Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Planes - Review

A lowly crop-dusting plane gains entrance into a worldwide racing event, much to the chagrin of a snooty champion, and must overcomes his fears and limitations to become the champion. Sounds a bit familiar? That's because we already saw something exactly like this in the form of TURBO, except this protagonist is three-dimensional and the film is is set in the CARS universe. You'll know it's the world of CARS because of two major facts: First, the film flat out tells you with an opening graphic, and secondly, the doctors working at DisneyToon Studios transplanted nearly all of the same features of the first CARS film into PLANES. Old vet Paul Newman has been replaced by Stacy Keach, goofy sidekick Larry the Cable Guy is now Brad Garrett, love interest Bonnie Hunt is Priyanka Chopra, braggadocious rival Michael Keaton is Roger Craig Smith, etc., etc. Even with this copying and pasting in the writing, the film feels like it was rushed to the market too quick. Plot progress consists entirely of jumping ahead on a dime, making the race even more trivial and non-suspenseful. Worst, some scenes aren't resolved: The main character is heading straight towards a fast train, stuck in a tunnel with nowhere to go, then it just cuts to white and the protagonist begins to land at the next checkpoint. Tell me Jeffrey M. Howard and company, how did he get out of the cock-a-doodie tunnel? But the really strange, off-kilter moment is a flashback to actual world warfare; why is the goofy world of humanized vehicles and oil/poop jokes have horrors such as that? Despite these bewildering errors, I didn't have much trouble sitting through the movie. It's certainly mediocre in all levels of production but it is absolutely better than CARS 2.


Computer Chess - Review

Plot: At a hotel in the 1980's, a large group of computer programmers, all toting their constructed chess-playing machines, compete in a tournament to determine who has the best software and possibly able to finally beat a human opponent. Gimmick: COMPUTER CHESS was crafted by mumblecore director Andrew Bujalski, who chose to use tube-based, B&W video cameras of the era, in order to give the film authenticity and a surreal bent. Analysis: I just don't get it. The film starts off like a mockumentary, following the dullard host before moving on to the individual groups and their programs. Next thing you know it, cats are roaming all over the hotel, a new age couple want to have a quasi-incestuous threesome with one of the mains, a scene shot on color film pops up, and it ends with a flat reveal. Though the cast is well-suited and easily bring the nervousness of their characters, the film is never funny. Bujalski makes a few noteworthy inventions, playing with the meta through on-screen computer read-outs, but his gags often fizzle out and his experimental take on the plot is highly grating. Unless you care for the peculiar or can somehow stomach mumblecore, the winning move is to not hit play.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tom Laughlin - RIP

Tom Laughlin has died. He was 82 years old.

Laughlin was mostly known under a different name: Billy Jack. First introduced in the biker-sploitation Born Losers, the half-bred vigilante fought his way against those that wish to bring harm to Native Americans and the hippie generation. Not only did he star as Billy Jack, Laughlin also wrote, directed, and produced all of the character's adventures.

Though his career and legacy was ruined by his many business failures and his oddball behavior, Laughlin was a landmark film renegade and one of the biggest names in the independent film movement. He also introduced something we cherish dearly today: With the release of The Trial of Billy Jack, he devised the idea of nationwide, same-day distribution of the film and including its trailer in major television spots.

He will sorely be missed.

Joan Fontaine - RIP

Joan Fontaine has died. She was 96 years old.

Fontaine was one of the few still living actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood, alongside her sister Olivia de Havilland, who she shared a long-standing rivalry with.

She had an extensive career in the arts, but Fontaine will forever be known for her work under the guidance of director Alfred Hitchcock, first with the titled role in 1940's Rebecca and then a year later in her Oscar-winning performance in Suspicion. Though she does a great job in the latter film, many still consider the Oscar win to be one of the most famous moments of the Academy saying "I'm sorry", as they chose Ginger Rogers for her Oscar bait role in Kitty Foyle the previous year.

She will sorely be missed.

Peter O'Toole - RIP

Peter O'Toole has died. He was 81 years old.

The eclectic British actor was a wild child in film, even in his last years of work. O'Toole starred in many celebrated works of art, but he also was willing to deliver a memorably campy performance in movies of lower caliber. Whether it was Caligula, Supergirl, or Thomas Kinkade's The Christmas Cottage, he was always prepared to steal the spotlight.

His long, eventful career will have everyone pick their favorites. For animation lovers, and most modern audiences, it would be his sinister role as the prejudging French food critic in the Pixar classic Ratatouille, where he delivers an amazing monologue during its closing moments. The die-hards of ink and paint like myself will also recognize him from The Nutcracker Prince. The normal film-goers and bookworms will go back to his most critically acclaimed work, ranging from his double duty as Henry II in Becket and The Lion in Winter, to his variation of Errol Flynn in My Favorite Year. For myself, O'Toole will always be the insanely brilliant auteur in The Stunt Man.

Of course, he will forever will be known for two huge things: his major breakthrough performance as the titled character in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, one of the first film roles he took, and his legacy as being nominated for the Oscars' Best Actor award the most (8), and sadly unable to walk away with one.

He will sorely be missed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - Review

In the latest cacophonous adventure of everyone's favorite comic-book space god, Thor must figure out how to extract a magically polluted substance out of the body of Jane Foster, while also dealing with the dormant Dark Elves, led by Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccelston), who wish to use the goo for some kind of world synchronization thingy. Honestly, I could not figure out what exactly Malekith wanted to achieve or what the whole conflict was about, an easy to spot signal of how this sequel is a definitive step down from the first movie. Gone is the Shakespearean flavoring that tasted so elegantly refined, helping to establish the Loki character and make Tom Hiddleston into a major star. Instead, this film wants to boldly match up with the pop culture appeal of TV's Game of Thrones, an easy task since it's helmed by one of the show's most prominent episode directors, Alan Taylor. From the extensive, luscious production design to the clear-cut blockbusting action, THOR: THE DARK WORLD is an enjoyably fun ride. However, it's mostly suited for the boys in the audience, as evident by the collection of wild weaponry (black-hole grenades, laser guns), the scary badass impact of the mid-boss (Kurse), and the Power Rangers-like influence with the army of creepily masked Elven peons. There is some much needed fan service of a shirtless Thor, plus more attention to the God of Trickery, but female audiences will be more focused on and troubled by the women in the picture: Jane Foster is a constantly sluggish "Pauline", needing assistance to be carried from man to man; Sif is suspected to have a much more important role in the proceedings, only to be shoed away from sight; and a slightly major character is "fridged", though I saw it more as a rip-off of the most contentious scene of THE AVENGERS. The grand finale is an inventive touch of time and space displacement; to avoid injuring your attentiveness, you really need to sit back and allow the absurdism to follow from shot to shot. Finally, as the credits hit the screen, where you get to experience two amusing little stingers, it then might dawn on you that nothing much progressed with this sequel. Even though the last twist holds some promise for the Marvel Universe and leave you in wonderment, you'll probably be more annoyed that you paid for something that instead could have been completely crafted in 21 minutes, on an televised animated program. Take delight for what it is but you do not necessarily need to experience it.


Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie - Review

This easily digestible documentary showcases how the middle-aged son of an once prominent singer found his niche in life as the "Blue Collar King", a talk-show host who was more hostile to his guests than his raucous audiences. In between all of the backstory and exposition about Morton, the makers also wanted to reveal how his trash television style of spreading the hate unleashed the floodgates of conservative media. As stated, this is very breezy to sit through and observe, unless of course you aren't aware of the sludgy syndicated shows of the late 80's or some of the most tumultuous topics of the day, most notably the rape case of Tawana Brawley. Retrospecting the two year life span of The Morton Downey Jr. Show is an astonishing rush of pure anger and sick entertainment, no matter what political badge you carry. When the film isn't focused on the show or the friends, fans, and employees of the chain-smoking iconoclast, the makers unfortunately try to spruce up the structure with absurdist elements like animated interludes, readings of the poetry he wrote after losing his dear friend RFK, and selected listens to his attempts at making music. These culminate with the film's ending credits, a takeoff of the famous opening to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. They don't benefit the documentary much but at least they do what Morton did best: Shake your senses awake and create an unblown view on the American life.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Evidence - Review

How can you make a found footage horror film more abysmal beyond undistinguishable camerawork? You just sprinkle in some brain-busting plot twists that make no sense, ultimately giving the viewer a giant middle finger right before the credits hit. EVIDENCE, featuring the slumming talents of Radha Mitchell and Stephen Moyer, has both of these disparagingly bad movie components in spades. A group of criminal investigators, all ripped from a standard televised police procedural, journey through a collection of camera data in order to uncover what caused a massacre outside of Las Vegas. The handheld cinematography is excruciatingly taxing, often capturing absolutely nothing of worth to pay attention to; at the film's absolute low point, you'll just be staring at 30 seconds of complete blackness. If that wasn't enough, most of the "spooky" footage include the ear-splitting whistle scream of one of the main girls or corrupted glitches that pop up as jump scares. For a so-called film about capturing the realities of horror, there is no reality here: This is a world where a blow torch can slice through limps in one swipe and news channels have no qualm with showing snuff footage live on television. Need more proof to prove this movie guilty of war crimes? At the killer reveal, which you can easily guess, there is a caption box right below the incriminating footage, spoiling the final twist that is sure to produce cries for justice for sitting through this garbage.


Frankenstein's Army - Review

During the Eastern campaign of World War II, a small squad of Ruskies are sent off with a cameraman and find themselves trapped in a town ruled over by a vibrant cast of steampunk mutants. Historical "found footage" films are more riskier than the normal horror model; not surprisingly, this little alternate war film is unable to change any hearts and minds. Director/co-writer Richard Raaphorst unwisely implements modern film techniques into both the cinematography and editing. For instance, during some scenes where the characters are retreating for the horrible creations, the action is speed-up like a music video before returning back to normal. He also adores using the usual horror trope of giant, lumbering villains somehow sneaking up behind people in split-seconds. There are a few interesting elements the film retains though: It starts off being a somewhat satire on wartime propaganda, the cameraman utilizes different lens to change focus, the creature design is very inventive, and the gore is pretty gross to enjoy. However, I can't really give it even a slight pass because you'll often be subjected to horrendous shaky-cam, characters that come go without notice, and the fact that everyone is screaming, shouting, and truly unlikable. Plus, the tongue-in-cheek ending doesn't match up with any of bodily dread before it.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trailer Review - Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Tom Cruise as Not-Billy Murray with the Elysium garb, Emily Blunt as Female Master Chief, and Bill Paxton!!! Nice to see you back in films!

Scene Pop: I got nothing.

Briggs Breakdown: A lot of gunfire, a lot of fire, 2 crashing planes, shaky sword slashing, sexy push-ups, and the Tom Cruise trademark of running away from explosions.

Effective?: Not really. It informs us of its Groundhog Day-like plot but nothing else.

Check it Out?: No. This just looks like Oblivion all over again; I was bored when I examined that film's trailer, and then later was bored when I reviewed it in theaters. Also, the last movie I was hyped up for by its trailer featuring robot-singing, it was called Battle: Los Angeles. It may end up being good but I'm already getting the vibe that this must be Cruise's After Earth.

Trailer Review - Godzilla (2014)

Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: David Strathairn as an army general, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, & Ken Watanabe in cameos, and Juliette Binoche as a dead meat scientist.

Scene Pop: What else? Godzilla's reveal.

Briggs Breakdown: A ton of halo jumpers, 1 giant explosion, a subway disaster, and the Godzilla tradition of indescribable city destruction.

Effective?: Yes.

Check it Out?: Color me intrigued. I don't know what's more shocking: the striking visuals or the haunting soundtrack. The latter doesn't even contain the usual BRAMs heard in every single action trailer today. I'm desperately crossing my fingers; please be the Godzilla we want and need.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

R.I.P.D. - Review

After getting murdered by his corrupt partner (Kevin Bacon), displayed to us as a horrible CG rag doll crashes to the ground after being "shot in the head", a Bostonian cop (Ryan Reynolds) is inducted into an afterlife police force to pay off his past sins. He, along with his new cowboy partner (Jeff Bridges), must take down the escaped souls of Hell roaming around the city and stop an expected major threat in the final reel. I say take down because the only logic way to stop this demonic menace is to eliminate them with their fancy holy laser guns. That doesn't stop the dead cops or their enemies from wasting time by punching and hitting each other to no effect, since they all are seemingly immortal beyond taking a bullet. R.I.P.D. is a highly annoying mess of various other films, all of whom were actually more entertaining and structurally stable compared to this work by director Robert Schwentke. It cribs MEN IN BLACK extensively yet lacks the time and patience to explain how exactly the force operates. It literally rip-offs GHOST at nearly every beat but replaces Demi Moore for the even more empty-headed actress Stephanie Szostak. And it can't be an modern action flick without implementing the Joker/Loki/Silva ploy to sneak attack the heroes inside their base. When it tries to strike at more original material, the film gets incredibly strange, juvenile and frankly a bit racist: The creatures they face off with are nicknamed "deados" (seriously, people okayed this term), who transmute into tragically obese humanoids with a penchant for burping, farting, and having destructively rotten B.O. What's the only thing that can flush out their inner guises? By grossing them out with the thought, smell or sight of non-Caucasian approved food like Indian and Palestinian. Also, you know the film is the drizzles when the MacGuffin is called The Staff of Jericho and is later seen to be nothing more than an obelisk. The acting certainly can't even save it: Reynolds can't muster past the dull plot, Bridges is often too mush-mouthed to understand, and Mary Louise-Parker delivers a superbly bad supporting role. If you somehow have a fondness for Hollywood-generated inferiority, crafted with constant focus pulls and video game-inspired direction, have a ball with this insane calamity.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Paranoia - Review

Dismayed at being fired after a disastrous phone presentation in front of his hoity-toity British boss (Gary Oldman), hipster Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) decides to deliver some payback by charging up a $16,000(!) bar tab on the company's credit card. When the wooden doofus remembers that he could face felony charges because of this, his former boss instead blackmails him into committing corporate espionage by being planted into his competitor's company, headed by his former buddy (Harrison Ford). Sometimes, a throwback film is a good thing to experience, but I don't think anyone in the entire world wanted a return to the 90's tech thrillers like THE NET. PARANOIA has a dreadful script that was seemingly ripped out of a screenplay's how-to guide, as it hits every note expected. The direction is banal and flavorless, crafting nil in the suspense department. There are several bad performances by the cast, all of whom choke on the dialogue vomit, but none come ever close to the world-class sprinter of awfulness, Liam Hemsworth. He is so pathetic as a leading man, possessing none of the mighty strength to carry the picture by himself. Instead of drawing any sympathy for his white-boy plight, the churned-out beauty makes Adam even more detestable with every flat line reading and expression. It would have been a tall order to care about Adam anyway with someone else: The man is a loathsome sociopath who stalks a girl, exploits her for sex and her company secrets, yet we are programmed to root for their strained courtship to work out after all of the turmoil. This heinous behavior culminates when Adam brings "the big heat" in the inevitable finale, where his manipulative actions at one point causes someone to be murdered off-screen. How did the FBI let that one slide? It may seem television-suitable but don't let the window dressing fool you; PARANOIA is an astonishingly shabby production.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Trailer Review - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Sally Field return, Dane DeHaan as Mini Mads Mikkelsen a.k.a. the 2nd version of Harry Osborn, Jamie Foxx as Dr. Manhattan 2.0 a.k.a. Electro, Chris Cooper as a cancer-stricken Norman Osborn, Campbell Scott as stock footage dad, and the Ultimate Universe version of The Rhino, who is barely given any dramatic weight.

Scene Pop: Electro stealing the super power move-set of DC's Livewire.

Briggs Breakdown: 2 sentences of angst, 2 fan service shots, countless destroyed police cars, a runaway semi, a manhole cover-assisted punch to the metal horn, bullet-time, and an ad for the Daily Bugle on Tumblr.

Effective?: If you somehow wanted to see this franchise continue and a reprise of the failed triple enemy strategy of Spider-Man 3, then yes, this generically produced trailer is for you.

Check it Out?: Not really. It looks so boring and so emo, exactly like the throwaway first movie. At least this superhero is saving people.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman!

Breaking superhero casting news: Gal Gadot has been selected to play Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Right now, nearly everyone around the world and web have the same thought: Who? Gadot is more well known for her recurring role in the Fast & Furious series.

My opinion will not be brief: I was really pulling more for Gadot's Fast & Furious 6 co-star Gina Carano to play the final pillar of DC Comics' Trinity. However, unlike a lot of people right now, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt until we all see her in the final cut. In case you don't remember, Wonder Woman has never graced the silver screen at all. There's no other film actresses before Gadot to compare to, unless you count Keri Russell's voice-over performance in the direct-to-video film done by Warner Bros. Animation. Plus, it's not fair to compare/contrast with her television iterations (Lynda Carter, Susan Eisenberg, Adrianne Palicki) because there are many clear distinctions between performing for the small screen and the cinema. Finally, it's not like The Dark Knight and The Man from Krypton had a perfect start in film; both Batman and Superman were unable to be blessed with master thespians in their film debuts (serial actors Lewis Wilson and Kirk Alyn respectively). So I tentatively wait to see how she walks into the role of The Goddess of Truth. Unfortunately, as stated before when Ben Affleck was announced as Batman, I still currently believe Snyder and Goyer will deliver another terrible film.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Europa Report - Review

Part found footage sci-fi horror, part mockumentary, EUROPA REPORT showcases what later happened to a space crew sent on a scientific expedition to the titled moon of Jupiter, right after a solar storm knocked out the communication systems. The fact that the movie is competently made and easy to understand already makes it far and away better than its space disaster counterpart APOLLO 18. The biggest stinging element for horror viewers, however, is that the film wants to be more of a sterile procedural than a thrill ride like GRAVITY. Our human subjects are scientists first, film characters second, as they encounter many distressing elements and come away from them disquietingly calm and collected instead of screaming at each other. When crew members begin to be picked off or chose to sacrifice themselves, the remaining comrades all wisely understand that there's nothing they could have done. Director Sebastián Cordero intriguingly is able to make you believe this was an actual mission, thanks to the natural performances, the deliberately flat camerawork, and the startling CGI work. Unfortunately, there is one big problem Houston can't solve: The movie's nature as a found footage piece really only works if you're unable to identify the actors. Here, hawk-eyed cinephiles like myself will easily spot Michael Nyqvist, Dan Fogler, Anamaria Marinca and Sharlto Copley and lose their suspension of disbelief instantly. Even if you forgo this process, you may be unable to handle the glacial pacing of the story, which is honestly more chilly than Europa itself. Still, EUROPA REPORT is genuinely a nice alternative for those seeking hard sci-fi.


John Dies at the End - Review

David Wong (Chase Williamson), a white twenty-something living and operating in middle America, tells his dealings with the supernatural to a street-smart reporter (Paul Giamatti). Mainly, he recounts the tale of how he had to cope with a new furry (?) liquid drug called "soy sauce", an intelligent dog, bratwurst cellphones, a world ruled by EYES WIDE SHUT cosplayers, and his buddy John (Rob Mayes) somehow leaving him future messages from the past. Suffice to say, this adaptation of the horror-comedy novel devised by Wong (aka Jason Pargin) is an odd one, surely to piss off naive viewers while thoroughly pleasing niche audiences and fans of Cronenberg and Lovecraft. It retains the idiosyncratic playfulness of the book, including the fun little mental puzzle that kicks off the movie. Unfortunately for those who read and loved the book, the adaptation by writer-director Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM, BUBBA HO-TEP) is truncated to make a streamlined feature, skipping over the later story arcs and sadly eliminating much of the character of Amy. Some of these removals are understandable; Coscarelli is clearly working with a low budget, often incorporating green-screening or dark lightning to make up for the film's shortcomings. Despite these setbacks, Coscarelli makes a highly eventful acid trip, balancing the awesome special effects by the likes of Robert Kurtzman with the slackerish wit of the original text. The entire cast is clearly on the same seriously goofball level, with Williamson and Giamatti getting most of the time to shine. Certainly not for everyone, this lighthearted journey through bodily nightmares and dick jokes is a cult treasure.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paul Walker - RIP

Paul Walker has died. He was 40 years old.

In an unfortunate ironic twist, Walker was killed when a friend of his lost control of his Porsche Carrera GT and crashed into a tree. Walker was most widely known for his recurring heroic role in the Fast & Furious franchise. His shocking death brings into question what will happen to the next installment, which is currently in production. Though he wasn't an expert in the acting department, Walker was a suitable action lead in the modern era, with his rugged good looks and stunning blue eyes.

He will sorely be missed.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Tops of 2013 - November

LEVIATHAN had a few awe-inspiring visuals but the experimental nature and questionable cuts made it pretty boring.

DRUG WAR was another awesome Hong Kong gun-fest from Johnnie To.

A TOUCH OF SIN was a fine chronicle of four modern Chinese tales that end with violence.

ROOM 237 was an amazingly edited documentary about a couple of fans' devotion to The Shining.

SCARY MOVIE 5 was truly one of most insane things ever to be labeled as a "movie".

SHOOTOUT AT WADALA had a good gangster tale but the lackluster songs and those dreadful smoking disclaimers hampered the Bollywood experience.

WHITE HOUSE DOWN was the lesser of the two White House action films. Still watchable though.

BLACK ROCK was both a bad mumblecore film and a bad retro-horror film. Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell didn't need to be in this.

BLACKFISH was preachy yet still a haunting, sad examination at the practices of SeaWorld.

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR was frankly just okay. Not the earth-shattering best film of the year, nor an exceptional lesbian drama.

PARKLAND had a lot of ambition for a small independent project but it a lot of missteps.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE wasn't as great as the first one, at least according to myself, but it still was a mightily blockbusting sequel.

12 YEARS A SLAVE was an all-around masterfully crafted epic.

My on-going best and worst lists will now be hidden from public view, until revealing their final cuts at the start of 2014.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Review

Suzanne Collins, the author of The Hunger Games series, had one huge complaint about Gary Ross' vision of her first book: Primrose's grumpy cat Buttercup. It apparently didn't the right color of fur, that being orange. Actors of different backgrounds and races playing some of the roles were fine, in a very wise decision by the film's creators, but a non-essential, bratty creature designed for a couple of jokes annoyed her to no end. It was up to the new head of the next adaptation, director Francis Lawrence, to fix this grievance. There's a shot in the beginning where the book-friendly cat rests on top of the feet of a statue in District 12's Victors' Village, given plenty of time for the devoted fans to take in and finally relax. And then, it is never seen again. How important.

This cat dilemma pretty much sums up the very nature of THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. It's a distinctly entertaining sequel that raises the stakes for the characters but only as seen in the original novel. It switches the growing franchise's mindset, from being another artfully yet sometimes jittery (those shaky-cams) piece like the first film to being prime blockbuster material, where we start experiencing nearly a straight-on adaptation. Screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt do an admirable job fixing and reworking some of the truly dumb faults of the book (no sight of biscuits anywhere!) but they tend to do too much of a clean job at writing, sticking to Collins' words instead of their own ideas. Unfortunately, the two do exorcise a few elements that are extremely crucial to the overall story, such as the importance of Peeta. Maybe we will see an extended cut later on video because the theatrical movie wants to chug along through so much plot and action in just two and half hours.

Spoiler warning to no one: The protagonist of the first film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), won. But alas, so did her fellow district tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is now also her forced-upon boyfriend for the watching masses of the nation. They are set to embark on a victory lap tour to all of the other Districts ruled over by the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), including the regions whose tributes Katniss killed or befriended during the Games. Snow, not happy with the trickery of dual winners and Katniss' potential to further spark uprisings, threatens Katniss to convince him of her being an adequate, loyal pawn to the Capitol or he'll eliminate everyone she ever loved and the entirety of District 12. When a couple of off-the-cuff gestures lead to a riot at their first stop in District 11, the two along with their consultant Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) agree to the p.r. move of planning a wedding. After all, the courtship will be followed and viewed at the subsequent Games, so they might as well nip it in the bud. However, this plan is subsequently thrown out with the arrival of the new head Gamesmaster, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). He devises the perfect plan for the next Game, which has the benefit of being a Quarter Quell, a special type of event in honor of the Capitol's destructive might. In order to smite out the chance of hope brought up significantly by Katniss, while also eliminating the invincibility some peons have, the Game will feature those who have all been crowned a victor.

Though I have and will further knock some of their decisions, the best thing Beaufoy and Arndt did was remodeling the revolutionary aspects of Katniss. The writers greatly plan out the step-by-step evolution of her anger and sense of justice. This becomes more fruitful since they have a strong, fiercely talented actress capable of handling any material. But in order to work more on Katniss, they sadly detached some of her important changes, such as the growing bond/love she has for Peeta. The second book is really a dazzling show for Peeta and yet his outgoing charisma and tortured courtship with The Girl on Fire is often muted or removed entirely. This becomes more egregious whenever Gale (Liam Hemsworth) shows up. I guess the two writers are Team Gale players because the block of wood is given many scenes and many chances to woo Katniss, despite there being little chemistry between Lawrence and Hemsworth. But the biggest complaint has to go to the strict belting to Katniss' hip at all times. We never get many chances to experience what's outside the character's view, such as the sight of others' reacting to the Games, as we did in the first film. I wanted to hear the slimy remarks of the commentators amid the violence, have Haymitch talk his way into getting more packages sent, or see the strife plaguing the Districts we haven't seen before. Just because the book is told in first person, doesn't mean it works on the silver screen. Lastly, the two still keep the film franchise tradition of not displaying the hunger in the title.

As for the true production side of the picture, Francis Lawrence does a first-rate job at the helm. Since the producers wanted this to be an absolute blockbuster, they got someone who was capable of adhering to the generic code. He tends to favor CGI to tell the story but he is able to work greatly with the actors. The shaky-cam aesthetic has been removed to the proceedings but it pops once in a while to convey mass hysteria within the Games. Of course, the true delight for readers will be the presentation of the tricks and treats included in the Quarter Quell. Not all are in attendance but the ones that are are deliciously menacing; the deadly fog sequence is really haunting and surprisingly gruesome from beginning to end. Editor Alan Edward Bell would have been expertly commendable, as he devises some superb fast cuts and a couple of slow-burns, but there are some glaring mistakes that sour the surprises.

No lie, the cast is still great. Jennifer Lawrence greatly nails her role again and is now able to spread out Katniss' wings. We get to view an emotionally distraught heroine, someone who still has contempt for her inequitable world but is finally opening up to her allies. Lawrence even delivers the arduous task of conveying PTSD, showing how the previous Games impacted her psyche and what the new set of Games does to her on the spot. Hutcherson continues to be an admirable leading man, Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks get to explore and stretch out more as their characters, and Sutherland continues to drive fear in the hearts of others. As for the new additions, the true shining examples are Sam Claflin and Jena Malone. Claflin gets to breakthrough with the meaty role of Finnick, a tribute that won when he was 14 and has become the heartthrob of the Capitol. He's able to flaunt the charm of the character while adhering to his cocky bravado and be the Iceman to Katniss' Maverick. Malone, on the other hand, basks in the uncouth, scandalous side of Johanna, displaying what Katniss could be if she became less headstrong and more evilly calculated. She has a pivotal introduction that is sure to bring the house down and Malone plays it like a fiddle. Probably the only sad part of this front-loaded cast is that journeymen like Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright don't get to stand out with their subtle, quiet portrayals as Heavensbee and Beetee respectively. Also, Toby Jones got a high credit despite having two lines and being in only one shot. I'm surprise the cat actor wasn't below his name in the ending credits.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE loses its stride of being more challenging to the viewer, like Gary Ross' depiction of this world, but it is a fun ride with twists and turns. It will tide fans of the book series over while also leaving an edible cliffhanger that grants goosebumps all over the arms and neck of new spectators. As stated earlier, I feel that the video release of the film will expand on the leftovers, adding the missing scenes and plot points that aren't in the theatrical cut. If not, then the film isn't as stable and smart as I choose to believe.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color - Review

After all of the universal acclaim at this year's Cannes Film Festival, after riding through much discussion about gay cinema and the controversy continuously spreading from the words and actions of its director Abdellatif Kechiche, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR ends up being another standard lesbian melodrama. The plot, loosely adapted by Kechiche from a French graphic novel, is basic as can be yet decompressed to fill up three whole hours, all of which is claustrophobically filmed in medium close-ups. There's no spontaneity to the proceedings, nor a titillating charge to the slow-burn romance or the explicit lovemaking. Frankly, you're better off watching KISSING JESSICA STEIN, which follows the same path of storytelling but with better writing, a better grasp of modernity, and a shorter running time. I don't mean to flog the picture as a ghastly time at the theater because it is quite satisfactory and refreshing. It's just certainly not one of the best films of the year.

Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Adèle, a French teenager whose direction in life is constantly fluctuating, like the wind that blows her long hair into a tizzy in nearly every scene. One day, as she is late for a date with her new boyfriend, she walks past a blue-haired woman (Léa Seydoux) hanging her arm over another woman at a cross-walk. Though their lives are currently tied with others, the two exchange a mesmerizing gaze that haunts their souls. Adèle eventually breaks up with her boy-toy, due to an unstimulating sexual encounter, and eventually meets up with the colorful woman at a lesbian bar. She introduces herself as Emma, a college student studying the fine arts. The two share a quiet friendship at parks and museums, amid all of the high-school gossip and drama for Adèle. They eventually evolve into a committed relationship, experiencing the pains of sharing dreams and lifestyles, as the film jumps further ahead in its second half.

Kechiche does craft some exquisite moments, whether when the love is fresh or slowly numbing itself, but he often chooses to implement scenes and metaphors that would have been laughed off the screen at a Film Schoo1 101 class. For instance, when the couple is older and they move in together, Emma no longer dyes her radiant color. Gee, I wonder what that could mean for their relationship. Another great example is an outdoor party being held for Emma and her pretentious art allies. Why is it outside? Because they need to have an old silent movie projected on a big screen. Why is the movie included into the festivities, despite the fact no one pays attention to it? Because Adèle needs to have a sad moment dancing on her own, as the heroine in the film-within-the-film convey her inner feelings. I will gladly point and chuckle at these tripes compared to the overlong, tedious sequences of characters wallowing around nowhere, excruciatingly awaiting for Kechiche to call "cut". Still, at least all of those things are at least interestingly put together, unlike the pathetic sex scenes that somehow wowed the Cannes critics.

Anybody that thinks and says this movie is erotic hasn't seen many European movies or desperately wants to praise their adoration for porn. Except for an early heterosexual fling, which could factually be truncated, there is no need for any of the raunchy romps. Sex in film needs to have a purpose, conveying something about the characters or to the plot to warrant its inclusion, especially when the leads bare completely all or, in the rare cases, go unsimulated. They also often need a set-up to the intercourse, to make the viewer feel okay with spying on their bedroom techniques. None of that is here because Kechiche clearly doesn't care about anything but boobs and butts. The sex is routinely filmed in a disastrously stale long shot, with no decorum beyond a green bed, as if the film was intercutted with an amateur porno. The direction seemingly given to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux was to embark on all of the most impractical, goofy-looking positions and fake the orgasmic ecstasy as if their career depended on it.

What this film greatly shows off instead of steamy sex, whether Kechiche intended or not, is delicious food. You absolutely do not want to go into this with an empty stomach. Everybody is munching, chewing, and slurping to their hearts' content and you will want to join them, from the gyros to a glass of strawberry milk to fried wontons clumped with shrimp. The two most important treats are Adèle's family recipe for spaghetti and Emma's favorite dish of oysters. Both are given the time and attention to them in order to show how they speak to the characters' stomachs. They also correspond with their respective characterization: Adèle is overbearing with her rich flavor of emotions while Emma is more complicated to enjoy and requires some finesse.

Exarchopoulos and Seydoux give good, not startling, performances. Sadly, Seydoux isn't as featured as much as Exarchopoulos, largely because Kechiche changed the focus of the story and the original name is translated as "The Life of Adèle". Despite this setback, she does suffer from the same predicament as her co-lead: the extended devotion to their lives mellows out their abilities to wow the viewer. When the time thankfully calls for a major plot development, the two relinquish all barriers and go hard with their acting. Exarchopoulos is the MVP in this case because she frequently turns into a flood of tears and snot. She also is able to handle the truly hardest scenes, namely a couple of confrontations where she buries herself further and further due to her consistent lies. However, probably her biggest disservice, other than her unlikable character, is that her acting method makes her out to be the French version of Kristen Stewart: Her mouth is kept firmly open, showing off her chipmunk-like teeth and unaware of what she should be feeling at the moment.

Surveying over this review, I spent more energy lambasting it then truly expositing why its a fairly quality picture. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR could have been the spectacular groundbreaker it wishes to be or what the people at Cannes said it was. I simply feel that the faults of the picture greatly rest on Abdellatif Kechiche. Even though he crafted some fine moments and made an overall satisfactory movie, he also showed that he's just another flavor of the week, a director who brings more damage to the silver screen than anything beneficial.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Trailer Review - Maleficent

Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora.

Scene Pop: Jolie's forest reveal.

Briggs Breakdown: Just some magic gardening skills by the titled character.

Effective?: Meh.

Check it Out?: Hold your horses. Judging by the early footage, it looks like the movie will be nothing more than a live-action remake of Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Why bother spending money for a ticket to this when I can just pop in the DVD at home? Lately, fantasy flicks has been hurting at the box office, besides the name-value of The Hobbit. Snow White and the Huntsman did alright but not enough, as talks of a trilogy have completely gone cold. And, of course, there was the disaster that was Jack the Giant Slayer. This movie is probably going to be exactly like Disney's recent fantasy Oz: The Great and Powerful: a 3D diversion for the family that will then be quickly forgotten about.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - November 2013

Some more 2013 films that have hit video:


LEVIATHAN is what happens when you mix Stan Brakhage with The Deadliest Catch. That should be a major compliment to give this film but I frankly nearly fell apart when watching it. So much of the film has the rain-soaked cameras capturing absolute pitch blackness, with no stimulation or interesting visuals beyond bobbling along with the boat. That is, of course, when directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel aren't showing us a tired guy taking a shower, a bored guy in extreme close-up, or a tired and bored guy literally watching The Deadliest Catch. It surely wants to challenge the viewer's expectations but its unconventional structure could prove mentally destructive to the average person, causing them to quickly tap out and move on. Despite the many aggravating moments, the film is genuinely a one of a kind feature. There are a few amazingly fluid long-takes, like when the camera follows a bird close-by as it goes through the ocean spoils or when the bloody leftovers are washed off the boat, only to be assaulted by a humongous flock. It even has some interesting metaphors, such as how the lack of the ship docking anywhere makes the vessel to appear as just another ocean dweller, hunting after other fish and "ingesting" them into the lower quarters. LEVIATHAN is worthy enough to throw a wrench in your viewing habits but it's also certifiably capable of pissing you off greatly.


Drug War

A drug manufacturer (Louis Koo) is arrested after his plant accidentally blows up, killing his family, and he drives into a crowded restaurant. Desperate to avoid the death penalty, he cooperates with a determined police captain (Sun Honglei) to violently take down many of the other drug kingpins. The latest from Hong Kong action guru Johnnie To, DRUG WAR is an impressively simple shoot-em-up that would make Michael Mann proud. The bullet-flying sequences are expertly constructed and given a blank soundtrack to match up with the somber morals of the picture. Without giving away too much, the movie has a hard conservative attitude towards dealing with those in the drug trade. It even likes to catch the viewer off-guard at many times: I thought that Honglei was sinking the film with his mumbling performance, only for him to become a chameleon, adopting differently vibrant personas once he goes undercover. It may not be a game-changer but it thankfully shows that the much-abused action genre as of late can still thrive in smaller corners.


Room 237

As evident by the fact that I write reviews, I love film criticism and film theory. I may have a few goofy hypotheses about certain flicks but they are not as bizarre as those assembled here in this magnificently enjoyable documentary. A small group of Stanley Kubrick fanatics lengthily discuss what they believe the auteur was secretly trying to address in his adaptation of THE SHINING. Is it about Manifest Destiny and our nation's history with the Native Americans? Is it about the Holocaust? Or, is he coming clean about his involvement with faking the moon landing? These and a couple of others are beautifully constructed by director Rodney Ascher, who edits the intense exploration of the horror classic with the rest of Kubrick's work and other important supplements. Do not mistake this as a gawky, finger-pointing comedic doc; despite their utter strangeness (why does everyone think the weasel character of Bill Watson is so important?), these theses are given a fair shake and are truly mind-blowing to come up with. Without question, the hugest highlight is when one voice (the interviewees aren't physically shown) helps explain what happens when the film is played backwards and forwards simultaneously. The film also shows what happens when fan appreciation of a film and its director is taken to the extreme, where probable continuity errors are treated as intentional decisions and maps of the hotel are printed and meticulously plotted out like a criminal investigation. Simply one of the absolute best films of the year.


Scary Movie 5

I wasn't expecting much from this fifth entry in the long-dormant SCARY MOVIE series but I at least expected it to be somewhat competently made. SCARY MOVIE 5 is shockingly abysmal in every category, continuing the nose-diving career of once comedy expert David Zucker. Director Malcolm D. Lee should be at fault for being at the helm of this disjointed slop but it's spellbindingly clear to see that his product was taken over by Zucker and The Weinstein Company. This was obviously intended to be a rated-R entry, only to be scrubbed clean in order to desperately attract any revenue. Don't believe me? Listen to the entire film's audio, which is largely compromised of ADR, all of which never, ever matches up with the actors' lips. This strict adherence to a PG-13 rating goes so far that there's a massive spit-take ruined because the setup was legitimately bleeped out(!). The parodies are both so old and way too new: The main plot follows MAMA exactly, yet the film spends too much unimportant time on jabs at INCEPTION, BLACK SWAN, and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Sometimes, the references are too obscure: It takes awhile to figure out that Katt Williams' cameo is a play on INSIDIOUS, simply because he puts on a gas mask. And sometimes, the lampoons go way off into the deep end: There's an astonishingly long, unfunny gag where a swarm of pool-cleaning robots have a raunchy backyard party. Can you honestly guess which movies are being invoked? It just badder and badder with every minute, whether it's the severe abundance of under-cranking, the terrible ape costumes, the horrible antics of Simon Rex, the stolen joke they took from ARMY OF DARKNESS, the fact that it's 71 minutes long with 19 minutes of ending credits, or the fact that Ashley Tisdale and Erich Ash are the "Coy and Vance" of Anna Faris and Regina Hall's characters respectively. Those two are too good for this pathetic, wretched contraption, which easily showcases that Zucker didn't need the intervention of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to construct another bad movie spoof.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Let This Amazing Spider-Man 2 Image Sink In

Many people approved this. So much for being the angsty alternative to Sam Raimi's vision.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Touch of Sin - Review

In one particular moment of disenchanted flirting, a woman scrolls through a pink iPad, reading off news stories to her colleague. The first story involves a village chief who was arrested and found to have possession of 20 Louis Vuitton bags. She asks him if he wishes to leave an online comment. All he has to say about this grossly commercial matter is three letters: WTF. She reads off a second story and he again repeats his simple answer. A better response for this lowly waiter is to flip the letters' order, creating a palindrome, so he can greatly express the giant middle finger he's forever giving the worldly change of his home country.

A TOUCH OF SIN, which won the Best Screenplay award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, continues Chinese director Jia Zhangke's signature display of the ennui of modern China. Culling from apparent real-life incidents and journeying the camera to four contrasting areas, the movie showcases the lives of four individuals whose permanent state of shock from all of the corruption and moral degeneration eventually leads them to harsh violence. The first story involves Dahai, a loudmouthed, bullying miner who's the only one of his village brave enough to dare speak against the village chief and the company owner about their deceptive promises. Later, there's a sauna receptionist who experiences her own personal free-fall when her melancholic affair with a married man collides with the stigmatization of being a woman. At very end, the film covers a young hopeful who bounces from job to job, unable to be more than a servant or finally run away into a place of bliss. The character introduced first but is covered secondly, a wandering sociopath who can only express emotion through his handgun, is the only lead who makes brief encounters with the other participants or with a story element of theirs.

Zhangke often supplements the plots with appearances of a multitude of animals. Whether it is a horse, a duck, a snake, or fish, the creatures are explicitly added to bubble up the inner turmoil of a character's plight, a technique that Eisenstein fans will favor yet is way too creaky for current opinion. The only thing that can match this blatancy of metaphors is the ending, which sours the bite of the picture and leaves the audience in place but keeps their eyes rolling. Zhangke also includes some odd directional picks when it comes to some of the slaughter. Questionable CGI makes a couple moments of tragedy a bit laughable and in the specific case of one major murder, the destructive act is treated like a martial arts fight.

Despite these problems, A TOUCH OF SIN is impressively shot, often held for long periods of time so your heart beats like a heavy metal drum set. Zhangke willingly plays with the viewer's expectations; one minute he's dropping subplots or advancing unseen developments, the next he forgoes the dramatic use of Chekov's gun. It's also very damning in its critiques, particularly in several jaw-dropping sequences that trivialize the influence of Communism in China today, as being nothing more than window dressing for sleazily institutionalized practices. If you're expecting this to be a complete bloodbath, you'll be slightly disappointed but hopefully intrigued by the film's sweeping brushes of scathing social attacks.