Archive for the ‘Action’ Category
Movie Review #711
Universal Pictures presents…
Kalima Productions GmbH & Co. KG
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Country: USA – Germany – Czech Republic
Spoken Languages: English – French – German – Dutch – Italian
Directed by Doug Liman. Produced by Patrick Crowley, Richard N. Gladstein, and Doug Liman. Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron. Novel by Robert Ludlum.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence; infrequent profanity. Runs 1 hour, 59 minutes. Premiered in the USA on June 6, 2002. Wide release in the USA on June 14, 2002; in Germany on September 26, 2002; and in the Czech Republic on October 17, 2002.
Doug Liman has had a history of not just action movies but action movies with creative plots. Results have varied from taut and entertaining (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) to dull and self-indulgent (“Jumper”). It’s rather satisfying to be able to say that “The Bourne Identity” places in the former. The excitement in action sequences goes sky-high, but it doesn’t try and boast that with any savvy camerawork or overwhelming special effects. In fact, it seems to humble these sequences in order to make sense of its plot. For good reason, things start out confusing. Before long, they’re interesting.
“The Bourne Identity” details the life of a man who has lost his memory. There’s a sort of inner science to this. He can speak several foreign languages, including but not limited to French and German. He can tell by pure instinct when he’s in danger. He knows how to react to danger, too. But he doesn’t know why he can do all this. He no longer has a clue of his employment status, his marital status, his criminal history. He can’t remember where he lives, his telephone number, his date of birth.
He doesn’t even know his real name.
Perhaps that makes this just as much an action movie as a character drama. Matt Damon isn’t fittest actor for this role, but he doesn’t have to go the distance to make it work. His portrayal of this character is ultimately as enticing as the plot itself. The entire cast is solid, with Chris Cooper seeming to stand on the balcony and look over any other actor. His character was given thoroughly cheesy dialogue, but his delivery of even that is superb. Save for the aforementioned cheese, the movie is well done by writers Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron. A rather loose adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s classic thriller novel, but if you want a different spin on the premise, here it is.
Introducing…Short Film Smorgasbord
THE BOURNE IDENTITY IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, AND VHS.
Movie Review #695
This review is dedicated to Casey, who pointed out to me that when German was spoken in Sucker Punch, only the infinitive verbs were used.
Warner Bros. presents…
…in association with Legendary Pictures…
Cruel and Unusual
Lennox House Films
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA – Canada
Spoken Languages: English – German
Directed by Zack Snyder. Produced by Deborah Snyder and Zack Snyder. Screenplay by Zack Snyder & Steve Shibuya. Story by Zack Snyder.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes, sexual content, violence, profanity (extended cut rated R). Runs 1 hour, 50 minutes (extended cut runs 17 minutes longer). Wide release in the USA and Canada on March 25, 2011.
Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung. Also starring Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Richard Cetrone, and Gerard Plunkett. Featuring a credited cameo appearance by Eli Snyder; and uncredited cameo appearances by Cara Hrdlitschka and Teya Wild as brothel girls.
“Sucker Punch” is neither a rock-solid movie nor a classifiably bad movie. It’s less than enough to say that at the core, this is an über-fun movie. Zack Snyder is here to make nothing more than a guilty pleasure. (You might say that he always is, but that’s a dispute we’ll save for later.) His movie should be an artifact of plagiarism, with its obvious cross between Tarantino’s revengelore (“Kill Bill”, “Inglourious Basterds”) and every commercial video game from Call of Duty to Mortal Kombat. But it’s not an artifact of plagiarism at all, because Snyder has something to add.
Following his successful compilation that was “Watchmen”, Zack Snyder has brought back great music, recreated specifically for the form of his picture. Actress Emily Browning’s cover of the Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” opens the movie like a five-minute prologue, or an establishing music video. A cover of the Pixies’s “Where Is My Mind?” (widely associated with “Fight Club”) marks the excitement, leading up to a cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Dies” in the climax. I’m positive there would be no movie if no soundtrack. Every song fits, is perfectly timed, and makes the movie that much more fun.
But with all the precise music cues and CGI in this film, and with all the extensive action sequences, you’d never guess there’s a story. It’s a pretty interesting story if I’m to be honest. Seconds before being lobotomized, a young woman relives her recent memory one last time: a impossible nightmare in which she fights a few powerful, sexist pigs in an effort to free both her and a handful of other female mental patients. What makes the approach work is it has our attention the whole time. I was so engrossed, I didn’t notice some of the most ridiculous “what” factors of the film. Thanks to an anonymous friend, having revisited “Sucker Punch” for his fourth time, who pointed out to me that these characters were temporarily in a medieval setting with machine guns.
Outside of action sequences, or that terrific opening, the movie’s power tends to lack. I’m fine with the logiclessness of the movie. I love the logiclessness of the movie. But things are only good to a point. Here and there, things went unexplained and I was left confused. Why are these girls in a mental asylum when they seem perfectly sane? Is this to say that the men who sent them there were just sexists, and that it wasn’t just the boss they worked for, a more brooding reimagination of Dr. Frank-N-Furter? This whole movie was made on the grounds that these are beautiful women; you can’t have just anybody in these roles for a reason, and it certainly isn’t acting ability. But what sexist could resist them, particularly to the idea of a mental asylum? Did they get there the R. P. McMurphy way, and expect it to be all fun and games?
I’ve gotta say, for a movie with zero character development, “Sucker Punch” has a mighty nice fist to gaze at. Let me slightly overanalyze the title. It doesn’t suck, but it does deliver an exuberant, well-rounded punch.
SUCKER PUNCH IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:
Movie Review #690
Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…
Studio: Danjaq LLC – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) – United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Russian
Directed by Michael Apted. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade. Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein. Characters by Ian Fleming (uncredited).
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Premiered in the USA on November 8, 1999; in Singapore on November 12, 1999; in Malaysia on November 16, 1999; in Iceland on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 22, 1999. Wide release in the USA on November 19, 1999; and in the UK on November 26, 1999.
I’ve mentioned it now and then, but I’ve never exactly clarified that my reviews do indeed come from my taking notes on movies. Sometimes I’ll end up taking two whole pages of notes, front and back. Others, I’ll finish with six or seven notes in total. It appears that my notes on “The World Is Not Enough” filled the whole front side of legal paper. I suddenly feel like I’ve killed trees, because I could have narrowed all but one or two of my comments on the film down to one word: silly.
In fact, that one word is so prominent throughout this nineteenth episode of the James Bond saga that I’d have to watermark the sheet with a giant, boldly lettered “SILLY.”
But for the sake of not sounding like a total imbecile, I’ll avoid using the word “silly” to excess.
The prologue was a mess. Everything from the gun barrel opener–in which Pierce Brosnan could have posed much better–up to the moment James Bond drops off a hot air balloon to save his head from catching on fire with the rest of the hot air balloon, it’s all just a cluster of unexplained, unexplainable, and completely random bits of action. They seem to flow into each other as if they were one action sequence, but truth be told, if it weren’t for those fancy, über-cool gadgets of Bond’s, his villains would have already a) outsmarted him beyond any possibility of a plot, or b) killed him. Lucky for him, he not only has all the right gadgets, he has them with him at the opportune times. Which means he’s either a lot smarter than he seems to be, or Q (his quartermaster in charge of the high-tech stuff) has him prepared for absolutely anything that might occur.
That’s the first fifteen minutes of the movie. What follows, thankfully, is a lot more enjoyable. The title sequence is a lot of fun, with the mesh of psychedelic imagery and a song (as you might guess, called “The World Is Not Enough”) from the Wisconsin grunge band Garbage. Contrast with the remixed Bond theme, which actually is garbage.
Nothing is really as much fun as the title sequences after this. The plot is highly unusual for a Bond movie, so it puzzles as much as it excites. Why would MI6 assigning Bond this mission to keep Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) safe, when clearly, Bond would’ve taken this up as a personal vendetta anyway? Am I wrong to say that basically, they’re promoting a personal vendetta, all of a sudden? Why is M (Judi Dench) only concerned that Bond will end up sharing a bed with Elektra? How does nobody at MI6 have the slightest clue that Elektra’s dangerous? Why is M behind bars?
The movie seems to rush its action sequences in without even thinking. Moments of this movie are exciting, especially when Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards take the stage, but many action scenes can really hurt the film. Things blow up when Bond goes skiing with Elektra. I mean, they come from the sky, pummel to the ground, and blow up if they don’t land safely, if that makes more sense. Still, skiing? I mean, I don’t have a problem with skiing, but come on, we need an explanation, especially when things just suddenly start exploding. This was the first collaborative “Bond” screenplay from Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. They’re still working on writing the hero’s adventures, as of “Skyfall”. I’d have to guess that there’s one reason they weren’t immediately fired after writing a completely goofy debacle like “The World Is Not Enough”: the innuendoes. Conversation is solid here, but innuendoes are really the icing on the cake. If you’ve been wondering why this doesn’t garner any lower a grade, there you have it.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.
Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:
Movie Review #687
Albert R. Brocolli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…
Studio: Danjaq — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — United Artists
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distribution Corporation (MGM)
Country: UK — USA
Spoken Languages: English — Korean — Cantonese — Spanish — German — Icelandic — Italian
Directed by Lee Tamahori. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Characters by Ian Fleming. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — violence, sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 13 minutes. Premiered in the UK on November 18, 2002. Wide release in the UK on November 20, 2002; and in the USA on November 22, 2002.
Featuring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (007), Halle Berry as Jinx Johnson (Bond girl), and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves (Bond villain). Starring Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, and John Cleese. Also starring Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Lawrence Makoare, Colin Salmon, Samantha Bond, Rachel Grant, Ian Pirie, Mark Dymond, and Michael G. Wilson. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Madonna.
“I thought it just went too far–and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
- Roger Moore
Love explosions? Well, here ya go. “Die Another Day” is really, really dumb, and since it makes the difference between terrible and decent, it’s also really, really fun. No one in cast or crew really seems to be paying much attention to the story’s logic. In fact, if something fails to make sense, expect deus ex machina to solve that problem. But the movie works, if for one purpose only: to entertain. Okay, if we consider that “Die Another Day” also wants to show us how über-sexy Pierce Brosnan is, then I guess that’s two succeeding purposes.
The movie has an alternate title in the critics’ world. Commenting on the excessive product placement, BBC and a few other sources began calling it “Buy Another Day”. I didn’t notice too much product placement, but to be fair, the marketing tie-ins were countless. If there’s anything just as distracting, it’s the self-referential humor. Bond picks up a pair of binoculars and tells Jinx (Halle Berry’s Bond girl) that he’s just an ornithologist, so he’s at the beach for nothing more than to watch birds. If you’re a relatively serious fan of James Bond, you’d probably know that the real-life person who inspired the name is an ornithologist named James Bond. Clever in some contexts, but in this one, I just couldn’t help my eyes from rolling. Another one is with John Cleese, whose portrayal of Q I have absolutely nothing against. He’s traditional, funny, and, you know, perfect. It’s just that when he appears, he has to bring back the Python days with a “flesh wound” joke. Maybe if he’d killed the Black Knight earlier in the film, I’d have smiled.
James Bond’s 20th outing is really cheesy. In the same ways, it’s also exciting. Brosnan isn’t as good as the better Bonds, but his delivery does top much of the rest of this cast, to whom he, Cleese, and Berry are a collective saving grace. He has enough charisma, to be sure. “Die Another Day” plays our as half fashion show, half video game. It’s long and soaked with innuendo and PG-13 sex. But even at 2 hours, 13 minutes, it seems worth its while.
Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:
Movie Review #684
Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions Limited presents…
Studio: Casino Royale Productions — Stillking Films — Casino Royale — Babelsberg Film
Copyright Holder: Columbia Pictures — Danjaq — United Artists
Produced with the Support of: Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) — Columbia Pictures — Sony Pictures Releasing
Country: UK — Czech Republic — USA — Germany — Bahamas
Spoken Languages: English — French
Directed by Martin Campbell. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming.
Cut version rated PG-13 by the MPAA — violence, sexual content, nudity. Uncut version not released in the USA. Runs 2 hours, 24 minutes. London premiere on November 14, 2006. Wide release in the Czech Republic and the UK on November 16, 2006; in the USA on November 17, 2006; and in Germany on November 23, 2006.
Featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond (007), Eva Green as Vesper Lynd (Bond girl), and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre (Bond villain). Starring Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankole, and Jesper Christensen. Also starring Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sébastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair, Richard Sammel, Ludger Pistor, Joseph Milson, Daud Shah, Clemens Schick, Emmanuel Avena, Ade, Urbano Barberini, Tsai Chin, Charlie Levi Leroy, Lazar Ristovsky, Tom So, and Veruschka. Featuring uncredited cameo appearances from Richard Branson and Ben Cooke.
The first twenty James Bond movies spanned five namesake actors, four decades. The precision and plots seem to suggest a TV crime procedural in this way. We’ve seen different stories in this time, and they have to be different. Elsewise there’s nothing to cover up for the series’ repetition.
Enter episode twenty-one, “Casino Royale”, stage left. This is the Next Generation of Bond, where his character will actually develop into an interesting personality, not just a persona who gives his name and asks for that specific vodka martini every single outing. Whether “Casino Royale” as that specific story was chosen because it was the first “Bond” book, because it had yet to be adapted Eon Productions, or because 21 is both the ordinal number and a card game, I can’t exactly say. But the screenplay was more than a simple modernization. Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale was no more than another outing. Remove about five words and it fits anywhere in the series.
That’s where the screenwriters are making an impressive choice here. They’re not rewriting it, just expanding it. And it fits: no Bond movie has ever acknowledged its predecessor, so why acknowledge any of the first twenty Bond films? In fact, why not start from scratch, and reintroduce Bond to everyone?
It’s a tremendously dynamic move, but it doesn’t end there at all. “Casino Royale” leaves the door open for a sequel, and it does this only by introducing Bond with three dimensions. (Two is preferred, I get it, I get it.) Bond’s story is written with a much more internal locus. It’s not motivated by, “What happens is set in stone, and Bond’s just some guy along for the ride that leads in.” The framework is, “Bond’s psyche, emotion, and instinct are what drives this film and its sequels.” Sequels, not following appearances of the same character.
Previously, the driving force in the plot was boobs, bombs, and bad guys, or maybe the audience’s insistence that they be there. There is a different engine installed in “Casino Royale”, but these facets offer the best select moments in the movie.
Boobs: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) isn’t just a Bond girl for Daniel Craig; she’s a femme fatale. She does design one of the most tragic endings I can recall in a Bond movie, but her relationship with Bond is so believable. Banter is top-notch here, among other possible mentions.
Bombs: they’re there’s but they’re not even necessary to make a great action sequence. That opening chase (almost) compares with “Bullitt”! Hell, we don’t need action for excitement. Just watching Bond and his arch nemesis Le Chiffre stare each other down is a heart-pounder. There’s at least two other scenes I could spoil, but shan’t.
Bad guys: Mads Mikkelsen is outstanding as Le Chiffre. His performance as a Bond villain is a good chunk of what beings out the dramatic entries in this reboot.
The movie spotlights jaw-dropping editing. We open in black and white to learn a little about Bond’s first two kills. The first kill being juxtaposed with the second, to create a well made prologue. And I’m dying to spoil how this opening becomes the gun barrel interlude. What follows, of course, is the opening credits montage, which is computer-animated this time around. That much is incredible. With the additional music cue–Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”–the movie has already promised a good 50% of what it later delivers. The rest, of course, is pleasantly surprising…but remember, all two and a half hours of “Casino Royale”, it’s just the very first chapter, waiting to be developed into the full novel.
Movie Review #683
Hemdale Film presents…
Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Country: UK — USA
Spoken Languages: English — Vietnamese
Directed by Oliver Stone. Produced by Arnold Kopelson. Written by Oliver Stone.
Rated R by the MPAA — war violence, frequent profanity. Runs 2 hours. Limited release in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on December 19, 1986. Wide release in the USA on February 6, 1987; and in the UK on April 24, 1987.
Narrated by Charlie Sheen. Starring Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen. Also starring Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Reggie Johnson, Mark Moses, Corey Glover, Johnny Depp, Chris Pedersen, Bob Orwig, Corkey Ford, and David Neidorf.
“Rejoice O young man in thy youth…”
“Platoon” is Oliver Stone’s retelling of war. I don’t mean retelling as in what Francis Coppola and Stanley Kubrick offered in their renditions. This is a movie concerned so much about its story that the style is a mere sub-operation to substance. Stone was an actual veteran of the Vietnam War. He was also the first of several filmmaking veterans to make a movie about the horrors he encountered. I have to say that, while I do respect “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket” for their perfect dehumanizations of the Vietnam War, “Platoon” comes out on top. It’s not a movie about what happened in the Vietnam War. It’s about how one man’s reality was changed (maybe even rectified) by war.
And the movie is effective. It takes full ownership of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. The piece is played seemingly throughout the film in multiple variations. It builds poignancy in the story. Maybe this is a good 5% of why “Platoon” functions strictly as a drama and a reality-centric horror movie. It’s not an action movie, and it anything but desires to bloat the struggles into a triumphant epic. It doesn’t even wish to entertain, I don’t believe. It’s one focus is to explicate a perilous vision of what being in the war is like.
The narration comes in letters written home from the protagonist. That’s what brings out the film’s terrific (and terrifying) authenticity. Rarely will the movie convince us that it’s indeed a movie. It’s presentation is visceral. Beautiful contrast is suggested between this storytelling method and the actual imagery. What we are told is visceral. What we see is extremely mild for a war movie.
Charlie Sheen both portrays the protagonist and narrates the film. His delivery crafts the movie for war what “The Shawshank Redemption” was for prison life. Sheen has never played such a character since. Even his performance in Oliver Stone’s followup “Wall Street” doesn’t ask for our sympathy at all costs. This is a man who dropped out of college to voluntarily serve in the infantry. Not one soldier seems to befriend him, or each other, and enemies could be anywhere and everywhere. Just knowing that much, and how seriously it’s taken, makes did quite a horrifying movie–maybe the most horrifying I’ve ever seen. Though by the end, it’s more than just one level of emotion that’s getting whipped.
Movie Review #676
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Columbia Pictures – Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Produtions – B22
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) – Columbia Pictures – Sony Pictures Releasing
Country: UK – USA
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Italian – French – Swiss German – German
Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Written by Paul Haggis and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, infrequent sexual content. Runs 1 hour, 46 minutes. London premiere on October 29, 2008. Premiered at London Film Festival on October 29, 2008. Wide release in the UK on October 31, 2008. Wide release in the USA on November 14, 2008.
Featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond (007), Olga Kurylenko as Camille (Bond girl), and Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene (Bond villain). Starring Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, and Jesper Christensen. Also starring Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Joaquín Cosio, Jesús Ochoa, Lucrezia Lante della Rovere, Glenn Foster, Paul Ritter, Simon Kassianides, Stana Katic, Neil Jackson, Karine Babajanyan, Sebastien Soules, Brandon Jovanovich, Martin Busen, Alexander Krawetz, and Dale Albright.
“Like you said…take a deep breath…make it count.”
Camille (Olga Kurylenko)
Opening up, the only thing about “Quantum of Solace” that isn’t wildly unfocused is the title animation, set to the song “Another Way to Die” by Alicia Keys and Jack White. We’re constantly being told where Bond is in heavily stylized title overlays, and in fact, it seems to be all about style. James Bond, in the opening action sequence, faces a deadly fight all across town, and he manages to escape with a nosebleed and a gash on the forehead. The editing is horrible, with jump cuts galore.
And so it continues as one, long chase sequence. But believe it or not, “Quantum of Solace” doesn’t need a line of true dialogue to bring out what it really is (and what it really should be): a direct sequel to “Casino Royale”. That was not only a reboot, but a reinvention of the series. We got a depthy look into Bond’s beginning. Now we see how Bond proceeds after the death of Vesper Lynd, whom he loved ever so dearly. We don’t see him with a Bond girl in the “usual” Bond girl-ish way for, well, the whole movie, because he’s wrought with his own grief. His anger and vengeful attitude makes this all the more tense. And when the writers get to this sentimental side of the tale, the film flies by. As Judi Dench would describe it, this movie is “bloody exciting.”
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Movie Review #675
Paramount Pictures & Skydance Productions present…
…in association with Hemisphere Media Capital & GK Films…
Studio: Plan B Entertainment – 2Dux² – Apparatus Productions – Latina Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA – Malta
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Hebrew – Arabic
Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Ian Bryce, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Based on the novel by Max Brooks.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, disturbing content. Runs 1 hour, 56 minutes (Unrated Edition runs 2 hours, 3 minutes). Premiered in London on June 2, 2013; at Champs-Élysées Film Festival on June 15, 2013; and at Belgrade Blockbuster Review on June 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on June 21, 2013.
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, and James Badge Dale.
“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught. But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths. She’s a bitch.”
–Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel)
You know the story. I can think of a total of nineteen movies, plus TV’s The Walking Dead, that practice the same mythology as “World War Z”, and that’s without really thinking hard. Some call this very tale the “zombie apocalypse” genre. It’s basically a blend of creature feature and disaster movie elements.
“WWZ” wants to invent, though, so it’s not just “zombie apocalypse.” I give it points without hesitation for its desire to put this in war movie/Call of Duty context. The one problem it faces is that the “zombie apocalypse” genre is so specific, so established, so common, that we need significantly more time allotted in the film t adjust to something that seems brand-new. Unless you have absolutely no skepticism of the story–the “war on zombies”–it’s a bit of a trial to get through “WWZ” as a fluent film, unless you have a large bucket of popcorn to take your mind off the occasional dull spot. The film ends assuring us that this is “far from the end,” and in fact, it feels like part one of a continuous trilogy. Doesn’t this mean that director Marc Forster (“Stranger than Fiction”, “Quantum of Solace”) should have waited just a little while before assuming we get what to expect in a zombie-cum-war movie?
Part of me feels like there was initially more explanation that was snipped out. It’s as if Forster covered up the blank spots himself. What I’m getting at is that “WWZ” is well-written. Brad Pitt ever so naturally plays a father who wants to take care of his family more than anything else. Even if the set design looks suspiciously more like the Big Apple, Pitt’s character lives in Philadelphia as a UN employee, and when he’s called to action on day, he has to think of the world as if it were his family. In other words, his job is now to save the world, specifically from zombies. Any transition from these action sequences into the encompassing sentimental drama, or vice-versa, varies between sudden and nonexistent. However that may be, these two tones work great in separation. The drama features believable dialogue all around. We don’t hear the word “zombie,” for example, until the forty-minute mark, and Pitt’s family chats like an actual family. If there’s one thing severely wrong with the action here, it’s that it comes along way too soon–as earl as seven minutes. Everything else about the action, however, is flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes for most of the excitement. I actually applaud it for maintaining the PG-13 action movie imminent in the veins of “WWZ”, by deftly cutting away from anything that would seem, well, horrifying. A hand-in-hand employment of camerawork and editing (Roger Barton) operates effectively during the title sequence. That opening is a series of newsreels that use contrast between blurry and sharp snapshots to form the impending title.
“WWZ” is based on a satirical novel by Max Brooks. His dad’s Mel, by the way, and such is even more reason to think that this stern approach was practically a rewrite. The dramatic viewpoint was acceptable, but to be clear, I would have much preferred the satire. It’s so much easier to bring in “something else” for the sake of comedy. Brooks Sr. did it all the time. He wouldn’t just go into the historical details of the Spanish Inquisition, he’d bring in a musical number about it. I don’t doubt Brooks Jr.’s zombie book features a likably offbeat inclusion of war themes. I’m just not compelled to read it, because this movie adaptation’s all-too-serious approach doesn’t exactly make for a memorable story.
I can say it three times if this second time isn’t enough: “WWZ” does have some fun action sequences. These zombies are frantic. They truly are (as my friend’s father put it) “’28 Days Later’ on steroids.” There’s zombies throughout the movie, but to be honest, they really aren’t the primary focus of the movie until the climax. Most of “WWZ” is about Brad Pitt’s Good Samaritan character. If that’s what you’re truly seeking, might I recommend “Captain Phillips”, in which Tom Hanks plays a selfless man who will do anything if it means steering his boat and crew out of danger.
POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only one who is especially impressed when Brad Pitt doesn’t play an antihero? Am I the only one who thinks such is rare?
Quantum of Solace
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dallas Buyers Club
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Movie Review #671
Universal Pictures & Marv Films present…
…in association with Dentsu & Fuji Television Company…
Studio: Plan B
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Produced by Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid, and Matthew Vaughn. Screenplay by Jeff Wadlow. Comic book by Mark Millar & John S. Romita Jr.
Rated R by the MPAA – graphic violence, frequent profanity, sexual content, brief nudity. Runs 1 hour, 43 mins. Wide release in the UK on August 14, 2013; and in the USA on August 16, 2013.
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz, Clark Duke, Donald Faison, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Robert Emms, Lindy Booth, Andy Nyman, and Olga Kurkulina. Also starring Morris Chestnut, Claudia Lee, Augustus Prew, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Garrett M. Brown, Lyndsy Fonseca, Yancy Butler, and John Leguizamo. With an uncredited appearance by Sophie Ellis.
Critic-doubling-as-editor’s note: Happy 671st review! And to all those outside of England and Ireland, Merry 671st review! Because I watched “Kick-Ass 2″ on December 25th. I promise not to let the delay grow too much.
We’ve had “Spider-man 2”, we’ve had “X2: X-Men United”, and we’ve had “The Dark Knight”. Now we’ve had “Kick-Ass 2”, the fourth on that quick list of second comic book movies that mightily improve upon the “first one.”*** Not that I found 2010’s “Kick-Ass” anything terribly special, but “Kick-Ass 2” does something that hadn’t been done by its predecessor: it kicks ass.
This tale has more substance than we’d seen before, as is virtually promised by its basis on two comic books (“Kick-Ass 2” and the spin-off “Hit-Girl”). Most of this story is a Romeo and Juliet tale, without such heavy romance. I really mean that there’s feuding and the romance comes in over time. No one wants Kick-Ass or Hit-Girl to be known by their superhero names, their parents least of all. No one wants them to be seen together. But that’s bound to change. Col. Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) has founded an underground-ish alliance (per Kick-Ass, the greatest “clique” ever) for superheroes. Once he’s dead, Kick-Ass is basically the Tyler Durden of this fight club. It’s all made to look like good deeds, not vigilantism—but will they survive these good deeds? They’re up against the gang headed by a guy who, before his father’s death, was called Red Mist and tried to team up with Kick-Ass. Now he’s Kick-Ass’s arch nemesis, donning the almighty name “The Motherf##ker.”
Christopher Mintz-Plasse is stellar in this role. He’s still good, maybe better, at playing that whiney, bratty, spoiled, rich kid in the body of a high school senior. But remember that he’s not the only one of his kind. His co-arch nemesis (is that even a word?) is played once again by Chloë Grace Moretz, whose performance seems to be in great danger. She no longer has Big Daddy to back her up. She looks a lot older. Where her controlling, bratty behavior worked in the first one, she just seems like a bitchy 15-year-old now. She hardly generates any humor on her end. Not even from swearing because she actually looks 15 years old, and 15-year-olds swear like they want to become sailors as soon as they’re out of school.
I don’t want to shame Moretz at the expense of her whole career. Moreover, at the expense of the whole movie. “Kick-Ass 2” has several moments of sheer hilarity. I chuckled in the first movie. This sequel kicked my ass through my lungs, or my lungs through my ass. It busted my guts, too, along the way, and eventually split my sides. Great humor abounds in this film.
The movie isn’t all about laughing, either. And it’s difficult to dismiss the fact that Kick-Ass doesn’t need much more than self-motivation to do what he does best. Either way, these scenes kick ass. (How many more times can I say that before it gets old? Will the phrase laugh through my review the inevitable Kick-Ass 3?) A great soundtrack, stunning choreography, and wild, raging camera work combine to make some scenes that are twice as bloody as they previously were. Which ultimately means twice as pointless, a name tag worn by the movie’s excessive cell phone use, as well. That’s an evaluation on a logical level. From the soul, “Kick-Ass 2” isn’t twice as pointless. It’s twice as exciting, and it has me begging for the threequel.
***I know what you’re thinking, and I am indeed aware that this one has a 29% Rotten Tomatoes grade, compared to the previous 77%. Also note that most Rotten Tomatoes critics weren’t the young audience for “Kick-Ass”. Of course they’re going to be hesitant on the sequel.
Movie Review #663
Marvel Studios presents…
…in association with Paramount Pictures & DMG Entertainment…
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Country: USA – China
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Shane Black. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – frequent violence, mild sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 10 minutes. Premiered in London on April 18, 2013. Wide release in China on May 1, 2013; and in the USA on May 3, 2013.
Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Also starring Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Jon Favreau.
Maybe I’m missing some insight from skipping over “Iron Man 2”. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t find “Iron Man” or “The Avengers” to be anything special. Or maybe I’m right in saying that there’s a reason “Iron Man Three” is such a fun time.
The movie reroutes from mot other superhero movies. It does have a handful of exciting action sequences, especially during the forty minutes leading up to a creative finale–but this isn’t strictly an action movie. “Iron Man Three” is a comedy with big-budget accoutrements. If nothing else, the film proves that superhero movies can focus on personality and peril as one concept, not just on the latter.
This is thanks to the screenplay, which, despite its loose pacing, is terrific. Shane Black wasn’t writing the script alone, but the film is obviously his own. He also provides as the director, and in either department, he seems to be the one cinematic figure who deserves to be working with Downey. Black accentuates exactly what we want in Downey’s character: a personality that’s half Brad Pitt, half Jack Nicholson. (And, of course, wears a bunch of scrap metal.)
It’s not just the Guy Who Plays Tony Stark, though. Don Cheadle works as well as he ever has. He performs in the buddy role, a telling necessity for every Black script since “Lethal Weapon”. His job is evidently to known when to take Downey seriously. It seems pretty difficult to me. I’ll also mention the performances of Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Particularly Kingsley’s, for his transformation into the role of a figure known only as “the Mandarin.”
By now, we’re used to accepting superhero movies at face value, or close to it. But “Iron Man Three” isn’t so shallow. It’s dug beneath the face and entered mind value. A trend that began with “The Dark Knight” for blockbuster characters to have their flaws exposed–now that’s a step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, if Tony Stark is nothing more than “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” then we’ll all want our money back eventually.