Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables - Review

Getting one of the biggest, most successful musicals of all time on to the big screen needs to be commended. Not deserving of an instant passable grade, mind you, but a nice little congratulations. Now that's out of the way, let's dissect director Tom Hooper's newest emotion puller: Like its source material, LES MISERABLES needed to be a bombastic theatrical experience. Unfortunately, despite its enjoyable fare and embellished but brief grand moments, it has been handcuffed significantly, focused more on the personal experience instead of an audience experience.

Jean Valjean is finally released from his 20 year prison sentence for the heinous crime of bread-stealing. Considering that the time is set during the pre-French Revolution, this is a mighty fair big deal. His parole casts a dark shadow on his life, as he is forever unemployed and constantly on watch by his former prison guard Javert. Moved by the generosity of a priest, he forges a new life and name. Time passes but he still fears the forever heat and anger of Javert, who will never leave him alone until he is shackled again. Valjean then gets caught up with the lives of a starving employee and her daughter, all the while the poor are starting to revolt.

This has to be one of the worst cinematography for a musical in recent times. Hell, even the losers who worked on ROCK OF AGES knew how to photographed a musical performance. The problem lies with the framing; Danny Cohen's rented camera is forever stuck in the closeup position. Sometimes, it gets worst and goes further into the actor's skin and nose. If you love being distracted by water droplets and the plentiful piles of phlegm during the many big songs, you will be overwhelmed with "delight". This intense, singular focus on the characters and the actors' much-hyped live singing ruins any chance to relish the world they reside in. All of the production designers should be rightfully furious that their hard work on the sets and costumes are completely obscured by large human heads. Even when a rare number is done with medium or, dare they, long shots, the viewing problems are compounded further by the dreadful quick editing by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens. For instance, "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", a very important song in the second act, is crafted only in two shots: one of a character rapidly planting a seat, then one long closeup of the character. That's right, the empty furniture and their significant metaphors are nowhere to be seen.

Of course, the only times where these detriments become advantages for the movie is with the performances. The absolute god-send for this close up direction is Anne Hathaway. Turning a walking plot point and transforming it into a real character, Hathaway does wonders with Fantine, the lowly, tragic working mother, most especially in her one take of the number "I Dreamed a Dream". Even if you are sick of hearing it everywhere in your modern life, the song becomes fresh and moving again, thanks to the bright lass. Coming up in second would be Hugh Jackman, whose Valjean exhibits a range of turmoils yet features a mighty fine voice. Except for the experienced and briefly delightful Samantha Barks as Eponine, the rest of the cast is genuinely adequate. The only failures, and the clearest displays of stunt-casting, would be Russell Crowe as Javert and Helena Bonham Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenardiers. Crowe may exude harsh justice in his brief acting lines but his sub-par booming singing style and doughy appearance make him seem completely out of place. As for Carter and Cohen, they snore their way through the songs that are supposed to be the show-stoppers.

I may be stringent with my assessments but LES MISERABLES was still an okay time. If you can stomach the two hours and ten minutes of Carl Dreyer-approved camerawork, you can relax and enjoy. A local traveling theater production of LES MIS is still the more ideal form of entertainment, though.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trailer Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Charlie Hunnam as the narrator, Idris Elba frothing to "CANCEL THE APOCALYPSE!", a silent Rinko Kikuchi, and GLaDOS.


Briggs Breakdown: 4 giant mechs, 1 collapsing robot, 1 huge monster fight, 13 BRAHMM!s, and multiple car, train, plane and city destruction.

Effective?: Hell yeah! Except for all of the Inception stings.

Check it Out?: A certifiable yes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Killing Them Softly - Review

Like a Z-grade horror movie or anything that has the word "Vs." on the marquee, KILLING THEM SOFTLY doesn't answer the promises of its title. The title comes from the manner of which Brad Pitt's character Jackie Cogan chooses to execute people: shoot them from a distance to avoid audibly hearing the cries, pleas, and begs. It also gives the idea that this crime flick will be a grim yet entertaining brisk. Instead, it is an exhausting snore, stretching and yawning its way through a 97 minute running time.

Pitt has once again teamed with writer/director Andrew Dominik (THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) but to vastly diminishing results. Based on the book Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, the film trades Boston for New Orleans and the 1970's for October/November 2008. A couple of undesirable leeches, played by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, willingly participate with Vincent Curatola to stick up a mob-run card game. The game is operated by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), a good-hearted but greedy guy who previously had one of his games robbed on purpose. The two plunder the establishment on the same night President Bush delivers a televised speech about the financial crisis on Wall Street. Subtle, Dominik is not. The mob send for their top hitman Dylan, only to get his disciple Cogan instead. Cogan meets up and talks with their stooge messenger (Richard Jenkins), all the while the radio is tuned to metaphor-laden political discussion. Cogan wants to get the guys responsible for this crime among criminals and also the now innocent Markie, since the talk on the street believe he was in on it again. If the public view isn't satisfied with the justice towards Markie, no one will play and no one will get paid. Wink, wink, get it?

This college film-like allegory is eye-rolling and never believable. Why would any of these low-lifes deliberately listen to talk radio every day? Don't they have more life or death situations to be truly caring about right now? The only character as the sole exception would be Richard Jenkins, since he is part of a mob with corporation mentality. Then, there's all of the speeches by Barack Obama, including his victory on election day, that are superimposed into the picture, all seemingly just for an easy cynical monologue right before the closing credits. It is a very flaccid ending, richly deserving a few tumbleweeds to blow past.

The rest of the story isn't really interesting either. You are better off just reading the Wikipedia plot outline; there's no surprises or major revelations in store. The only thing keeping this from being a major fiasco is the acting. Brad Pitt may not be as menacing as he should be here but he does have a slick coolness to the character of Cogan. MacNairy and Mendelsohn give it their all as the bumbling twosome, particular Mendelsohn, whose heroin addicted character is always drenched in sticky sweat and dirty hair. The rest of the cast are fine but are unfortunately wasted. For instance, I didn't even bring up James Gandolfini's character, who literally has three scenes and then leaves off-screen, making no impact at all to the overall plot. I guess Dominik was too busy making sure the stock CNN footage is presentable for the screen or crafting a maddeningly awful opening to even care about such things.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trailer Review - Man of Steel (2)

Man of Steel
2nd Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Henry Cavill as bearded Clark Kent/Superman, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the somber Kents, Amy Adams as concerned and mute Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as concerned and mute Jor-El, Michael Shannon as concerned and mute Zod, Christopher Meloni as concerned and mute guy, Lauren Fishburne as a panicky Perry White, and some dark woman(?).

Scene Pop: "Maybe".

Briggs Breakdown: 1 generic laser blast, 2 city explosions, 2 military standoffs, 3 spaceships, a major tornado, a wrecked bank, fiery man chest, and a recreation of The Sweet Hereafter.

Effective?: Yes.

Check it Out?: Sure. Warner Bros needs a lot of money and interest in order to get their take of the DC Movie Universe off the ground.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trailer Review - Oblivion

1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Tom Cruise as the melancholic drone repairman/soldier(?) Jack Harper, Olga Kurylenko as his plain jane love interest/damsel in distress, Andrea Riseborough as a sterile office drone, and Morgan Freeman as...some guy.

Scene Pop: Freeman's epic match strike. Seriously.

Briggs Breakdown: 1 free-throw, several drone laser blasts, endless shots of Cruise staring down the iron sights, a barrel strike by a Burton Planet of the Apes extra, drone pinball, and a bear trap.

Effective?: Meh. Others might think otherwise but this trailer cut makes the film look like a Moon rip-off. Unless, the film truly is one.

Check it Out?: No, except as a second bill or DVD rental. Looks very boring, hence why I went to the trouble of having only one screenshot.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook - Review

Do you really need to fire up your brain cells and guess how this film will end? You absolutely do not, but dear heavenly lords above, you will wish it will come sooner or pray that you will not stumble upon a print with a more agitated alternate ending. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has the makings of a romantic comedy yet is glutted with nervous energy, chemical imbalances, and extra crispy human angst. You'll give your mouth muscles a serious work-out, as you try to figure out when to laugh at the humor or shut up for the drama. If you're not snappy about it, you will feel guilty that you just loudly guffawed at someone's cry for help. Regardless of how strange it is, the film is provocatively excellent.

The movie spins a delirious tale of a pair of screw-ups looking for love in a world ruled by judgment and intolerance, delivered with two gushingly capricious lead performances. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent eight months in a Baltimore mental hospital as part of a plea deal. The former teacher caught his wife Nikki with a co-worker, a history teacher with tenure, in the house shower and viciously beat him up. Seeing them bump uglies while playing Pat and Nikki's wedding song didn't help matters either. Pat's mom (Jackie Weaver) is barely able to get him out early, even though he still aggressively believes he can overcome his criminal mistake and recently diagnosed bipolar disorder to win Nikki back. For Pat, the world should follow the power of "Excelsior", seeing the world positively and working hard in order to reach the silver lining of life. Also, working out extensively while wearing a garbage bag top because it will guarantee better abs.

Though he is the one officially classified and treated as a walking looney tune, and as a possible violent threat to his former associates, he returns to his parents' home in Philadelphia to find that everybody gets a little crazy at times. His newly fired with no pension father (Robert De Niro) OCD'es when it comes to the Eagles, trying to keep the juju in check for a win every Sunday. His best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) is a volcano waiting to explode, due to his family life, new baby, and working as a house retailer in a down economy. Ronnie's wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) is a greedy shrew who constantly creates momentously difficult situations for others, all for personal schadenfreude. And then, there is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Veronica's younger sister who has also suffered severe and documented mental health problems, after the untimely death of her husband. Pat and Tiff's relationship evolves without a filter; they mock, arouse, insult, bond, implore, harass, accuse, err, awaken, and stimulate each other. They eventually come to an agreement: Pat will volunteer to be Tiffany's partner for a dance competition if she delivers a note to Nikki, restraining order be damned.

The story is simple to figure out yet the adapted script and direction by David O. Russell turns it into a roller-coaster of heightened emotions, often dipping low and high on a beat. The verbal disagreements, whether witty or violent, are crafted into montages, making each shout a physical and hurtful blow, as they pile up and up. However, when exploring the chemistry of Pat and Tiffany, the pacing glides safely, putting much attention to the oft-putting or delicate exchanges between the kindred spirits. Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography never really stands out and when it needs to be, the man resorts to head-slapping conventional shots that ruin the mood. There's also the typical indie film score by Danny Elfman of all people; It's okay but heavily overshadowed by the plentiful pop song selections, including Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash and Dave Brubeck.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are amazing. They are fantastically luscious separately but crescendo when placed together in scenes. They can radiate naked tenderness or erupt inflammatory hatred easily. I don't always absolutely recommend a film solely for the acting, but these two handily make an exception, most definitely for Lawrence's big speech at the crucial crossroads. You also get to view the return of Robert De Niro, former thespian of an entire generation. He doesn't auto-pilot the Oscar-friendly role of Pat's father; De Niro treats his character's irreconcilability in a more realistic manner. Jacki Weaver and a cameoing Chris Tucker also are nice when given a brief spotlight.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK may not be the new favorite for couples or a perfect date night choice. You know you are watching an odd rom-com when the manic pixie is both the guy and the girl, or where lies and frank insults are the norms of affection. Despite any reservations of witnessing volatile outbursts and uncertain courses of direction, you should take a trip through this wonderfully pleasing little yarn.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Poster Review - Star Trek Into Darkness and Man of Steel

Yep, I finally buckled. I do film reviews, than I decided to incorporate reviews of promotional film trailers. Now I'm doing what every knee-jerk internet commenter does for a living, more quicker to form an instant opinion than it takes to write a YouTube rant. Unlike the other two review styles, this one will pop rarely to semi-regular status, whenever I'm in the mood.

To keep an explanation of why short, I have always loved movie posters. Also, these two very striking posters hit the web at the same time today and have been getting the same opinion.

First is the teaser poster for Star Trek Into Darkness. Even your bratty 1st grade cousin can easily tell you that this poster is a complete plagiarism of The Dark Knight Rises. Not to mention the fact that this was released 24 hours before the home video release of said film.

Really, Paramount? Really?

As for the second Man of Steel teaser, guess what, another Nolan-esque vision. Also, J.J. Abrams' favorite lens flare motif is here, which was done to death in Star Trek. Everything is connected with these three.

I still think that the teaser trailer was absolutely fantastic on the myth of Superman, showing an Americana vision of the hero with Malick-like cinematography and editing. This just follows after the snore-inducing first teaser, putting plenty of focus on the weirdly textured suit. As for the handcuffed and hostage by the army tableaux, I just hope this doesn't lead to yet another movie scene where a person deliberately gets himself/herself arrested just to cause havoc from the inside. You know, the plot surprise that was a signature of The Dark Knight?

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - November

WRECK-IT RALPH is probably the best film about video games. The characters were lovable, the script is endless quotable, and the different animation techniques were phenomenal. One of the best of the year.

KILLER JOE was certainly an oddball. Despite a fine Matthew McConaughey, the film didn't get interesting until its controversial climax and then it just ends.

SKYFALL was quite frankly James Bond as Batman. This proved distracting to me, even if the film was really good, with exceptional cinematography and top-notch action.

A CAT IN PARIS is a cute, short animated tale. Not much else to say.

ACT OF VALOR was certainly "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: The Motion Picture", both good and bad. I can forgive the lack of acting abilities of its cast but not the putrid script.

LINCOLN was too long-winded. Great cast, with a delightful Daniel Day Lewis and James Spader, but the speeches, monologues, soliloquies, and ice-breakers were exhausting.

SMASHED had a great Mary Elizabeth Winstead and a gamey supporting cast but its basic alcoholism tale and its drastic mood shifts from dire drama to "hilarious" indie humor made the film a flat experience.

My on-going best and worst lists will now be hidden from public view, until revealing their final cuts at the start of 2013.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smashed - Review

I hated this film's poster. I loathed the film's trailer. How could a reportedly serious look at a couple crumbling due to their rampant alcoholism be treated as the newest LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE? Well, after seeing SMASHED, I ended up being the giant sucker. This unfortunately flat feature film by James Ponsoldt wastes an accomplished performance by its female lead to play for quirky indie laughs. Why pay attention to the lies piling up and the crushing of human souls when we can see people eat McDonald's cheeseburgers while they watch a public domain short featuring wacky hairdos?

This is a story about Kate and Charlie. They are alcoholics. Kate is an elementary school teacher while her husband Charlie is a rich little boy who stays at the house all day at his "job". Wherever they go, and even during their working hours, the two drink. Everything seems to be going fine with their habit; neither of them are falling out of love and they enjoy hanging out at bars, singing to old Nick Lowe songs. However, Kate's wavering attitude begins to buckle when she blackouts for two straight days. Her last memory of each day is a nightmarish scenario: taking crack hits with a complete stranger while driving and urinating in a public store. She wishes to stop her drinking with the help of A.A. and the encouragement of a fellow teacher/vice principal of her school. Not only does she now have to deal with her new found sobriety, she also must contend with her exasperated husband and a major lie to her boss and students that she is pregnant, in order to cover up an early vomiting incident.

This sounds like an interesting though basic tale and it should have been. It is amazingly anchored by a committed Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whose heart continues to break during Kate's lows and honest moments of clarity. She blends well with Aaron Paul as Charlie, working up a great chemistry and bonding over wine and frolicking through a broken down Santa's village. There's also the gamey supporting staff of real-life husband and wife team Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as the vice principal and principal respectively and a cameo by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as Kate's sponsor.

These actors craft interesting vibrations only to fall hard by the words coming out of their mouths. The "witty" humor that plagues the movie and ultimately ruins it include the greatest hits of the indies: Swearing children, drunken mothers, a happy-go-lucky music score, and hilarious slips of the tongue that stop the action and spend the rest of the scene's duration talking and analyzing about it. That last one literally kills off Offerman's character, who is given a brief lecture scene later before getting completely muted. Mullally however receives the worst of all, stuck in a crazy cat-lady position as her character embarks on showering Kate with baby parties and one to one conferences. Her dry antics are supposed to be laughed at, even though the viewer wisely knows that the bare-bones script will have this rapidly segue into a dramatic quiet scene that completely misfires. Ponsoldt seemingly wanted to showcase scenes that recall old drug exploitation films rather than have an original take, hence why you can connect the plot dots to the next disaster for Kate. All of this before a third act that just skips ahead so the film can mercifully end. A smashed ending, you might say.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lincoln - Review

Steven Spielberg must be very happy that his latest film will enjoy some packed houses for two months, as teachers all over the nation will sure to bring their students on a field trip to the multiplex, enjoying a good smoke break from the trials and tribulations of public service. And what a great and easy subject: the life of the 16th President of the United States of America in his last days, plus the discussion of how the 13th Amendment was adopted. Two birds with one stone for these teachers, especially since the resulting film is nothing more than a re-fried textbook told with boring pacing and decorum. LINCOLN is a satisfying movie but only as a showcase for its impressive actors. Beyond the arrogance of stuffy white politicians and the sincere speeches lies a wash of a production.

This is especially distressing considering Spielberg's own performance last year, making a one-two punch of excellent films. The audiences may have been drastically low but both THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and WAR HORSE were exceptionally well-made works, brimming with excitement and vigor. Of the two, WAR HORSE is the likely comparison for LINCOLN: a book adaptation, world history as a backdrop, Janus Kaminski, John Williams, and Michael Kahn still being employed, etc. Yet, all you receive after sitting through two and half hours is certainly a major case of diminishing returns. The cinematography is flat; sterile shots are often bathed in an attempt to realistically replicate the period's lightning scheme, only to be constantly cloaked in darkness and a mess of greens, tans, and grays. The music is a joke; Williams has just opened his refrigerator, took out some leftovers, mixed them with other banal pieces to craft a hokey mess that is often too on-the-noise during key moments. Except for the terrible musical placement, Kahn is the only one who at least gets to show some promise, or some well necessary humor, into the proceedings with his skillfulness.

However, the problem lies directly with the script by Tony Kushner. As stated, instead of a full life story, the film focuses heavily on the President, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, as he seeks the death of both slavery and the Civil War. More attention is paid on the former action, as accepting any plea from the Confederacy first would ultimately lead to the end of any such talks of freeing black men and women. Lincoln must accomplish this arduous task all in the short window before any of the newly elected officials of the House of Representatives take their rightful seats. He, his staff, and their hired-upon cronies must flip the votes of several Democrats by any means necessary: future job propositions, moral blackmail, intimidation, or even a paid visit to their residence by the President himself. And this is not even mentioning that he also needs to keep his own Republican party in check, making concessions with those who are sympathetic to the Southern plight (Hal Holbrook's Francis Blair) and those who want the law to lead to future racial equality (Tommy Lee Jones' Thaddeus Stevens).

This sounds like a nice display of down and dirty political warfare, and it does show it on the screen. Except of course for when other subplots take over the proceedings, like Lincoln's turmoil with his wife (Sally Field) and his war-seeking son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Or for when scenes go heavily too long, usually in the form of a Lincoln story, with plenty of reaction shots of ultra-innocent, anime like eyes and wide smiles to go around. Or for when it wants to examine the lives of the other politicians. I could go on and on with how overstuffed and underwhelmed this story comes together; for every tension charged moment or funny joke, there is generic soap opera or unintelligible metaphors. The script also heavily fails at overcoming the effort to hide the "surprise" ending from the conscious viewer. I never felt like there was any such danger for Lincoln or for America. But the real tragedy is the finale; after the cathartic climax, the film just continues on with a strange set of incompatible sequences, all before one of the most weary and perplexing endings I have seen this year. I once read an article with James Marsh, the director of the absolutely stellar documentary MAN ON WIRE, who was asked why that film didn't mention the fate of the Twin Towers in the film's post-script. He stated that it would be "unfair and wrong" to mention it, considering the overall objective of the film was to tell a story that was "incredibly beautiful". Kushner and Spielberg didn't take this note when making this film.

It may stink behind the camera but up front, the acting is the movie's saving grace. From the casting stage to the film's release, all of the attention rests upon the chops of two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis. At first, it seems that Day-Lewis isn't really doing anything spectacle or deliciously outrageous, given that he's playing a President doled in immense power during his most stressful period. Except for a few moments of powerful external roars and dark intentions, he plays the man as a high-pitched Atticus Finch, a man who lives in a world of cynicism and misery yet still wants to seek justice and peace among man. Day-Lewis expertly handles the many speeches and stories, spinning them to be real crowdpleasers, all the while making little but intriguing acting touches with his facial muscles and hands. You get the sense of why Lincoln was a great speaker and charismatic with the people, even if the viewer, and merrily one army official, may be a little tired of hearing another story in a row.

The other actors in this impressively huge ensemble all make the most of it, even if their appearances come and go with the hectic script. Any leftover awards attention has gone to Tommy Lee Jones, who is humorous as the radical Thaddeus Stevens and dispenses some of strongest rebuttals towards his spiteful opponents. I was more blissful with James Spader's role as William Bilbo, a portly braggart who puts his life on the line trying to swing the slavery votes. Ditto for David Strathairn as Chief of Staff William Seward, Lincoln's right hand man who sadly disappears or is muted halfway through. Other highlights: Lee Pace, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, and Walton Goggins. There's more to include with more detail but it might spoil some of the surprise cameos. The acting truly shines perfectly bright. Too bad the rest of the film is a jumbled up circus.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Killer Joe - Review

Those BUG boys are at it again. Billie and Tracie have come up with another plan to adapt a play filled with delirium, alcohol, and severe amounts of violence and nudity. The boss hogs at the MPAA weren't happy with those troublemakers, so they slapped the cuffs down hard on them with a NC-17 rating. After several months pretending to be good little boys, they gave those blowhards the slip, surrendering the rating and running wild in any theaters that will accept them.

KILLER JOE is an extra crispy, Southern fried neo-noir that has more grease than meat. You sit through this William Friedkin-directed film with deliberately unlikable dumb characters and have no care for their lives. There is hardly any chance to relish the insanity, due to the slow decompressed storytelling by playwright Tracy Letts. When you are thankfully given the opportunity to do so, all bottled up in an overflowing climax, the rug is pulled and you are ordered to move on with your life.

Lifetime screw-up Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) heads to a trailer park to propose a deal to his slow-witted father (Thomas Haden Church). He was just kicked out of his mother's place after kicking her ass following revelations that she took some of his loaned-out drug supply. He needs to pay back his dealer or enjoy kissing six feet of dirt. Chris wants to hire noted dirty cop/hitman on the side Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to murder mom and collect her life insurance. When Joe's asking price and negotiations with the two lunkheads go awry, the swaggering but proper Southern gentleman counter-proposes to have Chris' messed up sister Dottie (Juno Temple) serve as a retainer until the money comes through.

The only reason to go out of your way to see this film is certainly McConaughey. He bares all, figuratively and literally, as he makes the character a whooping sensation to behold. Compared to the rest of the idiots he has to work with, all of whom are too stupid to notice they are stuck in a Billy Wilder plot, his devilish assassin/emotional manipulator is interesting and has depth. Despite being the titled character and the lead, however, McConaguhey often sits on the sidelines for more scenes of the dysfunctional redneck family. As specified earlier, there is no urge to cheer these losers on or see them succeed, despite the efforts of the actors. Once they begin to receive some harsh punishments for their crimes, the audience is treated to a mighty climax, with McConaughey menacing the hell of the peons. Without spoiling too much, let's just say that the Colonel's delicious fried chicken will never look the same. This tour-de-force gets bigger and crazier, then immediately brakes hard and stops.

That's it. Music and credits hit with a resounding thud. An odd but deliberately provoking ending, I was frankly fine with it but it sure did hellishly pissed off the other viewers, who practically laid Bigfoot-sized prints into the recently soda-soaked rug as they stormed off, returning to their life in the urban wilderness. As I walked outside my local art theater, I looked to the side and grinned from ear to ear. I completely forgot that a badly managed, obnoxiously orange KFC was next door.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph - Review

WRECK-IT RALPH surely is the greatest film to ever feature Skrillex. First off, a song from the music industry's favorite dubstep enthusiast features into the animated feature: an extremely hectic beat-pounding pulse called "Bug Rush", which excellently matches with a sequence of sci-fi violence and goofy pratfalls. Secondly, and more importantly, the electronica composer with the weird long hair mohawk actually is featured into the plot, somehow made from computer coding to be the guest DJ to an anniversary party inside an arcade cabinet. He must have done this gig just for the money, since Skrillex lays Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" on to the turntables for the gullible backward-thinking 80's video game characters. Or, he did it to get the chance to hang out with Pac-Man over some shrimp cocktails and martinis.

This film is so full of pulling oddball surprises on to the viewer. Even when the comedy follows the kids' film road-map of cliches, such as exclamations about excrement, the jokes go into different turns of emotion responses, from anti-humor to heartfelt. It doesn't even rely on coasting by with just video game humor, though the in-jokes are fantastically hilarious for any avid gamer. The makers knew that the story needs to strike a chord beyond all of the pixels, control-sticks, and whatever famous game characters they can acquire for cameos. WRECK-IT RALPH does this, making for one of absolute best films of the year.

John C. Reilly is given the arduous task of playing a man who is doomed to forever live in the shadows instead of the spotlight. The character actor voices the titled character, a Donkey Kong-inspired goon who spends every day of his arcade life wrecking a video game tower until the player and the hero Fix-It Felix Jr. save the day with the power of a repairing hammer. After thirty years of constant plunges off rooftops, living in a garbage dump of bricks, and sucking up quarters, the bad guy does not want to be the bad guy anymore. Since respect comes from an awarded golden medal in his game, Ralph decides to jump into other games to find one. Of course, his actions bring forth many dangers, such as the hardcore one life policy once a character ventures outside their personal control boards. He tangles up all of the foreign lands he enters, causing dangerous environmental changes, all the while leaving his own game at the risk of being "unplugged" and forever destroyed.

I know I'm making a big deal explaining this simple TOY STORY-like story with highly broad terms but that's just how effective the film had on myself, filling me with uncontrollable glee and rapture. Similar to the also amazingly animated PARANORMAN, it stresses the message of acceptance and being proud of oneself instead of what others think of you. Ralph doesn't have to carry this heavyweight moral by himself, getting needed support from his sidekick Vanellope von Schweetz, the Bugs Bunny to his Elmer Fudd. This darling orphan with messy candy-sticking hair, voiced by comedian Sarah Silverman, is a glitched character in the world of "Sugar Rush", a Mario Kart racing game overflowing with sugary delights and candy citizens. She is dubbed "a mistake", a person whose existence is despised by the shallow racers due to her ability to send the arcade game into repairs if she were to participate in the racing. Both find some comfort and camaraderie within one another, while hiding away from the donut policemen and their Devil Dogs sent out by the Snagglepuss-sounding King Candy (Alan Tudyk). They are certainly the warmth of the film, which eventually escalates to a predictable but shockingly heartbreaking moment that might lead you to tears.

It's quite obvious that Reilly's performance is to be the most underrated of the film. As the endearing hobo-looking "villain", he always comes off as a charming hero-in-training, highlighted significantly in the great climax. Silverman does wonder with a performance that could have ruined the viewer's ears; Vanellope's sweet-turned-screeching voice never feels out of place, matching up with the plucky attitude the character has amid a harsh community. The ones who steal the show of course have to be the "heroes"; Jack McBrayer plays the Mario-like Felix Jr. as the generic, righteous and polite protagonist he is supposed to exude. The guy always look on the bright side of life, jumping and bouncing along, never able to feel or have a negative thought. He often plays off the reactions of Sergeant Calhoun, a tough Samus-meets-Master Chief female space warrior from a light-gun game called "Hero's Duty". Voiced by the always pleasurable Jane Lynch, she spouts out boisterous action quips ("Doomsday and Armageddon just had a baby!") while harboring "the most tragic back story ever programmed". These two have the best interplays together, including one of the funniest gags of the entire film, and were clearly the favorites of the animators.

Rich Moore, an animated television journeyman known for his work on Matt Groening-created shows, makes an excellent entrance into the world of film directing. Coupled with the script from Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, they craft an unique take on the ever-popular "video games are real" scenario. The details are so incredibly striking, from the different animations and textures the characters have (beings from the 80's move with sprite tics, newer games have high definition models) to the set-pieces and backgrounds (the arcade connecting hub world is a surge protector turned train station, windows and food spills are pixelated) to the brief moments in the real world (attendance at the arcade is way down, unwashed dweebs hog up the big games with a roll of quarters). The worlds each have their own special designs but due to probable budget reasons, the bulk of the story takes place solely in "Sugar Rush".

I could find only a few faults with the film. There are a lot, a lot of puns in the punchlines, somehow able to actually spark laughter instead of inciting bitter anger. The problem is this love of puns backfires a major dramatic side of the picture: Throughout the film, the word "turbo" is used as slang, referring to someone who is so fueled by their immense pride that he/she will deliberately glitch out another game due to their neglect. This term is first used by M. Bison, a character from the Street Fighter games, a series that had a major sequel called Super Street Fighter II Turbo. The slight chuckle it spawned turned into slight confusion for myself when the term continued to be used seriously. This is only a super nerdy problem for the hardcore video game fans, though, as others will never have to think twice. However, everyone will notice the odd product placement; I can forgive the appearances of Mentos and Nesquik but the random stare at a Subway cup is sheer dumb. It is really bewildering that Disney needed to resort to these tactics, even though the creators work around them into the proceedings.

I have exalted WRECK-IT RALPH for so long now, I think you get that the picture is an attractive engagement for anyone. There is only a few things left to speak about: the film's music is suitable and appropriate but the encore credits song "Sugar Rush", performed by the humongous Japanese girl group AKB48, is a real hidden treat. The film comes with a Disney short called Paperman. The animation is intriguing (a combination of hand-drawn and computer) and the SCHINDLER'S LIST color scheme is fun but the cute love story is sadly better suited for a television commercial. Also, if you call yourself a true gamer, you will stay for the humorous stinger.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - October

THE WOMAN IN BLACK has a couple of good scares and is kind of graphic for a PG-13 rating (a lot of kids forcibly commit suicide) but the film is a tedious viewing experience and too predictable to care for the somewhat miscast Daniel Radcliffe.

SILENT HOUSE wastes an excellent Elizabeth Olsen in a beyond horribly staged one-shot movie, where the horrors of a home invasion is hampered by sheer dumb metaphors, craptastical twists, and some deplorable exploitation.

KILL LIST is certainly unique as a British crime thriller that turns on a dime in its final act. The actors give interesting performances, and the dark humor and gory violence is fun and distressing but I was often humming along with the film, rather than eagerly awaiting the next weird development.

ARGO is yet another top-notch thriller by actor turned director Ben Affleck. The large cast is good, the pacing is excellent, and the moral ambiguity is like a fine wine. Could have lost some of its predictable flavor though, in terms of its script.

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS is a funny meta-fueled ride with some crazy L.A. residents but its constant fourth wall breaking gets a little taxing.

ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART II was as bad as the first installment and shares the same problems as that massive failure. One of the worst cases of watching a television production yet paying for it with an overpriced movie ticket.

Best Films of 2012

1. The Avengers

2. Chronicle

3. The Secret World of Arrietty

4. The Hunger Games

5. The Cabin in the Woods

6. ParaNorman

7. Argo

8. 21 Jump Street

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Detention

11. The Grey

Worst Films of 2012

1. The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

2. Project X

3. Dark Shadows

4. The FP

5. House at the End of the Street

6. The Devil Inside

7. Atlas Shrugged: Part II

8. Rock of Ages

9. Silent House

10. Total Recall

11. The Campaign

12. Hit & Run

My Halloween/Horror 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 for the first time or re-watched:

The Blob (1958)
The Car
Day of the Dead (2008)
Dead of Night
Deep Red (Profundo Rosso)
The Devil's Rock
The Devils
Empire of the Ants
Evil Dead Trap
The Exorcist (Director's Cut)
The Haunting (1963)
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Hellraiser: Bloodline
Hellraiser: Deader
Hellraiser: Hellseeker
Hellraiser: Hellworld
Hellraiser: Inferno
Hellraiser: Revelations
The Horde
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
The Keep
Kill List
Let's Scare Jessica to Death
Monster Brawl
Motel Hell
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)
The Old Dark House
The Relic
Shaun of the Dead
Silent House
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The Watcher in the Woods
The Woman in Black

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Brief Film Reviews - October 2012

From time to time, I forget or not motivated enough to write a full length review for every single film I have seen in theaters.

As to catch up, here are some short form reviews:

Seven Psychopaths

The follow-up to his great IN BRUGES, writer/director Martin McDonagh has all of the ambition to create a meta-masterpiece with SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, yet the resulting film is a bit too meta for its own good. Sam Rockwell is entertaining and muggy as an out of control, constantly failing actor who takes part in a sure-to-fail dog snatching scheme with old crony Christopher Walken. One day, he makes the bad decision to steal Bonny, the cute little Shih Tzu of the even more insane mob boss played by Woody Harrelson. Colin Farrell, a Hollywood screenwriter named Marty(hint hint), gets mixed up in all of this fine mess, all the while he wants to overcome his writer's block and alcoholism to finish his latest work, "Seven Psychopaths". The film does have many fun uses of destroying the fourth wall, such as a delightful gag about the female characters, and the slick dialogue most associated with McDonagh. Unfortunately, it is so constraining with its inventiveness at times that it becomes a chore or sadly loses all sense of laughter. Still, it is might worthy of a watch or to write a film essay about.


Atlas Shrugged: Part II

Previously on ATLAS SHRUGGED: Dagny Taggart was crying over an oil field and found a new fusion engine with Henry Rearden, sure to save the world if it wasn't for those pesky kids in Washington. Despite failing hard critically and commercially with the first installment, the unthinking and severely pathetic producers of ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART I thought the world needed a continuation, or had to make one to keep the rights firmly in their grip. ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART II does have a better film poster than the previous laugh-inducing one but it is still an awful experience to watch. The entire cast has been wiped out and replaced with an entire colony of slumming actors, except for the surprisingly way-past-cool and campy Esai Morales as Dagny's former latin flame and an agent for John Galt. Despite Morales' presence, the film has the same returning problems: T.V. production quality, limited sets, redundant subtitles, bad C.G. work, and getting a misdemeanor for abusing the phrase "Who is John Galt?" to cover up the crimes brought on by the trite script. Even if you pay attention through all of the constant empty speeches and boring conflicts, you are sure to go crazy that our so-called brave and superior heroes let the "villains" win thanks to some easily pulled tricks; who knew Rearden would jump on a sword if you tried to blackmail him? If you want two long hours of white business supremacy filtered through by a piteous cast and crew, enjoy wasting your eleven dollars.


Disney Buys Star Wars and Lucasfilm! Episode 7 in 2015!!!

The eastern half of America is reeling from a truly devastating hurricane, political-mania is still running wild with only a week away from Election Day, and now, the world of entertainment thought it was to best to drop a major bombshell that will impact the landscape of the field. Announced today, The Walt Disney Company has bought up Star Wars.

What did it cost to buy the king of all franchises, despite a multitude of fan outrage since the prequel misfires? $4.05 billion worth of cold hard cash and stocks. The Star Wars franchise now shares the company of Pixar and Marvel Comics as the next major juggernaut in the field of family entertainment to be under the Disney brand.

But it gets better/worst: They have also announced plans for Episode 7! Holy crap! The expected film is to come out in 2015 and is sure to follow the aftermath of Return of the Jedi and/or one of the many, many, many future stories written, drawn, or played about since the 1983 film. Of course, the beloved trio of the original films will probably be replaced for a "new generation" of heroes.

This major development comes after the major news story early in the year where George Lucas was said to be stepping down from the responsibilities of his company in order to start crafting more personal projects, such as this year's Red Tails.

We are indeed witnessing major business and pop culture history being made today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trailer Review - Evil Dead

Evil Dead
Red Band Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: A flat line-reading Jane Levy (TV's Suburgatory) as Not-Ash, a poor dog sure to be exploited, and four loser/idiot actors you know are to be killed off.

Scene Pop: The last demented shot of the trailer.

Briggs Breakdown: 3 in-jokes, 4 racing camera shots, 3 acts of self-mutilation, death by fire, death by taking a shower (electrocution?), death by tree rape, a rain of blood, massive cat genocide, chainsaw gore and a cut tongue.

Effective?: A mixed bag. For new eyes, it looks like a creepy and disturbing horror flick. For the legions of Evil Dead fans, well...

Check it Out?: No. Seriously, is this a lost film from the Platinum Dunes crew, complete with the piss yellow and grimy green lighting scheme? It may be a rated-R remake but it doesn't look scary or unique like the original, just another Hollywood-ized remake. Hardcore fans will stay home, unless they are masochistic thrill-seekers or have an internet review show. Not even the shout-outs and in-jokes will put butts in the seats. Lastly, as stated in a previous article, it's kinda hard to take this film straight after The Cabin in the Woods.

Trailer Review - Empires of the Deep

Empires of the Deep
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Olga Kurylenko as a merwoman thingy.

Scene Pop: Um... Any of the bad CGI shots.

Briggs Breakdown: A lot of fish and a lot of bad CGI.

Effective?: No.

Check it Out?: As a best worst movie lover, I probably will. No one else will go to it here in America but the gullible Chinese 3D-ingesting audiences will, right before catching wind of its true horrid production. This is a complete fiasco waiting to happen, as it can be seen by the simple fact that this trailer was released in such a terrible low video quality.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trailer Review - Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Robert Downey Jr. as a concerned (dying?) Tony Stark, Gwyneth Paltrow as a constantly in danger Pepper Potts, brief cameos of Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, and Ben Kingsley as the mighty Mandarin. Also, the Iron Patriot.

Scene Pop: The haunting final note in a snowy landscape.

Briggs Breakdown: 3 destroyed Iron Man suits, 7 free-falling people, 2 HAL-like threatening moments with a sentient suit, total carnage to Stark's residence and a vicious attack to a table.

Effective?: Yes. Though the trashing of Stark's house is kinda of a repeat, the trailer definitely shows a raising of the stakes.

Check it Out?: Of course. Sure to be big and possibly sway those who were turned off by the second film.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Big No for RoboCop; Moved to 2014

Oy vey, indeed.

Another small stone has been thrown into the win pile for the internet, as the massive cynicism and fanboy outcry has seemingly won the battle but not the war over the remake of RoboCop. Sony Pictures has replaced its pegged time-slot of August 9, 2013 for February 7, 2014. In its original place will be Elysium, the sci-fi flick who's pre-buzz heavily centers around an ugly bald-headed Matt Damon rather than being the next awaited feature of District 9's Neill Blomkamp.

Suffice to say, Sony has simply just moved the remake from one garbage dump to another; both months are hard sells for sci-fi, again as seen in this year's Total Recall failure. The major difference being that audiences will seek out anything to see in the theaters during the first cold months of 2014, before the arrival of the premier March releases. Sony is really gunning for a big projected first weekend for the film, especially since the next week is Valentine's Day, a day where the vast majority of female audiences would rather watch something else than being the one dragged by their dates into seeing a man trapped in an unoriginal robot outfit.

The long post-ponement is also for the film to lose the film's growing derision, so it can be judged more objectively and given a fair shake in the marketplace. We will have to wait and see in 2014.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Argo - Review

ARGO is a standard issued thriller based on a real-life, once-classified CIA operation. It tells the tale of the daring rescue of six employees of the American Embassy of Iran, who had escaped to the streets before the embassy was overtaken by rioters on November 4, 1979. This spy game was done by Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who crafted a cover story of being a Hollywood producer for a fake STAR WARS rip-off called "Argo". He comes to Iran, meets up with his "crew", hiding away in the Canadian Embassy, and tries to get them out safely. Along the way, he encounters the generic guidebook of thriller film tropes: the dangerous walk through a public area, the angry bystander, the many distrusting guards, and the golden oldies, the pulling of the plug and the hero's silent drinking at night.

Despite these purposely conceived instances for the sake of film entertainment and familiarity, ARGO is one hell of a pulse-pounding ride. All of the scenes set in Iran, starting with the chaotic opening showcasing the fall of the American Embassy, are pure forms of absolute tension. However, the last act of the film is spellbindingly astounding and frightening, most especially since it pulls off the rare feat of suspending the knowledge side of your brain. You could be a spy history aficionado, know the real step by step process of the event, and be a hardcore cynic about all of the discrepancies, yet you will still find yourself squeezing your arms hard or eyeing those delicious nails as you await the final outcome.

What makes the film stand firmly out and become the most exciting film certainly of all year is not Ben Affleck, the actor but Ben Affleck, the director. Though he does an admirable job as the crafty yet blank-slated Mendez, Affleck paints a mighty canvas riddled with 1970's verisimilitude and flavor. You can practically smell the McDonald's hamburgers and breath the ire-filled air of the Iranian streets. Affleck and his crew's love of making this "based on a real story" film is so powerful, that they didn't want to wait until the home video release to show their workmanship; the fantastic ending credits show side-by-side comparisons of the actors and their real-life counterparts and the famous photos of the Iranian turmoil that they wanted to replicate. He delivers very good performances from his entire ensemble, with the best being Bryan Cranston as Mendez's CIA supervisor, Victor Garber as the brave Canadian ambassador who sticks his neck for his fellow neighboring nation and the duo of Alan Arkin and John Goodman as Hollywood professionals and Mendez's cover crew.

ARGO is a captivating action-drama, with a little comedy thrown in as well. It may be a little too stereotypical at times but it makes the cliches work. There's also the nice little touches that make it more enjoyable, such as adding some moral ambiguity and grayness to the timeline, showing that both America and Iran had their fair share to blame for the conflict and the hostage crisis. Ben Affleck should be very proud for his newest accomplishment in film and he richly deserves a Oscar nomination for his fine direction.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Retro Game Master: GameCenter CX Collection - Review

There have been many attempts to craft a television show all about the culture and interactivity of video games. They have often fall either under utter kitsch (GamePro, Nick Arcade) or achieve a unique, long-lasting flavor only to be retooled by the powers that be (X-Play). Then, there are the very few that unsuccessfully want to make a reality show about video-gamers, only to exploit their appearances into broad stereotypes and have them involved with easy product placement (WCG Ultimate Gamer).

Pretty much the absolute best in this field of television, able to have the familiarity of reality shows while having an immense love and respect for video games and its history, is a Japanese show called GameCenter CX. Originally devised in its first season to be a variety show consisting of interviews with big-time creators and travel-logs of arcades all-around the great nation of Japan, the show was remodeled to greatly expand its most popular segment with viewers, the video-game challenge. Here, Shinya Arino, the host of the show and one-half of a comedy duo called Yoiko, is forced by his producers to play-through some of the toughest games ever devised. He is given help and guidance by a revolving door of Assistant Directors (ADs) but must complete each episode's game of the day in the allotted time.

Granted, the show certainly has a cult appeal. After all, the majority of the public think the act of watching someone else play a video game is not thrilling in the slightest. I can't neglect that valid point but I do strongly disagree with it. Anyone who has or had a sibling, a cousin, or a friend with a game console or ever went to a public arcade know the feeling of observing someone better at a game. For this show, the practice is reversed and placed in bizarro world terms, as the predominately smarter viewer is well aware of the retro games being played yet still watches as a far-low par gamer is tasked with beating it. Coupled with a sports-documentary style narration and pacing, seeing Arino falter consistently but never giving up, helps make the show a thrilling watch.

Attempts have been made to bring the show overseas in some form, including a brief run on the Kotaku website, re-titled Retro Game Master, with the Japanese narration replaced with an English one. Instead, the show continued to live on only through a devoted online fan-base, who produce fan-subs or help spread episodes through video sites like YouTube.

Discotek Media has thankfully given another push for the show, releasing a four-disc set of fourteen episodes of the series. The discs feature the episodes as follows:


Ninja Gaiden
Super Fantasy Zone
Bonanza Brothers
Solomon's Key
Clock Tower (SNES)


Mighty Bomb Jack
The Mystery of Atlantis (Atlantis no Nazo)
S.O.S. (Septentrion)
Battle Golfer Yui


53 Stations of the Tokaido
The Wing of Madoola
Golden Axe


Shiren the Wanderer (Mystery Dungeon)
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

The first three discs include the same episodes featured on the Kotaku run, as well as the inclusion of both its specially made English narration and the original Japanese narration. The last disc were specially picked out for the DVD release and remain entirely in Japanese. Frankly, due to the cult of the show, any fan and viewer would stick to the original format. The original narration was provided by Tsuyoshi Kan, who is also one of the producers of the show. He really gets into the act, making Arino's play-throughs feel like Herculean efforts. The English version, however, simply is a complete detriment. The English announcer is Adam Ray, who does have a good broadcasting voice but is miscast here. The best example between the two is during the Clock Tower episode: Kan speaks his lines through a hushed, dire tone in order to match up with the survival horror game. Ray, on the other hand, talks normally and way too excited when relating the plight of a young girl through a dark mansion. The other big problem between them is the translation: In the Super Fantasy Zone episode, there is a segment where Arino faces the second stage boss. He notes that the turrets on the boss look like Chocolate Babies candies, and begins to destroy them with the ship's twin bombs. Kan narrates with, "The twin bombs' hits are effective." Ray's reply? "Twin bombs score baby chocolate!" That there is some pretty terrible Engrish. The Japanese translation is far better with the original audio than the Kotaku-approved English version. The subtitles are generally great but do feature a few misspellings here and there.

It seems that the problems with Kotaku do not end there with the translation. The first twelve episodes are completely out of order with the seasons of the show. Anyone can notice this problem: Arino notes that the first game played on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive for the show is Bonanza Brothers. This episode is placed right after watching the Super Fantasy Zone episode, which also was played on the Mega Drive. This confusing series of events is worsen when involving the ADs. As stated earlier, Arino's assistants change out with each season or have a small run. When they come back on to the show as a special guest and helper, it is a major shocker and unexpectedly joyful to see how they have changed. You are not given this here, as this mix-up of episodes ruin any surprise and bring utter confusion to the proceedings. For instance, the original AD Toujima leaves at the end of the Atlantis episode (#201) on Disc 2 but already appears as a special guest on the Ninja Gaiden episode (#409) on Disc 1. Also, since these are all selected picks, you don't really get why some ADs have special nicknames or skills.

One of best things about the set is that you do get the entire long-plays of some of the games. For example, the game Mighty Bomb Jack took three whole episodes to be completed, culminating in a special live performance in front of a large crowd. Also, some of the episodes have the director's final cut; Battle Golfer Yui, a strange Genesis RPG golf game, ends not with its game ending as originally broadcast but with a special play-off between Arino and his three ADs. Not all are given this luxury, however, which leads to another big problem for fans: Each episode is completely devoid of the show's other segments. There are no visits to arcades, no history lessons of NES games, no goofy readings of game text, nothing. This is probably due to rights issues, the same issues that might explain why only certain games were picked out, leaving some of the other better episodes out in the cold. Another odd change is the mix-up of the 2D mascots. Each season would have a 2D Dragon Quest-like regal character at the bumpers of the show, or featured during special explanation segments. For the majority of the episodes, they are instead replaced with a baby king, who spoils and wraps up the show.

Packaging wise, the set has two discs on each side of the box, placed on top of each other. The cover and back art is striking but it is the special art illustration in the inside that is truly marvelous. Specially commissioned, it is a real treat for long-time fans. Each disc has nice art of the show's title screen but they all look the same except for disc number. Also, they lack the text of what episodes are feature on each and every one of them, so the buyer has to make a mental or physical note to remember. The menu screens are fun but every time you go through them, whether to look at the chapters or change the audio, you have to sit through the opening menu animation and hear Adam Ray say the English title every time. It gets a bit annoying, even if you only hear it for a short amount.

Though the price is a little steep at $50, I do highly recommend the show to those seeking video game drama or off-beat Japanese fare.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trailer Review - The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Johnny Depp is Tonto and Helena Bonham Carter is a possible femme fatale. Oh, and Armie Hammer is the titled character, I guess.

Scene Pop: The boardroom massacre.

Briggs Breakdown: Tons of gunfire, a 3D effected silver bullet, a train heist, a 3D effected train, a train sandwich, and many shots of a train and train tracks.

Effective?: Meh. Either looks like Wild, Wild West and/or a complete spoiler of the film's climax.

Check it Out?: Probably not, maybe as the bottom of a drive-in bill. Frankly, as time and business has shown us, movie westerns are not profitable anymore. Coupled this with the fact that this beleaguered and troubled production is drawing comparisons to Disney's last fiasco John Carter, not to mention a minor but growing fatigue with America's love of Johnny Depp, it will be a hard train ride for this film.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - September

THE CAMPAIGN is way too wacky and annoying to work as a satire of current politics. The problems fall entirely on the production side, led by the cloying Jay Roach.

PARANORMAN is a fantastic scary film for all audiences. It pays tribute to horror classics, deals with social and moral issues, and leads to genuine, goose-bumping terror in its finale.

THE OOGIELOVES IN THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE sucked. Everything within its frame is god awful and it will live on as one of the biggest fiascos in movie history.

DETENTION is one of the those interesting passion projects that works. A tribute/mockery of the 1990's and teenage fare, this film bursts with brilliant irreverence and overdosing on breaking the fourth wall.

THE BOURNE LEGACY is enjoyable for Jeremy Renner and some well-made action sequences. However, the story moves at a snail's pace before stopping at the end of the second act, leaving no resolution.

LAWLESS had some mighty fine performances but it's way too generic, relying on the audience's patience to watch Shia LeBeouf as a plucky hero in a moonshine war. Its rapid tonal shifts also ruin any chance to relish any scene.

HIT & RUN was an unfunny display of Dax Shepard's manhood. I feel a little bad beating on something made by love but there's no laughs, no joy to behold.

DREDD was a pleasant, violent surprise. Karl Urban was completely badass, the gore was plentiful, and even the 3D effects worked. It has the potential to grow in time.

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET desecrates one of the absolute best films ever made, only to fail even more with a lack of blood and common sense. Poor, poor Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Shue.

THE POSSESSION was way too funny to ever take serious as a PG-13 horror film. Worthwhile for house parties or the eventful Rifftrax.

Best Films of 2012

1. The Avengers

2. Chronicle

3. The Secret World of Arrietty

4. The Hunger Games

5. The Cabin in the Woods

6. ParaNorman

7. 21 Jump Street

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild

9. Detention

10. The Grey

Worst Films of 2012

1. The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

2. Project X

3. Dark Shadows

4. The FP

5. House at the End of the Street

6. The Devil Inside

7. Rock of Ages

8. Total Recall

9. The Campaign

10. Hit & Run

Brief Film Reviews - September 2012 (2)

From time to time, I forget or not motivated enough to write a full length review for every single film I have seen in theaters.

As to catch up, here are some short form reviews:

House at the End of the Street

HATES, the Twitter approved titled of this movie (despite actually being HATEOTS), is a maddening display of the horrors plaguing Hollywood today and the skeevy producers who want to profit off a new hot commodity with a film that should have continued to stay on the shelf. Oscar nominated actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Shue have the unfortunate to move into a small town filled with strangely injurious, rich white people, and next door to a blank-staring young man, who openly chooses to live at the house where his parents were murdered by his deranged sister four years ago. Original screenplay and story by David Locuka and Jonathan Mostow respectively? That's complete bull. The first half is a remake of the super-lame THE TOUCH OF SATAN, sprinkled with plot and camera swipes from TWILIGHT, before embarking on a disrespectful plagiarism of one of the all-time greatest films ever made. The first couple of twists are genuinely interesting but they become negated by later ones, a mixed moral message, and being a slasher film without any sight of blood. Ruined by its PG-13 rating, as well as the pretentious direction by Mark Tonderai, this psycho-sexual thriller wastes the time of its very talented actresses and the pocket money of its easily-fooled target audience.


The Possession

This movie has to be the biggest laugh riot of the year next to TED. I couldn't suppress the humongous guffaws or the urge to talk back at the screen. A young girl picks up a odd box covered with Hebrew writing at a yard sale of all things, becomes mentally and physically overcome by a Jewish demon, and threatens to further ruin her parents' divorce. The film is well shot, with some striking compositions, and does benefit from the talents of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick. Even the young actresses as their daughters try to make this harsh knock-off of THE EXORCIST be seriously dramatic and frightening instead of ultra-campy fun. There are too many snicker-filled highlights: the opening pretzel-twisting non-murder(?), Anton Sanko's goofy piano score consisting of loud "DURM"'s after every big scene, an outrageous murder of a teacher, the deliberately over-the-top performance of a college professor, and Jewish reggae musician Matisyahu as a Hasidic priest. It may be highly stupid, not to mention makes the bad decision to setup a possible sequel, but THE POSSESSION is a bit worthy of a view for all the wrong reasons.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Midlife Crisis-es of Tartakovsky and Sandler

Tomorrow brings the long-awaited release of Hotel Transylvania, a film that has suffered from multiple directorial changes, a long developmental process, and sadly features the unwelcomed presence of the Friends of Sandler Brigade in its supporting cast. A different and more commercial take on the stop-motion classic Mad Monster Party, the big-budgeted film is expected to either be a camel or a fair family affair. Nobody is really expecting great things from it, especially since it comes from the highly hit-or-miss studio of Sony Pictures Animation and reunites one of the absolute worst acting duos of this summer from one of biggest flops of the year.

The bigger picture of the film, however, is what the future will hold for its director and main star. Genndy Tartakovsky and Adam Sandler are both currently suffering the dregs of their respective careers. They have failed badly in recent times, unless of course you are too blinded by your own fandom to see it clearly. If you unfortunately happen to be, let me explain the malaise surrounding the once popular kings of their medium.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dredd - Review

For the hardcore comic book fans, DREDD is certainly way better than the 1995 version of the popular British character who spawned from the pages of 2000 AD. No sans helmet, no campy tone, no Rob Schneider. Personally, I have a fondness of that glorious misfire, something to be watched when time is slow and spirits need lifting. If you need some heavy doses of copious gore and spilled blood, however, stick to the present because DREDD is a balls to the wall orchestra of ultra-violence. Running at a nice fine clip of 95 minutes, the film is a hardcore breeze through a day in the life of the one man judge, jury, and executioner.

When describing the plot, most have acted like dutiful children, pointing heavily at something until the bad thing is given the proper response. They are correct in the assertion that DREDD is a blended smoothie of TRAINING DAY and this year's sleeper THE RAID: REDEMPTION but the latter can be ruled out as highly coincidental and a case of awkward timing. The titled character, played by a gruff, nail-eating Karl Urban, is one of the top military/police officers, i.e. "Judges", in a huge, grimy post-apocalyptic metropolitan dubbed Mega-City One. He has no time for medals and handshakes because he always needs to put away the scum and lowly street urchins, preferably with lodged bullets and a ride on the "meat wagons". He is asked by one of his chiefs, a calm female individual instead of the usual stressed-out sort, to test out a possible candidate and see if she is the one of five to survive the job. Her name is Anderson, played by the ever-lovely Olivia Thirlby, an individual who has failed the qualifying tests but gets a special push through due to being a mutant, having powerful psychic abilities, and being one of her genetic kind to be very pretty and not have three arms or other types of defects. He takes her to a drug-war related massacre at Peach Trees, one of the city's huge 200 feet tall towers, only to end up locked out from leaving with an interrogation-ready criminal. This guy, dubbed Kay, is one of the top cronies of Ma-Ma, the diabolic ruler of Peach Trees and the lord over a new popular drug called Slo-Mo, which makes the brain feel like it is moving at 1% of real-time. Like a good janitor, Dredd needs to clean up all of the floors before he can go after the queen, and he best not miss.

The character of Judge Dredd is a fascinating subject and he is shown just that here under the direction of Pete Travis. He is the future version of DIRTY HARRY but with the fascism driven way up. As the audience, you want to see him utterly eviscerate his opponents, usually with his standard-issued police handgun and one of its many, alternating bullets such as armor-piercing or incendiary. Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland, on the other hand, want to stir the moral debate within yourself. Dredd does stack up a high body count but his muted expression, enhanced by the absolute refusal to see his face, cold turkeys you from whooping and hollering. There is a highlighted scene where Dredd just stands and watches as a group of gang members succumb to his naplam-like attack, as the flames reflect off his visor. He even indulges on the preference of execution the villains first use in the picture, choosing to occasionally railing kill a thug and see them fall in ever increasing heights. By the time he has no qualms pointing a gun at armed kids, you know that ambiguity is completely in the air. Though he is vicious and ruthless, the script does soften him just a bit at times, giving the viewer a welcome breath of relief or a gratifying dry laugh.

Though the characters are very interesting, such as how Judge Anderson is a strong and positive female character even when the chips are done, probably the most enchanting thing featured on the screen is the lush story of the backgrounds. It may look like a crusty, completely dilapidated pile of smog-covered metal on the outside, but Peach Trees has an engaging interior look all the while tons of bullets are flying. Other than this being the new civilized lifestyle after nuclear warfare, you may question why 750,000 people would openly choose to live in slum luxury with a series of stairs that even professional marathon runners would stay away from. As executed by the creators, the answer lies in the fact that the mega tower is a colossal shopping mall. The bottom floor is the food court, main street, and red-light district all combined. There is an severely understaffed medical hospital, consisting of one unfortunate soul. A later shootout takes place in front of a beaten down movie theater, advertising goofy looking action fare. Why should these people ever go outside when everything is provided for in one location?

If acting is the reason to see a film, Karl Urban most definitely wins the argument. Fans will be cheering him as the perfect Dredd; his near Bale-Batman meets Eastwood voice may throw you off at first but it feels like an organic voice for the character. Urban hits the right subtle mood changes and skillfully looks like an absolute badass. Olivia Thirbly is also as good, focused more on internal acting than facial expressions. She even has the best scene in the entire film, where she jacks into the mind of Kay and devilishly abuses it, always in control. There's more subtlety to go around to Lena Headey as Ma-Ma. Acclaimed right now for her Lady MacBeth role on Game of Thrones, her former prostitute turned gang-leader is one smart cookie, wisely choosing the best courses of action given the circumstances Dredd unleashes on her crew. Headey doesn't let the scar makeup do all the talking, deciding to rather talk slow and in a hushed evil tone.

You may have already looked at the rating and asked what would keep DREDD from being a true sci-fi action classic? The performances are good, the overall direction are good, the special and 3D effects in fact are even good. What else would I need? That would be grandeur, an aspect where good becomes great. It loves its artfully done kills but something still feels a little off-putting about them. The whole movie tastes more like a television pilot rather than a comic book event and new franchise starter. The plot is brilliantly simple yet it is too easy to see what comes next. It's a very well made B-movie with intriguing ideas but it is unable to hit the A range at this time. Maybe with age, not to mention repeated viewings on the Syfy and Spike channels, this film will beat the rap and get away scot-free.