Archive for June, 2010

Strange Days (1995) Kathryn Bigelow

Posted in S on June 24, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $42 million

Gross: $10 million

Many of you may know Bigelow from her most recent movie The Hurt Locker which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. You may even recognize her from this blog if you read the review for K-19: The Widowmaker (which I thought was pretty good). Today though, I am going to be talking about an even less well known bomb from her called Strange Days.

Strange Days is kind of like a cyberpunk noir. Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) is the fallen hero who used to be a good cop. Now he is a dealer in illegal entertainment called SQUID (Super conducting QUantum Interface Device). It is basically a device that reads all the emotions and sensations of a person’s experience. Lenny is drawn into a mystery by his former ex-girlfriend Faith (our femme fatale for the movie). Someone is recording murders and sending them to Lenny for some reason. Lenny has to work through his personal demons and solve the mystery.

There is so much I like about this movie. For one, the movie doesn’t go overboard with the science part of the science fiction. The only science gimmick we are given is the SQUID technology which is presented to us in a very plausible manner. In essence it is a more advance version of a body wire giving people a true POV experience. We know the rules and limits to it which allows the audience to quickly grasp the concept and understand it as the movie goes on. Plus the sequences in the 1st person perspective are really great. Bigelow invented brand new cameras that were light weight and could be worn around for easy POV shots. They really are amazing when you see the action and you wonder how they got such free movement or even little things like not reflecting cameras in the mirrors.

The plot is complex, but not a movie that is overwritten. You have several different plot threads (the death of a rapper called Jeriko One, the psycho stalking Lenny, Faith in trouble) but it all logically works together. You don’t get lost at any time and it all makes sense. I have to hand it to the writers that they do a mystery plot where I don’t ever really call bullshit or can rip on logical fallacies. I suppose it helps that you have a large cast with some good role players. Ralph Fiennes’ character would normally be an annoying comic relief character but he is really memorable. He does have a persona of a talker; a guy who would sell his grandmother’s dentures if the price were right. But he also shows a side with vulnerability of when he was an honest cop whose life was ruined by a woman he loved. Angela Bassett, who I haven’t even discussed yet, is equally as good as Mace. She is Lenny’s best friend who is a personal bodyguard. At one time she was being helped by Lenny when he was a cop, but now roles are reversed and Mace is now the one with her shit together and Lenny is the emotional mess. You also get some good supporting roles from Juliette Lewis, Michael Wincott, and even Tom Sizemore.

There is a surprising amount of depth to this film that I would love to spend more time figuring out. There is this whole correlation between the SQUIDS and film. Lenny tells one client that this isn’t TV only better but in a way he plays the role of a film director. Lenny is a storyteller and gives people experiences they would not normally have (from something extreme like robbing a liquor store to something like giving a cripple the experience of running on a beach). He is critical of “clips” for essentially not having good cinematography and terrible stories.

Strange Days is one of the more entertaining sci fi movies in many years. Everything about the movie comes together well for me. The plot is interesting and has plenty of good action and coherent twists. The acting is strong and carries a lot of the movie. This is one of the movies I like to highlight when I do this thread. Strange Days was never given any attention upon release and has for the most part been forgotten. This is a hidden gem and I highly recommend it.

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The Limey (1999) Steven Soderbergh

Posted in L on June 22, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Costs: $9 million
Worldwide Gross: $4 million

An ex-con (Terence Stamp), fresh out of prison, goes to L.A. to try to learn who murdered his daughter. However, he quickly finds that he is completely out of place with no understanding of the culture he finds. His investigations are helped by another ex-con (Luis Guzman). Together they learn that his daughter had been having an affair with a record producer (Peter Fonda), who is presently having an affair with another young woman (Amelia Heinle). An aging actress (Lesley Ann Warren), who also knew his daughter, forces him to look at his own failures as a father. The movie does focus on the drama of the situation and the inter-relationships of the characters and seldom slips into an action piece.

This was a movie I highlighted in the first thread but didn’t really talk about. I got this movie cheap as a blind buy when I was first getting into movies and it has been a great investment.

The main reason for this movies utter badassery is because of Terrance Stamp. This whole movie is a loving character study of Stamp. The character in Limey is based on one of his iconic roles in the 60’s. Wilson is a career criminal who has lost most of his life in prison. He is a man who has missed out on most of his daughter’s life and now has no friends or family. But he also has a fierce intensity to him. Wilson would be just as likely to headbutt you and throw you off a cliff than talk his way out of a situation. It is a multi-layered performance that is probably my favorite of that year.

I kind of misrepresent this as just about Stamp. This brings in other icons of the 60’s such as Barry Newman (Vanishing Point) and Peter Fonda (Easy Rider). Fonda has a very interesting spin on his iconic character. He is someone who has become a corporate sell out and is capitalizing on the 60’s zeitgeist as they say in the movie. Fonda does a great job as a real smarmy coward.

The movie is a mystery but not in the traditional sense. We are not trying to find out who murdered Wilson’s daughter. We find that out pretty early. The mystery is about why she was murdered. It is through Wilson’s back story and flashbacks we learn several key plot points. The final reveal is something which is so subtle but takes you by surprise.

The direction by Soderbergh is solid. The narrative jumps around in time which works very well in revealing key plot points and parts of Wilson’s character. Limey has a great blend of mystery, humor, action, and interesting character development. This is one of Soderbergh’s best movies but does not get any attention. Check this movie out, if only for the wonderful performance by Stamp. You will not be disappointed.

Transylmania (2009) David and Scott Hillenbrand

Posted in T on June 17, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: unknown

Gross: $400,000

Transylmania is about a teen wanting to go to a Romanian school so he can have sex with his internet girlfriend. His friends decide to go along and spend a semester at the school there because…just because. What these teens don’t know is the school is vampires killing students.

This was originally made in 2007 but pushed out in ’09 because they wanted to capitalize on the recent vampire infatuation with movies like Twilight and shows like True Blood. This “spoof” was one of the worst bombs of 2009.

Within literally the first five minutes you get the gist of the humor. We get sex jokes, homophobic humor, slapstick humor, male nudity, pot humor, and scatological humor. If you didn’t have the lame vampire jokes you would swear this was one of those lame American Pie direct to video flicks. You wouldn’t be that far off because the directors made National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze and Dorm Daze 2. In fact, this is supposed to be Dorm Daze 3 but retitled I suppose not to confuse audiences and just try to cash in on the vampire craze.

I’ve never seen these DTV American Pie-ish type movies and if this is any indication I don’t want to. The humor in this movie is predictable, unoriginal, and plays to the lowest common denominator. How unoriginal is this humor? They rip off Young Frankenstein’s joke of Frau Blucher except whenever they say Razvan a horse farts. Yeah, not only do they steal, but they dumb it down immensely by making it fart humor. Or how about we steal the Marx Brothers mirror scene? They are stealing bits from comics 80 years ago. I’m surprised there aren’t pies in the face humor.

But lets play a quick game. Let’s see if you can predict the punchline to the lame humor in this movie.

Scene #1- The frat guys are all meeting our main characters internet girlfriend. She comes out and has a pretty face but UH OH! She has a large hump on her back. Now, what lame jokes do they make to the main character about his girlfriend? If you said something to the effect of him wanting to “hump” her; congratulations.

Scene #2- Our main character wants some viagra for his big night and asks a friend for some. The friend motions to a random prescription bottle and in a rush jams random and differently colored pills in his mouth. What’s the punchline? If you guessed it wasn’t Viagra and random hallucinogens then you are as predictable as the joke writers for this movie.

Scene #3- Our stoner buddies are buy the local Razvan delicacy. They don’t know what it is but they find it absolutely delicious. What’s the punchline? If you guessed the food was made out of some kind of testicle/penis you are correct.

Now all these jokes are just your random sex/toilet humor from any teen movie. You may be asking “Where is the spoof on the vampires?” Or not… The answer to your question is there really isn’t any. The writers pretend it is, but it isn’t. Ok, I’ll explain. One of the main plot threads is about some badass vampire and his wife. A long long time ago some vampire hunter trapped her soul in a music box and hid it away. The main villain is looking for the music box to get his wife back and whoever opens the box the female vamps soul is infused in them. The problem is this “soul music box” has nothing to do with vampire lore and could be for any generic supernatural villain from a sorcerer/witch to a ghost/ghoul. There is no real focus on vampire lore or on recent vamp pop culture like Twilight. The closest thing we get is one of the school classes is a Hogwart’s like class on vampire slaying. So we make a Harry Potter joke but not a Twilight joke?

Some of the humor doesn’t make any sense anyway. A recurring joke is that when Asian guy (sorry I don’t remember any names but they are all so unmemorable) smokes pot he becomes a talented surgeon. (???) What? Why? Where do you get that? Is that some veiled reference to Harold and Kumar? Why is that funny? What does it mean? Another joke is about a teen who prematurely ejaculates. His friend gives him a Kama Sutra like book to help him out. What is the funny punchline? They have good sex and become instructors on the techniques in the book. Really, what’s the joke?

This movie is a chore. No, actually it’s worse than a chore. I did chores doing the movie (my house is very clean now) and it was preferable to dedicating my full attention to this. And before you accuse me of missing the full experience, I figure if I was able to predict the whole movie through the obvious humor I wasn’t really missing anything. This was a direct to video piece of shit that was released into theaters to try to make a quick buck but for once the general public wasn’t having any of it. Avoid at all costs.

Striking Distance (1993) Rowdy Herrington

Posted in S on June 16, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $30 million

Gross: $23 million

So Bruce Willis plays a burned out wise cracking cop who doesn’t play by the rules. That sounds like another well known Bruce Willis movie. Tears of the Sun anyone? So anyway, his father is killed by a serial killer whom Hardy (Willis) believes is a cop. Hardy is fired and becomes a part of river patrol. It now appears as if the killer has an interest in Hardy as bodies start appearing in the river and they are people Hardy knows.

I have been going back through my early reviews and re-visiting them because they were rather short. It was a time when I was getting used to writing and wasn’t comfortable in my own style. I like to be methodical and really talk about a movie so people know what to expect. Why am I bringing this up? It’s because this review is going to be short namely because there is nothing to really talk about with this movie.

Striking Distance is a by the numbers cop thriller done so many times by Willis it is almost a genre in itself. Willis actually went on record apologizing for this movie sucking but really its not that bad. It is more a generic thriller you stumble on one boring night and you watch instead of the paid programming for that giggling dumbbell that looks like you are jerking off. If anything, Bruce should apologize for North.

Sorry, I keep getting distracted. Anyway, the movie is alright. You have a lot of good supporting performances from the likes of Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, Robert Pastorelli, and John Mahoney. Bruce Willis does his Bruce Willis thing which is satisfying enough. He is not quite as played up like in Last Boyscout, which is odd since the director of this movie made Roadhouse. The action is, again, alright with some good chase scenes and gun fights. The mystery is cliché but it works for the purposes of this movie.

That’s about it. It is an okay movie. I mean, I’ve now seen it like 3 or 4 times and I haven’t really minded any of those times. If you are really craving some Bruno action then you could rent this but otherwise there is nothing to make this stand out from every other stock cop thriller out there.

Sooooooooooo yeah. That’s all I got to say about that.

Um, how are you guys?

Rampage (Uwe Boll) 2009 SPOILERS

Posted in R on June 16, 2010 by moviemoses

Reading IMDb reviews make me lose faith in humanity. It is there you will find 10/10 star reviews for Rampage along with comparisons to Falling Down, Taxi Driver, and Elephant. I have a comparison to make also. Those movies have actual talent behind them while Rampage has none whatsoever and is a steaming pile of shit.

Rampage is about a 23 year old loser who won’t move out of his parents house. Secretly he builds up a suit of armor and a weapons stockpile and one day goes on a killing rampage. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is him killing people.

What really cracks my peppercorn are the reviewers that are attributing “brilliant social satire” to Boll. I hear he is mocking everything from GTA to violence in movies to the state of politics today. That is why there are so many comparisons to Falling Down. Falling Down though actually made you see the main character’s moral outrage at American society. Rampage has none of that and the only message people are drawing from it are the ones we make out of whole cloth to try to give Boll some credit for making something other than Alone in the Dark. I say this because the killer’s motives are not out of any outrage at society or through any ideological beliefs. Sure, he sometimes spouts lines about how the banks stole from the American people and how we are becoming overpopulated, but that has nothing to do with what he does. By the end, we are plainly told he did this because he wanted money and he is a sociopath. That’s right, this whole rampage is done so he can rob a bank to move out of his parents house. His mad ramblings are a red herring, and he only murders because he has no innate sense of morality. Congratulations, you destroyed whatever social message you had for an exploitation bank robbery flick.

Many people bump up their star ratings because this is the best a Boll film (technically speaking) he has done and I can somewhat agree with that. There are no more gaffs behind the camera or questionable shots or shoddy editing. The movie is competently done and with the digital camera it adds a gritty realism to the events happening. That doesn’t mean though that the story (what little there is) makes any sense. This small town seems to be unaware that there is a man in body armor walking down the street mowing people down despite a bomb going off (that destroyed a city block) and people being murdered in the streets with a man with dual uzis. Nope, they just go on about their day like normal until the murderer goes in a shoots them all. Well until he goes into a bingo hall that is. In a very questionable scene, the killer walks into a bingo hall in full gear and guns and no one reacts to him. He eats a sandwich, drinks his soda, calls out a few bingo numbers, and then leaves. In a movie like Postal that might have actually worked as a darkly humorous joke, but here it is the movie equivalent of a record scratch. For 95% of the movie, the murders are played out seriously like grim horror; as if we are watching a real life massacre. And then for no reason we get a tonal shift that would give anyone whiplash.

Other story things bug me too. For example the cops have no clue what is going on. I know the killer bombs the police station but radio dispatch is a completely different entity from the police and would be coordinating efforts. Not to mention the fact the police only have pistols to shoot at the heavily armored bad guy (with no effect) when all agencies carry rifles after the LAPD 44 minute shootout. Also the movie would have you think the killer outsmarted anyone, but his plan would fall through under even basic questioning.

It is quite clear to me Boll is not going for any kind of message or statement but has shown himself to be an unashamed attention whore. With movies like Seed, Tunnel Rats, and now Rampage, he will clearly show anything and everything if it will get him some kind of attention or notoriety. He has shown time and time again he has no skills at telling a story or entertaining people in any way. Like I mentioned with Seed, just because you show something disturbing doesn’t mean you are necessarily scary. Once again, Boll seems to confuse controversy with an actual coherent statement on society. If there is one comfort, its that his films really don’t see the light of day anymore: Tunnel Rats (limped onto DVD release), Far Cry (no American release), Stoic (seemingly unavailable at most places other than Netflix), and Rampage (a smaller Blockbuster release than most Asylum pics). Eventually the attention whores run out of material and crawl back into their holes never to be seen again. I personally hope its sooner rather than later.

The Swarm (Irwin Allen) 1978

Posted in S on June 15, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $21 million
Worldwide Earnings: $10 million
Subsequent Earnings: ???

Now, I already talked about Irwin Allen a little bit with the remake of Poseidon.  But just to pad out my review, I will say again that disaster movies were huge in the 70’s.  Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake were all hits.  They had special effects, good action, a star studded cast, and, of course, Sensurround!!!  They were cheesy, but good fun.  But it seems Irwin may have been straining to find a large natural disaster to use.  He already used fire, water, and earth.  Asteroids?  Nah, you need Ben Affleck for that.  Volcanoes in LA?  Communist invasion?  Not hardcore enough.  Dig this:  killer freaking bees.

Allen gathered another all star cast that included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Slim Pickens, Fred MacMurray, and Henry Fonda.  Would it be even better than Inferno or Poseidon?  Not quite.  The big problem that Allen didn’t figure is that bees don’t film well.  I mean this in two ways.  The first is, you can’t really control bees to do what you want them to do.  All of the bees had to have their stingers removed.  However, a few bees were missed and caused some bad allergic reactions among the crew.  Several beekeepers were used to keep the bees calm, and the bees would deposit little yellow balls on everything.  Michael Caine thought they were honey balls and ate them; he was actually eating bee poop (IMDb).  The other meaning of “doesn’t film well” is that they don’t look good on screen.  Like the movie poster, the deadly swarm looks like a floating brown cloud.  The movie tanked at the box office and critics were calling one of the worst ever.  This essentially stopped the trend of disaster movies for a while and Allen never really got back to making movies on the big screen.  Now renters can choose between the theatrical cut (116 minutes) and the extended director’s cut (156 minutes).

Is it any good?  Hell no.  The writing, even by cheesy Irwin Allen standards, is hilariously bad.  Caine’s character is a know-it-all jackass who makes all the wrong decisions.  The 156 minute cut is filled with scenes of boring exposition and arguments between the general and the smarmy Caine about keeping the bees alive.  It’s painful to watch Caine talk forever about how man needs the bee to survive and how we must learn to coexist with the bee.  Inferno and Poseidon have interesting action pieces to keep the audience interested.  The Swarm really didn’t have any of that.  It has been many years since I have seen it, so I don’t know if it’s one of the worst ever.  But trust me, it’s horrible.

Revisit

I forgot how silly this whole movie is.  So this swarm of mutant African bees (and they make a point to mention these are super bees with ultra deadly stings) come out to attack people with no explanation given why.  Dr. Crane (Michael Caine) comes strolling up to the army saying literally “This is the war I saw coming for years.”  Oh really.  I would love to have read the peer reviewed scientific paper titled “Bees vs. Man: We all Seriously Fucked…Seriously!”  But upon hearing of this one bee attack the President gives Crane complete control over the situation.  Crane asks “What limits do I have?” and the President says “No limits”  NO LIMITS!?  No limits.  Really. So if Crane ordered the military to nuke Switzerland their response could only be “How many nukes sir?”  So instead of doing the sensible thing and bombing the swarm, Crane opts to try to find a cure.  Why?  Because killing the bees would harm the farming industry.  Um, yeah: millions of lives, or some failed crops?  Which seems like the more logical choice?  And if our agriculture was so important, don’t you think we could import bees from everywhere else on the planet?

What I really love is that for how much everyone builds up Crane as a genius, he is a worthless character.  He is a pompous, arrogant jackass who for all his “experience” has nothing to contribute.  All he does is tell his team of experts what to do.  That is not an expert, that is a micromanager.

I think the biggest problem with the movie is it doesn’t have the same suspense as other Allen disaster movies.  Take Poseidon Adventure for example.  You have the disaster of a ship that was turned over by a giant wave.  The action comes from having the survivors navigating the ship upside down and all of the dangers of the ship going down.  It is tailor made for action scenes and suspenseful situations.  With a swarm of bees there really isn’t anything to do.  Instead, we get endless scenes of dry dialog about where the bees are going and asking why they are doing what they are doing.  The main action is waiting for a scientist to come up with an antidote which isn’t exciting in the slightest.  It also doesn’t help the movie continues the trend of disaster movies being excruciatingly long.  I don’t want to sit through two and a half hour movie of bees attacking.

The acting isn’t anything special.  Because it is a big budget disaster film, it is loaded with stars, but if you are familiar with these movies you also know they get nothing to work with.  Henry Fonda probably does the best work as one of Crane’s assistants.  The scene where he tries the untested antidote on himself is probably the closest thing you’ll get to suspense in this movie.

I’m kind of torn on this movie.  On the one hand it is a hilariously campy movie.  There is a lot to laugh at as this is probably Allen’s worst disaster movie.  However it is hard to sit through due to its ass cramp inducing run time.  So this is a reserved recommendation to true bad movie aficionados.

The Karate Kid (Harald Zwart) 2010

Posted in K on June 15, 2010 by moviemoses

Yeah yeah, I already know everyone’s first bitch is that this movie is actually the Kung Fu Kid and not the Karate Kid. This kind of reminds me when Herzog pitched the idea for his latest movie. I’m sure the exchange with the execs went something like this:

Execs: Oh, Bad Lieutenant.

Herzog: Excuse me?

Execs: You described Bad Lieutenant. You wanna remake it?

Herzog: Well, I’ve never seen it.

Execs: But you just described it…

Herzog: Well I suppose it is a common theme, I just thought it would be interesting to do a story like that.

Execs: Perfect, let’s call it Bad Lieutenant.

Herzog: But I’m not remaking it.

Execs: Yeeeees I know. But everyone will already associate it with the original so we might as well head it off at the pass and just call it Bad Lieutenant.

Herzog: I don’t know…

Execs: Too bad we already made the posters.

End scene.

Point is I think people realized there was no Karate in this movie but they figured its a remake of the basic plot so just call it Karate Kid for the association. The problem is there is no karate in this movie! That is like calling West Side Story “Romeo and Juliet: Port of Call New York City”.

Enough of that little tangent. The plot of this movie is almost identical to the original: Dre and his mother have moved to China for a job opportunity. Bullies are picking on Dre who are students of a local kung fu school. The handy man for the apartments Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) decides to teach Dre kung fu for a tournament that is coming up. The writers here don’t take any risks or do anything radically different but there are some nagging problems I had with the movie.

This is actually brought up by Spill.com but I’ll be sure to give them credit before stealing it. The original movie was about some punk kids who were bullying Daniel with what lame karate they learn in a strip mall dojo. Time is short, but Miyagi is able to teach Daniel just enough to beat his competition. And the level of competition is that you would expect in a junior league karate tournament. There was a grounding in reality. But here they figure the original was not fast enough, bloody enough, or choreographed enough for modern audiences. It is unbelievable that Mr. Han can train Dre in a few months to be on the same level as kids who have been rigorously trained since their early childhood.

The fights have also been turned from realistic choreography to almost a live action anime. The kids are defying physics with wire fu. They are doing hurricanranas and pele kicks and moves rejected from Crouching Tiger cause they were considered too unbelievable. Cripes people! These are 12 year olds, they should not be mimicking the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith.

Another complaint of the original and now this movie is that it goes too long and I agree. In fact, because this plot is so familiar now, it should be shorter by the fact you can breeze through the backstory. It is not like we are adding much needed characterization. In fact, the bullies in this movie are even more outlandish. Before they were just bullies and now they want to outright murder Dre.

The acting is good overall. I love Jackie Chan and he has a fight scene that almost had me downright giddy. Jaden Smith does alright, although I find him to be a creepy Mini Me clone of his father Will Smith. Seriously, it is like Will cloned himself and brainwashed him as a boy to be a money making tool like his dad. Frankly I would like a kid with a personality of his own than someone doing an impression. Now that is just me so I won’t bash the movie for that.

Now the movie isn’t bad. Like I said the movie tries to faithful to the original and not do too much different. I can see kids and people unfamiliar with the series to watch it and enjoy it. But my problem is I am familiar with the original. They do nothing new or better than the original so for me the movie is unnecessary. And what they do try different (namely the fight scenes) are so silly it had me laughing hysterically. This was a decent time waster, but for me this doesn’t top the original or even the sequel.