Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What the Fux?

I had a coupon. That's my excuse for going to see Jonah Hex. I had a coupon good for movies that weren't marked NO PASSES and the only movie like that I hadn't seen was Jonah Hex. As for the million or so people who actually paid to see it, I have no idea what their excuse is and you should ask them. It only scored 12% on the Tomatometer but I thought, "Hell, I've disagreed with other critics before. Maybe this will at least turn out to be OK." I was wrong on a level of wrongness normally only scored by people who say that 2+2=5.

The titular character (Josh Brolin) fought for the Confederacy before changing sides after his commander, General Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), goes crazy and starts burning up hospitals and such. Turnbull is understandably hostile toward anyone who gets between him and the brutal slaughter of innocents so he hunts Hex down after the war and makes him watch while he kills Hex's family and burns Hex's face with a branding iron. Hex almost dies but is nursed back to health by some Indians who, as far as I can tell, have a cure for death. The practical upshot of something like that is that he now has the power to raise the dead but only as long as he touches them and even then they slowly burn up until he lets them go and they die again. So, not a bad premise. I've been waiting my whole life for the Western to make a comeback. It never quite seems to and now, thanks to Jonah Hex, it won't be starting anytime soon.

His life experiences have made Hex the kind of guy who doesn't exactly embrace the child within and start spreading peace and love. Instead, he becomes a ruthless bounty hunter who usually has to not only shoot bad guys to get his bounty but also has to shoot the "good" guys who don't want to pay him. The only person he kind of likes is a prostitute played by Megan Fox. It's never explained why he likes her but I suspect it's either a shared love of Chaucer or a mutual appreciation of fine wine. Whatever the reason, she is so turned on by the mean, vicious, uncouth man with the deformed face who'd kill you as soon as look at you that she offers to give up her whoring ways and raise little freaks with him. I guess he figured he'd hold out for somebody hotter and says no but that's when a platoon of Union soldiers burst into the room to inform him that Turnbull is alive and would Hex have any interest in hunting him down. I won't spoil the movie by giving you his answer.

From there, the movie makes little sense. Each side has numerous opportunities to kill the other at various points in the film but screw them up either by allowing their enemies to see them before they pull the trigger, launching into some dumb speech or just saying, "Nah, don't kill him," and allowing the opponent time to escape. Oh, did I mention that, since the Civil War, Turnbull has become a terrorist who has acquired the very first WMD? Why are you laughing? I'm not making that up. Go see the movie yourself and prove me wro...no, don't do that.

No one is more surprised than I am that director Jimmy Hayward, a guy whose sole directing credit is Horton Hears A Who, would be unable to pull off a violent Western based on what I always thought was a slightly below average comic book. The acting's all right, I guess. Megan Fox shows untapped talents and actually makes you believe that guys would pay to have sex with her. Brolin is suitably stoic and Malkovich displays his usual capacity for creepiness but they're all drowned out by the nonsense going on around them. I heard they did significant reshoots but I would swear that they said, "Screw it," and decided to mix together old scenes that should have been deleted with the new stuff. Oddly, despite the lack of unused footage, the movie was a merciful 81 minutes. It just seemed longer. At least they left room for a sequel.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Follow The Day And Reach For The Sun

Makers of bad movies often try to shield themselves from criticism by telling critics, "Don't be such a tightass. This is supposed to be fun." Last year's Transformers 2 is a good example of this. We were all told to ignore the incomprehensible plot, the somewhat racist robots, the dull and inconsistent characters, the stupid dialogue and ADD inducing editing because it was all done in the name of fun. On the other hand, some movies actually are fun and don't need to trumpet this fact to defend their quality because fun movies are, by definition, good movies. Knight and Day is a fun movie because it has likable characters who do and say interesting things. It's not realistic but it's not supposed to be and it makes up for that in entertaining ways so I didn't mind when the lead character drove his motorcycle into the air at a speed of around 50 MPH and managed to land on the hood of a moving car from a height of about 30 feet without breaking several bones or even getting scratched.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz play Roy Miller and June Havens, two who get together through a stroke of fate and stay together because they look like Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Roy sees June walking in an airport and "accidentally" runs into her a few times where she discovers that "coincidentally" they are on the same flight. As the two hottest people on the plane, they're obligated to start flirting while Roy takes note of the menacing looks he's getting from the few other passengers on the plane. When June goes into the restroom to beautify herself so she can look good while acting like she wouldn't have Roy's baby right then, Roy enters into a life and death struggle with every other person on the plane, including the flight crew. Life and death is the proper term as June discovers when Roy, calm and charming as always, informs her that they are the only two people left alive on the plane and that they are about to crash.

From there we move from Boston to the Caribbean to the Alps to Paris as Roy and June try to outrun both ruthless gangsters and Roy's murderous ex-CIA partner who all want some sort of new super battery in Roy's possession. The partner tries to convince June that he's actually the good guy and that Roy is an agent who's gone rogue but the partner has the misfortune of being played by Peter Sarsgaard, a guy who always plays villains in big budget Hollywood films, so we know he's lying.

One particularly entertaining sequence occurs when Roy drugs June. She drifts in and out of consciousness for the next 18 hours, waking up for brief periods in order to acknowledge both the various horrific situations that they're in and the brilliant rescues made possible by a highly competent CIA agent whose fate is controlled by screenwriters who are on his side. When June wakes up, they're on a tropical island that has served for many years as the one place no one can find Roy. She's righteously pissed when she finds herself wearing a bikini, something she wasn't wearing when she passed out, and doesn't seem pacified by Roy's explanation that spy skills are so elite that he was able to strip her naked and dress her in a swimsuit without seeing anything though he fails to say if he felt anything. Still, June couldn't have been that upset as she almost makes out with him five minutes later, an act only interrupted when the bad guys track them down.

The movie is entertaining when it's the cute and charming characters being cute and charming and falls apart somewhat when the big CGI action sequences kick in. Gratuitous CGI really annoys me. It's usually easy to spot like in the scene where Roy and June are on a motorcycle and miraculously drive between two oncoming trains. Movies like the Bourne films or, more recently, the Jackie Chan update of The Karate Kid show how entertaining the art of cinema can be when you show real people in real places doing real things whereas movies like Transformers and The A-Team show his dull, distracting and lifeless movies can be when all the good stuff takes place inside a computer.

Still, I don't see this trend ending anytime soon and Knight and Day is good when the characters aren't going up against computer generated photons so I'll take what I can get and recommend Knight and Day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bizarro World Movie Reviews -- Grown Ups

Last week, we all were lucky to have lived long enough to see not the one of the best movies of the week, not one of the best movies of the year, but possibly one of the best movies of all time. I'm talking, of course, about Jonah Hex. This movie broke down so many barriers and set so many new standards that it seems unjust to classify it as a mere movie. This time last week, I would have thought Jonah Hex to be a sure lock to sweep next year's Oscars and to achieve box office success that would make the grosses on Avatar look like some straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel. But that was last week and, since then, a miracle happened. A movie has come out that has caused Jonah Hex to fade from memory to such a point that I find it hard to remember a single scene and I saw it four times. This new movie...no...this new modern classic is the comedy Grown Ups.

Directing legend Dennis Dugan, whose previous efforts like You Don't Mess With The Zohan and I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry have caused him to be mentioned in the same breath of talents like John Ford and Orson Welles, has done it again. This avant-garde innovation definitely has the Duganesque flair for seamlessly blending and balancing comedy with real word pathos in order to create something exceedingly unique and yet as comforting as something you've seen in hundreds of low brow comedies.

As John Ford worked again and again with John Wayne and James Stewart, Dugan once again teams with people like Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. Whatever you want to say about those two, you have to admit that movies have been made and that they've been in a few.

Grown Ups centers on five men who were friends when they were twelve and reunite in their 40s. The joys of childhood are now a distant memory buried under the drudgery of kids, mortgages and other adult concerns. I won't tell you if the movie has a happy ending in which they reform the bonds of friendship that made them so close in their younger years while also recapturing the joy of youth and the sense of wonder that makes being a kid so joyful. If I told you that happened, it would be a major spoiler so I will not tell you if a major Hollywood studio's comedy designed to appeal to mass audiences has what could be called a predictable ending.

I would like to discuss what will be regarded in years to come as one of the great moments of cinema in the same way that Casabalanca's "Play it, Sam" scene and Harry Lime's Ferris Wheel speech from The Third Man are. There's a scene in which the five childhood friends are all in a pool when one of their daughters points out they put a chemical in the water that turns urine blue. The father says that this is just an old wives tale. After this, the five friends give each other wry grins and knowing looks as blue clouds begin to form around their bodies. I actually wept when I saw this. I wept at the idea of grown men recapturing the joy and wonder of their youth. I wept at the rejection of societal norms and the embrace of individuality. I wept at the sheer love of life and all it has to offer symbolized by the piss filled pool.

Go see Grown Ups today then see it again and again. Let it change the way you look at things as it surrounds like a Blue Cloud of Freedom.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 6/24/10

Today's Thursday. The good news is tomorrow's Friday. The even gooder news is that you now get to read another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

The answer to this question is no. I believe the answer lies in prejudice against animated films by way too much of the Academy. Animated films, no matter how good, just aren't regarded as serious fare. You could animate Shoah and it wouldn't get nominated for Best Picture. On a related matter, all you animators may as well pack up your brushes/computers and go home, at least as far as awards go. Pixar's going to win Best Animated Film if for no other reason than that the award was created so Pixar could win it.

Speaking of Oscars, the telecast next year may move up to as early as January. As Roger Ebert said, this is mainly to get people to go see the nominated movies, most of which come out late in the year and are still in theaters in January. I don't mind that. The Hurt Locker could have really used the business and who knows, maybe Avatar would have made $3 billion instead of just two.

Only one more week till another one of those damn Twilight movies comes out. I, of course, must do my duty as a critic and go see it. I wasn't able to see Toy Story 3 until today but I bet I'll be fully available to see Eclipse on opening day. Great.

Speaking of shitty movies, it's a hell of an accomplishment to score a zero percent (as of this writing) on the Tomatometer but Grown-Ups managed to pull it off. Even if it shoots up to, say, 3%, the fact that it once achieved a perfect zero is still something to brag about since they certainly can't brag about the movie itself. This, by the way, pretty much screams for a Bizarro World Review but, then again, so will Eclipse. should I do them both? Decisions, decisions.

Big Hollywood's Darin Miller asks why Lady Gaga's new video is so, "pointlessly provocative." The answer to that is that it's not pointlessly provocative. It most certainly does have a point. The point is that Lady Gaga's fans like it when she gets weird, sexy and gross and will buy more of her songs when she makes weird, sexy and gross videos like Alejandro. By the way, videos having nothing to do with the song is as old as the music video. If Alejandro threw you for a loop, don't ever watch this as your brain will run screaming out of your head.

Taste is relative. It's possible to hate Citizen Kane while fully embracing Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. That being said, the guy who trashed Toy Story 3 while saying this about Jonah Hex...
So, although Jonah Hex doesn’t effervesce like Neveldine & Taylor’s own avant-garde innovations, Crank and Crank: High Voltage, Hayward yet makes it pell-mell; it’s still got N&T’s anarchic spirit. That alone makes Jonah Hex the best movie to open this week—easily overshadowing Toy Story 3.
...is a dumbass. Honestly, that Jonah Hex review is something I would have written as a joke.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sunday Night Bites

For some reason, ABC thought it would be a good idea to put its mediocre vampire show on the same night that HBO premiers new episodes of its excellent vampire show. This invites comparisons and I am never one to turn down an invitation which isn't at all true but let's move on anyway.

The Gates isn't actually a vampire show. Oh sure, there are vampires but there are also werewolves and witches. Maybe they thought, "True Blood is about vampires. If we toss in werewolves and witches, that means we'll be three times as good as they are." Even if I wasn't being facetious and they'd actually said that, True Blood had a witch last season and werewolves this season and their werewolves are already far more interesting than the boy band wolf pack in The Gates.

The pilot episode opens in a large gated community called, of course, the Gates. Rhona Mitra (the only actor in this show I recognize) plays Claire Radcliff, a housewife who sees her daughter almost get mowed down when she runs out in front of a contractor's pickup truck. The driver has the poor judgment to allow Claire to nurse the cuts he received in the accident as it turns out she's a vampire who kills the guy in a fit of bloodlust. We find out later that Claire is a stereotypical suburban housewife who is bored with her life but she deals with that by brutally murdering people instead of seducing 18 year old pool boys named Arturo. Oddly, she seems to have a conscience and contempt for her unnatural existence whereas her vampire husband, who murders no one, does not.

We also meet the Monohan family, people who pulled up stakes and moved to the Gates without ever visiting it when Daddy Monohan, a guy named Nick, took a job as police chief. Mom gets to know their new neighbor Claire when she brings over a lasagna. Nick gets to know Claire when he investigates her for the disappearance of the contractor. Nick shows us all he's completely unqualified for the job when, after his request for a search warrant is rejected, he breaks into the Radcliff home anyway and manages to get caught.

Meanwhile, the Monahan's eldest child, Charlie, enters the local high school and immediately shows us that he's one of those guys who is good looking enough to get any girl he wants but also sensitive and intelligent enough to immediately join in his literature class's discussion on the works of Flannery O'Connor. In a show about vampires and werewolves, Charlie is the least likely of any of these characters to actually exist.

Speaking of werewolves, it turns out every jocky douchenozzle boy in school is part of a werewolf pack. The Gates also has not one but two witches living in it, one of whom sells tea...BUT IT'S EVIL TEA and no, I didn't make that up. It seems that the philosophy behind establishing the Gates was, "Let's get all the dangerous supernatural creatures together in one spot. What could possibly go wrong?"

The Gates, sadly, was as dull in real life as its characters perceived it to be in the show. It wasn't all that bad but why would I watch this when I can watch True Blood? "But Mike," you say, "you have DVR now. You can watch both." Okay then, why would I watch The Gates when I could stare at a wall and be more entertained? No snappy comeback for that, eh Mr. Strawman?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not At All Revolting

A stomach bug kept me home all weekend which meant no Toy Story 3 which is a shame because it's turning out to be one of the bestest movies ever, if the reviews are to be believed. Of course, this did present an opportunity to catch up on DVDs which means I can now review a movie I missed when it first came out in theaters, that being Youth In Revolt.

The movie was written and directed by people who had previously written and directed movies that even their moms didn't see. Luckily, they managed to get Michael Cera to play the Michael Cera role. The Michael Cera role is a witty, intelligent passive aggressive social misfit who can't get laid. Thing about Michael Cera is that he's talented and likable and you can believe it when pretty girls eventually lunge mouth first for his crotch. If you don't get Michael Cera to play the Michael Cera role, the results can be disastrous as we saw recently when they tried to cast Jay Baruchel in that role for the movie She's Out Of My League.

The Michael Cera role this time around is a 16 year old guy named Nick Twisp who lives with his mother and her loser boyfriend (Jean Smart and Zach Galifianakis) in Berkley, CA. If Nick is lucky, he is invisible to girls because they subtly ridicule when they know he's there. When the boyfriend cheats some sailors in a business dealer and takes off with Nick and his mom to hide out at a camping ground for a while, Nick goes along not realizing that this is actually a lucky break for him. At the trailer park, Nick meets Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) who turns out to be the girl of his dreams. Like just about every girl who ends up with Michael Cera, she's pretty, smart, wise, sophisticated, sexually aggressive without being slutty and, despite her youth, already a little world weary and generally bored with life. She's the kind of girl who matter-of-factly mentions that rubbing lotion on her bikini clad body has given Nick an erection but doesn't yell, "Ew, gross," as every other girl in Nick's life almost surely would in the same situation. In other words, she's a girl that has never existed ever in the history of anything. Despite the fact that she has a boyfriend (sort of, anyway) Sheeni does have a fling with Nick and he becomes focused on her when hers become the first breasts he's ever felt.

Sheeni is attracted to bad boys and aggressive figures which pretty much rules out Nick so he creates another fully functioning personality for himself named Francois Dillinger. You actually see Francois as a mustached, smoking version of Nick. Also, unlike Nick, Francois is not a passive/aggressive douchebag. I think it actually works when Nick basically goes outside his body to watch his fearless creation at work. Sheeni lives near his father (Steve Buscemi) but his mom won't let him move there so Francois comes up with the idea of causing $5 million worth of damages by ramming his car into a building so that Mom thinks sending him to live with Dad is now her idea.

The movie's pretty good up to this point but begins to break down when Sheeni is sent to a French speaking boarding school. I don't want to reveal too much more of the plot but Nick/Francois does something really bad to Sheeni, something that she shouldn't be able to forgive yet does because, well, it's a movie and everyone would be depressed if they didn't end up together in the end.

Youth In Revolt is a flawed but still somewhat entertaining film about unrealistic characters doing things that would never happen but if I rejected every movie like that, I'd never enjoy a movie again.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Try as I might, I just can't decide which movie to see this weekend. My choices among new major releases are Jonah Hex and Toy Story 3. Let's compare the two.
  • As of this writing, Toy Story 3 enjoys a 100% critics rating on Rottentomatoes.com. Jonah Hex has, um, let's see, 0%. Huh. That's quite a contrast. 100% is good, I guess, and I suppose 0% is bad but I don't do something just because the Man tells me to. After all, critics also hated New Moon, Sex and the City 2 and the Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl comedy Killers and look how awesome those movies turned out. Critics have also used phrases like "Masterpiece" and "Perfection" to describe Toy Story 3 while using words like "AAAAHHHH" and "Dear sweet merciful God, what have we, your humble servants, done to offend thee so that you have blighted our existences with this movie?" to describe Jonah Hex. I don't know. Surely a large corporation like a movie studio wouldn't have wasted millions of dollars of its company's money on a truly horrible film, right?
  • Toy Story 3 is 92 minutes whereas Jonah Hex is only 81 minutes. This could mean that the quality of Jonah Hex was so pure that the producers felt the audience couldn't handle more than 81 minutes of it. It's sort of like what happens when the drugs you inject are too pure. Another point for Jonah Hex.
  • Toy Story 3 is the culmination of a beloved and successful series of films and was made by a company that's always named not only as the finest makers of animated films but as some of the best filmmakers period. Jonah Hex is based on what I always felt was a mediocre comic book and is being released by Warner Brothers, the same studio that made Cirque du Freak, 2012 and Bride Wars. I could name several examples in which a movie surpassed its source material such as Jaws and, well, Jaws. As for the studios, Pixar is due for a complete bomb whereas Warner Brothers is bound to see it's unlucky streak end. If not this, it will probably be the live action Yogi Bear movie coming out this Christmas or Cats and Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore.
  • Jonah Hex has Megan Fox as a provocatively dressed prostitute. If the film is as unsuccessful as its projections say it will be, the theater will be mostly empty and I'll have plenty of places to jack off in peace. It's starting to look more and more like Jonah Hex.
  • Godawfully bad movies are a chore to watch but a blast to tear apart in reviews. Outstanding movies, on the other hand, can be so boring to write. I actually have to be respectful and insightful as opposed to exacting sweet revenge on a piece of sheer stupidity like I can with a bad movie. I just have to determine now which one is most likely to be a bad movie.
  • Toy Story 3 is in 3D. I seriously dislike 3D. It's like a piece of gristle in a fine piece of steak except that in 3D, the gristle jumps out of the steak and into your face for shock value. I haven't heard any complaints about the use of 3D in Toy Story 3 but that could mean I've suffered a head injury recently and forgot about them. Maybe it's better not to take the chance.
So, I'm kind of leaning toward Jonah Hex if only to tell my grandkids about it. I'll have to tell them about it cause there's no way in hell they will want to watch it. I just hope they aren't putting in the DVD of Toy Story 3 when I'm trying to tell them about Jonah Hex.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 6/17/10

Oh Lord, is it Thursday already? Pretty soon I'll be forced to stop working and take the weekend off. I suppose I can console myself by doing another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

The 50th anniversary of Psycho was this week. That's a movie that still holds up today in terms of entertainment value, an opinion shared by most fans of quality films and not shared by those who think old time black and white movies are gay. I feel sorry for people who've never seen it as they probably already know the surprise ending. The same is true for new viewers of The Usual Suspects, The Empire Strikes Back and The Sixth Sense. If you're looking for decent surprise endings that aren't widely know, you can try Shutter Island or Vanilla Sky. If you're looking for a movie that's pretty damn good whether you know what's coming or not, though, I can still recommend Psycho.

I am not Not NOT looking forward to this upcoming Wizard of Oz prequel. The fact that it will be directed by Sam Raimi and have Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character does nothing to ease my belief that this is one of the most unnecessary movie ideas in history. There are approximately one bazillion Oz books, some of which even surpass Wizard of Oz in quality, that would make wonderful movies. I'm honestly wondering if anyone involved with this project even knows that.

I'd suspect that the non-release of the Red Dawn remake has less to do with any sort of liberal conspiracy and more to do with the fact that it's one of those movies that turned out so horribly that the studio now has no idea what to do with it. I base this opinion on the fact that it has a stupid plot and that the 1980s original was mind numbingly idiotic.

Speaking of mind numbingly idiotic, looks like a movie version of Atlas Shrugged will finally be made. If you're neither a Ayn Rand worshiper, a woman who herself worshiped a serial killer, or some poor sap who was forced to read this damn thing in school, it's the story of a guy named John Galt who's tired of watching the world's elite industrialists get pushed around and convinces them to go on strike, an act that devastates the planet. Love this book or hate it, I think most people would probably admit that it's what's known as unfilmable. Still, I'm sure if anyone could get this whipped together into something entertaining, it's an inexperienced director working with a $5 million budget and one of the actors from One Tree Hill. Writing all this reminded me that, a few years ago, there were plans to go all out with this project and the producers had even managed to snag Angelina Jolie for the leading role of Dagny Taggart. I guess they decided Angelina didn't have what it took and decided to go with an unknown from the now-canceled show Mercy instead.

On a final note, I will leave you with what may be the stupidest fucking idea for a disaster movie in the history of fucking stupid disaster movie ideas. I'm shocked that Uwe Boll had nothing to do with this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


So...The A-Team is out. Did you all know that? Oh right, massive marketing campaign and all. Was probably tough to miss. So, anyway, it's out. That's really the best thing you can say about it.

The A-Team is the kind of movie whose defenders tend to scold critics who make fun of its plot. The reason they do this is because those critics rightly point out that it has a stupid plot. The only way to justify a stupid plot is to have action scenes so incredible, jokes so funny and characters so cool that they make you forget the fact that what you're seeing defies not only common sense but several scientific laws. The A-Team does have its moments and is better than I thought it would be but it also has stupid moments that almost always involve poor quality CGI and thus it gets the grade I gave it in the title.

The opening scenes are pretty good. It's an extended "Who they are and how they came to be" sequence in which Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) and B.A. Barracus (Quinton Jackson), two Army Rangers, just happen to meet in the middle of the Mexican desert while Hannibal is on his way to rescue his comrade, Faceman (Brad Cooper) who got caught having sex with the wife of a corrupt Mexican general. Thanks to incredible luck and coincidence that was all supposedly part of Hannibal's master plan, they hook up with a clinically insane pilot named Mad Dog Murdock (District 9 actor Sharlto Copley) and manage to lure the general into U.S. airspace. They're so successful that they remain an elite ranger unit for the next eight years in which they gain a reputation as fearless patriots, a reputation that is promptly ignored when they get framed for stealing some plates that can be used to print counterfeit $100 bills and for the murder of their commanding general. They then escape prison to prove their innocence.

So far, so good. I've seen humor, action and likable characters as well as a trademark from the TV show in which they cobble together they heavily armored gear they'll need to complete their mission. They even tossed in Jessica Biel as Faceman's ex though the movie is criminally lacking in any gratuitous underwear or shower scenes of her. The movie starts to fall apart during the last half which is chock full of really bad CGI scenes. I talked yesterday about how much I loved The Karate Kid's decision to actually shoot in China instead of having Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan stand in front of a green screen in Burbank and saying, "Ooh lookie, the Great Wall sure is big." The last half of The A-Team, however, is mostly shot inside some guy's Macintosh and it looks it.

The A-Team is all right, I guess. It's neither wonderful nor horrible though it does teach us that we should all pity fools so I suppose it's worth seeing for that reason alone.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Kid Is All Right

It wasn't a particularly smart idea to remake The Karate Kid. It's much loved and well remembered film that falls into the category of "Best movie like Rocky that wasn't Rocky." You may as well remake E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark. No, better strike that. Don't want to give Hollywood any ideas. Handing the project over to the director of Pink Panther 2 and the writer of Transporters 2 & 3 and you just took a bad idea and made it a "Let's throw garbage into the oil leak, surely that will work" idea. All of this was an excellent recipe for a bad movie, except it wasn't. Somehow, in what almost certainly is a sign of Cthulhu's imminent return, The Karate Kid remake was as entertaining as the original movie.

The new film successfully transplanted the story's framework onto a new setting. This time around, a widow and her son move not to Los Angeles but to Beijing, China. Dre Parker (Jaden Smith, son of Ed and Ida Smith of Boise, Idaho) absolutely hates being uprooted from his Detroit home and forced to follow his mother, Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) to her new job in China. The customs and culture are so different though that Dre can't even fully appreciate how unnerving this should be for him because he's mainly focused on being freaked out by the fact that everyone speaks Chinese and he doesn't. Luckily, he meets a fellow American transplant named Harry who offers him some hope of forming a group of friends that may include a pretty Chinese girl named Meiying. Unluckily, Meiying has another potential suitor named Cheng. Cheng shows that there is one way in which China and America come together and that is in their ability to produce vicious and merciless bullies. Dre is no match for Cheng since Cheng is an advanced practitioner of kung fu. Luckily for Dre, his fate is in the hands of filmmakers who make sure that his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han, is played by Jackie Chan.

For various reasons that don't become clear until 2/3 of the way into the movie (unless you've seen the original) Han doesn't want to become involved in Dre's life but feels he must both out of pity for the boy and his disgust at the way the bullies have been taught by their evil teacher, Master Li, to use kung fu not as a method to achieve discipline and learn self defense but as a tool for sadistic violence.

Han copies the first film's Mr. Miyagi's method of teaching martial arts by having someone repetitively do some innocuous chore over the space of several days. I liked Jaden Smith's look of amazement when he discovers that he's learned the basics of kung fu without even realizing he was doing so. I can imagine little kids going home, taking off their coat a few times and thinking that they're now kung fu masters.

The Karate Kid works on various levels but I really loved that they actually filmed the whole thing in China. I love movies about real people going to real places as opposed to actors working on sets that exist only inside some guy's Macintosh. I am dubious of the movie's implied claim that all tourists are kicked out of the Great Wall of China when some kid wants to use it for kung fu training and the movie does sort of deemphasize the whole "oppressive police state" side of China but the movie can, at the very least, serve as a simplistic introduction to Chinese culture.

The Karate Kid is worthy of that name other than the fact that young Dre learns kung fu and not karate. Hopefully they stop here and don't end up where the original series did in Karate Kid 3 in which Ralph Macchio's character, quite seriously, decides to skip college to he can join Mr. Miyagi in running a dilapidated bonsai tree shop in what looks like a part of town that would have zero interest in visiting a bonsai shop though that's not as bad as when he turned into Hilary Swank in the next movie. That horrific possibility aside, enjoy the new version of The Karate Kid.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Open Thread

Use this thread to discuss whatever interests you. I'll be deleting all comments, by the way. I hate open threads.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bizarro World Movie Reviews -- The A-Team

In the 1980s, a television show premiered that was instantly recognized not only as the new standard bearer of broadcast excellence but as a light that led a generation to a level of excellence previously thought to be unattainable. That show was, of course, The A-Team. The story of four wrongly accused soldiers who manage to stay on the run from the law while helping out innocent civilians jump started a stalled nation and showed us all what it was to hope again. When I first heard that The A-Team was being remade as a feature length film, I and, I assume, the rest of the world felt a level of righteous indignation that we all previously felt was impossible. How could the show that defined our lives for so long possibly receive justice on the big screen? I walked into the theater absolutely certain that I would exit it in such a state of blind anger that I may very well burn down not only the multiplex but several city blocks along with it. I doubt I've ever been as shocked as I was by what happened next.

The A-Team movie not only is worthy of bearing that name but actually surpasses the show upon which it was based. I can't even truly enjoy the show anymore. After seeing the movie, the show seems like a stupid, trite, dull, repetitive piece of crap devoid of any and all imagination and entertainment value. That's something no one would have ever said about the show before this new movie came out.

Director Joe Carnahan, who also directed Smokin' Aces which I haven't seen but must be extraordinary if his new work is any indication, has managed not just one but two impossible feats. First, he has made the classic television show into a classic movie. Second, he actually managed to assemble a cast worthy of stepping into what I would have said were the irreplaceable shoes of the original actors. It would, of course, take someone like Liam Neeson, a man who can arguably be called a modern day Olivier, to replace George Peppard who, I'm sure, was also thought of as a modern day Olivier as Hannibal, the team's leader and moral center. Only an actor of Neeson's caliber could make you believe that it's possible to take a Subaru and transform it into a well armored tank/high powered weapon that can easily plow through a fortress guarded by a dozen heavily armed men who were easily distracted by a few firecrackers and didn't even see the damn thing coming. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, scenes like that would seem stupid but Neeson and the rest of the crew perform with such ease, authenticity and almost ethereal confidence that they take something impossible believe and make it seem like you could build your own tank and drive it to the supermarket.

The A-Team is a story of courage, honor and old fashioned American can-do spirit. The lessons it has to teach can be applied to any person in any situation. You can take the insane determination and willingness to do anything that the A-Team had when they were shooting a high powered anti-aircraft gun at fighter jets as they were parachuting out of a destroyed airplane and apply it to things like doing your taxes or cleaning your pool or walking your dog. It really is that simple. The A-Team should be seen multiple times by all people from all walks of life. It is the kind of movie that can bind us together and make us citizens of the world and members of a global family. Hopefully it will spawn numerous sequels and A-Team themed glasses from McDonalds. Drinking from those glasses would truly be like drinking from goblets of wisdom.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 6/10/10

On this day in 1996, one guy called another guy gay on the internet simply because he disagreed with him about a movie. Such a momentous occasion can only be properly recognized with another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

Tomorrow is A-Team day which means we only have to wait one more day for that stupid CGI scene where they're shooting at planes from some sort of parachuting escape hatch thing. They may have made that scene look better than the clip shown in the trailer but I doubt it. This would be worth it to see Dirk Benedict write some crazy article about another of his characters being played by someone else like he did when a woman was cast to play Starbuck but so far, no such luck.

One of the reasons given for Megan Fox being pushed out of the Transformers series is that Michael Bay thought her recent 10 pound weight loss had rendered her too skinny. That, of course, explains why he cast this whale to replace her. (Probably SFW but exercise a bit of caution.)

My answer to this question is no, I do not want a Les Grossman movie. Tom Cruise reminded everyone that the character existed this week when he reprised his Tropic Thunder character during this week's MTV Movie Awards. Cruise is good in the role but it's a character that has to be taken in small doses, a fact proven by the dance number that went on too long. I wouldn't mind seeing the character show up in a supporting role in another movie but to have him be center stage? No way would it work. This will be just like Dana Carvey's Church Lady movie, something he was smart enough never to attempt.

UPDATE 1:30 PM: Once again, Hollywood does the exact opposite of what I advised them to do. I do honestly hope I'm wrong and this this turns out to be the greatest movie ever made and stands forever as the shining pinnacle of Tom Cruise's long and storied career though I am looking forward to getting the DVD cheap in the Wal-Mart bargain bin.

Hey ABC, you have a show called The Gates coming out next week about a gated community run by vampires. When you do a show like this, you say, "This neighborhood is so great that people are dying to get in." Seriously, what the hell is wring with your marketing department? You're welcome.

Speaking of television: TORCHWOOD IS BACK! Not only is it back but John Barrowman as Jack Harkness and Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper are back too. I was sure Eve would get the axe in favor of some 21 year old swimsuit model whose audition consisted of faking an orgasm while screwing a network executive but, no, for once they actually recognized quality and kept her on. Considering the number of character casualties sustained in season 2 and the five hour Children of Earth special, Gwen Cooper better watch her Welsh ass lest she get shot by some sort of alien ass gun. Otherwise, this is nothing but good news.

Depressing thought of the day: I live in a world where there are actually people looking forward to the release of movies like Grown Ups and Eclipse.

Other depressing thought of the day: Right now there's someone who went to film school dreaming of being the next Scorsese or Kurosawa who's going to end up directing Step Up 4.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Smart Stuff On The Idiot Box

It used to be that summer on American television was a vast wasteland consisting almost solely of crap reruns of the crap shows we watched on the only three television networks that existed. Yes, children, there was a time when you literally has only three national commercial broadcasting networks. Those, along with PBS and maybe an independent station that ran I Love Lucy reruns over and over constituted my viewing choices, at least when I was very young. You kids are lucky. You have 1000 digital HD channels that can be DVRed two at a time and it takes much longer to look through all those before you're able to say, "Geez, there's nothing good on."

Ah, but that is where you are wrong, fictional young people. There's a wide selection of shows even in summer time now that range from "AAAAHHHHHHHH" to "Aaaahhhh?" to "Pretty good." Today, I will discuss a few of those.

True Blood -- Not only is this decent non-reality-show content, it's one of my favorite shows. It's worth getting HBO just to watch this. This show centering on a male vampire who falls in love with a human girl serves as an excellent counterpoint to the horrible Twilight series. First, vampire Bill and human Sookie Stackhouse have sex and actually seem to enjoy it as opposed to Edward and Bella who try to teach the world the premarital sex causes vampires to sparkle less brightly. Though they have problems, for the most part Bill and Sookie's relationship is one of mutual love and respect. Edward and Bella, on the other hand, both know that Edward is in charge and that Bella should take it as a compliment that Edward wants to kill her. Anyway, True Blood has plenty of action, humor and interesting characters who actually have some complexity to them and that's why you should watch it. The fact that you can drink shots and scream, "THIS IS HOW YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE IT, STEPHANIE MEYER! SCREW YOU!" is an added bonus.

Leverage / Burn Notice -- I always think of these two as one show for some reason. They're very different in tone, style and content and only have the fact that they both engage in con artistry in common. Still, they're linked in my mind. One possible reason is that each of them has one of the sexiest actresses on TV today (Gina Bellman on Leverage and Gabrielle Anwar on Burn Notice). Another is that they're both well-made action shows about people who are extremely competent at what they do. Another is that they're both basically modern day takes on old fashioned pulp novels. Finally, even though they're on different networks, there's always the possibility that a crossover could occur and Gina and Gabrielle could make out. That reminds me, I have to finish up my short story, "Gina and Gabrielle Have A Threesome With Mike."

The Good Guys -- The pilot episode showed last month and I thought it was, appropriately, good. Not great, not pretty good, just good. Good enough to watch again anyway. As of this writing, the second episode has not premiered yet so all I can say is that the show at least has potential. Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks star as an Odd Couple-pairing of cops whose investigations of petty crimes somehow put them on the trail of major crimes. The first episode started off slowly but really picked up in the last half hour when we met the World's Second Greatest Assassin (that's how he was always described). Anyway, I'm looking forward to this summer's season of The Good Guys unless it sucks in which case I'll completely rewrite this and act like I hated it the whole time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Greek Tragedy

The title may lead you to think I didn't like Get Him To The Greek. Actually, I liked it very much. I came up with the title before I saw the movie and was expecting to hate it. It was just too good a title to pass up, plus it does sort of fit the movie. Kind of.

British comedian Russell Brand reprises his role of wildman rocker Aldous Snow he created in the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jonah Hill was also in that movie playing an embarrassingly hardcore Aldous Snow fan but here he plays Aaron Green, a meek record company intern in the employ of Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), the ruthless and somewhat abusive owner of the record label. In a brainstorming session, Aaron comes up with the idea of Aldous Snow reviving a career that got stuck after his commercially disastrous and somewhat racist album African Child premiered. This was a record in which Aldous envisioned himself as a white African Christ from space so that tells you why the album failed.

Since then, Aldous' longtime girlfriend and mother of his son, Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), herself a famous singer, left him right after she started taking drugs again and managed to get Aldous to do it too which stands as a fine example of why addiction programs tell addicts not to hang around each other. This means that Aaron, assigned with the task of making sure Aldous makes it to the show, must deal not only with a temperamental artist but a temperamental artist made utterly unstable by a raging drug/alcohol habit. And thus, the fun begins though, for Aldous, the fun never really ends.

Get Him To the Greek works not only as a typical Judd Apatow raunch-com nut as an interesting portrait of an addictive personality. Jackie points out that, even during several years of sobriety, Aldous had managed to turn things like sex and yoga into drugs before he finally gave up and went back to actual drugs. Like a lot of addicts, Aldous thinks his experience with addiction is extraordinary in some way when actually it's very typical including the way he tries to rationalize drug use to Aaron. Aldous and Aaron also forge a believable friendship even though Aaron must do things like consume all of Aldous's booze and drugs so Aldous will be sober for an appearance on the Today Show.

One thing I like about movie directed or produced by Judd Apatow is that they are allowed to have more than one or two funny characters. Sean Combs is amazing as Sergio who's not only an intimidating authority figure but can also get down and dirty in the trenches, so to speak, with Aaron as they try to make sure Aldous shows up for his concert. Also, amazingly, Rose Byrne is hilarious as Jackie Q. I say "amazingly" because I can't recall her ever being anything but solemn and serious in anything I've ever seen her do. I'd now love to see her do more comedy.

Get Him To The Greek is a funny and thoughtful film from the beginning right up to when Aaron manages to get Aldous to the Greek. Oh sorry, that was the end. Please insert SPOILER ALERT before that sentence about getting him to the Greek.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pretty Simple Really

A movie came out last Christmas that I really wanted to see but never quite found the time for was It's Complicated, the romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. After watching it today on DVD, I have come to the conclusion that the movie's director, Nancy Meyers, is one of the most amazing filmmakers in the history of the craft. Somehow, she managed to get three major talents to star in a movie that, if I called it mediocre, I'd be paying it a compliment. Also, she somehow managed to get three famous actors who have proven their comedic acting abilities many times over the years and managed to get them to avoid being funny for almost two hours.

I really wonder how this movie looked in script form. Maybe if you're reading it from the page, it's hilarious and it's only after you read it aloud that it sounds boring. I bet no one wanted to admit that such a funny script sounded horrible when they all got together for their first read-through. They probably all thought it was just them.

Baldwin and Streep play Jake and Jane, a California couple who divorced ten years earlier who come together for their son's college graduation in New York. Jake brings his much younger wife (Lake Bell) and Jane brings along her significant other which is no one. They meet up in the hotel bar where they drink, reminisce, drink and then drink some more before ending up back in her room for sex. I want to point otu that what I just described took about 20 minutes of screen time and I didn't laugh once save for a minor chuckle when, after sex, Jake puts his hand on Jane's vagina and says, "Home sweet home."

They go home to California where Jake wants to continue their affair and manages to talk Jane into it. While this is going on, Jane meets Adam (Steve Martin), an architect who's working on her house. They seem to like each other but the timing is inconvenient as Jane has just started an affair with her ex. Meanwhile, Jake's wife is pressuring him to get her pregnant, something Jake, at age 58, really doesn't want to do. About 40 minutes of screen time have elapsed by now and I can count the number of laughs on one hand.

The only scene that really comes to mind as stand-out hilarious was when Jane and Adam smoke a joint together. If you've ever tried to conceal the fact you were stoned or known someone who has, you'll recognize Steve Martin's pitch perfect facial expressions as he tries desperately to keep from breaking down and giggling for no reason. This took up about 12 minutes of screen time and then everything went back to being boring.

This movie wasn't at all complicated. It is plainly and simply boring. The actors try but there's only so much that even this combination of people who have at least been nominated for Oscars. One of them has even won the award twice. In the end, you have to give funny actors funny stuff to do and not think that other Meryl Streep movies like Sophie's Choice and Silkwood had more laughs than this so-called comedy. Actually, now that I think about, Silkwood, a serious drama about the nuclear power industry, probably did have more laughs and that's just sad.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Look At My Briefs -- 6/3/10

As this is the first Thursday of the month, I figured the best way to commemorate this very special Thursday by doing what I do every Thursday. Namely, I will present to you another edition of my brief comments on various subjects I like to call Look At My Briefs.

The new Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigl comedy Killers, coming out tomorrow, so far has a big old N/A as its Tomatometer rating because the studio has not made it available ahead of time to movie critics. This is normally done when a movie studio realizes that they have the cinematic equivalent of the Necronomicon on its hands and they figure that they can get a few rubes to plunk down some bucks before the word on it gets out. Maybe this time it's different. Maybe the movie is so good that studios fear it will set a new standard for movie excellence and will literally rewire the brains of they who see it in a way that will create a better world. If that was the case, they'd want everyone to see it at once and not give critics a sneak peek, right? After all, what are the odds that a romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl could be an unwatchable piece of crap?

I agree that Mission Impossible III was the best entry in that series so I'm not necessarily against another one being made. The fact that it's going to be directed by Incredibles/Iron Giant director Brad Bird sweetens the deal. Of course, with Bird at the helm, I'd feel a lot better if MI4 was an animated movie made by Pixar but I suppose I could say that about any movie.

The trailer for The Last Airbender certainly looks action packed but it doesn't fill me with optimism for the movie itself. I've been watching the original animated series from which the movie was adapted and it's filled with humor and whimsy in addition to the action and serious storyline. The trailer, on the other hand, looks like a very solemn affair. This could be because they decided to concentrate on action in the trailer or it could be that the movie is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker who isn't exactly known as Mr. Haha. His movies always have characters who are clinically depressed and I hope he resisted the urge to do so in Last Airbender. Also, he changed the original name which was Avatar. Why the hell would you do that?

This Big Hollywood review of Sex and the City 2 is one of the more unintentionally hilarious things I've read in a while. John Nolte is a fellow who, in the past, has written articles praising Transformers as a fine example of American values and trashing The Blind Side for a five second Bush joke even though the rest of the movie is probably the most overtly conservative film made in a while. Now that you have a taste of how he thinks, it won't be as much of a surprise when you hear that he absolutely loved Sex and the City 2 not for its quality, intelligence of wit but because it trashed Muslims. He even makes damn sure that he's always hated anything with the name Sex and the City before this and that you know he disapproves of women using their ladyparts for anything but Jesus approved procreative sex. However, because Kim Cattrall's Samantha character gets in trouble for kissing in public in defiance of Abu Dhabi's Islamic laws, Sex and the City 2 is now blessed with Reagan's tears. I can't imagine the kind of mind it takes to write something like this that isn't meant to be satire:
A little later, back in America and with red, white and blue fireworks exploding overhead, Samantha’s getting her brains screwed out on the hood of a jeep as Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) voice-over mentions with no small amount of appreciation, “the land of the free.”

Yes, I get misty eyed just thinking about.
Finally, Get Him to The Greek comes out tomorrow. I hope Jonah Hill manages to get Russell Brand to the Greek. I don't think life will be worth living if he doesn't.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coming Soon

Yesterday was a holiday and, as this was written yesterday, I was left thoroughly uninspired to do much so I figured I'd use my magical wibbly wobbly timey wimey powers to look ahead and see what movies look good as the summer movie season kicks off. The answer? Not a whole hell of a lot. Seriously, Hollywood, do you really think Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider pissing in a pool is the way to get the young 'uns off of Facebook and into the theaters? Amd yeah, Megan Fox is hot but I can Google "Megan Fox" right now and see pictures of her with only her hands covering her boobs so I don't need to plunk down a sawbuck to watch her in Jonah Hex. As for Eclipse, well, yeah, that'll be a hit despite the fact that, judging by my own informal survey, the Twilight franchise is hated by 75% of the population but I guess 25% is all you need. But fear not, there are a few bright spots on the horizon, at least if their trailers are any indication.

First off, we have this brand new trailer for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

Sure, it's approximately the 47th movie in which Michael Cera plays some feckless wimp who can't get laid but decides to go after some sexy, perpetually bored looking girl anyway but it is the first time he's done so in a film based on a best selling graphic novel and under the direction of the guy who made Shaun of the Dead. Shaun wasn't a great movie but it was a great first half of a movie and that at least gives me cause for optimism.

Next up is Inception.

Christopher Nolan directing, Leo DiCaprio acting. How could you go wrong? Well, you can't unless you stop to think that Nolan made The Prestige which sucked and DiCaprio made Blood Diamond which also engaged in the practice of suckage. Still, I have faith that this will work out but I also had faith in The Prestige and Blood Diamond.

And that's it. Hope you had a nice Memorial Day that didn't involve going to see Sex and the City 2.