Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hobbit, Schmobbit

Artwork by John Howe

Sorry to disappoint all of you The Lord of the Rings movie nerds, but I didn't particularly like them very much. They failed to be faithful to the source material when it counted, but the money rained from the sky every time one was released, so now New Line is hard at work on two prequels based on The Hobbit. The first is called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and it is due for release in late 2012. Now I know returning writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson did a kick-butt job the last time, but can someone please explain the casting to me???!!! What the $#!& is the Necromancer doing in this movie, played by Benedict... Cumberbatch? Are you kidding me?! That's not even a name! Where is this, Eriador? $@&&*#@$ it all! And who is this Elijah Wood guy, playing the as-yet-unborn Frodo Baggins?

The book that should be turned into a movie is Tolkien's posthumous masterpiece, The Silmarillion (1977). This is the most epic of his works, and it deals primarily with the First Age of the world. It involves the creation of Arda, the births of the Elves and Men, and their battles against the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. Sure it is entirely unfilmable, but that is what they said about The Lord of the Rings, remember?

There are battles in this story that literally reshaped the earth with their sound and fury. They make the Battle of the Pellenor Fields look like a pillow fight.

Thus he came alone to Angband's gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came.


Binghamton Flooding 2011: Bad for Social Life, Great for Netflix

Well, those of you who pay attention to the news probably heard that areas of upstate New York have gotten hit with extreme flooding again. This just happened five years ago, so between this and the local Quizno's closing, the question does remain: why do any of us still live here?

See pictures here.

In any case, I was among the blessed; I kept my electricity and media services the entire time. So, what to do with myself, stuck alone in my apartment for days? I tried Netflix on the PS3, my first time ever! Sure I haven't seen my girlfriend in five days, but at least I'm catching up on classics I missed originally!

A sample of films I have seen in the past few days on Watch It Now:

Die Hard 2 (1990)
Point of No Return (1993)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Oh, I love you, Shannon!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Movie Review: Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins

At one point in Japanese director Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, the character of Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) makes a remarkable statement. When asked to plot the assassination of a cruel lord, which in effect would guarantee the end of his own life, Shinzaemon responds not with a "why me?" or a "no way," but instead stammers, "How fate smiles on me." The chance to perform a good deed and die a noble death is a blessing to him. This illustrates the character of one of the great men of this film, and the audience's admiration for its 13 heroes is much greater than their admiration for Miike's overlong, climactic battle.

Miike is the most famous of modern Japanese directors here in the West, but he has only achieved this status through shock value; his movies such as Ichi the Killer (2001) and Audition (1999) are exploitative and stomach-turning in their violence. 13 Assassins is easily the best and most watchable film I have ever seen of Miike's, but it is still in danger of drowning in its own blood.

The film has a simple plot, divided into three segments. First, Shinzaemon is approached to kill the evil Naritsuga (Goro Inagaki), and we witness the lord's misdeeds in flashback. Second, Shinzaemon gathers 11 other faithful samurai to join his new cause (the thirteenth warrior joins up later). Finally, after some brief travel, Miike slices his film into a 50-minute battle, with more action than I have ever seen in an uninterrupted sequence. I can't be sure, but I believe this easily sets the body count record for a samurai film, as 200 soldiers square off against our heroes.

Miike still fails to show restraint as a filmmaker, and this awesome action movie suffers for it. The final battle is too long, as one bloody, telephoto shot full of bodies and swords and mud rolls into the next. The events become very difficult to differentiate. The battle is actually less effective than those in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) because Kurosawa's film does not drag the action out until it has lost all impact and become formulaic; Kurosawa also set the standard for chaotic, close-range battle footage shot with long lenses in Samurai. To Miike's credit, the rape of a married woman by Lord Naritsuga is left off-screen, but shots of Naritsuga's mutilated-- but living-- sex-slave recall Miike's inability to make a movie that doesn't offend.

13 Assassins looks spectacular and benefits from wonderful performances, and I even liked it enough to consider a Blu-ray purchase, but overall it doesn't live up to the standards for meaningful but entertaining samurai films set by the Kurosawas and Goshas of yesteryear. It tries so hard that it bleeds out right off the edges of the screen.


Friday, June 17, 2011

I Owe You All an Apology...

So I said in this blog a few months ago that I would not see Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon when it comes out this summer. The third film in this overwrought series of excess, it is the first to star someone other than Megan Fox as the primary heroine. Due to the fact that there is not enough room in downtown Chicago for two divas as big as Bay and Fox to exist at the same time, she has been replaced by Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Oh well. None of us were going to see it for the acting, anyway. Oh, and it was written by Ehren Kruger, who also wrote Revenge of the Fallen. None of this bodes well for the film, even though the early screening got rave reviews from Ain't It Cool News.

...oh my gosh! look at this trailer!

The movie was shot digitally in James Cameron's true 3D, Fusion Camera technique, so it will look insane in any case. The pure insanity of Bay's unquenchable destruction-lust will be on display.

Yes, I will probably see it. *sigh*


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Go See This

Terrence Malick's fifth feature film, The Tree of Life, is due out May 27 in limited release.

Tell me this doesn't look like the most beautiful film ever put together.

Okay, so I'm not promising a cohesive narrative, but anyone who knows Malick's work knows to expect a sensual montage, not a formulated unfolding of events.

By the way, if you haven't seen The Thin Red Line (1998), go see it.

Happy viewing,


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blu Recommendation: AMC's The Walking Dead season 1

That, uh... that sound you hear is God laughing while you make plans.

Cable network AMC has clearly gotten into the modern television game, leaving behind its horrendous early-millenium malaise of unexceptional movie airing, and producing cutting edge dramas. Everyone loves Mad Men, which I couldn't care any less about, and Breaking Bad is exceptional. Then along stumble The Walking Dead, pushing the bounds of what can be shown on standard cable and creating more credibility for TV shows as art; this series has the pacing and quality of a major motion picture.

First airing in October of 2010, this continuing series is based on a series of Image graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. The great Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) deserves the credit for getting this on screen, serving as the series mastermind, producing and even directing some of it. The series stars Andrew Lincoln, John Bernthal, and Sarah Wayne Callies as zombie apocalypse survivors trying to make their way through Georgia with their limbs, and humanity, intact.

The blu-ray is awesome, filling your HDTV screen with its 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The series was shot on 16mm film, and the resulting image is beautiful, maintaining a grain veneer when the shots are dark but being clear and detailed during the bright shots. There is a lot of facial detail to see here, whether it consists of the stubble of a sweaty Lincoln or the abrasions of some demented walker. It also comes with a very satisfying Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track to take full advantage of your HD-compatible home theater.

While there are no commentary tracks, the blu-ray does have some good extras, including a behind-the-scenes documentary on the entire creation of the show, mini previews for each of the six episodes, a San Diego Comic-Con panel with the creators, and HD trailers for other shows and movies. The only technical problem with the 2-disc set is that there is no way to select specific chapters within any of the episodes, something even DVD's have been doing for ten years.

Violent and upsetting, The Walking Dead is also extremely compelling, and 99% of viewers will pound through the short first season and want more. AMC is going to continue the series in 2011, so those of us safe in the real world can continue to watch these very human characters struggle through their threatening world.

Happy viewing,


Okay, Maybe I'm not so Happy Anymore...


This trailer looks absolutely horrible. I love Chris Evans (Sunshine, Fantastic Four), but this is ridiculous, and his CG-emaciated body looks like a bad joke.

Director Joe Johnston, who hasn't made a piece of celluloid crap since last year's The Wolfman, looks like he has no idea what he is doing; an exaggerated production design and silly tone is not the way to win over modern audiences.

I used to love comic book movies, but now I'm waving the red, white, and blue flag.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Movie Review: Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch

All flare, no care.

I probably cold write for a month and still never address all the different ways critics hate director Zack Snyder's (300) new movie, Sucker Punch. Snyder is one artist whose work it is currently en vogue to hate on, but I have never felt that he deserved the derision until now.

Snyder shows virtually no restraint in any way here, except that the exploitative presentation of the film's young, female antagonists never quite reaches R-level, and I will give him credit for restraining himself from falling into Tony Scott-like hyper cutting to round out the obnoxious presentation, but that was probably only avoided to allow for the exceedingly long takes of CGI cartoonery.

The lovely Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events) plays Baby Doll, a girl forced into a mental institution in Vermont after her mother dies and she accidentally kills her sister. The institution's cruel master, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), plans to lobotomize her. Doll and the four friends she earns (Abbie Cornish, Jenna Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung) plan a way to escape, but that way is through their own imaginations.

It is all a mess from here, as the mental institution is immediately re-presented as a burlesque, the girls now trashed up, dancing whores and Blue their pimp. Within this more colorful world, Baby doll uses her dancing to gain power over her audience, the same trick Snyder apparently wanted to pull. But even when the girls dance, we don't see it; the metaphorical battle against sci-fi enemies in video game locales becomes our reality.

Sucker Punch is inane and derivative, three levels of Inception deep in a trashy Christina Aguilera video, by way of anime action leftovers. You never have time to care about the characters, and the action scenes fail to entertain, but they annoy with their excessively loud pop music remix soundtracks. Almost the entire film is an enigmatic daydream, and the total running time in what you could exhaustedly call the real world- or what Christopher Nolan would call zero levels deep- is probably about 20 minutes.

The film is outright ugly, as a smog renders all things brown and even the (mostly animated) fight scenes look blurry. A faithful DVD/Blu-ray transfer in a couple of month's time will not be fun to look at, though it will shake your house non-stop, so if you want to own this movie you had better find something worthwhile in its content. If you are a teenage boy, I am not judging.

Happy viewing,


Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies I Really Wish Didn't Suck: part 1

I will be bringing you an ongoing series at random intervals. These posts will name movies I wanted to love throughout my life that turned out to be crap. These are a real tragedy, and I'm going to get kind of emotional discussing them.

P.S. This is a great idea for a continuing series because Hollywood will always continue to supply us with disappointing crap!

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

I am happy to kick off this series with a Michael Bay "film" (hey, Mike!), and it is truly the worst of his worst. I didn't like Bay's 2007 original, but I had hopes that, since the production values on these movies are mammoth, he would hit the right tone with the sequel.

Boy, was I foolish. Transformers 2 is unwatchable, the epitome of cinematic excess, full of juvenile humor and racially stereotyped anime mechs. Shia LaBeouf is about as annoying as possible in it, and Megan Fox really doesn't get anything to do besides look good. In fact, the only thing Bay seems to want his (supposedly 'tween) male audience to objectify more than her curves is all of the military imagery.

I hated Revenge of the Fallen.

2. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Matrix (1999) is one of my favorite movies, and the trailers for its sequel made Reloaded look amazing, but the film was a complete waste of time. It broke the rules already established for its universe by the first film, and it did so with bad contrivances to boot.

The Wachowski brothers got too ambitious with their effects sequences so that the fight scene between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and a ton of Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) in the middle of the film literally looked like a cartoon. The story went swiftly down hill, and the filmmakers made the mistake of minimizing Neo's power; all of the momentum from The Matrix was gone.

On the bright side, the film's freeway chase scene is one of the greatest action scenes ever crafted.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Yeah, I might as well piss off everyone sooner rather than later with this list. But I know the story of LOTR better than you (unless your name is Tolkien), and I'm passionate enough about Peter Jackson's trilogy paling in comparison to the books that I should write a doctoral thesis about it.

Jackson and his band of rich, know-it-all writers had already dug themselves a hole by butchering the second part of the trilogy and leaving too much ground to be covered in the final film. How to fix this? Well, simply leave out tons of amazing moments, exclude main characters, and reduce Tolkien's poetic writing to bad one liners.

"I am no man!"? Are you kidding me?!?

Boy, 2003 sucked.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remember When Camera Movement Meant Something?

I have been reading a book on samurai films, and I just finished Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast (1965). Old, Japanese films make me appreciate the art of visual style in film; in other words, the camera is expressing something at all times through composition, movement, and, by extension, editing.

These terms have less and less meaning in American cinema, as the big-budget movies contain incessant, meaningless camera movement (see everything after The Matrix), or they are shot in the increasingly popular documentary style of shaky-cam madness. One of my favorite films of the decade, 2006's Children of Men, was shot documentary style, so it lacked that particularly cinematic type of artistry I love so much and wish to fully understand. However, it was one of the best films I have ever seen, so I guess the directing style, which was appropriate for the film's narrative, is excusable. The hand-held camera allowed for some of the most amazing long takes ever filmed.

Luckily, not all directors have abandoned their camera as storyteller. The camera rarely shook in Road to Perdition (2002), which was also one of the most beautiful movies ever made. An example from that film is a sequence in which Michael Jr. watches Michael Sr. from a distance, and they are also emotionally estranged. The wide angle lens that Sam Mendes uses makes the hallway between them look exceptionally long.

Happy viewing,


Monday, March 14, 2011

Check These Guys Out

Some buddies in town run a wonderful little podcast all about movies, Buried Cinema.

Nate, Tom, Steve and Alban... Way to go, guys... even though you did all like Black Swan.

I guessed starred on episodes 34 and 36. You can get the show on iTunes.



Blu Recommendation: The Thin Red Line, Criterion Collection

I totally blew it with the promise I gave you to recommend a new Blu-ray or DVD each week, and I apologize to both of you for that. But let's not argue and bicker about who killed who; let's move on with our lives.

What a release this is, a Criterion Blu-ray from September 28, 2010. The Thin Red Line (1998) is only the second film I've seen from director Terrance Malick (Days of Heaven), but he is on a roll in my book. As usual, Criterion's treatment of the film is exemplary; I have, literally, never seen a movie look better on home video. Ever. Folks, buy yourselves a plasma and sit back to enjoy home cinema as never before.

John Toll's (Gone Baby Gone) cinematography is absolutely stunning, as Malick puts together the best-looking war film ever. I'm not going to say that I understand The Thin Red Line, but I will say that it demands multiple viewings, and it contains some scenes you will never forget. The beauty of most scenes is so sublime, I'm amazed that Malick is still able to infuse the horror of war into the film.

The Blu-ray features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, a theatrical trailer, three different making-of documentaries, wartime newsreels, and a commentary track (without Malick, who won't talk about his own movies).


Movie Review: Battle : Los Angeles

Saving Private Santa Monica

Battle LA is kind of a mess, and my frustration with the film is compounded by the fact that, between various trailers, websites, posters, and the actual movie's opening titles, the filmmakers aren't quite sure what to tell us the name of their stupid movie is. That's appropriate because I've seen Battle: Los Angeles/ Battle LA/ Battle Los Angeles, and I still don't know what the film was.

I do know of what it consists, though: derivative action scenes set amidst an alien invasion of Los Angeles, interspersed with cliched, troubled-men-at-war dialogue. Aaron Eckhart stars as Ssgt. Michael Nantz, a Santa Monica marine on the verge (of course) of retiring. He is unable to live as a non-combatant, however, when pesky aliens invade major cities...looking for ocean water to steal(?!). Forced back into action, Nantz joins the platoon of Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Tension between these two leaders- Nantz is second in command- compounds with past drama between the soldiers. However, not every conflict comes to fruition because the space beings attack the beach by sea and air. Our heroes fight through Santa Monica trying to rescue civilian survivors.

First-time director Jonathan Liebesman doesn't make good use of L.A. as a backdrop, as firefights with the cliched, gross aliens take place on indiscriminate overpasses and the like. Eckhart is really wasted on the material, a weak script by Christopher Bertolini. (Seriously, how many different films have you seen that feature a military man handing in his papers, only to be given some inescapable reason to join back up?)

The special effects, however, are nice to look at. The space craft have a particularly District 9 look, as sci-fi has moved into the realm of gritty, shaky-cam realism.

Skip this one,


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Guarding all the doors, holding all the keys.

The Adjustment Bureau is the perfect late Winter film, one that will make back its budget for its studio but would be crushed if it was released just two months later, amidst the avalanche of expensive CGI-fests we can expect each Summer.

I'm a sucker for great movie trailers, and The Adjustment Bureau had me with a smartly edited collage set to some of my favorite music, the theme from Danny Boyle's Sunshine. Walking into the theater, however, I knew that this Matt Damon vehicle would possess nowhere near the momentum of that unstoppable space station. Usual writer George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum) tries his hand at directing for the first time here, adapting a Philip K. Dick short story. He does an admirable job, using modern special effects craftily and manipulating our view as handily as the film's namesake organization of fedoraed agents. The script, and a weak ending, are the problem here.

Damon plays David Norris, a New York politician in the running for United States Senate. The mysterious Adjustment Bureau have been manipulating his life from the beginning, and when some of their agents near David err, they are revealed to him. He is told the truth: that the Bureau controls the world from behind the scenes. He also learns that he is destined to become President. But to have a successful career he must give up Elise (Emily Blunt, The Wolfman), a woman he has recently fallen in love with. David decides to defy his destiny, and the Bureau's Plan, to be with Elise.

Visually interesting (the Bureau's main trick consists of walking through random Manhattan doorways that teleport them long distances around the city in an instant) and featuring an attractive cast, The Adjustment Bureau simply gives up on answering any tough questions, or making any accusations against anyone or anything, worldly or otherworldly. This one won't stick around for very long. But don't worry; louder movies are on the way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Movie Review: Unknown

I don't know about this.

There isn't terribly much to say about Unknown, the entirely forgettable thriller from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax).

The most unknown fact about this film in today's world is that it is not, in fact, Taken 2, though the Warner Brothers campaign machine seems to view that as the best way to sell the picture. It certainly does qualify as a thriller, though, and the exciting moments are the only thing that give this Liam Neeson vehicle any chance at success.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, an American scientist arriving in Berlin with his lovely wife Elizabeth (January Jones) for a biotechnology conference. Leaving her at their hotel, Martin grabs a quick taxi back to the airport for his forgotten passport, therefore conveniently lacking any identification on his person when the cab plunges into the river, and Martin ends up in a coma as a result. When he comes to four days later, no one knows him, and the cab driver who saved his life, Gina (Diane Kruger), refuses to help him. Martin soon learns that another man is posing as him at the conference, and for some reason Liz says that she doesn't know Martin.

Unknown is one part Regarding Henry, three overdone parts Frantic and two final parts Bourne again, all reflecting Neeson's current state of mind. The combination of these different narrative archetypes is the closest thing the film has to originlity, as the shaky-cam fist fights and hyper Euro-car chases have all been done before.

The production values of Unknown are more than adequate, but the performances are not. Neeson exudes his usual nobility and charisma, very appropriate for an accomplished professor, but Jones is terribly outclassed as his wife, and the attractive yet plain actress appears as a child in their scenes together. Kruger fares better. Making appearances that can't possibly save the film are Aidan Quinn and Frank Langella.

Skip this one. For better action and drama around an amnesia story, check out the Bourne trilogy.

I Need to Get to Know Terry Malick

I will finally see The Thin Red Line this weekend, and it has been a long time in coming. To top off this wonderful eventuality, I will be watching it on Criterion blu. That's a heck of a way to meet a movie.

Check out the wonderful trailer after below.