Thursday, May 23, 2013

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - episodic felicity

Star Trek Into Darkness comes to us with all the trimmings we've come to expect from J. J. Abrams from great special effects, lens flares, humorous characters to ambiguous baddies—all the trimmings that is except a captivating story.

We are of course set up with leadership conflicts near the start which get resolved rather quickly when the primary antagonist of the movie, Khan (Cumberbatch), starts wasting top Fleet Academy members. Kirk demands justice and with rage barley in check, pursues vengeance, with Spock at his side to curb the harboring vigilante within. On route to the Klingon homeland in hopes of annihilating Khan is the only logical narrative step. The crew arrives to kill or apprehend Khan only to discover a juicy secret which is the most interesting aspect of the movie. But after 5 minutes of explaining away the motives, the enigma of the story loses any real hopeful anticipatory excitement. 

I still walked away enjoying Star Trek. It just wasn't a great movie and certainly not as good as the first one. The film does give fans and hardcore Trekkers (as they prefer over Trekkie) some scenes of reminicent bliss as well as a twist reverse near the end concerning Spock and Kirk but not really enough to say 'wow' that was someting special. It felt like an excellent high budget episode of  TV Star Trek. Maybe this is all we really need but I wished for more.

Recommended Viewing: Star Trek II - Star Trek (2009) - Star Trek (1979)

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 7.2   -   The Fan: 7.9
             MetaCritic: 72
 Rotten Tomatoes: 87
                    IMDB: 8.3

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

OBLIVION - a dystopian utopia

Oblivion impressed me. It has all the hallmarks of great existentialist scifi even though it may tread the line of feeling too familiar. The acting was interesting, the set design— absolutely beautiful, the terse dialogue—appropriate, and the narrative—interesting and deep.

You may notice narrative arcs weaved in from Walle, Independence Day, Planet of the Apes etc but I don't believe this really takes anything away from the experience. Oblivion embraces classic scifi and builds it's own unique story. 

The special effects are downright awe inspiring. Extremely detailed, incredibly genuine looking—and most important—real feeling. You don't find yourself questioning the authenticity which is so vital in keeping yourself abreast and lost in the drama. I feel this way rarely because apparent computer effects are usually below par if you ask me , and many times contemporary effects barely touch the verisimilitude of great effects movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park (Maybe this is just my poor memory?).  Some good ones in the past decade have been Serenity, Solaris, Sunshine and District 9—though far too few. (e.g. look in the previews at Elysium (Neil Blomkamp), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) and World War Z (Marc Forster)—clearly the first two have much more respect and patience for excellent effects than World War Z.  Special Effect Companies have a hard go if it in Hollywood, coming in and out of existence all too often, and therefore hard to recognize and keep track of continued outstanding effort. Anyway, shout out to the cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, Pixomondo and Digital Domain for excellence of craft. 

Another reason to see this movie is the new Dolby Atmos surround sound. This is not just another gimmick, it literally transformed my viewing experience. If you are lucky enough to be in close proximity to a theater that has this system installed be sure and not skimp. At AMC theaters it will be labeled ETX on the ticket. I live in NYC and only two theaters have the sound system installed, so it is not yet widespread. But wow I was literally blown away by how much more I was drawn into the action and scenery. Perhaps this could be the cause for my favorable bias toward the film, especially considering the mediocre reception by fans and critics alike.

One interesting aspect of contemplation the film introduced was the ephemera of memory. If a clone is the exact replica of you then—is it you? What does that even mean? Ray Kurzweil, the worlds leading futurist, states that once the clone is in a distinctly different medium (a new body) then subsequently it's memories will differ from yours and begin to be it's own unique being, however similar. Still, this is intriguing with the currently impossible technology that could be waiting for us in the not too distant future. Gene Cloning and modification that is. It brings up an interesting point that is stated clearly in Daniel Kahneman's (the nobel prize winning economist) new book, Thinking Fast and Slow. He says we have at least two selves, the remembering self and the experiencing self. Could it be that we take vacations more for our memories of them than the experience we encounter in the moment to moment temporality? Is memory—US, ME, I—who or what am I? How does this relate to Oblivion? Well, I can't say much more without saying too much. haha. Though, if your complete connectome (a working theory of brain dynamics, a bit like your genome—a neuronal thumbprint so to speak) is transferred to other working substrates (organic or inorganic) capable of consciousness—is it still you? This remains a fascinating and open question.

The director, Joseph Kosinski, was also responsible for TRON: Legacy. I liked it, but found it lacking somehow—many will feel the same way about Oblivion, I suspect. I think I'm just starting to embrace the guy's style and hence—I'm lovin it. His stories are nebulous and cryptic but this is a good thing for the thinking man. The excellent choice to use Daft Punk for TRON and M83 for Oblivion show how well electronic music is suited to these stories although, I could have used even more trancy dubstep shoe-gaze electro rock. 

I think Oblivion will receive more love as the decades roll on. Don't miss it in the theater.

I'm excited for TRON 2.

Recommended Viewing: TRON:Legacy - Planet Of The Apes (1968) - Walle 

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.5   -  The Fan: 8.8
             MetaCritic: 54
 Rotten Tomatoes: 56
                    IMDB: 7.2

A Few Quickies

MUD - Excellent - 8.2

An interesting tale of two young quasiantebellum boys that get caught up in the realities of unrequieted love, foolish familial honor and needless murder. A coming of age story yes, but pointed and very well made with moments of levity tossed in for good measure. A fantastic cast supports the well written script and superb direction.

PAIN & GAIN - Mediocre - 6.2

A new Michael Bay movie. Need I say more? Yes. Bay is usually unfairly criticized if you ask me—his movies are not all bad—I happen to really like The Rock, Bad Boys I and II and Armageddon. Yes, they are over the top and sometimes downright cheesy, but still highly enjoyable action films. The Transformer movies are not that good, but oh the hell well. Pain & Gain is Michael at his most electric but ends up zapping himself recursively over and over again. The movie's incessant alacrity to push forward makes you feel like you've been on a cocaine high for days that just won't let the fuck up. It's supremely irritating to sit through. The story is awesome—and generally I find Bay's blend of humor and action amusing as well as palatable, but this time nothing felt right. He's had an off few years.

EVIL DEAD - Good - 7.2

Who doesn't love the original? The remake does a decent job of paying homage while reigning in the horror we expect today with some hellish creativity. You will surely cringe many times and may even get actually frightened for a moment or two. Yet, I can't quite put a finger on it, but I didn't walk away in love—maybe horror movies are just getting boring. I don't think teen horror is dead but severely lacking in true originality. What's the last horror movie you saw that will ever be as memorable as say Nightmare On Elm Street?

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES - Somewhat Good - 6.7

I was really excited to see this movie being a fan of Blue Valentine and Ryan Gosling in general. Forlorn, I walked out of the theater rather disenchanted. The film was an attempt at triple narrative realization much like Innaritu's Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams, although, not randomly interspersed, but linearly connected story lines. I think I would have liked the first storyline as a complete movie and thus opted to cut the last two. Though, the third story was certainly necessary to wrap it up. Yet, it's like watching three movies in one with each one being fresh, trying to connect and like the characters from the get go. In other words, the film just feels dreadfully long and dull for large sections. Interesting idea, but for me, failed to meet the mark.

Monday, March 25, 2013

SPRING BREAKERS - this is my sh-t

Holy f--king wow! Finally a movie to rave about. Though not perfect, Spring Breakers is a much needed cinesational gust of fresh air. 

Harmony Korine has taken us on another wild ride through adolescence. Writer of the controversial film, Kids and an active participant in the Dogme 95 movement, Korine never stops innovating. I can't say I much cared for Gummo or Julien Donkey Boy—they are both types of cinema that disgust and revolt your senses but you can't turn away because it's simply fascinating.  

His new film Spring Breakers was, in my opinion, just plain awesome. I loved it from minute one and not just because of its ample tits and ass either. What makes this movie exceptional is the music, the editing and the direction. The actors Korine chose to fill the four girl roles like Disney's Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez could really have been anyone and the film would have been just as powerful. Though I suspect the fact they both were Disney princesses turned into wild, wanton teens was carefully thought through to maximize the loss of innocence effect.

The narrative follows these four bored teens with idle minds around for about a week. First, they wreak havoc on unsuspecting dinner guests for their money to get to Florida for spring break. Then all hell breakers loose. They get arrested for drug possession and guess who bails them out? The superb James Franco. He's a badass drug dealer/rapper—a cross between Lil Wayne and Riff Raff. Then a fever dream of violence and carnal fornication resumes.

This film is about every girls unrealized fantasy. Let my try and explain why I feel this way. I am going to make a rather grandiose conjecture based on a few experiences dating young girls. I believe that many young, contemporary American girls are much like the teens portrayed in this movie. An eclectic mix of backgrounds, no doubt, but fundamentally similar. Perhaps this is what most girls are like before they turn into Lena Dunham's Girls. Always searching, always craving, always wanting something more, something greater. It's no surprise that spring break in a foreign place can possibly provide that. It's a promise of being surrounded by those your age with similar minds and goals like drugs, sex and turbulent abandon. Maybe just the thought of these improprieties is enough to arouse your interest rather or not if you partake. In other words, it's the prospect of the unknown that's so exciting—so intriguing and beguiling, beckoning even. You can't wait to be free of mundane scholastic and familial responsibilities. Spring Break provides this escape. 

Now the interesting thing is that this too gets old—the drugs and sex part. And since you've garnered this inner desire and yearning for more more more you may wake up one morning feeling unsatisfied. This may lead you into trouble—real trouble. What I'm trying to say by every girls fantasy is this—you leave home searching for excitement and adventure—you find it and never want it to end—you continue to seek out crazier and crazier experiences and my find yourself way over your head. I'm not saying you would end up going three way with a gangster and then killing a dozen people but that's where the fantasy begins to become palpable and distinct from reality. The satiety is never realized within. 

This movie is a story about this inner yearning that is never really fulfilled. An intense desire that is nearly overwhelming as a young person. The film continually goes forward in time to give you a glimpse of the future and then immediately explains what's going on. It also repeats the same dialogue to an irritating degree but I believe this technique was used to reveal the way a adolescents life might feel like—repetitive. The music from Skrillex and Cliff Martinez (from the Drive soundtrack) was perfect for the slomo scenes. The Britney Spears song, Everytime, was thrillingly employed for one of the most bizarrely funny montage sequences I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Franco on keys singing the tune juxtaposed to wild scenes of violence—bloody brilliant!!! 

I fear that I overhype but honestly, the film really touched me. I can't stop thinking about it. It may not be for everyone. It's a movie that affects you in a very deep way, over presenting a realistic portrayal of youth. It should be viewed as an unrealized wish fulfillment teen fantasy. I would take it with last years Chronicle and Project X as a near pristine trilogy of teen films that represent repressed youthful dreams and desires. Go see Spring Breakers—laugh hysterically, relish the tunes and revel in adolescent hysteria. 

PS - Some quickie reviews

STOKER - From the South Korean man that brought us Oldboy and other dark tales comes Stoker, a continuation of the black macabre. The movie really doesn't get very interesting till about the last 30 minutes. It's shot well and intrigues but not enough for me to say it was very good with any real conviction. However, definitely an interesting coming of age story that deals with a young girl's realization that her deterministic beliefs have the unfortunate consequence of sexual arousal with respect to death. Odd and honest but slow and unthrilling.

THE CROODS - A supreme disappointment. I was looking forward to this but it seems that it continues to propagate the fact that any film about cavemen is bound to be annoying and unwatchable even if they are already speaking English! Puerile and boring with only a few scenes of interest.

OLYPUM HAS FALLEN - It's too bad the audience I watched this with seemed to enjoy it. It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks Americans are dumb as hell. It may satisfy your action urges but the R rating felt misplaced, the swearing felt off, the special effects were poor and the story is as bad as they come. Watch Homeland instead. Forget this drivel and be ashamed to laugh at the death at foreign nationalists. Shame!

Recommended Viewing: Chronicle - Project X - Heathers

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.2   -   The Fan: 9.4
             MetaCritic: 61
 Rotten Tomatoes: 70
                    IMDB: 6.6

Monday, March 18, 2013

THE CALL - hoisted and petarded

Who you gonna call? The police? Nope. CTU? Nope. MacGyver? Hmmm. The ghostbusters maybe? No, 911 you fool! Seems the so called buzzing hive, where all the agents for tragedy aversion work, is a high tech operation. Never knew. Incredulity in your face.

Brad Anderson has done thriller horror before with Session 9, which ended up a decent film. He has crafted some indies and hollies as well like The Machinist, Transsiberian, Next Stop Wonderland etc. He certainly has talent and it shows in his new film The Call. The film moves at a riveting pace with some interesting shots which alluded to a possible acceptable premise. That ended rather quickly. The story is just plain dumb, barley worthy of  TV production. I ascertained this from the trailer but thought I would give it a shot anyway.

Halle Berry stars, with her usual timid wit and charisma. And some wild hair to boot. She receives a call at her amazingly big desk and gets a girl killed because of a slight foul up on her part. She gets another call six months later after switching positions due to stress. It's the same guy that killed the first girl striking again. He hangs up eventually and she decides to go find the kidnapee on her own. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The End. 

Now from a critical standpoint I viewed it from the above angle—as throwback 90's garbage. But as a fan I rather enjoyed it! It was stupid sure, but fun to watch. Crazed killer who likes to scalp young blondes and sniff their hair with jailbait Abigail Breslin in a car trunk half the movie with Sopranos fave Michael Imperioli. What's not to like? It had some cool high octane moments but it might be best to douse yourself with gasoline and light yourself on fire as you watch.      

P.S. - more film hokum

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE - the only incredible thing about this movie was the fact that I paid for a ticket. It had a few humorous moments but mostly it was a simple sophomoric display of wasted talent. I watched the film with Rosie O'Donnell behind me and had to bear through with her insufferable giggles and the crazy, laughing, monster guy directly behind me as well. This has got to be one of the worst ten week periods of movies I have ever seen.  

Recommended Viewing: The Machinist - Scream - Event Horizon

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.5   -   The Fan: 6.7
             MetaCritic: 52
 Rotten Tomatoes: 39
                    IMDB: 6.5

Monday, March 11, 2013

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL - cup a water please

Abracadabra...Prestidigitation! Illusory it was—magic it was not.

Like the Snow White adaptation, Mirror Mirror last year, this is a movie for children. You must go to this with that in mind—it is silly, playful and juvenile. Yet, I can't say that I hated this movie. I was disappointed that the filmmakers did not attempt to produce a spectacle suitable for all ages but I found myself enjoying the origin story of Oz anyway. 

The choice to start the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio was interesting and actually effective when it opened up to widescreen with a colorful landscape view but the choice to keep it black and white and not sepia made the whole throwback feel lacking. If you think about comparing the characters to the original you will fall way short as well. A super cute porcelain doll, an obsequious winged monkey and conman Oz vs Dorothy, Toto, scarecrow, lion and tin man—sorry, no contest. 

On to some other qualms... There are three witches in control of Oz which is bitchin fun but also prone to deceit and underhanded trickery. The witches look appropriate to Oz but when Kunis eats the apple and transmogrifies into the wicked witch she still has perfect skin. You will probably notice some peculiar references to other fantasy franchises throughout the story also. The wicked queen has Star Wars emperor like powers, Kunis eats a tainted apple like Snow White and so on. The twister, 74 years later, is still the best transport to this crazy wonderland and somehow feels appropriate—maybe it's the only way into Oz? 

I like Sam Raimi and I found the film to stay consistent throughout but all in all a lackluster prequel, especially for adult audiences. It makes me wonder what makes a classic a classic and why the original is so special and appropriate for all ages and yet this new version clearly isn't. With the passage of time, creativity does not always supersede the past. This is obvious I guess and I am certainly not one to claim or think that nothing amazing gets created anymore—that kind of thinking really only displays ignorance of the art world at large—but I can't help but think that Victor Fleming understood something about artful entertainment in the 1930's that we have subsequently lost. L. Frank Baum, the author of the Oz universe, never wrote this prequel but did pen 16+ other Oz stories from 1900 to 1919. The only other Oz film of note is the great editor Walter Murch adaptation, the bizarre live action Return to Oz.

A quick note about two more films:

EMPEROR - a slow but interesting WWII story about the investigation of the Japanese emperor's involvement in the attack on Pearl Harbor. I cannot judge the veracity of the story and if I had to guess I would say the whole love story side plot was added for narrative engagement but I found myself enjoying the picture and questioning my knowledge of history. I think this one is worth your time. Tommy Lee Jones plays a mean General MacArthur and Lost's Matthew Fox does a fine job. 

DEAD MAN DOWN - I found the Danish trilogy of Dragon Tattoo films to be highly overrated. And although Dead Man Down is the first American film to come from that director, I happened to enjoy it's European sensibilities. It is not receiving much praise in the critiverse but however ridiculous the plot is, we still are privy to a taut thriller. I don't care for Noomi Rapace but this was my favorite performance of hers yet given. Colin Ferrell was solid in the role as well. 

Until next time...

Recommended Viewing: Return To Oz - The Wizard Of Oz (1939) - Snow White (1937)

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0   -   The Fan: 6.6
             MetaCritic: 44
 Rotten Tomatoes: 61
                    IMDB: 7.1

Monday, March 4, 2013

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER - fee fi ho hum

I remember seeing ads for this film over a year ago. I have not really been waiting with eager anticipation. I was right in that sentiment.

Bryan Singer is generally a good director. He brought us The Usual Suspects, X-Men I & II as well as the little seen Ian McKellen nazi film, Apt Pupil. He had a hiccup with Superman Returns but then crafted the rather excellent Hitler drama, Valkyrie. Jack The Giant Slayer, however, has done little to win my approval. It was actually a rather abysmal film. I think the creators should have went the Mirror Mirror route and made an unambiguous G or PG film for kids instead of the teen+ demographic centered travesty. The whole spectacle felt cheap and lame. The sets and costume design were subpar and took me out of the happy illusion of a time long since past. Numerous plot points didn't make sense and further the frustration. All in all its just a lackluster debacle. 

Nicholas Hoult is having a moment. He was just the right fit for Jack. The rest of the cast was chosen rather aptly but succumbed to mediocre direction and a weak script. You can have the video game graphics at the stories start, you can bask in the revolting idiotic giants who obey a silly heart infused crown, you can enjoy a floating island in the sky which can only be reached by a few magic beans, or you can just stay home and read a book instead. I suggest the latter.

Another two films to stay away from—Identity Thief and 21 & Over—no good. Like the oscars this year. Probably the worst winners and presentation in recent memory. Argo? Really? The best film of the whole year. I think not. Good but nothing special. Hollywood always orgasms when films are about filmmaking. Bah humbug, I say.

Recommended Viewing: Apt Pupil - X-Men II - Valkyrie

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 4.5   -   The Fan: 5.8
             MetaCritic: 50
 Rotten Tomatoes: 52
                    IMDB: 6.6

Monday, February 25, 2013

SNITCH - eroo

Snitch portrays The Rock at his most soft. A surprisingly decent movie was the result. However, the film is based on a true story and because of that I think numerous glaring reality checks are hard to ignore. 

The story arc revolves around the Dwayne Johnson character—obviously. He operates a successful trucking business, owns a nice home and raises a lovely suburban family. This is his new and improved life. Prior to this, it seems he had another family that was far less financially stable and emotionally rocky. His son from this first marriage grew up without a father and turned down some shady paths but not irreconcilably so. The kid gets caught receiving a bag of MDMA in the mail which he claims he just was holding for a friend and had no intent to sell. This fiend of a friend snitched on him to reduce his jail time. Even though this was a first time offense he could get 10 years prison time. The Rock will have none of that! The only way to reduce sentencing is to 'give up' other dealers. His son doesn't actually know any and wouldn't give them up if he did. So Dwayne decides to help the police catch a criminal if it will reduce his sons sentence. 

I have a hard time believing that you, as a citizen, could do this if you wanted to. Regardless, he takes vigilantism into his own hands, becomes embroiled in the narcotic world and offers his trucking services to transport the drugs. Dwayne uses Shane from The Walking Dead as his partner and introducer to the cartel lord, cool glasses Benjamin Bratt. Some shots are fired and heightened drama takes place. Crazy beard Barry Pepper and super bitch Susan Sarandon show up as the narcotics cop and district attorney respectively. 

What bugs me about the film was the rather nonchalant attitude toward the seriousness of the role Johnson took. Maybe this is reality. Maybe one cop and one district attorney can sign off on these dangerous, illicit, pedestrian actions but I highly doubt it. The story feels a bit off kilter in this manner throughout—just very hard to believe. Yet the film is engaging and likable. The Rock is not his usual self—quiet, subdued and concerned like a real father. This isn't really an action movie either minus two short sequences. The first one being troubling because the semi is front and center in a major gun fight and only gets hit twice! Anyway, This is more of a quiet father son story that will somehow keep your attention. At once a poorly directed, then well directed film, it's a hard one to classify. But I'll take a chance and recommend it anyway. I was struck while watching Snitch how similar the careers of The Rock and Swartzenegger have been in their own distinctive way. Dwanye Johnson's marketing team is a smart bunch.

Recommended Viewing: The Rundown - Walking Tall - Fast Five

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0   -   The Fan: 7.2
             MetaCritic: 53
 Rotten Tomatoes: 54
                    IMDB: 7.0