Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Purge (2013)

The Purge (2013)
Rated R
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Running time: 85 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): In the future, a wealthy family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

All of last week, there were news reports of a possible Purge-like event taking place in Louisville, Kentucky. Apparently, a flier had been circulating that indicated that a Purge would be taking place Friday August 15th frsom 6:30pm until 7:00am the following morning. It all turned out to be the work of a teen and nothing much actually came of it, but for a few brief hours/days, the internets were abuzz. #LouisvillePurge was trending nationally and worldwide for a little while on Friday night, and people were tuning into the police scanner online to try and hear accounts of the mayhem and mischief that was taking place. There were reports of a giraffe being freed from the zoo and “troublemakers” with masks on walking around, but little else. After about a half hour of listening to the sporadic and rather mundane reports coming in on the scanner, I made my wife turn it off.  

I had planned for us to watch The Purge as the supposed #LouisvillePurge was taking place, but after realizing this was just a hoax and another case of people on Twitter making a big deal about nothing (or just business as usual for Twitter), I decided we should just watch the movie instead. Initially, I had no desire to watch The Purge when it came out in 2013. It didn’t look all that interesting to me, like just another home invasion horror movie and I didn’t really feel like I had to see it. I’d seen The Strangers and liked it, and figured that was enough for me. But with the buzz, the sequel that came out earlier this summer and the fact that it was apparently making people act stupid and/or overreact to Internet memes and hoaxes, then there had to be something to it.

Of all of the horror movie subgenres, home invasion movies are probably the closest to actually being scary, especially if you are watching them late at night at home with all of the lights off. Home is supposedly a safe place, and to have that safety compromised or threatened is awful. And being trapped in a house with nowhere to go and crazies in masks with guns and bats and machetes hell-bent on terrorizing and possibly killing you is terrifying. I’m always a little bit more on edge watching a home invasion based horror movie than I am with almost any other horror movie. They just get under my skin a little and make me uncomfortable.

The Purge reminded me a lot of The Strangers. Both featured good looking people under attack by crazy masked people in a seemingly safe house and both featured the most unsettling scenes in a home invasion horror movie. In the Strangers, there was a scene of Liv Tyler standing in the kitchen, and a hooded/masked man was standing just out of focus in the darkness behind her. Just thinking about it gives me chills. The Purge used that same effect, with a bad guy just out of focus where only we could see him while the main characters were completely unaware. You just want to yell “BEHIND YOU!” at the character, but you know it’s no use.

The leader of the group attacking Ethan Hawke’s house is one of the most politely disturbing people I have ever seen in a movie. He was so kind in the way that he spoke, but the things he was saying were anything but kind.  He addressed Ethan Hawk and Lena Headey as Mr. and Mrs. Sandin and gave them every opportunity to comply with his demands and threats. He was even credited as Polite Leader. It was crazy. There is no way Rhys Wakfield could (or should) ever play anything but evil.

The Purge takes place in a slightly futuristic America. It’s set in 2022, but it feels very realistic. Technology is slightly evolved from present day, but everything else is basically the same. There are no flying cars or crazy weapons or anything else. It’s just that the country has instituted a (completely bizarre) 12-hour crime spree to cleanse the system and get rid of all other crimes and problems. It’s a fascinating idea and makes for an interesting and different movie.

Nothing from the 85 minutes of The Purge made me want to go out and loot and murder and run amok, nor did it make me wish the government would actually instate such a ridiculous and crazy plan to make all crime legal. It was a movie and it was entertaining. At the very least, it was far better than listening to a police scanner and reading fake updates and dumb jokes on Twitter.

3.5 out of 5 stars


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Rated TV14
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Kari Wurher
Directed by: Anthony C. Ferrante
Tagline: Shark happens!
Running time: 90 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): A freak weather system turns its deadly fury on New York City, unleashing a Sharknado on the population and its most cherished, iconic sites – and only Fin and April can save the Big Apple.

Sharknado 2 was written by Thunder Levin. And apparently that is his real name. I am not making this up

I am super late to the Sharknado 2 party. I had wanted to be a part of the internet and live tweet the movie as it aired, but I have no cable or DirecTV and thus no direct access to SyFy. So my wife and I had to settle for other means to watch it a few days after it aired. The problem with watching a cultural phenomenon like Sharknadolate is that all of the good jokes and memes have already been taken and all of the best GIFs have already been created. I hate not being able to watch television events like Sharknado live, but I hate paying $100 a month for TV more.

Sharknado 2: The Second One didn’t fully recapture the magic of Sharknado. It was stupid and funny and fun to watch, but it just wasn’t as dumb/funny/entertaining/stupid this time around. Sequels are rarely if ever necessary, and are usually just a cash grab or an opportunity to recapture the buzz. Sharknado 2 felt like every B, C or D list celebrity was jumping aboard in order to be a part of the Sharknado internet hype cycle. By my count, there were at least 16 cameos, not including Mark McGrath and Vivica A. Fox, who were major characters. Some of the cameos were brief and barely acknowledged (Wil Wheaton on the plane, Andy Dick as a cop), but others (Al Roker, Matt Lauer, Michael Strahan, Kelly Ripa and Judd Hirsch) all had pretty meaty scenes. There were some weird/no reason cameos (Biz Markie, Kelly Osbourne, Kurt Angle, Billy Ray Cyrus, “Downtown” Julie Brown) and there was at least one corporate sponsor cameo (Jared from Subway). The funniest/best cameo had to be Robert Hayes from Airplane as the pilot of the plane in the beginning of the movie. And I don’t even know whether to count Judah Friedlander and Richard Kind as cameos. With all of the cameos, it felt like there was at least one per scene. Anytime the camera lingered on an extra or a scene, I was frantically looking to see if I recognized anybody.

Sharknado was much more enjoyable than Sharknado 2, but The Second One featured a few really dumb but entertaining things. The newscasters and weather people were constantly informing people that the sharks were falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour, and it made me laugh every time. That’s such a ridiculous unit of measurement for sharks, and it doesn’t even sound that threatening, sharks aside. I also loved Matt Lauer’s refusal to say “Sharknado and Al Roker constantly trying to correct him. They might have been the best thing about Sharknado 2 were it not for the following awesomely dumb scenes.

Tara Reid’s saw arm (I have been trying to figure this out for a week now.  Was it just her hand or her entire arm? It looked like it was just her hand until Ian Ziering pulled an entire forearm from the shark’s mouth at the end. It could have been someone else’s arm were it not for the gun she was holding when it was taken and the fact that it was wearing her engagement ring.)

Given the importance of a chainsaw in the first movie, it was assumed that as soon as that shark bit off Reid’s arm/hand, she was going to have a saw attached to her arm a la Ash in The Evil Dead. It turned out to only be a circular saw, but it was still kind of awesome.

I can't find any videos or GIFs or even still shots of it, but at one point, Ian Ziering and Mark McGrath’s characters pull off what they call “The Ole’ Bait and Switch”. While trying to escape the fire escape (?) of a downtown high rise from flaming sharks from above and a rising flood of sharks from below, Ziering and McGrath try to pull the Ole Bait and Switch to distract a shark and get a fire axe to break through the door. Normally, a bait and switch involves some sort of deception or trickery, but not for these two. Their bait and switch is simply McGrath distracting a shark by yelling so that Ziering can grab an axe that the shark was even close enough to to begin with.

Or this scene of a whale shark just crushing a woman on a bicycle. I almost forgot about that. 

There was also a scene of Ian Ziering bifurcating a shark with a chainsaw, but I couldn't find a GIF for the entire scene. This is the best I could do. But trust me, it's awesome. 

Almost as cool as when he jumped chainsaw first into a shark in the first movie. Almost. He also later rides a shark through a Sharknado. Just insane. 

All in all, Sharknado 2 was still an enjoyably terrible movie, but it just wasn’t quite as fun as the first time around. I am almost 100% certain there will be a Sharknado 3 next year, but unless it takes place on the moon or deep underwater, I don’t know how it could be dumber or better than the first two movies.

3 out of 5 stars

I gave the original 0 out of 5 stars, but it was probably more like a 3.5 or a 4 for the sheer enjoyment factor. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Birdcage (1996)

The Birdcage (1996)
Rated R
Starring: Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Calista Flockhart, Dan Futterman, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski
Directed by: Mike Nicholas
Tagline: Come as you are.
Running time: 117 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): A gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée’s right-wing moralistic parents.

The Birdcage wouldn’t have been my first choice of a movie to watch to commemorate Robin Williams’ life. It wouldn’t be my 10th choice either. Hook, Aladdin, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, Dead Poet’s Society, Good Will Hunting, World’s Greatest Dad, Insomnia and One Hour Photo would all come before The Birdcage if I was picking a Williams’ movie solely to remember him. And I probably will watch all (or most) of them over the next several months. But in the immediate aftermath of learning of his shocking death, I was way more bummed out than I thought I’d be and didn’t want to watch any of those movies. I wanted to see something I’d never seen before, and The Birdcage was the one available on Netflix that my wife also wanted to watch.

I’d avoiding watching The Birdcage for years. I never actively had to do anything to avoid it, but when it first came out and I saw a trailer, I saw Nathan Lane and the plot and said “No thank you.” I have nothing against Lane as an actor, he’s certainly incredibly talented, but I just don’t like him. I don’t know if it’s his characters, his voice or his over-theatrical nature, but I just have never been that into what he does. And for him to be playing such an over the top and flamboyant character definitely made The Birdcage something I was not interested in seeing.

Lane is such a dominant force that he completely overtakes the movie and overshadows anyone he shares a scene with. He gets all the best lines and gets to be the larger than life character while Robin Williams is left playing the straight man (pun absolutely and completely intended). Williams was such an energetic and frantic performer in his stand-up and in his most iconic roles (Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire) that it’s tough to watch him bottled up and restrained. He was a talented dramatic actor and is still solid in his performance, but I kind of wonder what kind of movie would this have been with the roles reversed.

The Birdcage wasn’t nearly as funny as I had anticipated. There were a handful of laughs to be had, but most were because of Hank Azaria’s ridiculous Agador Spartacus character. And the entire idea of Gene Hackman in drag is just hilarious and ridiculous.

As the movie went on, I began to realize something interesting. All of the gay characters (Lane, Williams, Azaria) were open and supportive, willing to do whatever they could to help out while the straight characters (Hackman, Wiest, Flockhart and Val) were all kind of crappy. Val and Barbara came up with a terrible plan to convince her judgmental conservative Republican (is that too redundant?) parents that Val’s parents were straight and married and not Jewish. It was a terrible plan and there was no way it was going to work. The whole thing made straight people out to be pretty awful, and in the end, they didn’t really learn a lesson other than sometimes, it’s okay to dress in drag to escape the media?

Also, we’re supposed to believe that Val is 20 and Barbara is “not quite 18”, but the actors Dan Futterman and Calista Flockhart, are 27 and 31, respectively. Futterman is slightly more believable as a 20 year old and Flockhart is as a teenager. She was 31. Under no circumstances should a woman that age be portraying a teenager. It’s just ridiculous. She may be the size of a teenage girl, but that doesn’t mean she looks like a teenager.

The Birdcage was better than I was expecting it to be, but it still wasn’t that great of a movie. I’d rather have watched any of the other ten Robin Williams movies I listed in the intro, or any of the other movies of his I haven’t yet seen.

3 out of 5 stars


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Manhunter (1986)

Rated R
Starring: William Petersen, Kim Griest, Joan Allen, Dennis Farina, Brian Cox, Tom Noonan
Directed by: Michael Mann
Tagline: Enter the mind of a serial killer… you may never come back.
Running time: 119 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): An F.B.I specialist tracks a serial killer who appears to select his victims at random.

For years I’ve been lying to myself. Since at least 2002, I’ve been telling myself that Michael Mann’s Manhunter is a better movie than Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon. And it’s just not true. There’s a certain hipster satisfaction to being able to claim that the original or older version of something is better, and I fear that was the impetus behind my claims of preference in this instance.

Long before I actually sat down to watch Red Dragon or even The Silence of the Lambs, I saw Manhunter. I was 17 and working at a video store with a guy who was obsessed with Michael Mann. All he ever talked about were Michael Mann movies, but mainly just Heat and Manhunter. I had seen Heat and liked it, so on his suggestion, I checked out Manhunter. It was about a serial killer, so it was right up my alley as a teenager getting interested in weird and dark stuff. I remember liking it, but couldn’t remember a single scene other than the few brief scenes of Brain Cox’s Hannibal Lecktor talking with William Petersen’s Will Graham. I had forgotten everything else about the movie.

After watching Red Dragon and Manhunter in a relatively short span, I can now see why I don’t remember anything from Manhunter. Nearly every scene and character has been replaced in my memory by Red Dragon. If I close my eyes and think of these characters and this story, I don’t see Petersen or Cox or Dennis Farina or Tom Noonan or Stephen Lang. It’s Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have a feeling that when I finally get around to reading the Thomas Harris novel both movies are based on, I’d probably end up envisioning the characters as they appear in the NBC series Hannibal, but that’s just because it’s the freshest and I’ve spent more time with those versions of the characters.  

It’s not necessarily that the characters in Manhunter are bad, it’s just that the performances in Red Dragon are better. Noonan is creepier as Francis Dollarhyde in Manhunter, but Fiennes’ take on the character is so much sadder and darker. It also helps that Fiennes’ Reba (Emily Watson) is a much more believable blind lady than Joan Allen in Manhunter.

Cox’s take on Hannibal is so different from Hopkins’ that it’s almost hard to believe that it’s supposed to be the same character. Hopkins’ Lector (and Mads Mikkellson’s on NBC’s Hannibal) seems so much smarter and more calculating than Cox’s. It felt like Cox’s Hannibal was helping Dollarhyde and just messing with Graham because he’s an a-hole. Cox’s performance was solid, but ultimately, I felt like Manhunter could have used a little more of Hannibal and a little less of everyone else.

It’s probably not really fair to compare the actors and their takes on the characters in Manhunter and Red Dragon. It’s not like in Hannibal where they just replaced Jodie Foster with Julianne Moore and pretended it was still Clarice Starling. This was 16 years later and a complete do over. I wouldn’t even call Red Dragon a remake of Manhunter, just another adaptation of the novel.

My biggest problem with Manhunter is that it just does not hold up. It was made in the late 80s and it absolutely feels like it. At several points in the movie the soundtrack takes over and dominates, nearly drowning out dialogue with some cheesy 80s pop. It becomes so distracting and you can’t understand what anyone is saying because of a sax or synth solo. Maybe it’s an issue with the streaming version on Netflix, but it made Manhunter a little hard to watch. And there was also the 10 plus minutes of the finale, set entirely to what felt like an uncut version of Iron Butterfly’s Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida.

In addition to the music, there were several other 80s elements that stood out as pretty ridiculous in 2014. Like Kim Griest’s single earring.

Initially, I thought it was a continuity error, like she had both, lost one and no one caught it. But later on, she still only has a left earring. And it’s not a small earring. It’s quite substantial.

And then we have the blueness of Graham’s Florida home. I guess it was supposed to be the moonlight coming through their windows, but it was so bright and so blue. And that felt like a very 80s thing to do.

And perhaps the most 80s aspect of the movie, William Petersen’s shorts (and legs) at the end of the movie.

Those shorts are incredibly short, and his legs are fantastic. Just amazingly smooth and tan. My wife was jealous of how fabulous his legs looked.

Much like Hannibal Rising (which we couldn’t even finish it was so terrible), I’m choosing to omit Manhunter from the Hannibal Lector cannon. It’s interesting only because of the different takes on these (now) iconic characters. But otherwise, it just doesn’t fit. I had originally given it four stars on Netflix when I was rating movies I had previously seen, but I think that’s a little too high. I didn’t hate it, but I’d just rather watch Red Dragon.

3 out of 5 stars


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy (2013)
Rated R
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Imperioli, Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Spike Lee
Tagline: Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free.
Running time: 104 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.  

From the first moment I heard that Spike Lee was going to be remaking Chan-wook Park’s 2003 film for an American audience, I wanted to hate it. I have been pretty staunchly opposed to Americanized remakes of foreign movies for several years. And while they’re not always terrible (David Finchers’ Girl withthe Dragon Tattoo and Matt Reeves’ Let Me In), they’re almost never necessary (almost any horror movie of the last few years). As more details emerged about Lee’s take on the revenge thriller, I became more intrigued by it, so much so that I stopped hating it just because it was happening. I decided to try and reserve my judgment until after I actually watch the movie. So for the majority of the movie watching experience, I forced myself to pretend that Chan-wook Park’s version didn’t exist.

And I was almost able to do it. For large stretches of the movie, I was able to pretend like I was watching a completely original movie, and during those periods, Spike Lee’s Oldboy was quite good. It was brutal and it was disturbing and had I not known better, I’d have been completely blindsided by some of the twists and turns the movie took. The only time I wasn’t able to suspend my memory of the original was for the hammer fight scene. It’s (probably) the most memorable part of Park’s movie and is amazing. Spike Lee’s take on it wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t a shot for shot remake of the original scene, which is what I would have done because it was perfect as is. In fact, that’s probably my main critique of the entirety of this version of Oldboy. It’s not bad, but it’s not the original.

About the only thing that this version has that Park’s version is lacking is a blonde mohawked Samuel L. Jackson.  Every movie would be better with a blonde mohawked Sam Jackson in it. Period. I’d probably give the edge in casting overall to Lee’s version. Not necessarily because the actor’s in Lee’s version are better, but just that I’m more familiar with them.

Josh Brolin’s not what I would consider a name-draw actor. I’m not going to rush out to see every Josh Brolin movie that comes out, but I think he’s a good actor. His best work might have been his Tommy Lee Jones impression in MIB III, but he’s been solid in everything else I’ve seen him in. Brolin probably wouldn’t be my first choice to star in a revenge thriller, for that I’d have to go with Liam Neeson at this moment. But Neeson wouldn’t work in this movie; he’s too old to convincingly play himself in his 20s and 40s. Brolin is young enough and good looking enough to believably portray the same man for a 20 year stretch.

On its own, Spike Lee’s Oldboy is a good movie. It’s disturbing and shocking and entertaining. But when compared to Chan wook Park’s original, it just doesn’t hold up. If I had to choose one to watch again, it’s going to be Park’s version, not Lee’s. And Park’s Oldboy is (the best) part of a much bigger Vengeance Trilogy, including Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Even if Oldboy was wildly successful (and I don’t know that it was), I don’t see Spike Lee sticking with it to remake those other two movies as well.

3.5 out of 5 stars