Tuesday, May 31, 2011

10 Best Things of May 2011

1-2. Community, "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More"

The return of paintball. This is a great example on how to end a season with both a dose of hilarity and sadness.

3. Bridesmaids

See the later comment above, except now in movie form and with more pathos.

4. Chris Hemsworth in Thor

The breakout male star of 2011, Hemsworth stole the entire show away from the other more experienced thespians of scenery-chewing.

5. Alter Bridge concert at Northern Lights, 5/18/11

Like a Storm sucked hard, Black Stone Cherry were great, but Alter Bridge had the audience in their grasp and willingly gave them hard rock and busted ear drums.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake trailer "leaks"

Just in time. The harsh editing scheme and Trent Reznor's adaptation of "Immigrant Song" is a prelude for many unsuspecting viewers. Still keeping my prediction of a Oscar nom for Rooney Mara.

7. L.A. Noire

A new step in video game breakthroughs and a fun yet challenging series of crime adventures. Lived up to the majority of its extended hype.

8. Adventure Time, "Mortal Folly" and "Mortal Recoil"

Very dark and surreal, yet still an uproariously hilarious season finale for the animated series.

9. Michelangelo's Pizza Taste Test

I've always been a big fan of the works of James Rolfe. So I was very happy that he received another big viral hit with his video on the many weird and odd pizzas enjoyed by the TMNT in their animated series.

10. Free Comic Book Day

The selection wasn't as great as last year but the event is still one of the best treats for new and old comic book readers.

My Tops of 2011 - May

THOR was a lot of fun with some interesting Shakespearean themes added. Chris Hemsworth is so far the breakout star of 2011.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES was a boring, non-spectacular fiasco.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 was the original film all over again but with diminishing returns.

THE HANGOVER: PART II was the original film all over again but with diminishing returns. Also, I hate monkey characters.

BRIDESMAIDS was very very funny. It may rub some the wrong way but the humor and heart were greatly achieved.

Best Films of 2011

1. Bridesmaids

2. Rango

3. Source Code

4. The Green Hornet

5. Paul

6. Thor

Worst Films of 2011

1. Battle: Los Angeles

2. Atlas Shrugged

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

4. Scream 4

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bridesmaids - Review

BRIDESMAIDS is one of the funniest and most depressing comedies to experience this year. It's one of best wedding films but like a real wedding it isn't dreamily perfect in every way. I shared my screening with several other viewers who viciously loathed its creation. The cinematic pain and vile didn't fit well with them, hence their overactive responses and actions. I had some problems with its overall schadenfreude, which could of became pure torture porn in misguided hands, but it was necessary to be featured into the plot. You aren't watching pretty people with problems, you are watching real women who still carry their real despair during one of the many overhyped periods of social gatherings.

Kristen Wiig is Annie Walker, an emotionally damaged woman who is asked to be the maid of honor for her best friend Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph. Because of this rush of joie de vivre and extensive pampering in Lillian's life, Annie has to organize the perfect pre-wedding itinerary with her newly forced-upon friends sharing bridesmaids duty. Of course one of the bridesmaids is a wannabe Queen bee who hinders everything she does, further wrecking Annie's struggle to rise from the bottom of her modern life. But as the film showcases, it is Annie herself who is purposely destroying everything she still holds on to.

Wiig is definitely one of the biggest reasons why this film can't work for some. Her television work on SNL has produced massive irritation and derision for many and the fact that sitting through a film with her, and created as co-writing it, is considered a war crime in itself. Maybe it is because I've avoid the general mediocrity of wit that plagues late Saturday nights but I believe that Kristen Wiig is a bonafide star in entertainment. She has already proven herself in several other films, including the surprisingly good PAUL, but in BRIDESMAIDS she is willing to be a horrendous human being for shocks and laughs. She very greatly succeeds in it, able to squeeze many different emotions from the viewer, whether he or she really wants it or not. Unlike the atrocious romantic comedies with Jennifer Lopez and Katherine Heigl at the helm, you can very easily understand why Annie's plight in personal and professional happiness is in disrepair and why the people who love her can't always handle with it. The character and the performance reminds me of Jennifer Aniston in FRIENDS WITH MONEY, an actress I hate that was also able to go beyond the normal tropes of self-inflicted human misery.

The fight between Annie and the uber-rich bridesmaid Helen, played by Rose Byrne, for Lillian's affections is easy to see as a social divisional warfare but the film thankfully makes this brawl so outlandish and campy that it borderlines on surrealism. What starts off with a "friendly" tennis match and the choice of the gowns later turns into a massive party with multiple modes of transport simply to the front door and puppies given as party favors. The film does use the continuing struggles of normal American citizens to characterize Annie, since her beloved cake business was destroyed by the recession, but it also wants to lampoon the Hollywoodization of the rich life. This fits perfectly with sweet and sour nature of the film, complete with its raunchy and crude jokes to its tender vulnerable moments.

I have focused so heavily on the centerpieces that I neglected the rest of the cake. The supporting performers are all very good despite the often little attention they are given. However, one of the biggest highlights and scene-stealers is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the sister of the groom. What would just be the fat girl with the fat gags is actually a true American badass woman with some of best running jokes. The script is, as stated, very funny and is able to stay original despite the predictability that was and is expected from the movie. Although, also stated previously, the many scenes of Annie's horrible life do get repetitive; Subplots involving her British roommates and her new job are more embarrassing than humorous. Though I enjoyed all of it, the film could have been cut down significantly as it is overstuffed. An early scene with Annie and Helen toasting the couple is a true test strip for the patience of the viewer and might ruin the rest of the enjoyment.

BRIDESMAIDS has some of the best laughs and gasps produced. Sadly, the most depressing moments don't come from Annie but by the presence of Jill Clayburgh. The now late actress is suited and is exceptional as Annie's upbeat mother. For a film that is trying to press the right and wrong buttons of its audience with a multitude of actresses, it has fortunately captured the last appearance of one of the greats.


The Hangover: Part II - Review

Wow, this is a weekend that needs to be written into the history books. On one hand, you have the most polarizing yet original film of the year, fresh with a Palme D'Or win, released into limited markets. On the Hollywood hand, you have two big sequels to previous critical and commercial hit films that are one hundred percent badly cloned. Did Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Todd Phillips wanted to out-pretentious Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke by making a unnecessary remake as an elaborate joke on audiences? Don't these two know that the textbook example of a sequel is not to be taken seriously?

THE HANGOVER: PART II is, like KUNG FU PANDA 2, the exact same thing as the original. All the beats, all the twists, all the elaborate gags. It feels more like you are watching the special Thailand version of the first film, similar to the two different 1931 productions of DRACULA. Except now we have a monkey as a cast member, which according to Hollywood tradition shows that the creators really belittle your mentality.

It is now Ed Helms' Stu to have a wedding and have the return of the Wolfpack. Instead of enjoying a simple bachelor brunch, Stu is peer-pressured into at least having a small gathering on the Thai beach. One beer and a time-lapsed shot of Bangkok later, the "three best friends that anyone can have" experience yet another blackout and another missing person to locate. Instead of it being Doug, who left the party early, they lose Teddy, Stu's future brother-in-law and the golden child of his father-in-law. As you expect, they try to figure what happened last night and find Teddy before the wedding.

I really want to just spoil the mystery but, since you obviously saw the first one, you can easily just spot the final location. Todd Phillips and his co-screenwriters didn't waste any chance to just redo what once was made. Instead of being a laugh-riot, it is just a homework assignment, an essay on the gullibility of Hollywood products. There could have been a few curveballs, like the return appearances of Rachael Harris and Heather Graham as surprise wedding guests, but then the overall non-originality would be threatened.

Though I hated the repeated plot and film structure, the film isn't a giant wave of pure stupidity. The three lead actors do still have good chemistry together and try to make the effort of enduring the film worthwhile. Ken Jeong is more of the standout as the returning Leslie Chow, whose nature as a playful playboy comes off more than the true evil lurking inside. Paul Giamatti also has show-stealing duty in a nice cameo as a black market dealer. Also, a later car chase scene is actually very good, a nice break from the rest of the film.

It's these type of releases that are strictly only for home video viewings. The stakes are a bit raised but they truly ring hollow. Still, the film does show off a sense of dread and despair for the guys despite all the easy-to-make transgender jokes and overall white peril plot. Maybe when the expected finale is made, the alcoholism and debauchery are finally victorious over these men's souls.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 - Review

Dreamworks should be having a grand celebration for themselves all throughout this summer. Their main competition in computer animation is releasing a continuation of talking cars, much to the chagrin of many insiders and the online public. At their ready is a sequel to a surprise commercial and critical hit that pushed the boundaries of computerized action and served as a great example of the Western take on martial arts films. What a glorious Hollywood smackdown we, the American viewing public, get to experience. The animation kingdom is being taken over. Sadly, the king is yet again safe. Long live the king.

The shear disappointment to be felt with KUNG FU PANDA 2 masks all of the good qualities it beholds. If you head into this expecting another HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, you are about to feel a world of hurt because it is simply another KUNG FU PANDA. Literally, this sequel follows the same bullet points and morals as the original. To make it even worse, the new ramped up drama in the storyline, as to keep the franchise healthy, is constantly struck down and humiliated thanks to Dreamworks' patented stupidly goofy humor and extensive hand-holding. You are given the worst case of self-plagiarism and studio limbo.

Po and the Furious Five are sent out to stop Shen, a disgraced peacock non grata, from taking over all of China with his new creation of gunpowder. To add more overdone melodrama, it seems that Po and Shen have been forever linked with each other. Shen is foretold that a being of black and white will defeat his ambitions. Po meanwhile finds out that Shen has somehow impacted his own unknown past. If you can figure it out from this, then yes, you are correct. If you can't, the director chose to spoil it in the beginning while still thinking it is a mystery to solve for the rest of the film's short and rushed 95 minutes.

The story of the first movie wasn't exactly groundbreaking avant-garde but it had a nice simple touch when it wasn't being badass. This film just repackages everything again but with no soul or even punches. The Dragon Warrior becomes a Yin-Yang symbol. The Dragon Scroll becomes "Inner Peace". A tortoise elder becomes a soothsaying goat. And, in the most clearly copied examples, there is the same speech about "your own destiny" and a scene where the villain kills a proud Rhino warrior. I didn't add heart to the missing links because that is one of few good parts of this film. The film ends the lingering running joke of the first one with the mystery of Po being the son of a noodle-selling goose. While it does hit the same notes you would expect of an adoption plot and overexplains it for the nosebleeders, I will say that it works thanks to the chemistry being Jack Black and James Hong. Hong especially saves this from being a true eye-roller. However, the creators seem to forget that Master Shifu, Dustin Hoffman's character, was another surrogate father for Po. Instead, Hoffman is given only four scenes and hardly any attention except for how awesome "Inner Peace" is.

If the plot is problematic, you would think the excellent animated fights would save the experience. Yet again, the film disappoints because there isn't a lot of fights. The majority of the key action and animation is regulated to comedy, bad comedy. As in fat guy fall down and make weird faces humor, not in the stylings of Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow. Shen is so hard to take seriously as a villain, even with Gary Oldman as his voice actor, thanks to the many misguided comedic bits with him. Even the gags that work are ruined by previous dumb moments; A joke involving Po's big declaration to fight and the power of the Doppler Effect is rendered mute when a previous scene had Shen able to see the heroes doing flips on the other side of a falling tower several miles away. The only standout of animation, beside the general art direction and all of the 2D flashback scenes, is the very early brawl where the music is provided by the use of musical instruments as weapons. Even if you are entertained by one sequence, you'll just be heartbroken do to the many sour note endings to the scenes. Expect to see the Furious Five defeated constantly and Po sad and confused.

This was such a true letdown that it is shocking how badly handled the film was. When I saw a giant tower as one of the settings, I thought I was going to see another GAME OF DEATH, not another stairs joke. Obviously this story isn't over, thanks to Dreamworks' previous press statements and the ending. Judging from what they have featured, it looks like the next one is going to be another "searching for myself" journey when it really needs to be something else. A tournament, an invading terracotta army, hopping zombies. Something to keep the humor around but fit the action and the drama the studio is desperately trying to prove.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Review

So, you created a movie character that becomes a new pop culture icon and the symbol of a refurbished entertainment fad. You keep the character very ambiguous in his morals, enticing and tormenting his legions of fans, in order to keep him fresh and interesting. You then make him part of your overblown finale with a ending hint of future adventures with the character. You put up another large sum of money and special effects for this new extravagance and what comes of it? Nothing, absolute nil.

Jack Sparrow honestly can't carry another film along. He has become worn out in every way; Jack's deceptive tactics don't bring boos and his antics don't inspire hilarity. You, the viewer, are watching a cold fish become colder and starting to rot completely. Jack can't be Jack anymore. Instead, he is now the new Will Turner, and according to loud fan responses, no one likes a new Will Turner.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES is certainly more worse than the preceding third entry of this franchise. Calling it fluff is an insult to marshmallow creme. Many old faces return to interact with some manufactured clones of previous characters to deliver a story where nothing ultimately changes. When the only concern of danger is that someone now has a peg leg, what is there to truly care about?

Three independent factions are competing with each to find the Fountain of Youth. Two of them, a British expedition led by the now one-legged Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the other led by Blackbeard (Ian McShane), need Capt. Jack Sparrow for the task of finding it. For real, important reasons like to wash the deck of the ship. Honestly, everyone knows how to reach and use the powers of the Fountain but no one explains why Jack is truly needed for the task. Throw in a ton of lame comedic one-liners, multiple confusing subplots that don't matter, and a non-existent romantic angle between Jack and Blackbeard's daughter, played by Penelope Cruz, that you would think is there and you are left with a $250 million dollar piece of hot air.

After all of the countless, countless previews of Jerry Bruckheimer talking in a corporate shill that Blackbeard was the "most evil character they have created", it surely doesn't show up on the screen. They give him black magic, zombie minions and an unearthly powerful sword, all with no further explanation or intrigue and then just water him down to a boring old codger. There's no fear from him thanks to the screenwriters and McShane's straight man routine to all of the goofy madness around him. No, the real antagonists of the picture are the mermaids, who are given an excellent build-up and later payoff. The battles between Blackbeard's crew and them and a following scene with Barbossa's are both violent and scary with a nice use of sensuality.

Excluding the mermaid attack, which sadly does have a lame climax, all of the action sequences are very ho-hum at best. They all scream 3D exclusivity and are truly lifeless to behold. Rob Marshall starts off with some high camp material in the British prologue before seemingly being forced to do banal Hollywood camp for the rest. A scene with Jack making out with his impostor could have added a brief glimpse of dimension but no such luck. I have to bash the script by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott again because even for another milking from this dying cow, this is just first-draft material. For instance, what's the point of Blackbeard blindfolding Jack from seeing the docking and location of his ship if one character finds it out with a deus ex compass and another character finds it later with no guidance? Then there's the moment where the ship's cook isn't able to think of jumping out of his boat into the vast ocean of water in order to avoid two mammoth flamethrowers from incinerating him. The visual effects budget seems largely a waste except for the mermaids and a death by a water tornado.

This film really sunked hard for myself thanks to the grand finale. What could have been processed mediocrity with a flavoring of stupidity becomes a giant jaw-dropping copout. Then, just to screw with those who might still care, the patented ending stinger is insultingly awful. Considering no major game changes are delivered because of this film release, absolutely skip this.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Macho Man Randy Savage - RIP

Macho Man Randy Savage died today from a deadly car accident. He was 58 years old.

If I had to think heavily to come up with the top pro wrestler, the person who kept my interest throughout the years to be considered as my absolute favorite, it would him.

He was certainly a part of my life in many ways. I have often joked about my own outer appearance as being Macho Man-esque, especially with my hair frizzed out and a full beard. I also mocked how I still haven't found my Miss Elizabeth in life, heck not even a Sensational Sherri.

My wrestling memories as a child were heavily focused on him. I liked Hulk Hogan but Savage had it all. He camped the hell out of his persona which helped his noticable impact in popular culture, from the Slim Jim ads to his later role as Buzzsaw in the first Spiderman film. He made going to the top rope elegant, making his signature elbow drop, a basic wrestling move, the most majestic thing to behold. One of favorite childhood memories was watching Wrestlemania VIII, where his powderkeg feud with Ric Flair ended with a fantastic match.

Though he hasn't appeared often in recent years, excluding a suprising promo for the WWE All-Stars videogame, I like a lot of fans rewatch some of his legendary matches, his peculiar and interesting promos, and his crazy highlights thanks to the infamous Botchamania video series.

Oh yeah, he was the man.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thor - Review

And so, the extravagant summer of comic book movies has begun. Though, technically, DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT was the first release but nobody cares about that film. Instead, all the attention is on THOR, which is yet another great adventure into the world of Marvel Comics. It can't reach the same pillar as the IRON MAN movies but, for the lack of a better word, shockingly it is probably the most accessible and interesting standalone superhero film released right before the much-anticipated team-up in THE AVENGERS.

In the land of Asgard, the Norse god Odin, king of the realm, has kept the kingdom safe from the dangers of the Frost Giants of Bifrost. During this peacetime, he has raised his two sons Thor and Loki to take over the responsibilities as king. The expected successor Thor, played expertly by newcomer Chris Hemsworth, ruins his big day and future chances thanks to an unauthorized attack on the Frost Giants, his braggadocious persona and his mindset for all-out war. Odin strips him of his power as the god of thunder and exiles him to Midgard, a.k.a. Earth. There, he is followed along by a group of scientists, led by Natalie Portman, while he searches around for his mighty hammer Mjolnir and seeks redemption in his father's eyes. Meanwhile, Loki has his own plans up his sleeves. Gee, that's a surprise to see, a lying backstabbing brother.

Now I'm actually joking with that last statement because the script of THOR, written by a team of five, actually does feature some surprising things throughout it. It brings three-dimensional characterization to its Norse super gods and human mortals. No wonder the famous rainbow bridge to Asgard has a lot of gray color to it in the film. Thor always comes off as a lovable macho man, someone whose threats are both scary yet at the same time hilarious. But some viewers might forgot that his likable bravado masks his racist and genocidal nature in the opening scenes. Loki, however, is the best example; He is a god who believes his evil and selfish actions are right. Even for the proclaimed god of trickery, Loki goes through a lot of devastating pain and anguish thanks to his father's actions and it is not hard not to root for him a little. Meanwhile, all of the human characters, especially Portman's, keep a careful balance between fear and acceptance when interacting with Thor. In one scene by an open fire, Portman breaks her character's train of thought repeatedly when Thor tells her of the nine realms.

Of course, all of this intrigue might rub the viewer the wrong way. I mean really, who wants to listen to the existential dilemmas of the antagonist? That's not entertainment. Well, for those who seek explosions and violence, THOR does deliver but you'll be surprised the small amounts of it. The film has only three big action set pieces, each well made but with more doses of drama and comedy than visceral spectacle. The violence is so tame that I'm surprised this wasn't PG. I don't mean any of this in a bad way; Frankly, I like having this tone where the thrills come from the characters' mouth instead of their fistcuffs.

The overall cast is quite good, especially in the leads department. Chris Hemsworth is looking to have a bigger film career thanks to his expertise handling the titular character. Loki's Tom Hiddleston is more concentrated on the theatrical but brings true emotions when the time calls for it. Some might neglect to see the tear falling from his right eye when he taunts Thor in the film's climax. The supporting cast is adapt at bringing the humor to the forefront but I felt Stellan Skarsgard was lost in the proceedings. All of this acting is greatly handled by director Kenneth Branagh but it seems he forgot to give notes to the cinematographer. Haris Zambarloukos's camerawork is a mixed blessing; For every beautifully conceived shot, we get a lot of "Dutch angle" shots. The film is campy and hilarious but that doesn't mean that you need to constantly callback to the Batman television series.

THOR has unexpectedly lived up to all of its expectations and even more so. Even with its brilliant and peculiar ideas, the film can still be described simply as ENCHANTED for boys. It is very funny and entertaining in its casual manner but might disgruntle the hardcore fans with its lack of violence and dark tones. Of course these same fans will still go see it just for the stinger at the end. Yes, there is a stinger and unless you know your Marvel history, you'll scream out the same "WHAT?" that someone shouted out loud at my theater. No hand-holding as we move closer to the grand finale.