Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Fantastic Piece of Shit, Part II

Dumbasses In Space!
When we last left our foolishly stupid twats heroes, Reed Richards, Johnny Storm and Victor von Doom were convincing Reed's nonexistent friend for most of the 1st Act Ben Grimm to take a little joyride through another dimension, break every protocol in the book and possibly get themselves killed because they want to stick it to 'the Man' and not get left behind in history, despite the fact that engineers are just as renowned in the scientific community as the explorers who launch off into space. Of course Ben agrees and they set off for Tacky CGI Effect #573....I mean, the Negative Zone. Victor sees a terrible green slime effect and attempt to collect it for future study, but this causes the ground beneath them to collapse, as Victor falls into said terrible slime effect, presumably to his death. The remaining trio have to hi-tail it out of there with the help of Sue Storm, and return to Earth, but not before the machine blows up and destroys the laboratory. So, to recap - Reed and company decide to take an unauthorized journey into an unstable and dangerous dimension, lose one of the own colleagues, destroy a billion-dollar, game-changing transporter machine that took years to develop, trash the entire center, and exposed himself, and his friends, to substances that could harm them and those around them. Say what you will about Zack Snyder's version of Superman in Man of Steel,  at least Kal El saved millions of lives from General Zod. Reed damn near got everyone killed for being a dumbass.

Before I go on, let me say this about the visual effects; primarily that they're bloody terrible. Good to great visual effects enhance the story and the environment the characters are in, as well as not call attention to itself. The effects in this movie look so cheap and stick out so much that it borders on insulting. Trank, in order to save money on the effects budget, went with an unknown effects company, Otoy, who specialize in developing complex 3D graphics and effects by moving it on the Cloud format. I don't have a problem going with this sort of technology, if you're making a smaller film, but this is a superhero movie. There's no excuse for shabby effects, especially when you're making a big budget film of this nature!

We cut to the part where the film was clearly reworked and reshot, I mean, one year later, where Sue, Johnny and Ben, now dubbed, "The Thing", are learning to harness their newly-acquired powers through government help; in exchange they are trained to become military assets in hotspots around the world. I'll be honest and say that this section, as it's set up, is actually the best part of the whole film, because it takes a very interesting and believable turn. Ben is the most-used asset at their disposal, with Johnny volunteering next. Reed himself is absent, primarily because he escaped captivity and left his friends to their own devices, including Ben himself, who now harbors animosity towards his sudden departure. Papa Storm asks Sue to find him in order to help rebuild the inter-dimensional transporter device he destroyed because he's the only one who can do it, or some nonsense Simon Kinberg and Trank threw in there to explain why they don't use the combined notes of Richards and von Doom the pair probably left behind before the incident. That's not the only glaring plothole in this second act, mainly: why didn't the government try to locate Richards before? I know it's difficult because now he can change his facial appearance at will (and yes, that effect is just as bad as every other one in this clusterfuck), but Sue studies pattern recognition; she probably could have located the guy months ago if they asked her, and they're only now getting around to it!

They find Richards hiding out in Central America, where he and Grimm have a 30-second scuffle before the latter knocks out the former cold and takes him back to Area 57, because Roswell withheld the naming rights to the filmmakers. Did I mention that almost a hour into this movie, and that the fight between Mister Fantastic and The Thing is the first action sequence we've seen? Richards agrees to rebuild the portal, and trained soldiers voyage to the Negative Zone, only to find Victor, who has inexplicably survived, and is taken back to Earth for observation. If you guessed that this was all an elaborate ruse to return and exact revenge on the people who left him to die, you're completely on the nose!

By the way - this is what our villain looks like: a living, breathing candy skull for Dia de los Muertos. Victor kills just about everyone in Area 57, including Dr. Storm. Why does he do this? Because he's the villain, and he has to do villainous things to show how much his character has changed. That, and the writers have pretty much fucked up everything about Doom, from him being a pretentious hipster/computer genius to now being a generic antagonist. What's really sad is that Tony Kebbell played such a complex and sympathetic bad guy last summer as vengeful ape Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, who's motivation was strung out of hatred and anger towards the humans for torturing and experimenting on him before the Simian Flu drove his captors to the edge of extinction. Back to his grand scheme: He wants to build a portal from the Negative Zone and use it to suck up Earth's resources in order to grow the new world, which brings up a few questions:

1.) Why did he have to wait for Area 57 to build another portal to get him off-planet if he had the means to transport himself back this whole time?
2.) How the hell is that even possible?! Once he does open the portal from his end, and it does begin to suck up everything from the base of operations to trees and other items, The Negative Zone doesn't begin to flourish, or even change from it's Dark World-like setting. And
3.) Where the hell did this sudden transformation come from? I know he's evil, but please - elaborate, movie! Has he been harboring a deep animosity towards the human race for years? This feels extremely contrived, as if the writers didn't know ow to fully flesh out the primary antagonist, which really wouldn't surprise me if that were the case. At least with Michael Shannon's General Zod, you understood his position about being bred to protect Krypton and save his people, regardless of whatever means he needed to take to accomplish those ends. Here, Doom is just acting evil because the plot says so.

Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben somehow follow Victor to the Negative Zone, despite taking the transporter with him when he escaped, know what? I don't care at this point. The final showdown consists of dodgy visuals and an uninteresting confrontation because we know hardly anything about these characters, what motivates them and why they're trying to stop their former colleague from destroying the world, making the final battle a boring affair. The foursome defeat Doom, save the Earth from annihilation, and are given a base of operations by the government to continue their research.  Yep - no oversight of any kind, just say yes to all of our demands!

If the ending to this review sounds rushed, it's because that's how the ending to Fantastic Four feels: rushed and in a hurry to salvage a shitty movie brought about by poor writing, atrocious dialogue, lazy characterization, and wooden acting by everyone involved. The young core of Teller, Jordan, Mara, Bell and Kebbell are all proven and capable of giving solid performances, but Kinberg and Trank give them little to work with. I get the director's approach - crafting a character-driven, gritty popcorn flick, but the execution is so poorly done that you can see just how in over his head Trank really was with the project. The visual effects look cheap and don't blend into the rest of the picture, the action scenes are just tedious and boring to look at, mostly because the film doesn't really give the actors room to play with their given abilities, and the overall look of the film, with it's brooding color palette, takes itself so damn seriously that there's not much fun or enjoyment to be had.

There's plenty of finger pointing about what went wrong with this reboot, with articles and articles discussing the film's troubled production timeline, ranging from how Trank himself acted unprofessional and openly hostile towards the crew, to how Fox hated the original cut and all-but booted him from reshoots and post-production, in addition how the studio allegedly changed the script before production began. How much of this bears truth is probably somewhere down the middle, but one thing can't be denied: it's perhaps the worst superhero movie since...well Fox's own X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Joel Schumacher's infamous Batman & Robin and a disjointed mess that makes me rethink some of my harsh criticisms hurled towards Terminator Genysis, namely that it was the worst summer movie I've seen and the worst movie I'd seen in 2015.

Zero stars out of ****

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Fantastic Piece of Shit, Part I

When we think of bad movies, infamous names such as Howard the Duck, Catwoman and Battlefield Earth come to mind. We remember the loathsome lows that made us want to hurl our collective buckets of popcorn at the screen, like John Tuturro coming face to face with robot testicles in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or Bruce Willis's non-stop, furious mugging in Hudson Hawk, or simply sitting through any Adam Sandler movie after 2000; or we remember the moments that made an-otherwise terrible movie transcend into cult-status, like James Woods making a pen bomb and threatening to blow a police station to hell in The Specialist, or Tommy Wiseau's can't look away performance as Johnny, a man coming to grips with his partner's lies and infidelity with The Room, etc. The list of cinematic dreck goes on and on, and, in a way, they shape us as moviegoers and as hardcore film geeks. In a way, we treasure the bad almost as much we do the good, built up as as a testament to just how bad the art form can get when we bitch and gripe about...well, bad movies.

Today, I'm celebrating a special kind of awful. A movie that makes me pine for how badly Joel Schumacher, Gavin Hood and Tim Story screwed the pooch on beloved comic-book icons, and a review I'm going to have to split into two parts because there's so much wrong with it. I am, of course, referring to Fox's reboot of Marvel's first family, Fantastic Four. Before I start, I need to tell you that this review will be a break from form, because I will be spoiling major parts to the film so if you haven't watched it yet, then don't read this review, or if you have no intention on seeing the film, but want to hear the staggering incompetence of what took place in the final product, then gladly read on!

So we start in 2007, where child prodigy Reed Richards tells his grade school class that he wants to be the first person to build a device which can crack inter-dimensional travel into parallel worlds and universes, and gets laughed at by his classmates and his teacher, who scolds him for going above and beyond what his assignment was. Only one kid in the class doesn't find his vision strange at all: Ben Grimm, who's family owns a junkyard, and is tormented by his older brother. In fact, said brother has a bit of a saying when he turns physical towards his litter bro: "It's clobber' time!" No, really - The Thing's trademark catchphrase stems from his abusive sibling. I don't know what's more insulting: the fact that the filmmakers tried to turn Ben Grimm - one of Marvel Comics' biggest badasses - into this tormented kid in an attempt at pseudo psychology, or the fact they never followed up on his brother's abusive nature had an effect on his life as he grows older.

Flash forward ten years later and both Richards (Miles Teller) and Grimm (Jamie Bell) are showing off their teleporter device at the high school science fair, which catches the eye of Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Carthy), along with his adoptive daughter Sue (Kate Mara), and why they're trolling around a science fair is anyone's guess. The elder storm is so impressed with Reed's work that he's being given a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation, an institution dedicated investing in scientific prodigies. You'll notice that Reed was the one given a full ride, whereas his best pal isn't seen until the end of the first act, which is really baffling to me: I get that Ben isn't on the same intellectual level as Richards, but the film mentioned that they pair worked on this game-changing project together for a decade! That alone should have granted him the same entry into the organization as Reed. And frankly, the characterization of Grimm is just odd: in the comics, he was a kid who grew up in a tough neighborhood and learned how to fend for himself. Furthermore, despite him being the stereotypical high-school jock, he used his full ride scholarship to study engineering in college, graduated with advanced degrees in his field and became a test pilot in the military! He's depicted as "the muscle" of the group, but he was more than just a tough guy; an aspect of his character director and co-writer Josh Trank does away with completely. The lack of understanding of "The Thing", along with a few other characters, is just one of the many problems with the film, but I'll come back to that later.

We move onto the other sibling, Dr. Storm's biological child, Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, fresh from his breakout performance in Fruitvale Station), who, like his comic book counterpart, is very cocky and brash, but is also a very skilled engineer. Daddy Storm has had it with his son's reckless nature and after being injured in a racing accident, he issues his son a challenge: work with him on the inter-dimensional project in order to get his car back. That's really his motivation - he wants to go back to being a reckless street car driver and will use his skills in order to achieve that goal. The characterization is so thin that calling him a 'cardboard cutout' seems generous. Also, if Johnny is such a talented mechanic, here's a thought: show, don't tell! Eventually when he sides with dad and begins to help build the device, the film does show his talents, but it would have been nice to see doing his thing beforehand.

And last up is Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a former protege of Dr. Storm's. In the comics, Victor is a brilliant and ruthless scientist who's perfectionist nature turns him into a supervillian with a iron mask and the ability to make force fields, energy projection and dabbles in the mystic arts. This version of Doom is basically an anti-social hipster douchebag who doesn't 'trust the Man', and only returns because he has a one-sided romantic interest in Dr. Storm's daughter. Oh, I forgot to mention Sue Storm, but to sum up her character: She's been working on the project for years with her adoptive father, and her big thing is that she reads patterns in people, and listens to music while she works. If that sounds threadbare, that's because that's how Trank probably intended it to be: the studio made the director take Mara as Sue Storm, and treated her like crap because he never wanted her in the role from the start. Oh yes, I'll be getting to the production troubles thought the review, because the direction was just the tip of the iceberg on the disputes between Trank and the studio.

Our three heroes and future villain team up in a montage of  working together, figuring out the science of inter-dimensional travel and building the teleporter. This would have been a really interesting segway, if the actors had any sort of rapport together and they simply don't, which is a huge failing for a superhero film who have to worth together as a unit. This feeling of monotony takes up most of the first act of the film: boring scenes of actors doing science work; boring exchanges of dialogue of actors talking about science work, and talented actors trying their best to elevate sloppy characterizations but only getting bogged down by uninspired writing. Also, the tone of the film is grim and lifeless; with muted colors of blues and shadows hanging all over the film. It's as if Trank watched Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy and tried to emulate his style, without the realization that the tone of the Fantastic Four comic simply doesn't match with the brooding, dark storyline he was trying to aim for, and the film isn't much fun or interesting to watch. Say what you will about the '05 and '07 versions of the Fantastic 4, but at least with those movies, there was a certain bond you could see with the characters - the personalities of a Ben Grimm interacting and colliding with a Johnny Storm was playful and it worked in the film's favor because there was a good rapport between Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans, respectively.

After months of research, calculations, designing and building, the machine makes a test run by sending a CGI chimpanzee stolen from Planet of the Apes-reboot series to the Negative Zone, the parallel world that might hold the key to learning more about Earth. The test is considered a success, and the foundation's benefactor & supervisor, Dr. Harvey Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) tells the quartet that NASA will be taking over from here in exploring the Negative Zone. It sounds like a reasonable, logical decision; I mean, brilliant as Reed, Sue, Johnny and Victor are, they have no experience with exploration on another planet, essentially, whereas astronauts have had years of training for an event of this magnitude. Again, it sounds like a very smart decision, turning over their work to professionals, right?

To Victor and the gang - they're getting screwed over by the Man! The government pigs are coming to exploit and rape this barren wasteland for their own selfish desires and they're going to be a footnote in history as assholes get set to become the Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong of their generation! Apparently, Victor, Johnny and Reed have never heard of Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys, the teens from West Virginia that are considered pioneers in developing the same spacecraft that Victor is allegedly claiming no one gives a fuck about or has even heard of. The pretentiousness of Doom, and how Kebbell plays him is both off the charts and extremely obnoxious. After the boys get shitfaced, they hatch a plan to go for a little joyride in the billion-dollar teleportation and cruise to another dimension before trained explorers do. That'll stick it to those hacks - we're taking what's ours, fuckers!

Yes, you really are reading that correctly: Reed, Johnny and Victor convince Ben Grimm (remember him?) to go on an unauthorized spin into a new, uninhabitable planet where they could very well get themselves killed, damage the expensive transporter they spent months and years working on and potentially wind up stuck there, if they're not careful...all because they want to stick it to 'the Man'. It's a good thing three of the four characters are considered the protagonists in this movie, isn't it? And to add insult to injury, the boys leave Sue behind, despite the fact she's made this moment her life's work, unlike their tourist hitchhiker, Ben. Well done, you twats.

What will happen to our group of douchebags heroes in the Negative Zone? How do they get their powers? When we seen a fucking action scene in this dreary slog? Why didn't Fox and Josh Trank just agree to part ways before shit hit the fan? And was this whole reboot project rotten from the start? Tune in next time to find out the answers!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Old & Obsolete

"I'm old, not obsolete," Arnold Schwarzenegger says to Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) as he's curious to know why a Terminator model, class 800 is working alongside Sarah Connor (Game of Thrones' star Emilia Clarke), the one true enemy of mankind, and of future resistance leader John Connor. The official word is a rift in the time-space continuum which now has created a new chain of events that will drastically alter the future or some nonsense, but allow me to put this in Lamen's terms for you: 1984's The Terminator never happened. 1991's sequel, T2: Judgement Day didn't happen either. And both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003 and Terminator: Salvation in 2009 have now been wiped away from existence. What's left is a convoluted popcorn summer movie that makes less sense as it goes along at best, and at worst, it's an insulting blight on the series that makes me pine for T3 & Salvation.

Terminator Genysis hits the reset button on the entire franchise by including the plot points of both Terminator and T2, ignoring what happens in both of those films and tries to put a fresh spin on a franchise whose conclusion was determined at the end of Judgement Day. It's 2029, and Connor (now played by Jason Clarke) is a breath away from defeating Skynet and liberating what's left of humanity from the brutality of the machines. If you've seen the first movie, you know that Skynet, in a last-ditch effort to squash the Resistance, sends a Terminator to the year 1984 to kill Sarah Connor to ensure humanity never rallies to beat their forces. Reese and the T-800 arrive in the timeline, and here's where the film begins to lose me

The T-800 never gets to carry out its mission, because as it turns out, the good T-800 from the second movie shows up and, with the help of a toughened up Sarah, they kill the bad Terminator, and it turns out that it's really Reese who's way in over his head, as he's being hunted down by....the T-1000. Yep, the same Robert Patrick character which shapeshifted into anything it touches in Judgement Day is now in this installment, and is now played by Lee Byung-hun. Pardon my French but what the fuck?!?! How did it get to that timeline? Did Skynet know that Connor would send his right-hand man back in time to stop the assassin T-800 and sent back the liquid metal robot as an insurance policy to make sure Reese failed? Has it been in existence all this time? And if it has, why send back an older model when you have the best version possible to kill the future Mrs. Connor? Was he just fiddling his thumbs the whole time?! And no, the movie never explains how he got to the year 1984, and he's swiftly killed within the 10 minutes he was on screen.

You're getting too old for this shit, Mr. Governator.
The movie only gets more confusing from there. Sarah, Kyle and "Pops" (her nickname for the good T-800) have to travel 33 years into the future to stop "Genysis" from ushering in Judgement Day. Why not to 1997, the year when Skynet becomes self-aware and lays waste to the planet? Because the "rules" have been reset, for some reason that's also never explained. Ok, ok - they travel back to the year 2017 so the filmmakers can make half-hearted comments on our generation's addiction/reliance to technology (i.e. smartphones, laptops and tablets) and the increased lack of privacy we now have because of it. Or, at least that's what director Alan Taylor (2013's underwhelming Thor: The Dark World)  is trying to say, thought it's really just clumsily hinted at and never really follows up on its theme. As you might have guessed, Genysis is a software program created by Cyberdine as a means to link every last person on Earth to the company. Think if Apple decided to connect themselves to everyone, including buying out contracts to the DoD, the Pentagon and the U.S. military and had a megalomaniac at the helm. At any rate, our heroes arrive, only to run into...John Connor. Yes, the leader of the Resistance somehow made the jump back in time and is now in the same timeline. Again: how in the name of fuck did this happen?!?!

If you've seen the second trailer, then you know that Skynet got to Connor first, and turned him into a Terminator, which, thankfully, the film does explain. Unfortunately, this still doesn't explain a few more plot holes, like how did he get there? I'm sure it was by the same method of time travel, but he just shows up almost out of the blue. And given that he's an important facet in the creation of the Genysis app along with the Cyberdine company, at what time is he sent in? And adding more insult to injury, the film shows us the malevolent company on the verge of building the same time machine shown at the beginning of the film, along with T-1000! I'll ask again: How the hell is this possible?! This would take decades to manufacture, and I'm pretty sure the tech behind it all wouldn't be possible, even in 2017!! Did Skynet send Connor back to the same year as Reese, so he could help build Skynet from the ground up? NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY FUCKING SENSE!!!!!

And why yes, the movie makes no explanation on how this chain of events occur, but to the filmmakers: who gives a shit - look at the action scenes and shit blowing up and crashing! You're excited and thrilled by this new version of a bloated and utterly spent franchise, right? Right? I'm going to get right down to it: Terminator Genysis is perhaps one of the worst movie going experiences I've had in the last 5 years. There's nothing about this new story that makes any sense, and the filmmakers just expect you to swallow all this nonsense and get suckered in by the over abundance and reliance on CGI & toned down violence. The plotholes are frequent and as large as craters; the acting, save Emilia Clark and Schwarzenegger, is just bland and uninteresting; and the film's third act borrows so heavily on T2 that it borders on plagiarism. The end result is a summer movie that makes the bullshit plotting seen in the Transformers sequels and White House Down look logical by comparison. This is far and away the worst film of the summer, and a frontrunner for the worst movie I've see in 2015.

1/2 stars out of ****

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Boys Are Back

Let's be honest about the film-version of Entourage, the hit HBO comedy series about a rising movie star and his three friends who've followed him from Queens to Tinsel Town: It's the 100th episode of the premium cable's most popular show since Sex and the City, which both works in favor of the film and to it's detriment. While it's great to see Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his pals Eric "E" Murphy (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny "Drama" Chase (Kevin Dillon), along with lovable douchebag super agent-now head honcho of a studio company Ari Gold (the reliable Jeremy Piven) back traversing Hollywood and the spoils of fame, those who disliked the show's eight-year run or those who got tied of the same shtick past season 5 will feel vindicated in their continued frustration as the film does feel like one huge circle jerk of A-list actors making fun of the hand that feeds them, along with having athletes making cameo appearances because they really want to be apart of the show, including Russell Wilson, Rob Gronkowski and Ronda Rousey, the latter of which has a slightly bigger part as Turtle tries to woo her in a cage match. In this regard, Entourage takes its cues from 2008's Sex and the City: it plays to their fans' devotion for sticking with the characters through thick and thin, thus allowing them to reacquaint themselves with old friends. 

Unlike the former, the latter was still able to welcome in audiences who've never seen a minute of the adventures of Carrie Bradshaw and her gal-pals Cynthia, Miranda and Samantha, primarily because each character had their own personal arc and we got to see them evolve, which made for a rewarding experience to a SATM novice like myself. In contrast, the former opens with Vince having a party on a boat to celebrate his divorce and shagging one of the female guests onboard, and it ends with the boys walking the red carpet for the Golden Globes. There isn't much character development with any of the leads, save E who  becomes a father. Vince is still a womanizing Lothario, Drama continues to have personal crises, usually of his making, Ari is still a huge prick, and Turtle is...well, Turtle, but even Ferrara's character isn't given much to do. 

I probably should explain the jist of the plot of Entourage: The Movie: Vince decides he want to take the next step in his career, and he does so by going behind the camera to write and direct a retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a $100 million budget. Unfortunately, the project went overbudget during post-production and Ari is left with the task of asking for more money from their benefactor Larsen (Billy Bob Thorton) a wealthy Texas tycoon who's financing the movie, in addition to dealing with his horndog son (an unrecognizable Haley Joel Osmet - yes, the kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense) who has hijacked the project because he has "concerns" and "ideas" about which direction the film should take. The whole thing is a brisk 105 minutes, and the film, despite the lack of character development and falling back on old tricks from the show, never wears out its welcome; a fact that was sorely missed by the latter HBO series-turned movie, as Sex and the City ran for almost 2 1/2 hours. 

As I said earlier, you'll either love being back with these characters, or hate how the whole thing feels like a self-glorified victory lap, there's not much middle ground. For me, though? Entourage, despite many shortcomings, is still a fun and occasionally funny satire on Hollywood and celebrity culture. There's a kick hearing Jane's Addiction's "Superhero" belting through the opening credits, much like the show's opener did for the past decade. The camaraderie between Grenier, Connolly, Dillon, Ferrara and Piven is still as strong as it was when the show began (well done Doug Ellin, the film's screenwriter and director). And it is funny seeing Liam Nesson telling Ari to go fuck himself, or watching Drama fall prey to his own over-inflated ego. Simply put, Entourage is a blast. Now let's hope Mark Walberg, one of the film's producers or Ellin himself don't do anything stupid, like make an unnecessary sequel (I'm looking at you, Sex and the City 2).

** 1/2 stars out of ****

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Silence is Overrated

I think we can all agree that just about the most annoying thing one can do in a theater (next to talking non-stop) is whipping out the smartphone and begin Tweeting, playing games, or checking your email. It's bloody obnoxious and it detracts from the movie-watching experience, but don't tell that to Paramount Pictures, who are going to allow moviegoers to be inconsiderate jackasses and fiddle with their phones whilst watching Terminator: Genisys. I wish I were making this up.

“This is a true breakthrough for the movie industry. Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, and merging that with the movies in a way that’s interactive, fun and truly memorable is a very exciting proposition for an industry seeking to innovate. This breakthrough may be equally exciting for the video game industry. The movies offer the very best in screen and sound while providing audiences with a first of its kind, collective, in-person gaming experience.”

I'm sorry, but "A true breakthrough in the movie industry"?! How is Tweeting and playing games in a dark theater a fucking benchmark for movies? All it's does is it just gives my generation encouragement to be rude jerkoffs in a packed cinema. Thanks, Paramount: It's bad enough that you're hitting the reset button on two movies that didn't need to be all but discard, but this makes me want to watch your shitty Terminator-reboot flick even less now. Oh, and FYI: if you need this stupid gimmick to put butts in the seats, there's a good chance your movie might suck.

Monday, June 22, 2015

About Mad Max...

First, I want to start off by saying that I really enjoyed watching Mad Max: Fury Road during the Memorial Day holiday. Before entering George Miller's dystopian car chase through a barren wasteland, I had not seen the original Mad Max films, so I was coming in as a newbie and therefore, judged the film on its own merits. The image of a man hanging from the front of a moving vehicle, playing an electric guitar that spits fucking fire is an image that will stay with me as long as I'm a fan of the medium. The cinematography by John Seale, who had come out of retirement to help make this movie, is breathtaking from first frame to last. The technical aspects of the film - Visual Effects, Sound Mixing and Editing, etc. - are all first-rate, and are worthy of celebration come Awards season. It's almost something of a revelation to watch female characters contribute to the story and to the main protagonists, rather than be the traditional damsels in distress who only serve as rescue bait and/or act as the prize for the male lead in the story as a reward for saving the day. There's a great message written on the walls of Joe's underground bunker that serves as a one-finger salute to Hollywood's treatment of female characters in film, especially in summer/popcorn blockbusters which deserves a round of applause, especially if you get the meaning behind those words. And Charlize Theorn gives her best performance in years as Imperator Furiosa a vengeful agent of the wasteland's warlord, Immortal Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne) who kidnaps his most prized possessions - five young wives and intends on delivering them safely to her former tribe. Hell, I'd love to see a spin-off without Mad Max himself (played this time by Tom Hardy; before the role was portrayed by Mel Gibson) and have the story focus on Furiosa and the wives getting into new adventures in the unforgiving desert.

Having said all of that? I liked Fury Road; I appreciate the film for what it is, but I didn't love it as much as the critics raved about it on Rotten Tomatoes. The reason I say this is two-fold: first, on a base-level, there isn't much separating this latest installment/reboot of the Mad Max series from the likes of Furious 7, another action movie with insane stunts and action set pieces almost around every corner. While many will tell me that the way the directors George Miller and James Wan respectively, go about bringing these action scenes to life, the goal is very much the same: to entertain and create a highly enjoyable spectacle, surrounded by characters who the audience cares about, or have come to care about.

Both directors don't just start by jumping the shark - they both start from there, and then go off from one insane action set piece to the next. For Fury Road, it's the guy playing guitar and spitting fire from it and having a car case in the middle of a sand storm. In Furious 7's case, it's the moment where Dominic Toretto and his crew drive out of a military cargo plane, dive out 30,000 feet in mid-air, launch their parachutes, land gracefully onto a deserted road and start a car case with a highly-armored van (filled with armor-piercing rounds) carrying a computer hacker that the team needs in order to find the ultimate hacking device that will allow Toretto to find and locate Deckard Shaw, the man responsible for killing Han in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. And both movies are highly enjoyable as they both revel in the madness and insanity they've created.

Whereas Furious 7 is a PG-13-rated opus of CG carnage and destruction with popular automobiles, Fury Road is supposed to be a hardcore R-rated action film, and the only time I believe it's rating feels warranted is in the third act. Otherwise, it just feels like another action picture that easily could have passed for the teen-friendly PG-13 rating without much incident. Yet it's being hailed as one of the best action pictures in decades, which bring me to my second point: in my opinion - no, it isn't. Granted, the choreography is nothing to pass off as pure GCI-inspired flights of fancy (Miller stated that 90% of the stunts captured in the film were done using practical effects), but for me, there's a few hoops to jump through.

First, your action film damn-well better be every bit as thrilling and exhilarating as Gareth Edward's 2012 martial arts epic, The Raid: Redemption, where a rookie cop has to fight his way out of a building filled with criminals, gangsters, murders and every sort of scum when the plot to take down Jakarta's biggest crime lord goes tits-up after getting a tip from inside sources. I hadn't been that jazzed by an action film since 2003 where I was introduced to Quentin Tarantino with Kill Bill Vol.1. Speaking of, Tarantino's first part of his two-part revenge film paying homage to spaghetti westerns, Anime, and 70's-style king-fu action flicks is another hurdle to jump through for me. Can your movie stand the test of time alongside the Bride fighting off O-Ren Ishii's army of samurai-wielding thugs, the Crazy 88 in the House of Blue Leaves, where the limbs fly just as frequently and as cartoonishly as the blood?

What about The Matrix? Can your action film craft unique and dazzling action scenes, like the kung-fu showdown in the middle of an empty subway station, or the hallway gunfight with Neo and Trinity going up against dozens of private security forces? Or how about Arnold-Schwarzenegger-led flicks like Total Recall and True Lies? Or modern martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers where the fight scenes look and feel so beautifully crafted and thrilling to behold? Granted, my opinion that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn't quite match up to those other films I've mentioned doesn't mean that the film itself is at fault, but rather the critics for building up such high praise for the movie and my own expectations of it.

Is Mad Max: Fury Road a fun picture? Most definitely. Like Furious 7, it dives into insanity head-first and almost no regard for any semblance of a plot. Unlike the latter, the former has truly excellent performances, (especially from Theorn) and a feminist subtext that it flies proudly amidst all the car-on-car carnage. Does it take it's place alongside The Raid, Kill Bill Vol.1 and Crouching Tiger as one of the best and most memorable action films I've seen in the last 15 years? Not really. But I'll always have guitar man spitting fire.

*** stars out of ****

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I should be talking about what the half-year in review for 2015, both the good and the bad. I should be talking about stuff like the hilarious Melissa McCarthy-led espionage spoof, Spy, or my honest thoughts about Mad Max: Fury Road

Today, I'm not. I can't. 

It honestly doesn't feel right to me, given the latest tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man went into a historical black church and slaughtered 9 people (thankfully, the police found the perpetrator today and have placed Dylan Roof under arrest). 

As Rachel Maddow pointed out tonight, there are several ways we can put this senseless act of violence into context.

We can say that this is another tragedy where a person who had no reason to have firearms, shot and murdered innocent people in cold blood, and you wouldn't be wrong: from Columbine, to Tuscon, to Auora, to Sandy Hook, this act of senseless savagery keeps happening because of our nation's reluctance to talk about our fixation with firearms and why we don't do more to keep guns away from psychos. 

We can look at the killer himself, and how, also revealed today, he was deep into the idea of white supremacy; that he had patches of apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now know as the country of Zimbabwe; how his friend, Joseph Meek Jr., told the Associated Press that Roof had talked with him about how "blacks were taking over the world," and that "Someone needed to something about it for the white race"; and how this idea that the white man is the superior race and how this mentality is still acceptable and influenced in our society. 

We also know that the killer had the licence plate of the the Confederacy and had told Meek that he believed that "He wanted segregation between whites and blacks"; that his remarks and actions are another sign that we need to have a serious conversation on not just the Confederate flag, but a discussion on the issue of racism in America. 

Each point of context is valid, and you could easily state a case for it being the focus of what the conversation should be. And yet, each time something like this comes up, there has always been opposition to having that painful and vital conversation on race, on guns, on a flag that holds deep scars to millions of people of color.

How do I know this? Because this kind of diversion is happening as we speak.

Here's conservative commentator Dana Loesch's thoughts on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley defending the Confederate flag: 

And here's Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, who's shocked that the tragedy in Charleston is being classified as a "hate crime", despite the fact that police chief of Charleston, Gregory Mullen said in a press conference that the department was treating the act as hate crime, and even going as far as to calling it an attack on faith, because Roof was really going after poor, innocent, consistently persecuted God-fearing Christians; black folks just happened to be in the way by massive coincidence, despite all evidence that would say otherwise.

And here's Fox Nation's headline (along with the comments) on Obama's remarks on the tragedy: 'Obama Goes Political, Calls For Gun Control in Wake of 'Senseless' S.C. Church Murders'

Every time some tragedy happens, we're told that "The federal government wants to take away our right to bear arms!", or  that "Liberals and race-baiters are trying to make a hate crime/unnecessary police brutality on unarmed black men & women an issue on race, when in all reality those 'thugs' (see: niggers) probably had it coming!", or whatever spin being propped up, the goal is always the same: to steer us away from difficult conversations, or trying to find meaningful solutions to complex and systemic problems, or to simply acknowledge an ugly truth about our history. 

And every time, the issue or the the conversation fades away, and the status quo is upheld. 

We do nothing on banning automatic weapons or having background checks on people who want guns, because a body count and nutjobs having 2nd Amendment liberties is the price ha not only we have to pay, but is also an acceptable one.

We don't have a conversation on race, or talk about police brutality  because we did hat 'civil rights' thing back in the 60's and racism is now over: you have a black president that we gleefully disrespect on a daily basis! Plus, bringing up racism or shining a light on race-bating is really reverse racism because we say so.

We accept these as truths, feel sorry about it, and go about our lives, as if nothing ever happened. 

But don't worry: this will keep happening again. And again. And again. Whether we choose to listen this time is still an open question.