Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Tops of 2013 - July

WORLD WAR Z was the worst as an book adaptation but it is an entertaining "zombie" epic.

THIS IS THE END made myself laugh at the apocalypse again.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS had some fine gore and some campiness but nothing to truly warrant a rental.

MOVIE 43 was an abysmal sketch movie, wasting the talents of its huge cast.

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II shouldn't have been been released into theaters, considering it is just another bad DTV sequel to a much better horror movie.

THE CALL was a pretty good thriller until its highly questionable last act.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER had bipolar tendencies, a crappy script that took from the PIRATES franchise wholesale, and an entertainment rating in the negatives.

DESPICABLE ME 2 was like its first film, another breezy sitcom-like script with the Minions unwisely in the background.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY had some great laughs, characters, and a new side of the monsters world but it drove myself to extremes with its anti-American Dream message.

PACIFIC RIM had some shortcomings in the plot yet it was just too damn enjoyable and breathtaking to behold.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE was an unfunny, arrogant comedy with an awful lead performance by Steve Carell.

WOULD YOU RATHER had a nice Jeffrey Combs but its Twilight Zone story was easy to plan out.

DEAD MAN DOWN had some good performances, direction and drama but was nicked by its slow pacing and harsh editing.


IDENTITY THIEF maybe had a nice Melissa McCarthy performance but its misgiving with its story are too hard to forgive.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM was a rip-roaring celebration of the unsung voices in the music industry.

PHANTOM was a snore where Russians speak perfect American.

TURBO spent too much time rip-offing Pixar works than crafting its own characters or plot.

THE WOLVERINE wasn't that bad, though it seemingly wanted us to care more about its next franchise entry than the actual film.

THE HEAT had a too flimsy story but it was extremely funny.

PARKER was an okay action vehicle for Jason Statham but not for Jennifer Lopez.

WELCOME TO THE PUNCH was a vibrant, thrilling John Woo-esque journey through English cops and robbers. Too bad the twists are easily expected.

Best Films of 2013

1. Pain & Gain

2. Spring Breakers

3. 20 Feet from Stardom

4. Pacific Rim

5. The Croods

6. Now You See Me

7. Side Effects

Worst Films of 2013

1. After Earth

2. The Hangover: Part III

3. Man of Steel

4. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

5. The Internship

6. Movie 43

7. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

8. A Good Day to Die Hard

9. Jack the Giant Slayer

10. To the Wonder

11. Beautiful Creatures

12. A Haunted House

13. The Last Exorcism Part II

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - July 2013 (3)

A couple of 2013 films that are still in theaters:


The titled snail dreams of racing in the Indy 500, only to oddly be given the chance when he ingests nitrous oxide from a street-racing car. Yeah, it makes no sense and sadly the film doesn't get any better. Dreamworks Animation had the opportunity to continue its first place run against the dwindling in quality Pixar, only to be tripped up by this misfire and be in great need of repairs. It doesn't help that it's pretty much a clone of RATATOUILLE, complete with a foolish human who helps him and his eccentric compatriots, though they work at a decrepit mall strip instead of a famous restaurant. But the biggest head-slap is the main character; I guess he had a chaser of Windex after all of that nitrous oxide because he has a see-through personality. There is no reason to like the mollusk, no further characterization for him beyond "gotta go fast!" None of the other characters do anything special either, even though they have extremely talented stars voicing them. The only teeth-grating performance goes to whoever voiced that heinous little kid that exclaims, "Whoa! That snail is fast!", which is then repeated endlessly, non-stop, until it becomes the hook for an ear-pulling techno song. Other than its adequate animation, TURBO deserves to be disqualified from any further praise.


The Heat

In order to be a highly touted candidate for a job opening in her FBI offices, Sandra Bullock's straight-laced character must prove to her departing boss that she has what it takes to be both an investigator and a team player. Too bad her assigned case greatly tests her comfort zone, as she partners up with a foul Boston police officer (Melissa McCarthy) to take a drug ring. Honestly, you know that you're not going into this for the story because it is certainly plain vanilla. All of the buddy cop beats and cliches pop up and you'll be eye-rolling for a good minute when they are later taken off the case. Thankfully, director Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS), screenwriter Katie Dippold, and the talented Bullock and McCarthy make THE HEAT work with inexhaustible laughs. There are some many show-stopping moments where you'll be grasping for air, just so you can laugh some more. A few of these highlights put the R rating to great use, testing your limit at chuckling at others' bodily misfortunes. There's also a rich supporting cast, from the charming Marlon Wayans, to Dan Bakkedahl as an albino DEA agent, to McCarthy's scene-chewing bawdy Bostonian family, featuring the likes of Jane Curtin and pop singer Joey McIntyre. The flat plot does hinder it significantly but this is sure to become more appreciated as time goes by.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - July 2013 (2)

Some more 2013 films that have hit video:

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

A disdainful Las Vegas magician is shown up by a young Criss Angel/David Blaine street magician, played by a 51-year-old actor, and we are supposed to root for the former to defeat the latter. Frankly, no wins in this scenario. I was particularly tickled by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein script for HORRIBLE BOSSES but here the two display no humor whatsoever. This is further helped by Steve Carell's unbearable performance of a loathsome man. He sucks the life and fun out of any scene throughout this picture. The only things able to stand out here are the lively Olivia Wilde, continuing her long line of underutilized supporting roles, and James Gandolfini as a sleazy old casino head. Just walk away and let the magic die.


Would You Rather

A struggling college dropout (Brittany Snow), who left because of her brother's medical problems, is invited to participate at a dinner/social gathering helmed by a powerfully rich benefactor (Jeffrey Combs). In order to walk away from the table and have their debts erased, she and several others must play the titled child's game but with more dangerous options. A Twilight Zone episode script stretched too long, mixed in with a few recent examples such as SAW and 13 TZAMETI, the film is way too easy to spot its beats, twists, and final outcome. It keeps flip-flopping on its gore effects; choosing when to go practical or CG, showing the horrific actions or cutting away at the last second. Combs is the only reason to watch this for, replicating a "perfect host" character that would fit like a glove for Vincent Price.


Dead Man Down

Noomi Rapace videotapes her building neighbor (Colin Farrell) killing someone in his apartment and blackmails him into murdering the man who disfigured her in a car accident. However, he has other pressing matters to contend with, namely a massive takedown of his own gang. The movie is certainly helped by director Niels Arden Oplev (the Swedish GIRL WITH DRAGON TATTOO), who crafts a distressing view of revenge and internal guilt. Both Rapace and Farrell are able to work nicely with the material, as does the rest of the qualified cast (Terence Howard, Isabelle Huppert, etc.). The pace is a bit too slow and there are too many exploitive scenes where Rapace is humiliated or gawked at. The bullet-spewing action finale would be a true standout scene if the camera and editing would just relax for more than a split second. Slightly disappointing but a good brooding thriller.


Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

I couldn't take my eyes away from the train-wreck that was this movie. This can accurately be called the REEFER MADNESS of the 2010's. A disgruntled-with-life college graduate is stuck working for a rich match-maker and begins to drift pass the charms of her pharmacist husband and into the arms of a tech billionaire. Everything under the hands of Tyler Perry goes completely wrong: the plot gets absolutely batshit, filled to the brim with Christian messages, PG-13 approved cocaine use (i.e. hidden away and many shots of people snorting their noses), and heightened violence and glass-breaking; the torrid affair is so poor and non-present with clunker after clunker dialogue; Lance Gross is supposed to be meek and boring yet is far sexier and better built compared to mush-mouth and stringy Robbie Jones; Brandy has an odd subplot that somehow is included into the main character's flashbacks and narration; Perry directs and shoots everything from far away of the action; the pace is so slow that you literally watch two people get out of their car, walk up the stairs, enter their passcode, and walk into an apartment building; the final reveal is super laughably bad; and any scene where Kim Kardashian talks and "acts". The only time the movie acknowledges its craziness is when it thankfully explains what's with Vanessa Williams' bad French accent. One of the top giant disasters of the year.


Identity Thief

The unfortunately named Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is forced to transport the woman who has destroyed his credit (Melissa McCarthy) from Florida to Colorado, thus creating a love-hate relationship and many bonding scenes, because the proper authorities would have curtailed the movie too quick. This fluffed up MIDNIGHT RUN is not a laugh riot but is only able to coast by thanks to its leads. Despite the comedic flair of McCarthy, who also gets a couple of good moments showing her emotional depth, her character is frankly a horrible person to cheer, as there are certainly others she has ruined in the past. The makers also waste a huge cast of talented actors, whether it is Genesis Rodriguez and T.I. as mob muscle in a subplot that goes nowhere, Robert Patrick as a bounty hunter, John Cho as Sandy's co-worker, or Amanda Peet as his underdeveloped wife. Too sugar-coated and wrong-headed to be an enjoyable, pleasant comedy.



A bunch of Russians are sent off in a diesel-fueled submarine as part of a secret operation helmed by two KGB agents. Very, very loosely based on a real-life incident during the Cold War, this extremely generic sub drama has next to nothing of worth. The most baffling element is that this is an American production, filled with some talented actors like Will Harris and William Fichtner, who all do not even remotely try to have a Russian accent. Who really wanted this tale to be told? And, who would really believe David Duchovny to be a heavy? Written and directed by a never-was Todd Robinson, this film is not even middling enough to emerge out of a rental box.



After being spurned and left for dead by a crew of robbers, the titled character heads off to the snooty realm of Palm Beach to ruin their next snatch-and-grab operation. Considering that the Parker character is well-known in crime fiction, not to mention featured in many features including the action opus POINT BLANK, this should be a great thrill-ride. Instead, it is just fine at it is. Director Taylor Hackford and star Jason Statham thankfully kept and play him respectively as he is supposed to be: ruthless, willing to kill if trifled with, but feature a few white elements to balance out his black heart. The main problem with the film is Jennifer Lopez's character and the package she brings. She is too ditzy to be a credible hanger-on and stupidly gets involved towards the end. Then, there's the case with her bringing a Robin Hood-esque vibe to the film, where Parker is seen as a respectable thug since he abuses the rich to treat the poor like her. The action can be too shaky-cam at times but it's effectively violent. A good time killer.


Welcome to the Punch

English cop Max (James MacAvoy) is still looking for revenge against Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), the man who gave him a bum leg after a robbery. He gets his chance three years later when Jacob's son gets sent to the hospital, possibly in connection to a high-profile gun crime. Sadly, nothing is what it seems and a super-tangled-up conspiracy severely hurts a potentially awesome crime thriller that mixes HEAT with John Woo's early films. MacAvoy and Strong are highly emotive then they have to be for their basic characters. The same goes for the rest of the cast, including Andrea Riseborough, Peter Mullan, and Walking Dead favorite David Morrissey. The cinematography is pretty evocative, though clad heavily in blue tones, and the violent gunfire exchanges are well-staged. An exceptional made feature by up-and-coming Eran Creevy, though he needs some polishing on the writing end.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Wolverine - Review

Let's face facts; THE WOLVERINE was made for two specific reasons: to keep the immortal warrior and the rest of the Marvel mutant kind in the hands of 20th Century Fox and to set up the next X-Men movie. Yes, Fox now wants to do an AVENGERS build-up, so after two hours of general entertainment, they end with a mid-credit stinger that will have everyone talking about until next year's DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. That is really too bad for James Mangold because THE WOLVERINE in itself has the right ingredients for a nearly superb comic book flick. Taking on the project from Darren Aronofsky, the prolific genre director crafts a Japanese tale full of tradition, exoticism, and modern technology. Yet, the film will surely be passed over by jaded viewers as something to rent before the next big thing instead of experiencing in a cold, cool theater.

The film has a complete conundrum at its birth: this is the first Wolverine-centric movie after the infamous X-MEN ORIGINS debacle and it deliberately takes place after X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, the inferior and not well liked entry in the trilogy. Except for a recurring appearance of Famke Janssen in a nightie, and of course the stinger, the latter is thankfully swept under the rug. Logan has been residing in a quantum of solace in the Canadian woods as a wild man. Realizing that they don't want to make the equivalent of a bad Bond movie, the makers have him going after some jackass hunters. He is approached by a wild red-haired swordswoman named Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who also happens to be a seer for plot purposes. She is to escort him to Tokyo so he can say his goodbyes to Ichiro Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), a former Japanese officer he rescued in WWII Nagasaki. Ichiro wants Logan to forgo his travels as a ronin and to protect his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) from the Yakuza and other outside forces. He also offers Logan the ability to die honorable, relinquishing his health regeneration and immortality. Knowing that it is stupid to give up this gift and a dumb crutch for bad writers like David Goyer, Logan refuses the offer. However, he is robbed of it by a mysterious blonde doctor the night before a major kidnapping attempt of Mariko. The two run off to lay low, especially in the case of a now-human Logan, and to figure out why everyone wants them both captured.

For the most part, the film effortlessly works as a simple yakuza flick. Clearly homaging the works of Kinji Fukusaku, the movie has a honorable "samurai" who is treading in the muddy waters of gang violence, corruption, and sleaze. The villains, from the heads to the lowly minions, are all rash hot-heads who rather bathe in money and cheap women than fight with honor and humanity. Then to make the picture more comic-book-like, the makers throw in a large ninja clan and the Silver Samurai, a mythical protector of the Yashida family who is replicated into a giant human-size mech. Though these two adversaries lead to some awesome and visually striking moments, including a complete house takedown, they also are tied to the odd misgivings that hurt the entire movie experience. Screenwriters Mark Bomback and Scott Frank sought to compound the plot with a massive Logan conspiracy involving his healing factor. Instead of just having him come to Tokyo and then capture him so they can experiment, these shady individuals instead wanted him to run all over the place on many fetch and rescue Mariko operations before finally getting him locked into a chair. Worst yet, this is helped run by the as-mentioned doctor dubbed Viper, a woman with the non-exciting powers of Toad and the campy attitude of Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy. I don't lay the blame on the actress (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY's Sventlana Khodchenkova) but her character, as she is somehow displayed as a master of evil and near invulnerable(?) yet looks and behaves like a third-rate femme fatale.

Saying that Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine is a given as this point. Okamoto is fine as the alluring Mariko and thankfully gets to fight back during the many kidnap attempts. Nonetheless, her fashion model body is highly distracting. Japanese character actor Hiroyuki Sanada also has a strong impression as Shingen Yashida, the father of Mariko. However, the real surprise was Fukushima; she delivers many badass scenes and plays well off Jackman. Though she is designed to be a surrogate of Kitty Pryde and Jubilee, two famed partners of Logan in the comics, Yukio is also his equal as a lone warrior who is held down by social castes and opinions. Fukushima is able to handle these moments where she is practically spit upon or drifting alone in silence. I also liked to mention Naoya Ogawa and Atsushi Sawada, not to praise them for their portrayals as Yakuza Member #1 and #2 but the fact that I get a kick of seeing pro-wrestling/MMA stars facing off with Marvel's finest.

THE WOLVERINE was surprisingly enjoyable and a nice continuing rebound for the X-MEN movie franchise. If only Fox can learn to make things simple for a change, the film could be more highly rated. Just because you need to have big effects to draw eyes doesn't mean you need to have big ideas that then later turn to out to be flimsier than a potato chip. Of course the biggest problem Fox needs to face, other than superhero fatigue, is that people are trusting more of Disney and Marvel to handle the theatrics from now on. More and more would rather see Wolverine in the next AVENGERS than be the sole holder to a franchise that has been heavily ruined by the Fox hands. Maybe DAYS OF FUTURE PAST will waive these fears but you must remember that we have already seen a recent Bryan Singer "blockbuster" helmed by him and supposedly tampered by studio intervention.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Dennis Farina - RIP

Modern character actor Dennis Farina has died. He was 69 years old.

The Chicago native was known for being a staple of crime films and television, whether in the naked city, London, or Hollywood. He was well-known for playing the heavy in two major crime-comedies, Midnight Run and Get Shorty. Avid TV watchers will remember him for his work with Michael Mann on Crime Story and taking over the lead detective position from Jerry Orbach on the then long-running Law and Order.

He will sorely be missed.

Comic-Con 2013 Recap

Another San Diego Comic-Con, another domination of upcoming Hollywood films. There were some brief teasers from Godzilla and World of Warcraft, supplemented by cast and/or director enthusiasm. There was the Ender's Game panel, where the guests tried to spin the expected backlash against Orson Scott Card's homophobia but were meet with annoying losers who pestered the always grumpy Harrison Ford with Han Solo and Indiana Jones questions. Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock made surprise appearances for their sci-fi films. Also, there were some comic book news. But why pay attention to that when we have Seventh Son and Divergent to promote, even though one or both will surely bomb at the box office.

Of course the main news came from the film studios of Marvel and DC Comics. DC may have stolen the thunder but it looks like a bad storm coming ahead.

After expunging greatness to this year's Thor: The Dark World, with a campy opening by Tom Hiddleston in his Loki attire, and next year's Captain America sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy, the other shoe dropped with the subtitle reveal of The Avengers 2 at the end. Dubbed "Age of Ultron", referring to the killer robot devised by the still non-presented "Ant-Man" Hank Pym, it had news sites scrambling once again to inform the general populace of the next villain. Pre- and during the Comic-Con festivities, actor Vin Diesel has been teasing of possibly being the man behind the Ant mask but some have speculated that he will voice Ultron instead, balancing out all of the good robot karma he had for playing as the titled character in The Iron Giant.

Outside the Disney household but still raiding the cookie jar was Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. They had the cast talk and showed some footage of Jaime Foxx's Electro in action. All well in good but the film still looks to be ho-hum, except for Foxx's laughable electric head.

Unintentionally or not, the major reveal of DC Comics film line was spoiled by the likes of Variety and Deadline: 2015 will feature the Man of Steel sequel but it will feature Batman in it as well, as evident by a horrible logo. Since Man earned so much money, despite being a travesty of a film and of the character, the main three crew members (Zach Snyder, David Goyer, Henry Cavill) will return. Oh what joy. No one has been picked to play Batman yet and Christian Bale absolutely does not wish to return to the role for now. The film has been hinted at somehow being an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, despite the milestone comic being nearly thirty years old, out of date with its politics and social environment, and the fact that DC Comics just did a two-part animated version of the tale. Oh, and the fact that it is a Superman sequel, not another Nolan Batman. 2016 will have a major big-screen attempt for The Flash character and 2017 is to be the year for the long-gestated Justice League film.

As evident by the short time-table, DC really wants to win the superhero movie battle with a two-film set up to its tentpole. Man of Steel wasn't the Iron Man for their new film venture, nor did it have any foreshadowing to entice viewers. As much as I love The Flash, especially the live-action and animated television versions, I feel that his film might be another Green Lantern on the company's hands. However, the big, big elephant in the room is the lack of Wonder Woman. I know that Marvel hasn't attempted to do a female led blockbuster yet or even in the planning stages but it's extremely ridiculous that the icon of female superheroes, one of DC's Trinity, still doesn't have a green-lit production. Is she really going to be introduced in Justice League, possibly even with either with a John Stewart version of Green Lantern or Cyborg? Do we need another super white boy movie?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Poster Review - Comic-Con Edition

Comic-Con is this weekend, and the studios have already released their special movie posters:

Crap, Hedorah has defeated Godzilla and transformed into a walking pile of the destructive building waste he helped produced. Pretty cool artwork.

a.k.a All You Need Is Kill. With Tom Cruise at the top and the drab color scheme, this looks like the ultra-quick sequel to this year's Oblivion. So quick that they stole the props from Elysium and slapped on some Call of Duty war paint.

The movie looks cool but this is just flat, especially with the lack of background art. Plus, that shoe-like turd on the guy's head bothers me.

Oh boy. The Van Helsing-inspired movies haven't been good or drawing any audiences and this is no exception.

UPDATE: Another one worthy to note: You're Next. You need to expand it to clearly view it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - July 2013

Some more 2013 films that have hit video:

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

In this dumb re-imagining of the classic fairy tale, even though it feels more like the unwanted spin-off of VAN HELSING, badass Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) head to a town for their latest job as monster mercenaries. There, they are tasked with locating the town's missing children, only to find out the kids are the key ingredients for a major witch rally. Despite its large appetite for bodily destruction and inventive weaponry, the film is a slog and often more miserable than entertaining. Practically of the world's humanity is shown to be murder first, no questions asked; it's like the makers want us to cheer for the witches to win. But its most insulting element is that it positions Gretel as this mighty warrior yet she is always beaten up, knocked out, and later rescued by a male. Famke Janssen is the only one able to bring some much needed lightness to the picture as the slightly campy villainess but even she can't completely save this from burning your wallet.


Movie 43

A humongous cast of talented actors are dispersed into 13 comedic sketches, nearly all of which come from a deranged movie screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) trying to pitch to an emasculated film executive (Greg Kinnear) in the wrap-around. No laughs at all. Everyone behind the camera shares the blame for this travesty, with the most residing on the two hacks who wrote nearly half of the sketches (Rocky Russo and Jeremy Sosenko). Every segment is just a filthy SNL sketch that wouldn't air on NBC, let alone pass the table read, nor on MADtv if it still existed. They all have only one joke repeated nonstop, whether it's balls, mental abuse, scatology, talking dirty, fornicating electronics, bad dates, bad PSAs, periods, physical abuse, humiliation, being black, or bestiality. Women are treated horribly and sexually debased but that is to be expected for this type of unbearable frat humor. The MVP has to go to Elizabeth Banks, who stars in one gig and directs another sketch that is the only one that is slightly bad. The runner-ups are Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, who try to extract the potential comedy in a lame piece about home-schooling. As for James Duffy, who crafted the embarrassingly under-produced set about superheroes at a speed dating center, he needs to be arrested by a truant officer because his extracurricular activities is hampering his high school studies.


The Last Exorcism Part II

This is not supposed to be released in theaters; this is the type of sequel that usually is released and buried in the realm of DTV. Ashley Bell returns to her breakthrough role as Nell, the timid underage girl who was "demon possessed" in the first film but was actually being used by other devious forces in an ending no one should speak of again. She is now sent off to a halfway home for troubled girls and tries to create a new life for herself, only for weird things to happen all over New Orleans. Removed of the found footage gimmick of the preceding movie, which also wasn't a good idea for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the makers wanted to make a psychological thriller, as evident by the several rips from THE BLACK SWAN. However, nothing ever registers as true terror because of the flatter-than-flat pacing, the stale cinematography, and an abundance of jump scares. Not even TV's Mike Franks (Muse Watson) can draw some sympathy for Nell's new plight. And just when you think the last film had a terrible finale, this entry one-ups it thanks to the usage of stunt rag-dolls and baby's first CGI work. Just to blow your mind, this film cost more than double the budget of THE LAST EXORCISM.


The Call

911 operator Halle Berry unfortunately causes one of her callers to be noticed and killed by a deranged serial killer roaming over L.A. She steps down for awhile in order to train the newest batch of candidates but finds herself back in the chair when another teenager (Abigail Breslin) is in danger. The film has a nice simple yet urgent suspense; thanks to the direction of journeyman Brad Anderson, it effectively shows the pains of trying to give aid to someone only through sound. It also displays some of the problems that come with the job, such as the unwarranted risk of good samaritans and the fact that once the call is cut off, their deed is done and no result is later given to the operator. Both Berry and Breslin do some mighty fine work as their characters, making you feel for these two unfortunate souls. The film even benefits the WWE Films name, giving professional wrestler David Otunga, a guy who has no heat or charisma in the ring, a charming gig as Morris Chesnutt's cop partner. However, the film's giant derailment comes at its third act, when the cops have to act stupid in order for Berry herself to solve the mystery. This then cumulates with an ending that feels hallow and completely out of place with everything set up. The finale might be the viewer's last straw but for myself, I give it a slap on the wrists. I just remember that the movie follows the Meat Loaf principle; two of out three acts ain't bad.


Jack the Giant Slayer

Farmer-boy Jack meets cute with the princess before she is spirited away on a beanstalk, thanks to the magic beans he got from a monk. He and the kingdom's knights head up to rescue her, all the while the king's advisor tries to take over the throne. Originally titled JACK THE GIANT KILLER, since it shares some of the elements of the fairy tale and the 1962 film, it was changed for the kiddies and families that were destined to attend it. This despite the fact that "slay" is more graphic than "kill" and that everyone within the film keeps congratulating Jack for killing giants. Warner Bros also wanted to added the more popular "Jack and the Giant Beanstalk" fable to the movie's story but to no avail; no matter what they or director Bryan Singer do, the film is still a pathetic disaster. It has confusing tonal shifts from dumb, childish buffoonery to violent and gory horror; one minute, a giant is picking its nose and farting and the next has another giant munching a screaming, flailing man. Even if one tone was selected, it still wouldn't overcome the tedious script and the ugly CGI work. All of the actors are either bored and complacent (Ian McShane, Nicholas Hoult), campy as can be (Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci), or the most annoying presence ever to be tolerated (Ewen Bremner). What makes the movie ever more distressing is its audacity to try and copy the PIRATES franchise, what with the casting of Bill Nighy as the head giant, a MacGuffin that can control the villains into doing a person's bidding, and social prejudices when it comes to love and marriage. Taxing at its best, abysmal at its worst, the film is a paltry affair to sit through.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim - Review

We finally have a worthy popcorn flick of the summer. PACIFIC RIM can best be called the TOP GUN for the nerd generation. It has a big world to explore and anime to match up with, treating us to some interesting people and lifestyles, yet it still wants to feature some of Hollywood's usual action tropes, such as The Maverick, The Iceman, and the always popular father-son problems. There are many life or death battles between the mighty giant robots and the grotesque creatures that plague the titled region and they are all thrilling. Each of the robots have a signature weapon or move that will have your kid replicating later, which are expertly built up for tension before being unloaded with great force to a monster's abdomen. Make sure to see this at your best movie theater; the sound editing is pitch-perfect in making these blows feel and roar like thunder and lightning. The fights can be a bit too distracting to the viewer's eye, what with the unrelenting rainfall and ocean spillage or the constant jolting, shaky camera approach to the duo-pilot control room. Still, it's a very fun explosion of giant warfare and mecha destruction, hand-delivered by geek auteur Guillermo del Toro.

A portal to another dimension has turned up in the Pacific Ocean, spewing forth a motley crew of GAMERA rejects, dubbed not-so-subtly "Kaiju". The only logical defense against these soulless creatures are the "Jaegers", giant robots that can be only operated by two pilots with perfect brain synchronization. A pilot can not operate the machine solo, since the mental stress can literally kill them or cause them to "chase the rabbit", so each of the two only can use one side of their membrane. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) is one of the "rock star" pilots whose fame comes from his high kill count and excellent robot mobility, thanks in large part to his co-pilot/brother and their robot Gipsy Danger. However, despite the success of the Jaegers, the world once again begins to fall apart. The incoming invaders have learned to adapt, rising higher in the dangerous category rankings, and many of the star pilots have been vanquished in battle, including Raleigh's brother. After seven years of untold destruction, the U.N. shuts down the Jaeger program due to dwindling results. Instead, they put all of their funding into legitimately building a giant wall around the coasts that will surely not fail. Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) re-directs the remaining mech forces to Hong Kong, to establish "The Resistance" and to close the portal with one last-ditch effort. He needs Raleigh's cooperation to command the re-built Gipsy and find a suitable co-pilot candidate, possibly even Pentecost's adopted daughter Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), who also has bad memories preventing her from bonding to the machine and another partner.

As stated, the film does hit upon the usual cliches favored by Hollywood, so be ready to see a lot of shots of quiet, somber, running or cheering crowds. But the script by del Toro and Travis Beacham tends to favor world-building, dwelling or having a brief notice of topics that would come up within a monster-filled world: Despite global peace with all nations, the U.N. has become a unstable, penny-pinching bureaucracy. The rich have paid their way to now reside in comfort in the fly-over states. People still choose to live in coastal cities like Hong Kong due to major factors like a newly created religion that see the Kaiju as God's sign or the economically booming black market of Kaiju organs, livers, and even their dung. In other words, what WORLD WAR Z left out. Also, the remaining robots all come from nations that are known for boffo box office returns. The screenwriters craft such an expansive realm of characters and ideas that it does unfortunately get to be too big for a two and a quarter hour theatrical cut. Raleigh and Mako's stories take up the first half but they then get shunted to the back in the second half, where the focus resides more on the other pilots and two bumbling scientists whose on-going subplot does figure in heavily much later. This story misdirection hurts the interracial lead romance the film has playfully been building up to; the two future pilots meet cute, spend some quality time, and then call it a day, never ever getting to finally go to the prom. Expect a longer director's cut once on video.

Next to all of the big kaiju battles, the cast is highly entertaining. It's great to see Hunnam up on the big screen again. He gets to display his vast innate charm not seen since NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. Kikuchi also thankfully gets to shine the screen with her rough yet shy demeanor. Del Toro favorite Ron Pearlman has a memorable small role as a black marketer, Max Martini and Robert Kazinksy play well off each other as an Australian father/son duo, Clifton Collins Jr. turns head with his fashionable mech engineer, and the comedic stylings of Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, as a kaiju expert and a mathematician respectively, bring some much needed laughs to the picture that doesn't come from pulse checks and a Newton's cradle. In spite of all that, it is Elba who is the real star of the picture. As the Captain Okita of this rag-tag mecha group, he has the quiet charisma necessary to lead and order everyone around while also being a complete badass that would have kaiju running away in fright. His talking down speech to Raleigh about being "the fixed point, the last man standing" is incredibly magnetic.

It may not challenge the way we view the world, advance the industry in any way except for CGI effects, but PACIFIC RIM is a too good to be true blockbuster. It features a world racked with danger and universal misery yet its heroes never give up or let anything bring them down. They soldier on, seeking the world to be finally rid of these colossal pests and their ever evolving bodily weaponry. Grab a popcorn, crank up the noise, and sit back.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Monsters University - Review

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is the most soul-destroying movie Pixar has ever assembled, which says a lot considering the stinging film moments they have devised in the past to wring tears out of its patrons. I frankly really liked the movie at times, drawn into its imaginative world of creature colleges and accepting this prequel to MONSTERS, INC. that really didn't need to be told. Yet, the makers constantly wanted to ruin the fun, slopping on more misery for its lead monsters to endure and never, ever be able to overcome. This is Pixar's Death of a Salesman, proclaiming to the kids in the audience that the Little Engine may think he can but he really can't and he should stop trying. After all, he is just a little train.

Mike Wazowski (voiced again by Billy Crystal) has always wanted to be a professional "scarer", ever since he was a cute little green ball going on school field trip to the Monsters, Inc. factory. Hitting the books and devoting all of his child and teenage time to learning its practice, he is later accepted into Monsters University as a scare major. Though he is a pint-sized, nerdy outcast and mocked by others, he does not let any of that negativity affect his passion and dreams. At this higher learning, he develops a love-hate friendship with Mike Sully (returning John Goodman), a dim-witted but intimidating jock who is clearly riding on his family's name in the business. When some major setbacks cost them their future in the program, they both team up with the lowly fraternity of Oozma Kappa ("We're OK!") in order to win the Scare Games, a competition with other more popular fraternities and sororities, and succeed on their bet with the Dean of the scare school, Abigail Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren). However, bad things continue to happen and the third act sours any hope.

This is a movie that has a hard time sticking to one tone. It first engages the viewer with the life of a monster campus, showing off the colorful range of different beasts and the structure of the majors they seek to earn diplomas for. Then, the film just halts this plot so it can regurgitate REVENGE OF THE NERDS, having the slobs of Oozma Kappa face off against shallow blondes and the collar-popping male elite. Once it reaches its logical and exciting final contest in the Scare Games, the story again quickly curbs its development in order to move towards a plot line where the leads sit around wallowing in melancholy while in a dangerous environment. Though I loved the aspects of the first act the most, the makers do not create an accurate or fair college setting. For example, a couple of characters are much later expelled for their devious actions and it completely justifiable. However, there's a moment where all of the other surviving teams pull a CARRIE prank on the Oozmas, throwing paint and glitter on them to make them "cute", and then further employ cruel humiliation by plastering a picture of them all over the Quad, on a giant poster hung over a bell tower, and on t-shirts they are selling for "charity". Where is the discipline for this? Why do I have to watch the innocent suffer?

The film also kinda advocates racism, especially in the institutionalized sense. Mike is forcibly kicked out of the scare program specifically because Dean Hardscrabble judges him entirely on his exterior appearance, deeming him to be too cute to ever creep out anyone. First off, fear is entirely subjective; anything can be frightening to an individual, whether it is a bug, water, or even a Precious Moments figurine. Hell, one of my aunts literally bolts out of the room every time someone puts their own arm around the back of their neck. Secondly, if a monster's appearance is such a problem, what happened when Mike possibly had to have a personal interview for a position as a major? Did he ace that along with his extensive personal knowledge? Third, how is that Mike and his non-existent parents who are paying his way through the school are not suing the university of every dime for this intolerance? This is beyond excusable, made even worst by the fact that Mike has to and does accept his failure at being a physically monstrous candidate. Mind you even that everybody in this entire universe can be described as cute, including the old superstar scarers seen later. You wanna spoil yourself and know what are the truly scary monsters in this film? All of the human figures. Seriously, there is a gaggle of little children at the end and they were all constructed horribly, like watching dead-eyed dolls with rotten meat stapled to their animation rigs.

The voice cast is delightful, especially Joel Murray as a friendly middle-age student, but has a major problem with its leads. Mike and Sully are supposed to be 18 years old by the film's logic and their actors are clearly way too old to be playing them, most definitely in the case with Goodman. The jokes are very funny and will stick with you, the callbacks and foreshadowing are cute at best, plus you get an amusing little short film of umbrellas looking for love on a rainy and breathtakingly realistic city street. I truly wish to love this more but I morally can't give it high points. If only this film would stop with all of its unending malaise. To make this movie even more sad, it's a bit distressing that we are watching characters wishing to be scarers when as we later see in the first film that the job has a finite history and will lead to diminishing energy returns.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Ryan Davis - RIP

A shock to the video game world, Ryan Davis of Giant Bomb fame has died. He was 34 years old.

Davis, a video game journalist who started at Gamespot before leaving to co-found Giant Bomb, brought much warmth to his job. He was known for his energetic conversations on the site's weekly podcast, his hosting duties during the weekly live online shows, and his humorous touch to Quick Looks video series.

He will sorely be missed.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Walking Dead: 400 Days - VG Review

Last year's The Walking Dead video game, now dubbed Season 1 for the newly established franchise, was a major hit with critics and fans of the television show and comics. It also thankfully helped the popular niche company of Telltale Games in saving the "point and click" adventure genre. Thanks to the success, but more importantly the drive for gamers to help save the psyche of a little girl through the zombie apocalypse, Season 2 is under development. The company has thrown a bone to eagerly awaiting players with the short expansion pack/season bridge 400 Days.

The game is a non-linear jump through five different viewpoints, all of whom have a connection with a truck stop diner right off a major highway. Each story takes place at a certain number of days into the zombie outbreak and you are then given a special coda that might tie in with the future franchise installments. The real joy of the game comes from this time displacement, as things that pop up and/or appear in the background in one chapter have a connection with another. For instance, one story has its main character briefly seeing two other important leads running away just outside his window. Whether you replay the entire game, which clocks in about 90 minutes, or read online about the connections you missed, it is a game that will constantly shock and delight you. Of course, if you can't handle it, you can go through the chapters in chronologically order with a little help from guides. Those looking for allusions from season one will find one memorable location and a certain group making special encores, with the former having a creepy easter egg/achievement.

As with the first season, you often have to make crucial decisions that will affect your character, their relationships, and later their future. Those picks are then included into the famed online stats at the end of the game, which will show whether you match up with the general opinion of players. As of the time of this writing, however, all of the stats are currently glitched and have an impossible 50/50 split. Thanks to the talented writing staff, what button you chose to press will always bring grave consequences. One chapter relies solely on a callback to the infamous start of the second episode but instead has you deciding this memorable horrific fate between two people instead of one. Your choice depends on the characterization you have experienced beforehand, whether someone with a despicable reputation is truly telling the truth about his past mistakes or he deserves to be punished instead of the other individual. Shades of gray is the name of the game for this series, as allies may have a lovable warm charm but are completely unhinged or too weak to survive.

The game is of course well-made, retaining the look and feel of the first season but the comic book aesthetic has taken a noticeable dip. It earns some well-planned scares and features a pretty harrowing sequence set in a cornfield. It also knows when to have a brief break into some black comedy, such as how one decision might rely on the outcome of a certain popular social game. The voice acting is again top notch, with the best coming from the Wyatt chapter. And for five bucks, you can't go wrong.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

This Is the End - Review

I can not accurately say that THIS IS THE END is the funniest movie about the apocalypse; that acclaimed title will probably fall to the "That's Armageddon!" short from THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. But it is a riotous comedy amid the riots of people running for cover and safety from a wide range of dangers and creatures spawned by the end of days. This ultra-form of black humor is easily digestible for sensible stomaches thanks to its rich cast of comedic actors, all of whom are technically playing a version of themselves. So, when a flock of celebrities are killed off in one fell swoop or picked off one by one, you can feel at ease that this is another diabolical yet funny swipe at the vapidness of Hollywood and the dark history of Los Angeles.

Jay Baruchel flies into LAX to hang out with his best buddy Seth Rogen for the weekend. Not to keen with the pretentious nature of the city or rubbing elbows with fellow actors, Jay is dragged along to a party being held by James Franco. Though he's fine with Jay's presence, Franco clearly wants to usurp his bond to Rogen and be closer in their friendship. In other words, Franco wants Rogen to be a freak like him and leave Jay at the table of geeks. Massive disasters and unexplainable phenomenons occur, eliminating many of the glorious cameos present at the party, leaving the three plus Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride to fend for themselves. That is, if they can get off their lazy asses and come up with life-saving plans beyond making a sequel to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and deciding who gets the lone surviving Snickers bar.

The vast majority of the jokes relish on the past acting history of the main characters, most often being their famous failures. So, if you don't get the snickering at the presence of a prop from FLYBOYS, you're missing out on a lot of the material. Though this insular nature will be off-putting for many of the general audience, the film works because of the clearly seen commitment and camaraderie between the actors, as they follow the script and direction by Rogen and Evan Goldberg or improvise with distinct flair. I can't really exposit more about this film without giving away more of its surprises, from the veiled gags from the cameos to the kill order to the unexpected finale. Take a chance on it, regardless of your level of encyclopedic knowledge of the gang's history together, and you might find yourself laughing at their cruel pain.


Monday, July 1, 2013

World War Z - Review

I remember vividly the disappointment I had watching Steven Spielberg's take on THE LOST WORLD as a kid, one day after I finally finished reading the original Michael Crichton novel. Of course, nowadays I don't have a fond opinion of either, thanks to the quickly dwindling creative talent of Crichton, but that moment in the theaters always stick with me as my first taste of sloppy book adaptations to film. Now, I have the latest entry in this sour genre. WORLD WAR Z, as a movie itself, is an entertaining horror-show journey around the world. As a book adaptation, of the popular niche zombie novel by Max Brooks, however, it's at the very bottom, falling past the John Ford classic THE GRAPES OF WRATH and splatting itself right next to the "happy ending" of Roland Joffé's THE SCARLET LETTER. Sure, there are films that steer away from their literary source and become masterpieces (THE SHINING) but this film was another LOST WORLD for me, even though I will gladly watch this any day over that tripe.

Instead of a lengthy chronicle of how zombies ravaged our planet, all from different viewpoints, the film just sticks close to Brad Pitt. He plays a former UN investigator who now relishes spending time with his wife (Mireille Enos) and his two young girls, all in the same setup that started off Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD. Sitting through a complete traffic jam within Philadelphia, they eventually are forced to bolt from an invading crowd of people attacking other humans. They are technically zombies, of the running kind popularized by Danny Boyle, but they don't seek out brains and tear the flesh off of anyone. Instead, once an infected person bites a living individual, they transfer the disease into their bloodstream; literally ten seconds later, that person becomes another addition to the undead flock. So, in other words, they still continue to follow the template devised in 28 DAYS LATER. Why not just call this 28 MONTHS LATER? Anyway, Pitt and his family are later rescued by his friends in the UN. Unfortunately, Pitt needs to help them find a cure from various world sources or else his wife and kids will have to risk being sent back into the zombie wild.

Except for the minor remarks about "rabies", the only thing that comes straight from the text in perfect condition is most of the scenario involving Israel. As in the book, they are the only country who took heed to the scientific reports about a possible zombie outbreak, thanks to their "Tenth Man" policy, and began to create a walled-off civilization for themselves and those of Muslim faith who wished to return to their original homes. The big change to this scenario is its ending: Pitt and a small crew of soldiers have to deal with a rush of zombies, who figured out that they can comically make a human ladder to get over the walls. I understand this change because after all, I currently sitting through something designed for mass consumption and high popcorn sales. It's just a little sad that one of the few chances of hope in the book has been remodeled to be another depressing affair.

Despite these misgivings with the adaptation, the movie is fairly stable and entertaining to behold. It seems all of that publicity of creative differences and budgetary problems were for naught. Each major set-piece is expertly planned out, giving us a chance to breathe in the tension and frights. It's quite clever how they worked around the journalistic aspects of the book by having their original character play as our eyes and ears, being transported to several countries and overhearing other people's horror stories. Even the twists come as slick surprises, most notably a genius use of magazines and duct tape. However, though the switch from bloodthirsty creatures to bacteria-spreading, feral animals is justifiable, the lack of gore is quite perplexing, particularly when one character loses an arm.

Pitt isn't very expressive during nearly all of the trials and tribulations but he does feature a soulful presence, constantly fearful of cracking under the pressure and/or never seeing his loved ones again. Since we jump from country to country, we get to experience some small delights in the form of extras and supporting players. For instance, James Badge Dale has a brief, noteworthy role as a macho soldier watching over the quiet road to North Korea. But it is an unknown actress who really grabs the spotlight for all of its worth: Daniella Kertesz pops in as an Israeli ally to Pitt during the film's second half. Reckless and driven to fight back even after some harsh punishments, she has a quiet, deep friendship with the American stranger who pulled her from the despair.

If you are like myself, previously enamored with the fiction of Max Brooks, you'll hopefully forgive the makers for their blasphemy to the text quickly in order to sit back to enjoy the crowd-pleasing, zombie festivities. That is, of course, if you're not a zombie purist, forever rueing the day Boyle displayed the running dead on the big screen.