Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                           The Killing
     Here's a short, quick notice, folks: the almost-but-not-quite-HBO television network AMC is premiering its new series, The Killing, with a two-hour grand event Sunday night starting at 9 P.M. Eastern. As you probably (and fucking should) know, AMC is home to two of the top ten shows that are still airing new episodes on television--Mad Men (whose creators just announced today that the new season wouldn't premiere until early 2012) and the bestest, brilliant Breaking Bad (with the new season starting in June/July). With the winter doldrums finally crawling their way out of the state, it's time to open the windows and let the cool breeze bring in some new and exciting television shows. 
     Although I am significantly more excited for April 17th's HBO series premiere of A Game of Thrones (if excitement is measured in the number of boxer brief changes while watching the latest trailer, which I think it clearly has to), AMC's The Killing looks like it could be a nice mysterious slow-burner, with a major payoff at the end. Based upon a Danish television series, The Killing is a drama set in Seattle, Washington that chronicles the police investigation, family, and suspects of a town that just experienced the murder of a young girl. Each episode in the first season's 13 episode run will show one day of the investigation. The show looks dark, tragic and beautiful--just how I like my dramas. But don't just listen to this ratty, old blog: early reaction is extremely positive. People are calling it "excellent," "addictive", and they cite the fact that you can't wait until the next episode every time one ends, "the hallmark of any great drama." Other kind words are out there in cyberspace as well, if you choose to look. So this Sunday, whether I am watching it live or it is recording onto my DVR, I will experience AMC's new series, The Killing, with it's 2 hour premiere. One can only hope it will come close to reaching the greatness of the network's other two brilliant dramas.  

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Babes in Toyland: The Sucker Punch Review

     The sub-genre of action/horror/thriller films that feature attractive women kicking ass has always held an enjoyable place deep inside the cockles of my heart. Whether it has been Ripley standing up to the horrific aliens in the Alien franchise ("Get away from her, you bitch!"), Sarah Connor bulking up and going toe-to-toe with T1000 in the second Terminator film, or Beatrix Kiddo (The Bride) violently destroying everything in her way in the whole bloody affair that is Kill Bill, these ladies always have two things in common: they're talented at killing things that deserve to be killed and they make my penis fill up with blood. Sucker Punch, the latest from 300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder, features a number of scantily clad beautiful women annihilating various people, the undead, and mythical creatures; unfortunately, that's just about all it boils down to. With a simpleton plot and characters that you never feel any real danger for, Sucker Punch becomes a semi-entertaining night of watching someone else play a visually-amazing videogame. It's entertaining at first, and you might see come cool shit, but ultimately, you could be watching something better.
     Zack Snyder has a knack for opening a film with panache. The beginning credit sequence of the Dawn of the Dead remake and Watchmen are unbelievably well executed, and Snyder basically continues that trend here. Using a rendition of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," the basic plot is set forth: facing up to her abusive stepfather, Babydoll is sent to an insane asylum (by him) and is to be lobotomized in five days time. Once there, she retreats into a fantastical world where she needs to recover 5 items (a map, a fire starter, a knife, a key, and something she will discover when the time is right) to able to escape the institution. She gains the trust of four other girls (Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber) and enlists them into helping her so they can all escape. (There's no need to get into the fact that all of the girls' names and attire could be the main plot of a pedophile's masturbatory fantasy.) There are layers of the fantasy world. In real life, the girls are in an dark and dreary institution. In Babydoll's main fantasy, the girls are all dancers/whores for a club owner (the sadistic asylum employee, in real life), and in five days time, Babydoll is going to be sold to the high roller (the lobotomist, in real life [played interestingly by Mad Men's Jon Hamm]). However, it goes even further. When Babydoll dances for customers in her fantasy world, everyone is transfixed, and she enters another dream world in which the girls metaphorically battle for the 5 items (one at a time) against horrific, demented and powerful beings and creatures. Confused yet? This will make it easier: As the girls fight for, say, the map, in the second layer of dreamworld against the scary monsters, the girls are stealing the map from the office in the main dream world. So the two dream worlds correspond into obtaining the same objective.
   This second dream world is where the main problem with the film lies: there is no real danger involved. It doesn't make a difference how many hundreds of robots or gas-mask-wearing zombies the girls kill--they are still just stuck in a mental institution, waiting to die or be lobotomized. By making the alternate reality a coping mechanism for Babydoll, it's taking away the emotional impact of the real life situation. They jump, they shoot, they kill giant-sized metal samurais and take down dragons with long swords. But instead of being excited by these killings (like Ripley and the Alien), I was left with my dick in my hand, wishing it was an Xbox controller, while also wishing I was watching Kill Bill for the 14th time. The film also has a line of dialogue that goes something like, "Don't write checks that your ass can't cash" and it has a loud noise to drown out the sound of one the girls saying "fucker" (ala Live Free or Die Hard). These two instances of shit hurt my enjoyment of the film. It's the little things, you know?
     As much as I just complained about how the dream fights took away from the real emotional impact of the film, I have to raise my rating a full letter grade due to it's amazing visual wizardry. From watching 300 or Watchmen, one can easily determine that Snyder's best talent as director is hugely stylized visual effects. Some of the fights really were quite breathtaking, and two or three times I even found myself excited when Babydoll closed her eyes and the magical dreamworld kicked in with the loudest music I have ever heard at a movie theater. Unfortunately, looks and style are clearly not everything when you don't have an exciting script to work with. Sucker Punch is like a donkey punch: exciting yet painful, dangerous and sexual, and it definitely did not leave me wanting more.     (C+)

Friday, March 25, 2011

What You'll Want to be Watching:

     The title of this particular blog post is a bit misleading. I'm not sure if you'll want to actually be watching the movie Rubber when it comes to a theater (or video-on-demand) near you. If you're an Internet nerd like myself, you may have seen the trailer for this film somewhere along your cyber travels: Rubber is more like an experiment in film-making than a movie you get really excited about. Robert is a tire (yes, you read that correctly) that has been left in the desert. Suddenly, the once inanimate tire becomes animated and starts rolling the landscape. While rolling this dry countryside, Robert realizes that he has telegraphic powers that lets him destroy anything he comes across. At first, he becomes satisfied with small animals and desert creatures, but after a while, he starts focusing his attention on humans and becomes a treacherous villain to be reckoned with.
     "This sounds so fucking stupid," most of you are thinking. And that may be true. But after seeing the same unoriginal piece of shit films year after year, isn't it somewhat refreshing to see something new and surprising? Rubber is a take on the sub-genre of film of "no reason." That is, there is no reason for a normal black tire to suddenly gain life and go on a killing spree across the desert landscape. It just does.

The Trailer:

     Clearly, the cinematography and direction actually look pretty damn good. Rubber was released at Cannes Film Festival critic's week last May--to mixed reviews. Some called it one of the most bizarre experiments in film in quite some time, while others called it a tense horror film that has the same footage that it mocks. Here's all I am hoping for: an interesting horror/comedy that will be unlike anything else I will see this year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

E.T meets Road Trip (Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind was Already Taken): A Review of Paul

     Comic-Con has been integrated into pop culture and has become extremely popular throughout the last few years. For those (non-nerds) unaware of said convention, Comic-Con is a celebration of nerd/pop culture that takes place every year in San Diego. It showcases the year's latest in comic books, scifi/fantasy movies and television and various other similar products that help you in not getting laid. I mention this geek-orgasm-inducing event because if you're not familiar with the festival, than many of the jokes in Paul will soar over your head like a space vessel. The film, which is the latest from the brilliant minds of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a science fiction-road trip buddy comedy with aspects of Superbad, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Fanboys. The film is heartwarming and funny (enough), and although there are chuckles to be had by all, ultimately, Paul doesn't quite reach the heights of the best work by all of the talent involved.
     Speaking of the talent involved, it is immense: the two main characters, Graeme and Willy, portrayed by Pegg and Frost, are two nerds from England who take a holiday to the U.S. to go to Comic-Con and travel in an RV to all of the UFO tourist hot spots. Their nerd fantasy becomes nerd reality when a visitor from another galaxy, Paul, enters their life. If you have seen the trailer for this movie, it wouldn't have taken much to recognize that the alien's voice is none other than Seth Rogen. This is a benefit to the film and also a detriment. I figured that Rogen's voice would become annoying, like nails on a chalkboard, but that simply wasn't the case: Rogen gives some of his most charming work here. But that doesn't change the fact that the alien Paul just is Seth Rogen. He speaks in sarcasm and excessive vulgarity, he smokes pot and is rude but also has lovable moments. He even dresses like a slacker. Although he is amusing most of the time and hilarious sometimes, I can't help but think that a less recognizable voice in the role of Paul would have been more successful. There are other great characters too: without giving too much away, we learn that Paul's spacecraft has crashed a long time ago, and he has just recently escaped his captors and wants to signal a ship to come pick him up. This involves a journey across cities and states. But this isn't all just fun and games. A group of federal agents are after him, two of which are played with wonderful villainy by SNL's Bill Hader and Arrested Development's Jason Bateman. There are a plethora of funny moments in Paul, and I was smiling most of the film. It just wasn't hilarious.
    And...there is a reason for that: it's impossible not to measure this film against the two other Simon Pegg/Nick Frost collaborations. Their first, 2004's Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (commence the eye-rolling at another Shaun mention by me) is my favorite comedy of all time. No hyperbole here: I jizz over that shit. Not that I don't love 2007's Hot Fuzz, a comedy homage to the Lethal Weapons, Die Hards, and Bad Boys of the world. I would place Fuzz on my hypothetical Top 25 Comedy list. So the expectations were lofty. And it didn't quite meet them. At the core, it had the potential to be on the podium with the other two. It just didn't surprise me. The jokes were good but not great, and no jokes went as far as the layers upon layers of jokes that are embedded in Shaun and Fuzz. It also didn't have the exciting  direction that the great Edgar Wright brings to the film-making table. But let's not have a dick-measuring contest with two previous masterpieces of comedy. This movie is fun, and it put a smile on my face. At its core, Paul is about living things that just want to make friends until they find their way back home, wherever home may be--something we can all relate to.     (B)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

Fish Tank
    Fish Tank is one of the latest British films that takes a close look at an aspect of the seedy underbelly of England. That's not to say this film deals with crime, violence or drug use (though it certainly does have bits and pieces of those things), but this movie shows what it's like growing up as an attractive 15-year old girl in an Essex housing project, dealing with a single mom and younger sister and all of the pressures that one feels (especially young women) when trying to survive in the teenage world. The film is another great piece to come out of England that completely succeeds as a study of social realism. Fish Tank is not for everyone: if you're one of those (dumb fuck) people who would never watch an independent movie because it's too slow or boring, than I would stay far away from this realistic portrait of a volatile teen girl. But if you want a challenging and rewarding movie-watching experience, then Fish Tank will be right up your alley.
     Mia is 15 years old, and she lives with her attractive, slutty mom and foul-mouthed younger sister. She's essentially a loner, travelling the landscape of misguided youths and dead metal machines by foot on a daily basis. One of her few escapes is an abandoned apartment in which she turns her music up loud and practices different varieties of hip hop dancing, a hobby that she dreams to turn into a profession one day. Thankfully, other than the dancing aspect, this film bears no resemblance to the Step Up pile-o-shit atrocities. Where the real plot lies is when Mia's mother's new boyfriend, Connor (played with scary charm by one of my favorites, Michael Fassbender), enters the picture with secrets of his own. He tries to bring a more fatherly aspect to the three-female family, and things do not go as planned.
     Yes, I know it sounds bleak, not something you would want to watch on a nice Saturday night; however, Fish Tank dodges many of the traps that other films of this type would fall right into. Instead of being depressing, it's empowering. This is the case because of the awesome performance by Katie Jarvis as Mia and the beautiful direction by Andrea Arnold. When you watch the film, you can see that Mia isn't a great dancer. But she enjoys the dancing when she is alone, so it is a success for what it is. The film cares less about what happens to Mia after the credits roll and instead just portrays the realistic nature of the life she has known since she has arrived on this Earth. Fish Tank is many things: it's about a girl caught somewhere between childhood and womanhood and all of the pressures and experiences that she handles on a daily basis. It's a story about following or giving up on your dreams. It's another great performance by the Irishman Michael Fassbender. And it's a great film.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon: A Review of Rango

     So far, the year two-thousand and eleven has been one hell of a horrendous year for the average movie-goer. March is already half-way over, and we've only gotten just plain shit (basically): three of the top four-grossing films so far have been the Adam Sandler movie Just Go with It, which relied completely upon the marketing of Brooklyn Decker's huge and luscious funbags, the animated film Gnomeo and Juliet (I mean: just take a look at that fucking title), and the Mr. Demi Moore-starring No Strings Attached. Thankfully, the 5th highest grossing film so far this year, Rango, rises above the continuing stream of thick sewage that flows from the cinemas: although it has plenty of faults, Rango, starring the main voice of Johnny Depp, is a generally fun, wacky and weird ride through a beautiful picturesque landscape filled with interesting creatures and a sign-of-the-times plot about the conservation of clean water.
     Dirt, the fictional town in which Rango takes place, is a very interesting and typical dangerous little village that seems to be the setting for hundreds of Western films throughout the age of cinema. The common folk mingle with outlaws as they saunter down the street. If you push open the swinging wooden doors and step into the town saloon, card games are being argued over and tobacco juice drips down chins. Don't even think about asking for water from the barkeep. All that's on tap is fermented flammable cactus juice. As you may have figured, this animated town's inhabitants are desert creatures instead of humans, but some of the conflicts are the same as other Western films: the main treasure in the film is stored in the bank vault, only its water instead of money. There is a power-hungry mayor and a band of outlaws and bad creatures around to cause trouble. When Rango the chameleon decides to become a lizard that he is not (that is, to pretend to be a legend and all-around badass from the far west), he embarks on a journey to try and save the town's water supply from a myriad of various exciting situations and animals.
    Rango is more interesting than other non-Pixar animated fare for two reasons: the first is that the film was created in an exciting and original way. Typically, voice actors in most animated films read their lines into a microphone in a small, dark recording studio. That isn't the case here; Rango's voice actors all got together in the same studio and recorded their lines as well as acting them out. They had 20 days and box of costumes to wear. The director of Rango, Gore Verbinski--who previously directed The Ring and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films--points out a good reason for it: "This is my first animated film and the process of the way voices have been recorded seemed bizarre to me. I wanted the actors to be together, collide into each other. It was okay if their lines overlapped or they were out of breath, sniffled or snorted." It's noticeable in the final product. Rango sizzles with witty, quick dialogue and human emotion.
     The other reason the film is interesting is its existential nature, and that's also one of the problems with the film: it's marketed towards children, but is more suited for adults who raise the question of Who am I? and contemplate the reasoning between existing and nothingness. Rango gets thrown into this new town and decides to become something that he always wanted to be: a hero. Near the beginning of the film, before he gets to the town of Dirt, Rango is dying of thirst on one side of the road when he comes upon an armadillo. The wise armadillo leaves Rango and says, "See you on the other side." "Of what, the road?" Rango replies. "It's a metaphor," Mr. Armadillo states. My advice: leave the children and their undeveloped mush of brains at home with a babysitter. The film might not answer the question of Who am I? to you, but for two hours, you can watch a once-timid now-heroic lizard find the answer to just that.     (B+)