Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Misérables

I've been writing reviews for awhile now on this blog, and yet somehow I've never reviewed a musical.  I've done comedy, horror, romance, drama, Oscarbait, arthouse bullshit, crime, thriller, silent, war, grindhouse, surrealist nightmare, western, exploitation, and whatever the Hell "Cosmopolis" was supposed to be, but never a musical.  So now all I have to do is review a porn and I'll have completed the circle of movies.  Maybe the upcoming adaptation of "Fifty Shades of Grey" will make that a reality.

I live in the New York area, so I've probably seen more stage musicals than most, and I've seen the original stage version of "Les Misérables".  I've actually done one better and read the original Victor Hugo novel and seen a 1998 dramatic adaptation of that novel starring Liam Neeson.  Out of all the versions of the story that I've seen, I'll have to go with the 1998 film.  I guess I'm only in even remembering that version, but its actually a really great movie with easily the best performances I've seen for any of the characters.  Liam Neeson is a perfect Jean Valjean, Geoffrey Rush is Javert, a post "Batman and Robin" Uma Thurman is  Fantine, and Claire Daines is Cosette.  Its the most streamlined version of the story too, getting right to the point and hitting the important dramatic marks.  The stage musical is very good, I felt, but I'm not really much of a musical scholar as much as I am a movie guy.  However, its very good because its staged.  Its long, but there's an intermission, there are many great performances, but the staging is diverse and indeed epic in scale.  There are some epic sets, including most impressively an entire barricade for the Paris revolts that appears out of the ceiling.  Perhaps there was a really great movie that could have been made out of the musical, but I'm sorry to say, Tom Hooper's "Les Misérables" was simply not it.

There is a kind of ungainliness to the stage musical that is almost acceptable to that version.  There's definitely a pacing difference between a great stage musical and a great film musical, and "Les Misérables" does not seem to understand this at all.  Tom Hooper adapts the stage musical more or less line for line, including probably every single song, which is a choice that no stage director would ever make.  There's another greater problem in that Tom Hooper runs entirely out of tricks by the first hour, which up until then was extremely well-shot with excellent performances.  But then you start to realize rather terribly that you've already seen the best soliloquies, and the movie starts to run out of steam fast.  There's a tepid oddly joyless version of "Master of the House" which is followed by an hour and a half of thinking "come on, can we get this over already?".  The pretty imagery starts to fall flat, the drama fades away, and for whatever reason, Tom Hooper decides to start randomly throwing dutch angles around, as if screwing with the camera position will somehow breath life back into his movie.  More ruthless editing and the removal of a few joyless reprisal songs could have made for a much better experience.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lincoln

I guess I had to see this after having the deep misfortune to have viewed "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter".  Also, despite living a post-Christmas world, I haven't really seen all that much Oscar Bait this year.  There was "Cloud Atlas" but that was far too experimental and divisive for the Academy to even consider.  So let's go with a director who is guaranteed to be nominated for just about everything:  Steven Spielberg.

A lot of people really hated last year's "War Horse" for being sappy and melodramatic.  If you wanted a perfect paint by numbers example of pure cynical Oscar Bait then you'd want to see "J. Edgar"... however "War Hose" was a nicely cynical attempt that somehow managed to sneak in a bit of real movie magic.  "J. Edgar" had all the artistry of a "Transformers" movie, but was better at fooling people.  "War Hose" actually had some very pretty shots and sequences, along with some very likable characters*, but obviously it was not Steven Spielberg's best work.  But if you're looking for something that actually is Stephen Spielberg's best movie that does not involve monsters, Indiana Jones, aliens, or WWII, "Lincoln" would probably be it.  Despite taking place just about 150 years ago, "Lincoln" may be the most politically relevant movie to come out this year, with at least the most important message.  If only the Democrats and Republicans right now would only watch this movie of complex political bartering and semi-corrupt double dealing from our nation's greatest president, maybe we could finally get something done.

The brilliance of "Lincoln" is that is it not a massive biopic that depicts Abraham Lincoln's entire life from cradle to Ford's Theater.  Instead the movie is focused nearly entirely in January 1865, dealing primarily with Lincoln's desperate attempts to get the Thirteenth Amendment, one of the most important political events in American history, passed while slowly setting the stage for the Union's ultimate victory over the Confederacy.  The movie almost entirely takes place in Washington DC in the White House or the Capitol building.  Many of Lincoln's most important moments such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or the Gettysburg Address (which is recited to Lincoln by several soldiers), occur in the backstory and are left out of the film.  Instead its a far more concise, focused story on just one of Lincoln's many triumphs, which was the correct move.  Abraham Lincoln's entire life would have needed an entire trilogy equal in scale to "The Hobbit" and years of work to depict his impressive life theatrically.  Spielberg chose one of Lincoln's greatest accomplishments - an accomplishment that took place in the dirty, unsavory, and corrupt world of horse trading politics.  And somehow despite showing Lincoln at his most corrupt, he still manages to come off as the same saint-like figure that we were taught about in school.  However, he is somehow even more impressive of a historical figure because we see his darker side and all that he had to overcome in order to achieve his great works.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

Man, "Tron 3" got really weird.

We survived the Apocalypse, so I figure I owe you people that "Wreck-It Ralph" review that you've all been begging for.  (Or the four or five of you who actually comment have been begging for.)  So here it is, Christmas came early this year, and Hanukkah came weeks late.  As you'd expect, "Wreck-It Ralph" was a damn good movie and I'm glad I managed to catch it on exactly the last minute*.  This is easily the best animated movie of the year, so if you haven't seen it yet... well, you're screwed probably.  Wait for DVD.

For whatever reason Pixar this year decided that they were going to do the magical Princess movie, and Disney decided that they would copy Pixar's usual plotline of inanimate objects living happily in a secret tiny society.  And so with Disney making a Pixar movie and Pixar making a Disney movie, "Wreck-It Ralph" feels like a video game-style "Toy Story", and "Brave" felt like.... crap, honestly.  My biggest worry about "Wreck-It Ralph" was that it would descend into endless fanservice and video game cameos for the nerd crowd, but instead they actually focused on making a nicely solid kid's movie.  And they found a way to give Samus a voice and characterization that didn't also make her humorless codependent wretch.

The plot as the trailers have told you, takes place in one of the increasingly-few arcades.  All the little video game characters are connected together through the electricity, traveling through the plugs.  This is why the "Street Fighter" characters and Pac-Man are hanging around, but you won't find any "Zelda" or "Final Fantasy" - those games have never been in arcades**.  Impressively they even managed to sneak in characters from extremely gory franchises like "Mortal Kombat" and "House of the Dead", I'm guessing the Disney execs don't really know video games that well.  Wreck-It Ralph is the villain of a 1982 video game called "Fix-It Felix Jr.", a thinly-veiled copypasta of "Donkey Kong", who after thirty years of being the bad guy and ignored by all his dickish co-characters, decides that he wants more in his life.  To that end he "goes maverick" and jumps into other arcade games in order to prove that there is more to him than simply smashing buildings.  Along the way we get every once of the magical adventure that the trailers promised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I think I aged roughly a year watching all three hours of the Wachowski Sibling's "Cloud Atlas".  This is a long movie, and an emotionally draining movie.  I don't think a film this complex has been attempted since "Inception", and even that when you get right down to it was a heist movie with a SciFi setting.  "Cloud Atlas" is not one movie, but six movies spliced together for three hours fading back and forth continuously as each story progresses simultaneously.  The best way to simulate this experience would be to watch "Mutiny on the Bounty", "The Pianist", "The China Syndrome", "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Blade Runner", and "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" on six TVs all playing at once.  That way you could properly recreate this movie's combination of adventure, romantic drama, spy thriller, dark comedy, SciFi action, and post-apocalyptic fantasy all at once.  You'd probably get a splitting headache at end and be confused as Hell, so I'd recommend that you watch "Cloud Atlas" instead.

"Cloud Atlas" is easily one of the most ambitious movies I've ever come across, and that usually doesn't translate well into a positive viewing experience.  Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" was definitely an attempt at a post-modern satire on post-9/11 politics and culture in a giant blender of SciFi and absurdity, but that also made it one of the worst movies I've ever seen - so confusingly terrible on every level as to not even be hilariously bad.  I assumed going into "Cloud Atlas" that it would be a movie I more respected than actually would be able to enjoy.  From the trailer it appeared to be a movie about everything, and it actually was a movie about everything.  You have a recurring cast of actors moving through a cycle of reincarnation across six completely different stories linked by only the faintest of references.  Each story looks different, has a different tone, and even are from different genres entirely.  And I was pretty sure that the end result of this would be an incomprehensible mess of impossible-to-follow ideas with all of the stories contradicting each other in an unwatchable disaster of pretension.  What did I expect to was instead a masterpiece of editing, where each of the stories in fact manages to (and I know I sound like an art major git right now) rhyme with the others, and together they add to the greater whole.

Now, obviously "Cloud Atlas" is not a movie for everybody.  In fact, its probably not the movie for 99% of the population, it was a huge flop.  Its challenging, its bizarre, I could not imagine any way to try to market this to another person, its enough of a problem trying to review it.  The trailer, actually, is an excellent cross section of the actual movie.  If you enjoyed that, you'll enjoy the movie, because even though the transitions aren't quite that often, the movie actually does flip all around each of the six plotlines very frequently in what feels like almost an endless montage.  I don't know how many people can manage to keep track of six storylines at once, if you had trouble following "Inception", this would be hopeless for you.  But even so, there is real beauty here.  Not many movies would dare try to the cycle of reincarnation for a few characters over 1000 years, and if they did, they would probably take a more traditional linear approach.  I don't think a movie like "Cloud Atlas" will ever be made again, its an epic milestone in storytelling art.  Even I'm not sure of every detail of this film, I'll have to see it again to appreciate it more deeply, yet I still rank this as easily the most interesting movie made in 2012.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I love "The Lord of the Rings" movies.  Personally I consider them to be among one of the finest film achievements of all time, easily the greatest fantasy movies ever made.  They're easily one of the most important movies made during my lifetime, and are unrelentingly epic, beautiful, and amazing.  In fact, in repeated viewings I've found that I've come to love them more and more over the years.  I enjoyed them the first time I saw them when I was a little kid, but they were never equal to a "Star Wars" movie or a "Batman" film in importance to me.  Now, "The Hobbit" is one of the biggest movies of the year, all thanks to Peter Jackson's flawless and majestic film adventure.  They're so good that they make actually reading Tolkien nearly impossible for me.  Because who needs this dry literary masterpiece?  I got the extended editions with twelve hours of some of the most perfect movies ever made.

So "The Hobbit 1" obviously was not going to be able to match the original trilogy in terms of impact, quality, and tone.  Because "The Hobbit" is not a "Lord of the Rings" book, its a small charming children's book focused more on a whimsical fantasy story than an epic adventure.  Unfortunately that's a tonal problem that I don't think Peter Jackson or anybody else was ever going to solve.  You can see the problem just with the main cast.  In a kid's book (or a kid's animated movie from the Seventies) it would make sense to have thirteen dwarves running around.  Thirteen dwarves is a pretty impressive number to a little kid, even though the thirteen dwarves are basically just one bumbling character that Bilbo has to save several times.  But when its a serious dramatic film, thirteen dwarves is a massive weight, since all thirteen of these people need some kind of individual character beyond being one-dimensional comic reliefs.  How exactly do you connect together a scene where trolls get trick into being turned to stone by sunlight with the Battle of Helm's Deep in a single dramatic tone?  Or create a film trilogy that begins with dwarves singing songs about Bilbo Baggins' plates and ending it with a huge battle that will set up an apocalyptic war for all of Middle Earth?  I don't think you can.

Now "The Hobbit 1" is not a bad movie, but its still noticeably the worst of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films.  The decision to divide "The Hobbit" into three movies is still controversial, though I can see how it might have worked.  But what I don't really understand is why this movie is so loong.  That shouldn't be a major surprise since "The Lord of the Rings" films are already three hours long (with another hour thrown in if you're watching the Extended Cuts like you're supposed to), but in the theater they didn't feel so long.  This one feels like a long movie, without the same single-minded sense of purpose and pacing that made the original trilogy work.  This movie feels padded and bloated.  "The Dark Knight Rises" is about equal length, but there's not a scene or subplot that I would have removed.  Just off the top of my head I could imagine at least a half hour of cuts that would have made "The Hobbit" flow better.  Still, its a mostly solid movie, I'm willing to see the others, but know, there is a clear step-down in quality.

Also, see this movie in a regular framerate, the 48 frames per second business is awful.  And see it in 2D.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pacific Rim Trailer

Sorry, its been a big week for trailers.


Guillermo del Toro has been having a few few years, and I'm glad to see he finally got a movie made.  He was supposed to be the director of "The Hobbit" (back when those were only two movies), he was supposed to make "At the Mountains of Madness", all of those projects fell apart.  The only thing he's done is written the remake of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", a decent but extremely forgettable movie from last year.  However, all his troubles seem worth it, because now we have the newest Evangelion movie, "Pacific Rim".

This is a movie for me.  Personally made for me.  I'm shocked there isn't even a little note at the beginning of the trailer that says "made for Blue Highwind".  It isn't the first time I've felt this way, because I am 100% certain that my future self will invent a time machine and travel back to the Eighties to create "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension".  I love Godzilla movies, I love giant monsters, I love giant robots, and like the rest of the nerdy portion of the Internet, I love "Portal" and the fact that we're getting GlaDos in this movie as fanservice.  This is now my number #1 movie for 2013.  I am there.

So to prepare, I'm watching a pirate version of 1989's "Robot Jox".  I suggest you do the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Man of Steel Trailer #2

Just... just, watch it, already:


A few months ago I reviewed "All-Star Superman", the supposedly greatest Superman comic book of all time that I personally found to be confusing, rambling, and ridiculous, basically everything I hate about superhero comics.  So I've resolved to never review another comic book again, because clearly I'm not the target audience.  "All-Star Superman" was supposedly the grand, almost-Biblical epic take on the Superman mythos, the ultimate final dramatic glory that is Superman all in one graphic novel.  Well, I say it didn't succeed, there, but Zach Synder and Master Christopher Nolan have definitely shown DC comics up with this one.

Yeah, its a trailer, its made to look awesome.  Why would a trailer go out of its way to look terrible?  Well, certainly "The Lone Ranger" trailer did go out of its way to look terrible, so I don't know.  The point is that this seems like an almost religious take on Superman, presenting him in as the Almighty Savior for a very imperfect world.  Most interest is Johnathan Kent (played by Kevin Costner) telling little Superboy that maybe it would have been a better choice to let his entire classroom die instead of saving them and revealing his powers.  But then we still have Superman in his god-like glory blasting off at mach 10 around the globe.  And there are cities getting blown to bits.  The stakes seem high, the mood seems right, it isn't going to goofy comic book thrills, its going for something more mature and serious.  So it looks awesome.

Two complaints though:  chill out with the shaky-cam business.  And why is there "Gladiator" music instead of the John Williams Superman theme?  Beyond that, this is going to be something not easily ignored next year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Hobbit (1977)

Come Friday the first of the new trilogy of "Hobbit" films will come upon this world.  For many, it is the most important film event of all of 2013.  For me, that was "Batman 3".  However, Peter Jackson's new epic Hobbit adaptation* is not the only version of the story that exists, there is another.  One from myth and legend, from the strange time known as the Seventies, coming forth from the universe known as animated NBC specials.  The film was made by the animation studio Rankin/Bass, who are best known for creating just about every animated Christmas special, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "The Little Drummer Boy", and "Frosty the Snowman", and would later make "The Last Unicorn", a decent Eighties fantasy cartoon.  Animation was done by Topcraft Studios, a Japanese company that would later create "Nauiscaa and the Valley of the Wind", making it essentially the precursor to Studio Ghibli.

The 1977 "The Hobbit" was also the very first film adaptation of any of J.R.R. Tolkien's works, but would quickly be followed by the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated feature film, "Lord of the Rings".  "Lord of the Rings" was oringally meant to be called "Lord of the Rings Part 1" since it only covers the first two films in the series.  Unfortunately United Artists refused to include the subtitle, adding considerable confusion.  They also refused to make a sequel since the 1978 "Lord of the Rings" was a box office failure.  Rankin/Bass' finished the Tolkien mythos themselves with their own version of "The Return of the King", airing on ABC in 1980.  Together "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings", and "The Return of the King" make a strange loose trilogy of animated features that more or less cover Tolkien's entire Middle Earth mythos.  I haven't actually seen the other two films, I'll probably save them for the week before the next two Peter Jackson "Hobbit" films in 2013 and 2014, assuming I'm still blogging then.

As a movie, the Rankin/Bass "Hobbit" isn't much more than a historical curiosity at this point.  Assuming all goes well this weekend with Peter Jackson's version, this original film will be made entirely redundant, existing as a strange little cartoon to be seen only by film hipsters (like myself) and the most hardcore of Tolkien fans (unlike myself).  Its a faithful adaptation, capturing the sweet childish wonder that is "The Hobbit", directly capturing all the main scenes in a lean seventy-seven minute running time.  The animation is a bit sketchy, but Rankin/Bass did well to re-imagine Tolkien's poems as musical numbers, giving them a whimsical quality lacking in the text**.  Since it won't take up too much of a your time, I actually recommend giving it a view.

The Lone Ranger Trailer

When you go to movie as often as I do, you start to see the same trailers over and over again.  Some of them are exciting and impressive like "The Hobbit", some are merely okay and get annoying after the fifth viewing, like "21 Jump Street", and some are so bad that I fear I will kill myself the next time I have to watch this trailer.  Which leads me... to this:


I like Johnny Depp.  I like Gore Verbinski.  I liked all the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, even the really forgettable one... I think there was a mermaid or something in it.  But this is bad.  This is really bad.  First of all, I don't understand what Disney is trying to do here, "The Lone Ranger" is an intellectual property from my grandma's time.  My generation probably only knows it exists because of Looney Tunes parodies that outlived the original concept and Jim Carrey occasionally yelling "Hi-Yo, SILVER, AWAY!!"

Still, "the Lone Ranger" could have been adapted into an entertaining blockbuster mindless movie.  Its a western, I like all the action on the trains, even if its all pretty much standard "Pirates of the Caribbean" business at this point.  Those movies were exciting when they came out, but now I think we've come to the limits of slapstick blockbusters, its all been done before and better.  Arnie Hammer certainly looks like a 1940s serial star, but with that mask and his apparent inability to die I'm frightened this is going to become "The Spirit 2"*.  Only there's one big problem... and I think you already know what it is.

Johnny Depp is giving the worst performance of his life here.  Apparently he's part Cherokee on his grandmother's side or something so that means I'm not allowed to call out his performance as being the horrible racist old-Hollywood cliche that it is, but I will anyway.  Its a horrible racist old-Hollywood cliche that we as a country should have realized was offensive back in the 1970s.  I know its a call-back to the original TV show, but was that show exactly enlightened?  NO.  And beyond any Political Correctness crap (I can't believe I'm on their side for a change) the performance is just bad.  Its bizarre and flat, trying to be this zen master but at the same time a bubbling Jack Sparrow.  No, I'm not buying that at all.  This will sink this movie, I guarantee you.

So if you're an idiot, go see "Pirates of the Old West" on July 4th next year.  I'm sure I can find something better to do.

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* Actually "The Lone Ranger" becoming as fascinatingly terrible and bizarre as "The Spirit" is probably the best we can hope for out of this movie.  Everything else just looks horribly mediocre.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

"Rise of the Guardians" is not "Wreck-It Ralph", the movie I really want to see and the movie that everybody seems to be begging me to see.  However, its still really good, so that's what I'm writing about now.  Oddly its a Christmas movie and its November, so I do not fully understand why it came out now, but then again, I understand that the force of modern American holiday capitalism requires that the Christmas season begin earlier and earlier every year, until eventually we can just keep those Christmas trees up all twelve months long.  Speaking of crass capitalist motives, its made by DreamWorks, a company that seems to be schizophrenically flipping back and forth between impressively moving ("How to Train Your Dragon") to embarrassingly awful ("Madagascar 3").  Luckily today I'm talking about one of the former.

If you want a solid family movie with great animation, sympathetic characters, and a great premise, here's "Rise of the Guardians".  If you don't want those things, then watch "Smurfs 2", coming in 2013.  The concept here is more or less Niel Gaiman's "American Gods" but for kids.  Instead of Pagan deities in conflict with physical avatars of the modern world, we have holiday characters and folk mythology fighting the boogeyman.  So of course there's Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman* who all are a apart of a mythological superhero league that fight evil and protect children.  However the real star is Jack Frost, who at first sight might fool you into thinking that he's nothing more than a broody pretty-boy who looks like Joffrey Lannister and only exists to bring in the preteen girls.  That's partially true, but he's also a far more well-rounded character with his own deeper issues.

"Rise of the Guardians" opens with Jack Frost's birth into our world.  He awakens in darkness with no knowledge of his past.  The only thing that the Man in the Moon (read: God) has told him is his name, "Jack Frost".  Out he swims onto a frozen lake in the middle of a forest, where he finds a talisman of power, a wooden staff, with which he can create ice and snow.  His fear and confusion falls into glee, but when he walks into the nearest town, he finds nobody can see him.  You see, the gods need prayer, or in another way, the folk heroes need belief in order to interact with humanity.  The main villain's plot is to destroy that belief and destroy the Guardians, thus opening up the children to unlimited fear.  "Rise of the Guardians" is a movie that stars creatures that some of our more cynical and dickish members of society claim exist only to justify unlimited commercialism or kick Christ out of Christmas or something, but it actually gives a great explanation for why these folk heroes are important.  That's certainly a lot more intelligent of commentary than I expected out of this thing, and for that reason I must recommend this movie fullheartedly.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest LP

Remember that "Final Fantasy VI" Let's Play I was doing a while back?  Well, we kinda took a break from it, and I decided to play an RPG I'd never tried before, the largely forgotten, "Final Fantasy Mystic Quest".  "Mystic Quest" was made by Square's Osaka division in 1992, who up until that time had only made RPGs on the Nintendo Gameboy... and it shows.  The Super Nintendo is an incredible system and at the time was capable of stunning graphics, it was the home to gorgeous games that continue to be regarded as classics to this very day - "Mystic Quest" is not one of them.  The game appears to have been made on virtually no budget whatsoever with the most simplistic, repetitive, and horribly horribly dull RPG battle system ever made.  There's almost no story, no characters with any depth, very little exploration, no sidequests, and very little strategy.

Let me explain what "Mystic Quest" actually is:  repetition.  Endless endless repetition.  The game is at most ten hours long, and yet 90% of that is padding.  You'll spend most of your "Mystic Quest" experience wandering around blocky ugly labyrinths of dungeons with very tight corridors filled with an endless army of pathetically easy enemies blocking your path.  You can't skip these guys, you need to kill them to get them out of your way.  So you fight through the enemies endlessly, then kill a boss, then you repeat the process over again in another dungeon.  Its easily the blandest and most terrible 16 bit RPG I've ever seen, inexcuable in its dullness.  But yet somehow it has an amazingly rocking soundtrack....  I don't understand.  Honestly there's nothing to hate here, but there's nothing to love either.  Games are supposed to be fun, and this game is the absence of fun.

So me and some FFWiki chums LPed the game, and here it is, our entire experience in five long videos:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Eureka Seven Ao

"Eureka Seven Ao" is not going to be a series I will ever forget.  Unfortunately I have to live a far worse life now because I have seen this show.  I am going to carry a grudge against "Eureka Seven Ao", a mental vendetta of pure fury forever.  Even when this existence ends and I'm reincarnated, that future person or creature will feel at an elemental level a raging hatred of "Eureka Seven Ao".  Its going right to very depths of my psyche, along with the Star Wars Prequels and "Final Fantasy XIII-2".  I am as angry right now writing this review I as have been for anything I have written for this blog.  If not more so.  But I know until I write and tell the world how goddamn awful "Eureka Seven Ao" is, I will never sleep again.  I to vent, badly.

Its been many a year since I've seen a legitimately great anime series.  The last one I watched might have been the original "Fullmetal Alchemist", but definitely "Eureka Seven" stands as one of the best Japanese programs I've ever been fortunate enough to experience.  Its plot... very little sense, but those details didn't particularly matter to me because it had gorgeous animation, a great romance plotline, and above all else, incredible characters who I truly loved and wanted to see have a happy ending, no matter how confusing and bizarre.  "Eureka Seven" doesn't even try to explain what's going on until episode 30, before that it doesn't really have much of a plot at all, its just a teenage boy, Renton, having his first love with an alien girl.  It was sweet, I have nothing but positive memories about it.  I may in fact have enjoyed "Eureka Seven" more than any other person alive, I think I'm alone with how much I fucking love that series.  "Pocket Full of Rainbows", the Eureka Seven movie that gave me that image of a grimacing Nirvash-thing that I put on almost all my negative reviews, was a lazy slapped together fraud created entirely out of reused animation and a nonsensical plot that was indescribably bad.  That movie was little more than a con job to steal people's money.  So when it was announced last May that they were making a "Eureka Seven" sequel, I was excited, but I could already envision myself many months later furiously typing away into the oblivion, trying to channel my anger into keystrokes.

Well, we're here now.  You did it, BONES, you pissed me off.  Congrats.

There is no excuse for what went on during the course of "Eureka Seven Ao".  The show was never actively terrible, it never got to the point of being directly offensive, at least not until the end.  For at least half the running time, it was watchable, if nothing special.  But at some point I started to realize:  I have no idea what's going on in this series, and I don't particularly like any of these characters.  I think BONES realized the problem too, so at some point it feels like this show was rewritten.  And then rewritten again.  And again.  And then a third time.  So having watch all twenty-four episodes, I'm left with nothing.  I don't know what this was supposed to be.  I don't know what they were trying to achieve.  Its a mess.  A goddamn mess.  This is the "Highlander 2" of anime series.  Sequels usually suck, but "Eureka Seven Ao" didn't have to be this bad.  If only I had any idea what was going on.  If only the characters knew what was going on.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Twilight 5: Sucking Long

Oh wow, a Twilight movie sucked.  Astonishing.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that "Twilight 5" was utterly awful.  This was a series that began what feels like a lifetime ago with "Twilight", a vapid pointless idiotic movie with utterly unbelievable romance story between two terrible actors who seemingly could not stand the sight of each other.  I don't know how I could have forgotten how just incredibly bad the first movies were, they were technical trainwrecks, they were acting trainwrecks.  At some point they started getting better, to the point that "Twilight 4" was bizarrely watchable and pretty solid ironic entertainment.  And I was legitimately excited for this last one, since the last one actually had pacing, tension, body horror, and surprisingly decent acting from even Kristin Stewart.  Well, "Twilight 5" came back and reminded me why these movies suck.  This series is shit.

I haven't read the books, but I was told that "Twilight 5" was going to be a huge mess.  And it was.  I even knew the big twist at the end here, but I couldn't have predicted that this movie would be so friggin' bad.  Once again, there's no plot.  There is an attempt to build up a huge battle sequence between Michael Sheen's Army of Fruity Vampires and the Last Alliance of Good Vampires and Werewolves, but it takes about two hours for that to get started.  The first half hour is meandering pointlessness as the vampires get into various misunderstandings.  Then finally we set up the war plotline, and this requires about six hundred new characters to appear.  So we'll spend another hour establishing all these people are - because the series wasn't bloated enough with about two dozen pointless characters who never do anything.  We need a hundred more.  90% of this movie is boring boring boring nothing.  Its basically sleep-inducing.  Its not even cringe-worthy like the scenes between Bella and Edward, its just dull people that you don't care about doing little or nothing.  This is possibly the most unwatchable movie in terms of boredom of the entire year.

However, its almost worth it since at the end, director Bill Condon has his glorious revenge.  Bill Condon, unlike Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first , is no hack.  He's made legitimately great movies like "Dreamgirls" and "Candyman 2"... well scratch the last one, it sucked, but he still made "Dreamgirls".  This is a man who is much too good for this shit.  And he's had to spend two years of his life working on making Stephenie Meyer's ridiculous "saga" come to life.  So I'd be pissed too.  In "Twilight 4", he seemed to be giving it his all in order to make the work, and it was his filmmaking ability that made the movie seem watchable, along with how utterly Looney Tunes insane that movie got.  Remember Jacob falls in love with a Vampire Baby.  In "Twilight 5", he has given up.  He's slapped together a piece of crap, because he knows that no matter what he makes, the Twilight fans will love it anyway.  However, "Twilight 5" also features the greatest and most monumental case I have ever seen of a director playing a giant joke on his audience.  In one battle sequence Condon does more to show how pointless, idiotic, and worthless this series has been, is now, and forever will be then every word I've written on Meyer's work.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Life of Pi

Ang Lee is an author of an eclectic but well-respected series of films in several genres and languages.  He's done kung-fu, superheroes, comedy, Oscar bait, and movies about gay cowboys eating pudding.  Unfortunately, for all his critical acclaim, he has never actually made a good movie.  When it came to the basic action films, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" focused too much on social status and emotions instead of fighting, and "Hulk" tried far too hard to establish an emotional undertone to the Incredible Hulk, when really all I wanted was for some Hulk Smash.  "Brokeback Mountain", for all its controversy was still a painfully dull and generic forlorn love story, only with dudes.  Ang Lee's best movie, ironically, is the mostly mediocre "Taking Woodstock", and half that movie's charm comes from it being Dmitri Martin's only starring role.  Ultimately Ang Lee gives me the impression that he doesn't really get it.  He makes complex technically-competent, if not even beautiful films with grand emotions about rejecting society or giving in to furious passion, but oddly his movies are oddly inert.  They're about emotions, but they don't really have much emotion to them.  They try terribly hard to make an impression, but they never really seem to quite work.

"Life of Pi" is based upon the 2001 adventure novel by Yann Martel, which I have not read.  Personally I make a point to avoid reading books about upcoming interesting movies.  If the book is good, the movie will bungle the meaning and cut out too many important details, and if the movie is good, than that means I can appreciate the story and if I'm sufficiently interested, I can read the book.  Then if the movie is bad, like really bad, I can read the book and realize how badly the filmmakers screwed up*.  Personally I enjoy movies more than books, its just the kind of person I am.  "Life of Pi", luckily, seems to be a movie that managed to rather brilliantly fit in all of the most important pieces of meaning from the original novel, so I'd say "Life of Pi" as a movie is fulfilling enough that I can skip Yann Martel's novel.  Its also Ang Lee's first truly successful effort, he was bound to get it right eventually.

At its core "Life of Pi" is actually a rather clever parable about the nature of faith.  There is a frame story around the tale that Ang Lee included which deals with a fictionalized Yann Martel meeting his character, Pi Patel, and learning the man's story.  Pi tells his life story, where he was shipwrecked all alone on a lifeboat with a single companion, Richard Parker**, a Bengal Tiger.  This mismatched pair have to brave the endless deserts of the Pacific Ocean all alone in the middle of the endless blue.  Unfortunately, that pay-off is rather subtle and requires spoilers.  I'd have no choice in this review but to give it away, so I'd say you should watching "Life of Pi" first before reading further.  Not that you'll be very bored during the viewing, since again, its a story of a boy and a tiger lost at sea.  Its also a gorgeous movie with amazing visuals.  Ang Lee films nature beautifully, and the CG work on the tiger is perfectly photo-realistic.  Not a movie that should be missed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

I mentioned this movie briefly during my review of "The Man With the Iron Fists" mostly as a counterpoint to how you could have a modern kung-fu movie with a complex plot and absurd action and still be good.  However, I feel that a two sentence blurb really didn't do any of the movies I mentioned very much justice, and "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" really needed a bit more of my special touch.  It also helps that this was the second or third best film of 2011*, and I did not even know this movie even existed until just August.  Let me correct this now.

Detective Dee (or "Judge Di") is a historical Chinese figure from the reign of Empress Wu during the Tang Dynasty, who served as her finest minister and helped legitimize her unique position as the only true female Emperor.  That doesn't really matter for this movie, because in the 20th century Detective Dee was found by the Dutch author, Robert van Gulik, who turned him into the Chinese Sherlock Holmes.  The film version that I'm speaking of seems to be a Chinese reaction to the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes series.  "If Guy Ritchie can turn Sherlock Holmes into a psychic boxer, certainly we can turn Detective Dee into a kung-fu master!"  So celebrated Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, best known for directing "Once Upon a Time in China", stepped up to the bat and made what is easily my favorite Wuxia film**, and one of the best Chinese films ever made in my opinion.

Typically the Wuxia genre features two things I really like and one feature I really don't, so the movies seem to begin with a lot of promise, then degenerate - for me - into unsatisfaction.  I love the action, but they're only there to keep the cheap seats happy, I love the deep political plotlines and complex characters.  However, I don't think I've ever seen a Wuxia film that ended well, they almost always seem to end not with a big action climax like I'd like, but instead the main character submitted to his death and then you realize that aside from the kung-fu, the rest of the movie was just dreary, not fun.  Like "Hero" ends with Jet Li letting himself get devoured by a million arrows, which I suppose fits the theme of the movie well and "Hero" is a movie I respect, but its also an action movie and letting your invincible badass character get killed with such ease feels like an anticlimax.  "Detective Dee" however, is a far more silly movie than "Crouching Tiger" or "Hero" or "Curse of the Golden Flower".  This one has talking deer, and animated puppet kung-fu fighters, and people getting spontaneously combusted, and people's faces magically shifting, and a giant Buddha statue the size of the Empire State Building.  Its a colorful detective romp that combines the serious drama of Wuxia, but tempers it in the thrills of over-the-top action and the suspense of a well-done mystery plotline.  Maybe I'm just a lowest common denominator nimrod but I'll take the simply thrills over the complex emotions.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Skyfall

James Bond is a character so iconic and so long-lasting in movie history that I hesitate to even call it a film franchise anymore.  Rather, its an institution, a tradition.  If "Skyfall" is James Bond's fiftieth anniversary in film, than that means that this franchise is older than both my parents, and is only a year younger than the President.  And now with six actors putting on the tuxedo and sipping dry martinis - shaken not stirred - its pretty clear that James Bond will last forever.  Hollywood is never going to stop making these movies, the tradition is simply too strong.  Just like the Batman franchise and Star Wars:  its only going to end when Western Civilization ends.

The new Daniel Craig movies were a major reboot of the Bond formula, which I'd say was sorely needed after the four Pierce Brosnan films.  I'm not a huge Bond fan or scholar, and since I'm a child of the Nineties I grew up with Brosnan as my template for James Bond.  However, today, I can't say his films were particularly great.  "Goldeneye" is easily the best, though "Tomorrow Never Dies" is very entertaining thanks to Jonathan Pryce's excellent run as the villain.  But by "The World is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day", it was obvious that the puns, the smugness, the ridiculous gadgetry, and the entire mood was all wrong.  The movies were still entertaining and profitable, but they were so goofy and light that they were impossible to take seriously, basically the "Batman and Robin" of James Bond.  Daniel Craig may be my favorite Bond*.  I recently rewatched "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" since they were playing on USA, and I must say, "Casino Royale" really is an incredible movie, I had forgotten how good it was.  Its quite a thing in your movie when the action sequences are the least interesting thing because you just want Craig to back to his brilliant romance with Eva Greene or the real tension on the poker table.  A lot of people really hate "Quantum of Solace" and I don't fully understand why.  It was, yeah, average, and  I thought it was a middling effort that could have been better, but it still had a lot of things I liked.  And I thought it was setting up better things to come.  That better thing is here now, and its called "Skyfall".

"Skyfall" is probably the best James Bond movie I've seen.  At the very least, its the one that's the most emotionally intense and goes deepest to James Bond as a character.  We've already seen Daniel Craig's Bond tested deeply by first falling in love with, and then losing, Vesper Lind, and he's dealt with getting revenge for that.  But "Skyfall" isn't merely testing James Bond, its putting pressure on the entirety of MI6, its an existential threat to Britain's entire traditional intelligence service, mirrored in James Bond's own mental and physical degradation, along with threats to Judi Dench's job as M.  Meanwhile the new Bond series brings forward its best villain yet.  Javier Bardem is funny, crazy, and somebody you really think could actually defeat James Bond and the entirety of British Intelligence.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Man With the Iron Fists

Now here is a movie that, by all rights, should have been one of my favorite movies of 2012.  Apparently my love for old Chinese and Hong Kong kung-fu fantasy movies is inexplicably shared by gangsta rappers.  So director RZA* went out and made his own 70s throwback action fantasy adventure.  Its part Wuxia, part chop-socky, part Grindhouse, part over-the-top anime, and part some other film genre that I've missed somehow, in there too just for good measure.  Basically its "Kill Bill Vol. 1".  The trailers, of course, were incredible, featuring a small army of wire effects, CG, and various ridiculous ways of fighting including a Gun-Knife, a man who can turn into bronze, and a suit made out of knives.  It looked like an insane romp through ludicrous action scenes and an epic storyline to go with it.  And it was.  However... there was a catch.  This movie is a mess.

One issue with "The Man With the Iron Fists" is that we really don't have a shortage of awesome Eastern kung-fu movies these days.  In the past decade along there have been plenty:  First of all there's "Kill Bill", which needs no introduction.  "Sukiyaki Western Django" is a true grindhouse movie brought to life with a rich colorful story, no fear of coming off ridiculous, and a bizarre time-paradox cameo from Quentin Tarantino.  "Kung Fu Hustle" is more or less a live-action kung-fu cartoon but still has incredible action and great characters.  "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" is an epic Chinese Wuxia action film that features a Tang-Dynasty Sherlocke Holmes and a deep story with plenty of twists and conspiracies - of the obscure movies I just listed, this is the one I recommend the highest.  And then just for good measure, you could always watch "The Good, The Bad, and the Weird", which isn't really a kung-fu movie but is instead a Western taking place in Japanese-occupied Manchuria.  And "The Man With the Iron Fists" usage of over-the-top action and colorful ways of dealing death can be found in virtually any anime ever made.  So there are movies that try to do what RZA was working towards and do it right, these are all great.  "The Man With the Iron Fists" is merely... entertaining, and nothing else.

Essentially "The Man With the Iron Fists" is my definition of a guilty pleasure.  The action is incredible, the visuals are interesting and unique, and the movie has its own sense of style:  hip hop meets kung-fu, its great.  However, the directing, the acting, the script, and even a lot of the characters are poorly implemented.  This movie is badly bloated with a huge storyline that is far longer and complicated than it has any right to be.  There are a lot of individual fight scenes and characters that work, but the overall whole is a wreck... However, its so over-the-top.  RZA tries everything to entertain his audience, going to every extreme to make this project work.  And with that, I'm basically left in a weird case.  This movie is not good, I can't say it works, however, I can't say that its not worth seeing and will not entertain.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Last year I had the specific misfortune to watch a movie called "Another Earth", an Indie "SciFi" movie that purportedly was about the possibilities of doppelgangers and alternate universe.  Instead it turned to be a slow miserable movie with excruciating pacing and miserable characters.  And the whole thing about alternate universes?  Just a tease, little more than a poetic metaphor for a painfully dreary drama starring two barely functioning depressives who spend so much time moping in its each other's arms that the movie forgot to actually take us to the 'Another Earth' as the title implied.  Then just for giggles, Lars Von Trier took the concept last year and made "Melancholia", a movie so bitter that the depression managed to sneak into the title.  So 2011 was a horrible year for Indie SciFi, all in all.  These are movies that nobody should ever be punished into seeing.

Luckily 2012 has been a far far better year for movies all around, so the movie I'm reviewing today, "Safety Not Guaranteed", is actually watchable, and is in fact a beautiful, funny, and deeply entertaining film.  Its the story of a reporter and two interns going to a beachside town in Oregon to investigate a bizarre wanted ad in the local newspaper offering a seat in some unexplained time travel adventure.  Who put this ad in?  Is this a joke?  Is he a con-artist?  Is this guy crazy?  Is the time travel real?  Where are they supposed to be going?  Why is the bitchy chick from "Scott Pilgrim" starring in this movie?  All these mysteries and more are the driving element in tension in the movie, though the latter question will probably be answered for you in ten minutes.

"Safety Not Guaranteed" isn't really a movie about time travel, its a drama film that just happens to feature a character with a dream so fantastic and absurd that he's almost childishly inspiring.  His plan at first seems to have as much chance of working as a cardboard box with the words "Time Machine" written on the side.  Instead this movie comes off as a study of characters dealing with growing up, or failing to.  There's a lot more romance than you'd expect.   Its ultimately a character-study, but not one like "Looper" where the study comes from a character literally against himself, its a linear narrative.  In the end, the characters choose the fantastic and impossible over dull regular existence.  The performances are great, the story is great, the directing is solid, "Safety Not Guaranteed" is an utterly solid movie.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I'm Voting Obama

Consider this the official Planet Blue Presidential Recommendation - Barack Obama for President tomorrow.  And make sure you vote, even if you disagree with me.  In fact, especially if you disagree with me, because as the polls stand now Obama is going to have a very narrow victory tomorrow mostly thanks to the Electoral College.  Its going to be difficult to vote in New Jersey this year thanks to Hurricane Sandy, but for the most part power is back on everywhere relevant for me now a week around the hurricane hit.  Of course, I have to thank the President, Governor Chris Christie, FEMA, and every other agency that helped us out.  Its weird as hell for New Jersey to be playing the role of Florida for once, and I'd rather it not happen again.

Anyway, my vote for Obama, I'm sorry to say, is based on what has become the general trope of politics:  my guy isn't very good, but the other guy is worse.  The Economist last week recommended Obama last week for roughly the same reason, "the devil you know".  Historically it appears that Obama is going to stand as a mediocre president, perhaps even a bad president once his eight years are up, and frankly looking back I have to say we probably made a mistake back in 2008 when we didn't elect John McCain.  However, I ignored John McCain back then because he wasn't the same John McCain from 2000, he was playing the arch-Republican role.  And for the same reason, I'm snubbing Mitt Romney because he isn't the same Romney from his days as governor of Massachusetts.  Once upon a time Romney was a true moderate, brining fiscal prudence along with health care reform and shockingly, a strong environmentalist record, and these are all things the new Mitt Romney would like us to forget.  Even when Mitt Romney in the last debate tried to become the pious moderate (and accidentally ripped-off his opponent's foreign policy basically word for word) he still managed to come off as dangerously nationalist, talking of a massive increase in military spending and then, most disturbingly for me, and bizarre despite his claims of being a competent businessman who understands the economy, he wants to start a trade with China.

In his first four years, Barack Obama has been a disappointment, let's not mince words.  We all thought when we supported him and voted for him* that four years later we'd be in a much better place, economically, socially - we might be doing better internationally.  Obama had a very tough battle against the Republican Party to get even what he accomplished finished, most notably Obamacare, which is still an incomplete step towards complete health care reform.  We still don't have legislation that fixes No Child Left Behind, we still don't have immigration reform, we have a Wall Street Reform bill, but I'm not sure if its getting enforced properly.  The economy is in stable but weak, the deficit is rising, and I'm concerned about our international position.  If there were another reasonable choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I'd probably vote for that guy.  If the Republicans had run a good candidate like Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or even McCain again, I would have voted for that side.  Four more years is a dangerous gamble for our country's future, but I believe Mitt Romney represents a far worse gamble.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 and 4

Last year I watched "Paranormal Activity 1" and "2" back to back for my Halloween post, and this year, it only seemed right to do the same thing.  Hopefully this means that I have reviewed every Paranormal Activity movie that will ever exist, because having seen all four of these things, I really hope that they stop making them.  It seems that now that the Saw series collapsed in spectacular fashion after the disaster that was "Saw 3D", Paranormal Activity has taken Saw's position as the yearly Halloween franchise.  And trust me, just like the Saw movies, Paranormal Activity is clearly running out of steam with the fourth installment.  And that's saying something for a film series that really never had much coal in the boiler in the first place.

Just to make sure that I wasn't totally insane in my distaste for the Paranormal Activity movies, I made sure to watch these movies in a very different environment than the one I used last year.  Last year I was over a friend's house mocking it with a group of friends, and only a few of us were actually scared - they were girls.  This year I watched in all alone in an empty room in the dark, and I was even less scared.  I actually did turn the lights on, but only to get enough light so I could work on a few Sudoku puzzles in a book of them I found for entertainment while Hurricane Sandy had knocked out my power.  And its actually Hurricane Sandy's fault that I'm reviewing these movies at all - if there had been power and local theaters were working this week, I might be here reviewing "Wreck-It Ralph" or "The Man With the Iron Fists" or "Cloud Atlas".  Instead I'm reviewing this.  And only just to fill up space on the blog, because I love you people, and I miss you all.

Now, I am coming on harsh with the Paranormal Activity movies, and that's only because I just watched the fourth one.  "Paranormal Activity 4" may be the worst one in the entire series, its easily the stupidest by far, and definitely the most infuriating.  However, I also watched "Paranormal Activity 3", which was actually a surprise since it only 50% sucked.  Stuff happened in that movie, it ended on a scary note.  If you have to watch any of these movies, watch "3".  Don't watch "4" and if anybody offers to take you to see "4" in the theaters, kick them squarely in the balls.  And if they're a girl, go, because you never know what might lead to what.  You know, keep those options open.  But anyway, Paramount, please STOP.  Stop making these movies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Argo

Okay, Ben Affleck, I think I need to apologize to you.  I've been hard on you in years past, and I now see that was mostly unearned.  You actually are a talented director and probably a better actor than I could ever be.  So, officially, Planet Blue considers you forgiven for "Daredevil".  Just as in years past "Gone Baby Gone" forgave you for "Jersey Girl" and "The Town" was ample amnesty for "Gilgi".  However... you still have some work to do to be forgiven for "Surviving Christmas", "Joseph: King of Dreams", "Armageddon", and you will need to make about three great movies alone just to make up for "Pearl Harbor".  And really, your soul is still being judged by Anubis, because you made a Terry Malice movie this year.  Poor Brad Pitt's heart is already doomed to be devoured by Ammit, will yours be next?  Either way, "Argo" is a great movie, and the Gods will remember your heroic work here.

"Argo" is a movie that I simply could not help but see.  Ben Affleck could not have picked a more relevant topic and a better time to release his movie, as his subject matter is a great backdrop to the foreign policy issues of the latest Presidential Debate.  Catch this:  its about the roots of America's animosity with Iran, with its central focus being an attack on our Embassy.  Not even "South Park" is this relevant with the headlines of the day half the time.  But barring the almost stellar fortunes of the filmmakers, its plot was manufactured to appeal to me.  The idea here is that Ben Affleck is a CIA agent using an audacious plan to rescue six state department workers out of Iran who escaped just before the US embassy was captured by the Islamists.  That audacious plan?  Smuggle them out of the country by creating a cover story that they're a film crew looking for shooting locations for a 70s SciFi B-movie a la "Battle Beyond the Stars", "Krull", or "The Black Hole".  Get that?  "Star Wars" rip-offs are saving America!  I love it*!

Since Ben Affleck has worked his way up to becoming the darling of Hollywood's sophisticated Oscar-voting elite, expect "Argo" to be a very serious retelling of the events.  Ben Affleck as a director has mostly focused upon heavy dramas stories mainly about tortured competent men (played by either himself or his little brother Casey) working their way through a morally ambiguous world.  "Argo" is easily his most crowd-pleasing movie to date, going out of its way to focus on the American aspects of a international spy operation and it makes no bones about portraying the new Iranian government as plain evil.  That may not be the most enlightened view of current events, but whatever, it makes for a fun movie, and that's what I wanted.  If you want a lecture on modern Iran, read the Times, I'm here for a movie.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Evil Dead Remake Trailer

Fuck.  This.


Fundamentally, I do not understand the concept of remakes.  As a matter of fact, neither does the rest of the film-watching public, because when most people hear about a remake of, oh... let's say - "Total Recall", their normal reaction is to shake their heads and mutter about how Hollywood is completely out of new ideas.  Well, tragically, no genre has been devastated worse by the remake craze than horror, which in an appropriately disgusting and disturbing display has devoured its own history and heritage to regurgitate nearly every classic horror film to be reused and mildly enjoyed by idiot teenagers who don't know what they're missing.  Trust me, we all might have loved the new "Dawn of the Dead", but it pales in comparison with the original.  But that's really the most positive of the spectrum, since the new "Dawn of the Dead" actually isn't that bad of a movie.  The rest of the time we get utterly awful crapfests like "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Omen", and I could just go forever listing bad movies, couldn't I?

Again, I simply don't get it.  Why does the world need these things?  Who asked for this?  Ask most Evil Dead fans what kind of movie they want, and they'd mention the alternate ending to "Army of Darkness" where Ash gets sent to the future.  Nobody wanted a remake, except of course, for philistines who believe the original movie's special effects are quaint.  And to you people, I have this to say:  make your own goddamn horror movie, leave "Evil Dead" alone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obama-Romney Debate #3 Thoughts

I was tempted to rename this post "Obama-Obama Debate Thoughts" but I decided that would be just a tad too cheeky.  But seriously, this has to be one of the worst foreign policy debates I've ever seen, mostly for the reason that their was only one strategy available from both candidates:  Obama's.  Romney sure said a mouthful complaining about how Obama let Iran run rogue, how Syria has become a giant mess, and how Russia and China are challenging American supremacy around the globe.  However, when it came to actually explaining what he would do differently from Obama it turned out to be... well, nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Luckily for Romney he was able to stop parroting Obama and shifted a foreign-policy debate into yet another one about domestic issues, because there he actually seems to have a mind of his own.

Still, it sure was bizarre to see Obama's words coming out of Romney's mouth, especially when Romney spent about two minutes blatantly praising Obama's handling of the Afghan War.  I actually had some nerves about this debate, since Obama is not nearly as strong on foreign policy as the Democrats would believe, and if Romney actually had come with - I don't know - A PLAN OF HIS OWN, he might have been able to beat the President soundly tonight.  This has to be a truly sad moment for the Republican Party:  they're parroting the Democrats.  I'm something of a hawk, I accept this, and I was looking forward to some challenges to Obama's - at times wimpy - policy.  Like, Syria.  Mr. Romney, what exactly are going to do about Syria?  "Everything Obama just said he was doing but I'll somehow be more credible at it."  The best different Romney could offer was his plan to heavily rearm the military, based on absolutely nonsense figures about American military strength.  And then that argument got thoroughly destroyed by Barack Obama's retort about how we have aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines now instead of horses and bayonets.

All in all, this was by far the worst debate of the four.  In terms of the Presidential Race, I don't think it gave Obama the killing stroke he wanted, but Romney sure didn't end up looking like a President tonight.  But neither did Obama, oddly.  Quite a few of the questions were actively dodged, both sides gave extremely vague answers, and both candidates could not have looked more like politicians.  However, the difference here is that Obama has a foreign policy record, and built a narrative that Romney has no policy at all.  Well, Romney sure didn't do much to prove his integrity by jumping right behind his opponent's answers.  It, all in all, was probably the lowest point of the entire campaign, and frankly, I'm glad these debates are over.  Because once you've heard these guys repeat the same line of argument for the third or forth time, you start to feel very cynical about the entire thing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Branded

In continuing with my routine of reviewing obscure movies, here's "Branded".  Last month "Branded" appeared out of virtually nowhere, summoned as if from cinematic aether itself.  The writers, directors, editor, production company - they've all come either out of Russian television or have never worked in film before.  It came with an amazing trailer, that appeared to be a recreation of John Carpenter's "The Thing" mixed in with a little bit of "Inception"-style epic surrealist insanity.  We have Asian dudes with tentacles growing out of their heads, big disgusting tumor-like clown creatures growing out of buildings, and a Coca-Cola Spider.  The advertisements are alive and they're angry!

However, in most delectable irony, "Branded" itself is a result of the very worst kind of crass false advertising.  For a movie focused entirely about how evil advertising is - and I'll get to how stupid that idea is in a moment - it sure took advantage of using all five minutes of interesting visuals to sell a dull, turgid, and painfully stupid movie.  The ads talk about a "code" that controls our minds, there is no such thing in "Branded".  All those visuals of giant ad monsters fighting in Moscow's skies?  Well, they're all hallucinations.  In that poster the hero has an ax, ready to fight this twisted Dr. Seuss land of advertising icons on the rampage, nothing of the kind ever occurs.  You also see Max von Sydow in the trailers, and he's in the movie, but literally not for a second longer in the final product.  This is no movie of mindbending existential threats, its a movie about how evil fast food is... or something.

"Branded" is production made by Russians and American companies, which is actually something of an inspired step for a movie dealing with the excesses of raw capitalism.  Moscow once was the center of the Communist war against Capitalism, and now is the midsts of its own Westernizing experiment, so its a good place to stage a commentary on modern economics and globalization.  Unfortunately, the conclusion here is so single-minded and simplistic as to be laughably bad.  "They Live" was subversive social commentary on the controlling forces of Reagan's America to completely control our minds, using an alien conspiracy as the symbol.  It also was a really fun movie.  "Branded" instead is no fun at all, so right there it fails, but it also has a far dumber message:  advertising is bad.  WHAT?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Iron Sky

I really did have high hopes for "Iron Sky".  That is the primary reason why I'm wasting my time writing and your time reading with this review.  For most people, the words "Iron Sky" mean nothing, since its a Finnish/German independent movie that has received virtually no marketing amongst mainstream circles.  So then I have to explain that this is the "Nazis on the Moon movie".  And then half of the people reading will call it the dumbest thing they've ever heard and move on with their daily Internet adventure.  The remaining half will keep on reading out of morbid, ironic, or possibly totalitarian interests.  Then I have the terrible job to tell the world that "Iron Sky" isn't very good.

It all began well enough, with plenty of promise, especially considering the utterly insane but beautiful film concept.  Nazis on the Moon?  Plotting to invade the Earth?  In Flying Saucers?  With Udo Kier as the Space Furher??  I'm there!  I could write around five thousand words attempting to analyze why this is the greatest idea for a movie ever imagined, but ultimately all of that argumentation would pale in comparison to the raw energy generated by the phrase:  NAZIS ON THE MOON.  Discussion over.  Its the best idea I've heard for a movie since "Nazis at the Center of the Earth"*, which was an excellently silly but thoroughly solid B-movie.  It had exactly the perfect mix of cheesy effects, bad acting, but a level of earnest acceptance of its own insane premise.  Also the movie was nicely lean, got in and out, gave a few laughs, but for a super cheap Z-movie, it was everything you could have wanted.  However, "Iron Sky" leaves far more to be desired, sadly wasting its premise to instead make a profoundly unfunny comedy.

That's not to say that "Iron Sky" does not have its moments.  When the final battle does actually occur, its absolutely wonderful, a massive space battle between Earth and the Nazi hoard.  Unfortunately, this comes roughly an hour too late, when the first hour of the movie is spent making race jokes, setting up Sarah Palin as President of the United States, and bad satire on the Bush-era that's easily three years no longer relevant.  There is something of a charming air of endless absurdity to the entire affair, but unfortunately "Iron Sky" simply cannot defeat its Asylum Productions rival.  "Nazis at the Center of the Earth" had a Robo-Hitler and zombies, "Iron Sky" instead has... a Black guy being given White skin.  The goal here was to create a new cult film, to appeal to us cult B-movie fans, and instead "Iron Sky" simply does not succeed.  It wanted to be fun and silly and over-the-top, tried way too far to be entertaining, and so ended up shockingly boring.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama-Romney Debate #2 Thoughts

Well, that was a surprise.  I really had no idea that President Obama would play as well as he did last night.  As a matter of fact, I was personally moved by his speechmaking.  His "Hope and Change" political magic stopped working on me roughly ten minutes after his electrifying acceptance speech in November 2012, and I haven't really felt very excited in a positive away about political movements since.  Barack Obama more or less fell asleep with the rest of America during the first debate, but last night he came out to play, and play hard.  And somewhere between slamming Mitt Romney and laying out the numerous successes of his four years in office, Barack Obama finally truly sold me last night.  He took responsibility for the Libyan attacks, which really were his biggest weakness and thus deprived Romney of his greatest ammunition.  What Romney was left with was his refrain of "I'm a businessman, and I can make the numbers work... somehow."

Unfortunately Romney's pivot to the center ended last night, which greatly saddened me considering how well it was looking for that campaign.  Romney claimed two weeks ago that he would not lower tax rates for the wealthiest of Americans, and I either fundamentally understood what he meant by that, or he's flipped back, because taxes are going down for everybody again.  Immigration?  Romney came down hard, offering no amnesty or reforms, essentially leaving the twelve million illegal immigrants in this country as an underclass.  That alone probably cost Romney his election, since the Republican Party needs the Latino vote.  They aren't going to get it if they continue to act as thoroughly ant-immigrant.  What does Romney offer women?  A better economy (allegedly) and "binders full of women" to fill up his Massachusetts cabinet for cynical political correctness.  Well, Mitt Romney, we wanted you to be a more honest about yourself, and we definitely see exactly who you are:  a politician.  Obama is a politician, but he makes me feel warm inside, Romney doesn't.

But that warmness is emotion, and emotions should be the least important thing when it comes to running a country.  Politics runs on emotion, likeability is important to democracy, that's why the rules of an intellectual game like a debate seem to overshadow the actual substance of arguments.  Obama lost the first debate, but his arguments stalemated with Romney's, as both sides offered more than they can actually deliver in terms of actual job growth plans and fixing the deficit.  Tonight, however, a lot more was covered than the depressing hopeless promises of economics, and its on these fronts that Mitt Romney lost.  It was a fiery entertaining debate (even if the moderator did a truly godawful job*), probably the best show in terms of watchability that American politics has ever put together, and that was fine.  But I'm about substance here, and here they are:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vice Presidential Debate Thoughts

NOTE:  Sorry for lack of updates in a while, I just had to move out of my house, freetime is limited.  But now, with that past, our irregularly scheduled Planet Blue should be back on the air.  I started this post on Friday, and I haven't gotten it finished until just now.  And there are a few movie reviews floating around unfinished too.

I suppose I'm massively out of touch with the regular world of politics, but I honestly thought the Obama-Romney Debate was a draw.  Then to my shock, for the past week apparently we've been in the midsts of a full-fledged Democaplypse as the entire Obama campaign seems to be on the verge of collapsing - so say the pundits.  I can't say which was more difficult to watch, the Republicans gloating over their apparent crushing blow, or the Democrats endless justifications as to why they technically won and how debates don't matter anyway.  To face facts:  I'm a Democrat in everything but name now, and perhaps my last debate post was part of that, I guess.  My point is, I didn't feel defeated by the events of last Wednesday night.  I thought Obama understated his case, he let too many falsehoods go past, and he was under-aggressive.  But did that mean that Romney had the better arguments?  No, not at all, and that's what I care about.

Now the Vice Presidential Debate historically has been insignificant, as told to me personally by none less than Karl Rove*.  In the 80s, George Bush's running mate, Dan Quayle, got his ass caved in rather dramatically by the Democratic challenger.  But, do you know who that challenger was?  No, you don't, because it didn't matter because the Democrats lost that year.  The Vice President is a virtually ceremonial position and we all know it.  However, I have my doubts this year, since this year's VP debate really was not about the Vice Presidential Candidates, as much as the entire campaign.  Four years ago it was all about the nation collectively being massively disappointed to see that Sarah Palin actually could be coached into a coherent debate performance.  This year its mostly about Joe Biden stepping in to save the Democratic blueballs and launching a massive offensive against his opponent.  Did it work?  Perfectly, for the Democrats, the bleeding was stopped nicely.

As a show, Thursday's debate was considerably more entertaining than the previous one.  Biden laughed off his opponent repeatedly, facing the camera with a "can you believe this?" expression.  He interrupted Paul Ryan who could only hold stoic and try not to let his opponent's antics set him off.  I happen to really like Paul Ryan as a political figure despite of my opinions, so I'd say, if anything, the debate convinced me that I would not mind a Ryan Presidency.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama-Romney Debate #1 Thoughts

I haven't been talking much about politics lately since tragically, it appears the American political system has fallen into some kind of terrible fugue where neither side seems actually capable of solving our current problems.  The economy is terrible right now, and what's the most frightening about it is we don't know why.  I mean, yeah, a few years ago we had a system-wide collapse brought on by reckless behavior by apparently every sector of the economy, from the banks, to the stock market, to everybody who bought a house on ridiculous credit, but that was almost half a decade ago.  We haven't gotten out of that state, we've just revved our wheels in the mud, going nowhere.  And this isn't just a US problem, if you look around the world, it doesn't look like anybody is doing particularly well.  Europe has been exploding in slow motion for two years now, and we all know that shoe is going to drop one day, just how or when is the question.  Economists are saying that even China, supposedly that solid totalitarian rock of market growth, is in the midst of a huge bubble that will burst.  In short, and forgive my characteristic terseness when I say this:  we're fucked.  Big time fucked.  And can either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney come up with a plan that will save us from disaster?

Well, last night's debate was their big chance to show what they had to bring to the table.  The Republicans right now are flying in the air with gloating glee because Mitt Romney apparently looked more composed than the President, but I'm enough of a cynic to call this one a draw.  Yeah, Mitt Romney got a few good punches in - I especially thought coining the term "trickle-down government" was especially inspired*, but did he prove that he could save the day?  No.  Ultimately both sides charged at each other, asserting endlessly that their plans are better, but really not convincing me that they really knew what to do.  I was leaning Obama before this debate, because his plan of spend-spend-spend until the economic finally got back into shape actually has some kind of logic.  It doesn't seem to be working all that well, but its kept us at least stable for a few years.  The Republican plan, as I believed before the debate, was far too focused on saving and holding back, right when the economy can ill-afford anybody saving anything.

Right now our recession continues because there isn't enough demand from businesses to hire, so the people don't buy enough, and thus the business's don't get enough profit, and thus they cannot spend more, so they can't hire more people.  The cycle continues and eats itself, seemingly forever.  Romney promises to solve the debt problem by speeding up the economy, but can he do that?  America isn't a closed system anymore (and never was), even if consumers were spending more thanks to freed up taxes... it would mean little since the global economic system is sick.  And that's what's so terrifying, nationstates alone cannot determine their own destinies, so the esoteric flows of the market, something I don't understand - and suspect nobody really understands - is the ruler of the world.  How can a single leader, even of the global economic hegemon, hope to solve this problem?  So in the end, this entire debate feels like some kind of vast carnival sideshow when the real problem g

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cosmopolis

Zero replies on this post, I guarantee you.

David Cronenberg is probably my favorite director of all time, mostly because he is absolutely and wonderfully insane.  Roughly half of his filmography is about people either destroying themselves, turning into monstrous arthropods, or being eaten alive by a twisted perception on reality.  Cronenberg's most popular film is easily "The Fly", the masterful horror movie where Jeff Goldblum grotesquely transforms himself into a fly and we as an audience get to watch every single disgusting moment of that metamorphosis.  Then there's just classic cult horror films like "Scanners" and "The Dead Zone", which are all excellent Cronenberg properties.

But really, "The Fly" is Cronenberg being grounded.  The hard stuff is movies like "Videodrome", where James Woods gets devoured both physically and mentally by exploitation torture movies.  Or "eXistenZ", where the characters get lost in a nightmare of virtually fantasy and guns made out of fish bones that fire teeth.  "Crash" features a group of characters getting aroused by car accidents and attempted suicides - also James Spader fucked a scar on the back of a woman's thigh.  And all of this pails in comparison to "Naked Lunch", which is a movie that refuses to make any sense and is an excellent storm of surrealism and SciFi insanity.  David Cronenberg is a dark wizard of madness who will take you places that no other filmmaker dare imagine, and then proceed to make his characters have sex with the raw entity of lunacy that he's conjured.

This is why reviewing "Cosmopolis" , Cronenberg's latest film, is so unfortunate for me.  I've been waiting awhile to tackle a Cronenberg product on this blog, and I was getting worried that Cronenberg had committed himself to relatively grounded dramas (but still disturbingly compelling movies) like "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method".  Those movies have their little deranged subtexts, but they're coherent and take place in the real universe.  "Cosmpolis", however, is completely out of its damn mind, it makes no sense on any level.  So you'd think I'd be really pleased and happy right now?  ...But no.  "Cosmpolis" sucks.  This is the worst David Cronenberg movie I've ever seen.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Looper

Hey, check it out!  Another good R-rated SciFi action movie.  They're just raining good movies these days, huh?

"Looper" is a movie with a pretty clever central SciFi concept, based around time travel.  The idea is that there is a select group of amateur assassins who work for mobsters in the Future and get rid of people.  These assassins are not time travelers, they live their lives in completely linear fashion.  Just every day at 11:30 drive out to the Kansas corn fields, a man from the future suddenly teleports before them, and they blow them away.  This way future crimes are completely unsolvable, since no body can ever be found, and even if somebody in the present did find the future bodies, they could never identify them since these people do not technically exist yet*.  For their work, the Loopers are given a few bars of silver on the victim's back, then they get to run off to the city, take some "Cowboy Bebop" Bloody Eye drugs, and bed prostitutes.  However, our hero, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one day comes across a particularly difficult target:  his future self.  And worse, Future Joe is ready for him.

The trailers have set up "Looper" as little more than Joseph Gordon-Levitt in make-up fighting his future version, Bruce Willis.  Future Joe vs Present Joe.  However, there is considerably more to the story, and this is no simple Bang Bang action movie like "Dredd".  Its actually a lot similar to Bruce Willis's previous traveling adventure,"The Kid", I mean "Twelve Monkeys".  Perhaps not nearly as horrifically bleak, but it does feature Bruce Willis coming back to the past and being given an intensely difficult task, one that seems to be slowly driving him insane.  Present Joe is our protagonist, and for most of the movie his goals are extremely selfish until the movie introduces its hidden secret.  Future Joe just wants to save what's most important to him, but the methods that he must do that require him to commit the worst of crimes.  So "Looper" actually features something of a difficult moral quandary.  With the interesting premise, the deep character-based emotional trials, and the clever twists, this actually comes off as like a Master Christopher Nolan movie.  I suppose director Rian Johnson is Nolan's first disciple for smart, complicated, but still character-driven SciFi adventures.

Now ultimately in a battle between Levitt and Willis, I'm going Willis here.  I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he's a fine actor, he was even able to come off as likable in the terrible bland movie "Premium Rush"**, I want to see him back for "Batman 4", but Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis.  Its unfair to have them fight.  The movie was still very good entertainment so see it.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dredd

Wow, the West remade "The Raid" a heck of a lot faster than I thought.  Six months?  That's efficiency.

I kid, I kid.  I'm not going to call this a rip-off of "The Raid", because it isn't.  "Dredd" is actually the second movie based upon the "Judge Dredd" franchise.  Its a remake* - I guess - of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie, "Judge Dredd", though the two movies could not be more different in style.  Its basically the difference between "Batman Forever" and "Batman Begins".  One is a massively campy 90s action blockbuster, with all the overblown silliness that you'd expect from that era, and the other is a gritty bloody as hell delicious death machine.  And apparently this one is more faithful to comics, so if you're one of those people who have actually read the comics, good for you.  I know a lot of people hated the Stallone version, partially because its over-the-top, partially because Rob Schneider, and partially because... Judge Dredd takes his helmet off?  Oh whatever, fanboys, Stallone is beautiful in that movie, I regret nothing.  Also, you have to love the way Stallone and Armand Assante are able to growl out the word "LAWWWWW!!!!"

The new version has no LAWWW!!, no comic reliefs, no giant robots, no Hershey, and no catchphrases.  The story is down to simplest narrative efficiency.  Rather than adapting a huge comic book story arc and dealing with dozens of characters, writer Alex Garland just cut through the knot and decided to do one single day in Judge Dredd's life of fighting crime.  Dredd and his rookie partner, "Other M"-style Samus Aran walk into a tower to investigate a few murders.  Then the local crime lord locks the place down, and Karl Urban has to kung-fu his way up and kung-fu his way down to stay away.  Actually, no, unlike "The Raid", Dredd doesn't use Indonesian martial arts, instead he shoots people in the face.  "Dredd" should have been named "Bullets Explode Heads: The Movie... In Brain Blasting 3D".  And this is a hard R, they don't spare a second of blood or gore.  People die, and they die badly.

If you're one of those people who hate violent movies and complained in the 80s about all those greasy action movie that glorified violence... well, fuck off.  "Dredd" is awesome.  Violence is cool, PG-13 needs to die and I know exactly how to kill it.  Put Karl Urban in a Judge helmet and have him blow PG-13's face right off.