Posts Tagged ‘Roger Ebert’

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra or “We’ll always have Paris- Wait! No we won’t, we blew it up.”

August 9, 2009

G.I. Joe does the badass walk.

"General Hawk, your beret is great. Just kidding, you look stupid."

For all the negative advance buzz, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a fun action movie. Dumb, overly violent, but still fun. Unlike the tedious Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or the painfully nihilistic Terminator: Salvation, G.I. Joe focuses on energetic action sequences that are filled with verve and edited with a nod towards coherence. That cannot be overlooked or overstated.

The plot involves the sale and stealing of a special metal eating nanobot system, so powerful it could hold the world ransom. The guy doing the selling and stealing is McCullen whose main beef is that his villainous ancestors had hot metal masks shoved on their faces, Doctor Doom style. He’s assisted by the Baroness, Storm Shadow, The Doctor, Zartan and a seemingly endless supply of grunts called Neo Viper’s.  They are challenged by the forces of good that is G.I. Joe, consisting of Duke, Ripcord, General Hawk, Breaker, Scarlett, Heavy Duty and Snake Eyes. Now, these names are either exciting your memory and evoking nostalgia or confusing you to no end. G.I. Joe: TROC does not go out of the way to properly introduce many of these characters. Instead, packed in between the action sequences we are treated to quick flashbacks that either function to explain character relationships or in some cases just let you know what a character was doing 20 years ago.

The action sequences are wild and woolly, with an amusing disregard for collateral damage, to the point where it becomes impossible to stifle thoughts of Team America: World Police. That said, I’m pretty sure this is the first action film in awhile to actively acknowledge the damage done, when an adviser meekly informs the president, “The French are really mad.” The big set piece is the chase through the streets of Paris that gets the French so angry, where we are treated to a ninja hanging onto a hummer, a lady on a motorcycle, and two guys in super suits (Delta-6 Accelerator Suits if you’re nasty) flipping cars and dodging missiles. It’s insanely over the top and delirious fun, which director Stephen Sommers has admittedly pulled off in the past. Sommers has one big weakness that has reared its head in all of his films, a tendency toward shoddy CGI. G.I. Joe is sadly no different, with a desert shot so cheap looking I thought they’d run out of money 15 minutes in. Luckily, this tends to be the exception. The Paris chase is particularly sharp looking, and a undersea battle holds out for the most part, probably thanks to the murky conditions.

Yup, looks great.

Yup, looks great.

The performances are all over the place. Dennis Quaid’s General Hawk seems way too old for this shit, and tends to talk as if he is speaking phonetically, unsure of the actual meaning of his words. Other times he sounds like he’s recovering from a stroke. It’s weird. Channing Tatum is another great example of the anti-presence phenomenon currently sweeping Hollywood. His Duke is a largely expressionless block of wood whose greatest emotional moment is riding a motorcycle to a funeral in the rain, wearing sunglasses. Apparently Sam Worthington was the first choice, which would have given us the same result, but with a slippery accent. I know some people are wondering about Joseph Gordon Levitt as The Doctor. The guy is clearly having a great time here, hamming it up under a strange breathing apparatus and talking in a voice that evokes a certain villain without doing a direct imitation. His encounter with another old G.I. Joe villain (who shall remain nameless) had me in stitches.  Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from Lost) plays Heavy Duty with a slight unhinged nature that the film surprisingly does little with. At one point he’s shooting two giant chain guns, laughing like a maniac, and I wanted more of that. Marlon Wayans is jokey jokester, not that grating but I never missed him when he wasn’t on screen. Rachel Nichols plays Scarlett with about as much intensity as she can muster, but can’t compete with Sienna Miller’s performance as the Baroness. Miller is the big surprise. By no means a breakout talent, she still more than held her own, projecting great menace and authority and most importantly, is crazy hot. Insanely hot. You don’t know how hot she is in this movie. And it’s all the hair and glasses (ok, and the boobs). She has some flashbacks as a blond sans specs and I could have given a shit. Later she’s spraying defenseless civilians with machine gun fire as blood drips down her face and I wanted her to have my babies.

Sexy specs indeed.

She needs glasses to better shoot you in the face.

But I’m not talking about the guy everyone wants to know about: Snake Eyes. First, he’s in it, and he’s awesome. Second, he’s awesome. From what I could tell from some reviews, people unfamiliar with G.I. Joe aren’t picking up on the awesomeness of Snake Eyes. Let me help you out: he’s a ninja who never speaks, can fuck you up with any weapon(or his hands!), and the only person who can match him is ANOTHER NINJA! That would be Storm Shadow. I read a review that made the backhand observation that two ninja’s fighting is “kinda cool”. Yes it is, asshole. So what’s your problem? “Two ninjas fighting is pretty awesome, and these ninja’s fighting are very awesome. But I dunno.” Rest assured, for all the changes made to character back-story and the amount of meathead Duke this film has, the Storm Shadow/Snake Eyes material is A+. Storm Shadow is fucking people up with ninja stars in like every scene! It’s wonderful! He does that when he isn’t running up and down hallways WITH A MISSILE LAUNCHER.

Which leads me back to the topic of collateral damage. So many people die in G.I. Joe: TROC. One grunt is killed by a giant drill coming out of wall. One of those Neo Vipers has a grenade blow off his head. Zartan stabs a lady through the chest with a giant knife, and then essentially calls Storm Shadow a pussy(I KNOW!) I already mentioned The Baroness shooting civilians, but I failed to mention when they drop the Eiffel Tower on a bridge full of people. To paraphrase my good friend Gerard, “France, you got got!” The Paris chase has so many cars being thrown and flipped and not once do any of the Joe’s say, “These normal people are fucked!” Heck, the Joes can barely pay any regard toward the safety of fellow teammates. During the Paris chase, Snake Eyes has been assigned to hang on to the enemy Hummer and stab it. This doesn’t work out quite as planned and Mr. Eyes ends up hanging underneath the vehicle, at which point the pursuing Joe’s take it upon themselves to shoot a missile at the Hummer, with a quick precusor of “Hold on, Snake Eyes!” Yeah, hold on to the truck we’re shooting with a missile. I know he can’t talk but damn.

Speaking of damn, damn.

Speaking of damn, damn.

You might find this hard to believe, but some of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a little far fetched. Plenty of things come to mind, but the most egregious is a super plane that can fly from the Arctic to Moscow to Washington D.C. in about eleven minutes. I might need to check my math here Houston, but that might be fucking ridiculous. But whatever, this is intercut with a ninja battle and an underwater gunfight that resembles a Star Wars X-Wing battle. So before you get a chance to ponder just how fast Mach 6 actually is, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow are back on screen and you’re thinking, “NINJAS! GOD YES!”

God yes.

God, yes.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra manages to evoke it’s source material better than any other film of it’s breed. Roger Ebert calls it “a 118-minute animated film with sequences involving the faces and other body parts of human beings.” Nailed it.  Also, ninjas. Can’t say it enough.

Post script: I showed up to my screening about ten minutes early, yet I sat through nearly twenty minutes of commercials, hosted by a young man named Bradford Howe. His teeth gritting delivery and dead eyes belie a man with nothing left to live for. It was torture. Also, I saw a myriad of trailers for films of all stripes, including Shorts and District 9. The trailer that evoked the biggest audience response: Old Dogs. What a world.

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Public Enemies: A Review

July 16, 2009

Michael Mann seems to be at odds with what a movie is supposed to do. Throughout his filmography, one can find numerous instances of choosing the least entertaining aspect of a subject as his main focus and shoving it at the viewer saying, "This is real fucking life! Deal with it." It happened in Ali, it happened Miami Vice, and it happens rather egregiously in Public Enemies. I'm the last person to begrudge anyone of attempting to throw some realism into their films, but there is real, and then there is dull. And Public Enemies is real dull. 

I went into Public Enemies thinking myself a pretty hardcore Mann apologist, with an unabashed love of Miami Vice and a great enthusiasm for The Insider, which I would easily slot as a Great Film. But walking out, all I could think about was all of the criticisms that people have leveled against those films, and how they perfectly apply to Public Enemies. Michael Mann loves to tell stories about professionals placed in unprofessional circumstances and see how they handle it. Johnny Depp's Dillinger is presented as a professional of sorts, but his plight isn't approached in a way to make me care. He's slick, but he's not that slick. That about sums Dillinger up, and that's too bad. Perhaps after hamming it up for three years at Jack Sparrow, Depp wanted to just chill. The entire film is about the downfall of this man, the steps towards his death, and he plays it pretty obliviously. Some scenes appear to exist without cognizant knowledge of their predecessors, so Dillinger is cautious one moment, flippant the next, like he woke up the next morning and thought it was all a bad dream. 
Public Enemies also lacks a sense of place. I know it takes place during the Depression, but besides some brief lip service, there isn't any indication of what type of place America is at the time, and more importantly, what Dillinger means to the people. The film makes repeated mentions to Dillinger's folk hero status, but basically that's it. Someone says he's a folk hero, but I never got a sense of what type of notorious celebrity John Dillinger was. This just adds to an overwhelming case of "Who cares?" Dillinger is an inspiration to people we never meet in an era not properly portrayed. Roger Ebert, in a review much kinder than this one, makes mention to some of Michael Mann's detail choices. 

Mann redressed Lincoln Avenue on either side of the Biograph Theater, and laid streetcar tracks; I live a few blocks away, and walked over to marvel at the detail. I saw more than you will; unlike some directors, he doesn't indulge in beauty shots to show off the art direction. It's just there.

I don't know if I needed beauty shots, but perhaps a few more details to explain and illustrate this era. Which leads me to this films biggest problem; it looks and sounds like shit. Michael Mann is big proponent of filming with digital cameras, and up to this film, I was a big fan. His use of digital on Miami Vice and Collateral is sharp and clear, and the sound work on both is top notch. Not the case with Public Enemies. Visually, the film often looks amateurish, with visible makeup on the actors and Depp's knuckle tattoo's plainly visible in many scenes. But also the action takes a hit, with sequences deflated because of an apparent defiant need to "show it like it happened" that tends to only deflate thrills, which movies I've heard are supposed to have. The sound is atrocious, with dialog lost and garbled amongst random music stabs that sound like someone is still choosing music cues. Or sometimes you just can't understand what people are saying. I thought it might have been just me with these sound issues, but Justin experienced the same thing when he saw it. 

Speaking of Mann's decision to deflate thrills, I chalked this up to a slavish devotion to fact which, while it's tough to enjoy, I can respect. Hey, if that's how it went down, that's how it went down. But reading up afterward, I found that much of the film is fabricated and the timeline rearranged, which throws that entire rational out the window. By all accounts, the scripts historical changes were done for cinematic reasons, but they don't work anyway. If anything, they reveal the Dillinger story to in fact be even less exciting than presented, which questions why it was even made to begin with. 
The few bright spots are when the film decides to have a little fun; a scene where Dillinger jokes and bates the press, a tense escape for a military guarded jail, or any scene with Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup's performance is a fine one, evoking not just a person but also a sense of the time period that person existed in, with his posture and way of talking. Johnny Depp could be just about anybody when he plays Dillinger, while Christian Bale is essentially a non-entity, with a performance exactly 180 degrees from his overheated John Conner performance in Terminator: Salvation. Not a good look. Marion Cotillard can't maintain an American accent, which is too bad since her character is half Native American. Oh well, she looks nice I guess. 
Michael Mann is capable of making entertaining films, but with Public Enemies he indulges in all his worst tendencies, leaving us with a rather bland film that delivers some faint traces of people I can only assume were much deeper. 

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