Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Frank Review of "Green Lantern" (2011)

The Short Version? Monochromatic Space Knights.
What Is It? Super-Hero Action.
Who Is In It? Wade Wilson, Serena van der Woodsen, Lt. Vadim Radtchinko, Lord Blackwood, Phil Blumburtt, Tina Turner
Should I See It? Probably Not.

After a year of waving it off theatrically and on home video, I finally watched a DVR of Green Lantern my girlfriend recorded for me weeks ago because she thought I'd want to see it. I expected it to be total crap, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it watchable. The first half-to-three-quarter hour is actually pretty good, with Ryan Reynolds accurately portraying comic book prick Hal Jordan in his natural jet jockey environment. You get a good sense of who Jordan is and what he can bring to the intergalactic peacekeeping corp that recruits him when one of their best gets murdered. A decent supporting cast gets built, and you can see an arc forming for Jordan's character.

It all falls apart with the introduction of Hector Hammond, balding sweatpants loser scientist. Ever since Batman Returns, super-hero sequels have been plagued by too many lesser villains hogging the spotlight, but it's rare that filmmakers bungle the balance right out of the gate. Usually, the first movie is all about establishing the hero's origins and introducing an arch-rival. This movie has three, the least of whom is Hammond. After nearly a half century in comics, Hammond is still considered the poor man's MODOK, so unloved that he never even got a codename. Hammond could have been a great geek-baiting background character, like Dylan Baker's turn as Dr. Curt Connors in the second Spider-Man movie. Peter Sarsgaard has a lot of fun with the role, initially sympathetic, eventually slimy, but the character's questionable arc (stripped gears shifting from first to fourth) hijacks far more of the film than should have been allowable. It doesn't help that the character's dad is played by Tim Robbins, which brings back all the worst Howard the Duck memories.

When the Hector Hammond story isn't eating up space, the planet Oa is. Hal Jordan flies off to receive one whole scene of training as a Green Lantern before he up and quits the corp. That means that after going through the trouble of casting an entire Jordan family for one scene, replacement alien supporting players Tomar-Re and Kilowog (celebrity guest voices Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan) also up and vanish for the rest of the movie. I suppose it helps to demonstrate Jordan's detachment and irresponsibility, but it also means that the audience has few places to turn to in order to sustain interest. Seemingly, his only friend is Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi,) who serves as his cheering section during a test piloting sequence, gives him a ride when he's stranded after meeting his benefactor Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison,) and pressures Jordan into showing off his new costume. Then it's so long to Pieface.

Hector Hammond also has his own thin, perfunctory supporting cast. This mostly consists of his manipulative senator father (Robbins) and the woefully miscast Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller. In the comics, "The Wall" was basically Nell Carter as a morally compromised right wing military conspiracy on two legs, the same character introduced to broader audiences in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. In this movie, "Doctor" Waller is a scientist who doesn't throw around a buck fifty in weight. Bassett's talents are wasted in such a thankless role as written, and the fantastic character of Amanda Waller is reduced to unconvincing cosplay. Martin Lawrence in a fat suit could have done more with it.

I've heard folks say that what they really wanted from this movie was Training Day in outer space, which could have been good. Second adversary Sinestro pops up throughout the movie, and like Sarsgaard, Mark Strong gets the most out of a flat character. Aside from pomposity, there isn't much of Sinestro on the page, and shortcuts taken in this feature (especially the ill advised closing credits teaser) undermine his character further in the event of a sequel. The biggest bad is Parallax, yellow entity of fear, who I've heard described as a diarrhea cloud with a face in it. Not since Galactus in the Fantastic Four sequel have filmmakers so thoroughly misunderstood the appeal of a villain through an abstract manifestation. Only the hard-dyingest of fans give a shit if Parallax is a possessed human or a bug or whatever, but no one wants him to literally look like a Hershey squirt amoeba. None of the villains have any emotional resonance, at least two of them look laughable, and they crowd the movie mercilessly.

Perhaps recognizing this, a love triangle is haphazardly grafted on between Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Hector Hammond, but it registers merely as a delusion in the increasingly unstable Hammond's mind. Given the company and circumstances, Blake Lively fares well enough as Ferris. Reynolds has better than a decade on the actress, so their "growing up together" romance is a little skeevy. At the same time, it's right in Hal Jordan's wheelhouse *cough*Arisia*cough*, though the dynamic is more mother-child, given that Jordan is portrayed as such a wimp that he constantly needs reassurance in order to function as a Green Lantern. Despite the physical disparity between Jordan and Hammond, they really are both pathetic mama's boys basking in the glow of Ferris' tepid, inconsistent support. Unintentionally, the filmmakers have created an emotional dynamic in which there are no true heroes and few villains, but instead a universe full of emotional cripples unable to fully function even when granted power rings whose only limitations are imagination and will. As spectacles go, it's a sad one.

One final note: I can't believe that a movie with a reported 200 million budget has such rubbery CGI, and only spent about $35 on the soundtrack. Sum 41? I can't even name a Sum 41 song that isn't actually by Blink-182, with whom they died in a suicide pact in 2004. This isn't exactly a big money cast either, so what secret windfall did The Producers reap from this flick's global earnings shortfall?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Walking Dead Volume 16: A Larger World (2012)

"Scintillating" is not a word that I would use for any of the last, what, half dozen trade collections of The Walking Dead (give or take?) This edition was better than the worst of those, but not as good as the best, so we'll go with "fair to middling." It's funny that I read this before The Girl Who Owned a City: The Graphic Novel, but am reviewing it after, and am only just now struck by the similarities. O.T. Nelson's survivalist epic probably wasn't a direct influence, but it's funny that both books are about sheepish townfolk in isolated post-apocalyptic communities seeking out roving mercenaries to fend off predatory gangs. Kirkman's story works better as a comic book than Nelson's, though, but at their heart both are transparent appropriations of westerns transplanted into a modestly sci-fi milieu.

Things in Riverdale are samey-samey. Andrea appears to have her own disconnected rotary phone to the afterlife, a ploy to heighten her compatibility with Rick (fuck, she's dying in #100, isn't she?) Sophia running around in this book reminded me that I never gave a shit about her, and she simply triggers cognitive dissonance with the TV version. A Marty Sue takes down Michonne and Abraham, so Boba Fett. Carl does something very Carl-y, and then walking walking walking, new digs revealed in a two page spread. Cue another naive, ineffectual leader to contrast against Rick. Swagger, headbutting, new old plan, misguided optimism before an inevitable colossal failure in a future volume. Formula much?

I know there's a big death coming up. I don't want who it is spoiled, but I pray it's Rick. For what it was, this trade was well done, but we're stuck in a repeating story cycle that bores me to tears.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Plate of Cocktail Wiener Movie Reviews #1

  • American Reunion (2012)
  • The Night We Never Met (1993)
  • Terror in the Aisles (1984)

"American Reunion" (2012)

The Short Version? The characters from that movie get back together for a weekend.
What Is It?Sex Comedy
Who Is In It? The cast of American Pie
Should I See It? Fuck no.

In the decades before the internet, it was really difficult for minors and inhibited souls to get their mitts on pornography, so it was often smuggled into shit like horror flicks. American Pie was heralded as the return of "the great American sex comedy," even though it was actually Canadian like one of its best precursors, Porky's. It was also as much of a last hurrah as a revival, since there's no need to alienate the growing female moviegoing audience while guys spank it to Jizztube in between X-Box sessions instead of pretending a pair of rubber boobies every half hour could get their jaded pricks up anymore. Toilet humor has trickled down the bowl into the greater cesspool of acceptable popular culture, so there's no need to structure entire movies around dipshits with their cocks in hand falling into hijinks now that Cameron Diaz's crunchy mousse can play into an only slightly ribald romcom that hits more key demographics.

In defense of American Pie, supportive friends in a homogenic suburb so safely whitebread that a Korean gets the token black role is as much of a wish fulfillment for some as banging the super-hot foreign exchange student. I don't know about you, but I grew up with creeps would have formed a Trenchcoat Mafia if they had some of that sweet Lockheed money. Young horny dudes wanted to relate to the soft-peddled hassle of getting juicy ass, instead of copping to frustrated homo experimentation with that friend of your dads they called your uncle but totally wasn't. Meanwhile, three official sequels and a fuckton of D2DVD schlock later, these creatures in American Reunion are more alien than anything Spielberg ever wrangled with (including the A.I. screenplay.)

The guys in this movie have unbelievable, unrelatable lives that I can't see anybody envying. There isn't a single female role that isn't Gaspar No├ęd in a French subway tunnel by the screenplay. Natasha Lyonne got fat after she dried out, so Dania Ramirez has to pretend like she'd ever fuck Finch while Lyonne only gets to come out in one scene for a dyke joke. Alyson Hannigan, star of one of television's most popular sitcoms, beats the undersexed nag drum for probably five minutes of total screen time. Nobody likes Shannon Elizabeth, so it's okay that her cameo exists only to build up Jason fucking Biggs, but it's just painful to watch Mena Suvari pretend to long for that guy who impregnated Katie Holmes with herpes until she agreed to a sham marriage to Tom Cruise. We won't mention Tara Reid, except to point out that American Pie is the only reason you ever knew her name.

Goddamn, this movie is terrible. It isn't relevant to anyone's life, and is a vacuum that will suck anything resembling laughter out of the room. The actors, with the possible exception of Eugene Levy (whose unfortunate dialogue may make your skin crawl,) have no careers anymore because they're not at all good, but even they deserve better than the icons of cyphers written. Seann William Scott, the only saving grace of American Wedding is spent. Stifler makes faces, grunts and curses like he's trying to lift the entire weight of this beast on his back, but all he does is collapse with an extruded hernia. You could have crowd sourced a screenplay from random shouts at a local movie theater and still had a better script come out of it. We have to band together, as a nation if not a global community, to stamp out the American Pie franchise like we did polio and smallpox. If not for are children, then for ourselves and a memory of a nineties generation that need not include James on its fucking soundtrack. Besides, there were hardly any boobies at all.

"The Night We Never Met" (1993)

The Short Version? The Apartment with way more '90s
What Is It? Romantic Comedy
Who Is In It? Matthew Broderick, Annabella Sciorra, Kevin Anderson
Should I See It? Yes

Three people rent a time share in New York. None of them have met one another, as it's all arranged through a separate party and they take different days. Two are urbane, attractive, and slowly fall for one another from afar. The other is a slug who helps to insure that the first two won't share more than a couple or three scenes together for the whole movie. Actually, pretty near every single person in this flick is an awful example of humanity, with the leads simply being far more appealing than the rest. Significant others are thoroughly demonized to keep the audience rooting for our couple, who have surprising chemistry despite rarely being in the same room, or even hearing one another's voice. Garry Shandling, Greg Germann, Justine Bateman, Michael Imperioli, Lewis Black and Naomi Campbell have thankless, miniscule, sometimes positively subliminal supporting roles. Doris Roberts fares slightly better, thanks to her Remington Steele cache, as does Christine Baranski. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Billy Campbell fare far worse, as inexperienced actors meet wretched straw-characters. There's a xenophobia against anything beyond the five boroughs that only intensifies with distance. Still, writer/director Warren Leight offers a good sense of mood and an unusual structure that strands Ferris Bueller outside the narrative for something like twenty minutes. That said, contrivances abound, and the failure of this and Dear God sent Leight to television procedurals. I'll likely always have a soft spot for Broderick when he's got his beard on, and Sciorra is quite fetching outside of the usual domestic/bitch ghetto her career circled around. I hadn't seen this in probably fifteen years, but it held up, which is more than I can say for most rom-coms.

"Terror in the Aisles" (1984)

The Short Version? Clip Show.
What Is It?"Terror Films"
Who Is In It? The best of '70s/'80s horror, excepting Jason, Wes Craven, etc. etc.
Should I See It? Maybe.

From a time before the term "horror movie" was codified into the vernacular of pop culture, before the universality of VCRs/cable allowed people to watch most any m movie at any time, came Terror in the Aisles. Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen narrate a supposed discussion of the whys of the growing wave of "terror films," but really, they just help to stitch together sweet spots and spoilers from hundreds of flicks for a That's Entertainment of the monster scene. A lot of this material is very dated, but the presentation is fun, and it works as a primer for the neophyte gorehound. It's also a time capsule holding images from films long forgotten by all but the most devoted crypt keepers, and a pleasant enough distraction/trip down memory lane. You can also watch the whole thing for free easily online, if that helps.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Frank Review of "Kuffs" (1992)

The Short Version? Beverly Hills San Francisco Snark
What Is It? Action Dramedy
Who Is In It? Clarence Worley, Lilli from Return to the Blue Lagoon, Tom Nuttall, Carl Bruner
Should I See It? No.

Kuffs was my breaking point when it came to Christian Slater fandom, which is why I didn't see True Romance the following year. I caught this at the dollar show, which I'd gone to without my glasses for some reason. My abiding memory of the movie is two girls a few rows back either flirting with or picking on me by throwing popcorn, and my both being too shy and too blind to follow up on it. As for the movie, well, it's a piece of shit that I'd forgotten 95% of in the twenty years between viewings.

Bruce Boxleitner plays Brad Kuffs, head of some landmark rent-a-cop agency that exists as a parallel to actual police by some quirk of local politics. His ne'er-do-well brother George (Slater) had just knocked up and abandoned his girlfriend (a sixteen year old Milla Jovovich) when circumstances force him to take over Brad's duties. This leads the junior Kuffs into conflict with a crimelord with designs on his precinct, the police who don't feel he's up to the job, and his own mutinous employees. George solves all these problems with a smirk and a lot of bad decisions that would only pan out in a movie.

Kuffs is a deeply unlikeable, smug white suburbanite Axel Foley. He's got some decent support in Tony Goldwyn and Troy Evans as adversarial cops and Leon Rippy as a sinister henchman, but it's really the Christian Slater show at its most banal. Few laughs, pedestrian direction, mediocre soundtrack, gratingly repetitive score that's a blatant imitation of Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F" and entirely too much mugging.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Frank Review of “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)

The Short Version? Batman Beyond Knightfall
What Is It? Super-hero spectacle
Who Is In It? Patrick Bateman, Bronson, Lureen Newsome, Cameron James, George Smiley, Hoke Colburn, Dr. Wilbur Larch, Edith Piaf, Pvt. J.T. 'Joker' Davis
Should I See It? Maybe

I saw Batman Begins at the theater in 2005, and despite buying the DVD for $2 at a garage sale a few years later, have yet to bother rewatching it. I liked The Dark Knight a lot better, but hadn't revisited it four years later, when my girlfriend insisted on watching half of it on cable. We came in late, left early, but it was pretty good overall. Cesar Romero has yet to be topped as the live action Joker, certainly not by Heath Ledger impersonating his The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus* co-star Tom Waits in an alternate universe version of The Crow. That aside, I dug all the political stuff and the romantic subplot, and the movie's cohesive construction from so many disparate elements was impressive. Not seeing a too long delayed sequel before its third weekend of release impressive, but... yeah.

If little reviewed seven year old memory serves, The Dark Knight Rises is the second best Nolan Batman film, but I probably enjoyed it less than several premillennial efforts. Like entirely too many third entries in a series, the filmmakers try to squeeze too much in, so that each individual component is given short shrift. Nolan has managed to juggle multiple villains before, with the Scarecrow being a concern across three movies, and the Joker creating Two-Face in the conjoined self-sequel that was the previous film. Here though, the weight of expectations tying all three Nolan pieces together, too many friends and foes, fan service from the greater franchise, plus kindly setting up whoever succeeds in continuing the series (no reboot necessary, please) turns this thing into an uncomfortable three hour dinner of undercooked meats and ill-considered spices tossed haphazardly into a soup.

For no good reason, twice as many years have passed within the movies as without. Crime has been virtually eradicated in Gotham City thanks to draconian measures drawn up in memorium to the lie of Harvey Dent. As should be expected from a big pussy manchild crying himself to sleep every night over his parents' deaths decades after the fact, Bruce Wayne used the death of a sweetie and his hobby being rendered unnecessary to mope around Wayne Manor in his smoking jacket. I guess he acquired a limp too, which totally matters when you fly around in an urban assault vehicle like Tony Stark with claustrophobia spiked with saltpeter. Catwoman shows up to prove she can rouse Wayne's useless cock from the grave way better than Marion Cotillard could manage, but she's really only around to set up the arrival of Bane. Even though we've been in a global recession since 2008, nobody in Gotham got taken by Bernie Madoff, and blue collar workers chose to build an underground terrorist network instead of collecting welfare like in every other major U.S. city. Bane inspires this underclass to reenact the reign of terror, because that's where that goddamned Frenchy socialism got started, Amerrrrican is ruined, and Batman dances a jig over having an excuse to dress like a randy fuckboy bottom again.

I'm not sure if the politics in this thing are more vile or stupid. There's an insinuation that Bane forms a working man army that drags their white collar betters from out of their homes, but demographics show that at least half of those guys would be Dittoheads who would use their stockpile of 2nd amendment protected firearms to actively protect their aspirational role models against their own interests. Maybe they're all supposed to be the homeless, like in The Cult, but crazy people who piss themselves drunk on MD 20/20 make for lousy foot soldiers. Whoever these guys are, they manage to keep thousands of helpless police officers and millions of citizens at bay for a ridiculously long time without the military or the Gotham equivalent of the Crips ever extracting their thumbs from their asses through the writerly magic of "because I said so." There are allusions to the Occupy Movement and the abdication of noblesse oblige, but Bane seems to be more libertarian in his views toward government and individual rights. I'll amend my opening statement and suggest that Nolan was smart enough to set up nothing but vague straw men that could represent whatever the viewer is against so that they can cheer the downfall of their projected irritants. Neither leftist nor right wing, this flick is pure commodity.

Christian Bale offers his best Bruce Wayne yet, mainly because his American accent has improved and he's stopped trying to play a dude playing a dude. Wayne is boring and weak and crippled by paranoia that his every action will lead to negative consequences, but at least he's not so smarmy this time. A lot more time is spent on Bruce, blessedly, because I now cringe at the sound of Bale's oft-ridiculed Batman voice. I never saw Batman and Robin, but I can say that the Caped Crusader has been the weakest element of every other Batman movie since 1989. That has never been more true here, as I literally thought "Oh no, it's The Batman" each time he showed up.

Batman is matched and surpassed in awfulness by Tom Hardy's Bane, confirming suspicions that he is the least desirable movie villain ahead of only Hush. I think the Bane of the comics, with a little elbow grease, could have been a solid foil. Here though, Bane looks dopey as fuck and Hardy's accent is laughable. People who find it creepy have a pathetically low fear threshold, because he sounds like Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served? talking through a T-Pain novelty Auto-Tune microphone from Target. I guess it's some sort of accomplishment that through an inexpressive mask and a hulking body Hardy yet manages to convey mincing. It is unintentional hilarity when the Bat-voice meets the Bane-modulation in poorly choreographed combat where even forced perspective fails to disguise punches thrown feet from their target. If only they could have staged a battle in Jim Gordon's hospital room, where his mustache assures that even the hearing impaired cannot discern what these motherfuckers are saying through lip reading.

I was amazed-- I tell you amazed-- that Anne Hathaway did not suck as Selina Kyle. She occasionally lapses into her normal high pitched little girl, put through pure ACTING! she showed the potential to become the best ever Catwoman. Hathaway had Kyle's attitude down, played damsel and vamp with equal affect, and looked fucking amazing in her costumes (whether '50s Hitchcock femme fatale or fetish fancy.) Unfortunately, Hathaway wasn't given enough screen time to steal the role from Michelle Pfeiffer or Eartha Kitt. Despite elevating every scene she's in, Hathaway isn't in all that many scenes. She ends up being an unconvincing third act love interest, after I'd spent most of the running time wondering if she was supposed to be a secret lesbian like Hathaway herself. It's infuriating that Catwoman is rendered subservient to the needs of the Dark Knight, and I came to resent all the time wasted away from her character.

Marion Cotillard plays the primary love interest, Miranda Tate. The character was forgettable enough that the fact that she was going to become a major character snuck up on me as the movie progressed. She has a nice turn in the third act**, but she ultimately squats down and squeezes out a dainty little shit over large portions of the flick. She almost kind of sort of ruins the entire movie.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best to save it as Detective John Blake. JGL is one of my favorite current actors, and he's so great that I didn't even realize what a Marty Sue cunt his character was going to turn out to be until the epilogue. Gary Oldman phones in Commissioner Gordon, probably because they gave all the moments Jim would have had in the prior installments to John Blake. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine play themselves cashing a fat paycheck. Matthew Modine does what he can with an awful, inconsistent, dumb asshole part. Ben Mendelsohn is not Tim Blake Nelson on Slimfast, and after I was ready to applaud Tim Blake Nelson for not playing a goofy fucker for once and everything. It would take forever to send shout-outs to all the great character actors like Nestor Carbonell, many of whom have toiled in the background of all three pictures, but they do better work than some of the leads.

Generally speaking, I do not like the Nolan trilogy very much, and I'm still waiting for a great Batman movie. The Dark Knight Detective is the least perceptive major character in this film, with the possible exception of Jim Gordon. I loathe the military industrial complex tech porn in these flicks, and the retarded helicopter thing introduced here is the worst of an ugly, chubby lot. The plot didn't make a lot of sense when they used it in Batman Begins, and the variation here is imbecilic. Not one of the onscreen romances work. The Choose Your Own Ending multiple epilogues pummeled aesthetics worse than anything Bane threw at Batman. I do wish Bane had been a bit more true to the comics. His silly British accent only heightens the sense that this is a pretentious Roger Moore era James Bond flick, and like most Bond villains, he's kind of a little bitch. Sure, he takes out a flabby retired Batman and cannon fodder, but he does neither with any visceral impact. I think I'd have liked this movie better if it started with Bane breaking Batman, Wayne crawling into a hole, and having to spend years recovering. Instead, Wayne is a chump wallowing in lazy depression, and then he has to cram Knightfall and No Man's Land into the second act, straining both credulity and my patience as a guy in need of an energy shot suffering through a three hour movie that feels it.

Batman and Robin came out in 1997, followed by Blade and then The Matrix. When I look at The Dark Knight Rises in the wake of the Marvel Studios films, it feels like a relic of an earlier, clunkier time in super-hero cinema. Selina Kyle is too self-conscious to actually refer to herself as "Catwoman." Bane dresses more like a rogue gunman than a super-criminal. The master plot is contradictory nonsense whose logic a third grader could unspool meant only to put characters into certain positions at set times to fulfill obligations in the minds of the Nolans. Supporting characters wink and nudge as they reference previous movies, leaning on nostalgia instead of innovation, recalling tired latter-day sequels like Lethal Weapon 4. It reminds me of when I tried to show my girlfriend Superman: The Motion Picture, which takes me back to joy from the single digits of age, but she found tedious with leaden acting and moronic construction. In twenty years, this flick will be indefensible without the warm fuzzy remembrance of your dedication to it way back in 2012.

*I saw Imaginarium at an arthouse in 2009, and regret never having gotten around to reviewing it. It is so much easier to write up bad movies than swell ones, and I would say that at the very least it was better than any Christopher Nolan flick I've ever seen.

**I was diligent in avoiding spoilers, so this actually did surprise me. First in a good way, but not so much by the unintentional comedy of the end.


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