Thursday, March 31, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Darkman


One of the things that continually bothered me in the lead-up to Batman Begins, was the constant talk of how much this new superhero movie had a high profile cast. Liam Neeson, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, all of these people seemed to herald a new generation of superhero movies with oscar bound or oscar winning casts they said. To which I grumbled “We all know Francis McDormand and Liam Neeson were both in Darkman 10 years ago, right?”

Darkman, a mid-career Sam Raimi movie, is devoted to a scientist who is working on artificial skin for...undefined reasons, doesn't matter. His girlfriend discovers a memo regarding her employer giving out bribes. His mobster rivals break in the scientists lab to get the memo and in the process destroy it, burning off all of his skin. He survives however and the surgery to allow him to live without screaming in pain leaves him with constant surges of adrenaline and an inability to feel pain. His skin creation experiments also allow him to look like anyone, but only for 99 minutes in sunlight. In no short order he becomes the trenchcoat wearing superhero of the title.

That sounds like the setup for a shitty movie, but the cast and director work wonders. Darkman is, undeniably a fairly dark and disturbing character, freely murdering his opponents with almost gleeful abandon, and Liam Neeson inhabits him perfectly. We see glimpses of humanity through the monster and vice versa, all of his breakdowns seem realistic and the psychosis involved is consistent and believable.

Most of the characters are well acted, even if they are all stock characters who fade into the background whenever Liam Neeson is on screen. The direction is well done, and you can even see glimpses of what would later inform Sam Raimi's days on Spider-Man. The action scenes are unique and inventive, even if they do occasionally strain believablity, especially near the end, and the cinematography is inventive without being too weird.

Special mention must go to the makeup team, who not only manage to do an incredible job on Darkman's face without the mask, but also to subtly shade the people he's pretending to be to look more like he's affecting their faces. The CGI is mostly good, with some solid twinning techniques even if there are a few obvious greenscreens. And keep your eyes out for recurring Sam Raimi cameo's, Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell. The script is light and breezy, if a bit predictable and manages to play up the angle of Darkman being just as bad or worse than the people he's hunting, without being too heavy handed.

Of course, it's not entirely without it's flaws. It seems to jump from it's second act to it's third act a bit too quickly, the villains are one massive pile of cliches, a couple of CGI montages that I think are intended to show case Darkman's loosening grasp of reality come out of nowhere and the film can't seem to find a damned thing for Francis McDormand to do. It also seems to be veering a little into the campy area of thing (one scene includes DRAMATIC! LIGHTNING!) which doesn't gel very well with the darker and more serious tone of the rest of the film.

At the end of the day, Darkman is not a classic or work of genius. It's an enjoyable and exciting action movie, and a forgotten gem in Sam Raimi's career. Don't go in expecting too much and you won't be disappointed, but if you want an action movie and you haven't seen it, this is a solid example and well worth a look.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Dressed To Kill

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and any movie where the line 'Take the fucking elephant' is actually dramatic HAS to be a good film.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Sucker Punch


Well it was bound to happen sometime. Zack Snyder has finally made a movie that is too stylized for it's own good. Which, by the by, neatly encapsulates not only the movie's strengths and weaknesses, but also my opinion. But stick with me, there's more to this.

The plot consists of a girl in the 1960's named (I swear to god) Baby Doll who is sent to a mental institution after her stepfather frames her for the murder of her sister. She learns she is soon to be lobotomized and comes up with an escape plan. Along the way she and her fellow inmates escape to a shared dream where they are actually in a whorehouse. Oh and Baby Doll herself retreats into a personal dreamspace where she reimagines herself and her fellow inmates as ass kicking soldiers, running missions for the things she needs for the escape in a world that somehow mixes fantasy, World War I, Anime and steampunk.

All the things that are good about other Zack Snyder films are good here. The visual style is distinct, the action scenes clean and exciting (although he still hasn't grown out of his habit of abusing speed ramping). The ambient soundtrack is well used (although with the exception of a well used cover of Sweet Dreams, most of the rest of the soundtrack is just annoying) and the CGI is superb.

But these things add up to maybe half the movie. And the rest is...problematic is the best word. Conceptually it's just fine, if a little weird and hard to follow at points, (protip: pay attention to color saturation to figure out how close to reality you are). But the dialogue is clunky, the characters broad and cliched, because you know that all of the action sequences are taking place inside a dream it sucks a lot of tension out of the fights and the denouncement takes too long and accomplishes too little in

That's not even addressing the acting. Most of the male characters are aware that they're only villains and so phone it in (with the exception of Scott Glenn who seems to be having fun) but I'm actually surprised at how boring most of the female leads are. Only Jena Malone and Carla Gugino are putting in any real effort to move beyond their cliché.

And that ignores the problem with Emily Browning as the lead. With her minimal dialogue (I think she has maybe 2 minutes total of dialogue), lack of any real depth and complete refusal to act at all, were she not the driving force behind the plot and the lead of the action sequences, she would be completely swallowed by her own movie.

And even the style has it's problems. We can justify and twist and try to figure out a way around it, but when you boil it all away, this movie is extremely juvenile. And not just in the obvious way, IE the clear fetishized girl dolls that are the entire lead cast. But the movie itself has no real structure, just moving from set piece to set piece with little interconnectivity or way to string it together, and the film is set up in such a way not only to work with that, but to work like that. There's little in the way of point or meaning to the film and what little meaning we might get is bold facedly explained to use up front. And it even fails to pander completely, as it's PG-13 rating means that you're not going to get to see any real gore or sex. By the end of the film, the realization that you're essentially watching a laundry list of Zack Snyder's fetishes is going to start to weird you out.

Of course, the dream within a dream concept invites comparisons to Inception, also due to them both being director driven action movies. This is a little unfair, partially because Inception is so much better, but also because the film that Sucker Punch most wants to be is Brazil believe it or not. It's not a coincidence that both movies contain a giant robot samurai in the main character's dreamscape. But unlike Brazil's mature stoicism, Sucker Punch's juvenile outlook prevents it from ever being more than cheap thrills.

So, overall it's not terrible, but it's not very good. The action sequences are all I can really recommend, and even they would be a whole lot better with an R-Rating. Look, I know we all wanted this movie to be good and do well, because Snyder is doing the next Superman movie, but I call it like I see it. If nothing else, it's much better than Battle: Los Angeles or Red Riding Hood, but I'd still recommend you hit up Rango or The Adjustment Bureau ahead of this. Sorry. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan-born cinephile and he's still not sure what the title has to do with the movie's content.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Missed Movies number 4


As of this writing I have Two And A Half Men on in the background as I wait for Archer to come on (if you don't watch Archer you should) and it got me thinking. Some of these crazy actors used to be talented. So, in that vein, here are 3 forgotten movies from the 3 major 'gone crazy' actors: Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen.

Minority Report:

Tom Cruise's movie, this, like so many good movies, is adapted from a Phillip K Dick story. The premise is that 3 psychic teenagers have the combined power to predict when someone is about to get murdered, allowing the police to prevent the murder. But it turns out, as you might guess, it's not 100 percent reliable and a police captain is being accused. So he kidnaps one of the psychics and bolts.

In terms of Phillip K Dick based sci-fi films it's nowhere near the heights of Blade Runner or even A Scanner Darkly (which, if you haven't seen you need to). The abilities of the psychics are a little too vague, a lot of interesting ideas are hinted at and then forgotten, at times it seems torn between being a serious piece of cinema (ala Blade Runner) and an action heavy chase movie (ala Total Recall) and the ending is kind of a copout. But all those problems don't stop the film from being fun, and a smart script and some good acting makes it actually pretty damned good. So if you like smart sci-fi,  give it a look.

Maverick:

This one's a bit weird. Based on an old western tv series and starring Mel Gibson, it's based around the titular Brett Maverick trying to get a hold of 25,000 to enter a poker championship and prove to himself how good he really is. Along the way he meets an aging lawman (James Garner) and a sexy thief (Jodie Foster).

It's a film who's problems are all overridden by how much fun it is. Mel Gibson plays a perfect suave but awkward and cowardly card shark (there are remarkably few gunfights), Jodie Foster does an amazing sexy (no really) and Graham Greene appears in a small role doing a fantastic comedic spin on his usual role. Oh and there's the funny meta casting with James Garner who played Maverick in the tv series (and there's a twist involving that, trust me). It's not a world changing classic, but it's funny and enjoyable and remarkably pleasant when you're in the mood for it.


Hot Shots! & Hot Shots! Part Duex

Approximately 10 percent of you have actually seen these two films and are nodding in appreciation. I won't even go into the plots, because these 2 are working the same basic style as Airplane! only focusing on Top Gun and Rambo, respectively, with Charlie Sheen in the lead of both (and he pulls both off, both personality wise and physically).

Yes, this particular sub-subgenre would eventually stagnate into pure shit (Epic Movie is one of the most atrociously awful films I've ever had to sit through) but it has been responsible for some of the best comedies ever made too. Airplane! Top Secret. Naked Gun. And these ones work, so fantastically, from their laser focus on their respective movies (The second one is essentially a beat-for-beat comedy remake of the third Rambo movie), to Charlie Sheen's incredible ability to deliver absurd dialogue and do absurd things with a complete straight face, to Lloyd Bridges' FANTASTIC mix of crazy old man and physical comedy, to Cary Elwes reminding us why Mel Brooks chose him to hold up his Robin Hood spoof.

And before I go, if you haven't seen Top Secret! do so ASAP. Not just because it's hysterical, but because you need to see how well Val Kilmer can sing (he spends the entire movie doing a long form Elvis riff).

So that's 3 movies...well 4 that I've recommended. Well 5. 6 if you count A Scanner Darkly. Yeah. That should last you a while.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Regarding Dragon Age II

Goddammit Bioware, stop being so aware of what I want in a video game. I mean, here I am trying to get involved in other video games, and every time I try you pop out with a new game that I try to resist for a week or so, before buying and getting completely buried in. It's almost as if you're really concerned with keeping me (and people like me) as your customers so you just keep putting out high quality games. What kind of company does that?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Red Riding Hood


A good portion of the various strengths and weaknesses of Red Riding Hood can be summed up in the following statement: When Gary Oldman's witch/werewolf hunter shows up at the village he has a life-size metal elephant. No really.

Which allows me to awkwardly segue into the plot. Amanda Seyfried has the lead as a girl growing up in Medieval Europe. She has recently been engaged to a rich blacksmith's son, but is still lusting after a poor woodcutter from her childhood (unroll your eyes, it makes it hard for you to read). While all this is going on a werewolf which has tormented their village for years has suddenly upped it's targets from animals to people, and a witch hunter is called in to deal with it. Surprise, surprise he tells them that the werewolf is human most of the time and he considers all of them are suspects, which is bad because it becomes rapidly clear that he is violently unhinged.

This is, to put it gently, one bizarre film. Part of this has to be put on the violently different influences the movie has, wanting to be, in more or less equal parts, Twilight, Let the Right One In, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Sleepy Hollow, and each of those is pulling the movie in different directions. This doesn't need to be a bad thing, after all many good films have been made by adding disparate parts together to try and make a new whole, and a couple of balls out classics have been created this way (I'm loathe to continue to overexpose O' Brother, Where Art Thou so instead I'm going to mention the more applicable example of Brotherhood of the Wolf.) But that takes skill, vision, style and above all, a complete lack of compromise on any aspect of it, or else your movie is going to fall apart at the seams. Guess which Red Riding Hood does. Go on guess.

Yeah, the news is not good. The film is full of jarring shifts of tone, absurd dialogue and more than a few moments of just 'what the fuck?' Along the way there are also too many characters and too many plot twists, leaving the movie feeling bloated and overstuffed. It starts out in a fairly rote Twilight clone, transforms at about the mid point into a mix of Sleepy Hollow and The Crucible before descending into a full out riff on the fairy tale of the title

The acting is a mixed bag, with Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried working their asses off to make the movie more than it is. The two male leads never seem to get really into it, but there's some good supporting work from Julie Christie and Billie Burke. The cinematography is actually really nice, if a little weirdly edited, which means that often times we're looking at well shot nonsense. Oh and the costumes are good, I guess. The mystery is fairly complex, which is nice and I can genuinely say that I didn't see the solution coming. Of course the story is aware of that and therefore spends most of the 2nd acting bouncing back and forth between hinting at solutions (although for a minute there I think they were hinting at something which could have been AWESOME if they'd gone anywhere with it).

Of course if all the rest of the technical details were good, I'd be giving a moderately positive review. The CGI is hysterically bad, especially since the last werewolf movie I saw won a fucking Oscar for it's werewolf. The screenplay reads like the writer fell asleep halfway through the class on subtextual dialogue and figured out that you should use it, but not how to write or implement it. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it really, really, REALLY wants to be R-Rated, and as a result feels compromised as you can almost feel how sexy or gory it could be if they'd just gone for it.

Look, bottom line, Red Riding Hood is not a great movie. Hell it's not a good movie. But it definitely could have been worse, and while I'm not in the business of assessing something based on it's message, I will say that it's desire to represent sexuality in a positive light and repression as a villain is much better than Twilight's anti-feminist message, even if they kinda wuss out on it by the last act. So, if you must take anything away from this review, let it be this: It is not good. But, on a technical and thematic level, it is better than Twilight. So...if you have to choose between the 2, go with this I guess? Why would that choice come up? Eh whatever. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan-born cinephile and he would like to declare that any movie where the line 'Put him in the elephant,' is uttered has officially jumped the shark.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Night Train to Terror


No. No, I refuse. I refuse to write another fucking review where I tell you how much a movie sucks but how much fun it can be if you have a good crowd. That's not productive. I don't want to write it and you don't want to read it.

For context, this movie shares the distinction of being 3 aborted movie projects sewn together by a paper thin plot about God and the Devil on a train with some rock stars (no really). The first story has to do with some organ harvesting scheme at a mental asylum, the second with a cult of people who have close brushes with death for the kicks and the third with some...vampire, Nazi, demon, thing. Any of the three would be completely incoherent on it's own and together they are even more confusing.

The bad consists of the direction, the screenplay, the stories, the acting, the dialogue, the characterization, the special effects, the editing (dear god the editing). A claymation monster from the last story is literally the worst effect I've ever seen in my life (and I've seen Clash of the Titans), some of the shots of explosions are insults to stock footage. Items literally appear out of thin air, a high level monster is introduced and forgotten in the same scene and there is a potato masher and spatula in one of the villains torture chamber.

The good is non-existent.

Look, if you've even glanced at the wiki, you know this film sucks and that you should only see it with a sarcastic crowd, you don't need me to tell you. So that's all I want to say on the subject. Sorry, I just don't think I should sink a massive amount of time and energy into this movie. I'll see Red Riding Hood on tuesday to make it up to you, okay? See you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Darkman

Elessar is a 21 year old, Alaskan born cinephile and the song the band sings is going to be stuck in his head for the rest of his life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau


The Adjustment Bureau got some instant points in my book, before it even came out, because it's based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick. Phillip's work, for those of you who don't know, has been adapted in the past into a bunch of movies, a lot of which are really good. Total Recall. Minority Report. A Scanner Darkly. Motherfucking Blade Runner. So expectations were high going in.

Matt Damon has the lead as David Norris, a promising but impulsive young member of the House of Representatives who's Senate campaign is damaged beyond repair when some shennangians from his younger days are revealed. While preparing for his concession speech, he meets a woman who inspires him to give a different, more honest, speech. While trying to meet her again, he is confronted by a group of Adjusters, men who alter the world in subtle ways to keep people on their plan for humanity.

This is one of those rare movies that is held back not by some flaws but by it's own potential. That isn't to say it's not a good movie (and it is, oh so good) but that it's never as good as it could be. But with that said, it's always better than it strictly NEEDS to be.

The cinematography is nice and subtle, always feeling like it's enhancing the story. The editing is well done. Thomas Newell's soundtrack is fantastically written and intergrated into the movie. What little CGI and special effects are so well done and subtle that if you don't know what to look for, you won't notice them (which is the mark of a good special effects team, especially in the greenscreen department).

The actors all turn in fine performances, Matt Damon does a nice understated job with lots of subtle nuances, Emily Blunt bouncing off him in a more energetic performance. The script takes pains to avoid cliché, especially in the area of the Adjusters. It would be easy, and make sense in context of the story, to make them faceless enemies but the story never goes that way. In fact, one of the reasons I like it is that all of the introduced Adjusters have full personalities and character arcs, with various reasons established for the motives of each of them (with one treating it like a job).

The story is, both thankfully and disappointingly, not as complex as you think it might be from the trailers. Of course that could be because it looks so much like Inception which is, for better or for worse, the movie it has it's eyes fixed on the entire time, at least stylistically. It's not as good as Inception (so few things are) but when you look at it objectively, the only way it even tries to imitate Inception is in style (and even that is more or less limited to camera work). Other than that, it's a completely different, and fairly unique, film.

Look, all reviews have to boil down to one question: Should you see it? Well hell yes you should. With the possible exception of Rango this is the best thing in theaters right now. In terms of Phillip K. Dick based work (on a scale of Total Recall to Blade Runner) it's something akin to Minority Report. It's nothing earth shakingly good, but it's a well crafted and engaging thriller, and worthy of your time and attention.

Oh and before I go, if you haven't seen A Scanner Darkly go fix that, now. It's one WEIRD ass film, but it's easily one of the most unique and visionary animated films I've ever seen, even if a lot of it is really confusing. So yeah. Go see both.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he is determined to have this film retitled The Fedora Brigade.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review: Battle: Los Angeles


Battle: Los Angeles is a movie I got progressively less excited about the more I heard about it. It started when, post-trailer, I realized that it's setup was a darker, nastier Independence Day. This was the setup of last years Skyline, my winner of worst movie of the year. It doesn't get any more promising with the director, Jonathan Liebesman, who's biggest movie so far was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the prequel to Platinum Dune's remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and probably the worst movie they've put out (and that's saying something). So I was a little apprehensive going in. And I do hate it when I'm right about things like this.

The plot is devoted to aliens invading all major cities around the world, for reasons entirely unknown, and on a small squad who are trying to fend them off. That's it. No reason is ever given for the aliens invasion (although a couple are floated and promptly forgotten) and nothing is ever made of the world outside LA. It calls to mind nothing so much as someone mixing Independence Day with the America levels of Modern Warfare 2, but with all the intellect and originality sucked out.

I don't want to dwell on the script long, but I have to because it is by far the biggest offender of this movie. The movie is guilty of so many cliches, I briefly considered listing them before realizing that I'd get half a page out before I finished the cliches just used with the characters. You can see every moment of this film coming, and there's not a moment of it that wasn't done better somewhere else.

Of the actors, only Aaron Eckhart turns in a good performance. Oh sure, his character is a massive ball of overused clichés just like everyone else, but he's the only one who tries to elevate it to anything else, especially in a scene near the end when he lists the men lost under his command. Yes, I can hear you rolling your eyes, but he infuses it with real emotion, and it's the closes thing I had to an emotional reaction to this movie. Unfortunately he gets dragged down by the rest of the cast, who range from lackluster to not even trying (looking at you Michelle Rodriguez, or should I say Vasquez clone).

The rest of the movie could be salvaged, and at least become dumb fun. After all, the CGI is good, and it's got a killer premise. But someone on the production team saw District 9 and decided the best way to get critically acclaimed was to make the movie dark and serious (never mind that what made District 9 great was it's screenplay, characters, story, metaphors, etc.) So 99 percent of the action sequences are disjointedly edited and shakily shot, so it's impossible to tell what's going on. The editing problems extend to the movie proper as I'm pretty sure more people get shot than are in the squad and a couple of the inevitable rugrats go into and out of the ether between scenes.

Never mind that the dark tone is COMPLETELY at odds with some of the movie. Sequences in which the entire squad are overwhelmed by a couple of the enemies or in which they desperately try to figure out how to kill them don't gel with sequences in which hovercrafts are taken out by well a placed grenade.

And it's TOO fucking long. The film skips merrily past a couple of perfectly logical ending points, continuing to throw on new problems until they hit the tacked on ending, wearing out what little welcome it had.

Look, it's a big sci-fi actioner, so it's probably too late to stop it from making money, but if you want my advice, this movie is garbage. The characters are thinly sketched cliches, the script lazy and the action confusing. Go see Rango instead, that had better action scenes. Go see The Adjustment Bureau, it's supposed to be good (I'm going to see it tomorrow). Hell, go see Red Riding Hood, that at least looks original. I could list 15 other movies that do what this movie does better, but I'm sure you can think of a few off the top of your head from my review: Rent those instead.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he is sorry this review is going up 12 hours after he saw the movie.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: The Fighter


This one's going to be short. Once a movie has been out for several months, been nominated for and won several Academy Awards, you sort of lose your right to review it, unless it's part of my Second Age Review list.

So The Fighter. Based on the true story of Mickey Ward, a promising young boxer who's career was mismanaged by his mother, and his entire life vanishing the shadow of his older brother, Dicky Ecklund, a once well known fighter who went head to head with Sugar Ray, now a rapidly deteriorating crack addict. The film is primarily devoted to showing the strained relationship Mickey had with his extended family.

I wish I could rant about the technical details, because they're all great. The soundtrack is well written used, the cinematography is excellent, the editing subtle and nuanced. But at the end of it all, those aren't very important, or at least not as important as they usually are. See, like it's sibling The King's Speech this is a character drama based on real events, which means 3 things are more important than anything. One, the script has to be good. Two, the actors have to be good. Three, the sense of time and place have to be authentic.

The script and actors are both excellent. Christian Bale gives the performance of his career (well deserved Oscar win) and everyone else turns in incredible performances. If Wahlberg was ever more suited to play a character than he is to play Mickey, I don't know what it is. And the script dovetails perfectly, giving Christian the more showy performance as the spiraling Dickey, and showing us how much of Mickey's life is sucked up in his brother's ego.

So that's actor and script. How's sense of time and place? Well, most of it was shot on location in Lowell, and the fights are so well choreographed that I could find myself getting into them. So yeah, it's excellent. But you knew that. It won 2 Oscars. So if you haven't seen it, go out and fix that. Told you this one would be short.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's FINALLY seen all 10 Oscar nominees.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Rango


It is widely known that kids movies, by and large, have one of the, if not the, worst average quality of movie genres out there. This doesn't mean that there aren't good or even great ones out there. It's just, so many kids movie are so fucking terrible, that when one is genuinely good, it's generally time for rejoicing. Such is the case with Rango.

The basic premise amount to a spoof of spaghetti westerns. A chameleon, with delusions of being an actor is accidentally left stranded in the desert and, searching for water, ends up in a small town of Dirt, which is pretty much straight out of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Trying to blend in, he begins to pretend he's a gunslinging superman. Through a series of coincidences, which are JUST natural enough to not feel contrived, he ends up defeating a local bad guy and becoming the town's sheriff, taking the name of Rango.

Most of the film is given over to broad, if affectionate, parody of westerns, and it keeps on that track most of the film, even if the plot is based on Chinatown. Along the way there are a couple digs at Las Vegas the city and it's environmental policies (which you'll never hear me complaining about you mocking) and there is even what feels like a dig at organized religion.

On the purely technical level, the film is GORGEOUS. All of it is exceptionally rendered in loving detail and craft. You can see individual scales on Rango's head, tiny little eye movements, individual hairs and feathers. I'd even go so far as saying it's the best looking CGI film ever made. Add in actual cinematography and a great soundtrack from the always amazing Hans Zimmer and all of the technical details are perfect.

The voice actors are all great, working with a fantastic screenplay. What I like the most is the character of Rango. See, Rango isn't his real name and we never actually find out what his name is. One of the primary concepts is that, his natural chameleon nature combined with his desire to be an actor, means that he mimics by exaggerating, making him a complete non-person that all the other characters project their hopes onto. A theme that subtly used and intelligent in a kids movie is damn near a miracle.

It also (thank god) sidesteps the Shrek sequel problem of trying to make it appeal to adults by shoving in ancilliary pop-culture references in at the margins. Oh, there are a couple, but they're well used and never damage the overall film (and keep your eye out for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, one of my favorite books of all time). It also manages to keep the humor from being reliant on tired toilet humor and veiled sex references. Most of the jokes come from the dialogue and character actions.

It's not a perfect movie. At times it feels like it's moving a bit too fast for all of it's ideas to sink in. You'll see a reveal coming way before your meant to, it's multiple concepts and jokes (not to mention it's occasional drifts into outright surrealism) mean that the tone is all over the map. And while the script is FAR above average for a kid's movie, it never quite rises to the level of the animation.

Oh and while I'm not in the business of telling anyone what to do with their children, it's worth pointing out that this film is not suitable for all ages. Take the 9 years olds and older, sure but below that... Well the movie never skirts around the fact that the western setting means people have to die occasionally, there's a lot of dark subject matter and themes. So yeah, leave the 6 year olds at home.

Rango is the first new film I've seen in theaters all year (though I hope to fix that this weekend with The Adjustment Bureau and Battle: Los Angeles), it certainly gives me hope for the rest of the year. What you need to know about it, as a kid's movie, is that it's funny, exciting and affecting in all the right places. It's not a classic, but it's quite good, a well made and good natured film, well above average in it's field. So if you want to have a good time at the movies or have a kid of appropriate age, go out and give it a look.

Elessar is a 21 year Alaskan born cinephile and he is not ashamed of going to a kid's movie on his own.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Missed Movies number 3


In honor of Natalie Portman winning an oscar for playing a lesbian, or rather because I feel like it, here is another episode (is episode the word I'm looking for?) of Missed Movies, this time devoted entirely to gay and lesbian movies, or rather 2 of each. This is partially an apology for my Destroy All Monsters review (see below) being so short.

In & Out

Frank Oz has directed some good movies and some bad movies and while In & Out is far from the movie of his career, it's a good natured and enjoyable comedy, featuring a great performance by Kevin Kline (remember, he won an Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda?). Basic premise, an english teacher in small town America is engaged to a fellow teacher, when a former student of his wins an Oscar for playing a homosexual soldier. During the acceptance speech he thanks his teacher and 'outs' him, apparently unaware that his teacher is engaged. The story becomes a national sensation, in what feels like a vicious lampooning of celebrity culture, with the teacher constantly denying that he's gay. Problem is, he acts pretty gay and the evidence is starting to stack against him.

If it sounds like it's going somewhere stupid, trust me it's not; This rom-com built around an 'edgy' (for the time) subject matter actually comes out on the side of non-traditional relationships, even finding time for a quick commentary on female body image. Oh and Matt Dillon is in it. Yeah, he hasn't been very good in a lot of things...but he was in Crash and he was good in that. And he's good in this.

Bound

This movie is actually my final bit of evidence that the Watchowski's work has been on a downhill slide their entire career (this eventually bottomed out with Speed Racer when they really could not go any deeper). It's amounts to a well made and well written heist movie, where the girlfriend of a mobster meets a former thief and they get together, both physically and to steal 2 million dollars from him; Only the thief is a lady too.

It never strays too far from that central premise and while that could be interpreted as disappointing, I think it gives the two fledgling directors room to breathe on the details, including a fantastic script, incredible camera work (there's a scene about midway through involving literal money laundering, as in washing dollars, that is so well handled that you could faint) and a well used soundtrack. Plus it's got some great performances from Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly and Joey Pants (I'm not writing out his name). It is rather intensely dark (and it feels out of place in a list consisting mostly of comedies) but it's an excellent film in it's own right, so if you can find it, check it out.

The Birdcage

As tonally far from Bound as is physically possible, The Birdcage is a comedy based on a French movie I've never seen, and probably my favorite movie on this list. Starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as an aging gay couple running a club in Florida. Years ago Robin Williams' character knocked up a stripper and the pair raised the kid, who is now off to college and getting married. Problem is, the girl he's marrying is the daughter of an extremely conservative Florida politician, who is facing some public backlash after his political partner was found dead in the bed of an underage prostitute.

The movie is a perfect example of 'better than it sounds' because based on that description, it's impossible to see why this movie is so good. Robin Williams' performance is nice and understated, consisting mostly of deadpan and snark. The politician and his family manage to be sympathetic and realistic, without ever descending into strawman territory. But the star in this regard is Nathan Lane, who manages to take a character who at first looks like a generic drama/drag queen (dragma?) and give him real heart through his performance. It's funny, sweet and enjoyable and it deserves your attention.


Imagine Me and You

YES it's named after Happy Together can we move on?

This one was a toss up between this and I Can't Think Straight but I chose this because I figured I'd give you a movie you had a chance of actually tracking down. The basic premise is a woman falls in love with a flower girl at first sight-at her wedding.

I can hear you groaning at that premise, but it's a romantic-comedy, which means execution is everything. Which is good, because it hits all the right points. The screenplay is funny and well written (and R-Rated for once), the characters rounded and believable with everyone having real arcs, the actors are all good and no one is ever forced to act like an idiot to move the plot forward. So it's a good natured and sweet comedy, good for a few laughs and smiles even while it's not interested in pushing the envelope too far (or at all, really). And a movie that's merely good for being heartwarming is okay once in a while.

Plus we have Anthony Stewart Head here, and we all love him. I mean...don't we? He was Giles and we all love Giles right? Giles from, from Buffy? I'm so alone.


Okay so that's the list. This is by no means the only or the best gay and lesbian themed movies. These are merely the 4 that I thought hit the magic sweet spot of being just obscure enough that you probably haven't seen them but not so obscure that you'd have real trouble finding them (though given that most of you probably have Netflix, who knows). 

Second Age Reviews: Destroy All Monsters


Remember, about a month ago when I was reviewing Five Fingers of Death and I said that Martial Arts films are a genre where quality is a relative term? Well monster movies are even more of one, with this going double for the Godzilla vs. films. There are monster movies that a legitimate well made movies; The original Godzilla, the 1930's and 2005 versions of King Kong, Jaws, Jurassic Park. But for the most part the plots are incidental, the characters undeveloped and the screenplay grating. And Destroy All Monsters is no exception.

This doesn't mean that quality is completely irrelevant. There are Godzilla vs. movies that are bad, even by the standard set down by the others (Godzilla: King of Monsters for example). But fortunately, Destroy All Monsters is not one of them.

Oh sure, the plot is beyond saving. Something about aliens invading and using the monsters from the Godzilla series to wreck Earth into surrendering. Whatever, the plot in most Godzilla movies serves only to push the monsters around, as they can't talk. It's a shame that the movie spends so much fucking time on the plot, because the characters are so poorly defined that I can't remember a single one's defining characteristic (except for a random British dude, who I can only remember because everyone else is Japanese.)

The highlight of the movie is the promise of all the monsters showing up, and while the movie technically delivers, those of you hoping for big battle royal between all the monsters will be going home disappointed. They mostly wander around separately, wrecking different cities and occasionally attacking people or ships, until the big finale in which most of them team up to beat the shit out of King Chidora.

The movie as a whole is saddled with all the problems of imported Japanese monster movies; Forgettable characters, uninteresting and complicated story, poor dubbing, terrible screenplay. But if you're willing to look past all that and watch it with people who 'get' Godzilla vs. movies (IE, enjoy them ironically) then you'll have a good time watching the monster fights and snarking at the terrible dialogue. I guess that means this review is a bit shorter than usual. See you next time.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Night Train to Terror

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he had that Blue Oyster Cult song stuck in his head all night.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No, no, no and no. Also no.

People who know me will know that my favorite movie of all time is Blade Runner. Let's consider that statement for a moment: Of all of the movies I have ever seen in my life, none are higher than Blade Runner. That's pretty impressive of it, wouldn't you say?

But people who know me will also know I HATE unnecessary sequels and this applies double to movies like Blade Runner or The Shining where the ambiguity is part of what makes it great. So I get into town for Avon night and I see this little gem:

Alcon Entertainment in Talks to Buy Rights to Blade Runner

Alcon Entertainment, for those of you who don't know, is the studio behind The Book of Eli. Don't remember that movie, it's fine no one else does either. Perhaps you remember the reboot of The Wicker Man? Yeah, the one where Nicholas Cage punches women while in a bear suit. Yeah now you remember it.

So yeah, bad news. There is absolutely no way any sequel, spinoff, prequel or anything else could do anything but damage the legacy left by the original. Oh well.

Oh and since I like educating my readers: The reason I mentioned The Shining (besides, you know, it being just a flat out incredible example of a movie in which ambiguity) is because footage from the opening sequence of The Shining was used in the just-plain-awful tacked on ending of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Well I guess no petition was needed

Some of you might remember me being upset when I heard that the video game Catherine, was not coming to the US. Well...

Catherine Coming to US

Eh, not a lot to say. Just...well lemme see if I can find that link.

Yeah, that about sums up my feelings.