Saturday, December 31, 2011

War Horse - Review

Now for Steven Spielberg, it is two for two. WAR HORSE is his absolute best film in quite awhile. Like his some of his other counterparts this year, he has presented a giant mixing pot of past films and their ideas with the traditional Spielberg trademarks added in for flavor. It is pure old school, from the John Ford-like construction to its stylish displays of violence that would have Sergei Eisenstein and David O. Selznick applauding. It also is deliberately hackneyed with its massive frothing of melodrama yet it has no shame. All of these come together to make one damn fine emotional movie, surely able to break out the tears and tissues.

On its surface, the film simply follows the life of a part-Thoroughbred horse, from his early life as "Joey" in Devon, England, to his constant trading of hands in WWI-era France, either as a tool for the English and German military or as a pet for a French girl. However, as the film unfolds and stated plainly in its transcendentally beautiful ending, it is about how warfare makes everyone and everything a tool, humbling them into absolute quietness. Having its main protagonist be a horse amplifies this point considerably in order to exploit the viewer.

I do not hate Spielberg for his exploitation of a horse in constant peril or of men in battle. That is really one of key factors of what makes film so great; to rip your mind to shreds with excitement and fear for maximum engagement. Spielberg does to World War I combat what he did to World War II in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Except, like the aura and current status of World War I in pop culture, he accurately displays why people don't talk about it often or even make works around it. This was a nightmarish time where trench warfare was the textbook example of insanity and where human class and respect ironically shook hands with bloodshed.

With the PRIVATE RYAN comparison, some snobs might cry out self-plagiarism, saving the plagiarism charge for the film's liberal use of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT imagery along with one of the latter film's iconic subplots involving a separate object. I didn't mind these possible complaints or anything else because I was witnessing the Spielberg experience again. I was amazed by Janusz Kaminski's striking cinematography and the musical movements of John Williams. I liked how Spielberg kept the audience on its toes, always playing with them and waiting to invoke terror and despair on his characters. He took advantage of my emotions and was able to reciprocate it with an immense gift.


Monday, December 26, 2011

The Darkest Hour - Review

Now when I think about it, I really wanted to see THE SOCIAL NETWORK in 3D. Who cares about factors such as expert tone and crisp dialogue when I can see a hot L.A. night club or the campus of Harvard pop out at me and dimmed to obscurity. The makers of THE DARKEST HOUR took up this challenge for its overlong opening half, going so far as to hire one of that film's actors and put him in a similar situation where preppy entrepreneurs fight over a networking site. Now we suckers of cinema can finally watch extreme boardroom scenes to the max, with plenty of douchebaggery to go around and be protruded into our faces.

THE DARKEST HOUR is so tepid and a full bore, the climax of the experience was ripping open your 3D glasses from the plastic pouch. I do like playing Russian roulette with unscreened genre fare but here the joke is on you; the gun was fully loaded.

I can't remember the names of the characters, nor any characterization beyond vapid American nerd, his handsome best friend, pretty New York runaway, and the beautiful foreign lass. The first two come to Russia for business, the latter for pleasure. They meet cute at a bar before being constantly on the run from invading invisible aliens. Meanwhile, in a far darker scenario, you are at the mercy of flat cinematography, yawn-inducing suspense, and all scenes ending with a fade to black. Director Chris Gorak loves those fades. What better way to conclude epic scenes such as walking up stairs with a lantern?

The film turns gonzo in its second half, where our heroes fight back with giant microwave-firing rifles and teaming up with Russian commandos who ride on license-plate armored horses and wield car doors as giant shields. That should sound totally awesome to behold, something Takashi Miike could easily do for critical acclaim at a more limited budget. Instead, all of the negative energy of the proceeding chapters wipes out any and all future excitement. We are thus left in a sad state of sorrow as talented performers such as Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby embark on baffling stupid decisions and deliver whiny speeches about the power of humanity.

There is currently a movie company called The Asylum, who is infamously known for their schlocky takes of Hollywood blockbusters. THE DARKEST HOUR some how sinks far below their outputs, though guaranteeing itself for future weekend screenings with those movies on the Syfy channel. Not funny to enjoy in a "so bad it's good" mood, nor justified to see its screening times being displayed at your local theater.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Arthur Christmas - Review

I'm really getting tired of the mediocre performance and output being done of the movie studios' marketing department when it comes to animated films. None of the people working in there have any idea how to entertain, grab the attention and ultimately sell an animated movie for mass consumption and appeal. Instead, they use flat jokes, play-on-swear words, and repeated smiling facades that wouldn't play in a grade school play, let alone Peoria.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is one of the more recent victims, since the monotone ad campaigns and criminally banal poster art hide a bountiful treat for the holiday season. It is justifiably joyous and has proper adult humor, namely with its plot that makes Christmas to be so completely corporation-driven, it has spread into the day to day operations of the North Pole. Santa Claus is no longer the magical gift-giver. He is now only a figure-head for symbolism and commercialism; a stooge and a old coot.

Powered by a flying battle-cruiser shaped like a sleigh called the S-1 and performed by acrobatic squads of elves instead of just jolly ole St. Nick, the laying of gifts is technologically ordered and done military-style at the hands of Steve, Santa Claus' oldest son and possible heir to the position. "Santa", who is 71 years old and was once named Malcolm, has the absolute power over everything but he is unable, nor wants to handle the now more complicated procedures. One present is found to be undelivered, a bike for a little girl in England, and the two agree and believe that it is an okay loss and mistake, most definitely once data and spread sheets backs them up. However, Santa's younger son Arthur, a klutz forcibly but lovingly embedded in the letter-reading and writing department, refuses to comply and decides to bring the bicycle to the girl before the sun rises in her neck of the woods.

This sounds pretty heavy for a holiday movie but the people at Sony and Aardman Animations are able to handle it while keeping up a friendly and funny tone throughout for the kids in the audience. Unfortunately, this already dense film is filled to the brim with more ideas and can get way too busy at times. A subplot where the Arthur's bad directions and actions with the original and magical wooden sleigh are interpreted as presences of an U.F.O. is utter nonsense. Also, though Arthur is a charming protagonist, he is a little too plucky and innocent. He doesn't receive an acceptable character arc, always staying in neutral with his goofy demeanor.

Regardless, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS does have a heartfelt message and is a pleasant surprise for Christmas fare. The film is well animated, most especially with its opening sequence where the commando elves infiltrate and invade Denmark. There is a lot to behold and laugh at, whether it is too British or a minute in-joke in the background. Even with some superfluous moments, it is fun little adventure and an interesting satire.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin - Review

Steven Spielberg is currently one for one. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is what is other films are often mislabeled as; It is a true and true action-packed thrill ride. No joke, this film is filled far past the brim with action that it might get exhausting just to watch it. For instance, in one very long chapter on a freighter, our titled hero exits from holding cell and room, engages in some fist-a-cuffs, retrieves a key in a packed living quarters, stealthy does some business in the radio room, then haves an intense firefight with his opponents and before barely escaping with his and his friend's lives on a rescue boat. All of this happens just because Tintin likes model boats.

By purchasing a model of the lost pirate ship the Unicorn, the intrepid reporter Tintin (Jaime Bell) and his dog Snowy are forced into a dangerous scenario with evil criminals, deadly vendettas, and even a kleptomaniac pick-pocket. He eventually meets up with Captain Haddock, played by the always charismatic Andy Serkis, whose drunken demeanor and mindset withholds a tainted family legacy and a bevy of pirate treasure. The three travel all around the world for clues, only for the more smarter audience to figure out the mystery and final destination by the half-way point. Still, the adventure is very enthralling and it is fun to have a nice laugh at and with the "gee, wiz" aesthetic.

The film was filmed and created with 3D motion-captured animation, one of the vilest film ideas to break out recently before kids began to learn about the uncanny valley. Here, Spielberg and his crew are able to work it to a high degree but retaining some of the same problems. The more cartoonish the character looks, such as Haddock and the detectives Thomson & Thompson, the better to easily go with the flow. However, some such as Tintin are kind of scary at times with their blank dead eyes. There is also the ugly displays of seeing fluid body movements on characters with stiff, misshapen heads. The latter is more apparent in any of the vibrant crowd scenes.

Still, the greatest hits of action spectacle is hard not to appreciate, most definitely the jaw-dropping one-take chase sequence in Bagghar. I also greatly adored the animation just outside the frame or in the background; whether it is Snowy's walking on spent alcohol bottles or a subplot involving a town's water shortage, Spielberg paid no expense to the landscape. Though the swashbuckling nature loses some luster and can lose a person's attention, the film is one great animated film and a classic movie serial under two hours.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jack and Jill - Review

Hey, hey, hey, everyone! It's that time again for Adam Sandler's Mid-Life Crisis Variety Movie! This edition is sponsored by Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Donuts, and Royal Caribbean International. Returning once again as the supporting players is the Friends of Sandler Brigade. You can never not enjoy those folks. For this film, Sandler is pleased to bring to us JACK AND JILL, a "comedy" about the immense love and the misunderstandings that is shared by all families, especially around the holidays. Sandler will be playing Jack Sadelstein, and as Jill Sadelstein, his loud-mouthed twin sister, will be played by...Adam Sandler! Oh, this will be a joy to behold, let's watch and see.

No, no, you shouldn't watch, see, glare or even hear the pure garbage this monstrosity spews out. JACK AND JILL is far worst than can be predicted; a vile, scattershot creation that needed to be put out of its misery out back behind the dumpsters of Happy Madison Productions. But of course, Sandler always wants to stick up for any of his puke-green products and decided to ship this carcass to Columbia Pictures, to be duplicated for massive infection and devolution. JACK AND JILL is death, destroyer of theaters.

Jack is an L.A. ad man who produces television commercials. He has a wife and two kids. It is Thanksgiving time and he picks up his fellow Bronx-born sister for dinner. She stays longer than expected or he wanted. That's the outline of the plot. Add a love drunk and slumming Al Pacino, rampant product placement to the point where it literally becomes an actual commercial ("Welcome to Royal Caribbean International!"), and a ton of unfunny running jokes and behavioral problems for each and every character (He likes taping things to himself! She's a creepy abuela who chomps down hot peppers!) in each and every scene. There you have it, a complete disaster-piece written by Ben Zook, Steve Koren. and Robert Smigel.

Except for Al Pacino, who at least tries to camp up the bad material when he isn't awesomely insulting the other characters, everyone is either excruciating or a cardboard stand-in. Sandler mumbles and underacts as Jack but he punctuates everything that is already horrible about Jill and her demeanor. There's no reason we should care for Jill or cheer her in any way; we never learn anything about her besides a rampant incestuous vibe that is thankfully dropped at the halfway mark. Sadly, the writers or auteur terrible Dennis Dugan didn't remove her sexist, racist, princess mindset either. If they did that, then Sandler wouldn't have any material to work it. Oh no, we couldn't have that.

With each next installment with Sandler, Dugan continues to degrade into a far worse director. This film isn't a mess, it is a state of emergency. The bipolar script and its switches in tone and mood perfectly matches with Dugan's skills at making a story. The cutting of shots has people magically transported in and out of frame along with their costumes changed for random humor. The movie also has a lot of cameos, and not just Sandler's best friends mind you. This features such luminaries as the Sham-Wow guy and gives Bruce Jenner another terrible film to be included in. But of course, they can't really be called cameos because Dugan has them explicitly told to us so as not to confuse our simple minds. Honestly, except for bad movie nuts, does anyone know or truly care who Billy Blanks is?

This movie gets atrocious and hate-inducing when you actually think about its themes and messages. Like any film that involves drag or drag acting, there is a sequence where Jack has to dress up as Jill, in order to swoon Al Pacino into doing a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. For hilarious reasons, he has to do it in a public men's room instead of his own bedroom. The punchline has the quiet attendant helping him out and complementing it, basically informing the audience that transsexuals exist and are beautiful like anyone else. Dugan however, a person who has had an acting history as stereotypical gay guys, wanted to negate this by having a later scene where Katie Holmes calls a Jack "a weirdo". Also, if you are an atheist, you are a rat-faced hipster that should be shouted at and beaten up in public with a broken table leg.

JACK AND JILL was rated PG by the MPAA, despite featuring many racial insults and crude jokes about female hygiene. THE ARTIST received a PG-13 rating for a quick flipping of the bird and a gun being used. This comparison, or anything that you can think of, is the final nail in the coffin for myself. The only salvation I had with this piece of phlegmatic tripe is its ending. Screw the spoilers. JACK AND JILL ends with Al Pacino disowning the commercial he just witnessed, threatening Jack that it should be burned immediately and anyone who has seen it should be seriously talked to. Earlier in the film, it is stated that if the commercial can't be done, Jack's company will fold. What a great note to end on.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Take Shelter - Review

TAKE SHELTER is a nice little thriller by writer/director Jeff Nichols, with its balancing of surreal imagery and a far realistic tone. As with the mind of its main character, the viewer is tasked to figure out if the mental dreams can be fixed quickly before damage is done or if they are a prelude of things yet to come. I did enjoy my time with this study of a man fuelling his apocalyptic fears in front of his family and friends but the great performances can't completely mask its shortage of high tension and anticipation to see what happens next.

Michael Shannon is Curtis, a blue-collar working father from Ohio who supports his artistic wife Sam, the right now always excellent Jessica Chastain, and their hearing-impaired daughter. Starting from the first scene where Curtis is rained on by a petroleum-like substance, he begins having a series of enscalating nightmares where he is attacked by his zombie-like neighbors and his beloved dog. Hallucinations then seem to enter his eye's view with peculiar flight patterns of birds and multiple thunder strikes. These phenomenons lead to several severe panic attacks and a few humiliating moments for his manhood, such as wetting the bed. However, at the same time all this is going on, Curtis mysteriously comes into attention with news stories about chemical attacks, sales on large storage units and his backyard storm shelter. He begins to expensively fix up the shelter for the possible storm, much to the chagrin of others, while at the same time trying to figure out if these are just early signs of a hereditary mental illness he might share with his mother.

This film both premiered at Sundance and came out near the release of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. Unfortunately, TAKE SHELTER doesn't have everything that made MARTHA a highly intense movie to watch. It takes its time, drawing out scenes to have the viewer reflect on them but the characters aren't always engaging in something thrilling to watch. There's a little too many scenes where Shannon is just looking up at the sky or having a brief non-important conversation with someone. I don't mean to be too harsh for the film doing a realistic and more internal approach. I very much admire the attempt but it didn't always hold up, especially with the script's liberal use of having characters speaking out obvious foreshadowing lines, such as Curtis' health insurance and a work get-together. The latter event pretty much sums up the film as a whole: Curtis is forced into doing the generic, patent public display of craziness but Michael Shannon captures the spirit back with a hellfire and brimstone monologue before falling apart on his wife's shoulder.

TAKE SHELTER is a very commendable picture to come with another fantastic display of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain's immense talents. It feels stiff at times, a bit easy-going when watching human and mental misery but the actors and Nichols' direction lead to some truly stellar moments, especially with its grand finale that is certain to lead to some debate amongst yourselves. Just be sure not to stock up on treats before watching it. Not because of a fear of spilling them due to frights, but you might enter into Curtis' mindset a little too well.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hugo - Review

I've always been a fan of Martin Scorsese the movie lecturer, the cinema teacher, and the film preservationist. As for being a director, it is sadly a giant bundle of mixed feelings for myself due to his odd, but nevertheless peculiar, outputs. For his his newest film HUGO, Scorsese got to highlight, underscore, and triumphantly show off all of his favorite hobbies in one big magnum opus for families. Though adapted from a children's book and written by John Logan, the film screams the real-life sensibilities and feelings of Scorsese; it is a heavily made fan fiction of the origins of cinema with plenty of PSA moments to fill in the rest of the gaps of its long-winded running time of a little over two hours.

It is hard to discuss this movie without giving out the major spoiler and central mystery, even though I have already alluded to it. The story sets itself up as something completely different: a story of a orphaned boy who lives and works at a Paris train station when he isn't stealing food or toy mechanisms, running from a constantly harassing train inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), or suffering from his other Dickensian nightmares and perils. That's all fine and dandy but it really isn't the main interest, nor is it really all that interesting to watch.

That is where Ben Kingsley's character comes into the spotlight. The begrudging, self-loathing old man at the station's toy shop, who does have some tendencies to break his cold facade with magic tricks, becomes more important to Hugo's main plot of fixing up an old automaton found by his late father. Foreshadowed expertly by Scorsese, the man is revealed to be a certain long lost film director, a person who brought many innovations to the world of cinema but, more importantly, brought dreams to real life.

Everything involving Kingsley, who gives a great performance, and his torturous past are some of the absolute most striking moments to come out this year. Scorsese, along with Robert Richardson's excellent camerawork and his creative art and costume designers, make exquisite beauty within the film frames and truly hit my movie-loving heart. I can forgive the Scorsese surrogate and the deliberately hammered-in guided tours for general audiences, because this man got to recapture why film matters to the world and why it has such an impact on the human soul.

Unfortunately, this transcendental bliss I experienced is not expanded further or more in-depth as it should have been. This is because, to the detriment of the film, the focus is placed more squarely on Hugo and his plight. This is not at all Asa Butterfield's fault as the boy, since he is capable to pull great emotional punches and has piercing blue eyes to warm any soul. Instead, it is the character himself, a pretty boring street-rat with really no personality, no future goal beyond fixing a broken machine, only plenty of buckets of sorrow and whining. The character drags the story so much that it impacts the screen-time of the rest of the supporting players, who have more interesting darkness to them but at least try to see the better side of life.

Hugo simply can't carry HUGO. If Scorsese and Logan wanted to find a better suited protagonist, they should have dared to loosely adapt the book and put the focus and viewpoint of the story on Kingsley's granddaughter Isabelle. Played nicely by Chloe Grace Moretz, she is more engaging and has a better back story and personal drive to help out Kingsley. Fueled and influenced by the words and worlds of books, she is strangely banned to attend any movie theaters and seemingly hasn't thought to question it or adventure it out for herself. She even shares the sad personal history of Hugo's, even tying in with the film's focus on the effects of Europe after World War I. By going in this different direction, while retaining Hugo as a supporting player for Isabelle, the film could have completely justified being a complete family treasure instead of just feeling dull and way to somber to truly enjoy.

It really does hurt myself that such beautiful moments achieved by Scorsese are once again squandered by many missteps to make the film utterly disappointing. Make no mistake in my judgment, this is a film to check out, whether as a resident cinephile or a family night out at a 3D showing. I just wish the far too often depressing aspects were expunged or channeled better with a more compelling main character.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Two Brief (Very Brief) Reviews

I watch a lot of films every year and not every single one can be written up. It could be the general mediocrity of it, the forgetful premise and execution, or I just get busy and lose interest in reviewing it.

Here are two opening paragraphs for two August films that almost got the full treatment, only to settle with a short stab at them. Think of these as my take on Leonard Maltin's style of reviewing.


So, we finally come to the most heated film of the summer, sure to spill some blood and aggravate the many, many detractors. Shockingly, I felt that THE SMURFS wasn't the newest weapon to cripple human brain cells this year. Make no mistake, there is a whole lot of commercially-created crass shenanigans and stupidity to behold and tolerate. The few bright moments with the blue Belgian creatures are largely ruined by whiplash writing, bland shoehorned human characters, and set pieces designed to overflow with poop jokes.



Surprises do not come very often from the diluted products of Hollywood, especially with the many reboots, prequels, and unnecessary franchise extenders. But, when there are exceptions, they are spellbindingly good. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES isn't total perfection but its vastly interesting melodramatic storytelling, peculiar characterizations and its love of warping the expectations of its action finale make it the odd movie out of the recesses of August releases.


Monday, December 5, 2011

The Artist - Review

I love movies. I especially love movies about movies.  Also, I love movies about the movie-making business.  Trust me, there is clear difference the latter two.  So, of course THE ARTIST would be right up my lane. Except the lane was already taken over with multiple cinematic news and press, plastered with real-life and online ads, and a spoiler-riffic trailer before finally experiencing the film. The Weinstein Company wanted to sell it fast and hard and they certainly did, with their trademark pomp and circumstance.

Suffice to say, THE ARTIST is one glorious piece of pleasure for movie fans, thanks to the heavy gusto and guidance of writer/director Michel Hazanavicius.  He takes something which honestly isn't an original piece of work, telling a interconnecting plot of an actor and actress and their careers during the silent to sound film transition, and doesn't change or add anything new.  This would have been a detraction if it wasn't crafted to be just that and achieved greatly so.  The film is a giant love letter to old Hollywood films and sensibilities, carefully done both expertly and subtly to create one of the absolute best silent films since that illustrious era.

The silent film format may seem arbitrary or pure wankery for jaded and prejudiced viewers but it is pretty ingenuous why it was implemented.  We, as a willing traveler into this movie world, get to experience this golden era of Hollywood by being forced to share the mindset of its main character, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin).  Valentin is ego incarnate, a superstar who makes every moment, whether in his life or in his silent films, a continuous showboating performance.  Always thrilled but very much content with his current celebrity lifestyle, he laughs off the notion to let either of his double lives evolve any further once he "sees" an early take at a sound film.  After a horrible nightmare where sound crashes into his world, he flat-out refuses to change his attitude, thus dooming his career but more importantly his future well-being.

This nightmare sequence, which is one of the many great highlights of Hazanavicius' mastery, explicitly tells you why Valentin is scared to move with the times.  Once sound is introduced, everything and everyone is now acknowledged to be real.  He can't be a walking photo-op, a portrait of masculinity and a picture perfect movie star anymore.  He has to back it all up with words.  Sound also would ruin his current relationships, causing his beloved sidekick dog to be reduced to being only a pet and his passionless marriage to become the utter sham it truly is.  However, as foreshadowed perfectly throughout, the new sensation would amplify his beautiful dancing abilities, the only time he truly feels happy.  It's no surprise that his fun moments dancing up a storm always seem to be shared with one woman, the former extra he once bumped into later turned American sweetheart Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

Dujardin and Bejo are both exceptional in their roles.  Dujardin weaves Valentin through all of his emotions, but never forgetting to keep his self-esteem ever so high until the eventful rock bottom scene.  Bejo, on the other hand, magnanimously understands the silent film acting style, with her vivid eyes and facial and body melodrama, to such a degree I fear she might turn into a Norma Desmond.  Her best moment comes when she convinces you she is about to fall in love with Valentin's coat rack.  That's right, her acting is so good, she can carry a scene with a block of wood and turn into a love affair.  The supporting roles are filled with American actors, such as the always funny John Goodman as the studio head and Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin's distressed wife.  Sadly, none of them get much time to develop more, probably because Valentin's dog, a terrier named Uggy, steals the spotlight and the viewer's attention all the time.  If Andy Serkis justifiably deserves a special Oscar for his performance as an ape, one should also be given to Uggy for his performance.

I can not given enough praise for Hazanavicus' auteurship over this film.  He uses the silent film style to make many great in-jokes, an early scene with Valentin awaiting audience applause comes to mind, when he isn't recreating purposely cliche moments.  He also makes the film a fun little spot-the-movie-or-movie-star contest for film geeks and cinephiles, both in the plot and scene allusions.  With rambling too much, expect to see things ranging from SUNRISE to the life and times of Eric Von Stroheim.  Of course, everyone will at least notice its model use of A STAR IS BORN.

THE ARTIST is a genuinely magical film to watch.  The only problem I had with it was its confusing third act rush to the climax, which even for the sake of melodrama was overboard and hard to appreciate.  Even with this big error, I do believe with some repeated viewings that it will be surmonted with more glee and praise.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Review

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a rubber-band, pulled ever so tightly to squeeze out every tear and chill out of a viewer with its exasperating tension. Miraculously for writer/director Sean Durkin, the band never breaks under the pressure. It falls limp during some scenes only to pull harder to make up for its shortcomings. It is a highly effective psychological horror film, where the boundaries of the human mind have been distorted and bent to make reality a constant fearful experience.

One of the most terrifying things about human understanding and logic is that anyone can accept physical/ mental abuse and regression on to themselves or others if they truly believe it and convey it is the right thing to do. This affliction is bestowed upon Martha, played by Elizabeth Olsen, who also sees herself as a Marcy May and a Marlene. As our prologue shows us, Martha is retreating from a seemingly cult-based environment in the Catskills, where the women wait after the men to eat and are piled into one room. She heads to town to call up her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) for help, only to start second-guessing her actions, especially after a close call at a diner. Once picked up and transported to the vacation home of Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), Martha's phobias and desires begin to heavily impact her current psyche, with her past "memories" at the farm and charged emotions manifesting and streamlined into her daily interactions with family members. Could it be that cult is coming after her or was it all a product of her endless imagination?

The film doesn't keep the balance of reality and memory in check, nor should it. The reason is that nothing can be believed to be the absolute truth. We are in the midst of a damaged mind, incapable of understanding if the horrors seen and experienced by Martha were willingly given to her by the cult and its leader Patrick, or if it is the product of nightmares and voices in her head. The movie even gives you many more options to think and look at it, including the possibility that everything was dreamt up after a long bad relationship with a boyfriend. Even if you suspend your disbelief in any way, that doesn't prevent the film from entering inside you and dropping terror-inducing poetry by Patrick of the beauties of fear and death or making you regret walking around at night, even with the lights on.

Not everything in the script can be original and scary. Though Paulson and Dancy are fine in their roles, it doesn't escape the fact that their characters are specifically designed to pad out the proceedings. Both as a counterpoint to the philosophies of Patrick and patronizing know-it-alls, the two have to be emotionally dull and insensitive in order to provoke Martha into further panic attacks instead of, you know, calling for professional help. When I heard the word "parties" from a conversation between the sisters about why the vacation house is so spacious, I just knew that there would be a misguided party scene later on, which the film does in fact. This first draft exercise of melodrama becomes a bigger annoyance since another horror film this year, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, also had a British man married to an American woman, a subplot about a house project being taken over by the bank, and another ill-suited party with a unstable family member. At least that film had a portable psychologist come into the plot to judge the main character before the more heated moments.

Harsh as that problem is, it is nearly impossible for it to totally ruin the overall film. There are many very unpleasant experiences and frightening scares to behold, thanks to careful and beautiful cinematography, an editing scheme consisting mainly of long takes, and a chilling soundtrack that alternates between natural sounds to blaring alarms. Durkin even made sure to leave more quieter scares in the background and in some throwaway lines, such as the crosses on the farm and a talk about Patrick's children respectively. Elizabeth Olsen richly deserves her breakthrough performance and acclaim, playing Martha as a broken-down doll and an abyss of abhorrence. John Hawkes gives another fantastic acting accomplishment to the cult leader Patrick, a man who believably has the swagger and charm to woo a woman under his spell.

The key thing that makes this film great and a big deal-breaker for some is its conclusion. I won't spoil it, nor am I able to since it too can be taken any way you choose to see it as. If taken from a straight-forward approach, which most would, it is one hell of a gut punch and chilling to the core. Unfortunately, this idea makes the penultimate scenes before it come off a little goofy when you really think about it. Fridge logic aside, it's still a scary final note.


25 Days of Christmas Entertainment - Table of Contents

Since it is that time of the year again, I decided to re-link to my previous year's overview of Christmas Entertainment.

Below is the 25 entries that I wrote up in a series that I had fun doing in 2010, something that might show up again.

Cynical Christmas Movie Week

1. The Ref
2. In Bruges
3. Ernest Saves Christmas
4. Magic Christmas Tree
5. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny
6. Elf Bowling: The Movie
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys

Christmas Wrapping Specials

8. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: "Alpha's Magical Christmas
9. He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special
10. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: "Cobra Claws Are Coming to Town"
11. Pac-Man: "Christmas Comes to Pac-Land"
12. The Simpsons: "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace"

Nickelodeon and Warner Bros Animation Specials

13. Doug: "Doug's Christmas Story"
14. Rugrats: "The Santa Experience"
15. Rocko's Modern Life: "Rocko's Modern Christmas"
16. Hey Arnold!: "Arnold's Christmas"
17. Invader Zim: "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever"
18. Freakazoid!: "The Chip" and "In Arm's Way"
19. Batman: The Brave and the Bold: "Invasion of the Secret Santas!"

The Top Six

20. 52: "Week Thirty-Three"
21. Jiminy Cricket's Christmas and A Walt Disney Christmas
22. Mystery Science Theater 3000: "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"
23. Mystery Science Theater 3000: "Santa Claus"
24. Mickey's Christmas Carol
25. Home Alone

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

10(?) Best Things of November 2011

Yeah, not a lot of great things happened, so it has been reduced to six. Let's hope this doesn't happen during Christmas season.

1. Saints Row: The Third

If I had to think about it, this was probably my favorite video game of the year.

2. The Walking Dead, "Pretty Much Dead Already"

Holy crap. What an ending.

3. Batman: The Brave and the Bold series ends

"Mitefall!" was perfect final gift for comic book fans with a uplifting but still sad last scenes.

4. Snow White & the Huntsman trailer

Certainly looks better than the other Snow White film. Its LOTR-style and direction sold me on it.

5. Carlos on The Price Is Right

Carlos is one of my college friends and starred in my senior film. Seeing him on the television was a real treat, something I would like to see more often. Still, I don't understand why he guessed the price was for the spa. Good split though.

5. "Life's a Happy Song" from The Muppets

It wouldn't leave my head. A complete and total earworm.

My Tops of 2011 - November

IMMORTALS had some potential and showed it off thanks to Tarsem Singh's direction and framing, but the story and shallow characters set it back.

SUPER repeats the "real-life superheroes" trope to make a strangely effective black comedy with peculiar psychodrama scenes.

ROAD TO NOWHERE is certainly one of the art films of this year I will still be thinking about, trying to figure out its complex puzzles amid beautiful cinematography.

SEASON OF THE WITCH was a dull low-budget medieval action film with no tension and no acting from Nicholas Cage. Poor Ron Perlman.

THE LAST CIRCUS is what you receive when you mix history drama, Fellini-esque imagery, and the sensibilities of a Troma film. A definitively great original film.

ZOOKEEPER is a complete failure both as a romantic comedy and a babysitter film. No scene truly works and it wastes the considerable talents of people like Rosario Dawson.

THE MUPPETS is a true delight with its fun-filled songs and humor. However, too much 80's humor and a collapsing finale hurt it a bit.

THE DESCENDANTS is a truly horrible mess of everyone's talent. Insulting and unbearable, every actor in it should have a subtitle under their performances saying "Deserves Better".

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER was an obnoxious candy-coated kid's film with overblown performances and poop jokes. Bad, but I had worse.

PRIEST is one of those more worse films. A boring, dull patchwork of many better movies with much under or non-existent acting, except campy Karl Urban, and cinematography that is too dark to see anything.

TROLL HUNTER is probably the best of the found footage films this year. It is engaging, has a great lead performance, and feels and acts "real" despite its high fantasy concept. Too much car traveling footage, though.

RED STATE is a turgid mess and is much too shrill in its dark material to enjoy in any way. Too many slumming actors, including a charismatic but mumbling Michael Parks, and an ending that just slams on the brakes. Another horrible idea from Kevin Smith.

YOUR HIGHNESS was not funny, at all. The actors may have fitted their respective characters and the action stunt work is pretty good but not one of its jokes reached the smirk phase for me.

Best Films of 2011

1. Drive

2. Bridesmaids

3. Rango

4. The Tree of Life

5. Source Code

6. Super

7. Super 8

8. X-Men: First Class

9. The Last Circus

10. The Green Hornet

11. Paul

12. Thor

13. Fright Night

Worst Films of 2011

1. Passion Play

2. Zookeeper

3. Waiting For Forever

4. Mars Needs Moms

5. Red State

6. Battle: Los Angeles

7. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

9. Priest

10. Scream 4

11. Gnomeo and Juliet

12. Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

13. Season of the Witch

14. Rubber

15. The Descendants

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell - RIP

It has been reported that British avant-garde/controversial director Ken Russell has passed away. He will be missed.

Russell is now widely known for his extravagant imagery and excess in sensuality (Women in Love) and disturbing content (The Devils).

I haven't seen all of his films currently, including some of his most (in)famous (Altered States, Whore), but viewings of his work during my high school years certainly made me notice him. Tommy and The Lair of the White Worm were crazy, bizarre cult films that blew me away while his segment in the mixed bag Aria, set to "Nessun Dorma", was absolutely beautiful.

Even when one of his works was pretentious or a complete disaster, such as Valentino, I can never say that I wasn't entertained by his artfully gonzo auteurship. Truly a master of film and a great carnival barker.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Descendants - Review

I hate being insulted in the first minutes of a movie. No George Clooney's character Matt King, I have never seen Hawaii as only a paradise. I've always been aware that it is just another state and has problems just like everyone else. I'm not stupid nor have I been educated or believed of its "eternal peace and tranquility" by media myths and marketing. It is no Shangri-La. Hell, even people died inside that utopia.

THE DESCENDANTS is one of those films that make you so angry at the crew behind it, both for how manipulative and exploitative the film is and how much of the talent is wasted. This film was written by Alexander Payne, Nat Fixon, and Jim Rash. Payne has written and directed some great dramedies such as ABOUT SCHMIDT and especially SIDEWAYS. Fixon and Rash are both members of the comedy troupe The Groundlings, with Rash getting special mention for his current role on the television show Community. Instead of something funny and charming or a bleak drama, these three just made a glorified television movie with a horrendous script and simply only serviceable performances.

Nobody in the cast deserves punishment or sadly any acclaim either. Clooney has been touted all year as the best here but he runs on auto-pilot except for scenes involving anger. He wasn't directed and blocked properly, most notably in a scene where he's apparently waiting to hug his daughter but looks confused and stiff instead. The two daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, seem to try to act natural but the script calls for them to bring the comedy only by constantly swearing. See, it's funny cause they are young and are being naughty. Yes, I'm aware kids say expletives, I was one of them after all, but there is no other punchlines and gags. Just a lot of hackneyed sentences and exposition dumps that talented performers such as Robert Forster and Judy Greer have to deliver.

I can not stress how much I loathe this script. As stated earlier, Clooney is Matt King, a descendant of the King family who inherited and owns a giant peace of ocean land ready for developers. His wife Elizabeth has been in a coma due to a boating accident and he can't take care of his daughters without her cause they be all like crazy. How can a man handle female children when that's supposed to be a mother's job? That's not my opinion, but the opinion of both Matt and the film. Anyway, rampant misogyny aside, Matt is now forced to pull the plug due to his wife's declining health and has to tell everyone before she finally succumbs. He then finds out from his oldest child that Elizabeth was cheating on him with someone later to be revealed as a home retailer named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). He wants to find and confront him while at the same time is heckled and lectured by his cousins about the pending sale of the land to several prospects.

The only thing moving in this slow film is pure misery. Death, suffering, and past sins are hard to deal with as a human being but it is not conveyed properly here. When it should be shown, such as when the youngest daughter is finally told, Payne drops the volume in favor of melancholy, happy Hawaiian music. This music is everywhere and ruins so many moments that could have been great for the cast. When there is no music to distract you, Payne forces Clooney or the other characters to explicitly tell you like a flock of sheep; the entire opening is nothing but Clooney explaining in a heavy voice-over the entire plot and his feelings. It also doesn't help that Matt doesn't tell anyone of the new revelations about Elizabeth's character, so we have to just sit there with him as he is insulted by others for not treating her properly. Matt even betrays his new feelings for her by acting hypocritical whenever someone else, including his also suffering older daughter, insults her on her hospital bed. Then, there is Sid (Nick Krause), a side character who is glued to the King family's proceedings only for us to laugh at his mental and social deficiencies. The script thinks it can make this creation critical to the plot later when he and Matt have a special man to man talk but it still doesn't hide the badly made stitching away from the viewer.

The writers try to make this land sale side plot important, going so far as to tie it up later with the main plot. However, it is so boring, cliche and unnecessary. King was all forward to selling it but just because of one angry mother and one unexpected visit to the site, it changes everything he believes. The biggest problem with it entirely, however, is by the time the signing is to take place, King's choice is more of petty revenge rather than his actual true beliefs. Even if he decides to not sign, the land has to sold in the next seven years, so where's the tension to be had? But since this is a deliberately made movie, a major business change must be synced with a major life change for maximum emotion from the audience. How insulting and degrading of you, Alexander Payne.

I have seen many awful, terrible, atrocious films this year but THE DESCENDANTS is just plain despicable and misleading. No humor or heart, no new way of seeing and experiencing life. It is a badly made Oscar bait film, filled to the brim with vile and mediocrity.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets - Review

Nobody wants to become the grown up Christopher Robin. This is why nostalgia has a tight grasp on people to the point of exhaustion and suffocation. For myself, this expression of mine is not suited for that silly little bear with a short red shirt. It was instead connected to the creations of Jim Henson's wonderful mind. Like a lot of kids growing up during the 90's, I was overwhelmed with continuous re-runs of Muppet Babies and The Muppet Show. But seeking out newer outputs from the Jim Henson Company saw a steep decline in quality and laughter.

I was aware and notified of the death of Jim Henson as a kid, joining Mel Blanc and Keith Haring in my mourning of threes. Losing him proved to be the loss of both the soul and heart in all of the newer releases and attempts to reboot the lovable puppets beyond Sesame Street. Television star and mega-fan Jason Segel was given the reins along side co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin to spill new blood and a new way of thinking to the Muppets, much to the chagrin of the old man mentality of Frank Oz and other anonymous workers. Oz and his crew now need to eat their hats and shoes because THE MUPPETS is a very swift kick-start to the Muppets' heart, bringing them back but more importantly underlining why there are needed for the lovers and dreamers of the world.

The plot is not totally sunk by an unnecessary back-story of Gonzo or another book adaptation, but it won't win any originality awards. Segel and his muppet brother Walter travel to Los Angeles to see The Muppets Studio while on the dime and time of Segel and his girlfriend Amy Adams's vacation. Walter is a life-long obsessive fan of the Muppets and is heartbroken at the decay of the studio and the absence of everyone. His luck and fortune turns better through ironic means when he overhears rich oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) talking and maniacal laughing with his cronies over how he's going to destroy the studio and theater for more oil, more money. Our hero trio is then thrust to search for Kermit the Frog, round up all the other Muppets around the globe, and pull a Mickey Rooney to put on a Muppet show to save the last standing legacy of them.

Though it acts and feels like a remake of the THE MUPPET MOVIE, the film is more of a love letter by Segel of the original television show. When The Muppet Show left airwaves in 1981, so did the allure of the Muppets since there's no mention of any of the other films or even fan-winking to other Jim Henson productions like Fraggle Rock. The main reason for this exclusion is for the plethora of 80's humor Segel and Stoller revel and annoy in. I did like Kermit's servant '80s Robot with his dilapidated technology and dispensing of Tab and New Coke but the other jokes are tiring; a musical sequence set to Starship's "We Built this City", a favorite of mine that would be a guilty pleasure if I actually felt guilty of it, is truly not necessary nor fits with the context of the scene. When the two writers reach for a Benson reference, you'll know that they needed to tone down their geek jokes.

That's not to say all of the jokes are middling and lame, except for the deliberate ones by Fozzy the Bear. There is many funny punchlines and absurdist wit to behold and laugh at, from "traveling by map" to unexpected rap songs. The film also brings some bleakness to the characters and their current states but not too much; Kermit is seen living like Norma Desmond in a marriage mansion surrounded by photos of the past but the lighting is too bright to achieve any real weight to the scenes and his song. As hinted in the past two sentences, there are many new original songs with a few revivals, like the Muppets staples "The Rainbow Connection" and "Mahna Mahna". The Bret McKenzie written and produced ones are all ear-wormy and greatly fit, like the crowd-pleasing "Life's a Happy Song" with its MGM-style musical sequences. A personal favorite was "Man or Muppet", which is hilariously overwrought but fits my theory of Walter being a Cronenberg manifestation of both Segel's own and his character Gary's immense adulation of Henson's products.

THE MUPPETS isn't perfect or probably change the future Hollywood landscape of family films. It has some eye-rolling pop culture jokes, "Forget You" sung by chickens anyone?, and its deus ex machina/reverse of fortune never-ending finale falls apart. However, it was a fantastic film that gave me a big smile throughout the majority of it. It was nice to see some old friends again; kid and adult-friendly characters who talk to them like equals instead of just being hyperactive clowns. Nothing makes me love film more than having a frog puppet experiencing the human condition and always searching for the brighter side of life.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Immortals - Review

Though I never have been assailed for it by anyone, I still stick to my opinion that 300 was a very good film. It works as a comic book film, a glorious Greek times film, a camp classic, a "movies for guys who like movies" film, etc. 300 was so effective in pop culture and the zeitgeist that it served as the base movie for one of Friedberg and Seltzer's atrocious parody films. This despite the fact that 300 is already hilarious to laugh at.

IMMORTALS could have followed as one of the better, more likely only, films of the 300 rip-offs and it does, sorta of. I didn't go into this expecting a Paddy Chayefsky written masterpiece when it comes to the plot, just a lot of hyper violence with the beautiful imagery and imagination of director Tarsem Singh. However, it often feels like its bare-bones approach is just too hard to truly and completely enjoy.

Future superhero star Henry Cavill gets his biggest break in American cinema as Theseus, a peasant in a small Greek town embedded into the side of a massive cliff. Secretly being taught by Zeus in the form of an old man (John Hurt), he is destined to engage in conflict with King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), a warlord who has embarked on a god-killing mission to attack Mount Tartarus and free the mythical Titans with the aid of the powerful but missing Epirus Bow. Now just include a comedic sidekick played by Stephen Dorff, who is actually quite good, and Frida Pinto as a love interest able to have premonitions and remove her clothes.

That's really all Vlas and Charley Parlapanides can muster. There is, or seems to be, a debate about the declining belief in the faith of the gods and the rise of human thinking but it is very muddled and confusing. The gods way too obviously act only as deus ex machinas when they aren't whining about doing something. And just like a true Macguffin, the Epirus Bow isn't really used often or as important as it should be. If the Parlapandieses wanted to be ultra basic or post-modern with a Greek tale, then hooray I guess. That doesn't excuse extensively setting up a major supporting villain for Theseus only to deliver a vicious balls shot, literally and figuratively, with/and a showdown that last five seconds.

There's really no reason to see this for character and plot substance. This is strictly all about action and art, which the film does deliver in spades. The action and battle choreography is well-crafted and flows like a true blood ballet. I would have preferred more actual movie blood than its CG counterpart though. The absolute best craftsmanship, however, comes from director Tarsem Singh and the cinematography by Brendan Galvin. Singh has always loved to make moving displays of classical art paintings, whether in his films or his abundant early days in music videos, and he once again displays it here. The framing and tableaux are very striking and immensely pleasurable, able to stand the film further out from being just another Greek mythology movie.

IMMORTALS is bloody good fun and beautiful to look at even with some big shortcomings. I'm more inclined, however, to recommend the Spartacus television series for better and campier displays of sex and violence. Still, that show didn't have some artistic quality and a commanding and dirty performance by Mickey Rourke. Not to mention, this film can actually incorporate green-screening better into the proceedings.


Monday, October 31, 2011

10 Best Things of October 2011

1. Cinemassacre's Monster Madness

The second best annual event in October. I always enjoy James Rolfe's opinion on horror films.

2-4. The Walking Dead Returns

The great television series returns with three strong episodes. At least, three episodes I thought were fantastic.

5. Community, "Remedial Chaos Theory"

One of the best episodes the show has done. Which says little and a lot.

6. Chael Sonnen's Post-Fight Promo

Pure Money.

7. Video Games Awesome's Halloween-A-Thon

The crew up north made the most entertaining gaming nerds with nearly daily coverage with hot new games and/or horror-themed longplays. Their experience playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent being the highlight.

8. The Avengers Trailer

Looks awesome and exciting. Unlike others, I'm still keeping my expectations down to prevent disappoinment.

9. Disney's Sin City

A well-executed video synching Disney animation with the structure of the Sin City film trailer.

10. Fighterpedia

I love fighting games and any show that explores them gets a mighty thumbs up.

My Tops of 2011 - October

FOOTLOOSE is frankly not bad. It has a sense of realism and overall fun environment. The strict remaking of every step and plot point hurts its progress.

MONEYBALL has very good performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and an interesting take on the sports film but can be confusing sometimes or tacky with cliches.

RUBBER should have been a fun art/cult film about a evil rubber tire. Instead, it suffocates itself with its consumption and regurgitation of the fourth wall, annoying audience surrogates, and constant winking to dadaism.

RA.ONE is a vapor blockbuster for India. A good cast can't forgive the copy-pasting storyline, lame Western songs, and dire special effects.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 at first didn't feel like it could measure up to the first two films. My opinion changed, now embracing the effective scares and lingering open questions.

ATTACK THE BLOCK is a fun, original sci-fi tale that deliberates creates problems with its characters for later plot elements. Didn't match up completely with expectations, so now I must wait and see if I can later join the cult.

Best Films of 2011

1. Drive

2. Bridesmaids

3. Rango

4. The Tree of Life

5. Source Code

6. Super 8

7. X-Men: First Class

8. The Green Hornet

9. Paul

10. Thor

11. Fright Night

Worst Films of 2011

1. Passion Play

2. Waiting For Forever

3. Mars Needs Moms

4. Battle: Los Angeles

5. Atlas Shrugged

6. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

7. Scream 4

8. Gnomeo and Juliet

9. Rubber

My Horror/Halloween Hit List

Like many others, throughout this month I have been watching horror or horror-themed films in honor of the Halloween spirit. This is all of the movies I watched or re-watched:

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul
Black Sheep
Creature from the Black Lagoon
The Creature Walks Among Us
The Fog (1980)
The Green Slime
Horror of Dracula
The House Where Evil Dwells
The Lost Boys
Mad Monster Party
The Mummy
The Mummy's Curse
The Mummy's Ghost
The Mummy's Hand
The Mummy's Tomb
The Mystery of the Wax Museum
Paranormal Activity 2
Paranormal Activity 3
The Return of the Living Dead
Revenge of the Creature
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island
The Thing (1982)
The Tingler
Zombie Apocalypse

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ra.One - Review

Time to crack my knuckles and wear a bib. It's another movie that incorporates video games into its plot, up front and the center of attention this time around. Filmmakers hardly ever are able to successfully incorporate the popular field of entertainment into their motion pictures. Video games are no longer a popular fad or an unknown entity to people, with 30+ years of history now. There's no excuse, no reason to be able to grasp and understand both video game logic and video game design and display it correctly on the big screen.

As a resident nitpicker when it comes to these problems, I again was not shocked to witness that RA.ONE gets a failing grade when it comes to videogames. The hot new exciting video game created by Shahrukh Khan's character and his staff is a big money pit waiting to happen. The game in question, sharing the same name of the film, is an one on one fighting game that can only be played through a virtual reality body harness. This surely expensive harness some how has perfect synchronization with movement and no presence of lag, something the Wii and Kinect still haven't solved. So, with absolutely no alternate controller option, the consumer is forced to purchase a giant accessory in order to interact; a peripheral that most assuredly has far higher expenditures compared to the game's expected revenue. The people who worked on Steel Battalion now can enjoy a good laugh.

If you thought the game-within-the-film is good or perfect to play in real-life, you don't know movie video games. It is simply a bare-bones fighting game, using the best of three rounds mentality most associated with them. You strictly can only play as G.One, forever in battle with the menacing, so devilishly evil Ra.One. And yeah, that's it. No online functionality, no multi-player, no extra features. A two hundred to three hundred dollar gimmick video game, my projected price range upon release, and Khan truly expects this to turn a profit and save both his job and the favor of his son.

Honestly, my long rant and choice to talk about video game production is really the only interesting things to ponder about from this vapor Bollywood blockbuster. Not even a major plot twist in the first half involving Khan could peek my interest. I simply did not care if Khan's son would be killed by a reality-invading Ra.One or if Khan and his wife Sonia could rekindle their romantic feelings. RA.ONE fails completely its in direction and plot; a re-fried TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, with a sprinkling of IRON MAN, and high ambitions to top ROBOT as the most blisteringly stupid sci-fi musical of all time.

Blame shouldn't fall on anyone in the cast. Khan brings his trademarked charm and Kareena Kapoor, as Sonia, is able to play up both the immense inner and external beauty of her character. I even greatly enjoyed Armaan Verma, the child actor playing Khan's son, who can safely be called the best of the bunch. These three have great chemistry and comic timing with each other but they are constantly hurt by clunky dialogue, action sequences that go far too long, and lame musical numbers set to songs by Akon of all people.

Rather than existing as a dumb but always smile-inducing Hindi rendition of ROBOT, RA.ONE has no soul and is filled to the borders with utter dullness. It is a long two and half hours and no laughable CGI effects or film cameos can change the massive frown I had sitting through it.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Horrors of October - Are You Afraid Of The Dark? : "The Phantom Cab"

During the 80's and the early 90's, there were a plethora of horror anthology entertainment. In movie form, there was Creepshow, Creepshow 2, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Nightmares, etc. On television, there was of course Tales from the Crypt, a show that pushed the boundaries of what could be shown but only on available on pay TV. I hardly had a chance to watch the HBO exclusive show, though I did watched the de-fanged and kid and moral friendly Tales from the Cryptkeeper animated series. There was also the syndicated Freddy's Nightmares, which banked on the popularity of the Freddy Krueger character to shill a bunch of often mediocre horror stories. Of course, kids had better and easy to view horror shows, such as the one season wonder Eerie, Indiana. Then, there is Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Are You Afraid of the Dark? officially premiered on Nickelodeon on August 15, 1992 as part of the newly created SNICK lineup. From 8 to 10 pm EST every Saturday, kids had a block of shows that brought a variety of entertainment before always ending with some horror to scare the crap out of them on the way to bed. "The Tale of the Phantom Cab" was the premiere episode of the show but it wasn't the first to air on Nickelodeon, which we'll get to later. If it wasn't for the fact that the episode serves as the important introduction to many aspect of the series, I would just stop right here. "The Tale of the Phantom Cab" is simply terrible.

The episode starts off with a bespectacled teenager named Gary. He breaks the fourth wall as the camera dollys around to the other teenagers sitting next to him. They are the Midnight Society, a group of teenagers from different school and lifestyles who come to a place in the middle of the woods to share spooks and scares. Gary's speech addresses the audience but canonically it is for Frank, a new candidate to enter the Society but he must submit a horror story while still blindfolded. It's no surprise that he wins over the others but it later becomes a seemingly unwise decision; the headstrong Frank spends the rest of his run always trying to pick a fight and being a genuine dick to the others. Add to the fact that his story absolutely sucks and you get the impression the Midnight Society isn't worthy as an exclusive and prestigious club. These segments with the teenagers bookend the show, with a brief segment intersected into the middle probably as kindly reminder to those scared that it is only a TV show. And, before the story starts, the teller must throw some of the Society's "magic dust" into the fire to make a mini-explosion. This dust always was a treat for me and I later found out it was simply just table sugar.

The "horror" story is of two brothers, Buzz and Denny, as they are lost in the woods. They meet up with a man named Flynn who directs them to a house but not before asking them about riddles. The two kids enter the strange little house that looks like something from the Shire and meet a strange old coot named Dr. Vink. He says he'll help them only if they figure out a riddle. Once they fail it, he kicks them out but gives them directions to an area where a taxi drives by every night. They enter the car to find Flynn is not only the driver (oh, wow, what a twist!) but undead and about to kill them too unless they solve the riddle.

I really can't believe I wasted some much time and energy writing the plot synopsis but I wanted to spell out the fundamental problem with this story. It is called "The Tale of the Phantom Cab", and yet the phantom cab doesn't enter in until the very end. You have to sit through so much tedious walking and talking scenes in the beginning with the two kids who have "Not An Actor" printed on their foreheads. The direction is just abysmal with many shots, most obviously a Vertigo Shot of the kids screaming, badly executed. The worst offender is when the winds and sounds of lost souls surround the kids, which is displayed by close-ups of bushes that are being forcibly shaken.

The only saving grace and an important moment in the series was that this is the first appearance of Dr. Vink. I absolutely love this character as a kid, played expertly by Aron Tager. He is essentially a horror-themed Merlin, a wise but mischievous wizard and anti-hero whose morality is often questioned. Like in this episode, he often served as the villain of the stories, preying on modern citizens and imposing dastardly tricks to injury and even kill people. He also had two recurring gags, one involving the pronunciation of his name (Not Fink, but Vink. "With a va, va.") and how he could hear somebody calling him a "nut bag" and calls it out on them after some time has passed. So, when he tries to kill these two losers, of course I had to cheer him on.

Though it serves purposes as being the first both for the show and for the Dr. Vink character, steer clear (ugh) of this tale. It's a bad start for what later be a fun, entertaining and scary series.

Next up: A simple ghost tale among women.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Footloose - Review

FOOTLOOSE has returned for an encore, complete with its still tacky main plotline, character arcs and moments, dance set pieces, and even costume attire. In fact, this new beast of teen sexuality and physical prowess has too much of the original film's DNA. The major plot holes are now bigger given the jump in time and Ren McCormack still thinks that hate-dancing in a warehouse is a good idea. Thankfully, the director Craig Brewer told his co-writer, the original's sole writer Dean Pitchford, to return to his Teen Beat issues while Brewer lathers the film with some more grim and smut to make a commendable, entertaining soundtrack film.

Ren is again dropped into Bomont, clashes heads with the town's anti-music and dance laws, and slowly flirts with the dangerous daughter of the local preacher. There is now a prologue showing the reason for the ban and the "Chicken" tractor fight has turned into demolition derby with school buses. That's really the only core plot elements retouched and added, a couple of bruises when it should have been major cuts. Instead of script-doctoring the story, it is the characters that seemed to be the problem for the writers. They now have new skin colors, have spines implanted to talk back, or killed off for cheap pathos.

However, I feel that Brewer's heavy hand and guidance to bring in, shockingly, realism and vibrant energy to the words and motives of his players saved the film from being a potential catastrophe. All of teens swear and talk frank about sex often. They speak back with "Yankee Sarcasm", their clothing, or a simple beer bottle to the head. More importantly, their dance styles are current and fit their personalities, from aerobic gymnastics to the bump and grind. They aren't 80's statues, they feel like young turks of this generation.

The main leads are either suited or just fine. Except for lame attempts to invoke James Dean or possibly James Franco, Kenny Wormald does show off a pretty boy live-wire persona. Julianne Hough, of Dancing With the Stars fame, uses her body and her surreally beautiful eyes effectively. Wormald and Hough may have the attention but the supporting cast has the real spotlight. Miles Teller came in to the film wearing the heavy shoes of the late Chris Penn's Willard character and he makes those boots boogie all over the place. A true standout, Teller is a joy to behold. I was also fond of Ray McKinnon as the now empowered and endearing Uncle Wes who has some great interactions with Wormald and Dennis Quaid's Reverend Moore.

With the camera, Brewer not only makes the dancing more pervasively sexual and dynamic but makes surprisingly excellent compositions with his D.P. in the tamer scenes. An early scene where Quaid is giving an eulogy in a tight closeup turns out to be his endorsement of the bans at a town hall meeting. Also, much later, the young lovers's first kiss is done in a lingering medium shot with a quietly attractive sunset behind them. Unfortunately, his great framing include several shots of Coca-Cola propaganda, with the Sprite soda can perfectly facing it.

The original film had an excellent and successful soundtrack and some of its popular songs are included. The title track still bookends the entire film, with Kenny Loggins' edition at the beginning and Blake Shelton's cover at the end. Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy" still overlaps Willard's dance lessons but a cover is used during the credits. "Bang Your Head" returns oddly but "Almost Paradise" and "Holding Out for a Hero" were redone and, in the case of "Hero", strangely added in awkward scenes. None of the new songs moved myself except for "Fake I.D.", which made for some excitingly choreographed line dancing. Most to the detriment of the film, Ren's landmark hate-dance segment is accompanied by a lame industrial rock-techno song instead of the ultra-cheesy "Never" or something more fitting that doesn't make the scene look completely goofy.

FOOTLOOSE is a perfect date movie and good for some he said/she said fun walking back to the box office. The stupidity of banning dance and music from teenagers in this day and age of television shows and the Internet is way more enormous to accept compared to when it was in the 1980's. On the other hand, you get to see some sexy people dance and buses turn over and blow up. Pick your poison.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Horrors of October - Introduction

It is now the month of October. A month often devoted to the genre of horror in the entertainment world. New horror films are released in time for Halloween, television stations and networks put on movie marathons or countdown shows about thriller chills, and bespectacled super nerds lavish over their favorites with personal viewings or in viral reviews. So, of course I fit in with the latter.

I was not planning on doing an overview of anything horror this month, despite the fun but tough 25 Days of Christmas Entertainment I did last year. The main reason is because there are already many great websites and web series who do it better justice, most notably the great folks behind the I-Mockery website and James Rolfe's in-depth and hilarious annual "Monster Madness" series. But something changed everything.

One day while surveying my favorite store for DVDs, I came across what is now a rare OOP (Out of Print) DVD collection. It was the Complete First Season of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a horror anthology series I very much enjoyed as a kid and a collection only released in Canada. I've seen some repeated episodes of it on the Nicktoons Network back when I was living in Syracuse but those few and far between, mostly ones from the later seasons. I spent most of the time watching old Nicktoons or laughing with friends at the old Goosebumps television series when it aired on Cartoon Network at Halloween time.

An idea came to me to revisit the original season for another special holiday occasion and I jumped at the chance. Starting on Tuesday the 18th, I'll be going over the show's original 13 episodes, bringing up my past memories and comparing/contrasting them with my present views. I'll talk about the main cast members, the featured guest stars and the contents of the stories. Each write-up will be short expect for the first one and any episodes that still have resonated with me.

And, like the television characters, all of "my stories" will be posted at the strike of midnight. Sadly, I don't have a magic powder to throw before posting.

Friday, September 30, 2011

10 Best Things of September 2011

1. Chikara in NYC, "Martyr Yourself to Caution"

This was my first trip to see the Chikara Pro Wrestling promotion in person. A thrilling but still weird experience to have, meeting some of your most respected wrestlers only two feet away. Everyone was on all cylinders, including the great main event between Eddie Kingston and Fire Ant.

2. Drive

A real human being and a real hero. This critically acclaimed film, the first of my top five anticipated films of the fall season, lived to its expectations. I'm now a big fan of Ryan Gosling and that soundtrack, oh man, has ear wormed me severely. Too bad my frequent searches for it and its constant delays prevented it from being included this month.

3. Patton Oswalt, Finest Hour

"I want ALL the ham!". Oh Oswalt, why are you so funny?

4 - 6. DC Comics' New 52

DC Comics premiered their biggest gamble with 52 new comic book series to bring in new readers. Aside from the low points and disgusting displays of sexism, I had a blast and enjoyed all of my buys. The absolute best were Wonder Woman, Action Comics, and Demon Knights, which were all surprisingly fantastic with unique storytelling and beautiful art.

7 - 8. NBC on September 29, 2011

Community and Parks and Recreations, both in their second episodes since returning, had great gags, particularly Parks with its Ron Swanson-centric storyline and a hilarious turn by Patricia Clarkson.

9. Adventure Time, "Fionna and Cake"

This highly anticipated episode pulled off a great satire of why fan fiction and fan scripts should never be animated.

10. The Tommy Wi-Show

I know Tommy Wiseau, auteur of the cult classic The Room, simply is exploiting videogame culture and web humor with his new viral series but watching him befuddled with Mortal Kombat was a guilty pleasure treat.

My Tops of 2011 - September

COLUMBIANA is highly forgettable brain dead action film despite the appeal of Zoe Saldana. It really could have made my Worst Films list if not for Saldana.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK works as a creepy old-school haunted house film with some good performances but its third act is filled with constantly screamed out names and annoying plot conveniences.

FRIGHT NIGHT was really impressive and overcame the fears of the original fans. Colin Farrell and David Tennant had excellent supporting roles, the cinematography was always striking, and it had great horror-comedy script, excluding the JUNO-like introduction.

DRIVE is simply a masterpiece. Just everything blew me away and it has become the top film to beat for myself this fall season.

WARRIOR had the required the feel-good sport tropes but it brought in too many tropes and expectations. Fantastic acting though, especially Tom Hardy.

Best Films of 2011

1. Drive

2. Bridesmaids

3. Rango

4. The Tree of Life

5. Source Code

6. Super 8

7. X-Men: First Class

8. The Green Hornet

9. Paul

10. Thor

11. Fright Night

Worst Films of 2011

1. Passion Play

2. Waiting For Forever

3. Mars Needs Moms

4. Battle: Los Angeles

5. Atlas Shrugged

6. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

7. Scream 4

8. Gnomeo and Juliet

Friday, September 16, 2011

Drive - Review

The character of The Driver is cool incarnate and a true walking nightmare. There is a reason he achieves some clarity and calmness once he's behind the wheel. Those four tires separate him from the Earth, allowing him to fly like a graceful angel. Cross him or attack the ride and you'll have to contend with a devil, wielding a hammer or an engined-fuel bullet respectively. Choose wisely because this bloodthirsty avenger with a pretty face will leave carnage in his wake.

DRIVE engulfs two of America's most vivid fascinations, automobiles and criminal violence, and with a heavy hand from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn becomes a beautiful masterpiece of terror. It takes your expectations, whether low or high, and gleefully plays and juggles around with them like a mischievous jester. The film hands you an exciting car chase at the start, moves to a slow crawl with quieter moments before exploding at random intervals with undiluted mayhem. It is one of absolute greatest films this year.

Los Angeles, a city ruled by the commerce and entertainment of sports and filmmaking, once again becomes a cesspool of crime of facades. A nameless and often emotionless inhuman being, played expertly by Ryan Gosling, has decided to dip into all of these aspects only if it includes an automobile. He does the car stunts in films, works at a car shop with his mentor/father figure, and is about to get into stock car racing. However, his true obsession is moonlighting as a wheelman, willing to grant various underlings an easy getaway only if they make it back before five minutes are up.

Like all crime stories, a dame comes along but this time with a child. The Driver enters into a blossoming relationship with his neighbor, a struggling mother (Carey Mulligan) with a husband in the joint. This sense of true joy and bliss for him is then grounded and further stomped upon when the husband is released and back in the grasps of his criminal handlers. A chance to rescue him leads to a botched job, massive double-crosses, and a bag full of money. The guardian angel for the scum of the earth now becomes its grim reaper.

Daring is the keyword for this film. All of the players in front and behind the camera bring their truly best work to make a gory art film. Ryan Gosling deserves the best attention with his unbelievably engrossing performance. I often joked that Gosling is our generation's Marlon Brando with his critically acclaimed roles and the immense lust of his female fans. With this film, the joke has come true. He plays up his character's unpredictable behavior to a hilt with his conflicted facials but the audience can interpret what's to come with his silent hand gestures. All of his very talented co-stars can handle the challenge of Gosling, most notably Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as menacing crime bosses. Even Christina Hendricks, one of the most stunning and talented workers on television today, steals some spotlight in her unglamorous but interesting brief role as a femme fatale.

The artsy cinematography is never pretentious, even during the sun-coated playful scenes. It is able to easily avoid simply being a giant spotfest of glorious framed shots and mise en scene thanks to muted lighting and clever editing. The ugliness of fluorescent lights is everywhere in L.A., amplifying both the immense despair and the brief moments of love. Several scenes are long takes and go on for awhile, almost to the point of parody. However, others are married with the exceptional sound design and music. From the low hums of an engine and a watch to the Tangerine Dream inspired film score and songs, the audio pushes the film to breathtaking proportions.

DRIVE completely moves so far forward and ahead over the rest of this year's releases. It handles both being an art and entertainment driven film and then pummels them harder and further into the viewer's eyes and ears. Truly exciting, truly brilliant.