Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Tops of 2014 - July

WINTER'S TALE was an insanely dumb romance, drawing more laughs than heartbreaks. The best way to sum it up: death by penis.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a magnificent sci-fi epic, nearly perfect. Too bad the human characters were all empty husks, except for Gary Oldman.

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION was way too god damn long. However, I had an alright time with all of the explosions and action thrills.

LUCY featured a game Scarlet Johansson but writer-director Luc Besson was too busy crafting a lucid rush of 2001 imagery and questionable violence.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY was a dirty fun exploitation flick, thanks to Frank Grillo in the lead.

OPEN GRAVE was a pretty tedious horror indie, not helped by the sheer fact that the viewer can figure out the mystery in the first few minutes.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST was an unmitigated comedy disaster. Seth MacFarlane should never play the lead again.

NEIGHBORS had some problems within the story but it was often very funny. Cute baby too.

I didn't do better, 8 films compared to June's 9. Sorry.

Still didn't re-watch Under the Skin, so it stands as is until I hit my local Redbox.

Best Films of 2014

1. The Lego Movie

2. The Raid 2

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

6. Under the Skin

Worst Films of 2014

1. The Other Woman

2. A Million Ways to Die in the West

3. Heaven Is For Real

4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

5. Winter's Tale

6. The Legend of Hercules

7. I, Frankenstein

8. Son of God

9. Enemies Closer

10. Welcome to the Jungle

11. The Nut Job

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Neighbors - Review

A fraternity moves right next door to a house-owning couple (Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne) with a baby in tow. Annoyed with the rampant parties, causing them to act like real adults for a change, the two break their promise with the frat president (Zac Efron) and call the cops on them. From then on, the two families engage in a long contest of mischievousness until one either throws in the towel or is kicked off the block. NEIGHBORS is both extremely funny and purposefully sordid. It relishes having all of the characters behave very badly, solely in order to feature all of the hard partying the audience expects to take in but also use it to make a point about how the lucid lust of college life will eventually make way for reality. All of the cast do a really great job, with Rogen and Bryne bringing the bigger laughs. The two even poke fun at the popular movie stereotype of a slobbish man and hot wife. Unfortunately, there are some elements that quickly sober up the film. Whether it is the screenwriters or director Nicholas Stoller's fault, the story is wildly uneven. Many subplots don't advance and/or reach a proper conclusion, such as Rogen's distaste with his boring tech job, the bros' mission to be included into the frat's wall of fame, and the fate of a supporting character's professional future. There's also the hard stomp to the brakes mid-movie: the hostilities reach an impasse, causing both houses to stand around in quiet discomfort for awhile until Rogen and Byrne finally have the urge again to fight back. This then leads to the film's most distasteful moment; despite featuring a lot of black humor, the film kicks off Act Three with a character hinting at sexual harassment later down the line. It's supposed to show how he/she has gone way too far with this feud, while also making it clear what side the audience should be firmly behind, but the fact that the movie had to go that low is extremely disheartening. Still, NEIGHBORS is an enjoyable comedy that deserves to later be unironically celebrated in every Greek-lettered house.


A Million Ways to Die in the West - Review

Lowly sheep-farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) loses his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) after a disappointing duel, yet shortly gains a new woman friend (Charlize Theron) who teaches him how to operate a revolver and the game of jealousy. Unfortunately, she is also the wife to a legendary bandit (Liam Neeson). Calling A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST a misfire insults the usage and power of a pun, a vastly inferior form of comedy but still capable of producing a laugh. This movie is an act of terrorism. It contains a cacophonous bushel of sad souls, all screaming out a repertoire of crude/lame groaners before instantly self-imploding after every single one of them bombs on screen. Sure, that's a ridiculously extreme statement but how best can I label this ghastly sight, a picture that left myself and the rest of the paying audience utterly shell-shocked. Just review the plot description again for the first movie error; this western, which goes a full two hours (!), has the foundation of an 80's teen flick. For the first half of this travesty, we are supposed to enjoy seeing 40-year-old MacFarlane trying to woo back someone who can still pass as a teenager, only to eventually realize that there's a far more attractive and talented actress who's willing to laugh at all his awful comedy.

All of the jokes are repeated nonstop and painful to experience, from its first utterance to its 40th encore: Sarah Silverman is a dirty prostitute yet she refuses to have pre-marital sex with her boyfriend; taking a photo was weird back in the day; mustaches are funny, etc. If all else fails, ADR some poop noises, feature a pointless cameo, or switch to anti-comedy. The latter of this lot is the true deal-breaker; there is nothing more painful to sit through than having a character stand in the middle of the frame, breaking and drilling the 4th wall until it's dust, as he/she over-explains what was the joke and why you need to laugh. Nope, I will not laugh nor give you a pity clap, Mr. MacFarlane, for you have wasted my time with your disgraceful movies and helped expedite the modern acceptance of the western genre. And for the sake of everyone involved, Mr. MacFarlane, keep your day job as a voice actor; people want to hear you, not see you.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Open Grave - Review

A ragged, amnesiac man (Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a huge pit full of corpses, only able to escape with the help of a mute woman. He heads towards a cabin and meets up with several more people with no memory of their lives or of the dangerous scenario that are currently embedded into. Make no mistake, figuring out the mystery can be accomplished after the first couple of recollective clues; Hell, you can even call it once you see how many bodies are littered in the titled hole and spot what marks are on the skin. Once you solve the puzzle, you are then just sitting through this sluggish horror indie, impatiently waiting for the characters to remember everything and for more bad twist of fates to be sprung. Of course, this whole dilemma could have resolved quickly if the mentioned mute wasn't written like a mentally challenged person. She has her memories intact but she can't speak to the others, nor can see write it out unless in Kanji. But the screenwriters, Chris and Eddie Borey, seem to forget that a person can also draw images on to paper, even with a crude touch. I would have loved to see the pack getting frustrated playing Pictionary for a spell rather than all of the yelling and gun-pointing the movie instead features. I will say this though: Other than the satisfactory acting, director Gonzalo López-Gallego did an okay job for once, several years after bequeathing the abomination APOLLO 18 on us all. At least the villains aren't rock spiders this time around.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Comic-Con 2014 Recap

This weekend, the dumb sci-fi action film Lucy defeated Hercules at the box office. Many people, including myself, were unaware that Hercules is a loose adaptation of a graphic novel written by Steve Moore, until insane comic book legend Alan Moore (no relation) brought it up two weeks ago, as part of his plea for the American public to boycott the picture. A possible omen? Too hard to tell right now. Regardless, Hollywood made sure to debut a lot of their future at the San Diego Comic-Con. Oh, and gave some time and space to the comic book industry.

This is what I wrote during my recap of last year's event: DC may have stolen the thunder but it looks like a bad storm coming ahead. Well guess what happened this time around?

The biggest news-story of the entire weekend took place right during DC's Hall H panel. In the middle of the huge push for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where a test clip was shown, director Zack Snyder uploaded an image through his Twitter account, namely a photoshopped pic of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Sporting a shit brown outfit and high heels (!), the look has been decried for it just being a costume pulled out of the storage units for 300, or at least an alternate outfit for Xena. As for the brief clip, it just had both heroes standing around and brooding.

In other DC movie news, Oscar-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (Argo) has been reported to be be the lucky/unfortunate one to scribe the upcoming Justice League movie.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, the studio showed early footage and teasers for The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Josh Brolin then stormed the stage, holding the Infinity Gauntlet, flat-out confirming that he will playing Thanos, the galactic tyrant that had confused every normal viewer of The Avengers. It was also announced that Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will have James Gunn returning as director and will come out in 2017.

Ant-Man Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll's characters were made public, as Hope Pym and Darren Cross respectively. Who, you may ask? Hope is an original movie character, the daughter of Michael Douglas' Hank Pym. It's pretty obvious to everyone that this love interest for Paul Rudd's Scott Lang/Ant-Man will be the future Wasp. Darren Cross, on the other hand, is a generic evil industrialist in the Marvel Comics universe. Further complicating matters is that Cross is to be the supervillain Yellowjacket, aka one of Hank Pym's many identities, most infamously known as "The Wifebeater Outfit". But it wasn't all good news for the troubled production to spin: Amid the festivities, Patrick Wilson and two other actors left the project, largely due to the on-going changes with the troubled project's script.

Also, casting rumors were rampant, as many trades announced that Joaquin Phoenix is currently being considered to headline the Dr. Strange movie. Benedict Cumberbatch and his legion of fans were left crying.

Godzilla 2 is a go, but not till Gareth Edwards' Star Wars spin-off is in the can. To much fanfare, Big G's good ole punching buddies Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah will be popping in the sequel. To conclude the ceremony, Legendary Pictures floored everyone with the announcement of Skull Island, a new reboot of King Kong.

Mad Max: Fury Road had a strong showing, largely thanks to its gorily insane teaser trailer. Looks pretty cool.

Other movie news: Quentin Tarantino confirmed that he will be giving the green light to The Hateful Eight; Sam Raimi made waves with the video game community, announcing that he is producing the live-action film adaptation of the PS3 game The Last of Us; Guillermo Del Rio gave a sneak peek at Crimson Peak; Michael Mann showed some footage for his new film Blackhat, which will come out at the end of this year; and the title animation for Warcraft debuted (hooray?)

Once the convention closed its doors, a couple of trailers premiered online: a small teaser for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and a red-band cut of next month's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy - Review

In THE PURGE: ANARCHY, actor Frank Grillo plays The Punisher, the popular Marvel Comics vigilante. He may be credited in the end as playing "Sergeant" and sports a sweet pompadour but don't believe the hype. Writer-director James DeMonaco clearly wanted the protagonist to be Frank Castle: Sergeant has special forces training, lives in an empty apartment littered with heavy weaponry, fancies the clothing combo of a black trench coat and a bulletproof vest, pilots a battle-armored vehicle, and his vengeance is fueled by the death of a child. If DeMonaco wanted to make a test film for his version of the comic book character, all the while under the guise of being a continuation of his own baby franchise, then mission accomplished. Too bad that the nation as a whole have already struck out The Punisher after three failures on film, plus the sheer fact that Grillo is already too busy to play him, given a set role in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Crossbones.

Now that I have let my fanboy flag fly high, let's get back to dishing on this bloody affair. I seem to be one of the very, very few who was pleased with the preceding picture THE PURGE, despite its existence as an immoral bait-and-switcher. It pissed off every viewer by taking its killer premise of an annual event where crime is legal for 12 hours, and letting it recede in the background, instead giving focus to a politically tame home invasion thriller. Still, I was able to locate some morsels to feast on and walk away partially satisfied. That is, when the movie decided to pay its gaffers and the electric bill, able to finally show us what the hell is going on in the frame. Since the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series is now at death's doors, Blumhouse Productions needed to keep the money and scares flowing by any means, hence why we have this arriving into theaters. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers have given us a nice gift for a change. THE PURGE: ANARCHY is a surprisingly good follow-up, a well-made horror-actionsploitation movie that routinely bounces between being entertaining, unnerving, and eye-rolling.

Sergeant's quest to purge, aka "to unleash the beast", is but one of three main stories in this sequel. The other players running around downtown L.A. include a waitress mother, her rebel daughter (in more ways than one), and a splitsville-heading white couple. Eventually, the five of them meet up at a crucial point and spend the rest of the running time trying to survive together. Despite all of the energy given to them, it is perfectly clear that DeMonaco only cares about Grillo and his story. The four mouth-breathers following his tracks are all utterly worthless, only present to keep repeating the same lines over and over again: "Purging is bad", "The Revolution is coming", "We need to tell your sister", etc. Further showcasing their ineffectiveness, the quartet are treated as jinxes for Sergeant; whenever the script needs to implement a new threat or heighten up the tension, one of them just so happens to do something like trip and fall or shriek at the sight of a rat. Even their prologue segments have them acting like dullards, like going to the grocery store two hours before the bell rings.

With this movie, DeMonaco was given a second chance to explore the idea of "The Purge" and the world that implements it. Spoiler: not much has been added or fixed. We are still stuck in Los Angeles and everyone spends the entire time-frame killing people. Why aren't other crimes being displayed? I'm not advocating to see something heinous on screen like sexual misdeeds, though one instance sadly pops up here, but there's more rules that can be broken than just plain murder. There could be a holed-up group of hackers draining bank accounts or a flock of car-jackers brave enough to steal some expensive vehicles. Of course, including these other crimes would lose emphasis on the franchise's strict anti-gun stance. There is an additional plotline where Michael K. Williams is a Malcolm X surrogate, orchestrating a guerrilla movement to take back the nation. It's intriguing but this inclusion leaves several questions left floating in the air, such as how come freedom of speech still exists in a land re-established by absolute tyrants?

I mock these elements of the movie chiefly because, other than being easy targets, they are the standard problems featured in a B-horror movie. As a viewer, I'm supposed to forget and forgive this nonsense and just relish in the blood and dread. For the most part, that's exactly what I did and was able to have fun. Though still questionable in the story department, DeMonaco is able to design a world full of disturbing material with the camera as his medium. There are many shots and scenes where horrifying things are introduced and then whisked out of sight, leaving the audience wondering yet shaken by the dark imagery. He even makes great use of jump scares, with one shocker at the end being a marvelous cruel joke. The sound editing and mixing are both expertly put together, often fleshing out the environments or informing us of dangers lurking right around the corner. Nathan Whitehead's score is tantalizing, a disconcerting march of industrial rock. The cinematography, however, is a mixed bag, once more being handled by Jacques Jouffret. The downtown exteriors are skillfully bathed in colorful lights, brighting up or highlighting the anxiety-ridden nocturnal violence. Unfortunately, Jouffret's faulty workmanship delivers an encore, as shaky-cam and scenes set in total blackness ruin some of the festivities. The latter problem plagues the third act, nearly ruining an important war scene.

THE PURGE: ANARCHY may be deliberately sickening for some to stomach and it does maintains its less-than-stellar story framework. But I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't say that this sensually fulfilled my guilty pleasures. It's a scary, action-packed ride that I would like to keep going on till I barf twice. I must also reiterate that this movie wouldn't have been a fine product without Frank Grillo. A true blue late bloomer, the man here is an awesome ass-kicker with a soul. When not checking the corners or firing off some rounds, Grillo can easily show a range of emotions in a blink. He taps into some dangerous recesses of pain during the film's grueling moments, to the point where you might shed a lonely tear. An odd feeling to have in a movie full of Hollywood-made genocide.


Lucy - Review

A party-going American (Scarlett Johansson) residing in Taipei unexpectedly becomes a drug mule for a Korean kingpin (Choi Min-sik). She is to transport a brand new synthetic drug called CPH4, a powdered substance crafted from the same chemicals given to developing fetuses. One kick to the gut later, the packet is ripped open and inexplicably transforms her into a living super-computer, able to fully access superpowers that humans are capable of, or at least what writer-director Luc Besson thinks look cool on screen. Considering this is a movie where a person uses more than 10% of their mental capabilities, which for the record is a total crock, Lucy is somehow not smart enough to put a bullet in the antagonist's head before embarking on her global adventure. She's given a prime opportunity to do it but is forced to walk away by Besson, simply so conflict can remain in the proceedings and more police and innocent bystanders can be be viciously murdered. But Lucy herself isn't a complete saint either: In one chase scene, she causes an untold amount of casualties, as she weaves and bobs through Paris traffic willy-nilly. In other words, LUCY is the female version of MAN OF STEEL. Moral questions aside, the picture does keep moving forward thanks to Johansson's performance. She can easily draw pity in the opening scenes, while also breaking out the energetic side of her acting talent, a side that is sadly not utilized nowadays. Once she has the ability to do things like spot medical defects and read cellphone signals on windshields, Johansson perfectly becomes a dangerous humanoid, bent on collecting more drug fuel and information. Still, Johansson can't save every frame, especially when Besson implements questionable artistry like Family Guy-like cutaways, all before ending the picture with a lame, film student-level recreation of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. LUCY isn't totally worthy enough to be accessed but at least we get some brain candy, such as the rare sight of a useless male hanger-on to a female action hero.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Trailer Review - Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Dakota Johnson as Ana Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey.

Scene Pop: "Enlighten me, then."

Briggs Breakdown: 3 shots of Dornan mouth agape, too many shots of him being stern, 2 scenes of aerial thrills, a creepy family dinner table scene, and a cheeky S&M montage at the end.

Effective?: Yes. It lays out the attractiveness and chemistry between the two characters and slowly releases the darker aspects of the story, until ultimately climaxing (heh) with a rush of kink and implied nudity. The only awful element is that rancid remix of "Crazy In Love", derailing all of the titillation.

Check it Out?: I would say so, but the idea of seeing this with a huge crowd of squealing women on Valentine's Day and the opening weekend is kinda weird. If the sexiness works, you'll have a bunch of people ruining it with catcalls and other exclamations. But, on the other hand, viewing it in a sold out screening does have an forbidden aura, just like going to an adult theater except, you know, a bit more cleaner.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner - RIP

James Garner has died. He was 86 years old.

Garner was best known for his extensive work on television, where he famously played two popular title characters: the charming gambler Bret Maverick in Maverick and ordinary private investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. He also had a illustrious career in film, often playing a white knight who would sweep women off their feet, unless when complications proved too great to overcome. He took over for Rock Hudson's position as Doris Day's screwball foil in movies like The Thrill of It All, had to deal with his love for Julie Andrews' male performer in Victor Victoria, slowly make his way into Sally Field's heart in his Oscar-nominated role in Murphy's Romance, and helped start the waterworks as the narrator for The Notebook. He also continued his ways as a white hat, in films like Support Your Local Sheriff! and playing Wyatt Earp in both the western Hour of the Gun and the Hollywood comedy Sunset. He wasn't a push-over though, showing his courageous bravado and tough masculinity in films such as The Great Escape and Grand Prix.

He will be missed.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Winter's Tale - Review

WINTER'S TALE originally came out on Valentine's Day of this year, as counterprogramming to the usually flimsy romantic affairs attached to the date and to reach an audience seeking an adult-themed look at love. One can scan its movie poster in order to see its soap-boxing, as it mocks tripe like THE VOW for their heinous crime of using "a real story" to draw in flocks. Writer-director Akiva Goldsman, Warner Bros, and the rest of the makers thought mightily high of themselves, thinking they are the beacons of hope for the romance film genre. However, these foolish men and women who undertook the process of crafting this film did not once look inside the camera lens and see the giant black pan atop each frame of film. They also didn't see that their paychecks were bouncing all over the place and their buttocks were too tight to alleviate the problems. Shall I go on with a glass house metaphor as well? These people have created one of the most inaccessible monstrosities to be fathomed up for public viewing. Mock the movies of Rachel McAdams and Nicholas Sparks all you want, WINTER'S TALE; at least those are true blue love stories, not a series of insanely lucid sequences where the only heartaches are the ones being suffered by its audience.

Colin Farrell is miscast once again as a generic leading man, here appearing as Peter Lake, a thief on the run from NYC's top mob boss Pearly (Russell Crowe). How does he escape from his grasps? With a magic horse that can sprout ethereal wings, of course. Oh, and Crowe is a servant to Beelzebub himself, seeking to crush all miracles from happening in the Five Burroughs and keeping the skyline at night free of shining stars. Keep up with me, won't you? So, this pegasus-like creature plays Cupid for Peter, directing him to a dying rich woman named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). They exchange lame flirting and turgid dialogue, such as the beauty of seeing the light of objects when you are standing on Death's doormat. Pearly hates this courtship, trying with all of his might to prevent Peter from enacting his prophesied miracle involving a red-haired girl. If this means he has to headbutt Peter into the future on the Brooklyn Bridge, so be it.

Goldsman's fever dreams and repurposing of Mark Helprin's novel is never made fixed by the talented cast, largely because the polarizing screenwriter hardly gave any material to each and every one of them. He had Graham Greene, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Durand, and a very special guest star on his payroll yet they all have an average screen time of two scenes, often spouting nothing that isn't already apparent. Goldsman really loved this strategy, as the details and backgrounds of characters are barely elaborated on or detailed, in favor of more long talking scenes with the same exposition repeated over and over again: Boy loves girl; Man hates boy; People always have hope.

His failure both as a writer and director can be seen in the first five minutes of the picture, where he tries to make us believe that Farrell is somehow 21 years old. If you can't easily spot that major error, there is this recurring element that drove me into madness: Beverly is often described as suffering from the disease known as consumption, a.k.a. Tuberculosis. This term for the disease was once used because the host body would greatly experience weight loss. Unfortunately for Goldsman, this term is no longer widely known today. You can't grasp the notion of Beverly being forcibly skinny because she routinely flaunts her nude body, particularly in one moment atop a tented castle tower, squarely in the sight of Peter, who somehow climbs said structure with ease without his grappling hook. If you do understand the disease's name and connection to TB, the film dashes that away too because the only side effect shown is that the disease makes Beverly look like a walking nuclear reactor, melting snow in seconds and leaving clear hand prints on window. No blood, no coughing, nothing easier to spot.

Once the film jumps ahead in time, it collapses further into its own abyss. A newly appointed major character is introduced to Peter, yet sits on the sidelines after two short scenes with him. Eva Marie Saint pops up as a smart, working woman at the age of 108. The dialogue becomes kindergarten level ("She has cancer. The doctors said she's dying!"). Past beings reappear without any explanation. People start dying off in the strangest of ways, such as turning to ice when struck by a metal emblem. And ultimately, the final prophecy not only completely dispels the notion of this being a romance movie, but it creates multiple unexplainable questions the makers refuse to answer. This is, when it isn't making the viewer shiver in their shoes with its queasy form of a kiss.

WINTER'S TALE isn't a romantic drama, it's a future midnight movie. No beaming smile delivered by Findlay can shatter its image as a film waiting to be watched when soaked in beer or with a pipe in hand. What else would expect from a company called Weed Road Productions? Watching this movie sober is a nightmare to a person's senses, causing laughter one moment, excruciating pain the next, followed by a state of total confusion, before repeating its vicious cycle once again.