Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Tops of 2013 - March

OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was pretty luminous and pretty disappointing. James Franco sandbags and the green-screening is generally awful, yet the wonderful world has some nice leading ladies and colorful sidekicks.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD could have been okay or barely passing but it just took a hard crash down after the courthouse scene. John McClane Sr. was a major asshole, coupled by a ultra-lame performance by Bruce Willis, and the script still makes absolutely no sense, even after carefully breaking it all down.

WARM BODIES was way too serious to earn a nice and hearty laugh. It has charm and some nice performances but the overall metaphor of love was exhausting.

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN was a good ole-fashioned pomp and circumstance action flick. It was a far, far better DIE HARD film than the one actually released.

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION had ninjas, Jonathan Pryce, and black ops and it still had many disappointing features. Either slightly better or on par with the first film, the sequel had horrendous 3D, boring new characters, and a screenplay full of holes and ret-cons. There is still some fun amid the muck but only as a rental.

So far, 2013 hasn't brought many interesting features, beyond a cavalcade of bombs and failures. SIDE EFFECTS has been the only thing standing tall, though I predict it to fall off the list later. Of course, if this bumpy course of film output continues, it may be the only one.

Best Films of 2013

1. Side Effects

Worst Films of 2013

1. A Good Day to Die Hard

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation - Review

The President of the U.S.A. playing Angry Birds during a nuclear summit. Ray Stevenson with a faux-Cajun accent. The RZA as an exposition dumping, kung-fu master. A deadly and master ninja is defeated by fallen boxes. Channing Tatum making an inappropriate sex joke at The Rock's house. And, a final battle done through gunkata. These are the most goofy and enjoyable moments of G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, an okay film that sadly wallows in despair and confusion, which prevents it from overcoming its many shortcomings.

The Joes, led by the returning Duke (Tatum) and his new friend Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), are sent to Pakistan to collect some loose WMDs after someone has assassinated its leader. After accomplishing their mission, they are sneak attacked by a Cobra force sent by the President (Jonathan Pryce), who viewers of the first film and newcomers will know that he has been replaced by the mercenary Zartan. He also helps break out Cobra Commander (sans Joseph Gordon-Levitt, now voiced by Robert Parker) from his unique prison, who then begins his goal for global conquest through nuclear disarmament and a new, deadly space device. The only ones able to prevent Cobra from taking over the world is the surviving Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Whether through black ops or ninja warfare, land or sea, this rag-tag group will fight for freedom.

This sequel wants to distant itself far from the polarizing first installment, going for a darker, gritty, older fanboy-friendly mystique. Unfortunately, this approach by director Jon M. Chu and his screenwriters robs the fun from the picture. Once Tatum is given his much publicized exit, the heroes become way too sullen or quiet to crack a smile at least once in awhile. The only ones often having a laugh are the Cobra cronies, especially the witty charm of Pryce, who sells many of the black comedy jokes given to his character ("I don't know why they call it 'waterboarding'; I never was bored"). Even with this steady melancholic tone, there's nothing else written to fill up the script; no characterization present for these new characters. Hell, character actor Walter Goggins, who has a small role as a prison warden, had more development and an arc than the other, more prominent actors: Roadblock lacks the badassery and machismo of Johnson's character in FAST FIVE, Palicki does her best with what's available for her, and a female ninja named Jinx (Elodie Yung) is just that, a female ninja. The worst offender, however, is Flint; sorely lacking the mighty voice of Bill Ratner, this blank slate brought nil beyond being the parkour fighter and specially designed to be rebutted by everything said by Roadblock. Cotrona doesn't help these matters with his snore-inducing acting.

If you try to let these character issues go, you still need to deal with the other plot problems, namely where the hell the rest of the G.I. Joe soldiers went off to. This is a major covert organization with bases all of the world and plenty of toys, not just a bunch of grunts in the sand. A throwaway line could have levied this error but no such luck here. Then, there's the whole ninja subplot, which is hastily put together through RZA's voice-over. Though this gives the viewer a fun, long sequence on a ninja-filled mountain, done entirely without a single word uttered, it ends with a major retcon that is very eye-rolling, even for comic book fans. Chu's direction tries to overcome the story limitations but the film just felt like I was watching a cheap production done by Cannon Films; with all of the ninjas abound, I was waiting for the entrance of the AMERICAN NINJA himself, Michael Dudikoff. 3D certainly ruins the experience to a very high degree. Post-converted, the film was never designed to support it, as all of the major fights are captured at the combatants' shoulders and nothing in the z-axis is utilized, not even on the ninja mountain.

Though I've been harsh throughout this review, I would still give the movie a very slight recommendation. It has no octane fuel but it still runs at a normal action speed. It may have an interesting change for the franchise yet it lacks the popcorn and cheers. At least there were no accelerator suits worn or present. Also, to continue my DIE HARD 5 hate, the cameoing Bruce Willis actually acted like an old hero who was still charming and cool.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Poster Review - March 2013

Man, it has been awhile since I did one of these. "Rarely" indeed. Anyway, let's get started with something timely:

Coming off the second place weekend showing of Olympus Has Fallen is the other White House invasion movie, White House Down, whose trailer is to hit tomorrow. I get the subtle direction but we are talking about a Roland Emmerich film, not United 93.

What here is to make me interested in this product? The orange BMX helmet? The faux-Stargate? The tiny pea-shooter? To make it even worst is the top tagline; At the end, it should read "Becomes a Motion Picture Event That Will Generate Protests and Bring Up Harsh Discussions About Its Discriminating Author".

Wow, this is beyond awful. Is this an early April Fool's joke? This can not be something released by the marketing department of a major studio. What is going on with all of the ninjas? Are they fighting the badly superimposed Wolverine or protecting him? This poster is even far worst when you compare it the other two teasers that evoke the savagery and the ronin lifestyle of the Marvel character.

Despite all of the hubbub with the production problems, loosely adapted script and questionable trailers, this poster for World War Z is sure to stop people in their tracks. Its monochromatic version is also pretty good.

...It's also for comedians looking to stay relevant after several major fiascos.

Oh no, not the dissolve body! I thought Hollywood learned their lesson from Chun-Li and the infamous X-Men: First Class character sheets.

COYOTE TANGO. That is an amazing action name.

Deliberately head-scratching, I love it.

Continuing the striking and P.R. happy character sheets for an over-hyped follow-up to an okay movie, Sofia Vergara gets to unleash the Mazinger Z in her soul and bust. "Breast Fire!" indeed.

This last poster is for an Israeli film that might fly under the radar this year. I love the title joke.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen - Review

OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is the DIE HARD you expected from the recent major failure DIE HARD 5. It's also a very bloody and vicious popcorn movie; the body count is well in the triple digits, CG blood is spurted everywhere, and there's many signature kills for actor-producer Gerard Butler to pull off on the North Korean thugs who dared to step against America. It absurdly panders to the mouth-breathers who can only see in red, white, and blue and the ironic lovers who want 80's & 90's actionsploitation to come back into theaters. Not great but a fun watch.

Butler is Mike Banning, a man who's practically the mistress for every member of the First Family. He's a very loyal Secret Service agent, goofs off with the President (Aaron Eckhart) through boxing, draws smiles from the First Lady (cameoing Ashley Judd), and is the big muscular brother of the son Connor. However, he's moved to desk duty after making the tough decision to save Eckhart over Judd when his limo crashes one snowy night. Considering the film careers of those two, he made the right choice. Anyway, during a White House visit from the Prime Minister of South Korea, a North Korean terrorist group launches an all-out attack to breach and capture 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Banning is the sole survivor and the only one able to prevent the invaders, led by Rick Yune, from obtaining the dreaded "Cerberus" codes and having the last laugh.

The script is beyond ridiculous, both positively and negatively. Screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt seemingly watched DIE HARD one long night, scribbled out a few things from their notes, and replaced them with much cooler toys and set-pieces. There's deja vu moments like an authority takeover and, most especially, a climatic helicopter crash and an escaping fall for the hero. The casting department also seems to got in on the action of "homaging", hence why one of the terrorists legitimately looks like Al Leong. However, if you subside this fan outcry from your experience, the ride is a buttery treat thanks to the gruff performance by Butler and the very pulpy dialogue. Director Antoine Fuqua does a serviceable job to highlight the goofy and the serious at the right times, backed by a non-John Williams score of melancholic trumpets. Also, since I can't go one review without complaining about CGI, the CGI is confounding and lame, especially in the case that the makers couldn't just throw a tattered U.S. flag in the air without the assistance of a computer.

The fact that Aaron Eckhart often cries exactly on cue shows that everybody working on this big movie cared for it, whether to justify a paycheck or to have some fun for a change. It won't be an icon of the action genre but it will have a long history of television airings and late night rentals. The film may finally unearth Gerard Butler from the career slump and bad management he has had for the past couple of years. As seen here, it's much easier for him to work with evil foreigners than it is to work with Katherine Heigl and Jessica Biel.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Warm Bodies - Review

Cute can only get you so far. In the case of WARM BODIES, this is best seen in a metaphorical sense when the teenage zombie R drives in his lost-and-found BMW 4Z with his main squeeze Julie on the tarmacs of an unidentified airport. The car gases and brakes in rapid succession, then drives perfectly in an easy manner before suffering a minor crash at the end. The film isn't an uproarious black comedy it was advertised as but a melancholic, indie dive into the TWILIGHT pool. This mood gets suffocating, never giving the characters a chance to breath from all of the over-froth direction and the "serious" plot. It's still a slight delight, though.

R (Nicholas Hoult) doesn't remember much of his past or what caused the zombie apocalypse. He makes the most of what's allowed to be a free-walking zombie, such as his residence inside a derelict airplane and his rampant kleptomania of snatching souvenirs, like vinyl records that produce a "more real" sound. During a zombie trek for food in the city, he and a few of his colleagues, including his best friend M (Rob Corddry), encounter a group of pretty and young armed resistance from the local walled-off human civilization. There, he love-at-first-sights Julie (Teresa Palmer), who just so happens to be the daughter of the leader (John Malkovich) and a Juliet stereotype. Of course, you might have figured as much with the latter from the first paragraph. Anyway, R brings her back to his residence, keeping her with him in his chotchkies-filled plane. Eventually, through knight-and-princess mentality and a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, they sort-of fall in love. This emotion causes R to experience weird side effects to his zombie body, including a slight heartbeat and a normal reaction to rain. R's metamorphosis, which later begins to spread to the other zombies, poses a problem both to Malkovich's army and the "Bonies", a group of zombies that have given up their fleshy appearances to be vicious and badly CG-ed Harryhausen skeletons.

The film is written and directed by Jonathan Levine, who previously pulled double-duty with the indie non-starter THE WACKNESS. He also did the more respected and equally themed to this movie 50/50, though that film had a script by Seth Rogen, a man who knows when to laugh even with serious subjects. Despite some funny gags in the prologue and crumbled throughout the picture, he has sucked the life out of the prime material. The fact that this film lacks the bite of the Disney-produced zombie comedy MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK tells you how misguided and paltry Levine put into it. Hoult does his best with what he can, getting to shine in some crucial scenes, and even Palmer gets to show some chops but they have to work with a romance angle that never feels brave or challenging as it truly is. Also, Levine tacked on a dumber-than-bricks voice-over to remind the sleepy viewers of the obvious or noteworthy. For instance, we learn and see that zombies can't sleep; two-thirds into the movie, right before R starts to fall to sleep, Hoult's VO chimes in again that "Zombies can't fall to sleep", only to then feature R having a dream where the inhabitants say that zombies can't sleep.

Though the failed Romeo and Juliet storyline gets a bit toxic, there is some emotional moments or interesting ideas, like how when a zombie eats a person's brain, they get to experience their memories in a festive, scrapbook-like viewpoint. Also, Rob Corddry is pretty much the best thing going for the feature and a more ideal main character, as he balances the tightrope between a starving zombie and someone who once had a life and a loved one. Not to mention, he often delivers the best gags and scene-closing lines. If you can take the stench and handle the groan-worthy PG-13 rated cutting, the film may be a pleasant watch for couples and the lonely hearts of the world.


Monday, March 11, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard - Review

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD, aka DIE HARD 5, has finally "achieved" the worst case scenario of its franchise: It made John McClane truly unlikable. In previous installments, you cared for the scruffy yet lovable cop who had painted the walls and floors with his own blood. McClane had to endure constant personal struggles with his family members, especially his wife, and was always able to cool down hi present situation with a nice one-liner. With this travesty, the human hero has turned into a full-blown video game creation. He survives two destructive car crashes, several free-falls through glass and construction equipment, and somehow only walks away with a cut on his pants. His seemingly eternal charisma has been depleted completely; Bruce Willis plays him now as an embarrassingly old sad sack. That is, when he's not turning into a walking soundboard, repeating only two lines: "JACK!" and "I'm on VACATION!" Our so-called hero even unwisely helps out the villains because his distracting screaming lets the bad guys easily find their MacGuffin. What an action darling.

The plot of this movie can be easily summed up: McClane heads to Russia to rescue his son John Jr. (Jai Courtney) after being arrested for killing someone, only to find out he's an undercover CIA agent and secretly trying to escort a fellow prisoner out of the country and from the grasps of a political kingpin and his goons. However, Skip Woods' script is a colossal disaster to figure out. Not surprising, considering that he's the same writer who gave us SWORDFISH, HITMAN and X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. The 97 pages of his script will make you suffer from a massive case of fridge logic; by the time you figure out every single plot hole that pops up, you'll notice that your refrigerator door is still open and you food has soiled three days ago. I can't believe how stupid and stupider it gets, from the pointless taxi gag, to the court explosion that doesn't kill the prisoners, to the George Valentin-head goon, to the moment where a flock of armed villains walk straight into John Sr.'s rain of gunfire like its HOT SHOTS: PART DEUX, to the finale in Chernobyl of all places. Does that mean that in the hopefully never-made next installment, the McClane clan will have to face their greatest foe of radiation poisoning?

But the true brain annihilating moment comes with the final plot twist, which is so incredibly impossible to make sense. Nobody would have taken that much of a chance to survive through so much turmoil and destruction just to pull off that carpet-pulling. The last battle continues the streak of the film's disappointment factor, as its more flaccid than a male stripper on cold shower night. Screw being spoiler-free: It ends with the two McClanes fighting only three opponents. The first antagonist is this hugely muscular thug that I dubbed Zangief. He deliberately echoes the invincible opponent in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, especially since one of this film's set pieces is an aerial vehicle with rotary blades. Instead of a dragged-out, brutal fist fight, Zangief just fires off an automatic rifle in a corner. The next antagonist is only present to die in a signature DIE HARD fashion, which will cause fans to rage at the audacity of director John Moore. Finally, the end-boss slides in but he/she/it isn't killed by our heroes. The boss instead pulls off a truly dumbass maneuver, with no hope of surviving. Please excuse me while I gag in the corner.

I felt really bad for Courtney. His performance is way too realistic, as he honestly acts if Jai himself is responding to the pathetic material he has to work with and the horrendous direction he's given. What makes this movie even more shockingly bad is its greatest error: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD is intended to be a vehicle for McClane Jr. to take over the reins of the series. Willis must have been upset by this BOURNE LEGACY-like action so he actively wanted to ruin the entire experience. Though he's the worst performer, it's really the fault of director Moore and writer Woods for this unsteady calamity. They, along with the uncaring producers, delivered out a sucky product to those hoping for more retro-action films, where the CGI stayed inside their computer software programs. No matter how much of a DIE HARD fan you are, do not see this unless you seek to see the further spreading cynicism of an once beloved actor.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful - Review

The only magic present in OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is the disappearance of its visual effects budget. $200 million is poofed away, leaving only behind shockingly bad green screening and CGI intergradation. Sure, there are a few instances where the computer effects are worthwhile, which I'll will get to later, but the delightful world of Oz is often displayed to look like a cheap Barbie video game for the Playstation 2. Who am I kidding, all of those Barbie games were cheap. However, the only thing faker than the backgrounds, often riddled with creatures and flowers that are more lively than anything in the foreground, is the lead actor.

James Franco plays the titled character, a carny magician in a D-list traveling circus circa 1905. After a particularly bad showing in front of Kansas yokels, he jettisons away in his half-owned hot air balloon to escape the very angry strongman who learns of his two-timing. Oz is flung into a terrible looking CG tornado, only to be then flung into a terrible looking CG Oz. After embarking in one of the many annoying 3D-approved set pieces, which always consist of things flying in your faces, he meets up with a good witch (or a bad witch?) in the form of a repressed Mila Kunis. She believes him to be the prophesied Wizard who will save the land and banish the evil Wicked Witch who plagues it and her army of flying baboons. Further intrigued by the private gold stockpile kept for the messiah of Oz, Oz journeys on to battle the deadly woman (or is she?).

Whether you are a adult or a child weened on the plethora of good and awful book-adapted CGI fests in the past decade, it is not hard to figure what's to happen in the plot. The script is so light and banal to ever take serious of or to enjoy. The twists are always easy to spot miles away on the yellow brick road, small gags are more in favor instead of better characterization, and the film just stops at the end to have a big battle, since everything from HARRY POTTER to the dumb GOLDEN COMPASS had one. Some reviewers have already started to defend the story largely due to their longstanding crush of the works of director Sam Raimi, whose ARMY OF DARKNESS this film closely resembles. That comparison further enhances the troubles placed upon the paper. For instance, let's compare the main characters: Ash in ARMY is tired of fighting his enemy, the Deadites, and is willing to snooker his medieval servants in order to return to his environment. Despite being snippy and a bit cold-hearted, he still has honor in his heart and willing to save lives. Now mind you, I learned and understood all of this in that film upon my first viewing of it and without ever seeing the first two EVIL DEAD films. Oz the man, on the other hand, is truly unlikable to root for, having no qualities or personal feelings that will cause us to sympathize with him. To make him worst, he's played by James Franco.

Though I favor James Franco as a actor, he here shows the worst of his talents. Miscast to a high degree, Franco relies on weird facial contortions to convey a Rorschach test of emotions (is that happy or nervous?). His line-reading is stiff and monotone as his body language. During one moment where he performs a Scrooge McDuck dive into his future fortune, Franco looks as if he won bingo at a senior center. When he isn't whining or belting out magician catchphrases like a grade-schooler, Franco courts the three witches of the picture (Kunis, her big sister Rachel Weisz, and the "evil" Michelle Williams) as if he deliberately wants to be called out before reaching first base. To be fair, Franco is not helped at all by Raimi's direction, which also is his worst displayed here since his first forays with the Hollywood machine. Except for some crowd and long shots that benefit the widescreen ratio, he constantly favors suffocating close-ups, which then transition into dutch angles or extreme zoom-ins to make up for the lack of mystique of the world. Of course, these close-ups are necessary in order to have more 3D splurt attacks. The sheer lowlight is a sequence where the main characters need to steal someone's magic wand and it is as anti-climatic as a calendar. Then, to make everything far worst, from the head-shaking editing to the questionable music stings, there is Danny Elfman with another forgettable musical score.

Thankfully, there were a few elements that saved the film, showing off some of the magic we were expecting to see from a so-called prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ. Though Franco is a walking bust, he is alleviated by his two fun CG sidekicks, who have fascinating designs and details. Zach Braff plays a flying monkey named Finely, who doesn't love to fight but to overcompensate Oz's shortcomings as a hero. Indebted to him for saving his life, Finely often gets the bigger laughs and smiles due to his charm and wit. His cuteness factor is instead given solely to the little China Girl, voiced by Joey King, the sole survivor of a town that was made up of living porcelain dolls. Due to her naivety and perkiness, the character excels at being someone you want to protect, even though the animators had a hard time fitting her in people's hands. The other true highlight is all of the female actresses, who once again show why the Oz world is suited for women than men. As stated earlier, Mila Kunis is given the task to greatly repress her natural exotic beauty to play Theodora, only able to expunge the pain outward when the time comes. She does a very nice job and often sparkles with Rachel Weisz, who gets to vamp as big sister Evanora, a green-magic woman who likes to be two steps ahead of everyone and be more of kin with Snow White's Wicked Stepmother. However, the most surprising and truly great performance came from Michelle Williams. She works wonders as Glinda, able to overcome the expected strictness and forced upon niceness of the character and make her three dimensional. She believes that there is goodness in everyone and is willing to help them show it in public, even though they are still bit of a cad. In other words, she is a righteous yet kinda conniving political P.R. supervisor.

There are a lot of problems with the entire structure OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, including its inability to live up to the expectations of the L. Frank Baum books, THE WIZARD OF OZ, or being the first high-profile Oz film since the vastly underrated RETURN TO OZ. The movie does incorporate much fan service to the legendary 1939 film, from the changing of the film color, the multiple allusions to or the hybrids of the classic characters, and certainly the ending gift exchange. That will always be the prevailing problem with any Oz adaptations: overcoming the steep popularity of Judy Garland and her luscious ruby-red slippers and the inability to recapture the myth-making skills of a MGM cast and crew. Given that the public is still waiting on a film musical adaptation of WICKED, this struggle, along with the gross and boring use of fan fiction, will continue to ring from the Emerald City.