Sunday, May 27, 2012

MEN IN BLACK III - lunar clowns attack

Will Smith is back after a four year hiatus, to champion his own kids careers no doubt, with this third installment of goofy alien blunder. Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are complicity enjoined to once again help save the planet from contemptible critters who have nothing better to do than destroy our insignificant planet.

The original Men In Black is a whopping 14 years old now - hard to believe considering I remember it so vividly. I caught the show at my local drive in bloody high school circa 1997! Anyway, origin stories are hard to beat and thus this new adventure felt rather unnecessary and childish except for a few points which I will come to momentarily.

Tommy Lee is looking reasonably old these days and many closeups reveal that even movie magic makeup is no match for his uniquely lined face. He plays his curmudgeon character well and thankfully the movie gives him some real screen time before just shooting off to the past and introducing his younger self. Brolin characterizes a young Lee with verve and provides some quaint comic relief but nothing too surprising or indelible. It was a pleasure to see Will Smith again and I must say he looks absolutely no different than he did 14 years prior. All three actors have numerous interesting movies in the pipeline as well. 

Barry Sonnenfeld has directed all three spectacles and has kept the same goofy vibe that many of his films contain. Some are better than others and it's really just a crap shoot with him. I would say that this film rivals the 2nd Men In Black for being about the same quality - both unfortunately fairly forgettable because each film uses many of the same gags from the first one with a few exceptions. The odd little man that can tell any possible future was an agreeable clever touch I thought - in line with many theories of quantum mechanics by the way - the bug-eyed, wicked nemesis on the whack motorcycle was decidedly bad ass and looked groovy but his alien dart throwing hands were a bit weak as a superpower and lastly we have the superb ending. It truly touched me because I guess it was so unexpected. It doesn't make full sense to me unless the zapper thingy was used to erase a memory but regardless it was a wonderful way to wrap up a trilogy of silly films.

Recommended Viewing: MIB - Killer Clowns From Outer Space - Galaxy Quset

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.0   -   Subjective: 6.5
             MetaCritic: 58
 Rotten Tomatoes: 68
                      IMDB: 7.3

Sunday, May 20, 2012

THE DICTATOR - to dict or not to dict

The Dictator has it's moments but most them you will have caught in the preview.  The idea, like other Cohen works, stems from grandiose satire played out through odious comedy and faux documentary stylization.

Ali G has come a long way since his HBO TV inception but maybe not in the right direction. I have not much cared for any of his film acting gigs in Hugo or Sweeny Todd and his four other starring vehicles are usually are found wanting. I did find Borat, however,  to be the best of the four and really it was quite well done. Larry Charles has directed three of Sacha's efforts and the comedy of result is, I would gesture, 65% effective or thereabouts. You have more hits than misses but still too few direct hits. That being said, I enjoy Cohen and I hope he continues, he is like a comedic version of Michael Moore and continually rubs peoples noses in their own stank - not for his purpose (hopefully) but for genuine exposure of the truth as he and many others see it. 

The only redeeming quality of The Dictator was during the few ending statements when Cohen monologues what a great country America would be if under a dictatorship, in which he ironically summarizes all the laws and atrocities that are contemporaneously occurring under our present 'democracy'. It's preachy, yes, but better than Bobcat Goldthwait's recent attempt with God Bless America and as good as something you might see on the Daily Show. Satire is and will be a great way for memes to stick and pass on important ideas for future generations. 

Recommended Viewing: Borat - General Idi Amin Dada - Waiting For Guffman

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.0   -   Subjective: 6.5
             MetaCritic: 59
 Rotten Tomatoes: 61
                      IMDB: 7.2


There are bad movies and there are bad movies. What to Expect When You're Expecting personifies the latter of this incensing ordeal. 

The film purports real characters and situations based on the nonfictional, definitive, go to book for pregnancy. I'm sure the author, Heidi Murkoff, did not have this future film adaptation in mind. All the characters seem to embody pseudo flaws. They are all attractive and charming, of course, with near perfect bodies and skin etc etc. Many of them encounter problems that seem to dwell within reality but somehow one can easily see that this is not true by way of the hopeful and happy outcomes. I love a good romance or comedy, I love a good story for that matter and generally can accept the unreal. But when a film tries to empathize with millions of couples who are 'pregnant' you better do a little more research for verisimilitude's sake.

The movie is crafted and stitched together through a series of vignettes that really could have been far more effective if they would have changed up the banal stories a bit and gave the characters less comedy and more veracity. I would recommend reading the book instead and using the film as source for what Hollywood expects of those expecting which is  apparently ethereal pooh.

Recommended Viewing: Three Men And A Baby - Rosemary's Baby - Knocked Up

              Bob Scale: Objective: 3.8   -   Subjective: 3.5
             MetaCritic: 43
 Rotten Tomatoes: 22
                      IMDB: 5.1

BATTLESHIP - incompetent aliens encounter incompetent humans

Razzies beware! I feel sorry for Taylor Kitsch - his two exorbitant multi million dollar epics are both doomed for the list of films that never come close to recouping their insanely high budgets. The first, John Carter, was truly awful and Battleship was no different. His last chance will be Oliver Stone's Savages, due later this year. 
Battleship, based on the Hasbro board game, was a terrible idea from the start. Film out of a board game? Come on. I'll give you Jumanji but that is all can even dream of accepting in this thankfully meager sub genre. Battleship suffers from the same abject vexing syndrome that the latest Peter Berg movies suffer from, namely Peter Berg. His last two films, The Kingdom and Hancock, were objectively awful and nearly universally panned by all. Thankfully he switched up the cinematography for this movie because that was the main source of irk in his prior films. It was like watching yourself drown in a infnite vat of your own odious secretions while trying to focus on your neighbor's wife undressing. Some pleasure but so irrating that you would rather just give up and let yourself expire. Instead of poor cinematography we find a script written by teens and delivered by their unwanted children. 
A bizarre story for sure, it becomes clear rather quickly that this movie deserves some credit because it will most likely become a cult hit. Battleship almost masters the art of being so awful that it becomes hilarious. The aliens are probably the stupidest I have ever come across. They clearly have technology far beyond our own and yet they can't even defeat a dilapidated analogue battleship with a crew of octogenarians. Of course our American ship can defy the laws of physics, however. These super original bionic lizards are easily destroyed without their machine suits (reminiscent of the V saga). They seem able to conjure great energy for force fields two miles in diameter but not for their own ships which are easily destroyed by regular missiles. They have awesome destructo machine balls that rip through the strongest metals but the brilliant creatures who have conquered time travel decide to deploy these last, because first they must fire dozens of unreliable explosive pegs inspired by the board game. Their own satellite to phone home is destroyed upon entry to Earth because apparently they don't understand that they can't crash into matter in space without adverse consequences. These aliens deserve to be obliterated. 
It's one non sequitur after another and thus every 10 minutes I felt like I missed half an hour with some salient plot point missing which is just plain bad and indolent storytelling. I won't even mention the irrelevance of Rihanna and the cyborg human fight. Treat Battleship as a rental for a rainy day that you may enjoy for it's complete lack of substance. 

Recommended Viewing: Very Bad Things - The Rundown - Independence Day

              Bob Scale: Objective: 4.5   -   Subjective: 5.0
             MetaCritic: 40
 Rotten Tomatoes: 36
                      IMDB: 6.3

Sunday, May 13, 2012

BERNIE - gay murderous psychopathic nice guy

Holy Bernie, Batman! An extremely enjoyable jaunt from start to finish, Bernie may be my favorite film of the year so far next to Project X, The Avengers, Chronicle and Thin Ice. This is a true story told with panache and gentle wit. 

Bernie (Jack Black) is the nicest guy, probably in the whole world. He spends all his time catering to other people's needs. He buys people things and comforts them with eulogies and sings with great joy during church while leading the choir and cheers up the elderly and so on and so forth. He's flippin great. Sadly, no one is that awesome without some flaw. Bernie's weakness may be that he is too nice and kind and therefore cannot tell someone that he has been caring for, who happens to be the supreme bitch of hell on earth, to screw off.  Thus after years of mental anguish he succumbs to his inner demon and unleashes the beast. 

Without giving the whole movie away, after the great deed has been done, the townsfolk, whom by the way, are mostly real people (non-actors) that were apart of the actual story, tend to all be on Bernie's side and want to redeem him of all wrongdoing. This is a Texas story through and through. Richard Linklater directs this film with keen veracity and compassion. He grew up in Austin and obtained his first big breaks with Slacker and Dazed and Confused. Linklater, then went on to direct other such masterpieces like Before Sunrise,  Before Sunset and Waking Life. He shot this film in a unique way with documentary style interviews spliced with shots of well known actors playing out the story. My only hangup would be the casting of McConaughey - he may have not been necessary and takes you out of the illusion a bit. Regardless, it was so well done and balanced. This could easily be Jack Black's best performance on record and I hope he is recognized for it. It's a shockingly simple story, very engaging and will make the best of us question what we would do and how we would act in similar situations. I love clever movies like this. 

Recommended Viewing: Before Sunrise - Before Sunset - SubUrbia 

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.7   -   Subjective: 9.2
             MetaCritic: 74
 Rotten Tomatoes: 85
                      IMDB: 6.5

DARK SHADOWS - doomed for gloom

Dark Shadows marks the eighth film pairing between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton which is exactly half of Burton's feature film career. It also hails the sixth time Burton has cast Helena Bonham Carter of which Depp has been cast along with her in no less than four pictures. A tedium has begun to set in.

The movie wants to be dark and creepy and genuinely funny. I applaud the idea, nonetheless it was poorly realized and executed. The humor felt forced and certainly more irritating than droll. Of course there were a few amusing moments but you caught most of them in the trailer. **SPOILER** Barnabas Collins (Depp) awakens from a two century nap by way of a yellow steel dragon. He comes back to live in a dilapidated gothic house built by his wealthy parents in the late 18th century, now inhabited by his late relatives in the 1970's. He was cursed by a witch who loved him long ago and turned into a vampire because the love was unrequited. Sounds ripe for jocular wit, right? Aside a few instances of lol's, the gag reflex is more likely induced, not due to gross out but due to poorly directed comedy. One instance when Depp goes off to the hinterland to smoke pot (he doesn't know what it is) with his future niece's (who is a silly werewolf?) friends, he makes a few old English cracks and then just kills them all. It didn't feel right. The comedy did not blend well I'm sorry to say.

Burton and Depp have made movie magic together but I would argue, not since Sleepy Hollow has a great film come out of their partnership. My favorite and I think, clearly, the best film they made together, was Ed Wood and if you are familiar with his work, you will know why. To be frank, I believe CGI (computer generated imagery) has killed many a great director for allowing their imaginations to run rampant in a way that does not enhance the story, characters or enjoyability. Compare, say, Beetle Juice with Alice In Wonderland and you will see what I mean. These films, over the last decade, from Burton, just don't feel authentic anymore. For the most part I blame the direction and other aspects of filmmaking but my biggest pet peeve is his use of today's computer special effects. Think how much greater Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would have seemed if it looked like Edward Scissorhands! The only Burtonesque vibe I even felt in this movie was the great steep cliff with a crooked tree pointing out to the right. Other greats like Terry Gilliam, Steven Spielberg and even James Cameron have succumbed to the same. If you took Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and threw that up against Brazil you again would see that there is just no comparison. I do not wish to say that contemporary special effects can't be used well and in fact sometimes are (The Return Of The King for example) however, they have to look and feel right for the story being told and not take the audience out of the illusion.

I really wanted to like this movie, but alas it was not for me and even barley acceptable for hardcore Burton fans. Dark Shadows was based off a favorite old TV show of Burton and Depp of the same name that was quite good - I have known that Depp has wanted to pay homage to it for many years now and the result has been an unfortunate let down. Eva Green was the best part of the film and performed greatly as the evil witch. The rest of the splendid cast went to waste as did Danny Elfman who has worked with Burton on 13 of his features as composer. See it if you must but prepare for disappointment. Keep Alice Cooper in retirement for heavens sake! 

Recommended Viewing: Ed Wood - The Ninth Gate - Brazil

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.8   -   Subjective: 6.0
             MetaCritic: 56
 Rotten Tomatoes: 41
                      IMDB: 6.7

Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE AVENGERS - fanboy paradise

Joss Whedon has done it (with much help, I suspect). The Avengers was loads of fun, action packed and genuinely amusing.

For those out there that could care less about superheroes, comics and the plethora of blockbuster movies with their sequels over the past decade, this one is for you. If you don't leave the theater appreciating superheroes and their relative appeal, I much doubt that you ever will.

This film will surely please anyone even remotely interested in comics and their celluloid counterparts. The Avengers contains a number of little inside jokes, cameos and marvel esoterica that will likely appease the hardcore fans as well as catering to an audience of fresh recruits.

All the characters, old and new, converge in a rather simple yet perfect story for platitudinous display - good vs evil. The movie takes place on virtually only 2 sets - a giant flying airship and Manhattan. Both of which are summarily destroyed - rightly so. The Avengers is unsophisticated in scope and execution but this is not really to its discredit. You have heroes, some supernatural, some not, who have some initial qualms about linking up as a team but ultimately they must overcome their own internal conflicts and come together to combat the unambiguous evil that pervades. The humor gives the entertainment value even higher points and doubtless charm. The Hulk and Iron Man are case in point for a perfect comedic pair. I hope they make a movie together! Loki's helmet and Samuel L. Jackson's robotic acting are about the only complaints I would muster. The special effects were great, nonstop and perfectly suited to this heroic extravaganza. A great movie? Depends on your definition. Probably No. A great super hero movie? A definitive Yes. One of the best.

Recommended Viewing: X-Men II - The Punisher (1989) - Batman (1989)

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.9   -   Subjective: 8.6
             MetaCritic: 69
 Rotten Tomatoes: 93
                      IMDB: 8.8