Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Project X (2012)

“The Party You've Only Dreamed About.”

Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Writers: Matt Drake and Michael Bacall
Stars: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown

Have you ever thought about trying to have that awesome party? The one that’s going to have you remembered by all the kids you go to school with. I haven’t but that’s because my friends and I would rather just watch movies together and eat copious amounts of popcorn. But I understand the want to earn cool points with the people around you. And so we come to Project X the ultimate party movie.

For the life of me I can’t remember a found footage movie ever being used for a party movie. I’m sure some elements have been used, but from go to woe, Project X comes off as a unique prospect for the audience members to really get in deep with that party/coming of age movie. However there are several problems that ruin the potential that this film has.

First off let me just say that I can see this film really getting a following with the younger generation, and it’s fun and breezy enough to give people a good enough time. I wasn’t expecting too much from the film, and it did take me awhile to get into the movie but when I did, I was laughing and having a good enough time. If you are intrigued by the premise, and are not expecting too much, then go for it. But I should probably explain the issues for those who want to go all Inception and delve deeper.

Characters in this movie will other wise please you, or grate on you till you want to find them and hang them from the nearest tree. Oliver Cooper as Costa is the most annoying of the trio, and is cut from a cloth so familiar it does take a little steam out of the proceedings. He’s the annoying friend who tries to act tough, and his constant search for women means he acts like a chauvinistic pig. It’s a similar character that we’ve seen in Superbad and other countless teen movies. In fact this is the sort of role that Jonah Hill would have played. The other two characters are fine enough but the Costa gets a lot of time and it hurts.

The other problem is the real lack of focus. I don’t really see a point to this movie other than being a look at the worst and best day of a teenager. The ending tried to bring meaning to the proceedings but the use of the camera did seem rather ham fisted. Add to it all jokes that didn’t serve any purpose in the movie, and seemed highly out of place.

One thing in this movies favour is the escalation of the party and the chaos that stems from it. The end of the party is pretty thrilling even if it’s over the top, but if anything it’s one of the few things the movie is trying to emphasise for the audience. It cements the party in its epicness, and it truly is the party that would define many peoples lives.

I had fun at this movie and to say otherwise would be a lie, but as I was leaving I just couldn’t see any reason for this movie to be made. What could have been a great movie bringing the voyeuristic eye to the party of all parties, is really wasted by not having anything deep. Is it a coming of age movie? Kind of. With the ending of the characters however I’m left to question the movies intentions. But I guess movies don’t need to have deep meaning, and as I said mid way through this review, the movie is enjoyable enough. If you like party movies, or movies like Superbad then I’m sure you will find something here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Of Slender and Man: Evolution of an Urban Legend

I tend to be stubborn when a new show comes along and sometimes it takes me awhile to come around to the newest thing. Normally I wait for the hype to die down, and let myself discover the series on my lonesome. In this case I finally made my way to a little internet show called Marble Hornets (Links are here and here). What I’ve finally managed to experience is an excellent exercise in the found footage genre, and a show that really taps into the terror of urban legends.

Really at the heart of the series is the urban legend of the Slender Man, who is a fascinating example of evolution of a tale, and how readily other forms of media can adopt things to their purposes. The supernatural creature was first created in the forums of Something Awful in a contest to fake supernatural creatures. The pictures were created by forum member Victor Surge and soon enough captured people’s imaginations and the process of creating the creatures back story began.

"we didn't want to go, we didn't want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time..."

1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as "The Slender Man". Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.
1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
The Slender Man has had quite the impressive impact on pop culture, as Minecraft creator Notch has gone on record as saying the Slender Man did influence the creation of Ender Men. Not only that, but there striking similarities between the Slender Man and the Silence from the most recent Dr Who series. Just thinking about this influence is fascinating to me as a writer, as we are seeing the evolution of a story right before our eyes.

An artists rendition of Slender Man next to The Silence from
In the brief time that I’ve immersed myself into the world of Slender Man I’ve come across some very interesting projects surrounding the mystifying figure. One such project was a blog done in Wordpress called Just Another Fool. The blog is used like a Lovecraftian story, detailing the decent into madness of one of the hero’s and another trying to work out what’s happening to his friend. The brilliance of this idea is it operates like a game with people creating identities and interacting with the creators of the blog (ARG is the term I’ve heard, Alternate Reality Game for those playing the home game). Not only does this flesh out the myth of Slender Man but also is a crystal idea of the evolution of story.

The internet is littered with these Slender Man photoshops.
Apart from the fan fiction that has sprung up, there are some people who are starting to believe in the myth of Slender Man as a real thing. I think this is in part to forums that are part of ARG’s. It’s fascinating to see the line blur between reality and fiction for some people, even when there are people who are trying to calm the believers by telling them it’s all a game. One of the more interesting theories I’ve seen is that the Slender Man is becoming real, because he’s becoming more prevalent to pop culture. Yet is it really Slendy (that’s what his friends call him) that’s at the centre of this, or maybe something more wired into the brains of people.

The unmoving figure in the background is a disturbing image, add to that
the forest locale and you have something that can haunt people.
Going a back a little through myths and legends we find various creatures that are similar in look and powers. The Mothmen from the 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, written by John Keel is a good example. It details the investigation of John Keel as he tries to get to the bottom of sighting of The Mothman in West Virginia. While the creature is more animalistic than the Slender Man, some accounts credit the creature as a large man in a black trench coat and red eyes; the trench coat actually being wings. Whether you believe it or not, it’s interesting to note another urban legend have both the black clothes get up and the mental distortion powers.

The Mothman.
The Mothman Prophecies also details another urban legend that has similarities with the Slender Man, and that’s the Men in Black. First off, no I don’t mean the ones from the movies, while taking inspiration from the urban legend they are far removed from the actual thing, as the Men in Black are seen more as a threat. The Men in Black are people who often come into town, dressed in black suits and ask questions of the locals who often have trouble with their memories afterwards. It’s kind of worrisome how people’s minds are wired to come up with similar stories, even when separated by a generation or two.

A lot of Men in Black fan art depicts them as otherworldly,
with possible alien connections.
Honestly I don’t have any idea why this happens, but it is always interesting as I said before, to witness the evolution of story, myth and how it changes with the different cultures. Having watched as much of Marbles Hornets that is available, I would highly recommend people head to you tube to watch this series as it really does tap into a primal terror. Better yet I would grab the DVD and help support these film makers and at the same time give them a good reason to make Season 3 of the series. Finally if the Slender Man intrigues you get out there and start reading some of the stories people have created, as well as take look at some of the fan art.

Some more of peoples Slender Man work.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick Movie Review: Vol 24 (Special B-Grade Trash Edition)

It’s funny how I started this blog with the intention of reviewing really old genre based movies, but it turned into just general movies. While I’m not upset at that fact; because let’s face it a lot of those old genre movies are god awful; I do feel the need to get back in touch with what started me down this blogging road.

Thankfully I was afforded an opportunity recently to go to a midnight movie like showing of some classic b-grade trash. While they were both bad, I still had fun laughing along with the audience, and I guess that’s the most I could have really hoped for. I’ve decided to honour this night with a very special Quick Movie Review Volume (I’m so excited).

Starcrash (1978)

“I only have logic and emotion circuits. No room for craziness.”

An Italian movie trying to cash in of Star Wars, it shamelessly gets to the ripping off right from the first scene. Among a under a Space Ship opening shot, and text crawl, we also get a similar climatic battle against the enemies base and a light sabre like technology. Actually I could probably put together several pages of similarities but then what the fun in that.

I don’t think I have to tell you the horror that is the acting in this movie with the main actor Caroline Munro (Stella Star in the movie) needing to do nothing more than look pretty and smile. In fact she has the disturbing habit of smiling at the worst news. But talking about Munro isn’t doing justice to the very young David Hasselhoff showing up. Yes the Hoff is there to not really do much other than force a stagnant friendship. But the highlight of the movie is the awesome robot Elle, as voiced by Hamilton Camp. He plays the robot with a southern drawl that is just a hoot and a half.

Other than that, the plot is ridiculous, the pacing choppy with character developments that are just ridiculous, and the special effect are kind of laughable considering this was made after Star Wars. But honestly you don’t come to this type of movie to watch a classic, instead you come to laugh, and there is the right amount of cheese to be able to enjoy this, as long as you have a few good friends to laugh at the movie with.

Hands of Steel (1986)

Like a lot of the movies of the 80’s, Hands of Steel as most of the goofy cheese at the end, which doesn’t help the audience member as they have to put up with the robotic acting of Daniel Greene. There is still some stuff to enjoy in this movie but unlike Starcrash I wouldn’t call this a laugh riot.

Basically this movie tries to hook the audience in with the thinnest of connection to the Terminator. Paco (Greene) is a cyborg killer who is sent by the evil Francis Turner (John Saxon) to kill a scientist for some reason or other. I say some reason because the movie doesn’t really care about the plot; it’s more interested in having a cyborg arm wrestle. I’m not sure how it fits, or what coked up movie exec thought arm wrestling was the way to go, but the movie has two ‘action’ set pieces that revolve around that most noblest of sports.

Now I’ll give Green one thing, he looks the part of a stoned cold killer cyborg, shame his acting is beyond wooden. It’s hard to describe how bad it is, but the man no only doesn’t have charisma but manages to suck other people’s charisma into the void. Thank goodness John Saxon is there to evil it up even if he’s not in the movie much.

One thing I was impressed with was the helicopter action scenes in the late part of the movie. Sometimes old movies just had a way of disregarding safety in order to get great shots; this kind of reckless abandonment is not seen these days. Unfortunately despite the end I was more bored with this movie than Starcrash, even the audience I was with was fading fast. Still if you’re an 80’s killer robot movie lover then this certainly isn’t the worst movie out there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Fast & Furious (2009)

“I'm a boy who appreciates a good body, regardless of the make.”

Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez and Sung Kang
Writer: Chris Morgan

And so ends my journey with the Fast and the Furious franchise. Those after my Fast Five review just need to go through my archives as I reviewed it a bit back. So the end, no more Vin Diesel and Paul Walker bromance, no more car love, no more cheese. Thankfully we are in the capable hands of Justin Lin who’s made these movies his own, lets see how he does with the movie that reunites the original cast members.

Well first off in regards to the actor’s everyone is pretty much doing what they do best. Rodriguez, Brewster, Diesel, they all have a good grasp on their characters and if you liked them in the previous movies you shouldn’t be disappointed. The biggest improvement comes from Paul Walker, who seems a lot less wooden, and his dialogue has the bro speak turned down. Mr Walker is never going to be an actor remembered for his acting, but this script and director do seem to be getting the most out of him. Sung Kang also rocks up as Han from the third movie, while not the biggest of parts it’s nice to see the tie in with the previous effort and actually does a lot to flesh out the world of the franchise. John Ortiz as the films villain Campos is fine, but there is more attention paid to Dominic and Brian’s relationship which does lesson the threat somewhat. I just want a little more focus on Campos to really understand the inner workings of his head, and the whole Braga legend that he uses.

The story is still hamstrung by the need to make it based around cars, so you’ve got our two heroes’s hired by the bad guy to do a smuggling run in cars. Brian wants to infiltrate so he can bring the bad guy in to justice, while Dominic is infiltrating in a quest for revenge. Thankfully with Lin at the helm there just seems more focus than the first two movies which have tread similar ground. Also in regards to the tension between Dominic and Brian, it may also seem like the first movie, but in my opinion it’s done a lot better, and it’s nice that Lin was given the chance to recreate this relationship and make it stronger.

Visually I will admit the movie seems to have taken a back step from the third movie. There was just something about the setting of Tokyo that made the movie pop, but with it all heading back to America/Mexico it’s just very bland. The stunts are as always pretty cool, but the special effects are rather noticeable, but still plenty of car crashes for all. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing as it may be different for the individual audience member, but there has been a toning of the car culture in this movie. You still get to see the parties, girls, and tricked out cars, but the movie is more concerned with the plot, than revelling in the culture this time.

For all its flaws I still like the series, and do hold on to the position that the last three in the franchise are the best. This is probably the worst out of those three, but I think Lin had his hands full trying to incorporate the original components into his vision. Also this movie marks the lessoning of car culture in the movies, and this could turn away some fans, but it seems to be a genuine effort to turn these movies into pure action movies. Funnily this is a great jumping on point for people not familiar with the series.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quick Movie Reviews: Vol 23

I know I’ve still got Fast and Furious to review, but a man can only write so much about car movies before he needs a break. To that end I’m going to take a look at four films that I don’t have too much to talk about. Don’t for a minute think this means it’s a boring film, but I can say what I want to say in one paragraph rather then five. So with that in mind, on to the films.

Angel-A (2005)

A down on his luck scam artist called Andre (Jamel Debbouze) contemplates committing suicide, but then by chance bumps into Angela (Rie Rasmussen) who offers him a chance to change his life around. For a film directed by Luc Besson I was shocked at how low key the movie is. Slow, thoughtful and a lot more emotional than I would have given it credit for, this was a fantastic character study of a damaged man looking for a second chance. Also having the movie shot in black and white adds to the nature of the film, black and white, good and evil, happy and sad. I’m pretty damn impressed with this movie and highly recommend it.

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

It’s a story of desire, unspoken, restrained, hidden. Lucy (Emily Browning) plays a university student who starts working at a unique gentleman’s club. Emily Browning is brilliant, and plays Lucy as an outsider to human society. She never seems to make a connection with people, and in fact her only friend seems to be a man who’s dying. The gentleman’s club is also a unique world, where it’s not necessarily sexual desire that’s catered to. In fact some of the gentlemen are just lonely old men and want to make a human connection before they die. Julia Leigh’s movie is fascinating, but I’m not sure exactly what the point is. It could be a movie just looking into this weird world, but I do think there is an underlying message to the film, but it’s hidden in the slower pacing and alieness of the characters.

Oranges and Sunshine (2010)

This film tells the story of Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered the scandal of "home children", a scheme of forcibly relocating children from the UK to Australia. If reading this brief summation of the story intrigues you then you should watch this movie, but don’t expect a film that tries anything different. The movie is packed with good actors, with Hugo Weaving, Emily Watson and David Wenham being the main trio. There isn’t too much to say about this film, it’s competent, the story is tragic, and the acting is good. So speaketh the great oz, now on to the next movie.

The Beaver (2011)

Ah, the movie that Mel Gibson killed. If Mr Gibson was sane I could have seen this movie getting a lot more exposure than it did, however thanks to the nut bag there is a lot of baggage associated with it. It’s a shame, because this movie is actually pretty decent and deserves more people taking a look at it. Still there are some flaws in the movie that will turn people off. I guess the biggest problem is the tone of the movie, it shifts way too much and moves from happy to disturbing a little bit too quickly. The movie also seems a little aimless with no idea what it’s trying to achieve. Jodie Foster is a good director but there just seems to be a lack of focus. This movie does feature a fantastic performance by Anton Yelchin as Porter Black (Gibson’s son), and it obvious that he will be a name we see more of as time progresses. As for Mel Gibson, he’s pretty good, you remember why he was considered a good actor, it’s a shame he’s not a good person and has turned people away from his work.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Contraband (2012)

“I lost my stripes now, I gotta start from scratch?”

Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

I’m not the biggest Mark Wahlberg fan in the world, but there are a few of his movies that I enjoy. The Other Guys, Three Kings, The Corrupter, the remake of The Italian Job, to name a few. But as an actor I’ve never really gotten his appeal, he just doesn’t seem to be able to emote, and is often most effective when he’s got other more interesting character to bounce off. So it’s with that kind of mind set that I dive into his new movie.

Acting wise Mark Wahlberg plays Marky Mark (Actually Chris Farraday), and your enjoyment is going to differ depending on how much mileage you get from the persona of Mr Wahlberg. Kate Beckinsale (Kate Farraday) is one of the better actors in this movie, but honestly I was amazed more at how they made her look like the girl next door. Props to the make up department. Ben Foster (Sebastian Abney) is the real winner in this movie, and yet again plays a layered flawed character, and make me wish he was put in more movies as the main lead as he can bring so much to a character even if the script doesn’t deserve it. I pray one day that a Heat like movie will be made, and Ryan Gosling and Ben Foster can play opposite each other, because that would just be perfect. All the other actors are a miss, either not given enough time, or just played horribly. In particular Giovanni Ribisi as the main villain Tim Briggs. I’m not sure what happened to this guy, but he’s playing the same redneck character he always seems to play these days, and what’s worse he plays it absolutely laughable. It’s a shame because the man does have talent.

For an action thriller there are some interesting shots, but it is all very generic. Occasional there are some techniques that stick out like a sore thumb, I can see the director going for something looking cool, but there is no unity of vision. Random cool shots are just that, random, and they make the movie sloppier than they should be. Also in the grand scheme of things there is only one real action piece, with everything else just moving the plot along. It was actually interesting as I left the cinema as I tried to really think of meaningful action set pieces and could only come up with one, and well that one leads me to the worst thing about this movie.

The plot. I could go on about the plot holes, how the big action scene is actually just chucked into the movie with the flimsiest of writing, or how characters are just written so stupid it hurts. But let me sum everything up with one key factor. Everything about the movie, the event that starts everything, the one motivation behind the things that happen is all made moot when you realise that it was needless. Instead of all these complicated actions, instead of the bloodshed and the smuggling, the threats and the betrayal, all one person had to do was ask a friend for money. That’s it. There is no need for the actions of characters, for the introduction of villains, for the pointless twists, everything the movie is, is a complete waste of time. This is one of the biggest sins a movie can make, if everything could so easily be avoided then why are we watching this damn movie.

So do I recommend this movie? Hell no. Avoid this like the plague. This is the type of crap that gets dumped into cinemas this time of year, and you’ll save your money, time and sanity just skipping it. Visually the movie is competent, acting wise there are some good performances, especially considering with what the actors are given. But when the movie shouldn’t even exist, especially when the characters would do something different, you’ve got a heavily flawed movie. Come on Ben Foster start picking better movies.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: The Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift (2006)

‘What'd you expect? You didn't just play with fire, you soaked the matches in gasoline.”

Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Sung Kung, Brian Tee and Nathalie Kelley
Writer: Chris Morgan

Ah Tokyo Drift, you have nothing in common with the first two and yet this is where the franchise really starts to hit its stride. So this time we get all the car action, and car philosophy, and the wild parties just this time with a Japanese flavour. Time to break down the third movie and see how a third movie can be better than a first.

Now through out the movies I have two characters that battle for my attention. First is Dominic Toretto. I think I’ve summed it up in my review of the first Fast and Furious movie. It has to do with his charisma. The second character is first introduced in this movie, and yet again he oozes charisma, but one that is so laid back and happy with his place in the world you just want to be his friend. I’m speaking of Han as played by Sung Kung. Han is such a great presence I’m glad he was one of the things that carried through to the other movies. Speaking of great things Lucas Black as Sean Boswell impressed me greatly in the lead role. He’s a trouble maker, but a kid who wants to do well, he needs guidance. Thankfully both Sung and Lucas have a great chemistry which works well for the student mentor relationship.

If there is one step back in this movie, it would be the plot of the movie. Like the first movie the villain is kind of in the background, which does take some of the steam out of the movie at points. Thankfully it’s propped up by likable characters, and at least a bit more attention given to the villain DT (Brian Tee), which does mean you feel some of the tension in the final act. Plot wise it’s not a strong movie, but it just seems more accomplished than previous entries, so with any weaknesses it’s easier to bypass them and enjoy the movie.

With the change in location comes a change in visuals and style. Justin Lin creates some great set pieces that really get the action going, and while there is some CGI here, it’s not so apparent. Also with the introduction of Japanese Street Racing comes the introduction of Drifting. I got to say there is just something cool about drifting that always excites me, and as such I really dug a lot of the action in this movie. Also as for style, the extreme Japanese fashion/style, present in this movie really allows this movie to stand on its own. Justin Lin really does make this his franchise, and it’s no wonder he was brought back for the next two.

Really the biggest problem with this movie, other than really being nothing substantial, is how much of a lack of a link there is with the previous movies. There is something thrown in pretty ham fistedly, but other than this small tie there is nothing that the fans of the original can enjoy. Take away the one thing and give this movie another title and it would come off stronger as people wouldn’t be comparing this to the previous movies.

Honestly this is a positive step for the Fast and Furious, and made it a legitimate action franchise. If it wasn’t for Justin Lin the other two movies wouldn’t have been made. Is this movie perfect? Far from it, but it is fun, and thankfully it’s unique local and having more than a few charismatic actors really does make it one of those films you know isn’t good for you but you can’t help but like it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

“Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.”

Director: John Singleton
Actors: Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, Cole Hauser and Eva Mendes
Writers: Michael Brandt and Derek Haas

You could say that the first film was held up thanks to Diesel’s charisma and the car scenes. So maybe going ahead with a sequel and missing half that equation might seem like a big mistake. But none the less we shall forge on without Diesel. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong.

So without Vin Diesel most of the heavy lifting has to be done by Paul Walker. Unfortunately for us he’s still the same wooden presence as before. While I acknowledge that I give him a lot of crap, I think it’s mainly because he’s capable of being a good. Watch Running Scared and be amazed. Tyrese Gibson as Roman Pearce is interesting enough and I kind of liked him, but he needs a stronger lead to bounce off. Eva Mendes is fine enough as the love interest but doesn’t have much to do other than look pretty. Yet again I think it’s a shame as she is a capable actor. Where things really pick up is in the villain department, Cole Hauser is a menacing presence. Carter Verone is actually a sleazy, cold character that really does give the movie a good focus unlike the first one. Oh and I really liked Ludacris’s character Tej. Wish there was more but I’ll take what I can.

This sequel tries to ramp up the action, but it commits one of the greatest sins, it goes too CGI. In the case of a racing action movie, I believe the audience needs to have a sense of reality when it comes to driving. When the cars look too fake it destroys any excitement that can be gained. Thankfully not everything is over done and there are still some great set pieces. There is a certain rush to all these movies that comes from the speeds and crazy twists and turns.

Plot wise we actually have two hero’s against a credible villain and as such it does create a certain pace that was lacking in the first film. Where it all falls apart is the dialogue, which goes to some cheesy levels. There is also a smattering of bro’s, dudes and other such names that make me feel that this was written by a surfing guy. While there is better focus, there are still plot points that just make me scratch my head. At one point our pair of heroes is driving to audition for some crime jobs, which they are doing to help the FBI. The FBI is tracking through tracers on their cars and when they see the cars speeding away they assume that they are running away. Why? They’re doing exactly what you want. It’s just a way for them to create false tension during the scenes. Thank about it too much and the movie comes crashing down.

I can see why people think this is the worst of the Fast and Furious movies. The absence of Vin Diesel is notable, and even with the addition of a good villain and a more focused plot, the movie is totally undone by a boring main lead and a story that just has plot points that are stupid if given too much thought. However if you really want to see some good car action here, then I can’t fault you for trying this movie out, but better stuff is in the future of this franchise.

0.5 cars out of 1 
If you like the Fast & Furious formula there are some nice set pieces.
0 cars out of 1
Stupid plot points. 

0.5 cars out of 1
Boring lead actor but some side characters make up for it.
0.5 cars out of 1
While the overall product isn't great there is some excitement to be found.
0 cars out of 1 
CGI cars are horrendous.

1.5 cars out of 5 
Car movie that stalls too often. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Review: The Fast and The Furious (2001)

“Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning.”

Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster
Written: Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer

Never in a million years did I think I would ever like the Fast and Furious Franchise but low and behold I’ve been a fan. I can’t say I’m a car person but there was something about this movie that connected with the action junky in me. Last year I reviewed the fifth in the series. Well this month I’ve decided to go back and review the other four. So hold on tight, because this is going to be a bumpy ride.

First off I think the main reason this movie worked is in the casting of Vin Diesel. He definitely has an alpha male quality that works for Dominic Toretto, a charisma that works for this particular cheesy film. It’s the same type of swagger Stallone and Schwarzenegger had. Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner is the weakest actor in this movie, with him being akin to a walking piece of wood. He only ever feels animated when he starts acting like a Bro, but then it verges on the annoying. Michelle Rodriguez (Letty) plays the tough female character, she doesn’t get much play in the movie but at least has enough time to make a character. Jordana Brewster as Mia Toretto, is the love interest of Mr Walker and when in his presence acts circles around him.

Action wise this movie makes sure that the camera gets all the details of the racing, and really does glorify it. Other than racing there are a few scuffles but the fights are down and dirty. Nothing as over the top as The Rock vs Vin Diesel in the fifth movie. Really at this point the movie franchise was concentrating on the cars rather than just putting together a good action movie. In my honest opinion there seems to not be as much action as you would expect as there is the main focus on the Bromance of Dominic and Brian. Visually the movie is pretty plain, it manages to catch what action it can solidly, but there just seems to be a lack of style. During the racing get togethers there is a bit of life, as the party atmosphere is brought to the fore front. Still from what it would become, this is visually one of the weaker movies in the franchise.

Scripting is also a problem with the plot not really moving on at a great pace. In fact this movie is pretty padded with no real sense of direction. The main problem comes from the fact that the main villain isn’t actually given the focus so there is no sense of danger. Only at the end is the main villain crammed in at the end, and shows any sort of threat. Add to that the dialogue that hurts to listen to. Very macho, very cheesy and coming from the mouth of Paul Walker it does make me want to smack my head against a wall.

Overall I’m not sure how a franchise was made from this movie. The action is decent, and Vin Diesel does make his presence known, but it’s a movie that really lacks direction. As much as people criticise the sequel (which I probably will), it at least had climax worth rushing to. Maybe it was the focus on cars that drew people in, maybe that was the reason it was successful, but whatever the case the movies eventually morphed into something better.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

“Ha ha ha, wasn't that just magnificent? I was worried it was getting a little dodgy in the middle part, but then that finale... Wow!”

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Freddie Highmore and David Kelly
Writer: John August

So I should probably put up front that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is my favourite childhood movie. When I heard Tim Burton was remaking the movie I wasn’t that worried, when I heard Johnny Depp would be playing Willy Wonka I wasn’t that worried. In fact you could say I went into this movie with the highest of expectations. Where did it go so wrong?

To me this movie has it’s share of both good and bad, with the bad really overwhelming the good. I think the perfect example of this would be in the acting. With the four naughty children played by Anasophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry and Phillip Wiegratz, they really do hit the mark with their characters. Each child represents perfectly a problem child and is very distinctive. Honestly when it comes to Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregarde and Augustus Gloop, I like these versions better than the original.

However when we move on to the two main characters things fall apart. I’m not sure what Johnny Depp was trying to do, but it just didn’t work. His Willy Wonka is annoying, and just seems to be played too childish if that’s possible, and I just didn’t care about him, which is a problem as he’s the actual main character in this movie. Freddie Highmore as Charlie is hurt with some bad writing, but like Depp he also seems to make a character choice that just doesn’t work. Charlie is way to goody goody, and it is just bloody ridiculous that a child can be this angelic; it verges on the Jesus side of the equation. In the original Charlie was still a good boy, but he had his selfish moments like any kid would.

Visually this movie kicks the ass out of the original. Obviously this is Tim Burtons strong suit and the entire factory looks awesome. Each room is distinctive and the ideas behind some of the candy is expressed visually just perfect. But as I was going through the factory I just wasn’t as fascinated as I would normally be, I do find this weird, I will clearly admit that this is my own problem. But I can’t help wonder if this has to do with the old argument of CGI vs Pratical.

Story wise the movie focuses more on Willy Wonka, rather than Charlie. It’s a tad off putting especially given the performance of Depp. There are also ideas in the movie that make me scratch my head some what. When I hear the name Ommpa Loompa I don’t imagine a really small man, something a bit more fantastical pops into my head. Also there is a lot of showing the back story of how Willy Wonka came to be and honestly I liked the mystery behind the man. By concentrating on Willy Wonka there is a dilution in Charlie’s story and that’s where we really get our emotional pay off.

 It was around Planet of the Apes I started to turn away from Tim Burton, I was some what relieved with Big Fish as it adds a grand emotional core not really common in Burton’s work. But with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the camels back was broken. Burton is a master of visuals, but it seems with Big Fish he’s used up what was ever left of his story telling juice, as this movie is a hollow experience filled with some bad acting choices, and a story that just doesn’t work. Sure the visuals are great, and some the child performers are fantastic but I’ve come to expect a lot more from Burton. Basically this movie is very much like chocolate, tastes great, but there’s nothing good for you in it.

Fantastical Reality

So I’m a big fan of The Soup with Joel McHale, and while they don’t solely deal with reality television, they do get a good chunk of their stuff from there. Some of the reality programs I’ve seen on The Soup are truly horrifying. Gigolos, Housewives of (enter one of many America cities), Jersey Shore and a hole host of so called television programming.

When it comes to these shows, my first initial reaction is mock the hell out of them, but surely this is a little hypocritical. I watch reality shows, and as much as I try to justify my love of the shows I watch, but decry the stuff I don’t I just get that feeling that I’m talking out of my ass. Just for the record the shows that I watch are Ghost Hunters, Deadliest Catch and To Catch a Predator. Occasionally I might delve into some cooking based reality shows, but that’s really it.

If there is one difference I would like to point out, one which I think works in my favour (not biased at all). Is that the reality shows that I like to watch are of people actually doing things. Catching ghosts, catching fish, catching paedophiles, hmm I think their might be a running theme there. Where I think people get upset with reality television shows is the artificial celebrity that is created, especially those celebrities who seem to be famous for being famous.

Kardashians, Snooki, Hilton they are well known for doing nothing. This is like a red flag to a bull for some people as they look at their lives, see they are doing more than these people on television, but don’t have the ridiculous amounts of money these television idols have. I can understand why people get pissed but here is where I bring things full circle.

I watch The Soup and find it hilarious, but it wouldn’t be so hilarious if the show didn’t have reality television to aim most its jokes. We can’t really complain about reality television because we are the ones who make it popular. It sucks but until people turn to another channel we will never be free. Some people like to blame the studios, claiming that reality television only gets made because it’s cheap to make. Partial true but it’s really all the people watching it that give the studio executives the drive to put these shows out there.

So am I going to lead by example? Sorry I enjoy The Soup too much. If you want me I’ll be over here laughing rather that yelling.

I really do love this show. More people need to watch it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: Super (2010)

“Shut up, crime!”

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon
Writer: James Gunn

(Warning: I do talk very briefly about the end of this movie. No details but the general feeling. If you want to be completely spoiler free then do not progress.)

James Gunn, comes back to movies with Super. After Slither I really wanted more from the man, but he seemed to disappear for a bit. Since I’ve learnt he went to TV and did a few pilots and episodes, not to mention a fair chunk of writing. With a welcome return, he puts his sight on the superhero world. I can only hope at the twisted stuff he comes up with for this movie.

Well if I was hoping for a twisted take on the superhero genre, I got my wish and then some. This movie is pretty damn dark, and I can see many people getting turned off by what they are seeing. I myself was watching this with someone and they were turned off by the demented world Frank (Rainn Wilson) lives in. While the story is quite simple; husband becomes a costumed crime fighter to get his wife back from a drug dealer; it’s all the side character stuff that is very interesting. Questions or morality, right and wrong, sanity and finding happiness are all dealt with but never forced. We are asked to witness some brutal dark actions, and then be asked if the end justifies the means.

Taking that question of ends justifying the means, James Gunn weaves this into the action pacing and break down of the movie. As I said this movie gets into some dark territory and yet I can say has one of the most joyous endings I’ve seen in a while. The funny thing is an ending like this wouldn’t have worked in another more mellow movie. We need the darkness of the brunt of the movie, to be won over by the light at the end. In the end James Gunn makes a movie that asks us if we can enjoy a happy ending if it has come from such a twisted and horrid place.

Of course a movie that’s trying to operate as a piece of trash cinema and a thoughtful look at heavy themes, needs actors who can ham it up, but also give enough moments where we can see the message written in their faces. Rainn Wilson is more hit than miss, but sometimes he skirted too close going over the top. It doesn’t destroy the movie; in fact Rainn Wilson needs to be congratulated on such a great effort in such a tough role, but I do see room for improvement. Ellen Page as Libby is just awesome. I’ve enjoyed Ellen in all her movies, and this particular role is great as it has her playing very against type. It shows diversity that just makes me excited for the future roles she will take. In Libby she strikes a perfect balance of villainous insanity with a certain level of sympathy. Liv Tyler as Frank’s wife Sarah is a little weak, but she doesn’t have to do much, and is more a plot moving device rather than a character. Kevin Bacon as drug dealer Jacques shows once more that he is the man. While being the villain, and doing some horrendous stuff, he comes of as normal when compared to Frank and offers a guy who you could be friends with if he wasn’t such a douche bag.

Visually the movie works as like a Troma film. If you don’t know what that means then maybe this is also a sign this isn’t a movie for you. But basically everything seems to be done on the cheap, and yet at the same time there is a visually aesthetic that just screams gross out fun. However when the movie takes those dark turns it makes sure that the violence is more realistic to really hammer home the impact. In one particular scene I was squirming a lot, such was the realism used.

Super was a great experience, and is a movie I want to have in my DVD collection. Even though this was a great film in my opinion, I can see this just not being to everyone’s taste. Sure the ending in my mind justifies what I’ve just sat through, but others will not agree. If you have a love of Troma films then dive right in as I see Super as a Troma film with a heart and intelligence. Otherwise maybe move on to other things.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Review: Lost Boys – The Thirst (2010)

“Holy shit! It's the attack of Grandpa Munster!”

Director: Dario Piana
Starring: Corey Feldman, Casey B Dolan and Jamison Newlander
Writers: Evan Charnov and Hans Rodionoff

Crawling wounded from Lost Boys the Tribe; I knew I had the third one arriving any day. Those days of waiting were made up of mostly crying myself to sleep, and wondering why I did this to myself. It would be easier to just stop this whole reviewing lark and just watch the movies I really wanted to watch. Oh well I can’t stop now after so many reviews.

Wait a minute; this story is different and kind of interesting. I’m a amazed. Hang on it centres on the Frog Brothers; okay I’m getting more interested. Wow they mention the other characters and give reasons for them not being around. Gee that was kind of a touching moment dedicated to Corey Haim. Okay I’m going to stop there and do a proper review because it looks like this movie is actually giving a damn.

So first off the acting in this isn’t great, but it’s so much better than the second movie. Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander are great as the Frog Brothers and do share this chemistry which makes me give a damn about the characters. As for everyone else I actually liked them. The vampires were a little different from the original cadre and this made them an interesting villain. The human’s were funny enough and given enough to do that they worked as a group. Casey B Dolan was also a cutey as Zoe, and offered us a quirky character for Corey Feldman to bounce off.

Story wise the movie gets it right where the second screwed up. This is not a rehash of the Lost Boys but a new story set in the same world. The villains plot was actually pretty good, and while I didn’t really care for the twist, it was far from a deal breaker. Look I’m not going to stand here and say that this story is gripping, but at least some effort went into it. So much that I did cheer at one point, and I did feel mildly touched at one particular scene. The writers haven’t shot for the moon but they’ve tried to at least get in the entertaining zone.

Special effects are also upgraded from the second movie, but are still that straight to video quality. Yet again though it seems people have taken at least some care in what they are doing. Also the idea behind some of the weapons are pretty cool, and I would love to see them used in some kind of Frog Brothers, From Dusk Till Dawn crossover. Scarily it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has written this type of fan fiction.

Where as the sloppiness and laziness of The Tribe got me quite riled up, I was actually entertained by this movie. No way will it ever make a top 10, 50 or even 100 list with me, but sometimes all movie goers need to be is entertained. I can’t really recommend this to anyone but hardcore lovers of either the Frog Brothers or vampire movies in general. At least this movie has restored the sanity that I lost in watching the sequel.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: Lost Boys – The Tribe (2008)

“I'm Edgar Frog, surfboard shaper and vampire hunter.”

Director: P J Pesce
Actors: Tad Hilgenbrink, Angus Sutherland, Autumn Reeser and Corey Feldman
Writers: Hans Rodionoff

Come with me as we step into a zone beyond time and space. Where the normal movie rules are thrown into complete disregard, and as you wander about you’ll begin to question your sanity. Welcome to the Cheap Cash in Zone. (cue Twilight Zone Music) With an intro like that I’m pretty sure you know where this review is going, but please come with me as we trudge through this movie.

Before I get into the bad, I will deal with the two things that I enjoyed in this movie. First is Angus Sutherland as the head vampire Shane. Now I’m not going to stand here and say that he’s a great actor, but he’s definitely got the Sutherland Charisma. I believed that he could bring together a motley crew of vampires and lead them through their undying existence. The second positive is Corey Feldman as Edgar Frog. He knows the character, he is the character. Some of his dialogue is a little cringe worthy, but at that’s more at the hands of the writer and not him. Basically if you loved the Frog brothers from the original movie than you shouldn’t enjoy seeing him again.

Everything in this movie is laughable, and reeks of laziness. I try not to get mad at movies as there is no real point in it, but this movie really got under my skin as it seemed as if the makers of the movie really didn’t care. I’ll give some examples to help you understand. There is a driving scene where on of the characters ask how they are going to surf at night, seeming there is no moon out, cut to a scene of them surfing where there is a full bloody moon! Next we have a character who disbelieves in vampires, even though she is becoming one and nearly killed a man. Okay maybe she doesn’t remember right? Well that’s blown out of the water as only a minute later she now is complaining about the thirst she felt in the moment before. What the hell? No one cares about consistency and continuity in this movie, and as such it just reeks of laziness and an insult to the audience members.

The story here is basically beat for beat the same as the original, but even at the same basic running time doesn’t manage to gives us as fleshed out characters, or really highlight the gradual change into a vampire. Honestly watching this movie back to back with the first film would be an excellent lesson in how to pace a movie correctly, and how to actually make us care about characters. It’s amazing how this movie can’t even copy correctly.

There is more to complain about in the movie but I’ve covered the two major points, which pretty much reduce this movie to an unwatchable mess. People who love the film and want some more Frog Brother action best look elsewhere. There is a third movie out there and yes I have watched it, and yes I will be reviewing it. While I won’t give away my thoughts on the movie, I can confirm you don’t need to watch this movie, to watch the other one. So at the end of the day you don’t need to go anywhere near this fetid piece of crap.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: Chronicle (2012)

“Listen to me, we can't screw around with this it's too dangerous.”

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B Jordan
Writer: Max Landis

It’s hard for me to get too excited about super hero movies these days. Sure I’m looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises, but I can’t help feel a little burnt out on it all. This is a bad thing considering I work at a comic book store. Fact is it’s been a while since I’ve truly been wowed by a superhero premise in films. Off the top of my mind I would say the last time this happened was with the movie Unbreakable. Well it seems it’s time to be wowed once more with Chronicle.

Truly the power of the movie is in its story and its unique way of filming. I’ve heard people call this a found footage film but it’s far from it. It’s not so much found footage as a movie which weaves a story through the use of the filming eye. We have two characters that are filming the events, along with footage from security cameras, news reports and other sources. By using the unique perspective but getting away from the trappings of the found footage film, Chronicle is able to breathe life into this filming convention and really raise the bar for other movies to come.

The story is also very strong. Simple, yet detailed to create significant meaning. Equal parts tragic and funny, this is one of the best origin stories around. At the end of the movie, there is room for sequels, but it doesn’t feel cheap. This is a very satisfying first chapter in a bigger story. If they were to never make another movie, I would be happy enough. At its heart are characters that are fully fleshed out, and create an interesting journey into the beginning of being hero’s and villains. There are things to learn from this movie, but it’s never forced down your throat.

Of course one of the major problems with films that go for a found footage feel is the actors. Because the movie is trying to make you believe in the characters, they can’t really use known actors. This can lead to some god awful performances as the film has gone for unknowns, rather than talent. Chronicle strikes a wonderful balance with having great actors, but getting ones relatively new to their career so they have the experience and acclaim in some circles, but won’t be recognised by the average movie goer. In the case of this film it’s all about the trio of teens who find power, as other actors are more dressing for their emotional core.

Dane DeHaan is the centre of the story, as the bullied and abused teen Andrew. The one who embraces his powers the most; he’s also the most damaged and is the one who ultimately has to face his demons. For all the darkness in the character, he also manages to show the joy of a teenager finding friends and a meaning to his life. Alex Russell plays Matt, cousin to Andrew and someone who’s pulled away from the social circles of school. Ostracising himself he is trying to find a human connection, but thanks to isolation he has trouble. Finally Michael B Jordan plays Steve, the all star of the group. Over achiever, looking to get into politics, social butterfly, his life has purpose, but with the power he finally is given something that gives him a great sense of joy. Fun without worry, freedom with limits. All three represent a perfect trio, and the actors are believable. Every step of the way I was with them, feeling every emotional turn.

Dealing with teens that have super powers, that means there are special effects to be had. Also unlike some found footage movies that try and hide the supernatural/science fiction elements, this movie glorifies it. That being the case sometimes the special effects can seem a little off, for the most part I didn’t really notice but maybe one or two times I was pulled out by the bad CGI, thankfully thanks to the acting and story I was quickly pulled back in.

Honestly I loved this movie, and the more I think about things, the more I realise that this could be one of my favourite movies of the year. It has such a strong story and manages to pack everything in under ninety minutes. Some movies that come off bloated should take note. People need to get to the cinemas. Chronicle is a journey on well trodden road, but it makes everything seem brand new.