I’m on Internet TV once again!

The Escapist has once again given me a slot for a movie review on their show, this time involving “Twilight.” Now you know why I didn’t do that “on my own.” Check out the show here:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-escapist-show/481-Episode-Nine-Dead-Rising-Chop-Till-You-Drop

I come in at about 5:45, but I do reccomend you check out the whole thing – they’re covering the Wii version of “Dead Rising,” and there’s a Zero Punctuation preview for what looks like a Prince of Persia review. Fun!

UPDATE:
Oh, and hey… just thought of something: This is the first time I’ve had one of these up for something that was new and revelent… so, if anyone out there is feeling helpful, it might be fun to go and toss some links to this in the direction of your favorite movie-discussion forum, chatroom, message-board, whatever – particularly ones where “Twilight” is being discussed or is likely to be discussed. The IMDB board for the film, for example, would be a good idea. I’d be interested to see what the actual feedback on something “fresh” is.

Thanks.

The Spirit (2008)

As if the geekdom NEEDED any evidence beyond “All-Star Batman & Robin” (or the entire last decade or so of his career, really) that Frank Miller has turned perhaps irrevocably into a self-hating destroyer of his own work and all he’s ever professed to love, please keep in mind that he still calls the late, legendary Will Eisner – creator of The Spirit – a friend and mentor… yet he has turned Eisner’s signature creation, one of the most groundbreaking and important in all of the medium, into the most toxically awful comic adaptation since Joel Schumacher first opted for anatomically-correct Batsuits.


It’s not enough to call “The Spirit” a bad movie… it’s one of the THE bad movies. What we have here is a must-be-seen cultural touchstone, a moment that any film geek worth his salt will want to be able to say he remembers experiencing for the first time. It sits in a rare pantheon with the most truly awful of the awful – think “Myra Breckenridge.” Think “Zabriske Point.” Think “Showgirls” and the “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” movie with the Bee Gees. This will be a punchline for decades, and we will speak of it forever.


Eisner’s “Spirit” was a newspaper strip (so popular that for a time papers would carry it in it’s own section instead of placing it with the other comics) about a masked man who took a licking and kept on ticking – an ex-cop named Denny Colt who uses the fact that the underworld believes he’s been killed to assume a vigilante identity. Part hard-boiled noir, part romance, part slapstick, part kiddie fantasy and part gritty action drama, there’s still never been anything else exactly like it – not for nothing does the comic publishing world call it’s highest honor “The Eisner Award.” It was always going to be a problem to adapt this material into a film – Spirit is often a supporting character in his own adventures, a nigh-indestructible Rod Serling taking readers on a tour of urban fancy that was, tonally, all over the map: Spirit could be romancing a curvaceous hitwoman in one scene, and partnering with Santa Claus to save Christmas in the next. Hard-edged thugs share the same panels with glamorous pinup beauties with names like Sand Saref or Plaster of Paris.


Miller’s “solution” to this conundrum is twofold: He opts to suck the fun out by bathing the whole film in the monotone sheen thats become a boring cliche in the genre AND by turning the circumstances of Spirit’s joked-about invulnerability into a plot point; then he fills in the cracks with his standard-issue bag of tricks and the ultimate over-the-top “what the HELL are you buying that you needed to say yes to this??” turn from Samuel L. Jackson.

The sole plus side of the film, aside from being able to enjoy it’s transcendant awfulness for the sake of comedy, is that Miller retains a (visually) acute taste in women – he’s honored The Spirit’s tradition of curvaceous pinup-princess female characters by packing the cast with some of the best-looking women in the business and pouring them into a boutique’s worth of fetish-doll costuming. One can feel pity on Scarlett Johanssen, Eva Mendes, Paz Vega (so thats where she’s been…) Sara Paulson and Jamie King for having to debase themselves with Miller’s tone-deaf tuff-girl dialogue, but they’ve never looked better. Thank goodness for small, (even-numbered) favors.

Seven Pounds

If you were like me, you MARVELED at the effectiveness of Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino’s “The Pursuit of Happyness,” wondering HOW they managed to remove every shred of false emotionality, cheese, heavy-handed symbolism and sappy sentimentality from a project that was PRIMED for them. Now, we have our answer: They saved it all up and used it to make THIS stumbling mess of Oscar bait.

Here’s a movie that almost plays out like it was made on a dare: “Bet you can’t make a maudlin tearjerker about a messianic IRS agent; bonus points if you can make a jellyfish a pivotal element.” As it turns out, you CAN do this… you just shouldn’t.

The hook here is supposed to be that the trailers have you wondering what the hell the film is actually about, and that it doesn’t all “come together” until the final “shocking” ten minutes or so. Maybe that part will work for you. Honestly? I was pretty sure I’d figured out the story from the first trailers, and was surprised to later find out it was supposed to be vauge. Oh, well.

To be sporting, I won’t tell you anything about the main plot other than what WAS shown plainly in the trailer: Will Smith is a mysterious, soft-spoken man with IRS credentials and apparently great wealth who’s smarting emotionally over some yet-unrevealed personal moral failing in his recent past. He spends the film investigating and meeting various sick people in need of organ transplants, ‘testing’ their worth and situations for a yet-unrevealed reason. Whatever it is, it involves a rather unorthodox promise to help made by his friend (Barry Pepper) and seems to be complicated by his development of a romantic interest in one of his subjects: Rosario Dawson as a young woman in need of a new heart. Okay. That was the trailer. Do YOU have some inkling as to what the “big idea” might be? Ah, good. So it’s not just me.

Anyway… I don’t think it’s a bad idea for a movie, myself, but the end result is torpedoed by a treacly, predictable series of scenarios and disasterously heavy-handed symbology. The story views Smith’s character a martyr figure, fine – but does he REALLY need, in addition to all his other skills (he can, for example, repair a century-old machine he’s never heard of just by studying it VERY intently and stopping off at the Home Depot) the seemingly supernatural ability to tame misbehaving dogs, understand the unspoken thoughts of an invalid old woman and even pull miraculous gardening solutions out of thin air? Memo to Mr. Smith: Messiah complexes tend to get movie stars into trouble. See Cruise comma Tom, Gibson comma Mel.

VOTE FOR GAME OVERTHINKER (again!)

Wow.

The Screwattack.com Gaming 1337 awards have moved on to the finals, and thanks to all of YOU… I made it in. “Game OverThinker” is one of the FINAL THREE nominees for “Best Gaming Show;” alongside Mega64 and Unforgotten Realms.

WTF? Look, I’m not going to put on some bullshit humble-face and pretend like I don’t bust my ass on these things or that I don’t think I do a damn good job most of the time but… seriously? The HELL am I doing nominated alongside Mega64 and Unforgotten Realms??

Anyway, this DOES mean I’ve got to gently ask you all to once again head over to… http://screwattack.com/Vote

…and vote for GAME OVERTHINKER for “Best Gaming Show” (and whoever else you like for everything else.) Thank you all so much, what a great Christmas gift I genuinely was not expecting.

Valkyrie

Hey, I saw something early! Good for me!

As the barrage of trailers have now informed you, this is the story of one Col. Klaus von Stauffenberg, a German military officer who joined and subsequently spearheaded an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler and stage a military coup against the Nazi Elite. You are aware, one hopes, that this didn’t work.

So, here’s a challenge facing anyone trying to film this story: Everyone knows Hitler wasn’t assassinated, so even if you’ve never heard this particular story you know how it ends. There’s two ways, then, to make this work as a narrative (as opposed to a documentary). Option #1: Make a sprawling, likely lugubrious epic that sets up all the context and backstory explaining how things got to this point, who these conspirators were and why they chose this moment to act which won’t be especially riveting but will tell a fascinating historical tale. Option #2: Cut out every shred of context, larger-themes, ANYTHING that isn’t directly related to the forward-momentum of the conspiracy and hope that avoiding context will let the audience briefly forget that they already know the ending and can get wrapped up in the thrill of the chase.

“Valkyrie” goes with Option #2.

It’s a well-made mechanical thriller, it just doesn’t have any real heft to it. There’s no real depth or character to any of the players or the film they inhabit: Tom Cruise – as Stauffenberg – steps onscreen, announces that he’s decided that Hitler must be stopped, and spends the rest of the film plowing ahead toward that goal. The movie follows his lead. Who were these guys? What were their motives aside, from the general “Hitler was bad?” No time for that – it’s just straight-on through the exciting parts of what’s ultimately a pretty damn clever power-grab.

Up to a point this all works, the movie is exciting and goes along quick and agreeably… there just isn’t anything to hang onto after it ends. Change the costumes and this could be the second and third act of an Ocean’s Eleven sequel.

The Tale of Despereaux

Sidebar: I hate being sick. Hate it. Hate not having any energy. Hate not being in control of my body. Hate losing whole days (or several days) to just sleeping and waiting for everything to repair itself. I can’t believe I used to WISH for this shit just to get out of school. The FUCK was wrong with me??

Anyway…

“The Tale of Despereaux” looks like it took forever to make, so it’s probably unfair to suggest that it’s bearing more than a passing resemblance to something a cynical team of executives would concoct if told to create “Ratatouille meets Harry Potter” is anything other than coincidence. Especially since, in spite of how it eventually shakes out (SPOILER ALERT: less than wonderful) there’s a tremendous amount to be admired in it. Here’s a non-Pixar animated film that takes itself seriously, doesn’t talk down at all to it’s young audience, nails a kind of lyrical fairy-story melancholy seldom attempted outside of Hayao Miyazaki and – best of all – doesn’t contain a SINGLE obnoxious pop-culture reference. It’s just too bad it’s so structurally unsound.

It’s one thing for a family film to have a deep, layered plot… it’s quite another for it to have a plot so convoluted and confounding that it would be frustrating to follow in an “adult” film. There are about five major characters at the center of five individual story-arcs with their own origins, motives and goals; and aside from key plot-points they don’t really connect to one another all that much. There’s enough material here for an entire season of a half-hour TV show, and it’s all haphazardly crammed into a single movie.

Briefly: There’s a kingdom called Dor, where everyone loves soup. During a big soup festival, a friendly rat named Roscuro accidentally falls into the Queen’s bowl, inducing a fatal heart. This throws the King into depression, leading him to banish all rats to the dungeon – where even gentle Roscuro is forced to join a barbaric feudal society of vermin – and ban all soup – which leaves the Royal Soup Chef despondent and estranged from his assistant, a ghost (unexplained) made of vegetables. Meanwhile, a big-eared mouse named Despereaux keeps getting in trouble because he wants to be brave and knight-like while mice are supposed to be timid and fearful. He befriends the castle’s Princess, a no-no which gets him banished to the dungeon in time to ALSO befriend Roscuro and hatch a joint plan of attonement. Also involved are an evil Rat King (who’s name I’m not sure was ever said aloud) who placates the rat horde with gladiator games and a miserably-backstoried servant girl with a creeping case of Princess Envy. If you’re noticing that Despereaux seems to comprise the less-interesting part of his own tale, you’re halfway there.

The movie has all the hallmarks of a lengthy literary adaptation being crammed into a “highlight reel” of a feature film, and a quick Google informs me that it’s indeed based on a Newbury Award winning book… which, puzzlingly, seems to be summarized as a lot LESS convoluted than the movie. Either way, there’s just not enough room for anything to BREATHE.

It all seems to be working fine up to a point, with a nice deliberate pace that takes time introducing Roscuro (who’s really more of the movie, to be honest) and the rest of the supporting cast and their stories before even getting to Despereaux (who never really gets away from being Reepicheep without the entertaining egomania.) But the cracks start to show in the second act. Without spoiling, the story requires two of the good-guys to take an INCREDIBLY dark, tragic character turn that the film doesn’t leave enough room to fully explore – instead of a natural progression of bad decision to realization to redemption, it seems more like two major characters go momentarily insane and then get better right away for the finale.

And I’ve STILL got no idea what was up with the vegetable-man!

It’s a great looking movie and an admirable try… but it falls apart.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

SPOILER WARNING

Somewhere inside this bloated, unpleasant movie is a genuinely interesting science fiction tale struggling to get free – it fails. To watch it is to watch potential die under pressure from mandate: A nifty-sounding idea (an extraterrestrial Noah’s Ark retelling in which humanity tries to talk an alien god-figure out of his doom-flood decision) dies painfully from contorting itself into a LOUSY idea (an ID4-ized rehash of the same-named 1950s scifi classic.)

In case it’s been awhile (or never) on your end, the original film details the arrival of alien ambassador Klaatu and his robot bodyguard Gort, come to inform humanity that we’ve got another thing coming if we think the rest of the galaxy will ALLOW us to develop space travel before we get our pesky Cold Warrin’ ways under control.

This time around, environmental destruction has, of course, supplanted the Cold War and Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) isn’t at all in a diplomatic mood. As it turns out, The Aliens have decided that our planet-destroying ways pose too much danger to all the OTHER species on Earth, so we’re too be wiped out while he spares samples of the others. This is where the new Gort comes in – he starts out looking like the original, then winds up as something completely different.

Oddly enough, it’s the callbacks to the original film that drag it down – the “new” elements are almost uniformly interesting and provocative. The new Gort looks cool, but the effects used to realize him are awful and it makes no sense for him to spend two acts of his existance looking like a forty-foot version of the original. The film takes a long detour wherein an elderly scientist (John Cleese) tells Klaatu’s human pals stuff we’ve already figured out just so they can do the “blackboard bit” from the first one.

The director is Scott Derrickson, who made the similarly-squandered “Exorcism of Emily Rose” a few years back. Interestingly, this now means he’s been responsible for making preachy, poorly-made genre films for both the Right AND the Left – way to branch out.

Skip this.

Milk

I have what I’d like to call a Death Row outlook on movies for the most part, in that I’m generally interested in the execution above all else. In other words, I’m not of the opinion that the subject matter should either make a film innately “better” or excuse flaws – a well made, exciting movie based on a video game is in my mind superior to a poorly made, boring movie about (just for example) the Holocaust.

“Milk” is the sort of film that provides the exception to my rules, or at least makes me want to make one. On the one hand, it’s a wholly conventional, by-the-numbers recent-history biopic straight out of the playbook. You know the drill: cut-in newsreel footage, era-appropriate music, everything timed out EXACTLY as you expect. Never heard of Harvey Milk? No problem – just imagine any recent bio movie if it had been about a gay political activist in 1970s San Fransisco and there you go.

On the other hand… I think that’s kind of the point. Director Gus Van Sant etc. all seem to understand that the particular Civil Rights struggle in question here is still very much a struggle, and the principal aim of the film appears to be making a “gay rights movie” that can be understood, accepted and embraced by a “straight” mainstream audience. Call it subversion-by-conventionality, but it’s definately there.

The whole thing is anchored by a simply fantastic lead performance by Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, an SF camera store owner who stumbled into activism on the way out of the closet and found he had a knack for it – transforming the city’s Castro Street “gay ghetto” into a political powerbase and remaking himself into the firebrand of the then-burgeoning Gay Rights movement. I know people don’t “like” Penn… some for better reasons than others, but you can’t say he doesn’t have the talent to make you forget for a few hours. This is his best work in years – though I’d be remiss not to point out that big chunks of the film are stolen right out from under him by Emile Hirsch as a kid who goes from jaded young hustler to super-saavy political operator as one of Milk’s protege’s.

It’s Penn’s show, but the film does do an overall solid job of setting the tone and immediacy of Milk’s too-short moment and, yes, framing the events in a way that strips away the sensation and “other-ness” to allow a wider audience to hear it’s message. And it’s not shy about playing with some of the less clear-cut events in question, such as the unlikely ally by-then-Assemblyman Milk has in then-Governor Ronald Reagan during Milk’s career-defining battle against Proposition 6 (a bill to allow the for-that-reason firing of gay schoolteachers.)

Where it stumbles a bit is with Josh Brolin’s character of Dan White, a fellow Assemblyman who plays a key but tragic role in Milk’s final days. The film wants White to be an important character throughout the story, but never really finds a through-line despite Brolin’s winning performance. At the end of the day, he’s in too much of the film to have his ultimate motives/issues left so ambiguous.

This is a good one.