Monday, April 30, 2012
Marvel’s The Avengers comes to us as a welcomed multi-continuation of The Hulk (2008), Iron Man II (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). By this time, the union of super-elite guardians of earth proposed by director of S.H.I.E.L.D “Nick Fury” (Samuel L. Jackson) called The Avengers Initiative has been put on hold. It was dismissed after Fury realized it would be panned by the government due to fears of unrest (same sort of trouble we saw brewing in the last Iron Man).
Soon, the team that would and should have been known to all as The Avengers has been assembled, but they appear to be less organized than their enemy who not only possesses great power from the realm of virtual gods, but has the added advantage of having subdued the minds of those who know the most about how to manipulate the object’s power—a bow-and-arrow-wielding “Clint Barton” known as “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner) and the brain behind the object’s handling, “Selvig” (Stellan Skarsgård).
But you can almost forget about that because this changes when we get to the movie’s last half where younger viewers (or otherwise lovers of beautifully extravagant destruction) will be more than gratified with what they see. Michael Bay loves to show off destruction, but director Joss Whedon here shows us how it’s really supposed to be done.
It is an ever-so-mild setback that such great efforts are taken to develop the story, and in many ways, it is too developed. Whereas in many comic book movies were stories that so easily came together, this one has some rough edges transitioning to its conclusion, be it changes in how heavy it wants to lay down the drama or the way it incorporates some plot-points. But it is hard to level any complaint against a film that carries with it this much imaginative energy and this many heroes.
Loki: “We have an army!”
Tony Stark: “And we have a Hulk!”
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
I’m not alone in thinking that no one in their right mind would consider The Three Stooges a viable attempt at a remake for drawing out 2012-relevant humor. But apparently, those in their wrongs minds were in their right minds after all. The idea of a TV-into-movie remake of early 20th century slapstick should seem futile on the face of it (as well as unnecessary), but some thought it needful to resurrect our favorite stooges for a generation of iphone and Facebook users. And I’m so very glad they did!
We meet the laugh-out-loud litter of three as they are dropped off at a local orphanage and taken in by the lovely sisters who will care for these—the most unwanted of children. We soon find them grown, having spent their childhoods under the nerve-tearing frustration of the staff who look after them, when “Moe” (Chris Diamantopoulos – “Oliver Zarco” from CSI and “Rob Weiss” from 24), “Larry” (Sean Hayes – “Jack McFarland” from Will and Grace), and “Curly” (Will “Mad TV” Sasso) are out on their own in an effort to save the old orphanage. They soon cross paths with old friend and former orphan, “Teddy” (Kirby Heyborne), and from there, manage to walk headlong into a plot involving betrayal and murder.
Once we accept that the three stooges have indeed been transformed into 2012-worthy material (and in color), it is then that we walk into an old-fashioned good time with just enough of an original likeness to take us back, way back!
The viewing experience may seem brainless, but being able to enjoy this movie wasn’t foolproof. You might think it couldn’t have failed, but of course, it could have by overdoing the slapstick. But instead, the film gets nearly everything right, and with nice character adoption combined with swift pacing to make viewers believe that they are watching the actual stooges (if only for its brief hour-and-a-half).
With as much as the film lacks in all the things good movies are traditionally known for – and as much as it has in terms of unworkable humor from the first half of the last century and typical movie clichés that would normally cause us to draw back in eye-rolling dismissal – it is pushed through by the fact that the film’s simplicity allows it to be taken in by how closely it portrays its original material. Less is more here.
The movie is divided into 3 family-friendly chapters that begin like the old episodes did. And aside from leaving us missing a Shemp, it takes us back to those wonderful Sunday mornings where those of us who are old enough to remember would grab a bowl of Fruit Loops and plop ourselves on the couch for what would become some of the best times of our lives.
And if a 4-year-old with next to no attention span can halfway enjoy this today, you know that those of us who actually remember the stooges and loved their special contribution to slapstick will not be left out.
But reminding us that this is not, in fact, the early 20th century, at the film's end, we are given a courtesy reminder by the Farrelly brothers to avoid hitting one another in the heads with real mallets and hammers because that would hurt people. Well, we had to see the generation gap come in somewhere. Why not here? Nobody wants to be sued.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rated: PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor)
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Jason Keller, Melisa Wallack
Starring: Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer
Adventure | Comedy | Drama
Mirror Mirror is a vivaciously new and entertaining take on the old fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which tries – and succeeds – at taking its plot in an awesomely unprecedented new direction. As such, it will not fail to grab up its share of admirers.
While a few scenes run a bit too long, this doesn't take from the fact that with present-day descriptions to go with old-timey notions and clichés, Mirror Mirror is solid viewing as an equally funny and dramatic (when it wants to be) self-parody that is as visually stimulating as any fairy tale should be.
|Blakk Flamingo Pictures|
Runtime: 84 minutes
Rated: NO MPAA rating
Director: Mark Bessenger
Writer: Mark Bessenger
Starring: Benjamin Lutz, Windham Beacham, David Alanson
Horror | Comedy
When Brewster's brother, “Walsh” (Stephen Geoffreys) fails to take off for the trip as planned, Brewster is called in to ensure that an 18-wheeler delivery carrying coffins makes it to its destination on time. With the three finally on board and heading out, a breakdown lands them in a junkyard where they soon discover what exactly has been making so much noise inside those coffins. It happens to be hungry for blood.
And we're not holding down this rather inglorious production (which could well have been titled “Brokeback 18-Wheeler”), but if you can't get the performances right, you've got a whole lot of nothing. Without prior knowledge of what the film hopes to accomplish, you have no idea it is supposed to be a comedy until you reach a certain point. It is then that the next milestone becomes figuring out that this movie only borders on being as funny as it hoped to be. But despite another effort, the film is in no sense scary at all.
Even the opening credits are an artistic nod to what it hopes to accomplish, followed by great choreography and some well-selected filming sites. By way of gore, it uses its low budget surprisingly well. Comedy-horror fans might just be impressed here, although it is sad that it falls short of its true potential.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
When free spirit “Jules” (Anna “Go Girls” Hutchison) tells her best friend “Dana” (Kristen “Revolutionary Road” Connolly) what a good time they’ll be having at a cabin in the remote woods, you automatically know and are glad that she has no idea at all what awaits her or her friends, and neither does Jules’ jock boyfriend “Curt” (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth). The same is true of their intellectual friend with his notably piercing gaze, “Holden” (Jesse “Grey’s Anatomy” Williams) and their stoner friend “Marty” (Franz “The Village” Kranz) who seems to have a better grasp of reality, despite himself. Takes all kinds.
The Cabin in the Woods is about much more than any old cabin in the woods where unsuspecting, sex-having young adults find themselves headed for a very bloody end. The reason for this trip in their minds involves nothing more sophisticated than booz and weed, but on the other side of things, this ill-fated five has an important destiny they are supposed to fulfill. They must die for a grim and grueling purpose, one that extends far beyond those who seem to so callously want them dead.
And the film opens with those who want them dead casually chatting and making office jokes while placing bets on who bites it first while otherwise preparing to make sure everything at the cabin goes as planned. We won’t be able to relate to them until the very end of the movie, but everyone in this film has a reason to be hopelessly depressed.
|"Sitterson" (Richard Jenkins) and "Hadley" (Bradley Whitford), two |
of the brains behind the scenes.
And then we get big red letters that flash across the screen as though we are watching some humdrum Halloween movie. The film has this ability to quickly alternate between cheap and classy, between what we expect to see and what we couldn’t see coming. And as it is an example of a very extreme type of parody, this is for sure one of those films that will go over better with critics than audiences in general simply because it dares to call out the stupidity of the masses.
The Cabin in the Woods may not be your traditional carnival ride of carnage (though there is plenty of that, and sometimes too much), but it will indignantly and horrifyingly keep you interested. And in fact, its mainstay is about being just the opposite of what comes from the abandoned mines of bad ideas that we are getting today when we aren’t being bombarded with soulless remakes of earlier horror greats.
There is a celebrity appearance at the end, and if you’ve seen Paul (2011), you’ll know who it is. This would have had more affect if this were the first time we’d seen that, but The Cabin in the Woods is never really out of ideas or surprises, big or small. And while we keep waiting for Hemsworth to turn into Thor and trash these ghoulish attackers, we are given no such luxury, just a story that stays confined to the shallow-mindedness that made this wildcard of a movie possible in the first place.
Thank you, Goddard and Whedon, for taking back the horror trophy and setting it up proudly in the camp of those with brains.
Monday, April 16, 2012
At 12:54 am today, I turned 38. In a private celebration at home cleaning, I treated myself to some Robert Ingersoll. I love me some Ingersoll! I found it interesting that despite what I was taught in seminary, few churches really hated Ingersoll or held him in infamy. In fact, he was seen as a scholarly gentleman and great conversationalist who loved to eat and debate with many prominent churchmen and religious figures of his day. His famous lecture - beautifully read by Nick Gisburne - is here for all to enjoy.
Saturday, April 07, 2012
Runtime: 142 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for some graphic violence and disturbing images)
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Toby Jones
Action | Drama | Sci-fi
The Hunger Games is about future North America where provinces referred to as Districts are under dictatorial rule of the leader of a nation called Panem. The setting is in the Appalachian region in what is now called District 12.
We meet “Katniss Eberdine” (Jennifer Lawrence) going out to hunt in her poverty-stricken coal-mining town just before “the reaping” is called. The Reaping is the yearly gathering in which the Hunger Games gets its contestants. When the drawing is held and Katniss’ young sister, “Primrose Eberdine” (Willow Shields) is selected, she volunteers as a contestant along with a selected male, “Peeta Mellark” (Josh Hutcherson).
As preparation for the games gets under way with the help of their mentor and past game winner, “Haymitch Abernathy” (Woody Harrelson), the two aspiring champions must not only capture the attention of a national audience, but their own feelings for each other while coming to grips with the fact that the odds of survival are not good. Only one can take home the prize.
The Hunger Games provides interesting viewing. Indeed, it cannot fail to do so with its being based on the best-selling book by Suzanne Collins, but its ill-placed-ness on camera becomes very apparent. By all accounts, the movie is a faithful adaptation of the novel series, a trilogy followed by two additional books, and this is why the film employs the exaggerated details that it does.
In a retrofitted future America, we have the look of early 1900s combined with an inner city of contrastingly futuristic technology, like railways and reflective buildings. Remember those brief glimpses of courtrooms after World War Three as portrayed in Star Trek The Next Generation? If you don’t, just know that the outfits are colorful, like weirdly out-of-place props from some fairy tale or a bad dream. The haircuts are goofy, as are most of the styles, but the effect still rings out; we feel like it’s a different time, with chrome, rock-shaped aircrafts and strange metal buildings, some of which still look like manufactured props. And everyone knows that the future just can’t have plain-clothes stars as villains! They have to be dressed up and have odd facial hairstyles to fit the outfits!
Things get off to a good enough start, and then as the plot develops and works its way through the eventual stagnation in the name of teen romance, we get the impression this had to be coming from source material made strictly for kids (in case we didn't know already). And so it was. We are supposed to take home that this cruelly-run society has become brutally indifferent to the meaning of life and liberty. We certainly do get that, but with a plot that does only a halfway decent job at making us overlook its great many oddities.
And rather than spend time with dynamic dialog, the villains just repeat: “may the odds be ever in your favor” in a nicely creepy way and go off and do villain-y things. There are nearly no references to things on earth that we can relate to. And in the spirit of attacking human cruelty and humanitarian issues, they threw in swords and bows and arrows on the competition field because, well, because it’s just cooler than guns and people get to grit their teeth and clank swords doing so.
The fight scenes are piss-poor. The racial aggression – and sometimes out-right racist themes like form-fitting expendable blacks and a small black girl whose only skill is climbing trees real fast – are purposely done, so as to make the movie play on civil rights awareness issues to inflame the audience (while taking total advantage of them in an egregiously hypocritical and clichéd way). And even this doesn’t work as expected.
We never feel for the lot of them as much as we’re supposed to. However, the film is carried with bull’s-eye performances from its leads. Hutcherson does a stellar job, and from Lawrence we could not have expected a more invested performance. There are even old pros like Donald Sutherland who can be cool as ever in the same type of “corrupt, high-up official” role he’s had since way back when. None of this changes the fact that the film is highly overrated.
It may become memorable because of the story on which it is based, but this teasing, labored romance in a climactically challenged layout with writing like a low-budgeter becomes more difficult to stay interested in the longer we watch. The ending gives us too much of what we want while failing to say what it needed to say as effectively as it should have.
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Runtime: 109 minutes
Rated: R (for violence, language, alcohol and drug-use, and sexual themes)
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer: Michael Bacall
Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube
Unlike the 1987 TV drama 21 Jump Street, the movie is not serious—not at all, in fact. It wears its smutty and raunchy double-servings of nastiness smeared on both sleeves and isn’t in the least ready to shy away from these badges of dishonor.
We begin when we meet two still-young-looking newbie cops, “Schmidt” (Jonah Hill) and “Jenko” (Channing Tatum), both of whom struggle with different aspects of the job. Schmidt is the “brains” while Jenko is the meaty “hands-on” jock who has trouble doing such things as reading Miranda Rights.
While at first you may find it difficult to accept that a 21 Jump Street reboot could be turned into anything actually funny, here we are sitting in front of...this. But it’s honestly the funniest movie of the year thus far, one of those films that actually lives up to how good the trailer makes it seem.
We watch Schmidt and Jenko get back into the high school groove, and of course, not fit in. Then their objective is challenged when the new social lives they’re making begin to threaten their ability to work together. And there’s an inevitable romance, too. Popular or unpopular, going back to school will open some wounds.
Ice Cube is “Captain Dickson.” His is one of the laugh-out-loud funniest performances of the entire presentation. In every single scene he’s in, he threatens to outshine both Hill and Tatum put together. There is one other celebrity appearance toward the film’s end. Those who knew the old show will recognize him when they see him.
And although its story doesn’t offer us anything profound, what it does do is provide some outrageously appealing humor that goes far beyond what would have been expected on the merits of the script by itself. And not all of the laughs are drug-focused teen drivel. There is real humor of varying kinds all over the place.
Monday, April 02, 2012
Runtime: 99 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action)
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writers: Dan Mazeau, David Johnson
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Rosamund Pike
Action | Adventure | Fantasy
Wrath of the Titans is the second part to the hideous 2010 flop Clash of the Titans, which was deservedly known for its weak special effects, shoddy writing, and terrible performances. But movie number two very pleasingly chooses to step up its game. Sam Worthington reclaims his role as “Perseus,” son of “Zeus” (Liam Neesson), with “Andromeda” (Rosamund Pike) as the Queen of Greece. The two effectively charming leads march ahead with great supporting performances at their sides in a movie that does much better than expected.
As the gods want for strength, Zeus is kidnapped, leading Perseus to muster his humanity as the greatest asset in seeking out Poseidon’s son, “Agenor” (Toby Kebbell) to locate “Hephaestus” (Bill Nigh), to stop “Aries” and “Hades” (Édgar Ramírez, Ralph Fiennes) from helping Kronos regain his power to break free and consume the world.
There are passable elements of humor here as well—elements with the decency to show us exactly what is relevant while not slowing down the pace in needless character writing. Kebbell carries his own understated effectiveness for his role while Nigh adds an oddly blended personality. Some definite improvements could have been made in Kronos who is lamely presented to us as nothing more than a monster of magma.
This one for sure doesn’t hit one out of the park. It may actually disappoint viewers looking for too much, but the battle scenes and plot development provide solid entertainment, especially when compared to the previous movie.