Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Review: The Wolverine

July 26, 2013

Rating: B

Before I even begin the review of The Wolverine, I need to point out that the film you will see could not have been made possible without Len Wein, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe (the creators of Wolverine) and specifically Chris Claremont and Frank Miller who wrote the 1982 four issue limited series this film is based on.

Overall it was not a bad film and there seems to be a level of quality control with this film that was not there with the first Wolverine film (see my review).  X-Men: First Class has become my favorite of the X franchise and the pendulum seems to be swinging towards quality.

That said, I did have issues with this film.

When this film followed the story laid out in the limited series, it was great, and that’s even with some of the subtle character changes (like with Yukio) that I thought worked and made sense.  I also liked the opening sequence which was extremely well done.  I am not someone who says that films need to be slavish to the source material.

But it is important to keep the spirit of the piece intact.

Where this film runs aground is when the screenwriters decided to grow a brain and add in things that just really didn’t make much sense.

For instance, the villain is both a copyright curiosity (does Fox own the rights to her?) and just took the film in directions that stunk of generic super hero movie.  There is also a huge part of the plot that deals with mutant powers that is a MacGuffin meant to create “manufactured danger”  that is extremely transparent (hint: if the actor’s name is the first billed on the poster, they’re not going to die).

Fox is trying to build a franchise out of the X-Men properties that they have the license to and that’s a good thing.  There’s even a great teaser in the credits for the next X film.

Typical of Hollywood however is that they learn the wrong lessons from their successes.

The lesson from X-Men: First Class was that if you build a great film first (in that case, a period spy piece) you win.

The lesson is not to build generic super hero films.  That’s X3 and it nearly killed the franchise it was such a mess.

Speaking of which, there is a heavy reliance on knowing what happened in X3.  So if you didn’t see that and aren’t familiar with the X-Men comic books, you might be scratching your head on a few scenes.  But more power to them for trying to build their universe.

The source material is not a super hero comic book.  It’s a samurai tale.  It’s very simple.  Very A-to-B.  And it works.  It’s stood the test of time.  Which is why, for instance, it is mind boggling that in addition to all of the crap they piled on the film they also made the decision to make it where Logan does not speak Japanese and has never lived in Japan.

It takes away a huge part of his cool factor and puts him in that generic super hero cookie cutter.

It’s also bizarre that so many of the divergence from the source material pull out some great set pieces (like running through Tokyo with Yukio).  That said, I found it interesting that they really tried to recreate some of the Frank Miller imagery in the film.  In some places they get close, but it really shows how different the mediums are where what you can do on the page doesn’t always work on the screen.

To that point, voice over almost never works in films, but works amazingly well in comics and I’m thankful they knew that and opted to not go with a voice over.

Overall, it’s not a bad film.  But it had so much potential.  Read the source material and you’ll understand what I mean where if they had stuck with the vision and the tone of the comic book the could have made a film that was better than Iron Man.

But like I said, they decided to try to get “clever” and “creative” and we all know that when it comes to Hollywood that’s usually not a good thing.

[Update: Sean Howe interviews Chris Claremont about his thoughts on the film on Vulture, and Claremont does a great job of articulating some of my issues with the film]

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

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Review: Sucker Punch (Extended Cut)

June 16, 2012

Carl: According to the map, the cabin should be right here. Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it’s one of them metaphorical things. Carl: Oh yeah, yeah… Like maybe the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork. Lenny: [in a flash of insight] Ohhh! Nah, they said there would be sandwiches. – The Simpsons, “Mountain of Madness

Sucker Punchfeels like it was written by a seventeen year-old boy; and that’s only a good thing some of the time.

As a film that switches between realities, this particular film only works when the characters are in the hyper-battle reality where they’re shooting and doing amazing wire work.

When they are there…holy shit, it’s nothing short of amazing.  The number of times I said, “Hot” during the film went into the triple digits (ask my friend Pansy, she was keeping count). All of the actresses are outstanding doing their fighting stunts, firearms sequences and fight choreography.

There’s a bit where Abbie Cornishis wearing a hoodie mixed with medieval shoulder pad armor (pictured above) that is fantastic.  The style of the characters and landscapes combined with the action are fantastic. I could have watched that part of the movie for hours.  Just that for an evening would have made this film an A+. The problem is they did not stay in that reality.  Instead, the “narrative thread” that strings together these amazing scenes is something out of a bad high school notebook.

Homer [while watching the movie]: I’ve heard how this ends, it turns out the secret code was the same nursery rhyme he told his daughter! – The Simpsons, “Colonel Homer

The entire movie is like this quote.  The metaphors are so heavy handed that it’s any wonder the actors could lift the scripts. Entire scenes and huge chunks of dialogue made absolutely no sense.  Metaphor or not.

In keeping with the metaphors, the film had this dark / goth tone across the A storyline (if one could call it that) and it was simply unnecessary. Speaking of which, I suspect the mascara budget on this film was in the high six figures (it would have been cheaper to just buy Lancome).

Back to the reality switching for a moment.  The bizarre irony of the film is that on the one hand it relies on the imagination of a woman in the 1950’s who is dreaming about things that did not exist sixty years ago, and on the other hand she lacks imagination to do certain fundamental things in the plot.

I also call a bit of dirty pool on the director for establishing a film that is following the POV of a specific character…then having entire sequences without that character in the room.  This was done a few times.  It’s just sloppy writing.

The other element of the film that was obtrusive was the music.  The opening sequence is little more than a music video (which, I have to ask the director if he had enough confidence in the scene that he should have just left it to stand by itself).  The music overall is done as a series of cover versions of classic songs that we know and love.  Except the Bjork song.  Which is the original.  To which I’d ask: pick one!  Do either all covers.  Or all originals.  Doing both just gets annoying.

But maybe my temper was running high because I wanted them to go back to the hyper-reality action stuff.

BTW, the music is used during the dance sequences where the main character zones out and shifts into the hyper-battle reality.  The most hilarious thing about the film is that when she finishes her “dance” the characters who have seen this are shown crying.  She’s such a good dancer that she makes people weep. Again.  The heavy hand combined with the music just make it…ugh.

Overall, I’d say that if you want a movie that you can mute for long periods of time to read comics and then unmute when some of the most insane action sequences come on than this is your movie!

If you are looking for a deep and meaningful movie that speaks to the human condition.

See the statement above. Rating: C-

Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

April 8, 2012

In my last blog about San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), I said, “Comic books are still at SDCC.  You just have to know where to look.”

Since I have been so hyper-critical about what San Diego Comic-Con has become, I was very skeptical when I sat down to watch the Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.” (available for rental on Video On Demand and iTunes)

I am relieved to say that this film is squarely focused on comic books and the fan culture and what little emphasis is given to the movie and television stuff is done mostly in cutaway shots (speaking of which: I’m sure Olivia Wilde was relieved to see her credit as “Actress, Tron: Legacy” and not “Cowboys & Aliens”).

Spurlock understands what does (and does not) make a great and captivating story.

Nobody.  And I do mean nobody, not even the parents of the people involved.  Nobody cares about Warner Brothers trying to pump millions of dollars into their marketing machine to try to convince the world that Green Lantern was anything but a steaming pile of dog sh**.

But we do want to see a guy trying to propose to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith panel.  We also want to see Holly the costume designer and her friends compete at the masquerade.

Specific to comics, We want to watch two unknown artists try to find work and break into the industry.

Most importantly, from a retail perspective, we want to see legendary retailer Chuck Rozanski  from Mile High Comics selling actual comic books.

All of these stories have weight to them.  They matter to the people that they are happening to and we as an audience are invested in their success.

Did I tear up during this movie?  Quite a bit.

It’s a happy movie.  It’s very positive.  It’s about comic books.  Which is why I liked it quite a bit.

That said, I can tell you that if you’re not into comic books you’ll still like it because at the end of the day these are stories about people who you “meet” and want to see succeed.

I have never played the game Mass Effect, but after watching the passion that Holly and her friends put into their costumes I was rooting (out loud) for them to win at the masquerade.

I’d have liked a comprehensive documentary about the history of the con, but I also know that I’m an audience of about 10 people who want such a thing so I’ll stick to finding that in interviews and online.

This is a fun movie and it brings you either closer to the experience of being at SDCC in the present day, or for people like me it reminds me of what I liked about attending back in the day.

Very much worth a rental.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011

Rating: B

In the mid-1990’s, television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford was producing a high quality apparel line for K-Mart at affordable prices.  Then in 1996, the National Labor Committee reported (Democracy Now) that the clothing was being made in sweatshops with conditions that are too unspeakable to go into in this blog post.

I mention that to mention this.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Bananas.

It so crazy and insanely over the top that even with a $200 million (US) budget, I have to wonder if we won’t find out in a few months  that none of the actors or crew were paid (or fed) and that the special effects were all done in fifth-world sweatshops in countries we’ve never heard of.

But until then!  This movie is just insane and worth seeing in a great theater with a nice digital 3D projector (like the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin).

Let’s start with the fact that if I were a kid.  This movie would be my jam.

Visually, it is incredible.  It’s one of the first times where I’ve noticed a director composing his shots for 3D and then actually pulling it off without it being the stupid ‘he that actor is throwing something at me’ nonsense.  Rather, subtle things like foreground elements such as lamp posts give this movie the three dimensions that other movies (like Green Lantern) fail to do.

The open letter that Michael Bay wrote to theater projectionists and fans was on  the money; the theater experience will make or break this movie for you.  My older brother convinced me to see this in the theater and he was right to do so.

BTW, let’s talk about Green Lantern for a moment.  My hatred of Green Lantern is well-known.  Transformers delivers all of the awesomeness that Green Lantern did not.  I am not lying to you when I say that there is a scene in the first five minutes of the movie that looked more expensive than all of Green Lantern combined.  And it lasted for maybe 5 minutes.  If that.

There’s also a stunt involving Bumblebee on the highway that…when you see this thing your jaw will open and you’ll think what I did, “Wow.  That one scene is so much better than the entirity of Green Lantern.”

Michael Bay is a very easy target.  He’s made enough bad movies (I saw The Island in the theater, thank you very much) and he’s a “jock” in a world full of nerds.

But let’s look past all of that because this is a good movie.

Michael Bay does two things that you would think are diametrically opposite of each other very well.

He can handle a large budget like $200 million (US) without bankrupting his backers or the studio and at the same time he can stretch a dollar in the way that Sam Raimi and Robert Rodriguez can.

The other thing that Bay does quite well is action, and a lot of it has to do with his unique relationship with the military.  I recall reading somewhere that after doing Pearl Harbor, the US military has pretty much been open to any request he asks of them (short of doing a Dogs of War thing, I suspect).

For instance, the last film was the first use of the V-22 Osprey and this film uses them heavily as well but the drop into Chicago in particular is a scene where you recognize that not only does MIchael Bay have some of the best military tech advisors on speed dial, but he backs up the budget to let them show us some amazing stuff.

The script from Ehren Kruger is interesting in that it’s a lot more historical fact-meets-fiction (ala National Treasure and the like).  Overall, the story holds together.

If I were to scrutinize it, could I find plot holes?  Sure.  But I almost give it a bit of a pass because the movie progressed at a nice rapid clip and overall it was visual insanity set to screen.

The dialogue from Optimus Prime was everything it should be.  Every time Peter Cullen speaks it is inspirational and at the same time heroic.

I will say that the role of women in this movie was horrible.  Seriously.  The lack of roles for women in this film outside of girlfriend, horrible boss and assistant probably set the suffrage movement back about 50 years.  And yes, that was Keiko Agena aka “Lane” from Gilmore Girls.

Also, this movie suffers from what Green Lantern did in that it only credits the screenwriter and not the many hard working individuals who created the comic book and television show.  It should be noted that former Editor In Chief of Marvel comics, Jim Shooter, actually created the storyline and character details for the comic, the toys and ultimately the television show.  He was not credited.

Overall though, this is a fun movie to go see during the summer.  Don’t scrutnize it too hard.  LIke I said, go to a theater with a good 3D digital projector.  Put on the glasses. Have fun.  And prepare to see in snanity that is bananas.

…and in honor that, I give you Mindy Kaling singing, “This day is bananas.”

Green Lantern: The Credits You Didn’t See

June 17, 2011

My review for Green Lantern will be the next thing I post, but I want to be very clear that this movie is receiving an F as my official rating because it failed to credit any of the writers, artists and editors whose work the film was based on.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

As a primer, creator’s rights is a topic that is very familiar to comic book readers.  Back in the day, the industry had most writers and artists locked into contracts that were…well, the only word to use in retrospect is “shameful.”

In addition to the stories you know about, like Siegel & Shuster signing away Superman, there are also stories that are even more horrific:

  • Bob Kane signed a “sweetheart” deal with Batman that ensured his continued credit for creating the character and cut out his co-creator entirely, a gentleman by the name of Bill Finger.
  • The legal battle between Jack Kirby and Marvel and possibly the most egregious business practice which was where Marvel would stamp the back of their pay checks with contracts that forced creators who needed to endorse them (read: get paid) to have to sign away their labor as “work for hire.”  So sign the contract, or starve.

While some of these individuals entered these contracts willingly, I think that we can all agree that nobody could anticipate how things would turn out years down the road.

Things could have easily imploded, like vaudeville or old time radio, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But they didn’t.  Instead, companies like DC Comics and Marvel make billions of dollars off of the work of these individuals often without a credit to their names on the work.

Contracts have gotten better over the past 20 years or so, but the legacy stuff where the bulk of the money is made, are still pretty dicey and it’s times like this where legal obligation and doing the right thing meet at a crossroads and it defines a company.

At the end of the Thor movie, Marvel (see above) surprised many fans with a “Thanks” credit given to a handful of writers and artists whose work clearly influenced the film.  It wasn’t something they needed to do.  They did it because it’s the right thing to do.

When Batman Begins came out, a number of writers and artists whose work was featured in the film received small payments from DC Comics.

Which is why when the credits rolled on Green Lantern, people such as myself were in disbelief when the credit simply read: based on the character appearing in DC Comics magazines (or some such boilerplate copy).

Considering this was similar wording used in the Superman television series from the 1950’s (when DC was dodging Siegel & Shuster), it would have been laughable if it were not a sad, shameful and pathetic.

Warner Brothers and DC Comics should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping up and recognizing the backs on which they are to make millions of dollars.  

The same company that continues to try to screw the Siegel And Shuster estates at every turn is the same company that did this utterly low-class move.

So, before I go into a complete frenzy, let me share with you the credits that should have been on the screen:

  • Bill Finger.  Yes, the same guy who Bob Kane screwed over.  He and an artist by the name of Martin Nodell created the original Green Lantern.  An interesting piece of trivia about Nodell is that he worked at the Leo Burnett Agency where he helped create the Pillsbury Doughboy.
  • That character ended publication in 1951 and it wasn’t until the late 1950’s when an editor named Julie Schwartz got the idea to take the names of old DC comic book characters and revive them with “modern” science-fiction backgrounds, something he did successfully with The Flash.
  • Schwartz hired writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane to remake Green Lantern for the modern world.  Their version, Hal Jordan, is what the film is based on.
  • In fact, they not only created Hal Jordan, but Hector Hammond.  Oa.  Guardians.  Tomar-Re.  Carol Ferris and Sinestro.
  • Even the basic logo/look of the ring (the two horizontal lines with the circle in the middle) came work done by Kane and Nodell.

Which is why the way that Warner Brothers and DC Comics chose to credit the creation of this character can be summarized in one word: shameful.

Super 8: A Gift Of Beauty

June 10, 2011

Rating: A

The less you know about this film, the better.  What I will say about this movie will be spoiler free and it is my hope that you enjoy this film as much as I did.

What I will say is that my generation had movies like The Goonies, Stand By Me and <blank>.  This generation will have Super 8.

JJ Abrams is the anti-Michael Bay.  Where Michael Bay films demand that they show every single thing in massive million dollar explosive detail, Abrams more often than not takes the more subtle approach.

The brilliance of Super 8 is the subtlety of movement that this film takes.  With so much going on, it’s what Abrams chooses to focus on at any given moment that sets him apart from other directors.

I don’t know what the budget to this film was, but I can for certainty that there was an economy where every single penny was spent in just the right place on just the right things when they needed to happen.

Also, much like Alias was less a show about spies and more about a father and daughter relationship, Super 8 is less a <blank> movie and more about the relationship of these friends.

The script is written to reward those paying attention.  The dialogue is not dumb and when it’s expository it’s usually done in the background.

As much as this feels like a classic Spielberg-era film, it also has all of the things that Abrams has brought to every project he’s worked on in his career.

Abrams knows how to write relationships.  He understands how to develop characters in a short period of time but still make you understand (and care about) them.

I can not say enough about how great the characters in this movie were done.

In addition to perfection in writing, this movie also has two hallmarks of any JJ Abrams project; amazing casting and detailed production quality.

First the casting.  Every single role is brilliantly cast, but the standout in this film will be Elle Fanning.  There is a scene early in the movie (and you’ll know it when you see it) where she is so good at conveying exactly what she needed to in the moment that you completely forget that you’re watching a movie and you buy her as the character.  Doing what she’s doing in the moment.  And you’re as mesmerized as those watching her.

I should also mention Austin’s own Kyle Chandler (yes, we’re claiming him now if that’s cool) is perfect in his role as well.

As for the production quality.  in the past I have Twittered extensively about how amazing the props and production people are on the TV show Fringe.  The crew that Abrams had on this film were equally amazing.  The hardcore nerds, like myself, will be amazed at the attention to detail.

I said on Twitter that Super 8 is a gift.  It is a gift from JJ Abrams to his audience and it does not pander.  It comes straight from the heart.  This is a movie that has soul and will both move you and be a lot of fun to watch and enjoy.

*and yes, the <blank> things are put there on purpose.  If you want to know what I was talking about specifically, you can Twitter me.  But they are references that might spoil the film.  

The Day I Watched The 1990 Captain America Movie

March 22, 2011

The announcement on io9 that the 1990 Captain America movie is going to be rereleased with a director’s cut promoted this blog:


There are days that, when they occur, have a dramatic impact on the rest of your life.

The day I watched the 1990 Captain America movie was one of those days because, in an odd way, that Captain America movie taught me about hope.

Rewind to an early Saturday morning in the Fall of 1990 and I was at my high school (Go Chargers!) taking the SAT exam for the second time.

My first attempt yielded me a score that was less than favorable and this second attempt was my best hope to get a score that might secure me a spot somewhere other than my “safety” school.

My college admissions was hinged on retaking this exam and doing significantly better than I had previously and having a score that I could start to send out in the Fall for early admissions.

Like I said.  It was one of those days that then shapes the rest of your life.

I had gone to an SAT prep class, and while my instructor was good she could not prepare me for what was about to happen.

Towards the end of the exam, as the classroom turned to section 6, the proctor made a startling request, “Please turn to section 3 of your exam booklets.”

I say that this is “startling” because one of the first things they teach you in SAT prep classes is that once you’re done with a section; you’re done.  They don’t go back.

So, as everyone turned to section 3, the proctor made another request.  The one that would change my life.

Please raise your hand if there are 35 questions in your exam booklet.

I raised my hand.  Along with a number of other students (we represented maybe 10% of the students in the room).

The proctor then said, “Please close your exam booklets and give your tests to me and leave the room.  There has been an error.  Your test has been invalidated and you are asked to call the Princeton Review on Monday to schedule a makeup exam.

At 17 years old, I don’t think any of us were handling the shock of our futures being torn away from us.  As we tried to plead and beg to get more information, the proctor pushed us out of the room explaining that the other students (the fortunate ones) still needed to finish their exams.

Leave the room.

That was the request.

And we complied.

We would later find out that in the history of giving the SAT exam, this was the first time in something like 30 years where there was a misprint in the exam booklets (section 3 was meant to have 45 questions).  But we’d only find this out later.

For that moment, in the hallways of North Miami Beach Senior High School, we wandered with thousand yard stares trying to get information from each other.  From teachers.  From anyone.

But there were no answers to be had.  This was 1990.  There was no Internet to speak of and any calls to the Princeton Review went straight to voice mail (don’t forget, it was Saturday).

My future was uncertain.  I didn’t know if there would be a chance to retake my SAT in time to start applying early to the colleges I wanted to go to.  And worse, would I even be ready to take the exam for a third time?

I think I called my brother from a pay phone and all I could do was laugh because crying would have just made me realize the gravity of the situation.

So.  It was 11 AM on a Saturday and of course, my thought was to go to my local comic book store around the corner.

I don’t know that I had the courage to go home right away.

I think I explained the the situation to Glen (the owner) and I forget if I had already had it on hold or not, but he gave me a bootleg VHS of the Captain America movie with Matt Saligner that was being passed around among the customers.

He warned me it was horrible.

I didn’t care.

I went home and watched it.  Trying.  So hard.  So so hard to get  my mind off of the impact this curve ball would have on the rest of my life.

The only thing I can remember was that the shield special effect looked expensive and I think it didn’t have Nazis (I think they fought the Italians?).

Subconsciously, the act of me going to the comic store.  Watching Captain America.  Trying to bring some level of normalcy back to my life.  It was me knowing that things would be OK.

That hope was an option and that I was embracing hope because it’s always there.

Much like Steve Rogers was given hope to serve his country and fight the Nazis Italians (?) for his country.

Things worked out, and they worked out for the better quite frankly.

Most of us found out that week that the Princeton Review would comp us to take the exam at a later date.  I retook the exam (for a third time) in May and had my results that summer in time to apply for early decision to many of the schools I wanted to go to.

My score went up 170 points.  Actually, it went up 180, since the Princeton Review decided to go back and grade the English on the second exam (the only section that was officially completed by us).

The combination of the second English section and the third Math section was enough to get me accepted to the University of Texas (Hook ‘Em).

And things turned OK because I guess I always knew that there was hope.

So.  Like I said.  As strange as it sounds, the Matt Salinger Captain America taught me hope.

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

August 22, 2009

Rating: A-

Before I even begin to review the film Inglourious Basterds, there are two people I would like to punch in the face; the Universal marketing department and MTV writer Larry Carroll.

To The Universal Marketing Department: I understand why you’d want to market this film as a “WW II action movie.”  It puts butts in seats.  But the reality is that this movie is not that.  It’s a meaningful and thoughtful piece about war and revenge that deserves to be in an art house cinema and not in the film library of PC Danny Butterman.  You might be selling tickets, but it risks a backlash of negative reviews from people who were expecting something different.  It’s also too damn easy.  Nut up and work for a living.

To MTV Writer Larry Carroll: you’re next.  Be a damn professional and think before you put a damn spoiler in your article headline you stupid @$%#!  There are some people who try, very hard, to avoid spoilers.  We can’t do that when you put them in the headline.  *#$%!

So, what about the movie?

Excellent.

Tarantino is three things; a writer of sharp dialogue, a master at pacing and a skillful hand with his camera.

Writer of Sharp Dialogue: Tarantino is known for the way his characters talk, and I love that about his films.  You know you’re watching a Tarantino movie, just like you know you’re watching a David Mamet film.  This movie has his unique flourishes of dialogue, but very carefully placed within the context of the 1940’s.  It sounds like a Tarantino film while at the same time sounding like a WW II period piece.  That, my friend, is a skill.

A Master Of Pacing: Tarantino goes where the story takes him.  It doesn’t matter if that scene is 3 seconds on 13 minutes.  The actors and the film itself serve the story.  There are numerous scenes that are “long” because that’s what the story commands.  They’re both entertaining and they add to the tension of the film.  So they’re not “long” so much as they’re simply “longer.”  To that point, Tarantino takes a page from the TV show LOST, and really squeezes every drop out of his entire cast.  I enjoyed seeing some of the supporting cast members getting as much screen time as Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger (no offense to them, but you get what I mean).  Tarantino has always been good with large casts, and this film allows him to place the pieces on the board and push through his story at the right pace utilizing each of these characters.

A Skillful Hand With His Camera: Tarantino shoots like Kubrick; every shot is well thought out and planned.   He moves the camera.  He uses awkward angles.  Much like how he uses his words and his actors to accelerate his story, he uses the camera in the same way.  It services the story and it adds yet a dimension to the movie as a whole that provides his signature.

This is a great movie.  Like I said above.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s a meaningful film about war and revenge.  It’s funny.  It has action.  It has all the things that other Tarantino films have and it’s everything I enjoy about his filmmaking.

PS I will also say that if you do enjoy this movie, your first thought would be to go and rent The Dirty Dozen or Kelly’s Heroes…which is cool, but you might consider instead to seek out the Paul Verhoeven film Black Book (Zwartboek) and Valkyrie (see my review) instead.  Both are excellent chasers to this film.

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (*sigh*)

August 16, 2009

Rating: D

I  had been warned.  G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a great film.

Terrible?  Maybe (Rotten Tomatoes is tracking it at 38%).  But certainly not great.

But here’s the thing.  In addition to being a “vote with my dollars” type of guy, I like to “judge for myself.”

So, I went this morning and did that.

The verdict?  The performances were good.  The action sequences were good.  The movie as a whole was OK.  I’d probably rate it at a C in terms of being a “summer big budget blockbuster action movie”

But here’s the thing, the name on the marquee says, “G.I. Joe” and as a G.I. Joe film I would rank it as an F (for #fail).

To take a step back for a moment, let’s acknowledge that adaptations are a tricky thing.

Comic book writers talk about separating what is considered “cannon” and what are those things that you can alter and/or adapt.

A good example is Batman.

  • Cannon: Batman’s parents are killed in front of him as a child.
  • Cannon: Batman does not kill.
  • Cannon: He wears a costume with a cape.

Those and a few other things are unalterable.  They’re not up for discussion.  Which is why when you watch Batman Beginsthe Nolan Brothers and David Goyer manage to keep the cannon but also introduce altered elements (such as Ra’s  Al Ghul being his sensei / teacher) and together it all works.  It blends seamlessly.  It’s also why most Batman fans (myself included) trust and love the hell out of those guys.

So, that said, it was somewhat encouraging when I read the IMDB trivia for G.I. Joe and it’s littered with references about how they looked to the comic book as source material and even hired writer Larry Hama as a creative consultant.

But here’s the thing.  I read the comic book from issue 1 well into the 100’s (and Special Missions Force and the Yearbooks as well as watching the television show, of course) and I had to look extremely hard to find any “comic book logic” in this film.

This was less of a G.i. Joe film and more of a “generic action movie” that traded on the reputation and name of G.I. Joe.

I don’t want to sound like Comic Book Guy, but I have to point out how far off the page the screenwriters went on this movie.  So far off, that it’s not a G.I. Joe film.  Just saying “…knowing is half the battle.” doesn’t cut it.

Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Cannon: Snake-Eyes and Scarlett are a couple.  Period.
  • Cannon: Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow were in the same platoon in Vietnam (or any war for that matter).  They were not orphans at a monastery so that the filmmakers could have a poor excuse to put a scene in the film with kids in it.
  • Cannon: Duke is a Master Sergeant (E8 rating according to his file card) and is the leader of missions in the field.  He’s not the rookie.  And speaking of which, Heavy Duty is an E5, not a mission leader.
  • Cannon: Ripcord is a HALO paratrooper.  He’s not a “skilled marksman and pilot.”  I have no problem with changing the ethnicity (or gender) of characters when it’s the right fit.  Kingpin in the Daredevil movie.  Starbuck on BSG.  I’m fine with Marlon Wayans playing the character, but I have four questions: 1) Ripcord was never that funny in the comic (or the television series), so why him? (he’d have made a great Shipwreck to be honest)  2) why not Flint?  3) why not Stalker (and then you have a link to Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow since they were in the same platoon in Vietnam)?  And even more basic then that, 4) what is a guy named “Ripcord” who is a qualified HALO jumper doing in a land-based platoon?
  • Cannon: Cover Girl is not a glorified Star Trek secretary asking for Hawk’s signature.  She’s an armory specialist who drives a Wolverine missle tank.  She trained at Ft. Knox for goodness sake.  Give her some f’ing dignity.
  • Cannon: The Baroness is not **shudder** Duke’s ex-fiance.  Seriously.  Really?  I think I just threw up in my mouth.

I could go on.  But I won’t bore you.

What I will say is this: it is evident by one single fact that I am about to present that the filmmakers had no intention of making a “G.I. Joe” movie and they were just simply making “a generic action movie” while trading on nostalgia from people such as myself to put butts in seats on opening weekend.

G.I. Joe is made up of mission specialists who have advanced knowledge and skills that are brought in when the situation requires it.

So, if you’re fighting in the Arctic Circle, you’d call in a guy like Snow Job.  Or if you were fighting underwater, you’d get Deep Six and Torpedo (and maybe even Shipwreck).

The whole point of G.I. Joe is that you have mission specialists and they show up at times like this.  So where were any of those mission specialists in this movie?  Seriously!

OK, there was one but let’s be real – I don’t mind having cameos, but if you’re going to have someone train Joes, why not get the real deal, Sgt. Slaughter, and let your buddy do a cameo someplace else.

But here’s the thing.  If you’re going to call the movie “G.I. Joe,” then you have to shoulder the burden of the source material and stay loyal to at least some of the cannon.  If you’re going to make a “generic action movie,” that’s fine.  Just don’t call it G.I. Joe to cash in on name recognition and nostalgia.  Step up.

The sad thing is, this Funny or Die video (The Ballad of G.i. Joe) has more integrity to the source material then the movie did.

Oh and PS, if you’re gonna swipe the gag from Firefox, at least get it right.  It was the whole thing that required the thing.

had been warned.  G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a great film.
Terrible?  Maybe.  But certainly not great.
But here’s the thing.  In addition to being a “vote with my dollars” type of guy, I’m like to “judge for myself.”
So, I went this morning and did that.
The verdict?  The performances were good.  The action sequences were good.  The movie as a whole was OK.  I’d probably rate it at a C in terms of being a “summer big budget blockbuster action movie”
But here’s the thing, the name on the marquee says, “G.I. Joe” and as a G.I. Joe film I would rank it as an F (for #fail).
To take a step back for a moment, let’s acknowledge that adaptations are a tricky thing.
Comic book writers talk about separating what is considered “cannon” and what are those things that you can alter and/or adapt.
A good example is Batman.  Batman’s parents are killed in front of him as a child.  Cannon.  Batman does not kill.  Cannon.  He wears a costume with a cape.  Cannon.  Which is why when you watch Batman Begins by the Nolan Brothers and David Goyer, they manage to keep the cannon but also introduce altered elements (such as Ra’s  Al Ghul being his sensei / teacher) and together it all works.
Which is why it was somewhat encouraging when you read the IMDB trivia for G.I. Joe and it’s littered with references about how they looked to the comic book as source material and even hired writer Larry Hama as a creative consultant.
But here’s the thing.  I read the comic book from issue 1 well into 100 (and Special Missions Force and the Yearbooks) and I had to look extremely hard to find any “comic book logic” in this film.
This was less of a G.i. Joe film and more of a “generic action movie” that traded on the reputation and name of G.I. Joe.
I don’t want to sound like Comic Book Guy, but I have to point out how far off the page the screenwriters went on this movie.  So far off, that it’s not a G.I. Joe.  Just saying “…knowing is half the battle.” doesn’t cut it.
Cannon: Snake-Eyes and Scarlett are a couple.  Period.
Cannon: Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow were in the same platoon in Vietnam (or any war for that matter).  They were not orphans at a monastery so that the filmmakers could have a poor excuse to put a scene in the film with kids in it.
Cannon: Duke is a Master Sergeant (E8 rating according to his file card) and is the leader of missions in the field.  He’s not the rookie.  And speaking of which, Heavy Duty is an E5, not a mission leader.
Cannon: Ripcord is a paratrooper.  He’s not a “skilled marksman and pilot.”  I have no problem with changing the ethnicity (or gender) of characters when it’s the right fit.  Kingpin in the Daredevil movie.  Starbuck on BSG.  But I have three questions: 1) why not Flint?  2) why not Stalker (and then you have a link to Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow)?  And even more basic then that, 3) what is a guy named “Ripcord” doing in a land-based platoon?
Cannon: Cover Girl is not a glorified Star Trek secretary asking for Hawk’s signature.  She’s an armory specialist who drives a Wolverine missle tank.  She trained at Ft. Knox for goodness sake.  Give her some f’ing dignity.
Cannon: The Baroness is not **shudder** Duke’s ex-fiance.  Seriously.  Really?
I could go on.  But I won’t bore you.
What I will say is this: it is evident by one single fact that I am about to present that the filmmakers had no intention of making a “G.I. Joe” movie (and were just simply making “a generic action movie”).
G.I. Joe is made up of mission specialists who have advanced knowledge and skills that are brought in when the situation requires it.
So, if you’re fighting in the Arctic Circle, you’d call in a guy like Snow Job.  Or if you were fighting underwater, you’d get Deep Six and Torpedo (and maybe even Shipwreck).
The whole point of G.I. Joe is that you have mission specialists and they show up at times like this.  So where were any of those mission specialists in this movie?  One.  I would have settled for one!
Nope.  Not a single one.  Scarlett provided first-aid to Ripcord (Doc).  Heavy Duty gave the briefing on the accelerator suits (don’t even get me started on those stupid things).
OK, there was one but let’s be real – I don’t mind having cameos, but if you’re going to have someone train Joes, why not get the real deal; Sgt. Slaughter.
But here’s the thing.  If you’re going to call the movie “G.I. Joe,” then you have to shoulder the burden of the source material and stay loyal to at least some of the cannon.  If you’re going to make a “generic action movie,” that’s fine.  Just don’t call it G.I. Joe to cash in on name recognition.  Step up.
The sad thing is, this Funny or Die video (The Ballad of G.i. Joe) has more integrity to the source material then the movie did.  http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/076041c13b/the-ballad-of-g-i-joe
Oh and PS, if you’re gonna swipe the gag from Firefox, at least get it right.  It was the whole thing that required the thing.  Not just the one.

Movie Review: District 9

August 15, 2009

Rating: A

One of my favorite things when I’m watching a movie is the surprise of seeing a vision that is so unique that it screams through the projector as the audience is left breathless and, in my case, waiting anxiously to pick up the phone and call a friend to say, “Dude!  You gotta see this things!”

Reservoir Dogs.  Dead Alive.  Kids.  The Matrix.  Blair Witch Project.  Slumdog Millionaire.

I’m going to include District 9 in that list (and yes, I’m sure I’m forgetting some…but you get the idea).

To say anything about District 9 is to ruin it.

All I can tell you is that it’s called “District 9” and tickets may or may not be available in your area (more on that shortly).

District 9 is less of a science fiction movie and more of a social statement on race and the things that both unite and divide us as human beings.

The director Neill Blomkamp is from South Africa and any review that fails to point out the obvious references to  apartheid is clearly missing the heart of this movie.

Speaking of heart, if I can continue that metaphor, District 9 works as a film because it has a soul.  At its core, the film is about friendship and it is about family.

If you’re dragging your significant other and they just want to see a bunch of stuff explode and people shooting each other.  This movie has that too.  It’s got great aliens.  Amazing special effects and some awesome battle sequences.  That said, you could take those things out and you’d have an art house movie that’d have the Sundance crowd falling all over itself.

The budget for this movie was $30 million dollars and I will make the same point I made with my review of Doomsday; this movie looks five times as expensive and you can see every single damn penny they spent on this movie on the screen.  No star trailers or catering budgets.  It’s all up on screen in beautiful large explosions.

How much money did Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen cost?  G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra?  Hancock?  I can go on.  The reality is, you don’t need to go into triple digits to make a good movie.  You just have to have a good script and creators who have heart.

There are moments in this film where actor Sharito Copley plays the “everyman” so damn well that you feel for him.

You feel for this man.  I can say the same thing about Christopher Johnson and…well, I won’t say anything else.

The emotions of this film take it from what would have been a humorous “Cops” spoof (or “Troops”) into something that really engages its audience on an intelligent and honest level.

I am hoping that this film is the phenominon that I am seeing here in Austin.

The Alamo Drafthouse (the “geek theater” for Austin) had its last three shows on Friday night sold out.

I saw the movie this morning at 11:05am and there was not an empty seat in the house.  The line for the next showing was out the door and their website continues to cross off online purchasing of future shows as the day  keeps progressing (Deadline Hollywood has a good summary of the opening day).

I am a big believer of voting with your dollars and showing Hollywood what we as consumers want (and don’t want), which is why you should go to see this movie this weekend.

Tell Hollywood that you want to see action movies that are also intelligent like District 9, and not souless pieces of c*** like the big-budget blockbusters they keep shoveling at us (and don’t let the press see).

[Full disclosure is that a friend of mine works at Sony in their marketing department.  I am not in any way associated with Sony, nor has my friend asked me to write a review or do anything to promote the film.  In fact, I don’t even think he knows I have a blog.  We were e-mailing on something unrelated and he said that I should check out the film and let him know what I think.  End of disclosure.]