Saturday, December 1, 2012

Movie review: Looper

Looper (2012)
Rating:  4/5

This review is going to have spoilers.  I'm not going to recount the entire movie in detail, but I will, at points, be talking about the ending.  So if you've already seen Looper, by all means keep reading and weigh in with your opinion in the comments section.  But if you've not yet seen it, and do not want the ending spoiled, then don't read further than this paragraph.  So for those of you who haven't seen it, here is my recommendation:  go see it!  I saw it at a $3.50 theater, which usually plays movies that are no longer showing at most theaters, but before they have been released on DVD/Blu-Ray.  So, unless it is still playing at a cheap theater near you, most of you might have to wait until it is released on DVD/Blu-Ray to be able to see it.  But I would have gladly paid full price to see it in theaters.  So, regardless of the format (theater, cheap theater, dvd, etc.), I highly recommend this movie.  Chance of spoilers from here on out.  You have been warned.

So, I finally got around to seeing Looper a few nights ago.  And honestly, I initially had mixed feelings about it.  Don't get me wrong, I think it was an awesome movie, and I definitely really, really liked it!  But, after leaving the theater, there were just a few things that left me feeling a little bit underwhelmed.  It could have been because I had been wanting to see it since the first preview I saw, but only just recently got around to it.  Or it could be because it has been so highly reviewed and talked about.  So maybe I just let my expectations build up too much before seeing it, and then felt like it hadn't lived up to my expectations.  I try to keep from letting my expectations get too high before seeing films for that very reason.  There was really only one major plot point that I felt had let me down.  But, upon further review, I have thought of a possible explanation that could explain things in such a way that I no longer feel quite as underwhelmed.  I will address this further in the "what didn't work" section below.

What worked:  The acting.  The acting was pretty solid throughout, and each character was (mostly) believable.  But what really stood out to me was Joseph Gordon Levitt's performance.  JGL might very well be one of my favorite actors right now!  I don't remember the last time I saw him in a film and was disappointed with his performance.  But what I loved so much about him in Looper was that he was trying to capture the essence of Bruce Willis.  I saw a few interviews with him where he said that he was not trying to play a young Bruce Willis, but trying to play a young version of current Bruce Willis.  In doing so, it would have been very easy for it to have been overdone and felt more like a caricature.  But, thankfully, I do not think it turned out that way.  The voice was similar, but what really got me was some of the looks and physical acting that accompanied the voice.  It was the subtle things that he did that really sold the performance of a young version of an old Bruce Willis.

What also worked:  how time traveling was handled.  The focus of the movie was not on time travel.  The focus was on the characters, their stories, and how some of the effects of time travel (specifically, Bruce Willis being alive in the past) affected their personal stories.  And by focusing on the characters, and the time travel plot only really involving one person's future, it avoided most of the inevitable paradoxes of "but this is the doesn't that mean that it had to have happened this way anyways?" type of questions.  I also like how Bruce Willis's character directly addressed that he didn't want to spend the entire time talking about time travel, but did talk about things being fuzzy until after something happens because what happens is only one of infinite options.  Basically, rather than spending the entire movie trying to explain time travel in a way that will appease all the time travel fanboys, it's presented in a "time travel is just a part of this universe...accept it."  That's actually one of the things that I really love about Rian Johnson's (writer/director) movies...he makes really good movies with captivating stories, and the devices he uses to set the story apart as something different (a mobster story set in a high school in Brick, or the almost children's story-esque feel of con artists in The Brothers Bloom) are not the focus of the story.  Basically, he tells really good stories in interesting ways, rather than using an "interesting" way of telling a story to tell a bad story.

What didn't work:  the ending.  This is the part that left me feeling a little disappointed when I left the theater, but upon further review I'm less disappointed.  (Even though I gave a spoiler warning at the beginning, here is another SPOILER WARNING).  JGL's character envisions a future where the little kid turns into the Rainmaker because his mother was shot by Bruce Willis's character while he was trying to kill the kid.  In JGL's vision, it is the mother's death that turns the kid into the Rainmaker.  So, if the mother doesn't die, the kid will grow up to be good rather than evil.  So, the way JGL prevents the kid from turning into the Rainmaker is for JGL to kill himself before Bruce Willis's character has a chance to shoot the mother.  The reason this bothered me is because, earlier in the film, Bruce Willis's character was sent back in time and killed by JGL.  So, if Bruce Willis died in an earlier version, then that means he wasn't able to kill the kid's mother, which means that even if she lives to raise him, he still turns into the Rainmaker.  This would mean that JGL's sacrifice is pointless, because the kid still grows up to be the Rainmaker, and the seemingly "happy" ending of the film never really changes anything.

But then I thought about the fact that Bruce Willis's character was shown going back in time three times.  The first time, he gets away and you see JGL fall from a fire-escape while trying to escape the Gat Men.  The next scene is JGL waiting in the field, where he actually kills Bruce Willis this time.  I thought about the fact that you don't see anything that happens the first time after JGL falls off the fire-escape.  So, assuming that things played out basically the same way that they did in the third timeline, what if Bruce Willis killed the mother before JGL realizes how to stop him.  If that were the case, then how JGL stops him in the third timeline is much more believable.  And if that is the case, then I am less disappointed in the ending.  I know that time travel wasn't the focus of the movie, and trying to debate some of the paradoxes of the time travel takes away from the real focus of the characters.  But, at the same time, if there is a glaring flaw in some of the logic, then it's harder for me to focus on the characters...because the integrity of the entire setting has been compromised.  So, for me, having a possible explanation of those time travel paradoxes actually helps me to focus less on the time travel.

Having thought of a possible explanation for the (initially) major plot hole of how the Rainmaker was created in the time loop, I do still have a minor (to moderate) complaint of the development shown of the kid's character.  The kid hates his mother for 10 years, and calls her by her first name because he refuses to acknowledge her as his mother, but then suddenly starts calling her "mom" after she is almost shot.  Also, he flips out because he refuses to admit that he got a math problem wrong. In fact, he flips out to the point where the mother has to hide inside of a safe, due to fear of the kid.  So if she is so scared of him over such a minor offense, then how does she know that she will be able to raise him right and keep him from being the Rainmaker.  Also, if she can't even talk him down from the wrong math problem, then how is she suddenly able to talk him down when Bruce Willis is about to kill her?

Despite my complaints about the development of the kid's character (which is the primary reason I didn't give it higher than a 4/5), I still think Looper is a really good movie, and I definitely recommend seeing it.  If I end up picking up the Blu-Ray when it comes out, I'll be sure to post a review of the extras, etc. to let you know if it's worth buying or not.  But until then, definitely go see's good.

Be sure to check back soon for more reviews and recommendations.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Countdown recommendations

We are in the countdown of the last 8 days til Halloween.  I am certainly going to do my best to review a movie for each remaining day.  But in case I am not able to watch a movie everyday, I am going to go ahead and provide a list for my top movies to watch leading up to Halloween.  These will be the movies that I plan to watch and review in this final pre-Halloween week.  Even if I am not able to watch these movies this week, I have seen them enough times before to know that they are awesome! Every movie on this list is going to be a definite must rent.  Some of them will be must buy, and others will be worth buying if you find it at a good enough price.  So here are some of my favorite Halloween movies, in no particular order:

Young Frankenstein.  One of Mel Brooks's best films, this black-&-white horror/comedy pays homage to classic horror films, most notably Frankenstein (obviously).  It's not quite as "silly" as some of Mel Brooks's other films, but in my opinion it's one of the funniest.  The fact that the actors play the roles seriously helps to serve a contrast to some of the more amusing lines.  You should be able to find the DVD for around $5, and the Blue Ray for around $10.  Regardless of extras, the rewatchability alone makes this a must buy.

28 Days Later.  This is a good take on the zombie flick, because rather than being "undead," they are filled with the "rage virus."  Great soundtrack, good cinematography, great actors, and good horror/gore.  One of the things I really like about this one is the philosophical questions that arise from the "zombies" being living beings filled with a rage virus, rather than being undead monsters.  Are they still people?  Is there any still humanity left in them?  There is an alternate ending presented via storyboards and narration.  This ending was never filmed because they kind of back themselves into a corner that wouldn't have ended up working out.  But even just the narration and story boards still provide plenty of drama.  There is a 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later combo pack, but I don't know if it has the extras.  I suggest you get the version that actually has the special features.  So double check before you buy.

Shaun of the Dead.  This movie is absolutely hilarious!  I love the use of running jokes, and this movie is full of them.  The more that I watch it, the more that I pick up on things that happen in the first half that are then repeated in the second half.  It's also a decent zombie flick, and not just "for a comedy."  Even watching it as a serious zombie film, it still holds up.

Psycho.  This is one of Hitchcock's greatests.  Everyone knows the iconic shower scene.  But if you've seen the movie, you know that there are several other great scenes with a lot of tension and a lot of suspense.  Even though this film has been around for over 50 years, I'll not spoil this one for those who haven't seen it.  There is no excuse for missing this one...go buy it right now!!

Nosferatu.  I already reviewed this one, so I won't be re-reviewing it this week.  But, it is definitely a must see.  The entirety of the movie might not be the most amazing, but Schreck's portrayal of Count Orlock is almost disturbingly creepy.  Check out my full review here.  

The Thing.  In case there is any doubt, I am talking about John Carpenter's original, not the prequel that was released a year or two ago.  John Carpenter's The Thing combined many classic horror themes, such as being trapped with no escape, not knowing who or what the creature is, and doing everything they can just to stay alive.  Some of the special effects look pretty bad in comparison to today's CGI (though, they also look better than a lot of bad CGI), but it's the performances of the actors that really drive this suspenseful thriller.  If you've seen The Thing before, check out the video below.  But if you've not seen the movie before, skip this video for don't want to ruin the film for yourself.  Even though this is not a scene-for-scene recreation, it is still close enough to contain major spoilers for the movie:

30 Days of Night.  These are not your dreamy, romantic vampires that have somehow invaded teen romance media.  These aren't even your charming, cultured Dracula-esque vampires.  These are the creepy, disturbing vampires that hunt without mercy.  Part of what makes this film so scary is that the characters must survive for 30 days (of night) without access to food or resources, and must remain almost completely quiet - unlike most horror movies where they "just have to survive the night."

Rocky Horror Picture Show.  This one isn't scary at all.  In fact, there are more scenes of whores than there are of horrors.  But, it is pretty funny and has catchy songs that get stuck in your head.  The main reason this one is on the list is because it has become a cult phenomenon, and it is almost impossible to go out on Halloween and not see at least one person dressed like one of the characters.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of other movies that I would recommend for this week (Gojira, Devil's Rejects, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween {the original, and Rob Zombie's remake}, Alien, Aliens).  But, those are the films that immediately come to mind when I think about what movies to watch leading up to Halloween.  I will post reviews for the ones that I am able to watch this week.  But even without reviews, I highly recommend them!

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in this last week of Halloween movie month.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Halloween movie month: The Descent

The Descent (2005)
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  Six women go caving in the Appalachian mountains, and encounter a gruesome horror in the dark of the caves.

Most horror movies make use of the dark and the shadows to intensify the suspense.  And one of the things that makes The Descent so terrifying is definitely the dark.  This film does a very accurate job of showing how dark caves are without artificial light.  When you are completely underground, there is no ambient light.  So after they are completely underground and away from the opening they entered through, the only light they have is from their flashlights, flares, and glow-sticks.  And when they are just using their flashlights, you only see what the light is shining on.  This limited amount of light, surrounded by complete darkness definitely adds to the suspense.  Especially because it just about forces you to watch the movie in as dark a room as possible.  If there are lights on, or a glare on the tv, it will be difficult to see what is going on.  So, in order to have as clear a picture of the film as possible, it helps to watch it at night with all the lights off - which, in a way, helps to immerse you into the experience.

And it is going to be a pretty suspenseful experience.  For starters, caving is a dangerous activity, so there are plenty of dangers just in what they are doing.  They could get lost, stuck when going through the crawl-spaces, parts of the cave could collapse, and so on.  On top of all of the natural dangers, you also know that there is something lurking in the caves, and are on edge waiting for them to attack.  As they are hiking to the cave, one of the women talks about all of the things that could possibly happen in the dark, including hallucinations.  And one of the characters does have hallucinations earlier in the film, as a result of her earlier experiences.  So when you hear strange sounds in the background, or when you see something that isn't there when the character takes a second look, you find yourself wondering if those are actually the creatures, or if they are just hallucinating.

At times, this film does show things through the view of a camcorder.  But, unlike most found footage type films, the camcorder view actually really works with this movie.  For starters, it's not being treated as "found footage."  And when they use it for the infrared view...let's just say that it was definitely the right call.

Overall, this was a really good movie, but there were a few shortcomings.  Most notably was the character development.  Overall, the character development is pretty good, but there are a few actions from the characters that don't entirely make sense.  And even though the creatures are an unknown entity, there are a few aspects about them that are inconsistent.  But these are very minor complaints.  Sure, the character/creature development isn't perfect, but it is definitely good enough to care about the characters and be terrified by the creatures.

Recommendation:  this is a must see!  Good acting.  Pretty good character development.  Good cinematography.  Really scary.  Good mix of suspenseful terror waiting for the creatures, and action fighting the creatures.  I don't know if it was intentional, but I also like the fact that the title, The Descent, could be taken literally for their descent into the cave, or to describe one of the character's descent into madness.

I picked this Blu-ray up at Walmart for $7.88.  I really enjoyed it, and I will definitely watch it again, so I think that it was worth it.  This blu-ray had 5 versions of the film:  rated, unrated, commentary with director and cast, commentary with director and crew, and picture-in-picture video commentary/behind the scenes.  I only watched the rated version, so I don't know how much the alternate versions of the film add.  But I did watch the rest of the extras.  Except for one short interview with the director about the ending of the film and how the US version differs from the UK version (the UK version is definitely the better ending), the extras are kind of boring/pointless.  There are deleted/extended scenes, but they don't really add anything.  When deleted/extended scenes add a lot and seem vital, I wish that they had just included them into the movie.  But when they don't add anything at all, they are just kind of pointless.  There is some point of view footage of someone going through a cave, but there is no commentary or voice-over explaining anything - so, again, kind of pointless/boring.  There are storyboard to scene comparisons, but no commentary explaining the process.  There is a brief "blooper reel" that is set to music, so it feels like the kind of montage you would see on a comedy film during the credits.  I wish that the extras would have been more impressive, especially since they very easily could have been more enjoyable if they had just added some commentary/narration.  If you like watching alternate version, or versions with commentary, then I would say this is worth a buy if you find it somewhere for $8 or less.  But since the rest of the extra features are just kind of boring/pointless, there just isn't enough to make this a must buy.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Halloween movie month: Lo

Lo (2009)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  Justin's love, April, is captured by demons.  In order to try to save her, Justin summons the demon Lo to help find her.

Based on the Netflix summary, I was hoping that Lo was going to be a quirky and delightfully creepy adventure.  It wasn't entirely what I expected, but it also wasn't entirely disappointing.  The movie starts off with Justin performing a demonic ritual for the sake of saving April.  Clearly, his love for her is strong enough to summon a demon.  However, this opening doesn't really set up the story as to what is so special about April, or how strong their love is, that makes it worth doing something demonic for the sake of her.  I was hoping that as the story went along, there would be an explanation as to why their love was so strong.  And I was hoping that it would at least be a plausible explanation.

The ring that Justin draws to summon Lo is what protects him from Hell.  As long as he stays inside that ring, he is protected.  As a result, the entire film takes place with Justin seated inside of a ring on the floor in a pitch-black room, having conversations with demons outside of the ring and watching flashbacks of his relationship with April.  Through the conversations and flashbacks, you come to find out more about April, and the story of her relationship with Justin.  The focus is primarily on April, so you do find out a lot about her.  But the story of their relationship, and why he loves her so much, will leave you feeling very unsatisfied. April does a really good job of playing the manic pixie dream girl character, but the love story itself is severely lacking.

This film plays out more like a theater production than a movie.  It's interesting at times, and is certainly a different experience than what you will get from most movies.  Overall, I enjoyed it.  But there were some shortcomings.  The costume effects were decent, especially for a low budget.  But, they were clearly low-budget costume effects.  The acting wasn't too bad, but it was more like theater acting - a bit overdone at times.  Even though April didn't have as much screen time as some of the other characters, I think she gave the most solid and believable performance.  There was decent character development, but the love story itself was too lacking.  It isn't enough to just say "they love each other, alright? accept it."  I want to know why characters love each other.  Or, at the very least, what about them makes them worth loving.  The ending is a little too predictable, so the final scene didn't have quite as much impact as it could have.

Recommendation:  for fans of theater, low budge/indie films, amateur filmmakers, etc., I would say this is a rent.  There aren't any scare moments, so pass if you are wanting something scary.  And the love story is too underdeveloped for me, so pass if you are wanting a romantic Halloween movie as a break from the horror.  Lo is more like a recording of a stage production than an actual movie, so the main people that I would recommend this to are theater folk.  If you aren't much of a fan of theater though, you probably won't enjoy this as much.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween movie month: Muoi: the Legend of a Portrait

Muoi:  the Legend of a Portrait (2007)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  A Korean writer travels to Vietnam, where her friend helps her uncover the legend of the vengeful ghost of Muoi for her new book.

Typically in my reviews, I try to give enough of a review for you to know what I like and dislike about a movie and whether or not to see it, but without giving away so much of the film that it completely ruins it for those planning on watching it.  But in order for me to give my review on Muoi, I might be revealing some major plot points.  So, I'm going to start out with my recommendation and a basic reasoning for my recommendation, before going into detail.  That way, you can decide if you want to continue reading the rest of the review, or watch the film for yourself.

Recommendation:  Pass.  There was a good production quality, good acting, and a few genuinely creepy scares.  But, that being said, the scares were way too predictable, the plot was too underdeveloped, and the entire film just felt boring.

If you continue reading, be aware that from here on out, there might be major spoilers.

This film plays very heavily on the use of the dark and shadows, in that most of the scares either happen at night, or come out of the shadows.  But, for the most part, you either see something move in the back ground before it jumps out at you, or they put the scare exactly where you expect it.  So, even though there are a few scenes that are genuinely creepy, they kind of lose all of their startle effect by being completely predictable.  The other predictable thing about the scares in Muoi is the use of grey-skinned ghosts with long black hair and a grudge.  I know that it can sometimes be quite difficult to come up with something new and original in horror stories, which means that most horror stories are going to make use of at least some horror cliches to get a scare.  But this feels like was nothing but cliches, resulting in a horror story that was pretty boring.

Overall, the plot isn't that bad.  Muoi is a vengeful ghost because she was betrayed by her love.  And Seoyeon summons Muoi's ghost because of her own sense of vengeance from when she was betrayed by her "love."  In general, Seoyeon's motives do make for a pretty good revenge story.  But the plot moves way too slow in getting to the point of explaining why exactly she wants revenge.  Beyond that, it takes too long before you even know that she is trying to get revenge.  You know that something is a bit off with her pretty early on, but it doesn't make sense as to why.  One of the keys to having a good thriller is to either know what is going on, but not why...or know why something is happening, but you don't know exactly what that is.  Muoi tries to do both, and therefore does neither.  The entire movie is a buildup to the deaths of two minor (very, a grand total of 5 minutes screen time) characters.  But it doesn't really address their role in the plot until pretty late into the film.  Overall, it is just too underdeveloped to really care what happens to any of the characters.

I think that Muoi would have worked much better if it has just focused on the revenge plot, and left out all of the ghostly and supernatural bits.  If they had done that, there could have been some genuine terror because you would have known that she was plotting something horrible and that vengeance would be hers, but you would be on the edge of your seat waiting to see how it happens.  Plus, there is a pretty big plot hole with the vengeance plot.  Even though the two characters that she focuses on were definitely involved in what happened to her, they aren't the ones who did it directly.  In case you were wondering, and if you are still reading I can assume that you are not going to watch the movie, she was raped by three men as the other two (the two she actually kills) watch and videotape it.

Again, my recommendation is to pass.  There were definitely some good aspects of the movie, and I think it could have had the potential to be a pretty good revenge drama/thriller.  But overall, it just seemed boring and a bit without a cohesive sense of direction.  There wasn't really anything about it that made it unpleasant to watch.  But to me, it fell well short of being enjoyable to watch.

I will try to watch a few more Asian horror films to find a good one to recommend before Halloween.  In the meantime, be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween movie month: Children of the Corn

Children of the Corn (1984)
Netflix, instant

Basic plot:  Under the direction of the charismatic boy preacher, Isaac, the children of a small town in Gatlin, Nebraska are led to murder all the adults in town and to worship "he who walks behind the rows."  A young couple traveling through the country has a run-in with one of the children trying to escape the town, and they are drawn into the affairs of the young cult.

I have to admit that this is the first time that I've ever seen Children of the Corn.  It is important for me to admit that, because I think that it plays a major role in my review, especially in regards to the expectations that I had going into this.  Stephen King is a master of horror, and Children of the Corn has definitely had a cultural impact ever since it's release.  So I went into this with somewhat elevated expectations.  Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations.

Some of the narration in the very beginning worked to help establish the setting, in the same way that reading the opening pages of a story help to establish the setting before any actual dialogue.  But once the dialogue kicks in, the narration didn't work so well.  And this was highlighted pretty early when the narration says that a character is scared, and then the character's line of dialogue is "I'm scared."

The opening murders in the cafe aren't all that scary, or gruesome.  But, the attitude and demeanor of the kids is what is so scary.  They seem to do it so naturally and without remorse.  Almost as if they had been reading Lord of the Flies nightly for as long as they've been able to read.  And to me, that is part of what makes Children of the Corn so creepy.  I've always thought that things that can actually happen are much more terrifying than figments of the imagination.  And a group of people blindly following a charismatic leader to slaughter those who do not fit into their view of the way things should be...that is something that can definitely actually happen.

Since all the adults in the town have been murdered, obviously the majority of the cast is children.  And some of the child acting wasn't all that great.  But the role of Isaac was played very well, which actually makes him a bit more terrifying, because who would expect a kid to play an evil preacher so naturally.  The first time you see him, outside of the cafe when the adults are about to be killed, you say to yourself "well, that kid is just plain creepy."  But then, I was doing my research on afterwards, and realized that the actor who played Isaac (John Franklin) was actually around 25 when Children of the Corn was made.  So, he was just a more mature actor, and not an eerily naturally creepy kid.

There were two very different types of music throughout the movie.  One was typical 80s horror movie music, and the other was a more operatic, monk-like singing/chanting.  I didn't care much for the 80s horror music.  Especially since the chanting/singing not only fit in much better with the cult feel of the children, but also has a more timeless feel to it.  I really wish that all of the music in the film had been more like the chanting.

Towards the end of the film, things take a turn for the supernatural.  Even though there is the assumption that Isaac and Malachi (Courtney Gains) are evil, the majority of the film doesn't really emphasize the supernatural.  It primarily focuses on the creepy kids and what could happen in a society run by children, much like Lord of the Flies.  And to me, a society of murderous kids is creepy enough.  If the supernatural had played a bigger role throughout the film, it would have worked a lot better.  But as it was, it was a bit of a deus ex machina explanation as to why the kids were so evil.

Recommendation:  I wanted to like this movie a lot more than I actually did.  I mean, I really wanted to like this movie.  This movie is one of the ones that has become so much a part of culture that just about everyone, whether they've seen it or not, knows that referring to a kid as being a child of the corn means that there is something not quite right, and a bit creepy, about the kid.  So, I was expecting this film to have more of an impact.  I wanted it to be the kind of creepy that stays with you and makes you feel uneasy walking past middle schools for fear that they will rebel.  But, I think that the idea of the film is much scarier than the actual presentation.  And I have a feeling that the original Stephen King story is probably much scarier than the movie, because you just have the idea and you don't have the presentation or the bad acting to get in the way of Isaac, Malachi, and the mindless child cult.  I've not actually read the story though, so I don't have anything to actually compare it to...just speculation.  As far as the plot of the movie, there is too much that is unexplained.  And that which is explained, doesn't actually really explain much.  For instance, the inclusion of the supernatural explains why the kids are evil (at least, it sort of explains it).  But, it never actually explains why the evil chose that town.  Or why no one over the age of 18 could be allowed to live.  Or why they think that their plan to defeat the evil will actually work.  There are just too many plot holes.  Even though Children of the Corn has made a cultural impact, and even though the character of Isaac is played really well, I'm going to have to say that this is a pass.  It's right on the line though.  Based solely on entertainment value (especially seeing it now, rather than when it first came out), it's a pass.  But, based on the cultural impact and some of the ideas presented, it's a rent.  You won't be missing too much if you don't see it, but you also won't be miserable if you do watch it.  So, I guess the recommendation depends more on your intentions for watching it.  Per my comment at the beginning of the post about how my expectations played a major role in my review...I think that I might have given it a slightly higher rating/recommendation (though, probably not significantly higher) if I would've had lower expectations for it.  But, as it is, the character of Isaac is actually one of the only reasons it's as high as it is.

Side note:  it can be difficult to walk the line between making those with any sort of religion look like ignorant townsfolk, and showing that going over the top and blindly following what others tell you to do is very dangerous.  The majority of Children of the Corn has a "religion = ignorant" feel to it.  But towards the end, one of the characters says "any religion without love and compassion is false."

Be sure to check back soon for another review in Halloween movie month.


Halloween movie month: Slither

Slither (2006)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  A meteorite carrying an alien parasite crashes in a small town in South Carolina, turning the residents into zombie-like monsters.

Okay, so there is a bit more involved in it than just what's said in the basic plot.  The alien takes control of Grant (Michael Rooker), and gradually transforms him into a squid/slug/mutant thing.  During the transformation, alien-Grant uses tentacle-like appendages that come out of his chest to "impregnate" a woman.  The woman doesn't exactly give birth to his slug spawn, so much as she just kind of explodes and thousands of the creatures go scurrying about.  When the slugs attack, they take over the residents, much in the same way that Grant was taken over.

Probably the biggest complaint that I have is about the accents.  Some of the accents aren't so bad (Nathan Fillion doesn't overdue it too much, and Michael Rooker's raspy voice lends itself well to keeping accents in check), but Elizabeth Banks's accent is just way overdone.  I don't mind accents when they help to make the setting seem more authentic.  But when an accent is done poorly, it makes the setting seem even less authentic.  Maybe it's just because I live in the south and hear various southern accents everyday, but I notice it even more when a southern accent is done poorly.  There are a wide variety of southern accents, but actors/actresses inevitably end up going with just one over-stereotypical version.  It's kind of like when someone tries to do a British accent, but just ends up sounding like Eliza Doolittle.  Aside from a few overdone accents, the acting is actually pretty good (I'm a pretty big fan of Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker).

The "horror" aspect of this film plays primarily on the fears of swarms, disease, and rape/violation.  The swarm fear is pretty evident when the slugs start taking over.  And the disease comparison is referenced directly in the movie.  As far as the rape/violation fear, there are a couple of things that really stand out to me.  The first of which is that the way that alien-Grant and his slug offspring attack their victims is a bit rapey.  The second, and maybe a bit more subtle, is that Grant (who is the first and primary monster) was already a bit of an incestual pedophile before turning into an even bigger monster.

The visual effects weren't all that great.  But aside from the scene that shows an x-ray view of the parasite going into Grant's brain, they weren't all that bad either.  At least, they were good enough to show that they were taking the horror side of the movie seriously enough to care that it didn't look horrible.

There were a few little easter eggs paying homage to James Gunn's (director/writer) beginnings with Troma films, as well as what I assume were inspirations for him when he was a kid.  The ones that I caught were:  Toxic Avenger and The Blob were on tv, Lloyd Kaufman had a cameo (no lines), and one of the kids was reading a Goosebumps book.

Recommendation:  rent.  I liked Slither, and I would definitely watch it again.  Overall, it's pretty funny.  Nathan Fillion has some good one-liners, and does the dead-pan delivery very well (plus a pretty great fight scene when he goes back to the police station).  Aside from a few overdone accents, there is good acting with good actors.  Like Shaun of the Dead (though, not nearly as funny), Slither is primarily a comedy, but it also does the horror seriously.  I enjoyed Slither, and I don't really have any major complaints about it.  But there also isn't really anything about it that makes it stand out that much.  I was going back and forth between a 3 and a 3.5 rating, but eventually decided that it falls just short of reaching a 3.5.  But it wouldn't have taken much more to be a 3.5.

Be sure to check back soon for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween movie month: Poultrygeist

Poultrygeist:  Night of the Chicken Dead (2006)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  A fried chicken fast food restaurant is built on top of a Native American burial ground, causing people who eat there to turn into part-chicken/part-zombie.

This is a Troma Entertainment release, and it definitely lives up to the Troma history.  Those of you who have seen any Troma films (the most well-known of which is Toxic Avenger) know generally what to expect.  But for those of you who are unfamiliar, Troma films are typically full of nudity, over-the-top gore/violence, social commentary and/or overly-emphasized stereotypes (check out the wikipedia entry here if you are wanting to know a bit more about Troma).  The first zombie chicken isn't actually seen until 63 minutes into the movie.  But before that, there is plenty of nudity, swearing/vulgarity, racist stereotypes, scatological and "gross out" humor, excessive gore, social commentary on corporate america, and singing (yeah, this is a little bit of a musical...about 4 or 5 songs).

Recommendation:  If you are a Troma fan, you will probably enjoy Poultrygeist.  Decent songs, decent acting, decent comedy (my favorite phrase of the movie, "cluckwork orange"), lots of gore, and fair amount of nudity.  So, for Troma fans, it's worth a rent - 3/5.

If you are NOT a Troma fan, recommendation/rating is going to be pass - 1/5.  Seriously, if you aren't already a fan of Troma films, you are probably going to hate this movie within the first 5 minutes.

Troma films don't really fall into the "so bad it's good" category, because Troma films are intentionally bad and (usually) intentionally a bit offensive.  While I do somewhat respect the independent spirit of Troma Entertainment, their films are definitely not meant for the general public.

Keep checking back for more ratings and recommendations of what to watch leading up to Halloween.


Friday, October 5, 2012

full review postponed

My apologies, everyone, for the delay in the update.  I was able to watch Dracula (1931) this morning, but shortly thereafter my day started getting busy.  The rest of the day turned out to be a little more hectic that I was expecting it to be, and this is the first chance that I have had to be online.  So, I'm pretty tired right now. And if I tried to write an actual review, it would probably come out something along the lines of "marhanfhgvb....Dracula...Lego-see...good....Dracooooola....Dra-cool, yo....bbahabnamfd."

I will try to post a full review tomorrow when I have gotten some sleep and am actually able to put together a coherent review.  Hopefully tomorrow won't be as hectic, and I'll actually be able to post the full review, as well as the review for tomorrow's movie.  But, so I will be able to say that I've held true to posting a daily review, here's a very brief review.  Dracula (1931) is a classic, and Bela Lugosi helps to set the precedent for Dracula being a refined and cultured monster.  The plot was a bit more developed, and there was better production quality, in Dracula than in Nosferatu.  But to me, Schreck's portrayal of Orlock is way creepier than Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula.  It's a classic, so of course it's going to be a "must see," but more so for historical value than for any sort of scare factor.  Can't decide if I would give it a 3/5, or a 3.5/5.

Ok, that's all I've got for tonight.  Hopefully I'll be able to get an actual full review posted tomorrow.  But if tomorrow turns out to be just as busy as today, I might have to settle for doing brief, mini-reviews the day of the movie...and then posting the full reviews as soon as I have the time to actually get them done.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Halloween movie month: Creature

Creature (2011)
Netflix, instant
Rating 1/5

Basic plot:  A group of friends taking a trip get lost in the backwoods of Louisiana and are attacked by a part-man/part-alligator creature.

There isn't really all that much to comment on, so I'm going to get right to the recommendation.  Pass.  This movie is pretty horrible.  And not in the "it's so bad it's good" sort of way.  This is just bad in the "it's so bad it's bad" sort of way.  It's not even bad in the "it was so bad that there is so much to talk about, as far as how bad it was."  It's just a bland and boring kind of bad - so bland that even trying to go into detail about what makes it bad is boring and bland.  Bad acting with bad accents. Bad sound mixing. Horrible stereotypes of "backwoods, ignorant, incestual, lunatic, religious folk."  There are absolutely no scares or startling moments.  There are several "twists," but they aren't surprising or shocking at all.  They try to play on the "it's over...or is it???" but they overdo it (as in repeating it a few times in a row) and it just becomes annoying.  The creature is lumbering apparently can only stand/look up if it is doing it very slowly - like the first time you see a monster in a movie, where it does the "slow reveal" to give the characters plenty of time to be horrified...but it does that every single time it stands up.  Honestly, I'm not really sure who the target audience for this movie is.  It's got too much gore and nudity (in the sense that it has any) to be family friendly, but it doesn't have enough to please those who are fans of that genre.  The production quality is too good to fall into the campy, B-movie genre, but the acting (and basically everything else) is too bad to be considered a good movie.

The only person who I think did a good job in the movie is Sid Haig's character.  But that might have been due mostly to the fact that he basically plays a cajun version of his character in House of 1000 Corpses, so the directing of him was probably something along the lines of "remember Captain Spaulding?  Be him, but without the clown make-up."  Pruitt Taylor Vince was also in this movie, and I'm normally a fan of his (for those of you unfamiliar with him, you might recognize him as Otis from The Walking Dead).  But his character was not only pointless, it also wasn't done very well.  This shows how important it is to have a good director at the helm.  Without a good director, even an actor like Pruitt Taylor Vince can give a bad performance.  A look at the director's (Fred Andrews) IMDB page gives some explanation as to why the production quality wasn't bad, but everything else fell short.  For those of you who don't like clicking on links, it's because he's a production designer.  Creature is the only thing he has to his credits as far as writing or directing.  Maybe if he's able to get some more experience, then he'll be able to make a movie that is actually worth watching.  But he's definitely not there yet.

Side note:  Not that I really expect any of you to actually watch this movie, but in case you do, SPOILER ALERT:  There's a reason that the poster has those four characters on it.  The creature, obviously, is because that's what the movie is about.  But as far as the three people, it's because they are the only three of the main characters that are introduced that actually survive (there is another character that "survives," but not in the same way she was at the beginning of the movie).

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween movie month: Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  A group of friends vacation in a mountain cabin, where they encounter Nazi zombies.

 This Norwegian import follows the formula for your standard "cabin in the woods" horror film (not talking about the film Cabin in the Woods, but about that genre of horror films).  A group of college students (in this case, med students) go to the mountains for a ski trip, and stay in an isolated cabin where there is no cell phone reception.  Shortly after arriving at the cabin, a mysterious old stranger shows up out of nowhere and warns them of the evil lurking in the mountains.  Dead Snow not only follows the cabin horror genre, they also acknowledge the fact that they are following the formula.  Eight minutes into the movie, one of the characters asks as they are hiking up to the cabin, "how many movies start with a group of friends on a trip to a cabin with no cell phone signal?"  The self-referencing in horror movies has started to become so common, that it is almost a horror genre in and of itself.  Thankfully, there are only a couple of scenes where a character directly makes a horror movie formula reference - so this doesn't play up too much of the self-referencing.

Playing on the horror genre actually helped to make some of the early sequences even more suspenseful.  Since you know that the cabin horror genre frequently either has something jumping out of the dark, or being there when a character turns around, you know that is eventually going to happen.  And there are a few scenes where everything is quiet, it is almost pitch black, and you think to yourself "this is where a zombie is going to jump out."  So you prepare yourself.  You are on the edge of your seat.  The tension rises.  You know it's about to happen.  And then.....nothing.  This rise in tension, without the release of a scare factor, has you even more tense the next time a similar situation occurs.  I'm not going to say how many times that happens, or what is going on when the zombie finally jumps out though.  I don't want to spoil all the suspense.

The opening chase sequence is set to the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King," and I really like that decision.  Not only do I love the song, but the crescendo and increasing speed of the song lends itself nicely to raising tension during a chase.  It helps that "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is Norwegian and is about monsters, and whatnot.  The rest of the music, I didn't enjoy as much.  I wish that all of the songs had been classical music - I think it would have worked very well.  As far as ambient music to set the tone, this film actually relies more on silence to set the tone.

Visually, it was pretty decent.  It wasn't a major blockbuster or anything, but the production quality was actually pretty good.  The effects were realistic enough, and the actors played the roles seriously enough, that it didn't have the "cheesy, B-movie" quality to it.  And honestly, when you read a description of a movie about Nazi zombies, you kind of expect it to be in the B-movie range.  The effects of the zombies weren't very zombie-ish, but I think that might have been intentional.  There were a few things about these zombies that strayed from your typical zombie, which makes me think that maybe they were supposed to be something else.  For starters, these "zombies" moved fast.  But, there have been other zombie movies that have had fast that's not enough to think they're something different.  Beyond just being fast, these zombies have coordination.  They get into fights, like punching, rather than just grabbing/clawing/biting. Plus, these zombies bleed like they still have blood pumping through them, rather than just what is left over from when they died.  And at one point, you see the breath of one of the zombies in the cold.  It didn't look to me like it was just an oversight, or something that they couldn't edit out.  It looked to me like they were intentionally showing the zombie breathing.  There were a few other things that led me to believe that they aren't actually zombies, but I'll not spoil'll know them when you see them.

Recommendation:  Overall, it was an enjoyable zombie flick.  Even though you basically know what is going to happen, there are some good moments of tension and actual suspense, aided by the use of silence and close ups (so you can't see if anything is coming).  As with most horror movies, the tension of waiting for something to attack is more suspenseful than when the zombies are actually attacking.  But after the zombies do start attacking, there is some pretty good action.  And I like the fact that these characters actually fight back, rather than just running and screaming the entire time.  It follows the basic formula for a cabin horror story, and it does it pretty well, but there isn't really anything about it that makes it stand out above the rest.  The fact that it is foreign, and that the zombies are Nazi zombies, helps to make it a little different - but not significantly so.  Although the actors do a good job, and play their roles seriously, the characters themselves aren't really all that developed.  So you don't really have a connection to any of the characters when any of them die.  Overall, it's done pretty well, and worth seeing.  But if you are sick of the "cabin in the woods" story line (again, the genre, not the actual Cabin in the Woods film), then you can skip this one.  There isn't anything about this movie that makes it amazing or a "must see," but there also isn't really anything that makes it horrible or a "must pass."

Side note:  There are several scenes where blood and/or dirt splatters on the camera.  Sometimes that works to help you feel more immersed in the world of the movie, and sometimes it just gets in the way.  And in this case, it didn't work.  It didn't really happen often enough to completely get in the way, but it definitely was unnecessary.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween movie month: Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Netflix, instant
Rating:  3.5/5

Basic plot:  After finding a strange and unknown fossil in the Amazon, an archaeologist, a group of scientists, and their guide go on a search for the rest of the remains.  Their search leads them down river to a lagoon (the Black Lagoon) where they eventually discover that there is still a living form of this ancient creature (they never actually say if the creature had been around since pre-historic times, or if it's a descendant).

As with many movies in the 50s and 60s, there is a narrator setting the stage in the early acts of the film.  I have mixed feelings about narration in current movies, depending on how well it is done, but I generally like the narration in older movies.  Maybe it's because it brings about an inherent sense of nostalgia.  Or maybe it's because the narration in movies was basically the same type of narration that was used in documentaries of the day - which, in a way, makes the movie seem like a documentary and suggests that you should accept that what takes place really happened (or, at least, could conceivably happen).

This movie actually does a lot to suggest that the creature could conceivably exist.  For starters, the movie starts off by saying that God created the world, and then describes the millions of years of evolution that took place afterwards (and then explosions.  Lots of explosions).  So, whether you are religious, scientific, or both (or Michael Bay...cause of the 'splosions), this movie starts off with a viable explanation as to how there can be such strange and unknown creatures in the world.  There is also a conversation between two characters over whether or not they can believe the creature actually exists.  During that conversation, they discuss the lungfish (they explain that it is a creature that has basically remained unevolved for thousands of years), as well as how people believe it is possible for there to be life on other planets but they have a hard time believing in the unknown under the water on Earth.  And after watching River Monsters: with Jeremy Wade on Animal Planet, it's not that hard to believe that there are unknown creatures lurking in fresh waters.

I talked about the importance of music in my Nosferatu review, and the same holds true for Creature - the music plays a major role in helping to set the tone of the scene.  One of the reasons that the music is so vital in Creature from the Black Lagoon is that many of the scenes with the creature take place under water.  This was in the days before scuba masks that allowed people to talk to each other under water, so the music is the primary way of conveying the characters' emotions.

The look of the film isn't too bad either, but I think that a lot of that has to do with the film being in black and white.  When they are traveling on a boat, it's clear that the backdrop behind them is a video of scenery moving and not actually following a moving boat.  But it didn't look nearly as bad as some current movies that use a green screen to give the appearance of movement.  The creature effects weren't too bad either.  Nothing terribly amazing.  But, they did at least pay attention to enough detail to have air bubbles coming out of the gills rather than out of its nose/mouth.  Even though I didn't think that the effects looked too bad, I think that was due in large part to the overall picture quality and to it being in black and white.  For instance, the creature didn't look too bad because there were less details to focus on to notice whether or not it was bad.  Nowadays, everything is filmed and projected in much higher quality.  So when something doesn't look quite right, there is a much bigger discrepancy.

Recommendation:  It's a classic - everyone should see it.  As far as leading up to Halloween, it's worth seeing, but I wouldn't say that it's necessarily a "must see."  The scare factor of Creature from the Black Lagoon comes mostly from the fear of the unknown.  There is one scene in particular where Julie Adams's character is swimming in the lagoon and the creature swims up to her and touches her leg a few times before she swims back to the boat - playing on the fear that anyone who has ever swam in nature can tell you about...when something brushes against their leg and there is instant terror of "what was that??!!!??"  You might not have a fear of a part man, part fish, part reptile creature grabbing you when you are swimming - but there are certainly plenty of other deadly creatures that hide just below the surface of the water - and that scene reminds you of it.

Side note:  expect typical 50s movie stereotypes:  guys with dashing hair (even immediately after getting out of the water), damsels in distress (and the related sexual undertones of creatures capturing women.  After all, horror creatures need love too), etc.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Halloween movie month: Nosferatu

Nosferatu (1922)
Netflix instant
Rating:  4/5

Basic plot:  Loosely based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (though, having to change the names and some of the details for legal reasons), Nosferatu is about a vampire named Count Orlock that comes to a small German town, bringing death with him.  The standard cast of vampire characters are there:  the vampire, the protagonist, the protagonist's love (in this case, his wife), the vampire's servant, and the town mob.

Nosferatu, being made in the 1920s, is a silent film.  Being from an era of classic movies not only gives it some of its charm, but a lot of its creepy factor.  Without talking from the characters to tell the story, the entire story has to be driven by the musical score and the physical acting of the characters.  Music has always played a major role in films, and to this day helps to set the tone...especially in scary movies.  In silent films, the music not only helps to set the IS the tone.  Ok, so, that's an exaggeration.  But it definitely played a much bigger role back then.  So how was the music?  Pretty good, actually.  It's probably not a soundtrack that I would listen to just for the sake of listening to it.  And there aren't really any instantly noticeable songs (such as the themes to Godfather, Star Wars, or Superman, which are known to everyone - even people who have never seen those movies).  But there is no question about what tone is being conveyed in each scene.  And there are musical themes that you will pick up that belong to each main character.  There were a few times that the music reminded me of the theme from Halloween.  To me, this shows how the tones that helped to set the scenes in Nosferatu have persisted on into today's horror.

As far as the look of the film, there are some beautifully composed shots.  And some of the effects, which must have been groundbreaking at the time, still hold up for helping Orlock be super creepy.  Unfortunately, because the film is so old, the quality of the film has not fared well and there are several times that the color will change.  Most of the time, it's a standard sepia tone.  But on occasion will have tints of blue, green, or red.

Now, onto the physical acting.  For the most part, the acting was what you would expect from your average silent movie - big smiles and over-exaggerated movements.  Except for Orlock (played by Max Schreck).  Schreck's blank expressions, unwavering stares, and cold, deliberate movements are such a stark contrast that it really helps to set him apart.  While there wasn't much "startle" factor, there were a few scenes that are downright creepy! There are rumors surrounding the movie (rumors that served as the basis of the movie Shadow of the Vampire) that Schreck himself was an actual vampire.  And with how well he played Count Orlock, I can certainly see why those rumors were started.

Recommendation:  This is definitely a must see!  Whether you are a fan of horror movies, or just a fan of movies in general, you owe it to yourself to see this classic.  There was no blood, so this certainly isn't going to be the goriest movie of the month.  And there weren't really any startling moments of loud noises as things jump out of the shadows or of closets, so this isn't going to be the scariest movie of the month either.  But Nosferatu was able to be creepy from just the music and the performance of one character (seriously, Schreck nailed that role).  It was creepy in the same way that reading a book can sometimes be scarier than watching a movie, because your imagination fills in some of the missing pieces.

On a side note:  From a film-lover's view, this film seemed to have such an impact on many other movies that I loved that were a bit creepy.  Most notably, the music at times reminded me of Halloween, and the look of Count Orlock reminded me of The Strangers from Dark City (see below) and the vampires from 30 Days of Night.

Nosferatu - doorway scene

Dark City - doorway scene

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next review in Halloween movie month (if you have any suggestions for a catchy name for this month of reviews, feel free to send them my way).


Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Elementary pilot

Elementary (2012)
CBS, pilot
Rating: 3/5

Basic plot:  Sherlock Holmes, but in New York.  Oh, and John Watson is a woman.

Last night was the series premiere of Elementary on CBS.  I've always been a pretty big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I enjoy mystery/investigative type shows, and there seemed to be a good cast, so I was kind of excited (well, at the very least, curious) about the premiere.  But with having the recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, and the amazing BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, does there really need to be another version of Holmes out right now?  The short answer is, no.

Overall, it wasn't a bad show.  I enjoyed Johnny Lee Miller's portrayal of Holmes (although, at times he did seem a bit robotic or "British stiff-upper-lip-ish" with his movements), and Lucy Liu's portrayal of Watson was relate-able to the audience.  But I think that I would have liked the show a lot better if it had been inspired by Holmes, rather than being a new adaptation of it.  Sure, there are plenty of other investigative dramadies (Psych, Monk, House, Castle, etc.) that are clearly inspired by Holmes, but they aren't supposed to be him.  So there can be little nods of the hat to the Holmes, without actually directly comparing them to him.

But with Elementary, it actually is Holmes.  So I couldn't help but make comparisons.  The most notable of comparisons being that John Watson is now a woman.  Again, Lucy Liu did a good job.  But I think that they were trying to play on the gender role stereotype of women being more "soft and caring" to balance out Holmes.  Sure, Watson is supposed to be a bit more relate-able than Holmes.  But he's also supposed to be a war veteran that can not only put up with Holmes, but challenge him at times.  The other big problem that I have with Watson being a woman is the fear that they are eventually going to introduce sexual tension between them.  I have heard that they (whoever "they" might be) have guaranteed that there would be no sexual tension between Holmes and Watson.  But who actually believes that?  When was the last time that there were a male and female lead where there wasn't eventually sexual tension?  Heck...even Will and Grace had said tension at times.  So if Holmes and Watson ever do end up having sexual tension, there will be one major problem (aside from the obvious reason of that sentence should never have had to have been said).  The big problem is that there has ever only been one woman who matched wits enough with Holmes for him to have feelings for.  On a side note of Watson being a woman, she is referred to as Holmes's "companion."  Are they trying to play on the popularity of Doctor Who and the people who travel with him being referred to as "companions"?

Recommendation:  Enjoyable to watch, but not a "must see."  There was nothing about it to me that really stood out as different/unique enough for it to be required viewing.  It's not that it's bad, it's just that it doesn't really improve on what is already out there.  I enjoyed it, but I think that I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it wasn't actually Holmes.  Of course, this was just the pilot.  Maybe it'll get more unique, or more impressive, as it goes along.  And if it does, I'll be sure to let you know.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Movie Review: Green Lantern

Green Lantern (2011)
Viewing:  Initial, On Demand
Rating:  2.5/5

Basic plot:  A cocky test pilot, Hal Jordan is given a ring by a dying alien that converts the power of will into physical forms.  With the ring, Hal Jordan becomes one of the Green Lantern Corps, a group of intergalactic guardians who use their rings to combat evil and fear across the galaxy.

I knew a little bit about Green Lantern going into this, but I hadn't really read too many of the comics and I wasn't all that familiar with the cannon.  But, in this case, that was actually a very good thing because it meant that I didn't really have too many expectations.  So, with having less expectations, there was less to disappoint me.  And if there is one word that would sum up this movie for me, disappointing would definitely be it.  It wasn't necessarily an entirely bad movie, but with comic book movies getting increasingly better, the actors/voice-talent they had on board, and a director that has made other movies that I love, it definitely could have been far, far better.

Now, onto the review.  Let's start with the good.  Ryan Reynolds.  I think he's a good actor.  Sure, most of his roles have a smug and sarcastic aspect to them, but I think that he plays it well and I think there is enough variation in his characters to keep it from feeling like he is just playing the same character over and over again.  Also, that bit of dry wit in each of his characters helps to make the character feel more realistic, rather than being over-acted/over-dramatic.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about most of the rest of the cast.  Which leads us into the bad.

For the majority of the other actors, primarily those not part of the Green Lantern Corps, the acting seemed on par with soap operas.  Even the most straightforward and (should be) emotionless lines were delivered with DRAMA.  And scenes that should have actually been emotional fell drastically short.  Somehow, "emotion" was translated into "turn away quickly and look down...or up.  Depending on the emotion."  The voice-acting of the Green Lantern Corps (at least, the two or three members of the GLC they actually highlight) is much better than scenes with the human characters, but sadly there just isn't enough of the GLC to make up for the rest of the DRAMA.  The graphics of the GLC weren't have bad either.  At least, they were decent enough that I think I probably would have been much happier for the entire movie to have taken place with the Corps.

The graphics aren't the only reason I wish the movie had focused more on the Corps.  I think that it would have made for a much better story if it had stayed with the GLC and just introduced Hal Jordan into that universe.  But, as it was, they tried to cram too many origin stories into one movie.  Not only did they try to establish the universe of the GLC, but they also tried to explain Hal's world and why he struggles with his own personal demons, and the origin of Paralax, and Hector Hammond (a sort of "mad scientist").  Sure, you need to develop the main character to explain to the audience why he is the person he is.  And sure, you need to establish the GLC to understand the role that Hal Jordan plays in that universe.  And without a villain, Paralax, powerful enough to challenge the GLC, it wouldn't be a very exciting movie.  But the addition of Hammond into the story just made it all feel crowded and underdeveloped.  Rather than taking the time to develop Hammond's motives and understand why he does what he does, they just expect you to believe "oh, he used to have a connection to each of the characters, and now he's evil? ok, cool."  The Robot Devil's critique of Fry's opera in Futurama pretty much sums up my complaint of how Hammond's character was "developed." 

Also, the use of the color palette of green and yellow was way too overdone.  When there are strong color themes (in this case, green = willpower and yellow = fear), the subtle use of color to highlight the corresponding theme can help to make a movie very stylized.  But that is not what happened here.  It seems more like the producers said "they are GREEN lanterns, right?  And the evil dude is yellow, right?  Well, then just make everything in the movie green and yellow.  I said green and yellow!!"

Recommendation:  Pass.  Again, the word that sums up how I feel about this movie is "disappointing."  Ryan Reynolds did a pretty good job at playing Hal Jordan and making the character believable, but most of the rest of the acting was disappointing.  Most of the movie was spent talking about how powerful Paralax is, and how the universe is doomed.  But, there was way too much build up for it to be as anticlimactic as it was.  The graphics were decent, but they could have done so much more.  They mentioned numerous times how the only limitation of the ring was the limitation of the mind, but then they didn't do much to really stretch the imagination.  With Hal being new to the ring, it makes sense that it would take him time to really develop his skills/imagination.  But for the rest of the GLC, their level of imagination was, well...disappointing.

I mentioned in my Thor review how hard it can be to do an origin story well.  And I think that Green Lantern suffered from trying to do too much story, but not enough action.  Or rather, too many story elements, but not an actual developed story.  What is probably the most disappointing thing to me is that the director, Martin Campbell, has also directed some movies that I have really enjoyed.  Specifically, he has directed two of the best (if not THE two best) recent Bond films that have helped to keep the series alive - GoldenEye and Casino Royale.  How can Campbell help to reinvigorate the Bond franchise twice, and then come out with something so underwhelming?

If you are a huge fan (or even just a casual fan) of Green Lantern, you will be disappointed with this movie.  I saw Green Lantern on demand, so I had no access to extras.  I'd be interested in seeing some of the effects that were used.  And I might also enjoy the commentary if Ryan Reynolds was on it.  But, I'm not sure if I enjoyed it enough to add it to my queue to be able to watch the extras.  They did set it up for the possibility of a sequel, but I highly doubt that it did well enough for that to actually happen.  That's a shame, because I think that if they did make a sequel, it would have the potential to be a much stronger film.  With the origin story out of the way, they could focus more on the action, more on the Green Lantern Corps, and more on the imaginative power of the will (hopefully).


Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses (2011)
Viewing:  Initial, On Demand
Rating:  3/5

Basic plot:  Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) are three friends who each have, as the title suggests, horrible bosses.  Each of the bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell, respectively) are horrible in their own right, and have made the work-lives of each of the protagonists miserable.  But, for various reasons, quitting isn't really an option for any of them.  Aside from not wanting to give up a job in a difficult economy, Nick has been burning the candle from both ends and believes that he is next in line for a promotion, Dale is on a sexual offender's list for drunkenly peeing in an empty playground one night (and therefore can't get a job anywhere else), and Kurt is devoted to a job that he used to like until the former boss died (leaving his coke-head son in charge).  One night over drinks, the three friends jokingly suggest that they kill their bosses. With each of them seemingly stuck in their jobs with their horrible bosses, even when they sober up they figure that killing their bosses is the only way out. So they hire a murder consultant (Jamie Foxx) to help them figure out how to do it.

The opening sequence does a fairly good job of setting up the characters, and I would say that most people could probably relate to one of the protagonists or having the types of bosses that they have.  And it's important to understand the main characters and why they hate their bosses, otherwise the rest of the movie falls apart.  If you couldn't relate to the protagonists, then the movie is just about three potential murderers.  But as it is, it's about three guys trying to liberate themselves.  Sure, murder is wrong, and you want there to be a sense of justice in the world.  But at the same time, you start hoping that they will not only be able to pull it off, but that they'll be able to get away with it.  And even though this dark comedy stays heavily on the "comedy" side, there is just enough "dark" that not only is there a real possibility that people will die, but also the possibility that things might not turn out so well for Nick, Dale, and Kurt.

While this movie is technically a dark comedy, it definitely favors the comedy side more heavily.  But it does it well.  It wasn't the funniest movie I've ever seen, but I did find myself laughing most of the way through, especially during the interactions between Charlie Day and Jamie Foxx.  On that note, it's great to see Charlie in a movie.  I've been a fan of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia since the very beginning, and I think that Charlie Day (along with the rest of the cast) is absolutely hilarious.  But his character is a very specific role in that show.  And while there were some snippets of his character in Horrible Bosses that were reminiscent of Sunny, it's good to see that he has some range to be able to play different characters.

I should also note that this is definitely an R-rated movie, in content as well as language.  Especially language.  There is lots of swearing and vulgarity (the most memorable of which is Charlie Day's comment about why he no longer has any money after paying for murder consultant, Jamie Foxx).  But, the swearing and vulgarity seems to fit in with the tone of the movie and ends up feeling "natural," rather than some other movies that use swearing/vulgarity as an attempt to try to make the movie seem funny.  In other words, this movie does not seem to suffer from the Dane Cook Effect.

Recommendation:  This is a definite rent.  The humor was pretty consistent, the characters were relate-able, and there was a dark enough tone that there is actually some question as to how things will turn out for the trio.  Since I saw this on-demand, I did not have any access to extras, and therefore do not know what extras there are.  But, I have a feeling that if the three main characters are on the commentary, that could potentially make the movie hilarious.  Also, there were a few clips included in the credits, which makes me think that there would be a good bit of extended/alternate scenes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and whatnot on the dvd.  I enjoyed the movie enough on the first viewing that I will most likely watch it again.  And if I get around to watching a version that has extras, I will let you know if said extras bump it up to a buy, or if it just stays as a rent.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Movie Review: Get Him to the Greek

Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Rating:  2.5/5
Viewing:  initial, On Demand

Basic plot:    British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) has a failing career after the release of his song "African Child," his girlfriend breaks up with him, and he starts using drugs and alcohol again...heavily.  Meanwhile, Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) works for a record company run by Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), who is looking for the next big idea.  Aaron, being a huge fan of Aldous, suggest that they get him to do a concert at the Greek Theater in L.A. for a 10th anniversary show from when Aldous played there at the top of his career.  So, Aaron must go to England to retrieve Aldous and bring him back to L.A. to 3 days.  Along the way, Aldous struggles with his demons (failed relationship, excessive drug use, etc.), Aaron questions the state of his own life (having recently broken up with his girlfriend as well), and Aaron and Aldous develop a friendship over the hijinks and hurdles along the way.  "Hilarity" ensues.

Rather, hilarity allegedly ensues.  Get Him to the Greek is a sort of indirect sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in that Russell Brand plays the same character.  While Jonah Hill was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall as well, he does not play the same character in Get Him to the Greek.  I'm a fan of Russell Brand, and I thought that he was hilarious in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  So I was actually looking forward to Get Him to the Greek, hoping that it would maintain Russell's brand (pardon the wordplay) of comedy throughout, regardless of whether or not he was in the scene.  But sadly, that was not the case.  Aside from some rare moments involving other characters (mostly those involving Rose Byrne, playing the role of Aldous's girlfriend Jackie Q, who I think was supposed to be a lampoon at Katy Perry, who ended up having a real life relationship with Brand), the only times that I really laughed were during Brand's scenes.  So, while Russell Brand was once again hilarious, the movie itself wasn't really all that funny.

I typically haven't liked Jonah Hill's character in too many movies, but I think that usually has to do with the type of character he usually plays.  I like it when his character is more of an actual person, rather than the over the top stereotype of the Chris Farley-esque character.  I liked his character in Get Him to the Greek more than I have liked him in other movies, but he was still a bit of a tool (especially to his girlfriend).  Like I said above, even though Jonah Hill was in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, he did not play the same character.  I remember seeing an interview with the director around the time that Get Him to the Greek came out in which he said that they picked Hill because of the chemistry that he and Brand had in their scenes in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  And it was a pretty great chemistry.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall is actually one of the few movies that I actually liked Hill's character.  But if that chemistry is why they chose to put Hill and Brand together again, why would they mess with the formula and change Hill's character?  Or, if they were going to change Hill's character, then why keep Brand's character the same?  But, this is only a minor gripe.  Brand and Hill still had pretty good chemistry.  I just think that it could have been even better if they had kept Hill as the same character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

My biggest problem with Get Him to the Greek is that it seems to suffer from what I call the Dane Cook effect.  That is, vulgarity, profanity, etc. is heavily used and is supposed to be funny.  But, just because something is vulgar, profane, offensive, etc., that does not make it funny.  Think, for example, of comedians like Louis C. K., Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt, Daniel Tosh, or Bo Burnham.  I think that each of those comedians are pretty funny/hilarious, but they are all certainly very offensive/profane at times.  The profanity/offensiveness is certainly a part of their comedy.  But when I talk about them to people, I describe them as being very funny, but offensive.  Now compare that to comedians like Dane Cook.  In my opinion, he is just loud, profane, and offensive, but not all that funny.  But, for some reason, people still think that because he is being offensive, he must be funny.  (On a side note, don't think that I am bashing Dane Cook.  I actually think that he has been pretty funny in the roles that he has played in movies.  And I think that he has the potential to be a very funny comedian.  But, because he keeps getting reinforced for the type of stand-up that he does, he keeps doing it without challenging himself to create better material).  Anywho, back to the movie...many of the scenes rely very heavily on profanity as the source of humor, but it just isn't all that funny.  It's just swearing.

Overall, I thought Get Him to the Greek was ok.  Russell Brand made me laugh enough, and I cared enough about his character.  Actually, his character was really the only one that I cared about.  Aside from Brand, the rest of the movie was "meh."  If other people were watching it, I would stick around.  But I probably wouldn't watch it again on my own.  I watched it On Demand, so I didn't have access to any of the extras.  If the extras include a good/funny commentary, it might make the movie more watchable.  If I ever get around to watching the extras (it is still in my Netflix queue, but at the bottom of the queue, and would be one of the ones I delete if I need to make room for other films), I will let you know if they add any quality to the movie.

Recommendation:  somewhere between rent and pass, depending on your personal preference.  Russell Brand delivered the laughs and the emotion, and was the only thing that made this movie enjoyable enough to watch.  So, if you are a big fan of Brand and want to see everything that he has done, then go ahead and rent (queue)'ll enjoy his performance (just don't expect much from the rest of the movie).  But if you are just watching it for Brand, then why not just watch his stand-up special (which is on Netflix instant).  If you are wanting to see Brand and Hill paired up, pass on Get Him to the Greek and just rewatch Forgetting Sarah Marshall (it is, by far, a much funnier movie overall).  Also, Get Him to the Greek contains some nudity, and lots of swearing.  So if you are offended by either of those, you will definitely want to probably won't find the humor funny enough to make up for the offense.