Archive for June, 2012

Survival of the Dead (2009) George A. Romero

Posted in S on June 27, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $4 million

Worldwide Gross: $143,000

I’m easy.  Okay, I maybe should explain that a little bit.  When it comes to selling me on a movie I like to think I’m easy.  I recently saw the Darkman trilogy again simply for the reason I wanted to see Darkman III: DIE DARKMAN DIE.  Why?  Because DIE DARKMAN DIE is one of the best titles for a sequel ever.  The movie could have been about Darkman making quilts and I wouldn’t care because the title made me laugh.  So trust me when I say it is hard to scare me away from a movie.

Survival of the Dead scared me, and not in the good way.  Every time I would pass it in my Blockbuster (and yes, I still go to an actual Blockbuster store) I almost flinch as if the box will give me some electroshock if I picked it up.  Diary of the Dead was so atrocious and showed how far Romero had fallen that I honestly did not want to see him fall any lower.  It is not about seeing Survival and being pissed off, I didn’t want to watch it and be depressed.  That being said, this is a box office bomb and, fuck it; let’s get on with the review.

So the main location of this movie is some island off the coast of North America.  The inhabitants have it pretty good in that they can sustain themselves on the island by ranching and zombies can’t get them because of being surrounded by water.  One of the family leaders O’Flynn, decides it may just be in the best interests of everyone if they killed the few remaining zombies left on the island.  Because you know, I would feel a lot safer if I didn’t think my sleep would be interupted by a zombie eating my intestines like a four year old eats a plate of spaghetti.  The other family, the Muldoons, thinks that is a monstrous idea and banish O’Flynn from the island.  I then decided to rename the island Moron Island because I could not identify with any of the people or their actions. This is despite the director on his soapbox berating me that I should feel like he does.  Romero seriously wants me to feel like zombies are people too and what O’Flynn is doing is so monstrous and yada yada yada.  You know what I think is monstrous?  Eating my brains and I see no problem with people defending themselves from that.  This movie sucks.

To add insult to injury we then meet our “protagonist“ Sarge.  He is the psychopath highway robber from Diary of the Dead because, because I could totally sympathize with someone with no redeeming qualities.  The writing tries to backpeddle the character and make him some world weary badass looking for a home but it only left me asking: what’s the point?  Was anyone flooding Romero with emails begging for a continuation of the oh so important character of “Colonel“ from Diary of the Dead?  Just have someone else be your protagonist and don’t now try to pretend there is some continuity between the Dead movies.  But even if I did forget what Sarge did in Diary, he is still an unlikable asshat who is not compelling in the least.  This movie sucks.

This movie even has to find ways to upset me like including crappy CGI.  The practical effects were some of the best things in early Romero movies but here we have terrible CGI gore.  This is capped off by some of the most dreadful seconds in all of Romero’s flimography.  A character grabs a fire extinguisher, puts it in a zombie’s mouth, and shoots him full of CGI goo until the goo comes out his ears and makes his eyes pop out in even worse CGI.  That had me literally yelling in anger which, given the fact I was watching this on the go with my streaming iPhone app, I’m sure garnered me some strange looks and calls to 911.  This movie sucks.

So Sarge gets convinced by O’Flynn to come to the island and kill Muldoon because it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys.  You know Romero, you can’t make zombies a metaphor for everything.  It has already been a message for racism, the 1%-ers in Land of the Dead, how media is bullshit in Diary, and now about wars and feuds.  Are the next movies going to be about gay zombie marriage and zombie Obamacare?  I don’t care about these characters and because of that I don’t feel any tension from the zombies.  They are all so stupid I don’t care if they all get eaten by zombies.  Everything about this movie is stale.  The message is stale, the effects are at the very least a letdown by Romero standards, the acting is dull, and the action is nothing I haven’t seen a million times before in a now oversaturated zombie market.  And yes, apparently Romero can sink lower because he wants to do another two Dead movies.  Oh joy!

This movie sucks.

Fast Five (Justin Lin) 2011

Posted in F on June 26, 2012 by moviemoses

Let me give a brief sum up of my experiences with the Fast series.  First there was The Fast and the Furious.  It was basically a remake of Point Break however instead of surfing it was about cars.  I’m not complaining that a movie is similar to another movie as long as it does its job in being entertaining which in this case it didn’t.  Point Break is a crap movie, but it is entertaining as hell with Gary Busey, Patrick Swayze, and Keanu Reeves giving absolutely hilarious performances.  It is a camp classic that everyone can laugh at.  Fast and the Furious has Paul Walker who is as dull as Cream of Wheat and Vin Diesel who, as much as I enjoy him, cannot make up the slack of missing an equivalent to Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey.  I also didn’t know the world of illegal street racing was so dull.  I like car chases and explosions but not of people driving in a straight line and seeing CGI Nitro going through a car like a bad episode of CSI (or just CSI).

I decided to skip out the next few movies until the cast got back together for the frustratingly titled Fast and Furious (removing the “the’s“ from the title totally differentiates it from the first movie).  I was basically seeing if the series got any better from the first one.  It didn’t.  They finally did dispense with the dull street races for more action movie car chases but the thing which killed the movie for me was use of CGI cars instead of practical stuntwork.  On my short list of things which should not be computer generated, blood is one and cars should be right next to it.  While CGI can do many things well (I am not someone who rants that all CGI is shit) the technology cannot do those at all.  I’m sure the CGI was top notch for that movie and seeing those cars whiz around an even fakier cave made me think I was watching a high end PS2 game.  Nothing compares to seeing real life cars smashing into real life things.

So why see Fast Five if I’ve disliked everything so far?  I dunno.  Boredom?  Long story short is I watched it so now I’ll just review it.

Fast Five is probably the biggest departure from the original which is probably why I like it the most of all the “Fast“ franchise.  The filmmakers have finally thrown up their arms and said “fuck it“ to dedicating a movie series to 8 second races.  They finally just went balls out and made an insanely ludicrous action movie and in doing so, finally have some of that campy charm I was looking for in the series originally.  Instead of small time theives looking to fund their car obsession, they are now Oceans Eleven style theives who are gods behind the wheel and have technical resources out of a Mission Impossible movie.  I loathe when people use the phrase ‘turn off your brain movie‘ but after seeing the first/fourth installments I intend that phrase more for the writers to stop trying so hard and give me my dumb action movie which this movie does.

This movie has The Rock being a badass like he should be.  This movie has fight scenes which (in particular the Rock/Diesel fight) are very good.  You have car chases with actual cars in them.  Yes, there is CGI around it but I was incredibly grateful to see some real cars for a change.  And you get the finale where the crew just about wrecks all of Rio with a laughable car chase with a bank vault.  This is a movie who knows its bad but is fine with being campy and delivering on the action.

This movie is not all fun.  The second act pulls out the drag chute as the writers have to set up the heist.  To say the cast and writing of Fast Five do not hold a candle to the veteran casting and witty writing of Oceans Eleven is the understatement of the year.  Hell, I’m not even  sure they hold a candle to the remake of The Italian Job.  Paul Walker continues to be the least interesting man in the world and he is surrounded by other characters who, I guess we are supposed to all recognize cause we are all longtime diehard fans, but I just don’t give a crap.  I don’t think many fans were staying up nights wondering what happened to some side characters in Tokyo Drift.

This is an admitted guilty pleasure for me.  This movie is incredibly stupid but everyone involved was aware of that.  This is the one time in the series when the tone was fun.  It goes over the top in the action and the set pieces and I enjoyed how blissfully insane it all got.  For a non-fan of the series as I am, this was easily the best of the lot and on its own an enjoyable action movie.

Alice (1990) Woody Allen

Posted in A, Woody Allen Retrospective on June 20, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $12 million

Gross: $7 million

I could only find domestic numbers for the gross so there is a possibility that overseas numbers pushed it over the top.

Alice (Mia Farrow) is an upper class housewife who’s happiness is called into question when she falls for sax player Joe (Joe Mantegna).  Alice goes to a chinese herbalist for health issues who gives her magical herbs which do anything from making her invisible to letting her speak to dead ex-boyfriends.  These help her sort out the troubles Alice has with her love life.

I wanted to like Alice a lot more.  Woody Allen can be a lot of fun when he goes into fantasy territory with movies like Zelig, Midnight in Paris, and even Purple Rose of Cairo.  So I was expecting a very cute but funny fantasy movie that just might have been overlooked by most people.  By the end though, while I was not hating this movie, to me this was one of his weakest efforts.

I know I’m going to be arguing very subjective things like funny and not funny but to me the biggest problem was this movie wasn’t funny.  I like when Allen does these kinds of movies because with all these fantastical elements he can put them in extreme situations which heighten the comedy.  It was great in Oedipus Wrecks when Allen’s character not only had mother issues, but when it became a giant floating head over New York City.  It was funny when Gil in Midnight in Paris met his literary heroes like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway and pitched his book to them.  In Alice, while there are fantastical elements with the different herbs, none of them are really exploited to their fullest potential.  One of the herbs makes Alice invisible which allows her to spy on Joe to see if he is a player.  While that was a practical move on Alice’s part, it just doesn’t allow for that much hilarity.  Another herb bring back a former lover who died (played by Alec Baldwin).  Again, while it serves a purpose in that he gives an honest appraisal of Alice and her lovers, it isn’t used to its potential for comedy.  It would be better if he could embarass her more with his dialog or somehow interact with Alice’s men in her life but he doesn’t.  It’s scene after scene after scene after scene of an interesting set up along with a disappointing follow through.  Speaking of Allen having an off day with the humor a shining example is Dr. Yang.  Other people give Allen a pass but if I have to complain about Skids and Mudflaps being racist, then I might as well rage against Woody for this too.  Yang is an herbalist who speaks in “funny“ broken Engrish who runs an opium den and has mocking stereotypical Chinese music playing whenever he shows up.  He is one pair of buck teeth away from downright offensive.  I won’t harp on it too much but, as I mentioned earlier, it is a shining example of Allen having a major off day with his humor.

I also have to admit Alice as a character is hard to get behind.  It is hard to get invested over a beautiful rich woman who is wondering if she should sleep with Joe Mantegna.  Near the end of the movie they try to turn this into an Another Woman search for self identity but by the 90 minute mark it is a little late for that.  Mia Farrow also wasn’t given a very good role to play either.  Alice talks a mile a minute and complains non-stop.  It feels like a very Woody Allen type role, but where Allen can  make that character ultimately lovable, Farrow comes off as annoying.  The dialog isn’t witty enough to support Farrow and fails to win her over with the crowd.

This movie was a misfire for me: the humor misfired, the dialog was bland, the characters weren’t up to par with other Allen films, and it ultimately wasn’t interesting.  While I didn’t hate this movie and it is far from the worst Woody Allen movie, I will have no interest in revisiting this movie in the future.

 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Neveldine/Taylor) 2011

Posted in G on June 18, 2012 by moviemoses

This was close to being part of the box office bomb list but depending on what site I go to the production budget fluctuates so I am giving it the benefit of the doubt.

I wasn’t in a real rush to go see this movie.  The original Ghost Rider was a horrible movie that didn’t have much of a chance from the start because of the strange casting of Nic Cage.  Now I love me some Nic Cage (as evidence by my worn out copy of Deadfall) but he doesn’t need to be around any comic book territory.  I send a gift basket every year to Warner Brothers for not casting Cage as Superman as they were initially very high on him.  But even with somone else in the Ghost Rider role, the rest of the movie was very annoying.  So when I saw Ghost Rider pissing fire on the trailer my brain right away threw any idea of seeing it in the Recycle Bin in the Windows desktop of my brain.  But like a record people kept saying the same two things “But the Crank guys are doing it!“ and “Crank was fucking awesome!“ (which it is).  So when it finally came out on DVD I said “Screw it.“ and brought it to see with my friends.

Things actually started out promising for this movie.  This movie has the same whacked out frat boy innane humor that we know from Neveldine/Taylor and there was a scene early on which, in the hands of everyone else would piss me off, in their hands I ket out a chuckle.  Normally I would be more frustrated a superhero being played for laughs, but I don’t mind as even the directors take shots at how silly the whole concept of this comic is.  This is a motorcycle riding demon with a flaming skull for crying out loud.

However the pacing and humor of the Crank movies doesn’t last long in Ghost Rider.  You see, Crank was actually helped by the fact it had about the bare minimum of what you would need to constitute a plot.  Crank was free to go off in any random stupid direction and wasn’t hampered that much by explaining shit.  Ghost Rider on the other hand has to actually tell a story and explain a character and when that happens, the movie grinds to a screeching halt.  The director’s greatest strengths are action scenes with frantic edits and off the wall humor.  Their weakness is when characters sit around having boring conversations explaining what’s going on which goes on far too much in this movie.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this movie has some overcomplicated plot or anything like that.  This movie has a relatively basic plot.  I’m saying anything the directors really can’t handle anything normal and make it interesting.  It is like getting kids on a massive sugar high and asking them to do anything that requires concentration or patience.  Can’t happen.

Ghost Rider is a confusing comic book character and even after watching two movies, I’m still not clear on what all he can do.  I just chuckle at the fact that at least twice in the movie the writers have to collectively sit the audience down and explain the many things he can do and what he is about.  It is not helped when the writing is inconsistent as all hell (pun not intended).  In one scene, Ghost Rider is knocked out by a grenade and in another he takes a missile to the face and he pretty much shrugs it off.  The changes in character between the first and the semi-sequel/reboot are rather jarring.  In this movie Ghost Rider is more like the Hulk.  He is this destructive force that takes down everything in his path where in the first movie Blaze had more control over it.  They try to explain it as the darkness taking over, but again it feels too jarring of a shift in character and adds to the confusion of what Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider can do.

One thing that has remained from the first movie and continues to be a crippling problem is that lack of a good villain.  There is absolutely zero tension for me in any of these movies because Ghost Rider is apparently the John Cena of Marvel superheroes.  Rider no sells any damage done to him and he squashes all his opponents without any real trouble.  Why should I care about any of these conflicts if it feels like nothing can hurt the Rider?

But I know the other reason why people would want to see this movie.  Does Nic Cage have any good Nic Cage moments?  Not really.  He has one scene where he is kinda goofy but for most of the movie he is pretty reserved.  Of the times he does scream out stuff it feels really forced.  Trust me guys, this is not the Neveldine/Taylor equivalent of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.  Truthfully, he really looks like shit in this movie and it seems like he is tired of doing this crap.  I know his character is supposed to look tired and worn out, but I got more of that vibe from the acting than anything else.  Idris Elba continues his streak of bad American roles.  Idris actually gets edged out of the Waste of Talent award by Christopher Lambert.  He just shows up, you say to yourself  “What the fuck is Christopher Lambert doing in this?“ and he leaves.  Seriously, what the fuck?

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was better to me than the first one but that was a really low bar.  It doesn’t even mean it was a good movie because it’s not.  The positives are the special effects are better and Neveldine/Taylor do a slightly better job with the action and with the campy humor.  That being said, I still didn’t like this movie and I can’t recommend this to anyone.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) W.D. Richter

Posted in A on June 14, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $12 million

Gross: $6 million

I don’t know why it took so long for me to get to Buckaroo Banzai seeing as how this seems to be what my topic was made for.  This was a film that could not find an audience during its box office release but since then has developed a strong cult following.  Its box office failure has not stopped people from loving it and keeping it alive to other media such as comic books.

Banzai is a kind of satire/comedy of pulp sci fi.  The protagonist, Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), is a kind of jack-of-all trades who does brain surgery one minute, then pilots a rocket car to another dimension, then does a concert with his rock band.  During his rocket car test, he goes to the 8th dimension and the evil 8th dimension alien Lizardo (John Lithgow) wants that technology to go back to his home to conquer it.  Banzai has to stop Lizardo before full scale war errupts between Earth and the 8th dimension.

As much as I hate to write this (since I know this will kill my nerd rep) I have to be honest and say I did not love Buckaroo Banzai as much as I probably should have.  I still liked it, however this was not the cult classic that was probably built up to me by other people.  There are things which didn’t quite work for me and things that didn’t exactly meet with my expectations.

One of the people I follow on the Internet brought this point up and I’m surprised I didn’t consider it till now.  As much as I love Peter Weller (cause he is the motherfuckin‘ man!) I personally don’t see him as a Buckaroo Banzai.  I see Banzai as like a more badass version of Ferris Bueller or I guess more appropriate would be a Bruce Campbell.  We are talking about a guy so charasmatic and badass that people gravitate around him hoping that some of his cool will rub off on them.  Peter Weller is too dead pan and seemingly bored with everything that is going on.  Now someone tried to argue that Banzai has done so many cool things that Weller plays it right that he would be kind of ho hum at that point because to him, the extraordinary has become ordinary.  But I still say that when you portray the guy as having fan clubs and mobs of people wanting to just hang out with him, it has to be because he has a super cool personality and Weller does not exude that.

Speaking of quibbles about the cast let’s talk about John Lithgow.  Oh no, I don’t have a problem with John Lithgow.  In fact, I feel quite the opposiite; John Lithgow is awesome.  My problem is I wanted more of him.  We see him in the beginning, then he disappears for the majority of the movie, and stumbles back on for the final action scene.  The other aliens‘ roles needed to be cut back in order so we get more Lithgow goodness.

And I hate to pile things on but the story is not as tight as I’d like it to be.  The middle of the movie is not as interesting as the bookends when a lot of stuff is happening and it is more crazy.  I will also parrot some of the other critics in saying I wish they put more in the movie to make Buckaroo more of a badass.  I realize it is a hard balancing act because you don’t want to make your villains seem feeble compare to your hero but I didn’t feel like it was enough of a showcase of his supposed many talents.

I know I spent a lot of time complaining about things I didn’t like but in this instance it is not because I hated it.  These are complaints of someone who liked it  but there were many minor things that kept me from loving it.  But despite all that I would still recommend that people go see this movie.  There is a good reason why this movie has a strong cult following and even though I didn’t love it as much as everyone else, I think everyone should try it.  It is harder to judge someone’s tastes in satire and this kind of ‘out there‘ crazy movie so I would just have you give it a shot.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott) 2012

Posted in P on June 14, 2012 by moviemoses

I figured I would do a short spoiler free review.  I’ve ranted for about an hour on video so I don’t really feel like saying that much more about it.  Besides,  I figure it would be fair to have a short synopsis in case you don’t want to hear me go on for a long time.

Prometheus is now the latest thing to have flame wars over on the Internet.  People are idiots for liking it, people are idiots for saying its the worst thing ever blah blah blah.  I suppose I need to clarify a few things.  For one I did say this was my worst movie of the year.  I realize there are movies out there that may qualify as being worse such as the Jack & Jills or the Bucky Larsons of the world.  I’ve never done a worst movies list partly because everyone has their own qualifications of worst.  Yes you can find some piece of shit shot by some hack who has no idea how to shoot a movie, how to tell a story, or have any likable characters.  But to me the truly worst movies are the ones you want to love.  They are the movies that crush you because you love the series or are expecting big things from it.  I really don’t give a shit when I see something like a horrible DTV Steven Seagal movie but when it is something I care about like Superman I absolutely get frustrated when it doesn’t meet expectations.

Prometheus isn’t just a disappointment; it is offensive.  It wants to appear deep asking all these questions about life, the universe, and anything but mostly it is a smoke screen for the fact they don’t have anything to say.  Much like LOST (for which both have the same writer) they shotgun you with mystery and questions to cover for the fact their story makes no sense.  I loathe the use of this word because most of the time people misuse it, but this is the very definition of pretentious.  I used kindergarten philosophy because Scott’s views on science, religion, and philosophy are childish at best and offensive at worst.

The plot is riddled with gigantic plot holes.  And yes, I have read all the apologetics for this movie and no, they don’t work at all.  It wouldn’t be as bad if not for the fact the characters were not incredibly stupid and unlikable.  It absolutely kills the tension and horror I’m feeling when I am screaming at the screen over things no rational or even irrational person would do.  Before you claim that Alien/Aliens did not have deep characters really go back and view those movies.  Even though you don’t learn all about their history, their dialog is so good we learn about who they are and how they will act just by their limited interactions.

I know this movie is not all bad.  Yes the movie looks beautiful and Michael Fassbender is charming in his role as David.  But the philosophy of this movie is so bad I am arguing with an inanimate screen, the plot has more holes than swiss cheese, and the characters are stupid and unlikable.  This movie pissed me off and that is actually a hard thing to do.  As I said before, not even those movies people list as worst movies do not really piss me off.  So that is why I can confidently say this was the worst of the year so far for me.  I would easily see any other movie I’ve reviewed before this.  Battleship?  No problem.  It was actually kinda funny for me.  The Raven?  Why not.  You may think I’m using hyperbole and being unfair and there are way worse movies yada yada yada.  However to me I never want to see this movie again.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) 2012

Posted in M on June 14, 2012 by moviemoses

Once again I will launch into a tangent because at the moment one of the most difficult things in the world to me at the moment is writing a review of a Wes Anderson movie.  There is a reason why I have shied away from writing a review as of yet.  It is because I can’t really think of how to describe one without using the word “quirky“ about 50,000 times.  Normally I can liken a directors work to something else like “If you like these movies then you will probably like this director’s stuff too.“  But Wes Anderson has a style of his own that the best I can say is watch Rushmore.  If you like that then you will like his quirkier stuff.

I’ve also been down on Anderson as of Darjeeling Limited. To me he’s been suffering from the same problem I’ve had with Tim Burton.  Both have been locked into their quirky comfort zone and are stagnating making same movie after same movie.  At around the time of Darjeeling I just about swore off his films because that one felt so lazy and like Anderson was sleep walking through it.  But my swearing off Anderson’s films didn’t last too long.  Maybe I needed some levity after being pissed off by Prometheus.  I came into the trailer wanting to hate on it and by the end I let out an exasperated groan and said “Goddammit, I got to go see it now.“

The story is about Sam who runs away from his Scout Troop and Suzy who runs away from her home.  They met a year earlier and fell for each other and they ran away to spend time together.  The kids are being tracked down by the troop leader (Edward Norton), the town police officer (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray).

So how is Moonrise Kingdom you may or may not ask?  Well, it’s quirky.  Really I think Anderson’s gone past 11 on the quirk and has gone to plaid.  I’m sorry if its repetitive but I’m really at a loss for words.  I can’t even say there are many crafted jokes and much of the humor is about seeing these goofy characters in this oddball world.

If there was something I felt was missing from this one as opposed to Anderson’s other films was a clear plot.  Don’t get me wrong, Anderson’s films are not complex stories but are simple framework for getting characters together.  In Life Aquatic, it doesn’t really matter what Steve is doing, but at least we have a clear goal and an end point.  In Moonrise Kingdom I was appreciating the characters and the humor but for the longest time I was asking where this was going.  After the kids escape you are left wondering “what’s next?“.  Because of that the pacing was a little more meandering than the other movies.

The best thing I can say is this movie worked for me despite my mood going into it.  The kids are charming as all hell and the quirky (there I go again) tone matches the story.  This is like a fantasy about these kids having an adventure and the tone feels like the kids are making the world out of their imagination.  So the nature of the story compliments the tone.

Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman do a good job as they have the formula down pat at this point.  Edward Norton was very funny as the straight arrow troop leader who leads his troop like a military camp.  If there was a weakest link it is unfortunately Bruce Willis which is disappointing as I really wanted a funny role from him.  He doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the humor that everyone else is doing and comes off looking confused.  It is that same bored performance you expect from his bad action flicks like Hostage.  Everytime he was on screen I wanted to slap him and scream “Snap out of it!“

I’m not sure how much a recommendation will do for this movie.  If you are a Wes Anderson fan you will already be seeing it and if you are not then I doubt this will win you over.  I came in wanting to dislike it but in the end I was won over so I guess there’s that.  If I were to rank this among Anderson’s other works it would probably be under Life Aquatic, Tenenbaums, and Rushmore.  It’s cute, but doesn’t have enough to measure up compared to his best work.