Saturday, July 21, 2012

Colorado Shooting Tragedy

As I'm sure you all know, a couple nights ago a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado experienced a horrible tragedy at the hands of some piece of shit who decided to start open firing on a crowd of people at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.  I wasn't sure if I should post about it, but I'm truly affected by this news and am saddened not only for the victims, but for what this may mean for the future of movies.  Considering that I was one of the people who excitedly waited six hours in line to have fun at a Batman movie, this story hit a little too close to home for me.  One of the worst results of this tragedy is that my favorite activity and one of the purest forms of escape, going to the movies, will always bear the shadow of this incident.  In a time where the news should be covering how Christopher Nolan's movie was a huge hit and how much people loved it, instead we have to be bombarded with news stories exploiting this story, turning it into some kind of event (I saw one local news outlet call it the "Batman Massacre").

I really hope this isolated incident does not mean that cinemas will now have their own TSA checks (metal detectors, etc.), and that less people will go to the movies in the same way Jaws drove crowds out of the water.  And of course we're going to see the concerned parents come out of the woodwork blaming the Batman films for this tragedy, even though the shooter claiming to be "The Joker" had red hair instead of green.  My heart goes out to the victims - this is a sad time to be a moviegoer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

We certainly have come a long way since the days of 'na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman!'  The Dark Knight Rises marks the end of Christopher Nolan's beloved bat-saga, the critically adored grounded-in-reality superhero series that inspired everyone and their mother to pull off their own gritty reboot.  And if you thought the other films were dark and gritty, buckle your seat belt, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye.  The main baddie this time around is Bane, a terrorist who is basically doing what the Joker only talked about doing: introducing a little anarchy and watching the world burn.  Batman and co. face some of the scariest post-9/11 scenarios you could imagine, and trust me, the 9/11 symbolism is here in full force, along with the motif of "rising."  Not only is Bruce Wayne and Batman constantly "rising" after the events of The Dark Knight and the loss of a substantial amount of money from Wayne Enterprises, but literally as well in almost every scene (even the damn bat suit rises out of the water), including one of my favorite scenes that truly tests Bruce Wayne's willpower (no spoilers).

The cast, as with most of Nolan's films, is spectacular.  You've got Christian Bale, who took a bit of a back seat last time around to make room for Heath Ledger, re-taking center stage, playing Batman as well as anyone could hope.  You've got Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in their top forms as Lucius Fox and Alfred, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a devoted, "hot-headed" cop, Marion Cotillard as a philanthropist, Tom Hardy as the hulking Bane, Anne Hathaway as the sexy femme fatale Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman), and last but not least Gary Oldman as the iconically-moustached Commissioner Gordon.  Every one of these people makes the movie better and it's through their interactions that drive the movie forward.

The Dark Knight unarguably features the best super-villain performance in a film; while not being nearly as fascinating as Heath Ledger's Joker (and who could expect him to be?) Bane is certainly still a seriously menacing figure.  Played by Tom Hardy (WarriorBronson), Bane is as brutal as his comic book counterpart.  Sporting an accent that sounds like the offspring of Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart, Bane is a grandiose, violent force in this film.  Though obscured by a mask throughout the running time, Tom Hardy was a perfect choice for the role, bringing the same level of body strength he showcased in Warrior, and the same level of unrelenting intensity as Bronson.  And though it's Bane who's the mastermind behind the destruction of Gotham, it's Anne Hathaway as "Catwoman" (though never referenced by that name) that steals the show, among other things...because she's a cat burglar.  She is just so sleek, quick-witted, and not to mention among the most attractive women working in film today, you just can't take your eyes off her, and is the closest this film comes to a "fun" character.

As I mentioned before, TDKR hits you over the head with its 9/11 imagery and political overtones.  There are many scenes in this film that are difficult to watch, mostly due to the unrelenting powerhouse of terror called Bane.  He's just so brutal - every punch, every look, every word has a dark, heavy menace.  You really get a sense of the scope of desperation across Gotham, and the helplessness of its citizens.  As an avid fan of horror movies I'm pretty desensitized to violence, but I was constantly wincing - let the weak-hearted be warned!

I do have to say, although I loved and would recommend seeing it in IMAX, the difference between 'regular' and IMAX shots were very noticeable - much more so than in The Dark Knight.  In certain instances in Rises, the movie will cut quickly between different scenes that were in real 70mm IMAX footage to 'regular' 35mm, and it takes some effort to tune out the difference, whereas a little bit more pre-planning could have fixed that issue (I have no idea how this looks on a 'normal' theater screen).  But besides that this film simply looks sumptuous and Nolan's trusty cinematographer Wally Pfister gives this that familiar 'Nolan' level of class.  There's not much in here that wasn't shown in the trailers, but the set pieces and big action beats are gorgeous, and seeing how it all clicks together is still satisfying.

I could nitpick this film to death in a spoiler conversation, but the gist is that The Dark Knight Rises is a great end-note to the Nolan trilogy of Batman films despite some minor issues.  The last five minutes of the movie will take Batman nerds on a roller coaster ride of 'oh shit' moments, and there are so many amazing individual moments that some of the bigger problems of the film really shouldn't matter.  There is so much going on in this film, it may take repeat viewings to get a bearing on it however, especially considering Bane's sometimes-indecipherable accent, muffled by his alien-looking voice box.  But still, summer entertainment doesn't get much better; Christopher Nolan's three bat-entries can comfortably fit alongside the original Star Wars films as one of cinema's great trilogies.

Rating: A-

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Top Ten: (Bat-shit) Insane Batman Movie Moments

With the final film in Christopher Nolan's amazing Dark Knight trilogy nearly here (and while my body shakes with violent nerdgasms), I thought it might be fun if I compiled a list of the top ten crazy, WTF moments in the Batman movie universe.

10.  Fine children's entertainment
Batman Begins (2005)

Let's have a night on the town with our young son, Bruce.  What should we take him to dear?  Oh, we could see a family-friendy musical like Cats or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!  No dear, why don't we take our 10 year old not only to the most MENTALLY SCARRING AND TERRIFYINGLY INSANE show we can find, but one that prominently features bats, the creatures that very recently attacked him after his traumatic experience falling down a well...(good thinking Mr./Mrs. Wayne).

Sure it may not be the craziest Batman moment, but something from Nolan's 'verse had to be here, and I couldn't just include stuff from Batman & Robin.

9.  Robin doing his laundry
Batman Forever (1995)

What better way to showcase the acrobatic skills of a brand-new character than to have him do household chores...radically.  If anyone questioned the inclusion of Robin before this, certainly this scene reassured them that this was a story that needed to be told.

8. The Bat Credit Card
Batman and Robin (1997)

Poison Ivy, the sluttiest of Batman's adversaries, will do whatever it takes to win over the affection of the dark knight and his boy toy- I mean sidekick- Robin in order to literally give them the kiss of death.  The two, unable to resist her charms, try to one-up each other in one of the most ridiculous exchanges ever in a superhero movie, culminating in the Bat Credit Card.

7. The bat-nipple suit
Batman Forever (1995)

For almost 60 years, batman had been a good, not great superhero.  Various comic books, movie serials, television shows, movies: all tried and failed to figure out what makes the dark knight work as a hero.  Then, the brilliant Joel Schumacher comes forward with his interpretation of the caped crusader and gives us the answer as to how to make Batman the Batman: bat-nipples. Lightbulbs went off and Bob Kane gave himself a revelatory head-smack.  Finally, what we all wanted - NIPPLES on the the bat suit.  Thank you for your wonderful contribution, Joel.

6. "Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb."
Batman (1966)

Oh, Adam West.  While being primarily what hurled Batman into the public consciousness, he also kind of ruined a dark, rich character until Tim Burton took charge in 1989.  Here is a moment that has spawned memes across the internet: the infamous bomb scene.  

5.  Dat Ass
Batman Forever (1997)

(Takes off glasses, facepalms).  I just...why?  I seriously have no idea what they were thinking!  There is no possible explanation for the bat-butt zoom-in.  If you try to find one, your head will cave in and you will spontaneously start bleeding everywhere.

4. "Could be worse! My nose could be gushing blood!"
Batman Returns (1992)

Danny DeVito does not get enough credit for his amazing performance as the short, fat, umbrella-loving sonofabitch known as The Penguin.  In an out-of-nowhere moment, Mr. Cobblepott, while trying to run for mayor, makes what he thinks is a joke by biting a man's nose causing it to gush blood!  

3.  Easy, Breezy, Beautiful, Monkey-fresh Bane
Batman and Robin (1998)

Bane is one of Batman's biggest, baddest enemies in the comics, notorious for being the one guy who figures out Bruce Wayne's true identity and breaks the dark knight's back!  He's a criminal mastermind, who spent his childhood raised in a prison cell and can out think, out smart, and out play Bats...except in this pile of shit movie.  Essentially dethroned to a position of Poison Ivy's mindless drone, Joel Schumacher basically took the concept of Bane, dropped trou', and took a nice Cleveland Steamer all over it.  The tipping point for me: Bane in a monkey suit.

2.  Mr. Freeze's Choir Practice?  WTF?
Batman and Robin (1997)

Mr. Freeze is possibly one of Batman's most sympathetic villains.  While he may want to wreck havoc on Gotham, he just wants to get the love of his life back, preserving her body in some kind of cold liquid.  As interesting a villain as he could have been, Mr. Freeze is a goofy, pun-spitting Arnold in an excessive chrome suit.  The tipping point of craziness for me might be this scene, where Arnold, complete with polar bear slippers, conducts his minions to sing along to one of the Burl Ives Christmas Specials.   

1.  Shark Attack!
Batman (1966)

Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb - or your inflatable pool toys.  Yes, Adam West had to really test his strength while confronting the most dangerous undersea creature known to man: the cheap rubber shark pool toy.  There's camp, then there's this.  It's because of ludicrous moments like these that we can appreciate the Nolan-verse so much more, yet the randomness of this shark is somehow joyous.  It may undermine a whole mythology and a rich character, but it's damn funny.

There you have it.  You better see The Dark Knight Rises.  I'm all primed with my IMAX midnight premiere tickets and simply cannot wait for this film that will hopefully be devoid of any bat-nipples or ice puns.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ted & Magic Mike

Ted is the directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane. It follows Mark Wahlberg, his girlfriend played by Mila Kunis, and his best friend, a rude/crude stuffed CGI teddy bear voiced by Macfarlane himself (basically the same voice he uses for Peter Griffin).  I have to say, before I actually saw the film the trailers didn't fill me with much hope.  Even though throngs of mindless movie watchers laughed in unison at the 'thunder song,' I just thought Ted looked less like the inspired first few seasons of Family Guy and more like the sophomoric later ones.  I'm shocked and pleased to say I was wrong; Ted is as funny as Family Guy used to be and has a surprising amount of heart as well.

Because this is live action and not a cartoon, I think this helps the comedy be more grounded.  Whereas in a cartoon random cutaways are much easier to get away with, in Ted, while not absent, they are far less present or noticeable, usually there to propel the story forward and not just for a quick cheap gag.  And while there are some moments that fall really flat or go too far on the offensive meter (the worst instance being one of the most racist depictions of an Asian man I've seen in the 2000's), most of the rapid fire jokes in Macfarlane's arsenal hit.

Marky Mark is spectacularly goofy in this, and his relationship with Mila Kunis is actually sweet and works well.  Ted himself also looks great; we've seen other CGI creations in recent comedies (Paul), usually implementing a "the best we could do" attitude, but Ted looks like an authentic teddy bear.  Some scenes, such as a fist-fight hinted at in the trailer between Wahlberg and Ted, are actually well choreographed and don't feel cheap (in fact the fight reminded me a little of Haywire).  Giovanni Ribisi, a villain that was not shown in any of the trailers or TV spots to my knowledge, was appropriately creepy (yet hilarious) as well.

Ted is just a profanity-laced good time at the movies; sure it falls to some of the same over-use of pop culture gags Macfarlane tends to fall prey to, but you'll be laughing too much to care and by the end, you'll grow fond of the characters even on an emotional level - who'd have thought?  In a year of disappointments, Ted comes as a pleasant surprise.

Rating: B+

I think 2012 can officially be labelled as the year of Channing Tatum.  Between Haywire, 21 Jump Street, and now Magic Mike, previous detractors of the guy (including me) are now dumbfounded at his transformation from a block-of-wood idiot in cheap romance flicks to an actual charismatic leading man. Magic Mike is loosely based on Tatum's real life experience as a male stripper, and swarms of hot and ready women on Weight Watchers are filling theater seats to get a glimpse at some man-meat.

I'm guessing those women showing up in theaters for a "ladies night" may be disappointed.  Although the subject at hand is male strippers, this is still a Steven Soderbergh movie through and through.  The story follows Adam (Alex Pettyfer, I Am Number Four), as he is introduced and somewhat guided through the ropes of male stripping by his construction co-worker Mike (Channing Tatum).  Adam learns to love the power he has while stripping, and through the movie he devolves to try and get more of it.

There was quite a bit to enjoy about Magic Mike, even with its problems.  The best performance had to be Matthew McConaughey as the sort of ringleader/manager of the strippers, Dallas.  He's a complete scene stealer, and is definitely the most layered and interesting character (the "mirror scene" in particular).  Also the actual dance numbers weren't as awkward to watch as I was anticipating.  In fact they resemble something out of So You Think You Can Dance more than straight up stripping.  Of the dancers Channing Tatum is the best by far; it's more than merely taking off his clothes, he does all sorts of complex, crazy robot moves and spinning stuff - and I never thought I'd utter these words, but this makes me want to check out his work in Step Up.  Each of the dance scenes also have a particular theme (western, jungle, etc.), which also helped to make each dance different and cinematic.  You don't have to find the men arousing to enjoy their performances (although thousands of screaming women would say it helps).

What doesn't work: Alex Pettyfer. I'm not sure what Soderbergh was thinking getting this guy, but he has the acting prowess of Kristen Stewart.  And not to mention his sister in the movie, played by Cody Horn (who's father was the president of Warner Brothers).  She plays a large role in the film, and sucks the life out of the movie and everyone around her.  There's one scene where she goes to the revue to watch her brother perform out of disbelief and starts "getting into" Channing Tatum's skills.  I put 'getting into' in quotes, because she has this same plain, dumb face on the entire time - I had no idea what she was supposed to be feeling in that moment.

Magic Mike is a pretty typical story told in a unique setting.  Reminiscent of P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights (though a far lesser picture than that), it's the story of a guy trying to make it big in an underground world.  Besides some of the acting and patches of slow-moving dialogue (usually featuring Cody Horn), I'd say it's a pretty solid Soderbergh effort.  It's less wild than the hype will have you believe, and for the guys, let it be noted that within the first ten minutes of the movie Olivia Munn is topless.

Rating: B-

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Savages is about as fun as a colonoscopy

As of late Oliver Stone has been responsible for movies that have induced the same effect on me as NyQuil.  Being that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and the George Bush Jr. biopic W. were incredibly dull droolfests, the trailers for Savages kind of blindsided me.  It finally looked like Stone's return to his ultra-violent Natural Born Killers roots, and possibly a return-to-form akin to Ridley Scott's with Prometheus.  But don't let the Eminem and Nate Dogg-infused ads fool you, this is just as lame, messy, and flat out boring as any of Stone's recent flicks.  The film follows these three young fools, played by Taylor Kitsch (aka John Carter, or one of Disney's biggest screw-ups), Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively, who is the film's narrator...good god.  These three are responsible for growing California's best weed, and employ a lavish, "free" lifestyle, where both of the males share the girl and take turns screwing her (how classy).  Devoid of personality, these rich and perfectly figured young people are the characters we are supposed to care about and side with.

There's really almost no story to this - just some uninteresting, generic conflict with the drug cartel.  The cast includes Salma Hayek as the brains behind the cartel, John Travolta as a DEA agent, and Benicio Del Toro as a scringy Mexican drug cartel member.  The only character I remotely found interesting was Del Toro's, and most of that just came from his own charisma.  Not since The Tree of Life has a movie made me want to leave so badly; besides the nice looking, colorful scenery, this sex and violence filled feature has no life behind its eyes.

Rating: D

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The (not so) Amazing Spider-Man

To me, Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man films are as close to "perfect" comic book movies as you can get. Even with its flaws, Spider-Man (2002) perfectly re-introduced a classic character to the masses, and did so with strong characters, a great cast, a strong script, some iconic moments, and lots of fun.  Now, just 10 years later, Sony has issued a reboot of the series.  With the origin of Spider-Man still pretty fresh in the public conscience, to make this venture worth making, Marc Webb and co. really needed to make this noticeably different than Raimi's universe - the fatal flaw is that he failed at doing that.  Although the direction, acting, action, etc. is solid enough, beat-for-beat it follows the same path as Raimi's Spider-Man, and I'd argue doesn't exceed in any area over its predecessor.

First what I liked about the film: as expected from the guy who brought us (500) Days of Summer, the relationship angle between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy is one of the film's stronger aspects.  In fact the movie works much better whenever we're watching Peter Parker in his "real life," but as soon as he pulls on his trademark mask get ready for some slick, generic looking video game cutscenes.  My favorite (and unfortunately underused) character was Captain George Stacy, played by Denis Leary, who gets some of the funnier lines in the film.  The Lizard is a disappointingly generic and boring villain in this film.  His story follows very closely to that of Norman Osborn in the first Spider-Man (guy absorbs super-serum, guy turns into monster, guy wrecks havoc), but when you're competing with the likes of Willem Dafoe, a guy who can make even a Power Rangers mask seem intimidating, Rhys Ifans just doesn't make the cut.

Although on a mechanical level almost everything "works" in this film, I personally can't get past how by-the-numbers it is and how much this felt like the studio had a tight grip over it.  The sad thing is that the obvious success that this will be at the box office will likely inspire studios to go this route over and over: simply make a "darker" reboot of a successful franchise (but let's be honest it's a reMAKE, not a reboot), and it's practically like printing money for yourself.  There's nearly nothing in this film I couldn't have guessed would be in it by watching the trailers and/or merely reading about it.  It's moderately entertaining, but I wish the film didn't exist all the same.

Rating: C
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