Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Frank Review of "Chronicle" (2012)

The Short Version? Parahuman Activity.
What Is It? Found Footage Superhero Drama.
Who Is In It? Nobody you know.
Should I See It? Probably.

The Smallville Witch Project? Akirafield? I've got a million of 'em. Thankfully, Chronicle is closer in quality to 2007's [REC] than the E.coli stream of projectile poop in a landfill that are most "found footage" pseudo-documentary genre flicks. It's still by-the-numbers, but does a good job with the consistency and placement of the paint. Give three teenage boys telekinesis. One's socially maladjusted. One's a good-natured goof. One's a popular kid. The first two are white, and the last is black. Quick: who's not going to make it to the end of this movie, who'll be fucking up downtown Tokyo, and who'll be shouting "TETSUO?" That said, the film plays in some darker areas than most super-hero fare, and is vastly more competent with its filming conceit than most of its kind. The acting is decent, the character types are set up well, and it's fun seeing them work through their predictable arcs. There's a few laughs, and some sweet destruction in the last act, even if the ending is rather cheesy. For the budget, it's a good looking adventure story, well paced, and a solid diversion.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Frank Review of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)

The Short Version? Mario & Luigi's Infinite Playlist.
What Is It? ADD Romantic Comedy.
Who Is In It? Paulie Bleeker, Royal Pain, Igby, Six Chick, Captain America, Superman, The Punisher, Max Fischer, Major Suzy Chao, Jessica from Twilight
Should I See It? Yes.

Once I started watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I couldn't stop. It isn't so much passively viewed as streamed directly into your brain at such a rapid pace that it isn't a collection of scenes, but a single unit of compressed subjective time flooding your synapses. It's an entertainment explosion contained by your cranium; a benign blipvert.

For once with a comic book based movie, I've never read the original graphic novels, and suspect that I wouldn't even like them. After all, the hero of those volumes is Scott Pilgrim, a douchebag simpleton who unwittingly embarks on a hero's journey of expanded consciousness by way of having a total hard-on for the seemingly unattainable cool new girl. After a bit of resistance, Ramona Flowers turns out to be surprisingly reliable and gettable, with the unspoken caveat that any suitor will have to face and defeat her seven evil exes in mortal combat. This necessitates constant segues into surreal video game flavored battles, as well as cartoon graphics throughout even the "normal" portions. The extravagance of the battles and the rapid fire dialogue strongly suggest manga, which I've never developed a taste for, but compressing so much story into one feature seems to have alleviated potential hang-ups from the source material.

Director Edgar Wright (with co-screenwriter Michael Bacall) seems to have trimmed Bryan Lee O'Malley's novels into an all-killer, no-filler slacker epic. Puns and cameos come fast an furious (sometimes distractingly so,) and the film seems to play with every cinematic trick from the dawn of the silent era to the latest, greatest CGI. There's a bit of lag in the final act thanks to a repetition device, and some of the more famous faces turn in performances that might have been better served by unknowns, but the film is so addictive and inventive that it demands thoroughly enjoyable repeat viewings.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Fill Me Up" by Linda Perry

Written By: Linda Perry
Released: September 16, 1996
Album: In Flight
Single?: No.

I'm a fan of Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, Perry's breakthrough album with one hit wonder band 4 Non Blonds. I've also enjoyed a lot of her songwriting and production work with other pop artists like Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Courtney Love. However, I've never warmed to her 100% solo work, this song exempted. According to Billboard, it never charted, but the local alternative station in Houston had it in their rotation for a little while.

Wake me up when
The party's over
It seems I've had too much wine

Please remember
To remind me
If I had a good time

Was I friendly?
Or was I bragging?
And did I start to bore you?

Was I charming?
Or was I absent?
Did I even say goodnight?

Fill me up lets take a ride
From your mouth into my mind
Cause I grow weary from this trip I'm on, yeah
And the ride keeps getting longer

And in morning
I'll be hungover with my face into the phone
Please forgive here on after
By the way how'd I get home?

Was I laughing?
Was I choking?
And did I start to annoy you?

Was I sleazy?
Or was I dazzling?
Did I even say goodbye?

(fill me up lets take a ride
From your mouth into my mind
Cause I grow weary from this trip I'm on, yeah
And the ride keeps getting longer) x 3 So wake me up when the party's over
It seems I've had too much wine

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Frank Review of "Prometheus" (2012)

The Short Version? Prequel to [Spoiler]
What Is It? Science-Fantasy/Action
Who Is In It? The Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ├ćon Flux, young Magneto, Stringer Bell, Leonard Shelby
Should I See It? Maybe.

We are living in an extraordinary time, where computers and practical effects can create and populate whole worlds. Director Ridley Scott is an acknowledged master, coupled with the gorgeous cinematography of Dariusz Wolski, filming a rapturous feast for the eyes by combining technical expertise with sumptuous, unique location shooting. The casting is stellar, and the film must be seen in a theater to fully appreciate its grandeur. With all this epic wizardry on display, you'd think that the creators had made a trip through Oz as part of the pre-production. You'd be wrong, of course, because Prometheus clearly has no heart, no brain, no courage, and never finds its way home.

A pair of scientists convince a mysterious businessman to pay out trillions of dollars in order to visit a distant location in space based on a ridiculous premise that wouldn't hold water in educated or theological circles. Thanks to ADD pacing, the expedition immediately finds evidence of an alien structure, explore it without any significant resistance, and then replay scenes from Alien movies (and for good measure, John Carpenter's The Thing) like a Rocky Horror troupe. Plot and characters are all familiar shorthand recreations. Paul W.S. Anderson directed AVP: Alien vs. Predator, but you could swear he wrote the threadbare, dunderhead pastiche that is the Prometheus script.

Noomi Rapace is a solid enough pick as the lead scientist, but her motivations are slight, and there's no indication that the character as presented would legitimately be strong enough to survive the trials she faces. Logan Marshall-Green is a rude mannequin as her lesser half. Michael Fassbender is fun as the android David, whose scenes consciously cross over into Kubrickian territory that makes scenes not involving him seem paler. Charlize Theron's Meredith Vickers comes the closest to providing either a Ripley or a Burke to the film, but she isn't developed enough to carry the ball in either direction. Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and Patrick Wilson are wasted as bit players with anorexic personalities.

Characters fail to remain in character, and perform massively, unforgivably uncharacteristic actions. It is never remotely scary, and tension is hard to come by when paper dolls are threatened with a lighter. To call the film science fiction is fallacious, because science requires logic and fact-based theories, and this entire enterprise rests on high definition 3D dream logic. Everything goes completely off the rails in the last act, with about three different endings, each of which shit themselves and rub snot on their own faces. It's pretty gross to see it happen the first time, but by the third it's almost funny, like playing out a lame joke long enough that you laugh through sheer exasperation. The screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is so indefensibly pothead moronic, embracing the movie as pure fantasy is its only salvation, and it deserves to be saved. This is a fucktastic looking film that never bores with a lot of cool elements. I love that Prometheus swings back toward the colorful, arch, Frigidaire sleek B-movie sci-fi that Alien rendered obsolete with a genre-wide to shift toward a gritty, greasy, working class believable future that has itself become such a bore. It's oh so pretty, oh so vacant, but you can't not hit it at least three times. Depending on how much forgiveness you have in your heart for David Fincher's effort, this overreaching popcorn flick is better than any Alien sequel produced in a quarter century, and it's worth seeing just to gaze upon it in awe of its visual splendor and its dreadful failings.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Frank Review of "Punisher: War Zone" (2008)

The Short Version? The latest variation on cinematic Punishment.
What Is It? Action-Dramedy.
Who Is In It? Titus Pullo, McNulty, Horace Goodspeed, the squad leader from Resident Evil, Newman!, Darla
Should I See It? No.

I bought 1977's The Amazing Spider-Man #175 at a flea market in the early '80s, and it introduced me to the Punisher. He was possibly my first favorite anti-hero, because I don't recall if I knew about Wolverine yet by that point. While I was already familiar with violent action cinema, this was the first time a character from that sphere had invaded my super-hero comics. Tough guys with guns were nothing new in four colors, but what set the Punisher apart was that he was an iconic costumed vigilante who showed up established super-heroic greats with his no nonsense and highly lethal brand of justice. Initially, he served to contrast the absolutes of black and white with a shade of gray. He was also a bit of a political straw man, allowing liberal writers to use his extreme example to explain why super-heroes didn't run around killing "the bad guys." However, broader pop culture rarely reflected those values, and the Punisher came to represent something closer to an idealized "good" in the minds of more right wing fans. Since super-hero comics tended to demonize the Punisher, he found liberation in his own solo comics without their moralizing, and a whole cottage industry sprang up around Punisher-style protagonists.

Most Punisher imitators fail for the same reason the Punisher himself has yet to successfully translate to the type of cinema that helped to spawn him: irrelevance. The Punisher mattered because he was the first and most iconic of his kind. His success meant he tended to have the best creators available working in his subgenre, and he held a revered status in the most popular super-heroic universe. Many of the flashiest artists of the Punisher's heyday got their start working on the character, so who cared if they went on to create imitations divorced from the Marvel Universe, the trademark costume, decent writing, and so forth. However, the Punisher franchise also overextended itself, subsisting on inferior talent and choking on rigid formula until it all fell apart. The Punisher was redeemed in the aughts by cult favorite writer Garth Ennis, first as a means to ridicule the mainstream super-hero comics that the creator hated, and then as an avenue for grindhouse action yarns too brutal and idiosyncratic for other media. These books sold to Ennis fans and Punisher fans, but they weren't really meant for public consumption. In fact, there's little that is marketably unique about the Punisher outside of comics, since his whole purpose was to represent action movie/video game tropes within comics. He is not transcendent of his milieu.

The 1989 Punisher adaptation failed by being a generic action movie that borrowed nothing but the trademark from the comics. The 2004 attempt failed because it attempted to translate a severely watered down version of Ennis' super-comic satire into a tin-eared PG-13 film. This edition fails because it follows the same blueprint, but straight without chaser, indulging in the most ridiculous and sophomoric excesses of Ennis. It is surprisingly faithful to a very specific type of comic and fan, and had the same odds of success as trying to push heroin on suburban potheads. The masses take one look at that needle, and run in the opposite direction. Also, and this is important to remember, the movie remains terrible under its own terms.

Ray Stevenson is a charmless cypher as Frank Castle. He's not supposed to be expressive, but guys like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood didn't need to say shit to be intense motherfuckers. Stevenson looks like Steven Seagal if he got on that diet John Goodman was on that time where he lost a shit ton of weight, but looked exhausted and saggy and sad like Droopy Dog. Dominic West is a painfully dreadful ham as Jigsaw, doing the worst possible Jack Nicholson in Batman '89 Joker impersonation. Doug Hutchison as Loony Bin Jim is a dreadful Southie Hannibal Lecter with no presence, awful instincts, gut-wrenching enunciation, and the physique of a middle-schooler. You can't forget that this is the guy from Lost that married the trashy jailbait, not a psycho assassin. Wayne Knight can't be Micro, because he can never not be Wayne Knight in anything. Dash Mihok is anti-comic relief as the pathetic detective Soap. The only decent actors are Julie Benz in a thankless reprisal of her role in Rambo, and a thoroughly wasted Colin Salmon, who manages to overcome an anemic character to remind audiences that he deserves to at least be the lead in this trash.

Director Lexi Alexander and some fans defended the film as intentionally dreadful in a podcast, but barring an inflated sense of taste superiority via ironic detachment and/or copious indulging in alcohol/drugs, that doesn't wash. This is a cheap looking, derivative, cornball flick with some seriously underwhelming direction, shoddy stunts, lousy CGI marred gore effects, atrocious lighting, flaccid stunts, foul dialogue, irritating music and a humor threshold somewhere beneath the final season of whichever sketch comedy show you deem the worst. Producing something this sorry on purpose denies the audience even the slightly pleasing aroma of slow roasted hubris. A key plot point involves Castle's mission becoming morally compromised, and the filmmakers deserve credit for having the balls to not use a loophole to get the Punisher off the hook lightly. They also lacked the brains to resolve the matter in a believable, satisfying manner. That's the flick in a nutshell right there.

  • Nothing. Fuck you. No-thing. Okay, the theatrical trailer and some others from Lionsgate.

  • Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    A Frank Review of "Stanley" (1972)

    The Short Version? Snakes on a First Blood. Wait-- what?
    What Is It? "Thriller."
    Who Is In It? Alex fucking Rocco.
    Should I See It? God, no.

    1971's Willard quite successfully played on people's (mostly women peoples) innate fear of rats (or mice, as the case may be) and their creepy introverted masters. In ripping it off, Stanley went up the food chain for a more widely reviled critter, the rattlesnake (plus water moccasins, in a coolish scene.) Unfortunately, the slithering stars are severely hampered by all the humans ruining everything. Chris Robinson plays a nutcase Vietnam vet whose only love in the world is snakes. The Godsfather's Alex Rocco plays the main villain, who I caught not too long ago in Blood Mania, and he has more to do here. Rocco pays slimy dudes to capture snakes for commercial exploitation (like this movie!) and they already killed the vet's daddy when he got in the way. The vet goes on a 'roaring rampage of revenge,' except with hissing, and the snakes do all the real killing, but there's definitely a rampage. When the vet runs out of legitimate targets, he just starts dicking with people in general, so you know this is going to end badly.

    Stanley has some alright gonzo shit going on, but Chris Robinson handles the snakes so comfortably, it gives them a serene aura that cancels out their menace. Each snake attack is telegraphed minutes in advance, so you know who's going to get it and how every time, smothering the life out of any semblance of suspense. I was amazed/horrified to learn that all the snakes were real, which makes this a serpentine snuff film. Watch living mice swallowed whole, rattlers blown to pieces by a shotgun, and snakes beaten savagely by the body of one of their own used as a whip. It's batshit there at the end, but also senseless and inhumane. The film is awkward and padded like most '70s grindhouse garbage, and I couldn't recommend it for that alone, but I'm doubly mortified by actual harm being inflicted in the pursuit of squatting this turd out.

    If you must, you can see the full feature for free...


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