Thursday, March 31, 2011

10 Best Things of March 2011

1. Bambi on DVD and Blu-Ray

I already own the Platinum Edition. Yet, my love for the animated film has me buying yet another copy just because of some small sprinkling of bonus features and the power of blu-ray, despite still not owning a PS3 or blu-ray player.

2-3. Rango and Paul

One was surprisingly surreal and deconstructive of film and western tropes. The other implements sci-fi callbacks while making a filthy but heartwarming tale.

4. The Jimmy Olsen One-Shot

This comic book collects the previously published segments along with the unreleased final three to show a week in the life of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Uproariously funny with a lot of cute appeal. A perfect gateway. I love the Amanda Conner cover and I hope this is later re-released in trade paperback form.

5. March Madness

My alma mater didn't win but at least it was a great tournament with twists and turns.

6. GUTS: A Young Adult Television Fiasco

Truly depressing. For anyone who wanted to be on a Nickelodeon competition show during the 90's, this short comic is a shock to read.

7. Hard Charger: Wide Open, A GTA 4 Machinima

H.B. Halicki would be proud of this action-packed videogame short film.

8. Batman: The Brave and the Bold returns to TV

Now with more superdickery, Frank Miller allusions, and Jimmy Olsen. Can't have enough Jimmy Olsen.

9. Archer, "Placebo Effect"

Hard toss up between this and "El Secuestro". But I couldn't pass up "RAMPAGE!"

10. Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1, Zombie Planet Variant

Representing my regular comic stop on Wednesday. I love that the neon "OPEN" sign was included.

My Tops of 2011 - March

Two surprises this month. I might eventually write a review, whether short or in length, what made Paul so great. So far, other than Natalie Portman, this has been the year of Seth Rogen.

Best Films of 2011

1. Rango

2. The Green Hornet

3. Paul

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sucker Punch - Review

The introduction of this PG-13 movie has heavy implications of rape. No, I'm not making an exaggeration just to stand on my soap box. SUCKER PUNCH does in fact start by having our main character and her underage sister being violated by the eyes of their fat and pampered step-father while he constantly wets his lips. These allusions don't end there in the beginning; Several later scenes has the slimy male characters wrestle the heroines down and talk about how they like to play with their "toys". I just find it funny that THE KING'S SPEECH gets a R rating for one scene where a man cusses out all of his repression and ridicule he has kept hidden but SUCKER PUNCH, a clearly edited down rated-R movie, gets away with multiple virginal perils.

SUCKER PUNCH is a giant pile of damaged goods suited more for film trailers and Mad Libs. The wannabe "deep" script is, in a perfect word, a piece of tissue. After all, it has pretty women put in several male fantasy worlds with plenty of guns, bullets, mechs and samurai swords. Ain't-it-cool auteur Zack Snyder thinks he is also bringing entertainment to female viewers with extensive melodrama and a burlesque-musical storyline but there is no great joy, no dancing. Just a lot of empty action sequences with no tension and an overall mean-spirited tone.

Baby Doll, actual name, has been sent to the Lennox Home for the Mentally Insane while a cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" plays. Subtle, Snyder is not. After a very fast flash forward to a key important scene, Baby Doll thinks back to her past at the asylum but now it has been redesigned as The Cotton Club with a brothel attached to it. She concocts a master escape plan with five of the girls while exploiting her natural and exotic dancing skills on the men, which are never shown, to mask their thievery of four items. And for some reason, i.e. Snyder's teenage doodles and fan fiction, these robberies are set in steampunk WWI with zombies, a lost Lord of the Rings kingdom, and a hyperspeed space train.

Snyder and Steve Shibuya truly believe that their script has a lot of depth, with its sci-fi, surreal, and cinematic ideas but the only thing interesting about it is how come Terry Gilliam hasn't called his lawyer before this was released. The film ho heartily steals the main elements and plot points of the eccentric British director's BRAZIL but thankfully doesn't take that film's alternate "Love Conquers All" ending. We never learn the backstories of the fellow female inmates beside that two of them, Sweet Pea and Rocket, are runaway sisters. Gee, I wonder if this characterization is relatable to the main character's problems. Outside of their badass dream versions, all of the women behave very stupidly, neglecting to hide their Macguffins properly and not noticing that the male orderlies can easily figure out their plans. It's sad that the only ones who are smart and really sane are the unlikable villains. The writers try to pull a Russ Meyer by turning female objectification back on people with some throwaway lines and the battle scenes, which could have been great and interesting to see. However, this is rendered mute thanks to the sadistic and depressing final third that seemed to have been directed by Michael Haneke. And like all visually epic films, the rest of the script is riddled with big plot holes and stilted dialogue.

There are some diamonds in the very hard rough. Though I criticized the dream battles as being empty, they do bring some entertainment thanks to the choregraphed gunplay. The extensive art direction is very good, and the costume design fits the mood of the war and prison scenes. Like all of Zack Snyder's films, the soundtrack is the biggest highlight thanks to rocking and electronica driven cover songs, even when it is too on-the-nose with the visual storytelling. Except for the main actress Emily Browning, who has expressive eyes but lumbers and emotes like a Skipper doll, the cast deliver good performances. The true standouts are Abbie Cornish, who's very believable and awesome as the bitter and tough Sweat Pea, and Carla Gugino as the head madam/psychiatrist of the mental institution. Scott Glenn steals every scene he's in as the mysterious old man who gears up the girls.

You know your movie is pretty bad when the end credits are the truly entertaining moment. Here, Carla Gugino and Oscar Issac, who plays the head villain, sing Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug". You get high-energy dancing, real charisma, and plenty of showgirls. Not a bunch of angst, crying and hollow bullet shells. Unless you want to see Hollywood's glorification of the upskirt shot, stick firmly to Russ Meyer's filmography or even Andy Sidaris'. Insert fist pun here.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rango - Review

RANGO begins with quite possibly the strangest and most fascinating prologue not only so far this year but in all 3D animated films. Our main character is directing while acting out an original theatrical play in what appears to be the remodelled set of the early Pixar short film, Knick Knack. He laments at his fellow cast members, a toy fish, a plastic tree, an one-armed Barbie torso and a dead bug, before he openly questions his role in his own life and in the film itself. Can he transform into a Latin lover? How about a jungle explorer? Can he actually have a real name instead of being just a no-name film character?

This Duck Amuck-like imagery and dialogue seems to be shattered completely into pieces once the chameleon's artificial world as a pet merges into the barren reality of the desert. However, the film doesn't take the usual tame family animation route and instead continues along its own surreal and postmodern road. Easy pop culture jokes never come up nor exist as the film's main blueprint like the SHREK films. Instead, RANGO is a original witty surprise that will entertain viewers while having film students and scholars get ready to write essays about it.

The chameleon with no name ventures into the unknown dry desert before reaching the western town simply known as Dirt. There, he creates and adopts his new persona of Rango, a gunslinging hero who has often solve problems with only one bullet. Besides somehow killing off the violent hawk and scaring off outlaws that haunt the town, the newly appointed sheriff is tasked with solving the town's biggest problem. Water, which serves as a religious figure and a consumer good for the townsfolk, has been mysteriously taken away from them and their bank supply is dwindling by the day. I will not give away the rest of the plot but I will say that this is the second "family" animated film that can be retitled as A Child's Introduction to the Works of Robert Towne.

John Logan's script focuses heavily on absurdist fourth wall breaks. One of the major metaphors, a highway road symbolizing the gateway between reality and afterlife, is often joked between the characters as being simply a metaphor. The casting of Johnny Depp as the chameleon hero is often poked at, especially when his previous performance of Hunter S. Thompson is featured in a noteworthy cameo. The clearest example of the absence of a fourth wall is the use of a marachi chorus of owls. They serve as the film's storytellers yet the other characters can easily see them and comment frequently with them, such as when they miss a musical cue for a important plot point. They end all of their appearances by routinely bringing up that Rango will die. They do this so often that one of musicians whines about when this "fireworks factory" moment is going to happen.

However, the film's biggest finger point at itself is its commentary on how the Western film is seen as a bygone era and product. Similar to the Coen Brothers' take on TRUE GRIT, RANGO makes unique choices to the gender politics and the action choregraphy of Westerns in order to breathe new life. Though Rango is courageous and brave, he uses trickery and mental strategy and tactics to win his battles, especially during the grand finale. While he focuses on puzzle-solving, the physical action is handled by Isla Fisher's character, Beans. The main heroine with the ultimate tomboy name, Beans is the one whose willing to fight for her survival and whose immense disdain of corruption and snarky behavior needs to be subdued by a defensive animal instinct. In the most clearest example of switching gender motifs, Rango and Beans engage in long vibrant action sequence in different outfits. Rango is the one screaming for safety in a dress while Beans pilots a carriage wearing the signature poncho seen in many spaghetti westerns. This carriage chase further stands out since director Gore Verbinski uses many film allusions such as THE ROAD WARRIOR and STAR WARS as if to tell the young audience members where the chase scene in films originally came from.

RANGO does have some faults to it: The script introduces a lot of characters but doesn't flesh out some of the important ones, a key and much talked about location is never shown, casting Ned Beatty in a similar role to his previous animated film work, and an odd sequence with a human character that features the horrors of the uncanny valley along with a surprising voice cameo. Still, the enthralling story and characters along with the tight voice acting makes up for its shortcomings. The animation is very good with great character textures and elaborate visual experiments with glass and perspective. The direction often uses the usual Western imagery and iconography while also being original in featuring many surreal sequences. For something which I thought was going to be forgettable, RANGO has proven itself to be one of dark horses of this year in animation.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles - Review

I thought that I reached that point in my life as a cinephile and critic where cynicism kicks fully in and the concept of expectations and anticipation is nonexistent. For instance, I wasn't one of those eager nerdy fans awaiting and trumpeting the long-gestated sequel to TRON. However, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was one of the movies to break this state of mind. I grew very eager to see it after its very well-made teaser trailers. But of course, like many other films, the final product should have stayed as a trailer, as BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a very horrible movie and one of the worst films so far this year.

Here in the review is where the plot is described but honestly there really is no script in this film. It just throws about twenty characters, each with barely any development or originality beyond a simple trope, into way too many firefights before a beyond ridiculous third act. Basically to sum it up, aliens have landed on Earth to destroy any oceanic cities in order to capture the water for their nature resources. We follow a group of Marines as they are tasked to enter the now-ravaged Los Angeles in order to rescue some civilians hiding out in a police precinct before a massive bomb run annihilates the city.

The plot didn't have to a grandiose exploration on selected themes or some type of allegory. This was clearly supposed to be sci-fi war film for the popcorn mindset. But there is no attachment, no connection to the viewer and the screen. Characters die and there's no true heart-tugging. Just a lot of ironic smirking and questions of who was that that just got shot. All of the marines just blend together without any standouts beside Aaron Eckhart. He is clearly trying to make something out of his role, a role that I still don't know his name beyond "Staff Sergeant", but the words coming out of his mouth betrays his charisma and presence.

Christopher Bertolini has devised an absurdly stupid script. I could point out the many film rip-offs he plagiarizes but I just want to tear this asunder. All of the lines are stock male maschismo "hoo-rah" war vernacular. None of the few female characters, not even Michelle Rodriguez, have any importance and are often used as the underlings of the male characters. The civilian characters are practically post-modernism creations; There are just brain-dead whining and crying tools for the marines to be lumbering around. Then there is the plot holes: why the importance of finding the aliens' weakspot if they just keep blowing them up, the idea of driving out a disaster area on the highway without any strategic advantage, and the fact that the aliens could have just taken the ocean water in a neglected spot on Earth without any invading forces.

The truly worst parts of this film, and what drops any quality and entertainment it had, are the extremely blatant marine propaganda. There is a very long, jaw-dropping sequence where the surviving characters drop everything just because one civilian died. Several marines have died with any word or response, but this one civilian needs glorification. So Aaron Eckhart's character talks with the civilian's offspring and literally calls him "the little marine". Then he talks on and on about how awesome humanity and marines are before chewing out a fellow marine who questions his lack of sadness for the death of marines over in Iraq that he commanded. This unbelievably stupidity is further helped with the film's ending, that will make any viewer or fan of THE HURT LOCKER to shriek out in disbelief.

The film's visual effects for the aliens and their spacecraft were simply decent. They don't stand out but they don't look ridiculous either. The cinematography is terrible, constantly shoving the camera into the actors' faces and shaking around as if we are supposed to believe in the "reality" taken place. The editing is spastic and often hard to distinguish what's happening. Sound design and mixing is barely capable of handling a film on the Sci-Fi Network, as every frame lacks any fear or dread being hinted at. The score is simply just stock war tripe, hammering on the same emotions over and over again.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is certainly one of the worst films of the year. Granted, it is not a total buzzkill or very insulting to the senses. There are a few small diamonds in the rough, such as a long shot where you clearly see the wave of destruction spreading from the Pacific Ocean to the heart of Los Angeles. But the film is largely propaganda without any fun or irony. It is simply a piece of celluoid vapor.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Drive Angry - Review

Exploitation celebration is harder to get properly right than it takes a low-budget filmmaker to get the boom mike out of the frame. Sometimes it's exceptional guilty bliss like BLACK DYNAMITE or the double-billed event GRINDHOUSE. Other times, you receive true money wasters as BITCH SLAP. DRIVE ANGRY fortunately is able to at least park within these two outcomes, simply as a satisfactory drive-in movie whose great performances and excessive lust for cars and violence is hampered by a poor 3D marketing decision, confusing editing, and script problems.

Nicolas Cage is John Milton, who has escaped the circles of Hell to deliver poetic and visceral justice to a Satanic cult that has killed his daughter and is planning to sacrifice his granddaughter during their pre-apocalypse beer-filled orgy. The only cooperation he has in stopping the cult and their sexy Jim Jones-esque cowboy leader (Billy Burke) is a former waitress, all around ball of fury played exceptionally by Amber Heard. However, the true master of the ceremonies and the macabre is William Fichtner as The Accountant, a wise-cracking servant of the Antichrist whose goofy aloofness masks his advanced chess-like strategic planning.

First things first, the film's 3D element is pure cinematic sludge and a waste to pay. I understand its repetitive uses of "paddle ball" shots but it doesn't justify having to experience the movie severely dimmed of all of its violent vibrancy. All of the gunfights take place at nighttime with no rhythm or reason to what's happening. Even worse, director Patrick Lussier implements heavy frame-cutting montages, thus giving you your first experience of an epileptic seizure in 3D!

The skeleton of this action-comedy-horror film, the acting, the script and the choreography of violence, is at least properly well-executed. Except for maybe Cage, with his stiff "this is me serious" non-emotional delivery, the cast does wonders with the excessively verbal material. I still can't get enough of Fichtner, who seduces the screen with his fluid snake-like arm manipulations to go with his serpent face. Lussier and Todd Farmer's screenplay is tight with some originality, though they can't hide the fact that Cage's character is practically immortal and impossible to worry about. They also plagiarize THE TERMINATOR films heavily, which I don't recall as being a grindhouse film unless we are talking about LADY TERMINATOR. Still, there is some great callbacks to TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, ROLLING THUNDER, and the infamous Guyana films along with some surprising small roles by famous 80's and 90's character actors.

With its awful 3D techniques, editing problems, and a truly horrible nu-metal soundtrack, DRIVE ANGRY could have been yet another failed attempt to do justice to the garbage bags of American cinema. Instead, it jumps out with some great acting and a filthy mouth. This film has already achieved infamous status thanks to its fantastic shootout scene where Cage kills several cronies while guzzling alcohol and having sex with a floozy waitress. If they doesn't peak your interest, you should stay safe with Hollywood's crappy outputs.