what I thought was easily the performance of his career. While everyone in "Django Unchained" was a superstar, both of these guys made it worth seeing by themselves. Easily.

And that's without the rest of the movie being a solid-gold home run. Which it was.

And the best movie I saw in 2012 was...

1. ParaNorman
Much like "The Muppets" last year and "Coraline" in 2009, my top film of the year ended up being the one that made me feel the best. "ParaNorman" is a loving tribute to horror and bloody exploitation grindhouse films, while maintaining a PG rating and a charming sense of humor. Shockingly, this works in a fantastic fashion.

Putting an ear-to-ear smile on my face for an hour and a half is not an easy task. I am a notorious sourpuss when it comes to most movies. "ParaNorman," though, this was all smiles from beginning to end. Well, smiles except when I was squirming in my seat going "EEEEEWWW!!! NO!!! HAHA!! OH NO!" at a corpse licking someone, picking my jaw off the ground both during a shockingly dark reveal at the end of the second act and a satisfyingly intense climax, and pointing at the screen and laughing my fool head off over the fact that there was a "Manos: The Hands of Fate" reference, and other various things of that nature that made this film an absolute delight.

I loved every second of "ParaNorman." It would make a fantastic double-feature with "Coraline," which is an idea so awesome that I may have to do that sometime soon. I still think "Coraline" is the better film, but "ParaNorman" wins out on the humor. But any movie I'm able to even put in the same sentence comparatively as "Coraline" is one that is going to hold a special place for me forever, because that's not something that happens often. Mostly it's relegated to every time Laika does another stop-motion film.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go watch something where the zombie eats someone's brains...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Killer Joe (2012)

William Friedkin has made some interesting movies. What else are you supposed to say about the guy who made "The Exorcist?" That's his best known film apart from "The French Connection," but there's also movies like "Jade" and "Bug," which have what can only be called "That Friedkin Sleaze." They may not always be pleasant, but they're always interesting. In a way he reminds me a little bit of Stanley Kubrick, even though they have very different styles. But like Kubrick, even if the end product isn't easily digestible or even what one might even call "good," I for one am always at least glad I saw it, because I can usually safely say "Well THAT was a thing."

"Killer Joe" is indeed "a thing." It's certainly a film that you don't come across often, because few films contain the insanity or sleaze that it contains, of which it has in spades. If sleaze and a good deal of outright wrongness does not appeal to you than "Killer Joe" will not be a pleasant movie-going experience. Well, even if it does appeal to you it might not be pleasant, but you know what I mean. What I'm saying is that if you're going to watch this movie, unless you go into it expecting and being okay with seeing a bunch of depraved stuff that you may find yourself saying "I need an adult" over, this won't be fun.

Well, it still might not be "fun" know what I mean!

Killer Joe is the name of our...well I can't really call him protagonist, because he's more of an antagonist in actuality. At least he becomes one by the end. Then again everyone in this movie is such a low-life that it's difficult to apply the label "Good guy" and "Bad guy" to anyone. This is only skimming the top of the moral ambiguity of "Killer Joe," as there is no black or white in terms of good vs. bad. There are only many, many different places to stand between the two colors. Everyone here is essentially a scumbag, but few are outright evil about it, which actually makes it far more realistic.

Anyway, Killer Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a cop who moonlights as a hitman. He is hired by Chris (Emile Hirsch), a catastrophic loser who specializes in bad decisions and making things worse, to kill Chris' mother. He's doing this so that his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) can collect on her $50,000 life insurance policy and go to school, and so that he can pay off the drug dealers he owes a lot of money. And while it's obviously a horrible thing to put a hit on one's own mother, they make it clear that this women is absolutely terrible, everyone hates her, and she even tried to kill Dottie once when she was a child. In fact, everyone is on board with this plan - even her ex-husband Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), Ansel's current wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) and even Dottie herself. So there you go. A family of people who want their own mother/ex-wife dead.

Your heroes!

From there it becomes a story of "from bad to worse" and things spiral further and further out of control. Poor decisions are made, certain people turn out to not be very trustworthy (shock!) and insurance plans are misinterpreted by stupid people who didn't read the fine print. Or read it at all. But through it all, one thing remains constant: Killer Joe needs to get paid one way or the other.

In lieu of up-front payment, which Chris can't provide, Joe decides to take Dottie as a retainer until he gets his money. You can imagine that the reasons for him taking on a young, pretty "retainer" involve just as much depravity as you think it does. And yes, the suspicions you have about what Joe is thinking when he stares at Dottie like he's got X-ray glasses are spot on. It's exactly like that. This is the beginning of the wrongness of this movie, as I'm pretty sure she's at best 17. At best. And he's obviously in his mid-30's. At least. At least that's what I got. And even if she were actually older, mentally Dottie isn't all there, and seems closer to someone who is 12 or 13. Yeah, gross.

So yeah. That's the setup. Chris tells Joe "You can have my sister as long as you kill my mother."

Your heroes!

The things about "Killer Joe" that may make you want to stick with it through the depravity are the performances, because they are undeniably fantastic. Emile Hirsch manages to actually be not soul-punchingly annoying for a change, despite playing arguably the most despicable character in the film, and yes that's including Joe. With Joe, yes it's true that's he's a killer and a total psychopathic scumbag, but at least he's smart. Chris is an absolute moron who rightly gets played over and over again by people who have no business getting the upper hand over anybody. So yes, Chris is a moron and a total slimeball, but Emile Hirsch played him so that you didn't necessarily hate him completely. You also feel really sorry for him. That's tough to do.

Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon were also fantastic. Gershon took a while to grow on me as a character, which she certainly did by the end, but Church's Ansel was great right from the get-go. He kind of lumbers through the movie like a deep-fried, inbred Lurch from the Addam's Family. Coincidentally he also provides most of the laughs, although some of those may have been unintentional.

If this isn't a breakout role for Juno Temple, it will be a crime. An absolute crime. After this she needs to be a known actress. I'm talking big roles in A list blockbusters. Yeah, she had a small part in "The Dark Knight Rises" as Selena's partner in crime, but that was small potatoes. Although she is starring in "Maleficent," which is "Sleeping Beauty" told from the villain's point of view, which might be interesting. But for all that is good in the world, somebody please give Aronofsky her number.

Think I've got another favorite to add to the list...

As good as everyone was, though, the guy who unsurprisingly steals the show is Matty McC. I love McConaughey. I have for a long time. This guy is an incredible actor and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to see "Killer Joe." He is so sleazy, so creepy, so evil, and so completely wrong while somehow, somehow still being charming as hell, even though you know none of it is genuine. It's really a marvel to see. And this is a movie where McConaughey makes Gina Gershon perform fellatio on a chicken drumstick after punching her in the face and threatening to kill all of them. And he STILL manages to be likable.

Did I mention this movie is kind of messed up?

Yeah, that's the final thing about "Killer Joe." You gotta be okay with some pretty depraved stuff. You also have to be okay with a movie where nobody is really a villain, because nobody is really a good guy. When everyone you see is kind of insane, it's hard to get a measuring stick for sanity, you know? And while it may be troubling and upsetting, it's difficult to deny that "Killer Joe" is very interesting and impossible to take your eyes off of.

The only big complaint I have is the ending, which literally seems like it stops about 15 seconds before the actual end. I get the jarring effect of it, and I appreciate a challenging ending that requires you to think, but sometimes it seems that endings like that exist just because that's the way weird movies end. And it's doubly annoying because the movie is going 150 mph when it hits a wall that says "DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FRIEDKIN." It's one of the more significant "Oh come on!" moments I've had with a movie this year. Although if I'm yelling that because I was enjoying it and wanted to see more, there are worse problems I can imagine for a movie.

Now who wants some chicken? No, I'm serious guys. There is chicken-leg fellatio in this movie. That is now a thing that exists.

You'll never eat fried chicken again without thinking of "Killer Joe." This may ruin it for you forever.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I really liked "Killer Joe," even though I hesitate to assume others would as well. It's a weird movie. It's a movie that contains a vast amount of wrong. And you have to be cool with that. Honestly though, I'd give this a watch, if for nothing else the incredible performances all around.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained (2012)

Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors of all time. Even though his films aren't so much homages as they are love letters to exploitation films from the 70's, which detractors might mistakenly call unoriginal, one can't deny the air of fun uniqueness and distinct style that surrounds his work. It's always instantly clear that you're watching a Tarantino film. Few directors have a strong enough sense of style to give credence to auteur theory, but Tarantino makes a strong case for it.

See? That's what minoring in film gets you. The ability to use words like "auteur."

The thought of Tarantino tackling a western is a spark of brilliance so bright it could be used to light up Wrigley Field. Even his movie set in World War II, "Inglorious Basterds," felt vaguely like a western in many regards, at least to me. And "Kill Bill" couldn't get any more good ol' western vigilante justice if you stuck Charles Bronson's Stetson on Uma Thurman. It just seemed like a perfect fit. But honestly, I didn't care what it was about or even where they set it. It's a Tarantino flick. I'm going to enjoy myself.

When I heard about the run-time for "Django Unchained," I must admit to being a bit nervous. I felt "Inglorious Basterds" suffered from an over-abundance of love for its own dialogue, and could have been easily trimmed by a half hour without losing much. So when the length of "Django Unchained" turned out being 12 minutes longer than "Inglorious Basterds," you can understand my concern. But much like "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" I still reasoned that even if it were too long, you're still getting good stuff, so it can't be that bad.

You know you want to see whatever film contains this...

And hey presto, what do you know? I did greatly enjoy myself at "Django Unchained." That was not surprising. Tarantino is nothing if not consistent. What did surprise me was that "Django Unchained" is probably his most streamlined and fast moving film since "Reservoir Dogs" or "Pulp Fiction," and goes by the quickest of any since then despite being the longest one he's ever made. Hell, even "Reservoir Dogs" hits a speed bump at the hour mark when we get Tim Roth's flashback, and "Pulp Fiction" is just so much story to process that it can feel like a long sit on occasion. "Django" never hit a single hiccup in the breakneck pace of its nearly 3 hour narrative.

Jamie Foxx plays the eponymous Django, a slave in 1858 Texas who has been separated from his wife, another slave named Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Enter Dr. King Schultz, a former dentist turned bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, who sets Django free to use him to identity his former owners, who have a bounty on their heads. Later seeing that Django possesses a natural talent for killing, Schultz takes him under his wing to become his partner in bounty hunting, under the promise that they will eventually find and rescue Django's wife.

And kill white people. That's cool, too.

Following several leads, they eventually find that Broomhilda has been sold to a slave owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who runs a plantation named "Candieland." Infiltrating his operation under the guise of mandingo merchants (a fictional form of Romanesque entertainment where two slaves fight to the death, something Candie is particularly fond of), Django and King attempt to dupe Candie and buy her off him, all without arousing his suspicions. To do that they'll have to deal with Candie's sadistic streak as well as Stephen, the leery head house-slave, played by Tarantino standby Samuel L. Jackson. And as one can extrapolate by the fact that it's a Tarantino movie, it will all end in a whole lot of blood.

The thing that's great about Tarantino movies is that while the stories may not always be anything overly special, its the characters that populate them that are always worth the price of admission. The fact that he always gets incredible actors to portray them is just icing on the cake. "Django Unchained" is no exception, as every single last person in this movie knocks it out of the park, and like any Tarantino film, this is a film with a lot of overt and hidden star power, with bit parts by everyone from Michael Parks, Don Johnson, Bruce Dern and Jonah Hill to Franco Nero, the original Django, who plays the guy at the bar you saw in the trailer.

Ah ha! That whole "The 'D' is silent" / "I know" exchange of dialogue makes sense now, doesn't it?

Jamie Foxx I've never been overly keen on as an actor, but he was admittedly great as Django. He has his quieter moments along with the rage-filled coldness of his more murderous endeavors which balance him out and make him more than just a walking ball of revenge. The scene that stands out for me is a moment when Schultz is lecturing him on not going too far overboard and being too cruel in portraying a black slaver. Django replies that he's simply doing what Schultz told him to do, and embracing the darkness that comes with not only their line of work, but the mission they're attempting. To Django, getting Broomhilda back is worth losing that humanity.

But apart from Jamie Foxx, there were two actors who threatened to run away with this film, and for every moment they are on screen, they did. The first one was Christoph Waltz. Tarantino made Waltz a known name in Hollywood when he cast him as Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds," a role he rightly won an Oscar for, and at this point Christoph better be writing Quentin into his will because he's given him another role that is arguably even better. And if he doesn't get another nomination for it I'll be shocked, and if he doesn't get another win it will be a crime.

Dr. King Schultz is potentially my favorite movie character from this year. The calm, cool, and funny demeanor that only Waltz seems capable of conveying just oozes off the screen like he's some kind of freaky snake charmer, and we're all the cobra in the basket swaying along to his flute. Yes, he's a cold-blooded killer without any remorse for anything he does, but he's so damn charming at the same time. Much like Hans Landa was, in fact, but this time he's not a Nazi, so you don't feel quite so bad smiling with him over his jubilant glee at own depravity. In addition, I always got a kick out of the running gag that he constantly apologizes for being difficult to understand as English is not his native tongue, despite being far more eloquent in his speaking of the language than any of the hicks he comes across.

This man is your savior. He acts for your sins.

Whenever Waltz is on the screen, he is the locomotive that drives the film full speed ahead, energizing even the smallest, most laid back scene with not only charm and humor but also suspense, which comes into even greater play whenever the other show-stopper appears to inject some slimy evil into the narrative in a role that plays fantastic counter to one of the best heroes of the year - one of, if not THE best villain of the year: Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.

I've been waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally turn in an intimidating performance that I completely bought hook, line and sinker, and he blew me away in this movie. I absolutely loved DiCaprio in "Django Unchained." I'm trying really hard to think of a better villain I've seen this year, and it's really difficult to do so. The great thing about Candie is that at first, we only get hints at his psychosis. We know he's a cruel, arrogant bastard right from the get go, as the first time we see him he's cheering on two slaves fighting to the death for his amusement in one of the most difficult scenes in the film to watch, but it isn't until Django and Schultz's deception is revealed to him that we see his inner beast unleashed. The "Skull Scene," as I'll call it will, I believe, go down in film history as one of the defining moments in Tarantino's filmography, and in DiCaprio's career.

Oh good don't even know the insanity unless you've seen it.

There are few movies I would recommend based on the power and suspense of one scene on its own, especially when that movie is nearly 3 hours long, but I'm serious when I say that the Skull Scene is worth the price of admission by itself, and people who've seen "Django Unchained" know exactly what I'm talking about. It's not only DiCaprio's finest moment in a film showcasing him at his absolute best, it's one of the best scenes Tarantino has ever written. It's right up there with Big Kahuna Burger.

A lot of people talked about the opening scene from "Inglorious Basterds" as unbearably intense. I honestly didn't feel that way. I thought it was a good scene, but from the very beginning I knew exactly how it was going to end. Hans Landa was going to find that Jewish family under the floorboards and kill them. With the Skull Scene, I had NO IDEA what Candie was going to do, and it was insanely tense. It was pins and needles and edge of my seat and gnawed off fingernails. This is what other people must have felt during the opening of "Inglorious Basterds." To me, this was a far superior, and far more suspenseful scene. If you thought Hans Landa's introduction was intense, man are you in for a ride.

Here's your conductor.

Much fuss has been made about the violence in "Django Unchained," and yes it's true that there is a good deal of it. This may not be Tarantino's bloodiest film, as I'm pretty sure "Kill Bill Vol. 1" still holds that record, but the violence that is in this film is overall more difficult to watch. The mandingo scene in particular is a really hard pill to swallow. That being said, they could have gone way further than they did. Suffice to say that I was glad they left a scene were a man gets torn apart by dogs mostly up to our imaginations, which is probably more effective in the long run away.

The other thing that has people in a tizzy is the language. Professional offended person Spike Lee has gone on record saying he refuses to watch the movie because it disrespects his people by using the dreaded "n word" a lot. I'm comfortable in saying three things about Spike Lee. The first thing is that he needs to shut the hell up, just as a general rule. The second thing is that he's an idiot by judging the movie without even seeing it. The third thing is that he's an idiot if he's under the impression that people didn't use "the n word" a whole hell of a lot back in 1858 MISSISSIPPI. So yeah. Basically Spike Lee is a bigoted idiot who needs to shut the hell up. And not remake "Oldboy."

"Django Unchained," much like the rest of Tarantino's work, is difficult to talk about without writing a novel. It's probably enough to say that if you liked anything he's ever done in the past, this is going to be much of the same quirky, homage laden fun that you've seen before. If you're not a fan of his style, well I can't say that you'll like it, but know that he doesn't go quite as overboard with the long sequences of gratuitous dialogue that has become his calling card as he's done in the past. That seems to be people's biggest complaint with him. But there aren't any scenes like the opening of "Reservoir Dogs" or the bar scene in "Inglorious Basterds" or anything like that in this film. The dialogue has a bit more purpose and stays on point the whole time. So there's that for anyone who dislikes that excessive Tarantino indulgence. I kind of missed it, however.

And you know, being from Europe, Schultz could have told us what they call a quarter-pounder in Germany.

"Zay cool it eine Viertel Gewichtseinheit mit Käse."

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Django Unchained" was a delight. A wonderful, cream-filled pastry of delight. It was the fastest 2 hours and 45 minutes I've sat through this year, and I wanted it to keep going at the end. I'm a huge mark for this movie, naturally, as I said to my friend as the music played over the opening shot and title card "I already love this movie," but I think that my opinion isn't too far off the mark for the average viewer. It's violent, brutal, and can be really tough to watch at times because of that, but that's the point. And aside from that the characters are so much fun, led by Oscar worthy performances by both Waltz and DiCaprio, that I find it unthinkable that a person watching wouldn't have an absolute blast. This is Top 10 of 2012 material for sure.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Premium Rush (2012)

One of the biggest hazards a motorist faces everyday, especially while driving through a city, is the swarm of pedestrians milling about. Every city has this but there is a certain mindset that exists in the minds of pedestrians in some places that crosses the line from "I have to live and walk around here so please, Mr. Car, give me some space" to the more suicidal "I am going to blindly disregard any and all cars on the road and cross the street whenever and wherever I choose without even looking up."

I live in southeast Michigan very close to a city called Ann Arbor. This is a city where there are laws on the books that literally require a motorist to be a mind reader. I'm not even joking. It's insane. But aside from that, Ann Arbor is home to a collection of absolutely dumb, irritating pedestrians that all seem to have a major death wish. They dart in and out of the street at a moment's notice wherever they feel like. They casually stroll right through a crosswalk in heavy traffic, never so much as bothering to look up to see if the cars are slowing down for them. No, their eyes are firmly set down at either their iPod, texting on their phone or reading a flyer from their favorite head shop. An ambulance could go flying through the intersection with sirens howling, only to have to slam on the brakes for them as they would slowly meander across the street, indignantly sneering "Hey man, I'm walking here!"

It's really the height of arrogance and irresponsibility. It makes driving in Ann Arbor a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions. And the only people worse are the dudes on bicycles. Talk about making drivers nervous and even pedestrians hate you. If they're on the sidewalk they're constantly almost plowing into people coming out of buildings. If they're on the road they're always 3 inches away from a side mirror. And if the car hits them, it's always the driver's fault. Maybe they're under the impression that every driver is Steve McQueen.

So long story short, they made a movie about this most obnoxious form of transportation. And they made the riders of these things the heroes. Sounds like fun.

"Premium Rush" is a film that, just from its very concept, seems to have been tailor made to irritate me. It's a film that portrays these bikers, who I can only describe as absolute assholes, as these rebellious, establishment bucking, X-TREME paragons of "Carpe Diem!" righteousness who struggle every day to get out from under the cruel, oppressive thumb of both The Man and innocent motorists. It seems like a movie concept straight out of the 90's, when anyone who "played by the rules" was a blustering, dead-on-the-inside, totally un-tubular, most bogus pawn of The System, harrumphing at the shear outrageousness of it all with monocle popping shock.

Go to bed, old man!

Our heroes are bike messengers in New York City, a place that I'd rather eviscerate myself with a tire pump than live in. When fax machines or email doesn't work, or you need a package delivered immediately, you get these guys on bikes to deliver it for you. They do this quickly by blatantly breaking every traffic law you can imagine and riding their bikes suicidally at top speed in busy streets, undoubtedly causing far more accidents than would normally happen on any given day. Whether or not this is a real thing, I'm not sure, but I'm assuming it is. Although I can't imagine how a business like that could operate considering they would be in a constant state of being SUED UP THE ASS. I don't even want to imagine the insurance.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is our hero, Wilee. Yes, like the coyote. They actually make that reference in the movie. Now, I do love me some JGL, but here he feels wasted. It's not that he does a bad job or anything, but the character of Wilee is so uninteresting to me. Really, he rides bikes and that's about it. He's also got this twisted philosophy about refusing to have any brakes on his bike. "Brakes kill" as he puts it.

I'm not sure what his rationale for that sentiment is, but it makes just as little sense in the movie world as in the real world, as there is in fact a moment near the end where he almost dies in a situation in which a set of brakes might have very well prevented him from getting thrown over top of a cab to the bone-crunching pavement below. He brakes some ribs as a result. And is there anything to be taken away from that lesson?


The film actually seems to reward not having any brakes, even when bad things happen as a result of it. Immediately after getting out of the ambulance (and not even getting treatment for his shattered ribs or anything), he's still going around full blast with no ability to stop. The injuries he received, which would normally mean barely being able to breathe, doesn't even slow him down. I'll leave that at bad script writing, but even his girlfriend, fellow bike messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), after stupidly plowing headfirst into a car, decides that it was the brakes' fault instead of hers and ditches them. Why do they hate brakes so much? They probably prevented her from greater injury since she was going at a slower speed when she wiped her own damn self out. And I would think being able to stop is a particularly good thing when they're flying around the streets of Manhattan, weaving in and out of heavy traffic like an especially intense game of Frogger.

Somehow I don't think they're physics majors. You see, Newton's Third Law states that for every know what? Screw it. Hit the pavement harder. See what I care.

The whole point of the movie is that JGL gets a package to deliver, and this crooked, clearly insane cop played by Michael Shannon is after it. He owes the Chinese mob or somebody money, and the package is a voucher for a lot of cash. That's the setup, but all it really boils down to is watching bikes weave in and out of traffic like a bunch of suicidal tools, causing untold amounts of collateral damage in car accidents and injuries to innocent drivers.

"Your whiplash and concussion means nothing next to my sense of freedom, you sheep!"

Let's talk about Michael Shannon for a minute, though. I thought I'd seen some annoying, really hammy bad guys in the past. I had not seen Michael Shannon in "Premium Rush." What his performance is, in its simplest essence, is what would happen if Stephen Dorff did a line of cocaine 3 feet long, imitated Dennis Quaid on his worst acting day, and then did the whole thing quacking in a bad Edward G. Robinson impression. He was terrible. And this little "Nyah" interjection he kept saying almost like a vocal tick was enough to send me up the walls. Also, his character is an idiot. And it's hard to have an intimidating villain when he's a complete and utter moron.

I think someone smashed Ray Liotta's and Thomas Haden Church's faces together. Then melted it.

This is a film made entirely of annoying characters, now that I think about it. JGL is annoying because his character is an arrogant, self-entitled jackass who doesn't believe in the laws of physics. His girlfriend is annoying because she really doesn't do anything relevant to the plot except tag along. Michael Shannon is Michael Shannon. Wolé Parks as fellow messenger and Wilee rival Manny is your average loud-mouthed "Aw, HELL naw," borderline comic relief character who ends up being a bigger villain than Michael Shannon simply because he's being a dick and wants to steal JGL's girlfriend. By doing that he's seriously a greater menace to JGL than Michael Shannon is. Again, what a phenomenal villain.

Also, JGL has this thing that he does where every time he nearly causes an accident at an intersection by flying through it, he looks back and gives this deranged, manic giggle.

What a dick.

Even "Daily Show" veteran Aasif Mandvi was annoying as JGL's boss. Although I guess if there was a character in "Premium Rush" that was actually a little bit funny and kind of likeable it was him. But the man can't do it all on his own. Between being in this and "The Last Airbender" it seems his agent doesn't like him very much.

So did "Premium Rush" do anything right? Well, I suppose if I were going to be generous I'd comment on the fact that the bike riding is reasonably well filmed, if a little overly stylized at parts. This style thing came into play in particular with one thing that I'm still not entirely sure if I liked or not. This thing being that whenever JGL gets in a situation where he hits a dangerous spot in traffic, the movie slows down and we see every potential possibility of the route he could take with big yellow arrows, each one ending in a horrible crash until he finds the way that will allow him to zip through traffic like a jackass without plowing into a car or truck or baby stroller. Of course, the cars behind him will probably get into accidents as a result of what he's doing, but who cares, right? He's our hero!

Oh by the way, these big yellow arrows? TOTALLY not part of the blatant GPS advertisement going on in this movie. Totally not.

And I must also commend "Premium Rush" on educating me on the fact that apparently, China only sends out one ship across the sea. Ever. That ship that sails out of China at 7 PM New York time (which apparently is the middle of the day in China despite the 12 hour time difference. Yeah, oops.) is going to be the last boat to leave for the rest of time. Why do I know this? Well I have to assume it is since JGL is forced to risk life and limb to get the money to its location by 7 PM so that this lady's son can get on the boat. I mean, why would that lady risk not only her life, but the lives of a number of other people if that weren't the case? It's not like he could just take another boat later or something, right? She wouldn't do that just so she could see him sooner, especially since she's already waited a few years already, while the kid is evidently in good hands, right? That would just make her a terrible bitch.

No, it's cool that people are dead as a direct result of your kid needing to get on that boat RIGHT THE HELL NOW. I'm sure he'll thank you when he's old enough to comprehend that.

And naturally there's also the issue of not only the voucher, but the entire involvement of JGL and every other character in the movie being an unnecessary moot point to an overly complicated system. Giving a person a ticket, drawing a smiley face on it and telling them they need to bring it to these people there by this time seems awfully stupid and complex when you could have done something like USE A CELL PHONE TO TELL YOUR PEOPLE THAT PERSON IS PAID UP AND IT'S ALL GOOD TO GO.

Isn't it great when the entire cast and story is superfluous?

THE BOTTOM LINE - I guess bike nerds would like "Premium Rush" by default, but it isn't a good movie. In fact I'd call it obnoxious, but that factors in with my personal gripes with people who think traffic laws only exist to oppress them. But even from a film standpoint, unless you're an absurd fan of X-TREME biking, I seriously can't think of a single reason to recommend it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Halo 4 - Forward Unto Dawn (2012)

I could go on a rant right now. I could...but I won't. Those of you who know me or read this blog with any regularity could, I'm sure, surmise that this is a monumental occasion. I know. My mind is blown, too.

I'll spare you the length, but the general idea of the rant would be that I'm not a big fan of first person shooters, specifically of the multiplayer-centric variety. I just find them boring and overly repetitive. Well, that and everyone online is absurdly better than me, so I leave the multiplayer alone. That of course includes the venerable "Halo" franchise, of which I've only played two of the six, having beaten the third game and gotten about halfway(?) through the first one. I've maybe played 4 minutes of multiplayer, in which I got tenderized like a steak. It was unpleasant.

The story of "Halo" I never found to be that interesting to be honest. As formidable and badass as Master Chief is as a combatant he's a rather dull protagonist, since as far as I know we never learn much, if any of his backstory in the games. Oh, you dropped that his first name is "John." That makes him so three dimensional I need special glasses. I'm sure there's some extended universe stuff that provides everything you want to know about him in full, unflinching detail, but you're crazy if you think I'm going out and buying a "Halo" paperback. I have my dignity.

Says the man who owns all of these. Hypocrisy, I know, but these are actually pretty good.

So of course I'm going to watch "Halo 4 - Forward Unto Dawn," a movie with a distractingly redundant sounding title which is a tie-in with the fourth (actually sixth) game. Why wouldn't I watch a movie that you probably need intimate knowledge of the games and extended universe to understand? That's just common sense.

Surprisingly, despite not knowing what in the crap was going on plot-wise, I found "Forward Unto Dawn" to be reasonably entertaining, despite starting off brutally slow and plodding. This is not a film that would hold someone's interest for the first 45 minutes unless they were a huge fan of the extended universe, and were there simply to wallow in and soak up all the drippings of fan service that were undoubtedly crammed into it. I missed all of it, naturally, not being a fan, but I'm sure it was there in spades. However, once the overly-long "Full Metal Jacket"-esque setup is done and we finally get to some action it stops being a "FAN ONLY" zone and becomes something that anyone could wrap their head around fully: An action movie.

Oddly enough that's also the part with the biggest bit of fan service - Master Chief.

I can't really even speculate on what the deeper story is that is going on in "Forward Unto Dawn," since it feels like you're being dropped into a trilogy at the second part without having seen the first entry, but I can make some sweeping generalizations. Our main character, Lasky is a cadet at a military academy who is kind of a hippie and doesn't want to fight and thinks violence isn't the answer. Why he joined the military when he holds these views I'm not sure but whatever. I don't recall a draft being mentioned. Anyway, he's perpetually on the verge of being kicked out when an allergy to something in the stuff they use to put you under for cryosleep gives him a potential 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for getting him out of the military. And then aliens attack.

Like I mentioned earlier, there's an inherent problem with the proportions going on with the Interesting vs. Not Interesting things in "Forward Unto Dawn." The whole bit about aliens attacking is really just the last 40% of the movie. The proceeding 55% is confusing (at least to a non-fan) rambling dialogue about things I'm sure are relevant to the mythos, and the cliched but occasionally well acted military academy story. And the last 5% of the movie is more confusing references to the games that I sure meant something to someone, but it wasn't me.

Seriously. Do I know you? All you did was take off your helmet, and the music swells and gets all dramatic like I'm supposed to recognize you on sight. WHO ARE YOU?!

While the production value isn't up to the level of an average Hollywood action extravaganza, "Forward Unto Dawn" is actually pretty good looking for what it is. In fact, the action and costumes and sets all look quite nice, and had it been put on actual film instead of I'm assuming digital medium with a higher frame-rate it could have passed as a respectably decent budgeted sci-fi action movie. Instead it does come off as a little "Made for TV." It still looks pretty darn good, though. And that's not an easy thing when you've got an 8 foot tall dude in armor fighting a giant glowing monster made of worms.

Tom Green was okay as our somewhat petulant, brooding main character. At the very least he never approached obnoxious levels with his sulking. And the turn around he does at the end to finally find his courage and heroically help Master Chief to overcome the impossible odds they find themselves in is admittedly very well done. The cathartic and life affirming moment when, as they ride away after making their escape, Master Chief gives him a respectful nod and says "Well done, marine" I found to be quite moving, actually.

I was less a fan of Anna Poppelwell. I don't know, she's an actress who's never really worked for me. I have no basis for this as she's not a bad actress by any stretch, she's no Kristen Stewart or anything, but there's just something about her that doesn't do it for me. I guess it's the same way some people despise Anne Hathaway for no good reason, although my dislike of Anna Poppelwell is nowhere near that level of hatred. I don't get it. Although the fact that we're supposed to take her seriously as a solider is laughable.

*snort* Oh yeah. She's ready to storm the beachhead. She looks more like she should be sampling perfume at JC Penny.

I did like the guy they had playing Master Chief, Daniel Cudmore. Although I guess it was more of the performance of Alex Puccinelli, who did his voice, that I was a fan of. I don't have too good of a memory of what he was like in the games, but the voice acting was good in this. There's a strong sense of power and odd compassion for the young cadets in his voice that really helped make this nearly anonymous behemoth in power armor something more than just a random deus ex machina descended from the skies. But why they didn't get the dude who did him in the games, Steve Downes, to play him is a mystery to me. Was he too busy or something? Being Master Chief is almost literally the only thing he's done. He could have recorded the part on his lunch break.

Anyway. Voice acting oddness aside, "Forward Unto Dawn" was not quite as cryptic as I feared, but not as action packed as I hoped. But hey, it could have been worse, especially when the fact that it's a video game movie is considered. That's some bleak territory right there. It's not like it was a "Resident Evil" movie or something.

Wait...why did the hairs on the back of my neck suddenly stand up?

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Forward Unto Dawn" is a movie for "Halo" fans. That's a pretty essential factor in getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. But it's not critical. Even if you don't know what's going on or who is who, everyone can understand an alien getting blown up by having a grenade rammed into their guts. It's not phenomenal since it relies too much on assumed knowledge, but I can't say I regret seeing it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Stolen (2012)

Damn it, Nicolas Cage! Why are you playing me like this, bro? You're my homeslice. My Ace in The Hole. My D-O-G-E. I go to you to be entertained by your madcap antics! I'm not really watching you so you can go all subdued and stuff. I don't go to you to see you do your best Liam Neeson in "Taken" impression. Frankly you're not tough enough for that. But between this and "Seeking Justice," it seems that Nicolas Cage wants to tone it down some. That is, if he currently has any say in what movies he's in, which he might actually not.

Oh Nicolas. Nicolas, Nicolas, Nicolas. Don't do that. Don't let them do that to you. You're the best there is at what you do, but what you do ain't subtle. You are up there with Christopher Walken in terms of actors who are brutally, unapologetically unique and frightfully entertaining because of your uniqueness. But as good of an actor as you are, most of the material you're being given is not worth that serious dramatic talent. You want to be serious? Save that for Werner Hertzog. Save that for a great movie like "Bad Lieutenant." Don't save it for "Stolen." It's just not worth it.

See, "Stolen" isn't bad. In fact I'd dare say that it's pretty decent as far as your standard "You have X amount of time to get Y amount of money or your kid dies" movie goes. But that's the thing. How many of those movies are out there? The answer is "A metric crap-load." This is not a movie that needed to be made. This is not a movie that needed to be written. It's so stock, it's so cliche, and it's so utterly generic that I find it hard to imagine why anybody thought that it was a story that needed to be told, unless there were something really unique about it.

"Listen, I don't know who you are, but please just tell me why I'm yelling into a phone in every movie I'm in!"

Something like Nicolas Cage, perhaps? If the Cagester had been fully unleashed in "Stolen," playing up the zany, wild eyed madness to the hilt, then we would have at least gotten an entertaining performance out of it. But no, he's not unleashed. He's playing it pretty down-to-Earth, which is just sad. It seems as if the film is scared of having any kind of fun goofiness in Nicolas Cage's performance. No, evidently serious movie is serious.

Well, except for the scraggly, one-legged, psychopathic, murderous, gleefully evil villain played by Josh Lucas. Apparently it's okay for Josh Lucas to act like Nicolas Cage would act were he playing a crazy villain, but it's not okay for Nicolas Cage to act the way Nicolas Cage would normally act.


Honestly, that's the biggest fault with "Stolen." It was cast all wrong. Nicolas Cage should have been allowed to do what Nicolas Cage is wont to do. Because seeing Josh Lucas, an actor who isn't as convincing as an-over-the-top character, play a villain that is almost literally screaming for a Cage/Walken/Travolta/McDowell style performance isn't as fun as it should be.

"Stolen" has Nicolas Cage playing the "World's Greatest Thief," who we find doing the prerequisite "one last job" at beginning of the film. When things go bad and he's left holding both the literal and proverbial bag he winds up doing 8 years in prison. After he is released, his daughter is kidnapped by his former partner (Josh Lucas) in an effort to get the 10 million dollars from the heist that Cage said was destroyed, but he is sure that Cage had hid before getting nabbed.

That one last "one last job" thing rears its head again, as there are few ways of making 10 million dollars in 12 hours besides robbing a bank or something. And I must admit, as sketchy as the methodology was in how Cage gets his hands on the loot, especially in terms of bank security, I must admit that the idea is pretty clever, and was something I hadn't seen before. Take that for what it's worth, but how many movies have you seen that feature bars of gold being smuggled out of a bank via melting? It was pretty cool.

True story: This is the second film Josh Lucas has starred in called "Stolen." I'm not even joking. #needbettermovietitles

So do I regret seeing "Stolen?" Hell no. I got my Nicolas Cage fix. I'm good. Do I wish the roles had been reversed? Hell yes. He needs to play more bad guys, anyway. I swear if he actually is cast in "The Expendables 3," he better be playing the villain. He's got a good head start since Simon West directed both this and "Expendables 2." And I'm serious. I will be so upset if he's not the baddy in "The Expendables 3." Did you even see "Face/Off?" Remember him in the beginning, before Travolta was playing Caster Troy? That kind of corny should be packed and sold in individual bottles to get you through those tough days. It's delicious and nutritious!

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Stolen" wasn't a great movie, but it wasn't that bad, either. It's got an old school vibe to it, which is enhanced by the kickin' jazzy "Cowboy Beebop" style soundtrack. And while I'd rather see Cage be unrestrained, Josh Lucas did make for a passable villain. Although the movie does get docked a few points for not knowing the proper definition of "moose knuckle."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Say what you want, but it was a choice between this and "Ted." And I tell you without equivocation that I would rather watch a day-long parade of nothing but gyrating man-ass than expose myself to 15 seconds of Seth MacFarlane and his brutally unfunny schtick. The entirety of "Magic Mike" could have been nothing but Matthew McConaughey shaving his testicles in close, intimate, unflinching detail and I still would have called it a measurable step up from anything made by the guy who gave us "American Dad."

And what do you know? "Magic Mike" did turn out to essentially be a parade of nothing but gyrating man-ass. Well, I guess I can't complain. I'm not sure what else I expected. And besides, it's not like it's not a collection of nice asses. It could have been worse. It's not like it's Harvey Fierstein up on stage ripping off his stripper pants and humping the air to dubstep in a thong. Channing Tatum at least has the physique to do that inoffensively. Although I'm sure if you asked Harvey nicely he might oblige you.

You know, there might be something to that.

Most people probably know that "Magic Mike" is roughly based on Channing Tatum's own time as a male stripper. Which character is supposed to be Channing Tatum, I'm not quite sure. I mean, Channing Tatum is playing Magic Mike, but Magic Mike might not be Channing Tatum. Channing Tatum might be The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer. So Alex Pettyfer might be Channing Tatum. Except that he's The Kid. Who might be Channing Tatum. Who is Magic Mike.

"Magic Mike" is the story of Mike (Channing Tatum), a guy with big dreams and a lot going on as he has a dozen different ventures he's trying to get off the ground. How serious he is about all them is debatable, and you get the impression he's just doing a little bit of everything and hoping that eventually something sticks. In the meantime he's a male stripper at a club in Florida, run by his friend and business partner Dallas, played pitch perfectly by the always amazing Matthew McConaughey. When young schmuck Adam (Alex Pettyfer) by way of circumstance ends up helping out and then dancing at the club one night, Mike decides to take him under his wing and teach him the Jedi ways of male stripping.

What follows is the familiar story of the temptations of glamor and money corrupting the rookie while the weary veteran struggles to decide if he wants to continue or not. Of course there's also the mentor character who is completely invested in the lifestyle and refuses to apologize for anything. And we can't have a movie with a story like this without the nagging love interest who makes the weary veteran realize he needs to get out.

This is all standard stuff for a plot of this nature. And if you've come to "Magic Mike" looking for a film to break from stereotypes and well-trodden stories, this isn't the movie for you. It's a fairly cut and paste affair in those terms. But that isn't to say "Magic Mike" is bad, because here's the surprise: Despite being a touch cliche, it's actually a pretty good flick.

Little known fact - Matthew McConaughey has a stage in his house and keeps a cadre of women there for this very purpose.

Director Steven Soderbergh knows what he's doing. I'm not a huge fan of all of his films, but I can't lie and say the man doesn't know how to tell a story. So that aspect is covered, but the script from Reid Carolin gives the story a very organic flow that always feels natural despite being very familiar. There isn't any scene that hits you over the head with the corruption of the business Adam "The Kid" finds himself exposed to. It's not like an after school special or a Very Important Episode of your favorite sitcom. It's a bit more sneaky than that.

I think a lot of that is because it's told through the perspective of Magic Mike. We don't see The Kid doing a lot of what he's doing, it's more like every once in a while we check in on him to see that he's gone down a few more notches in terms of "doing smart things." But only a few. Not enough to get too worried about him. But after a while all that nickle and dime crap starts adding up until he's laying face down in a puddle of his own puke while owning drug dealers $16,000. And the movie does end up going darker places than I was anticipating it to go. In fact I'd call the end outright sullen.

But why in the world am I talking about all that stuff? There's only one reason to watch "Magic Mike," am I right? Let's talk about stripping.

Oh I get it. He's inferring that, as a sexy construction worker, sometimes he has to sit astride support beams high in the air, and it's very scary, and he's showing that he is unafraid of heights.

As weird as it is to watch a dude dry hump the air over and over again, I must admit that the dancing is pretty entertaining. It's mixed a bit half and half between break dancing type stuff, which Channing Tatum is actually really good at, and the stripping aspect, which I suppose he's also good at. I haven't seen enough male strippers to compare, but in any case it's a hell of a lot better than I could do. McConaughey gets a scene where he takes it off as well, which was pretty awesome since it's McConaughey. That's really my only rationale behind that statement. What can I say, I'm a mark for the dude.

The only thing that was kind of distracting yet also pretty funny at the same time was trying to figure out what in the hell Kevin Nash was doing on the runway. He plays a dude named Tarzan, who I guess is supposed to be a dancer who is past his prime but is still stripping. It's pretty amusing watching him at the end of the chorus line the boys have going on, barely being able to lift one foot after the other and slightly swing his arms around while everyone else on stage is busting movies like they're on the set of "So You Think You Can Dance." I think it's less a matter of him being older and more of a matter of him being like 8 feet tall and having the coordination of Andre the Giant on a morphine drip.

And you know what? After seeing this movie, I think I'd rather watch a dude stripper than a lady stripper. You know why? It's because dudes need to work it more. They have to try harder. The male body is not as inherently sexy as a lady's. Unless you're gay, I suppose, but still I think even a gay dude could appreciate where I'm coming from. You know what I'm saying? True, there are lady strippers who will go all out and spin around a pole like they're going out for the Olympics, but all they really have to do is walk around the stage with next to no clothes on and whip their hair a bit to Mötley Crüe and they would probably get enough singles tucked into their g-string to at least buy a combo meal at Wendy's.

A guy's gotta sell it, so you get a better product. Therefore it's more entertaining. A six-pack can only take you so far, and let's be honest. Ladies, you would be far more demanding of a dude stripper than dudes would be of a lady stripper. We're easy, you're not. I think it's all the dancing shows you watch. Your expectations are through the roof. But on the plus side, it does make for better stage shows.

You know, I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure that's not the way to give CPR.

And to be fair to "Magic Mike" and all the guys who refused to watch it, there's actually more female nudity than male nudity in this movie. Heck, nearly every nerd's fantasy in the world was fulfilled within the first 3 minutes of the film when Oliva Munn appears topless. Yeah, the dancing (and there's a lot of it) is total lady fan-service, but I can't help but feel that if a woman watched this movie expecting some good old hardcore exploitative objectification of men they might walk away disappointed as the big guns in terms of graphic nudity were relegated to the ladies. That's kind of messed up, actually. But that's the way Hollywood rolls. If a lady is naked it's rated R, slapped with "Brief Graphic Nudity" and nobody says a word.

But if there is penis on screen...

The world is still reeling from Dr. Manhattan's big, blue dong.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I liked "Magic Mike." Despite being cliched it's a fun movie, the dancing is actually quite entertaining, McConaughey is worth price of admission alone, and even Channing Tatum managed to be a likeable protagonist, and even if he was kind of a meat-head he's a likable meat-head who can dance. One of the bigger surprises for me of the year.

Is this where I'm supposed to say "No Homo?"