Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Furious 6

I started this out as a normal written review.  Then I found myself spending a good hour just summarizing the plot, and I realized something:  "Furious 6" is the stupidest movie ever made... by a major studio... this decade.  So I sat down with a couple of beers and recorded myself simply trying to explain the plot, and this took an hour and a half.  I've uploaded this vlog(?) or perhaps better described as a rant onto Youtube, and I have presented the madness here in its full form.  I don't think I'm going to do this often, and these audio recordings are not going to replace the normal reviews.  Enjoy:

Friday, May 24, 2013


What if Tom Sawyer's idealistic and freedom-loving personality were transported to the modern Mississippi?  What if an actor who spent the better part of a decade starring in terrible romantic comedies and misguided adventure movie flops suddenly started appearing in high-quality Indie dramas?  You get "Mud".

At some point somebody, perhaps the zeitgeist of American culture, perhaps the greedy manipulations of smoke-filled rooms at the top of sinister towers where those evil Studio Execs live, or perhaps the gifted autistic child who secretly controls the entire planet from his iPhone, decided that real stirring human dramas should be excised from most movie theaters and segregated to upper class arthouses or the occasional AMC Theater.  So "Mud", being an Indy movie with a focus on characters dealing with honest emotional problems, can only be found in about a hundred theaters across the country.  And the new Fast and Furious movie can be found everywhere, because that's a big stupid action spectacle, which is what my countrymen really want to see.  Hell, I have to explain what "Mud" is now, because it isn't an adaptation, sequel, remake, sequel to a remake, reboot, or prequel.  Now that I've proven my cynical movie hipster credentials by bemoaning the state of modern cinema, I guess I can actually review something.

"Mud" is a coming-of-age story featuring two barely-teenage boys in Arkansas slowly losing their childhood innocence when exposed to the dark realities of life.  Matthew McConaughey is the titular character and the most prominent figure on the posters, but he isn't the star.  He plays Mud, a charismatic drifter living in an abandoned boat that's washed on the top of a tree in some tiny abandoned island several miles from civilization.  The boys find him and are taken in by his mystical wisdom and his story of waiting for his girlfriend, played by Reese Witherspoon, while on the run from some very nasty folk.  The lead boy, Ellis, is just beginning to understand love and relationships, both their beginnings and ends.  He's got a crush on an older girl and even manages to get a date with her, at the very same time as his parents' marriage is breaking apart.  Mud's romantic story appeals to him.  But the real world isn't quite so romantic as either Mud or Ellis want it to be, leading them inevitably to a solid confrontation with reality.  The results make "Mud" a very good movie, an oasis of quality drama in the midst of depth-less crowd-pleasing cinema.  Every so often, just to keep your sanity, you have to stop seeing Blockbusters and you have to see something more personal, more introspective, and more emotional.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Benedict Cumberbatch's Star Trek Into Darkness

I know the title of this film is supposedly "Star Trek Into Darkness", but this movie wasn't about Star Trek for me.  This was "Benedict Cumberbatch Is An Awesome Villain: The Movie".  Because I hate the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek franchise, for a number of reasons, and honestly, I only saw this movie to see Benedict Cumberbatch wreck these jerks.  I think Chris Pine comes off as immature douchebag when he's trying to channel William Shatner's natural swagger, I think Zachery Quinto comes off an oblivious fool when the original Leonard Nimoy was an iconic sage as Mr. Spock.  The 2009 "Star Trek" felt like it was rushed plot, was simply exaggerating the traits of the original franchise, and wasn't even all that well shot.  However, Karl Urban was awesome, weirdly.  J.J. Abrams is so bankrupt of ideas that he pollutes every shot with lens flare and weird angles, barely able to contain the fact he's making a cartoon that still manages to take itself too seriously.  This franchise is a parody without laughs.

I should point out that personally, I'm not a Trekkie, I really haven't ever been a huge Star Trek fan.  I've only seen a handful of Star Trek episodes across all seven or eight series that this franchise has had, and I've seen bits and pieces of most of the movies.  To prepare for this review, I made sure to watch the first two Star Trek films, because somehow or another I have lived this long in this universe without having seen all of "Wrath of Khan"* from beginning to end.  At the very least, I needed to understand the original personality and meaning of classic Star Trek, in order to understand what J.J. Abrams was trying to imitate.  By this point this shouldn't be spoilers but "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a remake of "Wrath of Khan", only featuring the new cast and a brand new Khan played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  However, to "Into Darkness"'s credit, it actually had its own original story and brought new dimensions on the characters... for most of the running time, until it started parroting whole scenes - and I think you can guess which ones.

"Star Trek Into Darkness" is at least, a watchable movie, its made slightly more than mediocre, mainly thanks to its villain.  If you've seen the trailers and think that this film is just going to copy "The Dark Knight" or "Skyfall" formula or a ridiculously super-intelligent villain who plans everything perfect and gets himself captured as a big surprise coup, you'll be pleasantly surprised that they didn't follow that route.  Khan is actually a pretty dimensional character, which has the side-effect of also making him by far the most sympathetic character, and the guy I was rooting for, even beyond my petty desire to see Chris Pine's face stomped in by Benedict Cumberbatch's boot.  "Into Darkness" is actually a funny movie with some fun moments, though some of the laughs are at the movie's expense.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


You know, I don't care what anybody says, I like Tom Cruise.  According to the tabloids he's a closeted homosexual cultist with a massive ego complex who mind controlled Katie Holmes and is trying to conquer Earth with an army of spiders from Mars.  I don't care about any of that, its nonsense, probably excellent publicity too.  What I do care about is the fact that Tom Cruise is a legitimately good actor who has been in scores of good movies, and even well into his middle age, still is out there playing up major action roles and giving his best.  Tom Cruise is an actor who can take a mediocre, rather forgettable film like "Oblivion", overcome a thankless thinly written leading role, and create some real entertainment out of it.  Also, he's way cooler and more awesome than I'll ever be in my fifties.

"Oblivion" is directed by Joseph Kosinski, the director of "Tron: Legacy", a very impressive visually and more impressively audibly thanks to Daft Punk, but one without a very strong story or characters.  That film, however, was held up by the striking neon colors and techno soundtrack - it felt like something that should have been just a vapid blockbuster film that's more flashy lights than substance.  I loved it for being an empty spectacle.  "Oblivion", unfortunately, doesn't really have much more substance than the earlier film, and simply feels... mediocre.  By now I think we've seen plenty of post-apocalyptic films, many of them very pretty and well-shot, with stronger lead characters, well-written stories, and concept that actually can challenge our perceptions of the world.  This film has none of that, its a perfect Hollywood movie.  And yeah, "Tron: Legacy" was just as bad... but it had Daft Punk!  Yeah, I'm a hypocrite and a fraud, but I really love that soundtrack, okay??

The trailers unfortunately spoiled the twist that things are not what they seem to be in Tom Cruise's world, but luckily they didn't spoil everything, there's still a few mysteries here.  But not the kind of mysteries that will leave you shocked to your core.  If you're unlucky enough to have missed "Moon", the best live action SciFi film from the last decade, maybe the stuff that's happening here will really throw your mind for a loop.  Honestly though, watch "Moon"!  In a more positive light, "Oblivion" does have some really cool mechanical designs, great world visuals, and one truly fantastic action scene, so if you're looking for deadpan entertainment go for it.  But its not the rote plot twists that ruin "Oblivion", its the empty characters.  Its the wasted, utilitarian female roles that exist only to serve as sexual fantasy.  And its the failure to really capture any kind of mood or emotion, its a movie that really is all flash which simply adds up to nothing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pain & Gain

Why, Michael Bay?  Why?

The events of "Pain & Gain" are true.  In a Holocaust film, you know that no matter how awful the imagery before you, the reality could only be more horrifying, sickening, and inhuman.  But since "Pain & Gain" is a film directed by Michael Bay, I can't imagine that the actual people who did these actual crimes could ever be this callous, this stupid, and this utterly repulsive as the world Mr. Bay has come up with.  Over the years, Michael Bay has grown only more cold and hateful towards his characters.  He never started out well, filling perfectly fine movies with ethnic stereotypes and cheap gags, but he's gotten worse over the years.  Where once you'd have Peter Stormare doing a mocking Russian accent, now his movies are full out attacks on all of humanity, full of seizing hatred towards all peoples in every society, most of all, the audience.

The kind of movie I think Michael Bay was going for with "Pain & Gain" was a Coen Brothers black comedy, similar to "Burn After Reading"", where all of society is filled with dimwits working towards an impossible scheme doomed to failure.  But while the Coen Brothers seem to take honest enjoyment out of the nihilism of their subjects, and relish the silliness of it all, Michael Bay seems to actively hate the people he's filming.  This is a movie where the director despises his subject, presents them constantly in the worst light, and wants us to laugh at how impossibly awful these human beings are.  And along the way, fill this endless movie with as many gross-out jokes, cheap lowbrow laughs, and just vile unwatchable nonsense as imaginable.  The "Transformers" films were filled with excess comic reliefs and terrible humor - with such great scenes as Shia LaBeouf's mother character lecturing him about masturbation while a dog pisses on a robot* - but that was actually Bay holding back.  When he's making an R-rated comedy, oh my god.  It gets worse.  So much worse.

What's funny is that "Pain & Gain" is actually something of a pet project of Michael Bay's, its probably his first movie in decades to not have a seven trillion dollar budget.  Paramount Studios only let him actually make this film if he agreed to direct "Transformers 4".  (Yeah, when "Transformers 4" comes out is equally as awful as the other three, we can thank "Pain & Gain" for that particular gift.)  Mark Wahlberg and the Rock both had to forgo salaries, though I'm sure Mark Wahlberg will be paid handsomely when he appears as the star of the next Transformers.  This is Michael Bay making his kind of movie, his vision, his dream, and this is what we get.  As it turns out, the Transformers films aren't some kind of cynical masterpiece manipulating filmgoers around the world while Bay laughs his way into a new mansion, he actually wants to make movies like this.  This is his best.  And its one of his worst movies ever.  That's so horribly, horribly sad.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rest In Peace - Ray Harryhausen

Well, this is a sad moment.  I know that most of the Ray Harryhausen films I was planning to do on All-Out Giant Monster Attack! have already been reviewed, leaving only "Valley of Gwangi" on the list, but its still depressing to know that I only barely began to know this great filmmaking and his truly inspired take on special effects before he died today, at age 92.  Ray Harryhausen has been in what is essentially retirement for decades, ever since his last great movie, "Clash of the Titans".

Along with Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen essentially created the genre of giant monster films, and was a beloved icon of special effects.  Every one of the thousands of names that was included in the "Iron Man 3" list of effects artists can thank their career to the pioneering work of Harryhausen, who was doing what they were doing with animatronics and camera tricks before even the first visual computer was invented.  Without him, we wouldn't have had a "Godzilla", we would not have had a "Star Wars", no "Terminator", no "Jurassic Park", no "Toy Story", no "Coraline", not even a "Transformers".  I'm sure if Harryhausen had made the Transformers series in the 1960s, it would have been far superior, because he was a man who brought great personality and meaning behind his monsters, which modern filmmakers seem to struggle with.  You can get a million emotions behind the simple gestures of Harryhausen's Cyclops in "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad", and all the computing power in the world can't replicate simple pure genius.

So RIP, Ray Harryhausen.  You are missed by me and all filmgoers around the world.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3

Let me start out right now and say, I loved "Iron Man 3", and this was the best time I've had at a theater all year, full-stop.  I saw this last night at the nine o'clock pre-screening, with full IMAX 3D extravaganza bells and whistles, which ultimately cost something like twenty bucks.  And I don't care at all how much I was ripped-off by the pointless 3D.

I reviewed "Iron Man 2" almost exactly three years ago, and I was very disappointed by it.  It was a meaningless movie that varied between "Avengers" fanservice and Tony Stark clowning it up, that ultimately never really went anywhere and never challenged its characters.  But it looks like Marvel is slowly figuring out how to make movies that aren't merely mediocre, to movies that are actually really good.  "Avengers" surprised me with how decent it turned out to be, and "Iron Man 3" is a great movie, possibly the best out of the three.  And honestly, its something of a shock that this movie turns out as well as it does, since the trailers are advertising a very different movie.  Its actually a feat of marketing genius, supporting false expectations and making you think this is where Iron Man gets dark and faces his greatest foe.  Well, the foes he fights here are impressive, but when Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin says "You'll never see me coming", he means it.

"Iron Man 3" is simply movie fun.  This is more a comedy than I think the other ones have been, though it does really test Tony Stark as a character nonetheless.  We're definitely not seeing Robert Downey Jr. pull himself out of a giant pit in the Middle East somewhere after having his spine shattered by Bane though, the character journey is more subtle and subdued.  Because Marvel movies aren't going to be the dramatic epics that Christopher Nolan and DC are creating, I've come to accept this.  They are crowd pleasers, here to entertain.  And when you have Robert Downey Jr. in front of the camera with very funny material, I don't see how you could possibly complain.  This movie is about Tony Stark, not a million Marvel cameos to set up the next Thor or whatever*.  Its a Tony Stark movie, fairly lighthearted, but still exciting and a great time at the movies.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

All-Out Giant Monster Attack! Episode 24 - King Kong vs. Godzilla

Note:  I decided to skip over "Gorgo" after it turned out not to be the world's only Danish giant monster movie, but actually another English giant monster film.  The movie I was thinking of was "Reptilicus".  Both of which, I'm sorry, I couldn't finish watching, they were both way too similar to "The Giant Behemoth".  We're moving on to something important instead.  Honestly, I need to trim this series down, so I'm going to try to focus only on the really landmark movies and the really really amazingly awful ones.  "King Kong vs. Godzilla" is one of the landmarks.

1962's "King Kong vs.Godzilla" is essentially the glorious long-term dream of any giant monster fanboy who had been watching these kinds of films since the 1930s.  "King Kong" was in many ways the direct inspiration for Toho's already-legendary 1954 "Godzilla".  However, both of these characters had been in retirement for several years now.  Godzilla had not been on the big screen since "Return of Godzilla", and King Kong himself had been missing in action since 1933, notwithstanding several Kong-inspired films.  This film was the ultimate match-up of the greatest American giant monster against the greatest Japanese giant monster - and an octopus, but we'll ignore that guy for now.  How can anything about be anything less than pure awesome?

Well, there is immediately a wrinkle.  If you think about it, King Kong does not stand a chance against Godzilla.  Kong is fifty feet tall at best, while the Showa era Godzilla was fifty meters tall*, utterly dominating his opponent.  Plus, Godzilla can breathe fire, and was able to incinerate an entire city in a single night.  King Kong was slaughtered by biplanes, Godzilla was briefly annoyed by jet fighters.  King Kong stayed dead for thirty years, Godzilla was back alive without much explanation in just a single year.  Curiously, the way Toho made this idea work was to resurrect a Willis O'Brien script concept for a film called "King Kong vs. Frankenstein", where King Kong would fight a gigantic kaiju version of Frankenstein's Monster.  Eventually that evolved when Toho bought the rights**, and gave King Kong the giant Frankenstein's powers.  This explains why King Kong this time is now 167 feet tall (45 meters), and eats lightning.  The end result makes "King Kong vs. Godzilla" a properly ridiculous adventure, pure fanservice from beginning to end, and adorable in its simplicity.