Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept that Jason Statham Cannot Die...

...or Jason Statham Can Only Be Killed by Martian Ghosts, Jet Li, or William H. Macy."

*If it wasn't clear from the title, this article is going to contain spoilers for a lot of Jason Statham movies...and Executive Decision...and Romeo & Juliet.

I’ve always considered Jason Statham a very unlikely action star. After his stint in Guy Ritchie’s first two films I found it interesting that he would assume the role of the everyman action hero. Oddly enough, the cockney rhyming hustler from England was a natural in the action genre. I am pretty much a Statham fan at this point, having seen almost all of his films (though I certainly did not like every one of them). It was only after watching his latest action effort, The Mechanic, that I realized something peculiar: Jason Statham is borderline immortal.

Let’s start with the last film first. In the original Mechanic, both characters deservedly die at the end. It made sense, Bronson was remorseful for his years of killing and Jan-Michael Vincent was just cocky and annoying, so their deaths worked for me. Fast forward to the remake. Looking good so far, Statham blows up at a gas station and Foster blows up in a fancy car, roll credits, right? No! Statham did a crazy monkey roll away from the vehicle just in time to survive! Why? Is it sequelitis? C’mon, like there was ever going to be a chance for this one to get a theatrical sequel. Even if it did get the sequel treatment it would probably go the way of another Statham remake, Death Race. In that sequel, which was DTV, Statham was not involved and if there is a sequel for The Mechanic, it is doubtful he would be in it.

The lack of Statham’s death bothered me. His death would have made sense as being faithful to the original “and” it would make sense for this movie in its own right. You might be thinking, “Big deal, it’s just a Jason Statham movie, and not a particularly good one at that.” I understand that sentiment, but there was this nagging question in the back of my mind: had Statham actually ever died on film?

Not to leave anyone in suspense: yes, Jason Statham has died on film. In my extensive research (where’s the ironic font when you need it?), I have found just three possibilities out of twenty-six films. One of them is an obvious Statham fatality, while the other two could potentially be argued.

First, Ghosts of Mars, the John Carpenter sci-fi film about, you guessed it, ghosts on the planet of Mars. Statham wasn’t a star of this one and it was actually one of his earliest action efforts. In other words, he was still expendable at this point because he wasn’t a name, which kind of makes this death null and void. But I’ll accept it. Consider this, though: Statham has only been definitively killed onscreen by Martian ghosts that inhabit human bodies turning them into kill-crazy monsters…and it took a few of them to take him out. (Time out to acknowledge the greatness of Mr. Carpenter. Ghosts may not be his strongest effort, but the man killed off Statham, and for that, I salute him.)

The second film is Cellular, but this one seems criminal to count. It was before Statham could share top billing in a film like The Expendables. Plus, he’s playing the clichéd villain in a crappy movie that is more of a Nokia commercial than it is a film. William H. Macy does put him down, but I didn’t see him in a body bag…and who knows? Those clichéd villains rarely stay dead after one shot. But yeah, he pretty much died there.

Third up is War, one of the many Jet Li co-starring vehicles for Statham. The film delivers on its promise as Li and Statham go to war against each other. The movie’s poster sets up the idea that one of these guys has to die. Technically, Li died very early on, but through a ridiculous plot twist, his identity stays alive, so victory for Li. He does take out Statham, but it’s another of those vague deaths. We see a shot hit Statham and he drops, but there’s no close up and it wasn’t a head shot. Unless we are shown a close up of Statham’s face and hear an audible death rattle, I’m claiming this one to be open-ended. But once again, yeah, he’s kind of dead. (Side note, there could be an entire article on the evolution of the Statham-Li matchups. I would say that Statham is clearly winning the battle at this point with his higher billing in The Expendables.)

Now your question is, “What’s with this stupid article? All you’ve done is proven yourself wrong, albeit begrudgingly.” To that I say, “Why are you still reading?” Just kidding. I justify this article because those deaths were weak and/or too early in Statham’s career to truly count. This article exists because of all the recent ridiculous ways Statham has laughed at death on film.

How about the Crank series? Those two films are literally about Statham dying the entire film. This tells me Statham is in on the joke that is his newfound cinematic immortality. Chev Chelios has to run around keeping his heart pumping with the promise that he will die in the end. The guy even falls out of a helicopter without a parachute at the end of the first one, only to wake up miraculously alive for the sequel. I know those films are tongue in cheek, but is it asking that much to at least kill the guy off in the sequel?

Then there are the annoying fake deaths. In the Death Race remake, he uses a decoy to get away and lives happily ever after. Even more infuriating, in the lesser known Chaos, Statham’s character actually fakes his own death. That’s almost too much for me, but it gets much, much worse.

Jason Statham has defied the works of William Shakespeare to stay alive on film. Not since Steven Seagal refused to film his ridiculous death scene in Executive Decision has a more atrocious example of immortality been attempted. (To be clear, I am not comparing the works of Shakespeare to Executive Decision, though that film is kind of a fun watch.) I am, of course, referencing Gnomeo & Juliet. Statham voiced Tybalt in the recent animated film and as we all (should) know, Tybalt is killed in the original play. Tybalt the garden gnome does get broken in the film, which is the equivalent of death in a children’s movie, but by the end he has been reassembled. Statham’s desire to live knows no bounds.

To wrap up, this article has obviously been a bit facetious. I enjoy Statham’s films, if for nothing else than to see if he dies at this point. But it’s strange how he survives so much. I’m sorry, but this guy does not deserve Schwarzenegger-like life spans in his films. He has potential to be that one action star that can also die…it would be original. Instead, he stars in movies about people who are expendable but actually aren’t at all since so many of them survive. He fakes his death. He plays characters that are supposed to be dying the entire time, but they don’t. But what can you do but hope for next time? Statham does have a film in the can right now called Blitz. It’s about a cop (Statham) who is hunting a serial killer. (Sigh.) I wonder who’s going to come out on top. I’m not condoning mass murder, but my fingers are crossed for the serial killer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Paul - Directed by Greg Mottola, written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, starring Pegg, Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, and Seth Rogen - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan is not a geek, but he understands what geeks (especially the critic on this site) like and Paul gets his endorsement.

There is no shortage of alien films coming out of Hollywood these days. Cinemagoers have always been interested in the possibility of alien life forms showing up on our planet. Usually they want to kill all of us, sometimes for no reason at all. Less often, they turn out to be lovable creatures that are so cuddly and safe that they end being friends with your children. So why do we need any more alien movies at all since it’s been done to death? Well, there hasn’t really been an attempt to openly create an R-rated buddy-alien movie aimed directly at geeks. That might be a niche market, but the end result, Paul, is very enjoyable one, potentially for more than just the dorks among us.

Paul is basically a buddy road trip movie. Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are two Brits who have traveled to America to go to Comic-Con and a tour of all the extraterrestrial hot spots in the southwest. Things go awry when they come across an actual extraterrestrial: Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). After that, their trip isn’t a vacation; it’s a mission. And along the way they encounter all manner of different characters like religious fanatics, inept government agents, and rednecks.

This film is first and foremost a movie for people of the same ilk as Graeme and Clive. Not British, but the type of people who would go to Comic-Con. Paul is filled with references to geeky pop culture: Klingon is spoken, there are Star Wars references galore, a certain heroine from a classic sci-fi flick shows up, etc. In short, this is an alien movie that acknowledges all other alien movies. If you’re into those kinds of movies, you’re more likely to enjoy this one than most people. But there is still plenty of comedy for all.

Paul features enough standard comedy fare to keep the less geeky audience members laughing as well. There are the standard physical comedy bits, but the film mainly relies on its R-rating to bring the laughs. Foul language can sometimes be seen as a crutch for comedy, but this film features the hilarious gimmick of a reformed goody two-shoes trying to improvise cuss words. That bit might get stale for some, but it worked throughout for this reviewer.

Even if some of the bits don’t knock it out of the park for some, the cast should be able to elevate the material. Pegg and Frost have been working together for years (and are actual best friends in real life) so they completely work as a comedic duo (and it helps that they served as screenwriters on this one). Rogen brings an interesting voice to the alien that is consistently amusing. Kristen Wiig was hilarious as the aforementioned improvisational foul mouth. Jason Bateman is solid as the determined agent, but his role is really elevated by dealing with his halfwit underlings, played by Joe Lo Truglio and Bill Hader. There are more, but you get the idea: the cast is strong with this one.

Perhaps the most important element of the film, though, is Paul himself. The alien is computer generated but he felt like an onscreen presence throughout. It would have been devastating to the film if Paul came across as overtly fake. Also, his design might leave a bit to be desired, but the screenplay has a great element that takes care of that. It turns out that the government has slowly been leaking Paul’s identity through pop culture to make it easier on the public if the alien is ever revealed, which explains why Paul looks like such a clichéd alien. That also opens the script up to make many more pop culture references as Paul claims ownership to countless classic sci-fi moments.

Paul is far from perfect, though. The rednecks and religious fanatics mentioned above are kind of weak villains. Their complete idiocy gives this film an overly atheist and liberal feel. This isn’t a film to get bent out of shape over, though, so you should be able to ignore it. But some people have strong feelings about some of the religious topics brought up and could potentially be offended. None of that stuff really bothered me. The issue I had with the film was that it started off quite weak and a little too goofy. And even though the film has dozens of pop culture references, it seemed like the filmmakers were toning it down a bit for fear of (no pun intended) alienating their audience. But that is a minor nit to pick, to be sure.

Paul is a comedy aimed at the geeks among us, but there is enough here to keep most people entertained. Aliens don’t always have to show up to kill us. Sometimes they just want to make us laugh. Fortunately, Paul does just that.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

Just wanted to point out a few references I enjoyed:

The cantina music is the road house was great.

It was a nice reference when Bateman shot his radio and said, "Boring conversation anyway."

It was hilarious when Pegg and Frost recreated an alien fight from the original "Star Trek" TV show.

Frost's ewok fetish...

I dug the E.T. jokes, and it was very cool that Spielberg lent his voice the film.

Sigourney Weaver was borderline cheesy, but it was still cool to see her in this.

Some Indiana Jones references were amusing, like Bateman calling Paul “Short Round” and Paul hanging out in the warehouse from Raiders.

Of course, there had to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind references and they worked as part of the plot device that Paul has actually had a hand in creating all of these classic sci-fi films we love.

Finally, there's no reference to this, but Paul is kind of like Roger from "American Dad," except not nearly as cynical, sadistic, or sociopathic. I don't see this as a ripoff of that character or anything, but I do find some similarities, especially when they have to disguise Paul as a cowboy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

"Sucker Punch"

Sucker Punch - Directed by Zack Snyder, written by Snyder and Steve Shibuya, starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, and Scott Glenn - Rated PG-13

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." I'll stand up for this movie while it continues to take a critical beating.

Director Zack Snyder is well known in the realm of geekdom these days. He has dealt with zombies (the remake of Dawn of the Dead) and has adapted the works of comic book legends Frank Miller (300) and Alan Moore (Watchmen). And Snyder has recently been given the reigns for the next Superman film. The point of all this is that Snyder makes movies for those of us who read comics, play videogames, and watch tons of movies. Sucker Punch is a movie with that audience (and that audience alone) in mind.

Sucker Punch has a fairly simple story – young institutionalized girls use fantasy worlds to escape reality and the mental institution itself – and a chaotic style. The film is a textbook example of style over substance. Instead of a somber, quiet scene to show a character’s grief, Snyder presents music video-like vignettes to hurry things along, which is incongruous since the director uses so much slow motion in the scenes. But it all looks cool and it’s simply entertaining. The idea of a pretty but empty film might be considered a negative, but if you go with it, what’s the harm? There are already plenty of intense dramas out there.

There isn’t much in the way of complexity in the film, but here goes anyway. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is locked away in a mental institution by her evil stepdad who sets up a lobotomy for her as soon as possible. Baby Doll then enters into a fantasy where the institution becomes a night club/brothel. The girls are still kept against their will, but it’s a bit more lighthearted and it gives all of the women an excuse to dress sexy (more on that later). Baby Doll turns out to be a dancer so amazing that whenever men watch her they become so entranced that the girls can steal needed items from them to make their escape. Sucker Punch isn’t a movie about dancing, though. When Baby Doll starts to dance, the fantasy is taken one step deeper into one action-filled world after another.

Sucker Punch succeeds as an insane action-fantasy film. Each world the girls inhabit is in the middle of a war. Some look familiar (a World War I trench-warfare setting or a siege on a medieval castle) while others are fantastical (a train speeding towards a city in the midst of a robot civil war), but even the familiar settings feature ridiculous elements. The soldiers in the trenches are steam-powered Nazi zombies (and that World War I claim above is not a typo, these are Nazis in a WWI setting, hardly the most ridiculous aspect of the film, though). That castle being stormed? One half of the battle is being fought by orcs, at a castle that houses a dragon. As for the other setting…well, you saw “robot civil war,” right? Also, some giant samurai are thrown in for good measure. Basically, this is geek Valhalla.

Into this chaos enter gun-toting, samurai sword-wielding beauties dressed as if their costume designer was a 13-year-old boy. That statement might raise a few questions, but I’ll get to that in a second. There is an audience out there that reads that set up and thinks, “Awesome!” If you fall into that demographic, then Sucker Punch is definitely for you. It is kind of awesome and the action is brutal (even though the film is rated PG-13) and constant. (Be warned, though, it’s almost too chaotic. I got a bit dizzy watching some of the action play out on an IMAX screen.)

Back to the question that might arise from the summary: whose fantasy world are we actually watching? Sure, women are standing up for themselves and taking matters into their own hands, but that doesn’t make this a feminist film. Just look at the initial fantasy that is cooked up. Women escape reality by pretending to be whores (even though the sex part of their jobs is only implied, never shown)? How is that a good thing? And the idea that they can only get things done by dancing in such a provocative way that men go catatonic just watching them doesn’t exactly scream, “We can do it!” There aren’t many dramatic scenes for the ladies, but it seems like any time they’re not kicking ass they’re crying. And while this isn’t one of those films where it ends up that all the women really needed was a man to save them, there are still moments like that and the men do have all of the power in the film.

It’s easy to say, “Calm down, it’s just a movie,” and this critic is actually someone who would say that. Sucker Punch is a fun film that isn’t out to make a statement on the status of women in the world today. And it’s not dangerous in a stereotype-creating way. But the issue is there (and some are finding it much more serious than I, as evidenced by a few articles about it, like this one) and it might affect your enjoyment of the film.

Feminist or anti-feminist, it’s hard to argue that Sucker Punch features complex characters. Baby Doll and her cohorts (Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber) are little more than walking clichés of abused women. Obviously, there wasn’t much time spent on character development. (Hell, they didn’t even bother to come up with a fifth cutesy nickname for Amber.) But so what? So Snyder is more of a director than he is a writer. Cinema is a visual medium after all, so it feels wrong to fault a film for just being stylish. It was hard to care much about what happened with any of the characters, though.

As far as the performances of these one-note ladies, most of them are ably done. Emily Browning sleepwalks through the film as Baby Doll, but that is kind of a requirement for the role. The others are fine, though Vanessa Hudgens managed to feel a bit unrealistic at times even for a movie as intentionally unrealistic as this. The rest of the cast gets to have a bit of fun. Carla Gugino hams it up nicely as a Polish psychiatrist/choreographer. Oscar Isaac is entertaining as a slimy guard/night club owner. And Scott Glenn (who must have been cast because of his Training Day character) appears to be having fun as he spouts off nearly nonsensical philosophical one-liners throughout.

In a strange bit of casting, Jon Hamm shows up for just a short moment in the film. It seems strange because it’s not just a cameo. He was clearly edited out of the film. In an interview, Browning mentioned a cut sex scene with Hamm so it’s safe to assume that this was a ratings issue rather than a performance problem. There is most likely a director’s cut in store for Sucker Punch.

Sucker Punch is a male-influenced “female” fantasy film. The largely male geek population is likely to find plenty to enjoy with this one (though female geeks are likely to enjoy it as well). On its own, Sucker Punch is a frenzied action film with plenty of visual treats. It is light on character and might be downright offensive to some, but if you can apply that “It’s just a movie” attitude towards it, you should have plenty of fun with this one.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

The visuals are fantastic and over the top, throughout. But I also really dug the style of the “reality” scenes because they have this grime all over them. Gives the film an interesting look and feel.

I loved the mix of 1950s style and modern music (or modern takes on old songs). My favorite sequence had to be the WWI battle set to a revamped version of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit."

During my initial viewing, I thought it was odd how Baby Doll was just a shell of a character. It's saying something to refer to a character as a shell in this film, since so many of them are one-note as it is. The revelation at the end that Baby Doll was not really the hero of the story was interesting and explained away Browning's odd performance. It turns out that Baby Doll was literally just an object to aid in Sweet Pea's escape, so it makes sense that she is kind of barren in the personality department.

The film was surprisingly dark in the end. Watching the fantasy battle sequences there was never a sense of danger for the protagonists. It just felt like they were untouchable and that everything was going to be okay in the end. Kind of surprising when most of them started to get killed off. This actually made me like the film a bit more.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Limitless - Directed by Neil Burger, written by Leslie Dixon, starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro - Rated PG-13

Just wacky and entertaining enough to get in the Evil Kurgan's good graces.

You know that statistic about how humans only use a small percentage of our brains? Limitless tries to show what it would be like if we were firing on all cylinders all the time. (By the way, if you want to look into some facts of the small percentage claim, check out this article.) What ends up on the screen is an often entertaining, though ultimately dumb movie.

Limitless is about Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), an aspiring writer who has hit a wall in his life. Eddie can’t even write the first word of his novel, he is often drunk by mid-afternoon, and his girlfriend has dumped him. Things start to change when a chance encounter leaves him with a prototype pill that allows him to use 100% of his brain. So Eddie decides the most important thing to do with his newfound genius-level intelligence is make as much money as possible and where else do you go to do that other than Wall Street? In fact, the simplest way to describe this movie (and I hate these comparisons, but I can’t help it) is Wall Street meets Charly/Flowers for Algernon.

The concept, that a drug can make you super-smart but leave you addicted, is interesting from a filmmaking perspective. The film only feels convoluted and messy when the withdrawal kicks in. It is streamlined and entertaining when Eddie is on the drug. This doesn’t excuse the problems of the film, but it makes you look at them a bit differently and that’s something.

Limitless starts to show some visual flair in the segments that are meant to convey what it’s like to be on the miracle drug. Director Neil Burger employs plenty of lengthy zooms that go through endless landscapes. The scenes are a little disorienting, but they are interesting to look at. Some of the images end up making the “clarity” of a fully functioning brain seem more confusing than eye-opening. But some images work, like the multiple Eddies, which show that taking the pill is basically like having copies of yourself to get all of your work done.

This is where Limitless gets a bit strange; it’s a drug movie, but it doesn’t seem to have a message. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you stop and think about what this film is saying, you may end up scratching your head a bit. This isn’t meant to be a message film, though. The film doesn’t get deadly serious very often, and that’s a good thing. Limitless is mainly here to entertain.

Limitless is a fun watch. The montages loosen the film up nicely as we see Eddie just winning (to quote Wall Street star Charlie Sheen) at life. Getting ladies, jetting around the world, spending all his newfound cash; these scenes are clichéd (the suit buying scenes and stuff like that has a definite Wall Street montage feel to it) but amusing. Much of that is thanks to Bradley Cooper.

Cooper holds the film together. He’s in his wheelhouse with this one. Cooper gets to play his Hangover character when he’s in withdrawal and he gets to be Face from The A-Team when he’s rocking and rolling. Obviously it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but the guy has charisma on the screen and while his voiceover felt forced and largely pointless, it’s forgivable because of his presence.

The other part of the cast that draws the most attention is the inclusion of Robert De Niro as a Gordon Gekko type during the Wall Street portion of the film. He doesn’t have much to do here except give Eddie warnings that go unheeded. He does a good job of looking upset and condescending, but that doesn’t make a character very interesting.

The Wall Street character wasn’t very interesting and that segment of the film in general drags a bit. There are all of those entertaining montages when Eddie first starts out only to lead to him…analyzing stock market trends. It’s during a segment like that when you start to question the movie and Limitless doesn’t hold up too well under a microscope. I’ll avoid spoilers (definitely check the spoiler section at the end if you’ve seen the movie), but just know that Limitless does answer most questions, it’s just that those answers are either too easy and/or kind of silly.

Once again, though, Limitless isn’t trying to be a profound experience. It’s mostly fun, a little dumb at times, but it’s mostly interesting. The concept, along with the star, keeps the film going. The film isn’t likely to have a lasting effect on anyone, but it is decent as passing entertainment and sometimes that’s good enough for the price of a ticket.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

So what’s up? Did he kill that woman? Why is he okay with not knowing? Does the drug also make you capable of committing murder without guilt? If so, that is not someone I want running the country. After doing some message board research, I found that someone claimed you see the stalker dude near that scene implying that he killed her…but I didn’t catch that. But they said the room was wiped clean. Why did the stalker kill a girl to pin it on Eddie, then wipe away any evidence that Eddie was there? What about the fact that a witness saw Eddie, but not the stalker? And if the stalker was there to do all of this, couldn’t he have captured Eddie? And speaking of that, this guy can plant a bug in Eddie’s apartment but he couldn’t find Eddie’s stash? Why bug his phone anyway? Like Eddie is going to call someone to tall them his secret hiding place.

How could this guy possibly end up in major politics? The knife in the Russian mobster’s stomach had to have had his prints all over it. How does the revelation that the previous owner was an arms dealer clear that problem up? The movie just asks you to assume a bit too much at times.

Completely random, but I have to point out the stupidity and awesomeness of a couple things. First, watching Bradley Cooper slurp up drug-laced blood like a meth-addled vampire was ridiculous and hilarious. Second, I love how a drug that makes you smart makes you realize that the best way to attack someone in a park is by brandishing a little girl in ice skates as a weapon. How was that a better idea than a baseball bat or any of the other possibilities shown? So dumb…but kind of great, too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles"

Battle: Los Angeles - Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, written by Christopher Bertolini, starring Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Peña, and Michelle Rodriguez - Rated PG-13

Bring on the aliens, the Evil Kurgan shall smite them all!

When aliens show up on Earth, it is rarely peaceful. There’s a reason for that, of course: peaceful aliens are lame (sorry, E.T.). It also makes sense that aliens would be hostile towards us. Isn’t the entire point of NASA these days to find a planet that can sustain human life? What would we do if we went there and it was occupied by (compared to our species) strange creatures? Something tells me we wouldn’t wave a white flag if we needed that planet to survive. Maybe I’m wrong, but regardless, it does make more sense for an alien race to be hostile towards humanity…and the latest, albeit unoriginal, film version of that scenario is Battle: Los Angeles.

Battle: LA is truly a movie about a battle taking place in Los Angeles. The film actually scales back from the usual alien attack movie by placing the majority of the action away from the major destruction. The focus is on a small group of Marines on a civilian extraction mission. It’s not about fighter jets taking on mother ships or anything like that. Battle: LA does contain its grander moments, sure, but the majority of the film takes place in side streets with intense urban warfare.

The small group of soldiers is led by Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) a staff sergeant near retirement who is dealing with the losses of his last deployment. He is accompanied by a typical group of soldiers. No one really stands out in the group because character development isn’t exactly priority number one in a movie like this. But enough information is given about the characters that it is easy to get on their side, but that might just be because they are fighting a group of disgusting aliens.

The alien design is definitely a highlight of Battle: Los Angeles and, if anything, the film didn’t show off the creatures enough. The lack of gruesome close-ups or showy sequences adds to the mystery of the aliens, but a little more information would have been nice.

Battle: LA isn’t a creature feature, though, it is an action film. For the most part, the action is entertaining. Everything is good and loud, just like a war movie should be. The effects look fine and there are a few brutal moments to keep the action junkies sated. Some may take issue with the “shaky-cam” stuff, though. This isn’t one of those fake documentary movies or anything, but the camera is handheld and it does get chaotic at times. It works as a tool to show a hectic battle, but it isn’t really necessary for a conversation, yet it is used for both, which is unfortunate.

If Battle: LA has any faults, they occur when there is even a remote attempt at emotion. Everything is clichéd. The young soldier with the pregnant wife at home; the soldier struggling with the death of a loved one; and there’s even a little kid thrown into the mix who gets to salute like a good “little Marine.” There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it just came off as forced and a bit cheesy.

All of that is forgiven thanks to some steely military resolve. Most of that praise belongs to Aaron Eckhart. He doesn’t have much to do in this except look very determined, and he has the glare and strong jaw line to do just that. He represents the ultimate determined soldier who will never give up. That is the saving grace of this movie. A movie like this is about survival, not just of the main characters, but of the human race. These soldiers are all the audience gets to see of the human race and they will not quit for anything. They don’t need rest or food, just more ammo and more aliens to kill, which is awesome.

Battle: Los Angeles may seem like a video game to some (I was reminded of the “Resistance” series on PS3), but that is not necessarily a bad thing. That really just means the film is entertaining, but maybe a bit shallow. It’s an alien invasion movie, though, and all it needs is good action and characters that you don’t hate. Battle: LA has that and then some. There’s nothing really new here, but it is fun and it is certainly worth a watch.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

The alien design was interesting, what with the tentacle and faceless quality of the critters. I wished there was more attention paid to the weird, hovering creatures.

This movie seemed realistic…if that makes sense. The aliens weren't ridiculous in their power and there wasn't some miracle solution that saved the day in the end. In the end, it was good old American fortitude that won through. (Cue Team America theme.)

The focus on water was interesting because that is exactly what NASA is all about these days. We're always looking for water and that is what these aliens are here for...allegory?

Speaking of allegory, what about the drones? That seemed like such a pivotal moment in the film. Eckhart gets his hero scene only to find an unmanned drone...which is exactly what our military uses today. If this film were a bit deeper I would think that the whole film is a commentary on American warfare, but it isn't because it completely celebrates America at every turn. Anyway, there might be something there, but it's still just some fun action for the most part.

Improvised alien autopsy…I like it! If there is a scene that makes the movie for me, it is the autopsy scene. I wish there was more of this in the movie. Such a crazy scene as Eckhart and Moynahan sift through the gore to try and figure out what exactly kills the aliens.

Finally, I wish the last act would have been Eckhart on his own…partially because I hate Michelle Rodriguez so much. She definitely is a toned down version of here usual bad-ass self, but she still gets on my nerves. Anyway, how bad-ass would it have been if the last twenty minutes was Eckhart on a suicide mission to take out the control center? I think I might have flat out loved this movie if it had ended like that. As it stands, I dug it, but it didn't blow me away or anything.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau"

The Adjustment Bureau - Written and directed by George Nolfi, starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terence Stamp - Rated PG-13

The Adjustment Bureau is entertaining and compelling but, more importantly, it raises some interesting questions.

The Adjustment Bureau looked like an interesting film when the trailers debuted…then the film was delayed for quite some time, which is never a good sign. Delays don’t always equal disaster and, fortunately, The Adjustment Bureau is an example that a delayed film can be a decent film. It helps that it is also an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. To be honest, that can be good or bad as well, but it turns out to be one of the better ones. It’s no Blade Runner, but it’s certainly no Paycheck either.

The film is about David Norris (Matt Damon), an aspiring politician who meets his dream girl, Elise (Emily Blunt). The problem is that he was only supposed to meet her one time. When he runs into her again, it gets the attention of the titular Bureau. Everything in the world of this film is set to a plan written by a creator-type figure known as the Chairman. When the plan isn’t followed, adjusters are brought in. They have the ability to freeze time, travel through a subspace network, and mess with the physics of the regular world. Think of them as the destiny police. Despite these adjusters, David is determined to be with Elise.

This makes The Adjustment Bureau a kind of romantic sci-fi film, which is an interesting label, to say the least. The film works on each level, though. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the characters are likable and sympathetic. Simply put, you want things to work out for these two. On the sci-fi end, there is enough visual flair to keep things interesting and the whole idea of the Bureau is left open enough to lead to some of that deep conversation that all sci-fi films aspire to.

Hard core sci-fi fans may be let down by the film’s toned down style, though. The Adjustment Bureau is not a flashy film at all. The closest bit of style it attempts comes by way of the subspace travel the adjusters use. They can open a door in one location and travel to a completely different area. This aspect leads to some impressive sequences and individual shots, especially when the doors are left open for a bit. But the film doesn’t dwell on these visuals very often; they are just part of the story.

The film also stays away from going too deep into the story behind the Bureau. There are hints here and there, but the bulk of the mystery is left up to the viewer. That may mean the film doesn’t create much of a world behind the “real world,” but that is not a bad thing. It’s refreshing to see a sci-fi film that tries to take place in a real world. To be clear, though, there are definitely things happening in this film that are in no way realistic or even backed up by science.

The Adjustment Bureau, based on the descriptions above and especially from the trailers, may seem like a deadly serious film. It is, in fact, surprisingly light-hearted at times. John Slattery (“Mad Men”) looks like a menacing agent in the previews, but in reality he serves as a bit of comic relief for the film. It turns out that these adjusters not only look like white collar workers from the 1950s, they also act like them. Slattery complains about waiting for the case of a career and worries about exceeding his “ripple quota.” This light tone makes the film much easier to accept and makes it quite enjoyable as well.

Lighthearted as The Adjustment Bureau is at times there are still heavy questions asked. There aren’t really any answers to those questions and that is actually the way it should be. Do people actually enjoy films that end with a man in a chair explaining the world to the main characters and/or the audience (I’m looking at you, sequel to groundbreaking sci-fi film)? Films like that insult the audience’s intelligence. Scratch that, they insult the imagination of the audience. The Adjustment Bureau is interesting and entertaining because, in the end, the film is up to you. Some might actually call that lazy screenwriting, and sometimes it is, but when the questions you’re left with at the end are interesting, then that means the filmmakers (in this case writer/director George Nolfi) have accomplished something.

This is a film that is much more about ideas than it is about acting, but the leads are very good here. Damon can carry a movie in his sleep these days, but he livens this one up with his charismatic work…it’s easy to believe he is a politician. Emily Blunt does a fine job opposite Damon. She has to handle the more emotional scenes and she is very believable. Slattery, as mentioned above, gives a fun performance. And Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp add sympathy and a bit of menace, respectively.

The Adjustment Bureau isn’t a sci-fi classic, but it will go down as one of the good Philip K. Dick adaptations, and that’s saying quite a bit. As for the moment, it’s exceedingly rare to see a movie in a multiplex that is willing to ask deep questions that you get to answer for yourself. Take advantage of that and check this one out.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I dug the whole politician aspect of the story, especially the speech Damon gives when he decides to quit playing a politician and speak the truth to an audience.

The idea of someone having a ripple quota is amusing. It makes you wonder how much is too much. Slattery messed with a lot of lives while he was chasing Damon. I loved that Damon even commented on the fact that he was causing an insane amount of ripples by diverting so many taxis. I guess it all just confirms the idea that some humans are simply much more important than others and it doesn't matter what happens to most of us in the "plan."

I also liked the fact that the Bureau was not all controlling and, in some cases, they were just plain inept. Interesting to see a secret society that controls the world that doesn't have total control.

The hats... I was wondering why Damon was rocking the old hat in the previews and posters and whatnot. It made the film look like it took place sixty years ago and it surprised me when that wasn't the case. Glad that there was a reason for the hat. But it does sound kind of stupid when you have to put it in words: a magic hat allows you to travel through subspace.

The bureaucracy was almost like something out of The Hudsucker Proxy what with the way the adjusters talked about kicking problems "upstairs." It just added to the whole comedic element of the film.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Drive Angry"

Drive Angry - Directed by Patrick Lussier, written by Lussier & Todd Farmer, starring Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, and David Morse - Rated R

“So I won’t have that beer, Webster, unless I’m drinking it from Jonah King’s skull.” That's kind of a paraphrase, but you get the point. Lines like that make me kind of love this movie.

Nicolas Cage is a tornado of crazy these days so it should come as no surprise that he would star in a film called Drive Angry 3-D. To be fair, Cage doesn’t go full Wicker Man in this one (unfortunately), but he does get to do some crazy things. Drive Angry is perfect for Cage because it doesn’t take itself seriously. It is pure fun from start to finish.

Drive Angry is this strange film that is filled with religious themes. For instance, Cage’s character is called Milton (as in the “Paradise Lost” Milton) and the movie lets on very quickly that this film takes place in world in which Hell definitely exists. There are run-ins with a cult and a mysterious man, known only as The Accountant (William Fichtner), is certainly not a number cruncher. The film doesn’t get too deep into religious philosophies, though, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t a deep movie and shouldn’t be looked at too closely anyway. A film like Drive Angry is meant to be enjoyed with a smile not a contemplative furrowed brow.

The movie is about the mysterious Milton who is on a mission to retrieve his infant granddaughter from a cult. The cult murdered his daughter and plans on sacrificing the baby to open a portal to Hell. On top of that, the even more mysterious Accountant is mixing things up, seemingly playing both sides. A young lady, Piper (Amber Heard), is taken along for the ride. Absolute craziness and just plain weird stuff ensues.

This is the type of film that Cage has perfected as of late. Cage doesn’t get to scream like a maniac, though. His performance is that of a reserved psycho. He is still a lot of fun. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want a single crazy detail about Cage spoiled.) Cage gets to deliver some killer lines like, “Let the girl go, give me the child, or I’ll blow all your heads off.” At one point, he gets beaten with the femur bone of his daughter for what seems like five minutes. Oh, and he drinks beer from a human skull. I’ll type that again: Nicolas Cage drinks beer from a human skull. If that doesn’t pique your interest for this film then nothing will.

Nicolas Cage isn’t alone in the insanity in this one. William Fichtner is absolutely hilarious as the Accountant. He delivers his lines with such dead pan hilarity you can’t help but laugh. He plays the role with equal parts menace and child-like wonder. It makes for a very amusing performance. Billy Burke has a few great moments as cult leader Jonah King as well. And David Morse classes the joint up a bit with his scenes near the end.

Drive Angry isn’t just a crazy fest, though. It is primarily an action film…in 3-D. The action is decent for the most part, with a few standout moments. The CG is atrocious at times, but forgivable since some of the stunts are ambitious and brutal. The 3-D elements are just right for this type of film, though they aren’t vital to the overall experience. Director Patrick Lussier (the underrated Dracula 2000) knows how to use gimmicky 3-D. He also made the fun My Bloody Valentine remake a couple years ago and that film utilized 3-D in a very entertaining way.

This movie is basically made for men. It has plenty of classic muscle cars and a few entertaining driving sequences to go with them. There are plenty of beautiful ladies throughout. There’s even a sex scene during a shootout, which may make some cry foul because of its similarities to the scene from Shoot ‘Em Up, but I found it to be a more entertaining scene so it’s okay with me. And there is plenty of brutal action throughout the film. Add Nicolas Cage and a plot about Hell and cults and whatnot and you end up with a (screw it, pun intended) hell of a good time.

Drive Angry was criminally underseen last weekend, which is upsetting because it is such a fun film. Maybe Cage isn’t as entertaining to general public as he is to this critic. Maybe the 3-D is element has burned audiences out. Who knows? But if you just wrote this one off after you saw Cage’s name and “3-D” in the title, you should reconsider and give it a chance. Though at this point, it’s most likely the film is disappearing from theatres at a rapid rate. So, give this a try on video because it is quite literally crazy fun.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

What was with the dude in the church with the terrible wig? The guy is even credited on IMDb as "Man in Wig." I was expecting a joke to come up about it, but it never did. It was just odd...which is okay.

They made a big point to declare that this was "Shot in 3-D." I'm a fan of this and I hope other movies do this in the future. If I'm spending an extra $3 for a movie in 3-D I'd rather the film was shot in 3-D. But since this film made almost nothing, it's not likely to influence future marketing campaigns...

The femur bone stuff cracked me up. Jonah King is a harsh bastard. Killing the girl is not enough, he has to fashion a cane handle out of her femur bone then beat her father with it. Wow.