Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Expendables 2

I thought the first Expendables film was a disaster. Stallone very heavy-handedly threw a bunch of stars together and created the B-movie version of a B-movie (Z-movie?). It was interesting because I talked to a friend who saw the film in a different theater than mine and he said his theater loved it. People were  clapping and laughing etc. etc. etc. My theater hated it. People walked out uttering "piece of crap" and were saying "what the hell" as the movie went on...

The idea behind these movies wasn't bad. There is a certain nostalgic factor for older audiences as well as the youth who grew up on the films of its stars. There is a new audience to be found as well of course, especially with the addition performers like Jason Statham or Randy Couture.

I mention all of this because I was concerned about seeing The Expendables 2. The trailers weren't revealing much other than a variety of action scenes, so thus the film looked an awful lot like its predecessor. It turns out that with Stallone having stepped away from the director's chair, this sequel plays more like one of today's blockbusters mixed with the sensibilities of the "old guard" as opposed to the grimey feeling of the first installment. Director Simon West streamlines the film and makes it feel more sleak than Stallone was capable of doing. It's actually a lot closer to the film I wanted to see in 2010.

Don't get me wrong, it's a stupid film, but it's a fun stupid film. The kind that I go to with friends and we laugh and enjoy ourselves. It was "an excellent piece of crap" as I heard one moviegoer call it on the way out the door. It certainly helps that I don't feel like the film was falsely advertised to me as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis do actually appear in larger sequences (unfortunately Chuck Norris is regulated to cameo-patrol) and the cast gels a lot better because of how fast and more refined the look and story of the movie are (which I know isn't saying much). Yu Nan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Liam Hemsworth are all welcome additions as well.

I'll stop my quick blurbs and sputtering by just saying that even without the subtext that films like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, and Prometheus all had- The Expendables 2's isolationist approach to action being the story was a nice change of pace for someone who looks for what they deem to be complex material in even what mainstream cinema has to offer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Campaign

The Campaign has a lot of satire to it. The film essentially makes fun of the political process of being elected to office. It more-or-less comes across like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as if written by the staff of The film tries to mix the satire that its director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Recount, Game Change) is more familiar with alongside the absurdity that its producer Adam McKay and co-writer Chris Henchy are more known for whether it be in their film, television, or Internet productions.

There is a slight imbalance in the *wink*wink* nature of the film alongside ludicrous moments such as when Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) posts a porno of him and his competitor Marty Huggins' (Zach Galifianakis) wife engaging in sex acts as a campaign promo. Funny for a moment, but I'm ultimately more interested by how the satire of politics being a dog-and-pony show is the film's main focus. The problem is that there is no shortage of political humor that hasn't already poked fun at what this film treats as source material (just about every week of Saturday Night Live features this sort of stuff). Ferrell and Galifianakis make it all watchable because of their sheer committment and believability in playing a slogan spouting manly-man and a emasculated church-goer respectively. A deceptively smart film, just not as funny or memorable as one would hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour probably got green-lit because it's a somewhat unique idea (sidenote: also just about every alien-invasion movie these past couple of years were made after executives probably saw the numbers that District 9 pulled in). The film is about four tourists who are caught up in an alien invasion while in Russia, but the aliens are invisible and can only be identified by short, orange electrical beams of energy. Different design element in a foreign environment... could be something different. Turns out, the movie doesn't go anywhere beyond its setting and genre. Movies have been to Russia, movies have been made about alien invasions, and we have seen electrical currents captured on film before.

Throw in five basic character types consisting of two American tourists, two girls, and one foreign jerk and you have a movie that jumps from survival horror to science-fiction themed resistance fighting where the characters speak in cliches (almost as if they know what to say and do in a movie like this). Shame that a talented cast (Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Olivia Thirlby, Rachael Taylor, and Joel Kinnaman) are wasted as well as the talents of director Chris Gorak who was the main reason I know a few film buffs bit the bullet and saw this movie. This basically could've been his big-budget debut, but fans of his acclaimed (reasonably speaking) first film "Right at Your Door", will be disappointed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Take This Waltz

There are several scenes towards the beginning of Take This Waltz where the (temporarily) happily married Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are talking to each other like infants. They are rolling around in bed with each other or Margot might just walk up behind Lou while he is cooking chicken and they start talking like "'widdl'e babies". The scene repeats several times and that usually leads to them rubbing each others' noses, hugging, kissing, etc. or they have this routine where they romantically talk about how they are going to kill each other.

Words really can't do the moments any justice. Sure, the common reaction is "what the fuck?", but something that the movie makes clear (and why I'm bringing up those scenes at the beginning of my response) is that Take This Waltz is an extremely intimate and personal movie. It captures moments that  a large-scale romance might miss out on. We are in the home of these two people's lives and they're certainly unique people, but the moments that might sound odd or silly are just two moments that are meant to be lovingly private between two people who deeply care for each other. That is what makes the film a romantic fantasy. A Sarah Polley version of a Wes Anderson movie for the sake of a comparison (don't ask why, but I could swear the sitting-in-a-wheelchair-in-the-airport bit would work great with Anderson or perhaps Jason Reitman).

Like with her first film, "Away From Her", Polley is concerned with capturing a realism that still has a sense of the unexpected to it. She lets the film move slowly and have the fantastical and romantic elements of the story be representative in the locations and characters. The walls of Margot and Lou's home are yellow with a ton of pots, pans, and pictures hanging around. The other major character of the film, Daniel (Luke Kirby), has a white art-studio with wooden rickshaws lying about. There is a sense of romance in these elements, but there is also a sense of characterization and conscience decisions that add to one of the most unique films of the year and I haven't even gotten to the plot yet...

Take This Waltz could very well have been a movie about infidelity that took the route of say "Little Children", "Unfaithful", or for the sake of the ultimate exageration, "Fatal Attraction". Those movies are about characters who are in situations they find so displeasing that they look for an alternative to fill their hunger for something different. Margot has it perfect. In fact, she is a woman who is choosing to cheat on her perfect husband. Sure he has a few things that can annoy the average person, but she is choosing to go see what it's like to be with another man at first as a friend and then perhaps as something more. The thing is, Daniel is also very perfect.

Rogen is at his best and Kirby provides what I found to be the acting revelation/discovery of the year in how they both managed to balance charm with trustworthiness of both Margot and the audience. Williams once again demonstrates her general prowess in capturing the viewer with a natural talent for disappearing into her role completely. Wendy and Lucy, Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilyn, and now this... Williams is somehow able to keep an audience on her side while her character might not always be making the best of decisions

Afterall, Margot is somewhat vague in her motivations. Then again, so are many people in real life. Sure there are all of these quirks and idiosyncrasies to the folks and locales of Polley's suburban Toronto, but the film moves along at such a leisurely pace dicated by its characters, that after a while the viewer begins to feel like a fly on the wall. You stop wondering and questioning "who, what, where, when, and why" and instead you are watching people that anyone who has "lived a little" would recognize.

As for the ending... Williams is up there with Javier Bardem, Naomi Watts, Tony Leung, and so many other performers alive and long-gone, that can tell an entire story with just her face. When Margot's world begins to spin a bit faster at the end of the film (literally and figuratively), she smiles and then frowns. She looks upset and then overjoyed. Take This Waltz is about relationships and in one single shot and in one single scene, Margot's face explains what being in one can mean to many people at a given moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Total Recall

This remake of Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall by Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) looks like it cost a lot of money to produce ($125 million exactly). That shows because the one word I walk away from this movie with would be "flashy." It looks "flashy" or even "big" because of how expansive the art direction is, how futuristic the visual effects can feel, and how fast the camera moves. But for all the Blade Runner-styled sets and the Bourne-styled escapades, this remake has nothing interesting happening at just about any moment in the story. The action feels like a video game as there is a certain level of an impersonal connection between the audience and the characters of Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) and Melina (Jessica Biel). Before they can even connect or have the audience connect with them, they are swept away by the action with one big-budget set-piece spectacle after another. I'm not the biggest fan of Verhoeven's film, but at least Verhoeven understands that there was something to say behind the fantasical sex, violence, and escapism that have made up his films (RoboCop behind perhaps the best example due to Peter Weller's performance as opposed to allowing Arnold Schwarzenegger to take on a character like Quaid). In short, very little energy was put into handling the complexities of Total Recall with most of it being wasted on visuals that had little life to them.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


A highly stylized film of the swords-and-sandals genre that features slow-motion, muscled men, and exotic women... just about everyone whom I've talked to in person said the exact same thing, "Immortals looks like 300." They are in fact produced by the same people, but I had a bit more hope for Immortals.

I was a fan of Frank Miller's miniseries, but Snyder's film was ultimately underwhelming for me. Perhaps because the buzz I heard from friends and family made the movie out to be a lot more of an experience than what I ended up feeling after leaving that theater. Yet, I still look forward to Snyder's movies having liked two (Dawn of the Dead and Legend of the Guardians), but one of Tarsem Singh's movies definitely ranks above what Snyder has offered in his filmography so far. I'm talking about his masterful visual-extravaganza (no other word does the film justice) called The Fall. His previous film The Cell was a simple thriller with nice visuals and unfortunately Immortals is a simple epic with nice visuals.

Singh has an interesting and very unique eye, but based on Immortals, The Cell, and even just the trailer for Mirror Mirror, he seems to not be very concerned with plot. The Fall is well constructed enough that the plot is able to take a seat alongside the visuals and not feel placed elsewhere for the sake of spectacle. Immortals is practically 90% spectacle. I heard several reviewers comment that they expected just as much, and that's fine if one is content with that. I'd prefer some extra dimensions to the end product. Singh plays with mythology with beautiful art direction/cinematography/costume design/makeup/visual effects, but the narrative disappears into itself due to a script that throws neverending twists and fight sequences onto the screen again and again and again. The acting therefore feels cardboard amongst such fantastic design elements. Mickey Rourke can't seem to strike gold since The Wrestler, but Henry Cavill at least emerges as a potential leading man (the operative phrase just being "emerges").

Singh is up there with Baz Luhrmann and Julie Taymor in terms of imagining these new worlds and landscapes to place well-known stories into. Shame he can't always seem to have a script worthy of where his imagination can ultimately take him.