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

Monday, February 18, 2013

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD - what the what?

Good grief, what a hideous mess this was. Where do I even begin? Like Indiana Jones part 4, or any number of other action reboots as of late, Die Hard part 5 is not even worth watching.

The Die Hard franchise is easy for me to decipher. The quality steadily decreases with each subsequent film—this complies to a relatively high objective accuracy. What do I mean by objective? I mean that irrespective of your 'opinion'—a statement or claim is true or as true as we can use anthropocentric logic etc to epistemologically know. If you happen to believe there is a Santa Clause, thats all well and good but I can offer numerous empirical observations in evidence against the belief which in turn gives a much higher objective probability to my belief—that is—there is no Santa, sorry. If Die Hard part 1 is a 10 out of 10 in the action movie genre (I would argue it nearly is) then Die Hard part 5 is most surely a 1 on a sliding scale. I'm sure if a 1000 people were asked to give their favorites in order you would get a nice bell curve confirming my prediction. 

You may not care about the ratings of anything aesthetic along the gamut from paintings to wine, and yes many times these evaluative systems have flaws with huge margins of error, but given the proper statistical analysis and using the law of large numbers in addition to the central limit theorem you have a decent reason to put heed in such scales. Thus, I think it possible to judge aesthetics objectively using proven mathematical methods. Many find this absurd and wish to say that it just my opinion vs yours. I happen to find this brand of relativism preposterous yet it's so prevalent in our American culture. Do you really think that someone who has 30 years of devotion, experience and passion (super important) evaluating paintings equivalent to the opinion of a 20 year old that thinks Picasso is garbage? What is the probability that the so called 'expert' contains the more accurate 'right' answer? The objectivity will raise significantly the greater the number of experienced people who offer their 'opinion'. This data could be used to come to a pretty actuate conclusion.

I think it's vital to realize a couple of things. If you wish to compare objects of artistic value, many factors should be considered. So for instance, say you wanted to compare who is the greater painter of Post Expressionism, Monet or Manet. This would be a good comparison but a bad question. It's a good comparison because both painters were French, dabbing in similar styles during a relatively short time (these are just a few factors that could be considered). It's a bad question, I think, because like any question of this nature it will not adhere to reality and would surely reach a nonsensical verdict. Manet is not necessarily better than Monet or vice versa. But you could make a sliding scale, that has all those painters of a period, tell you probabilistically who could be considered the 'greatest' painters and who were the 'worst' or the least seminal. But to say Monet is the greatest is absurd. Likewise to compare Warhol to Monet would be somewhat absurd, unless the right type of questions were addressed. Like, who had more influence or who was more prolific or who was the 'better' craftsman. All these questions, though, would need much deliberation and qualitative as well as quantitative assessment. We all wish to debate whose greater but we must begin to realize that this type of thinking never really yields much of anything but animosity. I therefore think that it's possible to have an objective opinion to some degree over that of 50%.

To extrapolate these ideas to film, now take this scenario. If 1000 film experts got in a room, a very large room that is, they will disagree about many many things. One thing almost all of them will agree on is what films have been the 'most' influential over time. These periodically get turned into "best lists" or the "greatest films of all time lists" like Sight and Sound polls and what have you. Maybe it's misleading to take "most influential" and morph it into "best". This surely is the cause of many stupid arguments. However, what I would wish to get across is this. If someone with a lot of experience in a field has an 'opinion' or even a proclamation, that person's opinion should be held in higher estimation of the 'truth'. Not everyone's opinion is of equal value and should thus be critiqued by virtue of what they wish to say—not always by credentials. If someone of any age claims A Clockwork Orange is stupid or horrible or wishes to promulgate any other vacuous comment, I can safely disregard their opinion as objectively false. I can really only prove this here using heuristic probability but If I were to do a proper study I would bet my life that I would be 'right'. 

I write all this to illustrate that ratings and lists can be very useful and important as long as you can view the sources and understand how the numbers came into being. I hope you can see then why giving a movie like Dead Alive a 9.5 and Citizen Kane a 9.5 is ok as long as your not comparing the two against each other but within their respective genres. Enough already. I realize my thoughts above are not fully fleshed out or comprehensive but hopefully I get my point across to some extent. 

Back to Die Hard. Everything in this particular movie sucked—the script, the acting, the direction, the editing, the camerawork and even the makeup! Maybe it was everyone's first movie. Except for Bruce that is. He could not even hope to save this one. During one scene Bruce walks into a room and is shocked that his son is a spy then 10 minutes later asks him why he hasn't heard any contact from Langley in a while. There are numerous glaring inconsistencies of this kind. I don't even want to think or write about them all but I'm sure their will be a YouTube video depicting the myriad errors. 

Die Hard is a great movie. No question. This movie is inimical to to your pleasure senses and will leave you feeling dull and dumb. Please, studio gods, don't make anymore of these unless you can get a mass of talent behind it. Please!  

Recommended Viewing: Die Hard - Die Hard II - Hart's War - The Fifth Element

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 1.5   -   The Fan: 1.0
             MetaCritic: 29
 Rotten Tomatoes: 16
                    IMDB: 6.0

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SIDE EFFECTS - sleepwalking, hysteria and possibly madness

Steven Soderbergh graces us all with yet another illusory treat. Sadly, he will be retiring from cinema, most likely sometime this year. As of now he has one more film on the production line to be released through HBO by summertime. I will miss his panache, his humor and his brazen willingness to try something novel. Not everything he does is great, but you can be sure to respect his gusto and cinematic charisma.

Side Effects, his latest, brings us into a dark world of prescription drugs, deception and enigma. The story follows Rooney Mara (she happens to be Kate Mara's real life sister whom just starred in the brilliant Netflix original series, House Of Cards) though a troubling tale of capricious depressive episodes. Her husband, Channing Tatum, was just released from jail and itching to get back to business. Legitimate or not remains to be seen. Jude Law enters the story as Mara's new psychiatrist when she attempts to kill herself and claims that it was not intentional but something she could not control and needs meds for assistance. Law concurs and gets her on new pills called ablixa. What could be the side effects? I shouldn't give much else away except to say that a thrilling mystery awaits.

What Soderbergh does well in this film is keep us in the dark to the real truth and sustain are confusion, all the while exciting our interest enough to keep us asking questions and actively trying to solve the caper. That is basically the definition of any good cinematic narrative complete with "oh shit" moments and "oh wow" gesticulations. As to be expected the camera work is exceptional, the acting superb and the music by Thomas Newman, taut with quiet anxiety. The yellowy green hues employed are his usual trademark move which does a lot to bring you in to this dreary, melancholy head space. Even his establishing shots, although simple, are interesting and uniquely photographed canted upside down angles. The man knows his craft. Another noticeable 'side effect' of watching his films would be a unique ability to take a stereotypical subject like "pills are bad" or "pills are overused" and turn it on it's head. Ablixa could almost be said to be the 'Macguffin' of the picture. The generalized view that prescription drug use is out of hand isn't even addressed. He approaches the topic with adult sensibilities and doesn't conform to populist viewpoints. Much like he did with Magic Mike. It's smart cinema.

Mara is really a very good actress, I think she will impress you much like she did with Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is Tatum's third film with Soderbergh which seems to be an odd choice for a muse but Magic Mike was extraordinary and their best work together so far. Side Effects is not Soderbergh's best movie but certainly not his worst either. I think you will be disquieted, shocked, riveted and squirming in your seats for a good portion of the film. Isn't this why we go to the movies?

Recommended Viewing: The Informant! - Magic Mike - Contagion - Ocean's 13

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.3   -   The Fan: 8.0
             MetaCritic: 74
 Rotten Tomatoes: 85
                    IMDB: 7.6

Monday, February 4, 2013

WARM BODIES - corporeal spirit

Warm Bodies is a good zombie movie. It surprised me—80's style. Entertaining, fun, ridiculous, smart and a little something new. 

It reminded me, oddly, of Awakenings, a movie about patients in a psychiatric ward that had lived for decades in catatonic states, pretty much like zombies except that they didn't seem to crave brains. A new drug was developed in the 60's called L-Dopa that acted as a stimulant. The famous clinician and author Oliver Sacks decided to try the drug out, and amazingly, all the patients came back to life, some of them almost completely normal! I submit that this is the saddest movie in existence because after their "awakening" they all regressed back into suppressed catatonia. I found numerous corollary parallels throughout. Back to Warm Bodies. I kept thinking its great that these zombies are coming back to normative states but what happens if they regress? How can society trust their newfound change of heart? Especially since there is no good explanation of why they transformed in the first place. 

Regardless of all the realistic issues avoided (after all it is a zombie movie) I really enjoyed the film. Warm Bodies contained some novel ideas. I thought of things that never occurred to me before while viewing flesh eating monsters. Sex with a zombie anyone? How would that be I wonder. One may shudder at the thought of engaging a necrotized cannibal, and I have no such fantasies, but I found myself contemplating it none the less. Would all the parts work? What animates the bodies if they are dead? I'll stop there. 

The brain eating was interesting as well. Apparently you can eat brains, and as the zombie, experience the thoughts and memories of the victim. Cool idea. But why? Why do I accept this so easily? I've eaten sheep brains and  I don't suddenly see scary creatures barking in my face or do I cringe at bipedal naked apes shaving off my hairy skin. I guess the notion of eating brains and seeing memories just seems plausible somehow. I will now shrug my shoulders. 

One little part that bothered me was the more far gone bone eaters. What if they started to become human again? In the film they say that these decrepits were beyond regeneration. But really this is cowardly. Humans would reject the emaciated ones and turn into zombie racists. I guess appearance really is everything (gag).

There is no epic apocalyptic narrative, just a simple story of boy meets girl. I found it endearing, eerie and jovial. The conflation of horror and dry humor sometimes felt off kilter but for the most part was done well. The demographic was teens but I think most will enjoy this feature.   

Recommended Viewing: Zombieland - 28 Days Later - Zombie

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.7   -   The Fan: 7.9
             MetaCritic: 66
 Rotten Tomatoes: 77
                    IMDB: 7.4

BULLET TO THE HEAD - a bloody travesty

Stallone, Stallone, Stallone, Stallone. The man never seems to stop growing. If you happen to be a fan of the guy I think you'll find Bullet To The Head a welcome edition to his long action cannon.

Stallone is still a force to be reckoned with. His latest additions to both the Rocky and Rambo franchises were delightful and well made. The two Expendables were mediocre films but fun and entertaining anyway. His latest is more in that vain—glib, ridiculous and goofy but engenders childlike admiration. Speaking from a guys point of view—it makes you want to go out, lift weights, make voicemails that capture your badass apathy, treat humanity with cynicism and disdain as well as punch a few holes in those myriad malevolent craniums. I do not endorse this behavior but one cannot hold back the Cro Magnon male fantasy that arises from time to time. Both Stallone and Swartzenegger have helped a vicarious release of these instinctual feelings in the safest way possible—while sitting down and eating popcorn. Instead of watching Maximus wield his sword from our comfy stadium seat in time immemorial, we now have these larger than life cinematic, gladiatorial heroes. 

I thought at first this movie might be a remake of the great John Woo film from 1990. The Korean actor, Sun Kang, was cast and may have been a reference point but this ended up being a wholly different movie. Walter Hill, the director, has made some excellent action flicks in the past like The Warriors and Last Man Standing. You will see the talent with the action scenes again, but modicum cleverness on the script and acting end. You will certainly enjoy the Rush Hour like wordplay but often it's so daft that you'll find yourself in a constant giggle. The axe wielding Drogo was an appropriate choice as the arch nemesis. The young Stallone, if you will. Cool and entertaining but really for fans only. Oddly, there are two Kubrick references—one mannequin from the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange and the masked ball event from Eyes Wide Shut. Does anyone know what this was about?

This film seems to be a continuation of stories, lately, that are designed for an aged audience. Plenty of jokes were advanced at Stallone for being old which I find tiresome—but I did realize something. I'm getting older! These are now the actors of my generation that are going to pass away before I do. Despite the poor comparison, men like Pacino, Stallone, Walken, Swartzenegger, and DeNiro are the Burt Lancasters, Kirk Douglases and Sterling Haydens of 20 years ago.

Age catches up to us all—no matter how much you shine.  

I also caught Stand Up Guys in the theater. It had a few welcome moments and great potential to be significant but ultimately missed the mark.  

Recommended Viewing: Last Man Standing - Cliffhanger - Demolition Man

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0   -   The Fan: 7.0
             MetaCritic: 50
 Rotten Tomatoes: 47
                    IMDB: 6.6

Monday, January 28, 2013

HANSEL & GRETEL WITCH HUNTERS - a provincial shot in the arm

I knew as soon as the theater ticket ripper handed me my stub and said "Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters, theater 10" that I had made a big mistake. This movie can have no explanation for its existence. Unless it was some kind of reified joke bet. I did notice that Will Ferrell was one of the producers. 

Witch Hunters may remind you of some weirdo productions made in the 60's now well known for their cult status. It's one of those films that is so baffling in concept that its hard to imagine anyone signing off on the checks to produce it. Why Jeremy Renner agreed to do this I'll never know but somehow I like the fact that he did. Let me explain. First of all the film could have nixed the whole Hansel and Gretel bit and just made a witch hunter movie. That would have increased its viability 100 percent. I don't think Hansel and Gretel is a profitable marketing ploy at all which makes the whole idea rather hilarious. I mean, good god, you have this Hansel character from the 19th century that needs to take insulin injections because a witch fed him too much candy when he was trapped in her house. That is f**king funny. You also have absurd weaponry and hideous witches that can do all sorts of crazy magic but simply cant kill two humans. The humans have no powers themselves but can resist direct spells, I guess, but even that wasn't consistent. If I was a witch I would just craft a rock out of thin air and have it fall on Hansel (cough) and be done with it. My favorite character was Edward, the coolest troll ever. His animatronics were spectacular and contributed some value to the ticket price. As bad as it was, Witch Hunters ended up being hard to resist. Razzies will abound. 

You may ask why I even bothered. The answer is easy—I have no freakin idea. As it may be obvious, I am addicted to cinema for better or worse. Oh well, despite the utter inanity before me I happened to enjoy myself. I was entertained with hysterical bouts of laughter of the plentiful kind. Get ready for rated R ridiculousness.

Recommended Viewing: The Bourne Legacy - Dahmer - Tamara Drewe

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 3.5   -   The Fan: 6.4
             MetaCritic: 18
 Rotten Tomatoes: 18
                    IMDB: 6.5

MOVIE 43 - myriad stars modicum shine

The idea for this movie was simple. Lots of outrageous short films placed side by side with a pseudo underpinning narrative thread. Some bits are better than others but one thing you can sure bet on is raunch raunch raunch.

I do enjoy a raunchy comedy once in a while but I will still always prefer a clever one much like Bridesmaids. Movie 43 is similar in vain to what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez did with Grindhouse except in reverse. Instead of high octane medium length action films spliced with absurd commercials crafted by all sorts of different directors, this film pursued high raunch short length comedies spliced with few commercials directed by a random pool of wackos. 

Dennis Quaid walks into Greg Kinnear's movie pitch office and begins to deliver his first film idea, complete with silly commercials. Since the first short entails Hugh Jackman escorting Kate Winslet on a blind date with a conspicuous scrotum on his neck, Kinnear rightly, wants to throw Quaid out of his office. Quaid pulls a gun and multiple bizarre mini-farces result. The best being the truth or dare episode between Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant. I'm aware of the utter hatred heaped at this movie, especially by Richard Roeper, whose review has gone viral. I won't say the film doesn't deserve the harsh criticism but it's not quite as awful as these people would have you believe. It's really offensive but has some clever parts too.

The problem with this type of comedy is that in pushing-the-envelope style offensiveness you rarely hit upon something actually hilarious, instead you initiate the gag reflex or the just plain stunned reaction. You want to laugh but feel uncomfortable or bad or dumb for doing so. If you have to think about laughing you probably won't—it should be a burst of spontaneity which you can analyze for worthy content later. Like the end credits state—dedicated to anyone who has ever had a dirty thought. I get that but given the talent at your disposal I still hoped for better, smarter comedy in place of the cheap, quick and easy gratuitousness.   

Recommended Viewing: Kentucky Fried Movie - Amazon Women On The Moon - Airplane

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 4.5   -   The Fan: 6.0
             MetaCritic: 15
 Rotten Tomatoes: 5
                    IMDB: 5.4

PARKER - pull over and then just keep going

I was not excited to see this, mostly because I think Jason Statham is a hack action star. He hasn't starred in one action film centered on him that is really good or even comes close to the greats like Die Hard or Rambo. We have Crank, Transporter, The Mechanic and so on which are probably his best but then we have a slew of others that are barley worth your time like Safe, Blitz and War. He is the Tyler Perry of action. Two or three movies a year, all of which you can bet will suck. 

I went to see this because I respect Taylor Hackford's work. He crafted Dolores Claiborne, The Devil's Advocate, and An Officer and a Gentleman.  His latest, Parker, has Statham  as a shady thief like character that helps organize heists. Larceny ensues. Some of his cohorts turn on him and leave him for dead. He then comes back to life for revenge. Obviously. Sweet cheeks J Lo enters (who still looks mighty fine) to help him on his quest. Cohorts plan to steal jewels. Statham plans to throw a wrench. Can you guess how this plays out? 

That said, the movie wasn't terrible. Not Statham's worst nor Hackford's best but somewhere in the middle. It was fun to see two TV stars from The Wire and The Shield play bad guys who happened to be good guy cops in the aforementioned shows. Some of the acting was quite bad though, and some of the script. Did I mention the gorilla man Nick Nolte makes an appearance?! His voice gets worse every film and his rhinoceros head looks twice the size of Statham's when they are next to each other. Too much smoking and drinking has deemed this poor man the next John Merrick. Can't really recommend it but if you have nothing else to do, head to the local cinema for a quick action fix.

Recommended Viewing: Transporter - The Devil's Advocate - Selena

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.8   -   The Fan: 6.0
             MetaCritic: 45
 Rotten Tomatoes: 37
                    IMDB: 6.3

Monday, January 21, 2013

MAMA - dopey specter

Um... creepy as $&@/!. A ghost story set in the modern day with tentacles to the past and a gloomy future outlook takes center stage in the Guillermo del Toro produced Mama. Yes—dumb title—with equally dumb characters who bound around in the dark woods by themselves—with a spirit on the loose no less!? :)

Jessica Chastain is back. Never really left. She is ubiquitous. This time Chastain shows us yet another side of herself—a struggling, fuck the world bassist? Bravo! She does a good job but since her character is laced with irritating musician cliches she became a bit uninspired and predictable. Still though, it was interesting to view the short black haired, tattooed wannabe rock star make her debut. You may recognize the lead actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, from HBO's Game of Thrones. He is relatively new on the scene but can hold his own. The young girls were good and hellish so your attention will hardly be elsewhere when they enter the frame. 

The overall story is quite basic and somewhat boring with the usual—ghost needs to find her physical body because she had unfinished business and now is super pissed kind of thing. Yet, this movie is creepy. I won't say scary, just effing creepy. The ghost is hideous, makes weird sounds and looks retarded. Forgive the insouciance. Nonetheless still viscerally disquieting. Don't expect a great movie but prepare for an hour and a half or so of disembodied detachment. 

PS: some other films I viewed recently

BROKEN CITY - watch the trailer and you will see the whole movie—gloomy, dark and boring
HYDE PARK ON HUDON - just plain amateurish filmmaking—awful  

Recommended Viewing: The Help - Zero Dark Thirty - Lawless - Headhunters

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.5   -   The Fan: 5.9
             MetaCritic: 58
 Rotten Tomatoes: 63
                    IMDB: 6.7

THE LAST STAND - hashed schwarz scrambled egger

I have always been a huge Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. Boyhood dreams of becoming Conan the Barbarian, a Predator destroyer or just a plain muscly, comedic action star seemed worthy of imitation and awed respect. 

My fondness over the years has ceased to wane, despite some of the glaring character flaws—which I hardly ever let influence my appreciation of the illusory characters on screen. I'm not entirely sure but currently I think it's wrong or rather incorrect to let the personal habits of stars mediate your response to the art form you happen to be viewing them in. This is not always easy. Many times actually, knowing something about an artist will engender an unforeseen appreciation of their work—sometimes an artist's history is requisite knowledge before even approaching a work of art if you have any chance of an understanding. What I wish to say, though, is If you discover your favorite star happens to be an adulterer, does that mean you should now refuse to watch all his/her movies—and further than that, reject all his/her former work because they have nasty secrets or is a complete douche bag? I think not. A mans' or womans' personal life, however bad or good, should be taken separately from the art itself. There will be crossovers and this generally makes the whole experience more interesting but still, I think there should be a distinction in ones mind.

Just think if you heard that Meryl Streep was complicit in a hit and run fiasco when she was 43. She never told anyone and the person died. Is her entire canon now worthless, degraded and artfully bereft? Does Lindsay Lohan personal illicit escapades discredit her as a person or as an actress? Does the new controversy over Klaus Kinski molesting his own daughter change my fascination with his maniacal wit and grand enigmatic presence on screen. No. Should it?   

To the movie at hand. The Last Stand was directed by a well known South Korean director Jee-woon Kim. He is best known for darker Korean films like, The Tale of Two Sisters and The Evil Inside. I find his films good but very strange like most all wacky Pan-Asian entertainment—which I happen to love. It's in your best interest to view some Japanese, Korean or Chinese cinema of the last decade before watching this film because it will seem very strange and downright idiotic to some. It might help explain why the hell Johnny Knoxville and Arnold ended up in the same movie together not to mention Luis Guzmán. The Oriental storytelling dynamic nearly always includes an incredibly stupid comic relief character—it's just their way. The narrative was surprisingly inventive, photographed with high brow sensibilities and deliberate charisma. Fun to watch. 

The Last Stand is rather silly but appropriately so. Arnold is pushing 70 and no longer a viable hardcore action star but he can still rock a badass pair of sunglasses and kick some unambiguous bad guy butt. So yes, I enjoyed the movie far more as a fan this time round. Given all the Asian cinema, manga, video games and the fact that I have seen every Schwarzenegger movie there is, certainly played into my viewing experience here. Critics beware. Fans rejoice. 

Recommended Viewing: The Host - Old Boy - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter & Spring

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.2   -   The Fan: 7.5
             MetaCritic: 55
 Rotten Tomatoes: 56
                    IMDB: 7.6

Monday, January 14, 2013

GANGSTER SQUAD - a violent fantasy

Gangster Squad takes place in late 1940's LA terrorized by Mickey Cohen who takes pleasure in wreaking havoc in the sunny city. Many critics are poorly receiving the film, I believe I understand why but I also happen to have a different perspective. 

Gangster Squad is based on a true story. You can be sure that 'true' is likely meant to be loosely interpreted. The film has a palpable saccharine vibe—it feels overly saturated and sweet a la visual eye candy. The first ten minutes of ultra-violence was overstated and hardly realistic—therefore I assumed the rest of the of the film was going to be contemptible also, but amazingly, the facade grew on me. 

I wouldn't say that this was a great movie but it contained elements of interest. If you have ever viewed any of the old WB gangster movies starring James Cagney from White Heat or Edward G. Robinson from Little Caesar then maybe you will appreciate what the filmmakers went for. Realism was not the ultimate goal. This was not a Michael Mann picture. Moreover it was suggestive of fantasy—maybe how one would wish to remember the old gangster days. It was more like LA Confidential, although not near as good, and far less like HBO's Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos. This fantasy style is not the 'in' thing right now. Supernatural is 'in' in  a big way with all the TV shows like Fringe, True Blood, Once Upon A Time, The Vampire Diaries etc etc etc and movies like Twilight, The Host, Harry Potter, Insert your favorite super hero movie etc etc etc. However, it seems to me like the most relevant demographics are into dark realistic fantasy over slightly over the top ambiguousness that somehow just doesn't feel right. Numerous people like fantasy films but still require anthropomorphic characters or creatures and the need for the laws of physics to apply, otherwise it will be hard to accept. Rarely, you will get a film that enables you to break the innate laws of the universe like The Matrix. Movies like this work because the film narrative revolves around why the laws can and must be broken and most important—it makes sense outside the normative universe. A film that does not try to convince you or throws in a one liner to help you accept the unreality is likely to fall by the wayside.

The story simply follows a lead detective on mission to wipe out Cohen. It's structured a bit like The Dirty Dozen or Seven Samurai. The actors felt strange at first but grow on you. The special effects are really quite good most of the time. Overall, an interesting ode to ancient cinematic gangster films and it will keep your attention, yet it does have a few flaws—likely the biggest of which is that it was released in 2013. 

Recommended Viewing: White Heat - Mulholland Falls - Carlito's Way

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0   -   The Fan: 6.7
             MetaCritic: 40
 Rotten Tomatoes: 34
                    IMDB: 7.3