Saturday, May 30, 2009

Frost/Nixon [2008] - Quick thoughts

Frost/Nixon was interesting – but what I found more interesting was that the studio included the actual footage of the real interview on the DVD – and how much Ron Howard decided to “drama” it up. The movie leads you to believe that Richard Nixon was very animate about his statement “if the President does it – that means it’s not illegal” – but when you watch the real thing he just says it. It’s a grand statement – there’s no denying that – but not as tense and huge as Howard would have you believe.

You throw that up on the fact that Frank Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon – was more like an impersonation than an actual performance. He reminded me more of the Futurama version of Richard Nixon – than the one that they show in the interviews. Do you think we wouldn’t know him as Nixon unless he did the bulldog growl voice? I was expecting him to mention how much he loves Charleston Chews!

I’m actually left a little flabbergasted why this film was considered THAT much better than a few other films last year. Not to say I didn’t like it – it’s just so “Hollywooded” up that I feel a bit jipped – I’m glad it’s a dramatization rather than a reenactment.

I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Zombie Strippers [2008]

Well, what can one say about the film Zombie Strippers? By the title – you expect two things – and the question you should ask yourself – does this movie deliver on its promises? Well, you can rest assured – there are both zombies and strippers in this film (I know! I was worried too). The question then becomes how did they do at delivering on their promises?

In the not too distant future – George W. Bush is on his 4th term as President of the United States – having created new wars all over the planet from France to Canada to declaring war on Alaska. The government is running out of soldiers to send into battle – so they decide to start using the dead – who are less likely to retreat and question authority. Well, wouldn’t you know it the lab that creates the undead soldiers – is overrun! (I know! I didn’t see that coming either!)

A troop of ‘super’ soldiers are brought in to stop the “zombies”… I know they are trying to have some fun with this film – and it’s not meant to be a serious flick – but spitting in the face of the zombie movie code and calling them zombies over and over is actually kind of gut wrenching. They could’ve scored a free point with me (and the nerds who’d rent this film) – by just calling them undead or creatures – or something silly.

Anyway, the super soldiers – who have the guy who loves knives – the girl with the big knockers – and the new guy – as well as several other super soldier types. They take care of the problem – with little help from the scientists provided weapon (ooh plot twist!). The new guy soldier is bitten and runs away into a secret underground strip club (which was outlawed by W.) – and attacks the main attraction dancer – played by Jenna Jameson.

When she’s reanimated – Jenna has super stripper powers! (I know! It’s freakin’ amazing!) The men go crazy for her (like they weren’t already) – and all the girls become jealous of her super stripper powers – and decide becoming zombies isn’t such a bad gig. The only problem becomes – the girls have to feed – and they decide to feed on a “lucky” guy from the audience after each dance – creating more zombies that the club owner has to hide.

So, the movie then becomes about conformity – and since pretty much all the girls are porn-star types the film also goofs on trends in the porn industry. The club owner refuses to use the girls who decided to remain alive – because they aren’t pulling in the same money - but in the long run the ultimate winners are the ones who didn’t go for the trend.

The acting is soft-core porn quality – not that you should be surprised by that. They try to use the acting as an advantage – kind of like an inside joke – but it doesn’t work too well as a joke. How porn stars can act like they love sex all the time – but not act like a normal person is beyond me. Plus, porn acting only really works in porn because you’re not there for the acting – you are watching it for what comes after the “acting”. So I felt if a little more effort would’ve added to my enjoyment. The effects were amateurish – obvious D-grade computer effects (or should I say Z-grade? Ha!) – which I also feel like they tried to use as a bit of an inside joke – to mixed success.

My beef with this film is that it’s about 2 things – zombies and strippers – and I can find zombie films anywhere – so I want more strippers! Correction – I want more stripping by the strippers! Sure there are some routines – but not every stripper gets her time on stage – and that’s kind of the point of the film isn’t it? To boil it down – the film just isn’t sleazy enough! It’d be far better if they pushed that boundary – and left out a few of the sub-plots. (I know! I was surprised there were sub-plots too!)

The way I see a film like this – is you’re going to rent it because you want to see both zombies and strippers – so you might as well do both to the extreme. You line up your porn stars – so the stripping part should be easy to do – and zombies should be pretty easy to pull off as well – so why not do both to the extreme? And they do the zombie part some justice – so if they just worked on the sleaze part it’d be a camp classic in my book.

As it is I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Devil’s Plaything [1973]

I was interested in checking out any Joe Sarno film ever since the LJ cult film community featured a few recently. I’m not sure if I’ve seen one of his films before but the name definetly rings a bell with me – and the bell it rings is ‘avoid’ – I’m not exactly sure why – but The Devil’s Plaything may be a good example.

Inexplicably people just show up at a castle on the hillside – and have to stay there. They mention that there’s an inheritance – but the fact that there’s 3 different women and they all can’t inherit the same castle especially considering they don’t act like they know each other – or infer that they are related in any way. Then – again with little explanation – a couple shows up claiming their car was wrecked in the mountain side and need a place to stay for the night. The only problem with this is – they stay for a week.

Each night (and they come frequently) there is bongo playing – and gyrating naked women in the basement. This keeps some of the women up at night – but no one bothers to mention it to their hostess. The hostess (played wonderfully by the often smirking Nadia Henkowa, picutred on the far right) claims the castle used to belong to a female vampire – who was burned at the stake many years ago – and is prophesized to be resurrected into a new body. The bongos are obviously part of the ritual to resurrect their master – and after strange behavior by several of the guests – and constant nights of bongos – it’s very odd no one is creeped out enough to say something – or to leave all together.

There are story problems with this movie – so much that I lost interest and paused it every 15 minutes to check my e-mail or to mop the floor. Watching cult films – I should be more prepared for rambling stories that seem not to go anywhere – but every 5 minutes it’s a new night – and every night there’s the same gyrating naked women in the basement with the same bongo beat – it got to be too much for my state of mind.

The fact that the couple shows up and the woman is actually a self-expressed occult expert – is bothersome as you know the vampire cult SHOULD do something about her immediately – but they take their time. So, you know that there’s going to be conflict – and eventually it will come down to the headmistress/the vampire master vs. the occult expert and her brother/boyfriend – who’s the only male character who seems to have more than a bit part.

The headmistress and the occult expert – had a delightful scene together very early on – where there was so much smirking at each other that I had to laugh out loud. Another laugh out loud scene involved two women characters who were standing next to each other – and one of them (pictured wearing a tie above) started tripping up over her lines – and then looked next to the camera and started reading those lines in the most obvious way. Right up there with the smirking scene – was a scene where black triangles that were supposed to be bats were attacking the occult expert. The “bats” made a noise like they were giving her little kisses. It was bizarre to be sure – and the fact that in order to get rid of the “bats” she tore off her own clothes – made the kissing noises even more bizarre.

Over all – it was a poorly executed film – and for the most part kind of boring (or as boring as gyrating naked women can be). I shy away from the whole ‘so bad it’s good’ comment – simply because it’s a movie it either provides entertainment or it doesn’t. This film wouldn’t qualify for that description anyway – it’s not ambitious enough to be entertaining – but there were some of those elements that you say to yourself ‘what the fuck?’ and you are laughing unintentionally. If you’ve seen one film about women lured to a castle by cultists – you’ve seen this film.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Terminator Salvation [2009]

I’m just going to warn you right up front – I love post-apocalyptic movies. That is if they are done right – which means I’m not going to jump out and say that I love Waterworld, The Postman or Battlefield Earth simply because they are post-apocalyptic films – because I don’t. That being said - Terminator Salvation – does it right.

Judgement Day has happened – it is now 2018 – and the world is in ruins. John Connor and an army of human fighters are locked in a battle of survival against the Skynet Terminator army. When Marcus Wright shows up on the scene – someone who’s last memory is being “terminated” on death row in 2003 – Connor and the Resistance are left struggling trying to determine which side he’s on.

Terminator Salvation is loud and in your face - with plenty of memorable action sequences. That’s not all it is though - it’s also a story about humanity. It’s about John Connor and struggling to save his own humanity by helping his father Kyle Reese. It’s also about Marcus Wright and his internal struggle to determine his own place in the world and the questions of his humanity.

Christian Bale plays John Connor with a lot of tension – but as we know from the franchise – he’s already got a lot to live up to. He doesn’t know what move to make in order to save humanity – but he’s been raised to believe that he’s the one who’s supposed to make that move. It’s also interesting to find his character being the one people look to – but also so low in the chain of command that he’s struggling to make the difference he feels forced to make.

Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington, is an incredibly interesting addition to the Terminator franchise. Worthington plays him adeptly with an amazing mixture of toughness and vulnerability – that both work towards the overall plot – and towards advancing the main theme. Anton Yelchin, as Kyle Reese, is also a welcomed addition – as it’s great to see more background on one of the best characters in the franchise – as well as giving us a hint of why Connor selected him for the all important mission in the first place.

I LOVED the “cameo” by “Arnold” – that was just geek-tastic! Speaking of geek-dom I found it particularly satisfying to see part of the evolution of the Terminator robot – with the obviously old beat-up clunker T-600’s patrolling around.

I find that I have very little negative to say about Terminator Salvation. There were a couple of things in the last act I wasn’t 100% happy with – but nothing major. One thing that did really irk me was that the film was obviously prepped for an “unrated” edition – as there were some odd edits that seemed like they skipped something of note. This phenomena of releasing an “unrated” edition DVD is one that I simply wish would end – it’s not like the DVD has hardcore porn that would in fact make the film “unrated” – or they take out a whole graphic bloody violent scene. There just seems like important discovery scenes missing – almost to the point the edits were jarring.

That all being said – I loved the movie – it was the kind of popcorn entertainment that makes the summer movie season worthwhile. There was tons of over the top action and it kept me entertained throughout. I give the film a full 5 out of 5 stars – but you weren’t surprised because I warned you and gave away the ending. Yes, like I said I’m biased towards post-apocalyptic films – and as I read all the negative reviews out there – I wonder where the other reviewers are coming from?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Riding Coattails

The biopic is an interesting concept – you get the whole life story of an individual in the span of one movie and by the maker’s of such a film and the quality of the performances you walk away feeling more or less impressed with the real life figure.

There had been much talk about creating a biopic on the Charles Cross biography of Kurt Cobain – and if you’ve read the book it’s an all right read. There have been several parts of the book that have been disputed by many – and the fact that several important figures in Kurt’s life refused to participate – leaves the story incomplete. When you take into account Kurt’s widow Courtney Love has been scraping the bottom of his fortune – you almost have the question the validity of such a story. From all outwardly appearances Kurt’s story is being sold (as well as his journals and song catalog) to keep Courtney afloat financially – is this the best reason to tell Kurt’s story?

If we were to take his story at face value – and there seems like an awful lot of questions still remaining to be answered before I personally can do that – but if we take Courtney’s word as truth – then shouldn’t Kurt’s story be told as a cautionary tale? It should be told with an underlying theme of the sadness of success – as that’s what the public has been told for the reason for Kurt’s death. If it plays out as Charles Cross’ book tells us – his life is almost a prelude to his “suicide” – and that’s not how anyone should be remembered.

Even though I’m a big fan of Nirvana and would love to see a poignant film on Kurt’s life - the reasons for telling Kurt’s story are in the wrong place – therefore shouldn’t be told in my opinion.

I bring this all up because there’s been some movement on the biopic on Martin Luther King Jr. – and it would seem that one of his children who acts as the executor of his estate - is selling the story without the consent of his siblings. They say in the article that he has made profitable – yet questionable decisions regarding licensing their father’s memory. The story of Martin Luther King is an amazing one – that’s for sure – but it is also a very cautionary tale that everyone can gain something from – but it has to be done in movie form - for the right reasons.

What better reason would be than unity? Of equal rights? Of the historic moment our country experienced with the improbable election of Barak Obama? This is a great time to tell his story – and I would welcome it given a competent production. Most certainly the film will feature his speeches and protests – and what he’s been able to do to push human rights to the forefront from his life and also after his death. With that said – it’s extremely important that his story is told for the right reasons and from what it sounds like it’s not.

I bring up Cobain and Dr. King in the same posting as I’m more familiar with the Cobain story – and know that in the rush to tell his story shortcuts were made by people looking to profit from it. I’m drawing a parallel between the two and infer that in a rush to tell Dr. King’s story that executors don’t always look out for the memory as much as they do their own pocketbooks. Last thing we want is an incomplete or inaccurate take on Dr. King’s life in order to make a buck.

Yes, I am not naïve enough to believe movies are made for reasons other than money – and both biopic’s if they are made will make money – but it isn’t wrong to believe that even the movie industry should show some respect and not make films to line the pockets of executors who have a history of selling out loved ones.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Let me count the ways I loved Ewan McGregor

Strangers on the street keep approaching me asking me what I thought of ‘Angels & Demons’. I keep having to tell everyone – that I haven’t seen it – and wasn’t really planning on seeing it. Not to say it looks terrible – but I’m just not interested.

They then remind me that Ewan McGregor is in it – and they go on to remind me about the “goal” I had set for myself of seeing every Ewan film. I have to reason with them – that I made that goal 10 years ago – during The Phantom Menace excitement – and I can’t be held responsible for my actions back then. Well, that – and I don’t feel he’s done much lately that’s peaked my interest acting wise – I still think he’s a good actor – but his film choices haven’t spoken to me in a while.

So, how about I list off my top Ewan movies – and you can get your fix on my take of Ewan McGregor - instead of me sitting through ‘Angels & Demons’. Sounds fair – right?

8 – Rogue Trader [1999] – Not really an “important” film – or on many people’s radar – but an interesting film none-the-less. I often think of this film when I hear about the current US economy.

7 – A Life Less Ordinary [1997] – A pulpy trash kind of love story – directed by Danny Boyle – that’s just a lot of fun to watch.

6 – Nightwatch [1997] – Much like A Life Less Ordinary – this is a pulpy trash crime drama is just fun to watch.

5 – Stay [2005] – I like this film – even though someone who never saw it told me it’s “bad”. Strong performances and an interesting story really make the film.

4 – Down With Love [2003] – I realize this is a remake and has Renee Zellweger in it and is completely formulaic – but it’s still quite fun.

3 – Shallow Grave [1994] – This Danny Boyle directed tale about how money stands between even the closest of friends – plays out like a Twilight Zone episode.

2 – Velvet Goldmine [1998] – It’s the tale of when Maxwell Demon (a thinly veiled David Bowie stand in) fell in love with Zakk Wylde (thinly veiled Iggy Pop) – with Ewan playing Iggy. Told in the style of Citizen Kane – this film has star power to spare and the classic rise and fall of power and fame – as well as one of the best soundtracks of any film I know.

1 – Trainspotting [1996] – Also directed by Danny Boyle – isn’t that amazing? Maybe Ewan needs to get Danny on the phone, huh? Anyway - sometimes the craziest people aren’t the ones on drugs. A solid cast – great pacing and outstanding soundtrack made this film my favorite of all time for a long time – and it still stands as Ewan’s best film.

“Hey! You can’t have a top 8 – that doesn’t make sense! Just add a couple films and make it a top 10!”

“No! I’m not going to put in something that I don’t truly like just to fill in the list. I’ve seen Brassed Off, Little Voice, Eye of the Beholder, the Star Wars prequels, Black Hawk Down (which would go down but he’s got such a small role), Big Fish, The Island and several other films – that I’m not putting them on MY list to fill space. Go make your own if a “top 8” makes you uncomfortable.”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek [2009]

Set phasers on action! J.J. Abrams take on Star Trek is indeed more accessible to the masses – while remaining true to the original Star Trek canon – and also recreating it for this generation. Makes sense? Now, was never much of a Star Trek fan growing up – so please forgive me if I get this wrong…

This movie is more true to the original radio show version of Star Trek when it was called Buck Rodgers – and later adapted into cartoon form called Duck Rodgers – then later turned into a Charlton Heston film about apes – and later several thousand versions of a TV show. Seriously, everybody – it’s Star Trek – there’s Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Kenny… I mean the red shirt guys. They go into space – meet a bad guy – and eventually defeat the bad guy. Star Trek!

What I really appreciated was how they used a few of the stale story elements that frustrated me about Star Trek to make a more interesting story – namely time travel. It always confused me why Trek seemed more interested in the past rather than having adventures in the future – so they introduced time travel to go back and talk to whales and stuff. Time travel in this film is used as more of an accident and an opportunity to be able to reboot Star Trek from the beginning without discounting everything that went on in the previous films or television series.

There was also butt loads of action – plenty of which seemed to fit into the story – some of which seemed like it was there in order to fill a void. The action was fast paced and somewhat memorable – and I do appreciate heavy doses of action in my summer action films. The only complaint I had with it was the shaky cam – the new staple in action films. It gives you a sense that what’s happening is happening in such an exciting way that that it’s tough to keep up – but you also draw the line of it giving you little to focus on and actually take in.

As for the casting – I guess everyone did a good job taking over the well known roles – but it felt like they were teenagers – everyone just seemed so young. That’s not really a complaint – but it somewhat felt out of place to me – seeing a space ship being run by a pack of horny co-eds doesn’t feel like an amazing plan to me. Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) was the only one who I got the feeling was older – and he is – but I get the feeling it was more because I’ve seen him in other things so he’s not that new to me. It’s possible after another film – I’d feel differently.

As for the story – it revolved around Kirk and Spock – and the both of them developing as characters and as a team of rivals to run the U.S.S. Enterprise together. In reintroducing the crew there was plenty of interesting and humorous elements – that came together and worked well. There was a nod to a common joke regarding each of them – which was nice and didn’t feel like it took away from the film negatively. My worries with this being a reboot and rewriting the Star Trek past – that I would find myself lost in a concern thinking “what’s the importance of this action – and what happened originally”. Those concerns were taken care of in a couple instances – which was very nice for me. The other part of the story – “the main threat” as it were – involving a Romulan called Nero – felt incomplete and a bit of an afterthought – almost like a tacked on means to an end.

What I didn’t like about this movie was the villain – Nero played by Eric Bana - who was again stiff and dull and provided nothing to the role that any other actor couldn’t bring. I also didn’t care for a part of Nero’s plan – and how nobody decided to do the simplest thing to stop it. For those of you who have seen this movie – what did they do to Nero’s plan when he was attacking Earth and why didn’t they do THAT when they were attacking earlier? Wasn’t that a bit of a no-brainer way to stop Nero? I personally thought I missed something stating a reason why they couldn’t do that – because it was the very first thing I thought of doing.

Overall it’s a good film – maybe a bit overrated in some of the lofty reviews I’ve seen – but certainly worthy of a couple hours of your summer. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 1, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine [2009]

Up until last year – my personal opinion was X2 was the best comic book superhero film thus far. There was something very fitting about the action that went along well with the character development that worked as both a geek-fest and a stand-alone film. The 3rd film in the franchise kind of fell flat for me – and when they announced they were going ahead with prequel “origin” films – I was a little thrown back. It didn’t seem fair they would abandon the franchise for prequels – even if it was obvious that some characters were more interesting and fleshed out than others.

As for a synopsis – you’ve heard of Wolverine? Well, this film is about how Wolverine became the Wolverine we met in the first X-Men film. If you haven’t heard of Wolverine – he’s a mutant superhero – who has a metal skeleton and healing ability that has given him an unnaturally long life. He’s famous for basically being a brutal animal when he gets angry – and having a very layered back-story that he cannot remember for some reason.

I was impressed with certain aspects of this origin film – mainly the relationship that they developed up with his brother Victor (also known as Sabertooth played by Liev Schreiber). As a matter of fact some of the most interesting parts of the film were kind of glossed over in the opening credit sequence – which was disappointing. I would’ve loved this film if it dwelled on those years – about how James (Wolverine’s real name) and Victor grew apart over the years. Having a strong chemistry built up between them – and seeing it gradually fall apart – and then having James do what he had to. It just seemed like instead of nursing that relationship that they decided to throw in so many characters into the stew and serve it under cooked.

I guess that wouldn’t fly for a “summer blockbuster” – so let’s get into what’s actually in the film. The action was over the top – but unfortunately none of those scenes felt rather memorable – they were standard. Some of the effects felt a little out of place – particularly with Gambit - some of his acrobatics and mutant “magic” were kind of silly. I don’t know how Gambit has progressed as a comic book character – but since last I read an X-Men comic – he didn’t do that kind of stuff. The best effects were for Sabertooth and Wolverine – the way Sabertooth ran like a feral cat with a hand and foot gallop was very cool – and Wolverine’s claws and healing ability were as well done as ever.

To get back to a previous point about the stew – there were so many characters – and so many of them ended up being pointless to the story – I felt that the movie really failed on that level. I felt like at times I was watching a nod and a wink to the Marvel Universe – to the point that it seemed like the filmmakers were looking to create another spin-off using the minor characters.

The dialogue was at times cliché – but there were a few good one-liners that had me l’ing-o-l’ing. Hugh Jackman has a quality to him – and I think he plays vulnerable very well – so his interactions with his love interest were great scenes. Liev Schreiber was excellent as the menacing Sabertooth – enough so that they should remake the first X-Men film with him as Sabertooth instead of that wrestler. His presence would give a much needed boost on the villain side where Ian McKellen was the only one towing that rope.

Anyway – I’m giving this film 3/5 stars – it was good – but not great – and not so disappointing that it didn’t fulfill what it set out to do (which is summer fun). It’s not as good as X2 – but not as bas as X3 – it was probably more on par with the first X-Men film.