Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Tops of 2013 - August

THE SMURFS 2 was a bad sequel to a bad kids' movie. Not the worst I've seen but it's not a worthy ticket for "family fun". Please stay in Smurf Village next time, Sony.

GROWN UPS 2. Dear God.

EVIL DEAD was extremely and deliciously gory. Too bad it comes off the heels of The Cabin in the Woods and isn't a good remake or re-imagining of the cult horror classic.

AFTERSHOCK was a dirty, unpleasant disaster affair, ruled over by producer/writer/actor Eli Roth and his copy-pasting of Hostel.

THE HOST delivered another Stephenie Meyer failure to the big screen. Now, please tell Ronan's inner voice to shut the hell up.

BULLET TO THE HEAD was a lazy Stallone action non-starter. At least the axe fight was cool.

THE SAPPHIRES was a highly predictable crowd pleaser but it soared thanks to its music and the cast.

WE'RE THE MILLERS only had one good joke and it was a blooper.

KICK-ASS 2 was entertaining but a slight mis-step. It's a masterpiece compared to Mark Millar's comic book vision.

THE BIG WEDDING was a turgid adult comedy, where everyone is bed-hopping and have no human emotions on their faces or with each other.

EMPEROR had potential with its investigative examination of Emperor Hirohito and his involvement in WWII but the film spent more time with Matthew Fox's dopy search for a college crush.

MUD was a fine Southern drama. The performances by McConaughey and the kids were good. The boyish attitudes towards women were not.

THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES had some laughs at its own Twilight-inspired design but it eventually became queasy to stomach and fell apart at its seams.

ELYSIUM could have been a very good follow-up for Neil Bloomkamp but its political/social messages are screwed-up and had too many moments that produced eye-rolls or head-slaps.

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. Grown Ups 2

2. After Earth

3. The Hangover: Part III

4. Man of Steel

5. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

6. The Internship

7. Movie 43

8. Aftershock

9. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

10. A Good Day to Die Hard

11. Jack the Giant Slayer

12. To the Wonder

13. The Host

14. The Big Wedding

15. Beautiful Creatures

16. A Haunted House

17. The Last Exorcism Part II

18. We're the Millers

Summer 2013 Review

Wow, this year still hasn't earned or achieved a turnaround in quality.

After a largely forgettable and/or awful spring movie season, where only a few films were able to stand out, we had to suffer through a summer season filled with high-profiled disasters, whose hooks were often filled with disaster footage: Car destruction, buildings being demolished, massive body counts, cities obliterated, and heroes not giving a shit. The only film to feature all of these detracting elements yet had a laugh about it was This Is the End. The rest weren't so lucky or able to keep people from frowning and being bored.

Now, a lot of movie critics and writers have already sent in there large walls of text about this season, so I'll try to be brief as much as I can and try not to repeat their praises and detractions. It will be kinda hard considering we just when through a massive sea of disappointment for four months.

The number one winner was another Marvel film, Iron Man 3. I enjoyed the feature and all of the kinks added to the franchise by writer/director Shane Black. Still, it wasn't truly earth-shattering. I blame the limp ending where they wants us to foolishly believe that Stark hangs up his power armor. It might be a fitting end for a trilogy but not for one of the cornerstones of the massive Marvel Film Universe.

Speaking of Earth destruction, there were a lot of that, with mixed to catastrophic results. First, there was Star Trek Into Darkness, the stupidly-named sequel to the popular reboot, that spent most of the time catering to fan service and wholesale cribbing from The Dark Knight and The Wrath of Khan. Its anti-climatic ship-crashing into the main hub of Earth led to much CGI destruction, which was then seemingly wiped away in the epilogue. The same went with Man of Steel, another audience filler that had many jeer or be spurned by its "efforts" (including myself to a very high degree). Its abhorring finale had Metropolis suffering a 9/11 massacre, sucking any fun a person could have for the dreadful film. Fast & Furious 6 didn't deliver as much as the highly entertaining fifth entry but made sure to wreck a lot of property and made the hero crew look like selfish assholes at the very end. After Earth featured a rehabilitated Earth, after an unseen apocalypse, but many didn't want to see it because they were too wise to accept sitting through Will Smith's nepotistic presentation of his son as an action hero, let alone another feature from M. Night Shyamalan. World War Z was a surprise, though it stunk as an adaptation. White House Down was skipped over because everyone remembered seeing another White House-attacked film this year (Olympus Has Fallen). Pacific Rim was very good but its hard sell of giant robots didn't wow the rest of the nation, only to instead do gangbusters in China. Elysium had some promise but the sci-fi health care issues scared everyone away. Then, there was The Lone Ranger; as expected, America didn't want to see a western in this day and age and they are sick of Johnny Depp's shtick. Oh yeah, I seriously forgot about this: R.I.P.D. was D.O.A.

The comedy genre continued to sink to lower depths. The Hangover: Part III was more horrendous than the second movie. The Internship was thankfully deleted quickly since nobody wanted to sit through a Google commercial. Peeples had no one buying a ticket; the same went for Girl Most Likely. Families were either burnt out or refused to head out to see The Smurfs 2 in 3D. And finally, Grown Ups 2 was the absolute worst film of the entire season. The only films to receive praise or good business were The Heat, This Is the End, and Blue Jasmine.

Animation took a big hit. Despicable Me 2 was my best reviewed and the one and only to be thoroughly liked (though its sitcom plot bugs me). Monsters University had a better world and funnier jokes but its soul-crushing theme ruined any chance to be stellar. Pixar gave us another sequel/prequel we didn't request for and not only were they unable to make it fully work, they decided to spread melancholy all over kids' dreams. Planes, a movie previously designed for a DVD release, was able to fly-by but without much fanfare. Turbo, however, came up dead last, proving that kids don't really care to see a snail as a hero. There was also Epic; jeez, what a turd.

Not every film ended up so bad: As coined by the New York Times, it was a summer for the B-movies. The Purge, Now You See Me, the as-mentioned comedies, and The Conjuring all were widely accepted. The surprisingly low-key The Wolverine was actually fine and indie fare like Fruitvale Station and Before Midnight drew crowds.

Of my top picks back in May, I saw six in theaters (it will be seven when I check out The World's End next week). Only one of them (thankfully my first pick) ended up being stellar. Will the fall schedule and picks be different? Find out tomorrow.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bradley Cooper is Rocket Raccoon!

Breaking superhero casting news: Bradley Cooper has been selected to voice Rocket Raccoon in next year's Guardians of the Galaxy, as announced tonight by Marvel Comics. The actor was the long-rumored choice for the role.

Like last week's announcement, my opinion is brief: I really like Bradley Cooper as an actor (hence why he was my top male pick of last year). I believe James Gunn will deliver another eccentrically exciting film.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - August 2013

Some more 2013 films that have hit video:

Evil Dead

A group of friends head to a deserted cabin to support a girl's latest attempt to cold turkey her drug addiction, only to come into contact with dangerous spirits and a book made of flesh. Yet another attempt to remake a famous cult horror flick, EVIL DEAD does at least have two major features: practical effects and a lake-size amount of fake blood. I truly applaud the fine men and women who crafted all of the amazing makeup and prosthetics that is splashed on or torn off the actors. This was advertised as the "most terrifying" film this year when it should the "most macabre". However, this is certainly an old dinosaur; last year's CABIN IN THE WOODS has kindly killed off this form of horror, so it's hard to truly take the scenario seriously (doubly so considering it's a remake). Even if you forgo this thinking, you still have to sit through characters doing head-slapping, seriously stupid things, like leaving their car-keys out in the open or reading cryptic words out loud from a ghastly book, which are literally right next to a warning written in blood telling them not to do so. Worthy for a blood reel or to gross out your friends but not enough to warrant complete approval.



Three dude-bros and three chicks try to survive the chaos of Chile after an earthquake has wrecked havoc, but not until after 34 minutes of awful character building that will make you wish for all of them to be crushed by rubble at the disaster's inception. Despite being helmed by Nicolas Lopez, the film has the complete stink and auteurship of its lead actor/producer/co-writer Eli Roth. Though it might try to think it's a darker HANGOVER, especially with the Zach Galifianakis-looking "Pollo", AFTERSHOCK is just another retread of Roth's HOSTEL: men looking to fornicate and party, they enter into a non-English-speaking area, unfortunate events happen, the expected kill order of the characters is deliberately jumbled, etc. Roth then decided to add some more flavoring to the mix, that being audience-eroding material like gang rape and aborted fetuses. All of the action sequences and plot twists are painfully easy to spot, even the ones where the outcomes are excruciatingly exploitative. I hated all of the stupid protagonists, including our so-called wet blanket hero, and loathed the film's harsh treatment of women. It's just a giant miserable trek with entitled scumbags and crass horror.


The Host

Earth has been conquered in the spiritual sense; an invading alien force has implanted their virus-meets-jellyfish beings into the human bodies of nearly everyone on the planet. The newly turned Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is specially able to bond with her alien soul, later dubbed "Wanderer", and they both try to run away and meet up with the last of the human survivors, including her apocalypse-spotting uncle (William Hurt) and her former lover (Max Irons). This is an interesting sci-fi concept but it's forever marked down thanks to the YA-appreciating efforts of author Stephenie Meyer. You can tell this movie is going to be very dumb like Meyer's other works when the very first scene has the all-human Melanie jump out of a window, fall five-to-seven flights straight to the ground and somehow is not dead nor has any internal or external injuries. Writer-director Andrew Niccol is clearly trying to work with the text while crafting some beautiful imagery but it is all for naught when the attention is more focused on hunky, mumbling guys and multiple love triangles. A potential subplot involving Melanie's alien antagonist (Diane Kruger) and her own internal struggles is sadly often pushed aside for more scenes featuring the aggravating voice-over by Ronan, yelling out "No! What're you doing? Stop it!" every time "Wanderer" has the alien hots for Jake Abel's character. Ronan is a talented actress but she is wasted here, belting out whines constantly and often forgetting that Melanie is supposedly from Louisiana. Even with all of the teenage melodrama, this a blank affair slowed down to match the speed of molasses. The only exciting element was when the characters frequent a grocery literally labelled "STORE", which supplies soda because it's healthy for alien-possessed humans(?). It's a bit tolerable at times but that doesn't excuse the sheer shallowness and decrepit product.


Bullet to the Head

Sylvester Stallone's partner is murdered after they both finished up a hit for a mysterious benefactor. He teams up with D.C. detective Sung Kang, who was once partnered with Sly's target in the force, as they try to figure and snuff out the corruption plaguing New Orleans. Make no mistake, this is not a good movie, to the point of having little to no merits to talk about here. Jason Momoa, who plays the villains' head goon, is the only one willing to give a damn and relishes the attention in the well staged fire-axe duel at the finale. If you are in the mood for an old throwback to 90's action-sploitation or just like to see Stallone front-and-center again, you can give it a glance. Just don't expect anything worthwhile, which is sad to say considering Walter Hill (The Warriors, Hard Times, Extreme Prejudice) is sitting in the director's chair.


The Sapphires

Based on a stage play and a true story, four Aboriginal women in 1968, one of whom is part of the Stolen Generation, decide to work with a Soul-influenced Irish manager (Chris O'Dowd) into securing a job to sing for American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Though it's predictable, THE SAPPHIRES often soars thanks to the musical talents of its ladies, particularly Australian pop star Jessica Mauboy as Julie, the youngest and the disputed lead of the group. It also doesn't have the condescending tone of recent, popular racial films; O'Dowd often sits out of the drama once the group is assemblied, thus truly letting us hear the four's voices. Some of their stories aren't put together properly though: Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell)'s erratic behavior on tour is killed at its inception and the deep, cultural scorn between mama bear Gail (Deborah Mailman) and light-skin Kay (Shari Sebbens) is jumbled up towards its conclusion. Despite these misgivings, it's a nice blast of Australian humor and beautiful music. Probably the best feel good movie from Australia since THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT.


The Big Wedding

The biological mother of an adopted son is somehow unable to accept the 21st century and changed social morals, so he and his family must try to hide a divorce, his father's long-time girlfriend, and any other evidence from the unexpected visitor, all before his big wedding day. This is a sex farce where the sex is distressing (wanna see Robert De Niro perform cunnilingus?) and there are no laughs at all. Well, the latter may not be true because I had a brief one when I saw Katherine Heigl's always mentioned, separated husband turn out to be some poor slob. Really, there's nothing but exasperating stupidity to behold, where the foul-mouthed carpet doesn't match up the drapes of a Hallmark feature. You pretty much have to hate everyone here, whether it's their rich status, their hypocritical natures, or their willingness to shtup without thinking about anyone else's feelings. Given the people in the cast and their checkered careers, you would think everyone would be awful. The only ones for myself that greatly failed were Diane Keaton, once again refusing to act beyond her stiff facials and body, and Ben Barnes as the annoying, smartass groom. Surprisingly, De Niro seemingly tries to put some effort as the dad everyone mocks or punches yet still come back to for his advice and love. After seeing this, you'll be unable to have it annulled from your memory or your mental anguish.



You would think this is about the post-WWII efforts of a group of Allied Forces, headed by General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), as they investigate whether or not Emperor Hirohito had any involvement in Japan's war operations. It is that for awhile but the majority is instead devoted to Brigadier General Bonner Fellers' (Matthew Fox) search for his fictitious past love. This storyline is somber, in the sense of how trite it is and how it nullifies any effort done by Fox. Jones, on the other hand, is largely in a cameo role, often just declaring the cliche lines of a police captain. He has less flavor and charisma than his General character in CAPTAIN AMERICA. Suitable to keep grandpa busy from re-watching Band of Brothers for the umpteen time. Also, be ready to hear the term "war crimes" over and over again, so keep your shot glasses handy.



Two boys head to a small island to retrieve a deserted boat from a tree, only to find a mysterious stranger residing there. The man calls himself Mud and asks them to help him reunite with his lost love, while also spotting and steering clear of the police and the men looking for his whereabouts. The latest from Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER), MUD is another closeup look at a Southern area being deprived of both its cultural identity and its remaining economic hold. The main kid Ellis wishes to help someone less fortunate than even himself, since he's powerless to prevent his parents' divorce, the elimination of his father's job as a river fisherman, and his future as a "townie". Tye Sheridan, who plays Ellis, is an engaging figure and plays well off of both star Matthew McConaughey and father Ray McKinnon, who are also pretty good. The major problem with the film is its shallow moral about women, that they always be playing with a man's emotions. I know Nichols doesn't truly believe this, since he crafted a credible character with Jessica Chastain in SHELTER and with Sarah Paulson here, but it's distressing that this was included solely so Ellis can suffer the same plight as Mud. This parallel structure does lead to a few memorable scenes, especially one at a biker bar, but it feels so forced, predictable, and ultimately juvenile to accept. Despite this unnatural melancholy, the film is an appealing yarn to warm up to.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Julie Harris - RIP

Julie Harris has died. She was 87 years old.

Though she is mostly known for her extensive work in the theater, where she won five Tony Awards for her performances, she partook in several noteworthy films. Her two famous roles were Abra, the woman caught between two brothers, in Elia Kazan's adaptation of East of Eden and the psychologically fragile Nell in the legendary horror film The Haunting.

She will sorely be missed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - Review

I didn't hate THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES as much as I expected to, especially given that it's another failed TWILIGHT-"inspired" adaptation in a year filled to the brim with them. Its major saving grace is that it refreshingly likes to crack a joke amid all of the standard eye-googling, love triangles, painful angst and supernatural warfare. It doesn't always work, such as a childish clunker involving a werewolf driving a car, but when it snaps, it pops. The characters often mock their vanity and attire, undercut their menacing edge, or use pop culture as a tool to coup with the magical evils. Regardless of this crisp spin of young adult tropes, the film is still really stupid, frankly gross, and is pieced together like a baby's first painting.

New York girl Clary (Lilly Collins) is going through some type of psychotic breakdown because she keeps drawing a weird symbol instinctively, whether on paper or even in her cappuccino. She doesn't receive much help from her aloof mother (Lena Headey) or their family friend Luke (Aidan Turner). When she sees it written on a sign to a goth club one night out with her best friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), it leads her to witness an orchestrated murder by three rogues. The next day, she is followed by one of them, who introduces himself as Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and tells her that the man killed was a demon. They are the Shadowhunters, a dwindling group consisted of half-angel individuals who act as the enforcement of the mystical world hidden from the sight of the "mundane" humans. While they chat, Clary's mother tries to fight off two giant baddies searching for something called the Mortal Cup. She is risked away by them but not before forcibly inducing herself into a coma, saving herself from the wrath of their boss Valentine. In order to rescue her, Clary must partner up with her new companions into finding the Cup, unravel the secret memories locked away in her mind, and develop the otherworldly powers she was born into access with.

I'm still trying to figure what was the purpose of the Mortal Cup. It did sorta explain what it does at some point but it goes by so fast in a film that's two plus hours long. For the sake of your mental stability, just accept it as the MacGuffin it truly is, kinda like the Sorcerer's Stone in the first HARRY POTTER movie. Speaking of POTTER, that brings up the film's biggest error: everything included in here is seemingly taken from much better sources. For instance, Valentine's army is composed of demons, though they visually look and act more like wraiths. These demons can take possession of human/animal hosts and mutate their body structure into long grotesque tendrils. They can be spotted only through an unique test, here by playing music from Bach, and are dispatched at one point by a flamethrower. It seems that author Cassandra Clare and screenwriter Jessica Postigo Pasquette enjoy the works of John Carpenter.

It doesn't just end there with THE THING: Though they fight strictly using swords and knifes, the Shadowhunters wield wands around for magical spells like HARRY POTTER. Their wardrobe is benefiting for the UNDERWORLD franchise. The supernatural world is inclusive of every fantasy and horror creature yet all we get to see are vampires and werewolves. The sole exception to this world are zombies because they aren't real, kinda like Leprechauns on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And finally, this magical turmoil set all around New York City makes it feel like bad Fables fan fiction. The only thing that can in someway feel original is that the Hunters graft runes on to their pretty white skins, which grant them superhuman abilities. An interesting concept but it is hampered by the fact that it makes them all look like ugly Tattooed Man cosplayers.

Even with all of this homaging and/or cribbing, the film is a giant mess. Everyone is forced to act like a stooge or suffer from rapid mood swings just to artificially create conflict. An important and unexplained power is literally pulled straight out of nowhere. A character undergoes a heel turn because someone else takes his letter-imprinted ring and turns it upside down. Scenes and plot threads are often missing or completely unresolved; Simon is oddly taken hostage by the vampires at one point solely in order to have an action sequence. After being saved, he then finds out that he doesn't need to wear glasses anymore. That is all to be said about that apparently, even though we and Clary clearly spotted something on his skin. Worst yet, the climax leaves several people in jeopardy and we never find out what happens to them in the end because all of the focus is on Clary and Jace's tortured relationship.

Dear lord, this relationship. It seems that Cassandra Clare saw the female interest in the Edward/Bella courtship of TWILIGHT and wanted to give it an extra edge. This edge was then agreed by the book's publishers, the film's producers, the screenwriter and even the director Harald Zwart. This edge is horrifying. It's more disturbing than seeing a baby's burnt up skeleton or a werewolf pouncing and eviscerating a demon-possessed little girl in the shadows, both of which you can see in this PG-13 film. Because of this twist, CITY OF BONES now gets to join another group of films this year with the same gear-swift. Without spoiling the alike turn of events, let's just that one film involves "sukiyaki" and the other involves an octopus.

I've been railing on this film for so long that it seems it might change my grade mid-writing this review. Thankfully, I can remember the few other ingredients it had that could make it somewhat passible. The action choreography is satisfactory and can make some fights look compelling. Though he does a terrible job, director Zwart does craft some intriguing visual puzzles, with or without the use of CGI. But the most exemplary element is that it's a young adult adaptation with some gay characters whose characterization doesn't rest just on their sexuality. Godfrey Gao plays the best of these characters, as an eccentric club owner and the possible key to Clary's memories.

The rest of the cast aren't as helpful, even the heavy-hitters in the supporting staff. Lilly Collins does get to show some much needed spunk to Clary but I don't know if it's her or the director's fault for the abundance of Bella-approved mouth-agap reaction shots. She's Katherine Hepburn compared to Jace's actor; the creators wanted to cast an actor with model-like looks, only to instead hire a walking poster of a model. Jamie Campbell Bower has a statuesque face, never changing his dull surprise expression in any scenario. He's an unbearably terrible actor in the worst way. For another terrible performance but in a campy way, there is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the big heavy. He tries to Johnny Depp his role, turning the evil Valentine into a pathetic punk rocker. The only actor able to hold his own and stand out is Robert Sheehan; he has the best lines, the best personality, and plays the only character who isn't creepy, flat, angry, hammy, or grating.

As much as it tries to work, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES can not overcome its TWILIGHT trappings, nor its own horrible mistakes. Hell, you can see misgivings by just starting with the title; the film and book are named for one location that is the equivalent of a coffee break. Like the other 2013 YA failures, this proposed franchise needs to be dropped after only one attempt.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ben Affleck is the New Batman!

In late breaking news for the night, Ben Affleck has been selected to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming untitled Superman/Batman film. It has also been announced that the film will come out on July 17th, 2015.

My opinion is brief: I love Affleck as a director. As an actor, I'm not so hot. I still believe Snyder and Goyer will deliver another terrible film.

Monday, August 19, 2013

We're the Millers - Review

WE'RE THE MILLERS is yet another awful, laugh-free comedy released this year. Throw this body on top of the rest of the others. 2013 has had all of its graves set aside for comedies already filled so it must stink up the open air. Thankfully, it doesn't smell as bad as a desperate sequel, a glorified commercial, a terrible collection of shorts, and anything that besmirch the label of a spoof or a satire. Some might be more kind to it but this is just another travesty for the comedy genre.

As of the time of this writing, my two favorite films of the year excel thanks in large part to their comedic elements. However, they aren't real true blue comedies; they are both crime movies, thus Netflix, Redbox and the few remaining video stores left alive would place them under "Action". Yet, they have both feature the major lasting power of comedy in this era, in that I and others can't stop spreading their quotes into the popular culture. I love to shout out about putting my beef in that taco or the merits of the band Stryper, like the dim-wit sociopaths of PAIN & GAIN. I mock decked out areas by para-phrasing Alien's now famous "Look at my shit!" monologue in SPRING BREAKERS. This same mislabel predicament strikes the great animated film THE CROODS, which is first and fore-most judged by its overall design as an animated film before it can be fitted solely under the comedy label. The only funny live-action comedy film to break from the rotten pack spewed forth this year was THE HEAT, which delivered many laugh-out-loud moments to overcome its weak story. How can that be the one and only redeeming comedy of 2013 so far? Where have all the laughs gone?

Oh, I'm sorry to forgo this WE'RE THE MILLERS review just to lament the state of decay clearly present and ruining the film industry but it is not like the movie is anything special to talk about it. It is the same old song and dance of families not always being blood-related (seen also in the bad SMURFS 2) but with some dick jokes thrown in: Dave (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer who is robbed of his stash and his money by three punks thanks to a punch-worthy teenage doofus (Will Poulter) that lives at his apartment complex. To make good with his boss (Ed Helms), and to get some extra money, he is tasked to be a drug mule by heading down to his Mexican warehouse and bring a smidgen of his supply back across the border. In order to camouflage the misdeed, he hires the doofus, a female runaway (Emma Roberts), and a local stripper (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as a white-bread family. Maybe they will be forced to hang out with an off-duty DEA officer and his quirky clan. Maybe a rival drug kingpin will clash with them. And maybe, Aniston will strip yet not really do anything beyond a PG-13 dance. Late 80's music videos showed more skin and smutty behavior.

The tiresome gags are the usual frat behavior: Lesbian jokes are approved, a overlong and boring incest joke is approved, but anything that is gay is icky and not cool. I had nothing wrong with cast, including the far-too-qualified supporting players, but their few improvisations are too light to warrant even a pity laugh. I will say that I've essentially lied earlier because there is one moment where I did laugh. Before you can call hypocrisy, this laugh follows the CANNONBALL RUN principle, in that it went to a blooper during the ending credits. One surprise rib on a co-star, the last thing seen before the white text on black background, is the only thing to be pleasurable from this film. And that moment could of have been easily excised just to be shopped for the talk show circuit.


Kick-Ass 2 - Review

KICK-ASS 2 comes in below its predecessor; it's funny and violent but doesn't have both of those in spades like KICK-ASS. It does thankfully continue to gloss over and remove the abhorring elements of Mark Millar's original comic-book series, though a few are still creepily hinted at. The sequel has a nice look at the power of social media when dealing with "real" superheroes, how every scumbag walking the streets has a smart-phone cameraman to record their beat-down of a costumed individual or to proclaim their exploits through their Facebook page. Unfortunately, this novel idea is often hidden underneath writer-director Jeff Wadlow's cribbing of the major elements from MEAN GIRLS and THE DARK KNIGHT. Not exactly the right duo to bring in both male and female audiences nor those who enjoyed the first one.

Considering that Hit-Girl (Chloƫ Grace Moretz) is the top-tier superhero in this gritty world, she is the one who must be severely nerfed and separated from the proceedings until the end. Hit-Girl a.k.a. Mindy is now under the guardianship of a friend of her father's (Morris Chestnut), who asks her to forgo the crime-fighting antics in order to make up for her lost time as a youth. Because she promises him, and this film wants us to foolishly believe in the power of a promise, Mindy comes under the wing of the high school's queen bee (Claudia Lee) and begins to fall for a One Direction parody group (the ravishing Juicy J) and dance squad practices. Strangely on the other side of the school, David a.k.a. Kick-Ass (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) is somehow still a senior. Like Mindy, he has stopped being a crime-fighter but the plethora of people inspired by his actions has him scratching at the itch. After first teaming-up with the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity (Donald Faison), he later helps form the Justice Forever group, consisting of others who wish to seek universal peace after past injustices (the kid-mourning duo "Remembering Tommy", the gay and mask-less Insect Man) and rounded out by a born-again mafia enforcer Colonel Star and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the former Red Mist, is still lamenting how Kick-Ass killed his father in the first film. He wishes to supervise the first super villain mega-group and get his revenge on the do-gooder, all under his new guise as The Mother Fucker.

As you can tell by the last costumed name, this film is vulgar and pretty juvenile. It at least has people call out on this comic-book stupidity, such as how Chris names nearly all of his subordinates by their race (Black Death, Genghis Carnage), much to the chagrin of "his Alfred" Javier (John Leguizamo). There are even some jokes, particularly in one infamous scene, that are customary for a Adam Sandler joint but actually have that narrow moral edge where it is both harrowing and hilarious. Commenting on the film's violence is a bit harder to judge. There are times when the film fails at replicating the punkish, shaky-cam action tone from the first film. That's what happens when you remove Matthew Vaughn and replace him with the guy who did NEVER BACK DOWN. The gore is noticeable tone-downed, meaning less arm and head slicing, or is sadly clad heavily in CGI work. On the other hand, there are many brutal takedowns and well-executed violent touches, most notably a badass gauntlet match between the cops and a villainess in the suburbs.

The biggest problem with the picture is that the story is something you've seen before because it truly is. Mindy has to contend with not-Rachel McAdams and the stereotypical high-school politics before she can don a cape again and has to settle the score with something more embarrassing than being hit by a speeding bus. Meanwhile, David is sulking like Bruce Wayne, getting into debates about whether he is helping or hurting the world, and often has to watch as bad things happen all around him by a chaotic madman. If the Nolan-esque pieces somehow escaped you, like THE DARK KNIGHT, there is a huge body count when it comes to the cops. However, it one of the truly stupid moments of the film, instead of going after The Mother Fucker and his crew for this heinous carnage, the police instead just take down the vigilantes who have been helping them, which then leads to more despair and more dead cops. Why was this plot hole added to the script? Because it was in Mark Millar's book but all of things that made it make sense there is lost in the translation. Also, there's a character who, if this film was somehow under the Hays Code, would have been killed for their betrayal yet he/she is gravely given a free pass in the end.

The cast is fine though, except for Mintz-Plasse, they often aren't helped by spending too much time in the drama instead of the comedy. Moretz is at least given more time to shine as an actress, continuing her promising career into adulthood. The film's showstopper and the new breakout star from the KICK-ASS franchise is Olga Kurkulina, a Ukrainian bodybuilder who plays The Mother Fucker's tag team partner, Mother Russia. She is the one who partakes in the entertainingly gruesome suburban fight and has more menace and slow-burn charisma than Ivan Drago. She is also one of the few people to pull off a rare feat in a superhero adaptation: she is a truly fearsome individual who can make a scantily clad female outfit work. All in all, and especially considering this summer's output, KICK-ASS 2 is a fun movie where the superheroes have some nobility but know when to prevent catastrophic damage. They are there to save citizens and not annihilate New York City.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Footage of The Day the Clown Cried Has Surfaced!

For of those of you who haven't been weened on golden film lore, The Day the Clown Cried is one of the most highly anticipated films ever to not be released to the public. The film was a passion project for comedian turned director Jerry Lewis that proved to be a major death kneel for his career and the biggest source of his derision. Its plot revolves around a deadbeat clown who is captured and imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII and the film climaxes with an infamous ending, where Lewis' character leads a group of children into a concentration camp's "showers". Remember, this is supposed to be a wacky comedy from a man who didn't know the meaning of subtle.

Over the weekend, a YouTube user by the name "unclesporkums" was noticed for uploading a short making of documentary of the film. Taken from the Belgian website, where it was originally posted back on April 9, 2012(!), the video mostly consists of three gags set at a circus: a candle that refuses to light Lewis' cigarette, a paper airplane that "comically" becomes real off-screen, and a juggling act. The latter is shown raw as Lewis is constantly flummoxed by the juggling and the mis-steps of his crew. The rest of the footage shows him working behind the camera, applying his make-up, and having a soft-ball conversation about the idea of temporary music, complete with a pretentious statement of it being something passed down by Charlie Chaplin and the silent era.

This is a great find for cinephiles and may once again lead to many asking the grumpy star to finally bring the film out from the vaults.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Grown Ups 2 - Review

GROWN UPS 2 is the barrel's bottom, certainly of this year. I have seen a lot of bad comedies this year, all nearly destroying the foundations of the genre, and there are still some misfires that are currently away from my critical grasp. But it will be a very tall, tall order to match up the sheer hate levels that this film generated from my brain. I could go on and on, using SAT-approved adjectives to describe all of the negative elements but I don't have to. I'll just be brief: GROWN UPS 2 sucks, Dennis Dugan sucks, and Adam Sandler sucks.

I once railed against BATTLESHIP for having one of the worst prologues ever, where a potential relationship at a bar hangs entirely around a chicken burrito. GROWN UPS 2 has now surpassed this lowly goal. Adam Sandler wakes up one morning next to his much hotter wife Salma Hayek. I don't care if they have character names because it is never important to know nor are you expected to. He looks to his side to find an adult deer staring straight at him and chomping on the chips he left on his bedside table. Hayek is frightened by this sight and screams, which then frightens the deer on to its two back legs. The creature then urinates heavily all over Sandler. The deer runs out, enters into the bathroom on the other side of the house and pisses on their oldest son in the shower. It runs downstairs, eats some dog food until it is hypnotized by a little girl's stuffed monkey and jolts out the front door to rip it apart. You see, the front door was left open all night by said girl because she wanted animals to come in. You'll also notice that this film educates you that deers are no longer herbivores, like to walk into people-populated areas, and somehow make their way up tightly cornered stairways to confront the beings that used to scare them away. I forgot to mention that the kids say they want to ride on the animal intruding on their house and that the scene ends with Sandler high-fiving the mailman because the deer has Hayek's bra on its antlers and Hayek has big boobs, ah-hyuck, hyuck, hyuck. Just, why?

I'm now expected to go over the rest of the plot but there really is none. It begins with the last day of school for the kids and splinters into everyone having random kooky events, sometimes slathered with a brush of excretions. For instance, three of the mains try to achieve Kevin James' superhuman accomplishment of simultaneously expunging gas in three different ways. Some college frats led by a stunt-casted Taylor Kitsch arrive later solely to be young douches and be trounced by the old douches in the end, seemingly straight out of an 80's flick. Speaking of the 1980's, I hope you enjoy the third act that legitimately gives up any sense of plot, just so everyone can dress up as 80's pop culture characters and party with The J. Geils Band of all freakin' acts. Despite all of these eccentric diversions, the film never sits down and explains what happened to Rob Schneider. To no surprise, director Dennis Dugan continues his poor techniques as a creator of shits and giggles. His standard sitcom direction is bewilderingly unexplainable (what the hell was up with Chris Rock destroying a soda can?) and his blue humor is overbearingly dreadful. Dugan can't even get product placement right: K-Mart is given extensive coverage for one long sequence yet the characters treat it as the toilet it truly is.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Sandler/Dugan party without a bottomless bowl of despicable misogyny and homophobia. All of the women have to be hot and preferably young because Sandler & his crew still need to blow a load in their pants despite all being nearly 50 years old. Apparently, even though you have Penelope Cruz, Maria Bello, and Maya Rudolph by your side, a man still needs to gaze at someone else's cleavage and stroke a boner during a child's ballet recital. That isn't even the most spew-inducing moment of the film. There's a scene where an entire female yoga class stupidly follows the creepy instructions of an intruding, clearly identifiable janitor. After this, you'll wonder where the cold shower stalls are at. If anyone dares to go against the Playboy mindset and achieve a different body style, such as a recurring female body builder, they are routinely shamed as a freak and theorized to secretly have a dick. Speaking of curb-stomping LGBT ideals, the movie features the most hypocritical treatment of gay men. There's a yoga instructor who's quickly introduced as being gay, for fear of women actually getting sexual satisfaction, and he ends up being competently normal. But he is only treated as a normal person after revealing his sexuality to Sandler, in the wake of the dope threatening to hurt him if he ever tries to woo his woman. However, Sandler and his buddies needed more flaming stereotypes, so The Lonely Island cameo as the leaders of a car-washing male cheerleader troupe, all of whom love sudsy balls and automobile fornication. To take it further into utter disgust, Nick Swardson later walks around in piss-stained briefs and Boy George make-up, desperately seeking any gay white male to kiss.

Swardson is the god damn worst person, place or thing in this travesty. His character is an exact replica of his own real life: a hanger-on of Sandler, whom tolerates Swardson solely for him to be the butt of jokes. There is no pity to give to this walking debauchery of poor taste. Sandler, "shockingly", is dreadfully boring, hardly giving any energy even when he's just eating potato chips. Kevin James, an actor who has often coasted by or actually be a shining light in a movie, finally succumbs into being a pathetic shell like Sandler. Unless he was purposely sandbagging his storyline as a lying mama's boy, I'm very ashamed of his work here. At least Chris Rock and David Spade get some brittle material to munch on and crap out some embarrassing moments of sentimentality. No such luck for the other SNL players, all of which have prominently awful cameos. A couple examples include Jon Lovitz as the aforementioned, pervert janitor, Colin Quinn and Tim Meadows reprise their tiresome roles, and Cheri Oteri sinks every scene she's in as a psycho "ex-girlfriend".

I hated the child actors, practically all of them in fact. Some might say that it's mean to criticize kids in films. Well, the kids are willing to be paid handsomely for their services and be displayed on movie screens all over the world, so we have every right to destroy their acting abilities and crush their dreams. The only ones able to escape harsh punishment and are actually okay are China Anne McClain, as Rock's wallflower daughter, and Ada-Nicole Sanger, as James' daughter with the weird fashion sense for shoes. The rest are all pathetic: Frank & Morgan Gingerich's skills match up perfectly with the intelligence of their character; Sandler's two boys and Rock's son are universally bland; Kaleo Elem annoys to no end as a poop-shaking, feral baby; and Alexys Nycole Sanchez continues to spew an ear-screeching voice and refuses to say a line without smiling. There's also Kamil McFadden, who is clad heavily in terrible makeup and plays the horrible long-lost offspring of NORBIT.

Let me point something out before I end this death certificate. GROWN UPS 2 is extremely bad but it's not on the same bad level as JACK & JILL. That film literally crumbs apart in front of your eyes, with every single shot having something wrong. So Sandler and Dugan at least have that going for them, which I guess is nice. But when it comes to child actors, I will gladly tolerate a monotone boy with a hamster taped to his back than listen to Alexys Sanchez' acting.


The Smurfs 2 - Review

I don't understand why Sony has an intense hatred to have the Smurfs in their natural environment. For two films of a projected trilogy, the only truly enjoyable moments are the scenes set in Smurf Village, populated by the eccentric and eclectic blue-skinned denizens. Well, it seems I will finally get my wish with the third movie, as evident by the outcome of this entry. I just can't wait for the marketing and the beyond horrible subtitle and/or pun that they will give it. Unless of course they want to break the usual child film promotion by daring to have a poster with someone holding three fingers up; funny how they never do that for the first film, as that dream poster can then easily tell you its opinion of you as a consumer.

THE SMURFS 2 is exactly like its predecessor: a crass, mass-marketed, annoying display of "family" entertainment. Also like the first, it's able to scrap by with some good intentions and charm to avoid everlasting wrath. Its cartoonish aesthetic is too juvenile to behold and accept when in a live-action setting, hence why it should just stay as an animated feature save for the gleefully live overacting of Hank Azaria as Gargamel. But we can't have that because Europe now needs to be featured and exploited by the pathetic talents of director Raja Gosnell and the five (!) writers necessary to jot down a lowly script.

The story starts off by featuring Sitcom Plot #34: a surprise birthday party is ruined and suspended when the numbnuts running the show act like absolute jerks to the birthday girl. The girl in question is of course Smurfette, the only notable female introduced in this universe and the butt of many disturbing jokes and theories. She is heavily depressed by her friends' behavior, thinking that it has to do with her not being a real, true blue Smurf but a creation originally devised by Gargamel to wreck their prosperity. This is funny considering that in the first movie, she brings up this fact to Jayma Mays' character and is perfectly fine with it already. Anyway, plot hole aside, she is kidnapped by the goofy wizard, who still resides on Earth as a popular magician in Paris, in order for her to give up the recipe of the magic potion that turned her into a Smurf, as part of a convoluted plot to extract Smurf essence, fuel his magic wand and take over the world. He does this with the Naughties, two grey-skinned creatures he created and mistreats named Vexy and Hackus (pronounced more like Haggis, which would have lead to an easy joke). They aren't given an introduction as to where and when they came, so they just come out like an added character to a Saturday morning cartoon, i.e. a Scrappy. Papa Smurf and his B-team (Clumsy, Grumpy, and Vanity) go off to save her, get help from Neil Patrick Harris and his family, and fart jokes and bad hijinks enuse.

The plot legitimately requires everyone to be stupid. Gargamel tells his entire scheme to his cronies at the beginning, which involves the Naughties to be later used as magic donors against their will forever, and the two trolls blindly accept it. The same goes for Smurfette, who is help captive and abused by the villains yet somehow forgets that she is to be a tool for Gargamel when she is off bonding with her new siblings by trashing shops and nearly killing bystanders with a loose giant Ferris Wheel. Meanwhile, Harris and the other live actors have nothing to add to the proceedings. All of the crafty strategies they come up with are performed and solved solely by the Smurfs, thus making them useless save for one final thing that needs to be destroyed by man hands. You want to know who is more important that these actors coasting on checks? It's a brand new character intentionally added to steal the show. It is not Brendan Gleeson as NPH's crazy step-dad that is brought in to underline the family adoption angle. It also isn't his corn dog mascot puppet that looks like Mr. Hankey and sadly leads to an unbearable farting scene. No, it is the Sony Tablet. This walking product placement holds Gargamel's plan, has a nice easy-to-use display, and is seemingly unbreakable when crashing down a large flight of stairs. Truly, someone that is destined to survive in popularity.

As much as I despise and eye-roll, this dumb film somehow gets me to not hate it as much. Though the "what is a family?" subplot is cloying, it is a nice sentiment to explore and address. It certainly is helped mainly by the behavior and reactions of Papa Smurf, here helmed for the final time by the late great Jonathan Winters. I still don't like George Lopez as Grumpy but the sheer likability of John Oliver's Vanity balances it out. Katy Perry is again fine as Smurfette though she is easily trounced by Christina Ricci as Vexy, who brings more character and depth to her than the animators did. The less said about J.B. Smoove as Hackus, the better. NBH and Mays do their usual routines, not willing to compete with Azaria and Gleeson in the shameless performance games. There's also Jacob Tremblay as Blue, the young son of the main human couple. He is dreadful, talking like English is his second language and blankly ruining every scene he's in.

THE SMURFS 2 is something to tide your kid over on video. There's no real substance warranted to see it in theaters, nor in 3D. You are better off going on a nature walk, having your kids imagine where the Smurfs are hiding. You can also have a family get-together or a picnic. That way, you can deal with more heartwarming relationship issues than in here. Or, better yet, you can just watch the original animated series so you don't have to accept all of piggybacking off of ENCHANTED.