Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Premium Rush


I was kind of debating whether or not to write this review, since I’ve got a podcast review going up tomorrow, but since I imagine not many of you want to listen to my podcasts, well here go:

Premium Rush is probably going to be a movie I use as a counterpoint to the accusation that I only like movies that are ‘about’ something for a while. Premium Rush is a perfectly serviceable, well made, engaging and enjoyable chase movie, with essentially nothing on it’s mind. But I still liked it quite a bit and I’m certainly going to recommend it.

For the record, the plot is concerned with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Wilee (Ha-ha), a bike messenger working in New York City (are there bike messengers in other cities? I’m honestly asking, I don’t know).  He is given a package to deliver in Chinatown which runs him afoul of a corrupt cop looking to steal the package for himself.

Any and all strength this movie has comes from its location and subject matter. The bike chase scenes are really impressive, from a unique car/bike chase towards the beginning (which acknowledges the issues one would have driving a car in a chase in New York city) to a well done BMX style chase towards the end. The movie is also clearly in love with it’s location and as someone who has lived in NYC and will be living in NYC again by next week, I can confirm it’s fairly accurate to the location.

The acting is clearly designed for a movie exactly like it is, especially Michael Shannon’s scenery chewing villain performance. Joseph Gordon Levitt, who’s been having a good couple of years (and well deserved, he’s a great actor) manages to really sell his character. A couple of the minor characters are more problematic, such as Wole Parks as a rival bike messenger, but we’ll get to that in the moment.

What really elevates this above it’s light and breezy subject matter, is the direction. Aside from the well shot and edited chase scenes, the movie chooses an interestingly bright color scheme, most likely to reflect it’s slightly cartoonish style. And it must be said, a recurring gimmick where Wilee sees the different options he has and what will happen if he takes each one, provides some the films best and most unique moments.

Okay okay, issues: As I said, there are issues with Wole Parks rival character, as he seems to be arbitrarily villainous to ramp up the stakes late in the 2nd act. It has also has a minor case of Iron Man syndrome, where the late movie action/chase sequences are nowhere near as good as the early ones. And it must be said that while the script is not BAD in the strictest sense, it is kind of lazy.

But as I said, I quite liked this movie. David Koepp is a good director, always has been, and this is a solid late-August action movie. So if you’re in the mood for a light and well made movie right now, this would be my recommendation. See you next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he doesn’t know how anyone drives in the New York City.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pod People

Well it's finally happened. My ego has gotten the better of me and I've embarked upon a crazy project. And while I know that's nothing new, this time I've elected to drag some people down with me.

Myself, and a pair of my friends (one of whom is from Heckling From The Third Row, although he won't always be able to join us) have elected to try and do a podcast show: Pop Culture Whores. We just posted our first episode, about our favorite Bad Movies. Give it a look if you like.

Episode 1: Bad Movies 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

DVD Review: Jack and Jill

I. But. You. NO!

No. No no no no no. I cannot do this. I WILL not do this. This is not something that I need to write. This is not something anyone WANTS me to write. What can I say about this movie that has any relevancy, that hasn't been said 20 times already? It won ALL of the Razzies. ALL OF THEM! And they were well deserved.

And don't think this is a bad movie thing. This is beyond that. There are bad movies I enjoy, ironically but still. There are bad movies that I hate, just because they're boring or irritating messes. This is beyond that, so far beyond that that I can't even see it anymore. Past The Room. Past Birdemic. Past even The Star Wars Holiday Special, into the nether regions where you find my most hated movie list, like The Condemned.

So I'm not going to recount the plot. I'm not going to babble about screenplay and story structure and how the thing looks like it was shot in a weekend in someone's backyard (and it cost 79 MILLION DOLLARS TO MAKE! ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME?) What I am going to say is that this movie is disgusting, juvenile, boring and insulting. One of the lamest, most pathetic, most irritatingly condescending movies I've seen in my life. Destined to be on my 'worst of all time' lists for a long. Long. LONG. Time. Worse than The Room or Showgirls. Worse than Transformers 2. Worse than Red State. A 90 minute black hole of despair and emptiness from which NOTHING can escape. No enjoyment. No happiness. No emotion even. Every movie I see for the rest of the year will look better by comparison to this. Do not see this movie. EVER.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he nearly threw out his copy of Punch Drunk Love thanks to this.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: The Campaign

The Campaign, like so many comedies, is held back by it's own lack of ambition. That's not really a flaw or even a complaint, it just is. It's a loud and often extremely funny comedy that occasionally flirts with becoming a darker political satire, but never quite makes the full leap, instead content to let the darker aspect hang around on the margins to entice the heavier thinkers in the audience. This might keep it from being all it can be, but it doesn't stop it from being good and it certainly doesn't stop it from being funny.

For the record, the movie is concerned with Will Ferrel playing a slightly more sexual version of Will Ferrel as a 4 term Congressman used to running unopposed. When he makes a mistake that leaves his reelection in doubt, 2 billionaire brothers (who are clearly NOT the Koch brothers) back Zack Galifianakis as a more effeminite version of Zack Galifianakis to run against him.

So yeah, there's not a lot of heavy acting going on, but it all works. Will Ferrel is putting in a good amount of effort to make his character funny, putting on the same style that informed his grand Bush parodies on SNL. Galifianakis puts more work than he probably needs to, into a character he could probably play in his sleep, and the movie is better for it. There's also some solid supporting work from the likes of Brian Cox and Dan Ackroyd (who's been having an absolutely awful post-Blues Brothers career). And believe it or not, the standout is Dylan McDermott (who some of you might remember from American Horror Story as the worst father in the world) playing a campaign advisor who steals every single scene he's in.

The movie, and it's comedy, are very much of-the-moment, with shots directly at modern political issues like the Anthony Wiener scandal, the Koch Brothers and the like. But what surprises me is how non-partisan it manages to be, despite openly naming both the parties (a rarity in modern political comedies, and one I'm happy to see). Neither of the candidates talk much about their respective issues, which allows both of them to alternate between hero and villain without us getting wrapped up too much in the politics. Not even the not-Koch brothers (I'm sure they had another name, but I don't care) don't seem to have a political ideology beyond 'we want to be richer.'

I really don't have much of a desire to talk about the writing or directing but here we are. The direction is fine, nothing on the director's previous work in the first Austin Powers, much less Recount or Game Change, but it works, especially a couple of grandly funny moments (including one involving McDermott's character that is probably one of the best staged 'joke shots' I've seen outside of Cabin in the Woods). The screenplay is fine, even if it is a little too in love with Galifianakis' rather thin character arc, helped along by an R-Rating that let's it say and do exactly what it wants to.

It's not without it's flaws: The political satire and the more juvenile humor occasionally undercut each other, especially when they start crossing over towards the end. The middle is a little awkward, when a few too many changes in tone might throw you out of the movie. And it must be said, I'm a little disappointed in the ending, because it looked like they were about to go really far in one direction (I even said to my viewing companions: 'That was dark.') but then turns it around in time for a typical happy ending.

But that doesn't exceptionally matter, as the movie accomplishes the first and most important goal of a comedy: Being funny. It's a good time at the movies for all, and will probably wind up being on the better comedies of the year (Cabin doesn't QUITE count). So if you're looking for something to see right now, this would be my recommendation. See ya next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like to memeify 'Tim Wattley is watching you eat.'

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Total Recall

The original Total Recall is spiritual twin to Robocop. They're both very good sci-fi/action movies directed by Paul Verhoven, with interesting hooks, good action and smart concepts with interesting metaphors, let down by their script and acting, that tend to get overpraised by movie geeks of a certain age, due to being a huge part of their foundational psyche. But, while Robocop was an original invention, Total Recall is based on a Phillip K Dick short called We Can Remember It For You, Wholesale. And while the opportunity is there to make a closer adaption (which, as True Grit proved, is the way to go) this new one moves even farther and the result is a clumsy, boring mess.

The plot is pretty much exactly the same as the original movie, with a slightly alteration to the setting. It's the future, but the planet is devastated by germ warfare that only Britain and Australia remain habitable. Workers are ferried from Australia to Britain via a giant underground elevator called The Fall. The main character (I'm sure he had a name, but I can't remember it) is unhappy in his existence and seeks thrills via Rekall, a procedure that will implant false memories to make you feel like you've lived a cooler existence. But the procedure reveals that he's actually a secret agent and everything in his life is a grandly staged lie.

If nothing else, this movie is a perfect example of something I've been harping on about for a while: dramatically unengaging fights. Most bad action movies have poorly put together fight scenes, but Total Recall's are frequently well put together and a couple of them are actually really cool. But the characters are so flat and the story so poorly told and written, that I just could not give any less of a shit. It doesn't help that the movie is the exact opposite of fun. Yeah the original was kind of silly, but that was the gag, IE that it was increasingly possible that he was still just strapped into the machine and all of this was just his fantasy. This one attempts to go for that (indeed, the scene where they directly address it is the closest the movie comes to coming alive) but never really commits to it. As it is, the movie is so serious and dour that I can't even enjoy the action scenes for themselves.

The script is awful, thinly sketched characters, terrible dialogue and a couple of just baffling character actions. And while I'm complaining, possibly the most consistently annoying thing is how unoriginal the visual design is. In fact, now that I think about it, the visual design is ripped directly from the two most well known and popular adaptations of Phillip K Dick stories. Australia consistently looks so much like Blade Runner it's actually a little surprising that they got away with it. And what little we see of Britain looks like a cut rate Minority Report.

The acting is mixed. Kate Beckinsale is pretty good at the wife/lead henchman role, although the number of 'wife' jokes they make starts to get disconcerting when you realize she's married to the director. Bryan Cranston is pretty good as the villainous President, even if he's saddled with a couple of baffling character actions. Jessica Biel isn't given enough of a character beyond 'the hero's girlfriend' to really give us a read. The big drag is the important one, as Collin Farrell is still consistently unsuited to this action hero roles that people keep saddling him with.

Ultimately this movie is just what it looked like: A shitty sci-fi/action movie, dressed up with the story of a better movie and the odd winking reference to the original. There are dozens of better adaptations of Phillip K Dick stories (I know a few of you still haven't seen Blade Runner) and you'd be better off seeing any of those. Go see Blade Runner if you want a better serious movie, or Minority Report if you want a better action. Hell, just go see the original, it's not perfect but it's a good time. This? This is just boring.

Elessar is a 22 year old cinephile and he found it weird how everyone said 'Shit' so often, in the EXACT same way.