Friday, September 28, 2012

Looper: When Good Sci-Fi Goes... Good

I'm in a bit of a conundrum here.  The sole purpose of this blog was for me to be able to hopefully guide my three readers who actually visit the page to be able to intelligently select which film they decide to pay for.  I want to accurately depict a movie, give some valuable evidence as to why a movie is or isn't worth your time, and lead you down the path of good movie righteousness.  So, here's the predicament:  I want to be able to tell you that Looper is fantastic.  I want to tell you that it's in the top three best movies I've seen all year.  I want to tell you that it would be a grave mistake if you didn't go out and see this movie in theaters.  I want to tell you all of that... but I don't want to tell you why.

I saw the midnight premiere of the film knowing only as much as the trailer revealed.  I didn't read any reviews prior to viewing the film nor did I seek out any information about the film.  I wanted to be surprised and let the movie unfold without having a clue as to where it was going.  This is what I hope you will do as well.  Don't look at reviews of it.  Don't watch the five clips they have on  Don't seek out any information at all about the movie and you will experience true movie magic.

What I can tell you: Thirty years from the year 2044, time travel will have been invented and used by the mob.  Whenever the mob wants somebody dead and a body disposed of (dead bodies are apparently hard to dispose of in the future) they zap the victim back to 2044 to be killed and buried by Loopers.  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the best Looper in the biz, until his future self (Bruce Willis) is zapped back for him to kill.  Joe knows that you kill your target no matter what, but it's a moment of hesitation from Young Joe that allows Old Joe to escape.  Now the mafia of the present is chasing Young Joe.  Young Joe is chasing Old Joe.  Old Joe is chasing Young Mafia who will, in turn, become Old Mafia and completely destroy Old Joe's life.  That's all you get!

Even now I feel like I've said too much.  I want this information to come from the brilliant filmmaking and writing of Rian Johnson, the director of another of my favorite movies, The Brothers Bloom.  What Johnson does so perfectly is defy expectation.  We've all seen the sci-fi movies where the hunter becomes the hunted (Minority Report, Repo Men).  It's almost a tired genre because we know how it's going to end.  We know where its going to go.  To be perfectly honest, I had no clue where Looper was going each second it was going.  Any minute something bad could happen, something crazy could happen, something unexpected.  It defied a genre.  And instead of ruining the best aspects of the film that need to be seen instead of heard, I'll clarify a few things.  One, don't let the casting of Bruce Willis mistake you into thinking that it's just another junky action flick, because it isn't.  Willis isn't just phoning in the role, collecting a paycheck, and moving on to a new set to do it all over again.  There is some truly extraordinary acting in this film.  From Joseph Gordon-Levitt essentially given the task of creating a character, but making that character the way Bruce Willis would play the character, to Jeff Daniels playing the seemingly apathetic yet truly evil mob boss, to Paul Dano as Young Joe's screw-up Looper friend, to Emily Blunt as the scared farm-dwelling mother.

The writing of the movie is even better.  While it is gorgeously shot, the beauty is in the complexities of the characters in the narrative.  Young Joe is haughty and selfish, while Old Joe is weary and learned.  Both possess the same violent tendencies, but one has overcome so much while the other is just beginning the trek into the dark depths of the future.  Johnson could've done what was expected and teamed Old Joe and Young Joe up (which, based on the trailer, I honestly expected), yet he doesn't.  The two have separate agendas that conflict with the others.  Young Joe knows that letting Old Joe live puts his own Young Joe life in jeopardy, so he wants to rid himself of his future self just as much as the mob (I swear its not this confusing in the movie). The film is also incredibly violent.  Joe (young or old) doesn't hold back when it comes to getting the job done.  I wish I could explain to you more, but to do so would be an injustice to the film.

Looper, after another viewing or so, could turn out to be my favorite film of the year.  It's honestly that good.  Just trust me on this one and go see it.  Go see it before you hear anything about it.  It's a fantastic film, from a fantastic filmmaker.  It's definitely worth the money you don't have to spend on a night at the movies.  So, get it up and go.  Stop reading and go.  Seriously.  Go.  Go!


Friday, September 21, 2012

End of Watch: Gyllenhaal Pleads His Case-- "I Swear to God I'm Straight... See??"

Let's just put this out there right now: I am so over "found footage" movies.  Much like movies in 3D, found footage films have just been done to death.  They were fun at first, now they're just annoying.  Save for the Paranormal Activity franchise, I am pretty much done with them.  That being said, kudos to David Ayer for finding a new use for it.  Found footage usually sticks close with the sci-fi/horror genre, but by bending tradition and using the gimmick for an action/drama, it does put a little more life into an otherwise dying novelty.

End of Watch is one of those films that I recognize as a good film, and rather enjoyed, but thinking back there are many instances in which I could nitpick everything about it.  Conversely, there are powerful moments that have stayed with me since leaving the theater.  Found footage gimmick aside, there are several minor elements and scenes and moments of the movie that just rubbed me wrong that it didn't have the impact it should have had.

Writer/Director David Ayer knows LA cops.  It's all he ever writes about.  He's succeeded in his endeavors (Training Day), then ran with that success... and ran it into the ground.  He wrote the same movie over and over and over again (Dark Blue, S.W.A.T., Harsh Times, Street Kings) until he finally hit his stride again.  He found a story and a group of characters worth watching in the gritty world of the LAPD.  Jake Gyllenhaal (in full "I swear I'm not gay" swagger) and Michael Pena play Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala respectively.  They're two run-of-the-mill working LA cops who, once reassigned to a different district than they're used to working, stumble upon the inner world of the Mexican drug cartel.  That's essentially the gist of the plot, but what Ayer does so remarkably is turns the focus not on what's happening around these guys, but who these guys are.  At their very heart and soul, they're friends.  They're best pals.  They're brothers who just want to earn a paycheck and do some good at the end of the day.  They're delicately written characters and careful time and consideration is given to their relationship.  It's essentially the most serious buddy-cop movie ever made.

End of Watch spans over a lot of time in which Gyllenhaal's Taylor goes from being the "man, I'm so sick of banging all these hot chicks all the time, I just kinda want someone to talk to" to marrying the girl who fit the bill (Anna Kendrick).  But the transformation doesn't happen out of nowhere.  There's a perfected path of which the character travels to get this point... and it makes sense.  It's good to see Taylor falling in love.  It's a nice moment of levity when we get to see these guys out of uniform and out of harm's way.  Pena's Zavala is also a carefully constructed character.  He's the perfect foil to Taylor.  Though they don't differ much in age, Zavala is Taylor's bff, but also his mentor.  Zavala never had the random hoes/walk of shame type life.  He got married right out of high school, had a kid, and that's it.  He's got the life Taylor clearly desires.  And while Ayer could've gotten lazy and given Zavala the same mentality in that he misses the single life, he doesn't.  Zavala is happy, content.

The relationship between these two and the sacrifices they have to make are the strength of End of Watch.  It's not your typical action flick.  There's no big explosions.  There's no Liam Neeson one-sided battles.  It's realistic and honest.  While we, as moviegoers, want the revenge, the good guys vs. bad guy climax, the classic action tropes, the crazy twists and turns, the characters who have hidden agendas that come out just as things are looking their worst... End of Watch does not give in.  It knows that sometimes good guys get killed and sometimes bad guys get away.  It knows that being a cop in LA is one of the hardest and least rewarding jobs in existence and the movie is unapologetic in its portrayal of cop life.  The best thing I can say about it is its earnest.

But, it's not a perfect movie, either.  The found footage can really become overbearing at times.  Specifically, there's a scene in which Taylor and Zavala are rescuing children out of a burning (crack) home. The cameras become a swirling vortex of fire, smoke, and what human images you can make out before your head starts to pound.  The "reasons" behind the found footage are also a little bit contrived.  While Taylor has the excuse (filming cop life for a college course he's taking) there are scenes of random cartel members filming their antics (drive bys, etc.) which begs the question... why is everyone filming everything?

After confiscating a small cache of money and firearms from a member of the cartel, suddenly a hit is put out on the cops' lives.  While not totally unbelievable, it is a bit unrealistic to assume that the cartel would single just these two officers out and know exactly where and when to make their move.  Little elements like these pile up and so do the questions.  But the biggest problem I had with the film was the ending.  I won't spoil anything for those who still would like to see it, but I will say that they pussed out.  I, personally, was okay with what transpired until the final scene of the movie, which would've made sense had certain moments gone down differently, but as it stands now makes little to no sense at all.

If you can take two hours of shaky cam disorder and want to see and honest, albeit somewhat inconsistent cop film, that really does have what it takes to stand on its own two legs, then End of Watch is certainly worth the time and money.  And as far as Gyllenhaal is concerned... nice try, buddy... but we all know the truth.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Possession: Dibbuks Be Hatin!

The Possession is a terrible movie.  I'm not going to slowly introduce different horror movie anecdotes before getting into a little summary of the movie, no.  This movie was a waste of my time and a waste of my money.  But Ryan, you say, you could've saved yourself the time and the money if you had just watched the trailer.  You're right, random blog reader, however I was deceived.  Normally, I have a No PG-13 Horror Movie clause.  Nothing good comes from PG-13 horror.  They rely too heavily on jump scares (aka loud noises) and there's nothing truly disturbing that's able to come from them because they have to keep it below a certain level in order to maintain the PG-13.  Also, PG-13 horror movies are solely made in order to profit from those under seventeen young'uns who can't actually get in to an R rated movie.  Most PG-13 horror movies are lazy, boring, unscary, and painful to sit through (Darkness Falls, Dark Water, The Grudge, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, The Last Exorcism, The Uninvited, The Unborn, One Missed Call, Secret Window, Shark Night).  However, recently, PG-13 horror has been able to make a resurgence thanks mostly to one horror-movie genius, Sam Raimi.  He made a fantastic little horror movie a few years back called Drag Me To Hell.  For those who haven't seen it... it's one of the best experiences I've ever had in a theater.  Never have I seen a movie that could have me rolling with laughter one minute and scaring the piss out of me the next.  It's a brilliant film and basically the epitome of why I enjoy going to the movies.  Last year's Insidious was also a very effective horror movie with the PG-13 tag on it.  So, I wasn't as hesitant to make the journey to see The Possession as I would've been in the past.

The cherry on top that put the trip to the movies in motion was Sam Raimi's name attached to it.  Now, he didn't write it or direct as he did with Drag Me to Hell, he was merely a producer.  But, having his name on it was good enough for me.  (I've made this mistake in the past by seeing Don't Be Afraid of the Dark solely because Guillermo Del Toro's name attached as producer).  I shant be making this mistake a third time.  The Possession takes everything PG-13 has been trying to accomplish for the past few years and squanders it.  Why the script itself got any recognition at all is beyond me.  But, I don't hold the film itself entirely to blame.  I also blame myself.  I blame myself for not having done my research.  Do your research, folks.  Don't just haphazardly wander into a movie theater, spin around in a circle and point at the marquee as a bead of drool slowly runs down your chin because you'll wind up seeing something like The Possession or worse, something with Tyler Perry.  Had I done my research beforehand I would've realized that the movie was written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White whose previous gems include Boogeyman and Knowing.  Do your research.

The plot, if you truly need one, involves a young girl, Emily purchasing an antique wooden box at a yardsale.  Inside the box is apparently a demon who needs a host.  Emily becomes possessed by the demon and creepy shit starts to happen.  There's also sub-plots involving her parents divorce, her father being a basketball coach, her sister on a dance team, moths(??), dentists, and Hasidic Jews.  It's like a crappier demonic version of Jumanji without any of the fun.  The box, once opened, attaches itself to the owner and, you guessed it, possesses that person.  Jeffery Dean Morgan (Watchman) stars as Emily's father and it's perplexing to me as to why this guy can't get into any good roles.  He looks like Brad Garrett and Javier Bardem had an adult love child, but he's a pretty decent actor.  He doesn't actually glide through this movie looking for the paycheck (even though I'm sure that's why he signed on).  He actually makes you feel for the character he's portraying instead of just phoning in the role, yet he's never given any substantial roles to put him on the map.  The possessed Emily (Natasha Calls) is also very good.  I give mad props to an 11-year-old who can play possessed that convincingly.  One of the stronger child actors in recent memory.

But that's it.  There is nothing else positive I can say about the film.  It relies heavily on loud noises and jump cuts to "scare" the audience (Director: why are they laughing?) rather than lingering tension and build up to something truly frightening.  The possessions themselves are rather silly.  Instead of bringing a slow creepiness, it's violent jerking and smashing into walls, which frankly, is difficult not to burst out laughing at.  As Emily becomes increasingly more and more taken over by the demon, her body starts changing.  These changes are not subtle either.  Her eyes will quickly roll back in her head, fingers will poke out of her cheeks.  These are creepy ideas, and done right will scare the pants off anyone, but done cheaply, with poor effects tends to fail.  And that's what this movie does, it fails.  Right from the get-go with the ever so tired: Based On A True Story, there was really no saving this film.  Based on a true story?  After having seen the movie I can confirm the true story.  Don't worry, no spoilers here.  I'm sure the true story goes a little something like this:  Once upon a time, a little girl bought a wooden box at a yard sale.  The end.

Lastly, I'm not sure what it is about PG-13 horror movies being so fixated with bugs or slime or liquid or whatever being projectiled from someone's mouth.  In this, Emily spits out and swallows moths like they're M&Ms.  Is it scary?  I don't think so.  The mouth is a big deal in The Possession.  Early on in the film, Emily inspects her throat and is shocked to see two fingers trying to crawl up it (arguably the creepiest moment in the film, also spoiled by the trailer).  Then, an entire hand comes out of the mouth.  Then moths.  Oh, so many moths.  It might just be me, but it's not scary.

The moral of this story, folks, is: do your research.  There's no reason I should've seen this movie.  None.  But, I'm a cinematic masochist.  I like horror movies.  I enjoy being scared.  I don't enjoy cheap jump scares and lackluster demonic possessions anymore.  Do your research.  If you even look at the poster:

 It looks strikingly similar to:

And, would you look at that!  It's also based on true events.  Crazy!!!  Do your research.  Stay away.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Paranorman: Family Friendly From Focus Features

When I was a young lad (we're talkin early to mid 90s here) there was a monopoly on children's movies.  It was held solely by Disney.  No other studio dare touched animated feature films.  Then, post 2000 a slew of computer animated movies came racing to the theater.  For some reason, it took that long for studios to realize that kids movies make money!  In my childhood years, some of my favorite animated classics included: Toy Story, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, A Troll In Central Park, and The Brave Little Toaster.  These movies were great because they catered not only to me, but to my parents as well.  There was something for everyone.  The writing wasn't lazy, settling for the easy pratfall or random fart joke.  It had mature humor that both children and adults could laugh at.  There were "inside-jokes" that would go right over young one's heads and make the adults giggle.  They were smart movies with a message.

Then, something happened.  Disney kept on with its near-perfect track record with Pixar studios producing nearly the only watchable children's movies.  But, other studios, in an attempt to capitalize on those little things we call kids, put out shit.  Pure shit.  Just animated pieces of turd there to take your money and make you cringe as you see your child's brain cells dissipating.  Studios would release one good animated movie (Shrek, Ice Age) and follow those up with fifteen shit-covered sequels (seriously, how many Land Before Time sequels can they make??  They're about to catch up to time!)  But, every now and then, a (non-pixar) animated movie will come along and remind you why you enjoy watching them in the first place.  This, for me, is Paranorman.

Paranorman is a delightful family film that isn't afraid to treat your child as if he or she was an adult.  What I mean by that is this: from now until the end of October there is going to be a cavalcade of horror movies released, most of which will be R-rated and none of which will be appropriate to bring your child to.  It's a shame that there are only a handful of halloween-themed children's movies to even watch.  I mean, seriously, how many years in a row are you going to be able to watch Hocus Pocus before wishing there was something else out there appropriate for your kid.  Now, there is.

Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an outcast kid with a gift-- the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  He's a misunderstood loaner who's parents don't even seem to understand him.  His only friend is just as much a weirdo as him and his sister wants nothing to do with him.  He's constantly tormented at school by bullies and students who think he's out of his mind.  But, somehow, Norman gets by.  He's closer with the spirits than anyone in the real world.  His childhood consists of watching zombie movies with his already deceased grandmother.  He's happy, he's content, and he's not really searching for a purpose to his gift.  Perfect acceptance.  However, one day, this loveable little pariah is visited by his estranged Uncle Prenderghast (John Goodman) who tells him he's responsible for the safety of the entire town.  He must use his gift to keep the town safe during the one night a year that, of course, the dead will rise unless he stops them.  With no intention of accepting such responsibility, Norman disregards the message and, again of course, the dead rises to terrorize the town.

What's great about this movie is that it doesn't hold back.  I don't mean it goes for cheap shocks and gore, because that would defeat the purpose of a family film.  But, it doesn't hold back on the thrills, the jumps, the aura of creepiness throughout.  Children will be scared of this film-- and that's okay!  It's refreshing to see a film that doesn't cater to societal expectations that all children's films should be sugar-coated and contain nothing of substance.  Yeah, they're going to get scared, but they're going to love the hell out of getting scared.  For every moment of terror, a moment of smart humor follows it.  It never leaves the tension lingering too long before supplying that laughter as a relief.  It doesn't pretend there's no such thing as death.  It doesn't worry about possible post-credits discussions parents may or may not need to have with younger children's questions.  It's a horror movie for kids, that parents will enjoy too.  And, like the movies from when I was younger, there are jokes for both old and young alike.  A few, I was even a little surprised made it into a PG film, but isn't inappropriate enough to warrant a higher rating.

While the ending may leave a little bit more to be desired, the movie works.  It's smart and funny and scary.  A winning combination.  Norman is a perfect protagonist, too, because he's not looking to be accepted.  He's not looking to win over everyone in the town.  He's not even looking to win over his parents.  He's just looking to be left alone.  He doesn't want to have the responsibility of saving a town who hates his guts, but knows there's no one out there to do it.  The animation is also a worthwhile reason to see the film.  Tim Burton-esque, the entire movie is shot using hand-made models.  It's quite a sight to see.  So, when you're trying to weed through the crap Halloween films have to offer, here's one you'll know is a sure thing.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lawless: Moonshinin'

Every few years a Hollywood production company comes up with an idea for a film.  Then, a rival company gets word of this idea and decides to make a similar/shittier version of said film and release it three months before the original idea in order to capitalize on the profits before the better version is released.  Some of these examples include Antz/A Bug's Life, Dante's Peak/Volcano, The Illusionist/The Prestige, EdTV/The Truman Show, and Deep Impact/Armageddon.  This year is no different.  Granted, the stories are different but they're both period pieces from around the same time.  Before it was pushed back to a 2013 release, I had an inkling that Lawless would be vying for top spot over Gangster Squad.  And, before seeing Lawless I had almost decided in my mind that Gangster Squad would be a higher quality movie.  I mean, look at that cast-- Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone.  There's no way lil' Shia LeBouf could beat it right?  Now, having seen Lawless, my guess is that Gangster Squad will be the Amazing Spiderman to Lawless's Dark Knight Rises.  They'll both be good movies in their own right, but one will, most certainly, have a deeper impact on you while exiting the theater.

I don't want to say that this year has been a total bust as far as movies go, because it really hasn't.  There have been far worse years.  But, what this year has suffered from, so far, is the promise of a great movie and the execution of just a mediocre one.  So many movies I was excited for just let me down due to the pure inadequacy of the ability to make a solid film.  Films such as Dark Shadows, Prometheus, Men in Black 3, The Bourne Legacy and so on, gave us the promise of not just a viewing, but an event, and failed.  That's not to say there haven't been bright spots this year, and that's exactly where Lawless falls.  On a pile of mediocrity, this film rises to the top.

Lawless tells the true fictionalized tale of the Bondurant brothers in the era of Prohibition.  Forrest (Tom Hardy), Jack (Shia LeBouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke) are moonshiners.  They make "moonshine out of anything", handle distribution, cashflow, everything... including keeping the lawmen on their side and in their favor.  That is, until Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pierce) is sent in from Chicago by the District Attorney in order to get a share of the brothers flourishing profits.  Of course, this doesn't sit well with the Bondourant boys and an all out war is started between the corrupt side of the law and the three.

For starters, what makes this movie so great is its cast.  The acting in this film is impeccable with each actor providing their own nuances and characteristics of their respective roles.  (No shit, Ryan, that's what the actors are supposed to do).  Yeah, they're supposed to, but it doesn't always happen.  The new rising stud of Hollywood, Tom Hardy really brings it.  The man can fall into any role.  He's this generation's Daniel Day-Lewis.  His portrayal of Forrest Bondourant is fantastic.  Forrest is not a big talker.  He's there to stare fear into your soul, grumble and walk away, waiting for his next move.  He's the brute of the group, yet, also the brains.  He knows what's best for his business and his brothers, but lacks the compassion to show it.  This is where little Jack comes in, the youngest of the three.  Jack, unlike his brothers, is the emotional child, the child that I'm sure is more like the mother of the boys, rather than the father (who I'd like to imagine is Nick Nolte).  Jack thinks with his heart, rather than his brain and, more often than not, lends an unfortunate hand in getting the brothers into terrible circumstances.  Jack's compassion is the catalyst by which the brothers fail to flourish.  Luckily, he's got Tom Hardy to muscle him out of any situation.

What's most surprising is that LeBouf actually shows his acting chops.  Jack is not exactly a desirable role because he's, for lack of a better word, a complete pussy.  There's a scene in the film where a woman is accosted by two drunk men and held at knife-point, life threatened.  Her character handles the situation with more bravery than Jack does in almost any scene in the entire film. LeBouf brings a certain charm to Jack as well.  It's easy to tell that in another life, another family, one not so closely associated with violence, Jack would truly prosper.  Though, it is hard to be a convincing badass while standing next to Tom Hardy (are we sensing a man-crush yet?)

But, the biggest scene-stealer is Guy Pearce as Rakes.  His attitude, his voice, all the way down to his eyebrows is downright evil.  He's Hell on Earth for the Bondurant brothers.  Pearce is unrelenting in his portrayal of Rakes and terrifies every second he's on screen.  He's not given a backstory, there's no exposition about him, he just shows up and you know him.  You know he's a germophobe, but it's never explicitly stated.  It's very eloquently shown.  There's a scene in which an assumed prostitute is sitting naked on a bed, yet she's not on the sheets, she's sitting on a newspaper as Rakes combs his hair away from her.  There doesn't need to be some needless exposition to explain why this is happening or what was said, it's Rakes' mere presence that tells the full story.

With John Hillcoat (The Road) at the helm, the film really shines with its direction. The cinematography as well as the set pieces are gorgeous.  The dimming or lightening of a scene will typically convey the tone of what is at stake, but Hillcoat ingeniously defies tradition, making every scene as tense as the one that preceeded it.  And it is a tense film.  I didn't count, but I'd guesstimate that someone is getting their ass kicked/kicking someone's ass every ten minutes or so. The violence is so bloody, it almost becomes uncomfortable, however, it's necessary.  There is no unjustified, needless scenes of violence.  Every scene is cohesive and well thought out, as well as completely engaging.

My only complaint, and it's just a personal preference, is that I'd wished for more Gary Oldman.  Oldman plays Floyd Banner, a real life gangster, in the midst of prohibition.  He's only got two scenes, but they're strong scenes.  Lawless is a breath of fresh air in a summer winding down of sub-par films.  It's a shame that even after two weeks since its release, it still hasn't made the money that it should.  Take a look at the movies out right now, there's not much to choose from.  This should be an easy choice.


The Bourne Legacy: The Bourne Absurdity

It's a bittersweet relationship I have with summer blockbuster movies.  On the one hand I look forward to getting eye-fucked by Michael Bay-esque explosions and scantily clad "actresses" while forgetting that movies often use devices such as plot and character development to progress and tell a good story.  On the other hand, it's this mindless congregation of imprudent films for three straight months that makes me miss films with actual intelligence and a will to entertain as well as tell a coherent and compelling story.  Hollywood is strategic in their release dates that match up with the seasons themselves.  January to March is meant for scripts that have sunk to the bottom of the toilet but just won't flush.  These movies are generally throwaway films for the studios to reap a few extra bucks before the release of their more profitable summer movies.  Jan-March is Tyler Perry stomping ground.  April to August are blockbuster months.  Movies that cost upwards of two hundred mill that studios know will draw every kind of viewer.  They usually feature large explosions, fake tits, superheroes, sequels, or big-budget, high-concept comedies.  Tyler Perry is usually replaced here with Michael Bay.  September to October are the leftovers of summer.  These movies don't have as high of a budget, but they're still of a higher quality than anything released in the first three months of the year.  Studios know that this is the time when kids are going back to school, parents are going back to work and the theater is essentially barren.  Tyler Perry generally will make a resurgence here, as well.  Also, in October is usually when most horror movies are released, however, Jan-March usually features one or two horror movies that just escaped straight-to-dvd limbo.  Finally, November and December are Oscar bait movies.  These, generally, will be the best movies of the year and some will even feature budgets as big as those in summer.  Nov-Dec is summer part two (which is strange seeing as how part two's usually come out in summer).

What these different "seasons" in Hollywood do is prepare you for the type of movie you're generally paying to see. It's hard to justify losing twelve bucks to a film in the beginning of the year.  It's easier at the end of the year.  But, it's summer that's the hardest.  It's difficult to differentiate between trash and fun.  A lot of summer movies are deceiving.  This year we had mindless action that actually worked (The Avengers) and mindless action that didn't (Battleship).  We had sequels that worked (The Dark Knight Rises) and sequels that didn't (Men in Black 3).  So, it's hard to pick and choose which will be worth your time because every once in awhile, you guess wrong.  This year, I was very excited to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but after negative word-of-mouth and reviews, I convinced myself that it wasn't worth my cash.  On the other hand, I had no desire whatsoever to see Savages, but, again, after positive word-of-mouth and reviews I went, and it was well worth my time and money. The Bourne Legacy was one of those right in the middle where I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted to see it or not.  The reviews were generally average and there wasn't much word-of-mouth, and it was just, kind of... forgotten.

And now I know why.

There's nothing inherently wrong with it per se, it's that it's one of the most forgettable films I've seen in theaters in awhile. What worked about the Bourne franchise is that it retained that big-budget summer feel, but added that extra depth and intelligence often lacking in summer films.  So, needless to say there was a higher expectation going into the film than there would be going into, say, a fourth Transformers film.  This new Bourne film features the new character of Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), a member of Operation Outcome directly related to the Operation Blackbriar and Treadstone Projects from the previous films.  Due to the actions of one infamous Jason Bourne, Operation Outcome, as well as its agents are ordered to be "shut down" by Eric Byer (Edward Norton), which involves ridding the department of all its agents.  Naturally, Cross doesn't take too kindly to this news and decides to fight back.  The side story, or B Plot for you writers out there, involves Cross and the agents of Outcome being given performance-enhancing drugs known as "chems".  Except these ain't no Barry Bonds Bartolo Colon type shit... these chems make you a human killing machine.  So, Cross, out of chems and losing his strength and mind enlists the help of Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), who's also a target of Byer, to help him get more chems.  This is where the movie starts to take a wrong turn. The focus of the film shifts from it's A-story to solely on the B-story.

While it remains annoying throughout the film, everyone opposing Cross only cares about Jason Bourne.  There'll be a scene with Cross running through the tundra, fighting wolves - then cut back to Washington where everyone is concerned with the last place Jason Bourne was possibly spotted.  This left me wondering throughout the first half... why do we care about Aaron Cross?  Finally, he becomes a person of interest when the CIA finds out he was not killed with the rest of the agents of Outcome.  Yet, Cross still doesn't seem to be the center of attention because Jason Bourne's name keeps popping right back up along with anecdotes of other minor characters from previous films.  Then, as the film progresses, it's less about Cross finding the people responsible for wiping out his entire crew, but about getting chems to keep him strong.

By the end of the film, nothing major is resolved.  The minor conflicts that arise as the movie progresses are solved, but all of the big picture stuff is never even addressed.  Edward Norton disappears in the last twenty minutes of the movie.  It's frustrating to realize that not even the filmmakers cared long enough to focus on the big picture aspects that the viewer is invested in.  It's as if the studio, when finding out that they wouldn't be able to lock down Matt Damon for another few years, decided to produce this movie solely so that the mass populous of moviegoers don't forget about the franchise.  It's a filler movie until three or four years from now when the fifth Bourne film is produced and Matt Damon is back in the titular role that made the franchise so profitable.

That's not to say that it was a complete failure, because it wasn't.  Jeremy Renner did well with what he was given.  Aaron Cross is, by far, the most interesting character in the film, but when the stakes are so low for a character that's just begging to be interesting, the film shows its weaknesses.  And, though, the three previous films were written by Tony Gilroy, the man should have stayed behind the computer, not behind the camera.  Gilroy as a writer has always been hit or miss, but he really hit his stride with the Bourne franchise.  Each Bourne movie progressively getting better and better as they went on.  I attribute this to strong writing, but it's the strong directing of Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass that gives the franchise staying power.  Gilroy's three attempts at directing (Michael Clayton, Duplicity, and now Bourne Legacy) have all been extremely bland. It's as if he knows how to write spy thrillers and incite tension on paper, but can't figure out how to do it onscreen.  The end result is almost boring.  And I can't tell you the last time a freeway chase scene has been boring, but somehow Gilroy figured out a way.

While Bourne Legacy fails in a lot of the ways the previous three thrived, there are still much worse action movies to be seen this past summer.  They actually care about Cross and give him ample time for character development, but it's the plot that wears thin and the inability to finish what was started that drops this Bourne into the lower echelon of Summer blockbusters.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

An Abomination of Christmas

It's Christmas Day.  You've woken up early, stumbled down the stairs to the Christmas tree anxiously awaiting the appropriate moment to open presents.  You're a morning person, you're not... it doesn't matter.  This is the day worth waking up for.  Mom's in the kitchen making a delicious breakfast and dad's taking much too long to get out of bed.  You or one of your siblings is "Santa" passing around the presents with the appropriate names on them.  You're sitting on the sofa with a stack of gifts just waiting for that exact second where it's finally time to open the first box.

You're almost out of breath by how fast you've unwrapped these gifts.  You saved the package you were most excited for for last.  But, now it's over.  It's barely 8:00 AM and Christmas is already over.  Now, all you have to look forward to is a few relatives who don't really know you giving you gifts you didn't really want.  You're thinking about how much you can get in cash for that nasty sweater your Aunt Tandy gave you.  You smell the food cooking in the oven, but know it's at least five or six hours until everything is done.  You're too old for toys so most of your presents you can't really enjoy at that particular moment of waiting.  (By the way, don't act as if I'm treating Christmas like it's all about presents, because you know it is.  Next time you volunteer at a homeless shelter, then you can tell me to kiss your ass.)

It seems like the remaining hours until dinner are too far to comprehend.  But, wait... you forgot something!  The best part of Christmas is just a click away.  On TBS.  It's A Christmas Story being shown for 24 hours!  How did you not remember this??  The TV is turned on and Christmas is back.  Ralphie, The Old Man, Randy, Mom, Flick, Schwartz, Santa, the leg lamp, the tongue on the pole, Scut Farkus and his yellow eyes... he had yellow eyes!, oh fudge, the Bumpas hounds, Ovaltine, the ruined turkey, the Red Ryder BB gun, shooting your eye out, Black Bart, the red soap, the Christmas duck, and more.  It's the greatest Christmas movie ever (if you say It's A Wonderful Life, you're wrong and you don't deserve Christmas).  There's a reason TBS plays that movie every Christmas Day over and over and over again.  It's a story of childhood innocence, of a father-and-son relationship, of growing up, of everything that is right about Christmas.


Dark forces are among us. Scamming us.  Trying to murder our brains by destroying its cells one by one.  Taking our money until we're nothing but lobotomized vegetables staring at our TV screens drooling out one side of our mouths, giggling for no reason, and shitting our pants for no explainable reason except that we didn't have the brain power to understand not to.  What am I talking about?  What if I said to you that in 2012, twenty-nine years after the release of A Christmas Story, the money-hungry whores at Warner Bros. decided it was a good idea to release... a sequel?  What would you do?  Laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.  Cry at the reality that I wasn't telling the truth?  Well, my friends, I regret to inform you that it is one hundred percent true.

A Christmas Story 2, a direct-to-dvd sequel has been made and will be released in the upcoming Christmas season.  On the list of unnecessary sequels I'd rank this somewhere between Operation Dumbo Drop and Norbit.  So, who did Warner hire that would actually dare touch a sequel to a classic?  How about Hollywood choad Brian Levant whose track record (Snow Dogs, Are We There Yet, The Spy Next Door) gives a little insight, but not enough to warrant spending time, effort, money and energy on taking a large dump on a classic.  That's like Uwe Boll trying to make a sequel to The Shawshank Redemption.  First, realize what you're about to do, then, second, kill yourself.

I've regrettably attached the trailer below for your viewing pleasure torment.  What bothers me, aside from the mere existence of this "film", is that they've broken the rule of sequels!  They've essentially remade the original movie in a shittier way, using the same jokes that are now not funny, with elements that are completely inconceivably irreparably retarded.  This is a bad comparison, but it's like The Hangover: Part II.  They replaced Vegas with Thailand, replaced losing a tooth with getting a tattoo, replaced a baby/tiger with a monkey and replaced their lost friend for a lost brother-in-law.  It was the same damn movie!  Down to the minute!  Ed Helms even sings another song!  That's what A Christmas Story 2 does.  It takes all of the best moments from its predecessor and recreates them with different actors.  When steam emanates from the furnace, it's a "clinker!", when Randy is getting ready for school... you better believe Mom is wrapping his face up with a giant scarf, what does the Old Man get for Christmas??  A leg lamp!!!!  I'm willing to bet that someone's tongue gets stuck to a pole right after two fart jokes and a yellow snow joke.

It's a Christmas abomination that should've been aborted by Hollywood doctors before the idea was ever surged into someone's brain.  Watch the trailer, but grab a bucket... you're going to be sick.

What happened to you, Daniel Stern?  You used to be cool.