July 31, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Bad Phenomenon

**Warning. This blog may contain spoilers if you, due to some sort of coma, spent the last five years without contact with anyone except the magical creatures who live under your floorboards and therefore don't know that Dumbledore dies at time signature 2:12:55.**

It's not often that I get to review a popular first-release film twice, because usually when a film comes out it only gets one midnight showing and I go to it and I never have to think, see, or hear of that film ever again. Harry Potter, already a film of so many exceptions (exceptionally high budget, exceptionally low standards), flaunted this rule as if it were some sort of bogus PE requirement. Just when I thought I was going to have to resort to reviewing a film on video this week, I discovered that Harry Potter IMAX 3D was going to start at midnight at my not-so-local 3D IMAX location. I swallowed my pride and a couple of Red Bulls and made the trip.

I took two buses and a train to get to the godforsaken strip mall that had the fortune (?) of having an IMAX, which, I'm told, is only correctly spelled in angry caps-lock. Yes, the seats were more comfortable. Yes, the floor was less sticky. Yes, the screen was bigger. The clientele, however, was exactly the same.

Most of the audience were people who had seen the film before, and not just people who had seen it once, or a few times, but had done nothing since the 14th but watch this movie on repeat, burning every last frame of celluloid into their braincases as if they were trying to download the blu-ray version using only their minds and a 56k wi-fi pirated from the Starbucks down the street. Their eyes were developing the cold, crusty, dead stare of movie veterans who had seen too many friends pass out due to non-dairy butter topping overdose (which is actually possible-- ask me about it later), and who came back not because they loved the film, but to prove that they had seen it more than their friends. Their mouths moved in dumbstruck mimicry with every tenuous quiver of Alan Rickman's lower lip, for they knew every painfully British line, down to the very last excruciatingly accented "Potter."

And here are the best three things. Only the first 13 minutes of this 2.5 hour movie are in 3D, the tickets are %50 more expensive than the regular release, and IT'S THE SAME GODDAMN MOVIE. I resort to caps-lock here, because, like the word IMAX, the phrase IT'S THE SAME GODDAMN MOVIE is only correctly spelled if you are shouting it at the top of your lungs while throwing your 3D glasses at the screen after realizing that the 3D bits, which have been on the internet for two years now, are a goddamn scam.

I mean, I did enjoy the film the first time. As much as I give a good review to anything, Harry Potter 6 actually made my WIN list. The acting wasn't terrible, the plot was decent, the characters were lovable, and I didn't feel cheated. For a blockbuster midnight movie to do that high praise is in order, and I will be the first to have that praise pried reluctantly from my hands like Shylock from his pound of flesh. The IMAX experience is supposed to make a film better, but HP6 didn't work and didn't do it right.

The IMAX is a waste of your time and money, because it is two weeks late.

If HP6 had been released in IMAX 3D along with all the other formats on the 14th, it would have been the event of the eon. People would have lined up weeks ahead to see that feature on the superscreen, just like people lined up to watch The Dark Knight on OMNIMAX in the two theaters in the world that could screen the OMNIMAX film format. But this IMAX 3D experience came too late, when everybody had already moved on to a better IMAX 3D kids movie (G-Force), and, let's be honest, shelling out a mint to watch a movie you've seen many times already with an extra 13 minutes of (rather lame) 3D footage is not only madness, it's SPARTA.

And you're not kicking me into the pit.

July 20, 2009

M-M-Multibonus Flick: Angels and Demons

*Warning: This blog may contain spoilers, like how Ewan McGregor kills the pope and tries to nuke the Vatican. For Christ. Also, Bruce Willis is a ghost.*

Due to the fact that Harry Potter is thoroughly dominating the theaters until early August like some sort of posturing basketball player, I am left with no midnight movies of any repute to snark mercilessly. Hence, I have to resort to a back log of second release theaters in order to fulfill my bottomless hunger for late-night celluloid without resorting to banging fat chicks at 3am. And when I say there is nothing coming out this week, I really mean it. There is a b-rate children's flick called "G-force" coming out on Friday that involves high-tech guinea pigs saving the world, and a rather creepy b-film called "Orphan," which appears to capitalize on the whole "young girls dressed like 19th century china dolls are EVIL" phenomenon, which is itself such an overused trope that it makes the cop-on-his-last-day-before-retirement thing look positively postmodern. Needless to say, neither will have a midnight release.

So last night I watched Angels and Demons, the sequel to the hit film The DaVinci Code starring Forest Gump as Professor Robert Langdon. Having never read the book, I assumed it would involve some sort of race through a European city in order to save the world, filled with hot chicks and faceless guys in black suits, because my assumption is that only James Bond style stories can happen in Europe. Needless to say, I fuckin' called it.

The film starts out with Forest Gump being flown express to Cita Del Vaticano (not to be confused with Cita Del Taco, the only Vatican City fast food joint), where apparently everyone speaks English, in order to help hunt down a killer scientist with an ancient grudge against the Catholic Church. To help him is a young hot scientist with a PhD in OMNISCIENCE, which, if you didn't already guess, is the study of everything remotely related to the plot. For her, this includes internal medicine, pharmacology, classical languages, particle physics, neoclassical art history, and several other obscure and esoteric disciplines. She suffers heavily from the rare adult version of Wesley Crusher Syndrome, which, as we all no doubt are aware, may result in a high number of Twitter followers and/or a horrible, painful death.

It's particularly awesome when both happen, but don't get your hopes up.

Gump, on the other hand, being a lowly liberal arts professor instead of a grand professor of SCIENCE, seems to have only limited knowledge of what's going on or even where he is. The character can't read Latin or Italian, knows nothing about antimatter, can't fight or hide, and who's professional experience is limited to looking at statues with arrows on them. My guess is that the director didn't want Mr. Gump to look like Indiana Jones, who is annoyingly fluent in every language ever farted out of the ass of an illiterate peasant before the birth of Christ. As a result, Dr. Langdon can't seem to speak anything except "southern" and feels like at any minute he's going to burst into a round of "Symbology is like a box of chocolates."

Speaking of symbology, this I think Williem Dafoe did it better:



But that's just my opinion.

You'll recognize the director, by the way. Angels and Demons is a Ron Howard movie, who is best described as the Michael Bay of the midbudget thriller set. He is an expert at milking horrible performances from fantastic actors, and a big fan of panning over still objects in the foreground as if he were directing some sort of Vatican slasher flick (IN 3D!) in such a way that you expect the boom guy to pop out from the side of the screen and start stabbing somebody with the rusted handle of his sound equipment. Preferably Ron Howard. I'll leave you with a video of Ron Howard at the end, just to show you how pimp this guy really is. Also the video has Samuel L. Jackson, who will get you drunk.

The plot of the film is basically the "get thee to a nunnery" version of 24. There's a ticking bomb somewhere, a bunch of cops with the fighting skills of inept Bond minions, and even though there are only a few hours before nuke-o'clock, everyone is still researching and praying! The story gets tedious after a while, when it becomes clear that all the victims will inevitably die in ways best described as the catholic guilt versions of Hostel, and that the real villains are obviously not Illuminati but rather (yawn) members of the church itself.

Ewan McGregor gives us the most annoying performance, especially because I thought the "they can take our lives, but they can never take our FREEDOM!" school of inspirational speeches had died along with Stanley Kubrick and Windows 98. In the end McGregor's character is ostensibly evil, which is odd because he leads the heroes to some of the best clues. Also, apparently the filmmakers don't realize that a bomb exploding in the air above a target (called an air-burst) is much more deadly than a bomb exploding in a cave under it, and for all intents and purposes antimatter is a scientifically inaccurate version of a nuke and should wipe out everything forever no matter what you do to it.

All in all, Angels and Demons was very pretty and well worth a watch. For all that I might say against it, it DID have a plot, and it DID have strong, believable characters.

And Ron Howard.

July 18, 2009

Bonus Flick: Spice World

*Warning: this post contains spoilers, like how bad this movie actually is. Seriously. Also, that guy who looks looks like Bono from U2 is Keyser Soze.*

Every once and a while, when there's only one movie coming out in a given week, my friends and I get together in my living room and watch a bad midnight movie just to make fun of it. It's a harmless little tradition, often accompanied by fifths of rum and bottles of Pepsi Lime, and many LULZ are often shared at the film's expense. This week was not like that. This week I sat through Spice World.

Or, as it turns out, I failed to sit through Spice World.

I once sat through Lucia, a three and a half hour rambling Cuban art house movie shot on film of the same quality as used public restroom toilet paper, and even though %83 of the audience walked out before credits rolled (I actually counted the number of people who walked out so I could keep from going crazy), I still sat through to the bitter, disappointing end. I spent each minute wishing I could console myself with a fistful of Advil and a baseball bat, but I still manged to get through the whole thing. I NEVER walk out of a movie.

Last night, I walked out of a movie for the first time in my life. I feel like I failed somehow, as if my tolerance for incredibly disgusting dismemberment and insulting political philosophy has somehow been forever trumped by the vomit-inducing existence of Girl Power.

I wish I had something to say about this movie. I wish I could even say it had succeeded at being the worst movie ever made, but it's not. The worst movie ever made is Plan 9 from Outer Space, the brilliantly stupid Ed Wood exploitation film. Spice World was just... unwatchable. No amount of alcohol could make it better. None. And I watched Twilight. Three times.

I sat through an obscure Italian film, banned throughout Europe, called Salo o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma, or just SALO. There is a chapter called "A Banquet of Shit" which is, needless to say, not a metaphor. Other segments involve child sodomy, rape, dismemberment, and a rather uncomfortable pedoerotic scene involving a razorblade and a human eye. This is a film designed to offend, crafted in it's very essence to make the viewer's skin crawl. Of course, I was tricked into watching it one afternoon when a friend of mine invited me over, put the film on, and then went to the bathroom for two hours. I sat through it.

I made it 23.5 minutes into Spice World.

It doesn't even have good opportunities to make fun of it. Anything funny I could say in response to this flick would have already been rendered irrelevant by the film's ultimate stupidity. Additionally, any film that makes me use the pluperfect passive subjective in a review ought to be burned mercilessly. SALO was at least second only to 8 1/2 as the pinnacle of Italian auteur theory.

There is only one redeeming feature, if you can call it that-- the all star supporting cast. The presence of Richard O'Brien, the creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Alan Cumming, the man from Reefer Madness, and MEATLOAF, the best 300+ lbs rock frontman in history, made the first 23.5 minutes of this film barely tolerable. If you don't know Meatloaf, I suggest you go out and buy a A Bat out of Hell right now. Dude can rock. If you don't know Ricard O'Brien, get the hell off my blog.

As a result, I give you Nostalgia Chick, who apparently had a stronger stomach than I:

"Some nights are like nothing I've seen before or will again!" -Meatloaf (I would do Anything for Love)

July 16, 2009

Yippie-kai-ye, Potter

*Warning: this post contains spoilers like how Snape and Voldamort take over a Los Angeles office building in order to steal a half-billion dollars. Also, Rosebud is the sled.*

After having woken up at 5 PM after sleeping off last night's crazy 3AM Red Bull fueled adventure into the Potterverse, I feel safe to share a few words about our good friend Alan Rickman (AKA Snape):

Alan Rickman is a good actor who, due to an unfortunate accident involving his complete inability to move the muscles in his face except his lower lip, is always cast in the same role. Alan Rickman is, and will always be, Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Die Hard: Hans Gruber in a suit. Harry Potter: Hans Gruber in a wig. Sweeney Todd: Hans Gruber in a powdered wig. Robin Hood: Hans Gruber in a powdered David Bowie wig. 

A good chunk of this casting problem comes from the fact that he can only deliver lines without letting his bottom lip touch his teeth. When you go to see the movie for a second time (because I know you will), keep a good eye on Mr. Rickman's lower lip. If you're the alcoholic type, try drinking every time you see his bottom row of teeth. You'll be smashed by the time he kills Dumbledore.

One more thing while I'm on it: Harry Potter 6 does not have the famous line: "Don't call me a coward!" which Snape screams at Potter after Gandalf the Grey bites the dust. To many purists this is a rather important part of the sixth book: it foreshadows the whole "Snape is evil. PSYCHE he's not!" thing. However, the day any director gets Hans Gruber to scream in uncontrolled emotional rage is the day I eat my own hat. I don't wear a hat.

Alan Rickman, I wish you luck escaping the awesome power of Hans Gruber, the only person ever to beat up Bruce Willis. I look forward to seeing your work in a non-Gruber film.

July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Pimp

**WARNING: This review contains spoilers like how Hans Gruber kills Dumbledore at time signature 2:13:55. Consider yourself warned.**

What can I say about the Harry Potter franchise that has not been said before? Most comments are pretty much summed up with this:

Although this Harry Potter film doesn't have nearly as much fake gold or phat rhymes, it is nevertheless quite similar. Harry Potter is rocking a harem of rather demure but foxy British girls, spends a lot of his time dodging the law, and spends even more time brewing potions that will fuck you up faster than an Alabama Speedball. Harry has moved into his sex, drugs and magic weapons phase.

Everybody knew this film would be the biggest hit since George Lucas first masturbated into an old Kurosawa print. Nevertheless, even I was surprised by how HP rocked the house at the midnight showings. In P-town, Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince had to compete with Dave Chapelle causing a drunken riot in Pioneer Square, but HP still managed to sell out all six midnight shows downtown and two theaters had to resort to 3 am showings to stem the mob. Due to the aforementioned drunken rioting, I was in those later shows.

It is first worth a note that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is basically a three-hour drug odyssey... with magic! Harry finds a book allowing him to brew potent psychoactive beverages, so he brews up a batch of primo black tar heroin for professor Slughorn. Slughorn gives Harry a large vial of meth which comes in use way later, because soon after Ron accidentally overdoses on Harry's stash of Ecstasy. Slughorn tries to calm the tweaker down with barbiturates and alcohol, which turns out to be a bad idea because Ron almost dies, forcing Harry to save him with adrenaline shot. The first half of the movie is like the children's version of Requiem for a Dream, and the soundtrack is just as annoying and repetitive. Despite the fact that there is no White Castle, the filmmakers got one thing right: magical or not, boarding school is pretty much a sex-fueled drug binge filled with crazy professors, magical beasts and many, many sugary foods. (There are so many cakes, cookies, and bowls of ice cream in this movie that you'll swear the director had the munchies.)

But then if you wait until the second hour, there are Zombies. Zombies, Zombies, Zombies.

Harry and Dumbledore go to a hidden cave in order to destroy a lich box-- anybody who has read the book already knows that there is a whole army of deadites under the water and neither Harry or Dumble have the proper spell to turn their arms into chainsaws, so the anticipation before the undead mayhem is palpable. Before the Romero hordes make their move, Dumbledore drinks a lot of poison and is down for the count (we all know wizards can't succeed fortitude saves). The zombies finally attack when Harry gets an evil shell full of water so Dumbledore can chaise the poison (yeah, that ocean water is really going to help). Harry's boom stick soon runs out of ammo and things look grim, but Dumbledore apparently forgot to add in his level bonuses the first time, because he casts a fiery spell affectionately dubbed the "Maximus Pimpus" whose verbal component is ostensibly screaming "you shall not pass!" as if Ian McKellen owed you money.

Meanwhile in the faraway land of plot, nothing much really happens. Everybody seems to know that Draco needs to kill Dumbledore, and nobody really does anything to stop it. Harry spends most of the year desperately searching for plot only to find out that Dumbledore really knew most of the information Harry could have provided already and had been doing the cool stuff off-screen. The whole "destroy the lich boxes" thing doesn't come until almost 2 hours into the film. Harry and Ginnie have less screen chemistry than Edward and Bella, and Nevile and Lovegood are apparently only in the movie for contractual reasons-- their presence serves no point other than fan service. 

All in all, HP and the HP was terrifically enjoyable, if just for the hordes of screaming fans, opportunities for theater snark, and great-but-overused visual effects. Highly suggested. 

July 14, 2009

The Mission

My name is Roger Hobbs, and this is my mission to go to every midnight film showing in the city of Portland, Oregon. Each new showing will be followed immediately, that same night, with a report on my first takes of the flick. In addition, I will also be Twittering whilst I watch, so feel free to follow my running commentary on the filmic experience.

Movies are a changing art form, and the Midnight Premiere is quickly becoming the last vestige of the 20th century theatrical experience. If you ask someone old enough to not know how to use Facebook, they'll tell you that people used to laugh and cry in the isles, throw popcorn at the screen, and talk back to the obvious bullshit. This theatrical experience is why I go to movies in the first place, and it's one of the only things left that makes seeing the film in the theater different from watching it ten minutes later on the monitor of your Mac in your living room while off-handedly mining for gold in WOW. I treasure that old filmic experience almost as much as I treasure my epic mount, and I treasure the surreal experiences I have sitting in my seat and watching the flickering lights. Like where else but a midnight show can you watch a guy with a bucket of fish toss a salmon at the screen every time Mark Walberg does that creepy thing with his eyes?

You know what I'm talking about if you're one of the 6 people who actually paid money to see Max Payne.

Yeah, I am that guy in the back who won't shut up. So what? Am I really ruining your deep, Zen-like personal connection to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chung-Li? If I am, then don't go to midnight movies because you're better off hacking and wanking anyway. However, if you're on the other end of the spectrum and can handle watching the occasional on-screen train wrecks, then by all means, follow me into the flickering darkness and join me in my heavy consumption of artificial butter-like popcorn topping and covertly smuggled bottles of rum and coke.

Who am I, you might ask? I am your typical starving writer in Portland, Oregon, which means I have two things going in my favor as I take on this mission: first, I have plenty of time to watch movies (read: drink heavily), and, second, I live in one of the oddest cities in the continental United States. But I'll get back to that in a later post. Until then, you can call me The Midnight Movie Guy.

Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/midnitemovieguy