22 February 2009

Trilogy Pack: Feast

directed by John Gulager
written by Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
starring Navi Rawat, Clu Gulager, Krista Allen, Jenny Wade, Josh Zuckerman, Balthazar Getty, Henry Rollins, Diane Goldner, Eileen Ryan
miramax films, 95 mins., 2005

*** (out of ****)

Imagine chilling out at your local bar, enjoying your time, hitting on the ladies while drinking your drink. All is well for, say, ten minutes - and then some bloodied up super model of an action hero runs into your bar, holds up a head of a frakking hideous monster beast, tells you they're [note: they're; as in more than one] coming, and it's time to bear arms and fight. Aside from the initial disbelief, once you watch our self-proclaimed "Hero" become monster chow, you're undoubtedly [and rightfully so] shitting your pants. And now, it's up to you and these fifteen or so random strangers to band together and fight to survive, or else you're not going to make it out alive.

Thus beginith FEAST, the result of a highly-regarded HBO reality series called PROJECT GREENLIGHT. Notably executively produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and horror mastermind Wes Craven, GREENLIGHT offered the winning director a chance to helm their own movie at a modest budget. The programs third season winner was the seemingly shy, but occasionally spontaneously bouncy John Gulager. Gulager sought out to direct a horror film, set in a bar, as far away from any sort of "coming-of-age" story as possible [being as how the last two PROJECT GREENLIGHT winners directed such a thing], and to this he succeeded. Horrific in every sense of the way, FEAST features plenty of gore, body parts being ripped and flying all over the place, and heads exploding. But this movie isn't notable for its gore - its the tight script by then-newcomers Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan.

Taking every horror cliche and turning itself upside down, FEAST revels in doing exactly what you don't expected, more specifically the taboos of horror films. Aside from the shock value, it's also occasionally funny. That's the beauty about this film - it brilliantly blends horror and comedy together, the comedy moreso originating from the horror than actual humorous Mike Meyers-like one-liners. Additionally, the film's real highlight comes whenever a new character is introduced, a title card pops up and freezes for a few seconds, detailing their occupation, a fun fact, and most hilarious of all - their life expectancy! It's a hilarious concept that I really wish would be integrated into virtually all horror movies [alright, maybe not applicable to all horror flicks - but there's plenty that could benefit from it!]. It's a perfect satire. The best example I could bring up would be Simon Pegg's SHAUN OF THE DEAD; this film is almost exactly like that, minus the zombies and actual, y'know, plot.

Character-wise, you have your mandatory stereotypes, but the real beauty is that they're presented in such a satirical way that they're acknowledging those stereotypes and having a blast messing with 'em. There's the Bartender, the only military vet who knows everything; Hot Wheels, the poor wheel-chair bound teenage virgin; Grandma, the silent, disapproving oldie; Boss Man, the prick of a boss that we're glad to see get his just rewards; Tuffy, the single mom who will do anything to support her child; and there's plenty more, but I'm too lazy to type them all up. Suffice it to say, almost every clichéd stereotypical character is present here, and every single one of them are faced with decisions on how to survive. Oh, and I also want to use this opportunity to mention how beautiful Navi Rawat is; I wish she was my wife. But then again, she might have slight competition with Frida Pinto. Ugh. To be favored by so many women - it's difficult.

The creatures themselves are hid in the shadows or seen through extreme close-ups of the beast that you can't make out what the hell you're looking at. It's not enough the film's final 12 minutes that the monsters are shown in their true, man-in-suit glory [I'm not dissing it; on the contrary, I applaud this film for embracing the man-in-suit technique - and to fantastic effect!]. Speaking of that, I still don't understand why the monsters cloaked themselves in those giant skins - it reminded me of THE VILLAGE, where the supposed "monsters" had red cloaks over their boney body. In retrospect, they're not really needed, and I wager they only came about to create a sense of mystery about them - or, realistically, cut down production costs or something like that. Point is: without the cloaks, these monsters look badass, and you definitely begin to fret for the protagonists when they breach the walls and all hell breaks loose - and that's not an exaggeration. Devilish and brutal, these beasts kill and eat anything - plus there's that whole thing where they seem nearly indestructible.

And the finale - holy crap that was awesome. Seriously, the last fifteen minutes alone makes this flick worth picking up. It's insane carnage all over the place, as the monsters are shown in all their glory, ripping and slicing all the survivors. And the very last kill, made by Tuffy (oops, spoiler) as she punches the monster through it's mouth and apparently reaches its organ - damn, that was awesome. Gruesome and sorta disgusting, but awesome.

In the end, FEAST is an delight: it was unpredictable, it was horrific, it was funny, and most importantly, it was fun. Although I'm not a fan of the mass amounts of gore, there's enough non-guts related things to appreciate and dig. When taking into account the entire FEAST saga, I would recommend just checking out the first one on its own - the others are skippable. However, I know how useless that recommendation is, because plenty of others offered the same thing, and I still went on to watch the following two titles below.

directed by John Gulager
written by Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
starring Clu Gulager, Jenny Wade, Diane Goldner, Martin Kleeba, Juan Longoria Garciace, Tom Gulager, Carl Anthony Payne II, & Hanna Putnam
dimension films, 97 mins., 2008

** (out of ****)

FEAST was such a success that two back-to-back sequels were put into production (although, surprisingly, not immediately; I guess the brilliant concept for a FEAST franchise didn’t happen right away). Distributed under the Dimension Extreme Direct-to-DVD label - famous for such Oscar nominated endeavors like TEETH and PULSE 2 & 3 – the eagerly anticipated sequel to the smash independent favorite was released in late 2008 to mostly not positive reviews, critics and fans alike declaring it nowhere near as unique as the first, nor reaching its level of awesomeness. It is now that I wish to address the funnyness of its title - how correct it is; "Sloppy Seconds" - and the movie is sloppy seconds - oh, how I crack myself up. Where do I come up with these things?

The first FEAST was quite intelligent in that it took all pre-conceived notions and horror clichés, and literally ripped them apart, not to mention having a tad bit of joy poking fun at the genre (similar to Kevin Williamson’s script for SCREAM). SLOPPY SECONDS isn’t nearly as good as the first, but it does have its merits, and it’s worth watching for the enjoyment factor, if not just to see how the so-called ‘story’ progresses (really truly, the story is just coaxed to bring about more carnage).

Picking up a day after the events of the first, a full-on lesbian biker gang, led by the dominating Biker Queen who would give Emperor Palpatine a scare, shows up at the damaged-beyond-repair bar, finding only the Bartender alive. Biker Queen wants to know who killed her twin sister, Harley Mom, and she’s prepared to beat the information out of him. Being the old, broken down bloke he is, the Bartender dishes the info: the dude’s name was Bozo and he should be staying at the next town. Taking him hostage, Biker Queen and the gang go on a little road trip. Once there, however, they find that shit has hit the proverbial fan, as the demonic beasts that terrorized his bar have laid waste to the entire town. Corpses, blood and screams meet them – no Bozo. With these monsters on full attack force, Bartender and the biker gang meet up with some other survivors (including Honey Pie, who left them for dead in the first film), take weapons, and prepare to fight their way out of this hell-hole.

It sounds like an almost good idea. I mean, it sounds like a natural evolution, yes? The first film takes place specifically in a bar (note: we’re forgetting the fact that budget restraints played a role and instead consider it an artistic license), so naturally, the second would occur either in a town or…a mall? (a la DAWN OF THE DEAD; I think it would have been brilliant!) To my utter disappointment, they took quite the great notion and dumbed it down to childish, sex and genitalia jokes that don’t elicit even the slightest of a chuckle [though, I guess it could be argued that the inclusion of such segments are more for a ‘shock’ factor moreso than a representation of the writers’ warped minds]. Anyhow, the purpose of this review is to discuss what is, not what could have been.

Let's talk about the characters. The only people returning from the first are Bartender and Honey Pie [although an deceased character shows up for one of the most frakked up and disgusting dream sequences that I've ever seen on film]. Bartender has this very Jack Bauer atmosphere around him: it seems he can never die; be beaten to kingdom come, be sliced and diced and bit, but that damn old man never dies. Taking into account how the third film concludes, I wager the Bartender will be the one recurring character throughout the series [whenever they start making the next trilogy]. When he and Honey Pie meet again, the Bartender beats her silly, smashing her head against the toilet. It's messed up beyond belief - the biker gang not giving the ouncest damn of their battle royale. Speaking of Honey Pie, her character is sadly underused and, in the grand scheme of things, completely unnecessary. Unless Metlon & Dunstan really wanted some sort of 'You betrayed us, bitch!' brawal to bring about closure, Honey Pie offers nothing to this story. The majority of her scenes are her crying, screaming, and hiding for covering - not to mention her pathetic attempts at firing a gun. It's an unfortunate fate for a character that could potentially have something along the lines of depth. Frightning concept, I know.

New to the series is Carl Anthony Payne II as Slasher, a real estate agent who just found out his wife Secrets (Putnam) is having an affair with Greg Swank (oh, how I love that name). Carl comes across as pretty funny, owning the idea of comic relief self-righteously; it's a pity he doesn't have much to do in the next one. And perhaps the best surprise was Martin Kleeber being in this flick - I have no clue what his role was in those flicks, but I recall him from the totally awesome PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN trilogy [hate me if you must]; this little guy is nearly as awesome as Minni Me. His Spanish-speaking brother, Lightning, is hilarious with his subtitles and obvious agitation with everyone inept ability to deal with the situation.

Something that bugs me more than the boat-size amount of gore is the friggin monsters humping everything. In the first one, you have a sliced monster dick; in this, these monsters are humping almost anything they can stick it into. I seriously cannot understand the funny with monster sex humor, nor do I find the funny when someone is making the motion to hump a dog. Really, this type of humor is lame enough to be featured in that piece of shit teen comedy COLLEGE. And yes, I'm sure this is all just a way to break barriers, but it annoys me. Hell, I'm more agitated by that then the baby sequence - which could very well make me a cold bastard.

FEAST II is alright; I'm not exactly stoked at the direction Melton & Dunstan have decided to take the series, but it works nevertheless. Definitely more politically incorrect than any of the others, if you get offended quite easily, this is not for you[dude, don't let your grandma watch this; hell, maybe your mom shouldn't either, if you're a teen male, she'll probably try to cover your eyes from the free-as-the-air boobies].

directed by John Gulager
written by Patrick Melton & Marcus Dunstan
starring Clu Gulager, Diane Goldner, Juan Longoria Garcia, Carl Anthony Payne II, Hanna Putnam Tom Gulager, Craig Henningsen, Josh Blue
dimension films, 79 mins., 2009

*1/2 (out of ****)

The two direct-to-video installments play a lot like a two episode season finale, where the penultimate episode concludes with a thrilling cliffhanger with our protagonists in some deep doo-doo, and the following episode instantly resolves the conflict. FEAST II and III are two parts of one story, and it’s a little unfortunate that such a good idea doesn’t reach its full potential due to not only weak direction, but also, and perhaps more severely, a poor script. The trouble, I believe, starts with the fact the masterminding trio thought that it would be cooler to have these two movies be one big story instead of a trilogy of stand-alone features that would be different in their own right; the main flaw is that the story set-up in FEAST II isn’t large enough to successfully be carried further, as evidenced by III’s shortened running time. To solve this dilemma, they’ve constructed a series of unbelievably insane stunts (seriously, they need to be seen to believed) and useless characters to fill in the lack of actual story they have (since story is, I’m sure you all will agree, the most vital ingredient for a good film, horror or otherwise; oh, who am I kidding?). And once again, I can't help but remark on how appropriate the title is: I am so very happy this story is finished. Time to move onto something better.

Immediately we're put into the middle of the conflict that concluded FEAST II: the beasts are about to barge in on our heroes as some of our cast mates leave us in thrilling bloody style. Once this ordeal is resolved, they all agree to get the frak out of Dodge, but how? Well, thank their few blessings, because they meet a man who has deemed himself The Prophet due to his ability to "control" the beasts and do with them as he pleases. With his help, they can easily leave town without problems, eh? Well, due to complications with his "power", it doesn't always work - thus, while having a jolly good time walking through the sewers, our team of fantastically written characters encounter beast-puke-infected people who have now turned into zombies [which I don't recall happening to that one dude in the first film; but I guess they can write whatever they please]; after that battle, they make their way to an underground rave for the undead, and kick some serious ass via some cool strobe light cinematography; some make it, most don't. The remaining survivors make it outside, and then...well..we'll get to that later...

See, now doesn't that seem worth another movie, let alone the price of purchase? Nah, didn't think so.

Overall, FEAST III was alright; it's not as "good" [using that term loosely here] as the second [I've now decided to review II & III together as one cohesive - hahaha - story]. The FEAST universe is one where it seems anything can happen; Patrick and Marcus think something up, and POOF!, it's in the flick. But it sucks that what they thought up for this lackluster third outing is far too ridiculous, and doesn't even enter the realm of fun, really. Everything's just disgusting or too over-the-top to really even care. There are some funny moments, such with the introduction of Jean-Claude Seagal, and then his many misfortunes [such as the Bartender's "operating" sequence, which elicited a laugh, I confess], but those are far and in between. Actually, the opening is sort of funny, but also disappointing. Honey Pie, who had just survived a near fatal hit to the back of the head by a nearby explosion, gets her head chewed off by a monster. It's humorous to the extent that you're thinking, 'Damn, that girl might actually make it out alive.' And then mere seconds later, 'Guess not.' Yes, readers, I get amused by the small things.

The characters all seem to have far more emotion this time around: Lightning (Garcia) is dealing with the pain of losing two loved ones in a very small window of time; Secrets (Putnam) is disgusted with her secret hubby's behavior a few hours earlier involving the death of a baby; while the hubby, Greg Swank (Gulager) also feels guilt over what he did; and Slasher (Payne II), well - he sorta maintains the same emotional state the entire time: "get me the frak out of here!' [very difficult character to read, I daresay; many subtles - and yes, that is sarcasm). Jean-Claude Seagal (Henningsen) brings a smile to my face each time I think about how he enters the film will complete kick-assery authority, and then gets some limbs ate and blown off - poor bastard. But the real scene stealer is professional comedian Josh Blue as the Prophet. Every time that man spoke I nearly giggled - he is such a dweeb, and the true villany of this movie is that he didn't get more screentime. Poor Obi-Wan.

Seeing as how the two sequels were filmed back-to-back, director Gulager doesn't add anything new to the fray that wasn't already around in the second. However, he does something a little inventive, even though it's a tadd confusing here and there. As said above, there's a sequence where the survivors make it to an underground rave - complete with strobe lights! Gulager uses them to great effect: he makes the following fight seem even more intense and brutal, which is only helped by occasional split-second pauses on a action frame. It's sorta cool, but sloppily done here and there - it's difficult to make out what's going on sometimes. [But that sequence is notable for it's brilliant use of Greg Swank's protruding pipe - they make it into a gun by loading a bullet and hitting the pipe with a hammer] Otherwise, I'd be interested in seeing Gulager work on a film not horror related; perhaps broaden ones horizon, eh?

Concerning the much talked about climax, it truly is something that needs to be seen to truly believe that the writers, and even the director, did what they did. It’s insane, and completely off the radar of Randomville; it makes zero sense in the context of the FEAST mythology (if there really is any), but in a world where anything can happen, why not giant robots? Yes, indeed: a giant, skeleton of a robot crushes the remaining survivors save the indestructible Bartender after his proposition that they must all frak and repopulate the human race (!). Brilliant man that I am, I recognize that pictures act better than words, so I thus took the pain-staking liberty of capturing some screen shots from the finale for your viewing pleasure (although I’m sure YouTube or some other video portal has the full finale up to watch):

Now that Marcus and the other dude hopefully have all their crazyness out of their system, I would request that – if they become attached to the inevitable FEAST IV – they would dab a bit more of realism into their flick, and do away with the more cuckoo ‘monster humping’ aspects. Admittedly, it is a little sad that this is what FEAST has reduced itself to: childishly raunchy monster sex humor and a giant ‘effing robot. And when taking this into account, I can understand the fans’ distaste and sour attitude towards FEAST II & III; the first was a fantastic horror piece about a group of strangers banding together to fight seemingly unstoppable monsters, and the following installments seemed to go even further and further away from that basic concept. I understand the creators wanting to branch out and test the waters, but is it too much to ask to keep it grounded in some sane realm of reality?

The FEAST saga will continue, and I will rather stupidly be there to watch the next installments. Honestly, watching the first FEAST alone is more than enough – the sequels don’t really add anything to the mythology, nor will you really miss them if you don’t see ‘em. But if you’re so desperate for more boobs, gore, and monster genitals, FEAST II & III are for you! Here’s just hoping that IV won’t pursue the giant ‘effing robot concept, ‘cuz that’d be a little too weird…unless they’re actually filming IV right now, and plan to coincide its release date with TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, so horror and sci-fi fans can have double the giant ‘effing robots! I wouldn’t put it past ‘em.

19 February 2009

The Boondock Saints, Fargo, Turistas

The Boondock Saints
William Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Billy Connolly,
Written & Directed by Troy Duffy
Franchise Pictures, 1999, 110 mins., Rated R

4 out of 4

Customers come into my store plenty, and out of all the thousands of titles we have, the DVDs of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Boondock Saints are the most popular (especially amongst teens). After all the hype surrounding Boondocks (which I admit I didn't have too much of an dying interest in), I decided to seize a opportunity to watch it. And the real kicker is, is that I fell in love with the movie within the first scene, as the McManus Brothers attend church, kiss Jesus, and leave to go about their "duties." Then at the half-way point, William Dafoe's detective character is beginning to put the pieces together from all these homicides, and goes to confession to seek guidance, and as you know it - the Saint members are there, holding the priest dude at gunpoint, while another Saint hold the other Saint at gunpoint, hoping that he won't have to shoot him if the other Saint doesn't shoot the priest. Horribly worded, I know I did, but this entire movie is about as perfect as you can get.

After dismissing this titles for ages, I can safely say that Boondock Saints is at the very top of my "Buy on DVD" list. Hell, this movie is so good, even its Deleted Scenes are worthy of inclusion in some form of "Extended Cut." Boondocks epitomizes an 'Andy Movie'; it has everything I want in a good movie: you have your action, your revenge plot, interesting, realistic characters, wonderful performances, and you never know what the hell is going to happen next. It's like The Punisher, but not nearly as over-the-top. I don't wish to discuss much about Boondock Saints, because I'd prefer people to go in without a clue of what they're going to see (worked for me).

Though I do want to touch on a particular actors incredible job in this film. There is really no other performance more awesome than Dafoe whose awesomeness obliterates everything else I've watched of his; this will always be his quintessential performance for me. Top-notch perfection; it's like seeing someone in a new light. Such highlights of amazing points would be when he re-enacts the shooting at the mob house by using his hands as guns, and near the climax when he dresses up as a female to infiltrate a highly secured housing unit. If I didn't like the movie, this performance alone would make it DVD purchase-worthy.

And now I hear they're filming a sequel, The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day to be released later this year; however that may be - fantastic beyond all comprehension or the worst pile of dog shit we've ever seen - the fact is is that fans will always have this outstandingly perfect first installment. And I also want to apologize for those who bought the movie at our store, and I frowned at you, wondering what the hell you're thinking: I'm sorry, the jokes on me. Ladies and gentlemen, aliens and robots alike - I can't recommend Boondock Saints enough, so get off 'yer arse and buy your copy now!

Starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen

3 out of 4

Another flick widely talked about that I hadn't seen, nor knew anything about other than its ties to Minnesota, Fargo was one of the more reluctant titles watched in this columm, since I don't have a fancy with the Coen Brothers' films (for the record, I didn't like No Country for Old Men; I thought The Big Lebowski was lame; and I enjoyed the J.K. Simmons segments from Burn After Reading, and not much else - alright, except for Brad Pitt's performance). But Fargo was actually pretty good. Actually, it's very much like their Burn After Reading, how something so simple can unravel and turn into one big giant frak-up of a mess; those type of stories are so fun to watch. In fact, I recall that in one of the special features (the 27-minute documentary "Minnesota Nice") actor William H. Macy thought this story was based on a real event, and asked for more background information, while the Coens looked at him, straight in the face, and said, "Dude, it's all made up; it's just a movie" (slight paraphrasing might have happened there); I dunno why I just added that little tidbit of information, but you just became a little bit smarter.

Fargo is about, simply, one man facing financial troubles (Macy), so he hires some guys (Buscemi, Stormare) to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom so he can pay his bills. Unfortunately, people get hurt in the process, and this calls the attention of the police force, led by quite the happy camper Marge (McDormand) of a police Sheriff, and thus the kidnapping plan becomes a bit more complicated than initially thought up. It all unravels in a fun, brisk pace which is interrupted here and there by a going-nowhere (unless I'm missing something, which is entirely possible because I was also stuffing my mouth with soup) subplot involving reuniting with a high-school "friend."

If there's one reason to watch Fargo, it's that it's escapism fun. Although you're thanking the Lords of Kobol you're not Macy's character as shit hits the fan, you can't help but be enthralled by each new happening, and wondering how the hell this is all going to end. My only gripe with this film - and it's a small one, but one that pervades throughout the film's entire running time, and has thus caused a major misconception - is that it makes Minnesotans seem other-worldly nice, but also that everyone has that god-awful annoying accent (which, I admit, is so splendidly delivered by our leads - I hated it, but I loved it, y'know?). A) we don't have an accent (although perhaps the up North people do), and trust me, Minnesotans aren't all that nice. It's a toned down version of New York or Chicago, I'd say. It's a small grievance, but I can deal.

I may have yet to warm up to the Coens or praise them abundantly, but there's no dismissing how good Fargo is; granted, it's not something so spectacular that you're going to do a Tom Cruise, but it's a memorable movie that is worth checking out once and a while because there are just some moments that will crack you up (again, like Simmons in Burn After Reading: the final 2-minute scene was frakking hilarious; almost as good as the "hamburger" running joke in Martin's Panther films).

Starring Josh Duhamel, Olivia Wild, Melissa George,
Written by Michael Arlen Ross
Directed by John Stockwel
Fox Atomic, 2007, 98 mins., Rated R

1.5 out of 4

Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. That's a positive thought to have after seeing a film, right? It's not entirely negative, and doesn't diss the movie to a high degree. Most of the time spent watching the movie was me and my friend making predictions as to what was going to happen next (which, surprisingly, hardly ever came true), which was quite enjoyable (although I'm sure that the oh-so-delicious popcorn helped smooth this rocky flick along). Turistas hit theaters a few years back and didn't last too long - I wager the lack of any demented serial killer or sadistic forest demons didn't interest the general public, so it quickly faded from sight and landed on the DVD market. No one ever buys it, but I keep looking at the cover, curious if it's any good.

Well, after all this time, I can say that it is a good movie; however, it being categorized as a horror film by pretty much all entertainment stores is incorrect information - Turistas isn't horrific in the slightest; I would actually call it a Action/Thriller, in the same vein as Jessica Alba's Into the Blue, but a gazillion likes grittier and better acted. So, if you're looking for a horror movie, move along - not here. Zilch-o on the Horror Meter.

But what we do have is a good example for why teens should not go to foreign countries, party, get drunk, and meet weird, creepy people (not specifically in that order). No matter how many times a parent or older sibling says "don't do this" or "don't do that", people seem to always turn the other cheek, and do the wrong thing. This entire flick personifies why you don't keep walking - willingly - with some strange guy you just met four hours ago (not counting the period of time you've been drugged and unconscious, mind you): because he's part of a freaky experiment to cut people open! Guh, dumbasses. Throughout Turistas, I'm wondering to myself why on earth these people are following this kid, and I still couldn't think of an intelligent, logical reason for these guys to continue their trek.

There's plenty of nice thrills (again, surprised), and the actors are - for once - not annoying to the brink you're begging the filmmakers to kill them. In fact, I actually rooted for our main characters, which doesn't happen very often in the 'Horror' genre. The performances are fine, the script is tight and to the point, and the cinematography is quite beautiful (but what does one expect when a film takes place in another country?). Turistas is worth a view, but not necessarily something you should go out of your way to see.

08 February 2009

The Reader, Revolutionary Road

The Reader
Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross
David Hare (based on the book by Bernhard Schlink)
Stephen Daldry
Released: 01.09.09 (nation wide)

Weinstein Company, 124 mins., Rated R

**1/2 (out of ****)
I can't honestly suss out my feelings for THE READER. On one hand, it's quite good; the performances are fantastic, the script is decent, the editing - well, coulda been choppier. But I think the problem is is that it's an unmemorable movie, without anything really to grab your attention during its long, drawn-out running time. If you want a deep, thoughtful review of the flick, look elsewhere. I'm not one to analyze these type of movies until my brain pops from over-thinking things that are quite self-explanatory; but if you'd enjoy a fun write-up without any sucking up, you came to the right place.
Everyone's talking about Kate Winslet, but the person I found myself most engaged to is David Kross, playing the younger version of Fiennes character, Michael. Kross, especially during the trial, is able to pull off everything that's required of him in the scene: a desire to do the right thing, understanding that it could be quite beneficial for Hannah if he did, but scared because he doesn't want the affair exposed, either for his or her sake. He continues to smoke and pace to calm himself down; his eyes appear bloodshot, he makes rash decisions (such as his one-night stand with the blond girl from his group), and appears to be losing control of himself. At times, I half thought I was looking at a EPISODE III Anakin Skywalker, as at times, he looked freakin' devilish. In the film's beginning, whereas he plays the more innocent but compelled teenage boy, Kross delivers the goods there as well, but it's really during the trial where you can't help but think, "Damn, that was a good performance."
Alright, now let's talk about Winslet. Her performance in READER is arguably the better of the two, and it definitely deserves the nomination over REVOLUTIONARY ROAD; and it's not because she bares pretty much all, it's because it's actually quite far more emotionally moving, and because I cared about her character far more here than the other. Winslet is surprisingly at her best when she was under all the prosthetic make-up during her agey-sequences. I can't think of much to say about her other than she did a damn good job, and that I was quite impressed by her performance.
Voldemort/Fiennes doesn't have much to do here, sadly. His job is to look solemn and contemplative, and to that effect, he passes with shinning colors. His big confrontation sequence with a survivng member of the Holocaust is quite awkward (which I believe they were striving for), but how he acts and speaks doesn't fit well with the character, at least from my perspective. Speaking about frustration, when Fiennes meets up with Hannah in jail when she's about to be released, he acts like a total inconsiderate pompous ass. Again, that didn't seem to fit in with the established character, and leaves me a little puzzled.
Direction-wise, it felt very point-and-shoot. And the script (which I'm gonna put in the same boat as the editing) coulda benefitted from a bit of trimming, or at least not being so faithful to the book (or so I imagine). The first half of the movie plays like a soft-core porno, with the two leads bumping uglies; the middle portion of the movie, arguably the most interesting and engaging, is a procedural drama, and the last bit is the older version of Michael seeking redemption for his inactions. Essentially, it sounds like a perfect set-up for a really great, interesting movie, but it was just so...blah; so uninvolving. It was sorta like the filmmakers themselves didn't really give a hoot about the material, either. If everything was just tighter, more precise, I think the enjoyment level would have increased rather steadily.
I'm sure I completely glossed over the subtles of the film, and I'm fine with that. THE READER could definitely have been a fantastic movie, but as it is, it's just a bit above average, and the blame solely lies on the script and direction. It's still a recommended film on my part, I'm just going to warn you that you'll need plenty of pop and popcorn to stay awake towards the latter half (there was my shameless promotion of the concession stands! I should get some benefits...). It's sort of also funny that I wrote more about the movie I thought I didn't have much to say about than the one I thought I would be babbling on and on and on about. Alright, maybe I'm just amused.

Revolutionary Road
Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathy Bates
Justin Haythe (based on the novel by Richard Yates)
Sam Mendes
Released: 01.23.09 (nationwide)
Dreamworks, 119 mins., Rated R

*1/2 (out of ****)

This is what all the hype and build-up was about? See, this is a perfect example of why hype and build-up can potentially ruin the viewing pleasure of a equally potentially good movie and make it simply mediocre. Or perhaps REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was destined to be mediocre, make your choice. But the real reason why I found that I didn't particularly like this much-talked about flick was that I simply didn't give a damn about the characters or their so-called dilemmas. Actually, they sounded more like whiney adolescent brats more than grown adults, and that doesn't help the flick in any way.

The main premise is essentially that a couple (DiCaprio, Winslet) in the '50's purchase a house on Revoltuionary Road, and their once fun, adventurous-filled life has transformed into your cliched suburban American idea of the Dream - they got the beautiful house, the kids, the wealth, and the beauty. But that's not enough for them - they need a change. Initially, both parties are "All systems a-go!", but then Frank is offered more buckaroos at his place of employment, and that's a bit enticing. This doesn't bode well for the Mrs., April, who wants the move to Paris to take effect immediately. Suffice it to say, the Dream, and their love, is tested. And the real kicker is, the only rational, sane person in the entire movie is the dude who just got out of a institution!

To put it bluntly, both DiCaprio and Winslet displayed better acting chops eleven years ago in TITANIC. I dug Winslet in ETERNAL SUNSHINE more (a flick which I'm actually not a fan of, it may surprise you to know), and DiCaprio rocked my world a zillion times more in BLOOD DIAMOND (a film I'm sure no one else woulda picked, because you all seem to not like it, which I simply don't understand). They're unbelievable as a married couple, and quite frankly, they can't seem to deliver what they're given in a believable manner. Out of the two, DiCaprio gets the most sympathy. For one, he has one hell of a looney wife, who could very well reach a Norman Bates-mental breakdown; second, I understand where he's coming from. He, too, wants to get the hell out of Dodge, but really, the world's all about the dinero, and if he's getting offered mucho more bucks, it's a tempting offer, even despite the inevitable rift it would cause. As for Winslet - yeah, she's just comes off as Psycho Wife. I wouldn't blame Frank if he wanted to apply for the reality TV show Wife Swamp, I'd totally be there to support you, buddy! (I realize this may come across as insensitive or perhaps mean, but really, her character deserves the disses).

I don't dislike the movie because it's bleak and gloomy - I rejoice when those type of non-Hollywood titles are released; I just dislike it because it feels like the script is spoon-feeding us what we're supposed to be feeling and react to their actions. It's almost like it's desperately trying to make us care about these characters - and no matter how much it tries, I simply don't care. There was literally no drama whatsoever (you can pretty much guess every beat just from the synopsis' you can find online), and whatever drama they tried to instill came across very much like a CW teen drama. Yeah, I know I'm going to get death threats for that comment.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is getting a lot of praise for bringing up a topic which, frankly, has been done to death: love is difficult, marriages are even harder, and occasionally, things don't work out all that well. You've seen this in comedies, you've seen this in other dramas, in documentaries, etc., etc. It's nothing new, folks, and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD doesn't seem to want to venture into any new territory, but instead recycles the same stuff done before, and to better effect.

Concerning the cinematography, yes indeed, it is quite beautiful. Fantastic lighting, most of all. Neat compositions. I can't comment on the score because it's barely audible, but what I do recall is that at certain parts it sounded more like a horror movie than a drama.

Look, just because I didn't fancy REVOLUTIONARY ROAD doesn't mean you will too. In fact, I seem to be part of a very, very small minority when it comes to lack of insane praise. If you had to pick between the two, I'd say go for READER, despite it being just a few notches better, really. But if you don't mind an uninteresting, almost-a-good-movie-but-just-missed-the-mark drama that tells you how you're supposed to feel, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD delivers in spades.

The Wrestler

The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest Miller
Robert D. Siegel
Darren Aronofsky
Fox Searchlight, 115 min., Rated R

**** (out of ****)

Yep, THE WRESTLER lives up to its hype. And this is coming from a dude who had zero interest in the flick, and it's not due to actor Rourke, but more director Aronofsky who left me befuddled with THE FOUNTAIN (I think I must be really stupid - I thought I understood everything up until the last two minutes, then all my theories obliterated into nothingness), but he redeems himself here, more or less emulating (and at times surpassing) the awesome style of Alfonso Cuaron (CHILDREN OF MEN, specifically). Another thing going against the film: I have no interest in wrestling. Zilch. Nada. I think it's dumb, and the bits I see when switching the channels on 29 and the Sci-Fi Channel doesn't swade me to thinking it's worthwhile. And concerning Rourke, I have nothing against the dude. I've only ever seen him in SIN CITY, so it's not like I know much about him (aisde from drug crap). But all that side, I can safely say THE WRESTLER is a movie you definitely owe it to yourself to see, because it is fantastic. Hell, the flick even nudged its way into my top 10 of 2008 (despite its not being widely released until January 2009, but whatevs).

Randy (Rourke) used to be known as The Ram, only the biggest name in the wrestling-world. His life as a wrestler pretty much consumed all other lifely duties, such as being a father for his daughter (Wood). Living alone in a trailer park, payday-by-payday, with his only real 'friend' (and the term is loosely used here) being one of the strippers (Tomei) at a local joint, Randy feels a little empty, but attempts to fill that void with his lower-key wrestling tournaments. But a near-fatal heart-attack at a game suddenly forces Randy to re-evaluate the important things in life, and attempts to reconnect with the things he's lost, and to quit something that has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. The wrestler is in his blood, and despite the probability of death if he plays again, Randy the Ram just can't stand not being that man.

35 minutes into the movie (well, coulda been longer), a group of elderly folk left the screening of THE WRESTLER. At this point, a wrestle session - er, a beat down - just ended, and Randy is tending to his many wounds; there was usage of wires, windows, metal chairs, hitting objects and a ladder in this beat down, so you can imagine there's quite a bit of owage going on. I'm guessing the mass amounts of blood that's already been shown, and with the addition of half-naked strippers, wasn't all that appealing to these folk. I bring this up because this film doesn't sugar-coat any of the finer details. It's a very exact, very documentary style-ish movie.

Since the film's style has already been raised, I might as well start off with Darren Aronofsky's direction, which is simply splendid. Filmed entirely hand-held, to create a sense of reality and perhaps constant motion (or as to fully emulate the documentary feel, by having a camera following this wrestler dude and see what happens), the device is used brilliantly. The very first scene has Rourke coming home to his trailer park and finding his door locked, and he walks over to the landowner; the entire sequence is shot from behind Rourke as the camera follows him. This is similarly used when the Ram prepares himself to go out to stage in a tracking shot from behind the curtains, to him readying himself, and finally to him exiting; this is later used when Rourke performs the same tasks, but readies himself to walk out into his new job at the Delhi. Those three particular shots have resonated with me the most, the last two especially as they sum up the character of Randy without any dialogue. In summation, beautiful cinematography (without it being apparent), and additionally, fantastic editing. It's about as perfect as you can get.

The screenplay is also about as perfect as you can get. The dialogue rings true, and the events of the story ring true. Every beat is great. Actually, the best thing that can be said about the script is that it seems like there is no script; it takes a moment to realize you watched a scripted, acted feature film, and not a documentary of some sort. That's a wonderful testament to the wonderful jobs of everyone involved in the production.

As I mentioned above, I don't know much about Mickey Rourke other than his SIN CITY stint, so I'm not going to be championing this as his "comeback" or anything of the sort, but I will say Rourke completely sold the role. It may be because he simply channeled his own emotions from life experience (since the two are nearly indistinguishable, I hear), or he's just a really good, really dedicated method actor, but Rourke kicks all sorts of ass here, and not just in the actual kicking of the ass, but as in a metaphor for his performance...just thought I'd clear that up. Anywho, yes indeed, Rourke is The Man in THE WRESTLER.

I don't know what to make of Marisa Tomei; I haven't seen her in too many movies, but the one I most remember her from is last year's BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, in which she bares pretty much everything, and in this flick, she barely leaves some clothing on. Is this a sign that her career isn't going any higher or what's the deal? Alright, nudity aside, Tomei grabs you. You care for her character, and you're touched when she takes up Randy's offer to help him pick out a gift for his daughter. It also helps that Rourke and Tomei appear to have terrific chemistry. Speaking of daughters, Randy's daughter is played by Evan Rachel Wood, and for the ten or thirteen minutes of screentime she has, she's quite good. Now I'm a little iffy on how their relationship concludes because it's been done so many times before, but it rings true to what this type of movie is, and sets up the finale perfectly, and for that, it can be forgiven. I bring that up because Wood takes what could very well have been an irritating aspect of the movie, and turned it into a emotional roller-coaster where the viewer is as torn up as Rourke and Wood during their final sequence. Good stuff.

Well, I can't think of anymore praise I can possibly give the film (there's probably more, but I'm at a loss right now). Essentially, the movie is pretty much about as perfect as you can get. Every aspect of the flick, from script to screen, is bloody brilliant. If and when you have a chance to catch THE WRESTLER, take it; it's as simple as that. The film deserves the recognition and credit it's receiving, and that's a rare thing these days.

07 February 2009

The Pink Panther 2

The Pink Panther 2
Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, John Cleese
Michael H. Weber, Scott Neustadter & Steve Martin
Harald Zwart
Released: 02.06.09
MGM, Rated PG, 92 mins.,

*1/2 (out of ****)

Maybe it was because I had a dodgy week when Steve Martin's 2006 "re-imagining" of The Pink Panther was released, but I found the film to be a laugh-a-minute, ingenius riot. And no, that's not sarcasm. I genuinely loved that flick, and to this day, I still think it's extremely funny. And for some reason, I appear to be the only bloke in the U.S. who thinks so (though, of course, my lack of seeing the original Peter Sellars Pink Panthers could very well explain why I'm not one of those people ready to burn Martin alive for this 'terrible disgrace' to the franchise). So it was with great anticipation for the seemingly very-rushed sequel to hit theaters, and unfortunately, it doesn't hit the level of hilarious excellence of the 'first'.

Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Martin) has followed up his legendary save of the Pink Panther Diamond with writing parking tickets, so geniusly assigned to him by Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Cleese), who isn't exactly Clouseau's biggest fan. Meanwhile, treasures from around the world have been stolen by a stealer dude named the Tornado. Immediately, a "dream team" of international detectives is assembled to capture him and return all the stolden goods. Of course, Clouseau being the man who single-handedly saved the Pink Panther diamond, he's recruited to the team. And pretty much instantaneously (in a scene that did elicit a laugh), the diamond has been stolen again. Thus the Dream Team, with Clouseau, embark on a investigative journey to locate the Tornado, find the diamond, and bring him to justice!

Sounds like a plot that could have plenty of funnyness, yeah? Well, sadly, no. There are about two sequences that really had me laughing - like Pink Panther '06-laughing (which was loud, and a lot). Sadly, they were far and in-between. Some of the jokes brought a chuckle, most brought about a small giggle. Otherwise, Pink Panther 2 wasn't even in the same league as the first one, which is unfortunate (and remember, this is coming from a bloke who dug the Steve Martin re-imagining). Though, I surprisingly do have to agree with a great many of the commentators when they say that Martin appears to be trying too hard to get a laugh; the previous movie, everything seemed rather effortless, and this time, it's painfully obvious he's dishing out all the tricks he can possibly do to make the audience get with the 'ha, ha, ha-ing.' Actually, the best way to describe this version of funny would be to say that it's very cartoonish. And that just reminded me of something else - the cartoon credit sequence pales in comparison to the '06 installment; serious lack of funny.

But Steve Martin himself, I still dig as Inspect Clouseau. People may rag on him for his crappy accent, but I find it funny. My once stern stance that I'd watch Martin in nearly anything truly is put to the test here as sometimes his antics are pure ridiculous. Jean Reno, who will forever be the French man from Roland Emmerich's disastrous crap-fest GODZILLA (1998), is barely in the film, which is unfortunate because he has some great comic-timing. Oh, and I gotta mention John Cleese (or as I see it, 'that Rat Race dude!') as Dreyfus: I love the guy - honestly - but Kevin Kline was so bloody funny in the first. However, Cleese might've one-uped Kline if he was actually given some more stuff to do. Dreyfus has barely any screentime whatsoever, which is highly unfortunate.

On the technical side, let's address the script: nothing you haven't seen before. Though, I do sorta like the concept of the 'Dream Team' who assemble to find the culprit behind these attacks; that's sorta nifty. However, once certain characters are introduced, you know the goodies and the baddies. Though, truthfully, there was a twist here and there that I was genuinely taken aback by, which was a pleasant surprise. Directing-wise, it is, of course, very point-and-shoot. It's a popular move with comedies, it seems.

If you had no interest in 2006's Pink Panther re-imagining, you might as well skip it's sequel. For us small minority who loved the film, this one isn't nearly as good as the first, but it has its moments of funness. Plus, how can one resist the whole "hamburger" dabolcal? That stuff still cracks me up no matter what. Er, anyway, if you weren't swayed to see the first one (which is superior), don't bother with this. If a third is produced (and despite my non-love for this installment), you'd better bet I'd be there opening day.

04 February 2009

ABC Family cancels Kyle XY

ABC Family has just made me a very, very, very, very angry teenager, and when teenagers are hungry - er, angry - it's the end of the world. That frakking cable television station just canceled my newest favoritest TV-show of all time, Kyle XY, according to Michael Ausiello. So, they cancel Kyle and keep Secret Life of the American Teenager, Greek (of all things!), and Lincoln Heights? That is a word of complete not-fairness!

Kyle XY will finish its 10-episode run third season without interruption, then it's all over. What is it with good shows finishing after their third season? Anyone remember UPN's brilliant Veronica Mars that also ran three seasons? Each episode was fantastic in some way, even the less than stellar ones.

Evidently poor viewership this season is to blame for the cancellation, and that pisses me the hell off. It's not like the show costs a whole bloody lot to make. Dang nabbit, I want a Kyle XY movie then. Gar! We should send in nuts or something! It worked for Jericho, why not this? (except with the huge lack of nuts used in the show, but I digress).

Anyway, I'm not a happy man, and it sucks even more that quite frankly, the last three episodes haven't been all that great. They're fine, trully, but I wouldn't mind a bit more of story instead of teen angst. Oh well. I still dig it. Rest in peace, Kyle XY.