I realize I’ve been slacking on the reviews, much to the shock and dismay of many of you. With the burning fire that was the election, getting out of active duty, finding out that my hell spawn is on its way to earth, and searching for a job, my writing time has been hindered.
However, if I intend to make a living with my creative abilities then it would seem imperative that I take it upon myself to sharpen those tools.
So, here’s a re-cap/wrap up of the many movies I’ve seen since that steaming pile of garbage “W.”
BURN AFTER READING
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
I’ve been a Coen Brothers fan since I was a kid. I used to watch “Raising Arizona” regularly and even though I didn’t fully understand the quirks of their style back then I was most definitely entertained.
The Coen Bros. have defined their own style of filmmaking, which is typically noir-ish, off-beat, quirky, overly violent, and outrageously funny. That’s a lot of elements in one style, but they have remained remarkably consistent throughout the years and it’s a great comfort for moviegoers.
They absolutely have a scale to grade on; their movies range from “No Country For Old Men” (being at the top of the chart) to “The Hudsucker Proxy” (the rock bottom on the chart). I would say that “Burn After Reading” falls somewhere in the middle. It’s very much a “safe” Coen brother’s movie; there’s no real stakes that pull at your nerves, due largely to the fact that you could care less about any of the characters.
The basic story (as if that’s possible in a Coen bros. Movie) is that two gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find a CD that contains a copy of an ex-CIA’s memoir. Thinking they have stumbled on some National Security type material, they decide to blackmail the ex-CIA operative for some quick cash and, most importantly, to pay for McDormand’s plastic surgery. However, the ex-CIA operative in question is none other than a very unstable man, played by the always entertaining John Malkovich.
George Clooney plays a womanizing Treasury Agent who is banging Malkovich’s wife, played by Tilda Swinton and…oh, why bother. Look, the shit’s complicated, but not so much that you can’t understand what’s going on. If you’ve seen a Coen Brother’s movie then this will be very familiar. There are double-crosses, cheating, confusion, mistaken identity, and some hilarious interludes. You want a plot synopsis then go to IMDB.
The strength of this film is the performances, because every actor is playing against type. Brad Pitt plays an annoying and moronic guy that is way over his head and watching him fumblefuck everything he tries to pull off is a riot, up to and including his “SPOILER” eventual demise. Clooney, who can’t seem to find footing as a leading man in Hollywood because he keeps choosing roles like this, plays a guy who is not quite what he seems; he’s the guy hiding the freak flag. You’ll never forget what he has built in his basement.
When Pitt and McDormand decide to blackmail Malkovich they take the CD containing the memoir to the Russian Embassy, blatantly participating in treason against the United States. The Russian’s however, are not stupid and don’t take the offer seriously at all. That doesn’t stop our two hapless blackmailers though and they decide to get more information by breaking into the ex-CIA operative’s house and stealing more important shit.
While there are plenty of laughs to be had, the ultimate problem with this film is that you don’t give a shit what happens to any of the characters (save Richard Jenkins, who plays the gym manager in love with McDormand) because they are all completely unredeemable. None of them have an arc that turns them from bad to good. They just go from bad to worse.
This is the bleakest of black comedies; at least in something like “Heathers,” despite their terrible deeds, you still find yourself rooting for one person or another. In “Burn After Reading” you’re merely hoping that everyone gets their due, which is a frozen stiff corpse.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie, but it will never go down as a classic Coen brother’s movie, due largely to the characters within. In fact, it’s the only Coen brother’s movie I’ve seen where I didn’t care what happens. In the end, the movie is like a long, drawn out joke that someone builds up and once the punch line is delivered you laugh a little and forget the whole thing.
MOVIE GRADE: C+
Directed by: Clark Gregg
Based on the novel by: Chuck Palahniuk
I read this novel in Iraq and thought it was one of the best of Palahniuk’s work, second to “Fight Club.” I have read many of his novels and I’m here to tell you that they aren’t all gold. The man is an outstandingly talented writer, but that doesn’t mean that every sentence he writes is chiseled onto stone tablets. I absolutely hated “Survivor” and I’m constantly scratching my head when people clamor over why that hasn’t been made into a movie. I hope it stays that way.
“Choke” on the other hand was ripe for adaptation and, like “Fight Club,” it benefits from the creative team keeping the integrity of the book intact. Sam Rockwell plays Victor, a sex-addicted man who works at a Colonial Re-enactment theme park who earns additional money by forcing himself to choke at restaurants, leaving his fate to the other patrons, who after saving him feel a connection, which leads to them sending him gifts and money.
Additionally, Victor is dealing with his mentally ill mother who never addresses him as her son, but as someone else. Victor has no idea who his father is and tries desperately to get his mother to spill the beans. She directs him to a journal, written in Italian no less, which deduces that Victor was conceived from a cloning experiment. His original clone? None other than Jesus Christ.
Are you still with me? Do you need to sit down? Look, this is all typical Palahniuk fare and none of it turns out how you’d expect, although “Choke” definitely has a more satisfying finale than most of his other works and the movie fortunately keeps that in mind.
Unlike “Burn After Reading” this is a dark comedy that lets you get inside the good and the bad of each character and allows you to give a shit, rather than hoping everyone just gets a bullet in the brain. Victor’s sex addiction meetings make for some hilarious scenes and Rockwell’s voice over carries the film well, giving an extra bit of depth into his thoughts and observations as we peruse this journey.
There are very familiar Palahniuk themes here; addiction, group meetings, mental illness, and of course, the all-revealing plot twist in the end. Although not as monumental as “Fight Club,” the ending twist here is no less pivotal and interesting; almost a relief, given the circumstances.
Sam Rockwell plays a very convincing Victor, adding a face to the character from the page and certainly a voice. With the exception of Angelica Huston, who plays Victor’s mentally ill mother, the cast is relative unknowns or “unpopulars,” which I think lends to some credibility since well-known actors tend to bring their own baggage to their roles once they have reached household name status.
My only real complaint with “Choke” is its style. It doesn’t really have any. Actor/Director Clark Gregg does a great job of retaining story integrity but doesn’t seem to have the technical or creative style to pull off something that could have used some inventiveness. “Fight Club” director David Fincher took his style to a whole new level with that film, utilizing different camera and film techniques, computer technology, etc. Gregg plays it safe, almost owning the fact that “Choke” was made independently.
And perhaps that’s not his fault. Sometimes you just don’t have the money. However, I think that a little creativity goes a long way and “Choke” could have really benefitted from a director with a sharp talent for taking a mostly organic setting and making it interesting and compelling in as many ways as would seem fit for the material.
MOVIE GRADE: B-
Directed by: Madonna’s ex-husband
Guy Ritchie has come a long way since his “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” days.
Okay, no he hasn’t.
He’s about the same. And that is a GREAT thing. Ritchie, like the Coen brothers, has his own style. I can tell a Guy Ritchie movie after a few frames. He has a distinct ear for Cockney dialogue, a wildly creative eye, and a whip-smash editing style that will leave you reeling.
Essentially, watching a Guy Ritchie movie can be likened to visiting a pub in the dodgy end of England, getting shit-faced, singing songs with a group of rugby players, participating in a bar brawl, and ultimately waking up naked in a strange place with a very slutty, yet very sexy girl lying next to you. When you sit up, rubbing your eyes, you ask yourself, “What the fuck just happened?”
That’s a stretch, but it’s what I would liken to the Guy Ritchie experience. I love his first American film, “Snatch,” which is highly quotable and unforgettable in its style and bold humor. Ritchie crafts intricate plots, almost too much to comprehend, with double-crosses, triple-crosses, revealing secrets, and the ultimate fate of man to suffer the consequences of his actions, both good and bad.
In many ways it feels that Ritchie has already peaked; “Snatch” is a conglomeration of his best work (even if only his second film) and with “RocknRolla” you feel that you have already seen what he can do and are constantly waiting for something new. However, it never comes. What does come though is more of the same…and, as I stated before, this is a GREAT thing.
While not making any new headway in style or story, Ritchie instead crafts another fun and wild ride with similar characters and situations, but with different actors, different music, and different locations. It’s like the new novel in a series of detective novels. The mainstays and themes and styles are all there, it’s just another adventure.
The last thing we need is Guy Ritchie deviating from what he does best. The last time he did that we were subjected to “Swept Away,” which starred the ex. And it was a disaster, like all Madonna movies. We don’t ask Picasso to paint movie posters (well, yeah he is dead…but still) and we don’t ask Guns n’ Roses to sing kids bop albums, so why would we ask Guy Ritchie to make something other than what he’s good at?
For that, I can’t say a negative thing about “RocknRolla.” It is every bit as fun and entertaining as Ritchie’s previous crime films and it gives a general taste for his work, which should make you thirsty for more. If anything, the movie does just that for me.
MOVIE GRADE: B+
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Man, I had such high hopes for this one. Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe. Leonardo DiCaprio. Action Thriller. Holy shit, it’s like a dream team put together, almost unreal. And yet, this movie is just a mess. DiCaprio plays a CIA operative embedded in the Middle East during our current conflict’s there, who struggles to befriend the locals, keep up relations with the governments of each country, and ultimately bring down the bad guys.
This sounds like a good arc for your protagonist, but the problem is that there’s just too much going on and not enough of it grounded in reality. Based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius with a screenplay adaptation by William Monaghan (The Departed) this should have been crackling with dialogue and story. It’s not.
DiCaprio does his usual job of embodying a character, but not as successful as his last two outings (The Departed and Blood Diamond). It’s obvious that he is making the leap into leading man status in Hollywood, playing the tortured hero roles that usually solidify that status, but this is not one to put on the calling card. He doesn’t phone it in, and really it’s not his fault, but you can’t transcend bad material, no matter who you’re starring with or who’s directing.
Russell Crowe is straight worthless in this movie. A great actor relegated to playing the overweight suit that never gets into the action is not what I’d call a good role for someone of his skill sets. It’s a waste of his talents and I’m actually surprised that he’d even accept the role. Obviously reteaming with Ridley Scott, who helped catapult Crowe to fame with “Gladiator” is a factor, but at some point you should say “no” to material that is better suited to another actor.
“Body of Lies” jumps all over the place, literally. You get lost in the shuffle of locations; Are we in Turkey? Iraq? Washington D.C.? Yes, yes, they throw the title card up to let you know, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t leave your head spinning. This is the problem with “globe-trotting” thrillers. You have to let your audience settle in. We get used to things and we want to see them play out. Pulling the rug out from under us creates the stress of not knowing where we are or what’s going on and that is not a pleasant movie-going experience. We get enough of that in real life.
Another issue with the film is its action quotient. Director Scott, who is one of the all-time greatest directors in the history of film, bar none, knows better. It really seems like he didn’t get the movie or he just didn’t respond with the inspiration he needed to craft a truly thrilling actioner. Make no mistake, this is NOT an action movie and the thrills are more like grinding nerves.
As DiCaprio’s agent character works with the Turkish government to bring down a major terrorist leader he receives opposition and political positioning from his own government in keeping relations up. That is the essential story thread for “Body of Lies” and ultimately that premise is, well, boring. The stakes are “supposedly” built up when DiCaprio falls for a local girl who is later kidnapped. However, that entire relationship is so unnecessary and built up like a mud hut. It’s eye-rollingly annoying and we’ve seen it a hundred times.
Lastly, we are left with a completely unsatisfactory ending. The media made a big hullabaloo about the torture sequence, which is nothing but a hammer to a finger. We’ve seen it before, and shockingly enough, it’s not shocking. Painful to imagine, sure, but not shocking in a movie. You want real shocking go and research how terrorists really torture people…you won’t think that the U.S. using water boards is jack shit compared to that.
There is no heroic arc for DiCaprio and certainly not for Crowe. Crowe is pretty irredeemable because he’s played off in the new cliché which is “American Government is Evil.” Yeah, yeah, American military and government agencies are all chock full of self-serving, politically motivated, war mongerers who never want to see the end of war. That shit is tired people and completely wrong. I would really like to see someone portray these real people in the correct light. You can’t be objective in film, that much I know, but you can still get your facts right.
In the end, DiCaprio quits the CIA and decides to try to win back his “kidnapped” girl. I call preposterous. Perhaps I’m wrong and you can point me to a CIA agent that has acted in such a way, but I doubt it. Essentially, “Body of Lies” leaves us with the notation that we (Americans) have got it all wrong and that we should look at places like Iraq to be great places to live.
Been there, done that, got the fucking T-shirt, and you can keep it. Funny enough that so many groups here in the U.S. complain about Iraqi rights and helping out the innocent people and I never saw ONE of those groups out there helping anyone. I saw American soldiers helping them. It is my hope that one day someone can tell an accurate story. “Generation Kill” was a great start. And nobody watched it. The theory is that it’s too soon for people to respond to an accurate account of our current situation, but obviously not too soon for an inaccurate one.
While “Body of Lies” has the beautiful and detailed style of the masterful Ridley Scott, it has very little of anything else. This is one of those movies you watch and see every missed turn and later theorize on what would have made the movie great with your friends. “Body of Lies” is just that.
MOVIE GRADE: D+
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO
Written and Directed by: Kevin Smith
Ah, Kevin Smith. With the exception of “Jersey Girl” Smith doesn’t disappoint. Smith has zero cinematic style, but for what he lacks in technical skill he more than makes up for with his witty and raw dialogue which oftentimes feels like standing in the middle of some of your best conversations with close friends.
Pen to paper, Smith is a genius. Cinematically, he needs work, but he’s getting better. The good news is that this is probably his best looking film since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. He even uses some slow motion in this one, which shows some growth as a filmmaker and not just as a storyteller.
Now, there are some that criticize Smith as being a one-trick pony of dick and fart jokes, and although that’s a staple in his work, the fact is that Smith has a big heart and he disguises it with said dick and fart jokes. However, the heart is always revealed in the end, sometimes to a lesser fanfare (see: Mallrats).
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks star as Zack and Miri, respectively, two high school “buds” living together and barely making ends meet. Zack works in a coffee shop along with Delaney (played by “The Office’s Craig Robinson) and has no ambition for his future. You know that he will likely be stuck working menial jobs for the rest of his life. But, hey, he’s still funny so that’s okay.
After venturing to their high school reunion, Zack and Miri find that the “hottest guy in school” is now dating a gay porn star. Justin Long is great as the raspy voiced gay porn star and it was a little unsettling to see Brandon Routh, who played the title role in Superman Returns, as a gay character, but surprisingly it added an extra depth to the character, even if played only for laughs.
After drowning their sorrows at the bar, Zack comes up with the idea to make their own porn, deducing that at least their high school graduating class would want to see them in porn and that that would be enough money to justify it. Miri reluctantly agrees and so begins the hijinks.
They begin casting for the porno, bringing in fan-favorite Jason Mewes in a non-Jay role, this time as a weird yet toned down character that will basically do anything on camera. We are also treated to two well-known real porn stars, Traci Lords and Katie Morgan, playing, of course, porn actors in the movie.
The laughs are continuous as Zack and Miri struggle with casting, the movie theme, and location. When their original theme and location are literally bulldozed over, they relegate to shooting at the coffee shop where Zack works. The screwing and shooting is handled with humorous taste (with the exception of one scene…I’ll get to it) and makes for some hilarious moments. It’s nowhere near, not even close, to the raunch you may expect from the movie’s title. This is really more of Kevin Smith being Kevin Smith, this time working with bigger actors and a different theme. And like Guy Ritchie, that’s a great thing.
The struggle of the movie is whether or not Zack and Miri are going to sleep with one another. They agree to it and feel the obvious pangs of how it will change things. This is nothing new. The exploration of “friends” sleeping together and changing things is a common theme we’ve seen in many a romantic comedy. (Are people really so stupid to think that it won’t? It amazes me how often we forget that we are human)
And ultimately, that’s what Zack and Miri is; it’s Kevin Smith’s first romantic comedy, told under the raunchy pretense of a porn movie. It’s full of laugh-out-loud moments and one particularly unforgettable moment that will make you rethink anal sex if you are even considering it.
However, the movie’s biggest flaw is its lack of a realistic follow through. After Zack and Miri finally seal the deal on camera they also seal the deal on their feelings for one another and, as we suspected, change things in the normal way that sex always changes things amongst friends; causes jealousy and hurt. Not to say that these are the only outcomes of sex…sometimes it leads to a great relationship, more great sex, and sometimes marriage and kids, etc. However, the fact remains that where there once was no jealousy or consequence to your feelings, now there is a “Predator-like” vision surrounding that person that red flags any and all negative influences, up to and including a nice smile from an attractive cashier.
So, now armed with their true feelings but reluctant to share them with each other, jealousy drives the porno to stop production. Zack moves out of the shared apartment with Miri and gets another job, essentially vanishing from existence. He is later confronted by Delaney who finds Zack working as a mascot that gets shot with paintballs (I don’t know, I’ve never heard of it either). Delaney has been editing the porno in the basement and outs Zack’s feelings for Miri.
He brings Zack to his house to show him the work-in-progress of the porno. Zack watches the “scene” with him and Miri and realizes he needs to see her. Delaney smiles, telling Zack that they’re missing an ending to the porn.
Zack runs back to the old apartment to find Miri…just, y’know waiting around. They hug and kiss and roll credits. While this may seem like your prototypical romantic comedy ending there are too many loose ends. I mean, it basically closes the book on the whole porno thing, leaving us with the message that “porn can bring true love” or some such shit, yet it never wraps up whether or not they will finish the porn or pay the actors that all worked for free to make it.
Perhaps I’m looking too much into it, but it, like the unfinished porno, felt incomplete. However, this should not dissuade you from seeing the movie. It is full of hilarious performances, especially from the always reliable Seth Rogen, and a star-making performance by Craig Robinson. There are plenty of your typical Kevin Smith gags and streams of dialogue, so there’s no disappointment there.
If you’re at Blockbuster and you’re holding “Zack and Miri” in one hand and “Ghost Town” in the other, the choice should be obvious.
MOVIE GRADE: B
Directed by: David Wain
I really didn’t expect much from this. I like Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott is tolerable, but neither is a huge box office draw for me. However, the fact that David Wain (Reno 911, original member of “The State”) directed this and Paul Rudd rewrote the script made for a nod in the right direction. Another factor is the film’s R-Rating, which is largely for dialogue and a few boobies. It’s not hardcore at all, by my standards, but is a rollickingly good time. I like that word. Rollickingly.
Rudd and Scott are salesman that sell an energy drink called Minotaur, driving around in their Minotaur sales truck and speaking (selling) at schools that it’s better to drink Minotaur than to take drugs. Rudd is suffering from a lack of enthusiasm for the job and the recent break up from his girlfriend (played by Zack and Miri’s Elizabath Banks…who is starring in everything ever made from this point on it seems).
After a psychological breakdown while selling Minotaur at a school, Rudd and Scott find themselves under arrest and sentenced to community service. From there they’re sent to Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother like program where adults provide a positive role model influence to otherwise challenged kids.
This is a great premise that easily could have fallen into the usual traps, but Wain and Rudd keep it fresh and fun, always teetering on the edge of what we expect to see and then taking it in another direction.
Rudd is partnered with Augie (played by Superbad’s McLovin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a teenager who lives out his life as a medieval role-player. Scott is partnered with a Ronnie (played by Bobb’e J. Thompson…no, I didn’t misspell that) a foul-mouthed boy who provides a bevy of laughs with his antics.
Rudd plays out his relationship with Augie like the sentence that it is, never getting too involved, until finally he begins to see that Augie is just a normal kid going through normal growing pains, just using role-playing as his outlet. The role-playing stuff is hilarious and frighteningly enough, real. There are many real –life role players who dress in costume and play out fantasy worlds in large groups. It’s an escape from reality and I’m sure it has its place…just not in my world. However, I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t see the allure of it.
Rudd, who recognizes the ridiculousness of role-playing at first, sees how important it is to Augie and decides to become his champion for it. Augie’s parents are vehemently against the role-playing and feel that there is something wrong with him. Here is where the film begins to balance out a lot of heart with the flow of laughs and it’s a welcome adage to the formula.
Scott and Ronnie bond over, what else? Boobies. Scott begins to break down Ronnie’s outer shell of crassness to see a normal boy who just wants the love of a father figure in his life and has been let down too many times. While that may seem cliché, it fits perfectly and doesn’t force too much drama in the face of an obvious comedy, but still gives the audience a healthy balance.
Usually films like this are played out just for laughs, never giving much depth into the characters beyond their antics. For “Role Models” though, we are given what all good stories need, and that’s something to care about. Movies are a reflection of our lives in many ways, from the fantastic creations from our minds to the grounded reality of our everyday lives and it’s important to give an audience something to relate to. It’s strange that a movie like “Role Models” would inspire that, but it’s a good example of what you should do when building a story out of a high concept idea that could easily turn into a one-joke pony; give it some heart.
The ending consists of Rudd and Scott, along with Ronnie, helping Augie in the final “battle” with the role players, where all the costumed weirdos gather to “fight” to the “death.” I don’t want to spoil Rudd and Augie’s “theme” but it is reminiscent of a very popular rock band from the 70’s and is hysterical.
This was a surprisingly hilarious and redeemable film. I have become a big fan of Wain as of late and was always a fan of “The State” the early comedy troupe he was involved with which has shot off talent in all directions since they disbanded. Talent like Wain, and even Rudd in the creative department, shows audiences that your last name doesn’t have to be Smith or Apatow to make a great comedy.
MOVIE GRADE: A
Directed by: Marc Forster
Ah, James Bond. I have grown up with all of the James Bonds. My father had me watch the Sean Connery ones and I later became a big fan of the Roger Moore films. I saw the Dalton and Brosnan Bonds in the theater and now the Craig films. It seems that Bond is more about the actor playing him than the movies themselves. And really, that’s kind of the allure.
Bond is, for all intents and purposes, a stereotypical character. Even in his deepest moments, you still feel that that’s how he should be. Until Dalton took over with “The Living Daylights” Bond didn’t really get too deep. He struggled sure, but usually he was just a step ahead and kicking ass in his usual deadly and debonair way.
However, the character of Bond generally reflects the times, and Craig is certainly a reflection of the more turbulent and violent times. Or maybe that’s just the more turbulent and violent films. “Quantum of Solace” feels a lot like a British version of The Bourne Identity series, much like The Bourne Identity series feels like an American version of James Bond.
The competition, however, is largely in style rather than in substance. Bond hits a lot harder, shoots a lot straighter, and generally kills a lot more grittier than he ever has before. “Solace” makes sure of that.
Craig is an excellent, if not unlikely, Bond. With his blond hair, sky blue eyes, and chiseled frame, he looks more like an ultimate fighter than an MI6 agent. However, he employs great resources to the role, using everything from martial arts moves to facial tics to build a character steeped in mythology. He is a timely Bond.
Now, I thought that “Casino Royale,” Craig’s first film as Bond, and the franchise’s own “reboot,” was an outstanding Bond film from start to finish. Absolutely one of the best in the series. It was as close to a Bond origin story as we’ve gotten thus far and made for a thrilling ride. Even the card playing scenes were intense. Now, that’s saying something.
For “Quantum” however, I felt it was a mixed bag. We got some of the good stuff, but not enough. The choice to continue the series by picking up literally minutes after “Casino Royale” was a bad choice. By continuing that thread it seems to stretch a plot way too far and too thin, to the point where you see no end to the villainy. By creating villain on top of villain you lessen the quality of the previous one, which in turn weakens the overall story.
Le Chiffe, the chief villain in Royale is relegated to a mere patsy after watching “Quantum” and the all-new main villain is actually a lot wimpier. At no point did I ever feel that this guy was a challenge to Bond. There was no contest. Bond would womp this guys ass and be back in time for tea and biscuits.
Unlike “Body of Lies” this spy thriller is welcome to globe-trotting and it’s not hard to follow the beats. However, Bond films do tend to get wrapped up in some ridiculous plot lines and this one is all about real estate and oil. And water. And I’m asleep.
Another weakness is our Bond girl, played by Olga Kurylenko. Yeah, yeah, she’s hot, whatever. She is still a weak ass actress. I guess that’s to be expected. It’s Bond, get used to it…he uses women with bad accents and even worse acting and that’s that. I guess. But, it’s not the case in every Bond film. Some have definitely been stronger than others. I guess the main problem with Kurylenko is that she’s forgettable. She’s no Xena Onattop, that’s for sure.
Now, all this may sound like I didn’t really like “Quantum.” Not true. It’s highly enjoyable with some fun and frenetic action sequences. It’s got the Bond brand and the Bond flavor. Daniel Craig is a strong and formidable Bond, definitely the roughest of the bunch and he brings it. You couldn’t ask for more from the leading star.
Story wise though, we need a punch. I’m not saying we need to go back to Bond in space, nor do we need the tongue-in-cheek flair, but something other than the corporate villain, which is so freakin’ tired. Not every villain wears a suit, laughs at his own jokes, and is invested in oil fields and real estate.
Overall, “Quantum” is a solid entry in the series, but is severely hindered by its pseudo-revenge story which is just stretched way too thin. Craig, however, saves the day with his bravado performance as Britain’s stellar agent. I’m hoping for a charm on the next one.
MOVIE GRADE: B
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Man, I talked a lot of shit about this movie for a long time. I snickered at the MySpace tweens who gushed over the book and wet themselves at the very thought of this coming to theaters. However, like the Harry Potter phenomenon, there is one good thing that comes out of the fan’s passion for these books: The fact that they’re READING instead of watching the CW or the Hills or taking part in any other medium that only requires a complete and total vegetative state. For that reason alone I cannot completely shit talk the Twilight series.
Now, the movie on the other hand…
First off I had no intention of seeing this movie until I caught on to the “fangirl” reaction to it. Like Sex and the City earlier this year, women, this time in the guise of tweens, were rallying behind a property that was made for and by a woman. Girl power, bitches! Get your tween on!
I mean, how many girlfriends had to endure their dork husbands/boyfriends gushing over comic book movies like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” all summer long? All of them. And while women certainly enjoyed those two films, they are, for all intents and purposes, geared towards men.
So, here you have a property, like Sex and the City, which is geared towards female viewers. And I’m glad for it. The fact that not only is it female fans of these series’ getting into it, but the series’ are predominantly created by females. However, there is one serious drawback to this, which I will expand on. You will call me a sexist asshole and I’m fine with that.
Let’s talk about Vampires for a second here, though. What is it about vampires? The power, the immortality, the mythology, the blood? Since Dracula, a torn character who renounced God because of his wife’s fate in the afterlife after her suicide, becomes a creature of Satan yet still hungers for that which he had forsaken himself; love.
If you look at all the vampire series that have followed Dracula and expanded the mythology you will find these common themes. Not all of them are driven by love, but it is a predominant factor in these stories.
Strangely enough, the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (there are eight, I believe) by Charlene Harris was adapted by Alan Ball for HBO and called “True Blood.” Now, I watched “True Blood” every Sunday and enjoyed the hell out of it. The basic premise; a young woman, Sookie, who is able to read minds, falls in love with a vampire named Bill, but is torn by their relationship as a couple, seeing as one is dead and one is alive. The series also showcases vampires “coming out” and co-existing with humans openly (which is not a surprising theme to be used by the uber talented Ball, who is gay).
Now, let’s take a look at Twilight. A young girl whose mind cannot be read falls in love with a vampire and is torn by their relationship as a couple, seeing as one is dead and one is…you get the idea. I don’t know which came first and I’m not gonna Google it to find out, but I’ll use this analogy; Twilight is like True Blood as adapted for the CW and made for tweens.
It’s PG-13 True Blood. True Blood lite. Now, some may think it’s unfair to compare the two different series, but they can go cry to their momma about it. I’ll compare whatever I see fit. I have not read either series and only know them from the incarnations onscreen. And that’s my comparison.
So, now that that’s out of the way; Is Twilight good or not? Strangely enough, although it’s not made for me and I didn’t love it, I appreciate what it stands for and, more importantly, who it’s made for. Twilight is porn for teenage girls. Hell, it may be porn for grown women.
Porn for men is visual, obviously. We want to see the nakedness, the bodies contorted together, the nudity, the thrusting, the boobies, whatever…you get the idea. Men primarily see sex as a physical and visual thing. It’s not that men can’t be romantic or feel the emotional connection of sex, they just see it differently…in that they SEE it more so than they feel it. We are taught from a young age to appreciate beauty and grace in a woman, which you primarily see not so much feel. Whereas woman are taught to feel and look for qualities in men. They are looking for an emotional and secure FEELING. They aren’t looking to see the size of his pecker.
Now, certainly there is some role reversal as we get older, but in the young sexual awakening years this is where many teenagers’ heads (and other regions) are. And Twilight is the quintessential female sexual awakening book of this generation.
Let me explain. Bella (played by Kristen Stewart) moves in with her sheriff father (Billy Burke) in Seattle and finds that her peers are something more than human. A group of vampires, a coven if you will, is trying to lead a quiet existence while interacting with humans (but feeding on animals). A small group attends high school (forever, since they are undead and don’t age…could you imagine a fate more terrible than doing high school homework for the rest of your life? Being a vampire is truly going to hell) and one of them is Edward, the dashingly handsome vamp who is deeply attracted to Bella.
Bella is just as intrigued and what we have here is a direct correlation to a young female falling for a guy that, for the first time, makes her loins catch fire. Edward, in turn, is so torn with lust for Bella that he cannot attend school (this is explained that she makes him thirst to feed on humans, namely her). When they meet in science class Edward literally looks like he is jizzing in his pants.
As the two of them draw closer, it builds under the pretense that they are attracted to one another but that the torment is much deeper since he is a vampire and she is not. However, my theory is that the relationship between Bella and Edward is a metaphor for sexual awakening.
I’m sure someone reading this is thinking I’m being perverted. Well, you’re wrong. That’s the problem with sex in America; we are so fucking uptight about it and consider any discussion of it as perverse. And yet the subject and very act of it flood our consciousness consistently. Get the fuck over it.
If you think back to your own “awakening” you will remember the overwhelming feeling, which is something so very new and unfamiliar, but undeniably favorable. It is the birth of sexual desire for another person, and in the case of Twilight, it is the birth of a female’s sexual desire. Now, I’m not saying that every woman has her “awakening” as Stephanie Meyers (the author) writes it, but the majority of women feel this in a more emotional way, like that of Bella, than a physical one.
Emotionally, Bella is tied to Edward, she is drawn to him in a way she cannot describe, but feels it like a driving force. Her curiosity is unending. She MUST know why Edward torments over her, why he is the way he is, and she MUST have him in her life. I’m sure this sounds very familiar to parent’s of a teenage daughter.
I would dive into the subplot of an evil group of vampires committing murders locally, but it’s so insignificant to this movie (possibly deeper in the connecting stories, but not here). The depth and connection of this film is the relationship between Bella and Edward and it is beaten over your head continuously.
Robert Pattinson plays Edward with the dashing charm that you would expect for his role and Kristen Stewart is perfectly cast as the beautiful yet tormented Bella. I’m sure they will have a blast making this series.
Technically, however, the movie suffers. Although it has some nicely edited sequences, the “action” sequences, to include vampire baseball, are beyond cheesy. Director Hardwicke is not a seasoned action director and crafts the vampire movements like something out of Smallville. Likely, this is why she has not been hired to direct the sequel. This is something I will expand on in my Punisher War Zone review, at which point you can throw your sexist remarks my way.
At one point Edward takes Bella up treetops and they simply sit and talk, laughing and enjoying each other’s company and other times they are simply lying in the grass and staring at each other. I’m not making this up. And, I have to deduce, that this MUST be a fantasy romance for girls, because you will never find a heterosexual male writing about lying in the grass staring at a girl he’s in love with. In a male version of this they’d be fucking in the bushes. Plain and simple.
However, I don’t want to compare this to male fantasy. We all know where that leads. This is for the girls and I won’t steal it away. While I don’t feel it like a woman does, I completely get it. I get the struggle with finding your sexuality, of that first love, and the complications that go with it. Being a vampire in this story is merely a metaphor for the struggle to be with the one you love at a young age.
Shit, they don’t even show fangs in this movie. I thought they were vampires! Take it or leave it, that’s my theory on Twilight and even though I am not a fan, I am also not a hater. This one is for the girls, and if I ever have a daughter she will never be allowed to watch this. She is going to a convent. She will be a nun.
Well, she certainly won’t be drinking tomato juice from a wine glass and wearing all black clothing and fake plastic fangs and referring to herself as undead.
MOVIE GRADE: B-
Directed by: Baz Luhrman
Holy freakin’ three hours, Batman! We saw this on Thanksgiving and I had no idea it was that long going in. Normally I am well prepared going in, but not this time, and I think that affected my overall feelings for the movie.
The premise for this film is simple enough that they could have easily chopped an hour out. A cattle ranch owner’s wife (Nicole Kidman) flies to Australia to help her husband with a business deal only to find that he’s been murdered and that there is a plot by a competing ranch to take over her land. She decides to stay and reclaim the land she owns with the help of a cattle driver (Hugh Jackman).
Add a cute little aboriginal kid who is adopted by Kidman and Jackman and you have yourself a nice little outback adventure flick. “Australia” is directed by Baz Luhrman, the director behind Moulin Rouge, and I was worried that he would use the hyper style that was so infused in that film with this one. Fortunately there are only a few moments that replicate that style. The rest is gravy.
Beautifully shot with beautiful scenery and beautiful actors, “Australia” is a beautiful looking movie that will beat you over the head with its beauty. It has many intense and goose-bump inducing sequences that will leave you with a super cheesy tingle in the back of your spine, but that’s the purpose of movies like this.
In many ways, it feels like the Australian version of “Far and Away,” another sprawling epic also starring Nicole Kidman. The music is grand and boasting, the action is big, and the story is rich with stereotypical characters such as greedy businessmen, conniving thieves, and the local native who seems to have all the answers (this time in the form of an aboriginal medicine man).
All that said, this is a highly entertaining and, did I mention, beautiful movie. However, it seems to end at the two hour mark only to introduce an unexpected third act that intertwines the real life bombing of Darwin by Japanese military with the characters own struggles. Naturally, Jackman and Kidman hook up and adopt the little aboriginal boy (who is actually quite good in this…which I’m thankful for because usually child actors can really fall off the mark). The boy is referred to as a “creamy” because he is of mixed race (Caucasian and aborigine) and the facets of racism are drilled into our skulls once again.
The whole race thing is beginning to drive me insane. Nearly every sports movie is about the first black whatever. First black man to win the Heisman, first black swim team, first black basketball team, first black college basketball team, first black pilots, first black everything. Look, we have our first black President already…when will it end? I want to know when the first black professional shoe shiner movie is coming out. I’m camping out for tickets.
I realize that history is history and I’m not suggesting we change it because someone is “annoyed” with it. Not by a long shot. The truth should be told. But, holy shit…am I sick of it. I’d like to see a story told about a black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Arabic, what-the-fuck-ever kind of person that did something as a person rather than as a color. It starts to feel that we are being subjected to the race card in all these films, etc., which while trying to break the mold of racism instead keeps it burning alive. Whatever happened to people doing something because they were great people rather than because of the color of their skin?
Okay, that’s the end of my race rant.
The kicker throughout the film is the struggle for Kidman and Jackman to keep the aborigine boy, which is basically illegal, and after all the shit they go through to save his ass, the little shit runs off at the end to go walkabout with his grandfather.
“Australia” despite the racism aspect (which I understand is fitting and accurate for the story…trackin’) is a very fun adventure film, with throwbacks to some of the epics from the 1950’s. Also, for the ladies and gay men you have a shirtless Hugh Jackman blatantly pouring water over his body. For the men, you have a stunningly gorgeous Nicole Kidman who makes an art form out of wearing tight-fitting horse riding pants.
MOVIE GRADE: B+
PUNISHER WAR ZONE
Directed by: Lexi Alexander
Oh, where to begin? Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher is a Marvel Comics character whose family was killed when they stumbled upon a mob hit in Central Park. Fearing witnesses, the mobsters turned their guns on Castle and his family. Castle survived and vowed vengeance on all criminals to the end of his days. The end.
Simple origin, simple premise, much like that of Death Wish. Although a simple origin though, Castle is a deeper character, due largely to the fact that he is unflinching. I have read nearly every Punisher comic book to date. You could say I’m a bit of an expert. He has always been a compelling character to me. He is the vengeance seeker we all think we’d become if something as dire were to happen to us. Likely though, we would not become the Punisher, but it is fascinating to watch a man on a mission who never ceases to give it up. Ever.
Now, Marvel has struggled with the character a few times and lost sight of this, but the character of Frank Castle, the mission, has always shone through and fortunately the writers behind his numerous books have stayed true to this and have created a reign that is unbelievably consistent.
Having said all that, the character has inspired three movies, each attempting to embody the soul, torment, and eventual vengeance of one Frank Castle. And now, out of those three movies, ALL of them have failed miserably.
The first film starred Dolph Lundgren as Castle, a former FBI agent whose family was blown up in a mob hit. Castle exacts revenge, this time on the Yakuza, but never once dons the skull on his chest. The movie plays out like a late night Cinemax action movie, no substance and all over-the-top and uninspired action. Blah, strike one.
The second film starred Thomas Jane, who was the ONLY saving grace of the film, as he worked hard to portray Castle both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, with a script so far off the mark from the origins of Castle (here he is an FBI agent again) who finishes “one last job” as an undercover agent and retires to Florida where, this time, his entire family, mom, dad, wife, son, and partygoers are all killed by the mob. Castle escapes with his life, builds a stupid Punisher car and kills like ten people, to include an overly annoying villain played by John Travolta. The filmmakers went out of their way to get Castle OUT of his skull embossed vest, adding more indignity to the character. The action was completely uninspired without ONE sequence that required any creativity.
Which brings us to War Zone. This time out we have Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo in the HBO series “Rome”) as Castle/Punisher. Stevenson looks the part of Castle, but there isn’t scene fucking one that allows him to play the role correctly. I can’t place the blame of this film’s failure on his shoulders alone, but the truth is he didn’t bring anything to fulfill it.
Dominic West plays Jigsaw, the Joker of Punisher villains, and I can see where he was trying to go, but the Italian Gumbah approach is so fucking lame that it instantly makes a joke of his performance. They also add his cannibalistic brother, Looney Bin Jim, played by Doug Hutchinson, who is actually more interesting, but ultimately a big fat cliché and completely irredeemable.
We learn nothing about these villains, and by that I mean how they tick. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” is the new template for movie villainy, especially for comic book villains. Christopher Nolan exercised an understanding of how an audience must hunger for the motivations of all characters, especially the villain. We learn nothing about the Joker’s past, but we learn everything we need to know about his motivations through his actions and words.
With Jigsaw in PWZ, we learn jack shit. We learn that he’s an Italian mobster obsessed with his looks and he wants money. Big fucking deal. Who gives a shit? Clearly, the screenwriters (two of which worked on “Iron Man”) had no understanding of character development as it pertains to this series.
The last thing any audience needs is to be subjected to yet another carbon copy bad guy that is literally jigsawed together from every other better made film that required an Italian mob boss villain.
Next up is Soap, a character from some of the more recent runs on the Punisher book. Soap is an interesting enough character in the comics, but is completely miscast with Dash Mihook. Soap is an undercover police officer who unofficially helps the Punisher by supplying him with information on known criminals. However, Soap is fairly insignificant and completely unnecessary to Punisher lore. He’s a character in passing, not a staple to the series, which is proven in this film alone.
Then, we have Julie Benz, going for worst actress since Maria Pitillo in “Godzilla” playing the wife of an undercover cop accidentally killed by The Punisher. Her Italian accent is off, her role is unnecessary and is an obvious case to make The Punisher have a heart of gold. Adding more fuel to the fire that has burned the franchise to the ground is Benz’s daughter, who “bonds” with Castle, once again to provide us “insight” into Castle as a family man.
To further drive the stake into our hearts is a black F.B.I. agent who is hell-bent on capturing The Punisher…by himself…no task force or anything…just, y’know, in plainclothes, combing the streets, asking around. Oh, which he does by the way. I buy it. Oh yeah. Then, there’s the Hispanic ex-gang banger who helps The Punisher as well. It’s obvious that the studio was FINGER BANGING this movie with every hand on the lot because it’s filled with every stereotype from every piece of garbage straight to video movie ever made.
The fact that we have the black F.B.I. agent, the Hispanic ex-junkie, the strong female wife, and the stupid little girl shows that the studio didn’t give a shit about story integrity and instead felt that they had to expand their appeal by providing a “root-for-me” hero of every race and gender to make it “all-inclusive” for all shapes, colors, and sex organs.
Lastly, we have Microchip, who IS a staple in Punisher lore. Micro acts as a weapons supplier who believes in what Castle is doing and dedicates himself to helping out. Now, it was kind of cool to see Micro onscreen, unfortunately they bolo it right out the gate by having Castle be annoyed with his presence. In reality, Micro was always the Alfred to Castle’s Bruce Wayne. They had a dynamic for a long run in the books. Until Micro double-crossed Castle, to which he got a shotgun blast to the head.
And, as is the recurring problem with this movie, they fuck Micro’s whole story by including his aging mom and flat dialogue that means nothing.
So, there’s your all star line up and if you know nothing or care very little about The Punisher and his whole mythology then you should probably stop reading. You won’t care. Plain and simple. But, make no mistake, Punisher War Zone is a bad movie by all movie standards, not just because it completely sodomizes a comic book property.
First off, the action is so over-the-top that you can’t help but laugh at it. It’s not staged in such a way to get your adrenaline pumping. It merely makes you giggle at the absurdity of it all. It’s like when you see a behind the scenes video on the making of a movie and you see how fake the props are of human beings that get destroyed. Through concise editing you’ll never know the difference, but that’s clearly not the case here.
To make it worse, every time someone is shot they’ve inserted a “squish” sound which becomes increasingly annoying. We get it. Blood spatter. Great. Is that the only sample you have? Also, even though “Rambo” did an outstanding job of its use, the implementation of computer generated blood has reached its tipping point. Enough! It is blatant, obvious, and looks completely fake. Call Paul Verhoeven if you don’t know how to set up a squib, you morons.
Let’s talk about motivations. Character motivations are what drive a story. Why your characters do what they do is the biggest piece of a story. What drives them to kill, to love, to care, to not care, to leave, to show up…all of those aspects and millions more are what make a character interesting, believable, and relatable.
In PWZ there are no clear motivations and every attempt at showing them is met with the cold, wet smack of the idea hitting the concrete. The real travesty is that the filmmakers continuously credit their ideas as an ode to Garth Ennis, who wrote the last six years of Punisher stories, which were the absolute best of the character. I scratch my head til I’m bald to understand what fucking stories they read; just because you add an obscure character like Soap to your movie is not an ode to Ennis.
I imagine if Ennis saw this story he would shoot and bury himself just so he could turn in his grave at the atrocity they’ve made of the character he has worked so hard on. Ennis is a prolific and unparalleled writer and deserves the accolades he’s earned for his work. He doesn’t deserve to have his name dragged through the mud for a bunch of would be filmmakers who just pillaged his work in search of a gem and instead created a festering turd.
Director Lexi Alexander was adamant about capturing the look of The Punisher and it was obvious that that’s as far as she got and still didn’t succeed. Everyone fawns over artist Tim Bradstreet’s covers to The Punisher (he has never drawn a complete issue) and apparently that’s the only thing they strove to capture. Great, you captured a cover. Here’s your cookie.
Alexander is a former kickboxing champion who previously directed the film “Green Street Hooligans” which is actually pretty good and another reason why I had my hopes high for this movie. However, PWZ has sealed my feelings on something I’ve long felt to be true and herein is where I’m sure I’ll be called a sexist. I don’t care.
Women should not be directing action films. There is a simple, biological explanation for this. Action films fuel adrenaline, entail violent acts and violent situations, usually the likes of which women are not involved. Although there are absolutely women on this planet who have kicked ass in real life, there is no comparison as to who has done more in that department. NONE.
The reason is because men have more adrenaline, a much larger propensity to violence, and a general understanding of what it is and ultimately what inspires that adrenaline feeling. I’m not saying that a woman can’t enjoy or get a rush out of an action film. I’m saying that, like Twilight and it’s estrogen influence, action films are fueled by macho male adrenaline thrill seeking. It is the root of action films. We want to get, as they say, pumped up.
How many women do you know that want to get that thrill from an action movie? It’ll be a short list, I assure you. Lexi Alexander kick boxed some people in the head and so executives figured she could handle an action flick. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Another example is director Mimi Leder, who directed “Deep Impact” and “The Peacemaker.” Both were disappointing at the box office and simply could not attain the thrill that is needed to make these films successful. Now, imagine either one of these movies directed by the likes of Michael Bay (which isn’t hard, since he did the much more successful “Armageddon”) or Tony Scott? No fucking contest people.
Now, you could say that an unsuccessful action film directed by a male is the counter-argument. To that, I say simply that that is just a director who lacks vision. Look, the bottom line here is that you want to find the right person for the job. That goes for anything. Jonathan Hensleigh fucked the last Punisher movie and he’s supposed to be an action movie guy. However, you certainly don’t want to see his version of Pride and Prejudice, I assure you.
You wouldn’t ask Nora Ephron to direct the next installment of Die Hard, so why would you put a woman on something as big dick driven as The Punisher? It makes no sense, people! Nein!
If you have a vagina and you want to direct an action movie then you need to step out of line and find another career…unless your last name is Bigelow. Then, you just might be the one exception.
There is literally no pay off to watching this movie. It is like watching poop coming out of someone’s ass for an hour an forty minutes. Only in the world of “idiocracy” would this movie be a success. We aren’t quite there yet, as cynical as we may be about ourselves. The ending to this movie is a snooze. The big shootout amounts to about twenty dead guys. That may seem like a lot, but then you probably never read a Punisher comic. And if you base your opinion of that character after this movie then you most likely never will.
The absolute best thing we can do is let this franchise R.I.P. It was dead on arrival to begin with and I fault that failure with the inability of every creative team entrusted with the property for simply not grasping the material. They dropped the ball and followed it into the street.
The best thing we can do at this point is forget this movie ever happened. Ignore its existence and move on with our lives.
MOVIE GRADE: Is there a grade lower than F?
So, that’s my wrap up. I have seen a few other movies on DVD, such as the second Narnia movie (crap), but am not going over those. I’m heavily at work on my own comic book work, writing, and finding a pay-the-bills job until I’m rich and famous.
There’s always a storm brewing in my brain and I should have a post-Holiday blog out by the first of the year or sooner. Thanks for reading!