Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dredd (3D)


The new Dredd movie, Dredd, was just alright.  There were a bunch of things that I liked and disliked.  Also, while we’re doing this I might as well give a brief comparison to Judge Dredd.

Let’s start with the likes:

- The dude who plays Dredd, Karl Urban (Star Trek (2009), Doom), looks cool and got the movements down.  His stiff demeanor and dull sense of humor were done pretty perfectly.  Also, his helmet never comes off which is more in keeping with the character and a major complaint comic fans had of Jude Dredd.

- The rookie judge that Dredd takes out to evaluate, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Darkest Hour)), is handled extremely well.  It was so refreshing to see a good gal in an action movie that doesn’t have a fucking chip on her shoulder.  Usually filmmakers give female leads in these types of films a huge attitude and have them flex their muscles constantly to prove that they’re just as or even more able than their male counterparts.  Hallelujah we’ve got one that’s not like that.  And that doesn’t mean she’s weak or a girly girl or an imbecile.  This picture proves you can have a strong female character without all the fuckin’ sass.  Ok, yes I did notice that she is under the orders of a man but I think it’s fine because Dredd’s commanding officer is a woman and there’s another woman Judge later in the movie.  So this isn’t a totally male dominated world.  Alright, yes yes Anderson does get captured at one point.  That’s a very damsel-in-distress thing to happen but I attribute that to this being her first day on the job.  She’s new so she’s nervous and untested.  She wants to prove her worth and does it by rattling off the proper sentencing and tactical maneuver when necessary.  She doesn’t do some fucking fancy back flip, kick a guy in the balls, slap the cuffs on him and then turn to give Dredd a don’t-fuck-with-me half smile with piercing eyes.  Anderson gets some attitude at the end but it totally makes sense and works because she’s been through hell.  She’s pissed and war torn and just wants this thing to be over with.

- It was interesting to have a female villain especially set against such a brawny character like Judge Dredd.  I liked Ma-Ma (Lena Headey (300)) and thought she worked well.  The badass things she does, like poking someone’s eyes out and firing a gigantic gun, makes her pretty sadistic and badass.  Also, that huge scar on her face was a very nice touch.


- The Judge uniforms were cool looking and that gun they carry is still fucking awesome.

- It was probably a good idea to have Anderson not wear a helmet for almost the entire picture.  I’m sure the thinking was that it would’ve been too distancing to have both our heroes’ faces half covered and not be able to see their eyes.  And having Anderson not wear a helmet makes sense because she forgot it outside and that plays up the rookie thing.

- You could follow the action most of the time.  It looks like the era of close up choppy editing action is coming to a close.  Films have been getting better with that for a little while now and it appears that that 2000’s trend is declining.  We’re definitely not out of the woods yet though.

- The plot of being trapped in an apartment building and having to fight your way to the top to take out the bad guy is straight forward and fairly well done.

- It’s R and it feels like it.  Good for them for not being afraid to use salty language and for making this pretty violent.

Now the dislikes:

- While Urban looked pretty good as Dredd he felt too young.  Maybe this is supposed to be earlier on in Dredd’s career but it just didn’t feel right.  Also Urban doesn’t have a deep or commanding voice and that also bothered me.  He had a good delivery though and put the right lack of emotion into it. 

- The motorcycles (lawmasters) that the Judges ride looked really cheap and terrible.  They were like something you would see in a 70’s or 80’s B sci-fi flick and I mean that in a bad way.  To be fair though I’m not a big fan of how the bikes looked in Judge Dredd either.


- The psychic powers that Anderson has was pretty stupid.  It felt almost like this ability was added in later after the script was written.  They use it to bridge some gaps like getting information and escaping into an apartment to avoid henchmen.  This aspect could’ve easily been taken out of the movie and I think it would’ve been better if they did.  We’re not sure the range and how powerful Anderson is with this psychic thing and the filmmakers only used it, or didn’t use it, when it was convenient.  Like Anderson gets snuck up on and captured which shouldn’t happen if you know what everyone around you is thinking and can sense where people are.  And the part where she goes inside the head of one of the bad guys to get some info is probably the worst scene in the film.

- The action isn’t great.  It’s ok but nothing very memorable.  And I totally couldn’t understand what was happening during that massive mini gun shootout.

- (Spoiler) I don’t understand why Dredd didn’t shoot Ma-Ma with the stun setting at the end.  As soon as Ma-Ma said she couldn’t die or the building will blow then I immediately thought “ok, use the stun and you’re good to go”.  I have to admit though that the route they went was really badass.  Although I don’t get why Dredd made Ma-Ma take a hit of slo-mo before chucking her over the side.  That was just weird.  I mean Dredd didn’t know that’s what she did to those three guys in the beginning and it’s not like he had a connection with them and this was revenge or something.  I guess it’s all in the name of cinema and they wanted the audience to have some extra satisfaction as well as make the finale look pretty.

- And finally it’s unfortunate that The Raid: Redemption came out earlier this year (in the US).  You’re probably gonna hear this a lot and it’s true, the two movies are very similar.  They share not only the same basic overall premise but also a bunch of the same plot points.  There’s the bad guy announcing over the PA to take out the good guys, the tenants of the apartment building comply with the request, the good guys duck into an apartment and hide there for a minute, there’s a drug lab in the building and a fight takes place there, the main villain gets taken down rather easily, there are cameras all throughout the building monitoring the good guy’s moves, there’s police corruption and I’m sure there are more.  Dredd pales in comparison to The Raid though and it’s kind of a shame.  I don’t blame Dredd because at the time the people making it couldn’t have known about this Indonesian action picture.  It’s just very bad luck man.

Real quick Dredd vs Judge Dredd:

- I like the look of Judge Dredd better.  It’s more stylized and comic booky and is pretty to look at.  Dredd goes for the more if-this-existed-in-real-life look that’s still going strong today.  Nothing wrong with that.  Dredd is darker in lighting, color and tone.  All good shit.  Judge Dredd tickles my fancy a little more though.

- Sly Stallone was perfectly cast as Dredd.  His face (even just his bottom half), his voice, his movements I loved the whole bit.  Yeah I know he shouldn’t have taken the helmet off.  I agree.  But he’s still the better choice in my opinion.  Again, Urban wasn’t bad but I wish he was a little older and had a cooler voice.

- The Judge outfits look better in Dredd.  I wasn’t sure before but the Versace ones they used in Judge Dredd are too gaudy looking.

- Between the two stories I think Judge Dredd’s is the better one.  An evil brother bent on replacing the Judges with sinister ones of his own creation is a badass idea.  It’s grand in its scope.  Compare that with Dredd which might be the smallest comic book film I’ve seen.  The whole thing takes place in one apartment building over the course of a day.  And I know you’re thinking “but Die Hard takes place in one building over the course of one night, asshole”.  But this is a comic book movie and not all comic book movies need to be big but…all comic book movies kind of should be big.  Usually they take place throughout an entire city and on one hand it’s refreshing that they went for a more intimate and focused story but on the other it’s a little restrictive.  I feel like they used the world of Judge Dredd better in Judge Dredd.  They go out in the Cursed Earth desert, fly around the city on lawmasters, fight in a relocated Statue of Liberty (or Statue of Judgment), etc.  It’s more engrossing.

Now hold on to your hats because I kind of can’t believe that I think I like Judge Dredd better than Dredd either.  I predicted Dredd blowing away its competition fairly easily and that didn’t happen.  Dredd isn’t a bad picture at all but there were enough things that I didn’t like that it added up.  And really most of the items I listed are personal preferences rather than actual problems with plot or flaws in execution.  It’s definitely one of the better comic book films.  It’s darker, edgier and the characters are handled better than most.  Like there isn’t some fucking goofy comic relief guy.  Dredd provides the comedy in a very successful manner with our hero’s dry as shit wit and delivery.  That kinda shit makes me dig the movie.  But then there’ll be a just ok action sequence that’ll remind me of The Raid and make me want to watch that instead or the psychic thing will come into play whenever it’s needed and cause me to roll my eyes.  And I know Judge Dredd has Rob Schneider as that bad comic relief and it sucks but I like the look, the story and Sly better.  No apology. 

But I say see Dredd.  Show these folks that you’ve got some love for this character and that there’s a thirst out there for R rated action.  Hopefully they’re already thinking about a sequel.  I’d love to see it, especially if they ramp things up.

And no, I didn’t see it in 3D.  Fuck that shit. 
              


Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle


Peyton: "Leave Emma alone. If you don't I'm
gonna rip your fucking head off."
Alright sis this one’s for you (Hand was her favorite movie way back).

Wife Claire (Annabella Sciorra (Romeo is Bleeding, Cop Land)), husband Michael (Matt McCoy (lots of B movies and TV)) and small child Emma (Madeline Zima (The Nanny)) are the happiest most perfect family ever.  They live in a big white house in Seattle (early 90’s folks) and have another baby on the way and they love each other and *barf*.  There’s also a retarded handyman named Solomon (Ernie Hudson (The Crow, Oz)) that quickly becomes a family friend.  But when Claire goes for a check up on her fetus she gets molested by the doctor.  She decides to file a complaint which ruins the doctor’s life and leads to him committing suicide.  This guy’s wife, Peyton (Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business, Backdraft)), wants revenge not only for her husband but also for the child that she miscarries right after the suicide.  It’s a little bit of a complicated setup but trust me it’s much clearer when you watch it.

Now this revenge plot is really flawed and I was debating whether or not to just write off all the miscalculations as Peyton being insane, which she is.  But she’s portrayed as this really smart calculating villain in the film and not just a crazy person flailing about.  So I’m giving her the full blame that she deserves.

First of all it’s unclear what the ultimate goal is.  Does Peyton want to ruin this family’s life?  Kill these people?  Just kill Claire?  Steal her newborn baby?  Steal the whole family minus Claire?  Claire is looking for a nanny and Peyton applies for the job but it seems like she’s making up the entire scheme as she goes.  I mean there’s no guarantee that Claire will hire Peyton in the first place.  What was Peyton’s backup plan if she didn’t get the job?

Then when all this shit goes wrong with this perfect family it’s not put together until way later that this suddenly started when Peyton joined the crew (but that notion is quickly dismissed).  The baby won’t drink Claire’s milk (‘cause Peyton’s been feeding him her milk), Emma only wants to hang out with Peyton and not her mother, there are clues pointing to Michael having an affair, Claire was supposed to mail “the big proposal” for Michael but somehow lost it (that scene’s kinda funny with Peyton tearing it up and then throwing a fit with a plunger in the toilet) and Solomon is found to have stashed Emma’s underwear in his cart causing him to be taken away. 

That last one should’ve been a huge red flag by the way.  Peyton suggests to Claire that Solomon is touching Emma inappropriately but Claire shrugs it off.  Then a little later Peyton tells Claire to go check Solomon’s cart because she needs some batteries *wink wink*.  Little girl panties are found and Claire doesn’t think twice that it’s a kinda weird that Peyton is the one instigating this investigation out of the blue.  Peyton: Solomon might be molesting Emma, oh and look in his cart there’s something incriminating in there for you to discover.  And really this is all on the pretext that Solomon is retarded.  
It’s like it’s a given that of course mentally handicapped people molest children.  And furthermore he can’t really defend himself.   Either nobody’s gonna believe he’s innocent or he may not even try to explain his side of the story.  It’s really fucked up that our good guy characters think like this.

Also Claire’s immediate rush to judgment (and I do mean immediate too, it’s like instantaneous that she thinks Solomon’s guilty) is something she does throughout the movie.  She doesn’t even ask Solomon about the underwear.  She just jumps to pounding Solomon on the chest, making a (funny) whiny sound and running away crying.  After that bit Claire comes to the conclusion that Michael is having an affair and, once again, doesn’t ask the person she’s accusing about it.  She just yells “you’ve been fucking Marlene (Julianne Moore)”.  But in reality Michael was sneaking around to plan a surprise birthday party for Claire.  Marlene was in the next room too along with their friends.  I bet it was tough resurrecting the party after that outburst.  I know I’d certainly feel a little weird putting on Prince’s “Partyman” in the wake of that disaster.  Then the final judgment comes at the end when Claire assumes that Peyton is the dirty doctor’s widow.  Yet again no questions are asked and not much evidence is compiled either.  However, this time Claire happens to be right.  But man does she have a real problem jumping to conclusions.  What an asshole.

Moving on to Peyton’s big evil move, the whole greenhouse booby trap thing doesn’t make that much sense.  She rigs the skylights to close suddenly which will cause them to shatter and do some damage when the victim opens the door.  But the skylights might not shatter at all.  And even if they do a person may or may not be hurt by the falling glass.  Luckily for Peyton the trap does work and kills but what if it didn’t?  She was gonna have to finish the job herself which would’ve made the whole incident look even more like murder.  I mean how do you explain shattering greenhouse skylights?  Also Peyton tampered with Claire’s asthma inhalers which is pretty good evidence of foul play.  And we know that Claire keeps an extra inhaler with her in her purse which she drops near the greenhouse.  Peyton made the assumption that Claire would drop her bag, go in the main house for an inhaler, not be able to use any of them and then not be able to get back to her bag in time thereby causing her to die. 

Jesus there’s so much that can go wrong with all of these evil plots.  And on top of all of this Peyton, as a live-in nanny, doesn’t even seem to be necessary.  We see Claire and Peyton constantly together in the same place at the same time making Peyton’s job appear irrelevant.  And it doesn’t look like Claire is so busy that she can’t build a greenhouse (in her own goddamn backyard) and look after her newborn baby.  Even if the family wanted a nanny why would they need a live-in one?  We’re not shown anything that seems cause for an extra person to be there 24/7. 

But the ending.  Oh, the ending.  This is kinda what makes the movie worth watching.  The last fifteen minutes or so I laughed out loud a lot but there are two things in particular that I had to rewind and watch several times.  The first is when Claire punches Peyton causing her to fly back over the dinner table.  What a wallop.  And the second is after Peyton hits Michael in the head with a shovel he tumbles back over a railing falling a pretty short distance to the ground.  When Claire finds him he tells her that he can’t move because both of his legs are broken.  What the fuck happened during that fall?  Not just one but both fucking legs broke.  Maybe Peyton broke them afterwards or maybe this guy just has incredibly brittle bones.  Either way it came as such a surprise that I had to go back and make sure I heard that right.  For some reason the filmmakers thought they needed to sideline Michael for the finale and this is what they came up with.  Good job fellas.

This is a pretty bad movie.  Peyton is so obviously evil and no one sees it, Claire is irritating with her giggle smile combo and jumping to conclusions, Michael is such a corny fuckin’ guy and McCoy is not a very good actor, Emma is…whatever...your run of the mill little girl in a thriller and Solomon is fine I guess. 

If you’re gonna enact revenge I would suggest thinking that shit out a little more.  Things just happened to fall into place which makes Peyton look pretty stupid actually and not the sly fox that the movie was going for.  I don’t know if I recommend this one.  There’s a shitload of breast feeding.  Too much in my opinion.  Maybe just watch the ending.  That’s by far the best part and you probably won’t be very lost.  I do like the title though, pretty badass. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hackers


Ok, so with this movie forget about the plot.  It involves some usual crap like a love story, new kid in town/fish out of water shenanigans, a bad guy hacker (Fisher Stevens (Short Circuits, Super Mario Bros.)), Angelina Jolie trying to be a sexy badass, Mathew Lillard trying to be funny, cops trying to catch the hacker kids but being embarrassed and hoodwinked at every turn, blah blah blah.  What you watch this one for is the all the 90’s computer shit.

One of my favorite parts is there’s this whole room filled with glass columns that have glowing and twinkling numbers and equations on them (it’s run by Penn from Penn and Teller, yeah weird right?  Latin sensation Marc Anthony plays a cop too.).  Like this is supposed to be the actual computer exposed and you can physically walk through it and see the activity that’s occurring in it.  Fucking badass man.

This brings me to a staple of 90’s computer films.  They sorta take on this idea that computers are living things but kind of in the vein of Toy Story.  In that picture the toys only come alive when humans aren’t around (unless they absolutely must defend themselves).  Computers were treated a similar way with the thought that if we could see inside of a computer it would be this incredible world of floating symbols, blocky human type related objects (like skyscrapers) and slick animations.  Computers have this understandable and translatable universe that’s full of color but they also always have secrets locked away somewhere.  Everything is animated.  Everything has a sign or a way of telling you, human, exactly what it is.  It’s a living place that we’re getting a very special peak into.  This is what the insides of computers are like folks.  Mystery solved.

Now this is what makes this movie so interesting.  We know better today.  The public has become so computer savvy that you couldn’t pull this wacky dream world that computers live in shit.  We know that it’s all just a mess of wires, circuit boards, electricity and 0’s and 1’s.  There isn’t any magic in it like there had been.  That belief is long gone.  The nerds won right?  We’ve got our iphones, tablets, comic book movies, Big Bang Theories, comic cons, video games and etc these days.  Geeks are fucking in man. 

This other idea that technology rules our lives in a negative way doesn’t really play in modern times either.  We’re over it.  Look at The Net and the message that that movie was delivering.  It said that it’s at our peril that we’re so intertwined with computers and the internet (even though at that time it was in its infancy).  It’s so easy to just change identities, wipe someone out completely, put someone in jail, give someone the wrong prescription thereby killing them, totally ruin someone’s life…essentially change whatever you want in the entire world with only a couple of clicks.  This idea didn’t take hold.  There wasn’t a backlash against technological progress.  Today our lives are integrated with technology more than ever before.  We pretty much like it like that and don’t think about how it could potentially be mankind’s downfall.

I don’t think a picture like Hackers could ever be made again.  The time for na├»ve computer movies is definitely over.  Just look at the last Mission Impossible, the latest Bourne, or any comic book film.  We’ve come a long way in understanding computers and how they operate or maybe at the very least get that computers are depicted in a more realistic way than what was being pitched to us years ago.  And I want to be clear that I’m not shitting on what is done with computers in Hackers.  Setting off the sprinklers in a school, changing police records, messing with phone lines, screwing with traffic lights, basically fucking hacking into a fucking computer can be accomplished.  I’m not disputing what someone can achieve with a computer in these movies (except The Lawnmower Man, I’m pretty sure computers can’t give you Jedi-like powers…oh shit, can they?).  What I think is so funny and dated is the world that supposedly exists inside the computer.  That’s the thing that you’ll never see again in a future movie.  And I don’t mean in a Tron way with humans duking it out and racing around on flashy motorcycles.  I mean stylized text, an animation for every action, a clear and flamboyant human world type visual for every object, traveling at a super fast speed through wording, signs, lights, colors, circuitry ‘n shit. 

If you dig 90’s computer shit then you’ll probably like this.  I can see a lot of people just fucking hating it though so I recommend this one cautiously.

And does anyone use the word “hacker” anymore?  I feel like I haven’t heard that term in a very long time (probably since the 90’s).  I want to say no one uses it these days.  Clue me in if I’m wrong though. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kickboxer Dance/Fight Scene



Sure the dancing/fight scene in Kickboxer is entertaining as all hell but it actually serves several key purposes.

First and foremost it’s training.  Kurt (Van Damme) could always do with some sparring but this way the guy you fight doesn’t hold back and actually wants to hurt you.

Second, it’s a test.  This is probably the primary reason for this unorthodox training technique.  Xian Chow (the trainer) wants to know how far along Kurt is and a drunk fight is just the ticket.  You see, by being drunk Kurt can’t think on his feet which means he reverts back to instinct and muscle memory.  It’s a way to see how much Kurt has absorbed and internalized his training.  If he gets the shit kicked out of him then he needs more work but if he’s the one taking scumbags down then he’s ready.

The way that Chow has Kurt antagonize the fight is a little odd but pretty clever.  Of course having Van Damme groove and then kick people to some 80’s up-tempo rock tune is purely in the name of entertainment.  I mean how else are you gonna work all that into your kickboxing film?  But Xian needs to have Kurt fight these henchmen to show their boss that Kurt’s a force to be reckoned with.  Having a drunk Kurt dance (very happily (and somewhat sexily?)) with the bad guy’s girls allows a situation to develop organically.  Chow plays on jealousy and contempt to get the desired outcome. 

Third, Xian uses this opportunity to set up an official fight.  Because Kurt had no problem taking out some of the bad guy’s thugs our villain can’t deny that a match must be drawn up.  This advances the story and eventually leads to the final showdown between Kurt Sloane and Tong Po.

Admittedly this scene is in contention for being the best part of the movie (the end battle is pretty damn cool too) but it’s also an important one.  It wouldn’t be right to laugh it off as just “look at how bad Van Damme dances, man he looks like a goofy motherfucker.  What an embarrassing tool.”  Ok, there’s a little of that but keep in mind that he’s supposed to be fucking hammered and really it’s a totally necessary part of the picture.

And did anyone else think that Xian having Kurt pedal him home on a bike while he’s still drunk was kinda funny but also kinda mean?  But hey I guess that’s good training.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Raid: Redemption


The Raid really is as good as everyone says it is.  It’s a very slimed down action picture but all the right notes are hit.  There’s the young cop with a pregnant wife, a bad guy brother (playing on the traditional two-sides-of-the-same-coin theme (cop/lawbreaker)), a rogue mission, police corruption, tons of henchmen, a crazy number two muscle man, a ruthless villain and a seemingly impossible situation to escape alive.  It’s a simple story that definitely doesn’t overcomplicate things with the couple of subplots.

And the action is superb.  Most of it is hand to hand and all of it is intense.  It never gets boring watching our hero go up against hordes of scumbags and take them down with a knife or his bare hands and feet.  The two on one fight towards the end is a particular highlight.  Also, we’re treated to longer takes that linger and don’t cut away so quickly and we can see either the full body or most of the body in the frame.  These techniques make for a clear understanding of what’s going on in a fucking martial arts fight.  This is how action should be photographed and edited.  It’s a beautiful thing.

I don’t think I’ve seen this much hand to hand in one movie since Chocolate.  I like that film better (the very last fight is un-fucking-believable) but they’re two different types of pictures.  One is about a martial arts savant while the other involves a small group of cops attempting to take down an entire apartment building worth of bad guys.  Both are great, just take your pick.

So check it out.  What are you waiting for?  Someone to raid your place and fight you to the death over it? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tales from the Crypt: None but the Lonely Heart



Just for shits I checked out the Tom Hanks directed Tales from the Crypt segment “None but the Lonely Heart”.  I’m neither a fan or non-fan of the show.  The Cryptkeeper animatronic is damn good looking, the intro is fucking great and the theme song is classic. But the stories are hit or miss.  Sometimes they’re just boring while others are too predictable.  Every once in a while I come across a good one though which makes me appreciate the show again.  It’s great that so many filmmakers were involved in making these segments like Walter Hill (The Warriors, Hard Times), Richard Donner (Lethal Weapons, Superman), Robert Zemekis, Fred Dekker (The Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, Judgment Night), Tobe Hooper, William Friedkin, Bob Hoskins and a whole bunch more.  It makes the show special because seasoned veterans could craft a quick short without all the pressures that come with a studio made feature and it allowed non-directors to try their hand at directing.  Pretty interesting stuff.

In this episode Treat Williams (The Substitute 3-4, Deep Rising) marries old rich women and then kills them off so he can take their money.  Treat is really good at being a charming suitor and a psychotic sonuvabitch.  Tom Hanks gives himself a cameo as a matchmaker and he also has Treat kill him by ramming his head through a TV.  Speaking of which the murders are nice and varied with poisoning, strangulation, death by a necktie through a paper shredder and a shovel through the abdomen.  That last one is done in a particularly goofy manner with Tom going crazy with the editing and looping the death three or four times. 

This is definitely one of the better segments from Tales.  Hanks does a good job keeping it entertaining and the whole thing has a dark comedic tone that’s, well, kinda funny.   I’d like to see a full length horror picture by the man ‘cause according to this I think he’d do a good job.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cutthroat Island and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl


I had been meaning to do this for a long time but kept putting it off.  I’m sure this exact comparison was done to death years ago when Pirates came out.  But it’s a new day and the results were more surprising than I had anticipated.  Like would you believe that Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is actually still entertaining and not a totally annoying ass wipe?  Whoda thunk it? 
(Note: I’ve got nothing but love for Johnny.  He’s been great in some cool movies.  It’s just that sometimes I don’t understand his career, Pirates notwithstanding)

Cutthroat Island is up first.  The story is simple: there are three pieces to a map that shows where buried treasure is.  Geena Davis (A League of Their Own, The Fly) plays the pirate Morgan and she along with her villainous uncle Dawg (Frank Langella (Dracula (1979), The Ninth Gate)) go after the hidden cache.

Let’s start with the negatives.  Geena Davis is not very good in this.  When she’s doing stunts and fighting dudes she’s actually ok but every line of dialogue that’s delivered is fucking atrocious.  And I’m really not exaggerating here folks.  When Davis has to interact with other characters and converse or make a speech it’s one of the worst acting performances I’ve seen in a major production.  And it’s not so bad it’s funny.  I felt sorry for her because everyone else around her was doing just fine.  It seemed like Davis was genuinely trying but just couldn’t cut it.

Dawg is too clean looking.  He should’ve had scars, rotten teeth, scraggily hair, filthy skin, etc.  He doesn’t look enough like a bad guy.  Langella was a good choice though and he seems like he’s having fun with the role.  He’s an intimidating guy with a great voice.  I just wish that they had matched his appearance with his badass attitude.

And that’s really it.  I don’t have any other major issues with the film.

Now the positives.  One of the best things this movie has going for it is that the story moves.  There aren’t superfluous subplots or extended intro/epilogue scenes to derail it.  We’re given a very short scene to show us who Morgan is and how she operates before we’re thrown into the plot proper.  After that it’s all about finding the pieces of the map and the treasure.  The love story between Morgan and Shaw (Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises)) is extremely underplayed which works well.

The action sequences are done pretty well too.  There are essentially three big scenes.  The first is when Morgan and Shaw escape Port Royal.  They fight off the English guards and eventually go on a rampaging carriage ride destroying everything in their way.  A war ship even fires on them exploding buildings and turning the town to rubble.  There’s also an incredible stunt where Morgan crashes through a window, rolls down the roof and into a seated position onto the aforementioned oncoming carriage.  Goddamn.  However, IMDB says this was made up of two separate shots, one of Davis coming through the window and one of Davis pretending to land on the carriage.  You know what though?  It kind of doesn’t matter.  It’s one shot in slow motion.  The camera doesn’t cut away and it looks seamless as shit.  A jaw dropping scene is a jaw dropping scene.  And one last thing on this stunt, even if it was two shots it was done for real in total.  I’ll take that over a CGI stunt any day.

The second big action scene involves destroying yet another town where buildings also eventually get blown up. 

The third is a high seas finale starting with a huge ship battle and concluding with the confrontation between Morgan and Dawg.  All good stuff and all of it is what you would expect to see in a pirate movie.

The director is Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) and his films tend to be really fun.  This is no exception.  Overall it was better than I remembered.  Harlin casting his wife as the lead was definitely a mistake.  There’s no dancing around that one.  But I’m not sure why this thing bombed.  Cutthroat lost somewhere around $90 or $100 million.  That’s fucking insane.  It put Carolco Pictures (Terminator 2, Total Recall, First Blood, Basic Instinct) out of business.  Was the public not ready for a pirate movie?  Did people think it was really that terrible?  Was it caught in a weird area where it was too violent for young kids but too family adventure-ish for teens and adults?  I dunno.  I like it though.  I think it’s a pretty fucking cool film.

Pirates of the Caribbean on the other hand grossed over $100 million eight years later.  But I’ll tell you what, this was not as good as I remembered.

The plot for this one is more complicated:  pirates stole this ancient Aztec gold that has a curse associated with it.  The pirates didn’t realize it though until they spent the gold.  Now they need to collect all of the pieces and also shed a pirate’s blood to lift the curse.  This apparently takes them at least eight years to do.  Now Jack Sparrow was the captain of the cursed crew before they mutinied and took the gold.  So he’s looking for revenge.  On top of all this there’s a love story between Will Turner (Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Ringses)) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method, Domino)).  Ok, this is getting kind of messy and a bit confusing.  Let’s come back to the story and get some other bits out of the way first.

Acting wise everyone does fine but Geoffrey Rush (Shine, House on Haunted Hill) as Barbossa and Johnny Depp are definitely the standouts.  They both got really into their roles and their enthusiasm rubs off.  Just about everyone else is pretty bland (Bloom) and/or cheesy (Knightley).

The look of this thing is awesome though.  The pirates are grimy and fucking filthy, the environments are dingy and lived in and the Black Pearl and how it’s shot is fucking cool.  The muted colors lend a grittiness to the production and it works because pirates are, you know, kinda dirty.

You can actually follow the action which is great because films were starting to fuck that up around this time.  All of it is executed just ok.  Probably the best sequence is when the cursed pirates pillage Port Royal.  They destroy the place pretty well and seem to enjoy their work.  The big end fight isn’t that exciting really.  I can’t tell what’s going on with the English navy vs. the skeleton pirates fight and the Barbossa Sparrow sword fight comes off too stiff.

Oh and the CGI is barely acceptable most of the time.  There are moments when it looks quite bad but because a lot of the film takes place at night and in dark caves it isn’t as noticeably terrible.

Getting back to the story, I don’t totally get it.  It takes the cursed pirates at least eight years to gather up all the missing pieces of Aztec gold but why would it take that long?  These guys are immortal right?  They don’t need food, water or sleep so what’s the hold up?  Ok maybe some of the gold they traded away went off to some corner of the world.  Even still, the Black Pearl is apparently the fastest ship on the planet (because it’s cursed also somehow) so that should help.  Alright this isn’t really a big deal in the scheme of things but it just sounded kinda odd to me.  However in relation to those (at least) eight years what was Jack Sparrow doing?  We find out that he was only marooned on an island for three days which means he had ten years (Barbossa tells us) to find the Black Pearl and/or use his compass to go steal the treasure from the Isla de Muerta.  If Sparrow stayed in the Caribbean for all that time (which seems likely as he’s out for revenge) I find it hard to believe that he never saw the Pearl for a decade and encountered his ex-crew.

Now with this whole spilling blood thing, it has to be the blood of a pirate?  Well what the hell constitutes a pirate?  And if you take a piece of gold from the chest you’re instantly slapped with the curse?  How much blood needs to be spilled for each piece of gold?  So there’s no curse as long as all of the gold is in the chest with some pirate’s blood but as soon as you remove one piece the curse starts all over again?  You know how you can see the moon during the day sometimes?  Well does that constitute moonlight meaning you should see these pirates as skeletons even in daylight?  Why does Barbossa die when the curse is lifted after he gets shot?  Do all of his sustained injuries from when he was cursed catch up with him after the fact?  If that’s the case then how come his entire crew doesn’t drop dead when they become mortal again?  Jack Sparrow got stabbed through the chest during the sword fight with Barbossa but Jack was part of the cursed during that particular time so he didn’t die.  But shouldn’t he die from that stabbing now the he’s mortal again too like Barbossa’s shot catching up with him?

The very end of the film gets sloppy and corny.  Everything miraculously falls into place.  Jack Sparrow gets away and rejoins his crew on the Black Pearl because he’s the main character and comic relief.  They can’t kill him off, have him in jail or become a non-pirate.  Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann get together because they’re supposed to be love and spend the rest of their lives together.  The other dude that vies for Elizabeth’s heart, who’s also a real hardass, let’s Sparrow and Turner go because…just because.  And Elizabeth’s father seems more accepting of the relationship between his daughter and Will.  The filmmakers had to force everything into a happy ending scenario even though it makes no sense.  I mean Sparrow is just allowed to flee no problem, Elizabeth and Will become an item, Will becomes a pirate because he realizes that’s what he was born to be or some shit like that, the douche in the love triangle walks away a happy loser, Elizabeth’s father now believes that piracy can be an appropriate course of action, no one is arrested, punished or hanged.  Happy trails into the sunset.  It’s just too much engineering to get the characters into the position you want at the end of the movie.  No actions have any consequences, everyone is suddenly understanding and love reigns supreme.  The end.  That’s fuckin’ horseshit man.

Here’s how it really should’ve gone down.  Jack and Will are hanged, Elizabeth is forced to marry the hardass and the father launches a crusade against pirates.  Maybe that’s a little grim but hey, it would’ve been unformulaic.

I’d like to say a few words about Gore Verbinski if I could.  He’s done a pretty interesting array of pictures including slapstick comedy, horror, adventure, drama and animation.  His movies are always beautiful to look at even if the story’s not totally there.  They’re filled with plenty of cheese which is a shame because for some unfounded reason I think he’s smarter than that.  I’m interested in checking out Verbinski’s take on a western with The Lone Ranger.  He seems to be sharing Johnny Depp with Tim Burton these days (don’t really get that trend).  If Gore’s next couple of movies don’t pan out then I guess my he’s-smarter-than-he-lets-on theory goes out the window.  Oh well, wouldn’t be the first time.

Ok so now let’s take a look at how these films compare to each other.  As for cinematography I guess I’ll give it to Pirates.  I like the grittier darker look.  Cutthroat isn’t bad looking but it seems like in order to save money a lot of the movie was shot during the day and there’s even a part where they do the ol’ day for night gag.  I got nothin’ against daylight I just think Pirates looks better.

Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush make a pretty good tag team.  Geena Davis and Frank Langella aren’t at their best unfortunately.  Although, Langella’s Dawg is probably the most badass character between the four.  I mean he crushes a huge spider in his bare hand until blood oozes out.  Plus the sword that he uses to fight with is serrated which looks pretty crazy.  I like the supporting crew of Cutthroat’s Stan Shaw (The Monster Squad, Rising Sun) and Rex Linn (Cliffhanger, Breakdown) better than whoever the fuck was in Pirates.

Action goes to Cutthroat.  The fights are better choreographed and the stunt work is cooler.

Cutthroat’s story is way better.  It gets right to the point without some convoluted bullshit or forced love triangle getting in the way.

And did anyone else notice that the title to Pirates is incorrect?  The Black Pearl isn’t the one handing out the curse, it’s the gold.  It should really read “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Aztec Gold”.  I think I like Cutthroat’s title better anyway, sounds nasty.  The poster is also better.  Drew Struzan’s the fucking man, man.  Pirates looks more like a direct to video cover. 



The real problem I have with Pirates is that it’s too stiff.  I know that sounds really fucking stupid because Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush are awfully wacky and it’s a goddamn pirate movie.  But it feels too much like they had to hit certain beats and had to force the story into weird positions in order to satisfy a wide audience.

Cutthroat flows naturally and actually makes sense.  It’s all about the pieces of the map and what Morgan has to do to find those pieces and use them to locate the treasure.  Everything stems from that.  She gets Shaw because she needs one of the maps translated, she gets into a huge bar fight because she’s looking for a piece of the map that her uncle holds, she fights with Dawg because he wants the map pieces as well as the treasure.  There aren’t any side trips or extra crap to muddle the basic premise.

I also like how Cutthroat has the pirate spirit and is true to that spirit.  In Pirates the word “pirate” (or a variation) is said like five million times (trust me, I counted).  It’s like they wanted to constantly remind the audience that you’re not only watching a pirate movie but also that the reason why these people are acting in an indecent way is because they’re outlaws or bad people.  It’s a disclaimer.  They’re only doing this because they’re pirates.  Like there’s a scene where Elizabeth and Jack get drunk by drinking rum together.  They’re dancing and singing and having a good time but the next morning the movie has to take that all back by denouncing rum as a “vile drink that turns even the most respectable men into complete scoundrels”.  I guess the filmmakers couldn’t resist putting the classic pirate juice in a pirate picture but since this was aimed for families they couldn’t advocate getting sauced on alcohol.  This is such a weird thing to have happen in the movie and it stood out to me the first time I saw it.  Really it shouldn’t have been in there at all if Disney was that concerned (or they could’ve released the picture under Touchstone which they created so they could put out edgy PG-13 and R rated films).  And then there’s all the fighting.  The bad guys are undead so whenever someone fights them it’s ok to beat, stab and slash away.  No blood will be spilled and no one will really get hurt in the end.  The main villain has to die, sure, but beyond that the mortal deaths must be kept to an absolute minimum.  In Cutthroat a lot of people die for real.  There isn’t a ton of blood in the movie (it’s also PG-13 like Pirates) but at least deaths do occur to living people and it’s not all pretend with skeleton pirates.    

Anyway Pirates is ok with piracy as long as it’s the good natured Jack Sparrow kind of stuff.  No murdering people or pillaging or anything.  I mean I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this because the conclusion to the Disneyland attraction that the movie is based on is that crime doesn’t pay.  That’s why the pirates are all in jail cells and fighting amongst themselves at the end.  Although, that message got muddied when they added Jack Sparrow to the final scene in 2006 making it seem like he outsmarted everyone and avoided punished.  

With Cutthroat Morgan drinks rum with no problem, she kills people with no problem, she destroys towns with no problem, she threatens people with knives and guns with no problem, etc.  The pirates in Cutthroat are comfortable with who they are and make no apologies for their actions.  I dig that way more than a film that’s attempting to walk a tight rope on a subject that they’re uneasy with.

My goodness this got a little long winded.  To wrap it up I like Cutthroat better.  For all the shit I slung at Pirates I don’t think it’s a bad movie but things didn’t go down the way I remember.  I guess if you just don’t think about it Pirates is a fun great movie.  But you know that’s hard for me to do.  Both films have the quintessential pirate shit like sword fights, a ship battle, drinking, coarse behavior, etc.  There’s a monkey sidekick in both except in one it’s a good guy and the other it’s a bad guy.  One has ghosts and magic and the other doesn’t.  Why the fuck did one tank and the other do unbelievably well?  It’s hard to say.  It’s not like Cutthroat isn’t cheesy but for some reason audiences really didn’t like it. 

When it comes down to it I guess I go for the non-supernatural shit.  That’s just personal taste.  Cutthroat Island is more in line with how I would want my pirate movie to go.  So this one’s no bad dawg.  It’s a pretty good dawg actually.