Monday, August 29, 2011

That's My Philosophy

Movies are such an important component of many people's lives, not just cinephiles. They teach us things, give us hopes and dreams, inform our personalities and sometimes they even change our world-view. That's what this new feature will focus on. What in film has altered or informed my way of thinking? Let's start with a goodin'.

"What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world."
- Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

The whole scene in which this line is uttered is pretty tremendous. Hammond and company are all sitting around a table enjoying their Chilean Sea Bass when they start discussing the merits of his accomplishment (the resurrection of dinosaurs!). Much to Hammond's dismay, his esteemed guests from the scientific community aren't too high on what he's trying to do, least of all Jeff Goldblum's chaotician character, Ian Malcolm.

Malcolm has a plethora of good lines, but the above-quoted is probably the best and ever-increasing in real-world relevance.

10 Things About Fright Night

I saw the Fright Night remake about a week back and I just haven't been able to muster the enthusiasm to write a full-fledged review. What does that say about the film? It's not all bad. The reviews I like writing most are for the movies that fall on the extreme ends of my "like" "dislike" spectrum, or for the films that either exceed or fall short of my expectations. Fright Night is an okay movie, which is pretty much what I expected, but that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say about it. So, here's 5 things I liked about the film and 5 things I didn't.

What's to like?

1. Colin Farrel. I've always thought Farrel's abilities were underappreciated because of his pretty-boy exterior. Here, he uses both to his advantage. As Jerry, the neighborhood vampire, Farrel is good at being scary and threatening while also oozing his trademark charisma and sex appeal, especially during some rather uncomfortable exchanges with Yelchin's Charley Brewster.

2. It manages to be legitimately suspenseful at times.

3. The High School Drama. Anton Yelchin doesn't really pull out any new tricks in this film. He's a talented actor, but he certainly has a style about him (the kind of trademark style that actors like Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg catch flack for) and that doesn't change here. His character is well-developed though and he actually seems like a high-schooler, instead of some 25-year-old playing a teenager. His drama with his girlfriend and his former best-friend seem more genuine this way.

4. The Showdown. While I had issues with some of the build-up, the actually showdown between Charley and Jerry is pretty exciting. The way he busts in clad in vampire-proof gear brandishing a crossbow is pretty badass.

5. Solid as a remake. Remakes are a target of derision by most serious movie-goers and are often met with intense scrutiny. This one is different enough and decent enough to (likely) not piss off too many fans of the original. My assessment: it stands on its own legs.

What not to like?

6. Christopher Mintz-Plasse. What sets Mintz-Plasse apart from his contemporaries (like Yelchin and Eisenberg) is that he actually is cast to type. He's always an annoying nerd. As a vampire, he's even more annoying.

7. Peter Vincent. The trouble here isn't Tennant, who performs just fine, it's the utilization of the character, who is hardly featured. Cliches ensue - no, he won't get involved...still won't get involved...shows up for back-up during the showdown.

8. Length. The film runs close to two hours, but it doesn't feel like it. Normally, people would site that as a good thing - in this it's not, especially considering I had some issues with the story's development. If it were a great film, I'd understand, but this left me wondering "what did they do with all that time they had?'. Some of the suspense scenes, while effective, were a tad overlong.

9. Lack of build-up. I alluded to this above and by it I mean there wasn't a sufficient lead-in to Jerry's vampire reveal. Pretty much off the bat Charley knows that Jerry is a vampire and then things go to shit. I understand that they were trying to do away with the whole "nobody believes me" cliche, but there could have been a little of that before Jerry starts tearing up the neighborhood, blowing up houses. Jerry pretty much terrorizes Charley throughout the entire film and Charley finally goes after him at the end. I would have liked to see Charley attempt to go after Jerry a few more times during the film and fail.

10. 3D. Post-conversion 3D sucks and that's no different here. The 3D blood-spattering and ash clouds were lame and distracting and there were plenty of superfluous 3D moments as well, like 3D money being thrown around in a club.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Retro Trailers: Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968 Sergio Leone):

In preparation for a piece I want to write about the Western genre, I'm posting this trailer for perhaps the greatest, most epic Western of all.

Epic story of a mysterious stranger with a harmonica who joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Now Playing - 30 Minutes or Less

30 Minutes or Less:

I don't know why this film is catching the flack that it is. Sure, it's not fantastic and it's no Zombieland (director Ruben Fleischer previous film), but it's also not unbearable and it succeeds where so many comedies fail - it's actually funny.

30 Minutes is uneven, yes, but I think that's a result of its attempt at being unique. The bulk of the film is centered on Eisenberg and Ansari's characters, but a sizable portion is also spent getting into the heads of antagonists Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. This might have seemed like an unsavory prospect to me as I'm not really a fan of either man's brand of humor, but, ultimately, they won the uphill battle and made me laugh. Their situation is so outlandish and their ideas so ill-conceived that it can't help but be funny. However, in the end, there's a definite lack of clarity as to how we should feel for the characters and this stems from the film either ending too early or too late. So, what I mean to say is: there should have either been more about these characters in the final act or less. (Supposedly there's a minor clip after the credits that I didn't stay for that might have made me feel somewhat differently)

As for the primary protagonists, Eisenberg and Ansari are solid. People like to give the former a hard time for seemingly playing the same character over the course of many films. I understand why people might think that, but I see subtleties to his performances that make each distinct. He definitely has a specific style, but he plays a character here that I haven't seen him play before. In 30 Minutes, he plays more of an aimless slacker than he ever has and does just fine at it. Ansari plays his partner in crime; the straight-man necessary to complement Eisenberg's loser character. He also performs admirably. However, this role is somewhat foreign to him as well as he's typically the odd-ball (see "Parks and Rec"s Tom Haverford). I'm not saying that I would have preferred him just reprising his "Parks and Rec" role, but it's apparent that he's funnier when allowed to cut loose a little more.

30 Minutes or Less is sometimes unnecessarily vulgar, the jokes don't always hit their mark, and the plot is a tad out there, but it's solid. Any misgivings I might have with it are severely mollified by the presence of the beloved Michael Pena. An accomplished actor in his own right, Pena also possesses a mastery of unique characters - in this case a friendly, but oft-maligned hitman. His character has some of the best lines in the film and his scene with Fred Ward is pure gold.


P.S. Those monkey masks are f'ing creepy and a nice touch.

Now Playing Movie Reviews - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I've been seeing a lot of films lately and I wasn't sure that I wanted to spend the time writing full-fledged reviews for all of them, but I just couldn't help myself with Apes.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

There are a few positive things you can say about Apes: it's probably the best film in the franchise, it's certainly better than its original series equivalent Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, there's some pretty impressive CG, and, on the overall, the film didn't suck in it's own right.

However, what sticks with me, is the incredible number of plot holes. You might say, "who cares? it's Planet of the Apes!". Well, I care, because most of the plot holes could have been avoided by better, less lazy writers. Plot holes materialize in every script, I'm sure, but the best films are the ones that find a way to either erase or work around them. Again, people will say, "it's just fun, Apes doesn't need to be a masterpiece" and I suppose they're right, but that doesn't mean that I won't lament the fact that it could have been a lot better.

I won't just list the plot issues outright because I don't want to spoil everything and, frankly, it would take too much time. I'll just say that the film begins with a whopper. Caesar, our protagonist ape, is found by Franco and a fellow scientist as an infant left behind by the test-chimp they didn't know was pregnant. How a supposedly high-profile pharmaceuticals company could run a battery of tests on an animal without once realizing it was pregnant is beyond me and a rocky way to start your film. Also - and this could just be me being scientifically ignorant - the miracle drug being administered to the apes (meant to be a cure for Alzheimer's) is repeatedly referred to as a virus. I've heard of viruses altering behavior, but the notion of one that could repair/regrow brain tissue just seems nonsensical.

Other issues with the film stem from minor things. The CG, while brilliant looking whilst portraying the more reserved motions of the Apes, looks distractingly bad when the apes perform overly complicated actions. James Franco, who I'm very high on, seems to be phoning in his performance. He claimed in a recent interview that his work on Apes was without the passion of some of his other projects and it shows.  

Apes also lacks a strong antagonist. It's not Caesar - he's our hero. Brian Cox is a seemingly apathetic ape sanctuary head and Tom Felton is his mildly sadistic son, but they're weak adversaries. One might say that animal testing, animal cruelty and human scientific conquest are the villains, but, if so, Apes fails to truly develop them. Caesar has a pretty severe shift in perspective part-way through the film and it's hard to say why. Sure, Malfoy sprays him with a hose once, that might get my blood to boil too, but if pressure hoses and superior intelligence are the only things being inflicted on him as a test animal, I'd say he's a hell of a lot more fortunate than his real life counterparts. Caesar being our protagonist, we naturally want what's best for him, which is only achievable through the utilization of human scientific endeavors, so we can't really pin the villain label on that either. So, bottom line, Apes fails to really say anything about anything in any coherent way, which isn't necessary, it's just a disappointing, missed-opportunity.

Another annoyance in the movie stems from the suggested passage of time. I hate when films slap a title at the bottom of the screen and little else to suggest the passage of time. First we get "three years later" then "five", yet the characters and the lives they appear to live remain unchained. Chronology appears to be a nuisance for the film's writers that is necessary to explain Caesar's aging, but is, in no other way, relevant to the plot.

Anyway, I suppose I've trashed the movie enough. Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar is noteworthy and there are some really good moments in the film. I particularly enjoyed Caesar's interactions with the apes at the rundown sanctuary, the bridge scene is well-visualized and the use of the window icon was a nice touch. As I said, this is light-years beyond the abysmal Tim Burton installment, I just think that, with a little more careful attention paid to certain details and developments, it could have been great.


Coming soon: 30 Minutes or Less, Fright Night, a look at Super and Sucker Punch now on dvd.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Retro Trailers: Boogie Nights

This is my favorite PT Anderson film. What a strange, peculiar epic. Features great performances by Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly and Thomas Jane.

The story of a young man's adventures in the Californian pornography industry of the 1970s and 1980s.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The 5 Worst Films of 2011 (So Far)

Everyone else seems to be doing it - even that damn wiener-kid on "Ebert at the Movies" - so why not me? Well, I actually don't see all that many bad movies, to be honest, as I can't spend money to see just anything. However, that does not mean that I haven't seen a few bad ones this year, especially with the year's early releases finally making their way to DVD.

5. Limitless

I caught this one on-demand and I can say that it wasn't really worth it. For some reason, the film received a lot of praise when it was released earlier this year, which resulted in me wanting to check it out. Not a whole lot happens in the movie, which is also full of peculiar stylistic choices that come off more amateur than unique. Cooper is decent as the main character, but he doesn't really exude the charisma that he does in his comedic roles. Ultimately, Limitless is low on thrills and exciting plot lines, but high on lazy montages and exposition.

4. Cairo 678

An overlong and poorly-acted Egyptian melodrama, which doesn't seem to follow logic or contain realistic characters. 678 has high-minded goals of challenging issues of sexual-harassment, but fails to do so, only making its female leads appear irrational.

3. Battle: Los Angeles

An incoherent rabble of military/war movie cliches and hard-to-follow battle scenes. The characters also lack any development that would make you want to cheer for them. Battle: LA is a heartless, unimaginative, dull feature that should have never seen the light of day.

2. Dragonslayer

This is a documentary that mysteriously received acclaim at festivals earlier this year despite being almost unwatchable. The subject, a hardly-passable former ex-skateboarder, has no redeemable qualities and he obviously revels in the undeserved attention him and his loser friends receive. Dragonslayer is a waste of time for anyone who comes within three feet of it.  

1. Red Riding Hood

What an embarrassment of modern filmmaking. Catherine Hardwicke proves what a worthless hack she is with this ugly, lame teen vehicle set in a fairy-tale village plagued by a murderous werewolf. Poor dialogue, poor plotting and even poorer visual effects take Red Riding Hood out of the realm of ironic-funny and into the sadly deepening pool of just plain bad.

AND, like I said, I haven't seen a lot of films that might have made this list. Here's a few potentially-bad films that I hope to catch before the year is out:

- Suckerpunch
- Straw Dogs
- Pirates 4
- Green Lantern
- Transformers 3 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Best of Comic-Con

The San Diego Comic Convention took place recently and although there wasn't anything too spectacular announced or unveiled, that doesn't mean that some exciting tidbits didn't come to light.

1. "Dexter" Season 6 Trailer:

2. Refn's Drive Trailer:

3. The Amazing Spider Man Trailer:

4. The First Official Image from Ridley Scott's Prometheus:

5. The Logo from Guillermo del Toro's Monsters vs. Robots Film - Pacific Rim:

6. "The Walking Dead" Season 2 Extended Trailer:

Here's some more things you might enjoy that weren't necessarily from Comic-Con

7. The Dark Knight Rises Trailer:


8. The Avengers Teaser:

*a shortened version of what appears after the credits of Captain America

9. John Carter Trailer:

10. Trailer for George Clooney's The Ides of March:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Retro Trailers: Gross Pointe Blank

Here's a trailer for George Armitage's 1997 film Grosse Point Blank. Armitage is a bit of a one-hit wonder, but this film is great nonetheless. I would say that it's underrated, but it got fairly good reviews so calling it underappreciated would be more accurate. Cusack and Aykroyd are both at their best and the soundtrack is one of the best compilations you're likely to find. Here's a description:

Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.