Archive | August, 2012

Rango – Review

30 Aug

I just want to start this review by pointing something out. Just because a movie is animated does not make it a kid’s movie. Look at Rango, for example. It was marketed as a movie that was great for the family. Hell, it was released by Nickelodeon Studios. I will admit that kids might get some enjoyment out of it, but Rango is a strange animated western that is spot on entertainment for teenagers and adults.

 

Rango (Johnny Depp) is a lonely chameleon who, after a strange highway mishap, is flung from his owner’s vehicle and let to fend for himself in the Mojave Desert. After happening across the small town of Dirt, Rango inadvertently becomes the sheriff of this hopeless town. After the town’s water supply is stolen, Rango and a posse set out on a mission to find it , but he soon discovers that there is a bigger scheme going on in Dirt, and it involves one of the heinous gunslinger, Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).

If someone were to ask me what Rango was like in the simplest and quickest way possible, I’d reply, “It’s Pixar on LSD.” This is not your average, run of the mill family animated feature. This is a strange take on traditional westerns that is both interesting in its existential themes and humor, but also a plain old good time. It’s in jokes are hysterical and its snappy dialogue is so quick that you won’t pick up on every joke the first time through.

 

There are a lot of points in this movie where I kept thinking, “Kids aren’t gonna find this funny…at all.” There’s a lot of talking and walking around in between the action set pieces that are actually really fun and genuinely exciting. There isn’t a whole lot of silly slap stick humor, but there are great references that are great shout outs to the older generations of readers and movie goers.

If this is the type of animated material that Industrial Light and Magic is going to be putting out, then I’m confident in saying that Pixar might be in a bit of trouble. Rango has some of the best computer animation that I have ever seen. There’s an excellent scene in the beginning where the sun is glistening through water, and it looks stunning. The shadow effects add a whole new layer of intricate light design that is either missing or lacking in Pixar films. This sets the bar higher than you may think.

 

Rango has kind of a weird style that films like this generally don’t have (are you seeing a theme in this review?). The desert creatures who we have to follow throughout the entire movie are neither cute nor cuddly. In fact, they can be pretty grotesque. The same can be said about the town of Dirt and even some of the strange looking humans we briefly see. Everything appears to be warped in a very twisted and ugly way that is just so cool.

Besides the fantastic humor and the oxymoronic beautiful/disgusting look of the movie, the plot suffers from a bad case of the scatters. What I mean is that it is all over the place. The movie starts at a weird spot and doesn’t seem to have a true conflict until we get to the third act. You can break the movie up into three short segments. The first, second, and climactic third conflict. There was just a little bit too much going on and I didn’t get the feeling Verbinski decided on a definite plot, just a lot of little ones.

Rango is one of the best, funniest, and strange animated movie I have ever watched. It’s Hunter Thompson mixed with Sergio Leone with a sprinkle of the Coen Brothers on top that’s neatly wrapped into a bizarre package by Gore Verbinski. Don’t show it to your kids, but get your closest friends and enjoy Rango.

Hobo with a Shotgun – Review

28 Aug

Let’s face it. There are many movies out there that are just not meant to be taken seriously. One of the most extreme cases of this is the film based off an award winning “Grindhouse” trailer, Hobo with a Shotgun. This film is absolute trash film making, but it is self aware and revels in its debauchery with a glaring smile. If you can stomach the insanity, then this is a wild ride that hearkens back to the crazy days of exploitation film making.

 

Hope Town is in some serious trouble. A crime boss that goes by The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith), run the town with an iron and violent fist. Many people are killed everyday in the sickest ways possible, that is until a Hobo (Rutger Hauer) arrives via train and begins taking justice into his own hands with his trusty shotgun. Now the criminals are the ones filled with fear and Hope Town’s hope may be restored.

I’ve seen this movie twice now with two totally different people. The first person was laughing along with me and enjoying the mayhem and carnage that was relentlessly thrown at us. The second person sat there cringing at the geysers of gore and unflinching violence. This little experiment goes to show that you really need a certain level of tolerance to comfortably sit through Hobo with a Shotgun.

 

The style of this movie is in a league of its own. It’s over saturated, lit with neon, and at times simply out of this world crazy. It’s easy to get lost in the looks and I even strangely began to appreciate it as more than just a trashy film. There was obviously a cinematographer who knew exactly what he wanted and achieved it very well. I never thought I’d mention the cinematography in a movie such as Hobo with a Shotgun, but something about it just struck me as unique. The color palates are all over the place with shades you never thought would blend well together, but strangely enough they work. For example, a particular room is lit with blue, green, and orange gels. It looks weird, but appropriate.

While the characters may not be developed well, they are really cool. The Hobo is a totally kick ass character who has no qualms blowing off a pedophile’s head, with gratuitous chunks of brain matter decorating the window of the car. The Drake and his sons are whack-a-doos who sometimes act way too off the charts, but they were funny as hell and said some of the most ridiculous lines in movie history. The only character that I felt was lame was the prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth). She’s a main character who I never really care about. She doesn’t really do much or really anything I care about, save for one cool thing towards the end. But that’s ok. The Plague makes up for her more than enough.

 

I’d also like to mention the nice use of strange camera angles and lenses to distort some of the more intense or crazy images. Give the film makers credit. Despite this being a gore fest trash reveling movie, there are artistic bits that put it a step higher than your average grind house flick.

One thing that bothered me was some of the dialogue. I know, I know. It’s cheesy for the sake of being cheesy, but some of it was just too much. Any bit of dialogue concerning bears and zoos weren’t even funny. It was almost embarrassing at how horrendous the lines were and the sincerity they were spoken in. It was just so different from the other ridiculous lines that are obviously said as a joke.

Hobo with a Shotgun isn’t just violent. It’s ultra violent. Every scene has some new twisted and sadistic image in it that will leave you wondering how they think of this stuff. It’s trashy and devoid of good intentions. Hobo with a Shotgun exists only to push the limits of what is acceptable onscreen, and how far film makers can go to make us laugh. This certainly is not for everyone and it may not be considered excellent film making, but this film is destined to be a cult classic.

Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – Review

24 Aug

Diane, it’s 4:37 on August 24th. I’m laying in bed thinking about the best way to review Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. There are some things in this world that go beyond words and traditional description, and I believe that I have found one of them. As a proper introduction, imagine you are reading 10 different books at once but they each are part of the same bigger picture, despite how different they are. Some are romance, comedy, horror, sic-fi, and drama. That’s how you feel while watching the television show and subsequent movie.

When a local teenage girl, Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is found dead floating in the water, the quiet town of Twin Peaks turns into a beehive of criminal activity. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLaughlin) is sent in to investigate Laura’s mysterious death, but no one in Twin Peaks is as innocent as they look and massive web of murder, love, lust, and supernatural occurrences  tangles the town into chaos.

To really say what the entire plot is about would take many paragraphs of detailed information and explanations that it would pretty much ruin the experience of watching this fantastic tv show for yourselves. I don’t consider myself much of a tv person, but I have seen my fair share of shows, and Twin Peaks is my favorite for many reasons.

The characters are all so memorable. Special Agent Cooper is one of the most confident and likable protagonists despite all of the crazy things he says about dreams, mystics, and Tibet.  Then we have villains like Leo (Eric Da Re) and Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) who are so easy to hate. Characters come and go, but are always remembered due to the unique mark that each one leaves on you. When something good or bad happens to them, you care very much. We want to see everything turn out ok despite all of the drama.

Special credit goes to Angelo Badalamenti who has created a score for this show that is just as important as the dialogue. If something seedy is happening, we are treated with an undercurrent of smooth jazz that perfectly complements the scene. If things get romantic or dramatic, then cue the strings because a sweeping song is ready to play.

This was not a show that lasted for too long. Only two seasons were made due to a decline of interest half way through the second season. Also, if you look at this show and any other show, you’ll find that Twin Peaks is on a whole different playing field. It’s so strange and twisted that I can imagine it really wasn’t for everyone.

Think of your favorite genre. Drama? Twin Peaks is a drama. Comedy? Twin Peaks is a comedy. Sci-fi? Horror? Twin Peaks is these as well. Get my drift? This show has something for everyone. To me, it is the perfect television show. But that’s not all. In 1992, David Lynch released a prequel to his show, the feature length movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

In the town of Deer Meadow, a seventeen year old girl has just been murdered. Special Agent Dale Cooper is sent to investigate, and soon begins to predict that this same type of murder will happen again. Cut to one year later. Laura Palmer is not your typical high school girl. She is in deep with all of the wrong people both of this world and not. In one week, she will be dead.

Again, that’s all I can say about the plot without ruining anything. The great thing about this movie is that it perfectly answers some of the questions that the show asked, and all the while creates a few more questions that can only be answered by digging deeper into the hell that is Twin Peaks.

This movie goes way crazier at times than the show ever could because of either the censors or just what people would want to watch on television. There are scenes that left me speechless because of how strange they were. One scene in particular features a whacked out David Bowie yammering on about who knows what. Only David Lynch can think up this kind of stuff.

A lot of the great stuff about the tv show is in the movie. For instance, we see some characters that we have come to enjoy and also the great music composed by Angelo Badalamenti. The story is all about Laura Palmer, so not everyone is in the movie, unfortunately. As much as I would have liked to see everyone, it would have been really hard to and keep the main story on track. That’s why the show was so great.

Look at the picture above this sentence. Yeah. Pretty freaky. This is a lot more intense than the television show could have possibly hoped to be due to what was allowed. This is no hold bars David Lynch. It’s violent, sexual, dirty, and raw in the most twisted and repulsive ways. It may not be Lynch’s best work, but it is certainly a perfect compliment to the show.

Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me have one of the most addicting narratives ever put to screen because, I guarantee, you have never seen anything like it before. Prepare your mind, lose all sense of sanity, and enjoy the trip into dementia with these two excellent pieces. It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Vertigo – Review

24 Aug

Alfred Hitchcock was never a director to shy away from controversial themes. In fact he seemed to be obsessed with controversy, which is clearly present in what many people call his masterpiece, Vertigo. Filled with haunting color design, intriguing set pieces, and memorable finger biting scenes, The Master of Suspense shows once again why he was given that title.

 

After a rooftop chase that ends in the death of an officer, John Ferguson (James Stewart) realizes his gripping acrophobia (fear of heights) which causes vertigo (dizziness and loss of balance). He decides to quit the force, but is roped back into another investigation by a friend from college who needs him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), and report her suspicious activities. John soon begins to fall in love with her, and after a tragic event, this love turns into a deep rooted obsession.

Psycho featured graphic murder and Rear Window was a story about a peeping tom, both of which were new and controversial at the time. The themes of Vertigo make these last two films seem like child’s play. What is examined here is a strange necrophilic, psycho-sexual obsession that would make Stanley Kubrick as giddy as a school girl. This theme is never shoved down the viewer’s throat, however, and it is left up to them to decide how far they want to take the theme.

 

As a person who loves camera tricks, this movie is a treasure. There is a fantastic trick that is still used today. Remember that scene in Jaws when the little boy is attacked at the beach and the camera zooms in on Roy Schneider, while the background gets all distorted? You can thank Vertigo for that shot. This is now called a vertigo shot or a dolly zoom, but I prefer calling it a vertigo shot. This is done by having the camera on a dolly track out, while simultaneously zooming in. This was used to show John’s “vertigo.”

Here’s an example:

Another brilliant aspect of this movie is the lighting design. Lighting is not easy, especially when it is heavily stylized and must succeed at creating some type of surreal mood. One of the most famous scenes of Vertigo has Kim Novak stepping out of this eerie neon green light after making a strange transformation in order to please John. It’s haunting and memorable.

James Stewart steals the show with his almost trademarked nervous energy. His performance is totally genuine and I firmly believe that he was ahead of his time.  Kim Novak’s performance is pretty weak compared to his and she sometimes over acts her pretty little head off. Barbara Bel Geddes offers some great scenes, however, as Ferguson’s best friend.

 

While many people do say this is Hitchcock’s masterpiece, I’m still sticking with Rear Window as my favorite Hitchcock movie. Vertigo is still a classic that is filled with fantastic performances, groundbreaking visual design, and themes that are still shocking today. This is a movie that should be required viewing.

The Proposition – Review

22 Aug

Normally when I think of westerns, I think of the old west towns of America where cowboys and Indians are forever locked in a feud over land and food. Not once have I seen a western film take place in the outback of Australia, where British settlers are at war with Aboriginals. The Proposition offers a brutal glimpse of early life on the outback which can be compared to the lawless American wilderness.

 

Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) have had a good run as outlaws until one day the law catches up to them. Now in custody, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a proposition: either he finds and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), who is considered a monster, or Mikey will hang until dead on Christmas day. While Charlie is hunting for his maniacal older brother, Captain Stanley faces the growing challenge of protecting his wife, Martha (Emily Watson) from the violence that he faces everyday.

First of all, this was the best looking western I have ever seen. While Dead Man looks beautiful with its black and white scheme, The Proposition has breathtaking scenes of the outback at sunset, featuring stunning silhouette shots and a sky that ranges from orange to a purple tint. It is absolutely stunning. On the flip side, the morning scenes are barren and filled with flies, which almost become a character themselves. It’s a perfect combination of beauty and disgust.

 

Other than how beautiful this movie looks, the relentless brutality is jarring, but never excessive or overbearing. There are scenes of incredible violence that is going to stay with the viewer long after it is over. I mean it when I say that this isn’t a movie for the feint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The real scene stealer is the soundtrack. Singer/songwriter and author of this fine movie, Nick Cave, did the music along with Warren Ellis. What they created is a haunting and almost spiritual score that accentuates the horror of the lawless outback and the challenge of survival. The movie starts with a beautiful song sung by a little girl with actual images of death and destruction from the time period. From there, the music gets darker and sadder along with the story.

 

Finally, the screenplay itself. While it is full of hate and anger, there are moments where all violence and death are forgotten with quiet moments between brothers or husband and wife. These moments are perfect capos to the intensity. With strange editing techniques, the viewer can be sent from a scene of violence to silence in a jarring millisecond. This is storytelling at its best.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved The Proposition. The brutality, the silence, and the way beauty and ugly became one. This is a western that packs a strong punch to the jugular that will likely bruise and swell with appreciation. This isn’t just a great western, it just might be my favorite western.

Stiletto – Review

20 Aug

Revenge flicks starring a troubled femme fatale with a dark past usually makes for some great entertainment. Just look at Kill Bill and La Femme Nikita. I thought that Stiletto would be a welcome inclusion to these films just listed, but instead I was forced to sit through a derivative, ugly, boring, and uninvolved movie that may be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

 

Virgil Vadalos (Tom Berenger) is a Greek crime lord whose business is being rocked by a mysterious Russian assassin, Raina (Stana Katic). As the underworld begins to fall into chaos, a crooked cop begins the search to find her and bring her to Virgil, but once he hears Raina’s troubling and violent story, he begins to question his loyalty.

I’d love to tell you more about the plot, but there is nothing else. It’s an uninspired revenge story that lacks originality and involvement. The narrative is a jumbled mess that jumps all over the place and has some of the weirdest pacing I’ve ever seen. It was very talky and then there would be something incredibly violent and borderline then ground to a halt with more terrible dialogue.

 

I cringed so many times at the god awful dialogue. I expect so much more from actors like Tom Berenger, Michael Biehn, and Tom Sizemore. I guess it isn’t really their fault with writing like this, but their acting came off as either bland or over the top. Michael Bien was always yelling his ass off, and I really just wanted him to shut up. Tom Sizemore was one of the only entertaining characters, and he was only in it for like five minutes. William Forsythe is the only actor in this movie who give a passable, if not a little boring, performance.

Visually, this movie is really ugly. Part of the appeal of movies is the way a director and cinematographer creates a setting that is memorable. Every set in Stiletto is just plain ugly. A movie theatre looks way too dusty and decrepit, even though I feel like that is what the film makers were going for. It was just really distracting. A parking garage has absolutely no redeeming qualities when it comes to set design or how it was lit. Maybe the DP and director war going for realism, but this movie’s story and feel is not trying to be realistic.

 

The action and dialogue, as bad as it is, is done in a over the top way that would be great if the rest of the film was structured in the same way. When the movie slows down, it becomes an unoriginal gangster movie with no redeeming qualities. The small spurts of action offer small glimpses at a movie that could have been fun.

Talking about this movie is like talking about the worst episode of your favorite show. I don’t want hate it because of the stars in it and the briefly cool action, but I have to because it was terrible in every other way. How could a movie with so much potential to be awesome turn out to be so derivative and lame. Stiletto is one of the worst movies that I have seen in a long time, and I would never recommend it to anyone in a thousand years.

The Expendables 2 – Review

18 Aug

I’ve gone to see more movies at their midnight openings this year more than I have any year of my life. I’m proud to say that I can include The Expendables 2 to this list of movies. I loved the first Expendables, but I’m excited to say that the sequel has surpassed the original in every way, making it not only one of my favorite movies of the year (after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), but also one of my favorite action movies of all time.

 

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries are still out in the field doing some of the dirtiest mercenary work around. After a not so friendly meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), Ross takes a job to retrieve a package from a downed plane. This simple job quickly goes awry with the arrival of another team of mercenaries led by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who steal the package to unlock a powerful source of plutonium and hold the world hostage.

Something the original Expendables lacked was a strong plot line, but I felt like the movie took its weak plot seriously and tried to make it believable. In their second outing, the plot is still rather weak, but no attempt is made to take itself too seriously. Instead, we get a hardcore action movie that hearkens back to the eighties with quick one liners and plenty of over the top gunplay and fighting.

 

The Expendables 2 also has a lot less down time than the first installment. Thankfully there is also no Mickey Rourke monologue to get lost and confused in. I would go so far as to say that after a certain point in the movie, the action becomes a relentless barrage of guns, explosions, and satisfying blood spray (although some of it is still digital).

The sound design in this movie is really impressive. More than once I would stop and think to myself, “Wow, this movie is really loud.” The punning sound of Crews’ AA12 that is fired at the beginning of the movie is enough to make any action junky’s heart skip. In fact, the whole beginning of the movie has top of the line foley work and a adrenaline pumping sound track that made me more than ready for the rest of the movie.

 

What else made this movie really cool, you ask? Hmm, well, Chuck Norris gets to kick a fair share of ass along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Not only these legendary action stars, but Terry Crews, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture get a lot more to do than they did in the first film. They felt more like a team than in the original, which only made me root for them more. That, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is a real asshole and plays a villain that you love to hate.

The Expendables 2 exceeded my expectations in every way. I knew that it was going to be cool and exciting, but no where near as great as it was. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen out of fear of missing a split second of the action. This is a film that I can’t wait to see again, and will be seeing again before it is out of theaters. If you love action movies, or even ever seen an action movie, check out The Expendables 2.