Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wolverine



As for the rest of "The Wolverine", its a movie that isn't so much middle of the road as much as glued to the yellow dividing line.  This is the sixth X-Men movie at this point, a series that has gone from passably mediocre to sinfully awful and then briefly touching excellent with "X-Men First Class", until finally with this newest film going full circle and ending right back at passably mediocre again.  Its hard to imagine that there really was that much of a market to see a movie exclusively about Wolverine anymore, after he's already had the starring role in three of the X-Men movies and a whole prequel origins story to himself.  Admittedly, that prequel origins story was one of the worst super hero movies ever made, but its not like Wolverine is in desperate need of much exposure anymore.  Also, this is a sequel to "X-Men 3", a movie that doesn't quite need continuation as much as big pit in the Southwest in which to be buried for all time.

I mean, really?  Are there really people out there who spill sexual excitement when they hear that Wolverine is going to have yet another movie?  I'm sure there's those surviving members of the Nineties comics generation are oozing over Jean Valjean's pecks in that poster there, but as for us casual movie nerds, what does "The Wolverine" really offer?  To be fair, it did fix most of the issues of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", in that this movie is actually about Logan and not a badly rushed plot that existed mainly to find a way to shove Deadpool, Gambit, and a man in a bad fat suit into many many badly pandering cameos.  There are only three mutants in this movie, and one has a power that is entirely useless to combat and is instead just a girl really good with swords.  This time the plot is an evolving mystery putting Logan at the center of several warring factions and betrayals in the midst of modern Japan, basically making him the cynical detective in a noir story.

But just the fact that "The Wolverine" doesn't do anything particularly wrong doesn't make it a good movie.  Hugh Jackman, as always, is game as the lead, but none of the supporting characters are quite up to being in the same scene as him.  The main female love interest offers nothing beyond being a Princess in Another Castle.  The movie introduces a huge element of Wolverine losing his powers, making him actually vulnerable for once... then does nothing with it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Only God Forgives

Since "Only God Forigves" is one of the most controversial films of the year, I've decided to do something a little different.  Rather than a traditional review, I'm going to stay a hypothetical conversation between director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling.  Obviously this is all conjecture.  There is no way to know if this conversation ever took place, but I am certain some elements of this discussion had to happen at some point.  Even if the final product doesn't entirely show this, "Only God Forgives" was made by humans, presumably, and it helps to remind yourself this while watching it:

Ryan Gosling:  Okay, Nick, I'm a little confused as to my motivation here in this one scene.  Can you help me out a bit?

Nicolas Winding Refn:  Alright, alright, Ryan.  We can take five here.  What do you need, buddy?

Gosling:  Alright, I'm at a restaurant in Thailand.  I've brought this Thai prostitute with me to pose as my girlfriend for my evil Lady McBethian Mom.  Kristin Scott Thomas over there is going to go all out on this insane Oedipus-flavored rant against my fake girlfriend.  Presumably I have a lot of issues with my mom, I get that.  But I don't understand, why don't I ever talk in this scene?

Refn:  Because you're being enigmatic and cool.  The audience doesn't know really what you're thinking.  Its a while other level to the scene.

Gosling:  ...Alright... But even then, presumably any normal person would have something to say at this moment, right?  And would probably react with a facial expression?  At the very least, I should show some emotion to the audience?

Refn:  No, no, no, no!  We've been over this one hundred times.  Two hundred times!  You never show emotion once.  If you're watching a prostitute masturbate, don't react.  If somebody tells you your brother is dead, don't react. Not once.

Gosling:  Yeah, but there's subtlety, like my character in "Drive", and then there's nothing.  I have nothing to do in this whole movie.

Refn:  Sorry, Ryan, you said the "D-word".  We're not making a sequel to "Drive" here, we're making a higher level piece of cinematic art.  That's not a camera, that's my brush.  This isn't a set, its a canvas.  And you, sir, are a prop.  A prop in my masterpiece.

Gosling:  I think I'm starting to see the problem...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Evil Remake

What do you know?  It sucked.

I'm going to be fair right now, I did not rent "Evil Dead" thinking it was going to be bad.  Well... actually I did, I have almost no faith in remakes, especially a remake of one of my favorite horror movies of all time.  But the trailers for "Evil Dead" were promising, the reviews were mediocre for a regular film but not bad for a horror movie, and at least this remake had the express blessing of director Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell, who both were producers on this project.  I knew this movie was going to suck, but I wasn't renting this movie with the same jackhammer of critical murdersauce that I carry when I review utter hateful shit like "Jack and Jill".  Remember, just last week a legitimately good horror movie came out with "The Conjuring", which was basically a remake of "Amityville Horror".  Only that movie had sympathetic characters, and mood, and tension, and style... while "Evil Dead" has buckets of gore.

What else does it have besides whole fuel tankers full of bodily fluids?  Absolutely nothing.  It was obvious to first time director, Fede Alvarez, that nobody could ever replace the sheer iconic star power of Bruce Campbell's Ash.  So rather than trying to make a new protagonist that could be fascinating in his own way, Alvarez surrendered, and created a cast of characters out of spare plywood and corkboard.  Then he dipped those pieces of plywood into buckets of red paint, and called it a day.  He hopes that he can have a character lop off her left hand her feet, then juggle them while catching the squirting blood with her tongue, and we'll be impressed immediately by the grisly abandon of it all.  Of course, ultimately forgetting that gore and horror needs to have mood.  Are we going for all-out fun, dancing in sprinklers of red blood cells?  Or is this a disgusting nightmare?  You really can't have both when your characters are so boring, when your new plot is so slow yet utterly bland, and when the movie is so boring it feels like its ninety minutes are like an eternity in hell.

But then again, an eternity in hell would actually be scary, wouldn't it?  Or at the very least, the Devil would probably be able to present some level of personality to his torture.  I can appreciate getting my bowels ironed out if its being done with some showmanship.  Otherwise, I think I'm just going to yawn.  "Evil Dead" is not entertaining.  It just doesn't understand what made the original film scary, and does not even try to replicate any of the humor of the sequels.  It is simply awful.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Despicable Me 2

There will never be another product in 2013 that is capable of producing as much raw uncut joy as "Despicable Me 2".  This is just a lot of fun, and honestly, that's all I need to say.  Do you want to be happy today?  This very second?  Go see "Despicable Me 2".

The original "Despicable Me" (I guess now retroactively known as "Despicable Me 1") was a pretty nice surprise back in 2010, where it was a sweet little parody of super villains with a cute heart.  Audiences walked out from "Despicable Me" entirely satisfied with big grotesque grins on their faces like they were all drunk on pressurized Joker Gas.  I had my own grotesque concrete grin for about a week and a half.  This is a film series about cartoony super villain and spy antics, three lovable little girls, and an army of hilarious little yellow pill minions and their mischief.  If you're looking for a template as to how to make an excellent family cartoon take "Despicable Me" as your guide:  loving satire, lovable characters, and innocent jokes that can make a person of any age giggle.  As it turns out, the secret ingredient to making a fantastic kid's movie is none other than Love.  Love is all you need.

"Despicable Me 2" is something of an inferior film, the hideous involuntary Joker grin lasted only three days, but that's still a great deal better than most films can pull off. While the original film was about Gru, a cliche Germanic supervillain learning to open his life up to three little girls, now its about Gru, a reformed Germanic super spy learning to open up his life to a yet another female influence, and this is one he can have sex with!  Because the alternative is simply too horrifying for words.  Anyway, the focus this time is a little more scatterbrained, with Gru's new job as a superspy sharing time with a massively expanded chorus of Minion festivities, and then sharing time with the little girls, who are now something of an afterthought to the larger story.  Gru, the girls, the villains, and even the new quirky and well-rounded love interest character all sort of lose focus as the film hammers in new Minion slapstick and entire Minion song and dance numbers.  But again, its all done with love.  And love is all you need.

Need I say more?   I loved this movie.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Conjuring

Okay, tell me if you've seen this movie.  A family moves out to an old creepy house in the country, hoping to settle in a new peaceful period of their lives.  However, instead of wide-open spaces for the children, and a new level of intimacy for the parents, there's ghosts, nightmares, and supernatural attacks from all sorts of malevolent spirits.  Exorcisms are needed, paranormal investigators are called, weaker members of the family are possessed, and finally we end with a battle of wills between the living and the dead.  Let's give double points if its supposedly based on a true story that actually happened to a real family several decades ago.

Of course you've seen this movie, Hollywood has been making it for about thirty years now.  Sometimes its called "The Amityville Horror", sometimes its called "Poltergeist", sometimes its called "Paranormal Activity", "Insidious", "Sinister", "Mama", "Dark Skies", "Dream House", "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", "The Apparition", "The Last Exorcism", "A Haunting in Connecticut", "A Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia", and the criminally underrated "The Navidson Record".  There are probably about six hundred other movies with this very same plot whose names are failing me right now.  If you haven't seen any of those movies yet, then you are the only one.  Scientists would be interesting in examining you, because you're about as fascinating as somebody with an XZ chromosome.  Most of these films are utterly forgettable and bland, which is what you'd expect when you're dusting off a script so old it probably still uses the medieval Long S.  (Which is why I prefer to call James Wan's last movie, "InÅ¿ideous".)  I skip just about 99% of these movies since if I wanted to watch the same damn movie over and over again with a different cast, I'd rather that movie be "Batman Returns".

But sometimes, and this doesn't happen often, you can take the most generic movie ever and due something decent with it.  "The Conjuring" offers no new twists on the formula, it is following the recipe exactly.  No spontaneous dashes of cinnamon for this director, James Wan, who is best known for making the Saw series.  This guy has had exactly one good idea, then proceeded to make six more increasingly inferior copies*.  So when he's ripping off movies made thirty years ago, nobody should be surprised.  We should be surprised that even when "The Conjuring" is about as artless and unoriginal as movies get, its still actually scary and competently made.  This movie keeps the tension going with a variety to well-timed and well-crafted frightening moments, without needed to lean back on jump scares or gore, and it never turns into a self-parody.  "The Conjuring" simply works, when by rights, it should be a valueless wreck.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

First of all, the most important detail:  there actually are watermelons.  So all is well with me.

A while ago I wrote a long ranting piece about my disappointment to see that "Metal Gear Rising" had turned into yet another over-the-top action spectacle game, just like "Bayonetta", "God of War", "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow" , "Enslaved", "Devil May Cry", "Heavenly Sword", and perhaps most-hideously, "Dante's Inferno".  And to prove my ultimate hypocrisy, I went ahead and played it, and actually came pretty close to loving it.  To be fair, I was reacting to a pretty awful trailer that went out of its way to make the game look as forgettable as possible with several awful guitar riffs which mostly ignored the bizarre genius that built Hideo Kojima's career.  Plus, when you call a game "Revengeance", you can't help but assume that its going to be the dumbest trash possible.  Like "Bayonetta" but instead of sexploitation, its badass-ploitation.  That trailer was nothing but bad testosterone and pre-programmed action sequences, totally failing to play the high notes of this game, probably since they weren't finished yet.  So I pre-judged.

And now "Metal Gear Rising" is getting its revengeance by being actually good.  Boy is my face covered in egg... or possibly the triumphant ejaculate of a boss who has murdered me the eightieth time.  Yes, I became many people's bitch during my journey through "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance"*, because this game is hard, and that's how I like games, apparently.  With this and "Mirror's Edge", two of my favorite PS3 games have been the ones that have systematically tortured my poor in-game character over and over again, killing them in repeated outrageous ways.  This is in contrast to games like "Metroid: Other M" which are very nice to my character but torture me endlessly.   Luckily the final score card at the end revealed that I died a mere 150 times, but I came out ahead since I killed some 436 enemies.  And got a final score of C, which is a pass, meaning that this September I get to move on to the fourth grade!

The game that comes to mind first in comparison is "Bayonetta", since they are both hack and slash games for the PS3 and both made primarily by Platinum Games.  "Metal Gear Rising" was originally in development by Konami's Hideo Kojima branch, but they failed tragically, and had to pass it on to Platinum.  Now, I do mourn the lost promise that was offered by "Rising" back when it was more of a physics experiment in cutting things, but I'm also not so much of a detached snob that I cannot appreciate a game when it is fun, challenging, and all in all better than "Bayonetta".  Yes, let's drop that controversial statement and leave it hanging there to keep you interested enough to read the review.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim

"Pacific Rim" is a movie trying really really hard to please me in particular.  I think a webcrawling program started reading this blog over the last three years and decided to design a movie for me.  I haven't had this feeling since I watched "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension", a movie so peculiar and amazing that I am certain I will go back in time to the 1980s and create it personally.  Beyond merely making a movie where GIANT ROBOTS FIGHT GIANT MONSTERS, they went the extra mile and gave it a director I deeply respect, Charlie Day from "Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia", GLaDos from "Portal" in her first film role, and somehow they even made Faith from "Mirror's Edge" into a flesh and blood person as the main female love interest.  So this is a movie trying desperately to make nerds the world over really happy, mixing together "Evangelion", "Robot Jox", and "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS".  The fact that I'm even referencing "Godzilla: Tokyo SOS" shows how I am precisely in this film's demographic.

Which is why it is absolutely tragic that I do not particularly like "Pacific Rim".  I am very grateful that a major studio would make a movie for me, as if I'm some kind of master auteur despite having only been to Hollywood on a bus tour.  But I also have to be fair.  Nobody better ever call me biased ever again, I am a completely level critic, because I'm going ahead and saying that a movie I was desperately waiting for all year is not very good.  I could go the easy way out and say that the robots and the kaijus and the GLaDos make it all fine, but "Pacific Rim" is merely watchable.  Its... okay.  And its that kind of "okay" that makes you put a thoughtful pause right before you call it "okay".

Here's the thing boys and girls, "Robot Jox" sucked.  I only saw it a few months ago once people started comparing "Pacific Rim" to that 1980s Full Moon productions straight-to-VHS, and I generally hated it.  And I don't like "Pacific Rim" for pretty much the same reasons.  "Pacific Rim" is a lot more flashy, it has millions of dollars of work on the line here, but it also has a lame protagonist, a pretty bare-bones story, and only a few really great monster fights.  There's not really much ambition here beyond the raw spectacle.  In an age where I have "Evangelion 3.0" on my harddrive and can watch at any point, I just want more out of a giant monster movie.  If you like giant robots and giant monsters for no reason other than them being there, "Pacific Rim" is fine for you.  But I've seen better movies than this, and "Pacific Rim" does not have enough personality to really drive the two-hour running time it has.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mirror's Edge

What if Sonic the Hedgehog were a first person game?

"Mirror's Edge" is a first-person platformer that was released way way back in 2008.  Remember 2008?  When Obama was going to save America instead of listening in on our sexting conversations?  When the PlayStation 3 was insanely expensive and gas was insanely cheap?  And when "Final Fantasy XIII" seemed like an exciting and innovative game?  Good times.   Anyway, I may not be able to afford the trip to GameStop, but I was able to finally afford a PS3 last year, so now I'm finally able to play this game.  It was definitely worth the five-year wait too, because this title can be beaten in a day, so at six dollars, its finally exactly the right price.

There are only nine levels in "Mirror's Edge", meaning that a dedicated speedrunner could complete the entire game in under an hour.  To accommodate for that puny length, the developers of "Mirror's Edge", a rather unpopular company lately called "Electronic Arts"*, decided to pad the game out with a classic design philosophy:  difficulty.  Once upon a time back in the age of Super Nintendos and not-so-Super Nintendos, a game could never really hope to be much longer than ten hours, at best.  How do you make your experience memorable and meaningful to the player?  Make it brutally goddamn hard, so they have to spend weeks mastering your product before they see the final boss.  Games like "Ninja Gaiden" or "Ghosts and Goblins" require entire spiritual journeys deep to your gaming subconscious, to the very core of your muscle memory and twitch reflexes.  You have to discover horrible things about yourself, overcome deep character flaws, and that's just to reach level 8.  In today's world, we have quick-time events, automatic health regeneration, and a working save function (no passwords for the Millennial Generation), so difficulty is dead.  Which is why "Mirror's Edge" feels like such a breath of fresh air.

I was able to beat "Bioshock Infinite" by suicidally charging forward over and over again, without really gaining much skills, without much need to refine my abilities or strategies, I could just pop off a few badies and reload.  Hell, even when a bigger enemy managed to kill me, it didn't matter much since their HP wasn't restored.  "Mirror's Edge" isn't playing by those rules.  Luckily it doesn't bring back the old-school gaming lives system, and there are no Game Overs, but when you die, you still go back.  If you're in a room trying to use your little Asian girl kung-fu to take down ten soldiers, you have to kill every one of them.  Kill seven and get make a mistake on #8, it doesn't matter, you have to kill all seven again.  You die on a tough jump, the Prince of Persia isn't going to suddenly remember that he actually made that leap, you're dead now.  You go back.  Which is why, "Mirror's Edge", despite being way too short, is one of the most challenging and interesting games of the last console generation.  This is just honest gaming fun.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo

What?  We can't redo?!  Then what was this Evangelion Rebuild series supposed to be if not a redo?

In the beginning of this Evangelion Rebuild project, we were promised that this would be the more sane and more pleasant Evangelion, perhaps leaving the characters in a better place than being left alone in a desolate apocalypse.  "Evangelion 2.0" actually seemed to be moving in this direction, by turning Shinji into a surprisingly heroic and self-assured character, pushing his giant robot to the limits of the apocalypse to save Rei Ayanami, his main love interest at that point.  If you are like me, and thought that was an impressive new direction for the series to take, you'll find "Evangelion 3.0" to be just as shocking.  Shocking in how quickly that negative and depressing status quo is restored - that lone bright spot at the end of "Evangelion 2.0" being only the herald for a whole new dimension of depression and nightmares.

Perhaps even more impressive for "Evangelion 3.0" is that this shocking swerve actually works.  This series basically took a suicide turn right into oncoming traffic at two-hundred miles per hour, and it managed to pass right through and set up a massive finale to finish off this film series.  Many fans are going to be very turned-off by what happens in between "Evangelion 2.0" and "Evangelion 3.0", to the point they might say the series has betrayed their expectations.  Even I'm not particularly happy with how "Evangelion 3.0" went - it seems to be a rather sudden rewrite of the plan that Studio Gainax had for the series after the second film - but when a movie is this well-made, you cannot let your expectations get in the way.  Quality is quality, brilliance is brilliance, and "Evangelion 3.0" is brilliant.

Its quite a thing to feel truly blessed while watching a movie.  I sometimes get a common thought along the lines of "what the hell did I do to deserve this nightmare?" (usually when an ad for Adam Sandler's newest celluloid abortion plays*) but I rarely get the feeling that "do we really deserve a film series like this?"  Are we worthy of the ascendant joy that is the Rebuild of Evangelion?  Well, I'm just going to say that after the willfully-awful "Eureka Seven Ao", the world owes me one.  So if a movie this good is going to get made, I'm going to simply enjoy it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

White House Down

"White House Down" features an image that I believe most Americans will find very cathartic these days:  the Capitol Building of the United States in flames.  Obviously, there is nothing more appropriate for the greatest patriotic holiday of the year than seeing our national monuments variously smashed, blown-up, and ruined by terrorists/aliens/Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth.  And really, who doesn't want to see all of Congress die in a fiery explosion at this point?  Or at least the entirety of the House of Representatives?  These incompetent morons hold the keys to power to the greatest superpower in world history, and boy are they running us right into the ground.  Just this week, they doubled the Stafford Loan rate for all you college students*, and I know some of you are hopeful for that Immigration Bill to pass the House, but trust me, with pieces of shit like John Behner running the show, you're gonna an entire army of paramilitaries led by James Woods to get anything done in that place.  So cherish those treasonous thoughts and watch "White House Down".

A few months ago, a certain movie called "Olympus Has Fallen" came out.  But I never saw that, so I have nothing more to say on the subject.  I'd actually like to discuss a movie called "A Good Day to Die Hard", which wasn't good, did not take place during the course of a day, and was barely even a Die Hard movie.  "White House Down" is a way better Die Hard movie, even when it flipped out John McClane for Channing Tatum - trust me, those are words I never thought I'd say.  This is a dumb action movie, there's a scene where the Presidential Limo gets chased around the lawn of the White House by two terrorist trucks, but its also a fun dumb movie.  And I think lately with so many awful blockbusters coming out**, I think we need to create a distinction between "fun dumb" and "stupid dumb".

A fun dumb movie is like "Furious 6", as wild and insane as possible with no real interest in art, story, or further meaning, but with a smile.  A stupid dumb movie is like "World War Z", where there's no interest in art, story, or further meaning, but the movie is also bitter, slow, and joyless.  Or another example would be that remake of "Total Recall"*** - which was a rip-off of just about everything, had no spirit, and was just really sad to watch.  If you're gonna make a dumb action movie, why not have fun with it??   Its even the same with the last Superman movie, taking a classic - and often ridiculous - Golden Age superhero into a bitter tragedy.  Why can't we make jokes, have characters, and stop trying to be cool.  Let's set the White House on fire, get some marshmallows, and watch a buddy cop movie where the Black guy is President Obama.  How can you not have fun with that?