December 30, 2009

Avatar: The Last 3D Mindbender

**Warning. This movie contains a lot of CGI. Pregnant women and people who are sensitive to CGI should not take this movie. Consult a doctor if CGI is right for you.**

Let's talk about colonialism, kiddies.

For the last half a millennia or so, Europeans have been going to other parts of the world, establishing bases, running up flags, and generally kicking ass, taking names, and giving out the occasional blanket covered in small pox. Imagine Christopher Columbus in wrap-around shades with an Uzi in one hand and the Spanish flag in the other discovering the new world so he can BRING THE GODDAMN HURT, and then you've got a pretty good idea of how it went down. If you've ever actually been to England, you'll understand, too, because the place is a boring shithole.

However, eventually people got tired of listening to the 17th century equivalent of "America, Fuck Yeah!" on repeat and watching an unstoppable army of white guys named John O'Sullivan shoot down indigenous people like it was garbage day, so they came up with the concept of the noble savage.

In short, the "Noble Savage" is a romantic way to dress up racism-- In this version of racism, instead of the natives being inferior to civilization, the "savages" have a closer connection to nature due to their primitive, unencumbered-by-civilization state. However, in order to survive the destructive presence of the all-powerful white man, they need to be led into enlightenment by a white man. In noble savage stories, a white man is always the one who saves the day for those poor, salt-of-the-earth virtuous natives.

And that's where I come back to James Cameron's epic Avatar, because it is chock-full of this same racist, hacked-together "noble savage" bullshit I'm tired of being force-fed. I went into this movie expecting to have my intelligence and morals insulted like being ball-gagged and forced to watch The Glenn Beck Snow without commercial interruptions, but then something so rage-inducingly frustrating happened that I can't even put words to the sheer mangled hatred that boiled through my veins.

The movie was actually pretty good.

Does a white guy working for an EVIL CORPORATION(tm) join a tribe of native oversized smurfs, become their leader, and save the day due to his uniquely racial tenacity and ability to think outside the box? Yes. Should that be fundamentally belittling to the plight of native peoples around the globe? Yes. Is the film equally insulting to human civilization, even going so far as to trivialize the sum of human creative, social, and technological achievement as "light beer and blue jeans?" Yes. Is is awesome?

Sadly, yes.

James Cameron's Avatar is good. The CGI is so photorealistic that every single frame of this movie could make an amazing desktop background. The flora, fauna, and native civilization are imaginatively put-together. The character development is thin enough that one doesn't get the sense that this is nothing more than a pompous version of Fern Gully, but thick enough that when the final battle sequence starts TWO AND A HALF HOURS INTO THE MOVIE you almost don't feel like you've lost two hours of your life. The movie is in every way worth your ten bucks.

But beware, all you who might fall prey to the movie's romantic view of nature and criminalizing view of society. Life among those blue-skinned natives isn't so great. Yeah, the Na'vi might be able to fly around on pterodactyls powered only by their minds and have face paint that is metal as fuck, but they don't have any of the benefits of a real human civilization. You may think this a eurocentric point of view, and you're damn right: I'll take having a written language and the scientific method over faith healing and flying pterodactyls any day.

And so, I'll leave you with the greatest example of colonialism I can muster:



And PS: Hardcore movie nerds may have caught the name of this film's macguffin, the little rock that the humans want to mine on Pandora. The element is called "Unobtainium," which happens to be the same name as the plottainium element from the 2005 bomber The Core.

December 25, 2009

It's Elementary, My Dear Whats-his-face

**Wikipedia Warning: This article is about the detective, Sherlock Holmes. For other uses of "brilliant cokehead" see Robert Downey Jr.**

What comes to mind when I bring up the name of the world famous detective, Sherlock Holmes? Are you the type of person who immediately thinks of the dashing ratiocinator with his pipe and hat, sitting in the back of his room at 221b Baker Street, snorting a line of Colombia Gold like he's Little Wayne on a drug bust and then thoroughly explaining why it's all the butler's fault, or, perhaps, are you the kind of person whose mind immediately flashes to a white Dalmatian wearing a plaid hat and a cape?

If you fall in the latter category, you might be the target audience for Guy Richie's surprising new film revolving around that same titular character. By this, of course, I mean that ever lovable dog, Sherlock Holmes. The only difference between the Wishbone version and this $200 million dollar version is that that except for the dog we get Robert Downey Jr, and except for made-for-PBS kid-friendliness we get Guy Richie's fast-talking, guns-blaring speed material so heavily steeped in contagious style that one might serve it with crumpets and Tarantino.

And a side of raw cocaine, but that's another story.

Don't get me wrong, Sherlock Holmes (2009) isn't bad by any stretch. It promises modern action and delivers. Holmes blares across the screen, karate-chopping and judo-punching his way through hordes of mustashio'd henchmen like some sort of Bruce Willis character who rounds out his beatings with a "Jolly ho, good chap!" and a dramatic correction of his hat. Yes, there are some things to gripe about, like the the villain who is so sinister he looks like a British version of Andy Garcia and acts like Xanatos from the Gargoyles animated television show, but he's scary enough and smart enough to give Holmes a good run for his money, and the dialogue, if you're quick enough to follow it all, makes the whole film worth watching.



But there's something just a little too predictable here. The film forsakes the narrative structure of the source material, and instead picks up the structure of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Just like Indy, Holmes is a period adventurer whose intellect is only matched by his physical prowess. Just like Indy, Holmes matches each impossible intuitive leap with similar physical leaps across London. Finally, Just like Indy, director Guy Richie shows off his prowess just a little too much: he shows us each scene with the wool over our eyes and then relishes jumping back in time to show us exactly how it all really went down through the eyes of Sherlock Holmes, just like Troy Duffy would do if he were, you know, talented.

And that brings me to London. The film does a great job using CGI to recreate the look of 19th century London, but one gets a sense of anacronism in the task. Did you know, for example, that 19th century London was actually designed to look like the rooftop scene in Mary Poppins? The whole city looks like it fell out of an old lady's handbag and then got ran over by a car filled with coke, and I mean the kind made of charcoal, not the kind made out of Robert Downey Jr.

There are hints at the sinister Professor Moriarty, but these hints are actually more distracting than anything else. Is there anything worse than a movie that knows it's going to get a sequel or two? Yes. It's a movie that relies on it's sequel, like this one. If Sherlock Holmes made any more room for it's own follow-ups, it would be just a gaping, two-hour trailer for Sherlock Holmes 2: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Am I looking forward to the sequel? Yes. Does this movie merit one? No.

And with that, I'll leave you with the best Sherlock Holmes movie I've ever seen:

November 20, 2009

New Moon (Not the Chinese Restaurant)

**Warning. If you're remotely attracted to men, you might have already seen this movie. Every straight, single, painfully awkward woman between 14 and 25 on earth might have been in the theatre with me.**

The words "New Moon" conjure up strange feelings for me-- I think back to the joyful harvest time during my youth, when my father would tell us children to go out and "make cider" out of the several hundred bushels of apples we had collected over the course of the month by running each and every rotted fruit through a loud and dangerous press the size of a 1996 Subaru Forester and just about as safe and reliable. I am also reminded of my girlfriend's period, which is often accompanied by mood swings that would make Mr. Hyde look like Carlyle Cullen and often reduce the otherwise amiable girl into a firebreathing actress diva capable of destroying Tokyo 37 times. In general, my associations aren't good.

And, after having returned from New Moon, the second chapter in The Twilight Saga, these negative associations are firmly intact.

First, I had to buy my tickets in advance. I had to buy tickets *two weeks* in advance. As a movie reviewer who is not habituated to paying for movie tickets whatsoever, this was a big deal to me. The theatre I went to had a midnight showing of New Moon on every one of it's six screens save one, which was showing Twilight as a throwback to the diehard Twifans who had been camping in front of the theatre in their Edward Cullen snuggies and long name-brand pajamas since dawn. It was as if Harry Potter and Anne Rice had a baby directed by Steven Spielberg on crack. This baby had grown in the minds of many young women into some sort of raging monster of misplaced sexual metaphors, capable of taring down even the most basic elements of story structure and plot. What else would you expect from a Stephanie Meyer crack baby?

Nevertheless, it's fair to say that every single drop of estrogen in the city of Portland Oregon was present in the theatre that night. Sorority sisters displaying proud "me too" college sweatshirts giggled in the row behind me. Japanese fangirls bubbled in the seats next to me. Diehard 43-year-old twimoms in makeup heavy enough to make Vincent Price go "Dayyymn, girl" waited with bated breath on every mangled perversion of the english language that came out of Edward Cullen's light-rouge colored mouth. I facepalmed.

And then the movie began.

Or, as I should say, then the music video began. It's unfair to movies to call New Moon anything else-- the not-montage segments of the movie are outnumbered two-to-one by the "fresh from VH1" sections of the movie. The filmmaker decided that the best way to represent the surprising absence of plot was to cover it with light acoustic guitar covers of every song ever composed that featured a lyric about the moon, and then pad the movie by making every other shot in glamourous slow-motion like some sort of pre-teen Sam Peckinpah. Whereas Twilight brought us the wildly misplaced but incredibly good Muse song "Supermassive Black Hole," New Moon brought us a man with a soft beard gently strumming an open-G on his Aston 388 in the back of a local Starbucks. Whee.

The plot introduces Jacob, the will-be werewolf from the first movie, as an unlikely new love interest. In the first Twilight movie Jacob was a lovable and punchable version of Thomas Builds-The Fire. In this movie he has apparently put on enough muscle to qualify as an action figure, considering his neck is now the size of several industrial components illegal in the United States. He is prone to 'roid rage and joins a gang. Not even kidding.

And the plot? You want to know about the plot? LOL. *sobs uncontrollably*

I walked out of the theatre and watched the teaming masses of girls and women pour from the theatre doors and push their way down the up escalators and through the emergency exits to their cars. In my mind, they were fleeing.

And they were running from the werewolf version of this guy:


November 13, 2009

2012 (The Year After Tomorrow A Year From Now)

**Warning. This review might seriously disillusion those six people left on earth who really like disaster movies. The rest of us have moved on to liking movies that are themselves disasters. Like Twilight.**

Let me begin this review by saying that I've written about Roland Emmerich before. Let me then follow this statement by saying that I have a mindcrushingly hard boner for John Cusack. Given these two things, you'd expect me to have a similarly large tent in my pants for this movie, right? Wrong. 2012 was actually kinda painful.

First, this is a Roland Emmerich film. You may know him as the guy who brought you ID4, The Day After Tomorrow, and that really crappy Godzilla movie. I know, he's not that big of a name among the breakfast cereal set, but he taps into a deep underlying passion at the heart of every American to see New York burned to the fucking ground, and he's usually pretty good at coming up with creative ways of doing just that. ID4 had aliens who used powerful laser beams capable of blowing the shit out of large buildings. The Day After Tomorrow had freezing tidal waves and environmental destruction. Godzilla had Mathew Broderick trying to pull off a Brooklyn accent, which on principle alone should have caused New York to fall into an angry, murderous pitchforked riot like people forced to watch George Lopez do standup. In this case, Emmerich came up with the idea of making a disaster movie about the Mayan 2012 apocalypse, which, accoriding to Emmerich, is caused by neutrinos from the sun which cause massive environmental damage and tidal waves. Waitafuckingminute. This sounds familiar.

Isn't this the exact same premise as Knowing (2009) staring Nicolas Cage who uses his power of numerology to predict the end of days?

Isn't this just The Day After Tomorrow, except with John Cusack instead of that guy in the hat from G.I. Joe? Haven't we seen the whole death-by-giant-wave thing before? Like here? Or here? Or even here?

The whole 2012 Mayan calendar thing isn't even there, either. This movie makes no mention of how the Mayans made their prediction, who made that prediction, why, or when. The movie may be named 2012, but it is named so only to cash in on a current cultural meme without actually having to make a movie that actually addresses any aspects of that meme. It's like taking a DVD of Towering Inferno and renaming it World Trade Center. Wait. Oliver Stone already did that.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love end of the world movies. There is something about the idea that the end is coming that really gets to people. But this movie doesn't even offer that. The main characters are too busy rolling initiative and jumping away from rocks the size of Roxanne's Tits to really reflect on the value of their lives. There is footage of people praying, so it seems that in the Emmerich-verse at least the people who are constantly dying in increasingly senseless ways are completely at ease with their respective gods as they do so.

And then, Emmerich tries to tack on this absolutely over-the-top preposterous Noah's Arc ending that is ripped, shot for fucking shot, from the ending of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Of course, in Metropolis when the emotional lead character leads all the great unwashed little people to smash the machines that will keep the richer members of humanity alive, the filmmaker is really trying to show us how fucking retarded such populist pathos is, especially because everybody drowns as a result. Emmerich riffs off this scene with a straight face, and instead waves a magic wand and makes everything okay. Considering Emmerich had $250,000,000 to play with and Lang didn't have sound or color, and the Lang ending makes abso-fucking-lutely no fucking sense in this context, I'll just let my frustration speak for itself.

So, in my rage, I'll leave you with the one good end-of-the-world movie I've seen in the last week or so. Or ever. Probably ever.

October 2, 2009

Zombieland (Not New Jersey)

**Warning. This review contains some minor spoilers, so if you're a surprise-type Pokemon I suggest you keep spamming "sleep" until you've seen it. Also, Rosebud is the sled.**

There are zombie movies, and then there is Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland. Don't run to see this movie. Get in your zombie-proofed SUV and slam through traffic like Mel Gibson on a bender to this movie.

You've heard the premise of Zombieland before-- If you've seen fifteen seconds of any zombie movie since George A. Romero barfed all over the first print of Night of the Living Dead, you'll understand what Zombieland is about. Yes, we've got a diverse group of survivors who learn to tolerate each other through battle with the undead. Yes, we've got shotguns and chainsaws and all sorts of zombie killing devices which get used for better or worse effect. So, in lue of repeating the tired old zombie premise, I will just run down the checklist of traits this film fulfills as part of it's genre:

Zombies: Running and climbing, but killed by headshots.
Hero: pathetic.
Love interest: Two dimensional.
Main character survival rate: %100

That being said, if Zombieland played itself with a straight face, it would feel like an over-budget remake of Dawn of the Dead except without the mall or the tacky seventies film palette. Luckily, Zombieland is unlike any other zombie movie you've ever seen before, because of Fleischer's ability to stuff absolutely everything you could ever want out of a zombie horror comedy into only 81 minutes of bloody, graphic celluloid. This is the baby Jesus of zombie movies.

If you're the kind of person who wants a few pop-scares and a few gross-outs to keep you interested, this movie has something for you. Each shotgun blast feels like an earthquake in the theater, and the danger feels real even when the film launches into one of it's many flippant, comedic digressions like an episode of Family Guy with even worse attention deficit disorder than it already has.

No, it's not quite as go-tell-your-friends funny as 2003's seminal zombie classic Shaun of the Dead with all it's pan-referential glory, but there's something pitch-perfect about Zombieland's gags. This zombie apocalypse has all the humor of a world collapsing in on it's own contradictions and neuroses: sketchy men are chased by zombie strippers out of lowlife tittybars. A soccer mom is pursued by her own tutu-clad brood from a deadified birthday party. An nonathletic sports jerk is outrun by a zombie footballer under the Friday night lights and digested like Terrell Owens shotgunning a whole bag of popcorn. I found myself simultaneously horrified and in hysterics watching these pedestrian scenes of domestic tranquility erupt in sudden ironic violence. If Franz Kafka frothed at the mouth and ate brains, he'd be right there with 'um.

And that doesn't even cover the other brilliant parts of this movie. Jesse Eisenberg plays an hero who might rival Michael Cerna as the most awkward person in cinema. Woody Harrelson plays a character whose only motivation is to collect every Twinkie in the continental US and Mexico. There is even a cameo / guest star (epic spoilers in link) who provides the best performance for a walk-on role I've seen in years.

The dialogue is witty without testing the bounds of realism. The situation comedy channels the darkest elements of absurdity. The zombies are frakin' scary, and even though some of the best jokes are spoiled in the trailer, they're still incredibly funny on second, third, and fifty-second views. So with that, I'll leave you with something brainy to chew over:

September 27, 2009

Say Anything (Else)

**If you hear the 1989 cassette cut of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" blaring outside your window, don't call the cops. Find a condom.**

There are few things in this world that make me feel romantic.

1989's "Say Anything" is one of those things I have experienced in my life that accurately, if somewhat ineptly, captures the feeling of falling deeply, and irrevocably, in love. When John Cusack lifts that boombox over his head and makes those nervous facial twitches, I can't help but going week in the knees like Eagles' tackle Jerome McDougle at the prospect of actually playing football.

And to put my statement in context: although I am a sucker for romance films (I cried during "A Walk to Remember" like I hadn't cried since Littlefoot's mother died at the beginning of "The Land Before Time"), I never get involved with romantic subplots. If the badass hero of an action movie is in love with his sexy heroine, I just go along with it without ever actually batting an eyelash. But a pathetic, lovable kickboxer played by John Cusack standing outside my window blaring the top 1000 pop hits of the 1980s one by one from a jimmyrigged cassette player? I would make love to him on the spot, and not just because he's my boyfriend.

But, since I am The Midnight Movie Guy and not The "Sleepless in Seattle" Guy or The "such a pussy, why won't he stop crying in his room every time he hears Coldplay on the radio?" Guy, I might as well point out the aspects of this movie that get me every time.

First, "Say Anything" starts with the great granddaddy of cold opens. It's an ice opening. A liquid nitrogen opening. A breezy day on the north pole of Pluto opening. Starting from the moment the Twentieth Century Fox tag appears, it takes less than 15 seconds for us to go through exactly one establishing shot, two title-overs (the director's name and "Say Anything..."), and a plot-heavy opening line accompanied by someone absently noodling on a guitar. I had to restart the movie THREE TIMES because each time I thought I had missed some sort of exposition, establishing shot, or theme music that would make this opening less frigid. To make it worse, the "beginning" that's supposed to happen after the cold open never actually comes. Instead, we're launched into an incomprehensible mess of cinema verite screenwriting, drunk cinematography, and teenybopper direction which, when put together, could be called "romantic comedy" only by those who have a very forgiving definition thereof. If you're the kind of person who needs to be lulled into suspending your hard-earned disbelief, forget this shit and stick with the slowest film ever made.

And what follows is the mushiest possible romance late-80's realism will allow-- consider, for example the name "Loyd Dobbler." It's as if a group of Hollywood screenwriters locked themselves in a room and brainstormed until they came up with the most awkward combination of sounds in the English language and slammed them together with two capital letters. Cusack delivers his lines with the nervous rush of Dennis Miller with a speech impediment, and comes off simultaneously witless and witty in a way that makes you want to kiss him every time he says "...um," which is far more often than any other actor could pull off.

But by far the most annoying aspect of Say Anything is the screenwriting. The screenwriter uses a trick where each scene begins in the middle of a conversation, and then suddenly cuts off before the end. We never linger or stay to listen, as if the cameraman had such severe attention deficit disorder that he couldn't follow a whole conversation without his head exploding like a David Cronenberg extra. Not only will the scenes suddenly stop, but with them goes the entire soundtrack! If you ever want to hear more than eight measures of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," you better go out and buy the cassette because the sound editor aborts the song mid-lyric like a musical George Tiller.

But for everything bad I could say about the writing or the direction or the music or the cinematography, the last scene could remind even this cold-hearted cynical moviegoer what a good romance should be. I don't care if the rest of the movie feels like a frenetic late-80's music video, When Cusack and Ione Skye sit on the airplane to England together, waiting for the "ding" of the seatbelts sign, suddenly the artfulness of the work shines through in a simple act of symbolic realism. It's like Waiting for Godot except instead of Godot we've got the rest of the 1990s waiting for us, and any artist that could say that could say anything.

I would fly off with John Cusack any day.

September 22, 2009

The Art of "Cusack Booming" Part Two

**Warning. If you wake up hearing the 1986 LP cut of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" blaring outside your window, call the cops.**

I present to you the winning Cusackboom.



...and a few of my favorites.



You know what makes things funny? Middle School boys.



And, finally, one that is very slow to start but has OVER 70 PEOPLE CusackBooming various parts of the city.

September 19, 2009

The Art of "Cusack Booming" Part One

In 1989, John Cusack appeared in "Say Anything" wearing a trench-coat and lifting up a boom-box blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" at maximum volume next to his lost love's window. It was the musical equivalent of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene, except instead of "would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?" we get piano synathsizer, a hi-hat player with an itchy foot, and Peter Gabriel crooning "in your eyes: the light, the heat. In your eyes: I am complete." Best of all: I still tear up at this.

And, in preparation for reviewing "Say Anything" next week, I present a challenge to teh internets. I want you to take this touching scene and remix the hell out of it, and then post the videos to YouTube or any other place you feel fit. Let the world know that you're willing to make yourself heard by standing around in a trench-coat and letting pop music do the self expression for you. What would you express? Who would you Cusack Boom?

Here is a perfect example of what I'm looking for:



And if you send the videos to me or link me, I will embed them.

September 17, 2009

John Cusack, Professional Hunk

**Warning. If you are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant with spoilers, for the love of god keep reading.***

Over the last few days a lot of strange things have happened in my life.

I moved to a new apartment, got a haircut, and started classes. I made new friends, became single, and even watched two straight men shotgun nitrous oxide between their naked bodies during a showing of Wild Zero.

But one very important thing happened in the last few days: I rekindled my love affair with actor John Cusack.

John and I are inseparable. He? An aging but remarkably youthful 80's teen star who never quite transitioned to the 90's. I? A youthful but remarkably aged child born in the 80's who never quite got the whole "sit down and shut up" thing in kindergarten. We were made for each other. So, just for a moment, I'm going to put aside furiously masturbating to Peter Gabriel 8-tracks and talk about my one true love.

This weekend John and I stopped our pointless in-fighting and constant disagreements and bonded over a movie we both loathe: High Fidelity. John loathes this movie because it's a romance that proves that he is little more than just a cute piece of the 1980's who still romances girls who listen to Bowling for Soup. I loathe this movie because it's actually passably good. So passably good, in fact, that there is very little to say about it except that it feels like something John should have done back when he was popular with people other than me.

Why, you ask, do I have a crush on John Cusack? Why is The Midnight Movie Guy infatuated with this two-bit hack who could never quite live up to the few seconds he spent waving a boombox around like that mildly retarded strangler from Do The Right Thing? Because John Cusack is one affable motherfucker. He plays the "well, I dono" hero: he has the ability to let the audience see things through his eyes, just like Keanu Reeves if Reeves could move his face properly.

Also, aside from the aforementioned musical stalker incident, it's really easy to forget that John Cusack is even in the movies he headlines. Can you remember the last time you sat down in a theater and said to yourself, "I'm really looking forward to this John Cusack movie?" Or, for that matter, do you remember the year you last walked out of a movie theater saying: "John Cusack was really brilliant?" What's remarkable about Cusack is his ability to pull an Alan Cumming and be in a lot of different movies, but somehow manage to be so bland, so normal, that you forget he's even an actor. To prove my point, I'm willing to bet one Golden Internet that you can't name three movies starring John Cusack.

(Sixteen Candles, Being John Malkovich, Say Anything)

Okay, yeah, whatever. But I'll bet you two Golden Internets you've seen at least one of these titles and couldn't tell John Cusack from the Key Grip.

(Igor, War Inc, 1408, The Ice Harvest, Must Love Dogs, Runaway Jury, Con Air, Grosse Point Blank, The Thin Red Line, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, True Colors, Broadcast News, High Fidelity)

Winning so far? I'll bet you four Golden Internets you didn't know that John Cusack played Dimitri in Disney's Anastasia. Ana-fucking-stasia.

And another thing: did any of those movies I mentioned pop out as particularly John Cusack? My point exactly.

Currently my boyfriend John is working on "2012," the new film by Roland Emmerich. Roland Emmerich is a filmmaker who has garnered his entire career on exploiting an innate desire in the heart of every New Yorker: the undying, untamed longing to burn that fucking city to the ground. What Michael Bay is to explosions, Roland Emmerich is to giant, city-smashing tidal waves that always manage to knock off the head of the Statue of Liberty, which then goes on to have wacky adventures in various inappropriate Burroughs of New York. It's like Sex in the City except instead of women it's the severed head of Lady Liberty and instead of upscale nightclubs everyone is running for their lives from Godzilla!

Can you imagine John Cusack in that movie? Neither can I. So before I go, I'll leave you with the greatest scene in Cusack's career.

September 10, 2009

TOP GUN Part II

**Warning. This post may be phrased in a way that is offensive to people who know anything at all about military service. Just like this movie.**

Gentlemen.

You're here because you are the best of the best of the best of the best of the best. You are the elite. Nowhere in the world will you find a better group of internet film review blog readers. You rock. No, seriously. If any of you were women I would make sweet honeysuckle Tom Cruise love to you at the time, position, and location of your choosing.

And for that reason, I have assembled you here in order to turn you into the best our military has to offer. You are more than just a generic super-team consisting of one tough, independent yet ruggedly handsome guy, one awkward nerdy guy, one cynical hard-boiled veteran, and at least one but less than three smart-yet-sexy women who only wear glasses to look smart. You are the best of all those super-teams put together. You're my team.

At this school you will take your already l33t protagonist powers and, over the course of a few short montages, become powerful enough to fulfill your super-secret, plot-irrelevant mission. What's that, you say? You demonstrated sufficient strength, skill or understanding in the beginning of the film to easily defeat the final bad guy? Hogwash! You're the best of the best, which is why you obviously are here to become better.

Not only that, but you will face demons from your past and become a better person for it. Don't you want to find out what happened to your mysteriously dead or missing best friend/parent/spouse? Don't you ever want to get past your paralyzing fear of whatever it is that traumatized you as a child by finding out that trauma was caused by our underdeveloped enemies? Don't you want those sepia-tone slow motion flashbacks of a running woman with a concerned look on her face to stop, or at least not happen while you're in the middle of battle?

But being the best has it's cost, however. At least one of you will die dramatically before you're done here. This will not actually affect the outcome of your mission, but it will teach the rest of you the value of friendship. Harsh? Yes. But you must make sacrifices to be the best of the best of the best of the best.

Also, don't make a lot of jokes. You can tell from my gruff, paternal voice that I don't like jokes, people who play jokes, or anything the rest of humanity considers funny. As a result, if you're the comedic foil, you're ten times more likely to die.

Horribly.

In addition to your offscreen combat training, we will also train you in the art of diplomacy. Look at all the women around you. You're going to fall in love with one of them, but then have a shaky, improbable relationship that culminates with a long, dramatic confession that might actually happen in the middle of combat. Accept this as part of your training.

Now, let me introduce you to whomever it is who is in charge of the gadgets you're going to break as soon as you touch them. He's going to tell you all about the laws of physics you're going to ignore, and give you a primer on using your super-secret military technology in highly improbable, wildly illogical ways. He's an expert because he's older than you and wears a jacket, and probably has a voice at least half as gruff as mine.

At the end of your training you will be put through one last test, which will either be something simple you were unable to do at the beginning of the montage, or something incredibly dangerous that will get you killed. You will be trained for this, but you'll still feel the terrible wining of abused violins every time you gulp hard or start sweating. These are the things you have to do in order to be the best.

That's it, gentlemen. Welcome to the Top Gun Academy for Protagonist Cockbags!

September 8, 2009

TOP GUN Part One: The Soundtrack

**Over the next few weeks, I will be posting three spoiler-filled reviews of the 1986 blockbuster TOP GUN. Did I mention the spoilers?**

There are a lot of good things that have happened to me at sunset.

I had my first kiss at sunset. Before my grandfather passed away we watched a long orange sunset disappear over the icy Atlantic. Just last year I shared a beer with a beautiful woman and watched the sun go down over the spring leaves of Oregon. But not once, not in all the sunsets I've seen in my entire life, did the Top Gun Anthem fail to start blaring out of my ears like the half dead ghost of Glam-Rock out of the 80's. It's become part of the experience.



If you're like me and suffer from Top Gun Soundtrack Syndrome, I suggest that in lue of downing a bottle of roofinol with a bottle of Jack every morning, you seek professional consultation in the form of a wildly superior John Williams soundtrack.

Every single freakin' time that "nao-nao-nao-na-na-na-na-nao-nao-na-na-NA-na-na-NA-NAAA-NAAA" plays in my head, it's like my inner DJ just OD'd on painkillers after locking the booth and putting in the most annoying record ever made. Okay, so it's not that bad. I just wish I could enjoy the image of a setting sun without thinking of Maverick and Goose attempting a 4G Inverted Dive against a MiG-28 for the express person of giving someone the finger.

Top Gun is a Tony Scott movie produced by the legendary Jerry Bruckheimer, a man so powerful he once took a Technical College of Passidena dropout whose only claim to fame was a few "Got Milk" commercials and an unintelligible Meatloaf video and turned him into Michael Bay, Power Director. Top Gun was Bruckheimer's attempt to captured the essence of the 80s. In fact, I would venture to say that the seminal moment of that whole decade occurs within a single scene of Top Gun. That moment is when pre-Scientology Tom Cruise makes awkward love to an excessively permed Kelly McGillis as blue-tint silk drapes billow in the background and the retarded thumps of Take My Breath Away start... for the sixth time. I dare you to respond with something more essentially 80's than that.

But why do I associate this movie with sunsets, you ask? Because Top Gun is a movie about three things: Fighter Jets, Tom Cruise sex, and the Jeopardy category "Things that Happen at While the Sky is Orange." Every single scene in this movie, from the opening credits to the very last shot, happen with a setting sun in the background. There are even scenes where the opening shot happens at sunset, then the scene is shot during the day, and then the ending shot is at sunset again. Sunsets in the real world last for 8 minutes. Sunsets in the Jerry Bruckheimer world last longer than the breakfast shift and Denny's.

But there is one song, beyond the Top Gun Anthem, that has stuck with me through those many long years. That song is Kenny Loggin's Danger Zone, which is an 80's power ballad whose lyrics appear to have been written on the dare to incorporate every slang term in aviation into one highly repetitive verse.

Danger Zone isn't just a little bit repetitive. It's very repetitive. The refrain goes: "Highway to danger zone. Gonna take it right into the danger zone. Highway to the danger zone. Right into the danger zone." This feeds into the first of the 6 rules to the Top Gun drinking game, which is to drink whenever anyone or anything says the word "dangerous" or any variation thereof. If you played with this rule alone, you could be decently buzzed by the time the (8 minute) opening credits are over, and be unconscious by the time Maverick is going through his aviation crisis.

Nevertheless, for all the invocations of "danger" in this movie, none of the scenes actually make the audience feel any of that danger. A practiced movie viewer will know from the moment the jets streak across the sky and a generic military voice fills us in on the plot exactly how things are going to go down. By the last scene, watching Tom Cruise blow up Russian fighter jets like pinatas filled with bombs is not only tired and unsurprising, but markedly uninspiring as well.

But there is more to this movie. Next Tuesday.

September 3, 2009

Enemy at the Gates (or Behind the Lens Cap?)

**Warning. This review contains epic amounts of fail. So much fail, I might add, that it is questionable whether or not there is room for anything BUT fail in this movie. Also, spoilers.**

I first watched Enemy at the Gates on my couch in my apartment, after finding it free on one of those sketchy offshore servers that have been holding down the music industry like a dominatrix during Burning Man. It was a nice night. Then I was thrown into a violent rage.

Enemy at the Gates, a A-list historical drama from 2001, was supposed to be for the Battle of Stalingrad what Saving Private Ryan was for D-Day. Both are films that are epic in scope, filled with soldiers and the people who love them, and feature "sympathetic" looks at the gruff-and-tumble vets with cigarettes dangling out of the side of their perpetually mud-covered faces while they complain that "they're getting too old for this." Though don't be fooled into thinking they're equivalent movies, however. Saving Private Ryan won Best Picture and was, at the time, the most realistic war movie ever put to film. Enemy at the Gates featured a Jude Law sex scene.

Saving Private Ryan focused on American troops deployed in France on a mission for country and brotherhood, facing harrowing combat that taught them the true nature of patriotism and the meaning of freedom. Enemy at the Gates spends so much energy bashing it's communist characters that the Nazis look like schnitzel-eating good guys who want to conquer Europe in the name of puppies.

Saving Private Ryan discussed deep-seated issues of patriarchy and fraternity in the American military institution. Enemy at the Gates had a love triangle so inane that it made Pearl Harbor's subplots look like an epic romance.

Did I mention that, in the worst makeup decision since Orson Welles smeared shit all over Charleston Heston's face, both films use mud as the primary cosmetic device? Were the filmmakers not aware that even people on the battlefield have been known to wash their faces? (How did their faces even get that dirty in the first place? Are their pillows made of coal?)

Enemy at the Gates is about Jude Law, a naive Russian boy, who grows up to become the Soviet Union's most famous sniper with the help of his good friend, a commissar in the Communist Party. Between them there is a woman, Rachel Weisz, who is actually a very talented actress if you watch any other movie, especially if she's not in it. The movie takes place entirely during the battle of Stalingrad, one of the most heroic battles in the war's history. Even Cold War American historians thought that Stalingrad a heroic tale of survival and defiance in the face of Fascism. Enemy at the Gates doesn't buy into that rhetoric, however, and prefers to show wave-after-wave of Russian soldiers getting mowed down in slow motion while dramatic music plays like a cheap knockoff of a Sam Peckinpah movie with slightly fewer Mexicans.

But when it comes to crowning achievements in badness, the ending of this movie takes the cake. I won't reveal it, but I will say that one of the main characters makes a speech about how socialism will never work because of love triangles, and then kills himself. I raged. I threw a fit. If I had been in the theater, I might have actually punched something in the face. This movie pretends so hard to be good. It tries so hard to be that seminal big-budget film about WWII that could get post 9/11 audiences to open their hearts and pocketbooks to the War on Terror. Unfortunately, some war movies just don't know when to quit. The rest of us, on the other hand, should quit before we're at the gates.

August 28, 2009

(The) Final Destination

**The Warning. This movie may contain way more instances of the definite article than most people would deem appropriate. You are the warned.**

The Final Destination, not to be confused with Final Destination 1, 2, or 3: Electric Boogaloo, is the last (?) of a way too long series of teenagers-versus-fate horror movies. Now, I am the sort of movie watcher who appreciates a good scare. I really do. I once screamed so loud watching Ju-On that if I woke my parents up, which wouldn't be such a big deal if they lived less than 3500 miles away from here. However, the first thing anyone watching The Final Destination should know is that there is a difference between a legitimate scare and objects flying at your face like a Eli Roth version of Spy Kids 3D. The Final Destination fits into the latter category, and suffers greatly for it.

But before I get too deep into the movie's sorry excuse for a premise, let's talk about the definite article "the." The definite article in English is used for many purposes. According to the OED, you can put the definite article before a proper noun, natural phenomenon, ship, building, time, point of the compass, branch of endeavor, field of study, or something well-known or unique. A Final Destination movie does not qualify for any of these things, except possibly the natural phenomenon of me puking my guts out in the 4th stall of the theater's men's room after having to sit through one. The Final Destination is simply "Final Destination 4" uncreatively retitled to attract the people who had scoffed at the first two sequels like Republicans at the prospect of actually reading the healthcare reform bill. I don't know what team of creative geniuses came up with the idea of this inane retitling, but my guess is that it was the same great minds who brought us "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Bring It On 5: Fight to the Finish."

I wish I could say Final Destination 4 is alone in it's badness or it's gimmicky 3D effects, but that would be a boldfaced lie. Final Destination 3 had a similar gimmick because it's DVD had a choose-your-own-adventure aspect to it where you could decide when main characters met their untimely deaths. Final Destination 2 also had some 3D parts and still managed to suck worse than Final Destination 1, which didn't have anything going for it except an audience of Jagermeister-shooting, extreme-cheetos-eating frat boys who would root for anything that caused people to die, even metaphysical concepts. In fact, the only good Final Destination I can think of is the one where Fox and Falco get to fight with no items and no level hazards, and even that one is annoying after about twenty minutes.

And I wasn't the only person disappointed with this seemingly final Final Destination. Those same frat boys that made this movie franchise famous left the theater with me in a rage that would have made Hitler look like a calm, rational old man. This movie falls short of the line even if you're one of the millions of Americans who have seen more Michael Bay movies than Akira Kurosawa ones and are proud of that fact.

So I'll leave it this way. If you are extremely desperate to watch something in 3D, go out and find a theater that is still playing G-Force. If you can't find one, go rent Spy Kids 3D and put it into your DVD player. Failing that, just stare at a wall cross-eyed until it feels like the imperfections in the paint are popping out at you. Whatever you do, don't waste your cash on this, even for a midnight show. Not recommended.

August 25, 2009

(Cinematic) Armageddon

**Warning. This post may contain explosions. We suggest, for example, that you don't read it while driving a car full of fertilizer or while routinely soaking your last living possessions in gasoline on the grill that was your life. You have been warned.**

Armageddon means a lot of different things. For some people, it involves a rather stupid cult phenomenon about the year 2012. For others, it means the end-times in the bible and a series of even more inane books about those "left behind." But for the rest of us, it means Michael Bay is back in town.



For those of you who just watch movies and don't really know much about them, Michael Bay is the guy who makes shit blow up. He did Transformers, for example. He also did Pearl Harbor. He did Bad Boys II and even a few incomprehensible Meatloaf music videos.

But the movie that really sucked the worst, the one that jump-started his career in the multimillion dollar set, was the 1998 Bruce Willis / Ben Affleck star vehicle Armageddon, a movie so bad it would be flattered if it were only the worst of the two meteor-hits-earth movies that came out that year, and not the worst movie of 1998 or, perhaps, the worst movie not involving giant CGI robots.

Armageddon starts out with a long shot of earth exploding for no reason at all, except to set the mood. You can tell from the moment the credits come hurdling at you like the last of your possessions out of your girlfriend's window that this movie is not going to be a cinematic triumph by any stretch of the imagination. Admittedly, the CGI for this movie is much better than The Core, but Armageddon more than makes up for it by not having any plot whatsoever.

The lack-of-plot rotates around a group of American outlaw oil riggers who get sent to space in order to blow an asteroid to smithereens by burying nukes in it. The main rigger, Bruce Willis, has issues with his daughter dating Ben Affleck, who drills oil wells. This white-trash-romance subplot goes nowhere, and the daughter/girlfriend character is one of the biggest ingenues ever put to film. If a man with a handlebar mustache were to tie her to some train tracks at least she would have something to do except stand there and look like Arwyn while waiting for the men in her life to save her. Those of you with an angry inner feminist will be amused to note that she is the only female character, making this movie one of the biggest sausage fests until Master and Commander took the big bratwurst in '03. To make it worse, the romantic scenes between her and Ben Affleck might compete with the sex scene in Watchmen for the title of Most Awkward Thing Ever Put to Film. Umm. Yeah.

One character did throw me for a loop, however. Steve Buscemi actually plays a rigger with Westley Crusher Syndrome who can calculate distance along the surface of an asteroid in his head and identify the thickness of a vein of rock while in space. Steve Buscemi plays a character who doesn't look like he's three drinks away from the Mos Eisley Cantina? Preposterous!

Michael Bay's directing style is atrocious. There is no shot longer than 4 seconds, women are shot like sex dolls, and even Bruce Willis looks confused and angry. For a brief summery of his style, look at this actual trailer for Armageddon and then watch this video of Michael Bay eating a bowl of cereal. Notice any differences?



In fact, Michael Bay is so notorious for being a bad director that even a fake script for The Dark Knight went around with his name and tags on it. If the same script had Chris Nolan's name on it, nobody would have believed such an outrageous fake. But Mr. Bay? Yeah. He would make the movie this bad. The man made the world's only successful movie about toy robots, for fuck's sake.

But for all the horrible things about this movie, it is a great midnight show. Once you get used to Michael Bay's directing habits, you'll see them everywhere. Beer commercials. Lingerie ads. SyFy channel original movies. Once you know the enemy, you'll be able to avoid it. And do you know what the word for that is?

Awesome?

Bingo.

August 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

**Warning. This review contains spoilers like how Hitler is actually only a cover for his alter-ego, Super-Hitler, who wears a cape while killing Jews.**

When I first saw the intentionally misspelled advertisements for Inglourious Basterds, I thought to myself: “it’s probably better if I don’t know a lot about the movie before I go in.” I had picked up this reflex at some point between Jackie Brown and Death Proof, because at some point I must have subconsciously realized that if I went into a new QT movie expecting it to be as brilliant as the industry-changing Pulp Fiction, I would only be chasing the dragon. Not that T-rad’s films in the interim have been extremely bad, but rather that none have lived up to the expertise he demonstrated in Reservoir Dogs. And at first look, Basterds looked more like Kill Bill than Pulp Fic, so it was easy to believe that this movie would be nothing more than a purile exercise in re-writing World War Two. S I implore you to trust me, right now, when I say: Inglourious Basterds is, possibly, the best movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made.

But there are several quirks you’ll have to sit through in order to get to the glory. Instead spending the next four hundred and fifty words saluting the brilliance of this filmic tour-de-force, I will focus on those quirks that make this film particularly fucked up, anachronistic, pulpy, and otherwise midnight-worthy. And trust me, this movie is all four of those things.

First, this movie is full of fun facts about history. For example, did you know that World War Two ended abruptly in 1945 with Eli Roth machine-gunning Hitler in the face? Or that SS Officers were each issued a pipe the size of Alsace-Lorraine and a drinking boot upon deployment? I can’t believe I missed that in history class.

There are a few great Tarantino-isms, too: T-rad gets such a good performance out of Brad Pitt as a swaggering southern lieutenant, for example, that it almost makes me forget all about Troy, Ocean’s Thirteen, Mr. and Ms. Smith, and all the other crap he’s been in since the turn of the millennium. Also, Tarantino cast Eli Roth as a crazy American Jew who likes smashing people’s heads in with a baseball bat for entertainment, which, if you know anything about Eli Roth, means that he is essentially playing a toned down version of himself. Harvey Keitel makes an appearance as the American general who is only heard over the phone, and there is a moment where Samuel L. Jackson tells the audience in no uncertain terms how to blow up a theater. Honestly, Mr. Jackson, the only time I ever thought about blowing up a movie theater was after watching Lakeview Terrace.

But there is one guy who steals the show. Christoph Waltz pays a Jew hunting SS officer who might just be the biggest douche ever put to film. This character can find Jews with his sense of smell and intimidate people with milk. He’s brilliant, but not just brilliant, Hannibal-Lecter-crossed-with-Sherlock-Holmes-while-making-love-to-Tony-Stark brilliant. Nazi-Spock-on-Methamphetamine brilliant. He is pitch perfect as a villain, and even plays his own comedic relief. Just like McLovin, I could easily stand to watch a two hour movie just about that guy.

But then there is a cameo by Mike Myers.

It is first worth a note that one of the trailers before this movie is Rob Zombie’s Halloween II.

As soon as Mike Myers appears on the screen, even though he’s caked with more prosthetics than Carla Gugino on the set of Watchmen, you will recognize him. I, for one, will never forget the look of that man’s, bushy, Congo-like eyebrows. I kept expecting him to say that the lead actress was “a man baby, yeah!” His scene is mercifully brief and begrudgingly unnecessary, if surprisingly funny for it's incredible... Britishness.

(Austin Powers 4 is in the works, btw.)

For those of you who are counting Tarantino's tricks, there is NO scene shot from the inside of a car's trunk in this movie, but there is a Mexican Standoff. It seems that T-rad has skipped all the phallic imagery and gone straight to the point on this one, for every gun in this Mexican Standoff is pointed directly at various character's testicles. It's a Texican Standoff. I guess QT is making up for Death Proof, which had lots of trunk shots and only one guy getting his balls blown off, which is well below average. Also, this movie has a soundtrack.

When everything is said and done, Inglorious Basterds is well worth your 10 bucks. It's violent, yeah, but it's not Kill Bill and it plays around with the nature of the cinema just enough to rile my inner Andre Bazin. The references will make a film nerd squeal, and the dialogue is perfect, elliptical, comedic and suspenseful all at the same time. The ending is a little hard to swallow, but otherwise this is how theater is supposed to be made. Highly Recommended.

August 20, 2009

Do I Look Like a Bitch? Inglorious Basterds

**Warning. This blog post contains gratuitous amounts of Samuel L. Jackson. If you are sensitive to Samuel L. Jackson, I suggest you read no further.**

Does the Midnight Movie Guy look like a bitch?

I SAID, does the Midnight Movie Guy look like a BITCH?

Then why'd you try to fuck him like a bitch, Quentin? Yes you did! Yes you did! And Mr. Midnight Movie Guy doesn't like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Movie Guy.

You see, there's this passage from Pulp Fiction I got memorized. Jules Winnfield, act 2, scene 17?

"The path of the righteous audience is beset on all sides by the tropes and cinematography of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of Welles and Scorsese shepherds the bored through the theater's darkness, for he is truly the cinema's keeper and the filmer of great movies. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furiously bad reviews those who attempt to poison and destroy my cinema, and you shall know my name is The Midnight Movie Guy, when I lay my vengeance upon thee!"

(bang)

All I'm sayin' is: Inglorious Basterds better be good tonight.


August 18, 2009

Bonus Flick: Blade

**Warning. This post contains spoilers about Wesley Snipes. Did you know, for example, that he is not just a black version of Stephen Segal? Could have fooled me.**

Last Saturday’s midnight movie was Blade, an innocent action movie staring Wesley Snipes as the eponymous half-undead vampire hunter who mows down creatures of the night like a Wayne Brady riff on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This movie was a smash hit in 1998; it had all the automatic gunfire of Die Hard, half the plot, twice the stunts, and even a scene or two where Wesley Snipes smiles. Truly, it was a masterpiece of American cinema.

The movie starts out with an unsuspecting man being lured to a vampire rave party, where apparently all the partygoers are the vampire equivalent of hot chicks with douchebags. Blood starts coming out of the fire sprinklers because it’s not like it’s in short supply or anything, and then Blade shows up strapped with weapons, which he uses to fight an army of vampiro-mooks who are apparently huge fans of Daft Punk. Oh, and did I mention that half the guys at the party are on loan from the Roxbury?

Oh, and another note about this movie. There are more filmmaking errors than there are good lines of dialogue, and if you count every time Wesley Snipes mutters “muthafucka” under his breath as a good line of dialogue, that’s at least… three major mistakes. For example, Blade explains that vampires can only be killed by a wooden or silver stake through the heart. Nevertheless, whenever Blade hits any vampire with any weapon anywhere on their body, they instantly disintegrate as if they suddenly wanted to conquer Castle Greyskull.

Of course, like all weapons that shoot bullets made of weapons-grade yellowcake Plottanium, Blade’s +5 Keen Vorpal Gun of Mook Slaying only works when the plot allows it, even to the point where Blade’s friend Whistler, who is already critically injured, shoots himself in the head with Blade's supergun but somehow survives to BE IN THE SEQUEL.

Did I mention that the bad guy is essentially an unfunny psychotically evil version of Dane Cook?


Dane Cook and Deacon Frost—separated when they were turned into mindless self-serving vampires by the dark forces of Hollywood many years ago?

Blade soon rescues a damsel in distress, who, conveniently, is not only a hematologist but also an expert in experimental pharmacology and therefore has a degree in OMNISCIENCE. This rescue scene is a little suspect, though. Blade bursts into a hospital and opens fire. Guards show up and start shooting him. Then, when Blade jumps out a window after throwing the damsel into a dumpster, about twenty more hospital guards show up from nowhere with fully-automatic machine guns and fire at him as he flees. What the hell sort of hospital has guards with assault rifles, St. Schwarzenegger of the Micro-Uzi Memorial? I knew the HMOs were tough, but yeesh!

All the while evil Dane Cook has a plan to overthrow the ruling vampires by translating an untranslatable dead language using only his Walkman and a PowerBook G3, and then use that knowledge to make himself the king of all the vampires. When the PowerBook is finally done loading (with it's blindingly fast 32 MB of ram), the text turns into a graphic design program which depicts a special magical cavern which is conveniently in the same city. Somehow. Just go with it.

Meanwhile, Blade is fighting his way through wave after wave of vampire mooks trying to find somebody who knows anything about the plot. He fights a vampire peon named Quinn a few times, who even gets treated to the sandman face, a movie fighting maneuver in which the protagonist slams the antagonist's face into the side of an oncoming train with complete moral impunity, but even that won't get the plot moving. Just when it looks like the movie has totally crashed, the bad guys take the initiative, kidnap Blade, drag him to the magical showdown cavern, and kill him. Sorta.

I'd say the ending is awesome, if it weren't for the fact that when the Dane-Cook-cum-vampire-god character gets hit by Blade's special vampire poison, the words RULE 34 ran through my head like a thought train about to not only derail, but crash into a dynamite factory. The credits roll as Blade, who is somehow no longer critically wounded or addicted to "serum," walks onto the roof of a building and spots another vampire he should kill.

This movie is a GREAT midnight film. There are dozens of opportunities for theater snark, killer opportunities for drinking game mania, wild special effects, and Wesley Snipes. Though I won’t give this film a “Highly Recommended,” if you find yourself facing down a box of old VHS tapes, a fifth of bourbon, and fifteen-to-twenty of you closest friends, don’t pass this one up.

August 11, 2009

District Nine (And Three Quarters)

**Warning. This movie is not actually part of the HALO franchise. If it were, I would be giving you a much stronger warning. Also, Bruce Willis is a ghost.**


This is my list of things that really hit the spot at three in the morning:

Super Big Gulps
White Castle
Lots of Pancakes
Seeing some goddamn tanks (especially walking tanks)

And though, I will admit, this night was not epic enough to involve tiny cheeseburgers or a trip to the legendary Portland Hotcake House, I am sucking on a huge Mountain Dew right now and completely satisfied with Neil Bloominkamp's District Nine.

Neil Bloominkamp is a South-African director who was tapped to direct the highly anticipated HALO movie, based on the popular video game franchise for the Xbox. As much as I know the HALO movie will suck, District Nine rocked. It focuses on a group of aliens who landed on earth 20 years ago and were forced to live in slum-like internment camps. If you've seen the ads you know this film is sorta-kinda doing the Cloverfield cinema verite thing, which is pretty cool because the movie plays out like a Mondo version of ID4. Our hero, a worthless bureaucrat sent to oppress the aliens, gets turned into an alien himself and then must help another alien restart their Independence-Day-like mothership so he can return to his home planet and get help. The ads play the movie up as if it's a preachy allegory for xenophobia. Blah-blah-blah, humans are racist, apartheid is bad, humans are the worst aliens of all, blah-blah.

But it's not like that.

This movie is too busy kicking ass and taking names.

Put it this way: the film ends with the same bureaucrat piloting a giant Gundam through the streets of Johannesburg screaming "come get some!" as he punches rockets out of mid-air and throws them back using a gun that not only shoots bolts of lightning, but bolts of lightning that make people explode as if they were kernels of popcorn in a nuclear reactor. It's like Transformers except with a strong R rating for lifelike kickassery.

Sure, this movie has it's problems. For one, the aforementioned bureaucrat character, whose name I can't even remember, is so wimpy and whiny that he makes Toby McGuire's Spiderman look like the biggest badass who ever lived. And that even goes for emo-Spiderman. The character has no redeeming characteristics, and I mean none. He doesn't even seem to have a personality. Imagine if Milton from Office Space were Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, and that's who this guy was. He's the hero, but at a certain point I either wanted him to man-up or just get killed already. Even when the film moves into buddy movie mode toward the end and the hero has to team up with aliens to save the world, the main character is not above hitting his alien savior with a shovel and whining mercilessly about his own dull plight. Yawn.

And if you think the alien characters are any better, you're wrong. The main alien hero is a monolith of generic alienhood. Why is he the only alien among millions who knows how to restart the mothership? How did he find the special parts to get it started again? I dono. He's an alien. I guess he must be special. The character has an alien son, who apparently knows enough about technology to jimmyrig their infinitely complicated mothership using only broken parts from machines that look like they once ran Windows 96, but I can overlook this because this character doesn't really have any more development than anyone else, including the hordes of thugs our hero mows down in the streets using his lightning gun.

Also, did I mention that the alien technology itself looks like it runs on Vista? No wonder their mothership crashed. *cue rimshot*

However, by far the most annoying thing about this movie is the music. The music director alternates between dramatic Hollywood thumps ala The Dark Knight and annoying, vaguely African-sounding vocalizing that made me think that any minute the sky would open up and someone would rename the main character Simba. The music director plays this music whenever there is a pause in the violence for more than 5 seconds, as if we're supposed to step away from our ass-kicking state of glory and reflect on the horrific nature of human greed. Pissh. More lightning guns.

Speaking of, lets talk about the real reason this movie rocked.

This movie is really about the weapons. Yeah, the plot plays around with the whole "weapons companies are bad" thing, and even depicts local warlords hording alien weapons and cutting off people's hands as if the filmmakers were trying to imitate the infinitely better film, Blood Diamond. Nevertheless when the whole thing is said and done, more than half the film's running time is spent either confiscating, trying to purchase, stealing, or using alien superweapons. Yeah, it feels nice when the main character finds the special liquid that fuels the plot, but it's so much cooler when he grabs a forcegun and blasts mobsters straight through brick walls as if they were sock puppets. When the main character finally falls inside the alien Mech, there is no amount of ridiculous violence he can unleash that the audience wouldn't eat up. This movie is pornography for the readers of Guns and Ammo.

Maybe that explains why more than %50 of the theater-goers around me were young men between the ages 0f 20 and 25 paired off into groups of exactly two? I could barely stand the stench of Axe bodyspray and budding Bromance.

All in all, this movie sells itself as "The Color Purple" for the "lets blow some shit up" set, and it delivers. If you want a painfully simplistic look at apartheid and some creative cinematography with your huge explosions, this is the movie for you. Until then, I'll give you a look at the only character I can think of wimpier than this one: Peter Parker.

Bonus Flick: Jay and Silent Bob Do Stuff

**Warning. This post contains marijuana.**

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a 2001 film set in director Kevin Smith's View Askewaverse, is one of those innocent classics that some of us, especially those of us who hail from the Jersey area, picked up in adolescence as a guilty pleasure like some people pick up an addition to heroin or murdering hookers. Smith movies were for boys what Spice World was for girls: low production value star vehicles with extremely low-brow humor and even lower ambitions, mind numbing sight gags, intentionally horrendous acting, and a avid fanbase chomping at the bit for anything with their star's name on it like a team of slobbering rotwilers.

Even though I am years away from The Midnight Movie Child who first watched the Jay and Silent Bob DVD on the floor my bunk long after lights out, re-watching Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back still brings back those old familiar feelings I first had when I leaned against my camp duffel bag and first pressed the spacebar on my friend's computer.

Those feelings were nausea, boredom, and the incredible, inescapable craving to smoke some serious fatties.

Marijuana has never really done anything for me. Now, of course I've killed a couple of dank bowls in my lifetime because smoking is, after all, the official pastime of Oregon, but I don't get a good buzz off of it. I haven't smoked more than once or twice, and it usually isn't worth the bother. Nevertheless about twenty minutes into this movie, about the time when Jay and Silent Bob started performing cunnilingus on a nun, I had the incredible desire to blaze a bag of dank-ass chronic as if I were casting a poor man's version of Fireball.

As for my non-intoxicated feelings on the film, I'm not sure I can put it better than Peter Griffin.



I found this film difficult to watch, or, at very least, I found it very difficult to keep my attention on the film while watching. There were so many more interesting things to do, like catch up on my college readings, wax my floorboards, or find out why a bear is driving the car.

The movie breaks the 4th wall on numerous occasions in increasingly uncreative and unfunny ways, as if Mr. Smith did not get the Hollywood memo that a metafilmic reference has to be good in order to be funny. For the record, Mr. Smith has made two films: Clerks, and Dogma. Every other film, television show, and cartoon he's made has just been an extension of those two movies, as if he were making a five-hour special DVD Box Set for his crappy black and white stoner comedy.

And also for the record, Any film where a major plot point is the main character beating the crap out of internet film critics is not going to make my top ten list. For all the nostalgia this film may bring, it's just not as witty as Clerks, not as funny as Dogma, and not as well made as Chasing Amy. So in conclusion, I'll leave you with the one good meme to arise from this flick, a meme not so much about the movie itself, but rather about the reviews the film knew it would get: "Fuck Jay and Silent Bob. Fuck them up their stupid asses."

August 7, 2009

G.I. Joe: Redux

**Warning. This blog is supposed to contain spoilers. Or something. Honestly, I forgot.**

I just woke up about two hours ago, having slept off my adventures into the night, and I realized that the review I wrote at 5 am didn't mention the wonderful, lovable cast of instantly forgettable, two dimensional characters G.I. Joe had in store for me.

First, there is Duke, an all-American military dude who was retcon'd from Vietnam to Iraq. His backstory turns out to be important to the plot, which is why it's so very sad that it's almost impossible to find him interesting. He's every character The Governator ever played-- a personality-free tough guy ultra-Marine who is one step away from getting in a pissing match with Chuck Norris and the testosterone side of the A-Team. Seriously, if this guy ever had a headache he would be required to fervently deny: "It's not a tumor!"

There is Scarlet, a character who is so very interesting and well developed that in order to remember the character's name I had to Google "That redhead chick from G.I. Joe." Girl genius who never lost at anything before, blah-blah, you know the drill. Ms. Mary-Sue Jackboots with longer hair and less personality.

There's Marlon Wayans, who is an annoying sidekick. His character undergoes a rather racist "cops always want to arrest the black guy" gag, which would be good social commentary if the characters didn't act like it was perfectly natural for every police officer to cuff a black man on sight.

And finally there is Dennis Quaid, who plays General Hawk. Do you remember that squid guy from Star Wars? Dennis Quaid is That Guy. He basically sits in a control room with his exuberant minions and provides commentary to the audience on the battle sequences. I would pay any amount of money to have Dennis Quaid, in a straight face, tell me to focus all my firepower on that super star destroyer.

G.I. Joe: The New Low for Cobra

**Warning. This blog may contain spoilers, including the complete script of the movie, transcribed by me, verbatim, while I was sitting in the theater. You are warned.**

It all started with the advertisements.

I first saw the ads for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra when I was sitting in the theater next to a blond girl from Minnesota at the midnight showing of Star Trek drinking Red Bull and vodka from a Nalgene. We were drinking and laughing and chatting with the people sitting around us, all excited for the premiere of a movie we had literally waited months to see. We were ready to make sweet, sweet, five-star review love to anything that came out of that projector, and when the girl smiled at me it was with every tooth in her mouth and several other teeth she had probably borrowed for that express purpose. When the lights finally dimmed, the crowd literally applauded as the first MPAA green-band came into slow focus.

Then, to our collective horror, the preview for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra came on.



The fanboys in front of me froze suddenly in their seats. Their mouths hung agape, their glowing cell phones dangling mid-text from their terrified hands as their minds tried to calculate the monstrosity, the sheer Conradian horror, of the preview rolling before them. Quickly realizing that unless someone did something the whole audience be reduced to proto-comatose husks holding ticket stubs, I roused an impromptu four verse, two part harmony rendition of the unofficial national anthem as we tried to laugh away the agonizing pain of seeing something so traumatizing that it would make a trip to 4chan look like an episode of Wishbone. In less than a minute, the trailer for this film had plunged us all from the heights of elation to the dismal depths at the pop-cultural Heart of Darkness.

This midnight show was different. It was far, far worse.

The night started at about 9 PM when I gathered with several of my close friends and fans at my apartment with bags of dollar-menu hamburgers and cans of hard cider. We purchased tickets and stopped at the local watering hole to harden our fortitude, pounding down several pints of Guiness each as if we were expecting the planet to be destroyed by Vogons.

The theater was about half-sold to twenty-something Portland Community College kids in backwards ball hats and pink popped collars. As I walked in, the manager leaned against the theater entrance and whispered quietly to me: "this movie is about seven years too late." I gave him the thumbs up and gulped down enough nervous spit to fuel The Thompson Elk. When the theater lights finally dimmed, the audience members around me braced themselves as if their theater seats might take off into the sky and toss them back towards the earth as mach two. The two guys next to me cracked soda cans with a ceremonial click-clack as the first green-band played across the screen. I don't often get to say this, but those first two trailers felt like the best two minutes and thirty seconds of my life.

The movie finally came on like The Creature from the Black Lagoon stepping out of the depths-- with a lurking stumble akin to Stephen Sommers upon spotting a box of Krispy Kremes and a new CGI team.

Here's the rundown: the bad guys shoot lazer beams that are basically the Tesla Gun and fly on hovercrafts that are basically the Nebuchadnezzar. The good guys are cardboard cut-outs and I don't mean they lack character development, and they wear super armor which has the singular purpose of making them easier to CGI. The movie rips off every single action movie trope since 1970. Star Wars trench run? Check. Top Gun flip fight? Check. Sword fight over an "energy pit?" Check! Gratuitous mid-scene flashbacks to film-tinted people giving inspirational speeches from the long long ago time? If you're doubting at this point, you better not see this movie.

Did I mention that one of the main fights in this movie is a race to prevent terrorists from blowing up the Eiffel Tower with a beeping silver case and a rocket launcher? Do I need to mention that this sequence is lifted from Team America World Police, almost shot for shot? Team America was a brilliant, hyperbolic parody of the super secret military movie. G.I. Joe stumbles along as if it were some sort of retarded child who didn't get the joke, taking the exact same scene and working through it with a straight face and a million dollar SPFX crew.

The rest of the film is a pure, straight shot of filmic ineptitude. There is a subplot about Snake Eyes, the team's resident ninja with no personality, whose backstory pads the movie for a full five minutes. Why should we care? I don't know. How about the final battle at the secret base under ten stories of ice in Antarctica? Well, let me give you this gem of dialogue: "It's the perfect place to build a base! Nobody will look for it there and it's easily defensible." A base. In Antarctica. *Facepalm.* One of the Wayans is in this movie too, to the annoyance of everyone. The credits came like merciful angels.

We stumbled out of the theater like damaged men, hanging off each other's shoulders with the cold dead eyes of combat vets who had seen things men had never been meant to see. The horror, the CGI'd horror!

This movie sucked, and I mean bad. This movie is challenging even for the advanced movie mocker. Before you brave a screening, have some Dramamine on hand because this one is a stinker.