Sunday, January 06, 2008

WORST OF 2007, THOUGHTS, and THINGS TO COME

Here is the grand finale to my 2007 Year in Review. What follows is my worst of, thoughts on films that didn't make it on either list, and a handful of films I'm looking forward to in 2008.

As always, read, enjoy, and post back on any comments, thoughts, or smack-downs. Make sure to click on the pics to see my very special INSIGHT-O-VISION!!


WORST

OF

2007





Ghost Rider
After some modest success on an adaptation of Marvel’s Daredevil, director Mark Steven Johnson returns with this morbidly atrocious adaptation of the flame-skulled spirit of vengeance. Nicolas Cage is in my opinion an outstanding actor that counterbalances great performances with call-ins like this one. His off-the-wall portrayal of stuntman Johnny Blaze is completely out of focus and out of character to the source material, which is surprising when you consider that this is a comic book fan who even named his son Kal-El (Superman’s real name, for those not in the know).

The visuals aren’t terrible, nor are they impressive, they are what you’d expect, sadly. It’s cool to see Ghost Rider in live-action form, but it’s like the age old adage ‘be careful what you wish for.’

Eva Mendes provides the love interest/cleavage, with Peter Fonda turning in the only fun performance as Mephisto (Marvel’s answer to Satan), whose son, Blackheart, is looking to take over all evilness everywhere and stuff, along with his stupid lackeys, a trio of baddies that each represent an element from earth. It’s straight gayness on all fronts. For as long as the film was delayed you’d think that they’d pool together and examine this festering turd for any signs of salvation.

Bleak, dull, light on action, vacant on suspense, and completely absent of anything resembling a faithful, fun, or inventive story, this is what happens when you ignore that which makes a character worth adapting when it comes to comics and instead substitute a Hollywood collective that leaves you with something you’d expect from a USA network original movie.

Oh, and Wes Bentley, who portrays the so-called villainous Blackheart…Dude, this is your follow up to American Beauty? Fire your agent. Yesterday.



The Hills Have Eyes 2
Insulting. That was my impression after the first five minutes of this movie. As a soldier and not just the kind that works on radios or serves chow, but as an infantryman, I was slapped in the face by the Hollywood notion of what a soldier is, how he trains, fights, talks, and is equipped.

Seriously. Hollywood. Yes, I’m talking to you. All of you assholes that I have so admired and wanted to be as a youth…yes, you. Big-wig producers and burnt-out directors alike…is it really so hard to do a little research? Is it really so hard to take A DAY and visit a military post or even talk with a veteran or active duty soldier to find out the simple details that you continuously miss the mark on?

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (which I will refer to as “Crap 2” from here on out) opens with the pretense that we are in Afghanistan and that a group of soldiers are about to bust into a terrorist hideout and start blasting away, like all soldiers do…right?

And so it is…the gunfire erupts, soldiers fire on full-auto and yell and scream and fuck up, tossing grenades into buildings and fighting positions, shrapnel flying this way and that. Then, a suicide bomber comes up, an old woman, about 65 years old. She’s laughing…GOTCHA.

Turns out she was a role-player in a training exercise. It was all a ruse. Silly audience. Now, the truth is that we do, in fact, train with live ammo and explosives. However, the manner in which this opens is completely ridiculous, with soldiers being caught in back blasts and flying through the air, etc. No injuries and nobody stops the training. They just keep on going.

Listen, I realize that most people don’t know this or even care, really. But, the simple fact is that it is an annoyance, just as it is to doctors, lawyers, policeman, or anyone for that matter, when somebody making a movie doesn’t even bother to google your profession and just tosses it up onscreen with the stereotypical and downright wrong beliefs about what your job is and how it’s done.

Not exactly getting the pulse of your audience.

Now, I will be honest…I loved The Hills Have Eyes remake. It is far superior to Wes Craven’s dated and boring-as-hell original. Director Andre Aja did a great job and it’s a crying shame he wasn’t onboard for the sequel as I’m positive we’d have had a different film.

Wes Craven and his son, Jonathan, wrote the script for this turkey and it’s painfully obvious that they were thinking concept over character. Send a group of National Guardsmen to the hills to fight the crazies. Which has a lot of potential to be fun. And maybe some people saw this and dug it…they didn’t care about the intricate details because they, like Hollywood, are unaware.

However, at a time when this Nation has been at war for more than four years, almost everyone has some tie to a person in the armed forces or at least has seen them on CNN or whatever bullshit news station you want to pick from a hat.

Bottom line is…audiences aren’t stupid. They make bad choices many times, but they are not stupid. Nine times out of ten, they know a turkey when they see one. And sometimes they go see “Are We Done Yet?” over “Grindhouse.” Who can explain it?

The point is, even those not in uniform can recognize the far cry from reality and the sheer boredom and unimaginative retreads when they see them…and The Crap 2 certainly fits that bill.

You’ve seen every gag before and this movie takes no pains to redefine the genre. Here’s an idea; when working in a field like film production, where career longevity is defined by box office success, which in turn is created by audiences paying to see your film, which they will only do when a film truly rocks their world, why wouldn’t you try to make every single one of your productions a genre-defining (or redefining) venture?

Playing it safe is painfully obvious and straight up insulting to the moviegoer and that’s why movies like The Crap 2 only make $20 million and stop there. Because there are serious genre fans that are hoping for something great or simple moviegoers that just want a good thrill, but when they are slapped in the face with shit like this they set about to spread the best kind of advertising that can sink or swim a movie; word of mouth.

And my word is: Avoid this shit like the plague.












Vaca
ncy
A friend of mine gave me the recommend on this one so I gave it a go. Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as a couple that get trapped in a creepy roadside hotel in the middle of nowhere just didn’t stir anything up for me. The trailers show Wilson, who I love in comedies or his bread-and-butter Wes Anderson films, looks like he visited the craft service table too much and just needed to help pay for his condo.

Beckinsale looks like she shot this in-between projects, looking to save up enough to get a yacht or something. Bottom line; nobody looked hungry enough to make this anything more than, yet again, another USA network movie that plays at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night where, hopefully, nobody sees it.

There’s NOTHING new here, even when they tease that there might be. As soon as they take a risk or start to get into uncharted territory, they reel it back in. This is not suspense…this is ho-hum. I’m not saying that you have to show your hand, I’m saying that you’ve got to make the game interesting.

Think about the conventions you’re dealing with and defy them. Take that risk. Push the envelope. DO SOMETHING other than the same ol’ shit. I realize, at all times, the ramifications of being critical of work that I have done and want to be a part of again. I KNOW that filmmaking is not easy. But I also know what I like, what I look for, and we could call my taste into court and put it on trial and see what the verdict comes out to be, but I know for a fact that I can at least learn from my own lessons, especially if I can preach them here.

Vacancy redefines nothing except how to waste two hours of my life. The actors are bored, the story is tired, Hitchcock is turning in his grave, and…we’re moving on.














Delta
Farce
Yet another insult, this time from some of the biggest troop supporters out there; The South, namely comedian Larry the Cable Guy. What seems like a fun comedy that is attempting to be humorous while paying tribute is ultimately a big, fat insult.
Not only did these guys not do any research, they simply didn’t care. Even if they filmed on actual Army bases or had actual Army personnel in their film, they simply make buffoons of the armed forces, not to mention themselves.

This is a rotten attempt at a “Three-Amigos-esque” format as we follow three National Guardsmen who accidentally get air dropped into Mexico while en route to Iraq. Naturally, they believe they are in Iraq (because it’s the desert…get it?) and they go out hell-raising until the locals set them straight, at which point they still manage to find some local bad guys to fight.

I really thought this might actually just be some good, stupid fun. Turns out it’s just bad and stupid. This is torturously bad, as in eye-rollingly, squirm-in-your-seat, pluck-out-my-eyeballs bad.

So, if you’re over at a friend’s house and he says, “Dude, have you ever seen Delta Farce? Dude, that shit is hysterical!” and you find him plopping the DVD in with the promise of “Dude, once you see this one part…” trust me when I tell you that hitting him over the head with a frying pan is the correct course of action, followed quickly by the loud snapping sound of his copy of Delta Farce being shattered in your hands.

Copies of this movie should be erased from existence, unless we need an antidote to bad movies one day…we’ll keep a copy in the archives as a secret weapon or torture tool. Anywhere but on a shelf where it can be seen or, God forbid, watched.

Avoid this movie like the neighborhood child molester.














Evan Almighty

This movie manages to accomplish many things, none of which were intended. ONE) This movie manages to take the comedy OUT of Steve Carrell and replace it with a dull, annoying, and deer-in-the-headlights-what-am-I-doing-here performance and TWO) Completely erase the success of it’s predecessor, Bruce Almighty, which although it had it’s gooey, cheesy moments, still managed to inspire some serious laughs, not to mention a great performance from Jim Carrey and THREE) Bore the living shit out of me.

First off, here’s the deal. We didn’t need this movie. Did you ask for it? Did you? Anybody in this room? Anybody order the sequel to Bruce Almighty? Fess up, who ordered the Bruce Almighty without Jim Carrey, comedy, originality…oh, and extra boredom? Nobody?

Thaaaaaats, right. Nobody wanted this shit, but they gave it to us anyway. Some asshole sitting in his leather chair in his studio office looking at box office receipts said, “Whoa, BAM, Steve Carrell is HUGE now and his star-making performance was in Bruce Almighty…what if? Oh, this is it…this is gonna be frickin’ huge…What if we make HIM the star of a sequel, which would save us MAD loot on rehiring Jim Carrey and put more money in my big, fat pocket? I’m a genius!”
That studio exec is probably homeless now, thankfully for the lack of success in this ghastly nap-time of a movie. Once again, as with most piss-poor movies that make it into theater, this feels like a made-for-TV movie. A Disney made-for-TV movie at that. It oozes with ‘whatever’ special effects and slapstick/sight gags that are better fitted into one of those Steve Martin kid movies.

I feel sorry for every adult that had to sit through this with their kid, hoping to pull something for the grown-ups, like Bruce Almighty, but no…they sat…and suffered…and then, after suffering through the eco-friendly, Biblically challenged story, had the added pleasure of having to go home and explain the real story behind Noah and his Ark and also what the term ‘career suicide’ means.

Pulling out the original text for the inspiration to this crapfest is better suited and hopefully will teach kids how to pray so that we can all be rid of this oft-repeated sin from Hollywood, which comes in the form of Greed on a Stick, a.k.a. Evan Almighty.














Gone, Baby Gone

I guess if you want to get technical, this isn’t a bad movie. It’s not really a bad movie at all. However, if you have read the source material, namely Denis Lehane’s compelling, moody, and dark thriller of the same name, then you could plainly see that this is a piss-poor adaptation, which abandoned all the details and elements that made the novel worth making into a movie in the first place.

One of the most annoying things about book-to-film adaptations is when filmmakers make unnecessary changes/omissions, which disrupt the integrity of the book in a big way. When you read a book, especially a good one, you latch on to the intricate details and look on them as part of that world and then some schmuck comes along and kicks it to the curb.

In this case, that schmuck is Ben Affleck. Affleck turns Lehane’s novel into a cliff notes version of the book (or Gone Baby, Gone for Dummies version). He makes no attempt to consolidate scenes or moments in a way that doesn’t abort the original story. What it feels like is a blatant disregard, such as a moment where they meet about the material and say “Ah, nobody will notice.”

Affleck could have had a great film on his hands. Instead, he has a great cast and a changed-up story with no explanation for the changes. And the big payoff moments don’t pay off. The shoot outs, the action, the big scenes from the book…they’re all treated like minor moments…there’s no drama, no suspense…no imagination.

In the hands of someone like David Fincher or even Clint Eastwood, who did a great job of adapting Lehane’s “Mystic River,” this film would have been a knockout. Instead it’s a dud that abandons everything the book was about.

Now, if you haven’t read and never intend to read the novel by Lehane then you probably won’t know what the hell I’m talking about. You’ll most likely enjoy the movie. Well, maybe. Even on it’s own I can’t imagine it being an ‘all-time fave.”

However, if you don’t want to corrupt such great material, simply pick up the novel by Lehane and wander into his world. I actually like Ben Affleck, even though he’s done some real turkeys, but this is not the bugle call to a great directorial career. He needs to make a lot more noise than this. This is not the mark of a creative genius.

As far as storytelling goes, Lehane has got him dead to rights.

The Hitcher
I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said already on this one, however…I don’t mind a remake. I really don’t. They rarely hit the mark or surpass the original, but sometimes a remake can improve upon the original (re: The Thomas Crown Affair) or offer a fresh take (re: James Bond reboot).

However, plucking from one of the best cult thrillers of all-time is a bit brash and treats the original with complete disdain. The original “The Hitcher” features one of Rutger Hauer’s greatest performances as a sadistic and frightening sociopath who hitches a ride with the unsuspecting C. Thomas Howell, who is making a road trip. Enter Jennifer Jason Leigh as a waitress who befriends Howell and accompanies him on his journey to escape Hauer, who takes it upon himself to continue to terrorize Howell, if for no other reason than for the same reason a Lion chases its prey; it’s his killer instinct.

The original “The Hitcher” is raw and real, fueled with a genuine feeling of dread and suspense. The remake’s answer to that is by reversing the roles of Howell’s male lead character to a female and vice versa for Leigh’s waitress. This time it’s two college kids on the road who pick up the hitcher, this time played by the usually reliable Sean Bean (LOTR: Fellowship’s Boromir), who, although a gifted actor, doesn’t inhabit the villainous world created by Hauer by a mile.

The original’s suspense is replaced by the modern conventions of stupidity, where you find yourself yelling at the screen at how dreadfully moronic the character’s actions are (seriously, whether you own a gun or ‘believe’ in guns, would you seriously DROP the gun after firing a few shots?)

Sophia Bush as the lead is just plain weak. There are so many other actresses that could add some punch to the role (see: Juno’s Ellen Page) and Bush is just utterly forgettable.

Directed with MTV flair, once again stripping the rawness from the material, I must once again relent and put this on a made-for-TV list of crap. The sad thing is that most TV shows made today (up to and including the USA network with great shows like “The Shield” and “Rescue Me”) have ten times the production value that something like this gob of celluloid shit does.
Do yourself a favor…skip this garbage and go for the original. You will not be disappointed.














License to Wed

Robin Williams hasn’t had a hit movie since I was still a virgin and I didn’t expect this one to become the comedy hit of the year, but it had a fun cast and what looked to be a fun story.

An engaged couple (Mandy Moore and “The Office’s” John Krajinski) meet with the bride-to-be’s old pastor (Robin Williams) who puts the couple through a series of marriage tests to see if they are prepared for the road ahead (and ultimately committed to one another).

The concept gets old quickly and turns into one eye-roll, nose-snort giggle at a time, never elevating above or beyond an amateur hour effort. Krajinski does what he can with the material, but that isn’t much with this script, and Mandy Moore is…well, she’s Mandy Moore. I have yet to see Mandy Moore perform above anything beyond what you’d expect Mandy Moore to be in real life.

And Robin Williams is Robin Williams, just wearing preacher garb, but still spewing out the usual Robin Williams rhetoric of comedy, which we have all come to enjoy…ten years ago. Williams has proven to be a magnificent actor over the years and I have no doubt that he has yet to give his last great performance, but this is just embarrassing for him.

Krajinski will hopefully learn a lesson from this crap and make better choices next time, while Mandy Moore will most likely continue playing herself in every role she inhabits. Her best gig at this point would be to play Britney Spears in a biopic or at least someone that isn’t light and fluffy and infamously boring.

Hatchet
Unfortunately, for every great horror film made there are ten others that just plain suck. “Hatchet” is being preached to horror hell (which would be the equivalent of heaven for the genre) as the new face of horror, a revitalization of the slasher genre (a la Jason, Michael Myers, etc.)

My reply to this creed is thus; What-the-fuck-ever. To all the horror/geek/fanboys out there that are grasping at straws for the next best thing, please, do us all a favor and stop trying to pin the tail of success on an unsuccessful donkey. “Hatchet” is more of the same, just a little bloodier, but otherwise the same.

A melting pot of Louisiana tourists take a boat tour in the swamps to see legendary haunted spots, but are instead marooned inland only to face the savagery of a mythical killer who is hell-bent on killing anyone who…well, comes near him.
Boring and unimaginative, and with nothing new to offer, this is simply another straight to DVD (I don’t care if it was in theaters for a week…that makes it even worse) toss away that horror fans are trying to pump life into even when the body has been dead and cold for over a decade.

I’d love to see a return to the good stuff (or maybe even the invention of some new stuff) but this shit is tired and weak. You can’t rationalize a bad horror movie into being good one by saying that it redefines the normal conventions by simply killing off the whole cast and letting the bad guy win.

Shit’s weak.


AVP: Requiem
This movie is so bad that I have to write a full smack-down review for it. Just stray away (yes, I said stray) and trust me. Smack-down to follow. Stay tuned.



What I thought
These are movies that didn’t really fall into either good or bad categories, but more in the ‘meh’ category. However, since I neglected reviews for the last year and a half I feel obliged to give my thoughts.

Spider-Man 3
Directed by: Sam Raimi (Spider-Man 1 & 2, Evil Dead Trilogy, Darkman)
Written by: Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Without a doubt the weakest of the series and unfortunately so. Black costume. Venom. A darker side of Spidey…how could it all go wrong? First off, it seems like the filmmakers felt that including Sandman was the best choice for the main villain and that venom would be the surprise, secondary villain that wouldn’t show up til the end to add that extra villainous flavor and give the audience the illusion that they are getting more for their money.

Well, they’re actually getting less, because with Venom showing up in the last reel, what the audience is left with is a hunger for more of this kick-ass new villain and less of the boring, ho-hum second rate villain that is The Sandman. Sandman, by current Spider-Man comic book continuity is a throwaway second-tier villain that is more humorous than foreboding. He’s a 1950’s old school fanboy creation, dated and silly.

We’ve seen the “sandman” effect portrayed onscreen years ago with “The Mummy” so it’s nothing new or exciting here. Venom, for anyone that has even a sliver of knowledge of Spider-Man comics, has always been a popular and creepy character…the antithesis of Spider-Man himself, an evil version if you will. The dynamic has always been strong between these two characters and easily could have filled the third entry from start to finish without the back up of a lesser villain.

What gave me the biggest impression of how this film would turn out was the press interviews from its cast on TV. Tobey Maguire has done a nice job as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the past two films and does a fine job here as well, but man, does he look and sound completely and utterly bored with the franchise on TV. Then you have Kirsten Dunst as Spidey’s love interest, who in every interview rolls her eyes and nods, as if to say (and in some instances literally saying it) “Yes, we’ve done ANOTHER one, yes, yes, with the effects and the long hours and the millions of dollars and yes, but I’m so tired and it’s so tiring making a big budget movie, I just wish Cameron Crowe would call me so I can do another ‘little’ film like ‘Elizabethtown.’ This way I’d at least be boring audiences for what I think is movie art…”

Okay, maybe she didn’t say all that literally, but that’s what I heard from the drone in her voice and the droop in her body language. It feels like they rushed the film, rushing to duplicate success and keep the brain alive to a profitable franchise and sacrificed the time and care needed to continue feeding that cash cow for it’s very lucrative milk.

And dance numbers? Really? We are supposed to take this seriously? Look, everyone knows (or thinks they do) that comic books are silly (unless they’ve actually read one), but, newsflash, the only real comic books that are like Archie are…Archie. The majority are thought-provoking, well scripted, and beautifully drawn and orchestrated pieces of work that far surpass this blisteringly drab cinematic blunder.

It’s cool as hell to see Venom and even to revisit Peter Parker as he continues to grow in the big city and continues his trials as a superhero, but it’s all awash in this unfocused and uninspired threequel.













Pirates of the Caribb
ean: At World's End
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates 1 & 2, The Mexican, The Ring)
Written by: Ted Elliot and Terry Rosio
I was never a huge fan of the first Pirates film, but it had style and character and Keira Knightley, and Johnny Depp doing what he does best, namely, chewing up the screen. I thought the sequel had some truly jaw-dropping, flawless effects work, more Keira Knightley, and a great end sequence as Depp’s Jack Sparrow enters the belly of the beast so-to-speak.

The conclusion to this epic let’s-go-ahead-and-make-it-a-trilogy trilogy is a bit long-winded, but is the darkest and strangest of the three, which to me makes it the best. The first is fun and frolicky, but the third finds its way into much darker territory, combining the best of the first two films and taking us down a much bleaker hole for the characters of this epic ride.

It’s no Return of the King/Jedi, but it’s a fitting and unexpected end to the trilogy, which left me with a lot of respect for director Gore Verbinski and co., for not giving us a candy-coated happy ending that most would expect. By making it bittersweet and imperfect it leaves the audience a taste for what could lie ahead and leaves the filmmakers with the opportunity to grease the wheels of this money-making machine once again. A good move for all involved.

The Simpsons Movie
Directed by: David Silverman
Written by: James L. Bro
oks and Matt Greoning
I am not a religious Simpson’s watcher. It’s one of those shows that if I am somehow trapped into watching it I will laugh and have a good time, but never feel the desire to watch it on a regular basis or play catch up on DVD. It’s a fun, creative, and quirky show, but it just doesn’t draw me in like that.

The movie is like most of the recent Hollywood remakes; completely unnecessary. Although not an expert at Simpson lore, I saw nothing in this film that expands upon or raises the bar to an already strong series and characters. It’s simply more of the same, just an hour longer.

Unlike the South Park movie, which elevated the material (i.e. swearing) and expanded the universe to include even the afterlife, The Simpsons movie inhabits the same plane of existence it always has. Perhaps that is enough for die hard fans, but I wanted to see them take it to another level.

They teased at the possibility of making this movie for years (I don’t know why this excited people) and then, BAM! Here it is and who cares? Yeah, it was funny, it was creative, but it SO did NOT need a theatrical release. I still won’t buy it or ever willingly watch it again.














Zodiac

Directed by: David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven)
Written by: James Vanderbilt
Based on the
book by: Robert Graysmith

David Fincher has done some phenomenal work in his career, although not as much as I’d like. He does a film about every 3-4 years and it’s usually something he takes a long time working on. He’s got focus and he’s got vision and a truly magnificent style.

None of that is lost in “Zodiac,” the true-life account of the Zodiac killer in San Francisco in the late 70’s. Fincher re-enacts the events, up to and including the investigative aspect that is shown through the San Francisco newspaper, which begins receiving the Zodiac’s letters.

Robert Downey Jr., plays a journalist who is tracking down the story (and the killer) and as always he gives a stellar performance. Jake Gyllenhal plays the newspaper cartoonist who is able to crack the Zodiac’s coded messages and becomes obsessed with the case. Mark Ruffalo plays the detective who is assigned the case. These are the three leads of the film and we bounce back and forth with them throughout.

The problem for me with Zodiac is that it’s too long, too convoluted (much like the actual case), and it’s just all over the map (just like the actual case). Now, seeing as the film’s similarities are aligned with the progress of the actual case, one could argue that this makes the film that much better. Well, yes and no.

I liked Zodiac. It is interesting and compelling and confusing. You have to really pay attention. Maybe even have some scratch paper nearby. The performances are all great and Fincher captures the look and feel of the 70’s flawlessly. It doesn’t feel like someone trying to fool you with appearances.

I think the biggest weakness for Zodiac is the material itself. It’s an interesting case, but the bottom line is, it was unsolved, dragged on for years, and even to this day there is no one-hundred-percent piece of evidence that proves who the killer is or was.

For audiences, this lack of closure can leave you with a ho-hum or cheated feeling. Personally, I am glad they stuck with the facts and delivered a film that draws you in and keeps you guessing. However, when the film was over it left me with the thought that, “yes, it was a good film, but…there was something about it that just didn’t push it over the top for me.” Sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on it.

Probably the lack of any action sequences (aside from the re-enacted murders) or any real suspense. The movie drags out for years and there are no ticking-clock scenarios that leave you hinging on the edge of your seat, aside from the brief brushes with a man who might have possibly been the killer.

This is a great watch for the initial viewing, but I doubt anyone will be sitting around the house and watching this one over and over again.












Shooter

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Screenplay by: Jonathan Lemkin

Based on the novel "Point of Impact" by: Stephen Hunter

I did not read the novel in which this film is based, but I did read “Black Light” by Stephen Hunter, which follows the exploits of Bob Lee Swagger, retired Vietnam war vet/sniper who is constantly pulled into the fray of something or other and forced to use his war mongering skills to help someone or snuff someone out. The character reminded me of a John Rambo that came back from the war to a family, rather than a overwrought sheriff with a chip on his shoulder.

Swagger is old, rough, and smart as a whip. I always imagined Tommy Lee Jones or Bruce Willis in the role, but Hollywood, as always, has to try and replicate success, damn the consequences or source material. So, what we have is Bob Lee Swagger as an ex-Marine sniper (Mark Wahlberg) who is drawn into a Presidential assassination plot. The film tries real hard to replicate the success of the “Bourne” series, but is too misguided and aloof to jump into that arena.

Swagger is also not a hitman or spy, he’s a sniper, a Marine, a soldier, not a spook. Now, “Shooter” plays up his soldiering and sniper skills, which is great, but the problem is they don’t give Wahlberg anything to lose. Yeah, he’s a bad ass, he’s tough, smart, all that. But, he doesn’t have anything to lose but himself and that doesn’t seem like much when you consider the situation.

He is framed for the assassination and hence sent on the run to clear his name and nail the guys that framed him. It’s nice to see Danny Glover, who plays an Army LT Colonel, as a villain for once, with movie vet Ned Beatty in tow as a corrupt US Senator.

Wahlberg does just fine with the material and coupled with Kate Mara, a beautiful young actress, puts up some leading man toughness that is needed for this type of role, without falling into the streetwise tough guy he normally plays.

There is some decent action in this flick, but nothing truly memorable or iconic. Director Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur) can shoot and stage action, but he never really rises above the by-the-numbers stuff. What happened to the iconic sequences…Bruce Willis jumping off the skyscraper in Die Hard just before it explodes, Schwarzenegger lighting the torch and giving a barbaric yell as he calls to his nemesis in Predator or Stallone preparing his gear in Rambo?

This is a lost art to the Hollywood action film and it would be a shining achievement for a director to bring it back. The problem is that there are so many directors being given the chance and none of them are taking up the mantle.

“Shooter” has its moments and it’s a great rental and you may even find yourself liking it enough for repeat viewings. It’s by no means a terrible movie, but it’s not a classic either. It’s one of those action movies that has all the ingredients to be something great, but instead comes off as just okay.













Rob Zombie’s Halloween

Written and Directed by: Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects)

Wow. Now, this is a movie that has riled up some of the most hardened horror fans. The original Halloween is a work of brilliance, a work of superior suspense that, even today, will still have you covering your mouth and yelling at the TV as Jamie Lee Curtis attempts to escape from the psychopathic Michael Myers. It’s absolute classic horror and is a great cinematic achievement.

The remake/reimagining of the franchise by Rob Zombie is something else entirely. And, to me, it’s pretty damn good. Now, let’s be clear…I LOVED House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Loved ‘em. Great shock and gore horror, all around. Being a Rob Zombie fan, I was looking forward to seeing what he would do with this franchise.

Zombie takes it almost where I expected. He takes Myers and gives him a past, a history, a childhood. We see Myers as a kid, the type of life he was living and the world that surrounded him. Naturally, for Zombie, this is best shown in a white trash world, filled with abusive boyfriends, a stripper mom, a whore sister, and a group of bullies to turn his world upside down. No wonder he’s so fucked in the head.

Most supporters of the original saw this as a dreadful and abominable thing to do. They feel that never knowing why Myers was a psycho adds to the suspense. And, in some ways, they are right. However, I found myself interested in the take on Myers childhood. Although I may not have bought into his motives for taking the step to murder, it was still a compelling direction to go.

Had Zombie remade Halloween without this aspect, I think we would have been stuck with a shot-by-shot remake, which would have been a deeper insult to supporters of the original. Instead, Zombie didn’t try to please everyone and put himself into the work, offering a different view into the character and delving deeper into scenes that were only hinted at in the original.

The weakest aspect of Zombie’s version is the lead actress. Scout Taylor-Compton is pretty enough and is a decent enough actress, but does not inhabit the Laurie Strode that has defined the damsel in distress for horror films for a generation now. Laurie Strode is shy and quiet and smart and apprehensive. Taylor-Compton is a perky little thing, just kind of bouncing around and trying to pretend that she is innocent, but never convincing anyone.

Taylor-Compton doesn’t offer up the suspense or the sympathy needed for her character. The audience needs to care about this girl in order to drive that suspense when Myers is trying to kill her. Instead she falls just slightly above the typical horror movie female lead, who we could care less if she lives or dies (and would actually be more excited if she was killed.)

I saw a very early cut while I was in Iraq (bootlegs galore!) and the ending was W-E-A-K. I just recently rewatched it on DVD with the unrated cut and it is far superior. We get a ton more action and suspense, which was sorely needed (and still not enough).

Zombie succeeds in creating his vision, but obviously doesn’t satisfy the horror masses (which is nearly impossible to begin with…serious horror movie fans are so finicky about every little detail and all of them like one or more horror movies that are God-awful). For me, though, I had a good time, despite some half-assed performances (to include child Myers, who wasn’t quite convincing enough, but definitely better than Jake Lloyd in Star Wars), the film succeeds on the Three B’s (boobs, bush, and blood) and is a lot more focused and entertaining than the average PG-13 crap that is churned out regularly













The Brave One

Directed by: Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire)
Written by: Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Tayl
or

This revenge tale has some great performances and a compelling story, but it’s almost too in love with its assets to let us simply enjoy it without being pushed into it. Jodie Foster plays a woman hell-bent on vengeance after she and her boyfriend (Lost’s Naveen Anderews) are assaulted in Central Park, leaving her boyfriend dead and her dog stolen.

Foster, who nearly always turns out something Oscar worthy (except that fucking Nell bullshit) is at the top of her game here, but that’s almost the problem. Foster is so over-the-top good that it gets distracting, like someone who is so very skilled at something and you can tell when they are showing off, Foster is too much here.

Believable, sure, but definitely too much. A more subtle performance for certain scenes would have improved the film by miles, not that it’s trash by any respect. The Brave One is a good film, which really puts you in the moment, forcing you to wonder what you would do in the same situation.

Foster plays a radio show host, who turns her experiences over in coded messages over the radio and is being tracked by a cop (‘Hustle & Flow’s’ Terrance Howard), who may be too much on her side for his own good.

I think ultimately what bothered me about this film was the fact that Jodie Foster doesn’t know how to tone it down and that, although I have no problem with it whatsoever, it feels like we are being beaten over the head with Foster being involved with Naveen Andrews.

I can just see the meeting where Foster fights to have a man of a different color as her lover to show how different and accepting she is. It just feels forced and maybe it is my own viewpoints, as I’m not perfect, but knowing Foster’s oddball politics, it feels like she’s trying to cram a message into a simple revenge flick.

This is an instance where there is too much substance and not enough style. This is a fun watch, but by no means a classic or groundbreaking. Take it for what it’s worth.









I Am Legend

Directed by: Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Written by: Mark Protos
evich and Akiva Goldsman

I was never too excited for this one and I felt that it had a big ladder to climb, which made for a long fall down. Will Smith is a star by all accounts, a great actor/performer, who usually chooses great material and a creative crew to work with. You can almost always count on at least a great performance from him if the film he’s in fails to deliver.

Here, Smith is in Tom Hank’s territory, namely Castaway, playing a military doctor who is marooned in New York city after a viral outbreak that kills off the majority of the human population. Smith’s doctor is on the hunt for a cure and spends his days hunting for food or gathering materials for his research, along with his German Shepard companion.

Things are fairly slow moving as we watch Smith’s day-to-day activities, which are filled with interesting and comical routines, showcasing the loneliness and eeriness of being ‘the last man on earth.’

We see flashback sequences of the night when New York City is in the throes of its final evacuation and Smith, along with his wife and daughter, are trying to get out. Smith chooses to stay and the devastating results of the evacuation aren’t revealed until we are three-quarters in.

Smith eats up every scene he’s in and you feel for his estranged character and companion pooch. It’s subtle and believable and the CGI’d landscape shots of an empty, unkempt New York City are phenomenal.

Things heat up with Smith comes face to face with the vampiric zombies that are the result of the virus that was released on the human population. They cannot be in sunlight and crave blood (although distractingly have no fangs). Herein lies the problem; The VampZombies are terribly CGI’d and unbelievable or scary. They look about as good as a video game animation and it was totally unnecessary.

Today’s make-up effects are top notch and you can get a whole lot for very little. The budget of this sci-fi epic would have been seriously cut down had they invested in some serious and inventive make up for the VampZombies. Instead, we are left with third rate video game villains and it hurts the film.

Naturally, the film falls apart at the end. No iconic or believable showdowns or sequences that leave a stain of excellence in your brain. We are treated to a ho-hum, snore of an ending, which makes you wonder if the filmmakers looked at what they had and in the middle of filming just weren’t sure what would work and just hodge-podged it all together.

We, or at least me, as an audience, need to see more of a confrontation, a fight, a struggle in the films that claim to be action or sci-fi or any combination of the two. Smith has the physicality and the chops to suck us into a good fight and the filmmakers have the tools, they just forget that an audience came to see a show.

I Am Legend succeeds in it’s portrayal of the last man on earth on his quest to cure the world, but fails at delivering a finale to it’s tale, instead tripping over it’s own ambitions (or lack thereof), leaving us with something that feels empty or unfinished.













Live Free or Die Hard

Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: Mark Bomback

Let it be known that the original Die Hard is and has been since its release, my favorite movie. Yes, I like it even more than Schindler’s List. It is the most finely tuned piece of action filmmaking ever to grace the screen in my humble opinion. It is taught, thrilling, suspenseful, humorous, and riddled with great characters, quotable dialogue, and that all-important iconic action that has made Die Hard the blueprint for every action movie since it first graced the screen.

I thought Die Hard 2 was decent (and the closest that Willis ever came to capturing the character of John McClane in subsequent sequels) and managed to retain a semblance of great characters and iconic action sequences. More importantly, it was fun and thrilling and captured the Die Hard sense of claustrophobia on a bigger scale.

I was ecstatic that Die Hard with a Vengeance was being directed by the masterful John McTiernan, who directed the original (as well as the original Predator and The Hunt For Red October). However, perhaps my expectations were too high, but the third series, while a solid action movie, completely fell to pieces in the end (there were reshoots and a completely changed ending), which ruined an otherwise engaging part of the series.

Then, along came Live Free or Die Hard, the first Die Hard movie that I would NOT be seeing in the theaters. I, like most Die Hard fans, was appalled at the PG-13 rating (I fucking hate the PG-13 rating, period. And the MPAA. This is a whole other blog). It was completely unnecessary and an obvious cop-out on the studio’s part, to sacrifice integrity for the almighty buck. Not that that’s anything new, just disappointing.

Once I got over the rating and the fact that Willis went bald for the role (I guess that aspect takes me further out of the character) I was all set to give this one a fair shot and lowering my expectations.

Live Free turned out to be an entertaining, although cold and clean feeling film, with a great turn from Justin Long as the cyber-sidekick (who I was SO ready to hate) and a not-so-bad-guy performance from Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood). What this film lacked was quite a bit; swearing, blood, realistic violence, and more natural-feeling settings. Although shot in D.C., everything feels staged…as if they borrowed the set from “I Am Legend” when they were done for the day.

Yeah, there are scenes with people, but we have no faces to those people, no interaction…you never feel like you are in there with McClane, you really feel like you are watching it from afar. The other Die Hard films made you feel like you were in McClane’s world, making every turn around the corner eerie and suspenseful.

Here, you feel like you’re visiting a 20th Century Fox set. Director Wiseman stages some decent stuff here, the coolest (and most over-the-top) sequence being the jet vs. semi scene, which is shot and edited with precision and equals out to a near iconic moment for McClane, but didn’t have the suspense or build-up to fully realize it.

It would have been great to have McTiernan back for this one, regardless of some of the crap he’s subjected us too in subsequent years (Rollerball and Basic, namely). McTiernan, regardless of his shortcomings, has more to teach ??? then he’ll most likely ever learn on his own. Not that he’s a bad director, he’s just young and about on par with Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, AVP)

The unrated version of the DVD features the swearing put back in, which doesn’t necessarily improve the film, but lets me at least believe the dialogue. The blood gags in the first three Die Hard films were part of its lore. Who can forget McClane at the very end as he confronts Hans Gruber, covered in blood, trailing it behind him as if he’d just been dipped in a vat of offal.

This IS Die Hard. The blood, the make-you-believe-it’s-real violence. Not the over-the-top Transporter-ish shit. Live Free has its moments, but if you took the Die Hard out of the title it could very well just be another action flick.

I love the character of John McClane and would love to see him recaptured by Willis with the right director in tow, but I think that we will have to simply admire and enjoy the success of the first Die Hard and let it stand as a tremendous accomplishment that simply cannot be replicated. Sometimes, MANY times, that is okay.

Until Rob Zombie comes in to remake it. Use your imagination there.

What I will be watching in 2008:
CLICK THE TITLE TO VIEW A TRAILER!! (Quicktime format if available)

Rambo
John Rambo is back and, man, can we use him. What looks to be a bloody good time, Stallone takes us to war-torn Burma, where a group of missionaries are caught up in the violence, forcing Rambo’s conscious (and thirst for blood, no less) to their aid. The internet-only trailer gives us a glimpse of some serious ultra violence that I can only pray to the movie gods that it will be salvaged in the final cut.

Vantage Point
This was supposed to be released in 07, but was pushed back for some reason. This looks like a great cat-and-mouse action chase thriller, with Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox teaming up as Secret Service agents out to thwart an attempted Presidential assassination gone wrong. A great supporting cast and a kick ass trailer make this one look very promising, but it could go either way.



Iron Man
I’ve never been much of an Iron Man fan, but his recent activities in the comic universe have elevated him to a political icon, which has really brought him to the forefront of the Marvel world. Robert Downey Jr. is a brilliant choice to play the billionaire inventor/playboy/alcoholic Tony Stark, who creates a suit of armor to both save his life and to fight evil. Jon Favreau at the helm promises an attention to fanboy detail that will hopefully show onscreen.


Horton Hears a Who
As I don’t have kids, I’m not usually lining up for the latest in kid-friendly fare at the box office, but the animation for this looks superb and with the voice talents of Steve Carrell AND Jim Carrey it’s not a party I want to miss. Plus, the Who characterizations are a blast and I loved their representation in the Grinch. Here’s to hoping they can recreate a ride just as fun.


Cloverfield
Kudos to the marketing department as they’ve teased the hell out of this flick, using the shaky-camcorder vision to show us glimpses of what looks like a remake of Godzilla. By keeping the monster under tight wraps and never showing us more than enough to make us dreadfully curious, the filmmakers have definitely caught my attention. J.J. Abrams is really kind of brilliant, even if just producing, so let’s see if he can continue that streak on this one.


Be Kind Rewind
This looks to be one of the most original and fun comedies in years. Two video store owners in the 1980’s have their entire stock of movies magnetized and decide to shoot their own versions of the films instead of buying new ones to rent to customers. Jack Black and some rapper play the owners, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michael Gondry writing and directing. Looks to be ingenious fun.

Hancock
A superhero flick with Will Smith directed by Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Friday Night Lights)? I’m in. The premise of a superhero that is very powerful but not very good at being a superhero is a fresh take on the waning genre. This looks to be a fun, effects- laden ride. Added bonus; supporting actor Jason Bateman…give this guy a lead role already!


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This needs little explanation. The sixth in the series and directed by Order of the Phoenix’s David Yates, this dark tale that highlights the villain Voldemort’s shady past is a dark and violent tale and one that ends the death of a major character. I’m in to the end, baby.




Valkyrie
Bryan Singer returns to his suspense/thriller roots with this true story of a German officer (Tom Cruise) who gathers a group of similarly-minded soldiers in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Always the usual hub-bub of Cruise, but whatever…I’m a Cruise fan, whether he believes in space aliens as God or not, he always delivers the goods (although, did anyone see Lions for Lambs? Good, me neither). Singer, who severely disappointed me with Superman Returns, will hopefully give us something as worthy as his outstanding breakthrough work, “The Usual Suspects.”


Speed Racer
The Wachowski Brothers do speed! The trailer has left a lot of people hesitant about this cartoon adaptation, but I have a feeling they’ll deliver. The Wachowski’s have an eye for visual storytelling and, c’mon, they’re adapting a cartoon that most people never really watched anyway. Looks like a trippy ride to me.

The Dark Knight
No doubt this is the movie I’m looking forward to the most. Director Christopher Nolan returns with this sequel to his excellent reboot, “Batman Begins” and it promises to deliver more of the same plus some…namely The Joker, Nolan-style. Heath Ledger as The Joker looks to be yet another magnificent incarnation of the infamous character, with the same dark and realistic tone set by ‘Begins,’ this sequel promises to be another powerhouse entry into the series.


You Don’t Mess With The Zohan
It’s rare that I get excited for an Adam Sandler flick, but this looks like his most original and inspired films in a along time. Creating an all new character (albeit, one that has many similarities to Borat), an Israeli Special Forces soldier turned hairdresser named Zohan, Sandler seems to be jumping into broader territory, namely a more creative pasture. Zohan could always go either way (as could any movie I name here) but it looks hilarious and my fingers are crossed for a solid delivery.

The Pineapple Express
Seth Rogen and James Franco star at two stoners who witness a cop being murdered and go on the lam with all sorts of bad guys in tow. From the same writing team of Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who brought us "Superbad" this should have the same blend of fun and humor as their first effort with a lot more action.


Body of Lies
This political action thriller from director Ridley Scott features Leonardo DiCaprio as a former journalist injured in the Iraq war who is hired by the CIA to track down an Al Qaeda leader in Jordan. With Russell Crowe in tow as a CIA agent assigned to work with DiCaprio, all the elements are together for a knockout.


Semi-Pro
Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell), the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association's Flint Michigan Tropics, rallies his teammates to make their NBA dreams come true. The red-band trailer for this is hilarious. Let's hope the entire film is this good.




Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo
The first Harold and Kumar was surprisingly funny, considering it should've been on a worst of list. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Once again, the red-band trailer for this shows that they really had a blast putting this together. I'm onboard.


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Do I really have to say anything about this?









Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Devastated Peter (Jason Segel) takes a Hawaii vacation in order to deal with recent break-up with his TV star girlfriend, Sarah (Kristen Bell). Little does he know Sarah's traveling to the same resort as her ex ... and she's bringing along her new boyfriend. Everyone will recognize Segal from "Knocked Up," and this one has the potential to compete for that film's success.



The Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton co-wrote the script (and stars as Bruce Banner) to this with "Transporter" director Louis Leterrier taking over the helm from Ang Lee, who gave us a touchy-feely Hulk that failed to inspire. Norton and co. promise a rolicking good time, returning to the comic book roots, revitalizing the franchise with the smash 'em up goods we have all been waiting to see. Tim Roth is onboard as supervillain The Abomination with Liv Tyler as Betty Banner.



Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy) returns to his franchise based on the comic characters created by Mike Mignola. The first Hellboy was an action-packed ride with some outlandishly creative work. The sequel looks to have more of the same with a touch of the Pan's Labyrinth style as well. Can't wait.


Punisher: War Zone
Yeah, yeah, the Thomas Jane version released a few years ago was nothing short of ass, but my fingers are crossed for director/kickboxer Lexi Alexander's (Green Street Hooligans) version, which promises an R-rating, a new face to the character of Frank Castle, and of course, fan-favorite villain Jigsaw. We've already had two strikes on The Punisher franchise, so here's to hoping they can knock this one out of the park.

There are TONS more films coming out in 2008, this is just a sampling of what I'm looking forward to. Thanks to all my readers for visiting my blogsite over the past year. Without you, I'm writing love letters to the wind. Hope to have you back again and again through the next year.

COMING UP:

I’ve got a full review of “No Country For Old Men” on the way. It is deserving of a full review, as well as AVP: Requiem, but for VERY different reasons. Also, another "military" blog and maybe a humorous story or two. Stay Tuned!

7 comments:

mr.boy said...

C'mon now, were you REALLY expecting even an ounce of authenticity from a movie like "Delta Farce?"

Stuff like that goes in the "movies that are too shitty to even waste my time watching" category.

I went on some movie spoiler website and read about AVP2. Your thoughts pretty much confirm what I'd read, so thank you for saving me from that one.

I enjoyed "I Am Legend" to a certain degree. Mainly though for Will Smith, who I thought rocked the house. A big issue for me was the use of lame-ass CG monsters. It totally removed any sense of threat or tension. That, and it just sorta fell apart toward the end.

It's funny that you mention the "feel" of "Live Free or Die Hard" because most of it was filmed in LA and not DC. The tunnel, the FBI headquarters, etc.

There definately were some scenes shot in Washington, but having worked all over LA, and on a bunch of studio lots, it was pretty easy to figure out the locations.

I didn't care though, I was having too much fun. Cop car crashing into a helicopter!!! Great stuff.

Oh, and I thought Spidey 3 sucked major nards -- with the exception of Thomas Haden Church. Weird "emo" Peter Parker; James Franco painting; Kirsten Dunst's big ugly mongoloid head. I surprise even myself by saying Topher Grace WASN'T the worst part about this movie.

Thankfully, we have some cool stuff to look forward to this year.


Keep on a'bloggin'!!!

Anonymous said...

I am glad I missed most of the movies on your "worst of" list. I would like to add Because I Said So to your list. Awful, terrible, and my girl Mandy Moore could NOT save this train wreck.

-The Wife

Paul said...

The Wife,
Mandy Moore has NEVER saved a movie. The only way she could do that is to appear nude, because her acting is w-e-a-k.
The Husband

aheartfromtheblueridge said...

YOU are a TRIP!!!

My favorite part in Die Hard was Bruce hittin that bitch in the face w/his fist. What a smack. The chopper scene was cool too.

Liked the Shooter, but then I like Wahlberg. Got annoyed in the bedroom where from one second to the next it turns all white. Cheesy.

No 3:10 to Yuma?

Thanks for keeping me updated. Like the photos w/commentary.

aheartfromtheblueridge said...

Oh yeah, like the "Thoughts, Perspective, Swearing"....perfect description for you.

Paul said...

I saw a REALLY bad copy of 3:10 to Yuma while in Iraq and really enjoyed it...and as I got to the end of the film...the final showdown at the train...the moment of truth...Russell Crowe holding his gun, his men surrounding him...and...BLACKNESS...the asshole with the camcorder covered the lens...I hear gunshots...about 20 seconds later he uncovers the lens and I see Crowe on a train...Fucking pirates.
So, I can't really fairly judge that one yet, although what I saw was pretty great...Whenever Netflix gets around to it...

aheartfromtheblueridge said...

Ya gotta see 3:10. Best movie I have seen in ages. It's a keeper. I don't watch too many movies a second time, but this movie I will watch again. It's one of those movies no matter how many times you see it you don't mind watching it again. Least in my opinion.

I loved the facial expressions... outstanding. Love Crowe, hate Bale, but in this movie he was tolerable, he didn't ruin it for me. Ben Foster was great so was Logan Lerman, and I am not a fan of kid actors.

Interesting tid bit at the end the scenes at the train; the movie set had tons of snow dumped on it, which put a kink in production and filming. So they brought in truck loads of dirt, I had no clue it was winter as I watched the movie. The magic of Hollywood.

I will be waiting to hear your thoughts, perspectives, and swearing about this movie once you can watch it proper.

Ha! Was wondering if you had Netflix.

Still playing catch up w/your old posts. Good stuff.