Sunday, June 30, 2013
I made a joke in class the other day that the only reason any guy ever goes to see a Sandra Bullock movie is because he has a wife or a girlfriend. Sandy is the Queen of romance in the last fifteen years. When Meg Ryan dumped Dennis Quaid and got her face messed up, the crown was picked up by Miss Bullock and has never been put down since. The joke is funny as long as we ignore "The Blind Side" and "Crash". This movie wants to be an action film with comedy, but in truth it is another romance. Like all of the recent guy bonding films may be referred to as "Bro-mances", this can legitimately he called a "Ho-mance". Sandra is bonding with another woman, and that is the real focus of the movie.
Melissa McCarthey was described in a post I read on line as the female Zack Galifinakis. She was seen as odd and irritating. Despite that comparison, and her presence as a love interest for Galifinakis in "The Hangover III", I think she is much closer to a Chris Farley type. She is a bull in a china shop, but ultimately she has a heart of gold. She is the driving force in the movie and it is her humor that makes this movie work despite it's by the numbers plot. She sells the tough gal character pretty well and the foul mouthed insults are creative enough that when you are laughing at them, they actually sound like something a clever person might say rather than words that a screenwriter forced from her lips.
This is a buddy cop picture with a mismatched pair of protagonists. Bullock is channeling her character from "Miss Congeniality", but it works and in the end her story arc seems credible enough. McCarthey drags her along for the rough humor and plays against her more timid side pretty well. There are some plot lines that are tossed in that go nowhere and are clearly designed to give McCarthey's character some street smarts and Bullock's character some sympathy. None of that is needed because the dialogue is what makes this funny as well as a couple of visual jokes. I got a big laugh from the tracheotomy scene and then the visual of one of the villains turning an earlier interrogation scene around was also amusing. This movie earns it's R rating honestly, there are enough f-bombs to satisfy and Scarface fan who ends up in the audience.
The humor is also visual at times and it mostly grows out of the characters. There is a sequence that will get some big laughs that is completely contrived, just to give the girls a chance to act out when drunk. It does not really fit with the rest of the movie but it did have some bits in it that will get some big chuckles. It's not quite as hysterical as it wants to be but it is generally very satisfying. There was a surprising amount of violence and sometimes the tone of the movie switches a bit too abruptly. I could have used a little more of Jane Curtain, she has one funny visual bit and then the family scenes are so similar to the ones in "The Fighter" that you wonder how big a stereotype we must be dealing with in those Irish families in Boston.
This is going to be a movie that is very successful and for which a sequel will be created very quickly. I don't need a sequel, but the characters were entertaining enough together that it seems like an easy reach and Hollywood is not going to pass up the low hanging fruit that this moneymaker is going to turn out to be. There isn't much to analyze here. It is a straight buddy cop action/comedy film. The two leads have a lot of appeal and there are enough jokes to sustain it. Your life will not be changed but you will laugh out loud a few times and you won't feel bad doing so.
If you are looking for big and stupid with a lot of explosions, you could do worse than "White House Down", like maybe "Godzilla" or "2012". Which would be completely appropriate given the heritage of this film. Roland Emmerich has made some spectacular popcorn movies over the years but he has also made some that did not quite live up to the craptasitic story telling that we know he can accomplish. This movie falls squarely in between. It would like to soar near "Independence Day" but it is closer to "The Day After Tomorrow". Preposterous and derivative it can't quite reach the heights of fun silliness that it shoots for, but it has some passing moments and while a bit overstuffed, it still leaves us wanting something just a little bit more.
In 1998, "Armageddon" did not suffer in the wake of it's earlier in the year, end of the world comet crashing into the Earth cousin "Deep Impact". "White House Down" unfortunately does not compare as favorably with it's previously released story incarnation, "Olympus has Fallen." Part of the reason might be that the enemy is so much more believable in that film, and while there are plot twists, it does not require the highest echelons of government to achieve the destruction of the President's house. There was also a more realistic portrayal of the President in that movie than we get here. Jamie Fox is a fine actor, I watched "Django Unchained" just last night and he can carry a film. In "Ray" he had a personality to convey. As the President in "White House Down", he is a caricature of a leader. We are supposed to buy that he has a fixation on achieving greatness by accepting the word of the Iranian President on military matters in the Middle East. He believes the turmoil in the world is all caused by poverty, and he has unilateral authority to act on the basis of his beliefs regardless of treaties or Congressional oversight. The only personality traits he shows are the Jordans that he dons in the last half of the movie and his insistence in the face of the opposite advice from everyone involved to fly Marine One down low over the Lincoln Memorial. He does get a couple of good one liners in the story, and they undermine his credibility but do add some jocularity to the proceedings.
Channing Tatum gets to play the hero in this story. He gets a little more character development because his precocious daughter is part of the group of hostages that is taken during the attack. She becomes a bigger hero than him because she has a You Tube Channel. Yep, Hollywood is going to glory in the fight against terrorism through the surrogacy of real life media uploads. The big advantage of her video is that it allows the military fighters in the terror group to be identified. Which is then used for no purpose whatsoever except to suggest they are bad guys. They are bad guys who have an ax to grind with the U.S. government. There is an abandoned CIA agent, a racist right wing nut job, and mercenaries of various types. They are brought into the same action for completely different reasons and they form a cohesive unit until they don't. The main character behind the plot has his own agenda, which some of the group knows and some does not. In the long run we are expected to believe that government officials with long careers and a history of honorable service, will become merciless killers of innocents and colleagues alike. Maggie Gyllenhaal's Secret Service functionary is even more naive than the President and her comments often stir unintended laughter.
The five minute car chase on the South Lawn of the White House is one of the more inane sections of the movie. Some explosions kill dozens of people and others merely scatter a few before they take up arms again. The President and The Hero keep running back and forth without much of a plan. The scenario behind the plot is convoluted, and it has inherent flaws in story telling. Nuclear codes are changed, but the identification system for Presidential Authorization stays the same, despite multiple changes in Presidential status.
I'm willing to go along with all of the malarkey if the entertainment value is high enough. It just does not reach that point here. Nothing in the characters ever reaches the joyful audacity of Nic Cage in "The Rock". There are some flares of temper and frustration, but Tatum can't carry the maniacal glee of Cages scenery chewing and none of the terrorists has any fun lines at all. I did enjoy the tour guide and the line about "Independence Day" did get me to laugh at loud. The manipulation is not just obvious, that can be forgiven, it was just artless and that hurts the entertainment quality of the movie.
Monday, June 24, 2013
R.I.P. Richard Matheson - 'Twilight Zone' Writer Dead At 87
I read his short stories and books when I was a teen and loved the Twilight Zones he was connected to. A great legacy.
I read his short stories and books when I was a teen and loved the Twilight Zones he was connected to. A great legacy.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
So I am used to zombie movies that function in a slightly different way, that being said, this film works pretty darn well. There were stories about behind the scene problems and re-shoots on the movie. Originally this was to have been released last Christmas. The CGI Zombie attack clips on the walls surrounding Jerusalem seemed to undermine the idea of the film, making it look a little odd.. In the end those film clips make up a small portion of the movie and they work well enough to give us the idea of how a massive group of infected /dead people could suddenly be a threat rather than something to just be avoided. The script problems don't seem to have effected the tension level and the PG-13 rating is not as off putting for a horror action film as I thought it might be. This is definitely not a gore movie but it is a tight action film that provides plenty of suspense and enough creepiness to keep the average film goer satisfied for it's running time.
It is probably fortunate that I am unfamiliar with the source material. Everyone who has read it says it would be impossible to make as a single film, so clearly there has to be a simplification and an "inspired by" qualification of the movie. The zombies here are much like the infected humans in the "28 Days/28 Weeks" mode, they are Fast and Furious (although they don't steal cars or look like Vin Diesel, OK, some of them do). In most of the zombie films I've seen, the survivors try to hunker down and ride it out. They are subject to stress and fear and it is usually the internal strife that causes the drama in the film. Ultimately, they have to escape or fight and some live but most die. There never seems to be much hope for the world after the whole thing starts. In this story, we see the outbreak take over very rapidly. I still have some questions about how that could be the case when most of the incubation time takes a few minutes. I'm not sure who boarded all those zombies on flights, but I guess the airlines were desperate enough that as long as a person was ticketed they could get on a plane, in spite of wanting to bite everyone else in line.. TSA is once again shown not to be very effective. The logic aside, when the big cities start to see the spread of the infection and the rapid growth of the dead population it is pretty scary.
Brad Pitt is the hero of our story. He is a U.N. Health Specialist. It is never quite clear what his specialty is or why his assistance is so necessary that a special operation is arranged to save him and his family. The family set up is solid and the outbreak is handled smashingly well. The opening act of the movie pulls us in quickly and those other pesky questions seem irrelevant. There are three pretty effective chase sequences that feel very intense. The first one features a series of car crashes that are realistic, sudden and perfectly imaginable in the circumstances. Along the way, the family picks up a boy that they take on responsibility for as one of their own. All of this mostly moves to the background once the second act commences. The second act consists of a series of chases and attacks in a variety of situations. Some of them are simple and one of them is very elaborate. The influence Pitt's character has seems to be substantial even in the parts of the world that are cut off or over run. It does seem at times as if the story gives him cache when it is convenient and none when it suits the story for dramatic purpose. This is not a story of survivors holding out against the oncoming hordes, it is a globetrotting race against time and every stop features some new wrinkle to the plot.
As you may have noticed, there are a lot of chases and escapes and attacks. It may seem a bit repetitive after a while. Each one is staged differently so they don't seem too recycled, but there is only so much you can draw out of the concept. The attack on the plane was one of the most innovative and the result does stretch credulity quite a bit. Still it gets us to the third act where we begin to see some plot ideas from earlier in the movie begin to gel. The film seems set up to allow the story to continue, so don't be too surprised that the zombies are not wiped out and a cure does not seem likely. The trick here is a little bit different and I thought it made the movie work a little better in the end. The action in this act is a lot more direct and visible since it is contained in a well lit location and we have clear objectives that are being pursued. If this was the section of material that had to be re-written, then they did a solid job making it work in terms of drama and action.
Pitt was the only recognizable actor in the cast so that must be where the money went (OK, David Morse is in it for about 80 seconds but his exposition was so vague that it did not matter ). Everyone else was just fine but only one other character is given a chance to shine a little bit in the movie. The Israeli soldier Segan is just as tough as Pitt's character and doesn't have any back story, but she manages to broaden our interest in the rest of humanity by her willingness to fight on despite a dramatic turn of events. You can see that this is a big movie, there are cities being torn apart and naval ships put at the disposal of some of the survivors. Plane crashes and nuclear explosions seem to occur every few minutes and the production design was usually convincing. It's a crackerjack entertainment that has some big gaps in it's plotting but it overcomes those weaknesses with some effective tension and suspense sequences. I still think I will be heading over to my son in-law Drew's house when the Zombie Apocalypse shows up. He is better armed than Brad Pitt is and I think our chances would be stronger in the long run. Besides if Brad shows up, we'll know where all the zombies are, right behind him.
After the debacle that was "Cars 2" it would be understandable that Pixar fans would be concerned about an unnecessary sequel to a fantastic original film. While the sequel route worked with "Toy Story", it certainly did not feel like there was more follow up story for Monsters Inc. Fortunately, instead of inventing a new challenge for the characters in the original film, they have chosen to visit their roots and explore the characters from an historical perspective. This preserves the world in which we first met Sully and Mike but it allows us to see them from a different perspective. I think it was a wise choice. While "Monsters University" lacks some of the dynamic story telling and emotional heft of the first movie, the prequel wisely sticks to character development and humor. The plot is less important than the jokes and the personalities of our two friends and assorted other characters.
Billy Crystal puts so much into the character of Mike Wazowski, that he feels new and fresh despite the fact that we already have one movie story behind us (or is it in front of us?). Mike seems to be the smart kid with big ambitions who just seems to not quite fit in. We get to see where his dream comes from and how he doggedly pursues it. Along the way, some old rivalries and new friendships are started. College is the place where people go to reinvent themselves and Mike has every intention of doing just that. He longs to be a "Scarer" at Monsters Inc., and excels at his academics at the same time that he continues to struggle with his place in the school. John Goodman is back and he plays it more like a second fiddle this time. It is Mike's story, and although he has important story moments, the plot ultimately depends on Mike. This is where the characters meet and it is great to see how they manage to become friends in spite of some of the things thast seperate them in the beginning.
While it is not quite "Animal House" the story does center on the antics of a group of outsiders trying to fight the powers that be. The humor is closer to "revenge of the Nerds" with little touches of the Disney/Pixar magic thrown in. The tables set up in the quad that solicit the freshman to join a club or activity are very funny. There is a reference to some of the usual college traditions, like football chants and good luck touching of school icons. Anyone who has gone to a college that has a real campus life will recognize the stereotypes and the obligatory processes that student struggle with. Most of them are handled hilariously here. Early efforts in the classroom fall away to the usual Fraternity hijinks that make a movie like this work. Imagine trying to establish a coll persona and having your Mom pop up to take your picture.
Once again the animation is top notch but there was nothing spectacular in the vision of the movie that draws attention to itself. The challenges that the competing fraternities and sororities have to go thru are all similar to something that might be done in the non-monster world. The main differences were not the ideas but the fact that the participants were monsters. There are some funny bits based on the idea that the monsters will have an allergic reaction to some of the obstacles or that there is a massive monster librarian. To me the thing that was most effective about the animation was how much emotion they could get onto the face of a one eyed creature. Mike is very expressive despite having half the tools and none of the unique characteristics of the other creatures. There are plenty of nods to the original film along the way and everything seems to fit together pretty well.
I was a little surprised at how the major conflict at the end was resolved. There is a consequence to trying to take a shortcut and Mike and Sully both learn that, but they learn it cheerfully. The end credits contain a series of visuals that bridge the story and turn what might have been a disappointment into a triumph. Also, there is a stinger joke and if you leave before the credits are done you are going to miss a pretty good laugh. Monsters University is not an instant classic like "Ratatouille" or "Up" or and of the "Toy Story" movies, but it is an immensely charming entertainment that has clever humor and is integrated well with characters that we already know.
There is not any mistaking that this is a Sophia Coppola film. I have seen a couple of the pictures she has made in the past and this movie has several of those elements to it. There are long passages without anything other than the location audio track, there are incessant contemporary music cues to highlight anything dramatic and there are a couple of shots done from a detached distance that emphasis how much outside of the story we viewers are despite the close up and the intimate moments. I'm not saying it does not work but I am saying that she has developed a style and a set of habits that is noticeable. If any of those things irritate you about her films, this will not be the movie to change that, if you like the hip outsider detachment thing, than this film will be all up in you.
The story is based on the real events that took place a few short years ago here in Lotus (LaLa) land. High school students with no sense of identity other than those achieved from a designer purse or jewelry, go a bit overboard with their celebrity style obsessions and begin stealing from the icons that they worship. These kids come from privileged but not wealthy backgrounds. Their families all appear to be absent or excessively obtuse as to their real persona. It would seem that every trendy club in the city was willing to have them come in and to serve them whatever booze they requested, despite the fact that none of them look older than 15 or 16. The film ends up trying to be a criticism of the absent or negligent parenting they receive, the consumerist culture and the society that values such empty "things" such as designer shoes. Coppala wants to have it both ways, the kids are corrupt and soulless and that is largely because celebrities are the exact same way.
The audience is given a view into a lifestyle that is pretty much what the media spends time purporting to be important. The one guy in the group is as obsessed with style as are the girls. Later, another guy enters into the burglaries but we know so little about him and why he is there that he is almost invisible. These characters agonize over what clothes match and which club is the most socially hip. From the beginning, the guy is drawn in by their friendship based on his need to belong. One of the very first things that should have been a warning to him is that his new best friend is a soul sucking kleptomaniac, who takes him walking down the streets of their own neighborhood, looking for unlocked cars that they can steal from. It's a short step from that to entering homes that are either unlocked or for which the keys are so badly hidden that there might as well be a sign that says, "Bored, Insolent Youth Enter Here." They treat their escapades as if it were a shopping spree, but it is not just clothes they take and they don't just take them for trophies. Valuables that can be sold and especially cash are the targets that get the most praise from each other. The idea that this was just hero worship gone awry can be quickly dismissed.
What should not be dismissed is the result that seems to condemn all of society to self inflicted oblivion. The punishments that are meted out for thefts in excess of 3 million dollars worth of goods is laughable. I took some satisfaction when the cops showed up and presented warrants and hauled the kids off, but that was stemmed substantially by the light handed treatment that follows. The character played by Emma Watson is given such a light sentence and it results in the kind of admiration and attention that these characters would want that it makes me worry for our future. The fact that the story is then turned into a movie is also almost as disturbing. The film does not try to make heroes out of the kids, but idiots out there will do so because the over the top party lifestyle will seem appealing. Drinking, drugs, hot dance routines, media attention and then being the subject of a movie, it's easily enough to make the dim bulbs that occupy much of the modern media world feel like they could be next. Take the plot from "Scream 4", take out the murder and replace with theft and you have a real world nightmare of a story.
Look, the movie is very well made. The soundtrack is populated with music that worships impersonal sex and objectification and money. It is shot to make the kids lives look amazing as they spend the money, live the glamorous life and suffer minimal consequences as a result. It even has Emma Watson, "the" hot girl of the moment (she lampoons herself in last week's "This is the End"), performing on Paris Hilton's stripper pole in her homes club room. Maybe there were just too many sequences of beautiful people doing horrible things and enjoying it for my taste. It never seems to be the position of the film maker that this is OK. Just because Orlando Bloom has a half dozen Rolex's does not mean he deserves to be stolen from. Yet the depiction makes it seem like the crimes are minor and the consequences even more so. The detachment of the observers extends to all parts of the story. If everyone is a victim and everyone is an idiot, why should we care? There are important themes in the story, but every time one of them starts to rear it's head, another conflicting view comes along to undermine the point. I hope the kids are all good actors because if they bear any resemblance to the fashion zombies in this movie, I have to pity us all.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
The entry had a series of film sections from his major motion pictures, with some words from artists, critics and Kubrick himself. We scrolled through the dozen or so bits in about twenty minutes and then made our way into the entry hall which features a number of cameras and movie posters. I of course would be happy to have this wall to display in my home.
There was a room dedicated to his work as a very young photographer, primarily for Look Magazine. Several shots were on display that featured Hollywood connections and there were scrap books of magazine articles featuring photos he had taken. The first photo that he received a professional credit and payment for was a shot of a sad faced news vendor, as he looks over the headlines on the papers announcing the death of FDR. There was also an elaborate set of materials that he had put together for an abandinde project on the Ghettos of Poland from the time of Nazi occupation. The amount of work he put in to simply move on was incredible.
The gallery did not seem to be organized in any chronological fashion, it did seem to flow very smoothy through all of the film projects although some clearly received more attention than others. The section on his last film, "Eyes Wide Shut" felt to be the slimmest, although reading his words and looking at the background material, I think i might appreciate the film more the next time I see it.
High on the wall was the helmet worn by Private Joker in "Full Metal Jacket". There was also a model helicopter that had been used in the production. Each section had elaborate versions of the script with Kubrick's very detailed notes on everything in the scene. His planning was clearly meticulous. The history of each production was described, especially interesting was the display of some of the original source material. In the case of this film, there was a paperback version of the novel that started Kubrick on the movie.
The exhibit was not thin but it was less in the works from the 1950s. His two collaborations with Kirk Douglas had large photos and detailed shooting material. "Paths of Glory" is probably the first of his masterpieces and the themes were nicely described by the curators of the exhibit. "Spartacus" was not his project, in fact he came on after shooting had started and the first director had been dismissed. Kubrick added some much needed battle scenes and the sequence where the Romans watch Douglas and Woody Strode fight for their pleasure and they can hardly be bothered to pay attention, was clearly a Kubrick shot. We see the battle from over the shoulders of the viewers as they chat and gossip. It looks like a view from a window with people sitting on a couch in front of the frame. It was the only film he made where he did not have total control over the picture and he viewed it as something of a disappointment.
Lovers of Horror would have enjoyed the way the axes were displayed from "The Shining". They were basically buried into the wall as if Jack Torrance had just tried to take us out. The dresses from the two little girls were hung up next to each other, just as if we were Danny and came up on them on our tricycle. There were some interesting letters from Saul Bass, who was pitching advertising ideas and poster artwork. While Bass was enthusiastic, we can see Kubrick's notes on each sketch and he did not like any of them. There was also a model of the maze from the end of the film and a description of how it was shot. The highlight of that room however had to be the typewriter that was actually used in the film and contained the page with the script that clearly gives away the insanity that has taken over Jack Torrance.
There were two long rooms displaying material from Barry Lyndon, including costumes and the evolution of the script. The other element of the second room was the amazing collection of material that Kubrick had put together to create a film about Napoleon. It may well be the greatest movie never made. I know that the work was immense, he had his own card catalog drawers for the reference works he had accumulated.
There was a small alcove room that was playing a series of film clips and highlighting the music that was used in the films. It was a little claustrophobic, and while it was interesting, I did not stay through the whole loop . To gain entry to that room, one had to move through the section that featured material from "A Clockwork Orange". There was a series of newspaper articles about a British man who had modeled his behavior on the droogs from this film. Kubrick had defended the movie vigorously from criticism over the violence, but after the events that occurred in the real world he held the movie out of circulation in Great Britain for many years after. In another display, one shelf over were all the mock up newspapers from the film, covering "Alex" and his trials and subsequent rehabilitation. It was an interesting contrast to see the two sets of news right next to each other.
The details of the shoot were highlighted by a series of pictures from the set from the attack on the couple by Ale and his gang. The music sequence from this film that I did watch in the side room featured the treatment which of course involved the score by Beethoven.
I can't quite remember which section featured the discussion of "red" in Kubrick films. The color has a distinctive role to play in the films, and the significance was indicated by a series of shots from the various films that showed how the color was being used. The clothes that are cut off of the victim in Clockwork and the blood on the wall behind Private Pyle are two of the examples.
There was a passageway from the Clockwork Orange displays to the Barry Lyndon rooms that featured the film A.I., which Kubrick had long planned and then passed off to his friend Steven Spielberg. The drawings that went into the visualization of the movie clearly illustrate why he took so long to get the film started. He was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision. Most of the drawings were from the 1980s and the film did not get made until after Kubrick's death in 1999. It was released in 2001.
To the right here is a close up of a miniature set reproduction of the War Room from Dr. Strangelove. It looks amazing and you should know that the chairs around the table are about the size of a paperclip. The screens in the display were actual scenes on display from the screens in the movie. The technical material here was the most involved in the exhibit. Cameras and lenses and small script elements made up most of the display. It was on one end of the entry gallery and right next to it was the material on Lolita. There were a number of photos frames of Sue Lyon in costume and on the set. They were all in color and a magnifying glass on a fixed rail allowed the viewer to scroll down the line examining them in much the way a director or photographer like Kubrick might have in making tiny decisions about costumes, make-up, props and lighting.
Friday night, I re-watched 2001:A Space Odyssey in anticipation of the trip to the LACMA. I was sure glad I did because the highlight of the exhibit for me was the material presented on what I think is his greatest film and certainly my favorite Kubrick film. There were two sections of space devoted to the 1968 epic, it included a replica model of Discovery hanging from the ceiling as well as costumes and masks worn by the performers in the "Dawn of Man" sequence. In the center of the first room were pieces of furniture found on the orbiting space station visited by Heywood Floyd on his way up to the Moon.
There was an interesting discussion of how futurists and designers from a number of big companies contributed suggestions to make the vision more real. I find it interesting that at least two of those companies, Bell Telephone and Pan Am, no longer exist and did not make it to 2001. Frank and Dave do seem to be absorbed in their i-pads while on Discovery, so it is not clear to me why IBM did not hit that technology before Apple did. There was a film clip that I saw on some other material explaining the process by which the circular section of Discovery was rotated to produce the effect of the astronauts walking in a vertical circle at times. The actual helmet used by Dave Bowman was on display and it had an interesting front projection display to put the actor in the helmet along with some of the visual effects from the film.
I don't know if this exhibit is touring, if you see it in your local museum be4 sure to take the time to visit. Anyone who admires the work of one of the greatest film directors of all time will feel privileged to have spend even a small amount of time in the shadows of his genius. I know that is how I feel.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Sunday, June 16, 2013
I must begin with a confession. I have never been a pot smoker, I am not a drinker, I feel self conscious about the use of foul language and mocking religion seems to be a bad thing from my point of view. Having said that, this movie plays on all of those concepts and it is pretty damn funny, even to someone like me who generally does not "party" like all the actors being portrayed here. I know enough about Hollywood and how it works and while I don't follow any scandal sites, I do have a average persons knowledge of some of the characters here. If seeing Michael Cera mock the degree to which he is despised, or Seth Rogan re-evaluate some of the choices he made sounds funny to you, this is the flavor you are looking for.
There is a simple concept behind the movie, what would the end of the world be like for a bunch of pot addled Hollywood types? If the Apocalypse is anything like the Bible forecasts, it is not going to go well for most of them. This is a combination of religious philosophy and bomb shelter mentality. Ideas that were explored on the Twilight Zone fifty years ago are revisited here with the added twist that most of the characters don't have much moral fortitude to begin with. Some thoughtful moments of human wisdom are combined with desperation to survive and the result is hilarious. As the characters begin to subvert their friendships, exploit each others weaknesses and look for redemption at the same time, they explore what is truly funny about being molested by demons or consumed by the fires of hell. Let me assure you it is damn profane.
All of these actors come from a school of humor that basically puts no limits on the kinds of things a person can say about another person, even if the end of times is not present. They s@*t talk each other and say the most vile things when they are simply high, it is not that much worse when all hell breaks loose, except that now we can add on violence and screaming and the kinds of slapstick that might seem pointlessly childish without the story set up.I don't get the feeling that many of them are acting, they seem to be themselves. That does not mean that they are the way they are portrayed in the story, but that they speak in their normal rhythms and pitches, they have the same vocal qualities that go along with being a member of the group. James Franco is an enthusiastic head case, Seth Rogan is a cool dude who is a little too needy, Jay Barucel is an awkward outsider who fits in the group but is not sure why, Jonah Hill is the nice guy who could just be faking it, Craig Robinson is funny but a little insecure and Danny McBride is the cocky self centered egoist without a real sense of worth. I said all of that in the politest way possible, they will say the same things in the most horrifyingly honest way you can imagine and you will probably be like Seth when the tigers showed up in "Gladiator".
There are dozens of cameo appearances by stars great and small. TV personalities seem doomed to die early and movie co-stars get slightly bigger exits. I'd have to see it again to see what happened with a couple of the personalities that are at the party at Franco's house when things start going wrong. There are also some late surprises that are worth a giggle and a guffaw or two. I would consider seeing a couple of the film projects that get some time in the movie. There is a sequence where Franco and Rogan talk about a sequel to "Pineapple Express". Neither of them has any idea of what the story should be but they are high and in love with the idea. This movie was probably written the same way. No one knows what it is all supposed to be about, but there has to be some funny material here and they will just run with it.
"This is the End" is another in a long line of films made by these actors over the last ten years or so. Clearly they feel some degree of friendship for each other, these movies are not star turns, they are joke fests. It seems no one wants to be left out even if they end up looking like a douche. It is an acquired taste and I cannot recommend it to everyone, but if you have a high tolerance for dope humor, gross out comedy, silly situations and have enjoyed any of these performers in the last few years, you'll probably like this movie. My biggest laugh was based on the amount of blood that gets sloshed out of a severed head. If that does not sound funny to you, stay away. If you are under thirty, a pot smoker or just have a twisted sense of humor, go for it. The worst that can happen is that you are damned to hell.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
The much anticipated Superman reboot is here, and as well as being much anticipated, I suspect it will be much debated. This version of the strange visitor from another world is likely to provoke enthusiasm from many but disappointment from others. It looks to be a huge winner in the summer box office race, but whether it will command the respect that the Christopher Nolan Batman reboot managed to get is questionable. I come from a perspective far outside of the comics. My world of Superman experience is limited to the 40s era cartoons, the 50's era television show, the 70s era movies, and the early nineties TV adaption. I have no axes to grind based on Smallville or from the many variations of Superman that have apparently populated the comic book universe. I will freely state that my bias is strongly toward the version embodied by the late Christopher Reeve, and therefore my assessment of this film is likely to involve measurement by that standard.
Let me start with those things that I liked about this movie: Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner, and Diane Lane. Just about every scene they were in was worth the price of admission. Crowe is the hopeful scientist father that plans to save his son and the legacy of Krypton by sending his child to Earth. He is poet, warrior and visionary to the family he is trying to save. The opening section on Krypton features the kinds of fantasy elements that ought to make anyone with imagination drool. There is technology that morphs substances into objects to interact through, there is a complex genetic system that both strengthens and weakens the Kryptonians at the same time. A military coup is frustrated while the planet comes crashing down. Crowe is a super hero himself in the opening scenes of the movie. He steals vital information, he daringly stands up to his oppressors, and he has a solid throwdown with the General who is trying to save Krypton by means of conquest rather than peace and science. We don't get the discovery of young Kal-el by Johnathan and Martha Kent, but we do get to see the legacy that they try to create for their adopted son. Ma Kent played by Diane Lane seems to have the greatest influence on Clark at a young age, but Costner's Johnathan Kent is the moral center of the film. He trains Clark to control his impulses, choose his battles and learn to understand good from evil. Costner is terrific as the kind of thoughtful and decent man that was exactly right for Kal-el to model himself after here on Earth. It may be the basic nature of the character, but Glen Ford was one of my favorite things about the 1978 Superman, and Costner lives up to that memory very well. His greatest moment involves saving the dog and his adopted son at the same moment. It is a moment undermined by the story structure.
The story of Clark's development is actually told through a series of flashbacks rather than in a linear narrative. This allows that part of the story to intrude at key moments in the film. We can understand a choice that gets made by a reference to an earlier experience. I understand that it is a creative story telling technique, but I think it undermines the emotional arc of the character.This is the beginning of the problems I had with the movie. The character of Clark Kent is introduced in intermittent sequences and just when we begin to relate to him, boom we're in another part of the story. Jor-el returns in electronic visual form at several points in the story and is almost as impressive as a hologram as he was as a real person. The reveal when Clark discovers his genetic father is undermined by the laying on of the Louis Lane story at that point. This movie is trying to cover a lot of territory so that by the end we will be caught up and ready for the confrontation with the forces from Krypton that threaten the planet. The presence of the flashbacks make the movie feel almost like a time travel story,because characters don't stay down and events change instantaneously. I got used to the experience but I still feel as if emotions are undermined by the way things get played out in the non-linear format.
General Zod was another thing about the movie that I liked. The character is played true to his genetic programming, and as a result, despite the heinous nature of his acts and plans, there is a logic to it that is understandable. Michael Shannon is not in over the top villain mode, his goal is actually a noble one despite the immorality of his means. The absence of the megalomania that drove Zod in the previous films will probably feel like a cheat and a let down to those wanting the face off between the two refugees to be more satisfying. It is a touch of consistency that when the confrontation is resolved, there is more mourning than there is satisfaction. This brings us to the major complaint I have about the film. It is serious. It is so serious that it drives most of the joy out of the movie. There is not really any humor, the love story is almost non-existent and there are no pieces of business that are designed for the audience to be entertained by a movie, everything is in aid of the story that has been created. When super beings engage in fisticuffs it is natural that there be damage. The damage of a single blow by one of the combatants however, is the equivalent of a 9/11 event. Buildings crash and collapse. Explosions rise hundreds of feet into the air. Thousands of people will be displaced and thousands more will die, even though we will not see them do so and the only sense of threat to humans that we get at this point is limited to five or six characters. I know it was cartoonish to have the bad guys flung into a Coke Ad in 1980, but the laughter was real and our sense of adventure was spirited fun. This movie makes the Herculean task feel exhausting. As a comparison, last year in "The Avengers" the attack that takes place in New York City is also massive in scale, but there are moments of humor, threat, relief and joy built into those sequences. Here Kal-el and Zod are brutally trying to off one another and the rest of the world be damned. Only in a final moment is there a hint of the humanity that is needed to make this confrontation work. It is a grim, realistic vision of a battle between super beings, but it is not much fun despite all of the spectacle.
There is are two references to Kal-el being Superman. One of them is partially muted, the other is the closest that they come to having a joke in the movie. Neither is satisfying. I think Henry Cavill is effective in the role, he looks the part and except for one moment of youth based ingratitude, that he quickly regrets, he is a noble character. In this film he has become the image of Superman that most people who like other comic book characters always fault him for. He is boring and mostly without fault. I know some criticized the 2006 reboot attempt for making Superman a bit of a loser. Yet, even a loser has some personality, our Superman here is nearly a cypher. We will be able to project what we want on him, but the story tellers are not giving us much to go on. This is a solid film with many qualities to admire. It is simply not the entertainment that I was hoping for. I liked it a lot, but any love I have is tentative at the moment. I may feel more passionately about it when I see it again. I don't use a rating scale for movies because I want people to understand why I feel a certain way about a movie, not just that it scores a certain number. When I post on The Lamb, a scale is required. If you want to see it, head over there and you can evaluate for yourself. If you are already buzzed to see the movie, then anything I have to say should not dissuade you. If you have no intention of seeing it, maybe I can get you to reconsider. The end of the movie promises more interesting things and a little more fun. I wish all of the movie had that going for it, but It has a lot of other things to recommend it for regardless.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Another blogging pal has posted his own list of Bond Posters, and generously included my comments on some overlapping choices. If you get a chance, go by and visit, here is the link:
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Saturday, June 8, 2013
When I saw the first trailer for this movie, I was a little concerned. It looked like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were trying to survive on the vapors of past success. Time marches on for all of us and the idea of these two making a raunchy comedy seemed a little distasteful. As it turns out there is almost nothing raunchy about this. It enhances the story that these two are a little long in the tooth and it plays like a more straightforward comedy from the 1990s, with a newer subject but the same mixture of humor and heart that was so typical of that era. This is much closer to "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" than to "Wedding Crashers". As a result it is a fairly easy film to recommend to a wide audience. Last summer I could smell the stink on "The Watch", and I avoided it, this year, I was suspicious but I am really glad I did not turn my nose up at it.
The setup is something anybody of a generation from before 1990 will be able to relate to. The world has changed, and while you might have a good skill set, it may not be the one that anyone is looking for anymore. Nick and Bill are sales guys who have a great personal touch but are antiques in the modern age of communication. It seems strange to think that guys like this are old school, but since that was the name of one of the early hits for Vaughn, maybe it is correct. This is basically a fish out of water story, and as such it comes down to how willing you are to believe that the fish can master a new environment. There are a couple of cheats just for laughs. I think guys in their forties are going to know who the X-Men are and would not fall for the joke that is teased in the trailer. One of them even makes a more current pop culture referent to "The Hunger Games". So they are not totally out of touch. Someone savvy enough to do a Google Hangout for a job interview is likely to know of "Instagram". Other than a couple of short cuts like that the film manages to be pretty realistic in setting up the characters at the internship they manage to get with Google. Programming and engineering are not their strong suit and so the movie plays best when showing them struggling with the technical side of the job.
Everyone on their intern team becomes a dutch uncle, pointing out their weaknesses. There is a snotty rival team member who discourages one character so much that the obligatory plot complication in the last act seems pretty reasonable. Outsiders are vulnerable to self doubt, although the Vince Vaughn character of Bill, seems like the least likely of the two to give into it. Some good seeds were planted early on so it is not a complete contrivance. We get some nice background bits without having too much of the characters played by Rob Riggle and Will Farrell. Riggle gets enough screen time to be mildly disturbing but not so much that you wish the part was gone from the film. Farrell on the other hand, brings the movie to a complete stop in his brief time on screen. The scene is needed for us to believe that Wilson's character would go along with Vaughn, but Farrell does his usual scream acting. He seems to believe that louder is funnier. In fact it is just irritating. He has become a parody of himself instead of an interesting personality. Vaughn and Wilson are doing some of the same stuff they have done for years but they freshen it up, and actually try to make it work for the story. It is an interesting contrast in the development of their careers.
I'll tell you who this film will not work for: hipsters. It is too conventional and the characters are too grounded to satisfy the desire for the new and innovative. I on the other hand appreciate a story that is well crafted, even if it is derivative. The construction of a good meal starts with solid ingredients, and a good recipe. Sometimes people don't want the ravioli with chipolte tomato bisque and goat cheese. They want a simple ravioli with a good meat sauce. It may not be as inventive but it will go down well and it is usually a lot more satisfying. If you hate movies that you can see the story arc from a mile away on, than you should skip this. If you like a movie that tells a fun story and is well performed and very entertaining, than this is right up your alley. Wilson is his usual surfer burnout persona, but it was used very nicely here. Vaughn is the emotionally driven cheerleader type, but it was limited to reasonable doses along the way. The "Flashdance" inspiration story is not nearly as irritating in the film as it was in the trailer, so don't be scared away. The Google connection is the biggest product placement component I have seen since FedEx in "Cast Away". You can't get around it, and while it looks like it might be interesting, it also makes me a little squeamish. The work environment feels just a couple of steps away from "Stepford", where everything is perfect.
This film was so much better than I thought it was going to be. It is a conventional comedy, and that was the biggest surprise. The script and story are largely a result of Vince Vaughn's work, and he is not swinging for the fences. He is trying to keep the game going by getting a hit and he manages a solid double. I can't say that everyone will like it, it may be a little staid for younger audiences, expecting filthy language, outrageous behavior and cutting edge humor. If you are looking for a pleasant evening at the movies, with a date or a friend, than "The Internship" will be rewarding enough for you. You will be glad that you applied and the experience will be worthwhile.
Friday, June 7, 2013
I saw the original Fast and Furious in 2001. That was twelve years and five whole movies ago. It was a guilty Summer pleasure that did not stick with me for more than a minute or two. I do remember that it was the last time I went to Universal Studios, right after the 9/11 attacks, because the cars from the movie were on display. Nothing fancy, they were just sitting there. OK, that was kinda cool for two minutes and then I moved on. It appears a lot has happened in the last ten years, the movies are now heist films, the good guy from the first movie is now a member of the criminal gang, and Dwayne Johnson has had some dealings with them in the past as some kind of U.S. Federal agent. That last part works out well for me because I like the former "Rock". He is an action star with some charisma.
It does not work out as well for Vin Diesel. I have no problems with him except that he is incredibly unexpressive in this whole movie. His tone of voice never varies, I don't remember any facial expression that could be described as more than a slight smirk, and he has a whole bunch of ponderous lines he has to read. Johnson by comparison is full of attitude, the voice changes from scene to scene, and he only does two or three incredibly silly, gravity defying action moves. Don't get me wrong, the flying headbutt that Diesel performs is fun, but it is also over the top ridiculous. This is Johnsons third big film of the Spring and he has not outworn his welcome yet. Diesel on the other hand needs a cup of Joe and some Benzedrine. I saw the trailer for the Riddick movie coming out later this year, he looks sleepy in that also.
"Furious 6" features a returning cast member who was apparently presumed dead. She now has to be recovered and a strategic genius rogue British Special Forces guy has to be defeated. We open the film with a car race. There is a car race in the middle of the film pitting Diesel against his old amnesiac girlfriend. The film ends with a car race in Tokyo. In between the car races are car chases. The primary difference between the two types of car activities seems to be that the crashes are deliberate in the chases. If you are not into car chase shots and racing motifs, you should skip this movie (and hell why would you even have thought of seeing it in the first place?). Although it is set up as something of a heist film, there is only one element that fits that bill and it is mostly buried in the big car chase that involves a tank. I like cars well enough, but I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a gearhead. They don't really talk much about the cars or show why one might be better than another, and it seems that they will have an endless supply to crash as the movie goes on.
There are a half dozen or more "good guy" characters to keep track of, and an equal number of villains. I suppose we have met some of Diesel's crew in the earlier films, I'll just accept them as they are and treat them like the established characters in any continuing series. I did not feel any particular affection for any of them, and there was only one scene where Johnson and one of the crew take a little revenge on a snooty car broker, that had much comedic value. This movie could use a stronger plot for the villain, and better dialogue for the secondary characters. It could also be tightened up by about twenty minutes. Some of the chases go on way to long. Instead of a breezy 90 minutes it is a ponderous two hours plus. Nonsense works best when it is brief and to the point. This movie is of course complete nonsense. That does not mean it isn't fun. I had a pretty good time, even though I was frequently lost in all the car chases trying to figure out which set of cars was chasing what other set of cars. No one seems capable of dying in a car crash, and they all appear to be the worst marksmen in the world. That's OK because then they can race again a little while later.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
|This is in my entry way at home. 007 greets you at the front door.|
That is a lot of posters to choose from, and I wanted to pick only posters that I liked. So all 24 Bond films will not be represented here. Instead, I will share the cream of the crop. I did choose to limit a film to one appearance on the list, but the poster could come from any of the different lines of posters.I did not include the limited edition print versions of the Bond posters that adorn my family room wall, but I may give you a peek at the end of this post.
10. Die Another Day Teaser
This is the Advance U.S. One Sheet, sometimes known as a teaser. It does not include the star of the film or any images from the movie, given the film itself that was a wise idea. It does let us know the title and that it is a James Bond Film. I like the effect of the gun, hot from recent use, melting into the block of ice. It suggests action without showing any. The ice theme is a big part of the film, both in reference to one of the locations but also to the use of diamonds as a Maguffin.
9. Diamonds are Forever
This is the U.S. one sheet that is the version used when the film makes it's appearance in theaters. This art work was done by Robert McGinnis, who painted a number of the iconic Bond works of the sixties and seventies. I particularly like the pose of James Bond on the top of the arm of the moon buggy, and the girls holding the diamonds at crotch level, drawing focus to that part of the image. The explosions on the oil rig and the diamond encrusted satellite make the story intriguing. The one thing missing from the poster is any reference to Las Vegas, where the majority of the film takes place. When I saw this poster in the foyer of the Garfield Theater in 1971, I knew I wanted to see Sean Connery as James Bond, back again.
8. Casino Royale Teaser
Daniel Craig is introduced as James Bond in this advance teaser for the film. The lighting of the shot sets an ominous tone for the film. The poker chips combined with the title remind us that it is a gambling theme that will be the focus of our hero's conflict. The gun laid out on the gaming table tells us that the stakes are more than money. I love the strategic line up of the words in the title to allow the O's in each word to form the iconic 007 gun logo. I also think it was very effective not to have Bond looking directly at us. The photography was by Greg Williams.
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
007 and Triple X are featured back to back in evening wear, as they stand above stolen nuclear submarines, and in front of the Egyptian Pyramids that are the location of a major section of the film. In a nod to the era of films before it, the corners feature action beats and settings. All of this using a color palate that screams the seventies. The art is the product of Bob Peak. It's BOND and BEYOND, a little word play with the name of our hero.
5. The Man With the Golden Gun (Christmas Teaser)
2. The World is Not Enough Teaser
Forget "The Hunger Games", here is the real "Girl on Fire". The reverse silhouette of the girl in the flames, surrounded by a back background is amazing enough, but then you notice the figure of James Bond, posing in the traditional gun in hand position and it becomes something even more. Bond's outline and the girls, merge to form one of the few photoshop style designs that have ever been used on a poster that I liked. Again, the golden 007 logo announces the release date for the film and tells us nothing about the story. It uses iconographic symbols to pull us in with desire. It is like a single frame from a Maurice Binder title sequence. The credit goes to Creative Director Randi Braun, Art Director Diane Reynolds, and choreographer Vincent Patterson.
1. Live and Let Die
Robert McGinnis returns one more time to my list for the fantastic art work he did for this poster. Before I comment on it let's look at a couple of other elements. This was Roger Moore's first Bond film, and the graphic designer took advantage of his first and last names, to again utilize the 007 icon. They also used a dagger in the tittle to suggest the danger in the film. This movie may have some dated elements to it, but the whole voodoo tarot card motif was visually exciting and it is integrated into the poster very effectively. The woman representing Solitaire, does not look like or dress like Jane Seymour in the film, but she sits astride the big gun between Bond's legs and fans the deck of tarot cards toward us alluringly. The larger deck of cards seems to offer 007 up as the main character card, flanked by Baron Samedi and a bevy of beautiful women, representing the Devil, Lovers and Fortune. In the foreground are explosions, car crashes and a giant alligator vomiting out a speed boat. Bond gazes out calmly in his raised gun pose and takes it all in. The image is colorful, evocative and memorable. Those are all things a movie poster should be, on top of that the artwork is just gorgeous.
I'm sorry to say I have only two of these posters in my own collection. Some day when those lotto numbers come in, I'll indulge myself and travel around the world in pursuit of a complete collection, like bubble gum cards. Until then, I can admire them from afar, I hope you will as well.
And her's a little something for Eric.