Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: The Troll Hunter

 America, by and large, pretty much dominates the movie business across the globe. This isn't to say that other countries don't get in on the action (they do) but that they tend to dominate the big blockbuster/genre film scene. But over the past decade, some of the countries of Europe have been making a habit of turning out some genre films, but with the more intellectual, more, well...ballsy attitude that tends to come with being a film from Europe (Irreversible would never have gotten made in America) and the results have, by and large, been pretty damn excellent. Brotherhood of the Wolf. Let the Right One In. Pan's fucking Labyrinth. Now Norway has decided to get in on the scene, with the thus far overlooked The Troll Hunter.    
The story reads like Michael Moore meets Cloverfield with traditional Norwegian troll mythology plugged into the margins. The film is primarily concerned with a bunch of college students who's names escape me going into the woods looking for a man named Hans, who they think is a bear poacher. It turns out he's a Troll Hunter for the Norwegian government, keeping the still existing Trolls of Norse mythology in the areas designated for them.  
And for those of you who had big books of European mythology growing up, all the pieces that define Troll mythology are there, but with a more modern spin. The Trolls turn to stone or explode in sunlight, so Hans' primary weapon is a UV ray. The Trolls can smell the blood of a Christian man, so it is vital that everyone be Atheists. This could easily be silly or stupid, but the films (or rather Hans') out and out refusal to acknowledge that any of this is at all silly keeps it from drifting that way.  
Hans himself is an interesting character, using a unique spin on the Norse legends the film draws so much from. See, in Norse mythology and European mythology in general, monster slayers are generally regarded as great heroes, but Hans is a bitter, run down asshole to whom Troll hunting is just another low paying job. It adds an extra layer of poignance that Hans is essentially a hero, risking his life to protect people, but he considers it little more than an exceptionally dangerous chore. And it speaks well of both the writer and the director that the script is sharp enough to work that angle hard, especially in the 3rd act.  
Of course, since this is a movie about a man hunting giant monsters, the CGI is extremely important, and it rises to the challenge admirably. The Trolls themselves are incredible creations of CGI, detailed with rocky skin, moss and dirt. Each different kind that shows up moves and acts differently, and those of you dreading a Cloverfield-esque technique of hiding the monster behind the mockumentary style of quick shots and shaky-cam, will be happy. The camera not only remains steady multiple times and even comes with a night vision (nice of them). We get a solid look at the Trolls the first time one shows up, and repeatedly from then on.  
Also unlike Cloverfield (most applicable comparison, sorry) the film does have structure, and most importantly, rising action. From a fairly easy and sober beginning the movie progresses rapidly and by the time we get to the Trolls that appear in the 3rd act...well you'll see.  
It's not without it's share of problems, many of them brought on by the film's style. While Hans is well defined and interesting, none of the behind the camera characters get any real depth. A big plot twist is telegraphed way too early (and given away in a trailer I think) and the twist behind why the Trolls are becoming more aggressive is annoyingly mundane. The film never answers the overhanging questions of why the Trolls have to be concealed or why no one has ever noticed them before. Oh and the film's ending leaves much to be desired. I mean, I didn't expect a lengthy denouncement from a mockumentary, but it doesn't even end properly, it just sort of stops.  
But those issues don't stop it from being good, even while they hold it back from beating out X-Men or Source Code. But it is quite good, and if you have the inclination and ability (not sure how available this movie is) you should definitely see it, before Chris Colombus' production company gets it's dumbed down remake out.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept expecting someone to say 'They have a cave troll.'

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Hollywood Boulevard


I really don't want to do this, because I was actually rendered speechless by this film. No commentary, no in depth analysis, no beating around the bush, no jokes. This. Movie. Sucks. I really do not have the patience to write anything beyond that.

And I don't mean that it sucks in a kitschy Plan 9 From Outer Space way. I mean it sucks in a terrible Epic Movie kind of way. The plot is barely there, mostly concerned with some new Hollywood actresses who actually end up in softcore porn. Oh and they start getting killed at some point. The incompetence on display is such that the film goes through what is clearly a 3rd act followed by what is clearly and ending and then just sort of...keeps going. For no good reason.

Scenes from other movies are actually trotted out as part of the plot at several points (notably a lengthy sequence from Death Race 2000, a movie I'd much rather be watching) and while it seems like this might be funny, it becomes rapidly clear that this was the whole point of the movie, allowing them to save a lot of money by simply splicing in scenes from other movies.

It's notable that the director (excluding Joe Dante who would later go on to direct Gremlins) is Allan Arkush, responsible for Caddyshack II and Rock 'n Roll High School the previous worst movie that I saw at the Avon, but now this takes the cake. There's no reason to see this film, hell there was no reason to make this film and now that I'm finished saying what little I have to say on it, I'm going to try to forget I ever saw it.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Running Man

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this movie was so bad he doesn't even have a sign off.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Unadaptable

Coming up later this year is a film based on the book The Rum Diary by personal hero of mine Hunter Thompson. It stars Johnny Depp (always a good sign) and directed by some guy none of us have ever heard of (his last movie was in 1992). It seems odd to me, because while I like the book, it's not very well suited to a conventional adaptation, partially cuz for the first 2/3rds, nothing happens. All the real event is in the last third, with the rest devoted to world and character building. It'll be out in October supposedly, so we'll see then.

But it got me thinking about books I don't think could be adapted and since I've been updating relatively slowly, I figured I'd list a few for you and the reasons why.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Book:
A genre defying, masterpiece by the modern master of genre defying masterpieces, Neil Gaiman. The plot is primarily concerned with an ex con named Shadow who, after his wife dies on the day before he is to get out of prison, takes a job with a Mr. Wednesday and gets caught up in a war between the Old Gods and Legends (Odin, Anasazi, Kali and some others who are MUCH more obscure) and the new American Gods of Television, Technology, Money etc. Easily one of the (if not the) best novels of the last 20 years.

Why It's Not Feasible:
Because...well it's weird. Not only does the mythology run the gambit from the well known (Kali, Odin, Anubis) to the ABSURDLY obscure (Who here knows who the Zorya are? How about Mad King Sweeney? That's what I thought) but the book takes it's damn time with the story and never once bothers to stop to explain who any of the gods are. It's also entirely on Neil Gaiman's own absurd wavelength, and while it's that wavelength that make him the amazing writer he is, a lot of people are going to put off by it.

It also moves at it's own pace, cutting away from the main plot every few chapters for digressions with either the modern gods and myths living in America, or asides about people first coming to America in different ways. And I imagine a lot of modern American audiences would take offense at the rather frank and uncompromising examination of the American psyche.

That combined with the obvious R-Rating (explicit sex, an absurd amount of violence and cursing, some required nudity) and the sheer amount of money required to realize some of the important and impressive visuals, means that a lot of studios would balk, or require it be toned down before they'd invest. So you'd either be looking at a neutered compromised version, or a studio would be risking more than their usually  willing to on an R-Rated fantasy art film (anyone else think this would appeal to Terry Gilliam?). Still, if you could find someone with the balls and the money to make it, it would be amazing.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

The Book:
Don'tcha just love that title? Ahem. A semi-revisionist story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, making her out to be the heroic party in an unjust war. Part political commentary (on what I do not know), part revision of an American Fairy Tale, part fanfiction, there's never been anything quite like it.

Why It's Not Feasible:
I want to be clear on one thing: I think Wicked the musical would make a great movie, smash hit and all that, very cinematic. But it's partially because of the musical that the book would never translate to directly to the screen. Unlike the musical, the book tends to run on the cruel side of thing, being often nastily cynical and well...cruel. The book features no happy endings, more than a couple non-consensual sex scenes (that might be the sequel, but the point stands) and a large amount of homosexuality, both directly and under the surface. As such it would tend to alienate people familiar with the more cheerful musical or the lighter movie and would likely flop at the box office. Which would be fine for an arthouse piece, but a lot of money would have to be used to realize the world, much less effects and I doubt it would pull in the awards (genre bias and all that).

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

The Book:
JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis rightly get credit for shaping the modern fantasy genre, but few people give Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert credit for shaping the modern sci-fi genre and this is probably Heinlein's most important book. This one is devoted to a human born and raised on Mars trying to fit in with modern society. Oh and he has psychic powers.

Why It's Not Feasible:
I'm loathe to keep bringing up how weird all these books are, but this one is actually normal compared to the first two. On the other hand, it's also...well let's call it controversial. It's main themes are sexual freedom, the effect of religion and consumerism on modern society and individual liberty. It became a big hit among the counterculture movement of the 60's and until American society as a whole has moved past our (rather childish) obsession with punishing that, it's not going to be a big hit.

This is actually acceptable though, since it could be done on a relatively small budget if you were willing to put in the effort (watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for a guide on how to do this) and it's well known enough among sci-fi fans that it could make a smallish budget back, and an important enough work that it could win a few awards (or at least grab nominations) so maybe this one is feasible? I dunno who owns the rights, and since the only major adaptation of a Heinlein book was the in-name-only Starship Troopers, people might expect something different.

Well that's it for me for now, though I do have others (Mists of Avalon comes to mind). Hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Green Lantern


The problem with seeing multiple films in a very short span, especially films of the same or similar genres, is the good ones appear to be better and the bad ones appear to be worse. I try to keep that in mind when I'm watching movies and adjust my expectations accordingly, so I think I can say this with certainty: Even if I hadn't seen Thor (alright) and X-Men: First Class (excellent) recently, Green Lantern would still be excruciating.

The plot is mainly concerned with military pilot and asshole, Hal Jordan who is chosen to become a member of the Intergalactic Police Force, the Green Lanterns after the alien who was guarding the sector Earth is in, is killed in action and Hal has to become the new Green Lantern, super-powered cops who can create hard light constructions of anything they can imagine.

Now that sounds like a good concept, and there probably is one buried in there, but the movie could not possible mishandle it more. The script is stupid, lazy and cliched, the characters top at one dimensional, the CGI cheap and none of the action scenes exceptionally exciting. It's not quite as rancid as, oh say, Catwoman, but in terms of superhero movies, I cannot remember a recent one that was quite this bad.

All of this goes back to the script and the lead character, so that's as good a place to start. Hal is poorly written, essentially the same characters as Maverick in Top Gun, but with superhero bullshit shoved into the margins. Again, that probably sounds better than it is. The script never feels like pushing him beyond his cliché, and a lot of his character details and arcs go nowhere. To wit, there's a bit at the beginning about him being haunted by his father's death, but with the exception of one visual cue, after it gets brought up, it's never talked about or properly addressed again. This isn't helped by Ryan Reynolds, a normally good actor, looking completely lost and miscast.

The rest of the story is a teetering pile of cliches (find the ring, introduce heroes, introduces villains, 'I know ring fu,' first act of heroics etc) and half finished plots. At one point Amanda Waller, something of an important character in the DC Universe, shows up, drops some exposition, is given a backstory and then leaves. A character's ENTIRE ARC never actually effects the plot in any real way and I'm still not sure who Hal's friend was or what his nephew's role was. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the dialogue gets physically painful at points, due to clichéd writing and awkward delivery (get used to me saying the word cliché).

The cast is woefully out of their depth, except for Peter Sarsgaard in a fun villain role (when he's not screaming in pain...christ, he's annoying when he screams) but even he amounts to an extended red herring/plot padding. Ryan looks like he was signing up to play a different character than the one he was handed, Blake Lively never shows any range or interest and Mark Strong under heavy CGI gives an absurdly bland performance. None of the other characters are at all worth mentioning except for a SHOCKINGLY annoying cameo by Michael Clarke Duncan as a giant...ape thing.

As for the effects, it's up and down. The CGI used to render what little we get to see of the ring's abilities is mostly clean if exactly what you're expecting. On the other hand the CGI used for Hal's suit does not blend well with his clearly live action head and the reimagining of Parallax looks deeply unthreatening at best and downright silly at worst. The action scenes are mostly clean, and make sense in context (Hal, a soldier, tends to create things like guns and swords) but most of them are boring to watch (one fight in space takes longer to show them getting in position than it does to watch the fight) and the couple that are fun to watch end as soon as they get interesting. The director is Martin Campbell who's done good movies before (The Mask of Zorro for example or Casino Royale) but he seems to have been asleep throughout the entirety of this production.

Look, I tend to rant when I've seen a bad movie, and believe me this is a bad movie, so if you're just skipping to the end for my summing up paragraph: Don't see this. This is a bad, bad, BAD movie, a boring and annoying experience from beginning to end. Don't support this, or they might get ideas and make another one. If you're absolutely jonesing for more superhero stuff and can't wait for Captain America next month, go see X-Men again.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders if they initially planned to make this about Kyle Rainer.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Halloween


The distinct problem with reviewing a film like Halloween is that there is very little left to say on the subject. It's one of the most famous cult films of all time, inventing an entire subgenre (the slasher film) and simultaneously setting the high point the genre has yet to top. Is there anything I can say that hasn't been said about Halloween a dozen times before? I assume you all know that his famous mask is just a William Shatner mask painted white, yes? How this is Jamie Lee Curtis' first role? How Dr. Loomis is named after a character in Psycho? We all know all of this by now, yes? Well, too bad because I gotta talk about it.

For formalities sake, the plot is concerned with a child named Michael Meyers who, for reasons known only to himself, one Halloween when he's six, stabs his sister to death. 15 years later he escapes from the mental hospital where he's been kept ever since, to return to his home town to...kill a lot of people I guess.

This, by the by, is one of the things that makes Michael such an effective villain at least until the sequels (we'll get to that in a moment). He's entirely silent, except for his characteristic heavy breathing, nearly unstoppable and seems to lack all human motivation. He perfectly inhabits both the very childlike fear of the unstoppable boogeyman, there to hunt you without rhyme or reason and the very adult fear of the stalker/serial killer, watching you from outside your window.

All of this exacerbated by the very effective simplicity in all aspects of the production. The music is minimalistic and sparsely used, the camera work used to allow Michael to disappear and reappear almost at will. Like another great of the horror genre The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, there's very little in the way of actual gore, most of the killing bloodless. Of course we've come to expect expert direction from John Carpenter (and isn't this particular theater absurdly fond of him) but he really steps up his game here, doing more than anything else to elevate the film above it's (occasionally rather visible) low budger.

It's actually interesting that most of the formulas of the slasher genre that this film kicked off aren't here. Michael doesn't get an absurdly huge body count (only 4 people), most of his onscreen kills are done by strangling rather than his usual knife, he doesn't only favor people who do immoral things (one of the survivors smokes pot) and he even seems to break into a semi-run at one point. It seems very weird that the movie that the subgenre that sprang up around Halloween seems to almost entirely ignore the things that make Halloween great.

Look, if you're at all a fan of horror films in general and slashers in particular, odds are you've already seen this multiple, but on the off chance you haven't, it's a nearly perfect slasher film and a great horror movie on top of that, and no slasher since has equalled it.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Hollywood Boulevard

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he remains convinced that Mike Meyers skinned William Shatner's face and painted it white.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lacking in Bubblegum Stores

Duke Nukem Forever is out.

Let's muse on that for a minute before moving on to my comments. 14 years, 14 fucking goddamn years, went into this game. Holy SHIT! Just breathe for a moment. Haaaaaaa.

Of course the reviews are starting to come in and they are...well not good is putting it nicely. I wouldn't know, haven't played it and am unlikely to any time in the future. Right now I'm working on my second playthrough of inFamous 2 and LA Noire isn't gonna finish itself. But right now the reviews are overwhelmingly negative. Wiki it if you don't believe me.

But people (see: fans of the original game) have rushed to it's defense, as they are wont to do, and I want to comment on one of the major defenses I've heard, namely that this game belongs to the same era as it's predecessor and it should be judged as such. And I'm sorry, but that shit will not fly.

Is it 1997? Is Clinton around? Am I seven years old again? Is the PS1 just getting settled into a long fight with the N64? I don't see a Delorean. Or a Phone Booth. Or that thingamajig from 12 Monkeys. Or...shit, what did they use in Timecop? You get my point. It's not 1997, it's 2011.

So DNF was supposed to be released in 1997-98 and it wants to be judged like that. You know what it could have done to be judged as a 1998 game? BEEN RELEASED IN 1998. As such it's just a 2011 game and it is being judged as a 2011 game as it SHOULD be. And if it can't live up to standards set by other 2011 games? Tough. Shit.

This is of course ignoring the fact that I don't honestly consider DNF released properly. The original developers got sued and kicked off it back like, a year or two ago. So this is more or less a fan game.

And if I had enough readers to have DNF fanboys among them, I'd be getting so much hatemail. Flame resistant by obscurity I guess.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Office Space


Mike Judge is a creator I feel weirdly about. His primary successful projects consist of his contributions to animated television, such as King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead, neither of which I'm particularly fond of. On the other hands his films, such as Office Space and Idiocracy are, in my opinion, excellent but usually failures at the box office. Ah well, box office take is rarely an indication of quality (Avatar is certainly not the best movie ever made, whatever it's box office tells you) and in this case, despite being a commercial failure, this movie is an excellent little film.

The story is concerned with Peter Gibbons, an office drone who's unhappy with his life in general and his job in particular, but lacks the stones to do anything about it. One day, his girlfriend drags him to an 'occupational hypnotherapist' who hypnotizes him out of all his stresses and inhibitions, but dies of a heart attack before he can snap him out of it. Soon he is skipping work, ignoring orders and taking his own path in life. And that's just the first act.

The actors all do excellent jobs. Ron Livingston excels in a mostly simple role as the lead, all the supporting actors turn in great work, especially Gary Cole in a minor role as Peter's slimy boss and Diedrich Bader as Lawrence, Peter's neighbor. And Jennifer Anniston is in it, doing good enough work to make me wonder what the hell is wrong with her in all of her other roles. Special mention goes to an extended cameo from John C McGinley (of Scrubs), giving us a look at what would eventually become his Dr. Cox persona.

Of course, the primary job of any comedy is to make you laugh, and this film does that in spades. While there's much humor to be found in the well written dialogue or in the funny ways Peter goes about ignoring his boss or outright sabotaging his office, one of the main sources comes from an often untapped aspect of a comedy: The soundtrack. Many of the jokes or laughs are derived from the juxtaposition of the actions of white collar, extremely nerdy men with rap music. My personal favorite is a montage of Peter post-hypnosis around the office set to 'Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster.'

Even the usually underappreciated direction gets in on the action. Aside from the above soundtrack choices, some excellent editing and camera use help certain scenes and montages. One of the things that could have contributed to it's financial failure could easily be it's rating; What could have easily been a marketable PG-13 comedy, decided to play it decidedly harder with it's language and content and pushed it up to R, and seemingly paid for it at the box office.

This seems to be another one of those rare films not let down so much by it's own flaws, or lack thereof, but rather a distinct lack of ambition on it's part. Of course saying that the creator of Beevis and Butthead lacks ambition or metaphor in his comedy might seem like a little like saying the ocean is wet, but it really has no desire other than to be an amusing little comedy. What few messages it might are spelled out, and it has no depth to the story. Of course when your primary complaint for a movie is 'There should be more to it,' that's probably a good movie.

When this first came out, me telling you to see it would have been weird, or maybe since it was tanking at the box office, but now, eh not so much. Like many forgotten gems in box office failures, this one has enjoyed a revival as a cult classic on VHS and DVD and now it seems like no film geek is complete until they've added this to the extensive list of movies that failed at the box office but that are now considered classics in certain circles (other examples? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight Club) so you probably don't need me to tell you to see it. But if you've legitimately never seen it or never been urged to by your friends, it's a good comedy, one of the better examples of it's genre. See you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Halloween

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he still maintains that the Superman III joke in this movie was the best thing to come out of that movie.

Missed Musicals


So since everyone seems very fond of these missed movies bit, I figured I'd do a variation. My roommate is a theater guy, so he's often into musicals that most people haven't heard of, myself included. So, to enlighten you, I figured I'd let you know about a few of them and even though none of these are approaching my top 3 musicals (my top 3, for context, are Les Miserables, Wicked and Sweeney Todd) but they're all interesting and likeable musicals.

Of course, if I do this again I'll have to choose another medium since this is pretty much the extent of my obscure musical knowledge. I mean, I already mentioned the film version of Reefer Madness so it would be a little tacky to mention it again. And while I'm aware of it, I can't really speak with certainty that the Debbie Does Dallas is any good so I can't really mention it (yes there's a musical based on Debbie Does Dallas. Don't ask). Maybe I'm overthinking it. Oh well.


Smile

Alan Menken is primarily known for his work on disney soundtracks, like The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast but before all that he wrote a little known musical called Smile which totally tanked. Why did it tank, I hear you ask? Because it was up against Les Miserables. And that's a little like Ladyhawke going up against Lord of the Rings. Sure Ladyhawke is good and all, but Lord of the Rings is the best.

Anywho, the plot is concerned with a beauty contest going on in Southern California, mostly with the characters of Doria and Robin, one of whom is deeply devoted to winning the contest, the other who essentially got there by accident and doesn't care all that much. While the music is good, the plot is let down by waffling a bit on it's presentation. See, stories about Beauty Pageants tend to fall into one of two camps, one celebrating beauty pageants as the biggest and most important day of the lead character's life (we'll call that the Miss Congeniality camp) and fairly nasty (usually dark comedies) commentaries on how twisted and fucked up the process can be (we'll call that the Little Miss Sunshine camp).

Smile on the other hand seems to want to do both, or at least switch back and forth from character to character, and as a result the presentation is a little schitzo. Still, the music is great, the characters mostly well rounded and it's sweet and enjoyable. Of course, the actual music is nigh-on impossible to track down, since only a demo CD exists and that's kind of hard to find. But if you're a high school drama teacher looking for a fun little musical to do and you're tired of doing Brigadoon this might be the one.


The Baker's Wife

This one is the forgotten child of Stephen Schwartz, best known in the film world for doing the soundtrack to Prince of Egypt and in the musical world for a little obscure musical called Wicked. This one is a little more grounded than Wicked, concerned primarily with the new Baker in a small town and his young and pretty wife (duh) who is courted by the driver for the local marquis. The story is technically based on a french movie I've never seen, which is based on a book I've never read.

The story is fairly dark, especially when the second act rolls around, and the music excellent as you might expect from Stephen Schwartz, even if it's a little more 'standard musical' than Wicked. The most famous song from this show is Meadowlark, but the best, from my point of view, is probably If I Have to Live Alone or Chanson and unlike Smile the music from this one is actually fairly simple to track down, so if you're interested, give it a look. And hey, look at that. I posted the music to it on youtube months ago when I realized it wasn't on there. Funny how that works out. Give it a look.


Tick, Tick...Boom

This one is the by Jonathan Larson, primarily (okay only) famous for RENT, filling up the entire list with the forgotten musicals of otherwise famous composers. This one is a little weird, since it was never technically finished, and was put together from Larson's writing, and it shows. The story can be handily summed up as 'Jonathan Larson whines for 90 minutes about turning 30.'

No that plot summary isn't a joke, though the main character is named something else. Plot deficit aside (as far as I can tell from RENT, plot was not Jonathan's strong point), the music is excellent and, in places, better than RENT's (specifically 30-90 and Actions Speak Louder Than Words). Like The Baker's Wife, the music to this one is available on iTunes and by extension youtube (I think) and since the music is the high point, it's well worth listening to. See you next time

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: X-Men First Class


The X-Men films thus far have had 2 great films and 2 really, really, REALLY bad ones. The reasons why aren't hard to gage; The X-Men are hard to do right. It takes the right mix of understanding what makes the characters and their world interesting and willingness to tell the, convoluted, contradictory and often downright stupid, comic continuity to go fuck itself. Thus far Bryan Singer's casual fan attitude has worked out the best and now another casual fan, Matthew Vaughn has taken a crack at it. And not only has he made what is easily one of the best comic book movies since The Dark Knight, he's also made the first really good action movie of the year.

You're all familiar with the setup of the X-Men, so I'm gonna keep this one short. There are a bunch of superpowered people called mutants living in the world, but unlike Superman, everyone's scared of them. This one takes place in the 60's and features not only the Cuban Missile Crisis (engineered by the villain of the piece, Sebastian Shaw) but the origins of Professor X's and Magneto's friendship, and the beginnings of the X-Men. Of course since all the FAMOUS X-Men already appeared in the original X-Men films, they've had to rely on the obscure (Havok, Banshee, Azazel) or movie originals, although keep your eyes open for a couple cameos from characters from the original films.

The direction is exceptional, keeping the frequent action scenes enjoyable and exciting as well as highlighting the fun a teenager might have with a superpowers (no whining for these kids). Good direction and writing manage to keep cliched scenes like the inevitable power show off and training montages fresh and engaging. The pacing is good, the characters well rounded, the cast mostly good in their roles.

The script is sharp and well paced, but does suffer from some problems. First off, while it does manage to get back into the intelligent X-Men mold of using mutation as a metaphor for a civil rights battle (in this case the time appropriate African American Rights), it's a little more awkward about than X2 was with it's Gay Rights metaphors (maybe because the director of X2 is, you know...gay, so he might have more of an insight). One of the things I like is that, early on in the film, Xavier is presented as naïve and insufferable to Magneto's more jaded and experienced outlook, to the point where it almost looks like it's setting up Magneto as the hero.

The cast is mostly excellent, with special mention to on the heroes side to Michael Fastbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence (again justifying her oscar nomination, as if the nominated performance didn't justify it enough). On the villains side, only Kevin Bacon really warrants mention, in a great performance. Azazel and...Whirlwind I think, are so characterless that they might as well be robots (even worse than Sabertooth and Toad in the first one) and while January Jones has good screen presence and looks like a million bucks as Emma Frost, she really isn't given much to do. And while his performance wasn't great, special mention must be given to Banshee who gives character and humanity to his character despite barely any screen time.

The actions sequences are cleaning and exciting, as mentioned earlier. To the movie's credit it does manage to give everyone something to do during the big fight scenes, even if it gets a little shoehorned in towards the end. The CGI is great, as is the now familiar makeup effects used to create Mystiques natural form (although someone needs to put a little more work into Beast's final form's makeup effects, as they look silly more often than not).

There are some other other niggling problems that keep it from reaching the heights set by X2 or The Dark Knight. First off, it has the problem that you can tell who's going to die or turn evil based on how much press they've been getting in the trailers or how well known their actor is. There are some odd directorial choices near the middle (like with Hanna I think the director was getting bored) and the ending comes with very little resolution, although I suppose that's par for the course.

I'll be honest I was more than a little nervous about this one, since the X-Men films haven't been good since X2. But it's one of the top 3 best films of the year so far and a surefire contestant for best action film of the year, so if you're looking for my advice go out and see it, if for no other reason than see what X3 could have been if Mathew Vaughn had actually gotten to direct it. So you give it a glance, and I'll see you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders if Cyclops is Havoc's brother in the movie continuity too.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A few good thoughts

Okay so they might not be GOOD thoughts but I like the reference. Anywho.

There's a trailer for the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo up on the webs. Go track it down yourself, I'm not going to bother linking for the moment. The trailer tells us next to nothing, other than Hollywood still has no idea how to market movies like this and that the guy in charge of picking out the tagline needs to be fired (The feel bad movie of Christmas? Are you fucking kidding me?) Oh and it's focuses too much on Daniel Craig, but then he's the name star in the supporting role opposite the unknown female lead (see: True Grit) so he's probably gonna grab most of the press.

I'm seeing the new X-Men tomorrow, and the 2 reviews I've read/seen about it are both positive (albeit at VASTLY different levels) so I'm going in upbeat. X3 sucked sure, and I'd just like to erase Wolverine from existence, but the first one was good and X2 is still one of my favorite comic book movies of all time. So here's hoping.

Incidentally, I noticed something odd about my schedule: I am planning to see Transformers 3 but not Cars 2. This is partially because my desire to see Transformers is motivated by morbid curiosity and also because I could not give less of a shit about Cars. Even though it's the one Pixar movie that even Pixar fans can't defend (and these are people so skilled in self denial that they can tell me that Toy Story 3 deserved to get best Animated over The Illusionist and YES I'm still sore about that) but it just sort of looks...not very good, as opposed to terrible, which makes it the worst kind of movie to review. It doesn't look anti-good like The Condenmed, not hilariously bad like The Room, not completely incompetent like...well The Room again. Hell it doesn't even look aggressively stupid like Transformers 2. It just doesn't look good in any way. And while I can gush breathlessly about great movies, or snarl angrily about terrible ones, ones that only 'not good' or 'not bad' are boring to review.

And now I look forward to all the Pixar fanboy hatemail. Anywho, see you tomorrow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Rock 'n Roll High School


Earlier when talking about this movie, I assumed it was a musical with songs of The Ramones in place of original music. I was apparently wrong, as upon watching it I've realized it's a comedy where the plot suddenly stops every so often to have a musical number to Ramones music. My bad.

I'd like to state upfront with this review that I'm not a fan of The Ramones. I've nothing exceptionally against them and it's not that I don't like punk (Elessar's obscure punk band recommendation of the day: Tijuana Sweetheart. Listen to them now, thank me later). But I tend to need more out of my music than 3 chords and 7 words repeated for 5 minutes. Ahem.

Of course this leads to my major problem with the movie, as it seems to consider The Ramones the height of musical genius. I wish I was exaggerating, but the movie's presentation of The Ramones and their fans makes Rattle and Hum or A Hard Day's Night look positively harsh in their treatment of their respective bands. The plot is mostly concerned with a Ramones' obsessed (and I do mean obsessed) fan in high school rebelling against her new Principal who has apparently never read the laws on what a Principal or Teacher is allowed to do. The movie it most resembles is Help! but it's riddled with problems that keep it from reaching even that dubious height.

First off, and this is the big one, the movie is a massive mess. It bounces around from simple rebellion comedy, to music based comedy to a pale third generation sex comedy near the middle. This problem with tone means that jokes are often out of place and awkward. The plot is stupid and simplistic, the characters broad and one dimensional and the comedy drawn out. And this is even aside from the random musical sections, which take entirely too long (a concert scene takes at least 20 minutes) and each of which stop the movie cold whenever they show up.

Of course the movie is overly fond of The Ramones (at one point one of their album's is considered better that Highway 61 Revisited, Who's Next and what I think was The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle) which would be acceptable if they were fawning over a great or unique band, but I'm sorry, all their songs sound the same and their lyrics are so absurdly simplistic that they make The Cars look like Bruce Springsteen (I might be revealing my biases here). Of course, since we were comparing it to Help! I might as well continue doing that. And while The Beatles weren't exactly at the height of their artistic ability during Help!, they still were more unique and artistic, musically and lyrically, than The Ramones were. Of course Help! had the benefit of having structure and plot. Oh and Help! was funny.

Which is the final, and most damning problem I'd like to talk about in depth. The movie is, to put it simply, not funny. Oh it has the odd laugh moment, but you know what they say about stopped clocks. But even the jokes that were funny initially get drawn out to the point where they stop being funny. For example, there's an early gag about mice turning into punk lovers and exploding when they listen to The Ramones. Haha, very funny and all that, but the joke gets brought up and repeated every 10 minutes for the rest of the movie, and by the final time it gets repeated I'm so sick of it I can't believe I ever thought it was funny.

So, all in all, this movie is not worth my, your or anyone's time. I'm not even sure it's on VHS much less DVD but unless you're an insanely huge fan of The Ramones (and I mean huge, like enough to make Dead Heads look normal) you won't find a lot to like here. Skip it.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Office Space

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he looks forward to all the hatemail from The Ramones fans he's going to get.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Musical Mayhem


So I'm seeing Rock'N'Roll High School tonight, which appears to be a single artist musical, based around the Ramones. I don't have high hopes for it, and not just because the director's last movie was Caddyshack II nor cuz I'm not all that fond of The Ramones (the only thing I can remember about them is that one Simpsons bit and that they had a song on Rock Band I was not fond of playing).

No it's because single artist musicals based on pre-existing music tend to be not good. Even the best, in movie form (Across the Universe, if you're wondering) is not exceptional, it's merely better than the rest, and given that it's primary company consists of Mama Mia and the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie means that being the best is not fucking hard.

See, in most musicals all the songs from the silly (Until Tomorrow Night from Smile, Somewhere That's Green from Little Shop of Horrors) to the romantic (Chanson from The Baker's Wife, Defying Gravity from Wicked and don't you tell me it's not a romantic song) to the deadly serious (Castle on a Cloud from Les Miserables, Joanna from Sweeney Todd) don't only entertain and excite us, but also move the plot forward and help characterize the characters (I hate the last part of that sentence).

But when the songs are pre-existing, either the plot has to be built around the songs (difficult) or they have to cut away from the plot for these little 3-5 minute digressions, which means every time it happens the plot gets shorter and shorter. And what's really annoying is they never do it based on an album that has a story, that isn't already a Rock Opera or Show (Tommy, The Wall).

There are plenty of albums with stories you could movies or musicals around. Arthur or, the Decline and Fall of the British Empire by The Kinks comes to mind, if you want something dry and humorous. Want something bigger and more fantastical? Why now The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie. Hell, Coheed and Cambria supposedly has a lengthy overarching story going on in the background of their entire musical career, you can't tell me you can't hammer a working narrative out of that (Example? 10 Speeds (of God's Blood and Burial) is about what amounts to Luke Skywalker talking to his evil Bicycle. No really.)

Just some food for thought. Dunno where, if anywhere I was goin with it. Still, if a movie producer is reading this, go look up the story to Ziggy Stardust and then tell me that wouldn't make an awesome movie.