Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Sucker Punch" is one hell of a good time (and not just for fanboys): B-

Zack Snyder has been taking a beating over the past few days. The response to "Sucker Punch" has been overwhelmingly negative. With complaints surrounding the movie's undertones of sexual abuse, lack of believability, weak character development, and CGI-overkill, "Sucker Punch" will probably be remembered as one of the worst films of 2011 (and possibly all time). Once the credits started to roll, I knew I'd be joining the ranks of the minority of people who enjoyed this movie. Because I f-cking enjoyed this movie.

The story of "Sucker Punch" focuses on a young woman who is institutionalized in the 1950's. Babydoll (Emily Browning), as she's later named, lives with the memory of her younger sister's death at the hands of her abusive step-father. Falsely accused with no famliy to turn to, Babydoll is dropped off at a mental asylum. The women's ward is run by a young, greasy hustler type named Blue (Oscar Isaac). Babydoll's step-father works out a deal with Blue to have her lobotomized within a week so that she doesn't remember the truth surrounding her sister's murder. **SPOILERS AHEAD**

As Blue gives Babydoll the tour of the ward, he takes her to the Theater. There, we are introduced to Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), a dance teacher/psychologist who works for Blue. Dr. Gorski takes Babydoll under her wing and teaches her to escape the dismal reality of the hospital by simply getting lost in her thoughts [actress Jamie Chung referred this as 'fever dreams' in a 2009 interview]. The hospital is a jumping-off point for alternate realities. In the second level of reality, the hospital is re-imagined as a brothel. Blue commands Babydoll and the other women to dance for his customers and satisfy their "needs." In a fashion, Babydoll and the others are exploited as whores, with Dr. Gorski as their madame and Blue as their pimp. **It's important to note that we never see OR hear any sexual abuse or sexual acts in the movie. Many reviews I've read complain about the overall misogynistic undertone of the movie, that Snyder is a woman-hater and a pervert. The whole brothel-thing seemed to bother a lot of women, but Snyder was tasteful; we don't ever see a nipple, or even a whole ass cheek throughout the entire film.**

Babydoll is scheduled to perform for the elusive High Roller in three days. Babydoll joins the other girls one day while they are practicing their dance routines. With the flip of a switch, Bjork's "Army of Me" comes on and Babydoll gets lost in the music. This is where the third reality comes in. As she dances, Babydoll imagines a frozen Asian landscape, where she meets the Wise Man (Scott Glenn). The Wise Man reveals to her that in order to escape the hospital, she must go on a quest to find 5 items: Fire, a Key, a Knife, a Map - the 5th item will remain a mystery to her, but the Wise Man ensures that only she will know what it will be. After kicking some major samurai ass, the music stops and Babydoll snaps out of her fever dream. She gathers the other women - Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) - and reveals to them her plot for escape. The women agree to help Babydoll in her quest. Each item can be found in the hospital, so Babydoll and the other women go on a sort of treasure hunt to snatch them up.

The 3rd level of reality can only be reached by Babydoll as she dances. Like Carroll's story of Alice in "Through The Looking Glass," Babydoll is able to use her imagination to bring in elements of her real life into her dream - which explains why we see the other four women are able to be in the 3rd level with her. In pursuit of each object, Babydoll and the girls go deep into CGI-enhanced dreamscapes, each one with its own unique obstacles. There are steampunk-powered Nazis, an incredible medieval dragon that would put "Dragonheart" to shame, sleek robots in the belly of a futuristic bullet train, and (as mentioned before) some really big samurai set against the backdrop of a snowy Asian temple courtyard.

The action in this movie may be overkill, but it's so incredibly awesome. It's cheesy, it's over-the-top, but it's entertaining as hell. Snyder is definitely a fan of slow motion, and he certainly exercises his right to use it ten times over. I can't really say enough for the visual accomplishments of "Sucker Punch." I really haven't seen anything like it. It's even more impressive when you consider that "Sucker Punch" was not a graphic novel or comic book, but a raw idea from the mind of Zack Snyder. You either have to drop a lot of acid or play a ton a video games (actually, probably both) to come with such a unique look and feel for a movie purely devised from your imagination. **Another important note while we're on the subject of action sequences and visual effects: If the trailer looks like a goddamn video game, the movie will probably look like a goddamn video game. Do you play a lot of video games? No? Hmm, you probably won't enjoy yourself!!!**

On the subject of character development, I disagree with many reviewers out there who said that they didn't "connect" with the characters. At one point in the movie, a certain character sacrifices her life in order for Babydoll and the others to escape with one of the items. THIS S--- MADE ME CRY. So I'd say that I definitely connected.

The story is a bit jumbled and lacks clarity, that I have to agree with. But I think I deciphered it pretty well in the beginning of the article. It's not too hard to follow, but Snyder doesn't do a very good job of explaining the alternate realities. In "Inception," Nolan sprinkles in detailed explanations by having the characters discuss it amongst each other, like when Cobb is training Ariadne to be an architect. With "Sucker Punch," you just get a heavily-accented Carla Gugino talking about freeing your mind and letting go. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but for those of us with escapist fantasies, it's easier to believe in Snyder's story.

I don't want to give away the ending, for fear that a lot of you still haven't seen the movie. And I don't blame you for that; with all of the negative press and the Snyder-bashing reviews, it's hard to muster up to the courage to take a chance on "Sucker Punch." For me, those nasty reviewers and iMDBers made me shudder at the though of paying to see such teenage fetishist filth. But to tell you the truth, I walked out of that theater imagining myself in a long trench coat, fishnet stockings, knee-high military boots, wielding a big MFing gun.

Our dreams are vividly imagined worlds of uncertainty and terror. Do you think you'll be more inclined to remember a dream about a family picnic, or a dream depicting your closest friend being pumped full of bullets? I guess what I'm trying to get across is that"Sucker Punch" gives you two solid hours of pure imagination and fantasy. It's messy, it's raw, it's overwhelming, it's violent - but you'll wake up and you'll remember what you saw.

P.S. - Please don't start a war in the comments. Thanks!

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Paul" is the E.T. you'd actually want to hang out with: B+

As a movie lover and not-so-secret nerd, I love it when I feel like there's people out there who make movies just for me. With sci-fi references up the ying yang with some elements of Cheech and Chong stoner comedy sprinkled on top, "Paul" is meant to be out in the world, giving us nerds a reason to be hopeful for the remaining lot of films for this year.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are a wonderfully funny duo, second only to the UK's hilariously bromantic Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The thing about Pegg and Frost is that you can genuinely sense that the two of them probably smoke a lot of pot and drink a lot of Guinness and talk about a lot of movies. The thing about "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz," and now "Paul," is that each one of them pays tribute to the mainstream elements of their given genre, which is immediately recognized and appreciate by people such as myself.

"Paul" follows the story of Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), two hardcore sci-fi nerds who take a trip to America to go to Comic-Con and take in the sights of the most infamous UFO hotspots. One night while passing through the desert, Graeme and Clive accidentally meet Paul (Seth Rogen) an incredibly rude yet helpful, pot-smoking, egg-headed alien who's been living on Earth for the past 60 years. After being held prisoner by the U.S. government and with the threat of his brain being extracted and used to further the abilities of human beings, Paul decides to catch a ride with Graeme and Clive in hopes of finding a way back to his planet.

This movie is downright funny. Although several of the funny bits are reserved for sci-fi fans alone, Pegg and Frost obviously wrote the movie for the movie lover in all of us. Even if you're not a die hard movie lover, if you've seen "Close Encounters of The Third Kind," "E.T.," or "Star Wars," you'll be able to pick up on most of the references. A good chunk of the humor comes from Seth Rogen himself, which I was pleased to see after his disastrous fall from comedy grace in "The Green Hornet." He makes a comeback with his Rogen-esque brand of pothead humor vis-a-vis "Pineapple Express." Also adding to the movie's laughability is Kristen Wiig, perhaps the best thing to come out of the SNL crowd since Will Ferrell. She's awkward, ballsy, and completely out of her mind. (I remember first noticing her for her small part in "Knocked Up"). And then you've got Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio (both men made appearances in "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express") as the idiotic rookies on Paul's trail. Finally, throw in some other familiar faces such as Jason Bateman, Jane Lynch, David Koechner, Blythe Danner, Jeffrey Tambor, and Sigourney Weaver - and you've got one hell of a funny movie that's sweet as pie.

Not too many complaints here: The story's end is quite predictable, and the humor is catered to a specific audience which may have some people scratching their heads wondering why everyone else was laughing. The laugh-out-loud gags take a short break midway through, but it picks up again towards the end.

I want to know, what will Simon Pegg and Nick Frost pay tribute to next time? They've done zombies. They've done superhero cops. They've done alien encounters and sci-fi nerdcore. What's the next major movie genre to pay tribute to? I think I'd like to see Pegg and Frost do some kind of accidental Indiana Jones adventure with angry natives and treasure hunting. Or maybe it would be funny to see them pen the next uber-violent, multiple-twists-and-turns whodunit vis-a-vis "Pulp Fiction." Or they could just do a British version of "Dazed and Confused." It doesn't really matter to me, because at the end of the day, I know that I can rely on Pegg and Frist to deliver the goods.

Go see "Paul" and laugh your ass off.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau" was full of promise, but delivered tarnished goods & plot holes: B-

It's difficult to write a review for a movie like "The Adjustment Bureau." With an even 70/70 split between critics and audiences on RT, it's clear that most people were satisfied with it. I'm frustrated, because I wanted to fall in love with this movie so badly! But it simply didn't happen for me...why?

Let me start off my explaining that the movie gets off to a very exciting start. We meet David (Matt Damon), an energetic New Yorker who runs for Senate. While preparing for a campaign speech in the men's bathroom of the Waldorf Hotel, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt). The flirting begins, sparks fly, and it's quite clear that David and Elise are destined to fall in love. **PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD**

After losing the race, David returns to work. Unbeknownest to him, he is being watched by Mitchell, (Anthony Mackie) the man in charge of monitoring his life path. One morning, Mitchell is instructed by a man named Richardson (John Slattery) to ensure that David spills coffee on his shirt at exactly 7:05am, in order to prevent David from hopping on the bus that Elise is on (also unbeknownest to David). But Mitchell falls asleep and is thus unable to trip up David as he walks through the park. In short, David and Elise have another encounter - but this was not supposed to happen, since Mitchell was told to make sure that David didn't get on that bus.

So now the plan is all screwed up and Mitchell is in deep trouble. To correct the mistake, Richardson decides to unveil to David who they are why the Adjustment Bureau exists. He explains to David that he must never see Elise again - that it is not part of his life path - and proceeds to destroy the phone number Elise gave to David on the bus (of course, he didn't store it in his Blackberry, but on a piece of paper).

"Oooh! Hey, mista! Can I have your Bourne identity - err, I mean - autograph?"

Flash forward eleven months or so, and David attempts to make contact with Elise. We are now introduced to Thompson a.k.a. The Hammer (Terence Stamp), the man entrusted to end this charade once and for all. He tells David that one day, Elise will be an important dancer and choreographer, and that David will one day be President of the United States - and if they stay together, both of their dreams will be crushed. Thompson then proceeds to sprain Elise's ankle mid-performance with some kind of swish-and-flick motion. While he's with her at the hospital, David comes to the conclusion that he'd be better off leaving Elise so as not to ruin her future.

Flash forward (again?!) three years, when David discovers that Elise is getting married. With the help of Mitchell and his magical fedora, David goes on a daring mission to put a stop to her marriage and defy the orders of Thompson and Richardson. By the end of the movie, after David has rescued Elise and they are face-to-face with Thompson, Mitchell reveals that almighty The Chairman has decided to allow David and Elise to be together since they were able to make their own fate.

I keep reading reviews that compare the plot of "The Adjustment Bureau" to that of "Inception." Let me make one thing very clear: "Inception" was not as tedious or tiring as this. Here's some issues I have with the story, as I read over the preceding 5 paragraphs:

- It is explained in the film that the men who work for the Adjustment Bureau are not human. Why, then, does Mitchell make a HUGE human mistake by falling asleep on the job?
- How exactly do the magical fedoras work? How is possible that once David puts one on, he suddenly has the same door-to-door privileges as Richardson or Mitchell? Wouldn't The Chairman/God ensure that the fedoras could only be utilized by Bureau members?
- Am I supposed to believe that David's love for Elise is suddenly reinvigorated after three years just because he sees the marriage announcement in the paper? Was he too busy campaigning to think of a way to get her back within those 3 years?
- How exactly does surrounding water and rain make it harder for Richardson and Thompson to track David? This concept is introduced, but it is never explained.
- Mitchell later implies to David that he has met The Chairman before, that The Chairman comes in all different forms depending on the individual. This comes up at the tail end of the movie, for what purpose?
- Richardson later reveals that a previous plan allowed for David and Elise to be together, but it was scrapped and re-written. The "chance" encounters, he explains, are remnants of that previous plan. WTF? Why introduce this part of the story so late in the game?

This was movie was full of potential. I even got teary-eyed when I watched the damn trailer! But "The Adjustment Bureau" simply has too many errors in the plot for me to ignore. Go ahead and watch it - you may very well love it and if you do, that's great and I'm happy for you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Frozen" is a welcomed breath of fresh mountain air, but it seriously drags: C

You know something f***ed up is going to happen when the movie starts with happy young people on winter break. Free from the clutches of term papers and parents, Parker (Emma Bell), Dan (Keven Zegers), and Lynch (Shawn Ashmore) take a trip up to the ski resort to shred some serious powder.

On the last night of open slopes, the trio bribes the lift operator to allow them to go up for some night-skiing. Safely on board, they head up to the top of the mountain. Down at the bottom, the lift operator changes shifts and tells his replacement that there's three more coming down the mountain - and to wait for them to arrive before closing down the lift. Unfortunately for Parker, Dan, and Lynch, there's another trio already making their way down as they are being taken up. So when that group of guys arrive down at the bottom, the lift is completely shut down without anyone knowing that Parker, Dan, and Lynch are stranded in a chair.

It took about 45 minutes to get to this point in the story, which is where all the shit really starts to hit the fan. Naturally, the trio squabbles about their plan of attack and how the hell they're going to get back to the resort. The chair lifts are pretty high up in the air, and as night falls the mountain gets blasted with snow and gusting winds. Being so high up in the cold probably isn't the best idea, so of course, someone decides to jump. REALLY. BAD. IDEA.

This movie is about survival. I get tired of horror movies with flesh-eating viruses, menacing creatures, and the like - so I do have to give props to Adam Green for choosing more subtle (yet still terrifying) plot material. It makes you think about what you would do if you were in the same situation, so it does engage you as a viewer.

There was simply too much talky-talky. You know, after getting stuck they start to talk about missing home and which girl they're gonna call when they get back. Or how much they miss their dog. Some of the conversations between the main characters were just retarded. It ruined much of the movie for me, as I do recall being kept in high suspense at one point. You would think that you would just - shoom! - get into survival mode and figure out what the hell you're gonna do. And I know this is going to sound mean, but whenever there's a chick in the mix, a whole chunk of the story is focused on how much she's freaking out and how hard this must be for her, as if the other two dudes are just expected to handle their shit and fix everything.

There are definitely moments in "Frozen" that will make you cringe and gasp. But there are more moments in the film that will put you to sleep. It's a unique premise, and it was executed in an average manner. Put it on in the background when you're doing your laundry.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What can't Depp do? "Rango" is wickedly funny and visually awe-inspiring: A-

I'd like to start off by saying that "Rango" had better get a nomination (if not the win) for Best Animated Feature for 2012. There, I said it.

Enter whiz kid Gore Verbinski, the man at the helm of the first three installments of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" mega-saga who also directed 2001's "The Ring." Then bring on the esteemed Industrial Light & Magic Company, the special effects pros behind such films as "WALL-E," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Titanic." Finally, add a little Johnny Depp to the mix - and what do you get? - you get "Rango," one of the best damn movies I've seen in a long time.

The movie opens with four mustacheod owls in the form of a mariachi band, weaving the tale of the legendary Rango. After being bumped from his terrarium and left in the open desert, Rango ends up in the small town called Dirt. The inhabitants of Dirt include all kinds of critters such as armadillos, turkeys, gila monsters, porcupines, hedgehogs, naked mole rats, foxes, and snakes. Being the talented thespian he is, Rango decides to put on an act for the townspeople, parading himself as a brave gun-slinger who can kill six enemies with one bullet. In reality, Rango is very much like Kermit the Frog with his worrysome nature and good heart. Rango's adventure is a real treat for those of us who remember the art of the Western. The movie does a great job of putting a creative spin on a very standard Western plot, combining it with a childlike sensibility with quirky undertones of adult material.

It's no surprise that Johnny Depp masterfully voiced little Rango. When the movie started, I couldn't really tell at first that it was Depp. With every character he plays, he somehow manages to evolve into an even more perfect human being. It's not fair.

Overall, the voice cast was excellent! Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, Abigail Breslin, Stephen Root, and Alfred Molina - that's a solid list of names right there, and they were perfect choices. I was especially fond of Olyphant's role as The Spirit of The West, with his "alabaster chariot" and "8 gold guardians" (you'll get the funny side of it when you watch the movie).

Also, I can't get over how amazing the CGI looked. Every townsperson in Dirt was a different kind of animal, and each one of them was so detailed and so unique, it's hard to believe that they didn't use human face mapping! Each one of those animals was it's own design, with it's own outfit, it's own strut, it's own everything!

The action was so much fun to watch, too. There's a particular scene of gophers and moles riding atop the backs of bats, with machine guns attached to the makeshift saddles...it reminded me of the epic battle in "LOTR: Return of the King."

I would also like to add that I'm really glad that "Rango" was not just another 3D release. It shows that Verbinski was confident enough in his efforts to not rely on higher ticket prices. My only complaint? The movie was a bit long, with a slow lag after the climax, before the end.

I left the theater a very, very happy nerd. "Rango" is going to appeal to everyone, young and old, but you can tell that it was a movie made for movie lovers. And it feels really good when someone does that for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

[f.g.i.] Presents: My Favorite Movie Soundtracks

TIME magazine has an article on their website which lists their picks for the Top 25 Movie Soundtracks. It points out the obvious choices, such as "The Sound of Music," "West Side Story," and "Pulp Fiction," to name a few. In response to the lack of representation, here's a list of some of my favorite movie soundtracks, along with their stand-out songs. Enjoy!

I Heart Huckabees
Favorite Song: "Didn't Think it Would Turn Out Bad" by Jon Brion

Dazed and Confused
Favorite Song: "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith

(500) Days of Summer
Favorite Song: "She's Got You High" by Mumm-ra

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Favorite Song: "Garbage Truck" Performed by Sex Bom Omb

Reservoir Dogs
Favorite Song: "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel

The Virgin Suicides
Favorite Song: "A Dream Goes on Forever" by Todd Rundgren

Stand By Me
Favorite Song: "Get A Job" by The Silhouettes

Hot Fuzz
Favorite Song: "Goody Two Shoes" by Adam Ant

The Devil's Rejects
Favorite Song: "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Love, Actually
Favorite Song: "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell

Donnie Darko
Favorite Song: "Head Over Heels" by Tears For Fears

Favorite Song: "Love is the Drug" by Roxy Music

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Favorite Song: "Jack's Lament" Performed by Danny Elfman

Boogie Nights
Favorite Song: "I Want To Be Free" by Ohio Players

Favorite Song: "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice

Moulin Rouge
Favorite Song: "Come What May" Performed by Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman

Pirate Radio
Favorite Song: "Elenor" by The Turtles

Favorite Song: "Blinded By The Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Be Kind, Rewind
Favorite Song: "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" by Fats Waller

I'm Not There
Favorite Song: "I Wanna Be Your Lover" Performed by Yo La Tengo

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Favorite Song: "Johanna" Performed by Jamie Campbell Bower

Although this doesn't even begin to cover the wealth of movies with perfect song choices, it's a start. Please share your favorite soundtracks and songs in the comments!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Drive Angry" is cheesy and desperate, but not without some fun: C

Watching the grotesque on-screen demise of Nicholas Cage is almost as fun as following the cocaine-enrichened narcisstic rampage of Charlie Sheen. Oh, how Nic Cage has fallen. That poor guy. He performed well in films such as "Matchstick Men," "Leaving Las Vegas," and "The Rock." And then he turns out absolute crap, such as "The Wicker Man," "National Treasure," and "Season of The Witch." This month's "Drive Angry" is somewhere in between the gold and the shit.

Nic Cage stars as Milton, a man who escapes Hell and returns to Earth to seek revenge for the death of his adult daughter. Before she was murdered, her infant baby was stolen by a Satanic cult that she associated with. The leader is this cult is Jonah King (Billy Burke), who believes that sacrificing the child will appease Satan and all Hell will break loose *blah blah blah*. So, Milton is on a mission to hunt down Jonah King. Along the way he runs into Piper (Amber Heard), a rough n' tumblin' loudmouth Southern gal with nothing to lose (who also happens to own a badass Dodge Charger - a bit cliche, if you ask me). Milton and Piper embark on a journey through the heartland, with The Accountant (William Fichtner) hot on their trail. Although it's never really talked about, it's clear that The Accountant's job centers around making sure that Satan's books are balanced - hence the reason why he chases down Milton.

Let's cut to the chase:

- If you have a choice of avoiding the 3D version, I highly recommend that you do. The trailers advertised it as "shot in 3d," but I have a feeling that it was post-production. If it truly was shot in 3D, then the crew members responsible should be fired. The 3D didn't help to make this movie any cooler vis-a-vis "The Green Hornet."

- The whole Satanic cult angle was ridiculous. It was extremely difficult for me to believe Jonah King (Billy Burke) as a hardcore devil-worshipper. It was also difficult for me to ignore the lack of creativity when it came time for the movie to explain the purpose of the cult itself. They used the "Rosemary's Baby" route of infant sacrifice, which The Accountant explains, just annoys Lucifer. But yet I'm supposed to fear for the life of the baby when the movie itself acknowledges that it's all just a bunch of hocus-pocus.

- In terms of casting, I always love to see William Fichtner. (His small role in "The Dark Knight" in the first scene is awesome!) He was perfect as The Accountant. Amber Heard surprised me with her believability. For me, she's a more tolerable version of Megan Fox. Nic Cage did his thing, and it was quite fun to watch.

- I was happy to see that this movie spilled some serious blood. People get shot, stabbed, beheaded, and slashed. And it was done in a way that wasn't gut-wrenching, but wickedly funny.

I didn't think I was going to see this one. The trailer wasn't motivating, and I was wary of Nic Cage's return to my intimate movie life. But I was surprised to find out that this movie was decent. It was definitely a step above some of the other crap that's been released so far, but "Drive Angry" was a cheesy, modernized Grindhouse knockoff.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...