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