Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Planes - Review

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 Old vet Paul Newman has been replaced by Stacy Keach, goofy sidekick Larry the Cable Guy is now Brad Garrett, love interest Bonnie Hunt is Priyanka Chopra, braggadocious rival Michael Keaton is Roger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


Computer Chess - Review

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


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tom Laughlin - RIP

Tom Laughlin has died. He was 82 years old.

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

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

He will sorely be missed.

Joan Fontaine - RIP

Joan Fontaine has died. She was 96 years old.

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

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

She will sorely be missed.

Peter O'Toole - RIP

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

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

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

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

He will sorely be missed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thor: The Dark World - Review

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


Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie - Review

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


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Evidence - Review

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


Frankenstein's Army - Review

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


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trailer Review - Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

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

Scene Pop: I got nothing.

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

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

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

Trailer Review - Godzilla (2014)

Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

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

Scene Pop: What else? Godzilla's reveal.

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

Effective?: Yes.

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

R.I.P.D. - Review

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


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Paranoia - Review

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


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Trailer Review - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman!

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Europa Report - Review

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


John Dies at the End - Review

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


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paul Walker - RIP

Paul Walker has died. He was 40 years old.

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

He will sorely be missed.