Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Anything is Possible: Thoughts on The Raid 2

July 19, 2014

The-Raid-2-Logo

It has taken me a moment to write down the thoughts, emotions, the sense of truth and purpose that comes from The Raid 2. Since it’s release on March 28th I have felt great elation as words of joy and excitement filled my social media timelines, text messages, and phone calls. The Raid 2 is love.

The Raid 2 fucked the game up for everybody. I don’t just mean in the way that Gareth Evans made a sprawling 2 hour plus crime/action movie hybrid for four million dollars that looks and sounds better than every big budget action blockbuster this year. The moment that fucked the game up, that fucked my mind up, is when Kenichi Endo’s character Goto says, “Anything is possible.” Sure, he is referring to criminal machinations being unfurled around him, but Evans holds the shot on Endo and lets the line linger in the air. This is a mission statement, a call to arms. The Raid 2 is proof that you can do anything. Every action sequence has a breathless chant of “This is happening this is happening this is really happening” running underneath it. Long take battles in a nightclub that spill out into snow covered alleys. The camera floating above the jail yard as prisoners fight to the death covered in mud. A woman who kills a whole subway car full of thugs with two claw hammers. The camera traveling effortlessly through a vehicle during a car chase. But on top of what “Anything is possible” means to The Raid 2 I keep thinking what it means to me as a human being, a person trying to exist as a creative person. I perform improv, which has it’s champions and critics, much like any other art form, and “Anything is possible” is true for any improvised scene. There are no limits, no settings, no rules. You decide your destiny. When Goto said it, I felt a kinship and a bond with the film and with true creative people everywhere. We can do whatever we want!

Going back to The Raid 2 as a film, all of it would be for naught if I didn’t care about the characters. And I do! Obviously Rama is the guy I care about over everything, he’s just a good guy in a bad situation who happens to be just better at fighting than anyone on planet Earth. Still, there’s only one of him and a shit-ton of bad guys. I care about Bangun, the world’s most sensible crime lord. He knows when to kill a guy and when to take the high road and not leave a mountain of bodies. It still doesn’t work out great for him but his sensibility rang true. A character like Uco is inherently unsympathetic but Arifin Putra’s performance is such that his sadness and ultimate betrayal are given time to well and grow so that when he decides to gun down his father, the scene has weight and it means something. Even when the characters are only small sketches, like Hammer Girl and the Bat Guy and the guy who just looks tough and leaves your body in a field, their characters are illustrated with small wordless details that say more than a ream of exposition. On a very base level, my feelings on The Raid 2 are purely “Holy fucking hell that guy just had his face blown OFF!” But I also cherish moments when Bangun realizes his son’s treachery or when Uco faces himself in the mirror after murdering his father. That show of emotion and betrayal wouldn’t mean shit if Evans hadn’t laid the groundwork. Also the car chase. And the kitchen fight. And the porn den battle. And on and on. The Raid 2 is everything.

raid2

 

Lorin saw all the movies nominated for Best Picture. Give him a kiss.

March 1, 2014

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The morning of the Oscar nominations I was surprised that I had already watched eight of the nine films nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.  I saw their promotional campaigns, caught some trailers and thought, “Heck, I’ll check that shit out. Why not?” This never happens, as I stopped seeking out Oscar bait films and even after a film is Oscar-nominated(and subsequently becomes an Oscar-winner) I don’t run out to see it. The Artist and The King’s Speech can win all the awards they want, doesn’t mean I gotta subject myself to their tyrannical middlebrow ways. (If I’m going to watch a black and white silent movie I’ll watch Buster Keaton, who was straight killing it back in the day. You see Sherlock Jr.? Fuck outta here with The Artist.) So I realized, if I just went to see the one remaining nominated film, I would have seen them all and I could knock out a nifty blog about all the films.

Philomena

Learning lessons!

So I went to see Philomena and it was fine, you guys. Total middlebrow, “funny” without actually being funny, more soft chuckle than loud guffaw. Sassy old lady teaches stodgy middle aged man how to, well, not be so stodgy I guess. And he teaches her that the Catholic church did her dirty. It was hardly the worst, not close to the best, but the theater was warm and my friend and I were easily the youngest people in the theater by 30 years. So it was classic Oscar bait. Won’t offend anyone too much(the Catholic church is shown as shitty, but not totally shitty), and it has that “gay people are real people too” bent but without actually giving any significant speaking roles to gay characters. If this thing had dropped in 1995 it would have looked like Santana at the Grammys, only at the Oscars, and instead of holding Grammys they would be holding Oscars. Y’know, that’s not a great comparison. Forget about it.

Shit.

Oh shit!

Did you see Gravity? That movie is Fucking Awesome. People got real bent out of shape about Sandra Bullock’s back story but I thought my wife made a good point when she said, “It was going to be one of three things: dead husband, dead kid, or sexual assault. I admire their restraint.” As do I! You see some of these people bagging on Gravity like it’s 2 hours of Sandy crying about her kid, when it’s actually 90 minutes of Sandra trying not to fucking die in space! It’s amazing that Rachel and I didn’t break our hands watching this movie. Ebert used to talk about movies where you would bruise your partner’s forearm from squeezing it because shit was so tense. Gravity is the quintessential bruised forearm movie. Heck, forget bruised, you and your friend/lover will both need hospital care for your broken arms because Gravity Never Stops. Just like real gravity, it’s always holding you down, quite literally pinning you to your seat, for fear of being demolished by a passing burning satellite dish. Sandy doesn’t get a single moment to chill between dodging debris and explosions and making sure she has enough air. My dog for life Alfonso Cuaron directed, so no surprise that the movie is hot fire. Cuaron previously directed Children of Men, which is hall of fame, lifetime pass greatness. Cuaron could blow up a hospital of legless babies and blind puppies and we’d be like, “Al! Holy shit! Jeez, man! What did you do? Be careful! That is fucked up. Oh my god, all those legless babies. Fucckkkkkkk…………..Jail? Nah man, it’s cool, see ya later.”

Your dad

Captain Phillips is solid work from a director I don’t like that much. Paul Greengrass bears the responsibility for 90% of all American action movies containing barely any shots where the audience can tell what is going on. The second Bourne movie has Matt Damon in a car and apparently something happens. I dunno, AND I WATCHED THE MOVIE. Captain Phillips doesn’t have this problem. You can clearly see what is going on the whole time. And what is going on is life, man! Tom Hanks is just trying to move some shit in his boat and these pirates are just trying to hijack so they can just keep living under horrible tyrant conditions. Captain Phillips is the quintessential dad movie. Every critic hates the conversation Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener have at the beginning of the movie but that is an exact conversation that my dad has with my mom all the time. All dads. All moms. Captain Phillips is life.

This is actually tagged "old-people-watching-tv.jpg"

This is actually tagged “old-people-watching-tv.jpg”

Nebraska is fine and understated and legitimately funny. Once again, total dad movie. The scene where all the old people watch tv and talk about stuff they can barely remember, I’ve lived it! Everyone with grandparents has lived it. It was too real.  That said, the best performance in the movie is from Will Forte, but he was once again snubbed by the Academy.

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Dallas Buyers Club is a perfectly fine, minor film. It’s been positioned as a major work and some kind of acting tour de force by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. McConaughey is good, Leto is turrible. I enjoyed this movie while I watched it, in a very “sticking it to the jerks” kind of way. The jerks in this case are doctors, who only care about profits and killing people instead of helping them. Classic movie doctor stuff. Since I heard that the actual guy McConaughey portrayed was a bi-sexual dude, it’s kinda lame that they had to concoct this whole homophobia angle, essentially saying that there wasn’t much story there and they had to change an essential aspect of the main character’s life in order to give him an “arc”. But seriously, Jared Leto sucks so bad, don’t give him an Oscar.

Buffering

Buffering

Would Her work if the OS were voiced by someone other than Scarlett Johansson? The glut of internet videos that have parodied the film seem to prove that it would not work at all. I feel like anyone who bought in to this relationship between a man and his OS was just seeing Johansson in his head and thinking, “Well, yeah, it’s Scarlett Johansson. This makes sense.” Why else would Spike Jonze replace Samantha Morton as the voice of the OS, except to replace it with the voice of one of world’s hottest sex symbols? Plus the world it presents does not make any sense. Joaquin Phoenix’s job makes no sense. Everyone’s pants make no sense. This whole movie was like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

What a buncha dummies.

What a buncha dummies.

But I do not begrudge Her and it faded from my thoughts not long after I walked out of the theater. Unlike American Hustle, the worst film of 2013. Now certainly movies like 47 Ronin and A Good Day To Die Hard are ostensibly “worse” but American Hustle, this fucking movie. Where to begin? David O. Russell has managed to top his terrible track record, after the shitshow that is The Fighter and the abomination of I Heart Huckabees. Those movies are total garbage but American Hustle feels especially terrible since Russell is trying to imitate Martin Scorcese and failing in every way. American Hustle has all the important features of a post Three Kings Russell work: shit acting, no sense of tone, and camera work that is straight up amateur hour. Amy Adams is next level terrible. I could feel the entire audience recoil every time she uttered that “Australian/British/nope” accent. I can suspend disbelief pretty far, but none of my group of friends could grasp how any of the characters in the movie ever thought her accent was genuine. My good friend McCarty is a big David O. Russell fan, and even he said to me, “Yeah, Amy Adams is really bad in this.” When Bradley Cooper’s character gets all upset that he had been “duped”, there was a collective sigh of exasperation in the theater. These characters, what a bunch of dummies! Not to mention that David O. Russell managed to make a Scorcese ripoff that is devoid of all the sex, drugs and violence audiences flock to decadent 70′s era movies to experience. One gun is fired in the whole movie! In a goddamn flashback! Jennifer Lawrence is miscast as a woman at least ten years older than Lawrence can actually portray. How are we as an audience supposed to believe that Christian Bale would cheat on Jennifer Lawrence with Amy Adams? Fuck outta here!  And that twist? Who didn’t see that coming? Why did this movie that cost millions of dollars to make look like it was shot in your grandma’s basement? Why does it look like dinner theater Goodfellas? Shoulda called this thing Garbage Town USA.

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12 Years A Slave is intense. You saw it, you know what I mean. It’s impressive in the way it never stops to let you get a breathe and collect yourself, because slaves didn’t get that option either. This movie is great in just about every way that a movie can be great. Will any moment in film be able to duplicate the combined sensation of elation and dread like the Paul Dano beating scene? Oh man. I’d never felt anything like that before. I can’t say it’s my favorite movie, but if it won all the awards I would not be mad about it.

Balling out of control

Balling out of control

The Wolf of Wall Street is nuclear powered craziness, top down no stop fuck your shit up insanity. 3 hours this fucking thing just beats you senseless. At one point I thought, “Oh shit, I guess it’s powering down.” I was wrong! It was just a fake out, because then they’re driving boats through hurricanes and blowing up planes! Leonardo DiCaprio is hall of fame in this one, physical comedy master class. Who knew? We knew! We all saw him going buckwild in Django Unchained last year. How’s he gonna top this one? He might not! Who cares? Scorcese shamed everyone in the directing game. Bow down to the master.

Would it have killed the academy to put an even ten movies up for best picture? Throw Inside Llewyn Davis a bone. For a best picture list this isn’t half bad. You got a couple instant classics, some easy crowd pleasers, a few dad movies, one lame-o stinker and only one total piece of shit. For the Oscars this is not bad at all. But honestly, my favorite movie of 2013 was Spring Breakers. Franco, Korine, and Benson got robbed.

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Spring break foreverrrrrr

Lorin Kozlowski’s Favorite Movies of 2013

1) Spring Breakers

2) The Wolf of Wall Street

3) Fast and Furious 6

4) Gravity

5) Before Midnight

6) This Is The End

7) You’re Next

8) The World’s End

9) Evil Dead

10) The Counselor

Vampire Academy

February 12, 2014
VA

Vampire Fucking Academy

I really need to get into this Young Adult Fiction game. These guys are making bank, selling millions of books, and everything is a copy of a ripoff of a pretty terrible original idea. According to wikipedia, which is never wrong, Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, “had no experience as a writer of any kind and had never even written a short story before Twilight.” Incredible. We can do it, you guys! Someone who definitely did it is Richelle Mead. She is the author and creator of the Vampire Academy series, a blatant mishmash of Twilight, Harry Potter, and Gossip Girl. Get that money, Richelle.

I don’t want to give excuses but I went to see Vampire Academy because of the creative team behind it, brothers Mark and Daniel Waters. Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers(and Demolition Man!) What a team. But what they had to contend with is the Vampire Academy mythology. Shit is complicated. Three(!) varieties of vampire. You got your cool, laid back, chill vampires that apparently just want to get jobs and live chill lives. Then you have these 30 Days of Night/Blade II looking jerks, who run around with red, infected eyes and generally seem like rude, dirty people. I couldn’t tell if they were full on monsters so in thrall to their bloodlust that they had lost all sense of decorum, or if they actually have some plan besides ambush and kill. Some of them can talk, but it is of the wheezing, “You shall die…” variety. While I expected them to be the main villains of the piece, they actually only exist on the fringe of the plot for some boo scare attacks and to be cannon fodder. Apparently you can choose to be this kind of vampire, like how some people aligned with Voldemort in Harry Potter though I don’t know why. Voldemort had some swanky safehouses. These guys live in bushes and caves and their eyes look just terrible!  The third type of vampire is not even really a vampire, more of a glorified security guard, who just protect the more chill vampires from the crazy ones. These three types of vampires have specific names that I cannot bring myself to type. I am so sorry.

The main character is Rose Hathaway, who is played by Zoey Deutch, who is, fun fact, Lea Thompson’s daughter. Bury us old people in the ground because the new generation is here to replace us. She is pretty good, just the right kind of detached, take no shit kind of girl. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t follow the instructions of a single adult for the entire movie. Do you, Rose/Zoey! Rose has a thing for her combat training instructor Dimitri, and it was pretty much the only relationship I cared about. There is this red headed guy (Rose calls him Duckie at one point) who keeps trying to get with Rose but she knows what is up. And what is up is Dimitri and his ten year age difference.

Sh'yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

Sh’yeah right! Keep dreaming, son.

I looked up the plot of the book series when I got home and it looks like they tried to cram about 5 books into one movie. It shows. Rose is BFFs with Lissa, who might be Queen of the vampires one day, but first she has to declare a major, I think? Rose and Lissa start out the movie having run away from the Vampire Academy because of some car accident that killed Lissa’s parents. Oh man this car accident. You guys, these cars couldn’t have been going over 15 miles an hour, tops! Right before they collide it cuts to black and pans up on flipped cars and broken glass like they were doing some Twisted Metal shit. Hilarious. After this crash is shown, it is then repeatedly mentioned for the next half hour, just in case you forgot about the crash. Oh man, the crash. Remember the crash? The crash. Oh shit, damn. But maybe they were talking about when Crash won best picture and how it was a travesty? I bet that’s it.

Never forget.

Never forget.

Rose and Lissa have a very similar dynamic to Blair and Serena from Gossip Girl, right down to the hair color. This did not occur to me until AFTER I got home from the movie, so I’m pretty disappointed in myself. Despite weighing about 95 lbs, Rose is supposed to be Lissa’s bodyguard, or at least will be in future after she graduates from Vampire Academy. Lissa gets to be queen and  you  have to go to school to get a degree in bouncing? Weak sauce, Rose. Tell Lissa to outsource and you get a degree in one of the sciences.

Oh man, the magic in this movie. I can imagine Mead’s “A-ha” moment when she said, “Vampires, but they can do magic! Where is my pen? Honey, have you seen my pen? What? I can’t hear you. Stop vacuuming and talk to me….My pen. I’m looking for my pen…..Which drawer? The one we keep the stamps in?….Hmm, I don’t see it. Oh, here are those scissors you were looking fo-OH MY PEN!”

I'm just kidding, Richelle.

I’m just kidding, Richelle.

Team Waters were given next to no budget for the magic in this movie, which consists of a scene where wind powers are demonstrated on a row of pinwheels and some guys display their fire abilities by making gun fingers at candles. You did what you could with what they gave you, Team Waters! Oh wait, one guy does get set on fire at one point for calling someone a slut. Down with slut shaming! There is also a water effect at one point that is so bad Rose breaks the fourth wall.

Rose doesn’t get to do any magic, because she’s too busy brewing up sexual chemistry with Dimitri while they “train”.  Late in the film Dimitri and Rose are bewitched into almost fucking in order to distract them from a larger dastardly plot. This leads to the great line from Dimitri as he rips off Rose’s clothes and says, “Nice dress, let’s burn it”, and tosses it into a fire. This scene was very real and true.

"Sorry I burned your dress." "No you're not." "Yeah, you're right."

“Sorry I burned your dress.” “No you’re not.” “Yeah, you’re right.”

Despite having more exposition(and hidden exposition) than I usually will tolerate, I kinda liked this movie. Team Waters was clearly fighting an uphill battle of low budgets and derivative source material but they carried off most of it. When Vampire Academy puts the mythology aside and focuses on the high school drama the younger cast members get a little spring in their step. No one in the cast seems completely comfortable with the silly supernatural elements that make no sense, but everyone knows how to deal with high school drama. At a few points no one even talks about being a vampire or having powers and they go to the mall and buy dresses for the dance. When one character bared her fangs near the end of the movie and got punched in the face I thought for a second, “Oh shit, this chick is a vampi- oh wait, I knew that. She punched her because she is a bitch. Being a vampire had nothing to do with it.” VA has a bunch of scenes where characters call each other “blood whores” and spread rumors about blood sucking threesomes and that shit was fun and interesting. When characters start talking about destiny and healing abilities I would lose interest. Obviously I still miss Gossip Girl a lot. 

Truly never forget.

Truly never forget.

Heck, I would say that your tolerance for teen dramas will determine whether you will even make it through this whole movie. The pan of the film at Grantland points out that Vampire Academy would have been better served on tv, and I agree. Give us a whole season of Rose and Dimitri burning holes in their loins. Take your time with your apparent vampire war that is set up for a sequel that will never happen now. I hope some of these guys find work after this movie. I’m sure Zoey Deutch will be fine, and the guy who plays Dimitri has a bright future of getting thrown out a window by Jason Statham.

 

Man of Steel

July 2, 2013

I realized about 10 minutes into Sucker Punch that Zack Snyder is my dude for life and I just had to get over myself and let him in. People hate Sucker Punch so much but that train action sequence is some hall of fame one take awesomeness(in the truest sense of the word) and the rest of the movie is just overreaching but it means well. Could my dude have done more to not set his female empowerment movie in a world of rape, abuse, and prostitution? Sure. But he didn’t know any better. I could say the same for Zack’s work on Man of Steel. Could it have been more thoughtful and bright? SURE. Zack wants to make you happy, and he heard you hated Superman Returns for being a fucking bore where Superman spent 5 minutes lifting planes and 135 minutes staring at his child through a wall. So he gave you a movie where Superman levels a goddamn city. Like Superman, Zack Snyder doesn’t always know his own strength.

Snyder was hand picked by Christopher Nolan himself to make this one. The internet loves themselves some Nolan but I’m fine about him. I can respect Inception but that whole fucking movie is also exposition though shouts to the elevator sequence and JGL flipping and flopping like the pro he is. I like his Batman movies but I don’t think Batman Begins has aged too well and The Dark Knight Rises was hindered by the same choppy fight scenes that Nolan always has in his movies. BUT, I’m fine with Chris Nolan. Like everyone else, I ride for Dark Knight. Oh, Insomnia was solid.

“You’re killing it, kid.” “I’m actually older than you, Chris.”

Man of Steel switches up from the get go by showing us Krypton before it exploded and letting us know that Superman’s dad was balling out of control. Right now Russell Crowe is straight killing it in everything I see him in, and Man of Steel is no exception. Riding winged wilderbeasts, jumping off cliffs, straight baller shit that you always assumed your dad did before you were born. Match this one up with his scene stealing run in The Man With The Iron Fists and Russell Crowe is having a great second act of a career. Now he just needs to show up in a Tarantino and rip someone’s eyeballs out while talking about how great Isaac Hayes was in Truck Turner(much love to the hospital shootout in Truck Turner).

Kevin Goddamn Costner on fire as Jonathan Kent. Seriously, that halting self importance is utterly perfect here. First he’s telling little Superman that he should have let a bus full of kids die(true) and later he has probably a top ten all time death scene. I know I engage in plenty of hyperbole but when ol’ Kevin put his hand up my damn jaw dropped. “It’s cool, son. One day you’ll level Metropolis. Let me get killed by a tornado.” Diane Lane does good work as Martha Kent, even taking a choke slam from Zod. I don’t want all of Superman’s parents to have brutal deaths but if Zod had, I dunno, thrown her into space or something, Superman would have a veritable hattrick of insane parent deaths. (Superman’s real mom is consumed by the fires of an exploding Krypton, which she confronts like a boss.)

Henry Cavill is fine as Superman, you guys. If he was trying to be funny and charming and failing I MIGHT see your point but this Superman is serious and conflicted and smoldering and Cavill has that shit down. It’s 2013, Nolan and Snyder cast for fuckability, and ladies want to mount Henry Cavill. It was a little on the nose to have someone in the movie say as much but also it is 2013 and not at all surprising to have a big budget motion picture assume the audience isn’t picking up what it is putting down. In this case it is putting Superman’s sack on your chin. Does he have a ton of chemistry with Amy Adams? Maybe not. In this iteration Lois Lane doesn’t really seem like a lady on the prowl, just a reporter looking for a story and willing to do some sneaky shit to get away with it. Good luck tricking Lois Lane, everybody. She will get by you and you will be so mad but still let her keep her job and fly on the secret jet holding the only weapon that can stop the bad guys.

Mad props to Michael Shannon who decided to not evoke Terence Stamp’s Zod at all and just be sad and pissed off Michael Shannon. He just wants to wipe out the planet Earth of all humans and animals and replace it with Kryptonian shit he grew up with. Why won’t you let him just live his genocidal dream? Shannon never cries but he is clearly bummed out about all this.

The two big action sequences are NUTS. Smallville? Cinder. Metropolis? A pile of glass and cement. Let us be real: if Superman is going to fight other super people the resulting damage is going to be excessive. I understand the handwringing by some Superman purists that Supes should have taken the battles away from populated areas, which is totally true. Completely irresponsible! That said, battles in unpopulated areas are low budget movie moves. If you have the budget to level a city with actual people in it, you do it. Leave the empty warehouses and wide fields to Asylum and DTV. That isn’t really a defense but the shit looked great. And isn’t insane collateral damage a touchstone of comic book battles? Joss Whedon originally had a whole section of Avengers dealing with the damage fallout and he scrapped it because what a downer! “How was the movie?” “I didn’t like the part with the lawyers and the rebuilding.” Shouts to the first 45 minutes of Avengers that kinda suck.

The other controversy surrounding this movie concerns the scene where Superman thrashes Zod all over the city trying to kill him and then kills him. “I can’t believe he killed the guy whose face he smashed through a hundred windows!” Superman had to kill this guy, he was trying to terraform the Earth into Krypton! Afterwords Superman is really bummed about it, as anyone would be after killing someone. Then he talks to his mom and gets a job.

In closing, Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever made where Kevin Costner gets killed by a tornado and someone keeps a portable version of Russell Crowe on a flash drive. Zack Snyder is already writing a scene in Man of Steel 2 where Superman kicks the moon into Brainiac’s house.

Cloud Atlas

November 4, 2012

The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer go hard. They also treat the audience like intelligent adults, which didn’t get them much money back but that happens. Cloud Atlas is remarkable in that they got it made at all and with this cast. Hugh Grant as a face painted murderous cannibal? Hugo Weaving as Nurse Rachet? That alone is worth the price of admission.

Cloud Atlas isn’t afraid to hit the audience in the head with it’s messages and that is fine, just fine. The filmmakers also wanted to do everything in this movie and lord do they. Probably the only movie ever made with a daring escape from an old folks home cross cut with a high speed aerial race through holographic roadways of a futuristic Asia. It’s like no one ever said no to any idea but most of the ideas were good anyway so it worked out. When I was in college I used to find movies all the time from Japan, Korea and France that would push the envelope of content and form and I would lament that American filmmakers never came close to that level of audacity and creativity. Based on the grosses of films like Cloud Atlas and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, American audiences don’t want daring. It is still nice to see someone try every couple years. Darren Aronofsky went buck wild with The Fountain, which flopped, but was able to recover and become an Oscar guy while still going hard(Black Swan is hot fire)(y’know what The Fountain is hot fire too) so I can only hope that the Wachowskis don’t lose their nerve and make something boring. I have gone on record as not enjoying Speed Racer but they clearly weren’t taking notes from anybody on that one either.

But Cloud Atlas is a winner because it has ideas and characters and momentum. All six of the intertwined stories are interesting and compelling in different ways while still contributing to the thematic whole of the film. And the really crazy thing is that everyone is relatable and sketched out, whether they’re a worker clone, a gay prostitute/composer, or a post apocalyptic tribesman. All human experience is relatable, and the basic human need for freedom and the search for ideas is always a great framework for a story. Or six stories at that.

Y’know who is great in this movie? Halle Berry. No shit. I know she has an Oscar but man have I sat through some Halle Berry shit shows in my time. Some how, Big T and The Ws managed to pull some fine work from Ms. Berry, be it as an intrepid reporter or as a white Jewish woman. Tom Hanks is kinda hit and miss, but he is very, very good as Zachry, the post apocalyptic tribe guy who is constantly haunted by a top hatted Hugo Weaving hallucination. Classic Hanks. Classic Weaving.

The makeup in Cloud Atlas is frankly bananas. The movies have not yet figured out old age makeup so that means that we have to endure a couple scenes where Hugh Grant is playing a melted candle. Hugo Weaving goes through the most transformations, playing a large breasted female nurse, an asian guy,  a sideburned assassin, the aforementioned top hatted, green skinned ghoul, and a rotted nose slave owner. The yellow face that Weaving wears along with several other non-asian actors is inevitably distracting and yeah, kinda racist and ignorant. I think the Wachowskis and Tykwer were trying to be post racial and work out their ideas about universal people and that we are all one in a continuous loop of life but ehhh, that shit is still kinda racist. I mean, Tom Hanks didn’t play a black guy at any point, yknowwhatImean?

But better we reach for the stars then never try at all, right? Right. Cloud Atlas is literally about trying when it seems like a bad idea/wrong idea/worst idea and just living(or dying) with the consequences.

Hard Boiled

August 4, 2012

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I cannot believe it took me ten years to rewatch Hard Boiled. I have certainly spent the last ten years enthusiastically telling people how great it is and they need to watch it but what I really should have been doing is forcing those people to watch Hard Boiled right at the moment I thought to recommend it. C’mon, like what they were doing was better than this movie? Fat chance. Of course it may not have been physically possible to watch Hard Boiled at that exact moment (wedding, in a bar, at a house party, between acts at a music festival) but sometimes sacrifices have to be made and if you are going to do any sacrificing do it at the altar of John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

Watching Hard Boiled ten years ago, I recall screaming a lot, a hallmark of many a great action film. Not screams of fear but that of joyous “That happened and I thought something like that could never happen and now I’m a better person” kind of scream. HB is chockablock with screamy moments, like when Chow Yun Fat slides down a railing firing two guns at the same time. Or when Tony Leung pops out a boat and smokes a guy like an armed jack in a box.

I couldn’t recall the plot of Hard Boiled and was surprised to see it used the old undercover-cop-wants-to-get-out-before-he-is-in-too-deep bit. That it also incorporates the cop-on-the-edge-turn-in-your-badge bit as well means that there is little room for anything but badass badassness. Chow Yun Fat’s cop on the edge is named Tequila and he likes to rappel into chop shop warehouses and have insane gun battles. He also likes to play clarinet and he can chew a toothpick and smoke a cigerette at the same time. Tony Leung’s undercover cop is named Alan(!) and he tends to look more concerned about the crazy things Tequila drags him into. Tequila thinks Alan needs to relax and realize that “Life should be fun”. Right after he says this they slide out of some mortuary freezers and mow down a whole room of bad guys. Fun!

I completely forgot about that character of Mad Dog. Portrayed by Philip Kwok, Mad Dog comes from a long line of quiet badass bad guys. He doesn’t say much but he certainly knows how to blow up a trailer with grenade, barrelroll past the explosion and gun down the guys coming to see what the commotion is all about. Slick. Kwok looked familiar to me and I was not at all surprised to see that right before filming Hard Boiled he had worked on Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky. Two classics! He also featured in a movie called The Sword Stained with Royal Blood. I cannot vouch for the quality but that title is A plus. Mad Dog has some cool honor codes, like when he disagrees with the murder of an entire hospital and puts down his gun so that some patients can leave the room that his gunfight has stumbled upon. Mad Dog is a bad guy, not a monster.

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Not a monster

Now Johnny Wong, that guy is a fucking animal. So Chow Yun Fat pops him in the eye.

Can I tell you about my favorite part of Hard Boiled? I mean, besides all the other parts I’ve mentioned above. It happens right after the shootout at Alan’s houseboat. Alan is suffering from a shotgun blast to the back and Tequila has just helped him kill a shit load of bad guys. What is that? Oh no, Johnny Wong is en route to the dock and if he sees Alan with Tequila then the jig will be up! Tequila says,”I gotta get out of here. I’ll see you soon,” turns around and dives right into the water, clothes and all. I cannot express how both hilarious and awesome this moment is. Also, practical.

Hard Boiled is still the gold standard for action movies. Vern called it “Die Hard times ten“. I think it might be Die Hard times 20. Maybe even 30. Did I mention that periodically throughout Hard Boiled Tequila will go to a bar and get advice from John Woo? Yes, it is true. And it tends to be pretty good advice too. More directors should do this. I would have liked seeing Tom Cruise get help from Spielberg during Minority Report.

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“So the movie is going good.” “Yeah, real good.”

Conan the Barbarian (2011) is terrible.

February 7, 2012

I think a barbarian, by name alone, should not be cuddly and appealing. They should project menace and fear. When someone is called “barbaric”, it isn’t because they are kinda snide and smirky. In the second decade of the new millenium, Conan the Barbarian is hardly uncivilized and surprisingly philanthropic. Quick with a smile, the 2011 Conan likes to party, kiss pretty girls, and have romance novel sex scenes with them.Your mother might call this film “cute”.

Conan the Barbarian 2011 doesn’t start out so cute and cuddly, no sir. The first half hour gives us a heaping of back story and mythology(someone had a mask, they broke it, now Stephen Lang wants to put it back together and Rock That Shit), baby Conan is introduced in utero, dodging a sword put through his mother’s womb. Conan’s father is Ron Perlman, which is the kind of casting that I imagine was done without an audition.

Exec 1: “Who you like for Conan’s dad?”

Exec 2: “Fucking Hellboy, son.”

Ron Perlman raises Conan to understand how to make a sword and Young Conan proves his worth by murdering a bunch of guys and bringing their heads back to camp like it ain’t no thang.

No thang.

Not soon after, Stephen Lang shows up looking for that damn mask, murders everybody, melts Ron Perlman with molten steel and makes Young Conan watch. Harsh. CONAN SWEARS VENGEANCE!

Well, not really. Conan grows up to be a bro. He hangs out with his friends, they break up slave rings and when the slaves(who are predominately topless women) ask what they should do next, Conan shoots his pal the side eye and we smash cut to a PARTAYYYY!!!! Beers and arm wrestling matches, Conan has the hottest slave girl and his buddy has the 2nd hottest and I’m surprised that Conan has grown up so well adjusted.

Bros

The plot does catch up with Conan and before long he is having a violent meet cute with Rachel Nichols where they make jokes about each other’s names and engage in flirtatious banter. They also take part in a stagecoach chase that was done better in Your Highness. These two goofballs end up having a harlequin novel sex scene, complete with body doubles. The next morning Conan sleeps in(such a guy, right ladies?) while Rachel Nichols goes off to be captured and move this gosh darn plot along. Before you know it, Conan is fighting snake creatures and chopping off Rose McGowan’s hand.

The largest failing is a script that desperately hits all the typical notes combined with players directed to not really give a shit. Even Stephen Lang, an expert in scenery chewing, is rather blase in his performance. Aim for the sky, you guys. Conan is a damn barbarian. It’s in the title! You can’t miss it. What’s he doing high fiving people and making jokes? Conan doesn’t understand jokes. If you play a joke on him, he rips off your arm. Conan 2011 wants to sleep in, hang out at the quad and kick the old sack around.

Things I liked in Conan the Barbarian(2011):

  • Squib work is off the charts. Blood spurts out of papercuts, yo!
  • Conan hits a horse in the face with giant chain, in slow motion.

Holla.

Haywire

January 31, 2012

Get it, girl.

Steven Soderbergh has a reputation for good work because he only does things that interest him. He didn’t make Ocean’s Eleven because he wanted to make a bunch of money, he made it because he knew he could make a good movie. All of his projects come from a place of “This could be interesting, this could be good.” Does he always succeed? No. He is only human, like you and I, but I can not discount his intent. When it came time for Soderbergh to make an action movie he sought out an actress who could actually accomplish the feats all action movies require and we are all the better for it.

Haywire has been described as a Steven Seagal movie with a female lead. I don’t think everyone has used this comparison in a positive manner. Anyone who has taken time to watch the early theatrical Seagal films knows that those films rule and that Seagal, for a time, was unmatched. Is Steven Seagal a good actor? No, because he has no interest playing anyone but Steven Seagal. If Gina Carano spends the rest of her career playing variations on Gina Carano, a woman who kills people with her thighs, we as society should be so lucky.

The plot of Haywire is classic and simple. Carano has been betrayed by those she trusted and she has to beat and bludgeon her way to the truth. Written by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote The Limey, Haywire‘s story is told in a non-linear fashion which allows the film to start off with a bang and then double back to explain just how Carano found herself beating up Channing Tatum in a diner.

I love the way Soderbergh shoots his action so that it is clear and easy to follow. That last sentence is insane but the last ten years of action movies have made it so. Gina Carano can do all this running and kicking and punching so why hide it? Show your skills to world, make them jealous. Maybe that’s why audiences have come to accept the cut/cut/cut editing style; it let’s them know that what they are seeing isn’t real, Matt Damon can’t really kill a guy with a rolled up Time magazine and neither can they and that is Ok. Well America, Gina Carano can actually chase a man down, run up a wall and crush him with her leg muscles. Deal With It. Since Haywire has acquired a Cinemascore of D+ I can only imagine that audiences left the film feeling lazy and insignificant. If a film makes you reassess your life I think it has done something right.

Is Haywire Steven Soderbergh’s best film? No, but it isn’t a trifle either. Soderbergh’s career is a testament to stretching yourself, trying new things, and being daring. Dude made a 4 hour Che Guevera biopic AND an experimental art film with a porn star. And he still hasn’t made a fucking 3-D movie. BOW DOWN.

Moneyball

January 27, 2012

With all the new free time I have acquired I am catching up on comics unread and movies unwatched. I have watched some duds, a masterpiece, and a one “Yeah that’s fine but Best Picture? C’mon”. That title belongs to mulitple Oscar nominee Moneyball.

I approach Moneyball as a devout hater of baseball since it is obviously the most boring sport in the world. I have no affection for sports in general but baseball is seriously the most boring shit to watch and play. Most sports have a one or the other thing going on. Soccer is a sweat storm. Football cripples people. Tennis is a full body workout with the added threat of mental breakdown. Have you read David Foster Wallace’s piece on tennis? It’s great, and that is coming from a guy who does not give a shit about tennis. I have friends that love baseball and have dragged me to baseball games and attempted to explain the game, the history and legacy of the players and I can’t bring myself to care. I can appreciate that they care and when I took a tour of the Seattle Mariner’s stadium while on vacation I was moved by the tour guide’s emotional recounting of a historic moment that took place at the field. I did not care about the event but I cared that he cared. With all of this baggage I still decided to watch Moneyball.

The gist of Moneyball is that teams with piles of money can buy the good players and teams with less money are stuck with the dregs of society. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beale teams up with Jonah Hill to fight against this terrible system. Jonah Hill has a couple scenes where he sorta kinda explains what his system is but the film isn’t really that interested in how the system works so I had to just go with the flow. The script is by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin but it never buzzes to life. Brad Pitt is fine but unremarkable and Jonah Hill is even less remarkable which got him an Oscar nomination because the Academy will only recognize comedic actors when they learn to stop making fools of themselves and learn that life isn’t just about having a good time. They have to stop making movies full of dick jokes and star in a respectable movie about men and baseball.

There is a really strange scene early on where Brad Pitt goes to pick up his plot contrivance-I mean daughter from ex-wife Robin Wright. Like all movie ex-wives she has taken up with a man who is nothing at all like the hero; in this case a weenie guy who knows nothing about baseball, portrayed by Spike Jonze. I assume the scene is there to let us know that Billy Beane was too much of a man for this woman who requires a nebbish who probably just reads and exercises by going for walks. HE CAN’T EVEN PRONOUNCE THE PLAYER’S NAMES! GOSH!

There are a couple scenes where Beane calls up other team managers and trades players. These scenes have a playful tone but since I never really understood why anyone was doing anything for any reason beyond the fact that the movie has let me know that Billy Beane is a good guy and all the old people are bad guys it all just plays as bouncy rhythms. That was an Up scene. Oh, this a Down scene. And so on and so forth. Would I be wrong in thinking that Zaillian’s austure epic style watered down Sorkin’s punch-punch-punch style? I’m just saying, Aaron Sorkin wrote a very entertaining tv show based entirely at an ESPN knockoff and a very entertaining movie about Facebook. Is baseball that hard to dramatize? Probably. There are a couple moments where Beane explains to Hill’s Peter Brand that he has to learn how to tell players they have been cut from the roster or traded. Hill is apprehensive but he eventually does tell a player they have been traded and everything goes fine and what was the point of that? “In this scene everyone acts like an adult.” Thrills!

Steven Soderbergh had been developing the film with a greater focus on the statistical elements of the source material, but had the film cancelled out from under him which allowed him to making the awesome Haywire so all is well that ends well, right? I don’t know if a all statistics take on this subject would make for a better movie but it certainly would have been less muddled. Since Moneyball isn’t that interested in the stats or the game itself both get a short shrift over Brad Pitt’s angsty sojourns. How much of Moneyball is just Brad Pitt sitting around, mulling shit over? We even get a long take of him pulling off the expressway to turn his car around. It’s a long take. I am not exaggerating. The film takes time early on to introduce various players, coaches and managers played by Chris Pratt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. These characters do nothing except have short terse conversations that have no payoff. Hoffman’s story arc is essentially sad, pissed, smiling. In other words, a waste of time for one of our greatest actors. Pratt is introduced as catcher who can’t catch who is made into a first baseman but then hits a winning home run so ok? Quite an arc you’ve created there.

Moneyball ends with sigh as we learn that other teams have utilized Beane’s statistical strategy to great success, except for Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. So does Moneyball really work? Maybe, sorta, a little, not really, yes and no. Ultimately, it’s sports so it doesn’t matter anyway.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

January 8, 2012

Nerd alert

(Warning: spoilers)

Basically the hipster DaVinci Code, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is David Fincher covering himself, delivering limp rehashes of Zodiac, Seven, and The Social Network, without any of the energy, flair or originality of those films. The plot is boring, the thrills nonexistent. The one chase scene is two vehicles on an empty road that lasts about a minute. Then the car flips over and explodes and everyone goes home. Daniel Craig is insanely miscast as a mega-nerd who bumbles around and says things like “Yeah, I’m a bit out of shape” while displaying a washboard stomach and looking like Daniel Craig. He also has multiple sex partners in the film who are all, “C’mon and fuck me, Daniel Craig!” which of course. The character of Lisbeth Salander is more interesting but the film doesn’t trust the viewer to believe that she would have any interest in solving a mystery even though she is introduced as someone who sleuths for a living so she has a lurid rape scene that is supposed to function as the tie between Salander’s interest in Daniel Craig’s research into a missing girl. Salander’s natural intuitive sense and foresight displayed at the very beginning  of the film when dealing with other plot points that occur at the end are ignored because you gots to have that rape scene apparently. Salander and Daniel Craig spend a lot of time staring at their computers and, unlike The Social Network, this bored me. A killer is eventually revealed and he talks forever before being dispatched because he couldn’t just kill somebody, could he? No, he has to explain himself. Then Lisbeth buys Daniel Craig a jacket and the clerk is all, “Nice jacket” and Lisbeth says, “It’s for a friend.” Sadly, Daniel Craig is back with his girlfriend who is actually married to someone else so Lisbeth throws the jacket in the trash and rides off on her bike AND THAT IS THE END OF THE MOVIE. Does anyone know if he finds the jacket in the trash at the beginning of part 2 and realizes what a jerk he’s been?

I’ve seen some reviews that praise the rape scene which is fucked up, right? If you must have a rape scene in your movie(must you? I doubt it) then don’t mess around with how terrible rape is. Irreversible is pretty much the last word on movie rape scenes because it just sits the camera down for between five to ninety minutes(give or take) and just watches a horrible event unfold. The style is the lack of style but it never takes away from the awful power of the event. Irreversible forces the viewer to reconcile with this terrible act. After sitting through that, the rape no longer functions as just another plot point but a damaging, awful life event that scars the characters forever. In Dragon Tattoo it’s just the impetus to get to the cool revenge scene. Salander before and after is unchanged. The scene is pointless. I rest my case.


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