Thursday, September 29, 2011


Ok I know what you’re thinking, “What’s Twilight?”  Well it was a picture made back in ’98 starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman.  I never did get around to watching that one but I figured what the hell and checked out the remake anyway.  People made quite a ruckus over it so I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.  But as far as I can tell this new version is quite different as they replaced half the characters with vampires and the other half with teenagers.  The plot doesn’t seem recognizable either and that’s not very faithful if you ask me.  But I can appreciate the filmmakers trying a new direction.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart (The Runaways)) is the new girl in town, meets Edward (Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)) who’s a vampire and they fall in love.  There’s also this other vampire guy that tries to suck Bella’s blood for a minute but other than that it’s a love story, a really boring love story.

I know this is par for the course coming from a guy but this was a pretty sappy and uninteresting movie.  The general idea of a vampire falling in love with a mortal chick is a good one and goes all the way back to Bram Stoker’s joint.  I even think having it take place with two teens in high school is a good move.  There’s plenty of potential for a standard boy-and-girl-fall-in-love-despite-their-differences story to be told in a new and fascinating way.  Unfortunately this film tries to appeal to the lowest common denominator and we get a nice piece of schlock.

First off, the characters are flat and surprisingly underdeveloped.  This is a picture that’s character driven too as the plot is pretty thin.  I’m trying right now to think of what to say about Bella but I’m having trouble because we learn so little about her.  She’s a mopey teen that looks nervously around and has trouble getting sentences out.  All of those traits get incredibly annoying after the first ten minutes.  It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone that looks all around the room but they never look directly at you.  I get that Bella’s depressed because her parents are divorced and she has to go live with her dad in the northwest U.S.  We’ve seen this a million times.  But when Bella gets to her new home everything seems pretty great.  Her dad is a really nice guy that’s trying hard to be there for her but also gives her plenty of space, she gets reacquainted with an old childhood friend and her father’s old friend, she’s given a new truck that she loves and to top it all off her first day at school has got to be one of the best first days ever in the history of high school.  I mean she instantly falls in with a group of friends that don’t seem like assholes, at least one boy has the hots for her and she gets a glimpse of the love of her life.  So I don’t see what there is to be that upset about.  I’m sure it’s difficult on a teen to move from one part of the country to another but she’s welcomed with open arms.  And it’s this lack of development that makes this character so boring and somewhat unappealing.  She doesn’t seem to go through a change.  I can’t tell the difference between Bella depressed and Bella in love.  In the whole film I think she smiles twice.  99% of the time she has this surprised yet confused look on her face.  It didn’t seem like Bella learned anything or changed at all from the person she was at the beginning of the movie.

Doesn't this house look like it's straight out
out of a 90's sexy thriller?
The problem I have with Edward is the same I have with Bella, I don’t know who the fuck this guy is.  They tell us how he became a vampire but it’s extremely brief.  He was dying of the Spanish Flu back in 1918 when he was turned but they never tell us (at least in the movie, haven’t read the book) why he was chosen.  We’re also never really told what Edward’s been doing in the meantime.  Apparently he’s been moving around the U.S. going from high school to high school but is that really it?  I find it hard to believe that Edward and his clan haven’t been doing dick in the last ninety years.  And why does he have to keep going to high school over and over anyway?  Maybe he got bored just hanging out for decades but they never go into it.  Where does the money come from for his clan to live in their fancy 90’s looking house and buy clothes and furniture ‘n shit?  There’s so much background left out.

Secondly, the dialogue and acting is really bad.  It would be less offensive if one or the other was given any effort but to have both be so lazy makes the two stand out a great deal.  I don’t think I recommend this but you could probably watch it on mute and follow things just fine.  Since so little happens and so much background development isn’t bothered with I don’t see it being a problem.

Third, as far as vampire lore goes I’m gonna have to call foul on this one.  These undead motherfuckers are walking around in the daylight.  Oh, I mean only when it’s cloudy.  Oh wait, I mean sunlight doesn’t actually hurt them because Edward stands directly in it to show Bella what he really looks like.  As it turns out he looks exactly the same except he sparkles like someone squirted glue all over his body and face and then dumped a bucket of glitter on him.  So, not scary in the least.  I really don’t buy that vampires don’t go out in the daytime because they twinkle.  They’re supposed to fucking burn up and die, possibly in a gruesome fiery explosion.  Actually I meant to write “preferably in a gruesome fiery explosion”.  I can accept that they have telepathic powers, they like to use bad CGI effects to show that they can run fast and jump great distances (even though it makes the production look incredibly cheap) and even that they all like to play baseball, but only when there’s a thunderstorm without rain so that no one will be suspicious of them hitting a ball a thousand feet and running after it real quick, wait but they play in the middle of fucking nowhere so who the hell is gonna hear or see them anyway?  You know what?  I can even accept that there are good vampires that have a philosophy on life that prevents them from being all out monsters and bad vampires that want to murder and eat humans because it’s their nature.  But the whole glittery sunlight thing I can’t get behind.

This picture sums up the entire movie
I was trying to think about the movies that this is a rip off of and the best I could come up with was Grease.  But that theory kinda fell apart once I realized that one had vampires and the other didn’t.  I guess the twist they gave this story is unique.  It’s too bad the filmmakers (and I guess author) didn’t do nearly enough with it.   

For a vampire film I was expecting it to be fairly creepy and dark but neither of those are accurate descriptions.  This thing is rated PG-13 but it definitely doesn’t feel like it.  It seems more like a PG movie to me.  I mean Buffy the Vampire Slayer is supposed to be funny and it was scarier than this.  Twilight is a serious movie and I’ll give it credit for sticking with a straight face.  But it’s just so unexciting.  I liked Catherine Hardwicke’s work on Lords of Dogtown too so I didn’t think this was going to be as bad as it was.  For the first half it’s all awkward encounters and mopey, jittery sentence un-finishing from Bella and company.  Then when she finally learns that Edward’s a vampire the two of them just lie in the grass and stare at each other.  You know, I think one of the biggest problems with this piece is that we know that Edward is a vampire from the get-go.  If that wasn’t revealed until much later in the movie then there might be some small payoff.  But as it is, the whole thing amounts to a very bland experience. 

By the way did anyone else notice the line that Edward says to Bella, “you’re like my own personal brand of heroin”?  It’s completely out of place in this movie but it’s also a pretty badass way to describe sucking blood. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dancing Predators

We're just about there so let the Halloween season begin.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Live and Die in L.A.

Goddamn this is a helluva movie.  If the title is so big that the entire thing can’t fit on the screen, uses two different fonts and is in two bright neon colors then you know you have something special.  And while an 80’s cop movie certainly isn’t, the way this one comes together is.

Just to give a quick rundown of the plot, it involves a counterfeiter named Rick Masters played by Willem Dafoe (Speed 2: Cruise Control) and a cop out to nab him named Richard Chance played by William Petersen (Manhunter).  Masters smokes Chance’s partner which kick starts his revenge plot.  But first Chance gets a new partner named John Vukovich (John Pankow (Mad About You)) and the two team up to raise some hell in L.A.  Sounds standard right?  And as far as story goes it is.  But it shares a very interesting blend here of typical action movie principles and raw gritty realism.  That may sound like an oxymoron but man do they make it work.

Probably the biggest action film cliché that this picture has is the ol’ partner getting killed only days before retirement gag and bringing in a new partner that seems to be the opposite of our lead in every way but we soon learn that they’re actually pretty alike.  There are some other standard bits like Chance argues with his superior officer, he wears a leather jacket and jeans (‘cause he’s a tortured rebel), he’ll do whatever it takes to get his man and with names like Chance and Masters you know you’re in some fucking 80’s action movie.

The realism comes in with stuff like they show us how people really counterfeit U.S. bills, cars don’t blow up when they’re shot and things don’t always go according to plan with drastic consequences (can’t really go into it without blowing everything).  There’s also virtually no humor.  Everyone in this piece is deadly serious which keeps you immersed in the picture.  You won’t find any one liners or puns while our hero winks at the camera here.

It’s that blend of 70’s realism like Dog Day Afternoon and those unavoidable yet charming clichés of 80’s action like Lethal Weapon that make this a fascinating and kick ass picture.  It’s got to be William Friedkin’s best movie.  I really think it’s better than The French Connection because while they both share a serious tone this one has more flash and wacky shit that just looks really good and keeps your brain stimulated.  Like there’s a strange night club that has these performers in black and white make up doing some sort of modern dance, when a subtitle comes up to tell you where you are and what time it is the font will be totally different each time and the Wang Chung soundtrack is awesome.  Now I don’t want you to think that I’m a big Wang Chung fan or anything but their music fits so well with the film.  It adds an extra layer of excitement because most of the time it’s up beat and it also functions to lighten the mood just enough so that the film becomes very fun to watch.  This was a nice move because a big orchestral score might have been too heavy for a movie like this and would make it more of a struggle to watch.  I also like that the soundtrack reminds you what era this thing takes place in.  I’m all for timeless cinema but a perfect snapshot works just as well in my opinion.

I don’t think this film is very well known or at least hasn’t been seen by a tremendous amount of people and that’s a shame because it’s up there with the best.  If you want a picture with balls then this is it.  It’ll look you in the eye without cracking a smile or feel guilty about what it is.  It’s a confident movie and that could be read as pretentious but trust me you’ll have such a good time you won’t even care.  The title is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  Just hearing it makes you think it’s going to be a real dramatic piece of work, almost Shakespearian: To Live and Die in L.A.  But then you get a gander at the poster and notice that the “to”, “and” and “in” are in script and are also much smaller than the other words so it looks more like the title reads “Live Die L.A.”.  See?  Something that sounds like a stuffy biopic on a California native at first suddenly becomes a totally bad ass action title.     

The last thing I’ll mention to try and get you guys to see this piece a.s.a.p. is that it may have the best car chase I’ve ever seen.  Friedkin had a damn good one in The French Connection but topped himself in this.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Jack City

Of the big black urban crime dramas I think this one is my favorite.  Wesley Pipes (Rising Sun, White Men Can’t Jump) is Nino Brown and he’s the baddest drug lord in New York City, I mean New Jack City.  He’s got everyone hooked on crack including Chris Rock who gives a rare dramatic and effective performance as one of those addicts.  In order to stop Nino three rogue cops team up, Ice-T (Johnny Mnemonic, Surviving the Game), Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire) and Mario Van Peebles (Jaws: The Revenge).  Ice-T and Judd Nelson go undercover to infiltrate Nino’s crack house operation which includes (and I shit you not) a room full of topless women preparing the drugs.  Things go wrong for both sides and shit gets complicated but in the end only one can prevail.  And of course you should see this to find out who does.       

Peebles also directs and man did he do a bang up job.  This film is shot incredibly well with sharp contrast between the criminal world and the non-criminal world and how crime affects everyone.  The cinematography is beautiful with overhead shots, dark colors for Nino’s mansion, lots of pale blue lighting for the crack scenes, plenty of really weird but really cool angles, there’s one part with an intense shoot out that has lots of awesome slo-mo shots and the opening scene is one of the most impressive and badass I’ve ever seen.  Let me set it up for you.  There’s a bunch of helicopter shots of New Jack fading into one another with the credits over them but then there’s one shot of a bridge.  You don’t think it’s anything special at first but it doesn’t cut away and you get closer and closer.  After a little bit we can see that there’s a guy dangling another guy off the side and the camera gets right up to the two.  It’s really one of the coolest shots I’ve ever seen and lets you know right off the bat the kind of ambitious movie you’re dealing with.

This picture is epic and covers a lot of ground in the just over ninety minutes running time.  I love it and I think it’s a must see for anyone who digs crime dramas and doubly recommended if you like hood movies.  This isn’t a hood movie per se but there are plenty of overlaps like drugs, gangs and the power struggle that exists over poor neighborhoods.  They took the best from both worlds and that’s why this one’s a classic.

The scene above takes place in Nino’s mansion where he confronts his associates about some shit that went wrong.  We’re all familiar with scenes like this from countless films but this one looks so damn good.  Everything is either black or a very dark shade of some other color.  It’s almost like we’re watching a black and white movie and the effect is really creepy.  The only bit of bright color are the orange flames coming from the fireplace which you can see flickering in the background every once in a while.  It feels like we’re in hell and Nino is our guide.  The scene escalates so quickly too but also shows that Nino can control his emotions which is an important and deadly trait.  I definitely wouldn’t want to go up against him man.  He truly comes off as a dangerous and crazy motherfucker.       

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


The plot’s pretty simple: there’s a virus wiping out humans like never before and we follow how it affects a small group of people and the world simultaneously.  There’s the average Joe and his wife (Matt Damon (The Legend of Bagger Vance) and Gwyneth Paltrow (The Pallbearer) respectively), a tabloid blogger (Jude Law (eXistenZ)), the head doctor from the CDC (Laurence Fishburne (Fled)), the doctor that he sends to assess the situation (Kate Winslet (Quills)) and some other people.  They each offer a different view of the epidemic and how they deal with it based on their circumstances, knowledge and resources.

But the biggest problem with Contagion is that it portrays what a deadly viral outbreak would look like too realistically.  That may sound really dumb but this is a film that could have used some more imagination in my opinion.  As the disease spreads people panic and there’s a race for a vaccine but the whole thing never gets too out of control.  The worst that happens is the local supermarket gets looted and there are some windows that get smashed.  Laurence Fishburne and his doctors know they’re up against a nasty bug but for the most part they keep cool and don’t act like it’s the end of the world.  And that’s what this apocalyptic picture was missing, the feeling that this could be the end.  I was waiting for tell tale signs but as the movie goes on the power never goes out, water isn’t an issue and communications don’t break down as everyone is still able to use their cell phones like normal.  I thought food was going to be a problem when they started shipping in MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) from the army but everything must have been fine after that ‘cause it’s never brought up again.  The whole situation felt more like a big pain in the ass inconvenience than the end of days.  The virus didn’t produce gruesome deaths either which would have been a cool visual.  Instead the infected just get kinda pale, blotchy and sweaty and then they’re dead.  The filmmakers also missed the boat on giving the disease a bad ass sounding name like Toxi-Pocalypse, Death-Ease or Carni-Virus.     

The whole thing amounts to a blob of a movie.  There’s no plot point that carries all the way through the thing making it feel too disconnected.  Sure the search for a vaccine is something they’ll go back to periodically but because there are so many characters and mini stories wrapped up into one film nothing gets full attention.  I felt like I didn’t get to know these characters that well and as a result didn’t get that invested in them.  Most don’t have a ton of screen time except for Fishburne, I guess he’s our lead.  Matt Damon is in it a bunch but very little happens with his plot line so I would kinda forget about him when we weren’t seeing him.

Soderbergh shot this real well though as usual and he gets good performances out of his actors.  There’s a bunch of his trademarks in here like changing the setting frequently, having the film take place in different countries, announcing what country you’re in when the scene changes, Matt Damon, a big cast, having several stories occur at once and using an ambient/house score.  At times I was digging the music because it sounded like a way toned down Aphex Twin.

It’s inevitable that this picture is going to be compared to the 1995 thriller Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Rene Russo and directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One).  The overall plot is the same: there’s an epidemic spreading across the U.S. and these doctors need to find a cure before everyone’s wiped out.  And you know what?  I like Outbreak better except for the poster.  I mean just look at the fucking thing.  It doesn’t look exciting or tell you anything about the movie and that cropped out picture of the monkey looks like shit.  But the film itself was entertaining, thrilling and I actually felt like I went through something with that one.  I mean it’s really cheesy and not a timeless piece of cinema or anything but I found it to be pretty fun.  Hoffman busts his ass throughout the movie between trying to find the host that’s carrying the virus and butting heads with his superiors over how the epidemic should be handled and it all ends with a goddamn helicopter chase.  Contagion doesn’t offer much meat to sink your teeth into.  While I was watching it I thought to myself at one point, “when are things going to get really bad and spiral completely out of control?”  It                                                        never happened.

When it was all over this movie didn’t amount to very much and if you see it I think you’ll know what I’m talking about.  I’m not sure how well it went over with the audience I saw it with but as soon as the very first credit appeared on screen at the end, “Directed by Steven Soderbergh”, a guy behind me yelled out, “not impressed”.  But he doesn’t’ speak for everyone so I’m not going to assume that every person in the theater felt that way.  At the same time I also saw it with my sister who didn’t care for it either.  I think she had a pretty good analogy for this one and she said it’s like when you’re listening to a song for a little while and you’re waiting for it to go to a different part or change in some way but it doesn’t and winds up sticking with that same part the whole way through. 

Soderbergh didn’t go far enough.  Things should have gotten crazier with people having to fight for everything to survive, the disease should’ve handed out horrible grisly deaths, there were too many storylines (he should’ve focused on two instead of six or seven) and it was too damn reasonable.  I don’t want too much realism getting in the way of my apocalypse picture.

I’m personally not afraid of germs but if you do have mysophobia (fear of germs) then you might get something out of this.  Otherwise, if you still want to see a viral infection movie I would say check out Outbreak.        

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hannibal Rising

Well if I’m going to follow through with something for once in my life it might as well be the Hannibal Lecter series.  Seeing as we’ve come this far, what’s one more movie? 

But first, did you realize that there are five films in this series including Manhunter?  That’s a number usually reserved for straight ahead horror flicks and Fast and Furiouses.  I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted we would see so many movies with this character but, of course, I’m glad there are.  People may groan and roll their eyes and say out loud during the new trailer “they’re doing another one?” but with each film the overall portrait of the series gets at least a little more interesting and sometimes (but not always) clearer.  For better or for worse I love to see what new (or the same) filmmakers and actors do with characters I like.  More often than not it’ll have you scratching your head wondering what they were thinking going in a certain direction but the thing is you never know if that direction is really going to work or not until you try it.    

With all of that said, this installment is probably the worst in this series.  That’s really hard to say too considering how boring and uneven Hannibal is.  But this one doesn’t fit very well (in a bad way).

Hannibal as a very young child witnesses his parents’ deaths during World War II.  They were minding their own business in Lithuania when all of a sudden the Germans and Russians go head to head right on their turf.  A German plane and a Russian tank (or vice versa, I’m not really sure which was which) start shooting at each other and Hannibal’s father gets caught in the crossfire.  When the plane dives towards the tank and the two crash into one another it causes an awesome multi-angle collision that produces a full fucking frame fireball.  And the mother dies as a result of that.  Hannibal and his little sister, Mischa, are the only survivors.  They hold up in a cabin for a while but some Lithuanian Nazis crash the party.  They’re all stuck there during the winter and they’ve run out of food which means they need to eat whatever’s on hand.  This includes a small bird and…well that’s it.  Actually, I thought it was great when the main bad guy here starts eating the bird raw because the subtitles say “slurping greedily” to describe the sound.  But that bird isn’t enough so they eat Mischa.  Soon after part of the house is bombed by the Russians and Hannibal makes his getaway in the confusion.  But the problem is that this group of six Lithuanian Nazis also escapes and eludes the Russians. 

Fast forward to eight years later where Hannibal is in his late teens now (and played by Gaspard Ulliel (Paris, Je T’Aime)) and flees Lithuania so he can meet up with his aunt in France.  (To my surprise) She’s a Japanese woman named Lady Murasaki played by Chinese actress Li Gong (Miami Vice (2006)).  She takes him under her wing and teaches him how to fight with a katana and to be strong, etc.  This part I found offensive because why do all Asian people have to know how to fight with a sword and/or know martial arts ‘n shit?  This part of the film felt the most out of place because just imagine Hannibal Lecter sparring with a sensei and getting beat up at first while the sensei says stuff like “always be prepared”.  It’s like the movie turned into The Karate Kid for a minute.

Then a suddenly sadistic Hannibal kills an asshole butcher, gets into med school and enacts his plan of revenge.  This is what they were leading up to the whole time folks, a revenge movie.  One by one he goes after the Lithuanian Nazis that ate his sister.  I had no idea this was the type of thing I was getting myself into when I popped this in.  I guess it would’ve helped to have read the tag line beforehand: “It started with revenge”.  But Hannibal was a killer before he went on his revenge mission.  The butcher I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph I guess is supposed to be Hannibal’s first victim.  (Spoiler) He kills him with a katana.  Doesn’t seem very Lecter-like to me but what the hell, it was his first time so I’ll go with it.  By the way the reason he kills the guy is because he slapped his aunt on the ass and made fun of her vagina.  Having Hannibal react to poor manners like that against someone he likes/loves does seem in line with his character though.

The point I’m trying to make is that Hannibal seems evil from there on so it’s not the killing of the cannibalistic Nazis that turns him into a monster.  That seemed to happen over a period of time under Russian occupation of Lithuania and then this butcher incident finally brought it into fruition.  I don’t really understand where the cannibalism thing started with Lecter.  He saw some other dudes eat his sister when he was very young but how does that turn him into a cannibal?  The part about Hannibal acquiring a taste for human flesh isn’t explained.  In fact we never actually see him eat any part of a human in this film or in any of the other ones.  You would think that for having a name that rhymes and is synonymous with “cannibal” we would have seen him eat a human, some part of a human, any part of a human.  There’s a bunch of biting but he doesn’t swallow and this movie doesn’t break that tradition.  Even though there’s a part in this one where it’s implied that he ate a guy’s cheeks we don’t actually see him do it.  Maybe he was just making up the cannibalism stuff the whole time to get some street cred.

No one is particularly good in this including Ulliel and especially Gong.  Ulliel doesn’t seem totally natural in the role.  You can tell too much that he’s trying to imitate Anthony Hopkins.  And Gong does too much damn whisper talking and disappointing glancing.  She’s always either saddened or upset or both which makes for a very bland performance.  The lead Lithuanian Nazi bad guy was kinda fun to watch though because he was so comfortably evil.  Nothing was really below him like enslaving and beating women, killing innocent people or having someone shave his chest for him.

If I didn’t know that this was written by Thomas Harris (both book and screenplay) then I might not have believed it because this totally feels like it was another movie that was rewritten slightly to be the next Hannibal Lecter picture.  As I was watching it I thought this “beginning” movie felt a lot like a “beginning” movie for a superhero.  Just go with me on this for a minute.  You have a boy that’s gone through a tragedy, lost both parents, had to endure hardships growing up but learned to defend himself in clever ways, runs away to live with a distant relative who shows him how to be a warrior and a better man, etc., the young man leads a double life seeming to be a student by day and a revenge seeker at night eventually finding and punishing/killing those that have wronged him and his family.  With some variations here and there endless characters fit into this framework like Batman, Spiderman and Superman.  But in this case everything the guy goes through has the opposite effect and turns him into a serial killer.  It makes less sense that way though.  Wouldn’t you get turned off on cannibalism if the person you witnessed being eaten was your sister?  Wouldn’t that make you want to kill all cannibals and not become one?  Based on this film Hannibal wasn’t trained to be a killer exactly or taught that doing harm to others is a good thing.  He went eight years just being a kid and not being raised to be a maniacal sonuvabitch.  So he must have been born evil because I don’t understand where these sadistic feelings and thoughts are coming from.

Unfortunately I think Hannibal Rising muddies the waters of the character.  It certainly doesn’t answer a whole lot of questions nor does it show us what I think we all want to see: Hannibal Lecter murdering people and eating them while in Baltimore.  The glory years, not the adolescent years.  They took a whole film to explain what should have been a ten or fifteen minute intro to a middle years movie.  Instead they went too far back and made the story of his young adulthood too convoluted.  I’m not so interested in what caused the man to be a monster, I just want to see the monster.

I dunno man, this one’s just a hard pill to swallow.  It looks really good and is shot nice and I liked the World War II scenes but really there’s no reason to see this one.  It moves way too slowly, is too predictable and the deaths aren’t even that great.  Except for the butcher that gets killed with the samurai sword.  That was kinda cool.