Film Review: Den of Thieves (dir by Christian Gudegast)


Den of Thieves is quite simply one of the most exhausting films that I’ve ever sat through.

It’s not just that the film itself is overly long, though that’s definitely an issue.  (Den of Thieves last 2 hours and 20 minutes.  For the sake of comparison, that’s 17 minutes longer than last year’s best picture winner, The Shape of Water.)  Instead, the real problem is that there’s really not a single unexpected moment to be found in Den of Thieves.  Every cliché imaginable shows up in Den of Thieves and, after a while, the film’s predictability becomes a bit much to take.

It’s a bank heist film.  We know that because it opens with a strangely portentous title card that informs us that more banks are robbed in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country.  This is one of those heist films where a self-destructive police detective goes head-to-head with a ruthless yet sympathetic criminal mastermind.  If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like Heat, you’re right.  In fact, imagine if they remade Heat without any of the stuff that made Heat more than just another crime film and you have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get with Den of Thieves.

The detective is named Big Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and we know he’s a badass because he’s got a lot of tattoos and a beard and when he’s not busting criminals, he’s either getting drunk or getting served with divorce papers.  Nick’s an asshole but that’s okay because Nick … NICK GETS RESULTS, GODDAMMIT!  Nick has a crew that’s devoted to him.  Of course, a lot of them will be dead by the end of the movie.  That’s just the way things go when you’re living in a clichéd crime film.

Big Nick wants to take down Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who is a former marine turned bank robber.  We know that Merrimen is a badass because he’s got a beard and he’s got even more tattoos than Nick!  In fact, his entire crew is covered with tattoos!  You have to wonder how smart these criminals are, all getting body art that will make it very easy for the police to identify them.  But they’re a good crew.  In fact … THEY’RE THE BEST!  THEY GET RESULTS!  And only Nick can take them down because … ONLY THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST CAN TAKE DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST, GODDAMMIT!

Sorry, am I yelling a lot?  This is one of those films where everyone yells a lot.  Basically, this entire movie is drenched in testosterone.  This is one of those films where no one gets interrogated with getting knocked around beforehand and where every meeting is some sort of confrontation.  When the end credits rolled, I was shocked to learn that some of these people actually had names.  Just from listening to the dialogue, I assumed everyone in the film was named “Motherfucker.”

And again, it just all gets exhausting after a while.  Maybe if Den of Thieves had been a 90 minute action flick or had featured any of the self-aware humor of Baby Driver, it would have been entertainingly dumb.  But 140 minutes is a long time to spend with a bunch of thinly drawn stereotypes.

Now, there are two positive things that can be said about Den of Thieves.

First off, one of the thieves is played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and he’s got enough screen presence that he can overcome some clunky scenes.  (A scene where he’s interrogated by the police literally seems to go on forever.)

Secondly, the film itself looks great.  The film’s opening scenes do a good job of capturing Los Angeles’s unique mix of grit and glitz.  The opening shootout is pretty well-done and briefly suggests some promise on which the film ultimately doesn’t deliver.

Anyway, Den of Thieves came out this January and despite middling reviews, it did well enough at the box office to earn itself a sequel.  So, in 2020, look forward to more scenes of Gerard Butler … GETTING RESULTS!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

London Has Fallen Official Trailer


London Has Fallen

The White House under siege film Olympus Has Fallen from 2013 was a surprise hit and pretty much took the prize in the match-up between it and the bigger-budgeted White House Down starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. What the latter didn’t have was the presence of Morgan Freeman, the steadfastness of Aaron Eckhart and the utter badass that is Gerard Butler. Olympus Has Fallen had all three and thus was the better of the two films.

It didn’t take long for the studio who made Olympus Has Fallen to start on a sequel with the three core figures from the first film (Freeman, Eckhart and Butler) back to fight the evil of terrorism on all freedom-loving citizens. I think the studios just thought the audience who saw the first film loved just how much Gerard Butler’s character kept stabbing people in the face.

Here’s to hoping London Has Fallen didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken…and more Gerard Butler stabbing people in the face.

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

Trust Me

6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Quick Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (dir. by Dean Dublois)


how-to-train-your-dragon-2-poster1-690x1024Ah, Berk. That fictional far away land where Dragons once plagued humans, until a young boy made friends with a Night Fury and changed everything.

How I’ve missed this place.

Fox & Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 brings us back to its dragon riding fun, taking place 5 years after the events of the first film. While the story doesn’t have the same level of depth as say, Kung Fu Panda 2, it still manages to be an enjoyable thrill ride when the dragons are taking flight.

Since this is an animated feature, let’s do visuals first. The animation is roughly the same as the original, with a bit of aging here and there for the main characters, but both the colors and the depth of field are a major standout. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) was brought back on board as  a consultant for the lighting, focus and color tones and it definitely shows. If at all possible, this film should be seen in its 3D format. The flight sequences are a joy to behold and when they’re not flying, you shouldn’t find yourself squinting and pinching your nose too much. Chris Sanders wasn’t on hand this time for the writing and directing, although you can still see his designs all over the film.

Additionally, there were a number of technical changes that improved the process. Just as Pixar did with Renderman, Dreamworks ended up creating their own software, Apollo. Apollo uses two tools – Premo, which allowed the animators better control of characters through the use of Wacom tablets. Even more magical is Torch, a lighting system developed with Deakins’ assistance that allowed for more natural setups in animation. One of the best uses of this is when Hiccup is surrounded in a dark room and needs to use his sword to illuminate the area. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s used in other Dreamworks projects.

All of the familiar characters are back – Jay Baruchel’s Hiccup is a little older, and much wiser than in the original, with he and Toothless mapping the lands around Berk during their flights. Hiccup’s flair for gadgetry hasn’t left him, as in this film, the character is introduced almost as a medieval Batman. Between he, his father Stoic (Gerald Butler) and his girlfriend / Dragon Racing Champion Astrid (America Ferrera), they get the bulk of the screen time. His friends, played by Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse,  and Kristen Wiig, felt more like cameos than anything else here. Then again, they really didn’t have that great a part in the first film. Toothless, the Unholy Offspring of fire and darkness itself, is still as cuddly and emotive as ever, despite not being able to actually speak. Through the film, both Toothless and Hiccup find themselves growing up in different ways and their relationship is at the heart of everything here. Hiccup and Stoic still have family issues, this time centering around Hiccup preparation for becoming Chief of the town after Stoic steps down.

When Astrid and Hiccup discover dragon hunters (Lead by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington, whose character here still knows nothing), they find a new evil on the horizon in the form of Drago (Guardians of the Galaxy and Blood Diamond’s Djimon Hounsou), who is building a dragon army to do some harm.

Where the movie may stumble is in its last act. It felt abbreviated to me, but as this is meant for children, I suppose it’s not meant to be that long of a film. Clocking in at 102 minutes, it moves fast. For a kid’s film, Dragon 2 rises to some interesting heights that even adults would appreciate. The film doesn’t assume you need to be retold everything you may have missed in the first film, though it does reference some elements of it. The themes of the story are coexistence (between humans & dragons), leadership, friendship and family, and they’re done well.

Trailer: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Teaser)


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Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was one of those films for 2010 that caught me completely off-guard. I had dismissed it as another Dreamworks attempt to try and take the crown from Pixar. So, it was quite a surprise when I finally saw it and realized that Dreamworks had out-Pixared Pixar with this latest offering.

The film did great in the box-office and made the names Hiccup and Toothless names to remember fondly. So, it was a given that a sequel was going to be made and now it is 2013 and we finally have the first teaser trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2 which will splash across all big-screen theaters around 2014.

To say that this teaser trailer evoked all the fun of the original would be an understatement. I would say that this simple teaser showing Toothless just flying around with Hiccup gave a better sense of the joy of flying than this year’s Man of Steel.

Is It Too Late To Hate On Movie 43?


Originally,  I wasn’t planning on ever seeing Movie 43.

Remember Movie 43?  That’s the comedy with the huge ensemble cast that came out in January and stayed in theaters for about a week.  The trailers looked terrible, the commercials looked terrible, and finally, the reviews were terrible.  In fact, the reviews were so terrible (Richard Roeper called it the Citizen Kane of bad movies) that, at first, I was perfectly content never to see it.

However, as time passed, I continually heard Movie 43 referred to as being one of the worst films ever made.  Every 12 months, I post my picks for the 26 worst films of the year and I knew that Movie 43 was one of those films that would either appear on that list or, if it didn’t, I would have to be willing to defend the title’s absence.

I realized that before I could either defend or condemn, I would have to sit through the movie.  After all, I figured, it’s only 90 minutes of my life.

90 minutes that I’ll never get back, I might add.

Movie 43 is an anthology film in which 13 separate comedic sketches are loosely linked together by one overarching story.  For the most part, this is a film that was presumably made both for adolescent boys and for men who still think like adolescent boys.  Most of the humor is derived from bodily functions and there’s a real strain of misogyny running through the entire film.  However, the film’s problem is not that it’s crude and misogynistic but that it manages to be so dull about being crude and misogynistic.  If you think its hilarious when Meg is insulted on Family Guy or when Seth McFarlane smirks after making an anti-Semitic comment, you might enjoy Movie 43 but the rest of us are going to find far less to enjoy.

Oddly enough, there are actually two different versions of Movie 43 in circulation.  In the version that was released in U.S. theaters, the various vignettes are tied together by a story in which an insane director (Dennis Quaid) pitches scene after scene to a callous movie executive (Greg Kinnear).  In the version that was released in the UK, they’re linked together by a story about 3 teenagers searching for the most offensive film ever made.  To be honest, both versions are pretty stupid but I prefer the one about the 3 teenagers, if just because that way I can pretend that neither Dennis Quaid nor Greg Kinnear had anything to do with this movie.

As for the sketches themselves, there’s 13 of them and they are a mixed bag as far as both humor and quality are concerned:

1)      The Catch (dir by Peter Farrelly)

Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a blind date.  Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck and only Winslet thinks this is an odd thing.  This skit goes on forever.

2)      Homeschooled (dir by Will Graham)

Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts explain how they’re making sure that their teenage son is getting the full high school experience despite the fact that he’s being homeschooled.  They do this through a combination of hazing and incest.  This skit worked pretty well, mostly because of the dedication that Schreiber and Watts brought to their absurd roles.

3)      The Proposition (dir by Steve Carr)

Uhmm…yeah.  So, this is the skit that opens with Anna Faris asking Chris Pratt to defecate on her.  I skipped over it because, quite frankly, life is too short.

4)      Veronica (dir by Griffin Dunne)

Neil (Kieran Culkin) is working the night shift at a depressing grocery store when his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Emma Stone) comes in.  They argue about who infected who with an STD.  Little do they realize that Neil has accidentally turned on the intercom and everyone in the store can hear them.  I actually kind of liked this short skit.  Culkin and Stone had a lot of chemistry and it was well-directed by Griffin Dunne.  Plus, it only lasted 2 minutes and, therefore, ended before the joke got old.

5)      iBabe (dir by Stephen Brill)

The iBabe is an MP3 player that happens to look like a life-size nude woman.  Unfortunately, a fan was built into the iBabe’s vagina and now, teenage boys are being dismembered while fingering and fucking iBabe.  Richard Gere plays the President of the company that makes iBabe.  I’ve never thought of Richard Gere as being a comedic actor and his performance here does nothing to change that.

6)      Superhero Speed Dating (directed by James Duffy)

Robin (Justin Long) goes speed dating and Batman (Jason Sudekis) tries to mess things up for him.  This skit – which also features (and wastes) Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, and Bobby Cannavale – is so incredibly bad that I don’t even know where to begin.  Between this film and his appearance in last year’s The Conspirator, I’m having to rethink my slight crush on Justin Long.

7)      Machine Kids (directed by Jonathan Von Tulleken)

This commercial parody asks us to consider the children who work inside copiers and vending machines and how they are effected when we criticize those machines for not accepting our dollar.  This was actually so weird that I couldn’t help but love it.

8)      Middleschool Date (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

7th grader Amanda (Chloe Moretz) is having her first “middle school” date with Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) when she starts her first period.  In response, Nathan and his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) panic.  Believe it or not, this was actually one of the better parts of Movie 43, if just because the scene’s humor comes not from Amanda getting her period but instead from how every male around her descends into histrionics as a result.   It helps that this was the only part of Movie 43 that was both written and directed by women.  It also helps that director Elizabeth Banks is so clearly on Amanda’s side.  The end result is one of the few moments in Movie 43 that doesn’t feel misogynistic. 

9)      Tampax (dir by Patrik Forsberg)

This is another fake commercial.  Two girls are at the beach.  One uses tampax tampons and the other doesn’t.  Guess which one gets eaten by a shark?  As opposed to the previous skit, this bit of menstrual humor was obviously written and directed by a man (and the message, not surprisingly, is “Ewww!  Girls are scary and dangerous!”) but I’m going to have to admit that this one made me laugh if just because, like Middleschool Date, it reminded me of some of the period horror stories that I used to hear (and believe) back when I was younger.  (Though I was raised to be more concerned about bears than sharks…)

10)  Happy Birthday (dir by that noted comedian, Brett Ratner)

Pete (Johnny Knoxville) kidnaps an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) and gives it to Brian (Seann William Scott).  The leprechaun’s equally angry brother (also played by Gerard Butler) shows up and violence ensues.  Watching this skit was like being told a joke by someone who has no sense of humor.

11)  Truth or Dare (dir by Peter Farelly and Patrik Forsberg)

Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant are on a first date and Merchant has testicles on his neck…oh wait.  Sorry, that was Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet’s skit.  In this skit, Berry challenges Merchant to game of truth or dare.  It escalates as the dares get continually more and more outrageous.  Whoops?  Did I say outrageous?  I meant to say stupid and oddly dull.  Watching this skit was like listening to a someone who has no sense of humor continue to tell a joke even though everyone else has already guessed the punchline.

12)  Victory’s Glory (dir by Rusty Cundieff)

In this parody of “inspirational” sports movies, Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) speaks to his basketball team before they play their first game against an all-white team.  The gist of the speech is that Jackson’s team is going to win because they’re black and the other team is white.  This skit started out strong but, like a lot of Movie 43, it ran on for a bit too long.

13)  Beezel (dir by James Gunn)

This was actually my favorite part of Movie 43.  Unfortunately, since Beezel shows up in the middle of the end credits, I get the feeling that a lot of disappointed audience members had probably already walked out of the theater before it even began.  Beezel is a cartoon cat who has an unhealthy obsession with his owner (Josh Duhamel).  When Duhamel’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel in a swimsuit, Beezel responds by plotting her demise.  Beezel was actually the only part of Movie 43 that truly felt edgy and unpredictable.  This is largely because this segment was directed by James Gunn, one of the few truly transgressive artists currently working in mainstream film.

So, here’s the question: is Movie 43 the worst film of 2013 as so many critics have claimed?  A few isolated moments aside, Movie 43 is pretty bad.  Even the parts of the film that do work can’t hope to compete with the pure horrifying incompetence of that parts that don’t.  However, thanks largely to James Gunn and Elizabeth Banks, it’s still a smidgen or so better than Tyler Perry’s Temptation.  (For all of its failings, Movie 43 never suggests that AIDS is God’s way of punishing wives who stray.  Nope, for that message, you have to go to Tyler Perry.)

Movie 43 is not the worst film of 2013.

It just seems like it.

Quickie Review: Olympus Has Fallen (dir. by Antoine Fuqua)


OlympusHasFallen

“The most protected building on Earth has fallen.”

Die Hard has become it’s very own subgenre of action films since it was first released in 1988. It was a simple enough story that combined the “one against many” type of story with the “siege tale”. It was a perfect combination that has since been copied, imitated, but truly never duplicated to the highest level of success the original film had upon release. There’s been a few films that added their own unique take on this action film template. There was “Die Hard on a boat” with the underappreciated Under Siege. Then we have Air Force One which was “Die Hard on a plane”. The latest action film to try and put a new spin on the Willias-McTiernan classic is Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, Olympus Has Fallen.

The film pretty much takes what worked with the three films before it that’s been mentioned above and combines them to make a film. We have a lone, highly skilled operative in the form of Secret Service Agent Mike Banning in the role that made Bruce Willis famous and, for a time, resuscitated Steven Seagal’s career. Then we have the Presidential angle but instead of Air Force One it’s the White House this time around. The plot of the film is simple enough that even a person not well-versed in film could follow it. A group of dedicated and highly-trained North Korean terrorists do a surprise attack on the White House as the President of the United States and his South Korean counterpart try to find a way to defuse a situation that’s been growing in the DMZ between the two Koreas. It’s now up to Agent Banning, on his own, to try and stop whatever plans the terrorists have brewing with the President as hostage while also dealing with an inept group of higher-ups trying to deal with it far from the action.

Olympus Has Fallen doesn’t break new ground with the way it’s story unfolds and it’s characters develop. The film was pretty much beat-for-beat and scene for scene lifted from the three other films mentioned above. The characters may be different and the circumstances they find themselves in somewhat different, but the screenwriters played everything safe except the action sequences part of the film. It’s these action scenes which brings Olympus Has Fallen to a new level of violent artistry that the previously mentioned films never reached.

To say that this film was violent would be an understatement. Where other films of this type a certain cartoonish tone to it’s violence this time around Fuqua goes for a much more serious and, at times, disturbingly difficult to watch level of violence to make the film stand out from the rest of it’s kind. The assault on the White House itself and the surrounding area has less a look of a fun action film and more of a war film. People die in droves and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Secret Service, police, terrorists or innocent civilians. All were fair game in this film.

Even the action once we get to Banning playing the Willis role looked more brutal than what Willis and even Seagal ever got to do. Gerard Butler may not have had the charisma and wit of Willis in the same role, but he convincingly played his role as more Jack Bauer than Officer McClane. Butler as Banning was all business and efficiency while Willis as McClane was more the witty, smartass who just keeps finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Olympus Has Fallen won’t be hailed as one of the best films of 2013. It won’t even be talked about as one of the top action films this year, but despite the story being a derivative of every Die Hard and it’s clones before it the film does succeed in being a very enjoyable piece of popcorn flick. It was full of tension and big action setpieces (though the CG effects looked very cheap at times) that Fuqua has gradually become known for. The characters in the film were just a step above being one-dimensional and the story itself becomes less eye-rolling and more worrisome considering the real tensions coming out of the Korean Peninsula at this very moment.

One thing I’m sure of is that of the two “Die Hard-in-the-White-House” films this year (there’s the bigger-budgeted White House Down later this summer from Roland Emmerich) I have a feeling that Olympus Has Fallen might be the more fun. It’s probably going to be the more violent of the two and that’s an assumption I’m willing to make without even seeing how Emmerich’s film turns out.

Trailer: Olympus Has Fallen


OlympusHasFallen

I’ve always wondered why Gerard Butler hasn’t been tapped to be an action hero star since his turn as Leonidas in 300. He definitely has the looks and physicality to pull off such films and do so without being snarky about it. He has instead been stuck doing romantic comedies and the brooding anti-hero roles. This pattern may just change depending on how well his next film does.

Olympus Has Fallen is the next film from Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur, Shooter) and looks like a new take on the Die Hard template of “one against many” that’s worked well with some films and turned out bad with others. This time around the film looks to be “Die Hard in the White House” type of story with Gerard Butler in the role of Bruce Willis. Though from some of the dialogue shown in the trailer it also sounds like a version of Under Siege (one of the better Die Hard clones)

The White House used as a setting for a siege has rarely been used (though the tv series 24 did it in it’s later seasons). The trailer show’s a bit of back story to Butler’s Secret Service character and what brings him back to the fold after a tragedy in his professional past puts him on ice.

Olympus Has Fallen is set for a March 22, 2013 release date.

Review: 300 (dir. by Zack Snyder)


I will get it out of the way and say that this was not and was not meant to be a historically accurate depiction of Ancient Greece. It was never meant to be even when it was still just an Eisner-Award winning graphic novel from the mind of iconic graphic novelist and artist Frank Miller. With that out of the way I was able to watch and enjoy Zack Snyder’s film adaptation on its own terms without the criticism of historical accuracies looming dangerously over my head. 300 deserves the label of being an event film. From start to finish, Snyder’s film practically screams blockbuster and popcorn and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Frank Miller’s 300 was at its time an interesting depiction of one of history’s greatest military last stands. Miller already known for hyperstylizing the look and feel of the noir genre with his Sin City graphic novels, takes the same approach with his depiction of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans taking a final last stand against Persian God-King Xerxes at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae (literally meaning Hot Gates in Greek). Zack Snyder took this graphic novel and painstakingly stayed true to the visuals Miller and his colorist wife, Lynn Varley put on paper. Looking back at my memory of some of the panels and images from the graphic novel. Snyder and his crew of art directors, cinematographers and CGI-artists were successful in translating almost every page of the graphic novel onto the screen.

Like Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Miller’s Sin City, Zack Snyder’s 300 pretty much brings the graphic novel to moving life. This means he stuck to the source material quite literally which limits his own take on the graphic novel. Like Rodriguez, Snyder doesn’t really put his own signature stamp as a director to the film. It’s not too much of criticis since he does a great job of translating Miller’s work onto film, but one wonders what sort of personal touches he could’ve added to the finished look that wasn’t lifted from Miller’s style and whether it would’ve changed the overlook look and feel of the film.

The story is quite simple and just takes the basic summary of the historical event itself. Spartan King Leonidas (played with visceral gusto and machismo by Scottish thespian Gerard Butler) makes a decision to go to war and confront the encroaching and fast approaching massive Persian Army led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) intent on conquering the Hellenic city-states of the Greek Peninsula. Persian ambassadors ride forth to demand oaths of fealty from those city-states ahead of the army’s path. Sparta is one such city-state, but different from the rest of its Hellenic brethrens. Sparta has gone down in history as a word synonymous with unbending dedication to a strict, ascetic warrior code. Warfare and battle were what Spartans were born and trained to do from an early age. Weakness and physical imperfections weeded out from the time of birth (the film explains just what happens to male newborns with physical imperfections and deformities). The answer Leonidas gives the Persian delegation could be seen as somewhat extreme, but not contrary to his nation’s warrior-culture of never surrendering and seeing death in battle the greatest glory for a Spartan to achieve. From this sequence right up to the end of the film we get to see just how much of a warrior culture the Spartans were in extreme detail.

It’s during the prolonged battle scenes between Leonidas’ Spartans and Xerxes army which will have everyone chomping at the bit. If you have to see this film for any particular reason outside of watching superbly-trained underdogs slaughtering and endless supply of enemy troops then you will most likely be disappointed by the slower scenes away from Thermopylae. Indeed, this film an its original source material would’ve worked even better without the extra filler Snyder and his writers added to give the film more depth. I’m all for more emotional depth and characterization in my films but when a movie is all about a bloody and heroic last stand of a few against the many, scenes which slow the story down does more to break the rhythm and tone of a film than add to it. Othe than a deeper understanding of the kind of partnership Leonidas had with Gorgo, his Spartan Queen, most of the subplots added by Snyder and his writers could easily have been left out and still ge a kick ass action epic.

It’s the action scenes which reall stand out visually. Some people might see the style tricks of speed ramping certain action sequences then slowing it down considerably to show the minute detail of the battle scene as being to gimmicky, but I would disagree and say it actually gives the movie a mythical quality in its storytelling. One thing I have to say about Zack Snyder as a director (his remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead better than what detractors have made it out to be) is that he knows how to film action and with special mention to bloody and gory action. He makes these scenes of dismemberments, decapitations, and disembowlments look like a piece of performance art.

These scenes of carnage would be considered extremely gratuitious if it didn’t look so made up good. Even the way the blood flows, spurts and splashes look like something Jackson Pollock would take interest in. The speed up and slow down of the sequences also gives the fight scenes a certain rhythm that once an audience picks up on will follow it through to the end. This is why the scenes back in Sparta with a duplicitous politician and his powerplay to assume control and power seem such a downer instead of enhancing the sacrifice of Leonidas and his men. Those scenes just feel tacked on and completely superfluous. Luckily, there’s not enough of them to slow down the frantic pace developed by the battle itself.

The performances by all actors involved really doesn’t require too much criticism or reflection over. Gerard Butler does a great and convincing job as the Spartan King and his conviction in confronting Xerxes and his army with so few seem very believable. It’s not a star-making performance but it does show that Butler can add a bit of gravitas to a character and role so basic in characterization. Lena Hedley is radiant as his partner and Queen. Despite the weird sounding name of Gorgo, Hedley plays the strong-minded and equally influential wife to Butler’s Leonidas. It’s only her scenes back in Sparta as she tries to rally her people to support their king which keeps these slower sequences from fully pulling down the film. The performances were good enough to keep the acting in the film from becoming too campy or too serious. It’s an action film and with enough action going on in the movie I could forgive the writers (both Miller and the screenwriters) from scrimping on character build up.

All in all, Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 succeeds in bringing the book to moving life. Throughout the run of the film it was hard not to get lost in the beautiful visuals. Whether it was the muted color pallette which puts most of the scenes in an almost sepia-tone look to over-emphasizing certain colors to set a certain mood. From oversaturation of reds in one sequence to one where everything seem to be tinted with the many shades of blues at night. This is what 300 will be best remembered for. It’s technical use of CGI to paint the environment in unrealistic but beautiful ways which gives the scenes a lyrical and mythical look to them once the actors were superimposed over them. The film really was a painting come to life and it shows once again how computer and digital filmmaking technology have now afforded directors in making what used to be impossible technically to something that could be done with the limit being the artist’s imagination.

This film will not win many acting, directing and even screenwriting awards (which it didn’t once award season rolled around), but it doesn’t have to for people to enjoy it. It will entertain and pull its audience into a living and modern retelling of a legend. Whether all that happened on the screen was exactly as it happened in 480 B.C. doesn’t matter. What it does show is that through retelling down the years even all the embellishments added to the story of Leonidas and his men doesn’t diminish the fact that what they did and accomplished was how legendary heroes were made and remembered.