Sunday, December 12, 2010

Franco, My Dear, I Just Loved 127 Hours

     For some odd reason, I always thought James Franco was one of those pussy 90210 actors that only got movie roles in terrible films because of his charming good looks. He was always a little prick in those Spiderman films, and he never really impressed me (or anyone) with his roles in films like Annapolis or Flyboys. My opinion of him changed in 2008: his portrayal of lonely pot dealer Saul Silver in Pineapple Express was both hilarious and extremely touching. He followed that up with a small but important role in the good film Milk in the same year. Then I learned even more about him, discovering that he is also a writer and painter, and he even guest stars on General Hospital occasionally as a mysterious artist named Franco. Ok, this dude actually seems pretty cool, I thought to myself. After watching 127 Hours, the true story of a carefree climber getting his arm stuck under a boulder, my erection for Franco has reached its gigantic (tiny) peak. His performance will easily be included as one of the best of 2010 and is at times funny, heart-wrenching and puke-inducing.
     127 Hours is based upon the book by Aron Ralston, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," and it chronicles a trip to the Blue John Canyon in the Utah Desert where things go terribly wrong. To get away from the sprawl, Aron bikes and climbs in the Utah canyons, taking in the never ending vistas and beautiful rock formations. Always ready for an adventure, he jumps through cracks and crevices into blue, shining pools of water dozens of feet below. He rides his bike fast and hard, jumping rocks and taking diggers onto the desert sand. At one point, he uses a boulder about the size of a dump truck tire to inch himself down a thin crevice. The boulder doesn't hold. This isn't really a spoiler if you've seen the trailers to the movie, as at least three quarters of the run time is Aron stuck under a rock. Sounds a little boring, no? No. Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, the loneliness of the situation is fascinating and never dull (unlike his jackknife when he needs to do the inevitable). He has little water, little food, and only a few other gadgets--a camera, video camera, some rope, a flashlight and a dull jackknife. Some of the film is told in hallucinations and short flashbacks, which makes you relate to Aron and the terrible conundrum that he has gotten himself into.
     The film is not great just because of Franco and the interesting story; it's also great due to the full-of-life frenetic direction by the always-reliable Danny Boyle. Whether he is filming wasted youth in Trainspotting, flesh-eating zombies in 28 Days Later, the Indian version of Who wants to be a Millionaire? in Slumdog Millionaire, or a man running out of water in 127 Hours, his direction if always full of one thing: energy. A couple of examples from 127 Hours: Aron, slowly dying of thirst, hallucinates of Coke commercials and perspiring glass bottles of liquid at a rapid pace. Aron's piss slowly bubbling up the straw of his water pack into his mouth. The realization that Aron's situation is solely his own fault, filmed with flashbacks of him not telling anyone where he was going or not returning his mom's phone call the day before. All of these clips have to be seen to be appreciated. Danny Boyle is becoming a director to rely on for at times hilarious, at times horrifying, but always entertaining film making.
     127 Hours is one of the best films of the year. I could have watched it for 127 hours. Every aspect of it comes together for the full package of movie enjoyability. There were reports of people passing out and/or vomiting during the scene that most people know is coming. Don't let that deter you from this wonderful film. It's story that celebrates the will to live, and if you're not at least a little moved, then you're not human.     (A)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Squirting Shit and Drinking Sweat: The Jackass 3-D Review

     There's a great (and pertinent to this review) scene in the 2006 Mike Judge comedy Idiocracy: upon an experiment going wrong and waking up hundreds of years in the future, one of the main characters, Joe, witnesses another man watching a television show that is extremely popular in this future day and age. A man's excited voice comes through the speakers: "Comin' up next on the Violence Channel, Ow, My Balls!" The T.V. then proceeds to show various situations in which men are getting hit in the testicles by a plethora of objects. Clearly Idiocracy is trying to show that if we continue on the path of entertainment that is currently occupying the airways, we're eventually going to become blubbering idiots that only become excited when men vomit from getting their nuts squashed. Apparently, the country didn't have to wait 500 years; last weekend, Jackass 3-D broke the all-time(!) October opening weekend box office. I loved every minute of it, and I contributed to the box office by going to two separate showings myself. Jackass 3-D, although sometimes seeming a little unoriginal by using some recycled ideas from past films and episodes, is a fun and absolutely disgusting visit with the guys that I have grown to love over the course of the past 10 years.
     Jackass started on MTV back in the year 2000, and I have watched it from the beginning (every episode and all three films). It's amazing that the main guys haven't been dismembered or killed. From the beginning, flying down the pavement in shopping carts and drinking and regurgitating goldfish, to this most recent installment, involving bull kicks to the head and jumping through the air outtake of a jet engine, danger is always extremely close and potentially deadly. Isn't that why we are watching this so-called trash? Like a massive car accident with twisted metal and glass shattering, at any moment Johnny Knoxville's skull could get crushed and Steve-O's dick could get bitten off by an alligator. However, this isn't just stupid dudes doing stupid shit. Well, yes it is, but, some of their best skits and/or routines rival any slapstick or sideshow acts. They go all the way, and that's what puts them above most people trying the same sort of things. They particularly go pretty far in gross-out comedy. It takes a very lot to disgust me, so when a film actually makes me cringe it should be considered a success.
     Jackass 3-D had a few of these cringe-worthy moments. If you don't want the film to be spoiled or you are disgusted just by reading what these guys do, then read no further. Picture a beautiful train set. The choo-choo goes around the track with well-made models of buildings and little figurines going about their business. In the middle of the town, a volcano is about to erupt. The hole widens and then explodes, only it isn't red-hot lava, but brown-hot shit. The camera pans out, and underneath the train set is a jackass crouched upside down, shooting his (probably Mexican food-induced) poo through the top of the volcano. The classic fake-out. The feces is shown in beautiful slow-motion 3-D, really using the always-becoming-more-popular filming technique to wonderful and repulsive effect. This one really got to me: the fat Jackass, Preston, gets wrapped in saran wrap and starts walking on a treadmill. Coming out of the saran wrap (right below his gigantic cottage-cheesy ass crack), is a funnel collecting all of the drippings of sweat. Steve-O collects enough for a nice sweat cocktail. Hilarity and vomiting ensue to brilliant effect. The final gross-out is the picture above. Steve-O enters an outhouse that is overflowing with solid and liquid dumpings. The potty is hooked up to an enormous bungee system, shooting him into the air at least 50 feet high and shooting him up and down at fast speeds. Imagine shit and then imagine gravity. You can imagine the outcome.
     What, exactly, is the purpose of film in general? Whether you're watching an Oscar-winning drama or a porn movie about squirters, you only want to be entertained. That's the basis for most humans entering the movie theater. Seeing these men acting like juveniles is just that. It taps into our basic human emotions in a way that most films don't bother trying to reach. They inflict pain on each other for the viewer's benefit, and you have to give them credit for that. There are simplistic sketches, such as hitting a ping pong ball with a penis and then trying to catch it in your mouth, and there are advanced and more thought out scenes, such as "Electric Avenue", in which the jackasses have to make it through a narrow corridor full of hanging stun guns and cattle prods. They have one thing in common: I couldn't take my eyes off of the large screen. Go watch the film, and then I will pose the question that Maximus posed many years ago: "Are you not entertained?"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Machete Don't Text"

     I was a pretty huge fan of the whole experience of witnessing 1997's double film Grindhouse at a theater on opening night. Two of the most interesting directors today, Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino, filled the two back-to-back films with nods to 1970's exploitation flicks while also retaining a modern feel and look. The two movies that comprised Grindhouse, Robert's Planet Terror and Quentin's Death Proof, were preceded by and separated in the middle by some unbelievably entertaining fake movie trailers created by some of the most exciting directors in horror working today (namely Edgar Wright and Eli Roth). Machete, directed by Rodriguez himself, was one of these fake trailers. I remember the trailer being hilarious and disgustingly violent, and when I heard the news that Rodriguez was making a film based off of this fake trailer, excitement set in. Unfortunately, Machete (when turned into a 102 minute film from a 3 minute preview), doesn't quite live up to the high expectations I had set for it.  While still funny and entertaining, it wasn't hilarious and amazing. It maintains it's momentum for much of the film, but slows down in the final act as something suspiciously close to boredom set into my mind. This isn't the type of film where you're expecting that to happen.
     The star of Machete is Danny Trejo. He is an extremely memorable actor, mostly due to his haggard face and weathered skin. He is an actor that is recognizable for life, due to his roles in films such as Desperado, Con Air, and From Dusk Till Dawn. He recently played a small (but memorable) part in AMC's Breaking Bad, far and away the best show on television. The story is typical for this sort of venture: a renegade Mexican Federale's family is mudered, so he roams the streets looking for work and revenge. He gets hired to kill a senator by a sketchy snaky man (played well by Lost's Jeff Fahey), but obviously things don't really go as planned. One of the problems that occurred during my viewing of the film is the amount of screen time that Danny Trejo has: for a movie titled the name of the main character, I expected way more ultra-violent killings and entertaining impalings and decapitations. This film is supposed to be over-the-top in a 1970's exploitation way--it just doesn't go over-the-top enough. Don't get me wrong: there are many interesting and original scenes (such as Machete swinging through a window by hanging onto someone's gutted-out intestines), but not enough to satiate my sick and twisted mind.
     Trejo and Fahey were great, and played their roles as well as anyone with this script could have. Even Robert De Niro and Cheech had some memorable lines. The other "actors" were (to be kind) fairly annoying. Three of the main women in the film, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsey Lohan, are clearly in this movie as future spank bank material for the male and lesbian viewers. Michelle Rodriguez might as well have ducktape covering her mouth and a sign with an arrow that points down to her stomach and barely covered clam. Jessica Alba's Braveheart-esque motivational speech near the end of the film was laughable at best and stab-a-fucking-ice-pick-into-my-ears-and-eyes at worst. Lindsey Lohan is topless most of the entire runtime, but unfortunately her split-ended and grimy-looking hair covered a big percentage of her breasts. (That's a body double in her 3-way sex scene.) Pretty much the only reason for Lindey Lohan living would be to have her completely naked in every film role that she is cast in, and that almost happens here, but not quite. Oh yeah, some girl also keeps a cell phone in her vagina. While that might seem like an original idea, I'm sure every girl has tried that since the invention of the vibrate setting.
     I feel like I am being a bit harsh, but that's only because I have my standards set so high when it comes to these types of projects. Machete was still enjoyable and fun as a whole, and a lot of these complaints don't do that much to ruin the overall fun factor. It's a sloppy, interesting ride of violence, breasts and backstabbing, while all the while hitting you over the head with some basic political ideologies about illegal immigration. However, as I stated before, the film doesn't push the boundaries far enough: instead of making fun of past exploitation flicks with more gore, more tits, and more comedy, the extreme nature of the film goes lower and lower until is comes precariously close to being as entertaining as the films it's supposed to be homaging.      (B-)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Breasts, Blood and Ball-Biting: The Piranha 3D Review

     I've been to a few films in IMAX 3D (Avatar and the last Harry Potter come to mind). When I first heard about Piranha 3D, I figured that it wouldn't come to IMAX and I'd have to see it at the second best option, Clark's Pond. As I walked into the theater through the welcome rain, I was handed a relic from the past: the red and green 3D glasses I remember from my childhood. Safe to say I was quite confused; whenever I went to an IMAX 3D film, the glasses were always clear, like a cheap pair of plastic sunglasses. As we found our way to our seats, I was mainly concerned about the color and "pop" that you would find at an IMAX 3D theater. Luckily, I was proven wrong: once the words "Please Put on your 3D Glasses" covered the screen, Piranha 3D and the preluding movie trailers became an entertaining 3D escape that transported me into a world of laughably horrible acting, multidimensional bouncing breasts, severed penises and thousands of gallons of blood.
     I went to Cancun on spring break in college. The partying scenes in this movie were what I thought it would be like. Maybe we didn't hit the correct hotspots, but my time was spent with a life-threatening sunburn, shitty food and a lot of tits that were smothered in clothing. It's a hell of a lot different in this film. Breasts are exposed just for the hell of it, and they're even played for laughs at some points, such as the girl windsurfer who lands and skids across the water (the camera is an underwater view, so all you see are her funbags flying across the top of the screen). There's even a nude underwater lesbian sex scene that was intentionally filmed with its 3D value in mind. That's not to say there isn't something for the ladies: shirtless men are everywhere and even a penis that floats right in front of your face at one point. Don't get too excited: it's severed, bloody, and a piranha burps it up.
          3D has exploded over the past year. That tends to happen when the most successful movie in the history of cinema was filmed and intended to view in 3D. It's fairly safe to say that it's already somewhat descended in terms of monetary and technical value. A lot of films are post-converted, which means that they were not filmed in 3D, just changed during the editing process. The general consensus on this method is that it sucks. This year's Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender suffered in every way from this "post-converting". However, Piranha 3D  was filmed with 3D specifically in mind, and it shows. Many images pop out of the screen, and even that color didn't seem dull like in other 3D experiences that I have witnessed.
     A film with this intended audience needs to have tons and tons of blood and gore. It also needs original deaths that entertain (and sometimes disgust). This movie has plenty of both: bodies are dispatched in new and usually funny ways. A couple of my favorites involve the slicing of a topless woman's torso and watching it slowly fall off the lower body and a girls long hair getting caught in an outboard motor prop and watching her face and head get scalped. Blood spurts everywhere as young coeds get mangled one by one. At one point, that big motherfucker Ving Rhames rips an outboard off of a small boat and uses it as a weapon against the fish. A highlight of the film, for sure. There isn't a whole lot more to say: the acting is predictably terrible, breasts and body parts fly across and through the screen, gruesome deaths are right around every corner, and the 3D actually works pretty well most of the time. That's what I call     (B)     movie fun.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


NFL season is almost upon us, which means fantasy football is already upon us. It's tough to find time to write posts about movies I watch on Netflix when I don't watch many movies in Netflix nowadays, due to the strenuous and daily management of my four fantasy football teams. However, I will do my best to continue to write about every new film that I see in theaters, and I will also write about new and exciting things that I will be watching in the future. Ultimately, I will probably write about a Netflix Instant movie now and then if it strikes my fancy. See you in cyberspace in a little while, with an (obviously) entertaining review of Piranha 3D! Until then, make sure all of you fools are dropping Sidney Rice to the waiver wire.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Review; or, My Penis Vs. The Constricting Zipper of My Pants While Watching

     I loved video games as a kid. Still do. I had a regular Nintendo back in the day, and on Christmas day 1991, I received an SNES for Christmas. It was, and still is, one of the most exciting Christmas gifts that I have ever gotten. From that day, I've owned many different systems and hundreds of different games (currently two PS3's, a 360 and a Wii). I just turned 26, and the love hasn't faded much over the years. Maybe that will change when there are some mini-Hutches running around, but hopefully not. Videogames are an entertaining way to connect with friends, play different things competitively from the comfort of your own leather chair, escape the sometimes frustrating real world for a while, and--above all--have some fun. Why all of this talk about videogames? Well, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the epitome of what a film should be like when marketed toward the videogame generation. It's combination of music, sound effects, frenetic action scenes, a loud and boisterous announcer during the fight scenes, and fun factor accelerate it to the forefront of films that are directly connected to the generation that considers Master Chief a true hero.
     Disclaimer: I have not read the Scott Pilgrim comic books. I have absolutely no clue about whether or not this is a faithful adaptation to the source material. But by going by everything that I have read, it seems like it's pretty close. Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera, in his best but still basically-more-of-the-same film role), is a 20-something in Toronto, Canada, and is a member of the band "Sex Bob-omb". He's dating a high-schooler, an Asian girl called Knives who wears cute schoolgirl outfits. Picture a pedophile or an anime-loving nerd's dream. However, a new girl comes into town and into Scott's dreams, so he decides to try and hit it off with her by using his normal pickup line, which deals with the history of Pac-Man. Dating this girl, Ramona Flowers, comes with a catch: to win her time and heart, he must defeat her seven evil exes. In this film, defeat doesn't just mean a fistfight or normal violence. In this surreal, one-third videogame, one-third comic book and one-third movie universe, Scott must defeat these seven beings in a fighting game (think Mortal Combat or Tekken)-style "Vs" mode, while using various natural and supernatural weapons. Enemies even explode into coins when the finishing blow is landed. It's great fun, videogame lover or not.
     Shaun of the Dead is my favorite comedy in the history of film. Bold statement, I know. But I feel like if there was a God, and I wished for the most perfect director to appear before me, Edgar Wright would be dropped at my feet. After Hot Fuzz, and now this, Wright is 3-for-3 on films that inspire wonder and awe. His style fits this source material perfectly. Remember all of the quick camera cuts and perfect comic timing of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz? (If the answer is no, then go add that shit to your Netflix queue or piss off.) It works beautifully in this film. The sound editing is also insane. If a film aspires to be videogame-esque, which this film certainly does, it has to nail the sound effects: and, boy, does this film hit the nail squarely on the head. From the opening Universal logo, with its 8-Bit pixelation and early arcade music, to the final frantic fight scene, it produces many "That's fucking awesome!" moments for anyone that appreciates videogames (or original film techniques in general). With all of this praise, it's easy to overlook a few of the film's minor problems. They don't take away from the overall enjoyment, but the movie does produce some cringe-worthy moments: particularly the singing and dancing of the first evil ex during the film's first surprising fight scene and a bit of the overly hip dialogue (nothing as puke-inducing as a film like Juno, though). It doesn't take away from the experience as a whole; I had a smile on my face 80% of the time.
     I had pretty high expectations of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, but I still didn't know what exactly to expect. I knew that Edgar Wright would (at the very least) make a film that's entertaining enough to watch.  However, he exceeded that easy-to-reach benchmark. It's funny, has great martial arts fighting scenes, and a charming-in-a-nerd-kind-of-way lead character. It's frenetic, romantic, and, above all, a fucking blast. Just like Shaun of the Dead was filled with nods and winks to the Zombie-film genre and Hot Fuzz was filled with nods and winks to buddy-cop action movies of the past, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a tribute to videogames of the past. A past where instead of worrying about everyday headaches such as a job or paying bills, all you had to do was defeat the evil henchmen to save the beautiful princess.     (A-)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

The Atheism Tapes 
    There are thousands upon thousands of reasons not to believe in a God, and not many good reasons to believe. Some examples: say that every person in the world lost their memory. They still remember how to read, yet they don't remember any of their beliefs or convictions. How would one former Christian (only former because they don't remember what religion they belonged to), determine that The Bible would be the word of a one true God? Why not believe in multiple Gods, like in Homer's The Odyssey? Why not believe in a Vampire God, like I'm sure all of the tween cunt Twilight books have? The answer is this: there wouldn't be one true word of God anymore. Some religious individuals would claim that a prophet would come and show them the way. Who, Glenn Beck? I heard he's going blind (very prophet-esque). Now, I wouldn't wish blindness on anyone...actually, if anyone, it might as well be Glenn Beck, so nevermind. Back to my story: new religions would be formed from other stories of all-knowing beings and supernatural happenings. What else do we cling to from thousands of years ago? A wheel was a brilliant invention. You took shits on the ground...there was no running water or toilet paper. Women were brutally raped and tortured for various reasons and beliefs. 
     Why must smart, educated people still clasp on to these ancient religious ideas? There are a few reasons: One is hope. The belief that this time on Earth isn't all there is. I can understand why someone would want to think that there is something after this life, especially if they have hit a rough patch. But maybe they would live life more fully if they realized that there is nothing after this. (How could there be?) The hope to see their dead loved ones again some day. Unfortunately, this fantasy world isn't what actually happens. This is life, don't base any decisions on what comes next, because there's a pretty good chance it's nothingness. Make the fucking best of it.
    Let's take a look at some basic reasons to not believe. There is no reason to believe in a God.  What is the point? Theistic, usually overbearing people announce that God is the one true path to salvation. Someone who isn't tainted from childhood bible class or readings or didn't have the idea driven into their head from a young age have no reason to believe in a God. It takes no effort to not believe. It's believing that requires dodging realistic scientific findings and common sense knowledge to accept that an all-powerful being put us here. Gods and true theists are supposed to be upstanding, moral people: why, then, is organized religion the cause of so much immorality? Christ, even a serial killer that wears a labia as a hat has more morals then some of the people you read about in the Bible. Not many people would follow a murderer around and worship the ground they walk on. Yet that's what millions of people do when worshiping the so-called Christian God. Another thought: think of all of the religions and Gods throughout the entire world. There's a shitload of them. Clearly they can't all be true. Obviously, all of the people who believe in something believe that their religion is the one and only true religion. The fact remains that all religions can't be true (obviously), but they sure as hell can all be false, which they all are. Believers think that their God is a perfect being, and the wonder of the creation of the human body and life itself is absolutely positively amazing! Then why the hell does life seem not-so-perfect? People get cancer and AIDS and die slow, painful deaths. Children get molested by Catholic Priest dicks. Natural Disasters claim the lives of thousands of people all of the time. If there were a God or Gods, which there are not, why would they treat the humans they created in this horrible way? Some might argue that a Priest with a tiny dick who anally rapes an 8-year-old boy is doing that act out of Free Will. Why, then, give human beings Free Will? Free Will clearly causes many problems in this world, so why not get rid of it all together right from the start of creation? Why not make human beings be able to see at night? Why not give them more protection against diseases and viruses? Human beings are not perfect creatures, just as God does not exist. 

      If you actually read all of that (and not out of pity for my blasphemous beliefs), you will enjoy this 6 part documentary that aired on the BBC entitled The Atheism Tapes. It is 6 half hour episodes of Brit Jonathan Miller interviewing various important people in philosophy and religion, and it is extremely informative and interesting now matter what you believe in, though it helps to at least question our existence. The interviews are with English Philosopher Colin McGinn, American physicist Stephen Weinberg, American playwright Arthur Miller, English Biologist Richard Dawkins, British Theologian Denys Turner, and American Philosopher Daniel Dennett. 

"Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."
- Bill Gates 


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Vikings on an Acid Trip: Valhalla Rising Review

     It's always a pleasant surprise to discover a new, talented and different filmmaker, one that challenges the way that you view films, whether that be through extremely graphic violence or dense, scary imagery. Nicolas Winding Refn is one of those filmmakers. He has already made some great films, such as the wonderful Bronsonwhich I have discussed in a previous post. Continuing his interest of diving head first into the dark nature of man, Refn's Valhalla Rising is an interesting, sometimes tough journey into a heart of darkness, culminating in a trip to an unknown land which offers emotional and physical horrors. Although the Blu-Ray cover would like to fool you, 300 this is not (thankfully). 
     Valhalla Rising takes place in 1000 AD and chronicles the journey of a mute Norse warrior called One-Eye who has supposedly supernatural strength and fighting technique. Along the way, a young boy named Are joins up with him after One-Eye kills everyone the boy knows. They meet up with a group of Christian Vikings looking for a crusade, and they sail to an unknown and disturbing land. The film is broken up into chapters, but they might as well be acts, because this film is more like a play than a movie. 

The Chapters:
1) Wrath
2) Silent Warrior
3) Men of God
4) The Holy Land
5) Hell
6) The Sacrifice

     As you can imagine by those chapter titles, this film is about the furthest from lighthearted and heartwarming as a film can be. It's very sparse on dialogue and very heavy on metaphoric, disturbing and beautiful imagery. Sometimes it's like watching a painting in motion. A lot of the speaking in the movie is filmed in a way that showcases the absolutely incredible vistas in the background (although it takes place in very different places, the entire film was shot in Scotland). I could linger on the thoughts of the visuals for paragraphs and paragraphs. It's a film that really benefits from watching in high definition, causing the backgrounds and graphic violence to really pop out of the screen (it's available for a limited time on Time Warner's HD Movies on Demand). The title of this review is "Vikings on an Acid Trip". I say this because the visuals and the accompanying music are always beautiful, sometimes disturbing, and usually quite surreal. One-Eye has visions that show flashes of things to come, always shown in a blood-red tint and horrific (in a good way) music. The difference between this movie and many others with similar stories and periods of time is simple: in other films you're watching something that takes place in another distant, scary time. In Valhalla Rising, you get dropped into this time, experiencing all of the horrors, atrocities and Hell that these men go through. Men's veins spurting, the rolling mountain backdrop, the mud, blood and shit-covered vikings coming to the realization of where their journey has taken them--these are the images that make each frame of the film a genuine work of art. Nicolas Winding Refn has cemented his status as a filmmaker to watch, assuming you want to watch something different than most of the over-marketed trash that gets thrown in front of our eyes every day.     (B+)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                       The Walking Dead
     Anyone with any intelligence about television drama knows that AMC is quickly becoming number two to HBO in relation to show quality and entertainment level. The station has the best show on T.V. right now, Breaking Bad, and one of the best shows on T.V. right now, Mad Men. Both are heading into their fourth seasons within the next year. AMC has two new shows on the horizon for this summer/fall: the intriguing Rubicon, which centers around an analyst at a national think tank who discovers that his employers may be part of a secret society that manipulates world-changing events, and The Walking Dead, which I am very excited about because it looks like one of the first worthwhile shows based on the popular zombie film genre. The zombie genre holds a special place in my heart recently. The unbelievable 28 Days Later redefined the class for a newer generation, and the amazingly written (adding the perfect jabs and homages to past "Z word" films) Shaun of the Dead is my favorite comedy in the history of my 20+ years of film watching. Could The Walking Dead become one of my favorite television shows? With the talent and interesting source material involved, it is certainly possible.
     Some old fogies would argue that a show or movie with zombies isn't worth laying their eyes on if the zombies can sprint and be nimble like a cougar on crystal meth. Luckily for both parties (the old fogies and the new, more impatient generation), these zombies are kind of the best of both worlds. Frank Darabont, the writer and director of this show (while also being the writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist [all, coincidentally, Stephen King adaptations]), states that these zombies are both: "After they eat they're a little dopey, you can walk by them...but if they're hungry you're prey, and they're very dangerous." Lethargic after a meal? Sounds realistic, like myself after getting an omelet at IHOP. The show itself is based off a black and white comic book that started back in 2003 and is still in production today. The story is centered around Rick Grimes, a small-town police officer in Kentucky, along with other family members and partners in the little village trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. I just hope that the characters know the one basic technique for killing them: by removing the head...or destroying the brain. If they don't, it could really exacerbate things for them. Entertainment this fall is looking more and more badass as the days go by. Coming in September, we have Boardwalk Empire. Coming in October, we have The Walking Dead, and we can all finally survive the zombie apocalypse from the comfort of our couches and blankets, on a week to week basis.


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Perception on Inception

     If you didn't see Inception over the opening weekend, don't read any further and go out and see it, then come back to read this review. I'll try not to give away too much, but in a film as complex and layered as this, giving away almost anything is too much.

     The year 2010 can be a depressing time for film fans: to see a film in the theater, you have to shell out upwards of $10 for a ticket ($15 for IMAX), and a lot of the time the films are unoriginal and unmotivated, plodding along with a plot that usually is predictable or pretentious. Although there are many directors that I love (and still come up with new and exciting ideas to put out there), there are three that thoroughly surprise me every time one of their babies is birthed onto the big screen. One is Tarantino (enough said there). Another is Paul Thomas Anderson, whose wonderful Magnolia and There Will Be Blood rank among my absolute favorites. And then there is British director Christopher Nolan, whom I have loved since first taking the wild backwards trip that is Memento. This past weekend's Inception is his latest (and possibly greatest) film to date. And that's saying a fucking lot. Fellow Blogger and avid film fan Mark Magee told me that some are saying that Nolan is saving Hollywood, film by film. It's impossible to disagree: Inception can be viewed two different ways: a science fiction mind bender with thrilling action sequences, or an adrenaline-fueled action movie with a thinking man's touch. Either way, it works, and it is the best time I have had at the theater in a very long time.
     Here's where things get tricky: if you ignored the spoiler warning above, I highly suggest that you skip to the last paragraph so you do not learn any of the plot points of the film. At its basic form, Inception is about dream vs. reality. Technology has advanced enough that people can enter your dreams to steal ideas from your subconscious, which ends up being a form of mind rape. There's an "extractor", a person who enters a dream to ultimately steal an idea (usually in the form a document or object found in a safe or a bank vault within the dream). There's an "architect", who gets trained to manipulate the landscape of the dream to make it easier for the extractors (sort of like a mind version of SimCity). There's also a "forger", who can switch identities inside the dream to also aid the extractors. Others help the process in different ways as well. Extractors are well trained and can generally steal the idea without much trouble. Their one last job is a bit different though. Instead of extracting an idea, they have to plant an inception. It is in this that the characters' trouble lies. Placing an idea is much harder, as the the dreamer has to believe that he/she came up with the idea themselves, which requires some precise emotional and relationship manipulation.
     By far, as we who have seen the film know, the coolest part was the layers upon layers of dreams building and crumbling within one another during the inception job. To construct this story is brilliant--to have it play so precisely and amazingly on film, with all of the dreams connecting and dissipating around the characters is insane genius. I can't think of any film in recent memory that had me so captivated emotionally while at the same time being on the edge of my seat from the non-stop roller coaster ride (aided absolutely perfectly by Hans Zimmer's haunting score that never, ever quits affecting the viewer). The weightlessness of the van corresponding to the dreamers losing their gravity, the numerous "kicks" to bring them back through the layers, the "totems" that ultimately throw the viewer off for most of the film--these are the ideas we view with exciting precision and tact.
     Inception is the best film of 2010 so far, and there's a decent chance it will be the best film of 2010 come December. Nolan has taken a calculated risk by coming up with an unknown and fairly original property and making it a big-budget blockbuster for action junkies and thinking men/women alike.  The cast is brilliant, the story is complex yet fruitful to finally understand, and the direction and cinematography are absolutely top notch. My only complaint is this: when leaving the theater, I had a sinking feeling that I wouldn't enjoy any form of entertainment this much in a long while. Ultimately, that's actually a pretty damn good feeling to have after the credits roll.     (A)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

    Can vulgarity and violence in film be considered art? First, let us define art: "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." Of course it's hard to pin down an official definition; art for one can be very different than art for another. Some believe language and the use of it can be art (I do). Listening to Joe Pesci spout off obscenities in Casino and Goodfellas or hearing the word "cunny" slip off the tongue of Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome is art. Just as there is art to be found in the violence of films like Fargo and shows like Showtime's Dexter, where Dexter Morgan creates beautiful recreations of blood spatter using red strings. Why this discussion of art, you may ask? Well, the British film Bronson, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is most definitely art at its most primal, disgusting form. The film, about the United Kingdom's most dangerous criminal/prisoner, shows us the life of a psycho who spends most of his years performing street fights and prison fights. The portrayal by Tom Hardy (who plays Bronson) is violence and vulgarity as performance art, just as Malcolm McDowell did years ago with A Clockwork Orange
     Bronson is the coolest, most entertaining film that I have witnessed on Netflix Instant Watch in a long, long time. As I have stated before, it is about a (real life) prominent criminal in the United Kingdom. He has spent 34 years of his life in prison, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement. He has moved through at least 120 different prisons. He compares prison to a hotel room; in other words, he loves it. Much of the movie is spent on the reasons he is sent to prison (robbing a post office and jewelry store), and much of it is spent inside the prison, where more than occasionally he lathers himself up so he'll be harder to grab when he tries to beat the shit out of inmates and the prison guards. (Note for the ladies: I haven't seen this much penis in a film since Shaved and Dangerous back in elementary school.) Much of the violence and vulgarity is performed in slow-mo with classical music playing over the speakers, adding a surrealist feel to the concerto of blood spurting from people's faces and the word "cunt" spewing from Bronson's mouth. The film is essentially a showcase for the unbelievable acting talent of it's lead star, Tom Hardy. The guy absolutely transformed himself into this deranged, sick, hilarious man. Compare the two pictures I have provided in this incredibly well-written blog entry. It's the same guy. He is Bronson, physically and mentally. But above all, the film surprised me, which unfortunately doesn't happen in cinema enough nowadays (a fact that better change when I watch Inception at the IMAX next weekend). It's a brutal look at a very intriguing character and a visceral film about the concept and consequences of violent behavior.  

Monday, June 14, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

When We Left Earth
     Throughout my entire life, I've always been drawn to space and stories about NASA and their missions, as I'm sure many others have. Anyone in their right mind would want to find out more about the incredible universe we live in, instead of chalking it up to some "being" that created us all (though many theists would claim that God created everything we find in the great unknown). The Discovery miniseries When We Left Earth satisfies plenty of these small curiosities. Recently, President Obama has come under significant scrutiny from scientists and astronomers due to his position (to cut the budget) on space exploration. Yet even more recently, he has countered those arguments with a few solid goals: to make asteroids and Mars a realistic destination for the future. JFK challenged Americans to reach the moon by 1961. According to the New York Times, Obama's vision is a bit different--it was a "call for private industry to innovate its way to Mars, rather than a call for a national effort to demonstrate American predominance." I can't say that I disagree: eventually, not in our lifetime or our children's lifetime or our grandchildren's lifetime, Earth will no longer be a safe and reliable home for human beings. 
     When We Left Earth is a 6-part miniseries consisting of hour long episodes about the general history of NASA and its missions. Part 1, entitled "Ordinary Superman", deals with the Space Race and the failures and successes of the Mercury program; Part 2, entitled "Friends and Rivals", deals with Project Gemini and the first American spacewalk; Part 3, entitled "Landing the Eagle", details the Apollo program with great interviews and views of the first Lunar landing; Part 4, entitled "The Explorers", deals with five other successful moon landings, including the Apollos; Part 5, entitled "The Shuttle", shows the Space Shuttle and the ill-fated Challenger mission (the video of which still gives me goosebumps no matter how many times I witness it); Part 6, entitled "A Home in Space", deals with the Hubble and the International Space Station and the failed Columbia Mission. All of the episodes are intriguing, entertaining and well worth watching. My only hope is this: in thirty years time, we will have another incredible and inspiring mini-series to view, probably titled When We Arrived, pertaining to more successful missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Splice Review, Or How to Watch Adrien Brody Bang a Freak Humanoid

     What is it about freaks that draws the attention of most any curious, self-absorbed man? Flip through the channels on any given week night and one is bound to find a show on TLC or Discovery that deals with conjoined twins connected at the cock or some 1,400 pound man suffering from retardation and a tendency to hoard. There's even a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode (well, there are many actually) that deals with freaks, including a picture book with freaky photos, John McEnroe, and the one-legged Heather Mills. It's not that most people want to make fun of them--it's about the fact of witnessing something that you don't see in the tediousness of everyday life, something that's abnormal and unknown. That's why films such as Freaks ( a 1932 film about sideshow performers [starring real people with real deformities]) become such a cultural phenomenon. It's also why Splice, the new film starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, showed up on my very wide movie radar. Splice, though, has a different type of freak: one that has advanced characteristics of many differing species. The scientifically-advanced creature in the film, named Dren, has all of the great things that make a perfect creature: lungs that can breathe underwater, wings that shoot out from the skin like a bird, a stinger as a self-defense mechanism like a scorpion, and, namely, a woman's breasts and vagina.
     The story of Splice is complex yet very simple at the same time. Two scientists (the aforementioned actors) become mildly famous by splicing together the DNA of various animals. They want to take their experiments to the next level: by using human DNA in the mix, they could create incredible breakthroughs in science and medicine. The company they work for is opposed to this idea, due to the moral and ethical boundaries that will be pushed to the limit. So they decide to conduct the experiments on their own, in secret. What they create changes their lives forever, and it deals with issues of parenthood, love, discipline and the morality of creating a brand new species that threatens to leave their controlled environment. To give away more of the plot would rob the viewer of some entertaining twists and surprises.
     This film was a big hit at the festivals lately, yet it barely made an impact to this past weekend's box office. Part of the problem is the marketing of the film. If you watch the trailer, it seems to be a Species-like horror movie about a genetically-altered creature wreaking havoc across the land. Although there are disturbing scenes of violence and medical procedures, the film should be taken as more of a Frankenstein-esque tale of a creator's love and personal moral questioning of the ethics of creating a fully-functioning human-like creature in a science lab, and then watching it discover the outside world. Should they treat their creation like a child? Like an animal? In Adrien Brody's character's case, he treats it like a lover at one point in the film. This is where Splice will polarize many of it's potential viewers. It raises the question of loving something that isn't quite human and isn't quite animal. The film's insightful about it's characters psychological motivations and the possibility that the creators are the ones that are the freaks, not the creature itself. It's creepy, it's intelligent, and it raises questions in the viewer's minds about the societal implications of working with DNA and the motivations and choices of parenthood.     (B)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                 Hard Knocks: New York Jets
     In years past, I never really cared that much about NFL football, just as I still don't give two shits about the NBA or the MLB. Only one thing sparked my interest for the 2009 season: fantasy football. Never could I have imagined the entertainment and strategy of "owning" players and managing a roster, all culminating to the precious day of the week where I would go to Church and come home to beer and NFL Sunday coverage (minus the going to Church part). Fantasy football has become an extremely popular phenomenon, and more than 27 million players set their rosters every week. According to Wikipedia, the average "owner" spends about 9 hours a week on their rosters and strategy. Last season--my first season--was the wonderful time in my life when I was unemployed and collecting money from our great government (Thanks, Obama, for the extra $25 a week); I probably spent 20 hours a week on reading articles and making minor and significant changes, not including every Sunday (and Monday nights) where I would watch football from 12 noon to 11 at night. What does this all have to do with the HBO annual series Hard Knocks, about the training camp of yearly-revolving NFL teams, you may ask? Well, my friends: come late summer, when this season's focus on the New York Jets hits our airwaves, it will mark the very beginning of my defense of the fantasy football championship.
     Hard Knocks has been airing on HBO since 2001, though I never cast my eye upon it until last season's look at the Cincinnati Bengals. It's a very entertaining show (even if you're only mildly interested in Football), as it focuses more on behind-the-scenes looks at the team during training camp. It covers preparations for the upcoming season along with an inside look at the jokes, pranks, fights and injuries that occur in such a trying time for the players. Rookies and undrafted players also play a major role: how they respond to getting cut or making the roster and the toll it takes on their family and friends. These names minght sound familiar when they have a successful game early in the season and I easily beat you to the waiver wire to fill an empty slot on my team.
     The main reason why this season will be worth watching more than any previous is because of the man in the picture to the left: morbidly obese fat blob of a man Rex Ryan--also known as the New York Jets head coach. As you can see, he is polite, shy and quite a looker. Without such sarcasm he is an asshole, very outspoken and repulsively disgusting. Grade A Entertainment, in other words. He will say what he wants and do what he wants, all for our viewing pleasure. The other cast of characters is intriguing too: Hot Dog-eating Quarterback Mark Sanchez, Wide Receiver-destroying Darrelle Revis, and Electric Slide-grooving LaDainian Tomlinson. What it do, indeed. We couldn't have asked for a more pertinent set of personalities for some must-see T.V. Coming this late summer, I'll be watching and taking mental notes. You'll want to be watching too, so you wont have to succumb to the rape and pillaging of your fantasy team, courtesy of me, on a weekly basis.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                     Boardwalk Empire
     At this point in time, if you're an avid movie channel watcher or subscriber, you have to wonder what shows can top the awesomeness of the current and past series that have blown our minds and creamed our jeans. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, Dexter, The Wire--all of these shows (and many more) have taken television to new and exciting directions that network television can't match (I'm looking at you, piece of shit Lost finale). Coming this fall, we all may have another win on our hands. Boardwalk Empire, the new show from HBO, has all of the pieces that a show needs to have to become must-see viewing for years to come: Emmy-award winning screenwriter and producer Terence Winter of The Sopranos, Check. Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, Check. An amazing character actor and all-around badass Steve Buscemi, Check. And above all, a network that generally gives shows the time and money to thrive in an era where other networks trash all-time great shows (FOX and Arrested Development), and all we see are bitch-cunts gracing the screens every night (Kate Gosselin, Oprah). I would have to call this one the epitome of a Check Mate.
     But a great show can't be a great show without a great story; this show has one. It's loosely based on a book titled "Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City". The story revolves around the dawn of Prohibition in the 1920's and the leader of the up and rising Atlantic City, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Buscemi). He's equal parts politician and gangster. He makes a name for himself by being the go-to guy for alcohol. The show will be filled with intrigue, violence, vulgarity and political back-room dealings. In other words, it has potential to be amazing entertainment.
When this fall rolls around, when the leaves are slowly changing and Sookie Stackhouse will still be annoying the shit out of me (when she's not topless), this show will hit the airwaves with plenty of press and excitement. I can't express how sick it will be to see Steve Buscemi headline an HBO show. Whether he plays a creepy little dude with violent tendencies (Fargo) or Tony Soprano's cousin Tony in the greatest show in the history of television, Steve just keeps it real, man. I hear he still rides the F-train and never thought about relocating to L.A. He still lives in the Brownstone home off Seventh Ave. that he has for many years. In October, I'll be keeping it real, too, watching with wide eyes and a (small) boner as I change the channel to HBO and get transported to a new time, a new place, and an exciting story that will satisfy my viewing pleasure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why I'll Be Glad When Lost Is Over

     (This post spoils the show up to Sunday's series finale)

     I had never seen an episode of the acclaimed ABC series Lost until about 8 months ago when Seasons 1-4 popped up onto the instant watch of my Netflix queue. Obviously, I had heard many many things about the show, none of which made any sense to me when casually reading an article or hearing it being talked about on various media outlets. There are polar bears on a tropical deserted island? There is a crazy dude that lives in a hatch and has to push a set of seemingly arbitrary numbers to keep the world from being destroyed? These things, when hearing a conversation here and reading a snippet there, sounded like utter major network television bullshit. I'm not going to say I was completely wrong; however, as a whole, Lost has restored a little bit of interest in my heart to give certain shows a chance--namely, series on network television that typically don't even compare to the amazing shows on HBO, Showtime and AMC. It's been an entertaining ride to say the least. What more can one ask for in a television show? Lost ends this Sunday night. For various reasons, I'll be glad when the credits roll for the final time.
     Long ago, back in the late summer of 2009, the glory days of my receiving money for free from the government and when Avatar hadn't even been released yet (!), I watched the first couple of seasons of Lost. Things were so simple back then: a plane crashes, there were a number of survivors we got to know like long-lost friends, and there were only two major threats that were unexplainable: the "monster" and the others. Boy, have things changed. The show clearly would have benefited from explaining at least some of its existing mysteries instead of creating new, more complex ones. Throughout the show's 6 seasons, we have the hatch, the numbers, the Dharma Initiative, numerous new groups trying to save or destroy the island (such as the freighter filled with mercenaries, led by the built-like-a-brick-shithouse Martin Keamy), time travel, flash forwards, flash backs and flash sideways, not to mention Jacob and the Man In Black (Now better known as MIB, The Smoke Monster, Smokey, Fake Locke, Flock, and The Locke Monster). I'm not trying to say new, potentially exciting and show-changing plots and characters are a bad thing. I am saying that most of things could have either been explained better or not been brought into the show at all. The only answers the writers ever give us are questioning confused looks and statements from the major characters. I'm not an incompetent half-tard viewer: I don't need everything laid out on a silver platter and explained to me. However, I would like a few questions answered better than Jacob saying, "That's just the way it is," and Hurley saying, "Whoa, dude," like a morbidly obese fat fuck version of Keanu Reeves.
     Speaking of Hurley, never have I watched a whole entire series run of a show while hating the main characters with such an unrelenting passion. Hurley is so fat and repulsive that if you asked him to haul ass he'd have to make 3 trips. Sun and Jin, well let's just say that I cried from tears of joy when they drowned together in the exploded sub. Jack and Kate I'm more indifferent about. I could take them or leave them. Jack, being the adorable doctor that he is, always needs to fix things: well how about he fixes the erection I just "lost" from witnessing his horrible chemistry with Kate and his nervous tics when he gets upset. The only part of season 6 worth watching other than Ilana's luscious titties is Terry O'Quinn's amazing portrait of Locke and Un-Locke, and Desmond being the normal cool cat as he always is.
     But I digress, after re-reading everything that I just wrote, it sure sounds like I'm bitching a lot more than I'm enjoying myself. And maybe that is the case. But: even after all of these crazy things have happened in the life of the show, it's still enjoyable for me to watch. I've invested too much time to just give up now. I can say with a certain degree of assuredness that Season 6 will go down as the worst in the history of Lost. And that's  okay. The writers have taken a risk, and some would say taking the risk at this stage in the game is more important than if the risk was ultimately successful. I may miss the absolute ruthlessness of Ben Linus, just as I'll miss Sawyer's womanizin' and general bad taste. However, come Sunday at 11:30 pm, I'll be glad when Lost is over.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Robin Hood Review, Or How I Wish I Was Watching Braveheart for the 17th Time

     Spoiler Alert: this film ends with the statement "And so the Legend begins..." It's fairly easy to ascertain from that sentence that the 140- minute film before it contains nothing about the true legend of Robin Hood. There is no stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. His band of outlaws are not given much screen time, and one could hardly call them "Merry" (except when they are tying one on from Friar Tuck's Bee Mead). I just watched the film last night, and I doubt that I could pick the Sheriff of Nottingham out of a police lineup, due to how little we see him. No, this film is like a Mad Lib of plot points, stylistic medieval flashes of battle, and pick-and-choose ideas from the recent plethora of origin stories in films recently. For example: how many motherfucking times do we have to see thousands of arrows casting shadows over the ground and whizzing through the air as they are launched towards their prospective targets? Apparently, at least according to director Ridley Scott, these scenes are not tired and cliche anymore. I beg to differ: like the arrows that barely miss the throats of Robin's enemies, Robin Hood the film significantly misses the mark.
     Numerous versions of Robin Hood's lore have graced our television and theater screens since the invention of television and theater screens: the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, the 1973 animated Robin Hood created by Disney, 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and 1993's Robin Hood: Men in Tights (both of which hold a place in my heart for introducing me to the story of Robin From the Hood).  Now we have this, 2010's Robin Hood, starring the always-game-for-medieval-warfare Russell Crowe and directed by the always-game-for-killing-horses-and-beating-their-dead-bodies-relentlessly Ridley Scott. Articles and advance reviews state that you wouldn't even know that this film was based on Robin Hood if it wasn't for the names and very loosely based on the legend plot. I cannot disagree: it's a PG-13 version of Gladiator with archery and more talking and less action; it's a PG-13 version of Braveheart with less heart and less blood. Above all, it's just not that fun, something that should have been the first box that was checked off when discussions of a 2010 version of Robin Hood began.
In the past decade, something has changed in film studio's and film maker's minds: they have gotten a large boner when thinking about taking a cherished, established character and telling the story of their origin, or how they became the legend that we know and love today. It's the modern day full-runtime film version of a flashback scene. Batman Begins and Casino Royale did this experiment with much success, rejuvenating old franchises with new talent on the sets and in the director chairs. Hannibal Rising and X-Men Origins: Wolverine appeared with less success, and a question was asked (at least in my mind): Is. This. Necessary? In the case of this version of Robin Hood, that answer is a definitive "No". I don't care what Robin Hood did to become Robin Hood if the actions of what he did to become the legend are not as entertaining as the legend itself. This is the paradox when examining origin stories: if we enjoy the man (or woman) as we know and love today, shouldn't we care about what that man (or woman) did to become the character that we know and love? Particularly since the actions of this character in the past directly shape the actions that the character performs in the present day. It's really just one big crapshoot when it comes to this type of film making. I cared when it came to Christian Bale's portrayal of Batman, just as I cared when it came to Daniel Craig's portrayal of 007. I didn't care when it came to Russell Crowe's portrayal of Robin Hood. There's nothing new here. Nothing exciting. Robin Hood 2010 is a gritty, tough slog through the bullet points of Robin's time before becoming the legend. The real film for this story begins just as the credits end.     (C-)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

     Back in the year of 1997, when my mind was the tender sponge of any pubescent 13-year-old boy, blue dresses were getting stained with semen in the oval office, and scientists in Scotland were cloning sheep and naming them "Dolly", I watched a film that shaped my brain in relation to horror and sci-fi movies. That film was titled Event Horizon. Its plot dealt with an abandoned spacecraft that had--come to find out during the horrific scenes of the film--literally gone to Hell and back. It was and still is scary, tense and disgustingly violent. It was and still is the benchmark for which I interpret films that fall into this entertaining genre. Pandorum, which I saw in theaters late last summer, is a worthy successor in this niche of filmmaking. Although it's not a film that one would see due to it's originality, Pandorum is a melting pot of great aspects of movies such as the aforementioned Event Horizon, The Descent, and Aliens.
     Pandorum is a sickness, at least in the world in which this film takes place. The effects of it develop after long periods of hyper-sleep (which obviously all of the crew members just awoke from). The symptoms: paranoia, hallucinations and homicidal tendencies (sounds like some good weed if it wasn't for the paranoia). Two crew members awake from the deep sleep with no memory of who they are, what they are doing, and what the fate is of the 60,000 people on board of their spacecraft. What follows next is claustrophobia, fights with hellacious humanoid creatures, and the story of the ship slowly spinning into their grasp. Carrying most of the workload of finding out the tale of the ship through truth and lies is the actor Ben Foster, who is becoming one of my new favorites after witnessing his amazing diversity in the show Six Feet Under and the films 3:10 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night. Although I'm not sure how much I dig the ending, and although the general critical consensus for the film may be a bit off-putting for the general public, if you're a fan of sci-fi (and sci-fi horror in particular), then Pandorum is a scary, satisfying slope to navigate through from the comfort of your pitch-black living room.

30% on Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Stark Show: An Iron Man 2 Review

      I entered the theater to see the first Iron Man film with no expectations whatsoever; I was tired of the same old shit, particularly the putridly vomit-inducing 139 minutes that calls itself Spiderman 3. (The moment that you see Tobey Maguire becoming "emo" and dancing like a douche is the moment that your franchise just jumped the shark.) After watching Robert Downey Jr. play the part so perfectly and witnessing Jeff Bridges having fun with a villainous comic book character role, I was very pleasantly surprised. My thoughts echoed the same sentiments after watching Iron Man 2. Like the first film in many ways, the film succeeds on two levels: Firstly, Robert Downey Jr. is the embodiment of Tony Stark (more so than any other actor). His cockiness, humor and redemption shine through and echo a lot of the stories from his personal life over the past year.  Secondly, the film's villain(s) are played by very interesting, very great actors that portray badasses in new and exciting ways.
     Iron Man 2 really works when Robert Downey Jr. is portraying Tony Stark. It works significantly less when Tony Stark slips into his suit to become Iron Man. You would think that in a movie like this, the action set pieces involving Iron Man would be exciting and wonderful; however, Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark with such a pleasurable wink to the "Phoenix Metaphor" of his own life that his scenes without the suit play much better. Like Tony Stark, at one time in his life he loved alcohol with an insatiable thirst, he was addicted to banging hot ho's, and he loved being the center of attention. Unlike Tony Stark, he drank and drugged himself into a stupor and fell asleep in a neighbors bed, thinking it was his own. That fact has absolutely nothing to do with the Iron Man films, but it just goes to show how he is the fucking man. Anyway: Tony Stark is at the top of media attention and the world--just as Downey Jr. is riding high on the 133 Million Dollar opening weekend of Iron Man 2. (On a side note, that briefcase that turns into the Iron Man suit did induce a changing of my underwear.) 
     Mickey Rourke, with his wonderful turn in The Wrestler, is another "risen from the ashes" actor who was a perfect choice to play one of the two villains in Iron Man 2. We all know that the villain in a comic book film is nearly (if not more) as important as the hero. Rourke plays the bad guy with a gruff nonchalance and natural Russian accent that makes him a pleasure to watch. He has a penchant for birds and ruining Stark Industries. His first major scene with Tony Stark, the scene that has played out in the trailers involving his electric whips during an Indy Car race, is exciting even though the outcome is inevitable. He truly is a badass, and you just don't fuck with a badass's bird. Sam Rockwell's turn, on the other hand, is a villain with his rhetoric instead of his strength. He plays Justin Hammer, a man in direct competition of Tony Stark. He's like Tony only meaner and more insecure, a dangerous combination. 

     To give more away would rob the viewer of the pleasure of watching these actors play off of each other throughout the film. Numerous people are complaining that this film has too many characters, too many plot lines, and not enough romance. Not enough romance? Between who? Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow)? If I see Gwyneth Paltrow in another film in 20 years that will be too soon.  She's mean enough to kick a pitbull off of a meat wagon.  Fuck her. ScarJo, as those who know her more personally call her (and by personally I mean masturbating to a grainy picture of her sideboob from Mr. Skin) would be the only female where more romance would make sense. Who doesn't want to look at her? Overall, the film is an entertaining summer blockbuster (not without its faults) that flies by quickly and doesn't overstay it's welcome in its 2 hour runtime. What more can we ask for from the tired comic book genre?     (B+)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kick-Ass: Earning Its Name Through Humor, Vulgarity and Violence

     Upon first hearing of Kick-Ass (probably) 6 months ago, I wasn't that keen on the premise: a high school nerd decides that he wants to become a superhero and ends up Peter Parkering his way into super stardom with the help of some other on-the-outskirts-of-society wannabe losers. Then I watched the Red Band Trailer and read that the makers were going for a balls-to-the-walls "Hard R" with copious amounts of profanity-laced throat slitting and knives to the testicles. As one can imagine, the film instantly traversed above most of the junk that comes out in wide release nowadays to become one of my most anticipated in 2010. After leaving the opening night showing this past Friday, I was not disappointed.
    Since the best parts of the film come from an 11 year-old's mouth and actions (already a statement that sounds scarily close to pedophilia), I'll refrain from using my typical orgasmic language as not to have my I.P Address flagged by Chris Hanson's crack team of investigators. Let's just say this: Hit-Girl's a girl spawned from the womb of Ellen Ripley's uterus, fertilized by a generous squirt of Tarantino's semen. I guess when your (in the fictionalized movie world of Kick-Ass) dad is a reinvigorated Nic Cage, it's easy to be cool and crazy with a ca-ca mouth.


     Speaking of Nicolas Cage, his character Big Daddy (not of Bioshock fame) is another good aspect of the film. From the moment we first see him shooting his bulletproof vest-wearing daughter in the chest to teach her what it feels like to get shot at point blank range, the audience realizes what a caring, loving father he is. Here's the deal with Big Daddy: he's out to get the major crime boss villain in the film, D'Amico. Why, you may ask? Well, Big Daddy was once a cop and D'Amico framed him and sent him to prison; while in prison, Daddy's wife died giving birth to their daughter, Mindy (eventually becoming the aforementioned Hit-Girl). When the Big D was released from jail, he taught his daughter how to kill the bad guys, presenting her with birthday gifts of butterfly knives instead of dolls or Miley Cyrus DVDs. Cage has rejuvenated his career as of late: between the 30 second scene of him slashing and dashing his way around the room murdering people in Kick-Ass to his bursts of uncontrollable hysterical laughter in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, he's stealing scenes in every film he touches.
     Which brings us to one of the few small problems that Kick-Ass has: The side characters are more entertaining than the film's main star, Kick-Ass himself. If you were to shave off fifteen minutes of the film's runtime involving Kick-Ass doing tired and cliche acts (I'm talking to you, talk in mirror Taxi Driver style scene...), the film could reach an even higher level of greatness. Not that everything Kick-Ass does is stupid and boring; on the contrary, he does spank his meat to his English teacher's breasts and pretends he's gay to get close enough to a girl to rub lotion on her naked body. Everything's not lost, as Chris Martin would say.
     A significant portion of viewers and critics are trashing the film due to its graphic depiction of child violence in a Columbine Age. Clearly that's stupid, just like the parallel argument that video game violence causes children to act out in violent ways. It's a film based on a Comic Book. It's not real life, although most fanboys probably wish it was. Just buy a ticket, sit down and take the film for what it is: an entertaining story that breaks the mold and kicks the ass of almost all the comic book films before it, all while maintaining a carefree and risky nature that most filmmakers wouldn't dare try in an age where Tea Baggers roam the streets like brainless zombies and Sarah Palin gets a show on the Discovery Channel.     (A-)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

     Before Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, before Memento and Insomnia,  Brit Christopher Nolan directed this small little film about stalking and voyeurism on the streets of London. The film can be seen as a good precursor to Memento in the sense that it follows a non-linear story structure and has abnormal characters with interesting motivations. 
     To presumably find inspiration for a new novel, a young man begins following and studying certain people throughout the main roads and back allies of a dreary and dank London environment. At first, the man has a certain set of rules that he follows when following strangers to not get too obsessed or sucked into something dangerous. He immediately finds an interesting man in a suit and begins following him. However, things are not what they seem: the man in the suit confronts and introduces himself to the young man, letting the young man know that he is a serial burglar; he also wants to know if the young man wants to take the following a step further into people's homes and apartments. What "follows" is a story with a wonderful existentialist look at what the things people own really mean, along with blackmail, betrayal and murder. 
     Like all of Christopher Nolan's films, there is a never a dull moment. Everyone should see the early work of one of today's most talented and entertaining directors. It was written, directed, filmed and co-produced by him. One would think that a low budget black and white film shot on a 16mm camera on the streets of London with a minimal cast would be an easy job; however, that wasn't the case. Nolan referred to the shoot as "extreme" and it took nearly a year to finish...long for any movie. Part of why this is true deals with the complicated nature of the film. The scenes fit together like a tangled web of peeping tom visions and various back stabbing. Although it doesn't reach the brilliant greatness of Memento, the movie, like an entertaining jigsaw puzzle, is a great way to spend 70 minutes.

80% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

     I'm a sucker for documentaries like this. The King of Kong is a 2007 film (in the same niche as Spellbound and Word Wars) that follows one man, Steve Wiebe, as he tries to become the all time high scorer in the history of the arcade game Donkey Kong. Steve Wiebe's arch nemesis, Billy Mitchell, is still world-renowned in the year of the film for having the all time high score in both Donkey Kong and Centepede. The story is about their clash at the top of the Donkey Kong world rankings. 
     You couldn't think of a better, more dramatic story than this: In Iowa, a man named Walter Day founds an unheard of organization named Twin Galaxies, a group that keeps track of high scores of most United States-based arcade games. Billy Mitchell is like the Jesus of video games, with long dark hair and an attitude than can only be described as douchebaggery. He says in the film that his videogame accomplishments are his greatest in life (other than his family), and he is the founder of some local, successful homemade hot sauces (I couldn't make this shit up). Hundreds and hundred and hundreds of miles away in Washington State lives our underdog, the fore-mentioned Steve Wiebe. Recently laid off as a Boeing engineer, he spends all of his free time on a Donkey Kong machine that he bought for his garage, neglecting his other interests in life including his love of sports, music, and family. 
     To give away more would rob the viewer of many hilarious and cringe-inducing pleasures involving tainted and tampered-with Donkey Kong machines, private investigators, and friendships and families strained to extremely high and sad levels. Even if you have never played a video game in your life, it doesn't matter: the story can be used as a metaphor for anyone's passion about a hobby that contains a competitive edge. The King of Kong is as watchable as Donkey Kong is frustrating. 

97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 83 out of 100 on Metacritic.