Monday, April 30, 2012

Heathers Review - Oh, the humanity!

Football season is over. Kurt and Ram had nothing to offer the school but date rapes and AIDS jokes.
Before my 3-year anniversary, I challenged myself to write 3 reviews per week for 3 weeks in April. It was a lot of work, but it was very fun. I really enjoyed reviewing my choices, and was happy with the results. Of course, I felt I should add one more, for good luck - and review it differently than my other April entries. I never fail, mf.

That was a great decision, since it brought me back full-circle to my first ever review here: Three O'Clock High. TOH is one of the great unknown 80's comedies, a real treasure & personal favorite, always reminding me of Heathers, in many ways. And so everything old is new again.

This clip tells you everything you need to know about Heathers.

Veronica is well-off, and smart enough to do anything. But she has typical teenage problems - she has to make sacrifices for her position in the social hierarchy, like using her brain to help the prettiest girls in school treat everyone like crap. Worse, no one really understands or appreciates her. Then the new kid comes to town.

Christian Slater's JD is like a bleak, modern take on James Dean (initials are no coincidence). He soon establishes himself as a loner/free-thinker who won't respect the clique system. And when he defends a "loser"and two bullies set their sights on him, JD stands up in the cafeteria, pulls out a gun loaded with blanks, and fires twice. It not only sets up his personality, it makes him irresistible to Veronica.

Now our lead, the smartest flunky you ever saw, has someone with whom to share her true feelings and thoughts. Although Veronica isn't slutty, a surprise meeting with JD leads immediately to sex. How will this new-found, perfect romance change life, cliques, and the school itself? Pretty badly, since JD is a depressed sociopath.

Friday, April 27, 2012

300 Review - THIS! IS! STUPID!

In March 2007, I was stoked for Zack Snyder's 300, while the girl I dated was even more excited. And with good reason - it's based on one of the most amazing battles in history, the promotions showed a striking visual style, and the cast had plenty of solid actors. We watched an A&E special on the fight, I got two IMAX tickets far in advance, & she brought two tiny bottles of wine.

The result was "no joy," which was a complete shock. I walked in with basic expectations; my date did the same. I couldn't believe that this insanely-hyped, every-reason-to-work blockbuster was so overdone and  tiresome. We did our part (buying tickets, showing up), only to find the movie wouldn't hold up its end of the bargain.

The problem lies in the story and characters. It's contrived and melodramatic, as well as cliched, cynical, and incredibly simple. Even the director's unique artistic style is excessive to the point of looking like self-mockery.

300 tells the movie version of Frank Miller's comic book adaptation of the real-life Battle at Thermopylae (complex, much?). Always remembered, 300 Spartans picked a perfect natural choke-point, then fought back more than 100,000 troops from Xerxes' near-unstoppable Persian Empire.

And they freaking won. This really happened, with two of the biggest civilizations in 480 BC (so it influenced history), and it's a classic (but actually more complicated) underdog story. This tale should be... just perfect for the screen. C'mon, guys, Zulu.

Unfortunately, since 300 is such a non-story, it doesn't deserve as in-depth a review as I usually give. Let me just highlight two problems:

The characters are paper-thin and unappealing. Anyone knows that Spartans weren't benevolent altruists - they were the toughest soldiers in Antiquity, but also religious extremists who loved slavery. It's not horrible when "the good guys" are historically inaccurate, but loud lines about "democracy" make me call massive bullshit...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Superman Returns Review - Shoulda Stayed Lost, Buddy

I forget things sometimes. I write a whole page describing this site, and yet never mention that I try to cover, once each Season, one of my favorite films. Superman Returns is not one of those films.

Did that trailer look awesome? The film sure wasn't.

A lot of people revile this picture, but I have a genuine flaw to admit: I had no idea that this picture was a re-envisioneerening of everything after Superman II. I thought it would be a complete reboot, or maybe served as Superman VI or whatever; I hadn't seen a trailer, even... You can't be superior with your opinions when you had no idea what was going on until the halfway mark.

Except in this case, in which I'm completely right. The saddest thing, as a guy who likes action films, is that X3 should've been a masterpiece. My excitement factor was high, which tends to be reductivist: X2 was vastly better than its predecessor, so X3 might've given me a heart attack. Instead, Bryan Singer was deleted from the X-Men franchise after he jumped on the chance to create Superman Returns.

This movie, in short, took a Xanax, then went out drinking. Flat, muddled, muted... Somehow, it has none of the fun characters and neat exchanges that Superman did. The 1st and 2nd Superman movies were no masterpieces, but they had some nice moments...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Constantine Review - Con-stant-fusin.... ugh

Something is missing from Constantine. I never read the famous comic that inspired the picture, but I watched this movie and felt I was getting 80% quality to 20% misfire. The film is about a supernatural investigator and demon-hunter, now hired by a cop to find out why her twin killed herself. John Constantine finds himself at the heart of a war between Heaven and Hell.

I really didn't like Keanu Reeves when I was younger. Some have said that his acting is wooden, others have said they find him unattractive. All I can claim is that he often seemed a forced presence in many movies.

I long since got over my Keanu issues by the time I saw 2005's Constantine. I was inclined to give the man a free pass after The Matrix blew me away, and The Devil's Advocate completed my change of opinion. So why did Constantine feel a little off?

I put off this review a few times because is I didn't want to write "I'm not sure," as the answer. Many moments in the movie - the line about cats, the fx, the low-key tone, the action sequences - felt great. I enjoyed most of the twisty plots. I was also very much in love with the performance by the great Tilda Swinton, the nicotine jokes, and Rachel Weisz...

What makes the movie work is obvious: Constantine immediately throws us into a world and shows us how dangerous, dark, complex, and lived-in it all is. Very much like Star Wars and Raiders and other adventure movies, the dialogue doesn't do all the work for the audience, so the exposition seldom feels clunky.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Anniversary! 3 Years, Suckers!

So celebrate! Let's all get in the spirit & queue up this great song while we read:

Or if that track's not your style, start with the tune we should all be able to dance, sing, or watch whenever we like:

The real national treasure.

I love blogger's tags; many stats are right on the homepage. But I needn't look: 3 years, 250-ish posts, over 42,000 hits, 170+ reviews. Site traffic aside, it's roughly what I expected when I began - arrogant? Yes, but I knew I'd work hard. I couldn't predict so much, tho, & I really recall thinking 3 years was the most I could do this for...

But I'll always be a writer. I have a boundless love of art, and talking about and enjoying movies. I'll keep promoting fun videos & legal free film sites, reviewing pictures. I'll keep hoping for the best from the industry, theaters, readers, and other fans. I'll keep being a bit snarky, too.

I told Vance I'd totally steal the clip he covered recently, and I'm proud to put it here. It's glorious, a little horrifying, then glorious again. To his credit, Vance was right about the end shot, bopping stormtroopers, and the galaxy's natural DJ. & it makes a valid point: don't fight, have a dance-off!

I guess you should stop the music above for now.

You can also listen to and (sadly) laugh at Mel Gibson, whose latest recorded rant doesn't involve threatening women or insulting minorities, but who needs to go away and work with a team of therapists. Do the time warp, buddy; it'll perk you up.

Past anniversary posts really went on with promises and recaps. F that now. I`m about to break my records for monthly posts and reviews. I'll have a few fun announcements soon. It's business as usual at the end of Fiscal Q1 for Half a Film student, only it'll be even cooler than before. 'Nuff said.

So instead, here are my 5 favorites from this site in the last year:
You Shoulda Been a Movie: NOLF; it was such fun to describe its appeal and embed those youtube clips...
My What's in a Name post was a labor of love. I don't get analytical much so I don't bore readers, but I did it right. I was happy with the response, too...
Ditto for not seeing Sept. 11th films, and JJ Abrams maybe being a sociopath.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What if Lars Von Trier directed a Donald Duck film?

Wednesday's review pretty much ripped Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves to pieces; it deserved it.

It's amazing timing, then, as an Icelandic troupe has now mocked him by asking the age-old question: What if Lars Von Trier directed a movie about Donald Duck? It's a blast, so please enjoy below, ya'll. [Not safe for work or kids, ya'll.]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Malice Review

I've avoided this review because I knew it would require two entries. How can I recommend a drama/thriller without discussing its strengths? If it has a big twist, how can I avoid spoiling the experience for a new reviewer?

The most impressive thing about Malice is how perfectly it deked anyone who saw the trailer. I won't spoil your viewing experience. I want everyone to be able to see a movie with a blank slate; I just hope you all have the tools to think about a movie instead of simply watching it.

That aside, Malice was a huge surprise because it became a movie that I did not expect it to be. The top-to-bottom quality didn't hurt, either. For one thing, the cast is freakishly-skilled: Bill Pullman, Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin, George C. Scott, and Bebe Neuwirth. A small drama would have to be very expensive to do better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Breaking the Waves Review - Like a Boys Don't Cry Prequel

Great poster. This too.
[Eds. Note - posted a rough draft first by mistake (again), fixed it by 9:35, same day. Sorry!] Lars Von Trier is a weird figure in film. He co-founded an artistic movement, Dogme, a long time ago. He's directed movies that span horror, drama, and scifi. He's also been ostracized for stupid Nazi comments, and repeatedly accused of misogyny.

In the end, a good reviewer deals with the movie by itself, then also deals with the movie in context. Any lit fan-boy can say, "I love X (e.g., Dickens), and any X story is great." Any mindless movie fan can say, "this movie had X cool scene, so it's great." And any fan-boy reviewer can say, "because this story is based on X, it's totally great."

I aim a lot higher than that. I was looking forward to reviewing a more serious movie, for a change.

I didn't know what to expect when I walked into Breaking the Waves. The footage of small-town life - even a Scottish town - was comforting and nicely-done. The entire build and setup of this Danish tale was a great piece of work. But I saw it in the same theater as I saw Boys Don't Cry, and got the same sobbing date result; different girlfriend, same sobbing.

The problem, then, isn't that I left the theater with a crying woman on a Friday night. The problem is that the story's thrust was self-destructive garbage. Sometimes, you don't like the story you get because of what it has to say - other times, you don't like it because where the story ends goes feels... Try it this way: at least Faces of Death is a documentary.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Castle of Cagliostro Review - Can you pronounce "Wow"?

Congrats if you're not American: you probably know Lupin, the fictional thief. France knows him, because Maurice LeBlanc's character is basically their Sherlock Holmes. In Japan, Lupin III is an old, popular anime/manga/movie franchise. Better still, the 2nd Lupin film is by Hayao Miyazaki, a master of the smart, fun and beautiful ride.

I won't write it all again - I love that guy; not like "more than a friend," but... He's a Japanese Roald Dahl, in animated format. He's focused on story, and delivers stunning visuals. What Pixar is now, Miyazaki has always been.

I don't cover him too often, since he's made 10 films. A convenient choice, The Castle of Cagliostro is so upbeat and energetic that the plots don't matter much. It's no flaw - the story progresses so quickly that you just take it as it comes. Then the voice actors and animators ground it all so nicely, you'll just flow with a story that breezes by you.

Wait, I'm sorry, I should front-load my thoughts instead of saving them for the end: F my review. This movie is free to watch on youtube right now, so just go there. Pause it, let a few minutes load, and read my review in the meantime. You'll be sold within the first 10 minutes, I guarantee, and you won't believe it's 33 years old.

Then come back here and comment like mad.

Anyway, on to storytime: Lupin III is the grandson of the French Wayne Gretzky of thieves. He's just broken out of a casino with a massive haul, only to realize he's stolen fake money! Tossing it all makes for a nice diversion, but he wants to find out how he got duped. You have to love a thief who wants to steal the right cash.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Question for the Week of Apr 16 - 22: Luke's Lightsaber

What was Luke thinking at the end of Return of the Jedi

Luke is in a life/death struggle with the Emperor and Darth Vader. It looks like his only choice is to kill Darth, but he embraces "positivity," I guess, by not killing his dad and supporting redemption.

So why toss away his sword, too? He does the right thing, then tells the big baddie to shove it... After which Luke gets smacked around - helplessly - where having a weapon was obviously useful. Why does not killing Darth mean standing defenseless, with no cover?

I'm no fighter, kid... but if you drop your guard, they hit you.

When Luke failed in that cave in tESB, he should've learned that The Force is not about walking up to someone you hate, starting a fight, then killing them. But the lesson wasn't "don't even defend yourself." The whole rebellion's at stake!

That's a practical critique, tho, and not the most interesting question. Try this: what did Luke think would happen when he said "no" and tossed the saber?
Luke: I will never join you!
Emperor: ... Luke, you have spared Lord Vader! Your nobility has touched my heart, and I will step down as Emperor and let you and your formerly-pitiful friends go. The Republic shall be restored. Shalom! (Emperor exits stage right, then surrenders to Leia, who finds Luke a nice androgynous girlfriend)
Really, did Luke think the monster-faced old guy would... stop attacking? Or just give up and shut down the Death Star? Or... turn to the light side, too?

There are bigger logical screwups in popular movies and famous scenes, sure. Though I've rarely seen it, the mere mention of RotJ makes me think, "the hell was that scene about? Did he think the Emperor wouldn't fight? Did Luke win because of... 'determination?' If so, does 'begging for your life' count as a strategy?"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nighthawks Review - They Don't Make 'em Like They

I'm proud that my 3 year anniversary is going so smoothly. I expected some hassle in getting 3 reviews out this week, yet here we are. I had other posts ready for April, but I'll work those in as I'm able. I'm not sure if I'll post on Friday as well, especially since I'm looking forward to a packed, fun weekend - how can I stay calm when The Cabin in the Woods comes out tomorrow?

It might sound like a back-handed compliment, but 1981's Nighthawks feels like a fairly-cool 70's cop TV show. Great use of its NYC locations combines with neat action and strong leads to make an enjoyable flick. That is, an enjoyable flick that relies on the craze of terrorist incidents in the 1970's, which might kill it for you.

Nighthawks follows NYPD officers Deke DaSilva and Matthew Fox, played by Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams. Both men are hard-working police officers who stumble onto the trail of Wulfgar, a brilliant and vicious international terrorist (played by Rutger Hauer). The three men (and assorted cons and cops) stalk each other throughout the city as Wulfgar stages the attack to end all attacks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rollerball Review - The Tastiest Spiked-Knuckle Sandwich I Ever...

Rollerball was a childhood fave. I don't even recall when I first saw it, only that I've always loved it. Looking back, it's probably another movie I shouldn't've seen so young. At least Norman Jewison's violent social commentary hasn't aged badly.

Everyone will cheer me on
It helps that it's got a lot of strong elements. Rollerball is a staple of the 70's/80's near-future dystopia boom: The Running Man, A Clockwork Orange, Terminator, Logan's Run... The appeal of the film probably lies in its focus: Jonathan E (or "Eeeeeeee," if you've watched it already). Some year, I swear I'll learn to rollerskate and make him my Halloween costume.

For one thing, this entire film works as a behind-the-scenes look at a sport's greatest athlete. James Caan is actually playing Gretzky, Ali, Ruth - any physical masterpiece who gets public recognition in their heyday. As such, you can actually watch the movie as one long "back-stage" vid into a few weeks of JE's life. Better still, its appeal is rooted in being so similar to the classic Spartacus.

It also helps that the scenes are effective in selling a future world. The locations are all dressed so that you buy into the settings and people. Arenas will probably always look the same, as will their raving fans; swank homes, studios, and libraries are sold smoothly. Conviction and hard work keep this movie going.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bully in PG-13! NYC gets an Alamo Drafthouse!

Hello, everybody! Last month, I didn't review anything here, and I'm sorry for that. I'll be making up for that shortly, but this time out, it's just two news articles from last week.

To follow up on an old story, I tell you now that Bully will be released in theaters with a PG-13 rating. The whole debacle - over a documentary on the ugly behavior of children - has taken some time to play out. I'm not sure what made the MPAA come to its senses, but it's good that kids will have a new tool to help them deal with the physical and emotional abuse of their peers.

In equally unexpected news, NYC will get its own Alamo Drafthouse! The company will take over the old location of the Metro theater on 98th and Broadway. It's easy to imagine a moviehouse that will feature special events and film screenings, but the Alamo Drafthouse has been home to many movie events, and I'm excited for that more than anything.

The bigger questions: are New Yorkers ready for a theater with at-your-seat concessions service? Are they ready for a theater that will kick your silly as out for talking too loud, or texting your friends? I am, but I think many of the transplants living in my town will be in for a rude awakening. Note that the below clip is Patton Oswalt reading an actual customer complaint for being kicked out..

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mandrill Review - Cool, Odd, Fun

This month is the blog's 3rd anniversary, and March had no reviews, so I'm posting 3 per week for the rest of April, starting with Mandrill. Such is the power of blog boredom.

This is the third collaboration between actor Marko Zaror and writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza. These two Chileans are restoring my child-like glee for action films, and I'm so happy that Netflix now streams all three. I should've photographed the smile on my face when I realized my long wait for this 2009 foreign release was over.

Do you know how much I love their movies? I'll still eventually buy the two I've already reviewed - Kiltro and Mirageman - even though I can Watch (Them) Instantly. This third entry is a little less likely to get that treatment, but it's a high standard.

Mandrill is one of the most flexible movies I've seen in a while, especially in terms of tone. The plot is a grindhouse throwback, and there's a strong tongue-in-cheek sensibility here, like in Black Dynamite. Even the opening titles are in this sweet 70's/80's font (from GTA III, I think). The action is also sudden and intense, at times feeling like one of the grittier 70's actioners, maybe Get Carter.

In any case, you don't need more than 15 minutes to see how Marko Zaror is a rare find. This real-life martial artist just blows away the new James Bond, Bourne, Mission Impossible, whatever "one-man operative" movie US studios put into theaters. He has the acting skill and charisma to sell his roles, and this makes him very special.

I don't want to spoil these scenes, but I must convince you to watch this!

"Mandrill" - yes, that's the lead's name - is an international super-spy for hire. The movie follows him on some professional assignments and one deeply-personal mission. Flashbacks flesh out his origin, very much like that of Lucy Liu's character in Kill Bill. These interludes are great in establishing the underlying themes of Mandrill.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hard to Explain Why You Like It

Not a fan of any of the possible messages in the clip - hitting people to make a point, or get them to do what you want, or to "teach them a lesson," or to force an apology from them... And yet this is just freaking brilliant. Thanks, AV Club; I clicked only out of curiosity and you gave me this.

I've never seen Game of Thrones, but if it actually had anyone, much less the great Peter Dinklage, slapping a spoiled noble brat for 10 minutes to the tune of "Achilles' Last Stand," then I would get the HBO package instantly. And never think twice about my decision.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Avengers Marketing to the Extreme-Max, Brah

Shameless, painful marketing - sometimes involving rap(!), sometimes involving kids who may have mental illness, but in all cases involving Joss Whedon's forthcoming The Avengers.

I don't advocate comics much, but I've sure linked to Comics Alliance on occasion. If it seems weird to take in interest in something that's not about one of my own interests, just look at the two vids they brought to my attention. The first is from Chris Sims' post last week about a kids' line of Avengers toys:

Oh god wasn't that hysterical? Then, yesterday, Caleb Goellner showed me this masterpiece:

What a horrifying, demented time to be a kid...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Time-Lapse Vid of Rear Window's Courtyard is Amazing

One of the reasons I chose film as the topic for this blog is that movies provide a wide range of inspiration. As such, I assured myself of a deep subject that is endlessly inspirational. I like to throw a little affection towards people who are similarly inspired, and so we come to Jeff Desom.

AICN informed me today that this genius used After Effects to capture all the images of the courtyard in Alfred Hitchcock's excellent Rear Window; then he "connected" those clips to make one big picture of the location, with the film's events occurring quickly in time-lapse form. The idea and result are brilliant, and I thank Vimeo for carrying it. Enjoy below.

This is so cool!