Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ratings board is a Bully, shoots self in foot

The MPAA has been criticized many times for many things. Like allowing rampant female nudity without an R (or higher) rating while male nudity is a massive taboo. Another is Wes Craven's comment regarding Scream - the Association is more comfortable with a 30-corpse assault rifle killing spree than a man who stalks and stabs his prey (which means, "cartoon violence and big casualties are fine; something like real life is not").

So now we come to a supreme irony: Bully, a documentary about grade-school peer abuse, is receiving an R rating because of the number of curses used by the real-life children on-camera. The amazing thing is not just that this is sheltering children from their real-life peers - it's that this movie might make children think about and respond to this real problem. Or not, I guess.

Alas, all opportunity for learning anything - things that might make them feel less afraid or alone - is lost because... because kids curse too much, and they shouldn't hear or think about all that cursing when it's on a movie screen. They should, I guess, just relish what they get to hear every day.

As I read on AICN last Friday, the Weinsteins appealed the rating and lost by one vote. The producers are now considering withdrawing the pic from the MPAA altogether. What a mess!

You might say that adults can still take their kids to see this picture. But I think we all know that this is a big hurdle for audiences to overcome. And I suspect that schools are prohibited from screening R movies for their students, no matter how much they might learn by watching them. Get a brain, MPAA!

Friday, February 24, 2012

You Shoulda Been a Movie: No One Lives Forever

The Operative: No One Lives Forever is one of the best video games... ever. It was smartly-written with a great sense of humor. It also provided cool, challenging spy missions that take the player steadily from one great sequence to another. The game was a constant surprise with neat weapons, objectives, and locations.

It also features the greatest threat video in human history:

Best global conquest video ever!

The story seems simple, then gets insanely complex. It's the 1960s and you are Cate Archer, a Scottish cat burglar who was befriended by a British secret agent. Cate has abandoned crime, training instead to be an operative. Her first mission is to protect an important American visiting Morocco - she fails and her mentor is killed. Now, Archer must find out who's responsible and discover their agenda.
Henchman: You're not going to kill her? What if she wakes up?
Magnus Armstrong: Now look here, you. I'm not gonna butcher a fellow countryman without a specific grudge. If she wakes up, she can fend for herself. [DISTANT BOOM] If she dies, then she ain't really a Scot, so I won't feel bad. Now go get that Doctor fella and do a final sweep.
That's a-nice meatball, ehh?
This 2000 release was a critical and financial PC hit. Later, it received a solid Mac release and a really poor PS2 port. And in the three years following, there was one wildly successful sequel (NOLF 2), and one spin-off (Contract J.A.C.K.) that bombed in every conceivable way. Only then - like a non-theatrical, electronic Keyser Soze - it vanished.

I can't understand why it didn't spawn a bigger franchise. NOLF was a challenging first-person shooter with a dizzying range of in-game options. The graphics were fine. The jokes were really good. The game makes you feel like a super-spy - the settings, events, and enemies will remind you of the earliest James Bond pictures... Intrigue, deception, German scientists, super-weapons and vengeful KGB spies.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where Eagles Dare... to Blow ---- Up

I have no idea how I never managed to see Where Eagles Dare, the 1968 World War II action pic. I've enjoyed a lot of these genre movies in the past - The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape... I can't say how I overlooked it, only that I watched it and am so happy I did. Since this is a such a famous action film, I can review it differently, run straight through the usual info....

Where Eagles Dare is exciting, intense, and fun. The action sequences are inspired, and have a great use of practical effects combined with miniatures. It's impossible not to be pulled in, whether Burton and Eastwood are sneaking around, stealthily knifing people, or whether they're climbing walls, planting bombs, and engaged in prolonged gun fights. This picture shows do much prep, the mechanics of how the best soldiers tackle nearly-impossible missions; it should qualify as a heist flick.

This film's cast is really down to Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. The film opens with beautiful shots of Bavarian/Austrian mountains, where a plane crashes. Soon, we're in a room with a handful of men. Seven top soldiers, all hand-picked from different units, are being sent deep into Nazi territory to rescue a general who crashed in the beginning sequence.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Star Wars Month Re-review

Fine, I give up. I loved the original series, but I never learned the names of all the random stuff on-screen. And I never thought I'd write so much about any of those films unless new ones were released.

I briefly reviewed the SW prequels a year ago, but it's Star Wars Month, so the latter series is worth a second shot. I will discuss each picture last. As a bonus, I'm also reviewing the SW filmumentaries I recommended earlier, as well as the audio commentary Red Letter Media made for the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace. I'm doing the last part first.

Mr. Plinkett's Phantom Menace Audio Commentary

It's sort of jarring. A 2-hour, 16-minute commentary track represents a lot of time for one person to talk. And it's a performance piece... It's even odder still, considering Red Letter Media's "Mr. Plinkett" character is supposed to be an elderly socio/psychopath who killed his wives, plays mind-games with his cats, and bakes pizza rolls.

This means that part of the commentary is a discussion of the problems with TPM - and, to the creators' credit, it's different criticism than what they used for their earlier Star Wars Prequels reviews. The points aren't nitpicky. They simply highlight the glaring flaws in a movie with barely a line of sensible dialogue.

But the other part of the commentary is a series of random, insane skits where Plinkett babbles on about his retirement home, his dead wives, or whether his cats will get revenge on him. Hell, the guy makes random comments about his fictitious bowel/urinary problems!

Plinkett is a weird and rare comedy routine - the humor is incredibly dry, and the writing works hard to buck your expectations. It's not that the performance is different from Plinkett's earlier material - it's just that there's a lot more of it.

The non-movie material might seem weird or tiresome, but at least (a) some of the jokes are funny and (b) it'a all in character. You, as a listener, just have to be ready to deal with the weirdness. And, in my opinion, it's likely that the commentary track could become tiresome if all it did was talk about the actual movie.

In short, it's funny and strange, but also makes great statements about TPM and its problems.. I recommend you give it a listen, if you can handle it. 

Star Wars Original Trilogy Filmumentaries

These could more accurately be called "composite commentaries." Anyone who's seen a video with pop-up information will understand the basic idea. In this case, there isn't just static information - you'll be shown behind-the-scenes filming of the crew while they set up, or the actors' practice takes, or you'll see the scene but with audio from a table-reading.

The effort put into these, and the results, are exceptional. It's almost a given - because so many people love SW, and because it was so well-documented, there's a lot of information available. This must have given the filmumentaries' creator the tough/easy task of picking the best material to add onto a cut of the original film. All I can say is that the choices were excellent. They were also surprising, yet fair.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who's shilling The Bodyguard?

Please check out AV Club's news post on how Whitney Houston's mediocre The Bodyguard has disappeared from Netflix Instant following the celebrated singer's untimely death. There are quotes from two separate Netflix execs. The first says that the movie was pulled recently because WB is trying to make more money off the DVD; the second says it's not been stream-able for a year.

It's as awful as when Heath Ledger died, if it's true. I'll refrain from further comment.

[UPDATE 2/21/12]
In more Netflix news, they just announced a deal with The Weinstein Company. Some movies owned by the Weinsteins will stream on Netflix before they do any cable channel. Others will be on Netflix Instant exclusively., and not appear on any cable channel at all. Opine as you will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The United States of Cinema

Direct your gratitude now to my friend, the keeper of Wasted Degree, for sending me the image you see below.

It`s clear: only the West Coast is accurate, you can see all of New England is just ME and MA; the artist here (yes, it's art) doesn't try to show every continental state. They don't need to! It's a brilliant idea, nicely executed, and I love the way the font's been played with. Look at that first "t" in Twister!

How cool is that? We shouldn't define ourselves by our films - not anyone, much less my US, which is so over-saturated with movies it's actually kinda pathetic. But I'll always love seeing how these things can inspire us!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vids! Requiem for a Dream in 60 Seconds - by puppets! Karate rap, RotJ filmumentary

Happy belated V-Day, everybody! I have not-thematically appropriate videos to share with you!

They say that brevity is the soul of wit, and I sometimes agree. To that end, we've got 5 great videos to tide you over while you recover from yesterday. The Virgin Radio Fake Film Fest produced a few pleasures, and two of them are here below. First, we've got the hysterical Harry Potter series in 60 seconds:

And then, because it's apparently Star Wars Month, we come to Screenjunkies' "honest trailer" for TPM's 3D re-release. A lot of their added narration is quite funny, tho I don't like people saying that Lucas "ruined the franchise. He just senselessly wasted an opportunity and lied about filming a professionally-written story.

I should also mention that the genius behind the SW and ESB film-umentaries has now also released a similar treatment for Return of the Jedi. Like the other vids in the series, it runs the full length of the movie, so click the "HD" option. It loads more quickly in standard def. Bask in its warming glow!

Monday, February 13, 2012

MRQ XI, the "whatcha watchin" edition

People ask me all the time what I watch. Right now, this is my answer. As with every Movie Review Quickie, I cover 7 films in one go: Red State, Hart's War, BASEketball, [•REC], Escape from New York, Hard Target, and Mortal Kombat: The Movie. Yeah, it's a mixed bag, but it's a sample of my viewing.

Let's take a walk, huh?

Red State

I won't repeat my feelings about Kevin Smith much. I think he's incredibly funny, quick-witted, thoughtful, and intelligent. He has a satirical mind that's down-to-earth and familiar to a Tri-State boy. I was pleasantly surprised by Red State, then, because it was a complete departure from his previous work.

RS is about a group of teens who find, through the web, a woman who'll sleep with them; the unfortunate trio are being trapped by a religious cult under investigation by aggressive government agencies. There is a strong focus on the empowered ecstasy felt by the "wrongful righteous," as I like to call them. It's balanced, however, by time spent on the calculated inhumanity of the agents who might ditch their jobs and settle on a chilling form of justice.

This was not a fun movie to watch (it might be best at a drive-in, actually) because the material was dark and grim, with a deliberate pace. Occasionally, it has an atmosphere straight out of a "torture porn" slasher, but that's just in the sense of dread or distress that builds up at times. The pic is, in fact, a sort of anti-violence PSA.

The cast is very good. I found the sermon scene to be way too long, but it's hard to complain as it's a fine bit of acting by Michael Parks. The plots do not necessarily play out as you would expect. Red State is a good movie. It gets intense, so that might steer you away from it. I'm happy to see some signs of maturity and effort and change from Smith.

Hart's War

This is a technically well-made, low-key war picture that's totally skippable because it's just not "enough" anything. Colin Farrell plays the newest officer to be sent to a German POW camp. He encounters Bruce Willis, the prisoners' leader, and sees the tenuously respectful relationship between the captives and the camp commander.

Soon, a POW is murdered, with the evidence pointing to a black serviceman who'd been bullied. Farrell is assigned as the defense for the prisoners' own court martial, and this has him pushing against everybody. At once, it's A Few Good Man as well as The Great Escape. Or, at least, a much less engaging version of those two.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How is this a Star Wars Winter?

What the hell? I wanted to write about different topics, and now I'm virtually PR. I'm getting as bad as those "yoda-man" ads. Those GD yoda-man ads that gave me a license to feel contempt towards a man way more successful than me on every level.

So, we've got The Phantom Menace: 3D: Rise of the Death of that Series You Liked coming out this week. I already gave a shout out to the fan-made recreation of the original SW - on Jan 30th! And today I've gotta boost even more Star Wars online incredibleness.

Some Internet uploader called "Jambe Davdar" has released The Empire Strikes Back as a super-commentary video. The entire movie plays out, but sometimes you get the audio of a 1980 Carrie Fisher interview, or captions explaining who's in the frame. You might see multiple, alternate takes of the same scene, or a whole section through animatics, or test shots, or off-hours footage.

Since Empire has one of the best soundtracks ever, it's incredibly easy to listen to. But for fans of the film, the chance to hear behind-the-scenes stories is a treasure. It's so cool to watch one of your favorite movies - in a whole new way! - while learning how it was made. This is great.

Thank you, Vimeo, and thank you, Jambe! It gets even better: follow the links to see that Star Wars and Raiders have received the same treatment already.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Question for week of Feb 6-12: Film/TV & Science

Why is science in tv and film so obviously wrong?
At this point, I'm not sure if the problem starts at the top (the US' poor rank in science ed), the bottom (general audiences are too dumb to notice/care), or the middle (show creators/writers are too dumb to notice/care).

Exhibit "Only" is Deadline's article on NBC's latest pilot order, Revolution, which is co-produced by JJ Abrams. Let's read the blurb:
a high-octane action drama following a group of characters struggling to survive and reunite with loved ones in a world where all forms of energy have mysteriously ceased to exist.
This sounds like we may get a TV version that's like many apocalyptic features - Mad Max, Escape from New York , the TV series Jericho , right? Most are set in the future, but since fx and vehicles are expensive (and entertainment requires conflict), they say society collapsed and technology went backwards.

Sadly, a series with "no energy" could never be a high-octane anything. No solar and heat energy means the world would freeze. But before that happened, most of the life on earth would die. For people, we would first "cease to exist" because we'd lack the electric energy that makes our nerves work; we'd all collapse, totally unaware as our bodies peacefully expired.

That show sounds like it would first be really sad, then quite boring. At least it would have a body count like JJ Abrams requires.

Bonus stupid points to the creators here: I can't actually tell if they mean that the whole electrical grid shuts down (no power plugs), that an EMP destroyed all power circuits (no unprotected electronics work), or that all fuel sources stop working (no old planes or cars, either). I hope it's the former; won't people freeze or starve when they can't start fires? Even Hollywood producers should know that fire=energy.

It's a shock to think that a lot of money is being spent on just an idea, especially when it's such a dumb idea right out of the gate...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Diesel sequel confirms old formula

I write a lot here about originality and creativity. If I sound alarmist, look at this bit of news I read on AICN - the press release for Riddick, a new Vin Diesel film:
The infamous Riddick has been left for dead on a sun-scorched planet that appears to be lifeless. Soon, however, he finds himself fighting for survival against alien predators more lethal than any human he's encountered. The only way off is for Riddick to activate an emergency beacon and alert mercenaries who rapidly descend to the planet in search of their bounty.
I already reviewed the first entry. I think the sequel was better (& more creative) but still not too impressive. This whole franchise is skippable, and I'd rather have my time back than have seen them.

No matter what, it's pretty clear that the newest story is a slight rehash of the first picture's story. This franchise started from a basic premise :
  • The lead is Hannibal Lechter as an antihero + NFL player's body + night-vision eyes. 
  • The story is Aliens + stranded on a desert planet that's deadly when at night + a "who's the real bad guy?" psychodrama.
We're up to movie #3 and we're already recycling basic plots!?