Monday, August 31, 2009

My Hatred with Stereos

An odd title, huh?

I've been wanting to go to the drive-ins for the first time in awhile. At a local one, they are currently showing DISTRICT 9 and HALLOWEEN II on a double bill.
However, all of the portable stereos and boomboxes I have wouldn't work. Oh, they will work if plugged into an outlet. But to run on batteries, old or fresh, and it just sits there. I don't know why all of these devices became self-aware and why they can't give me a break. Also, I just threw out all of my cassette players. And I certainly do not want to spend $14 for a new one just for this event.

I hate advancements in technology sometimes. Play over a 1000 songs? Great. Play radio stations so I don't have to put a crappy speaker in my car and have mosquitos fly over me? No.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Informers - Review

Every scene in this film always end with either sex, drugs, or violence. And, that's not a good thing. THE INFORMERS is an unbelievable boring movie to behold where it wants to be shocking all the time but it comes off as trite.

Supposedly based on a series of short stories by Bret Easton Ellis, the film tells us absolutely nothing of grave interest or even a different take on 1980's white society in Los Angeles. The individual stories are placed together but none of them impact each other. Instead, the film comes across as a terrible rip-off of CRASH, especially when some of the characters are wondering about their morality and doing the right thing. But since every scene has no purpose and the characters don't really try to change, there is no reason for this film to be seen.

All of the actors aren't phoning it in, they simply slowly go through the motions and not emotions. Billy Bob Thornton sleepwalks his part as a studio head who wants his chaotic wife (Kim Basinger) to accept his infidelity as a part of their crumbling marriage. The young actors play bland and shallow way too much to lose any care for them. The only exceptions and the film's highlights are Chris Isaak and Mickey Rourke. Isaak does well for a pointless role as a rich father on vacation with his gay son and Rourke is enjoyable frightening as a vicious child kidnapper. This film was noteworthy for being Brad Renfro's last performance and, sadly, it isn't very good; Renfro plays his part way too crazy and ineffectual.

Upon looking up information after this travesty, it seems the majority of the blame absolutely goes to the director Gregor Jordan. He changed the tone of the film from a satire to its droll look and deleted a supernatural storyline involving vampires. This furthers my disdain for him, as his limp direction, basic cinematography, pretentious editing, and misogynistic viewpoint ruin the viewing experience. I would rather watch all of Andrew McCarthy's scenes in LESS THAN ZERO again than re-watch this lame fiasco.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Duplicity - Review

DUPLICITY wants to be a master of the con by fooling the viewing audience and it does at times but I'm no body's fool. It wants to create some suspense but I knew that there is no grave concern for the "heroes" of this film. It's not because of the old Hollywood rule where the movie stars don't die in pictures. It is because the constant twists and mind-games are simply being built by the screenwriters to create more and more until a finale with an even bigger twist for the heroes to experience.

I'm not trying to be bitter over this film. It was an entertaining film with an almost balancing act of being an action caper and a romantic screwball comedy. The acting of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen should be given some thanks for it, but it relies more on James Newton Howard's music, which creates the vibrant tone when the script or the direction fails at it.

I still haven't seen Tony Gilroy's last film, MICHAEL CLAYTON, but from this example it seems that he has some problems with film structure. The film progress smoothly at first as we meet the complicated history of Roberts and Owen as they use their positions as corporate spies to locate and retrieve an hidden pet project of Burkett & Randle, a consumer product entity that has a nasty rivalry with Equikrom. The latter company's CEO (Paul Giamatti) wants the MacGuffin before a major meeting with the shareholders. This sequence of events is fine and dandy until more flashbacks are introduced. Other than giving way too many clues on what the two spies are planning on doing, they have these way too flash introductions with multiple frames moving around. These devices are pure television and should have been taken out. Also, a character is stuck in a jam right near the end, falling in the "Who's watching the watchmen?" scenario, where the spy crew question the trust of the individual. The film then jumps 12 hours in time and the character seemingly got out of it. No clue on how, just that the character made it out alive with no need to explain.

The final twist is a genuine surprise and the film is done with a lot of fun to be had, but it isn't a must or a great film. DUPLICITY doesn't deserve to be blacklisted but it shouldn't have to come out of the cold of 2009.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rifftrax LIVE / Fathom Event Review

This was certainly the highlight of my week.

The old MST3K, now Rifftrax crew of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett returned to the screen (a much bigger one) and gave a great performance and comedic night.

The show started off with a educational short, one of MST3K's favorite targets, about the "hard" work being a Flying Stewardess. Constant attacks on the city of Fort Worth were a treat, as was a smiling man towards the end that was partially a callback to the Johnny Longtorsos and Bob Evils of yester-years. A good start to the proceedings.

And then, the fun begins to fade. Before the main show, we were "treated" to two shorts done by the creator of Something, a chippy yet plain nerd singer, and a woman simply there for eye candy while trying to be part of the act.

But, it rises again. The selected film, Ed Wood's classic PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, was certainly the best to do for the crowd. Both the taped audience and my own enjoyed some of lunacies of the film. The crew fired off jokes, ranging from old and new things of pop culture (a riff on the Dramatic Prairie Dog was a hit), to "state park" jokes, to sexual jokes. And there was a lot of the latter.

Favorite Riff of the Night: "And that's how you throw a curveball. This is Bela Lugosi, reporting for Sportscenter."

It was a treat for MST3K fans and normal viewers. Simply a great event.

Reaction to the Avatar and The Wolfman trailers...,31940/,31949/

Wow, these two look problematic at best.

Between the two, I would rather see AVATAR. It looks interesting but too heavy with the CGI. Not to mention, it looks like an animated film with some live-action elements.

Dear lord, am I going to have to sit through another IMMORTAL? Please no.

Also, if it is the future with technologic advances, why is the possible protagonist in a wheelchair that he has to push? Shouldn't they have some type of cure or robot legs for him?

As for THE WOLFMAN, way too generic.
Take out the titled character, insert The Incredible Hulk and what do you get? HULK!
It's hitting the same beats while trying to recreate the look of the 1990's Universal Horror films.

And Anthony Hopkins looks to be phoning in another crazy character.

Just stick to the original.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rifftrax LIVE - Tomorrow!

After seeing the preview for it in several film screenings, I decided to attend the Fathom event of Rifftrax Live for tomorrow.

I'm a huge fan of MST3K, so to see and hear a live version from some of the old crew, the other being the Cinematic Titanic, is an awesome treat.

I'll post a review of it later this week.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Coraline - Review

CORALINE is a fantasy film where a little girl battles with her egotism and her own femininity. Though she really fights with a witch-like apparition in a bizarrely contrived environment, I noticed that Coraline really was fighting herself throughout the picture. Not only for her dreams of a well-mannered and loving family but a reasonable way to find her own voice without the pressure of elders, especially from the female characters.

The plot of the film is the usual fantasy fable that is used so often: Coraline's parents are busy with work, Coraline hates it and wishes for a relief, finds a magical creation that achieves it but regrets it later to learn a lesson. As it has been said when related to the usage of generic storylines, it is how you tell the story that makes it special. The story has been constructed by famed fantasy/comic book writer Neil Gaiman, a man whose work I enjoy though a little pretentious at times. With the help of the director Henry Selick, the two make a dull yet eerie landscape where vibrant colors stand out before being spirited away by controlling forces.

As stated in the intro, the main conflict for myself was Coraline vs. Coraline, not Coraline vs. the Other Mother. The character starts off the film way too obnoxious, simingly spurned by the treatment of her writer parents. Yet, she comes off a bit like a brat rather than an unloved child. Coraline is close to Chihiro from SPIRITED AWAY but I was fine following Chihiro's trouble beginnings, despite being overtly selfish, and not with Coraline. As the film continues, you notice the conflicting disputes she has on interests and attitudes. She is a tomboy who enjoys doing things in the rain but has a vanity for special attire to stand out when attending school. Coraline craves the attention of others but hates when it becomes overbearing or too loving. She wants to have some of stereotypical qualities of a "good woman" like cooking and gardening yet seeks independence and a place to speak her mind. The film has a fascinating take on growing up as a woman which has more magical quality to it than having some characters with buttons for eyes.

Though this conflict interested me, the rest of the film didn't have the same focus. It isn't that the film is bad, but it just didn't have that spark I was looking for to make it one of the best this year. Certainly best in animated films but not overall. Maybe it was the going-through-the motions plot. Maybe it was the weird secondary climax. Maybe it was the use of computer effects or strange moments where the slow-motion animation is stilted and too slow. I don't have a clear reason for it, but CORALINE is nonetheless a good film to watch.

One last note, the film score is exceptional. It really works with the mood while having it's own personality.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia - Review

To sum it up by using the favorite food for both of the titled characters, Julia is butter while Julie is hotel-butter. The Julia portions of this film are simply an infectious creation whipped up for the screen. However, the Julie portions can not be anything more than hotel-butter; wanting to have the same flavor but is dispensable and utterly a bad taste to the bread of the film.

JULIE AND JULIA wasn't a film that I wanted to see or had the same magnitude of previously hyped films, but the buzz surrounding Meryl Streep's performance got to me. After witnessing the horrors of the disasterpiece known as MAMMA MIA! where she was miscast, I needed to see some type of redemption or return to form from her. At first, I thought the praise wasn't untrue; the prologue where Julia Child nearly runs around Paris for the first time was almost a parody and too over-the-top. But as the film continues and the two stories are layered do we see that Streep pulls off a great performance. She creates enough zest to bring joy to the viewer but keeps it in check with some inclusions of dramatic moments and body language to show her inner thoughts and fears. Though the ending of her story is obvious, the performance by Streep is a delicious treat (And, yes, there will be more lame food puns).

Nora Ephron, the writer and director of the film, must truly hate Julie Powell. Each and every scene given to her character's quest to cook all 524 recipes in Child's book is an annoying existential mess with too much cups of narcissism. It isn't Amy Adams' fault; she goes through the motions and pulls off what's said in the script. But, the entire story of Julie is polluted with non-stop whining, many unexplained questions, and characters who simply are nothing more than characters. The viewer will hear Julie talk about Julia constantly and her crazy obsession of the famed cook. At her 30th birthday, she even dresses up as her to entertain the guests. I'm surprised she didn't just keep wearing it and eventually speak in Child's distinct voice. This isn't some crazy thoughts dreamt up by me: this portion of the film is nearly a modern horror film for how much despair and love addiction is placed in it.

I do feel bad for Chris Messina. I loved him in his short role in AWAY WE GO earlier this year and now his mainstream exposure goes to a very thankless role as Julie's loyal husband. He's practically a Smiling Jack and delivers comedic responses every time he talks. Ephron doesn't put any thought into the male characters of the film, though Stanley Tucci is given some moments, and doesn't even wish too. When Messina says a line about how males don't hate their friends, Adams rebounds by saying "We're not talking about men." That line shows Ephron's focus.

Nora Ephron may have been a good choice for the picture but with her intense control over it, the unevenness of this feature lays entirely on her. Her never-flashy, stay basic direction shows too greatly in the Julie story but some color and artistic ideas come in the Julia plot. She doesn't create any vision of the post 9/11 New York; instead, she keeps everything cramped indoors and not very festive. This is very odd considering Ephron made New York City a beautiful and vibrant place in her previous films and scripts.

The film does get my recommendation largely due to Meryl Streep and the Julia story. The film could have had more vigor and fun with this plot not to mention more focus on the artistry and joy of cooking. Instead, we get another storyline to ruin the mood with its smugness and blaming the internet for its problems. Like a Snickers bar, you have to get through the rough peanuts to get to the cream.


Friday, August 7, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - Review

I was going to start this review with the usual fanboy introduction; talk about my love for the animated series, growing up with it, buying the toys, etc. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still a favorite of mine despite some stupid decisions (no one liked Serpentor) and the problems surrounding the animated movie. Like a lot of people, I have held a grudge against this film since seeing the awful teaser trailers and an expanded look at the Paris chase scene. I had the perfect last sentence of this intro; I was going to say that the worst episode of the animated series was better than this film (for curious readers, it's "Cobra Claws Are Coming to Town").

However, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is surprisingly an entertaining action film that simply wants to be nothing more than an entertaining action film. It doesn't push comedy over action like the awful TRANSFORMERS sequel; it lays close to the roots of previous endeavors and makes a lot of tribute lines ("Hey, you have real hair,....and kung fu grip."). Why did Paramount wanted this to stay away from critics instead of TRANSFORMERS? That one was a colossal waste of technology, time and money.

The film starts off with a bizarre prologue in 1641 France. I literally looked around and thought that I was watching a deleted scene from the director Stephen Sommers' bomb-tastic previous film, VAN HELSING. After this odd beginning, the film kicks in with soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) tasked with transporting a missile-like weapon capable of "eating steel." After being bum-rushed by a Cobra team led by Duke's old flame The Baroness (Sienna Miller), the Joe team arrives and saves the day but after many soldiers have died. Really great timing I must say. So, the two join the crew and engage in a series of fire-fights and destruction. Unfortunately, all of these later hostile fights are done manly with computer animation.

G.I. JOE does rely on tons of CGI but what shows isn't very good. Some scenes look obviously green-screened and the polish and details of flying vehicles are missing. The worst offender of it is the infamous chase sequence, where all of the destruction is very jerky and characters look like something out of a second-rate video game. The also infamous acceleration suits, designed by Stan Winston's studio, is the reason for the look of the later and thankfully it is shown and used only once.

While the special effects disappoint, the real blood of this film really is the characters. All of the actors just play them just right without the ham or campiness. It might be a bummer for Cobra Commander fans who still crave for a remodeling of Chris Latta's great V.O., but it simply works. Marlon Wayans was the real surprise for me, as he makes Ripcord very likable and not another annoying comedic sidekick he usually plays in other films. Tatum is fine as Duke, Dennis Quaid fits the look of Joe leader Hawk, and Rachel Nichols does well with Scarlett. But the best actor is certainly Joseph Gordon-Levitt; he has been a favorite of mine since BRICK but with this role he may finally get some general public appeal. He creates a great voice for Cobra Commander and his subtle body language are a treat. Another fan favorite, Snake Eyes, is pulled off well by Ray Park.

However, many directional decisions do hurt a significant part. The script creates a good flow of action but nearly drops it in the second half for the lame melodrama between Duke and Baroness. This also ruins many set-ups in the first half; they build up a grudge between the Baroness and Scarlett for a final fight but it never happens. Weird short flashbacks are intercutted only to display generic backstories (though the fight between child Snake Eyes and child Storm Shadow was good). The final problem is the finale; the last battle just ends after the Destro character becomes Destro and Cobra Commander is born through a weird mask.

The only other thing to mention is the violence. For a PG-13 film, there is a lot of things I was surprised made the cut. I have nothing against violence and gore, Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE is a personal favorite, but it is really shocking. Eyes and heads are stabbed, heads are blown off, many soldiers die, and, again to mention, the Paris chase has a lot of civilians absolutely getting killed. This dark attitude is personified when Scarlett keeps mentioning for soldiers to get kills instead of misses.

Even with some major flaws and plot holes, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA is an engaging summer blockbuster. It's not the serious mind-raping of TRANSFORMERS, but it's not a perfect introduction. It is simply a good start for a franchise. Now please, for the sequel, bring in Flint, Lady Jaye, and Shipwreck. I'm begging you.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes - RIP

Simply put, one of the greatest screenwriters of all time.
He will be missed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Hurt Locker - Review

THE HURT LOCKER is a perfect depiction of modern warfare. The hand-held cinematography might seem to be the reason for this assessment, but it lies more on Kathryn Bigelow's direction and the script by Mark Boal. These two create a genuinely scary look at the fears that plague an United States military unit tasked with defusing bombs in Baghdad. Throughout the 131 minutes of this film, you begin to notice that these individuals not only have to deactivate the shoddy explosives in front of them, but also has to prevent the emotional bombs in themselves and the civilians watching them.

Bravo Company receives a new head of their bomb disposal unit after the previous Staff Sergeant is KIA in the prologue. Enter Will James (Jeremy Renner), whose swaggering posture and recklessness pisses off the surviving crew of Sgt. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). This arrogant style seems to be justified; James reveals that he has disassembled more than 800 bombs while on duty. This plot element of "the new guy meets the old crew" has often been used in media but Mark Boal deservedly ends it right there. Like in real life, the new trio must accept each other immediately in order to survive and to continue to operate. The rest of the story then follows a highlighted series of events as the unit reach the end of their tour of duty.

It is a bit hard for me to criticize the film because of how well made it is. Each of the events is highly suspenseful, with most of it coming from the simple notion of communicating and interacting with Iraqi civilians. The soldiers have to guess and second guess every time they see one of the residents seeing them. The paranoia spreads more and more as the bombs get more complicated thus creating more time for anything to happen. This causes the risks to heighten and create an immense sense of dread, except for James who somehow doesn't let it faze him.

There has been a lot of acclaim regarding Jeremy Renner's performance as James and it does live up to the hype. Renner only lets the true emotions of his character to appear in brief moments except for one special event. This event is truly shocking to behold as James loses his cool exterior and his morality becomes far more jaded to define. Is his decision made to prove a point to the insurgents or to defuse his own emotions by planting them within another bomb?

While the story is great with its verisimilitude and life-like dialogue, there are some scenes that broke my suspension of belief. The film has included brief sub-plots involving two Colonels, each of whom have a different opinion on handling with populace. This yin-yang inclusion just feel contrived and basic to have in a war film. What's more is that you will obviously know what's going to happen to them on the battlefield. But, since these scenes are short, they can be forgiven.

You will come out of this film with a lot of questions but that is the point. War doesn't give you any answers for the violent decisions of human beings, so you must deal with it in your own way.


At The Movies returns to greatness!

Starting Sept. 5, Ben Mankiewicz and the much loathed Ben Lyons are being kicked off the set of At The Movies. In their place will be Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott, two critics that have a lot of experience on the show and, you know, are respected by viewers.

I feel a little bad for Mankiewicz, who actually has good presence and has film in his blood, but with Lyons out, the world just got better.