Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Point Break (1991)


Point Break (1991)
Rated R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty, John McGinley, Anthony Keidis, Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Tagline: 100% Pure Adrenaline
Running time: 120 Minutes
DVR (from some channel called “Current?”)

Quick summary (from IMDB): An FBI agent goes undercover to catch a gang of bank robbers who may be surfers.

I’ve seen Point Break countless times, but never the whole way through at one time. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve held the $5 DVD in my hand or in my cart at Wal-Mart only to ultimately talk myself out of buying it because “I don’t really need it.” Back in July of last year, I lucked out and saw that it was going to be on TV one day, so I set my DVR to record it so I could watch it whenever I wanted. It sat at the bottom of the DVR queue for nearly a year before I finally decided that I wanted to watch it. I kind of wish I had just bought the DVD…

I had never heard of “Current” as a TV channel, and since this was during a period of “free HBO/Showtime/Starz/Cinemax/Whatever Else” that DirecTV does, I kind of assumed this was some sort of premium channel. As it turns out, it’s not. It’s just a cable channel that comes with whatever TV package I have. So my Point Break experience was semi ruined by commercial breaks that I had to fast-forward through and dialog and scenes that were edited or cut out completely. Normally I am ok with watching edited movies on TV, but this time I was really looking forward to the full Point Break experience. I would have at least settled for replacement words dubbed over the curse words.

Even though it was edited for TV, it didn’t stop it from being a totally awesome movie. It’s still Keanu Reeves being himself, Patrick Swayze being as awesome as he ever was and Gary Busey prior to his insanity. That’s an epic early 90’s cast. There’s also an un-credited appearance by pre-crazy Tom Sizemore and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s front man Anthony Keidis as a kind of bumbling surf thug. Everything about the cast is awesome. Even Lori Petty, who I don’t normally like, was kind of awesomely early 90’s.

The premise is admittedly ridiculous: a rookie FBI agent is sent undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank robbing, adrenaline junky surfers and bring them down. Some of the aspects of the movie are actually pretty cool: the gang wears rubber masks of former Presidents and calls themselves The Ex-Presidents, and the skydiving “chase” sequence (even if it’s not possible – link to Mythbusters).

I don’t care that it’s probably a “bad” movie, I still love it. I also love the fact that it was directed by an Academy Award winner in Kathryn Bigelow, and produced by her then-husband, Mr. Avatar James Cameron. This is Swayze in his prime; he couldn’t lose from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.

I hope the rumored remake doesn’t happen. Had it happened a few years ago, before Swayze’s death, and he had a cameo, it would have been borderline acceptable to me. But without him, it won’t be authentic, and it’s not necessary.

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:


Top Five: Movie Psychopaths

Psychopaths in real life are terrifying and awful, and a little bit interesting, though I never want to meet one. In movies, however, psychos are some of the most fascinating and memorable characters. I'm hesitant to say that these are my favorite movie psychos, because that's just a weird thing to say, but here are my Top Five Movie Psychos: 


#5 – Dr. Heiter Human Centipede (First Sequence)
Crimes: Kidnapping, (probably) Practicing Medicine without a license, wrongful death, Torture

He may not be the most iconic psychopath on this list, but he may just be the craziest. On a list that includes multiple mass murderers and truly crazy people, he stands out a little bit, because it takes a special kind of crazy to dream up the idea of sewing together three people mouth to anus to combine into one digestive track. He’s not so much scary as he is creepy as hell, and he was so committed to the idea and the project, and completely unwilling to accept that it wouldn’t work exactly as he had dreamt it.

Unlike his counterpart in the sequel, Dr. Heiter was an intelligent and skilled man, who put a lot of serious work into his crazy idea. By comparison, the first movie was interesting and well made while the sequel was just unwatchable torture porn.


#4 – Norman Bates Psycho
Crimes: Murder

He may be considered lame by modern day comparisons, but Norman Bates is still the standard when it comes to movie psychopaths. Without him none of the other movie psychos would exist. Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic conveys so much without actually showing anything, in contrast to movies like The Human Centipede, which shows nearly everything and yet is far less scary.



#3 – The Joker The Dark Knight
Crimes: Bank Robbery, Mass Murder, Assault with a Pencil, Terrorism

Probably less terrifying than the other members of this list, Heath Ledger’s Joker took a well-known, iconic character from a beloved franchise, last played, wonderfully, by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and completely reinvented it. While The Joker has always been a psycho throughout the history of Batman, Ledger’s portrayal of him was of a man completely unhinged. He’s not in it for personal gain; he’s driven only by madness.



#2 – Patrick Bateman American Psycho
Crimes: Murder, Rape, Torture, Cannibalism

Patrick Bateman is probably my favorite psycho, which is a completely weird statement to make. American Psycho was my first introduction to Christian Bale, and I was blown away by his performance. His portrayal of Bateman was unreal. He was so crazy, but calmly committing his murders while describing Genesis albums. Unlike The Joker, Bateman is driven by greed and his need for approval and acceptance. He’s also completely out of his mind.



#1 – Hannibal Lector The Silence of the Lambs
Crimes: Murder, Cannibalism, Escape from Prison, Kidnapping

Dr. Hannibal Lector is, by far, the most iconic and memorable movie psychopath, and this has nothing to do with the fact that I was watching the second showing of The Silence of the Lambs on Bravo while compiling this list. Lector has been played five times by three different actors, most notably by Anthony Hopkins, who played him thrice, and won an Academy Award for it. The image of Hopkins strapped onto the stretcher in the straight jacket, wearing that mask is still terrifying, 20 years later. While I’ve never found the Hannibal films to be especially scary, Hopkins as Dr. Lector is one of the most frightening characters to ever be put on film. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)
Rated R
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Running time: 112 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from Netflix): Eva’s relationship with her son, Kevin, has been difficult from the beginning. When the 15-year-old boy’s cruel streak erupts into violence, Eva wonders how much blame she deserves for his actions.  

The above description doesn’t exactly strike me as anything special. It makes the movie sound like a semi-standard drama centered on a troubled child. Luckily, I didn’t even read the description before adding it to my queue, as the title alone was enough to pull me in.

We Need to Talk About Kevin isn’t necessarily a great movie title, as it’s a bit long and pretty vague, but it is an effective title. In a world with movies (lazily) titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and The Expendables 2, a little uncertainty in the title is welcomed. I, for one, was quick to as “What about Kevin?”, and so I added the movie to my queue. It probably helped that back when I was researching the potential Oscar movies to get a jump start, it had been at least mentioned, so the seed was planted and my interest piqued.

I’m always hesitant to say that I loved, or even enjoyed movies like this. I certainly didn’t have fun watching this tense and dark drama. It’s a grim reality for Eva and her family, and the future doesn’t look too bright either. There’s no sense of hope, and (spoiler) there’s no happy ending.  So, no, I didn’t enjoy We Need to Talk About Kevin, it made me sad, and as a new parent, a little bit scared. It plays a little bit like a horror film, and would have been even more frightening a few months ago before my daughter was born.

While it may not have been an enjoyable film, it was still really well made and the performances from Tilda Swinton and the two boys who played Kevin were fantastic. Swinton is so good at portraying despair and sadness, and the transition and degradation of Eva as Kevin grows up and proves to be more and more difficult is remarkable. Before Kevin was born, she was energetic, successful, kind of pretty and happy, and by the time he was a teenager, she looked like a junkie. I don’t know how she was able to pull off that level of despair on film. She should have at least been nominated for an Oscar.

I’m sure the two boys who played Kevin, Jasper Newell for 6-8 year old Kevin and Ezra Miller for teenaged Kevin, are probably perfectly nice people who’d never hurt anyone, but they both came across as almost pure evil. They were both cold and detached, which (should be) pretty easy for anyone between the ages of 13 and 25, but not so much for the younger actor. Both Newell and Miller played Kevin the same way, and the detachment and the coldness in their eyes was eerily similar, as was the similarities in their overall appearance. Usually, with two actors playing the same character at different ages, you can tell, but with these two, it was easy to believe that it was the same person.

For as good as John C. Reilly has been in the stupid comedies he’s been doing in recent years, he’s just as good, if not better in more serious fare like this. His wasn’t a large role, as the movie centered on Swinton’s Eva and her relationship with Kevin, but he was effective and believable.

There aren’t many movies that can shock both my wife and I, but We Need to Talk About Kevin had both of us aghast with our hands over our mouths in disbelief, even though we had both read ahead and semi-spoiled it for ourselves on Wikipedia. That is quite an accomplishment. I definitely want to check out the novel it was based on.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:


Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: The Italian Job (2003)


The Italian Job (2003)
PG-13
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Donald Sutherland, Mos Def, Seth Green
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Tagline: Get in. Get out. Get even.
Running time: 111 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): After being betrayed and left for dead in Italy, Charlie Croker and his tram plan an elaborate gold heist against their former ally.

I don’t rightly know why I had not seen The Italian Job (the 2003 remake) until just now. I should have seen it years ago. Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham and Edward Norton in the same heist movie? I should have been all over that when it came out. I’ve ridden the Italian Job roller coaster at King’s Island half a dozen times and never once thought “I should watch that movie.” Unlike the ride, the movie was actually pretty good, and to my knowledge, hasn’t made anybody black out, so that’s a plus.

Following on the heels of 2001’s hit ensemble cast heist movie remake, Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job was no doubt an attempt to capture some of that magic (and box office money). The two films are going to be forever linked given their incredibly similar plots (criminals duped by other criminals and executing an insane and difficult heist, not solely for the money, but for revenge), proximity in years (2001 for Oceans, 2003 for The Italian Job) and their ensemble casts of talented and attractive people. While Ocean’s was better in probably every way (higher budget, higher gross, better casting), The Italian Job was still a good and enjoyable heist movie.

Probably the only aspect where Job was better than Ocean’s was stunt work. Granted Ocean’s was less of an action movie, but the stunt work in The Italian Job was superb. It almost makes me want a Mini Cooper, if only they weren’t so cutesy and dumb looking. The roller coaster version of the chase sequence is far less interesting or exciting than the actual chase scene from the movie, though it has more gunfire and explosions than the movie.

I was kind of bummed out to learn that Edward Norton was only fulfilling a contractual obligation, and (probably) didn’t want to really do the movie. He probably could have done it without the mustache, as it looked pretty ridiculous. Luckily, Norton didn’t tank his performance or do anything stupid to make it obvious that he was only doing it because he had to, because that would have ruined the movie. His performance was just good. It wasn’t stellar or terrible. The same can pretty much be said about the rest of the cast, as well.

Mark Wahlberg was his usual, albeit much less Boston-y, good guy that does bad things. He seems to play the criminal with a heart of gold character quite a bit, and he’s pretty good at it. It’s pretty much the same character from The Big Hit. Joining Wahlberg amongst the ensemble is fellow rapper-slash-actor Mos Def, CharlizeTheron, Jason Statham, Seth Green and Donald Sutherland. Mos Def was close to being an honorable mention on my Top 5 Rapper/Actor List, as he continues to turn in solid, and different performances (Be Kind, Rewind, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dexter). Charlize Theron was decent, Jason Statham is awesome (As per usual), Seth Green was fine, playing the only character he could be in the early 2000’s – the nerdy computer whiz, and Donald Sutherland is old. Just kidding, Sutherland was good, as he usually is, I just can never tell how old he is, since he’s looked exactly the same for something like 30 years.

Its fun and entertaining, with enough cool action scenes and stunts to keep it going once you realize it’s basically just the same thing as Ocean’s Eleven, with fewer big name superstars.

3 out of 5

Trailer:  


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Project X (2012)


Project X (2012)
Rated R
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Tagline: The party you've only dreamed about.
Running time: 88 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): 3 high school seniors throw a birthday party to make a name for themselves. As the night progresses, things spiral out of control as word of the party spreads.

I really didn’t want to enjoy Project X because of what (I thought) it was: a lazy attempt at filmmaking. I’m still kind of on the fence about “found footage” movies, as I hated the two most popular movies in this style, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. The difference between those two movies and Project X was that those two were horror, and tried to use the shaky camera and bad acting to make the movies seem real and to make it scarier. It doesn’t really work (for me) as I end up bored and making fun of the bad acting or the stupid tricks. I figured Project X would be kind of the same, and the lack of traditional movie story-telling and structure would not work and I’d just be bored for 90 minutes. Turns out it was actually kind of funny.

These types of movies only work if the cast is made up of complete unknowns. With the exception of that one dude with the mustache (Pete Gardner) and Jimmy Kimmel, I’d never seen any of the main characters anywhere else. That certainly helps make it feel more realistic. The 3 main dudes (Thomas Mann, Oilver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown) all did a good job, especially if this was their first time actually acting, though I doubt it’s very hard to act like a teenager going wild at a crazy high school party. It probably is as simple as: Drink fake alcohol, pretend to be drunk, jump in a pool, dance around, pass out, wake up, and look hung over. There’s not a whole lot of depth or emotion required to pull that off. Still they were able to do a convincing job of it.

There’s not a whole lot to the movie other than the partying, and much of the funnier scenes were in the trailer, but overall it was a pretty funny movie. It’s not even close to the level of Animal House or Old School in terms of ridiculously awesome parties in movies, but it’s decent, and a lot of crazy stuff happens, and the party looks outrageous. Definitely not a party I’d want to go to.

The only thing I didn’t get with Project X is how in the world it cost $12 million to make. The camera(s) probably didn’t cost more than a couple thousand dollars, they cast unknowns and had tons of extras, but other than that, couldn’t have had too many other expenses. Sure, they destroyed a Mercedes and an entire fake neighborhood full of houses, and had some effects and stunts, but it couldn’t have cost that much. I feel like I could have made this movie for way less than $12 mil. Someone spot me $1 mil and I’ll make a pretty sweet college/high school party movie.

I’m kind of afraid that after a movie like this, especially since it grossed nearly $100 million, there will be a ton more just like it with shaky cams, shoddy acting and shenanigans and hi-jinks in lieu of a plot. In Project X, the acting was good enough and the shenanigans funny enough to make it work.

3 out of 5 stars

Trailer:


Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Raising Arizona (1987)


Raising Arizona (1987)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Francis McDormand
Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Tagline: A comedy beyond belief.
Running time: 94 Minutes
DVD

Quick summary (from IMDB): When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives get more complicated than they anticipated.

I’d put the Coen Brothers in my top 10 filmmakers list, easily. They don’t quite reach the same level as Smith, Kubrick or Tarantino, for me, but they consistently make excellent and enjoyably awesome films. They’ve got one of my Top 10 favorites amongst their filmography, as well as several other movies that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I’ve really got no excuse for having never seen Raising Arizona until now. The best two excuses I can come up with are still pretty weak: I was 3 years old when it came out and it has Nicolas Cage in it.

Being only 3 years old is really a terrible excuse, since I’ve seen and loved dozens of movies from before I was even born, so that’s out. And having Nic Cage star in a movie isn’t really a very good excuse either. Yes, he’s not a very good actor, and has made some terrible movies in the past, but he’s also won an Oscar and been pretty good in a couple of movies. I currently have 4 Nic Cage movies in my collection right now (Con Air, Face/Off, 8MM – on VHS!, and Kick-Ass), so even though I groan every time I see a trailer for a new movie with him in it, there’s a small part of me that still kind of wants to see it.

Raising Arizona represents the good Nicolas Cage. His usual overacting actually suits this type of screwball comedy very well. He seems more earnest and more likeable as a result. Cage now seems to me like an old man trying hard to still be cool and relevant. Back in ’87, Cage didn’t seem to be preoccupied with how cool he was perceived. He also had more hair, so his enormous forehead wasn’t on display, and was rocking a pretty sweet mustache.

Joining Cage in the cast are future Coen regulars John Goodman and Francis McDormand, as well as Holly Hunter, William Forsythe and Randall “Tex” Cobb, who I am pretty sure was the bad guy in every 80’s movie ever made. It’s not quite as strong or talented a cast as some of the Coen’s later films, but it’s certainly one of the reasons so many talented and awesome people have wanted to work with them over the years.

For years, Raising Arizona has been on my Best Movies I’ve Never Seen List, an ever growing list of Academy Award nominees, box office hits, critical darlings and classics that I never find the time to actually sit down and watch, but thanks to Netflix, I was finally forced to find the time to watch it and was glad that I did. It’s funny and quirky and very much a Coen Brothers movie. It’s also got that 80’s movie look and feel, which is awesome.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:  


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: AvP - Alien vs. Predator (2004)


AvP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Tommy Flanagan, Raoul Bova, Ewan Bremner, Lance Henrickson,
Directed by: Paul WS Anderson
Tagline: Whoever wins…we lose.
Running time: 101 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): During an archaeological expedition on Bouvetoya Island in Antarctica, a team of archaeologists and other scientists find themselves caught up in a battle between two legends. Soon, the team realize that only one species can win.  

I’m all for sequels, prequels and (the occasional) remakes. If they want to make a new Alien or a Predator movie every couple of years, I’m down. What I (and the world at large) didn’t really need was a cross-over betwixt the two. Of course, they didn’t just stop at one cross-over, as they made a sequel to that as well.

I may not be the best suited person to judge this, since I only recently saw the first Alien movie, and still haven’t seen any of the sequels, or Prometheus, but I have seen all three Predator movies, so I am at least half-way qualified to pass judgement here. Nearly everything about the Predators is awesome:  the way they hunt, the fact that they’re eight feet tall with dreadlocks, their awesome weaponry, their green blood, it’s all awesome. Likewise, the Aliens are pretty awesome in their own right: acid blood, terrifyingly awesome appearance, face-huggers, chest-bursters, etc. In theory a combination of the two sounds pretty awesome, so what happened?

Well, you take mediocre acting and combine it with a stupid plot, and you’re pretty much there. Paul WS Anderson attempted for some continuity by casting Lance Henrikson, who appeared in two of the previous Alien movies, but other than that, the rest of the cast was pretty bland. Ewan Bremner was around to add some comedy, I guess, as he had some funnyish lines. He’s a decent actor, but I haven’t seen him in anything that I can remember since Trainspotting. Tommy Flanagan is normally totally awesome, or at least he was in 24, Sons of Anarchy and Smoking Aces, wasn’t anything special here, just a goon for an Alien or a Predator to kill. Sanaa Lathan was okay, but nothing special. I kept thinking she was the chick from Ghost Protocol, but IMDB set me straight. It seems like they were trying to keep with the other Alien movies by having a strong, independent female character as the hero.

And then there was the plot: that a group of Predators had captured and imprisoned an Alien queen so that she could give birth to Aliens for the Predators to hunt for sport is a little bit ridiculous. It also makes the plot of Predators completely pointless, as why would the Predators bring measly humans to hunt when they could hunt much more challenging game in Aliens?

Believability is always stretched when dealing with sci-fi movies like this, but when characters walk around Antarctica in light jackets and minimal protection is just preposterous. Maybe I’m asking too much of my movies when I want some continuity and believability, but it really takes me out of the experience when I have to call BS on something.

I fully plan non watching the rest of the Alien movies, including Prometheus, as well as any new Predator movies they decide to make, but have no intention of watching the sequel to this terribly unnecessary cross-over/spin-off of two classic series’.

1 out of 5

Trailer:


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Piranha 3DD (2012)


Piranha 3DD
Rated R
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush, David Hasselhoff, Ving Rhames, David Koechner, Paul Scheer, Christopher Lloyd, Gary Busey
Directed by: John Gulager
Tagline: Twice the terror. Double the D’s.
Running time: 83 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): After the events at Lake Victoria, the prehistoric school of blood-thirsty piranhas make their way into a newly opened water park.

The first Piranha movie, the remake from 2010 anyway, was a ridiculous, fun and campy movie. They knew exactly what they were doing when they set out to make that movie, and it worked beautifully. It was a lot of fun to watch, and was actually pretty well done. The 2012 sequel, however, was not.

Following along the same lines as The Hangover/Hangover II, Piranha 3D and Piranha 3DD share identical plots, the same jokes and the same gags. Within 5 minutes of the movie, I knew some dude was getting his junk bitten off by a piranha. It had to happen. The same way someone had to get decapitated in a ridiculous way, and Ving Rhames had to kill some fish in a funny/crazy way. I’d say the sequel was formulaic, but it didn’t follow a formula, it was just the same movie in a different location, with worse acting and worse special effects.

The special effects in Piranha 3D weren’t spectacular, but they weren’t horrible either. The special effects in the sequel looked like something from a SyFy channel movie. The fish that weren’t CGI looked like fake, rubber fish. And the CGI fish didn’t look much better. Maybe I’m being picky, but excuse me for wanting prehistoric, blood-thirsty piranha to look a little bit like actual fish. I’m not expecting Finding Nemo like detail and accuracy here, just something that looks like a fish.

It certainly didn’t help that these prehistoric fish were able to do ridiculous, nonsensical things. As Christopher Lloyd’s Mr. Goodman character, a marine biologist and expert on the prehistoric piranha, demonstrates by placing a galvanized steel plate into a tank with a piranha. The piranha repeatedly smashes into the thick steel plate until finally breaking through, even though the lid to the tank was open, and it had been established that these fish could jump out of water. Of course this comes up later in the movie when a piranha smashes through a metal grate, and also through the wall of a wave pool.

The casting in Piranha 3DD wasn’t terrible, but the acting was pretty bad. They brought back Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames and Paul Scheer from the first movie, which was pretty cool, and David Koechner will do anything and be decently funny, but the rest of the cast was made up of relatively unknown actors and actresses. This is now the third horror movie (Friday the 13th, The Crazies) I’ve seen with Danielle Panabaker in it, and I can never remember who she is.

I feel like they tried too hard (or not hard enough) to make Piranha 3D again, rather than making another fun, campy and entertaining movie. There are some funny parts, and David Hasselhoff making fun of himself is always good, but there wasn’t enough else to make this even a decent movie to watch.

2 out of 5 stars

The Trailer: 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Live Schrieber, Ryan Reynolds, Will.i.am, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Danny Huston
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Running time: 107 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): A look at Wolverine’s early life, in particular his time with the government squad Weapon and the impact it will have on his later years.

It’s no secret that I am a huge X-Men fan. I may have stopped reading the comics years ago, but I still get pumped about the movies. My excitement was at an all time high back in 2009, with the impending release of an X-Men movie centering on my favorite superhero: Wolverine. I, like probably millions of others, was a little too excited, and rather than wait one whole month for the movie to be released opted instead to watch the leaked unfinished work print. It’s a decision I have regretted ever since, as it ruined the experience for me.

After compiling my list of best and worst comic book adaptations a few weeks back, I decided it was time to give the movie a second chance, and watch the completed version. It was a much different movie the second time around. It’s amazing how much CGI goes into movies nowadays, it really changes everything when it’s missing or incomplete. While it was better this second time around, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was far from perfect. It was really nothing more than a decent comic book movie.

Hugh Jackman has the Logan/Wolverine character down pat at this point, this being his fourth time playing the character, so there’s nothing surprising about his performance. He was still the tough, brooding character he always is, but with just a hint of emotion this time. He didn’t make Wolverine a whiny, weak character, but just made him seem a little more human and less a cold and angry mutant.  Jackman was, by far, the strongest actor in the movie, and he gave the best performance.

Another reason I had been so excited to see the movie was the casting of Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Dead Pool. Dead Pool was one of my other favorite characters from the comics when I was a kid, so the chance to see him share screen time with my favorite comic book character had the potential to be awesome. It started off strong, with Reynolds being smarmy and funny, and awesome with swords, but soon afterwards it became clear that this wasn’t the Dead Pool from the comics. There were similarities, but it wasn’t the same, and that was disappointing.

I dug Liev Schrieber as Victor Creed/Sabretooth. He was a vast improvement over Taylor Mane from the first X-Men movie, if for nothing else than because he’s a better actor. The casting of Will.I.Am (or Bill.He.Is as my wife and I call him) was a bit strange, and his acting wasn’t all that good. It felt a bit like stunt casting, but I didn’t think he was a big enough star for it to matter. But it’s ok, as he played a character I’d never heard off and not a well-known/beloved character like Gambit. It was good to finally see him make an appearance, since he’d been rumored in both of the previous X-Men movies.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine will definitely drop from my worst comic book adaptations list, but it’s not among the best, either.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Trailer:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: A Mighty Wind (2003)


A Mighty Wind (2003)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr.
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Tagline: Back together for the first time, again.
Running time: 91 Minutes
DVD

Quick summary (from IMDB):  Mockumentary captures the reunion of 1960s folk trio The Folksmen as they prepare for a show at The Town Hall to memorialize a recently deceased concert promoter.

Christopher Guest does a pretty good job making mockumentaries, and 2003’s A Mighty Wind is just another example. While not nearly as good or funny as 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap (which he wrote but didn’t direct) or 2000’s Best in Show, A Mighty Wind was still pretty funny. It was full of ridiculous characters, awkward situations and Guest’s usual stable of actors. It seems as though every time Guest rolls out another of his mockumentaries, you can guarantee Jane Lynch, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean will all be involved.

All of the cast are remarkably adept at this type of film, which probable factors in to why Guest keeps casting them in his movies along with the fact that they’re probably all friends anyways. Eugene Levy was probably my least favorite character in the movie. While it was nice to see him branch out a little and not be the “Eugene Levy” character he normally is, there was something about his voice and character overall that was grating after a little while.

I’m not a huge fan of folksy music from the 60’s, but Guest made it interesting and entertaining enough that I didn’t care. The songs were at least well written, even getting an Oscar Nomination for one of them, which helps. I’m still more partial to Spinal Tap, partly because I like that style of music but also because heavy metal is much riper for mockery than folk music.

If you’re a fan of Guest’s earlier mockumentaries, you’ll no doubt enjoy A Mighty Wind.

3 out of 5 stars.

Interesting facts I learned about Christopher Guest from IMDB: He was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride (I had no idea) and he directed Almost Heroes, the Chris Farley/Matthew Perry vehicle from the late 90s.

The trailer: 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
NC-17
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Tagline: Cruise. Kidman. Kubrick. (Honestly? that's an awful tagline...)
Running time: 159 Minutes
Blu-ray

Quick summary (from IMDB): A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him. 

Back in 2001-2002, during my senior year of high school and working on my senior project, I wrote a paper about Stanley Kubrick, his films and the influence they’ve had on popular culture. It was (probably) the best thing I’ve ever written, and I deservedly got an ‘A’ on it. My research consisted primarily of watching all of Kubrick’s movies, as well as any movies, TV shows or music that was influenced by him or his work. I remember watching a lot of Simpsons’ episodes and listening to Rob Zombie quite a bit. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing homework.  During the research I determined my favorite (Dr. Strangelove) and my least favorite (Eyes Wide Shut) films that Kubrick had made. Dr. Strangelove barely beat out The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange, while Eyes Wide Shut was the only movie of his I know I didn’t like.

Fast forward to last week, after my wife and I finished watching Shame, and she declaratively states that she would like to watch Eyes Wide Shut. I decided what the h, and added it to Netflix and moved it to the top. It only took us 5 days to finish it (we’re finally starting to understand “Sleep when the baby sleeps”), but we finally did.

A couple of things I took away from watching it this time:

1.       It was nothing like I remember it (I apparently only remember a few select scenes…)
2.       It wasn’t nearly as awful as I remember.

I now know why I didn’t like it when I first saw it: I, like pretty much everyone else, only focused on one or two parts of the movie, and pretty much ignored/forgot the rest. Those scenes, while probably the most memorable from the movie, are also the worst. They were unnecessarily long and weird for no reason. In fact, the entire cult aspect of the movie was the pretty awful. Everything prior to the scenes in the mansion, as well as everything after was actually pretty good.  

It’s incorrectly categorized as an “erotic” thriller, but it’s not very erotic nor is it especially thrilling. It’s kind of boring and slow, and pretty weird. It’s not weird in that good, messed up way, like A Clockwork Orange, it’s more weird in a boring, “that doesn’t make any sense” Tree of Life way.

Like all of Kubrick’s films, it’s wonderfully shot and beautifully scored – the piano that hauntingly permeates the second half of the movie is fantastic, and the acting was good, I just couldn’t get that into it.

Eyes Wide Shut came out a little before Tom Cruise went crazy, so he was still considered by many to be a good (or great) actor at this point. He does a really good job, going from inquisitive to skeptical to paranoid then to sad, and he doesn’t ever go over the top. It’s pretty dialed in, which for the Guinness Record Holding Longest continual shoot (400 days) is pretty impressive. His co-star (and real-life wife – at the time), Nicole Kidman, was not as good. I haven’t really ever liked her in anything I’ve ever seen her in. She’s always cold and mean-looking, and her character didn’t help to change my opinion of her. She was whiny, stupid, mean, and cold. If you thought about cheating on your husband once, but didn’t do it, why would you ever tell him? Just forget about it and move on.

Eyes Wide shut is still, by far and away, my least favorite Kubrick film, but it’s not nearly as awful as I remembered it being.

2 out of 5 stars

Trailer:


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: Annie Hall (1977)


Annie Hall (1977)
Rated R
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Christopher Walken, Paul Simon
Directed by: Woody Allen
Tagline: A nervous romance.
Running time: 93 Minutes
DVR

Quick summary (from IMDB): Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the ditsy Annie Hall.

As I mentioned during my review of Midnight in Paris, I’ve always stayed away from Woody Allen movies. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m beginning to understand that it’s because of a perceived generation gap I have. When I was first getting into movies in the 90s, Allen was already in his 60s, and his movies never seemed like anything my teenage self wanted to see. (Never mind the fact that one of my favorite directors, Stanly Kubrick, was around the same age as Allen, and also making “grown up” movies). I’m well aware that this is a completely stupid reason to not watch movies, but it’s one that I’ve stuck with for over a decade. So in an effort to reverse my (ridiculous) opinion, I sat out to watch the film many consider to be Allen’s greatest: Annie Hall.

I dvr’d the movie a few months back, as I’d been meaning to see it at some point. It’s been on my unofficial “Best Movies I’ve Never Seen” list for several years as it’s regarded as a “classic” by most critics. My wife and I sat out to watch it the other night, and she made it all of 14 minutes before deciding that Allen’s character was too neurotic for her, and she’d rather sleep. So I stopped it and moved on to something else (video games) to continue later. I ended up finishing it up a day or two later.

Annie Hall was pretty good. It’s not cracking my top 10 (or even 50 probably), but it was enjoyable. It was funny at times, but many of his references went way over my head. That’s understandable since I was negative 8 years old then the movie came out.  It wasn’t enough to turn me off of the movie entirely. It helped that I really liked the way the movie was made. Breaking the 4th wall is one of my favorite movie/TV tricks. I know it’s gimmicky and kind of dumb, but I’ve always liked it. Usually reserved for far less serious matters (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Wayne’s World, Saved by the Bell), Woody Allen uses it well throughout Annie Hall.

I still wouldn’t call myself a Woody Allen fan, and am probably not going to go out of my way to see any more of his movies. If Annie Hall is his best, then I don’t need to see any of the others. It did win 4 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actress for Diane Keaton, Screenplay and Director for Allen) which is impressive, especially since it went head to head in three of those categories with the original Star Wars (which did win 6 Academy Awards) and came out on top. Now I love Star Wars, and it’s certainly a more enjoyable film for me, but I’m fairly certain that Annie Hall is technically a better movie, and more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:


Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: Killer Elite (2011)


Killer Elite (2011)
Rated R
Starring: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert de Niro, Dominic Purcell, Yvonne Strahovski
Directed by: Gary McKendry
Tagline: May the best man live. 
Running time: 116 Minutes
Netflix

Quick summary (from IMDB): When his mentor is taken captive, a retired member of Britain’s Elite Special Air Service is forced into action. His mission: kill three assassins dispatched by their cunning leader.

Make no mistake about it, the only reason anyone wanted to see Killer Elite was the specter of the Clive Owen/Jason Statham fight. Really, the main reason anyone anywhere watches Jason Statham movies is for the fight scenes, there not really in it for much else. I went into the movie fully expecting it to be nothing more than some awesome/ridiculous fight scenes and a couple of one-liners. I wasn’t expecting stellar acting or a great plot. Killer Elite was actually pretty good, surprisingly.

The plot, that a dying Sheikh would hire an ex-SAS officer to avenge his sons’ assassinations by hunting down the officers responsible and that a secret group of wealthy British men would intervene, is a little ridiculous on paper, though it is based on “true events” according to the author of the novel, but it actually kind of works. I’m still not 100% sure of what The Feather Men are, or their reasons for doing what they do, but there are far more ridiculous movies out there.

The acting, much like the plot, was better than I was expecting. Jason Statham is by no stretch a great actor, but he’s been around enough that he knows what he’s doing, especially when it comes to this type of action movie. He’s not gonna win any awards, but it’s guaranteed he’s gonna beat the crap out of a bunch of people. Clive Owen is (probably) the better actor of the two, with a more diverse body of work, but he’s not above ridiculawesome (just made that up) action movies (Shoot ‘Em Up, the BMW short films). It’s a nice change to see him as more of a bad guy, since he’s usually on the good side, though his 80’s mustache was a little stupid.

I was a little worried when I saw Robert De Niro (the only American born actor in the entire movie) in the first few minutes. Either his was going to be a miniscule cameo with no substance, or he was going to be over the top awful. Bobby D hasn’t impressed me much in recent years, and I can’t remember the last movie I saw with him that I genuinely liked (Meet the Parents?), so any time he pops up, I get concerned. This was by no means a return to form for De Niro, but it was a vast improvement over Meet the Fockers (and the unwatchable Little Fockers). If De Niro keeps showing up in smaller, action roles like this one, he may end up redeeming himself.

The only other members of the cast I had heard of were from shows I used to watch: Dominic Purcell from Prison Break and Yvonne Strahovski from Chuck. Purcell, looking way too much like Lemmy from Motorhead, so much so that I didn’t know it was him until IMDB after the movie was over, was kind of awesome and bad-ass. I had no idea that Strahovski was Australian until watching this movie. 6+ years of watching her play an American spy, and I never once picked up on it. Normally, I pride myself on being able to spot a fake accent, even if really well done, but I was completely unaware.

It’s not Statham’s best (Snatch), nor is it Owen’s (Shoot ‘Em Up or Sin City), but it was an entertaining and interesting action/thriller.

3 out of 5 stars

Trailer: