Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Random Movie: The Last Airbender (2010)

Perhaps it was just presumptuous of M. Night Shyamalan to promote his upcoming adaptation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender tv series at the end of The Happening on a little girl's backpack.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Random Movie: The Smurfs (2011)

I typically see a lot of movies with my kids that I don't review here. That's not entirely out of laziness but more due to being uncomfortable critiquing something that was not necessarily designed for me. At some point for everyone though, you must step out of your comfort zone and do the right thing. For me, that point was taking my 4-year-old to see The Smurfs and hating it so badly that I must ward off any reasonable human being from seeing it. I'm not quite sure what irritates me the most: that I paid $15 for the two of us to see it, that it literally felt like the longest 90 minutes ever, or that I just indirectly contributed to the already announced sequel.

Much like a good chunk of our readership (at least I assume), The Smurfs were one of those childhood staples that were always around, whether on TV, on the racks of the video store, or on the shelves at the local Toys'R'us. Truth be told though, I could've cared less about a Smurfs movie because it was going to happen anyway and I wasn't going to lose any sleep over "ruining" something I can barely remember from twenty years ago. Yet, those responsible for this pile of cinematic detritus created a farce so abysmally bad that I would crap on it regardless if it was a remake, a reboot, or an entirely original idea (if those exist anymore).

Things start fine with the blue-skinned, white pants-wearing Smurfs doing whatever their individual job entails whether that is fixing things, angrily commenting, or being uncoordinated. After Clumsy leads Gargamel to the village, the smurfs run for the hills while a few including Papa Smurf and Smurfette instead get consumed by a wormhole which transports them to New York City. Gargamel and Azrael follow so that Gargamel can extract the Smurf magic but is thwarted by the little blue things and Neil Patrick Harris. God, it hurts to recall these scant details.

Even though it has been out a few weeks, the showing my daughter and I attended was fairly full with families and kids. Yet, other than the movie, the only discernible noise from the audience was the creaking reclining chairs and the few who shuffled out of the theater early and did not return. I hope they snuck into a better movie. For a kid, this film will do just fine even though it lacks anything at all remarkable. I bet if you ask a patron under the age of 5 what their favorite part was, they'd merely say "the whole thing!" as there is little here to bother recalling after the credits roll.

As an adult, this was one of the most painful movies I've watched recently. Neil Patrick Harris has a few somewhat entertaining moments, Jayma Mays as his wife is dull and inconsequential, and the human-side of the story about Harris' character worrying about his job and accepting his future as a father-to-be is overwrought and just simply boring. I feel I cannot lay too much blame on director Raja Gosnell as this was likely designed as a soulless cash grab from day one regardless of who was writing or directing it. Rather than plunking out an ungodly amount of money to see this movie, buy your kids some marbles or socks instead. They will thank you in the long run.

Random Movie: Horrible Bosses (2011)

It’s a universal truth that we’ve all had bosses, or superiors if you’d like, that deserve to be taken out back and eliminated in one way or another. I suppose that is the sad truth of growing up, becoming an adult, and dealing with bullshit day in and day out. Horrible Bosses is not the first film that addresses these frustrations of the workplace. In fact, the template (for me that is) of aggravating employment is and will probably always be Office Space. Director Seth Gordon and his team of writers don’t pull off the malicious nature of inter-office politics to the same success but damn if they didn’t create a film I believe will be highly regarded for some time.

It is unfair though to outright compare Bosses to Office Space. Similar themes exist but the crux of the movie is wildly different since no one actually wanted to kill Bill Lumbergh. Nick (Jason Bateman) is practically a yes-man who comes to work early and stays late thinking he is in for a big promotion. Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) loves his accounting job at a small chemical firm and is especially fond of his aging boss. Dale (Charlie Day) is miserable as a dental assistant but he cannot find better employment due to a mishap with some urine and an adjacent playground. Later, Nick is dicked over by his boss Harken (Kevin Spacey) while Kurt’s mentor dies and is replaced by his misfit/cokehead son Pellitt (Colin Farrell) and Dale is inundated with sexual advances by his employer Julia (Jennifer Aniston). After realizing they have no other employment prospects, the trio consider the idea of killing their bosses to make their lives much easier.

It would be a twisted and immoral tale if the same thought had not crossed the mind of anyone working under a soulless, money-hungry, or just plain inept superior. That is where Horrible Bosses succeeds the most in the cathartic pondering of “doing the world a favor” and wiping some ass off the planet while attempting to rationalize it. This concept would fall flat though if the “villains” (ie. the bosses) were just working stiffs trying to do the right thing but they are far from that.

I love me some Kevin Spacey and he is right at home in his role at the cut-throat top exec that is a chilling reminder of what Lester Burnham might have become in his later years. Aniston is pretty vile as the walking professional-workplace nightmare Julia and she plays it superbly between almost innocent and almost batshit crazy. Farrell takes the cake as the son of a successful businessman who would much rather invite strippers to his cocaine extravaganza instead of dealing with paperwork … during business hours of course.

The bulk of the story though focuses on Bateman, Sudekis, and Day as they scheme under the tutelage of “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx) to stage the deaths as accidents. This being a comedy, all three are completely inept at the standard tasks of this type of tale including keeping a low-profile or reconnaissance. Of course, comedic mayhem ensues as the story unfolds in a largely unpredictable way as the trio try to dispatch their bosses with prejudice even with their incompetence standing in the way.

The main three of Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day are perfectly cast and fit their roles nicely. Nick is almost a carbon-copy of the straight-laced Michael Bluth from Arrested Development and I am totally fine with that as it is my favorite comedy series ever. Sudeikis (even in lesser roles) has a great sense of comedic timing and even Day was hilarious in his overly exuberant mannerisms. There is nothing of note that falls flat or awkwardly unfunny throughout the film. Most recent comedies are a “see-it-once-and-forget-it” affair but Horrible Bosses will stand out for years to come.

Random Movie: Ghost from the Machine (2010)

Written by: PBF

Ghost from the Machine (or Phasma Ex Machina) is writer/director Matt Osterman’s feature film debut. It had a budget of $25,000. If my review doesn’t give you a clue how good the film is, maybe this will: Universal Pictures is remaking it already.

Cody (Sasha Andreev) and his younger brother James (Max Hauser) lost their parents due to a car accident. Cody is riddled with guilt as he blames himself. He dropped out of college, does not have a job and is living off of the insurance money from the accident. He becomes obsessed with the thought of getting his parents back and spends most of his time and money constructing an electrical device. In a nutshell, Cody basically believes that there is a shortage of a certain type of energy between our world and the other side. He believes that if he can supply this energy there would be no separation and he can then be reunited with his parents. This has caused him to in effect neglect James, whom he is supposed to be taking care of. James spends most of his time wrapped up in first person shooters and causing mischief at school. Because Cody is so obsessed, he has repeatedly caused James to be late to school so often that the Principal questions his ability to be a legal guardian and calls CPS. CPS gives Cody simple instructions: Get James to school on time everyday and he must behave while there. Otherwise, James will be removed from the home. As Cody gets further along with his machine, odd things start to occur in their house as well as in others.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Random Movie: The Coffin (2008)

Written by: PBF

The Coffin, directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham will be released on DVD August 31, via Breaking Glass Pictures. It is based on a Thai ritual. The ritual involves a person who wishes to “cheat death and end bad luck” being sealed in a coffin and a funeral being performed over them. This is done in large groups. People claim to have gone into a coffin with Cancer and come out only to be given a clean bill of health on their next doctor visit. Some people believe in it and others believe it is hogwash.

Su (Karen Mok) is a young woman who left Bangkok and Jack, to whom she was going to marry. She hasn’t told anyone that she has lung cancer. She goes to Thailand to be part of a mass funeral. Soon after participating (possibly even on her way home from it as the movie suggests) she is involved in a serious car accident. She escapes with only bruises, but learns that she no longer has cancer. While recuperating, she is given some terrible news and begins to have disturbing visions.

Chris’s (Ananda Evringham) girlfriend is in a coma. He goes in to a coffin with her name written on a piece of paper. While in the coffin he has strange, frightening visions of a woman. He ends up having a seizure and is brought to the hospital where he is revived after his heart had stopped. His girlfriend wakes from her coma and they both start having visions of that same woman.

The film goes back and forth between the two as they struggle with these nightmarish visions and try to figure out how to stop them.

Now, you may have noticed that I used the phrase “cheat death” and suddenly had visions of tires crushing heads or perhaps more lovely images of sweet Emma Bell in another film of late. Let me assure you, this film’s ramifications for cheating death are far less flashy (silly) and over the top. They are terrifyingly psychological. The constant visions and slow, psychological torment these characters went through is much more satisfying than the bizarre, elaborate and sometimes 3D fuckery of The Final Destination Films. That’s because it’s not Death chasing them; it’s Karma. Karma won’t kill you. It will just make you full of regret and make you wish you were dead.

This film is creepy. It is dimly lit and mostly blue, gray and just feels cold all the time. In the beginning it resembled a National Geographic Channel documentary (not necessarily by that previous description, just because of the camera work). The entire film looked very pretty in stark contrast to the events transpiring, which just made it more creepy. There were moments in this film in which I jumped and possibly exclaimed an expletive. Complete out of nowhere scares. Then there were others that were not so clever, but at least they weren’t terrible. It is not often that I am startled during a film, so needless to say, this film had my entire attention.

The direction is excellent, the acting well done. There really isn’t anything not to like about this film. Especially the end. I won’t ruin it, but “lesson learned” is a nice way to put it. This is a great and interesting thriller, check it out.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Random Movie: THE Final Destination (2009)

I will admit that I did not have entirely good expectations going into this one. Our own #pbf referred to this as garbage, and he has not seen THE third film in this series. I had seen a few positive reviews for THE Final Destination though so I figured maybe it was an acquired taste, much like Mountain Dew: Live Wire. Oh, dear God was I wrong. So, so wrong … I knew in THE first ten minutes of this film that it would be given THE “honorable” crap category. THE other seventy minutes were merely confirmation that I can judge a stupid movie by its even stupider fucking cover.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Random Movie: Final Destination 3 (2006)

It’s not apparent during the first viewing of Final Destination 3, but there is something missing which greatly strips out a lot of enjoyment compared to the previous films. Well, of course, there are plenty of graphic deaths and gore so that is present and accounted for. There is a skimpy callback to the first film, so nothing out of place there. And even Tony Todd returns, in voice at least. So what is it that the returning team of Glen Morgan and James Wong forgot in this installment? Where should we start?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Random Movie: Final Destination 2 (2003)

The original Final Destination is no grand pinnacle in cinema, or even horror films, but it does a few things right. Its follow-up is again no grand treasure, but a pretty effective continuation of the first and one that tries to loop back into the mythos of the first. Final Destination 2's main draw is the focus on elaborate deaths no doubt, but it almost taps into some of the humanity of the first. Moreso than those killer logs in the first act anyway.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Random Movie: Final Destination (2000)

Who would have thought that a spec script for The X-Files TV show could launch one of the bigger horror franchises in recent years? Apparently, someone at New Line Cinema did and the result is lots of dead people by way of some rather bizarre methods. After four movies (and a fifth with Emma Bell! coming soon), no one goes to see a Final Destination movie for the characters or the acting. We go to see how morbid writers can concoct a way for someone to die. But it wasn’t always that way.

Random Movie: [REC] 2 (2009)

The upside to having a terrible memory: I can see a film I’d only seen maybe once before years ago and not remember a damn thing about it. Downside to having a terrible memory: well, the same. It was not even a year ago that I watched and reviewed [REC] and while the main gist of the story and some of the bigger sequences still stick out, a lot of the movie is a total wash from my brain. Apparently, there was a religion angle in the first that I would have loved to have the faintest recollection of in watching [REC] 2. At the very least, the first twenty minutes would not have been so jarring.

Just like the original (and its remake Quarantine), [REC] 2 takes place inside an apartment building somewhere in Spain with this installment kicking into gear almost immediately after the first ends. The first wave of responders inside the building have not been heard from. A group of SWAT members are called in to escort a doctor inside to check the status. Let’s just say that things turn pretty bad quickly. Considering that they are going into a building filled with zombies/infected/whatever, this should not be surprising. What is surprising rather, is how quickly the sequel turns the original on its head. I would rather say “betrays the original” but that has a negative connotation that I don’t wish to imply.

I spoke of this on our latest podcast but “found footage” movies typically engage me in the story much more than traditional narratives. Except Diary of the Dead; I have to throw that caveat in there. For nothing else, seeing unrecognizable people in a pretty horrifying situation is more akin to seeing something unfold right outside your door than watching a movie. This film was no different. Given that it is a sequel literally starting from the end of its predecessor, there is really no build-up to the threat since it is assumed that we already know what is at stake. While this does not do some of the one-dimensional characters any good, it makes for an intense film since only a few minutes are spent with the characters not directly in harm’s way.

Well, intense except for the jarring halfway point of the movie in which I swear directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza were trying to emulate Romero’s disastrous found footage zombie-a-thon. In reading some other reviews, I suppose I understand the point to break away from the established characters but it did not work well in the context of the film. Again, without giving too much, the movie shifts from the SWAT group to a couple of kids and a fireman who break into the building. It is all well and good until the second group (in fairness, not really knowing what is going on inside) basically broadcasts their desire to be a zombie/infected/whatever buffet. They are stupid and worthless characters and really do nothing to help the story other than upping the victim potential.

While I was baffled at the direction the story took, it is done well to expand upon the original without resorting to just different people in the same situation. I question the worth of having a SWAT member exist solely to hold a camera and film the events but it has a good enough reason. Most everything else in the film is engrossing, especially with the various twists shown in the brief 80-odd minute runtime. It would seem that Spain has no shortage of talented actors that I haven’t seen before so that should bode well for the upcoming [REC] 3 and 4 even if (judging from this film’s release) we won’t see them for some time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Random Movie: Asylum Seekers (2009)

Written by: PBF

Rania Ajami’s Asylum Seekers will arrive on DVD on August 30th. There is really only one way to describe this film: batshit crazy.

The simple synopsis of the film is as follows: 6 people who can be categorized as insane for some reason or another, seek asylum (ha) from the outside world that is ever increasing it’s focus on excess and more more more. They arrive at a mental health facility that is very lavish and promises to take care of their every need. However, so popular is this facility, there is only one bed left. Much like an Ivy League college, this facility will only accept the best of the best insane people. So how do you declare the best of the best? Why, have a competition of course. What ensues is a brightly colored, blatant parody of several things, including American Idol and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I will tell you this. This film is ambitious, well acted and even well directed. However. The film sucks.

The film loses itself in its own insanity. So much so, that it goes from entertaining absurdism, to complete boring nonsense. I felt like the film had a point to make, but got so caught up in being nuts, that the point was abandoned being no longer relevant.

What pisses me off, is that there are some really decent performances. Daniel Irizarry is especially great as Dr. Raby, one of the potential patients. And the high level, over the top approach worked for a while, but then it just went too far and became almost unwatchable because it was too random. Even absurdism has a template it operates within. This where the similarities to Rocky Horror lie. Just, incredible, super over the top, gather a crowd and make your own dialogue foolishness.

That really is the film’s only fault. But it is a huge fault. Visually it is quite stunning and pleasing. The humor is more hit than miss. All of the actors are really absorbed into their roles. But, once it unravels, you lose the journey. It’s like an acid trip. You are in the moment, and have no idea what the hell happened 5 minutes ago. I get that this was probably done to simulate insanity for the viewer, but it was not successful.

Ultimately, it is a brave effort and I can say that it is worth a viewing. It is definitely entertaining and better than a lot of indie pics that are out there. Having the attention span of a ferret on crack will probably help.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mini Scum: Quarantine (2008)

I was a bad horror fan when I saw Quarantine before [REC] since the latter was not yet available commercially. This remake is the same tale of some unlucky folks including a reporter and her cameraman trapped inside an apartment building with an rampant zombie problem. It might not be a fair comparison but Quarantine does not succeed to the level that [REC] does. The characters are nowhere as defined, the pacing trudges along, and even the scares are much more easily spotted in this film. It fails as a "found footage" film since almost every actor is recognizable in some way or another. There are much worse things to see since this does not blatantly insult you. But, you'd be better off with the original as long as subtitled movies aren't a turn-off.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Random Movie: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Considering that this seems to be the summer of superheroes and 3D turds, it was nice to hear that Jon Favreau was making an honest-to-goodness summer blockbuster with real actors (no Shia here!) and no fancy extra-dimensional trickery. Yet, I was sad to hear that many of the advance reviews of Cowboys & Aliens were largely negative. I didn’t read any of them but I can see where they probably are coming from. It’s not as good as I hoped but it was enjoyable enough. At least 66% of it was.

The late 1800s must have been a terribly interesting time what with the recent conclusion of the Civil War, a burgeoning industrial nation threatening the traditional old-timey towns, and of course those greedy, gold-seeking aliens who snatch up unwilling science project participants. But no air conditioning. That’s a deal breaker for me. When Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere, he doesn’t seem fazed by the lack of air conditioning, or even his lack of memory. After dispatching a few guys and acquiring a dog, he meanders into town where he is stitched up by the preacher (Clancy Brown), accosts the local entitled douchebag, and is arrested by the Sheriff for outstanding warrants of mayhem and murder.

Jake even has a history with the local douchebag’s father, and grizzled businessman, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who is still peeved that Jake ran off with something of minor interest: a booty of gold. As Jake and douchebag are loaded up for transport to the federal marshals, flying alien craft invade the town, blowing stuff up, and snatching up poor hardworking townsfolk. Jake manages to take down one of vessels courtesy of an technologically anachronistic bracelet attached to his wrist, causing the other craft to retreat. Jake, Dolarhyde, the preacher, and Sam Rockwell then set off in pursuit of the aliens to free their people.

Considering that there are no less than five credited screenwriters plus an additional screen story credit, Cowboys & Aliens could easily have been an awful mess, not unlike another based-on-a-comic western from last summer. That’s Jonah Hex in case you were wondering. But the majority of the story is pretty good, especially at the beginning as Jake and the townsfolk are scrambling to understand what the hell is going on. As everything unfolds, we get a good look at this lowly town just trying to scrap by and the people that inhabit it. Most summer movies (hell, a lot of movies period) skip any sort of characterization but we get that in spades here. It is nice to actually be able to connect with a character before they are carted off to the mothership or killed.

It is unfortunate, however, that the rest of the movie did not feel as real as the characters. Surely, no one can argue that Favreau is an incompetent director and he shows here that he has the skills to create some tense and exciting sequences such as when the band of townies run across Jake’s old gang or the remaining Apache tribe in the area. But, the fact that CG is used entirely for the aliens is disappointing. I can understand for practical purposes, a CG flying craft is much easier than a practical one. But that the aliens are entirely CG is almost inexcusable, especially for a movie that is almost positioned as the anti-2011 summer movie. The design of the aliens is a bother since they really have no defining characteristics except for their bizarre physiology. Their motive is questionable as well but that is all but called out by Olivia Wilde’s character.

The real problem begins once the human characters launch their assault on their aliens. Everything up to then is solid, if not spectacular. But the final act of the movie pulls out the cliché checklist and follows it to a T especially when it comes to the payoff to poorly written character moments, hero moments from previously less than heroic characters, and the conclusion of character arcs you can see from a mile away. For me, this was not enough to destroy the excitement up until that point, but it is a bad ending tacked onto an otherwise good film.

It’s a shame though that the film did not deliver on its promise all around. The cinematography was beautiful (in fairness, a lot of westerns are), the music by Harry Gregson-Williams was appropriate (more than I can say for that Mastadon BS from Hex), and the characters were fleshed out so you actually give a damn about them. Favreau has done well for himself with the Iron Man series and C&A proves that he can branch out successfully. Just leave the written-by-committee at home next time.