Sunday, June 24, 2012

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER - vampires in history out

Don't hate me but I can't honestly say I didn't enjoy this movie on some level. It has ridiculous action sequences that would usually annoy the crap out of me but I kind of enjoyed them within the context and setting of this bizarre vamp tale set in mid 19th century America.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was originally a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith penned in 2010. These psuedo horror dramas coming from within the world of classic novels and recent history is becoming quite popular and a genre all unto it's own. I can't say that I mind - it is interesting to see what some creative spin a gifted author can throw on an old tale. I scoff when people say we have all run out of ideas and movies like this are evidence of originality waning. This kind of story is exactly what originality is. Taking old stories and putting completely new spins on them to see what comes out on the other end - not always good but never too boring either.

New comer Benjamin Walker was a cool cat and a true bad ass with an axe. His elderly facial make up was great - better than Prometheus for sure. Timur Bekmambetov, the director, is a strange beast. I first saw his abnormal russian vampire movies, Night Watch and Day Watch which had some truly stunning visuals but lacked some convincing story elements. He conjures to mind Tim Burton with his quirky gothic style but not on the same level. Wanted was truly awful so I had all but written him off but this movie sheds some light on his surreal yet promising future. I certainly have never seen a horse stampede fight scene before! Next time they make a movie like this I hope they can incorporate more historical figures into the mix so the audience can relish at the fact that OMG General Lee was a Vamp!Story arcs of this nature would surely be welcome. I'm positive we'll get plenty more chances - for better or worse - vampires aren't going anywhere.

Recommended Viewing: Dracula 2000 - Interview With A Vampire - John Carpenter's Vampires

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.6   -   Subjective: 7.0

             MetaCritic: 40
 Rotten Tomatoes: 39
                      IMDB: 6.3


Focus Features produces films that usually turn out to be quality entertainment. Seeking A Friend At The End Of The World is a typical example of a film that not all will like because of it's odd genre entanglement betwixt science fiction, drama and comedy. For the most part, though, the film blends these counter-intiutive classifications very well except for the few instances when it feels a bit off.

Steve Carell is a amicable and affable actor. He reminds me of Robin Williams - he can play crazy wild comedy and disturbingly sad and depressed characters. I believe Williams is quite a bit more diverse and gifted than Carell but maybe Steve will continue to impress us all with his acting ability in the future, for at the moment he can really pull off two distinct forms.
As for Kiera Knightley, she is a solid actress ranging in roles from Pirates of The Caribbean to Pride and Prejudice. She was no less believable as the nuerotic screw up than any of her other roles. I envy her. She is in her late twenties and has seen and done many unique things with her short life already. I guess it pays to beautiful and talented in this world. Shnikes. 

The story is rather predictable but a pleasant and engaging road movie none the less. There are a number of fun cameo appearances to look out for as well. The love connection is slightly hard to believe but under such circumstances such incredulous phenomena become common. What would you do if you and everyone you knew only had three weeks to live?   

Recommended Viewing: Night Of The Comet - Zardoz - Groundhog Day 

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.7   -   Subjective: 7.2
             MetaCritic: 60
 Rotten Tomatoes: 53
                      IMDB: 7.0

MOONRISE KINGDOM - did the sun set first?

Wes Anderson is a peculiar filmmaker. Anyone familiar with his films (The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox) need not be reminded. Perhaps Moonrise Kingdom is the most bizarre to date. 

I liked it, but I'm not totally sure why. It was charming. That's the best word I can think of. It's a preadolescent coming of age story of love and friendship but also a mockery and fantasy rolled into a bizarre period piece. The cast of children and adults are nothing less than superb (Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton etc.). 

I love precise attention to detail and generally like the way Anderson et al incorporate personal idiosyncrasies into the framework of the story. However, this time I felt, more often than not, the over bearing details to be distracting and nearly irritating. I get it, you know how to frame a shot and enliven my senses to color and plaid rugs etc. It starts to become telling of set design and takes you out of the story in my opinion. The special effects are a bit inconsistent as well, sometimes looking real and sometimes intentionally fake.   

Overall, though, the young love narrative was adorable and startlingly genuine. Anderson fans will no doubt love it and continue to praise him as their inspiration for starting personal film careers. He is certainly interesting and continues to make one ponder but about what, I do not know. 

Recommended Viewing: The Royal Tenenbaums - My Girl - Mean Creek

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.5   -   Subjective: 7.9
             MetaCritic: 83
 Rotten Tomatoes: 94
                      IMDB: 8.4

BRAVE - an intrepid move

Brave is Pixar's latest extravagant, animated Scottish epic. The plot is quite different than the usual Pixar story which encompasses celtic myths of old Great Britain and human characters from distant times and places. 

I commend the storytellers for telling a tale about a daughters relationship to her mother which seems to be rather rare in films and especially so in animation. It's endearing and needed in today's cinema which is generally bereft of such important emotive female characters. 

That being said, I felt that Brave was one of Pixar's least creative films to date. It wasn't necessarily second rate but it didn't quite conjure the magic that I'm used to. It may be my least favorite of all their attempts next to Cars. I expect a lot from Pixar, they usually produce stellar animation and great universal stories for kids and adults alike. Walle was easily one of the best animated movies I have ever encountered. The animation was very good in Brave, the red hair looked spectacular for instance, but maybe it's just that the story didn't lend itself to the most visually stunning avenues. This was fine but don't walk out expecting to see the next Walle or even Up

Brave might fare better overseas. I think the story might be a bit too odd and dark for most - a bit like when Disney tried to undertake the Black Cauldron. This new addition was a welcome digression from the Pixar canon but not their best effort. 

Recommended Viewing: Walle - Up - Toy Story I, II & III

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.7   -   Subjective: 7.2
             MetaCritic: 68
 Rotten Tomatoes: 74
                      IMDB: 7.6

Monday, June 18, 2012

SAFTEY NOT GUARANTEED - indeed, but oh the splendor

I din't know what to expect going into the theater. I had not seen a preview - I'll I knew was that Mark Duplass was in it, so I decided to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised.

Wonderfully acted by the heretofore little known, Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson, the film shines in the unexpected hinterland. Safety Not Guaranteed is an indie scifi comedy of sorts. A crazy ad (that actually happened) shows up in the local newspaper of a small town and some wannabe reporters go out to investigate the man who wrote such an article. The ad claimed to be able to take one to the past and back again. Little do we know we are in for such an unanticipated, adorably geeky romance. 

The director captured the irks and quirks suitably for each character. How does one command a female actor to give that smile - that smile that says I like you? The smile the guy never sees but the audience always does. Does this happen in real life? I hope so. You fall hard for this girl (Aubrey), she was so unconventionally beautiful and smart. I would have liked Tiny Furniture to a greater extent if the girls were portrayed like this. The Indian nerd was a wonderful touch and exceedingly awkward but provided levity many times over. The over confident self obsessed douche bag, yet inwardly very sad guy was played to a T. Mark Duplass was fantastic as the weirdo physics nerd. This may not be a movie for everyone but it really moved me and made the $3 bucks I paid immensely worth it.

PS - I also viewed The Art of Rap and That's My Boy. The Art Of Rap, from first timer Ice T, was phenomenal - if you care about hip hop or rap at all, you will love this documentary. He interviews everyone from Melly Mel to Dr. Dre. That's My Boy sucked as you may have guessed. Adam Sandler has made some very good movies like Funny People, Click and Reign On Me but this one can be regulated to dollar bin at Walmart.

Recommended Viewing: Primer - Clockwise - Very Bad Things 

              Bob Scale: Objective: 8.0   -   Subjective: 8.5
             MetaCritic: 72
 Rotten Tomatoes: 92
                      IMDB: 7.2

Saturday, June 16, 2012

ROCK OF AGES - bebop an rocksteady kill each other off

It is the year of deceptively good trailers with lack of substance underneath. For some reason I have been wrongly excited for a number of movies this year due to amazing previews. Who ever is directing these trailers should start crafting the movies too!

Rock of Ages is similar in vain to Adam Shankman's previous effort, the remake of John Water's Hairspray. It's off kilter and intentionally silly - too silly for me. I happen to love musicals but would argue that what makes them great is not just superb musical numbers and wonderful choreographed sequences but the parts that contain none of that. There are hardly any of those parts in Rock of Ages so it handicaps the viewer in some way and limits possible feelings you may have conjured for the characters. Why is it that all the old classical musicals from The Band Wagon to The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady to Grease and Footloose are so much better? They have a great balance between songs and dialogue among many other nuances. I'm all for taking stabs at reinventing interesting and fun musicals but learn from the grand ole successes my dear young padawan.

That being said, I enjoyed Tom Cruise in the film. He maybe overacted his part but I am very keen on self deprecating humor, not to mention drug crazed, ego obsessed rock gods and this he played out quite well. I work in the music industry and so it's always interesting to see how films portray musician venues relationship. The stereotypes are drawn out to their absurd conclusion but nonetheless enjoyable to watch. Some of the acting was good and some not, as well as some of the dance numbers - a bit hit or miss. Overall, a good late night puff puff pass movie with friends but nowhere near the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the like.

Recommended Viewing: The Rocky Horror Picture Show - Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) 

              Bob Scale: Objective: 5.7   -   Subjective: 6.5
             MetaCritic: 48
 Rotten Tomatoes: 42
                      IMDB: 6.1 


Sunday, June 10, 2012

PROMETHEUS - engineered for marvelous nightmares

SPOILER - this entire article will be written with assumption that you have viewed the film. 

I believe there to be a lot to cover here. First, I will state what I thought was done well and then proceed to elucidate moments of the patently illogical and unforgivable. And finally a dissection of what I think happened - you can skip right to the last paragraph if you don't care about science all that much - so much the worse for you!

Special Effects = A+ almost an A++. Thanks to great advice from veteran effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) we can enjoy a fantastic blend of CGI and real sets - finally someone who gets it. The film has real authenticity that only comes from building actual sets. There are multiple scenes that take you in and make one forget that you're watching a movie, eg. the great dust storm rescue and the intense alien abortion among others - you don't question the veracity - you sit enthralled.  The only sequence that felt a bit odd was the old simulated version of Guy Pearce while talking to the crew via an extremely creative futuristic TV projection and toward the end with a hideous fetal octopus and super human Engineer. All outer space shots were phenomenal. 

The Storyline = B+ almost an A. This might seem like the most important aspect in determining the greatness of a film and it is no doubt, vital, but due to certain other encumbrances the story isn't quite as rock star as it should have been. Prometheus was an ancient Greek Titan that decided that humans should have fire and therefore stole it from the gods and enlightened us for our betterment - to his detriment. Zeus found him out and had him chained to rock in which an eagle would eat out his liver each day only for it to respawn within. What's the moral here? Don't steal from the flipping gods!  

Prometheus, the new film from Ridley Scott, was a quasi modern take on this ancient myth. Scott hasn't had an exceptionally great movie in some time, probably since Gladiator, yet I did like American Gangster and Matchstick Men. With this new film he truly hails his days of old with the likes of untouchable scifi classics, Blade Runner and Alien. Im glad to see he is returning to form. Prometheus was first toted as a prequel to Alien and then later recanted. But of course we all knew it would be. The story takes place in the same universe as the original Alien, albeit 30 some years before Ridley and the Nostromo spacecraft. 

Prometheus starts out phenomenally with a bloody fantastic idea for how life began and how it was seeded on our planet. We are then greeted by two archeologists? that tell us they have found connected engravings from across the planet that may give us clues to reach those who may have created us, the Engineers, and possibly our origin story. So the next thing we know they arrive at a distant planet a few years later to discover a giant dome in the middle of a dessert. They go in, stir shit up and all goes to hell! Sounds like great science fiction to me. It also was a pitch perfect prequel concept but...

I enjoyed watching the movie overall but I will list just a few of the glaring inconsistencies. First, the faulty cosmology. If a movie purports to be in our current universe than it should at least try to obey the laws of physics. The crew was in stasis for two years during the trip from earth to the distant planet/moon. Maybe - we could accomplish the science for achieving cryogenic stasis. However, that would mean that in the next 90 years scientists would have to not only build a ship that could go light speed but surpass it with live crew on board! Our best current engine designs are nowhere close to reaching this goal. Our closest tertiary star system, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away and has no planets surrounding them, so the said planet must have been much further than that. So if we can defeat light why can't we yet fix infertility? as was evidenced in the subpar love scene. As for Biology, it should be clear that if the Engineers left only their human like DNA, then only humans should come from it and why such a meeker form? - we should be nearly identical to the Engineers unless they modified their genetic makeup.  By the way where the hell did all the animals and plants come from then? And to be pedantic, DNA was not the first replicator, it was far less complicated most likely. There are many things of this nature to consider which does take away from good science fiction because any high school student should recognize these paradoxic instabilities.

Some of the cool concepts the film incorporated are existing technological aims that really could become real in a generation or two. The gadget that can quickly detect the age of Carbon 14 isotopes for one, might be possible in a century and no doubt the DNA reader in the film is nearly possible now - within a decade or so we could have a similar device. The immersive 3D computing is also being worked out and may be possible as well by 2100 with probable quantum computers. As for David, the AI robot, I believe this could be possible also. It seems unlikely from current lifelike robots but if Ray Kurzweil (one of the worlds leading respected futurists) is right and technology continues to rise on an exponential scale each decade, which means that the last decade of time taken to accomplish a given task will only take half the time in the next decade, then it could be very possible. Hell, we have goals to mine asteroids within 10 years, have humans on Mars by 2033, a space elevator by 2050 and a completely functioning AI robotic soccer team winning the World Cup by 2055! These are very real goals by some of the best and brightest on our planet. 

As for the cast. I think it was poorly chosen. Noomi Rapace is a bit hard to connect with. Do we really need a hardcore, badass woman hero, from Scott especially? The other female options, also in consideration for the role, were far better choices, like Olivia Wilde for example. I didn't care about Noomi at all until the spectacular abortion sequence. But even that had its problems anatomy wise and what's up with that arcade claw? What use could that possibly have other than to pull out an alien fetus or an internal organ? Lol. (I still loved the scene anyway) Michael Fassbender clearly stole the show and was perfectly cast as David the phlegmatic droid. The rest of the cast seemed rather superfluous - did anyone care who lived and died? The filmmakers did a poor job of getting us to like and care about nearly all the characters. What the heck were they even doing on this trillion dollar vessel, none of them acted like competent scientists. They all just complained and ran around alarmed and perturbed. Stupid. This brings me to another point that the movie felt rushed minus the excellent opening and concurrent sequence with David throwing around a basketball. Would a scientist really grab a 2000 year head that, for she knew, was the only evidence we had linking Us to our ancestors and start jabbing needles in it's ear and screwing with its chemistry only to watch it explode? Would a Scientist come back to the ship and not care to continue exploring the most amazing new discovery ever made by humankind? And on and on. If Scott would have slowed it down a bit like the original and had some interesting conversations thrown in and not hackneyed "you are my father" crap dialogue, we would have been better off for it. Also filmmakers need to stop giving scientists faith in God and linking it to some human virtue. Faith is by definition that which is not based on evidence. Since only 7% of elite scientists believe in a personal god it stands to reason that this is an unconscionable concept to keep propagating. Hopefully in a hundred years faith will be eradicated to margins of society. 

Now that I am done bitching we can actually talk about whats interesting - the connection to the original Alien. I think it goes something like this. Engineers (super humans) have discovered all earth like planets in he galaxy and have either stolen, or created a dangerous elixir of death that also has the power to create life. This is found all over the Engineers ship. They go to these planets and seed them with life, maybe by ingesting this toxic tonic. Why? I'm not sure because now they seem to want renege on the gift. Anyway, something was bungled in the process and many Engineers died seeming to protect or get into a room of simmering goo. It looked like a place of worship. You must have noticed the Alien like creatures in the murals and relief on the walls. What does that mean? Im not sure because it seems as if they want to say that the Alien at that end was the first Alien and so that would make pictures already on the wall, nonsensical. Maybe Aliens rule the universe and control the Engineers to seed planets for breeding grounds. Aliens can't reproduce except only through, seemingly, mammals. It could further be explained that the only surviving Engineer has gone rogue and killed all of his brethren because he was secretly taking the ooze and working with the aliens. If the Alien at the end is the first Alien than I guess it makes sense the the toxic black goo ingested by the Charlie character and impregnated quickly into an infertile woman would have curious results. Furthermore implanting an Engineer could I guess only produce an Alien. This sets us up nicely for the first Alien film because they get a distress signal from a distant planet and seek it out only to find that was a "warning" message. Maybe a sequel will shed some illumination. 

Interesting scifi but not without it's problems. Maybe Scott will do better with his new Blade Runner project? We shall see...

Recommended Viewing: Alien - Aliens - Legend

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.0   -   Subjective: 7.5
             MetaCritic: 64
 Rotten Tomatoes: 74
                      IMDB: 7.8 

MADAGASCAR - anthropomorphic pandemonium

The Madagascar movies are fun, quality entertainment for children as well as adults. I have enjoyed the first two immensely and the third installment has been just as pleasurable.  

The films are about finding and trusting in yourself, not unlike most all movies but I like the team effort portrayed in these much like the Ice Age tetralogy. This new addition is just nonstop action packed with blunder after blunder. No spectacular story arcs but it keeps you entranced with stunning animation. The circus acts are truly incredible. 

I didn't care for the inculcated stereotypes, however. They are somewhat funny but these little seeds get planted in kids heads and they continue to propagate them as they get older. The filmmakers threw in some inappropriate jabs at decades old Communistic Russia as well, a bit much I thought. 

One particularly great aspect of the story occurred when the animals finally returned home to the Brooklyn zoo, which was always their great collective wish, and they all decided that the exciting, dangerous journey was more preferable to "home". This is, I think, a great message for kids. All parents would keep their kids home if they could indulge a secret wish but know that their young should get out and experience the world and have great adventures. So with respect to a few quibbles, you will get a number of laughs from stellar voice talent, fun contemporary music and stimulating eye candy. Catch the reference to Quadrophenia!

Recommended Viewing: Ice Age 3 - Land Before Time - Babe 2

              Bob Scale: Objective: 7.0   -   Subjective: 7.9
             MetaCritic: 59
 Rotten Tomatoes: 76
                      IMDB: 7.0

Saturday, June 2, 2012

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN - the forecast is bleak

There was a movie in there somewhere but it never really quite found itself. From first time director Rupert Sanders, who has literally never directed anything at all before except a few commercials, comes a fantasy tale that advertises it's lack of experience at every turn. One wonders what this guy did to get such a high profile job right out of the box.

The trailer seduced me - I was actually pretty excited to see this. Unfortunately, by the end, I felt that it was quite poorly made, badly acted and contained and irksome flow. It just didn't feel right. Charlize Theron is usually quite good in her roles but here it felt as if every scene required her to become incensed and riveted with anger - she did not pull this off well. Kristen Stewart was duly composed but only seemed to convey two emotions - courage and empathy. Thor himself was likable and most likely stole the best scenes. The queens right hand man (her bother) was the most inept idiot to ever grace the screen and I'm glad he got what was coming to him. 

Snow White and The Huntsman was a very dark fantasy story with few moments of real levity. Nevertheless, the actors chosen for the dwarven men were a clever choice and appeared positively real. Some great special effects are mixed in with some kitschy dollar store items though - look at the crown towards the end! Overall, a TV movie from the 90's and blockbuster combination that ceased to amaze and continually disappoint. Too bad because it had such promise.

PS - I also caught Piranha 3DD this week but would rather gouge my eyes with a steak knife and completely engage Hara Kiri than waste my time reviewing the atrocity that was purported as film. Piranha from a couple years back had at least some redeeming qualities. If you want to see David Hasselhoff (yes for real) act like a fool and Gary Busey get eaten alive then go for it. I like bad movies but I don't even know what to make of this one. It was beyond abject.

Recommended Viewing: The Yellow Handkerchief - Monster - Excalibur

              Bob Scale: Objective: 6.0   -   Subjective: 6.5
             MetaCritic: 57
 Rotten Tomatoes: 45
                      IMDB: 6.9