Monday, March 10, 2008

What I've Been Watching

I know I've been absent for a while, but, as usual, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things. For my rabid five or six fans, here is a quick update on what I've been watching. I get asked most about what I'm watching and although I do not aspire to be a critic, but rather critiqued myself, I simply can't help myself. If I'm gonna talk shit then it may as well be in a public forum.

I REALLY do have a few good things sitting in Word, gathering digital dust and as soon as I get rid of this procrastination bug, then I will plaster it up here...

In the meantime...What I've been watching...

Directed by: Matt Reeves

A lot of people have asked for my perspective on this film, possibly because they didn’t quite know what to make of it themselves. For me, this film succeeds on many levels, especially the marketing, which drove audiences to the theater by the hordes for what seemed to be mere curiosity.

I love the use of the shaky-cam amateur filmmaking that is happening in a lot of movies now, thanks largely to the population’s immersion in online videos like you tube or ogrish. We are becoming a culture immersed in the throes of reality everything and why not include it in the big-budget extravaganzas that you would LEAST expect to see it?

Following a group of friends through New York after a monster (a la Godzilla) rampages through the city we are deeply invested in their struggle to stay alive and rescue a trapped and possibly dead friend. Most people have seen J.J. Abrams name strewn across this film and it definitely has his stamp. From the twenty-something angst of getting older and growing up, break ups and hook ups included, we are treated to a more three dimensional group of characters rather than the one note song of Matthew Broderick in Godzilla.

Now, I must admit, throughout the film I found myself turning away from the screen as the nausea built up from time to time (note to self: don’t sit so freakin’ close). This is the problem with the amateur shaky cam extravaganza. At some point, you would think, with our aforementioned culture so ready to become the next Spielberg with their Sony HD cam in hand, that they would take the time to steady the fucking camera and learn the rule of thirds and basic framing techniques. These guys shoot as if just trying to get some b-roll.

However, Cloverfield still shines as a cinematic achievement, blending the hyper-reality of amateur filmmaking with the likes of a Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) epic, only with much better characters and a more kinetic and realistic energy.

The monster is seen mostly in passing and we get a good look near the end, but ultimately it’s not about the monster, which is a feat in itself, especially when today’s sellout market is so reliant on the bells and whistles of a movie in order to further the cash cow to the bank. Many times the studios forget what they’re really putting out there…unless they’re Roland Emmerich, in which case you can go get your 10,000 B.C. lunchbox, happy meal, action figure, etc.

Cloverfield is a skimpy 80-odd minutes and it goes by fast, chock full of shocks, surprises, and ‘holy shit’ moments to rev up any moviegoer. It’s pure entertainment, put together with care and spirit, something very rare indeed.


Directed by: Sylvester Stallone

I had a much larger review for this in the works, but have since abandoned it due to it being delayed for so long. Sometimes the short and sweet is better anyways as I am no stranger to beating the living shit out of a dead horse.

Rambo is, without a doubt, one of the best action films ever made. That’s a bold statement, I know. However, when you look at what an action film is Rambo lives up to all of the qualities and then ups the bar by giving us an in-your-face, unexpectedly raw and violent movie, taking great strides from his three prior entries into the series of John Rambo.

Rambo is more in theme with its original, First Blood, and nowhere near the campy hijinks of the sequels that followed. I grew up on Rambo at the height of his popularity and well into the use of his name as an adjective or state of mind. I loved the brutal reality of the first film and the campy fun of the sequels. But this fourth film is something else entirely…

We pick up many years after Rambo 3 with our silent hero living the quiet life near Burma, running a snake-catching/boat taxi business and still trying to tame the beast within. Stallone plays it much more aloof this time out, but still within the parameters of what you’d think of John J. Rambo as a man about to enter the last stages of life.

What I love is the buildup of the character…always silent, lost in his own stare, never saying much but when he does it’s well thought out and direct to the point. To me, this is what makes Rambo such a force to be reckoned with. He is a man of thought and action. There is no in-between. He says what he means and does what he says.

The true kudos belong entirely to Stallone who gives the rest of the A-List directors in Hollywood a wake-up call they won’t soon forget; namely by showing the true grit and consequence of real-world violence, sparing us the cutaways and unseen carnage. He shows us the cards. He shows us the whole fucking deck and we are able to really see what we’re playing with. Amazing.

However annoyed you may be by hearing a combat vets perspective (get used to it…there’s a lot of us now) I found the realistic portrayal of violence just as shocking as anyone, but at the same time was happy to see someone finally give it to the audience straight. I’ve seen what a .50 machine gun can do and if you don’t want to see it in real life then just go watch Rambo…you won’t find a more accurate portrayal.

When explosions go off, body parts fly off, charred bits of flesh sail through the air and the brutal slaughter of innocent children is no longer a hand over our eyes. Many critics argued that this is excessive and self indulgent. They are wrong. I don’t care what their opinion is. They’re wrong. Seeing a child get stuck with a bayonet does not bring satisfaction, it brings to light what it really is to see an innocent killed by a monster.

And therein lays another check in the box for Rambo. If you don’t absolutely HATE the Burmese soldiers by the end of this film then you are the darkest sadist on the block. And when Rambo gets on that .50 and orchestrates an opus of destruction upon the Burmese army you will find yourself welling up with the feelings of sweet, sweet vindication.

The film also gives us a chance to see Rambo lead fellow ex-soldiers, putting him back where he is at his best. Watching him work and put his military skills and killer instinct to work is joyous. I truly felt that they really got to the core of this character and threw in some great variables for him to deal with. Some fans argued that they should send Rambo to Iraq and fight Al Qaeda.

As Stallone himself said, that would be an insult to those that are fighting that battle. By tackling the real-life status in Burma, where there is no military intervention (much like the Afghans and the Soviets in Rambo 3…talk about ironic foreshadowing), we are able to have our eyes opened and enter a situation in which we have no predispositions or politics, seeing as most people don’t even know where or what the fuck Burma is.

Now, to back up my earlier statement if I haven’t clarified enough, I’m not bullshitting when I say that Rambo is one of the best action films ever made. When I was a kid I said that after every new action movie I saw. After seeing “Universal Soldier” I told my brother that, “Yeah, I guess that’s my new favorite action movie,” and then years later, after suffering through that Roland Emmerich pile of crap, I realized how misguided and unseasoned I was.

Today, my thoughts could not be more clear (at least in my own, humble viewpoints) and by all accounts Rambo rocks more ass than Bret Michaels backstage after singing ‘Every Rose has it’s Thorn’ in Poison’s height of fame. The harsh, grungy, and fierce violence is unrelenting, the characters are alive in their own afflictions and Stallone is finally able to resolve the heart of a character evolved over three generations.


27 Dresses
Directed by: Anne Fletcher

I agreed/was dragged to this romcom about a woman (Katherine Heigl) who is ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride,’ nearly making a career of it. Heigl is deeply in love with her boss, played by Edward Burns, and when her sister (Malin Ackerman) comes to visit all hell breaks loose as the sister and the boss fall in love and get engaged. To top it off, a reporter (James Marsden) is covering a story on the career bridesmaid as it all goes down.

I really had no expectations for this one, but for a PG-13 romcom it’s pretty good. Heigl proves she’s not a one-trick pony in the comedy arena and takes the crown from the likes of Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts who would normally inhabit such a role. Heigl is funny, aloof, klutzy, cute, and deeply confused, which seems to be the qualification for roles in this type of film.

The real surprise is James Marsden (Cyclops in the X-Men films) who for the first time is able to drop that serious, hardened persona he seems to always be typecast with and is utterly likeable, funny, and charming (man, did I just write that?). Marsden gives a well-rounded performance and the chemistry between him and Heigl is spot on. I mean, that’s half the work in a movie like this. That’s really all you need. Although naked boobies are always nice for the testosterone laden pervs like me, but I can settle for the charming romance. ..

This is light, fluffy, fun, and has a super happy ending, which is the recipe for success in this genre. For that it deserves its rewards.


Directed by: Doug Liman

I had high hopes for this one for two reasons. One; Doug Liman has proven to be a kick ass director, evolving from Swingers to The Bourne Identity to Mr. And Mrs. Smith. I have become genuinely excited for his future endeavors and hoped for Jumper to further his winning streak.
My other hope was that Hayden Christensen would make me believe that he could pull off a leading man role that didn’t involve the stigma of Darth Vader.

Does either succeed? Yes and no. Jumper felt entirely like a pilot episode to a new TV show on the CW network. Something that would follow on the heels of Smallville or Supernatural. Interesting enough character with a lot of history, a lot of back story and a compelling gimmick with unending possibilities.

The problem is it’s NOT a TV pilot. It’s a self-contained movie that opens and closes under the pretense that this is merely the beginning, but didn’t give us much of that to start with. The ‘jumping’ effects are nothing that spectacular, but the concept is. Liman’s directing is pretty average with no new ground or similarly-minded scope covered. By all accounts this is sophomoric compared to his last two films.

Christensen is O-Kay in this, but not great. It always feels like he’s almost there, just about to make that great performance but doesn’t quite make it, his intensity rising just to the surface and leveling off. I’m sure the right director could pull it out of him, but that’s assuming he gets the chance. (To note, his best role to date is in “Shattered Glass” which is a great film-check it out!).

Rachel Bilson shows up long enough to be hot and cute at the same time, but doesn’t do much to further her status as a rising actress. She’s pretty to look at but doesn’t touch anything near what Natalie Portman or the other A-list youngsters are doing.

Samuel L. Jackson is just Samuel L. Jackson only with ridiculous white hair. I expected a lot more from the rematch between Anakin and Mace, alas it’s all pretty by-the-numbers.
Jumper is a concept that seemed to be too big to capture in one film and so the filmmakers tackled it under the pretense that they were kick starting a franchise. The thing is you have to BUILD that franchise first. This is like cliff notes as a TV show.

By the time it was over I felt like I just started the first episode of a show on DVD and was ready to pop in the next disc. However, there is no other disc, just the one show and it just wasn’t enough.


Vantage Point
Directed by: Pete Travis

I kept telling everyone that I had high hopes for this one. The trailer is brilliantly cut and I was very hopeful that they didn’t blow their load on it. Fortunately, this movie had stamina and gave us a long session before exploding. Man, do we really need the innuendo? Yeah, it’s late. Deal.

Told from multiple perspectives circling the same event, we are thrust into about twenty minutes worth of a really bad situation, retold again and again from a different point of view. At first it starts to get frustrating, going back to the same spot and hitting play again, only to pick up with a different character, but then like an onion revealing its layers, we are shown a new side, a new plot point, which drives us deeper into the story.

This is called storytelling. We like it when it is fun and revealing and pulls all the right strings. Otherwise it’s not storytelling. It’s you waiting for someone to shut the fuck up so you don’t have to hear their shit anymore.

To dig too deep into this would be to reveal too much because every scene pushes forward more details to the next, leading to the ultimate showdown and big reveals. However, the basics are thus; a presidential assassination in Spain leads to the unraveling of a conspiracy and race against the clock to stop the bad guys and save the good ones.

This is shot as if they got a memo from Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum) giving them guidance on what elements to include in a good thriller. Explosions, surprises, double crosses, foot chases, car chases, shoot outs, assassination, and cool toys. Vantage Point has it all and gives one hell of a good adrenaline rush. In time it will probably be pretty forgettable, but I could think of a lot worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Surprisingly fun, involving, and not too hard on the brain, this is a great gimmicky-thriller that hits on its marks and delivers the goods.


Definitely, Maybe
Directed by: Adam Brooks

Once again, I entered this one with low expectations, but due to a prior Valentine’s Day date that never saw fruition it was time for me to pay up. Lucky for me, I walked away a winner.
Ryan Reynolds plays a just single father who is confronted by his daughter about his past and how things came to be. Reynolds decides to spill the beans to her, but changes the name of the girlfriends in the story so that she won’t know which one is her mother.

At first this may seem just silly, but it works wonderfully. As we follow Reynolds from a wannabe politician in college, working on Bill Clinton’s campaign and his rise and fall through the administration, ultimately leading to a career in advertising, the relationships with the three women that ‘got away’ are revealed to us and teased and trodden over so that we are constantly guessing on who the mother of his daughter is.

With a great cast of females playing Reynolds trio of dames, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, and Rachel Weisz, and further support from a surprise appearance from veteran actor Kevin Kline and the newcomer extraordinaire Abigail Breslin as Reynolds daughter, the film has so much going for it in cast alone that it’s hard to ignore.

Fortunately, the story is just as strong, filled with great little intimate moments and real life relatable lessons and just enough warmed over sweetness to not make us sick. Reynolds plays his lovesick father role with ease and Isla Fisher turns in the strongest performance of the three female leads, cute, funny, and bittersweet to the end.

As the movie unravels its tale of love lost and found, we are left with a fulfilling and heartwarming story that anyone who has loved and lost can relate to. By and far the ‘sweetest’ movie I’ve seen since “Love Actually,” and ultimately a great surprise for someone that was ‘dragged’ to his Valentine’s Day contractual obligation.


Directed by: Kent Alterman

Man, the promos for this movie had me rolling. I was ready for a return to the “Anchorman” and “Old School” Will Ferrell. I was ready for a great supporting cast and hilarious concept to really have me shooting soda out of my nose.

Unfortunately, I spent more time waiting for the movie to end than proceed. Semi-Pro follows the exploits of Jackie Moon (Ferrell) playing a basketball coach/owner/promoter who has to win a certain amount of games to be included into the NBA and not be disbanded completely.
After trading his washer and dryer for a washed up player on a winning team (Woody Harrelson), Jackie moves to make the big win and secure a spot in the NBA.

There are some real gem moments in this film but just not enough to make it anywhere near a comedy classic. One of the problems is the R-Rating, which is uncommon as of late for Will Ferrell’s movies, and the reason is that they don’t GO FOR IT. If you are taking an R then you are taking a hit on your mass audience. By that token you should make the risk worth it. Take it to the next raunchier level, show more boobs, make it nastier, say fuck every other word, whatever, just make it worth it.

I am baffled when a movie takes an R rating and doesn’t use every ounce of it. Don’t take an R just so you can say fuck more than once. That’s ridiculous. In a PG-13 dominated business it’s a huge risk. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze if you’re gonna do it.

Here, there is hardly a reason for an R. Aside from some crude language (and nowhere near enough to justify it) there isn’t much that makes it feel like a grown up comedy. It’s no Old School, trust me. Ferrell is funny as always, but not in top form. And Harrelson is just completely miscast and useless in this. I’ve always liked him, but playing the straight man in an off the wall comedy is just a bad idea and bored me to tears.

The funniest moment is when the guys are playing a game of poker and a game of Russian roulette is started. You’ll never call someone a ‘jive turkey’ without thinking again. Come to think of it, most people never say that.


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