Monday, April 30, 2012

May the 4th... Be with Marvel!

 Again, take that George Lucas. That will keep me satisfied considering that I forgot that in trading up from a dead phone to a newer one that I inadvertently chose the one that gives Lucasfilm kickbacks. Anyway, so as you may or may not be aware, The Avengers opens on Friday (or Thursday at midnight, if you aren't one of those "technicalists" who keep late hours and prefer to think of the next day some time around dawn when you're heading to bed). It is a movie where comic book characters we've been getting to know cinematically for the last four years get together to save the Earth, and if not that, presumably avenge it.

 I can't imagine anyone who is predisposed to seeing Marvel's The Avengers based on the comic book Marvel's The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes does not know who Joss Whedon is, but for the rest of you he's the semi-classic definition of a "cult" hero. The reason that most of you wouldn't know who he was is because if you've heard anything he's created, it's usually in a derisive way, like "oh, the guy that Fox hires and then cancels his shows" (Firefly, Dollhouse), or "the guy who made a TV show out of that Kristy Swanson movie" (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), or "oh, guy who had the spinoff of that Kristy Swanson thing with the guy from Bones" (Angel). Maybe it was "the guy that made that movie all those nerdy 'browncoats' wanted me to see but nobody got around to it" (Serenity). Actually, it's probably that "guy who did the musical thing with Neil Patrick Harris that's on Netflix that I didn't see because my annoying nerd friends told me 'OMG it's like the best EVAR!" (Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog).

 By the way, I'm not actually bagging on Joss Whedon for any of this, so there's no need to point out that he created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and wrote the movie which was taken away from him and Donald Sutherland refused to use Whedon's dialogue or that you tried your best to get your friends to see Serenity and wrote letters to save Dollhouse and Firefly and that you saw every episode of Buffy and Angel and you've read Whedon's run on The Astonishing X-Men. It's cool. I get it. There's a copy of Serenity behind me and Firefly is upstairs. I'm not trying to get your goad, folks*. This is for people who read this entire paragraph and said "what now?" There is very little "public perception" of Joss Whedon, but even as a fan of the Whedon-verse, I can understand why some people feel we're insufferable in our geekdom.

 So where was I? Ah yes, okay Joss Whedon is a writer / director / creative force known to a devoted audience and then not so much by the rest of the world. The Avengers is in almost all certainty going to change that. Then people might finally stop mentioning his period as screenwriter-for-hire / script doctor (Speed, Toy Story, Waterworld, X-Men**, Alien: Resurrection to name a few) and he'll have some leeway to do whatever he wants and also get to make blockbuster comic book movies if he feels like it. This is a good thing, by the way, as he is a tremendously talented fellow that has mostly been just under the radar for the last decade.

 I thought it might be fun to revisit the path to The Avengers by looking at reviews for Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger before we get to the main event. And even though I've already seen The Avengers, for reasons I can't get into or discuss at the moment, I'm going to see it again before giving it a proper review. To prove to you that I'm not pulling your chain, here's something that nobody else has mentioned about the film: Harry Dean Stanton has a cameo that's all the funnier because there's no good reason why Harry Dean Stanton should be playing a security guard having a conversation with Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) after the Hulk falls from the sky.

 The other fun thing about this recap is that I never actually reviewed Iron Man 2, so you'll get a fresh look at it two years later as I'll be watching it again in the next day or two. Tomorrow, I'll put up a vintage double feature review of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and then on Wednesday I'll get you a new Iron Man 2 review, followed by Thor on Thursday (how appropriate) and Captain America on Friday. Then we'll close out the week with The Avengers on Saturday. In the mean time, go see The Avengers this weekend. I think you'll really like it. Except for Professor Murder. I can almost guarantee he's not going to like it at all.




 * If I were going to do that, I'd mention that I am not a huge fan of Whedon musicals, which means I don't like Dr. Horrible and I really didn't like "Once More with Feeling". Flame on.
** He is singularly responsible for the notorious "do you know what happens when a toad is struck by lightning" line, which in his defense would sound a lot funnier delivered by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the films of Cameron Crowe


Say Anything


Singles


Jerry Maguire


Almost Famous


Vanilla Sky


Elizabethtown


Pearl Jam Twenty


We Bought a Zoo

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blogorium Review: Galaxy of Terror

 In my continued efforts to turn left when you're expecting me to go right, I have opted to review Galaxy of Terror (aka Planet of Horrors and Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror) instead of Ben-Hur. It is true that I watched them back-to-back, and just like you got a write up for Lockout instead of The Cabin in the Woods, we're going to focus on the much schlockier part of a double feature again. The good news is that you don't have to be drunk to enjoy Galaxy of Terror, a Roger Corman produced flick that's just barely different enough from Alien to not be a ripoff.

 The funny thing is that the presence of James Cameron as production designer and second unit director actually lends credibility to the case that Aliens is a ripoff of Galaxy of Terror. It's not a case many people are making, but I'll explain what I mean in a bit. Corman commissioned Mark Siegler and Bruce D. Clark to create a movie about a mysterious planet where something sinister (alien perhaps?) has wiped out an expeditionary crew and is now preying on the rescue team. It's not exactly Alien, but if you were to say "give me a movie that's like Alien but isn't Alien," you might end up with Galaxy of Terror.

 When he loses contact with the last ship sent to the planet Morganthus, the Planet Master (SPOILER HIDDEN) informs Commander Ilvar (Bernard Behrens) that the Quest will be dispatched to discover if there are any survivors. The Planet Master assembles a hand-picked team to land or Morganthus: Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie), the lone survivor of an older disaster, Baelon (Zalman King), her first officer, Cabren (Edward Albert), Alluma (Erin Moran), a pyschic, Dameia (Taaffe  O'Connell) and Ranger (Robert Englund), engineers, scientists, and medics for the team. Also along for the ride are Quuhod (Sid Haig), a weapons expert who specializes in crystal throwing stars, Cos (Jack Blessing), a rookie, and Kore (Ray Walston), the cook. They find what remains of the crew on Morganthus, as well as a mysterious pyramid that hides their deepest fears inside...

 So the first thing I think I should mention is the cast. If you were reading the synopsis and saying, "Wow! He's in this? She's in this? Holy cats, they're all in one movie?" the answer is yes. It's a who's who of "Hey, I know that actor / actress," including people who would become Freddy Kreuger, Captain Spaulding, Sarah Palmer, and the creator of The Red Shoe Diaries. Or, maybe they'd already been Joanie Cunningham, My Favorite Martian, one of Blansky's Beauties, or uh, Eddie "Green Acres" Albert's son. It's an eclectic cast for a film that's best remembered for a woman having sex with a giant meal-worm.

 Actually, for a film made with very little money (somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million dollars), it has a ton of production value, a pretty good story, some interesting (and gruesome) death scenes, and despite the Giger-esque pyramid design, some neat designs. While Cameron was heavily involved in the look of Galaxy of Terror, I don't want to overshadow other Corman team members: Robert and Dennis Skotak, Alec Gillis, Al Apone, R. Christopher Biggs, Brian Chin, Ron Lizorty, Randall Frakes, Tom Campbell, and Rick Moore. It's interesting that some of the people involved in Galaxy of Terror would go on to work on effects for Aliens, because while Morganthus is supposed to be reminiscent of Ridley Scott's "alien" landscape, it looks much more like Cameron's vision of LV-426 from the 1986 sequel.

 Watching Galaxy of Terror, all of the exterior scenes, either mixed with models, rear projection, or both, is eerily reminiscent of the film Cameron would make five years later. While the interior of the Quest looks like a budget-modified version of the Nostromo and the pyramid has designs "inspired" by H.R. Giger (and, at times, Forbidden Planet and The Black Hole), the exteriors of Morganthus are going to seem more like a dry run for the "game over" scene in Aliens. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an amusing parallel considering that Galaxy of Terror was conceived as a way to cash in on the success of Ridley Scott's Alien.

 Now, it is fair to mention that this is a movie where a giant maggot strips down Taaffe O'Connell, lubes her up, and then has sex with her (and they both seem to be enjoying it). It's a movie undercut by comical sound effects (especially during Bernard Behrens' death scene) and even though the story is more interesting that just being stalked by an alien, the ending is abrupt and anticlimactic. There's a character that, despite clearly still being alive, just disappears before the final confrontation, never to be heard from again. This is, make no mistake, still an exploitation picture, so most of the more intriguing concepts from Siegler and Clark tend to get swept aside for gore and (sporadic) nudity. Corman famously shot most of the "rape" scene because Clark refused to, and both director and writer objected to its presence in the film. In the end, it's such a bizarre scene that I had a hard time being disturbed by it, something I was expecting coming into the picture.

 Galaxy of Terror is a gory, schlocky, occasionally impressive slice of exploitation best enjoyed late at night, after a few beers (well, maybe you do need to be a little drunk) in the company of friends who don't mind their science fiction / horror on the cheap side. It's the kind of movie I'd imagine people who would come to Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium would watch, because why not? Between this and Lockout, it's not even a discussion. Bring on the space monsters!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Keeping It Clean with the Video Daily Double

 Hello, Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy is back with another fantabulous Video Daily Double. Today we're going to help you with those dirty, filthy, nasty things that occupy your time behind closed doors. Yes, I'm talking about mundane daily chores! What did you think I meant, Educationeers? Surely you aren't being naughty, are you? That's a no-no in the Blogorium, after all!

Fresh and clean! Like your brains!

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 Our first film, Last Word in Automatic Dishwashing, is just that. Why not use an automatic machine instead of your hands? Couldn't your hands be doing something else? Not that! Filthy!!!


 Our second film, Making a New Day Out of Tuesday, showcases The Ironite Automatic Ironing Machine, which will also allow to use your hands for something else. Like, say, putting out the fires caused by an automatic ironing machine when things go horribly wrong.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Retro Review: The YAD Archives (Part Two)

 Welcome back to another special edition of the Retro Review. Today we'll continue looking at a heretofore forgotten collection of reviews from defunct online magazine You're All Doomed. Today I thought it might be fun to take a look at a series of reviews by Professor Murder, titled "Hey Dirtbag!" They range far and wide in the spectrum of cinematic quality, but I continue to laugh at his spoiler for Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

 Disclaimer: The only thing I've changed with these reviews is replacing Professor Murder's actual name with his Blogorium moniker. Trust me, his employers wouldn't want this coming up in a Google search.

HEY DIRTBAG! Go see Resident Evil Apocalypse!
by Professor "The Hammer" Murder

I don’t often like movies based on Comic Books so when I heard about Resident Evil 2 you can only imagine my trepidation. But when one of my friends managed to score a rough cut of the movie directly from the studio, I figured, “What the hey! I’ve got some time to kill so I might as well do this as opposed to something else!” I must warn you however, there are spoilers ahead so when you see the word “SPOILER” in all caps like that, skip it if you don’t wanna know what happens. 

The movie opens with a couple of cops or something riding in a car. They’re jibber-jabbering about some company called umbrella, and how stuff is going wrong with it. Then I hear the word Zombie and my ears perk up. So after a very impressive CGI scene involving the car, the guy who’s driving it ends up on this street that appears abandoned. UNTIL ZOMBIES START TRYING TO EAT HIM. So he freaks out, after realizing he does not have many bullets and runs toward a, quite conveniently placed I might add, Ammo store. The clerk tries to shoot him yadda yadda, and then gets turned into a zombie. Luckily, for The Cop, there’s some ammo and a box of health lying around. He kills the fresh zombie and runs to a nearby Police station or HQ for the uninitiated. This is where the Producers kick it up a notch, because my friend told me that if I go to the DVD menu, and press some buttons, The cop would get a whole bunch of new weapons that he wouldn’t normally get till later into the movie. So, wanting the best for the Cop, I did. THEN HE GOT A FLAME THROWER! AND A GATLIN GUN. AND A BAZOOKA! Or maybe it was a rocket launcher, something like that. The movie was pretty great from


SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THERE IS A HUGE FREAKING SPIDER IN THE SEWER UNDER THE HQ!

here on out except for one part. Just when the movie hits its cadence as it were, the whole movie starts over with the chick who was riding in the car with the guy cop. Then you have to watch the whole thing over again with a different character. Well, you will if you go see it. I turned it off around there. 

---

Run Ronnie Run

by Professor "The Hammer"
Murder

"I recommend it."
-also-
"You can give it some stars or something if you want."


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HEY DIRTBAG! Go see “Kingpin”
This was from before the Farrelly brothers were known crap perpetrators so I will let it slide as I still really like this movie.
by Professor Muder

Seriously. If you have a girlfriend, go see Kingpin. Even if you do not have a girlfriend, Go See freakin Kingpin because, and I sincerely mean this, it could help you get a girlfriend. Ok. The movie starts out with woody from Cheers in this Bowling Alley. So, there are these girls, they must be around 17 and they’re all giggling and stuff and putting on their bowling shoes and then woody is all “hey what lane am I on?” and the clerk says Lane 32 and He goes “cool”. Now I know this sounds boring, but it is all crucial to the plot line. So then Woody starts bowlin’ and what not and then the guy from those vacation movies who’s not chevy chase shows up with a bottle of Everclear. Well Well Well, thinks the audience, Now this party is getting started! So Woody’s all like “Hey Guy from Vacation! Come compete with me on lane 32, which is right next to these young hotties” which makes the young hotties giggle. SO vacation guy is all, yeah, I’ll come and compete with you but you must remember that I am Amish and mistrust machinery. Woody goes, “yah whatever. Hey. Let’s play this game. I’ll say something to the hotties and then you have to do something to top it.” Vacation guy says “werd.” So they do some stuff and get drunk on everclear and Woody turns out to be a pretty good bowler but at the end he looses his hand in the ball retrieval system and Vacation guy is all “I told you not to trust machinery”

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Hey Dirtbag!
Did you just rent Van Helsing?
This movie is not so bad… as long as your bullshit goggles are appropriately adjusted. Don’t worry if they aren’t yet… they will be by about five minutes in.  You see It appears that all the universal movie monsters live in the same world and that Van Helsing’s name is not Abraham as “Bram Stoker” would have us believe but rather the far cooler Gabriel. Oh… and then he gets bitten by a werewolf and is really pissed until he realizes the power he can unleash.  Oh yeah also, only werewolves can kill Dræ-kewl. Not to mention the fact that the character who we will for all intents and purposes call ‘Q’ has invented something that can produce light “to the intensity of the sun” but has no idea what to do with it. Idiot. ‘Q’  also gives ‘Gabriel’ a gasoline powered cross bow with which to kill things. Dear Van Helsing, what a great crowsbow you have. The better to kill you with. Fuck the state penn, fuck hos at penn state.
            Kate Beckinsale is always hot. That’s all there is to it. Even when she’s trying to be marginal, she’s still really REALLY hot and she’s not trying to be marginal in this movie. She’s just full on screamin’ hot. I’m up in the MGM coked up PSYCHE! Induce sign language, ordered hot coffee with a Danish. RELAX! whispered “they rap entertainers. I love that pepsi commercial with her. I freakin bought UNDERWORLD because she’s so hot. Plus the movie’s really funny but that’s another story.
            -Professor Murder

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blogorium Review: Haywire

 In the interest of having my review be like the movie, I'll try to keep this short and to the point. Steven Soderbergh's Haywire is a no-frills, bare minimum exposition, ass kicking action film starring Gina Carano. If you don't know who she is (as I did not), I suggest you click on the link embedded in her name. Every review mentions that she was (is?) an MMA fighter with Strikeforce (including this review) and is, accordingly, the "gimmick" employed by Soderbergh in his latest film.

 Very briefly, Soderbergh likes to have one conceit in each of his films that is (presumably) of interest to him and maybe to us, but mostly to film students like me. In The Good German it was using equipment available during the period the film was set. In Traffic it was the color filters. In The Informant it was casting comedians in the boring roles. He is also fond of non-linear storytelling, deliberately misleading edits, and music that is "funky" (Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight), all of which also play into Haywire. And he's working with Lem Dobbs, who wrote The Limey.

 This time around he's casting an actual cage fighter in a movie about a badass ex-Marine who does contract work for the Government. Admittedly this is not really a new thing, either for action films, or for Soderbergh, who did something similar in The Girlfriend Experience when he cast porn star Sasha Grey as a call girl. It's not really novel or anything to see MMA fighters in movies, what with Randy Couture, "Rampage" Jackson, Oleg Taktarov, Andrei Orlovski, and Keith "The Dean of Mean" Jardine figuring prominently into films in the last few years. Even Zoë Bell, who did stunts for Tarantino, had a prominent role in Death Proof and headlined Angel of Death. So maybe this isn't Soderbergh's most novel "gimmick" to date.

 On the up side, it really doesn't matter because Steven Soderbergh also knows how to frame action and actually does so in Haywire. There's no "shaky-cam" or disorienting fight choreography. He sets up master shots, cuts around the action creatively but always in a way that the hits still feel visceral and the efficiency of the fighting is conveyed. Take the opening scene, where Mallory Kane (Carano) is in a diner and she meets up with Aaron (Channing Tatum), an associate from a job in Barcelona. Aaron doesn't know that Kane's boss / ex Kenneth (Ewan MacGregor) tried to have Mallory killed in Dublin, and when she instead killed Paul (Michael Fassbinder), he set her up. Aaron just knows that Kenneth wants Mallory to "come in" and that Kane doesn't want to. It's an inconvenience to Aaron, so he tries to subdue her. It doesn't work out so well.

 Mallory, after giving a Channing Tatum-sized beatdown in a diner, commandeers the car owned by Scott (Michael Angarano), and provides him with the details of how Kenneth tried to have her killed, what the Barcelona job was, and how she got out of Dublin. In most movies this is just a conceit to catch the audience up, so the other character never asks why they need to know all this and just agrees to help (see: Commando). In Haywire, Dobbs and Soderbergh make sure that all of the story structure serves a purpose, as Mallory knows she's going to need to pass this information to Coblenz (Michael Douglas), the only person she works for that isn't trying to kill or frame her.

 Along the way, we find out how Coblenz and Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas) brought Kane in to the Barcelona job against Kenneth's better judgment, how he talked her into going to Dublin to meet MI6 agent Paul, and about the spying on Studer (Mathieu Kassovitz), which is actually just a ruse. None of this, it turns out, is insignificant to when things pick up in real time, nor is the seemingly unimportant plot point about Kane's father John (Bill Paxton), who is alternately concerned for and impressed with his daughter. She really does handle her own throughout the film, even when the hits register (there's a lot of bruises and cuts in Haywire), or when she falls while climbing a building and has a visible limp when she finally escapes Irish special forces.

 I don't really understand why Haywire is so disliked by audiences. Critics seem to really enjoy it, but if you look at the TomatoMeter, 80% of critics like the film only 42% of audiences did. I know that most of my friends don't like Steven Soderbergh (the ones that like some of his movies are often bothered by the detached nature of direction, writing, and editing from the subjects) and I guess Haywire is maybe not as "crowd pleasing" as, say, The Mechanic, but it's far and by a better movie. Like, no question is Haywire a better movie than The Mechanic. Or The Expendables, or most theatrical "action" movies. It's a little bit like a Jason Bourne movie but with competent camerawork and better fights.

 Gina Carano carries the Haywire with ease, and that's saying something with the cast assembled. I was a little nerd-happy to see Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, and Ewan MacGregor in the same scene, and then Michael Fassbinder and Kassovitz show up. Channing Tatum, who I didn't really think about ever before 21 Jump Street, is also good as the guy who isn't that attentive but figures out Kenneth's story doesn't add up. In the hands of literally any other director, Haywire would probably be a "direct to video" joint starring Carano and Billy Zane or something like that. Luckily, Soderbergh was having trouble getting his version of Moneyball off the ground and saw one of her fights on TV. Carano has both the charisma and the badassitude to run the show as Mallory Kane, and if Soderbergh wasn't leaving films to become a painter, I think he'd have a new franchise ready to go. Adventure novelists need to sweep in and start writing "Mallory Kane" paperbacks, pronto. I worked in a used book store. They'd fit right in.

 It all works out, I guess, because it was recently announced that Carano is in talks to join the cast of Fast Six, another action series with recently impressive entries that can showcase what people are missing by hating on Haywire. Seriously, I don't get it. I get why you maybe didn't like Drive, but even if Haywire isn't wall-to-wall ass kicking and maybe it doesn't have a "final boss" fight, I don't buy the same "it's boring" argument. Not that Drive is boring, but Haywire is even less "boring" by the standards of people who I guess would rather be watching Transformers or something. It's more accessible by Soderbergh standards than even the Ocean's films. Oh well. Your loss I guess. After I see Safe with Jason Statham then maybe the Cap'n will come back and figure out what I'm missing. In the meantime, maybe I'll watch Haywire again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the films of Paul W.S. Anderson


Shopping


Mortal Kombat


Event Horizon


Soldier


Resident Evil


Alien vs. Predator


Death Race


Resident Evil: Afterlife


The Three Musketeers


Resident Evil: Retribution

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Can't Make This Video Daily Double Up, Kids!

 Greetings, Educationeers! Today Cap'n Howdy has a very special Video Daily Double for you. Special is a word with many meanings, and I urge you to keep that in mind while watching these films. Sometimes we learn things in roundabout ways, and brainwashing education comes in many strange forms. So strange, in fact, that it may seem like one of our movies is an advertisement for another educational / sales film. And maybe it is. The important point is to learn what this means for you.


 What does is mean???

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 Our first film, Holiday from Rules?, is a slice of Lord of the Flies as children try anarchy on for size. Because they don't curtail their foolish need for independence to the established ideological dogma of the day, things fail. They always will. Conform!!!


 Our second film, Your Name Here, has a special message. If you figure it out, let me know.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Retro Review: The YAD Archives (Part One)

 Greetings, readers. I was considering what I wanted to take a look at from yesteryear, and while I was looking at some old files, the Cap'n found a series of reviews from You're All Doomed magazine, an online publication I was involved in with several friends (and periodic guest bloggers here). While YAD wasn't built for the long haul, I was quite surprised how many reviews of films we posted. Many of them never made their way to my old "From the Vaults" column (the one Retro Reviews replaced), so I thought it might be fun to share some of them over the next few weeks.

 Here's a bit of a disclaimer: these reviews are from six or seven years ago, and they represent an embryonic form of Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium Reviews. I'm going to present them "as is", even if it makes me shudder a little bit. I'd like to hope that my writing has improved since then, but here are some movies from half a decade ago that haven't been covered.

 Other disclaimer: So I don't necessarily agree with the Garden State review anymore, but that's okay. We grow apart from movies sometimes.

 2005

This month:
A Very Long Engagement
Garden State on DVD
We Don't Live Here Anymore
The Forgotten on DVD
Blade Trinity
Flesh Eaters from Outer Space/Invasion for Flesh and Blood Double Feature

A Very Long Engagement
3.5 Stars

Fans of Jean Pierre Jeneut need not worry, A Very Long Engagement is indeed another step forward in his filmography; in fact, those most likely to be disappointed will expect to see something very much like Amelie. They wouldn't be wrong to assume so; after all, Jeneut places Audrey Tatou front and center, and the ads (what little there are) don't to much to explain what this movie is about, and you could easily assume A Very Long Engagement is another love story. Which it is, just in a very different way.

For those of you who have no idea what the plot is, it goes something like this:

5 French soldiers a condemned to death for self-mutilation during World War I. Instead of being executed, the military leaves them in a no-man's zone between French and German trenches to fend for themselves (i.e. face certain death) Audrey Tatou is the bride to be of one of these soldiers, and the bulk of the film is dedicated to her search into what happened to the doomed five.

While love is the glue holding this movie together, Engagement is more of a detective film, slowly piecing together the story of what happened to each man, how their loved ones react to it, and whether any of them survived.

Jeneut throws every trick in his arsenal at us during the film; for starters, since the film takes places in 1920, the film stock is deliberately tinted and scratched,  and much of the framing in wide shots resembles films of the teens and twenties. We're introduced to each of the soldiers and the hilarious (and gruesome) each one commits self mutilation before we know where the movie's going, and I suspect much of how things play out are set up in the opening moments. He also replicates newsreel footage to help with transitions and manipulates the soundtrack to sound scratchy and worn out.

Jeneut also seems to have found his acting counterpart in Tatou; he films her in such a way that you can't help but want her to succeed (to make her even more endearing, the choice was made for her to have polio and walk with a limp) I'd be surprised if we don't see them working together down the line.

Tatou is wonderful playing a very different woman than Amelie Poulain; Mathilde is a girl that's lost almost everything, and her persistence on using coincidences to reaffirm suspicions are used to great effect. Dominique Pinion turns in another touching supporting role as her Uncle, and Jodie Foster (!) speaks better french than I'd imagined. Despite the name appearance, Foster isn't American stunt casting; her role is actually a crucial part of the mystery.

If anything, I had trouble with the ending. Not how it ends, but more how quickly it ends. Don't get me wrong, the movie's a little more than two hours long, but the actual denoument comes about 2 minutes before the credits roll. We find out what happens, and suddenly the movie ends. Otherwise, A Very Long Engagement is fine entertainment for fans of the director.


Garden State
4.5 Stars

If there's one problem with Garden State, it's that the movie is too easy to love. This, understandably, is a minor problem, but waiting a few days between watching it and writing this tone my love of the film considerably.

Don't get it twisted, this is a great movie. Zach Braff put together something truly magic here: We're not just talking Wes Anderson's The Graduate (which, incidentally, is Rushmore), but at the same time, comparisons to Anderson are well made. Braff has a great eye of frame composition. Every shot is full of eye catching detail. And he's got a natural chemistry that makes him easy to relate to.

Admittedly, this isn't the most original idea for a movie, but you really don't mind seeing a movie about finding yourself and true love in the midst of tragedy because of how magnetic the cast is. Along with Braff, Ian Holm brings a subdued, nervous performance of a man who just doesn't understand his son, the always reliable Peter Sarsgard plays the affable loser that wants nothing more to smooth things over so well you tend to forget just how good he is at it. Then there's the revelation: Natalie Portman. I'd been so used to seeing her go half-assed in Star Wars that I forgot that this was the same Natalie Portman that blew everyone away in Leon. She's a force of nature in Garden State, but it's a testament to her talent that she never takes it over the top. This is the type of character that'd tempt some to go way past believable, but you never feel like she isn't a real person (even if that real person is a chronic liar who suffers from siezures. Speaking of which, kudos to Braff for avoiding the easy dramatic device of the free spirit heroine being dragged back to earth with a tragic seizure scene)

Garden State works because everyone involved wants it to, and where most movies would drag or take the easy route, things work so very well because we're invested in the characters.

* I should take a moment to talk about the music. My friend scoffed at my interest in Garden State, calling it "an advertisment for how awesome indie rock is" which, from the tv ads for the soundtrack, isn't that far off base. However, the movie, despite using indie rock as an almost excluse soundtrack, only directly draws attention to the music once. I think it's not as obtrusive as some might expect it to be (think of it as a more subdued version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Graduate" soundtrack)


We Don't Live Here Anymore
4 Stars

I'll keep this short, because the glee in this film is not from the story (which is, in essence about two couples cheating on each other with, well, each other) but the top notch performances from the four leads: Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts. This is the kind of movie where the fun is watching four great actors work off of each other, and becoming invested in them. From the short stories of Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom, The House of Sand and Fog). Why this movie came and went I'll never know, but it's most definitely worth tracking down on dvd or video.


The Forgotten (with and without alternate ending)
1 Star

The Forgotten is a movie with nothing worth watching in it. The ads did nothing for me until the VERY end of the trailer, when we see Oz's Lee Tergerson sucked into the sky. along with the cabin around him. That's it. And I should've known that in itself couldn't sustain the movie. Because, guess what folks, this is a twist movie without the twist. What happens is exactly what you'd expect seeing someone sucked into space without any good reason. Fuck it, *SPOILER*, The Forgotten is an ALIEN ABDUCTION MOVIE. And a terrible one at that. The mystery might've been interesting if the payoff wasn't so fucking stupid. No, that's not true, because it's pretty clear about 25 minutes in where this movie is going, and things just get more and more preposterous, with plot holes a mile wide by the time we get to the end.

Oh yeah, the ENDING. The chief differences in the two endings offered on the dvd boil down to this: One has Julianne Moore taking her empowerment back from the alien, the other has him give her the child back. The difference is literally whether she's on the ground or standing up when he loses. (Yes, the means by which she discovers her son are slightly different, but the alternate version is so inept I'll spare you the details) Either way, same stupid happy ending closes the film, implausible though it may be.

If you're wondering, the movie got 1 star for Julianne Moore, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, and Lee Tergeson, who really should've known better. Shame on this fucking movie. Suck!


Speaking of Suck:

BLADE TRINITY IS THE DUMBEST MOVIE OF 2005

I promise. There isn't a movie that could come of during the rest of 2005 that was so blatantly stupid. I'm aghast how something this retarded was commited to film. I mean, David Goyer wrote Blade. He wrote Blade 2. Shit, he wrote Dark City. And you're telling me not only did he write Blade Trinity, he DIRECTED it too? This floating turd? Oh, where to start....

Let's start it this way: in the first couple of minutes, Parker Posey's Vampire Skank gives the Sun the middle finger (seriously) right before they resurrect Dracula (oh, wait, pardon me, DRAKE). Or maybe we could talk about Triple H's mind blowing line delivery of "How the fuck do you know how big my dick is?" Or Ryan Reynolds taking EVERY joke too far. For example:

Parker Posey: Where's the tracking chip?
Ryan Reynolds: In my right buttcheek.
(Triple H punches Ryan Reynolds)
RR: Okay, It's in my left buttcheek.
(Triple H hits him again)
RR: All right. Seriously. It's in the meat of my ass.
PP: Stop it!

Now, I'm not certain of this, but I'm guessing the "stop it" wasn't in the script. I hope the rest of it wasn't, but considering how utterly dopey Blade Trinity is, nothing's certain. This is a movie that takes the Reapers (remember that? The strain of vampires that nearly killed everyone in Blade 2?) and reduces it to Vampire Pomeranians. Seriously. A movie where Dracula goes to a vampire themed store and kills some goth kids. That's it. He just goes in and kills them. It has nothing to do with the plot. How about a blind woman who creates 3D models on her computer? When Wesley Snipes is the least stupid thing about the movie, you know you're in trouble.

Oh yeah, I guess Jessica Biel kicked some ass. You sort of forget about her (unless you're my roommate, but that's another story entirely).

Now, allow me to explain why I'm giving Blade Trinity 4 stars, when The Forgotten only got one.

Blade Trinity is one of "those" movies. The kind of movie that kept MST3K on the air for 10 seasons. You shouldn't see this movie alone. You'll curse my name if you do. But if you get properly ripped on cheap liquior and drive to the $2 theater for a late showing, Blade Trinity will be the funniest shit you've seen in years.

oh, and speaking of which:

I've been using Netflix to rent pretty much any movie I read a dvd review of (courtesy of DVD FILE, DVD JOURNAL or DVD TALK), and the Warren F. Disbrow double feature of "Flesh Eaters from Outer Space" and "Invasion for Flesh and Blood" was so great I went out and bought the fucker. And I promise, a better $11.99 won't be spent on two movies.

These little gems were made in 1988 and 1992. In New Jersey. And the coup de gras, on HOME VIDEO. That's right, Camcorder horror movies. I know, I know, you've been burned before. Camcorder movies always suck. Not so, my friends.

These movies (which, according to the credits are actually called A Taste for Flesh and Blood 1 and 2) make Splatter University look like the crap it is. True, the acting isn't much less inept in these doozies, but there's something endearing about the scope of these no budget chucklers. We're talking about a movie that starts in Space! (Well, a cut out of a space ship over Earth, and a space shuttle on a black rod) And Disbrow never wimps out on excessive gore (the movies have a running joke about a guy getting his dick ripped off) and every other possible cliche you could hit in 90 minutes. The first movie is just kind of stupid, but the lameness keeps you entertained until it's over. The sequel, however, eschews coherence for comedy and sci-fi geekery that only exists in the basement next to a D&D set. There's a sub-plot about two losers driving around town trying to film naked girls for $10,000 apiece. Really, and it's complete with goofy synth music that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The biggest star in either movie is the Director's Father (also the BEST ACTOR in either movie) Oh wait, I forgot that Marilyn "37" Gighliotti has a cameo in the second movie. The box proudly proclaims "CLERKS MARILYN GIGHLIOTTI", but I promise, Disbrow's father is second only to the monster in reasons to watch this shit. This is the kind of movie to kick back a few brewskis with and laugh your sorry ass off. Oh hell yeah.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Four Reasons You Might Be Drunk Enough to Watch Lockout

 Lockout is not a good movie. It's not even a "so bad it's good" movie. Lockout is a series of movie-like images played in sequence (mostly) scotch-taped to a five minute short film of Peter Stormare interrogating Guy Pearce, who only makes wisecracks about "trampolining" Stormare's wife. Under most circumstances, this sounds like a So You Won't Have To candidate, but I come to you with another possibility. One that acknowledges Lockout is a lousy movie. Maybe even barely a movie.

 That is not to say that it is unwatchable. If you were, shall we say, inebriated beyond the point that you cared whether a movie makes sense or not, you might be the target audience for this film. I suppose you could be something other than drunk, but Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium does not endorse the use of drugs or any other illegal activity. We're on the "up and up" here, so to speak, so if you'd rather find another way to be so intoxicated that Lockout is appealing, that is your business.

 Allow me to present four scenarios under which you could enjoy Lockout:


 1. The "USA Up All Night" Effect - So let's say it's 3:00 in the morning, and you've managed to get yourself home after last call without running over anything, stumbled into your apartment, raided the fridge for comfort food, and collapsed on the couch. You press the remote, but it slips from your grasp and rolls somewhere on the floor. Not so far away you couldn't pick it up, but dammit, you're drunk. Fuck that remote.

 Fortunately, USA Up All Night is on*, and Lockout is starting. Guy Pearce is being a smartass and getting punched in the face for it. You're laughing because the censors went easy on Lockout (it's only PG-13, but like you care right now) and they leave in the line "his name was fuck you... yeah, he was Asian." So what the hell, you think, I can sit here and watch this. Lockout requires no effort on your part, just sit there and don't pay attention. The President's daughter went up to SPACE PRISON and the inmates got loose and now they're holding her hostage. And only one man can save them... Snake Plissken. No, wait, Snow. Snow Snow. No, wait. Marion Snow (That's Guy Pearce's character).

 Let's say you don't remember locations so well in this haze in this stupor of yours. Good news! Lockout has a title card for nearly every character and every building in the film. Some of them, like MS One (it stands for Maximum Security and not Microsoft) and LOPD (Low Orbit Police Department) repeatedly, as though you were returning from a commercial break. Perhaps a commercial break with Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Gottfried. Lockout wants you to take it easy while it does the heavy lifting. Not well, mind you, but it's giving the bare minimum of effort and a D Minus is still a passing grade.

 Speaking of barely passing grades...

 2. The Laws of Physics aren't Important to You - Look, your head is already swimming from that "power hour" and then the shots. And the other "power hour." And that Appletini you sipped on to get that girl's phone number when her friend wasn't all up in your business. It's HARD to want to think about the myriad of stupid things that Lockout does that can't possibly happen. So fuck it, man! You're drunk!

 Yeah, so you can't just let go of something in space and then fall in the right direction no matter what. Repeatedly. Sure, it's a really bad idea to have a SPACE PRISON that isn't in geosynchronous orbit and is instead piloted by one guy. The exact guy that the prisoners shot out of the airlock. Wait... no, they shot the Warden out of the airlock. I guess it happened off camera. They said it happened, so now SPACE PRISON is going to crash into Earth (LOPD is in geosynchronous orbit, so that's not an issue, even though the International Space Station crashed into a window in SPACE PRISON but just caused a guy to freeze and didn't suck him into the vacuum of space).

 But hey man, why do you want to think about that shit? You're trying to focus on holding a 2-Liter Cherry Coke in one hand and half of a Quiznos Meatball footlong from this afternoon in the other. You don't have time to wonder why pilots in space are wearing the same gear they would if they were flying jets, which would mean their cockpits were somehow... never mind. Shit, you just dropped a meatball on your t-shirt, and it rolled on the floor. Probably next to the remote. Damn. That's DOWN THERE, and right now we are not speaking of DOWN THERE. We've got SPACE PRISON up here.

 So now Snow and the President's daughter (Maggie Grace from Taken) are free falling through Earth's atmosphere and their suits start burning up but then stop. SPACE PRISON blows up, which makes them fly even faster, and a piece of debris hits the President's daughter (man, who cares what her name is?) but doesn't pulverize her spinal cord (and neither did the explosion) so when her suit comes off Snow can just grab her and they can breathe and his parachute will definitely support both of them as they land on a freeway that is coincidentally in the SAME CITY WE STARTED THE FILM IN.

 That City? New York. Wow, this movie is a lot like Escape from New York, but in space. Man, you feel pretty pleased with yourself about that. Chug some Cherry Coke for that, and don't worry about that last paragraph, man. It's just a movie.

 3.The Phrase "High Speed Unicycle Chase" Sounds Cool - Don't worry that the high speed Unicycle chase is blurry and impossible to follow. You ARE drunk, but it looks that way normally.

 4. Damn Right That's Original! - Lockout is "based on an original idea by Luc Besson," which may be the only thing funnier than all of Guy Pearce's wisecracks. Thankfully, the fact that just about every plot element is a ripoff of a movie I guarantee you've seen, you're drifting in and out thanks to that meatball sub and it really comes in handy to wake up just in time to see something familiar.

 At first, it might trick you into thinking you're watching another movie: the prisoners frozen in stasis reminds you of Demolition Man, and then they unfreeze immediately. One guy even has the presence of mind to see two guards walking by, so he pretends he's still frozen (the only prisoner still frozen) in order to get the jump on them. We already covered Escape from New York (and if you're really drunk, you might just assume that Escape from LA is the same movie, where Plissken actually goes in to rescue the President's daughter), and wait... Maggie Grace was in Taken, where she was Taken by disreputable ethnic stereotypes, right? Okay, let's replace "Middle Eastern" with "Irish," make the lead bad guys brothers, and what the hell? You can follow this. No problem.



 Now maybe there's a way a sober person could watch this film and not suffer from a head explosion, Scanners-style. I guess that's possible, as just about anything is possible. People cheered for the Battleship trailer ("from Hasbro, The Company that Brought You Transformers") when it played before Lockout, and I'd be willing to wager that this film is far more watchable than anything Michael Bay's done in the last ten years.

 I'm just saying that there were five of us watching the film together, and when we weren't laughing hysterically at the lapses of logic, plot holes you could pilot SPACE PRISON through, and the terrible dialogue, we were flummoxed by how anything that happened in Lockout could possibly happen. You can't even turn your brain off and enjoy how stupid the film is because it keeps trying to explain things. And it does such a terrible job that it only compounds the issue.

 Let us for the moment ignore the fact that the title doesn't make any sense.

 You can watch Lockout, and maybe you'll want to. I cannot in good conscience recommend you pay money to see it, or even say that I recommend it. I don't want you calling me evil after you walk out of the film with permanent brain freeze. But if you happen to be very drunk and Lockout happens to be on television and it's too late at night to bother doing anything else, then it's a movie you can pass out during, wake up intermittently, and probably tell your friends it was "all right."


 * Because you're drunk, this might be confusing, as you still know that USA Up All Night hasn't been on in years, but what the hell, who am I to question this? It beats reruns of NCIS.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the films of Martin Scorsese (Part Four)


The Departed


The Rolling Stones - Shine a Light


Shutter Island


Public Speaking


George Harrison: Living in the Material World


Hugo

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blogorium Review: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

 There's supposed to be such a thing as a "law of diminishing returns"; if a hit movie continues to produce sequels, they rarely if ever are as good as the first film. From the eleven-and-a-half Friday the 13ths to the Die Hard and Indiana Jones and Alien quadrilogies all the way back to the Thin Man films, it's a dicey proposition to keep going. Even in the rare cases where a Godfather Part II or Evil Dead 2 manage to match the original, the third film is imperfect. The James Bond films have lows that match their highs, and it tends to happen that the "diminishing returns" play out with each successive 007.

 I bring this up because this is the fourth Mission: Impossible film, and it's a toss up as to whether Ghost Protocol or M:I:III are the best entries yet. You could really argue either way, but it's strange to think that the third and fourth Mission: Impossible films are not only that much better than the first two films, but better than a lot of action cinema in the last decade. This comes from a fan of the Bourne films, the Jason Statham cycle (Transporter/Crank/Death Race/etc), the Sherlock Holmes buddy-cop reinvention, The Expendables, Rambo, Predators, and yes, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. While these are all fun in their own right, I'm still prepared to take Ghost Protocol over them right now.

 Call me a prisoner of the moment, but it's rare to see a film that doesn't mind being action packed and funny without one undermining the other. It's also nice to see that Brad Bird transferred the breathless action from The Incredibles to the real world, in what is (reported to be, anyway) as realistically as possible. Tom Cruise was dangling from the walls of the world's tallest building in Dubai, although how or why any insurance company would allow that is beyond me.

 Okay, we're four paragraphs in, so let's explain what happens in Ghost Protocol: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has been cooling his heels in a Russian prison for a few years, following the death of his wife Julia (played by Michelle Monaghan in M:I:III), when he's released by IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, returning from M:I:III). The agency assigns the team the mission of breaking into the Kremlin in order to find some evidence of the mysterious "Cobalt," a terrorist who may have a nuclear device. "Cobalt" has successfully been erasing all evidence of his existence, and when Hunt is caught in an explosion while trying to escape from the Kremlin, IMF and the United States are implicated in an assault on Russia. Hunt is informed by the IMF Secretary (?) (Tom Wilkinson) that the President is issuing "Ghost Protocol," and that the team will now be considered "enemies of the State" unless they can covertly intercept "Cobalt," nuclear expert Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) before he begins a new world war. Hunt, Carter, and Dunn are joined by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), an analyst who may be more than meets the eye, but their resources (and time) are limited. Oh, and the Russian police agent (Vladimir Mashkov) is hot on their tail.

 One of the things I enjoy so much about Ghost Protocol is the way that nothing goes according to plan: from the opening, where Lost's Josh Holloway is "Estevez'ed" because his face recognition software warns him an assassin (Léa Seydoux) is coming while she's pulling her gun out. He's distracted and killed, so Carter and Dunn's first mission is botched, necessitating Hunt's release. Ethan won't just leave the prison when Benji unlocks the cell doors by remote: he insists that the person releasing him (he doesn't know it's Benji, which is a nice conceit between what the audience knows and what the characters know) also open the door for Bogdan (Miraj Grbic), causing an otherwise smooth escape plan into a full fledged prison riot.

 And it just keeps going. Little things like the mission brief not self destructing to the mask maker jamming to accidentally killing a key informant to sticky gloves that don't stick keep compounding and making life harder and harder for the team. They can't do anything about it, so they have to improvise, grin, and bear it. So the building in Dubai they need to control the elevators in has a room you can only get into from the outside - Ethan can use the stick gloves to break in so Benji can hack it. They have 30 minutes before the assassin arrives to sell the launch codes to Winstrom (Samuli Edelmann), and one of the spider-man-like gloves stop working halfway up. It's a good thing Ethan was rock-climbing in M:I II.

 This works in Ghost Protocol because it adds serious tension to the film. They manage to be too late, make silly mistakes, and only sometimes manage to succeed by the skin of their teeth. It's less of the "oh shit, they have his wife" from M:I:III and more of "there's no back up coming if you screw this up" as is evident when Wilkinson's secretary is killed and Renner is forced to join the ragtag group. He doesn't have anywhere else to go now.

 While Pegg is a consistent source of laughs in the film, Renner also brings in some much needed levity as an IMF analyst befuddled by the half-baked desperation ploys during the film. His "secret" isn't actually all that important, especially when one considers the coda for the film (for which I do recommend you catch up with characters from M:I:III), but it does explain how Hunt knows he's more than just a number cruncher. Ethan pulls a gun on Brandt and isn't surprised at all when he's promptly disarmed.

 The rumor was that Renner was brought in to continue the series after Ghost Protocol, but then Cruise had so much fun making the film that they may continue with both of them. That's fine with me, because if we're not going with the Maggie Q / Johnathan Rhys Meyers iteration of the team (Ving Rhames' absence from Ghost Protocol is explained without suggesting he's out of the series), I could watch more Mission: Impossible films with this lineup. Cruise, Patton, Pegg, and Renner have great chemistry and work together as a (dysfunctional) team. Like the last film, each member serves more than one purpose and nobody feels superfluous, even if some of the set pieces sometimes do.

 Which brings me to the weaknesses of Ghost Protocol, and there are a few: Benji and Brandt are involved in an infiltration scheme reminiscent of the "sensor room" in the first film, but instead of suspenseful it's joke-y and ultimately proves to be another red herring. Hunt's showdown with Hendricks in an (admittedly cool looking) elevated car port is anticlimactic, but that may be due to the fact that Nyqvist is stuck playing a character that barely figures into the movie. He doesn't say much, he's mostly in the background, and the threat he poses is globally more dangerous but doesn't have the same emotional resonance as Philip Seymour Hoffman's Owen Davian. He doesn't register much at all, and certainly doesn't have the impact of Seydoux's Sabine Moreau, a much smaller character.

 In fact, it's entirely possible to play out Ghost Protocol without a "main" villain. The film is more or less the disavowed IMF team racing against the clock to stop a missile from launching, and while their attempts to stop "Cobalt" / Hendricks from getting to the point he can do that are entertaining, I don't know that his presence is even necessary. Like the Russian police who show up at inopportune times for Ethan, Hendricks is more effective as an abstract threat. There's one scene that really gives Nyqvist anything to do, and while it's a clever closer to a great chase scene, that's about all that the moment amounts to.

 Still, I highly recommend Ghost Protocol, which is consistently entertaining despite these flaws. To be honest, I didn't really notice them while I was watching the film - it was only in retrospect that it occurred to me that some elements of the film (including a character played by Slumdog Millionaire's Anil Kapoor introduced in the third act) were maybe superfluous. It never feels superfluous when you're watching the film: the script by André Nemec and Josh Applebaum and Brad Bird's direction keep you swept up in the race to stop nuclear war. Tom Cruise is again hard at work demonstrating why he's so essential to this series. He's a little bit older than he was last time and things are a little harder for Ethan Hunt to bounce back from, but he's still climbing up the side of buildings to entertain us.

 If this is any indicator of what J.J. Abrams and Tom Cruise (as producers) want to keep bringing to the Mission: Impossible series, it's entirely possible that "diminishing returns" aren't on the horizon as they push towards a fifth film. There's certainly enough that happens in the last five minutes of Ghost Protocol to imply there's more story to be told, so keep the quality level high and I'll be back for more.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Good Shopping During Wartime in the Video Daily Double!

 Good day to you all, Educationeers! I hope you had a great three day weekend, but just because some of you have Spring Break doesn't mean there isn't still a LOT left to learn. Clearly Cap'n Howdy can't just let your brains rot and atrophy, so pay close attention to the Video Daily Double today! We're going to learn how to make healthy shopping decisions and plan ahead for parenting during those tough times. Like ones with nuclear bombs.

 Learn on!

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 Our first film, Buying Food, should help you avoid spending all of your health buying candy and McDonald's. Don't be fooled, spending more for food that goes bad quickly is vastly preferable to cheaper food that lasts... well, an unnaturally long time.


 Our second film, As the Twig is Bent, is about proper parenting during wartime. Specifically World War II time, but I'm sure you'll learn something that will made you ready for WWIII.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Retro Review: Mission: Impossible: III

 Why am I writing a "Retro Review" of a movie that's barely six years old? The reason is twofold:

 1. I hadn't seen Mission: Impossible: III (actual title) since it first arrived on home video.

 2. I had recently watched Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which is the closest thing to a "direct sequel" that you're going to find in the series, and while I had a comfortable grasp of the characters who appeared or were mentioned, watching that film really made me want to revisit the previous entry.

 The Cap'n had not planned on seeing Mission: Impossible: III, the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams (Lost, Felicity), because of my lukewarm feelings about the first two M:I films. While having no real connection to the show, I had seen Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible in high school and generally liked it but was totally unimpressed with John Woo's Mission: Impossible II, a hollow and pointless exercise in slow motion action and motorcycle-fu. The latter held sway in my mind over the former, so there didn't seem to be much of a point watching the third film in a series I wasn't that invested in.

 It wasn't until I started hearing good things about the sequel, combined with my affinity for Dinosaur Island that I thought I'd give it a shot. Good call, it turns out.

 People say that Mission: Impossible: III is a feature length version of Abrams' spy series Alias. I can't confirm or deny that, as I've never seen Alias. I would imagine it has something to do with the way the film begins: dropping the audience in the middle of a tense stand-off between Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), where the life of Julia (Michelle Monaghan) rest on whether Hunt delivered something called The Rabbit's Foot to Davian or not. We have little to no context, only that the typically nonplussed Hunt is helpless to stop Davian from killing Julia (wife? girlfriend? fellow IMF agent?) and that nothing he's promising seems to sway his captor. The film then launches into opening credits and we begin M:I:III in earnest.

 The "drop you in the middle of the narrative without context" is something that I associate with Abrams, mostly through Lost, but one could argue that Star Trek pulls a similar narrative conceit by opening with the arrival of Nero before we even know what Federation ship we're seeing him destroy. It's a refreshing break from the action set pieces from the first film (entire team wiped out) and the second (extreme rock climbing) that focuses on character over mimicking the 007 series. It's not the only way that Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman improve on the M:I franchise.

 From my recollection, the first two Mission: Impossible films were largely the Tom Cruise show, featuring "the team," of which I can only recall Ving Rhames being a constant. Other people showed up to betray Ethan Hunt or to be (I love this term) "Estevez'ed". M:I:III, on the other hand, centers in on the concept that the team is important and that Ethan might lead the group, but he needs everybody to carry out the mission (should he choose to accept it). Unlike the first two films, I can remember every part of the IMF team in III: Ving Rhames returns as Luther, Johnathan Rhys-Meyers is Duncan, Maggie Q is Zhen, and in a cameo appearance, Simon Pegg enters the series as Benji. Instead of having one assigned "role," everybody works as a unit to ensure that covert operations like invading Vatican City go off smoothly. It's a refreshing break from the "hero with some window dressing" I remembered  (this also applies to Ghost Protocol, but I'll get to that in a few days).

 This is not to say that there isn't some familiarity: Abrams sneaks in his "good luck charm" Greg Grunberg early in the film during Ethan and Julia's engagement (?) party, and Felicity herself, Keri Russell, has the distinction of being the "pupil of Hunt who gets captured and introduces the lethal threat," a bomb inside your head, that kicks off the film. Hoffman is a merciless arms dealer as Davian, unafraid of Hunt even in the face of death, promising to punish him and anyone he cares about for having the gall to catch him. The Rabbit's Foot, a MacGuffin to say the least, is the focus of everybody's attention, from Hunt's team to Davian to Director Brassel (Laurence Fishburne) and deputy director Musgrave (Billy Crudup), but Agent Lindsey Farris (Russell) alerts Ethan that a mole in IMF is working for the other side.

 All of this comes at a fast and furious pace, and the film never feels like two hours. The action is easy to follow (quite a feat considering that the Bourne Supremacy ushered in "shaky cam" two years before) and the stunts are mostly practical. Even a rooftop leap in Shanghai that was mostly green-screen involved Cruise taking a considerable fall before being mapped onto the background. The film is more accomplished, story-wise, than Star Trek, with actual stakes being introduced when Hunt loses Ferris and then (we think) Julia, but there's a similar breezy charm in the middle of the film and at the end that keeps things from being too dour.

 In particular, I like to point out the scene where Hunt (disguised at Davian) and Zhen drop off a crucial briefcase to Luther. The way that Hoffman delivers the line "what's up?" still makes me chuckle, almost as much as Monaghan's reaction to what IMF is an acronym for. Actually, in general I also would like to point out that despite the fact everybody had it in for Tom Cruise around that time, he's still essential to the success of the M:I films and handles it admirably.

 Watching the film again, I was surprised how caught up I was all over again, even as the twists and turns of M:I:III started coming back. It's a very entertaining action film in a way that I don't remember the first or second film being, and because of that I welcomed Brad Bird's live action debut with Ghost Protocol. I'm glad I did, but I'll get to that later. It is fair that you don't have to see M:I:III again to enjoy Ghost Protocol, but the end of the fourth film benefits greatly from being up to speed on who's who in the third film.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blogorium Review(s): 21 Jump Street and 30 Minutes or Less

 Welcome to a numerically themed pair of reviews at the Blogorium. I actually saw these movies a few weeks ago, but didn't really have enough to say about them individually to put up reviews. Since my Young Adult review / essay / whatever keeps running into the "delete" button, it seemed like I might have better luck giving you good people the lowdown on a couple of comedies that skirted under the radar. For very different reasons, mind you, but under the radar no less.

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 I wasn't going to see 21 Jump Street. There was no reason to: I didn't watch the show, I have a middling disinterest in Channing Tatum, and the premise represented something in the trend of "if they know the name, make it into a movie" that just bores me. I don't even have the energy to get indignant about it any more.

 And then I started seeing the positive reviews; the critics weren't just positive, many of them were glowing about 21 Jump Street. It had to be a joke, I thought - there was no way this movie was in any way as funny or surprising as readers were being led to believe. The fix must finally be in and studios managed to buy off every critic out there. While the concept of "Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes has long since outlived its use as a marketing tool, there's that 85% positive rating sitting next to 21 Jump Street. A movie based on a TV show that people probably just barely remember. I'm in the film's target audience (18-35) and I barely remember the show.

 What I didn't anticipate was that screenwriter Michael Bacall (working with a story credit to co-star Jonah Hill) is as aware as many of us are about this tendency and addresses it directly near the beginning of the film. After Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill), two high school antagonists turned police academy pals, ruin an easy bust of drug runners because Jenko can't remember the Miranda rights, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) reassigns them, describing the situation thusly:

 "Fortunately for you two, we're reviving a cancelled undercover police program from the 80s, revamping it for modern times. You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us not to notice."

 It is refreshing to admit up front that the premise of your film is a hollow, soulless grab at name recognition, but if that had been the extent of 21 Jump Street's comic sensibility, I couldn't in good conscience recommend it. Just admitting being bereft of originality doesn't automatically give you a pass for still being what you're making fun of.

 Luckily, that's the tip of the iceberg for 21 Jump Street, which makes the most of its stars (one of whom I have to admit never remembered having seen in anything*) and its extended cast, including Ice Cube (as Jump Street's police chief that urges officers to "embrace your stereotypes"), Dave Franco, Chris Parnell, Brie Larson, Ellie Kemper, and Rob Riggle as the Schmidt-hating track coach Mr. Walters.

 Most of 21 Jump Street works because it finds comedy in the way high schools have changed, but also the moronic way that Schmidt and Jenko can't remember their undercover names and end up with the wrong identities. The popular Jenko ends up in AP Chemistry and Schmidt in Drama and on the track team. Again, if it was a one-note joke, things would get old fast, but Tatum and Hill sneak in some actual character development. The drug they're supposed to find ("HFS") comes with its own set of animated "stages" of high (and a montage I swear includes the head explosion from Scanners), and the film also plays an amusing game with action movie tropes. You might want to call it "will it explode."

 Tatum, an actor I really felt nothing about to this point, emerges as the MVP of 21 Jump Street. He goes for broke ridiculing his action lunkhead "type" and the set-up and payoff of the line "Fuck you, science!" still has me chuckling. Jonah Hill also seems to be having fun playing the opposite of his "type" - Schmidt finds himself unexpectedly popular in the new world of eco-friendly, studious, hipster-esque high school, but since I had no expectations whatsoever for Tatum, he knocked it out of the park.

 Quite to my surprise, I laughed and laughed hard during 21 Jump Street, a film that really has no right to be clever or entertaining. So credit to Hill, Bacall, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the cast for making a movie that acknowledges our diminished expectations, and then proceeds to raise the bar for yuks and belly laughs.

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 And then there's Reuben Fleischer's 30 Minutes or Less, which is all right but feels a little disjointed. I'd say that I was pretty much on board for whatever Fleischer followed Zombieland with, and when it ended up being a movie about a pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) being kidnapped by two losers (Danny McBride and Nick Swarsdon) who strap a bomb to him in order to get $100,000. Not sure what to do, he decides to rob a bank with the help of his friend (Aziz Ansari), whose sister (Dilshad Vadsaria) he also happens to be dating, causing additional tension. That much was evident from the trailers, and it looked like it could be fun.

 The movie opens with dual narratives: on one hand, there's Nick (Eisenberg) and Chet (Ansari), two guys heading in different directions with their lives. Chet is beginning to make the transition to adulthood and Nick is still delivering pizzas, renting DVDs and waiting in front of Chet's apartment for him to get home from teaching. Nick didn't exactly tell Chet about how long he's been "involved" with his sister Kate (Vadsaria), and they have a bit of a blow up.

 Meanwhile, there's Dwayne (McBride) and Travis (Swarsdon), two buddies that lounge around in Dwayne's father (Fred Ward), The Major's mansion. The Major hit the lottery after being a life long Marine and he spends the money on giant TVs and monster trucks while constantly belittling his son for having no ambition. Dwayne wants his dad's money so he can open a tanning salon / brothel, and Nick builds explosives. With the help of Juicy (Bianca Kajlich), a stripper who knows hitman Chango (Michael Peña), they scheme to kill The Major. But they can't do it themselves, and Chango wants a hundred grand to do the job.

 The rest, as you may have guessed, leads to the trailer, which is around the 20 minute mark of the film. Everything beforehand is crammed in so we can get to the central premise of the film. And then things just kind of move along for the next hour. Nick and Chet come up with a plan that requires them to find fake guns, steal a car, make a few "bucket list" stops for the pizza slinger, and then eventually rob a bank twenty minutes later. All the while Dwayne and Travis are following them, so we're still basically following two stories that are but aren't really connected with two sets of semi-likable losers.

 In fact, the problem might be that nobody in 30 Minutes or Less is particularly interesting: all four leads are basically the same and have the same desire to be doing anything other than what they're doing. It isn't until late in the film that McBride's Dwayne begins to develop something resembling a dark side, and by that point Peña's killer-for-hire who gets cheated out of his money suddenly has a good reason to want to kill everybody. I didn't mind the shift from slacker goofy to suddenly violent (the movie is based on a true story that puts a bit of a damper on the comedy) but 30 Minutes or Less never coalesces into a unified narrative.

 The film is funny, to be sure, and in fits and spurts is very funny, but when it ended I couldn't help but think "that's it?" It felt like there was something missing from 30 Minutes or Less, something that made everything click together, that just isn't in the movie. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was a little underwhelmed to be honest with you.


 There you have it: one is a solid recommendation for a movie I never would have thought was worth anybody's time, and the other is a "I'm not really sure" kind of flick. Tomorrow I'll be back with a Retro Review of Mission: Impossible: III which should dovetail nicely into Thursday's Blogorium Review of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol. If we're lucky, I might even get past all the navel gazing and self introspection and be able to explain why Young Adult is worth seeing.


 * Update: So Channing Tatum is in Havoc and in War of the Worlds. I did not know that.