REVIEW: A Mighty Heart

“Sobering” is so far the best term to describe “A Mighty Heart.” Too bad reactions to it run anything but, or so it seems thus far. The film takes an event, the murder by terrorists of Daniel Pearl, that seems BUILT to engender nothing but extreme reactions in any number of directions and attempts to look at it through the extremity-filtering lens of a tragic docudrama. It’s a refreshing stylistic choice, even as I’m personally sick to death of docu-drama-shaky-cam business, as well as a storytelling one – a nice surprise given how annoyingly politically one-sided director Michael Winterbottom’s earlier “Road to Guantanamo” was.

Give Winterbottom credit for aiming to avoid spectacle and hyperbole, but he ought’ve known better: The folks who WANT there to be spectacle and hyperbole about this will generate it on their own, usually in absence of actually seeing the movie, regardless of whether or not the film itself gives them a reason to. It comes down to the sad state of the times: For one “side” of the extreme, a film resembling ANYTHING short of a billowing Old Glory and a bombastic intonation that Pearl’s ghastly fate should motivate us to “stick it out” in Iraq will immediately be called “a cop-out” at best and “capitulation to terrorism” at worst… while for the other “side” ANYTHING short of a flame-framed still of George W. Bush and a whispy coda calling Pearl’s murder “fallout of AmeriKKKan war mongering!!!” won’t do at all. Both sides are an embarassment to the very word “debate.”

There’s probably nothing any review, certainly not mine, can do to prevent the innevitability of this quietly worthy film being swallowed up amid all this nonsense, only to remerge on DVD and then again come the winter and Angelina Jolie’s now-innevitable Academy Award nomination. But I’ll say anyway, for the record, that “A Mighty Heart” is a fine film that deftly fuses character-centric tragedy with “Dragnet”-style bullet-point police procedural drama as it dually tracks the strained emotional and physical health of Pearl’s widow Marianne (Jolie) and the dizzyingly complex web of politics and street-level intrigue being navigated by the American and Pakistani law enforcers assigned to handle the case.

What works best, aside from across-the-board excellent acting, is that the film actually LIVES UP to it’s easier-said-than-done commitment to “fairness:” The only thing resembling a ‘hard’ political stance it takes can be summed up as “Islamofascist terrorism is evil,” and if you can disagree with THAT I’ve got no confidence that we can have any meaningful dialogue. The terrorists et al, when we meet them, are not mustache-twirling caricatures but frighteningly ordinary – they state they’re anti-American, anti-Semetic positions matter of factly and the film just lets it hang in the air, like noxious smoke, confident that the audience does not need to be TOLD that these are the evil words of evil men. Dicey details like the extreme-likelihood of corruption in the Pakistani political system, “inside” agitators and the casual way the self-described “Jihadis” mingle with the rest of the cast/population arrive just-the-facts style with no hand-of-god judgement from the director. When a TV journalist comments on the off-putting nature of Marianne’s (public) Zen-stoicism about Daniel’s kidnapping, the criticism goes essentially unchallenged.

Amazingly, (especially after “Road,”) Winterbottom even lets the issue of “proportionate response” when fighting Jihadis arrive onscreen matter-of-fact and sans-outright critique: The story assigns the role of “resident ass-kicker” to a character identified only as “The Captain,” (Ifran Khan from “The Namesake”) a Pakistani police official tasked with running down and interrogating the increasingly dense network of leads. He’s a calm, cool and to-the-point hardcase in the vein of Jack Webb. Does he use some questionable methods to nail his targets? Yup. Is he willing to break out the guns and kick down the doors? You betcha. Does he torture for information? Well… it’s hard to say. We see an interrogation that sure LOOKS like it could be torture, but The Captain’s role is simply to calmly look his restained subject in the eye and gently/coldly ask the same question until he cracks. Compare this to the loud-whisper/alligator-clips tomfoolery of “24” and ask yourself which one more likely resembles actual policework. The point is, all of this arrives without judgement. It simply lands onscreen and asks to be regarded on those merits, nothing more.

And yes, what you’ve heard is true: Jolie’s “Oscar clip” moment in the 3rd act is fearsome piece of physical acting. It’s a set of actions you’ve seen in a billion movies, (you’ll see what I mean) but never done better than here. In fact, this could be the scene that retires “it” from use for a good long time.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

It’s about effing time…

Morgan Freeman looks like Nelson Mandela. Morgan Freeman sounds like Nelson Mandela. Morgan Freeman specializes in playing quietly-dignified men of gently-divine inspiration… like Nelson Mandela. Back when I was a Blockbuster clerk, I remember on two seperate occasions meeting two entirely-unrelated folks who were CONVINCED that Morgan Freeman’s best role was having played Nelson Mandela… though he never had. “Everybody knows” Morgan Freeman ought to play Nelson Mandela.

So, in a new movie, Morgan Freeman will play Nelson Mandela.
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117967399.html?categoryid=13&cs=1

So, that happened.

REVIEW: D.O.A: Dead or Alive (2006)

So, “Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer” absolutely, positively sucks. A disasterpiece. A film who’s badness will be cemented as scripture (in html format, of course) in the Book of Geek by the end of the weekend. You should not waste you’re money on it. Not on opening weekend, in any case, and maybe not until DVD or cable, honestly.

If you take my advice (and you really, really should – this movie might actually be bad enough to shorten the lifespan of certain viewers) however, that leaves you with a problem: What DO you see this weekend? In wide release, the only other mass-advertised alternative looks to be “Nancy Drew,” which I’m hearing “okay” things about. And some of you are lucky enough to have “Eagle Vs. Shark,” “Fido” or “Black Sheep” playing near you. But a surprising number of us, though it’s been a BIT of a wait, have the alternative of this:

http://www.ifilm.com/efp

Yes, “D.O.A.” finally comes to the U.S. I saw it (as did a lot of us) back when the full version turned up on Google Video, but held back a review in case it actually opened theatrically. Now that it has, I can tell you that it’s a massively-watchable goof-off of a B-movie, a bouncy hybrid of Jackie Chan and Russ Meyer silliness, and absolutely worth seeing. It’s a good time, plain and simple.

The premise, borrowed (loosely) from the video game series, is the old saw of a mixed martial-arts fighting competition held on an island resort. The gimmick this time around is that the vacationing fighters are fitted with GPS wristbands that locate one-another and assign fights at the (seemingly) random discretion of the contest’s benefactor (Eric Roberts! No, really!!!) and thus can break out “anywhere at any time.” Most of the game’s (then) most-recent roster of characters turn up, though the focus is squarely on the five female fighters – the games, y’see, are famous for the startling attractiveness of it’s women. Naturally, everyone arrives with a backstory and an agenda (my favorite: The American father/daughter pro wrestlers who’ve come to prove the legitimacy of their “fake sport” skills in real combat) and Eric Robert’s goofy bad guy has a sinister “master plan.” Much elaborate wire-fu, slapstick beatdowns, surprise alliances and gratuitious fan service in the form of rain-fights, bikinis and volleyball interludes ensue.

There’s no universe in which “D.O.A.” is a masterpiece, but it’s FUN. A roster of colorful, comic-book style crazy characters beating the snot out of eachother under the direction of martial-arts legend Corey Yuen, five of them being outrageously gorgeous women dolled up like anime fetish dolls. The girls are tons of fun, with Jamie Pressley and Devon Aoki ending up the most endearing thanks to their sharp sense of humor as to what sort of movie they’re in and how they ought to be behaving (Pressley could easily get by as a comic actress even if she didn’t look like, well, like Jamie Pressley.) Every one of them is better-looking, and a better actress, than … oh, let’s say, Jessica Alba.

This is a big, gonzo B-movie, but in it’s full-on embrace of it’s own unpretentious wackiness it delivers full-on what so many of it’s bigger-budget Summer Movie cousins lack: It’s an absolute blast to watch. The gals are sexy as hell, the locales are 60s James Bond lovely, the bad guys are nutty and the fights are plentiful and imaginative. The flight-of-fancy action silliness of the “Transporter” flicks smashes together with the retro-campy sex appeal of the first “Charlie’s Angels” like chocolate and peanut-butter. It’s PURE exploitation, but it works. It delivers. You’ll see a dozen “better” movies this summer, but you may not see many that are this FUN.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

REVIEW: Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer

WARNING: This review contains plot spoilers about an infuriatingly shitty movie.

SECONDARY WARNING: Yes, I said shitty. This is a negative review. However, I saw it at a public midnight showing and have the ticket stub to prove it, so sorry 20th Century Fox – you’re PROBABLY not gonna be able to track me down and get me fired from my job, which is apparently what you do to people who give you’re shitty movies the shitty reviews they deserve. Lemme add my voice to Mr. McWeeney’s… http://www.aintitcool.com/?q=node/32968 …and agree wholeheartedly that you can go fuck yourselves.

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My “joke” poster from 2 months ago.
I’ve seldom been so sad to have been right.

Galactus is a cloud.

There, that’s out of the way. Hey, if you’re a fan, that’s a BIG reason you’re reading an early blog review, no? We were all hoping, we all read the rumors, we all continued hoping. They couldn’t REALLY do it, could they? Granted, we’d already borne witness to director Tim Story and company making a shambling mockery of Doctor Doom, one of comics’ greatest antagonists, in the last movie, but even they wouldn’t do this. Even men guilty of “Taxi” could not be filled with such a black-hole in place of a soul it would take to put to film one of the all-time defining story arcs from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby age and with it one of the most landmark-important “big idea” concept-characters EVER… and then completely drain it of all that made it great.

Galactus is a CLOUD.

But that’s exactly what they’ve done. “Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer” takes one of the most iconic elements – not only of the Fantastic Four, but of the entire Marvel Comics canon – and reduces it to the dullest, most-dissapointing, most generic, most anti-climactic form it could possibly take. Congratulations, Mr. Story and friends: You have given Movie Geeks a reference-of-loathing worthy of replacing “nipples on the batsuit.” Be proud.

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NOTHING remotely resembling this
appears in this film. Because life sucks.
…And, on top of that, the rest of the movie sucks, too.

Galactus is a CLOUD.

Oh, it’s better than the first one. Not by much, but enough that it can be safely called only the second worst of the Marvel movie output. All the same things that didn’t work the first time still don’t work here: Iaon Gruffud still looks goofy with his dyed-gray temples, and the FX used to create his Mr. Fantastic stretching powers are still distractingly shoddy-looking. Jessica Alba still can’t act, still doesn’t have much of a character to TRY acting in, and the cheesy hair and eye augmentations employed to turn the half-Latina “actress” into an Aryan housefrau are awful looking. The Thing still looks more like he’s made out of Nerf instead of stone. Chris Evan’s too-cool-for-school schtick as Johnny “Human Torch” Storm still grates and gets too much screentime. Julian McMahon is still a chronic dissapointment as the mincing, not-the-least-bit-intimidating Doctor Doom. Tim Story still can’t seem to deliver a single scene, action or otherwise, that doesn’t look like a sample page from “Generic Action Movies 101.” The script is still a plodding, episodic jumble.

Galactus is a CLOUD.

Our story, this time around: The oft-delayed wedding of Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards and Sue “Invisible Woman” Storm is interupted by an alien invasion. The invader in question is Silver Surfer (name kinda says it all, and the characters all roll their eyes and groan when it first comes up so you know – as if there were any doubt at this point – exactly what the filmmakers think of the material) a being of tremendous energy who’s visits to a planet invariably means it will be destroyed and consumed within eight days by Galactus, a giant sentient storm could from space. The Four are tasked to help stop the threat by a standard-issue big-meanie Army General (Andre “what he HELL am I doing in this?” Braugher) who’s also accepted personal help from a surprising source: Doctor Doom.

Galactus is a CLOUD

Oh, yeah… um, Doctor Doom is back. Turned into a block of melted steel at the end of the first film, (don’t remember? lucky you) for some reason he was crated up and shipped back to his decrepit-looking ancestral manor in Latveria, where a casual fly-by Silver Surfer for some reason wakes him up. Somehow, despite having been a block of melted steel for a year, he has a henchman hanging around to help him get up on his feet. Where’d he get the henchman? Why does Surfer awaken him? Why send the melted-steel remains of a dangerous criminal back to said criminal’s abandoned house? Who knows, the movie doesn’t have time to explain. What it DOES have time to do is engineer a scenario by which getting zapped by Surfer turns Doctor Doom back into a normal-looking human. That’s right, fans: you’re hope of a more “traditional” Doom this time around were all for naught: It’s just Julian McMahon hamming it up in a black suit again, only donning his “Doom Armor” look for the final action scene. Hey, why should they start getting it right now?

GALACTUS IS A CLOUD.

Some other things it has time for: A second act dominated by the sub-sitcom antics of the Four hanging around the house. An irritatingly sexist subplot about Sue being depressed over how superheroing is interfering with her wedding planning (seriously, what the hell? In the next movie will they have her cheesed off at The Mole Man for causing her to burn a meatloaf? Giving the Inhumans a peice of her mind for trampling her daffodils?) A nauseating product-placement joke for “Dodge.” A pathetic attempt at political subtext where the big-meanie Army Guys are slobbering at the chance to put Silver Surfer through some Abu-Ghraib-style interrogation (ooooh, edgy! Sure you guys don’t wanna throw some Paris Hilton jokes in there too, since you’re so clever and trendy?) And Tim Story’s unquestionable peice-de-resistance of bastardization: Mr. Fantastic tearin’ up the floor in a rubber-limbed dance sequence. Jazz Club Scene from “Spider-Man 3…” you are forgiven. You are sooooooooo friggin’ forgiven.

GALACTUS IS A CLOUD!

Oh, and the title character? He’s a wooden bore. It’s a nifty-enough effect, and the image of a silver humanoid alien flying around on a surfboard retains the pop-art coolness that Jack Kirby imbued it with initially, but as a character? He’s a wash, right down to the one-note Lawrence Fishburne voicover. And they want to build a whole MOVIE off of him?

GALACTUS IS A FUCKING CLOUD!

This could easily end up being the worst film of the entire summer, a dissapointment even when compared to the original and the lowered expectations it invites. It looks dull, plays safe, and is afraid to offer anything remotely cool or unique. If there’s a mistake that can be made, it makes it: It spends an entire movie building up the arrival of a “big bad” that turns out to be a giant dust cloud. Given a bad guy who can either be A.) an armored fiend in a flowing cloak or B.) a douchebag in a suit, it goes with B for 90% of the film. It hands most of the screentime to bad “comedy” skits. It hands two HUGE dramatic scenes entirely to Jessica Alba, who I doubt could believably emote if you executed a loved one in front of her and said “try to look like some form of unhappy.”

THEY MADE GALACTUS INTO A FUCKING CLOUD!

Do not go see this movie. And if you DO go see this movie, try to buy a ticket for something else so they don’t get the boxoffice credit. “Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer” is a crushing, loathsome dissapointment on every concievable level.

Have I mentioned… THEY MADE GALACTUS INTO A FUCKING CLOUD!!??
FINAL RATING: 3/10

Holy. Mother. Of. GOD.

Evidence recently brought to my attention by the good folks at Chud.com indicates that South Korea may be attempting to created – or may have already CREATED – the best movie ever made. It’s allegedly called “D-War,” an apparent shorthand for “Dragon Wars.” Evidence in support of it being, in fact, the best movie ever made, is indicated by the fact that it is advertising itself via the best POSTER ever made:


Here is a trailer for the potential best movie ever made, featuring what I’m told is unfinished (but still pretty impressive-looking) CGI… of MASSIVE FUCKING FUEDAL-ERA BATTLES BETWEEN ARMIES OF KNIGHTS RIDING ON BIG, VARIED DINOSAUR LIKE FUCKING DRAGONS AND A HUGE FUCKING COBRA-DRAGON-SAURUS MONSTER COILING UP A FUCKING SKYSCRAPPER!!!!!!

Ahem. Um… here’s another one, with what I’m told (and looks to be) “fresher” CGI:

As of right now, my new reason to live is to see this movie.

Teen karate student fights off burglar with samurai sword

Hat-tip to Kotaku.
http://www.local10.com/news/13466229/detail.html

The important parts:

Last Friday afternoon, Damian Fernandez and his 15-year-old sister, Deanne Fernandez, were home alone at their northwest Miami-Dade County home while their parents were at work when they heard knocking on the front door. Moments later, two men were prying the front door unlocked, prompting Deanne to hide in her closet.

As her brother slept in the next room, the burglars ransacked their parents’ room, taking some jewelry before moving on to what they were really after — a PlayStation 3.

“Once I saw him take off running back, I jumped off my (bunk) bed and I grabbed my sword … and I just waited for him,” he said. Damian said he lunged at him with his samurai sword, striking him in the chest.

“He freaked out,” Damian said.

The burglar ran out of the house with Damian chasing him down the road. When police arrived, a K-9 officer located the burglar hiding behind a neighbor’s palm tree. The second burglar got away.”

I have a profound desire for the ability to email this story to myself fourteen years ago so that 12 Year-Old Bob would FINALLY have an airtight argument for mom as to why he should absolutely be allowed to own functional feudal Japanese weaponry.

What I love is that it’s not like a samurai sword is some commonly-owned tool for brown-belt karate students – he just happened to own a samurai sword. This kid is my effing hero for the next 24 hours, at least.

REVIEW: Hostel: Part II

SPOILER WARNING

It’d be interesting to find out what really scares Eli Roth.

I say that because, as most horror filmmakers are out to scare their audience and tend to start from a place that scares them, Roth seems to be an anomally: The first horror-specialist in a long time who’s (thus far) openly focused on the most literal interpretation of the job: His films are designed to horrify, not scare. Being scary is all about the unexpected, sudden shock/surprise, and so far Roth is all about the slow, meticulous buildup to a nightmarish event he’s already shown us coming.

This isn’t a criticism, just an observation: Roth is a gorehound, and the “Hostel” movies are FOR gorehounds. He’s expertly structured them to provide just-at-the-right-moment mixes of guiltily-fascinating “I can’t BELIEVE they just DID THAT!!!” brutality inflicted ON the victims and cathartic “Yyyyyeah! Get that bastard!!!” revenge brutality inflicted BY the victims; all of it imagined with the kind of perverse creativity that the Fangoria crowd can’t get enough of.

The first “Hostel” introduced us to “Elite Hunting,” a shadowy organization that kidnapped disposable tourists in Slovakia from a Hostel “front” and locked them into cells in some abandoned Eastern Bloc factory, where wealthy clients paid big bucks for the chance to mutilate, torture and kill them in any manner they saw fit. #2 offers more of the same, but with a more immediately-compelling set of victims-to-be and a broader look at how “Elite Hunting” operates.

Right off the bat: What’s going to make or break the endurance-factor for a lot of veiwers this time around is the new lineup of leads. The original film was willing to let it’s audience off the “hook,” to an extent, in the vicarious enjoyment department by making the bodies-to-be a trio of oversexed American frat boys – i.e., in the movie-verse, guys who’re “kinda asking for it” just by existing. This time around, though, he’s not going to let you off so clean: The “fresh meat” are three traveling female art students.

How far does he plan on taking the “screw with you” factor here? One of the three is played by Heather Matarazzo, best remembered as “Weinerdog” from “Welcome to The Dollhouse,” and lets face it… you’d have to be a pretty depraved son of a bitch to WANT to see something eye-poppingly ghastly happen to Heather Matarazzo. Er… for the record? Eli Roth: One depraved son of a bitch, it turns out… Ahem. The other two more-prominent leads are a sensible rich-girl (Jordan Ladd) and Bijou Philips as a party-girl who has chosen to ignore every single “how not to die in a horror movie” rule.

As with the first film, Roth is out to turn genre cliches against themselves: In an Eli Roth movie, being free of movie-sin is the OPPOSITE of a get-out-alive-free pass. In fact, he takes a visible pleasure in the “surprise” of putting the most sympathetic characters through the most shiver-inducing slashings.

The ick-factor is furthered by following a seperate, paralell storyline: The day-before adventures of a pair of white collar American “power tie” guys on their way to an Elite Hunting holiday. One is hoping to gain an aura of board-room power from the act of murder, while the other is mainly blowing off steam about his domineering wife. The cast MIGHT be too on the nose here, as both of them look like the picture-perfect image of preening upscale-suburban douchebaggery – or, in shorthand, they’re both dead ringers for Mitt Romney.

The bottom line is, you already know whether or not you’re going to see this, and if you ARE then you probably already know the point is to go in and be repulsed-yet-transfixed by the horrors being done to the good guys, with the payoff being that eventually at least ONE of the good guys will “strike back” with even GREATER horror which you can then enjoy without shame. We KNOW Roth is going to deliver on this, so whether or not he does isn’t the question. Of course he does.

The important question is, aside from visceral thrill of the thing, how is it otherwise? Short version: Pretty damn good. Roth knows his way around formula, which means he also knows exactly where a curveball as to who’s capable of what and why will be best suited. He knows what his audience wants to see, and thus what they aren’t expecting to see (the two “big” kill scenes of the film will be talked about by genres fans for YEARS, including one which openly breaks one of film’s oldest and silliest taboos.) And, when necessary, he knows that sometimes a classic never goes out of style: An early interlude involving a (seemingly) rare female Elite Hunter who seems to be emulating a certain Euro-horror staple character should put a (guilty) grin on the face of more than a few genre afficionados… until, of course, they realize what it means they’re about to be shown.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

The new header

Do you like the new header? I like the new header. And it’s my Blog, so it stays. Mostly, it’s there because I just figured out how to put a big-ass picture there.

For the record, counterclockwise: The One Ring, Old Glory, James Cagney, Mario, Robocop, Crow T. Robot, Devon Aoki, Spider-Man, Kate Winslet and Godzilla.

Jodie Foster IS: "THE PUNISHER!!!!"

So much of Jodie Foster’s acting career has been defined by the concept of “strong women” characters – not “strong” in the character sense but in the literal: She specializes in “you ain’t gonna push me around just cuz I’m female AND teeny-tiny!” roles, and it’s mostly paid off for her… well, okay, “Contact,” “Anna & The King” and “Flightplan” all really, really, really, REALLY sucked… but she’s not that bad in most of them.

Unfortunately for her, no novelty (even those backed up by actual talent) lasts forever. In a movie-world where ‘tuff-chicks’ are now a Hollywood staple and every other week is bringing us a new Lara Croft, Elektra, G.I. Jane, Ultra-Violet, Storm, Trinity, Domino, etc; a movie-world where the women of “Kill Bill,” “Crouching Tiger” or “Dead or Alive” are vaulting through the air killing armies armed men with a single sword… well, these days simply donning an asexual pantsuit, minimal makeup, a “business-bob” haircut and delivering all your lines in a clipped “loud-whisper” just doesn’t seem like as much of a revolutionary act as it used to.

I’d posit this situation has more than a little something to do with how little we see of Foster these days, and almost everything to do with some of the baffling “action grrrrl” parts we HAVE seen her in: Just a little over a year ago, she was making a fool of herself in the Die Hard knockoff, “Flightplan,” and now we have the eye-poppingly cheesey trailer for the awful-looking “The Brave One,” which finds Foster in – I shit you not – an unofficial remake of “Death Wish” in the Charles Bronson role of an ordinary person turned into a gun-toting, mugger-slaying vigilante who ends the trailer by pointing a gun right at the camera, spitting out a catchphrase and firing into a white-screen fadeout. No, seriously, that’s what happens. Take a look:

“Yeah… I WANT MY DOG BACK!!!!” BLAM! You gotta be freakin’ kidding me. Lookout, criminal scum! Nell’s comin’ to kick your ass!