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

Thursday, January 10, 2013


The oscar noms are in. I am mostly pleased minus the two great omissions of Arbitrage and Bernie. Below are my top twelve films of the year in no particular order.


- ZERO DARK THIRTY—my choice for best overall picture

- BERNIE—a cringing delight of a film

- DJANGO UNCHAINED—well made and ultra stylish

- THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES—shocking terrifying amusing

- THE AVENGERS—the best fanboy movie of the year

- ARGO—an excellent political thriller

- THE MASTER—my intellectual favorite

- SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK—a blistering comedy

- END OF WATCH—seriously hilarious and sobering

- FLIGHT—sad intransigent fun

- THE BOURNE LEGACY—action at a distance



- MAGIC MIKE—a Soderbergh affair

- SAVAGES—a Stone affair

- WRECK-IT RALPH—lucid animation

- THE IMPOSSIBLE—revealing despair

- ARBITRAGE—wealth gone haywire

- LOOPER—interesting time travel

- HOPE SPRINGS—geriatric musings

- FRANKENWEENIE—a return to form

- MOONRISE KINGDOM—bizarre yet touching


- AMOUR—awful tragic reality

- CHRONICLE—surprise superheros

- THE RAID: REDEMPTION—phenomenal fight scenes

- FRIENDS WITH KIDS—quiet thoughtful drama

- SILENT HOUSE—neat idea, well shot

- PROJECT X—my best experience in the theater

- THIN ICE—quirky upbeat murder

I hope you have enjoyed my reporting this year. My desire is to continue guiding your feet and your minds to new and interesting places. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ZER DARK THIRTY - the witching hour

Kathryn Bigelow is a very talented director. One of the best female directors for sure, up there with Susanne Bier, Penny Marshall et al. I don't mean this to be a sexist comment, only a statement of objective comparison—men not included but could be. You will probably have seen Bigelow's best picture winner four years back, The Hurt Locker. I believe, her latest, Zero Dark Thirty, surpasses all her former work to emerge as a masterpiece documentary thriller. 

The other contender for best thriller of the year will certainly be Ben Affleck's Argo and although a very well made film and Roger Ebert's pick for best picture of the year, I believe Zero Dark Thirty deserves the title and the praise. It's rather long, about two hours and forty minutes, but it doesn't feel as such. The attention to detail, technical craft, acting, dialogue and direction were marvelous. The torture sequences are hard to view but done with the upmost respect for an intelligent audience—in other words, the right amount of veracity and disquieting action with a modicum of queasyness. There is one political jab toward Obama for lying about torture but it's brief and not the main subject of the film. 

The beauty of the picture lies in the documentary style. It's not quite like United 93, where you are intentionally made to not care about any characters but just to revel and stir in the sheer atrocious act, yet it is similar in vibe. You mainly only care about the lead CIA operative, Jessica Chastain and care you should. She is phenomenal. Her breakout year, 2011 contained no less than five films, many of which were very good. She in no way disappoints as the seemingly fragile but tough, smart, badass intelligence officer whom I happen to be secretly in love with. No doubt there will be some comparisons to Claire Danes character from Homeland

The ending sequence is truly special. Watch closely. It feels like your present in a small  Afghanistani town with the soldiers—so well directed. Surely, if it went down, it went down like this. I could be a sucker for believing that but I shall choose to keep my illusions. Stunning film and worthy of your time.

Recommended Viewing: The Conformist - JFK - Black Book - The Lives Of Others

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 9.2   -   The Fan: 8.8
             MetaCritic: 95
 Rotten Tomatoes: 94
                    IMDB: 7.5

THE IMPOSSIBLE - a tidal wave of tears

A disastrous tidal wave pummeled Thailand in 2004. Over 250 thousand people were killed and numerous families displaced. This film chronicles one of those unfortunate lucky families.

You would have to be nearly inhuman to remain unmoved by the tragic events portrayed in this movie. Devastation, especially surprising devastation, is hard to come to grips with. One minute your in foriegn paradise playing in a pool and the next minute thrown into death defying situations. Terrible, truly terrible. 

This film, although good, is not without it's problems. It mostly follows a white family through the terrifying dismay and therefore feels somewhat disingenuous. When we see the hospital patients and those affected we mainly just see white people when of course those most affected were native to Thailand and even worse the family the story is based on happened to be Hispanic. Whats going on here? Obviously studios have to make money and money they shall make if Aryan stars are the victims of tragic circumstances. Just think about all the Holocaust films that are spoken in English with American or British actors. These historical innacuracies are overlooked not just due to financial uncertainties but also because it's easier to produce. I happen to agree in many cases. I happen to like films spoken in my own language—lol. I have to accept that this is just a representation of true events that, like any film purported on truth, will have artistic license employed, many times for the betterment of the art, not necessarily the truth. It may upset you that this particular film ignores the natives and chooses to focus on a beautiful white family but you will have to suspend itellectual woes and realize the horror through the fantasy portrayed. It is moving and it is troubling but hopefully it will lead you to look into the truth of the story to be facinated and appaled by nature.

Naomi Watts was spectacular in every respect as was her eldest son. The special effects are done with incredible accuracy as well. I challenge you to find any moment that feels like CGI. As far as disaster type movies go, this is one of the better ones with less Hollywood plot line and more documentary style action, however contrived. Disaster movies are easy to understand. Once your family is put in mortal danger the only next step is trying to save them or get them back together if separated—I'm sure everyone can agree. You will like this. Bring ample kleenex.

Recommended Viewing: Twister - Alive - White Squall

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 7.5   -   The Fan: 8.0
             MetaCritic: 73
 Rotten Tomatoes: 81
                    IMDB: 7.7

Monday, January 7, 2013

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D - jed has a sister!

This movie was a pleasant surprise. It was the right kind of scary, it laid off the torture porn and was not too gratuitous—the best horror sequel to a classic, well known entity of the 70's in a very long time. 

Texas Chainsaw caught my attention right away. The film opens with memorable shots of the original film and it's sequel, 1974 and 1986 respectively. They were both crafted by a talented director of the macabre, at the time, Tobe Hooper. What makes these two original films special is the grit and grime, the 70's film stock, the bad acting, the camera work, Dennis Hopper, a disgusting, decrepit man eating dinner with his family and of course a crazed, maniacal, chainsaw wielding psychopath. Leatherface is loosely based on a real serial killer of the 50's, Ed Gein. The real story has been overblown and used countless times in movies as the basis for sociopathic characters like Norman Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.

At this point there have been seven filmic renditions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The first two are arguably the only ones worth your time so I was quite excited to see this recent film as continuing the original story and not just another facile rehashing. What's interesting is that you will still get all the cliched platitudes from horror movies of the last 30 years but somehow this film surpasses it's own banality. We have sexed teens taking a road trip to an undisclosed location with Deliverance style rubes. The usual teens are immoral story. But the filmmakers kept a 70's vibe throughout with just the right filter and just the right poor acting—at moments unbearable. Don't get me wrong, this is still a abysmal film from a critical standpoint. The actors are fairly bad delivering simple lines and they still make extremely illogical choices throughout, yet as a fan I really enjoyed it. I thought the story contained elements of shock and surprise that were genuinely terrifying. Instead of greasy yellow filters and gross out torture that comprised that the last two attempts at Leatherface, we are given brief glimpses of true terror in a 70's like way. It was a lot fun to watch. The lead actress was undeniably beautiful as well with a near perfect figure and tortuous blue eyes. Her constant denuded midriff is a welcome edition to my memory bank—

I wonder if teens are always the key targets in horror films because studios know that their main demographic consists of them or that older filmmakers are jealous of youth and promiscuity and wish to see all young people come to unseemly ends. Something to contemplate. 

Recommended Viewing: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I & II - Poltergeist 

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 5.5   -   The Fan: 7.4
             MetaCritic: NA
 Rotten Tomatoes: 20
                    IMDB: 5.1