Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pain & Gain: How A Movie Starring The Rock And Directed By Michael Bay Ended Up Being The First Good Movie Of 2013

How does a freakish fruit cocktail of Michael Bay, Mark Whalberg, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and bodybuilding end up tasting to sweet?  Michael Bay hasn't made a good movie since Bad Boys II and he hasn't made a respectable movie since The Rock.  Yet, don't count the loud bastard out just yet, he still has a few surprises up his sleeves.  Pain & Gain is a good movie.  Why?  Because it's all true!  All of it.  Which is why Michael Bay was probably the perfect director for the film because it's a batshit crazy clusterfuck of a mess of a story... but it's true.  It makes no logical sense why these guys do what they do and how they get themselves into the situations they get themselves into... but it's all true!  They say truth is stranger than fiction, well, in this instance, they're entirely correct.

Pain & Gain is based off the articles written by Pete Collins, published in the Miami NewTimes. Altogether they're collectively about the length of a book, but if you have the time I highly suggest a read.  I started reading them one morning and I was so hooked I spent the rest of the day finishing the articles to see what these juiced-up idiots would get themselves into next.  What basically happens is this (mild spoilers, but if you read the article, you already know): Daniel Lugo (Mark Whalberg) wants the American dream... to be rich and powerful and respected.  However, with a lack of common sense, he decides it would be easier to take the short route of taking the dream away from someone rather than achieve it himself.  Enter Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub), a prickly little man who has a way of getting under your skin with his complete lack of respect for anybody, but also a hard worker who spent years and years and years making his American dream a reality.  He's rich beyond belief.  So, Lugo, along with pals Adrienne Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Jesus-praising, coke-loving idiot Paul (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) they hatch a plan to kidnap Kershaw, torture him for weeks, take everything he has and has ever had and will ever have, and send him back on the street penniless and unaware of who took all his money.  Sound a little too good to be true?  Well, it is.  These guys botch nearly every single part of their "plan". From failing to actually kidnap Kershaw correctly about six different times, to blowing their cover, to keeping Kershaw in captivity for over a month rather than a couple of days.  Then, after realizing he would go to the cops, they botch killing him!  They crash his car with him drunk in it, then blow him up, then run his body over--twice!  And the man lives!  These are not real people, these are not real situations, these are fictitious film characters and what's happening to them is so outrageous it's beyond unbelievable.  Except everything is fucking true!  That all really happened!

This is where I think audiences will have a hard time with the film.  There are only going to be a select number of people that know this is a true story and all of the unbelievability and stupidity and poor choices and impossible moments (like three body builders dressing like surgeons in order to kill Kershaw in the hospital only to get lost for over an hour trying to find his room allowing the guy to escape) actually happened the way they're watching it.  Most of the audience will either be meathead Fast and Furious fans with as many brain cells as the people they're watching expecting something different, or they'll be Michael Bay fans expecting they typical Michael Bay film.  Either way I think the audience goes home disappointed.  I, personally, didn't have a strong desire to see the film until I read the true story in the articles.  Then, I couldn't wait to watch these idiots try to incoherently put a plan together.

While the film is being marketed as a "comedy" of sorts, it's not really a comedy.  It's a dark, dark, dark comedy at best.  These guys were torturers, thieves, and ultimately murderers and there's actually nothing funny about what happened in the story.  But, you can't help but laugh at how this whole charade plays out.  It's ridiculous.  No one is that stupid!  Except they were!  You're not laughing with them, you're laughing at them. It's not funny watching two men dismember two dead bodies in order to get rid of them.  But, it is darkly comical to watch them buy an electric chainsaw, not know how to properly use it, get it tangled in one of the victim's hair, break it, and try to return it to Home Depot with the hair still attached.  Too stupid to be true? Guess again.

Whalberg and Mackie do a very good job of a playing the two main perps involved in the kidnapping and torture.  You can tell that Lugo actually knows some of what he's doing, except trying to figure out how to do it is somehow lost in transit from his brain to his actions.  Doorbal, who in real life was actually the most deranged of those involved, is toned down a little bit in the film due to the fact that no audience would be able to stomach watching the things this man does.  But, it's The Rock who really steals the show as Paul (a mixture of a few different people involved in the real crime combined into one character).  He's gentle, he's loving, he's kind... and yet "God gave [him] the ability to knock someone the fuck out!"  It's refreshing to see The Rock with a little acting range.  He's been in kids movies, yes.  He's been in action movies, yes.  But, he mostly phones in the acting, because well, let's face it, he knows he ain't winning no awards.  Here, you can tell he actually knows what he's doing and is having a blast doing it.

Even Michael Bay does something a little different here.  Yes, it's another movie in Miami.  Yes, there are women in bikinis, strippers, fast cars, chases, shoot-outs, and dumbfuckery... but that's because it all really happened that way.  Michael Bay found a gold mine with this story and all he really had to do was what he's been doing his entire career.  The film is paced strangely with the narrator switching from character to character, but this multiple narrator gimmick actually services the story.  The pacing serves the story.  The complete lack of brain activity... serves the story.  It's like watching a car wreck in slow motion between a full clown car and a bus of lawyers.  Yes, it's disgusting and sad and violent and horrific... but at the same time... it's hard not to laugh at the ridiculousness going on right in front of your eyes.  I highly recommend taking a few hours to read the articles, then taking a few more to catch it on the big screen.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

42: A Hearty Slice Of Cheesey Corn Pie

I wouldn't produce a *cough* weekly movie blog if I didn't love movies.  And I do.  I love movies.  Not just good movies either.  I love a good bad movie also.  Why do you think Nicolas Cage is one of my favorite actors.  I own more movies than a human being who doesn't run a Blockbuster should.  I've spent more money on movies than I probably should have and I'm sure if a South African family of four knew how much I spent yearly on movies, they'd be more than offended.  But, it's not the only love in my life.  I love baseball.  I've always loved baseball.  I'm a product of my father instilling America's pastime in me.  If I was given the choice of never seeing a movie again or never watching baseball again... I honestly don't know what I'd pick.  I love the game.  I love the slow methodical pace of the game.  I love pitching duels.  I love how every pitch has more thought put into it than a single Scary Movie film has ever attempted to muster.  I love the history of baseball.  So, needless to say, when I heard that a film about Jackie Robinson was coming out, I was excited.  The end result, while not insulting by any means, should've been better.

Jackie Robinson is one of the most important players in baseball history, if not the most important.  Together with Brooklyn Dodger's GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), they broke the color barrier in sports allowing a "colored" player on a Major League team for the first time.  Jackie was met with constant ridicule and torment, he faced bigotry and violence from opposing teams and pitchers.  He was hand picked by Rickey because Rickey knew that no matter how difficult things got for Jackie, he'd be able to take a stand and turn the other cheek.  And, for the most part, Jackie was successful in this which led to more integration and baseball as we know it today-- colorblind.  If you're good enough to play in the big leagues... you play in the big leagues.  On one hand, writer/director Brian Helgeland, had a difficult and delicate task of recreating the events of Jackie's first year in the Majors, keeping moments as realistic as possible, not shying away from the unabashed racism that plagued Robinson's rookie year, while still trying to honor the memory and legacy of the man.  For the most part, he was successful.  Viewers have now been given a semi-accurate portrayal of Jackie Robinson and the hate surrounding his every at-bat.  Jackie Robinson was finally given his two hour moment for those not privy to his history a chance to honor him.

On the other hand, the script material was just a little too cheesy to accurately construct the world in which Robinson lived and played ball in.  Almost every line seemed like it was written for Morgan Freeman at the climax of every movie he's ever been in.  Every line is supposed to be deep and inspirational and somehow move the audience to take Jackie's side.  It tried just a little bit too hard to be that dramatic inspirational movie.  And it didn't have to.  Robinson's life experiences should've been able to speak for themselves.  But, behind every line was a pot of Velveeta with Kraft Singles on top.  Some of the dialogue was so over the top, it induced the highest caliber of eye-rolling.

I'm sure if Jackie Robinson himself had been able to view the film he certainly wouldn't have hated it.  The film was crafted with love and respect and filmed with the best of intentions.  This is clear.  But, Jackie may have had a thing or two to say about the way things really were back in his day.  That being said, the acting is fabulous.  Newcomer Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as Robinson.  He carries the weight of the film in his expressions alone.  I'm certain that there is nearly no one else who could've portrayed Robinson with as much adoration as was clearly evident in the film.  Harrison Ford also surprised me.  I thought he'd bring a certain cornball element to his performance, and while it was present to a certain extent, it was still an admirable execution.  Alan Tudyk, one of the best character actors around right now, also brought his A-game playing Phillies manager Ben Chapman, a proverbial racist thorn in Robinson's side which nearly brought him to the breaking point.  His scenes, while periodically difficult to watch, is the personification of the tribulations Robinson had to experience in his career.  Everyone else, though, came out like caricatures of racist ball players.  It's somewhat of a (pardon the pun) black and white film.  Either you're the redneck who don't play ball with negroes or you're the redneck with the heart of gold who don't mind as long as they can play good.  No one other than the aforementioned actors, brings any real humanity to the film.  They're simply there to create conflict or resolution for Jackie Robinson.

42 is a great Saturday afternoon special biopic of Jackie Robinson's life.  It's a perfectly adequate recreation of life "back in the day".  But is it the movie Jackie Robinson deserves?  Probably not.  To be honest, I'd rather just watch a Ken Burns documentary on the man.  But, because this is what we get, it does well enough to get its point across.  And if you know nothing about what Jackie Robinson has done for baseball, I highly recommend this film.  There's a reason the number 42 is the only number retired in all of baseball.  Just make sure you can handle the cheese, because once you walk out of the theater, while I'm sure you'll feel slightly moved by the film, you may feel a little lactose intolerant as well. 


Friday, April 12, 2013

Jurassic Park: Still Not Yet Extinct

I love re-discovering films from my childhood and seeing how they sustain over time and stack up to how I viewed them when I was much younger.  While some are even better now that I can understand all of the subtle jokes and nuances of the characters aimed at making my parents laugh and going right over my little head (Heavyweights, Angels in the Outfield, Little Giants), others have lost the magic becoming nothing more than silly noises and juvenile humor (Good Burger, Space Jam, Super Mario Bros.).  So, how does Jurassic Park hold up after twenty years of CGI and technological advancements and Avatars?  Well, it's still pretty damn impressive.  While I will admit that I did not go see it in theaters or in 3D (I seriously cannot justify paying $18 dollars to see a movie I've already seen dozens of times) I did give it a re-watch on blu-ray.  I was worried that it wasn't going to be as great as it was seen through innocent child's eyes.  I was worried that the dinosaurs were going to look fake and robotic and all kinda Jaws-y.  I was worried that it wasn't going to be one of my favorite movies again.

Here's the best part, not only was it everything that I remember, it exceeded my expectations.  Yes.  There was so much I forgot about the film!  It's not just about dinosaurs!  There's people in it.  And Jeff Goldblum!  How could I forget about Jeff Goldblum!  (Seriously, where did Goldblum go?  He was like the pinnacle comic relief badass in 90s sci-fi/adventure movies.  Need I remind everyone of Independence Day?)  Newman from Seinfeld is in it!  And Samuel L. Jackson says, "Hold on to your butts!"  But wait!  There's more!  The dinosaurs look fucking real.  It's almost mind-boggling how it's been twenty years of computers, CGI, video games, fake shit looking like real shit and yet, the dinosaurs look as real as they did in 1993.  One thing I'll admit to anyone is I am adamantly against CGI.  I would have to say that 80 percent of the time when computer animation is used, it's lazy, unrealistic, and worsens whatever story it's supposed to be improving (I'm looking at you Van Helsing, Hulk).  15 percent of the time its used for such small detail that no one really notices.  But, 5 percent can really impress.  I do understand that without CGI, movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter wouldn't exist, and if they did they'd probably be shit.  Some of the best CGI I've seen in recent memory is Peter Jackson's King Kong.  When time and effort is put into a very expensive and arduously long process of CGI, then I'll bite.  But, when it's thrown together quickly and effortlessly in order to mass produce another stale, mindless summer popcorn flick, that's when I lose my faith in science and humanity.  That isn't to say that good CGI is timeless either... I guarantee you twenty years from now King Kong looks like a video game.  We're not going to remember Transformers or probably to a lesser extent even The Avengers twenty years from now.  We're going to remember The Dark Knight or Pan's Labyrinth or Jurassic Park, films that took practical means to special effects and robotics to a whole new level.

It also helps that Stan Winston was a technical genius (rest in peace).  Without this man we wouldn't have the T-Rex, we wouldn't have Alien, which you still have to admit looking back looks real as shit.  Michael Chrichton was a master of his craft as well (rest in peace).  And Steven Spielberg (still alive) was still willing to direct something adventurous and magical and not pandering Oscar bait.  This is why I've always said and will continue to say that 90s movies TRUMP movies today.  Jurassic Park kills TransformersAustin Powers murders Scary MovieDumb and Dumber will always be funnier than Superbad (I'm sorry).  And The Rock, Face/Off, Con Air, The Long Kiss Goodnight are better than any action movie made post 1999.  Something about the 90s, directors and writers knew how to tell a story.  If Jurassic Park were made today, chances are it would be a Michael Bay project or, perhaps, even a JJ Abrams produced vehicle, but I'm certain it wouldn't be about the story.  It would be about destruction and mayhem.  It would try to cram in as much special effects as bugetarily possible.  It would be about the dinosaurs and how many can fit into one moving picture.  Fun fact: in the two hours and seven minute running time, there are dinosaurs in exactly fifteen minutes of the film.  Why?  Oh, because it's not just dino-porn?  There still needs to be a story (I'm looking at you The Lost World)?   Not a half-dressed Megan Fox running next to a half-straight Shia LeBouf around an all-shitty Transformers set?  Shocked.  And awed.

I touched on it briefly, but this cast is stellar.  And it's sad because most of the cast has faded into entertainment obscurity.  Where is Sam Neill?  What is he doing and why has Dr. Grant been excommunicated from film?  Laura Dern?  Bit parts in The Master and Little Fockers?  Jeff fucking Goldblum??  Has this man seriously been relegated to the bullpen of sitcomedy?  Back in the day, though, this was the all-star team.  Only has The Avengers been able to put together a diverse group of (mostly) competent actors for a (almost) solid film.  Big budget movies still rock the cineplex.  People come out in droves for the newest three hundred million dollar film even though it doesn't really tend to expand the brain hardly at all.  But, back in the day, movies were like Jurassic Park which is the perfect cocktail of smart, educational, and exciting.  Now, I'm not saying that you should rush out and spend your hard-earned drug money on watching Jurassic Park while high for the fifteen hundredth time, but I can't say that I would blame you if you did.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Evil Dead: Chin-less Edition

I had a difficult movie watching experience ahead of me when the film began.  I was watching it not only as an avid fan of the original trilogy, but also as someone who "reviews" movies, as well as trying to separate myself from comparing every second to it's predecessor.  Here's why the original Evil Dead trilogy works so damn well: it's one of the most original horror movies ever made.  It's equal parts terrifying and hilarious.  Bruce Campbell brings a certain campiness to the film, while adding to the fun and terror sure to be had while watching it.  The way the first Evil Dead came about was a group of film students in the 70s made a horror movie, which to this day, is still one of the bloodiest movies I've ever seen.  It was incredibly low budget and every shot was done with practical means.  No CGI, no expensive locations, just a cabin in the middle of the woods and a few dedicated budding filmmakers.  It was directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Oz, Drag Me To Hell) who luckily, in college, was friends with aspiring actor Bruce Campbell.  The film was made, distributed, developed a cult following and became a hit.  So, what was the next logical step?  Well, to make the sequel, of course.  For any other filmmaker this might mean a story following up what happened to it's survivor.  But no.  If you're given a way bigger budget and a studio backing, why not try to make your film... again... but better?  That's exactly what happened.  So, Evil Dead 2 essentially remade the first film, with more money and better *cough* 80s effects for the first thirty minutes or so, then goes off on a completely separate, yet equally great and extremely [darkly] hilarious tangent.  To this day, Evil Dead 2 probably has one of the biggest cult followings of all time.  And this is the film that rocketed Bruce Campbell to B-movie stardom.  Then came the third and final film of the trilogy: Army of Darkness which is so ridiculous, to explain the plot would not only do it no justice, but might turn a few doubters away.  However, let me wholeheartedly state that the Evil Dead trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies of all time.

So, how does the remake stack up?  It's different.  I'll say that right off the bat.  Those looking for a straight up remake may be left a little disappointed.  The film is essentially humorless, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Bruce Campbell's style of humor is definitely one-of-a-kind and not something a filmmaker should try to replicate.  Chances are that if the director had attempted to recreate the Ash character from the original three, the film would've suffered for it as its fans would long for Campbell's excellence.  So, what do you do when you don't have your staple character?  Try something new.  And new they did.  Instead of the now tired plot of five friends head to a desolate cabin to party and bang, end up summoning demons by reading out of the Book of the Dead and all end up being possessed and killed plotline... a new idea has emerged.  Now, the story revolves around four friends heading to their old cabin to help other friend Mia detox from her addiction to what appears to be heroin.  It ends up being the gnarliest Intervention of all time.  While the others think her craziness and paranoia have to do with her detoxing, it's really because some hippy nerd decided it would be a good idea to read from a book they found in the basement wrapped in barbed wire and surrounded by dead hanging cats.  Damn hippies.

What I respect about this version is that the filmmakers made it their own.  They didn't try to duplicate the magic of the original, they made their own magic.  They went for straight horror and ultra-gore and, sort of, strayed from the comedic elements of the film.  And while we didn't get any of this:

 And this certainly never happened in the new one:

It's probably for the best.  I'm not actually sure anyone in today's era would appreciate the kind of absurd, dark physical comedy that made the originals classic.  It was bittersweet because while I was enjoying the film, every time a scene would approach that I knew was going to happen, I longed for the original.  But, then I also realized that in this realm of Evil Dead, if Mia's hand became possessed and she chopped it off and it started crawling around trying to attack her, I think the movie would be utterly laughed at (and not in the way intended).  So, for once I can actually praise a studio and writers for doing something smart this year.  They realized what's "in" right now and what's not going to fly with young audiences.  I know that the packed midnight showing theater I was in, and by the reactions from the crowd, that I was probably the 1% in there that had actually even seen the original trilogy.  I'm not even sure how many viewers of the demographic this movie is targeted to even know of the original's existence.  

For those who haven't seen the original (which means I'm probably talking to all of you) the film will probably be exactly what you are looking for.  It's got a few jumps, it's incredibly creepy, and there's more blood and gore in it than I've ever seen in a theater.  But, for those lucky few who have had the honor and privilege of watching the first, don't worry, what it lacks in campiness and absurd dark humor, it makes up for in buckets of blood and plenty of homages to the original.  There's nods to almost everything significant in both Evil Dead 1 and 2: the chainsaw, the severed hand, the tree-rape (yes, you read that correctly), all of it, sadly, is sans the comedic elements that made the originals great.  

The moral of the story is, first off: go get the original three and watch them back to back to back before seeing this version.  Get ready to scream, cringe, and laugh yourself stupid.  Get to love them and appreciate them because, yeah, they don't have the best effects.  In fact, they're downright cheesy.  But, they're inventive.  Something I haven't seen since.  And when there's all the technology in the world right now, I yearned for the cheap make-up and 70s/80s effects, because while this one was WAY more realistic looking (which did add to the terror of the film) the originals were able to effectively blend camp and horror into its own genre that has yet to be repeated.  And while it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm really not.  Like I said, the filmmakers made the right decision.  Viewers would walk right out of the theater if they saw the effects of the originals.  But, what the originals lack in budget, they made up for in creativity.  So, honestly, which one do you prefer:



For what it had to become to adapt to a new generation, Evil Dead succeeds.  It's also good enough to stand alone on it's own.  But, if you're like me, then it's going to be difficult to separate yourself from wanting the ambiance of the first film.  You long for one over-acted brilliantly voiced line from the man with the golden chin.  You will wish for one reference to a "boomstick".  But, you'll accept the fact that in the wrong hands this movie could've been way worse.  At the very least, you'll be able to see that the filmmakers share the same love for the originals as many of those out there.  It's definitely worth a look.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Admission: Safer Than An Airbag, Child Locks, A Rape Whistle, And A Crossing Guard Put Together

Admission is a bike helmet.  It's the password on your email.  It's checking your blind spot before merging.  It's a 12 pack of Trojan condoms, without ever using them.  It's driving with All-State.  It's a panic room.  It's using EHarmony instead of meeting someone in real life.  It's ordering a meal at a restaurant that you've had before instead of trying something new.  Admission is the safest movie you could go see.  I don't mean that you're not taking a chance by seeing it, because, well, you're not, I suppose.  But, at the hands of the writer/director/stars of the film took literally no chances to do something new.  And without such impressive star names like Paul Rudd and Tina Fey, this movie probably would've slipped in and out of theaters without so much as consideration from Joe Moviegoer.  Granted, it's doing pretty terribly in the box office, it's still not the worst thing out in theaters right now (Have you seen Tyler Perry's Temptation?).  Unfortunately, those involved with the film decided early on that they'd rather be safe than sorry good.

Admission tells the story of Portia Nathan, a Princeton Admissions Officer who runs into an old friend from college (Paul Rudd) who tells her of a brilliant aspiring college student she ought to put up for consideration, but might also be her son.  There's everything you'd expect of a reliable rom-com.  Of course, Portia is up for a big promotion and recommending this kid, who's had a not-so-stellar past, may prevent her from getting it.  She also has a boyfriend who she finds boring, but she meets Paul Rudd's character who is everything she's not.  She's a boring home-body, he's funny, outgoing and a world traveler.  Opposites attract, opposites clash, opposites separate, opposites reunite at the end.  Oops.  My bad.  Spoiler alert.  Seriously, that's how safe this movie is.  Now, I'm not saying it would've been a better movie if they hadn't gotten together at the end, but, with the talent put together to bring this film to fruition, you'd expect a bit more originality and punch.

I saw this movie a little less than a week ago and I'm having just a little bit of trouble remembering specifics.  I can't remember any jokes.  I can't remember any lines or moments that stood out.  But, I didn't hate it.  It was an hour and a half distraction from the real world, but nothing great enough to suck me into a new world.  The experience will probably go something like this: it begins, you're interested, you're wondering why you aren't laughing as much, you like Lily Tomlin as Tina Fey's mom, you find Paul Rudd's character a little strange, you realize the Michael Sheen/Tina Fey plotline is humorous, but stupid, you check your watch to see how much time is left, you start to predict each upcoming scene, you're almost entirely correct, you are happy to see that everything works out, you stand up at the closing credits, you briefly discuss that you thought it was 'cute', you put the movie out of your mind for a long time, you stop by a Redbox later this year, you can't remember if you saw Admission or not, you decide to pass.

There's certainly worse out there right now.  And if it's date night, why not take a chance to giggle and make out to something that won't ruin your budding relationship one night stand.  If you're a fan of seatbelts and oven mitts, you may actually find something magical about Admission, but if you like to live life on the edge, there may be a lot lacking for you here.