Face/Off (1997), or “You Got Nicolas Cage In My John Travolta!” “You Got John Travolta In My Nicolas Cage!”

21 03 2009
Im glad John Woo isnt a farmer, because no matter what he was doing he would find a way to blow up the barn!

That's right! Vinnie Barbarino and Randy from Valley Girl fight to the death! America has been waiting for this moment!!!

Damn it, damn it, damn it! Nicolas Cage strikes on this site again! This time he even has help from fellow Hollywood titan John Travolta. Just when I thought I was ready to love again, just when I thought that happiness was a possibility, just when I thought things were going my way, I pop in this piece of garbage into my DVD player. Sometimes I wonder if my DVD player hates me for some of the things I place in its innocent, trusting little tray. I know I would if I were hoping for The Bicycle Thief or Ali: Fear Eats The Soul and I got this instead. Now, here is a good gauge of worldwide insanity. Read the synopsis I am about to give of Face/Off, then check out the rating of this film on Rotten Tomatoes. Don’t look at it just yet. Leave it for a surprise…

Okay, deep breaths, Eric. You can do this. In…and out… Okay, okay, I think I’m ready.

So, Castor Troy is an international terrorist with a ridiculous name that doubles as a useless reference to Greek mythology. He is responsible for the deaths of countless hundreds, including the son of the FBI agent who is relentlessly chasing him, Sean Archer, whose name does not reference Greek mythology at all. Sean Archer has been tracking Castor Troy for years, and thinks he finally has him. You see, Castor’s brother Pollux (I can’t believe that is what their names are) charters a flight at LAX, and the two always fly together. So the FBI surrounds the plane, and after killing a couple agents and the pilot, Pollux is captured and Castor falls into a coma. Before he goes catatonic, however, he informs Archer that there is some sort of biological bomb that will kill everyone in LA. The only person who knows where the bomb is now is Pollux, and he isn’t talking to anyone. So, the Archer takes the obvious route here and uses some rough interrogation techniques to get the info out of him. Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s what anyone else would have done. Sean Archer, always wanting to do things the hard way, instead undergoes an experimental surgery to take Castor Troy’s face and grafting it onto his body (!!!!), hoping to trick Pollux into giving him the bomb location. I guess he also gets a body transformation and a voice modulator or something, because he literally turns into the same guy as Castor Troy. He then gets into the same jail as Pollux and, using the whole face/body/voice makeover, he scores the location of the bomb. There’s just one problem. The real Castor Troy wakes up from his coma (GASP!). Forcing the doctor to give him Archer’s face/body/voice, he becomes Sean Archer. Using this new-found identity to his advantage, he destroys all evidence of the surgery, including all of the people who knew about it, and turns the tide to his favor. Castor Troy comes to visit him in jail and tells him as much, letting him know that, as far as everyone is concerned, he IS Sean Archer now, much to the real Sean Archer’s chagrin. Can Sean Archer escape jail while wearing the infamous face of a terrorist? Can he save LA from the bomb? Can Castor Troy give Sean Archer’s wife better loving than Sean Archer ever could?

Okay, now look at the Rotten Tomatoes score. I’ll give you a second to process that information….

Ridiculously high, right? I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. A lot of people loved this movie. I did not. I might have even hated it. I don’t think I have ever sighed so many times in a two hour span. I don’t think I’m being picky here, either. It is a stupid idea, it is horrendously attempted, and it is not even any fun. Let me elucidate.

First of all, I think director John Woo might be clinically addicted to unnecessary filler for all of his American releases. This movie is 140 minutes! I can’t believe how much of this could have been cut. This could have been a 90 minute shoot-em-up that wouldn’t have scarred me so much, but they dragged this one out to the living ends, and I cannot abide by that. How can one justify such a length with a premise this flaccid, which is obviously just a thin excuse to get two big stars together in one big movie? If you’re not asking the audience to think, then you’re asking them to sit there and take your barrage of images and enjoy themselves, and if that barrage isn’t even entertaining then what’s the point? It was not just tedious, but it was boring, the greatest sin a movie can commit.

The soundtrack is irritating and assaulting. I don’t enjoy John Powell’s style, and perhaps I never will, but this one really just depresses me. It never relents, it never gives up, it never stops reminding me of the fact there is music. I don’t think a score should be so insistent, and I hope that one day John Powell will know when to swell the music and when not to, instead of just beating us over the head with it and hoping that it was always the right time to have music.

I won’t even go into the plot, but let me just say that there were much easier ways to get Nicolas Cage and John Travolta on the screen together without resorting to something as completely out of left field as a face/body/voice transplant (!!!). John Woo could have cut the tops of their heads off with a pizza wheel and transplanted their brains with an ice cream scoop and I would have suspended the same amount of belief.

Now, I’m sure that I will be accused of picking on this film because of its co-star, Nicolas Cage, whom I detest as an actor. And while nothing has changed and I do not appreciate his performance here one iota, I think that it is unfair to say that he is the only problem with this movie. He displays his usual aura of bipolar idiosyncrasies, barely acting one minute then turning into the Tazmanian Devil the next, but in this one he shares the screen with the equally quirky John Travolta. Travolta is an odd one because his emotions are similar throughout his entire career. He has never been angry any other way than the one way he gets angry (you know, the kind of angry where he em-pha-sizes and o-ver pro-noun-ces e-ver-y sin-gle word). And that is fine, but he gets angry a lot in this film, and so I had to watch him go through his stock emotions quite a lot here, which wore me out considerably. And when these two inhabit the screen together, it obviously turns into a contest of who can spout groan-inducing one liners with more verve (“Well if you’re Sean Archer, then I must be Castor Troy!” and “I’m about to unleash the biblical plague ‘Hell-A’ deserves”), which also grows tiresome after the first hour or so.

So I did not enjoy this experience. Maybe 93% of America did, but I didn’t. It’s nothing but sound and fury, with nothing but explosions and one-liners to back itself up. I’m not against action movies as long as they can be fun. If they stop being fun then I might as well be watching 140 minutes of static at home for free. This movie should have been more concerned with making a cohesive plot and a building a leaner vision than giving two-dimensional characters a chance to breathe and allowing them to spout out whatever sycophantic dialog the screenwriter thought appropriate for an action movie. Bottom line; entertain or go home. These people knew how to, especially John Woo, but they didn’t, and for that I give Face/Off 1 1/2 face/body/voice transplants out of 10. STAY AWAY!

Tomorrow is a surprise movie! Look for a new review tomorrow!

The Amityville Horror (2005), or Ryan Reynolds Remake Ridiculousness

20 03 2009
Does the house look pissed off, or is it just me?

Does the house look pissed off, or is it just me?

Remakes. Re-imaginings, reboots, reduxes. The first decade of this shiny new millennium is the decade of the remake. With the breakthroughs in technology, the evolution (or devolution) of aesthetic, and the always-transforming sentiments of our present day populace, the film industry has taken it upon itself to remake old movies, both individual films as well as franchises to suit the fickle tastes of the masses. Now, this is by no means a new idea, with remakes stretching as far back as there have been original films to remake. But in no time in this medium’s short history has there ever been a more vicious and voracious re-haul of our world’s entire stock of original ideas. Some people in the world of movies are overjoyed at this prospect of reliving the joy they felt when they saw the original film in a whole new light. Others frown upon the idea of fiddling with cinema’s history, insisting on moving on and creating new ideas for the new millennium. I am torn on the issue, myself. I’m sure you’ve seen a bushel or more of remakes on this site reviewed by yours truly, and personally I have no vendetta against the remake. Often times, a remake of a classic film can at the very least inspire someone to watch the original, and at the very most it can be a rewarding movie in its own right. Unfortunately, remakes do have a nasty reputation for being mostly inferior to the their original counterparts. And not only that, but they also have a propensity for unnecessarily lauding the original film, creating a false legend of quality under the generalized assumption that a studio would only remake a good movie. For example, I can’t think of one person who seriously considered Inglorious Bastards (aka That Damn Armored Train) was anything other than a throw-away WWII movie by Enzo Castellari from the late 70’s that really had very little to do with the Second World War and more to do with yelling and shooting at things. But with Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming remake starring Brad Pitt coming soon to theaters, everyone cites it as a classic all of a sudden. I watched it, folks. It’s no classic. A good movie if you like Spaghetti westerns set in occupied France, but not good enough for these young impressionable film hipsters out there to be calling it “uncredited genius”. So remakes in that respect can be a double-edged blade. And, for you keeping up with this kind of thing, the hardest hit genre of this recent remake rampage (I’m absolutely all about alliteration!) has to be the horror genre. All the classics in the genre are being remade with ferocious speed (Friday the 13’th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen). Last year I would not be surprised to find that more remakes came out last year than actual original horror movies. And the major culprit for this complete genre makeover is the guy you would least expect. Yes, for those who know, my arch-nemesis Michael Bay (BAYYYYYY!!!!!!) heads up a production company called Platinum Dunes which churns these bad-boys out at an alrming rate. Today’s film, The Amityville Horror, was one of the many horror standards that received a face-lift from Michael “Ooohhh, Pretty Colors” Bay, and all I can muster is a resounding sigh…

We know the story by now. The Lutzes, George, Kathy, and their three kids, have just moved to Long Island. They think they have found a great deal on a huge house that they could never usually have afforded. They come to find that the deal is so good because the previous owners, the DeFeo’s, were all killed one night about a year ago by their own family member, Ronald DeFeo, who subsequently killed himself immediately afterward. The Lutzes don’t like the idea of being in a house where so many murders took place at first, but the deal is just too good. Once they movie in, strange things start to happen. Their daughter, Chelsea, suddenly begins to talk to an imaginary friend named Jodie, which happened to be the name of one of the murdered DeFeo children. Things start moving by themselves, including refrigerator magnets that spell out violent threats to the family members. And George Lutz begins acting very standoffish and defensive, complaining of how cold it is upstairs and taking to the basement, which was incredibly similar to the behavior of one Ronald DeFeo. Will these ghostly, otherworldly forces end up doing in the Lutzes? Will George, who begins hearing voices and becomes significantly angrier the longer he stays in the house, end up just like Ronald DeFeo? Just what is going on with this freaky Long Island home?

This is another one of those horror movies I hate, which just happen to be the kind that Bay custom tailors for the world. You know what I hate about it? Well, you see, its kind of ha- BOO!!!!! Did I scare ya? Bay, and his patsy director Andrew Douglas, like to scare people with obnoxious editing tricks and loud noises. I don’t know about you, but that pisses me off, and I’m getting sick of the whole process. Nobody remembers that kind of scare. It’s ephemeral and boneheaded, and I know that the “scary” parts of this movie will be just one of the many things I forget about it.

The Amityville Horror is another in a long line of remakes that are competent but dull, technically proficient but empty. When one takes away the originality factor in such a formula, one also takes away the spontanaeity,which is ever-so important for a horror movie because a horror movie relies on suspense. That is not to say that I do not appreciate the effort at all. Ryan Reynolds, who plays George Lutz, is a fucking bull, and his eventual mental breakdown from the ghosts that inhabit the Amityville house is creepy because the man looks like he could turn me into blood soup with his fists. And, considering the only people with him in the house are his wife and his kids, it really toys with your emotions. The special effects are indeed top notch, evoking a number of upturned faces from me while I watched this in the dark. Also, the lean nature of this movie (a breezy 90 minutes) keeps it from leaning on references to the original movie or any pretensions for too long.

But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make it its own movie, which is what a remake needs to be, stand or fall. The same could be said of any of these new Platinum Dunes remakes, and hopefully people will figure that out soon enough to put Bay in the poorhouse. But until that glorious day comes, another $20 million goes to brief edits of ghosts and the loudest BOO! sounds you can imagine with The Amityville Horror, and it gets 4 1/2 freakishly buff men out of 10 for its efforts.

Keep an eye peeled later today for my review of possibly the dumbest movie I have ever seen, Face/Off!

PSA: No Country For Old Men (2007), or You’ve Been Putting It Up Your Whole Life; You Just Didn’t Know It

19 03 2009
Three panthers stalking one another, each serving some primal and twisted justice that exists higher than any one person.

Three panthers stalking one another, each serving some primal and twisted justice that exists higher than any one person.

Every now and then, an American movie comes out that restores all the faith I lose in this country from years of Bay-heimer, Kevin Costner, and Peter Hyams stuffing crap on my plate and calling it gold. This is genuinely one of those movies, an American vision of the vicious cycle of violence. No County For Old Men is not just a good movie, not just a great movie. It means something more, at least to me. It is a completely realized artistic vision about the bloody repercussions of greed, anger, and chance. Our life is angry, erratic, and unpleasantly short, and what this film does surprisingly well is something that very few other films in the history of the medium has ever done; it recognizes that fact.

It is 1980. In the flatlands of Texas, a man named Llewelyn Moss hunts in the tall grass with a rifle in his hand and the sun on his back. In his travels across the spacious plains, he finds a grisly sight; a recent drug deal gone wrong. Corpses dot the scene, bullet holes are scattered throughout the various vehicles, and it must have been such a brutal shootout that nobody able-bodied could claim the prize, because the drugs and the money are still there at the scene. Llewelyn takes the money, an amount nearing $ 2 million, and goes on the run. He tells his wife to go into hiding with her mother and that when things cool down they will reunite. He knows that a lot of people are going to track him to claim this obscene amount of money, and he is going to try to stay a step ahead of them. And people do indeed try to track him, including the Mexican Mafia, the wizened and weary local sheriff, and a mysterious hit man with a pageboy haircut (?) named Anton Chigurh who will blow through anything in his way to get what he wants. The film follows Llewelyn, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and even Anton on the trail of this money, and we are shown man’s gnarled and tangled heart through the eyes of men who live in a world of gruesome, brutal justice.

Based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men is a perfect American film. I can think of nothing that would make this better. The Coen brothers’ dark style and McCarthy’s grim tale of greed make a perfect combination. It is pitch-black, cynical to the bone, and ever-so-bleak, but that only makes it better, stronger. At once it is a simple cat-and-mouse movie when it deals with Llewelyn Moss, who is the underdog you root for the whole way, a meditation on violence when it deals with Ed Tom Bell, who is the learned sage taken back into action one last time, and a surreal horror movie when it deals with Anton Chigurh, who is the troubling material that nightmares are made of. These characters are beyond deep, and approach realism at an alarming rate, but just like life, you have to read the subtext of how a man behaves and what he says to understand his true nature. That’s part of the intrigue with this film.

The Coen brothers here make a lot of decisions to set this apart from a lot of other movies. There is virtually no soundtrack, which adds to the haunted nature of this film. When there is silence for these people, there is silence for us, and we are forced to sit in it with them. Very powerful stuff. Dialog is also very scattered, also to my delight. Nowadays, it is striking to NOT hear people talking every minute of the run-time, so this will really catch the younger generation off guard with its lack of filler dialog. It creates a palpable realism when there is no noise whatsoever in a person’s isolation. The shots are also fantastic. What I like best is their refusal to turn away from brutality but their hesitance to look at just where the money is and who is after it. The film does not care who has the money or why they want it or where its being hidden. It cares instead about the men who lust for it, the sheriff who wants to stop them, and their complex webs they have weaved around the people who know them.

There are so many good scenes! The infamous coin toss scene, where Anton goes into a gas station and gambles with some yokel’s life, is gut-wrenching. He doesn’t even know he has offended Anton’s sensibilities by merely existing, and Anton would have no problem with dispatching him, but Anton lives by unfathomable rules and codes of conduct and it cannot be so easy for him. The scene of Llewelyn hunting at the beginning sent shivers throughout my body with the thought that Texas could be so beautiful, if not also barbarous and indifferent. Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is my favorite character, and he makes the movie for me whenever he is on screen. When he is investigating the whereabouts of Llewelyn and Anton, the repartee with his deputy is top notch, full of well-timed wise-cracks and also a tinge of melancholy that life has become so harsh. His final monologue might be the single greatest ending I have ever seen. It is that good.

This is a movie that should be experienced to be understood. If you cannot find this movie, I will lend it to you. If you cannot see, I will give you a scene-by-scene run-through personally (and, by the way, how are you reading this?). It is a dark journey through parts of us that we rarely talk about, let alone see, and it will stand the test of time to become one of our nation’s classics. It should be discussed thoroughly with friends, family members, and your resident FILM SNOB (if I am your resident film snob, ask me later about this movie; I love to talk about it!). To me, it is flawless, and I will rate it as such. Therefore, I give No Country For Old Men the coveted 10 pageboy haircuts out of 10!

See you tomorrow, folks, where we entertain the idea of ghosts with The Amityville Horror!

The Night Out: Race To Witch Mountain (2009), or A Romantic Evening With Dwayne Johnson

18 03 2009
Not a very prominent Disney property to re-imagine, I have to say. Whats next, Disney? A big-screen adaptation of Ocean Girl?

Not a very prominent Disney property to re-imagine, I have to say. What's next, Disney? A big-screen adaptation of Ocean Girl?

Another Night Out, ladies and germs. I love going to the movies on a weekday. And it’s not just for the obvious reasons of, you know, watching movies. The big attraction suddenly becomes less about what you’re watching and more about how sparsely the theater will be populated. There’s something about the magic of an empty parking lot, an empty marquee, an empty lobby, and an empty theater that combine to create a sense of wonder and whimsy. Like being let loose in a candy shop full of celluloid, there are just so many options.

Coming in, the first thing that I wonder is, “Can I sneak into another movie after this one?” The answer, I am unsatisfied to find, is usually no. They always keep enough eyes around to make you feel bad about waiting around and settling into a fresh set of seats. I always feel guilty, like I’m stealing from a Ugandan child rather than populating an otherwise empty theater to keep the custodians busy for another 5 minutes. Not that anyone will say anything to you as long as you stay on your toes and be sneaky about it, but I try to never find myself in that situation. I’m sure I’m supposed to frown on this kind of behavior as a critic, but until the theaters and the studios (are you listening, you guys?) start giving me free passes to see screenings like a respectable movie reviewer, then it shall stay in the back of my mind as an option. Hey, at least I’m buying a ticket for ONE movie.

The next question I ask, back to more respectable matters, is where to sit. Normally I try to stay in the middle for any other situation to get the full spectrum of media possibilities (audio, video, confetti, vibrating chairs), but when you’re all alone sometimes you just want to try things out, maybe freak out the one other guy in the theater with you. Every now and then I’ll either sit up close or really high up to spice things up. Even when I was a young impulsive brute, though, I could never sit in the first three rows. What are those for? Who would want to snap their own necks by sitting right there for two hours? And, a more important question, why would anyone put handicapped seating right there? Give them some room on one of the not-so-shitty rows farther away instead of insisting they get blasted away by the power of the movie going on three inches away from them?

The biggest question for me during a movie, though, is whether or not I can talk loud. I confess, gentle readers, that I am one of those people who annoy the piss out of you with their constant yammering. Me and my partner, the vivacious Bren, are always cracking jokes, laughing at inappropriate times, and making things slightly difficult for people for anyone in direct earshot. I feel we’re discreet enough, but some might disagree, and to those people I have to apologize by telling them to fuck off and have some fun at the movies (that’s what an apology is, right?). But the best part of an isolated movie theater experience is seeing that nobody else is there, waiting until the lights dim, and just raising your voice to obscene levels whenever you want. It’s the ultimate taboo!!!

I wish my experience today at the Rave Theater Yorktown 15 was as idyllic as all that. It certainly had the potential to be: the parking lot was empty, the lobby was Ghost Town, USA, and our theater itself started out pretty desolate. I thought things were looking up for Bren and I to cut up and let our hair down a little bit. Then, at the last possible moment, it turned into Family Hour. Three different families showed up, unnecessarily large families that virtually boxed us in from the rows in front of and behind us. Just when I thought I could smile and curse at a kid’s movie, as is my want, all of a sudden it turned into How Many Kids Can I Squeeze Next To A Grown Man Day at the Rave. And you know what the worst part was? In the row behind me, a girl wearing flip-flops had propped her feet up on the seat next to mine. They smelled considerably rank, and they stayed there for the ENTIRE MOVIE!!! WHY? WHY?! WHY?!?

Well, that’s all I have to report. See you tomorrow for Madea’s Family Reunion!

No, wait!!! That’s right! I saw a movie, didn’t I? I had better review it. Well, let me give you the quick version because it’s not remarkable enough to merit a full explanation. Well, Race To Witch Mountain is a remake of an old Disney movie that was interesting enough to the studio to rip apart like a dressed turkey and gouge out all the best parts with their bare hands. In this version, a down-on-his-luck taxi driver named Jack Bruno finds a couple of kids in his cab one day who aren’t exactly your ordinary tweenagers. They are actually aliens, and they need Jack Bruno’s help to get off the planet. They came here seeking a device that may save both their world and ours, and they find it, but they also find that their ship, a flying saucer, has been hijacked by the government. They have to get that device back to their world so they can save us as well as themselves, but with the government in the way, not to mention a mysterious alien assassin that wants to vaporize the kids, can down-on-his-luck cab driver Jack Bruno help the two alien tweens save the world?

The movie was VERY, VERY forgettable. Filled with cliche after cliche, it is just another kids action movie to pop in for attention-grabbing purposes once it comes out on DVD. It performs well enough, but it won’t be remembered by anybody for anything. It’s a throw-away experience, and I’m surprised I even remember this much of it to relate it to you. Kid movies, when done correctly (i.e. The Goonies), can be enjoyed by adults and be a memorable part of a family outing to be discussed and referenced long after one has left the theater. This is filler, meant to bolster a typically weak box-office season. I have no pity for a movie that could have been fun but wasted its potential, no matter what the intended key demographic was.

This is another step in the processing of former wrestler and cooking enthusiast (Do ya smell-la-la-la-la-la-la-low(!)…what The Rock…is cookin’?) Dwayne Johnson for the vox populi. Remember when he was billed straight up as just The Rock? Not too long ago, but soon that wouldn’t be good enough. He had to show his full name somewhere in this equation. That’s when he became Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Not bad, you would think. But no. He wanted more acceptance in the acting world, more validity to be sarcastic and chiseled at the same time on camera. So, starting with one of my favorite bad films ever, Southland Tales, he became just Dwayne Johnson, just an everyday muscle-bound schmoe. And now he’s making kids movies using the patented Hulk Hogan formula of wrestler+kids=HILARIOUS. It’s like we’re supposed to pretend all that decade of rasslin’ didn’t happen. Well, The “The Rock” Rock, people don’t forget.

Anyway, I’ve said too much. Drop your kids off to see this one of you want to get high for a couple hours behind the theater. Once you reunite, neither of you will remember what you were doing before you showed up. I give Race To Witch Mountain 4 1/2 smelly teenager feet out of 10. And if you see me at a theater and you have kids with you, don’t bring them too close to me unless you want them to hear me say things like, “His name is ‘The FUCKING Rock’, not Dwayne Johnson!” to my lady love.

Tomorrow we go to Texas and get shot at for the PSA, where we discuss No Country For Old Men!

The Postman (1997), or Kevin Costner’s Great White Nope

17 03 2009
So a phony and a sham comes to town and inspires people. Isnt he still a sham?

So a phony and a sham comes to town and inspires people. Isn't he still a sham?

So, who came up with the bright idea for this? 1995 was a horrible year for Kevin Costner, with his epic $175 million Waterworld being called Fishtar (HA!) and used as a prime example of Hollywood excess. It was a bloated post-apocalyptic sci-fi film with plot holes the size of the Kraken’s maw, characters with THE BROADEST motivations (why were the Smokers trying so viciously to find dry land anyway? What were they gonna do with it?), and the most ridiculous villain I had seen in quite some time (i.e. Dennis Hopper in scar make-up and a bald wig!!!). All somewhat forgivable offenses under most normal circumstances, but the one fatal flaw that really killed this movie and magnified all the problems tenfold is a cardinal sin in action/adventure movies; the main character is HIGHLY unlikable. Kevin Costner, who also wrote and produced this aquatic turkey, starred as The Mariner, a mysterious loner who drinks his own piss, yells loudly at little girls, and who has the flattest line delivery when it comes to the most important stuff (“My boat.”). Despite all the bad press (I love whoever coined the phrase Fishtar!), poor viewer reactions, and an all-around American snub, Waterworld somehow made back all its money overseas, paving Costner’s way to make more epic dream projects of his. The problem with his next project was that the studio gave him a lot of money again, which must have some sort of effect on Costner as this today’s feature must surely show. So, let me pitch this to you: we’re going to make a bloated post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, just like last time. It will have the exact same problems that made Waterworld a critical disaster, and might even destroy the director/producer/star’s career for a number of years if it fails! And, just to ensure its failure, we’re going to take out all the straight-up action and universal viewpoint and replace them with a lot of filibustering and a uniquely American viewpoint to scare away all the international viewers! We’ll call it The Postman, and it will be nearly three hours worth of hot air blown in your face! Wanna give me $80 million yet?

So, here we go. It’s 2013 (THE FUTURE!!!!). Apparently, in 1997, when I was taking a post-school nap, there was a nuclear war that enveloped the earth, causing untold chaos and devastation. Most people did not survive, but the few who did live on in a hopeless society populated by small towns with no communication to the outside world and enforced by former military ruffians. A nameless drifter walks around in Utah, trading food and supplies for… Shakespeare readings. This is going great for him, I suppose, until he runs into a large remnant army who drafts him against his will. He is spoon-fed a lot of orders and rules from these fellows, who are led by the evil General Bethlehem. He doesn’t really care for the idea of being in an army he doesn’t care about or wants anything to do with, though, so he escapes one cold night and seeks refuge in an abandoned mail truck. When he gets back to the task at hand, namely escaping, he takes a postman’s jacket to stay warm and also takes an undelivered bag of letters which strikes his fancy after he reads some of the mail. Walking for quite some time, he comes across a settlement called Pineview and tries to get in by making up a huge lie. He says that he represents a restored government run out of Minneapolis, run by President Richard Starkey (Ringo?!?)! He fills the townspeople with lies, and they let him in, believing that he is a sign of hope in these rough times. Amazingly, he finds that although he is completely full of shit, there is actually a letter for a surviving townsperson here. He delivers this one letter, and everyone gives him supplies and believes his crap. During his time here, he makes very good friends with a woman named Abby, who eventually makes him care about life for the first time in perhaps his whole life, and makes an apprentice out of a kid named (wait for it…) Ford Lincoln Mercury. Hilarious, Costner. Just hilarious. Anyway, the big fat liar leaves the settlement, and is saddled with a bunch of letters to deliver to people in other settlements. Soon after he leaves, General Bethlehem comes to Pineview to take whatever he wants, but hears whispers of the Postman, the nomad’s new name, and the restored government in Minneapolis. He finds this incredibly treasonous and decides to send out men all across the area to arrest and kill this Postman and any suspected associates of his. No matter what the drifter’s intentions were at first seem to matter little as time goes on, because the hope of a restored government and the idea of reaching people from across the wasteland inspires people, and soon wheels begin to turn that will pit the people of the American wastes against General Bethlehem under the banner of the mysterious Postman. The question is, will he accept the responsibility he has given himself as the bringer of hope for a new age in post-apocalyptic America? Or will he run away like the worthless sap he really is?

I did not enjoy this one. It is insistent upon its importance for all 170 minutes (it’s three hours long) but not for one minute is there a single lesson to be learned from atop its massive and hollow soap box. It makes me feel cheated and cheapens the moviegoing experience. I almost gave up on this one; halfway through I almost said “Fuck you!” to this site and all its fans. But I stuck it out, and here I am. After all three hours (did I mention that this hunk-a-junk is three hours long? It’s three hours long.) of this limp little parable, I cannot believe all the sympathizers that accompany this movie with any discussion about it online. One message board on IMDB asks “Most underrated film of all time????”. I laugh at the very idea. Ha-ha-ha. This is not exactly Bangkok Dangerous here in terms of extreme hostility towards the audience, but in no way is this “underrated”. If anything, me not equating it to a Nicholas Cage film is high praise indeed, from some of the reviews I’ve read on this film.

Costner’s idea of what a hero is tends to border on the dubious side. In Waterworld, the character he played was cold, unfriendly, and a devoted lone wolf. In The Postman, Costner is warmer, a bit friendlier, but he is a liar! And not the “Fluffy went to a farm to play with all the other puppies, sweetheart” kind of lies. This nameless drifter comes into this town and toys with their emotions like a cad and gets away with it because he made people feel better. And admittedly he sort of fills the boots he made for himself later in the picture, but that was more luck than anything. I found him to be a big negative for the whole film, and I constantly hoped for his demise and the rise of Ford Lincoln Mercury as the leader.

Another thing that chafed me as I sat through all this was the use of clever references to the past, as referenced by my previous paragraph’s codicil. This is yet ANOTHER of Costner’s throwbacks to Waterworld, where references to the past are everywhere, like the Smokers’ ship being the Exxon Valdez and Joseph Hazelwood being their patron saint. In this one, we have more of this groan-inducing “humor”, like Ringo Starr being the President of Minneapolis, the Postman reminiscing on the days when he and his friends used to wear their hats backwards because they thought it was cool, and one of our heroes being named after a luxury vehicle. A huge and elaborate “joke” that I couldn’t believe they went through with was the casting of Tom Petty (!!!). He plays himself (!!!!) as the mayor of a settlement. Don’t ask me what happened to the Heartbreakers; I was wondering that myself. Anyway, our man Costner sees Petty and says, “I know you. You’re famous.” To which Petty replies, “I was once… sorta.” Yeah, okay… What was that all about? Are we supposed to laugh because of this? And more importantly, why does Petty downplay his fame by saying “sorta”, like everyone in America doesn’t know who the fuck Tom Petty is? I don’t know, and obviously they didn’t either.

Either way, Costner was given a second chance in 1997 to capitalize after his misstroke (HA!) with Waterworld in 1995, and he ended up making virtually the same damn movie with 50% less budget and 100% less Dennis Hopper. No wonder the cast and crew called this movie “Dirtworld”! It ended up hurting his career for a number of years, and when they finally gave him the director’s chair again his budget has dropped to $20 million (boo-hoo, right?). But I cannot enjoy a movie where thoughtless lies become meaningful when they brighten someone’s day and heroes are erected out of blind luck and idiotic hope in anticipated valor. No, sir, I will not stand for it. I give “Dirtworld” 3 misplaced Heartbreakers out of 10…sorta.

Tomorrow we turn up the heat with a Night Out film! What will it be? Well, golly, I don’t know! But I’ll figure it out when I get to the theater!

Fritz The Cat (1972), or Ralph Bakshi’s Delightful Interspecies Sex Fantasy

16 03 2009
I like the face he has right there, like hed rather be watching the game than feeling her feline tit!

I like the face he has right there, like he'd rather be watching the game than feeling her feline tit!

All right, I think almost any straight male who was under the age of 13 at one point had a fascination with the X rating (or NC-17, if you’re a young-un). It was the veritable promised land, a movie where you could unleash your furious hormones with its unswerving promise of breasts in close proximity to the camera. Being young, dumb, and immature had a lot of downsides if you ask me, but one thing I would never trade is the brain-dead thrill I got from watching a movie I wasn’t supposed to, especially when the thing I wasn’t supposed to see was sweet, delicious nudity. There was a rush that I got from growing facial hair, dressing up, and asking to rent Species 2 with my mom’s Blockbuster card and getting away with it (!) that makes me giggle uncontrollably when I look back on it. Of course, as a man, I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to rent Species 2 for any reason whatsoever. And therein lies the crux. You see, there were a number of movies I rented solely because they were rated R or NC-17 based on the lack of female attire, with no cognizance of what I was watching or what it meant (I would fast forward through the plot, of course- silly me!). Caligula, A Clockwork Orange, and today’s feature Fritz the Cat were all movies I watched for about five minutes at a time, and mostly it was the same scene over again. Looking back on it, though, I feel that I missed out on a very good movie that just happened to have animated breasts in it. Fritz the Cat, a 1972 animated feature, which was actually the first animated feature to receive an X rating, is not just about the sex, of which there isn’t a whole lot of anyway; it is about a particular time and place, one filled with phony characters, deadbeats, and ruffians that seems closer to true life than a lot of live-action films.

So the film centers around Fritz, who is an anthropomorphic cat living in a New York City full of anthropomorphic animals. Fritz and his friends stop by a park one day, which is filled with random protesters and hippies, to try and pick up girls. Fritz spies three attractive hippie ladies and tries to make advances, but he is rebuffed by them, opting instead for a crow (real subtle). They are ignorant and backhanded in their compliments, so he brushes them off and walks away. Fritz sees that these girls like “sensitive” and “artistic” guys, so he pretends to have a real existential dilemma. This arouses the girls and he takes him to his friends’ wild party, where he gets them all in a bath and starts having wild sex with them. His friends quickly see what’s going on, though, and they also catch on to the phony artfulness that attracts these girls, and THEY start having sex with them, leaving Fritz high and dry. Poor guy, right? Anyway, escaping from the party which was being raided by cops anyway, Fritz arrives in a bar in Harlem where he meets Duke, a crazy crow who invites him to “bug out”. This innocent invitation sets Fritz out on an odyssey across the country, meeting heroin-addicted rabbits, drug dealing birds, and revolutionary lizards. Fritz lets life take him where it may, and he never finds himself in the same place for very long.

Sounds weird? Well, you’re right! It is weird. But it’s funny and it is animated in a rough-and tumble 70’s style that I have taken a shine to. Director Ralph Bakshi is a legend, and his animation style is one that has to be admired as well as enjoyed. Bakshi was one of the only Americans putting out animated feature films in the 70’s due to the homogenization of the industry. And not only that, but he had the balls to put out an X-rated animated feature featuring cartoon animal sex and drug use in the age of Hanna-Barbera. This is really revolutionary stuff, and not just for the obvious reasons. There are hints all around of deeper societal issues that Bakshi wanted to make a statement about.

It is an interesting story about a world of phonies. Based on the famous character by R. Crumb, it takes the very Crumbian outlook that almost every single person on Earth is, in their deepest, truest selves, completely fake, and that they are just obstacles for the real artists and poets of the planet (it must be noted that R. Crumb probably thinks of himself as one of the phonies). Fritz is fake, his friends are fake, the hippie girls are fake, and nearly everyone else he comes across in his journey to nowhere is completely vacuous, using a veneer of sincerity to get what they want. It is a serious commentary by Ralph Bakshi, who was not exactly known for his serious nature but holds the idea firmly despite that fact, and I think it helps the film immensely achieve something beyond animals fucking.

But despite all my spiels about deeper meaning, it can be just plain fun. There are a lot of jokes here. Fritz is so damn clueless on his own, and he often freaks out to himself, saying things like, “Mother of God, I’m a fucking fugitive!” The sex scenes, looking back on them, are actually pretty funny now. Fritz with 3 women has some great moments (“Oh, shit! I guess WE’LL just leave then!”) And the two pig police officers following Fritz for his illicit ways are pretty hilarious when they’re on screen, like when one cop is trying to teach the other how to bust a door down (“Now you’ve gotta use the word ‘fucking’ because it makes you sound tough!”)

So all in all a movie that is worth more than the animated nipples that encompass only about three minutes of this admittedly-breezy 80-minute film. It’s got a lot of things going for it, and if you just want to see a great example of quality animation from the 70’s, this is for you. Go check it out, but watch more than five minutes of it. I give Fritz the Cat 7 1/2 four-ways out of 10.

Tomorrow we tackle the strange and mystical world of Kevin Costner with The Postman!

Dante’s Inferno (2007), or Hell Is A Ridiculous Concept, But It’s Good For A Laugh

15 03 2009
Dante and Virgil are funnier this time around, but the core message remains the same.

Dante and Virgil are funnier this time around, but the core message remains the same.

Who came up with the idea of Hell? The most garish, elaborate, and unfounded explanation for divine justice imaginable, Hell is a thought that no one man could have come up with, but rather a fearful collective of very imaginative Christians whose membership spanned race, gender, and time. The Christian idea that every criminal will be punished for eternity, and that all the righteous men and women will live apart from them in some weird, invisible utopia certainly isn’t unique or even that dastardly compared to some punishments other religions have concocted over the millennia. What makes it special are all the THOUSANDS of little details that Catholics devised for it over the years. Truly, the general idea of Hell could have been conceived by a single individual, but unique punishments for solitary sinners that fill up NINE DIFFERENT LEVELS? I mean, damn! Every dog has it’s day, I guess. It’s completely ludicrous idea, and I think that deep down we all know that Heaven and Hell are closed to all of us because they DO NOT EXIST, but it’s a harmless enough concept as long as you treat it with the intellectual supremacy you deserve to lord over it. Today’s picture, a hand-drawn paper doll/puppet movie, the first of it’s kind as far as a feature length movie goes, is based on the greatest attempt to accurately populate the whirling maelstrom of anger and hate that is Hell, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. It sounds strange, but stick with me here.

This is really just a modern day retelling of Dante’s classic. A young schmuck named (what else?) Dante Alighieri, after some really raucous party, wakes up in an alleyway somewhere on the wrong side of town. As he tries to regain his bearings, he sees a strange man in a robe. He introduces himself as Virgil, ancient Roman author of the Aeneid. Grimly, he tells young Dante to follow him on a trip to the farthest reaches of the underworld. Unmoored, confused, and possibly still hung over, he accepts this proposition. Going down a seemingly normal tunnel that stretches for some time, deeper and darker into the abyss, they arrive on the other side in another world filled with sinners and blasphemers of all types. They have reached Hell, and this is where their journey begins. They follow the labyrinthine trails, roads, and tunnels through each circle examining each horror sinners have to endure for their indiscretions(Alighieri’s structure of Hell looked much like a bullseye, where the outer circles were reserved for the lesser but still punishable sinners, and the inner circles were reserved for the more serious sinners). Together, the ancient poet and the confounded young man discover the true depth of suffering in Hell, and just what it means to go against God’s ways and what effect that can have on your life. What terrors will they find as they travel deeper into the underworld? What will Dante gleam from all this he sees before him? Why doesn’t somebody stab God right in His neck for being such a jerk to human beings?

So, the first thing that I have to say is that this movie is really fun. The paper dolls, lovingly rendered with obvious care and attention to detail, are the biggest draw for me. The use of hand-drawn cut-out paper puppets is so refreshing, and the dynamics of such a concept are fantastic. When Dante has a lump in his throat, they stick out a rod with a drawing of a throat which has a lump in it, place it in front of his throat in the regular puppet, then move it up and down to create the “illusion” of him swallowing hard! Great stuff! The tortures are very well thought out and very in tune with the style. When a man’s skin is ripped off in real life, it is horrifying. When a paper puppet’s skin is ripped off, it crosses a threshold in your brain and you can’t help but laugh. And an awesome fact for you kids of the 90’s out there: the head puppeteer, producer, and writer of this movie is Paul Zaloom, aka Beakman from Beakman’s World! You can feel his style ooze out of Dante’s character, who is just as sarcastic and wry as he was on that show. Also keep an eye out for him as Satan!

This modern update of Dante’s Italian masterpiece is WAY funnier than the original, that’s for sure. Let’s just say you’ll meet a lot of the people you think are going to Hell here in this film; Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Fox News reporters and the like. Some people have the classic punishments for their sins (Those who commit suicide are turned into trees, the river of blood for those who committed violent acts), but there are some new twists on the classics. Men who were pimps in life are shown here not marching for eternity like in the original, but are actually pimped out for eternity by a badass woman named Celia (nice!). The city of Dis is here a planned community, complete with pushy salesmen. There is a lot to laugh at here, I was pleasantly surprised to find.

Oh, and did I mention the voice acting talent is great! The voice talent for this project is great! They booked James Cromwell to be Virgil! He is wonderful of course as the ancient elder, and his voice is just so damn commanding! Dermot Mulroney is Dante, and he gives the story a uniquely modern flare to it with his brisk sarcasm. Matt Walsh and Matt Besser from Upright Citizens Brigade are here, and the legendary Dana Snyder plays not only Ulysses but also Senator Strom Thurmond! Great performances all around.

I think it’s a fun little piece of work. While the idea of a Heaven or Hell is completely unbelievable, this little movie takes the bold step of acknowledging that fact. Not with words or dialog that would reveal their own heresy of disbelief, but with the happy-go-luck paper doll style they use to portray this “grave concern”. I think it’s great, and while it might be heresy, I obviously don’t care. And besides that, it’s just a well-made animated fantasy film about the mystery at the end of life and one man’s psychotic take on it. Check it out for the animation alone; it’s far from two-dimensional (HAHAHA!). I give Dante’s Inferno 8 heretical Condoleezza Rices out of 10!

Tomorrow is another surprise film! Get ready for it!

Tigerland (2000), or A Homoerotic Vietnam War Movie Not Even Set In Vietnam? SCHUMACHER!!!!

14 03 2009
An intriguing look into soldiers preparing to lose their lives for no apparent reason.

An intriguing look at soldiers preparing to lose their lives for no apparent reason.

Vietnam was such a degrading experience for America. Our government lost not only the fifteen year-long jungle adventure, but it also lost the respect and trust of the people, a loss that is still being felt today. Speaking as one who could never comprehend the horrors of war, it is nevertheless a true testament to the bravery of the men and women of our great nation that people willingly signed up to fight a battle they knew little about in a country the had never heard of before to protect what they felt were the vested interests of American citizens. Were our ideas as a nation misguided and naive when it came to communism, socialism, and the tendency of two countries with the same economic system to join forces? Perhaps. But it does not diminish the bravery of the troops, no matter what our reasons going in were. Today’s film, Joel Schumacher’s Tigerland, is a strange if not compelling look at a different kind of bravery shown on our home front, and though it is not great, it might just be Joel Schumacher’s best film.

The story takes place at Ft. Polk in Louisiana in 1971. It is an infantry training camp for recruits to prepare them for what they will face in Vietnam. New recruit Roland Bozz was recently drafted and has been sent here to receive the proper training. He is vehemently opposed to the war and isn’t afraid of who knows it. This directs a lot of negative attention his way from the camp’s officers and some of the recruits. He does find his niche though, when he meets up with fellow recruit Paxton and the two find fast friendship and (probably) something more. The training brings out the natural leader in him, and he is promoted to a squad leader within the camp, but he turns out to have an even more uncanny talent to aid his fellow soldiers. Bozz apparently can find a way for almost anyone to get out of the army; loopholes, injuries, and all sorts of excuses not to fight. He is constantly asked by soldiers how to get out, and even once by an officer! Bozz’s rowdy peacenik ways begin to raise the ire of one recruit in particular, a bigoted, ignorant young man named Wilson. He cannot stand the sight of this compassionate, sensitive guy being sent up the ranks while he is left to languish, going so far as to threaten to kill our young hero. As this confrontation escalates, our young soldiers are sent to the last stop before Vietnam, a vivid training ground recreation of what the war will be like called Tigerland. Will Bozz find a way out of the war before it is too late? Will Wilson really go through with his pledge to kill him? What future does this hellish training ground portend for all these frightened young men?

A pretty good war movie from a totally unexpected source. Joel Schumacher is the source of much derision at my household because of his inability to relate anything resembling human emotion in his films. Almost anything in his oeuvre, perhaps with the exception of Falling Down, is devoid of anything warm and relatable, instead opting to take us on a trip down the non-sequitur Schumacher rabbit hole of awkward dialog and unconvincing sexual tension. This time, however, we find ourselves as an audience taken away to something very genuine. The war seems ever so close, even on American soil. The courage displayed by these young men is on full display, even as they try to get out of the fighting. The dialog, while heavy with rigmarole on the older officer characters, rolls along when the young soldiers march into the scene. Colin Farrell’s character, Bozz, while a bit of a flawless, Jesus-like archetype, does resonate on an emotional level, and that might be Schumacher’s greatest victory here.

I will not say that Colin Farrell is a good actor. I will not do it. I will say that here is directed with enough skill to keep him from sucking the life out of this picture, but I cannot accurately describe how little I think of him as a professional. He is a pretty-boy who must have not taken a whole lot of classes before he dropped out of The Gaiety School of Acting (I do my research), because on the whole I find him quite repulsive. In Tigerland, he and Schumacher do their best here to make sure he doesn’t make the film implode, and it works. I like Bozz as a character, and I actually care about him enough to hope he isn’t beaten to death by Wilson, played by Shea Whigham, an actor who might just be better than Farrell despite being billed 5th instead of 1st.

I mentioned much earlier that there is an underlying homoerotic tone to Bozz’s and Paxton’s relationship. I am not making any pokes at Schumacher’s sexuality here, but I will say that while he never shows anything to confirm it, I am 90% sure that these two characters slept together. Paxton, played by Matthew Davis, gives off some serious vibes to Bozz all throughout the movie. I don’t know how much of that is reciprocated, but it is very real. If that bothers you, I suggest you go down the 10% route of leniency I gave this film, and just assume that these two shirtless sweaty pretty-boys are just really, really good friends. I think there need to be some more gay war movies, personally. If anyone has any recommendations, please leave them in the comments section.

So, all in all, pretty good. Farrell does not make me loathe him, Schumacher keeps his feet planted on the ground, and the supporting cast performs with enough oomph to keep me interested in them. It is not a perfect movie, but it does shed light on an unorthodox heroism that existed during one of the most trying times for our nation, and for that it must be commended. I give Tigerland 7 1/2 shirtless sweaty pretty boys out of 10. If you are not comfortable with homosexuality in your war movie, just ignore it. Or, even better, fuck off.

See you tomorrow, where we fall down into the depths of Dante’s Inferno!

The Sword of Doom (1966), or The Geisha House Is On Fire

13 03 2009
This main character is pure evil!

This main character is pure evil!

Where is the source of human evil? Where do we find the inhumanity to inflict harm upon others, to use our power and will against another? Do we comprehend what we do, and if we do, just how much worse is knowing? These are the questions that plague us as we evolve ever-so incrementally. Some have found their answers in falsehoods, superstitions, and fantasy, while others have found them in the meager facts and scientific data we have uncovered about the other half of ourselves. It is still a quandary, however; a flickering flame whose only friend is shame and whose only witness is our collective conscience. Today’s film, The Sword of Doom, besets a devious character and questions him on his actions, and upon that interrogation he discovers something about the nature of evil that is so profound that we cannot even pause long enough to ask him, because he has already lost his sanity.

Ryunosuke Tsukue is a terrible man to behold. It is the Edo period in Japan, and Ryunosuke is a samurai enforcing the current shogunate with a strange and aggressive style of fighting. He is highly skilled but incredibly heartless, with a mistress and a child he could not care less about and a dirty job that makes him commit atrocities every time he walks out the door. The first time we see him he kills an old man for no reason whatsoever. Later on, in a non-lethal fencing duel, he coldly murders his opponent without so much as batting an eye. He performs unspeakable acts with no emotion whatsoever. He wields so much power but has no idiom, no reason to live within the boundaries of human laws, and because of perhaps his arrogance and his self-assured attitude he has no humanity. But that self-assured stance is tested as his life begins to crumble around him. During an assassination attempt for the shogunate, Ryunosuke meets his match for the very first time. The man he was sent to assassinate, Shimada Toranosuke, kills nearly two dozen men in the span of a minute and a half and walks away unharmed. Ryunosuke feels fear for perhaps the first time and cannot draw a blade against such an opponent. After this shameful incident, he finds that his mistress, who he treats about as coldly as he treats his victims, attempts to kill him in his sleep. He kills her for this offense, and runs away to join a group of fellow assassins at a nearby geisha house. At this geisha house, in his vulnerable mental state, he begins to see apparitions of those he has killed. It is becoming too much for Ryunosuke to live with himself. What will become of this broken and tattered samurai?

This is a spectacular movie, little seen but well worth the time it takes to seek it out. The subtleties and the intricacies of a life lived in such a manner are all here, and director Kihachi Okamoto should have been given more praise during his lifetime for this movie. It is a fascinating tale of human nature, and the dismal concept of looking into the mirror one day and realizing that you are a monster. Ryunosuke is a beast living in the skin of a man, and he does not deserve any pity, but his life must certainly be quite a burden to bear once he realizes what he has done.

The film simply looks great. It is a jidaigeki film, meaning that it is a period piece, and the sets are amazing. It is shot in black and white, the perfect accoutrement for a movie about a man’s duality. It is filmed with that historical epic sentiment that really gets the blood moving. The set pieces, the costumes, and the power and purpose of the line delivery really take you away to a romantic time of intrigue and adventure. The shots that Okamoto comes up with are so captivating; the assassination attempt, the duel, and the death of Ryunosuke’s mistress challenge all onlookers to take their eyes away. The last ten minutes of this movie will have you double-taking all the way to the credits!

And the performances here are great! It took just one false move to turn our main character Ryunosuke into a caricature and a joke. Luckily enough, Tatsuya Nakadai was perfect for the job. His piercing eyes belie a hatred for the entire human race, and he peers scornfully into every person he meets. It is a compelling performance that I hope becomes emblazoned into the backs of your heads when you witness it. Michiyo Aratama is Ryunosuke’s mistress Ohama, and she is a walking tragedy. You want something good for her even when you know that is not in the cards for the mistress of a heartless bastard. Her final moments were among the best of the film’s many great scenes. But the real shocker in this movie is Toshiro Mifune, who plays Shimada. By then already a superstar and one of the best Japanese actors of all time, Mifune makes a cameo here that stops the movie and throttles it for about five minutes. As Shimada, he is so fearsome and commanding, you almost feel bad for Ryunosuke when he lays eyes on him. I actually started shaking in my chair a little when I saw him decimate the twenty or so assassins in his way with nary a glance back. It is a definite highlight in this film, and while he is only in the film for about five minutes I would rent this for those five minutes alone.

All in all, a great time to be had for all. Period piece fans, classic drama fans, and Japanese film fans rejoice! I watched this totally on a whim and without any prior knowledge about the picture, and it really impressed me. So it just goes to show you that taking risks pays off every now and then in the world of cinema. I liked it a lot, and I think you will too. I give The Sword of Doom 9 haunted geisha houses out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow is a total surprise! Get ready for a “roller-coaster, thrill-a-minute experience at the movies”!

PSA: Transformers (2007), or Michael Bay’s Useless Robot Children

12 03 2009
Transformers! Not much more than meets the eye!

Transformers! Not much more than meets the eye!

My, oh my. What a mess. Have I ever told you all how much I hate Michael Bay?

Michael Bay has to be the most violently psychotic director in Hollywood. He likes explosions, loud noises, dialog shouted at the top of actors’ lungs, and humor that borders on physically harmful. His plots cross the line of ‘simple’ and spill directly into ‘infantile’. His style is non-existent. His movies are perennially panned by anyone with a modicum of good taste. Does this sound like the type of fellow that should be given HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS? Well, the answer is ‘yes’ if you are a Hollywood studio head, because even more disturbing than him having all that money is the concept that almost all of his films have been box-office smashes. People actually LIKE these movies. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they soothe the stupid part of the brain and they help some people think. Any other explanation is implausible, because he is horrible at what he does. Today’s film, 2007’s biggest smash hit Transformers, is said to be his best movie yet. I am inclined to agree with that statement, but so what? If you drive a race car for a living, and you come in 50’th place for nearly twenty years, but one race you miraculously make 49’th place, you are still horrible at your job.

Based on the line of toys by Hasbro and some Saturday morning cartoon show that I’m sure nobody ever watched, Transformers is a story about a battle between two warring sets of sentient self-aware robots, the virtuous Autobots and evil Decepticons. These robots come from outer space, a planet called Cybertron that the Decepticons destroyed in their lust for power, but for some reason can transform into cars and trucks and other objects from Earth. They’re fighting for the All Spark, an object that created both races of talking robots. And nobody knows where it is, only that it is, of course, on Earth. You know what? Forget about all that robot stuff. Let’s talk about teen angst for a while. It sure does suck being a teenager, doesn’t it? It especially sucks to be Sam Witwicky, a high school loser who has a crush on his hot schoolmate Mikaela Banes. He wants to get a new car to impress her, but his father isn’t going to get him one. Everything is going not so good for the guy until he finds an awesome, shiny, brand-new vehicle just waiting for him to hop in and impress someone with it. He doesn’t think for a second that this awesome vehicle might be a robot in disguise. But forget about all that robot stuff!!! Let’s talk about soldiers. They sure are great, huh? A group of soldiers stationed in Qatar, some military personnel working for Special Operation Command Central (or SOCCENT), is being attacked by evil giant robots who are trying to use their satellite network to find the All Spark. The soldiers fight valiantly, but their remote desert base is destroyed, and only a small group of sexy soldiers remain to tell the rest of the world what happened to them. Will the soldiers get back to a city before they are attacked again? Will Sam Witwicky get laid with a name like ‘Sam Witwicky’, or are all his advances to Mikaela in vain? And will these pesky robots ever get out of this movie?

So, okay, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m a little perturbed. Have you kids ever seen a Godzilla movie before? Even the crappy Matthew Broderick American version? If you have, then there is one part you all know to be the single worst aspect of any Toho release; the human beings. You go to a movie about a giant lizard that destroys the city, and Japan decides instead to show astonished soliloquys from aged scientists about how there is no way to stop the monster. I don’t think even Toho realizes what a profound rip-off that is. Michael Bay has created a movie about human beings that desperately wants to be a movie about giant robots. Is that supposed to “ground the movie”, as I have seen in so many blithely positive reviews about this film? I think “grounding” a movie like this, an effects-fueled spectacle, is the last thing you would want to do.

This has all the workings of Bay’s normal films, only magnified. Imagine all the collateral damage from all Bad Boys I and II, Armageddon, and The Island combined into one explosion-fest. It’s candy for the eyes, to be sure. The dialog is wonky at best and fucking awful at its worst. And the plot, full of logical flaws and long, extraneous sub-plots that go nowhere, is as insipid as Bay himself, and he didn’t even write it. But here’s something I never thought I’d say in a film like this; there’s not enough action. What? Say again? You heard right! There is not a lot of action in this movie. There sure is a lot of talking about action, and a lot of action-ready “hot” dudes and robots, but there isn’t as much actual walking the walk compared to talking the talk. Sure, there are some “pulse-pounding” sequences (otherwise, it would be a two hour philosophical dialog about fearsome robot action), but I was expecting at the very least something to placate my drifting thoughts. Instead, we are treated to Sam Witwicky waxing over some vacuous mannequin woman that is so beyond his reach and military grunts frantically saying things like “What the hell was that?’ and “That ain’t human!”

To be fair, though, the blame cannot be placed totally on Bay. The performances are lackluster all across the board. Shia LeBeouf plays Sam with the tenacity of someone who’s being paid a lot of money, but he also plays him very hip, and that combination can certainly grind on the audience as his wry, sarcastic sense of humor took quite a toll on my patience. I think Shia is a decent actor, and I look forward to seeing him in more movies, but just not another where he plays this character. Megan Fox is boring and stiff. ‘Nuff said. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese were typical as two of the military survivors from SOCCENT, and although I cannot help but think that they were completely unnecessary characters (WHY are they involved in this?), they caused no outcry from me. Something that does cause an outcry though is the comic relief from Mr. Bay, in the form of Anthony Anderson and John Turturro. I never thought Anthony Anderson was funny, not ever, but John Turturro really disappoints me in this movie. I won’t go into their lame characters, as comic relief typically has only the briefest and laziest of exposition anyway, but Turturro plays a secret agent, and I will never get back those lingering minutes he appeared on screen. Never. I feel genuinely mad at his flaccid attempt at humor here, and I really wished he had tried harder to be funny and not just spastic. You were in The Big Lebowski, for crying out loud!

The special effects, of course, are immaculate. There was never a moment when I questioned their artificiality, but it makes you realize just how far CG has come when you see some of these robots. Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, is especially impressive. Good job, Dreamworks!

Bottom line: this movie is not engaging. I don’t care about anyone enough to worry about their well-being. Even the earth, which is apparently endangered because of some minor sub-plot involving transforming robots, is not something I care enough about in this film to become interested. I hear people en masse telling me how much fun this movie was, and my only reply to that would be “When?”. When was it fun? I’m a fun guy, as people who know me will attest, and I had zero fun watching this. Watching giant robots be ignored by petty human concerns for 140 minutes is not my idea of a good time. So feel free to argue the point on the comments section, but until I find a compelling argument against my stance that I wasted over 2 hours on Michael Bay’s best film, I give Transformers 2 unfunny Anthony Andersons out of 10.

See you tomorrow for The Sword of Doom!