Friday, January 25, 2013

Top Ten Comedies of 2012

Thankfully, unlike with the animated and fantasy/sci-fi lists, I had a bit of a wealth of comedies to choose from for this list. As such, you can have the Zach Savage guarantee that you would be wise to blind buy every last film on the list. Hop to it.

Honorable Mention: Ace Attorney, This is 40, Iron Sky

10. Goon - I'm drawing a blank on the last time we got a really good sports comedy. The most recent I can think of would be Shaolin Soccer, which was both 11 years ago and Chinese. As such, I was quite pleasantly surprised by this effort, a theoretically true story about a bouncer (Sean William Scott) who is peer pressured into joining a minor league hockey team, and finds success as a goon. Those are the guys who are known more for assaulting their opponents than talent if you don't follow hockey, and obviously quite a few hockey fans are fans specifically for them. It's fairly formulaic, as sports movies are, but it's good hearted and almost effortlessly funny all the way through.

9. To Boldly Flee - This is one of the films I know I'm going to get shit on for including here, but it matters not. This is the fourth anniversary film by the team at Channel Awesome, and I'd say it's their best effort yet. For those unfamiliar, Channel Awesome is basically a collection of various film, video game, comic book, and music critics led by the Nostalgia Critic (Doug Walker), and last year they all teamed up to take on SOPA, evil space aliens, and plot holes. It's a bit hard to defend to someone completely unfamiliar with them, as it's rather cheesy and in-jokey and goes on a bit long at three and a half hours, but I would simply be lying if I claimed it was anything other than one of my favorite comedies of the year.

8. The Watch - Just about every year we wind up with a movie or TV show delayed, cancelled, or altered in some absurd way because of a real life event, and in 2012, this got to be that movie. Thankfully, it was only the title that was altered, as it was originally called Neighborhood Watch until the Trayvon Martin shooting prompted a frantic name change because obviously that makes sense. Anyway, this feels like a bit of a throwback to the comedies that were coming out a decade ago, before the comedy world became overwhelmed by meandering Judd Apatow creations. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Dean Learner decide to form a neighborhood watch to keep their town safe, only to discover that they may be dealing with a discreet alien invasion. It's clever and raunchy, to the point where it's to date the only movie I've ever known to get a regular theatrical release that included a circle jerk.

7. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - I can't honestly say I was expecting too much out of this, but this comedy about a bunch of aging Britons that decide to vacation at an exotic restored hotel in India (that turns out to be a bit more exotic -- and unfinished -- than they'd hoped) turned out to be as charming as could be. It's aided by the wealth of great talents such as Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Dev Patel, and Tom Wilkinson, as the British pensioners try to figure out what they're going to be doing with the remainder of their lives, now that the society they know has largely passed them by, while the young hotel owner who has lured them there tries to give them the vacation of their lives to save his failing business.

6. Fat Kid Rules the World - I have to give points of respect for any comedy that opens with the main character attempting to kill himself by walking in front of a bus. He doesn't quite succeed (though he does get to enjoy it as a fantasy first), as a semi-homeless teen (Matt O'Leary) grabs him and knocks him out of the way just in time, and before we have a chance to think he did it for altruistic and kind reasons, he then hits up the fat kid (Jacob Wysocki) for twenty bucks. And so begins one of the best friendships we got on film last year, as O'Leary invites Wysocki to join his new band (which turns out to be just the two of them, as O'Leary was just booted out of his last band for being a drug addict) and Wysocki in turn tries to introduce O'Leary into his family, where we get a delightful performance by Billy Campbell as hid dad, who manages to essentially channel Robert Patrick in The Unit without ever devolving into a cartoon of a military dad. Like another film on the list, it's as much a drama as a comedy, but it's one that, if there's any justice in the world, should become a big hit with teens.

5. Ted - I won't claim to be a huge Seth MacFarlane fan. Frankly, I liked him a whole lot more back when he was bringing out one good show each week instead of three mediocre ones. That said, this is the funniest damn thing he's made in his entire career to date. It's a fairly simple premise, where a young boy's Christmas wish for his teddy bear to become a real friend comes magically true, and after a brief bit of childhood joy, we move forward to the present day, where John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (CG teddy bear, voiced by MacFarlane) are now adult burnouts that would rather spend their time getting stoned than doing anything of substance with their lives. It's somewhat episodic, which I suppose isn't surprising for a writer/director whose entire career prior to this has been in TV, and it does occasionally misfire, but when it's working it's a scream.

4. Why Stop Now - Like Fat Kid Rules the World, this is part comedy and part drama, following a young piano prodigy named Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) as he tries to make it through what is hopefully the worst day of his life. On the day he has to audition to get into an elite music program that would likely open his future wider than Goatse, he also has to check his drug addicted mother into rehab, only to find that they won't accept her if she doesn't have any drugs currently in her system, and when he takes her to her dealer so she can get high the dealer kidnaps them both because she owes him money, and...It's a huge mess, and one played so dryly that were Tracy Morgan not one of the main characters you could easily start to think this was a straight drama. As you may have noticed by this point, I tend to prefer comedies with really uniquely defined characters and crises that arise organically, and this has both of those traits in spades.

3. Seven Psychopaths - As does this, the latest film from Martin McDonagh, whose previous film In Bruges ranks as one of the best comedies of the 00s. This isn't quite as good, but it continues with the same general feel of anarchy, as Billy (Sam Rockwell) takes it upon himself to try to help his friend Marty (Colin Farrell) overcome his writer's block on his new screenplay Seven Psychopaths by pitching him ideas for new psychos and putting an ad out in the paper calling for any of them out there to come forward, all while running afoul of a local crime boss (Woody Harrelson) due to Billy's main career as a dognapper. Toss in Christopher Walken in his best role since at least Catch Me If You Can (seriously, between this, A Late Quartet, and to a lesser extent Stand Up Guys, this has been Christopher Walken's best year since he was in The Deer Hunter), and you've got what should have been a pretty decent hit instead of a bit of a flop. Something's wrong with people.

2. 21 Jump Street - This was the greatest of the more traditional comedies out in 2012, easily the best of all of the remakes of TV shows we've gotten over the past twenty years. It's a buddy cop movie starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum who, after an astonishingly incompetent failed drug bust, are assigned to an undercover squad on Jump Street, where they are to infiltrate a local high school and get in with the dealers of a new drug that the kids there have been overdosing on, only to find that high school is...somewhat different than they remember it. Hill here shows why he's become such a beloved actor since Knocked Up and Superbad, and Tatum gives me a reason to actually like him after the unfortunate G.I. Joe movie.

1. Killing Them Softly - Okay, I know I'm going to get reamed for this one. Yes, officially this is a crime story, and if we judge it solely on those merits then it's not a particularly memorable one. I can say, however, that I was giggling like an asshole the entire way through the film, and I am at least 80% confident that that's just as writer/director Andrew Dominik had intended. Everything about it, right from the opening credits (we get ominous horror music cut with an Obama speech so rapidly that it swiftly loses any and all coherency) to Brad Pitt's long suffering hit man having to deal with the walking disaster that is James Gandolfini to the basic premise of the heist itself (basically robbing a secret card game hosted by Ray Liotta with the presumption that Liotta himself will be blamed since he had robbed his own card game a couple years before), screams that we should be laughing our way through it. I realize I'm in a minority here, but damn it people, just watch this movie and tell me I'm wrong.

Next week we're knocking out the best horror movies of 2012. Spoiler: it was a good year for them.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Ten Animated Films of 2012

I freely admit, I was pretty damn worried about this one for a while. Up until a couple weeks ago, I had only seen exactly ten animated movies from 2012, so my list was going to range from the brilliant to utter shit. Thankfully, I saw enough to push all the mediocre ones to the honorable mention list and the outright lousy ones (for the record, they were Madagascar 3 and Hotel Transylvania) into oblivion where they belong. If I do this again next year, I'll be including straight to video movies so I can pad the list with a bunch of superhero movies.

Honorable Mention: The Lorax, From Up On Poppy Hill, Ice Age: Continental Drift

10. The Pirates! Band of Misfits - The latest animated effort from Peter Lord (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) is not his best work, let's get that on the table right now. What it is is a fairly pleasant story of one of the worst pirates in the world that is desperately trying to win big at the annual pirate awards. It's cheerful and fluffy, and while it doesn't match, say, Chicken Run or Curse of the Were Rabbit, neither of those came out this year so maybe shut up.

9. The Secret World of Arrietty - This was Disney's Studio Ghibli release this year (looking at my list, I see that there are no fewer than four Disney releases on it -- apparently they're a bit of a dominant force in my life), and it trades the wild fantasy style of Hayao Miyazaki's films for what feels more like a simple American 80s cartoon. That's not to say it's a bad movie by any means, it means that the story, about a miniature family of Borrowers living secretly in a human family's home, feels like the sort of film one might have gotten from Disney back in the pre-Little Mermaid days. Sometimes you need a film that doesn't have incredibly high stakes, and is willing to just be charming and fun.

8. Rise of the Guardians - This is the first of the big children's adventure stories to make the list, as Dreamworks gives us a tale of a young Jack Frost being initiated into the Guardians, a superhero group comprised of various modern mythical figures such as Santa Claus (called North here and given a Russian accent for reasons I can only guess at), the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman, as they try to protect the people of the world from the dark menace of Pitch (as in black) and his team of nightmares. It doesn't quite live up to the promise of that rather inspired premise (possibly due to it being based off of a novel), but it is an engaging effort, and much better than the average Dreamworks film.

7. Wreck-It Ralph - While this doesn't rank with their classics, I cannot express how happy I am that, after a decade of making largely mediocre or outright terrible movies (seriously, Chicken Little is the worst film they have ever made), Disney finally seems to have gotten back on track. This one showcases the lives of a group of videogame characters living in an arcade, and much like Brave, focuses on one (Wreck-it Ralph, obviously) who decides to go on a journey to change his fate. Much like actual arcades in the 90s, it gets a bit too bogged down towards the end with fighting and racing, but it's still a largely effective film.

6. Chico & Rita - This is a charming film about the music scene in late 1940s Cuba, and two young musicians who fall in love while trying to make it big. It's a mature, adult effort, and more smoothly animated than several of the bigger name efforts that came out last year. It's rare to see any film that deals as intelligently and honestly with relationships and Cuban/American hostilities as this film does. And yes, I'm well aware that IMDB says it came out originally in 2010, but since I don't live in L.A., Telluride, or Miami, 2012 was when I first had a chance to see it, so suck a dick.

5. The Rabbi's Cat - It's not going to be easy to explain why you should see this, but here goes: this is a French film about a rabbi and his daughter living in Algeria who find their cat has suddenly developed the ability to speak after eating the daughter's parrot. What makes the film so interesting is that, rather than engaging in any wacky animated adventures, the cat instead decides to spend his time debating religion with his owner, even demanding to be converted to Judaism like his master, only to horribly offend the rabbi and be chased away from the synagogue. It's a very laid-back, episodic film, content to meander around and wryly poke and prod at religious institutions (eventually the rabbi, the cat, an Islamic sheikh, a Russian Jew, and a Russian Orthodox Christian decide to go on an adventure into the depths of Africa, apparently because just venturing into a bar together would have been too obvious). It's not going to be a film for everyone, as it's rather slow-paced, and the animation style is rather, shall we say, unorthodox, and some will just be offended by its views on religion, but for those of you that wish to view a smart and funny film, check it out.

4. Brave - Brave doesn't really measure up to some of Pixar's greater achievements like Up or The Incredibles, but it's at least a noticeable step up from their prior effort Cars 2, and let's be honest, even a weak(er) Pixar film is better than most animated films out there. This one offers a bit of a twist on a classic Disney theme, as young Princess Merida finds she hates the idea of marrying a prince and settling down into a royal lifestyle, and so she goes off on a quest to find a way to change her fate. Being Pixar, it takes some strange twists and turns that I was not expecting, making it rather more interesting than the thematically similar Wreck-It Ralph. It should also be noted that this has far and away the best animation of any film this year, because Pixar is boss like that.

3. It's Such a Beautiful Day - I almost feel bad for acknowledging that an hour long cartoon with stick figures wound up being better than most of the more polished films by major studios, but this film (actually a carefully stitched together compilation of three previous shorts by Don Hertzfeldt) is so touching and funny I can't help myself. Hertzfeldt largely created the entire film by himself (a film editing credit for Brian Hamblin is the only sign that he didn't do absolutely everything) as we enjoy the life of Bill, a man who is trying to go through life after a series of strokes leaves his mind and body increasingly fractured. In that regard, it's a bit like the new Michael Haneke film Amour, except it's not a miserable slog through depression and misery.

2. Paranorman - I think everyone by now knows that I'm both an obsessive horror junkie and a complete man child, and as such I have an inordinate fondness for any children's horror movies, and when they just so happen to be as delightful as this one, well, that's just a bonus (this, by the way, is also why I was more upset than I normally would have been at how terrible Hotel transylvania was). I hope this becomes a more universally loved film, because quite frankly, if people are going to be promoting a movie that explains how it's wrong to judge someone for being different, wouldn't you rather it be a film about a boy who talks to ghosts and zombies and saves his town from a witch's curse than some cartoonish drivel like The Breakfast Club?

1. Frankenweenie - Tim Burton directed two films last year. One of them, Dark Shadows, is the worst movie he's made since Planet of the Apes, if not his worst outright. The other, Frankenweenie, is his best since Ed Wood. The story is so simple that I'm frankly a bit surprised I can't think of another example of it, particularly as it's based off of a short film Burton did for Disney back in the mid-80s: a young, present day Victor Frankenstein becomes distraught after the sudden death of his dog, and deals with it in the only way he knows how: by bringing his ass right back to life through mad science. I don't know that anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet won't be able to sympathize, or wish they had the ability to save their loved ones as he does here. Further, Burton's visual flair is particularly suited for animated films (with Corpse Bride being one of his only big directorial highlights of the past decade, I kind of wish he'd do them more often), and as an added bonus, we get the most delightful character find of 2012 in Professor Rzykruski. What more could one ask for?

Anyway, next up on deck is the best comedies of 2012. I actually had a wealth of comedies to choose from, to ensure a healthier list.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top Ten Science Fiction & Fantasy Films of 2012

We don't need an extensive preamble for this, right? Let me just note that this is the first year in some time that there were enough good (or at least decent) fantasy and science fiction films to make a good Top Ten list from (without checking, I'd guess you'd have to look back at least a decade to when the Lord of the Rings trilogy was coming out, if not longer -- the 80s, maybe?). Anyway...

Honorable Mentions: 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Chronicle, The Hunger Games

10. Prometheus - While it was perhaps inevitable that Ridley Scott's proud return to the Alien universe would fail to live up to the hype, we at least got an interesting (if somewhat confused) sci-fi epic filled with monsters and fascinating alien worlds (well, one world) and Michael Fassbender. Maybe he can make a sequel to it that could properly use his full talents...

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - This movie had a lot going against it from the start, so I suppose it's a credit to the film that it made the list at all, despite being based on the least eventful and interesting of Tolkien's books (at least excepting the Silmarillion, which Jackson decided to cram chunks of into here), being split into three films for seemingly no reason beyond a blatant cash grab, and being used to test drive new digital cameras that apparently make the film look like a soap opera (I didn't see the 48 fps version, so I can't comment on that). Despite itself, once it finally gets going it winds up being a pretty entertaining adventure, with an epilogue that all but promises that the second and third film will be better.

8. Snow White & the Huntsman - No, I can't say that I would have ever been expecting to say that a film starring Kristen Stewart would wind up being really good, and yet here we are. First-time director Rupert Sanders (who is now apparently using his success to do a remake of Van Helsing with Tom Cruise, because why not?) managed to update the Snow White tale into one that's visually lush and suprisingly epic-feeling, despite being based on a short story. There's only one glaring flaw to the whole thing, and I'll leave it to you clever sleuths to try to deduce what that could possibly be.

7. Holy Motors - I somewhat dreaded trying to describe this, as the film is so deliriously weird and plot-free that I'm worried I'm just going to make it sound dreadful. Basically, we spend a day with Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is chauffered around the city, playing various roles for various people. He is, at various points, a business leader, a madman, a virtual reality lover, a murderer, a murder victim, and more, for reasons that are never fully explained, and are visibly artificial (not only does he at one point bite some woman's fingers off and then kidnap a model without anyone acting particularly disturbed, but he is straight up killed twice and just keeps going). It's an utterly absorbing film, one that you're just going to have to let wash over you.

6. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World - Of the two "end of the world" films released in 2012, this was easily the more moving effort. Steve Carell really shows off his melancholy side in this film, completely stripping away all of the comedic trappings he is most known for as he lives trapped in his own depression as a humanity-ending meteor is three weeks away from hitting Earth. This is also a directorial debut by Lorene Scafaria, whose previous film effort was as the screenwriter for Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist. This is a much superior film, in large part due to Steve Carell and Keira Knightley being just slightly more capable of detailing depression and ennui than Michael Cera and Kat Dennings could.

5. Mirror Mirror - There were two major releases in 2012 based around the Snow White legend (and also some straight to DVD nonsense and one or two European productions that I don't recall the names of), and both of them were much better than the old Disney film. This one, directed by Tarsem Singh, is every bit as visually impressive (and more inventive) and trades the epic fantasy adventure tale for a more comedic and light-hearted effort. In that regard, I imagine that which film you prefer is going to depend on whether you'd rather watch a comedy or an adventure.

4. Men in Black 3 - I can't say I had very high hopes for this, the first Men in Black film in ten years, and the follow-up to the disastrous-yet-appropriately-named Men in Black 2. I certainly wasn't expecting this to be the best film in the series, but thanks to a loopy time travel plot and Josh Brolin doing a dead-on impersonation of a young Tommy Lee Jones, we've got both the funniest and the most surprisingly heartfelt effort director Barry Sonnenfield has yet managed.

3. Moonrise Kingdom - If this isn't my favorite Wes Anderson film, that's mainly a testament to just how damn high he's set the bar for himself. It's an effortlessly charming tale about a young boy and girl that fall in love on an island and decide to make a break for it. As with any of Anderson's films, the plot isn't as important on its own merits as it is a chance to create some weird alternate reality populated by goofy, whimsical individuals, and while that means that his movies frequently feel a lot alike, it's not something that has yet gotten old for me, nor do I expect it to anytime soon.

2. Looper - Until all of the positive reviews came out, I hadn't been planning on watching this at all, which I guess shows how much of a sucker I am for a bad ad campaign. This is one of those films that we used to get once every year or two until the rise of the superhero movie: a clever, thoughtful action-based science fiction story of the sort that we all perhaps needed a bit of a breather from after the third Matrix film. As long as you don't get hung up on the various time travel issues, this ranks up there with some of the best sci-fi action movies.

1. Cloud Atlas - Oh, and speaking of the Matrix films, here we have the Wachowskis greatest film, and at an estimated budget of $100 million, the most expensive independent movie ever made. You can largely ignore the ad campaign promising how you'll get to see how it all interconnects, because for the most part it doesn't. What it does is present us with six epic (or less than epic, a couple of them) stories from the past, present, and future, complete with the rather curious stylistic choice to have the same actors play the main roles in all six stories. Seriously, I loved just about every minute of this movie, but just try watching Hugo Weaving as a Nurse Ratched clone and tell me there's a god.

Next week: Animation!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Top Ten Action Movies of 2012

Alright, it's time for everyone's Top Ten lists for the year, but since 2012 turned out to be a pretty damn good year for films, I thought I'd change things up a bit by doing multiple lists separated by genre. And so, here we begin with my Top 10 Action Movies of 2012!

Honorable Mentions: Drive, Haywire, Deadfall

10. The Man with the Iron Fists - If you've seen the trailer, you should already have a good idea whether or not you'd like this movie. For those who haven't, it's a martial arts film directed by the RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, and it's every bit as over-the-top and ridiculous as one would expect from a martial arts film made by a rapper (and every bit as gory as one co-written by Eli Roth). It doesn't completely work, due to the script being little more than an excuse to link together a bunch of cool-looking fight scenes, and due to RZA's inexplicable decision to cast himself as the title character despite a complete inability to act, but it's still a lot of goofy fun.

9. Safe House - I went into this without any real idea of what to expect, and wound up with a pretty exciting thriller/actioner with Denzel playing the kind of smart-mouthed badass that Tom Cruise was so adorably trying for in Jack Reacher. The story is a tale of CIA corruption, which is obviously ridiculous in real life, but somehow they manage to pull it off even without Will Smith in his underwear (Enemy of the State, I'm looking at you here).

8. Coriolanus - For his directorial debut, Ralph Fiennes did what any actor-turned-director would and decided to make a war movie out of a modern retelling of an obscure Shakespeare play (obscure here meaning I've never read it). He stars as General Coriolanus, a great Roman hero, who completely despises the general citizenry and winds up causing a mass uprising against himself and gets booted out of Rome, only to swear revenge on the city that spurned him. It's energetic, bloody, and vicious enough that even those of you that hate Shakespeare should enjoy it.

7. Lawless - This would be the second film collaboration between director John Hillcoat and goth musician/writer Nick Cave, and if it's not quite as good as The Proposition, it's still a pretty damn effective effort. As with their previous effort, it's a pretty slow-paced effort, but its story (allegedly based on a true story, which is the only reason I'll accept some of the more insane things that occur in it) of Prohibition-era moonshiners trying to evade a psychopathic federal agent is pretty captivating and climaxes with one of the silliest shootouts I have ever seen.

6. The Dark Knight Rises - The conclusion to Christopher Nolan's epic Batman trilogy, this suffers somewhat from a weaker script and a need to provide a satisfying trilogy conclusion first and a satisfying film second. Regardless, it manages to close out the series in a largely quality manner, giving us a new villain (Bane by Tom Hardy) that echoes back to both Heath Ledger's Joker and Liam Neeson's Ra's Al Ghul, and brings one of the most famous Batman stories to the screen. If it wound up being the weakest of the three major superhero films this past year, well, 2012 was pretty stacked.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man - I freely admit I had little confidence in this film before it came out. That said, while I still don't really see why we needed a full reboot of Spider-Man just ten years after the first film, I honestly think this is a better debut film than Raimi's. We've had an extra decade of technological advances to make the fights scenes more realistic looking, Andrew Garfield captured both the smart-assery and the teen angst of the character better, and aside from some plot holes the writing was better across the board. The only real issue I have with the film (aside from the aforementioned plot holes) would be the villain (let's be honest, the Lizard was never one of Spider-Man's more exciting villains, however well done he is here), but even he was enough to make the film a proper romp.

4. The Avengers - I swear I didn't intentionally design the list so that all three major superheroes movies came one after another, that's just how the year turned out. Anyway, as a diehard fan of both comic books and Joss Whedon, I was really looking forward to this, and frankly I think they pulled it off with only one or two hitches (the only significant one, that the villain didn't feel like a big enough threat to justify bringing them all together, isn't really a big enough problem to drag this down, particularly when a weak or rehashed villain was a common theme through all three of the big superhero films that came out this year). I am very much looking forward to the next Avengers movie, and I cannot wait until we see Thanos just straight wrecking everyone.

3. End of Watch - This was a serious enough effort that I almost included it on the drama list, but frankly a movie about two ghetto cops that run afoul of a Mexican trafficking ring, complete with brief and brutally realistic shootouts, deserves a solid place high up the action charts (I also debated with Django Unchained before putting that in the drama list -- because obviously you all care). What really sets it apart, though, is that it really spends a good deal of time developing our two main characters (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) and, in contrast to most buddy cop movies, showing how much they actually enjoy and believe in their jobs. It's an amazing film.

2. Skyfall - And speaking of James Bond, here we have one of the best Bond films of all time. Everything clicks perfectly with this one, be it Daniel Craig continuing with his more thuggish and surly Bond incarnation, a plot that decides to make the cast into real people rather than the archetypes that they generally comprise, and a fierce and goofy villain in Javier Bardem that ranks up there with the best of his villains (and his grand debut appearance, it must be said, is quite possibly the greatest first appearance of any Bond villain ever). Craig's signed on to do two more Bond films, and while I doubt they'll be able to maintain the level of quality Sam Mendes set here, I am very eager to see them all the same.

1. The Raid: Redemption - I saw this in theaters back in April or May, and I knew then that it was going to wind up being the best action movie of the year. I can't properly do justice to just how the movie is, so let me just say that, after a brief ten minute opening, where we learn we are going to be following an Indonesian police strike force as they invade a high rise to take out one of the city's top criminal warlords, we then get a moment where the plan goes all to shit, and there's nothing left to do but CRAZY WILD MADNESS for the remaining 90 minutes! There's massive gunfights, brutal knife and machete battles, and the craziest martial arts fights since Ong Bak. In what was one of the best years for action movies of all time, this stands head and shoulders above the rest.

NEXT WEEK: Top Ten Fantasy & Science Fiction Films


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunger Games

Well, I suppose two posts a month shouldn't be too hard to maintain, if I'm going to keep this site revived. And what better way to commemorate that than by reviewing the film with the third largest opening at the box office ever?

The Hunger Games is based off of the young adult novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins (who also co-wrote the screenplay). I never read the book or its two sequels, so I had the benefit of going into it semi-blind, albeit with the knowledge that the plot was supposed to be pretty similar to the awesome Japanese film Battle Royale. For the two of you that haven't seen/read it yet, it's basically set in a future where the countries divided into twelve districts, and each year each district has to pick one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to compete in the Hunger Games, a reality show in which all 24 contestants have two weeks to fight each other for survival out in the wilderness, with the last survivor winning fame or something (I don't remember a prize ever actually being mentioned, unless the prize is that they get to return home alive).

So yeah, plotwise it's pretty close to identical to Battle Royale, as we get a dystopian future and a villainous government that forces a large group of teenage kids to kill each other, though stylistically thw two films are still pretty different. BR managed to be simultaneously much darker, with a level of violence that might well have gotten it an NC-17 if it had ever gotten a theatrical release here, while also having a good deal of gallows humor to itself. Hunger Games is obviously much more mild with its PG-13 rating, though it's as serious as a heart attack once it finally gets to the Hunger Games.

That's actually one of the main problems I had with the film. Not so much that it takes the premise very seriously, mind you, but that it takes it very seriously almost exactly half of the time. The other half of the movie is devoted to a ridiculously over-the-top parody of the main government and the fashions (and over-elaborate facial hair) on display in District 1. It's an extremely jarring tonal shift, and one that weakens a pretty large chunk of the film.

That said, the Games themselves are pretty entertaining, with a good deal of action and strategy. There were some bits that confused me here and there, such as the seemingly magic medicine used (which actually led to me asking my friend Jasmine if it was meant to be a virtual reality environment, which would have also explained a few other things -- it wasn't), and the outrage racists felt over how a "major character" like Rue was cast by a black girl, when she's barely in the movie anyway, but these are all minor quibbles. Somewhat more major is the ongoing Hollywood obsession with shaky cam for every action sequence in what feels at times like every damn movie that comes out, but while irritating that's obviously hardly a problem exclusive to Hunger Games. Much more fun are the strategies employed by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) to try to defeat her rivals, from blowing up the food supply to dropping a hive of killer wasps into their midst.

This isn't a great movie by any means, but it's pretty entertaining all the same. I don't know that it really warranted getting the third biggest opening of any film ever (and the outright largest for a non-sequel), but it was good enough that I'll probably go see the next one in a year or two when it comes out. Those of you that can handle more violent material, though, should definitely check out Battle Royale. It's pretty much the same story, though much darker and (mostly) more intelligent too. By the way, while I mentioned earlier that I haven't read any of the books, supposedly the film hews pretty closely to them, and while obviously a few things had to be abbreviated or outright removed to keep the film from being four hours long, I should probably thank co-writer/director Gary Ross for apparently deciding to heavily downplay the love triangle that every damn young adult writer feels they have to include in their books these days. Stop that shit already.

Rating: ** 1/2


Friday, March 9, 2012

Of Non-Profits and Con Artistry

I know, I don't update in almost a year, and when I do, it's not to review an actual movie on my movie blog. This is the kind of shoddy workmanship one can expect when none of you pay me, you know.
Well, I suppose it's a bit disingenuous to claim that there's no movie involved, just one that's designed for free viewing on Youtube called Kony 2012. According to the video's creators Invisible Children, "Invisible Children has been working for 9 years to end Africa’s longest-running armed conflict. U.S. military advisers are currently deployed in Central Africa on a “time-limited” mission to stop Kony and disarm the LRA. If Kony isn’t captured this year, the window will be gone." Sounds like a good cause, on the surface: after all, Joseph Kony is one of the biggest monsters of the 20th century, and still remains uncaught. Of course, there are some small issues one could take with the video, and the stated goal of the group. For instance, while president Obama has indeed sent some military advisors into the region to assist in finding and capturing him, he didn't put any kind of time limit on their work. Indeed, he specifically said that they're being deployed until Kony is captured or killed, however long that takes. Now, one could say that there is a time limit in that, should Kony not be caught/killed before Obama leaves office then it's possible his successor will recall the advisors, but there's only two possible outcomes for that. One is that Obama loses the election this fall (not bloody likely barring a major scandal or major economic meltdown) and Romney or Santorum decides that one of their first actions in office is to start scaling back the military. The other is that Obama wins re-election, serves another four years, and frankly if Kony still hasn't been caught by then the advisors should be recalled because they would have shown that they're completely ineffective by then. Either way, claiming that you need donations to help spread your message or else the U.S. will no longer be trying to stop him after this year is, to put it charitably, somewhat inaccurate. To put it less charitably, it could also be described as out and out lying to people to get money from them.

There's also the general inaccuracies in the video itself, from grossly exaggerating Kony's power (claiming he has over 30,000 child soldiers at his command, when he's only captured about 30,000 children for his army in the thirty years he's been around, for instance -- for the record, most estimates by people not looking for donations claim he has a few hundred child soldiers left in his army, or about one-fiftieth of what the filmmakers claim) to being somewhat confused as to where he actually is (the video barely makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention that he fled Uganda six years ago from increasing pressure from the Ugandan military, choosing to portray that as him expanding outward into more countries because he's so powerful instead of acknowledging that his army was almost obliterated and he fled to other countries to avoid being killed), but that's just the sort of thing one should expect from a propaganda video released online. I can't get too mad at the filmmakers for that. What else can you expect in a day and age when the likes of Michael Moore and Andrew Breitbart are considered benchmarks of political filmmaking? Oh hey, while we're on the subject of Youtube propaganda, here's a masterpiece in propaganda filmmaking for you called When Mitt Romney Came to Town, commissioned by Newt Gingrich. It's one of the most masterful hit pieces ever made, and while it has little bearing on this conversation, it's a pretty amazing video all the same. When I showed it to my friend Paul, he laughed hysterically at the part where they actually got a picture of Romney getting his shoes shined on a runway in front of his private jet.

But back to Kony 2012 and Invisible Children. One could argue (indeed, many have) that even if the charity is misleading people to get its donations, it's still all going to a good cause, right? After all, Kony is a legit war criminal, and even if most of his atrocities are long in the past, the world will be a better place once he's gone, right? That's certainly true, but that in no way means that donating to Invisible Children will do anything to actually help the situation. Charity Navigator, a major charity watchdog, gives Invisible Children a low rating of 2 out of 4 stars, partly because they've never disclosed exactly how they spend the money they've received, beyond the vague terms they're legally required to publicly disclose as a non-profit organization - terms that, according to their 2011 report, show that, of the 8.9 million dollars they received, they only spent 2.8 million (or 31%) on actual "Direct Services", with most of the rest going to salaries, travel expenses, and making propaganda videos about how only white people can help poor Africans. Given their complete lack of visibility, it's impossible to say just what that 31% of actual aid is going toward, but given that they openly favor using the Ugandan military to capture/kill Kony, it's a safe bet that at least some of the money is going towards funding them. Which would be fine, of course, aside from the widespread allegations of looting and rape connected with the Ugandan military, or how the Ugandan government was most recently in the news for making homosexuality an offense worthy of the death penalty. Now, far be it from me to make the claim that by donating to Invisible Children, you are helping to pay for the executions of homosexuals, but given the evidence I'm pretty sure that's exactly the case here.

I guess my main point in all of this is that it's generally not a wise decision to just blindly donate to a charity without first investigating it. Not just because you might wind up donating to some shady bastards that don't seem to be helping much beyond their own bank accounts, but because you might well end up funding something that actually makes whatever situation you're trying to help even worse. Like those commercials you used to see, where for just ten cents a day you could help some starving African in Somalia. The reason the people are starving isn't because there's not enough food, but because brutal warlords are oppressing everyone there. So of those ten cents a day, one cent is going toward actual helping your personal African, while the other 9 cents is going to the warlord that's causing your pet African's life to be so shitty in the first place. Your money is making things worse there, not better. Instead, you could always make a donation to the Red Cross, which gets a perfect four star rating from Charity Navigator, and shows that, for the year 2010, out of the 3.6 billion dollars they received in donations, 3.1 billion was actually spent on their programs helping people. That would be 86%, as opposed to the 31% Invisible Children uses, because the Red Cross is a real charity and not a method for its founders to make money off of white guilt.

While we're on the subject, I will also never make a donation to any form of animal charity. Not because I don't support their general causes, because I am an animal lover first and a lover of humans second (I had actually written up a good bestiality joke here, but then realized it may somewhat affect my future employment opportunities), but because I have no desire whatsoever to get mail filled with pictures of abused animals so they can try to guilt trip me into sending them further donations. I don't care how much I support your overall cause, that kind of emotional blackmail is completely repugnant, and I'm never letting any animal charity have my address or e-mail because of it.

So after almost a year since my last update, why choose to restart the blog with this? Well, it's partially because, with several of my Facebook friends posting about it and putting the Kony 2012 banner on their pages, I don't want them being duped into donating money to 21st century snake oil salesmen. Mainly, however, it's because I'm really damn tired of seeing a new cause every damn month sweep hold of my friends there. You know what would help fight cancer more than buying some garish bracelet? Actually making a direct donation to a cancer research facility, like for instance St. Jude's Childrens Research Hospital, which gets a perfect four star rating from Charity Navigator for spending 609 million of the 923 million it received in donations on actual research for the year 2010 (In contrast, the American Breast Cancer Foundation got a zero star rating because 3.3 of the 5.1 million they received in donations in 2011 was spent on fundraisers). Buying one of those bracelets donates next to zero dollars to fighting cancer; all it effectively does is let you show off to everyone that you now have a bracelet that shows off how you don't like a disease. Because clearly it's more important to publicly show off to everyone how you're taking a stand against cancer than it would be to actually send 100% of the money direct towards fighting it. But the instant I respond on someone's Facebook calling them a vapid whore that's only wearing their cancer bracelets to be trendy, suddenly I'm now the bad guy and I have one fewer Facebook friend. I ask you, is life fair?

Rating for Kony 2012: Zero stars

Rating for When Mitt Romney Came to Town: *** 1/2

Update: I totally forgot to include a link to the totally awesome Kony 2012 Drinking Game! Enjoy!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tron: Legacy

It’s been a while since I reviewed a nice, big, loud, dumb action movie (I think the last I did was Prince of Persia, and that one was far from nice), so it was kind of fun to try to watch Tron and Tron: Legacy back to back earlier today (I say “try”, as I kind of fell asleep halfway through the original -- I don’t get to sleep much during the week). If they aren’t exactly “good” movies, per se, they’re at least modestly entertaining ones, and sometimes, that’s all you really need.

The film, directed by newbie filmmaker Joseph Kosinski, is every bit as video gamey as movies get. It keeps the plot both minimal and incomprehensible, and the action fast-paced and beautifully gaudy. Basically Jeff Bridges (the star of the original film) has been missing for over a decade, and his now-adult son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is a sort of directionless youth that indulges in screwing over his dad’s company Encom and parachuting off of skyscrapers. One day, however, he gets a page from his dad back at his abandoned arcade or whatever, and when he goes to investigate he finds a portal that sucks him into the Tron universe. There he quickly discovers the place is ruled by Clu, a program with his father’s face CG’d onto him, who has him fight in the various arena games. Just before he’s killed in one massive group race, however, he’s rescued by a mysterious woman (Olivia Wilde), who takes him to his father’s secret lair, where they can then plan out how to fix everything that’s gone wrong. Or at least on how to escape. Or at least on how one or two of them can escape.

As flimsy action movie plots go, this one is retarded but serviceable, and provides us with several action sequences, the best of which is the group race that I just gave away the ending to. There’s also a big climactic battle with a bunch of planes that starts off rather exciting, but drags on far too long, and has way too many cutaway scenes of Jeff Bridges saying things like “Yeah!” and “All right!”, which reminded me of nothing more than young Anakin during the equally lengthy pod race scene in Phantom Menace. A little goes a long way, people.

I also have to take some issues with the color scheme. It’s become almost a cliché that half the movies now just obsess over showing blue and orange color contrasts since they’re at opposite ends of the color wheel, so did we need an entire movie world that’s solely those two colors? It’s about as lazy a method of visual design as we can get in such a film. Though it is still a great deal better than the “All brown and gold all the time” color scheme used to such fugly effect in Prince of Persia.

I am, of course, being too unkind to the movie. For what it is, and what it tries to be, it succeeds moderately well. There may be no real soul to any of the characters, but you don’t go to a big effects-driven movie like this expecting really memorable characters and stories, do you? No, you go to these expecting some really flashy effects and a few cool action sequences, and that’s exactly what this movie delivers. It goes on a bit too long, and it never really excels at any point, but at least it’s never boring or tedious like so many movies of its kind. It’s a movie that’s just the right amount of idiotic, without making you feel like everyone involved fully believes you are an idiot for watching it, you know?

Rating: **


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jackass 3D

For those wondering why there was no review last week, it's because I had placed the finishing touches on what is now this week's review, only to watch MS Word crash and delete everything when I tried to post it, and it's taken me this long to muster up the energy to rewrite it. Regardless, I should mention that I had originally intended to write a review of the first season of Walking Dead, only to find that I couldn't muster up the energy for it (for the record, it's a solid show so far, but hasn't really developed enough in the first six episodes for me to say for certain of its quality one way or the other), and wound up deciding to review Jackass 3D instead. I'm glad that I did too, because it was the funniest damn movie of last year, with the Jackass guys getting everything right that Todd Phillips got wrong with Due Date.

For those that are much more cultured than I, Jackass began as a show on MTV based around the likes of Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O and friends all getting together to perform a bunch of ridiculous stunts that mainly involved them hurting themselves in stupid, stupid ways. After a few seasons, I suppose they realized that it would be better for their health if they were to end the show and just do everything in movie format once every few years.

I admit, I was a tad bit disappointed with Jackass 2. While it was certainly funny, even just a couple months after watching it, the only bit I could remember was the four-way teeter totter in the middle of the rodeo. With this, however, I can absolutely affirm that the series is back on track, with a great many instances of incredibly stupid and dangerous stunts, such as when they test the theory that music can soothe the savage beast by going into a ram's pen armed with a tuba and trumpet, or when Knoxville decides to go rollerskating in the middle of some charging buffalo, or when they decide to see how well they can withstand the winds created by a jet plane. There's a notice in the end credits about how the ASPCA was around for several scenes to ensure no animals were harmed, though I have to assume they weren't there for the beehive tetherball.

Of course, there's also two segments that are a little more memorable than any in the previous two films. In one, they play a prank on Bam for his fear of snakes by letting him fall into a disguised pit and then dropping dozens of live snakes down in there with him, marking what might be the first time Bam has ever cried on camera. In the second, what's meant to be a bit of a goof involving Knoxville messing around with a bull almost leads to a very uncomfortable end to the series when the bull flips him around so that Knoxville lands hard right on his head, making sure to get in a kick to the head right as he's landing for good measure. It's the sort of fall that's designed to paralyze or kill a person, and while Knoxville was able to get up and awkwardly stagger away to safety, it's pretty telling that, while with most of the painful stunts in the film we get all the non-participants off to the sides laughing at their friends' pain, here they're all just immediately terrified that he might be crippled. It's a rather uncomfortable way to underpin the warnings at the beginning and ending of the film that viewers should never try any of these at home.

Now, having said all of this, should you watch this movie? All I can give you are the facts, and quite simply, I laughed more and harder during this film than at any other movie this past year. It's frequently disgusting and about as horribly offensive as any good-natured movie could be (I feel I have to put that in, because there are movies I find much more offensive in a rather mean-spirited, hateful way -- like Expelled, for a recently watched example), but if you can withstand watching several people vomiting one by one, or a man that goes bungee jumping inside a Port-A-Potty (with all that such a premise implies), then by all means, you should absolutely give this a view. Though please, don't try this at home, at least unless you have some solid friends that are ready to post it on Youtube even when you kill yourself.

Rating: *** 1/2


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Due Date

I guess director Todd Phillips was due to make another weak comedy, to get it out of his system before making The Hangover 2. This is a bit of an inconsistent mess, occasionally brilliant, but more frequently boring or just plain irritating, and unfortunately by it’s very nature one is forced to spend the entirety of the film thinking of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, which it’s not even in the same league as.

See if you’ve heard this before. An uptight businessman (Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to fly home to his family for an important event, but is stymied in his efforts, and reduced to getting a ride with an overly sociable chubby fellow (Zach Galifianakis). The two then have a series of wacky misadventures together traveling across the country in a variety of vehicles, as Mr. Uptight grows to truly hate his companion before eventually deciding that he may in fact not be quite so bad after all. Sounds like the most original plot in the world, right?

But of course the overall originality of the plot doesn’t matter so much as how effectively done it was, and it’s really not that effective here. There are some big laughs -- I’m sure I laughed much more than is really healthy when Downey dealt with a misbehaving child by punching him in the gut and threatening to beat him further if he told anyone -- but overall it seems like Phillips was more interested in being mean-spirited and uncomfortable than funny, and the film suffers for it.

Take, for example, the character of Darryl (Jamie Foxx). A friend of Downey’s, he arrives in his car to rescue both of them after yet another ugly mishap, and when they reach his house Galifianakis immediately starts suggesting to Downey that Foxx is sleeping with Downey’s wife. Naturally Downey believes him and fires off a terse voice mail to his wife asking if he’s going to be dealing with a surprise when the baby is delivered, and that’s pretty much it. The next time it’s brought up, it’s when he’s hastily apologizing to his wife for being a headcase. There’s no real drive to it whatsoever, it’s just uncomfortableness for the sheer sake of uncomfortableness. And pretty half-hearted uncomfortableness, at that -- Danny DeVito would have made this material much nastier and funnier.

I think that’s really a large part of the problem. Comedies need to be really tightly wound in order to work: you don’t really need to look any further than the aforementioned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for a perfect example. Due Date is simply too laid back and aloof, setting up several situations without giving them any proper follow-through. The only ones that are permitted to truly escalate are scenes involving lots of vehicular destruction, as if Phillips had just gotten done watching The Blues Brothers before storyboarding.

Phillips just got done making one of the best comedies in recent years with The Hangover before this, and with The Hangover 2 currently in post-production, I can only hope that he felt that he needed to get all of his bad ideas out of the way before doing his big money film. As for this one, you can definitely give it a pass. I’d say it was past it’s due date, but the very thought of saying such a thing makes my testicles want to shrivel up.

Rating: * ½


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

I should probably explain, right before I go anywhere with this review, that despite the three star rating I’m giving this film, it’s actually a pretty terrible movie. It is, however, one of those blissfully, transcendentally awful movies that rises deep down below its limitations to give us a piece of truly inspired filmmaking. This should be viewed as part of a double feature with the likes of Battlefield Earth or Plan 9 for those that enjoy such fare.

But I get ahead of myself once again. This is the story of Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Whitney Moore), two twentysomethings that run into each other and begin a whirlwind romance. He’s a rising young software salesman with impeccable business sense (at one point he’s on the phone with a client and offer’s them whatever his competitor did plus a 50% discount, and is quite proud of himself for making the sale even though with that kind of business acumen his company will soon be going under) and she’s a lingerie model who sadly never gets naked. After a really uncomfortable date (they enjoy each other’s company just fine, though there’s all the awkward pauses and stilted lines that one would expect from a movie where the cast is reading their lines from cue cards and there’s only one camera which needs to keep being turned off and repositioned instead of splicing footage together), they spend the night together and wake up to find a town in flames. It seems that the seagulls have gone crazy and begun waging war on humanity, and also now when they collide with anything they explode. Oh, and they can also spit acid at people, as birds do. It’s now up to them and a few other scattered survivors to try to fight their way out of town and to safety.

So, where to begin with the review proper? I suppose I almost have to start with the unique CG on display here. You know how in some Hollywood blockbusters, they have these big elaborate bits of CG that just seem slightly off somehow, like they look really impressive on their own but don’t quite seem to actually be sharing space with the non-CG stuff on the screen? Now imagine someone (someone in this case being writer/director/producer James Nguyen) using lots of CG, except the entire film has a budget of $10,000, and so no effort whatsoever is made to try to get the murderous birds to seem like they even exist in the same film. I want to talk about how no effort was made to shade them properly so they don’t look so much brighter than the actors they’re in the frame with, but that seems almost beside the point when half the time they don’t even interact in any way with the actors, instead just flying in place and slowly flapping their wings while the humans wave weapons frantically at the air (you can see this in the trailer below, by the way). It’s a truly inspired decision to make the CG this bad, and I for one cannot wait to see how Nguyen utilizes 3D for the sequel he’s currently filming.

Then there are of course the other problems with the movie, which comprise everything else. I’ve already touched on the general acting, and you can see easy examples of that in the trailer, so I won’t say much more here beyond that, while nobody gives anything close to a good performance in the film, our hero Rod is easily the worst, and I fully respect the decision-making process that led to him becoming the lead despite his obvious handicap. There’s also the curious musical choices, which tend toward the cheerful muzak end, leading me to assume Nguyen just grabbed the first pieces of public domain music he could find and called it a day. Then there’s the reasoning behind the bird attacks, which are the typical “Man is destroying the environment and that must be the reason!” explanation that we frequently get with killer animal movies. However much I may agree we need to combat global warming, I’m not certain the cause is really being helped by such as this, you know? There’s also the tremendous amounts of padding to help get the film up to 90 minutes. There’s the standard horror movie padding, of course, where every so often a new character will be introduced solely for the purposes of being swiftly killed, but we also get ponderously long bits where the camera just shows bits of scenery while the soothing muzak plays. You can see that better in the alternate trailer (not included below, but which is still on Youtube -- No, I‘m not doing all the work for you, you lazy slackers), which is literally just a minute straight of scenery shots with no people at all, and then a minute of crappy CG birds flying in place with no people at all. The opening title credits, in particular, give us five or six minutes of just someone driving around, like we finally got an American version of Solaris….wait…

So with all of that in mind, you should have a pretty solid idea by now as to whether this is the movie for you. After all, a substantial chunk (one might even call it the vast majority) of the general movie going audience has little patience for a film so blatantly inept and amateurish (note that I don’t say bad, as every year we get plenty examples of movies worse than this that become big hits), but I have to assume that there’s a few people out there that read the names Battlefield Earth and Plan 9 and want to check this out, and it is to those people that I give these stars for. It’s one of those rare brilliant terrible movies, and one that everyone should find time to see.

Rating: ***


Sunday, February 27, 2011


So I should probably explain what the hell happened to the blog last week. Basically, I got a new job, and while I’m in training, I have to make a three hour round trip drive to my classes, because why wouldn’t they be on the other end of the state, plus a good hour or so of homework each day. Therefore, until the training is finished, this blog’s going to go from being updated five times a week to once a week. It’s only for the next couple weeks, though, so have no fear. Also, thank you to the guys at Red Letter Media, who seem to give me hundreds of new readers each and every time I mention them. Also, thank you to the makers of Megamind, for making a pretty darn good movie to start the week off right.

The film stars Will Ferrell as Megamind, a brilliant alien supervillain who has had a lifelong rivalry with his heroic counterpart Metro Man (Brad Pitt). After one of his fiendish deathtraps turns out to be unexpectedly successful, he finds himself ruler of Metro City, and has no idea what to do with himself. He finds himself falling for plucky reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), but realizing she’d never go for him as Megamind, disguises himself as a Clark Kent-looking reporter and gets himself in tight as her new partner so that he can better woo her. Of course, his continued villainy seems strangely empty without a hero to challenge himself against, and so he decides to take some shlub (Jonah Hill) and give him all of Metro Man’s powers (begging the question, of course, of why he never used that on himself back when he was regularly fighting Metro Man) to have a new hero to pit himself against. Of course, things turn horribly awry when Hill decides to use his new powers to conquer the city rather than save it, and now it’s up to Megamind and Roxanne to stop him.

This film, by director Tom McGrath (whose previous efforts in the Madagascar films were not half as good as this), is much funnier and more clever than the trailers had made it out to be. There’s a lot of great little bits of humor (such as Megamind crash landing on Earth as an infant in a Prison For the Criminally Gifted, and the warden evidently deciding that he should just remain a prisoner there for no discernable reason), and the voice talents are all wonderful (Ferrell is particularly delightful, and shows that maybe he should be allowed to occasionally play a role where he’s not a complete moron). The visual design isn’t quite on par with Tangled or How to Train Your Dragon, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that by this point every animated movie that comes out of Disney or Dreamworks is going to look pretty darn impressive and colorful.

Now, I know it’s been getting compared a lot with Despicable Me, as it’s one of those awkward coincidences where two movies with similar premises (in this case, an animated film where the protagonist is a super villain) come out within a few months of each other, but the two are fairly different beasts. I mean, granted, they’re both animated, they both star supervillains voiced by famous comedic actors (Steve Carrell in Despicable Me), they both have their villainous leads start to imagine changing their villainous ways due to love of another (Roxanne here, and the three little girls in Despicable), they both dramatically show their villainous leads transforming into heroes by way of having them fight it out with other villains (Jonah Hill as Titan here and Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario there), and they both inexplicably end with everyone dancing, but…seriously, is there some secret website that just comes up with like a half dozen basic templates each year that every movie then gets patterned off of here? It’s ponderous, is what it is.

Still, that’s not to say either one is bad, or even that they necessarily had anything to do with each other (in fact, I‘d say it‘s pretty damn unlikely they were in any way connected). Both are pretty great films, though I’d say this one is the superior film. It’s funnier, more emotionally and intellectually satisfying, and it’s filled with some nice rock music from the likes of AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. That Megamind’s got some good taste, yo.

Though, ugh, did they have to end the movie by having everyone dance to Michael Jackson?

Rating: *** ½


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Willies

I’m not really sure what the intended audience for The Willies was, exactly. I would have to assume, from the incredibly juvenile humor and urban legends found within (and by how the film revolves around theoretically elementary school age children) that it’s a horror movie for the young ones. However, they then throw in just enough violence and blood to ensure themselves a PG-13 rating with such things as a woman getting her throat cut and some bloody, dismembered arms, as if they cynically decided that young children would refuse to watch any horror movies that were actually rated as suitable for children. Of course, the point is somewhat academic, as the film is so bad that its actual target audience is idiots that buy tons of cheap movies for review material for their blogs.

Anyway, the film is an anthology that uses the framing device of three kids (Sean Astin and two others that never developed actual careers) out in a tent in the woods telling each other urban legends to try to scare/gross out each other. They start with a few of the more famous ones, like a woman at a fast food place getting a fried rat mixed in with her bucket of chicken, and the haunted house ride that was originally so scary that a man actually died of fright so the operators had to tone it down (a sample of this film’s idea of humor: the ride’s obviously meant to be Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but I guess they couldn’t get the rights to that, so they just made allusions to other rides at the park like “It’s a Wee World” and “The Enchanting Wiki Hut” -- if you just threw up in your mouth a little, that’s only to be expected), before they get to the two main stories.

That’s right, two. While most anthology films go for three to five stories to accompany their wraparounds, this one just gives us two main stories (No, I am not counting the fried rat or the others as separate stories, not when all of them combined are maybe five minutes long), perhaps under the assumption that this would help them dodge the complaint that most anthologies wind up with one story that’s just not as good as all the others. Unfortunately, this just means that the two stories instead go on much longer than is justified, until you can almost feel the padding being added as they panic over having almost blown through the script and still having a lot more time to kill to reach 90 minutes.

Plus, it also still has that very problem I’m casually assuming was the intended reason for the dual stories, in that the second story is much worse than the first (Its also a good deal longer too, which may have something to do with it). The first is lame, but functional, and follows a kid that has to alternate between dealing with bullies and dealing with a horrid teacher (Kathleen Freeman of Gremlins 2 fame). While the school custodian reaches out to him a bit, his fortunes really change when he discovers a monster in the bathroom, which is obviously the custodian there to help the boy out by killing and eating all of his enemies. The second one, about a thoroughly loathsome boy obsessed with flies, rambles on for so long without anything approaching a point to it that our government could have used it to crack prisoners at Guantanamo. The boy, played by Donkeylips from Salute Your Shorts, is fat, has a lisp, constantly insults others, collects flies anywhere he can find them, and at one point even convinces a female classmate that he’s not really that bad, and all he needs is a friend, and when she takes him at his word and tries to befriend him he goes on to give her a cookie he made filled with dead flies. He of course gets his comeuppance at the end by the tragic irony of the very flies he was so obsessed with, but it’s pretty abrupt and unsatisfying.

I can only wish the movie itself had been so abrupt, as watching it I felt like it might have been twice as long as it actually wound up being. The humor was so lame I have a hard time even envisioning six year olds laughing at it (actually, strike that, I can easily see six year olds laughing at it, assuming their parents actually let them watch it), the film is so slow paced as to be coma inducing, there‘s a completely random cameo from Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold as their Growing Pains characters (odd that Cameron didn‘t make it into Expelled as one of the ID experts) that goes nowhere, and presumably only exists due to writer/director Brian Peck having been a frequent actor on the show; this may be the worst horror anthology I’ve ever watched. If you ever take my advice on anything, let it be this: be very, very careful just which mostly forgotten children’s horror movies you seek out, because not all of them are awesome.

Rating: *

P.S. Also, notice in the trailer below (which is unfathomably in HD) how every last “scare” in the film is fully displayed without ever needing to watch the movie itself. Also, notice how awful all the acting is. Notice it, I say!