Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Regrettables: Sylvester Stallone Misses a Great Opportunity with “The Expendables”

I can’t imagine people waiting anxiously for the glorious big screen return of… Dolph Lundgren. And since I had to go to Wikipedia just to refresh my memory about why he’s “famous” perhaps “The Expendables” just isn’t my sort of thing. But don’t worry bigger names like Arnold Schwarzenegger (wow I just typed that without having to look up the spelling) and Bruce Willis show up. But those fans are going to be seriously disappointed to learn their favorite cyborg from the future and terrorist ass-kicker, respectively, are on screen for mere minutes. I’m not sure if Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin and Mickey Rourke are really worth sitting through this poor excuse for a movie. Stallone himself has complained about how there aren’t any big “tough guy” action heroes anymore. The likes of pretty boys Matt Dammon and Christian Bale have taken over the roles once played by all those muscular dudes with bad lisps. Hmmm, I wonder why.

“The Expendables” is a bad movie. I disliked it. I probably disliked it mostly because this type of action movie doesn’t really do much for me. Will fans enjoy it? It’s possible. I think it’s good that Mr. Stallone wanted to go back and make an old school kick-ass action flick like the ones made so well during the Regan Era but he seriously takes way too many missteps along the way. First of all, this is lousy filmmaking first and foremost. The editing is choppy and obnoxious. All of your favorite 80s action movies weren’t edited like they are the latest “Saw” film. The film is dark and murky and just simply ugly looking. I felt as if the film was shot through a lens covered with tar. Maybe it was just covered in testosterone? And lastly, way too much CGI blood. Hello, 80s movies didn’t use CGI blood because it didn’t exist. Hasn’t Stallone’s crew ever heard of a squib? I don’t mind effects when they are used well. Here they are just cheap. He seemed to be going for realistic gore and it just looks silly. After a while I started looking for Itchy and Scratchy. To be honest, the whole thing felt like a spoof of action movies without any jokes. It made me want to watch “Hot Shots! Part Deux.” So I guess something good came out of watching this thing.

I seriously had no idea what was going on this movie either. If that makes me a stupid or ignorant person, it’s fine by me. Stallone himself, lisp and all, heads a team of mercenaries known as the Expendables to overthrow a dictator down in South America (thank you imdb). Julia Roberts brother Eric shows up as the “suave bad guy in suit.” I wished I wanted to chear when he died, but alas I did not. I feel like this is the type of movie where you’re supposed to shout “hell yeah” when a bad guy gets what’s coming to him. But Stallone stages all the deaths in such a piss poor way, it’s hard to excited at all. Even the fighting sequences seemed haphazard. He has some of the greatest action stars, some of which are fan favorites, and yet he can’t find anything cool or original to do with them. Seems like a missed opportunity of gigantic proportions.

I’m going to be kind by mentioning Mickey Rourke is probably a lot better than this flick deserves. In fact some of his scenes are so good, they seemed to be deleted from his work from “The Wrestler.” And I wont harp on the bad acting, because let’s face it, are we really all that surprised that this isn’t an acting showcase? I don’t care about the acting from these big guys. I wanted to see asses getting kicked, but the violence is so poorly staged and the effects so shoddily done, it was yawn inducing. Stallone maybe you should have made a sequel to “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.” Even without Estelle Getty I’d rather pay $7.50 to see that. GRADE: D

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chomp & Circumstance: “Piranha 3D” May Very Well Be the Best Killer Fish Movie Since ‘Jaws the Revenge’

“Piranha 3D” is a masterpiece. It’s not “Citizen Kane.” It’s not “Casablanca.” It’s not “The Godfather.” But you know what? For a 3D movie about prehistoric killer piranha it’s certainly the best movie of its kind. It’s nearly perfect because it meets pretty much expectation you’d have from a movie called “Piranha 3D.” It doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, it delivers. I don’t care how cheap the thrills or laughs are. I don’t care that this is not highbrow cinema. I don’t care if it’s a remake of a movie that was itself a rip-off (of “Jaws”). It’s called “Piranha 3D” for crying out loud. And it is freaking awesome!

This is probably one of the goriest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen more gory movies than I care to discuss. If I did, you’d probably assume I was a serial killer or something. What’s wrong with a little blood in movies? Nothing if you ask me. More blood the merrier. Here wet some of the most gruesome onscreen deaths I’ve ever seen. They are creative and bloody and put other horror franchises to shame. Mostly because they occur in broad daylight. In fact 99% of this movie takes place during the day. Suck on that Jason Voorhees! If you want to see a woman’s face get ripped off after her hair gets stuck in a boat’s propeller then see “Piranha 3D.” If you want to see a naked co-ed get sliced in half by a cable then see “Piranha 3D.” If you want to see Jerry O’Connell’s, um, member gobbled up and then immediately burped up by a piranha then see “Piranha 3D.” It goes for the jugular. Literally.

Ok so most movies have plots and even some horror movies do. What we get here is a bunch of spring breakers partying it up on Lake Victoria. The always wonderful and game Elisabeth Shue plays the sheriff of the town and she’s busy with all those druken kids so she enlists her teenage son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) to watch his younger brother and sister while she’s on duty. But Jake is recruited by sleazy porn director Derrick Jones (O’Connell) who wants Jake to show him around the lake to get the best footage for his Wild Wild Girls video. Jake also has a thing for his classmate Kelly (Gossip Girl’s Jessic Szohr) and we can all assume they will get together in the end, provided they don’t end up as fish food.

The movie opens with an appearance by Richard Dreyfuss, playing a nod to his “Jaws” character Matt Hooper. A small earthquake opens of rift in the lake floor which unleashes a bunch of prehistoric piranha who have apparently been living down there for centuries (Fortunately a wild-eyed Christopher Lloyd stops by long enough to provide some exposition on these killer fish). And boy are these wonderfully cheesy CGI creations hungry! And lucky for them there is plenty of hot flesh for them to feast on, but not before chomping down on Dreyfuss and causing a big bloody mess. So once the piranha realize there is a bunch of skanky, drunken co-eds to munch on we get scene after scene of graphic piranha attacks. And it seems like there’s no two deaths done the same. Even horror director/fan Eli Roth shows up as a wet t-shirt emcee who gets his face smash off by a speedboat.

“Piranha 3D” is directed by Frenchman Alexandre Aja who made the wonderfully gory thriller “High Tension” and the recent flicks Mirrors and “The Hills Have Eyes.” He knows exactly what his audience wants and he gives it to them. He’s wonderful at making us laugh when it’s time to laugh and squirm when it’s time to squirm. The screenplay by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, who previously collaborated on the wonderful 80s homage “Sorority Row” are in fine form here. They have crafted a “Snakes on a Plane” type of comedy/thriller that is extremely self-aware that it’s a movie about killer fish (And it all sort of made me think how fun it would have been to see "Jaws 3D" in the theater back in the day). All of those involved certainly don’t hold back. And the performances are pretty good considering. I’ve always been a fan of Shue and I actually believed her character. She was pretty badass if you ask me. And was the film worth the 3D admission price? Heck yeah!

“Piranha 3D” is one of the most fun times I’ve had in the theater in a long time. I loved the humor I loved the gore. I loved how absurd it all was and how the filmmakers were constantly aware of their audience and what it would be like sitting there watching this all come together. As a huge horror fan, and a fan of the original 1978 “Piranha” film and it’s equally shameless made-for-cable remake starring Baywatch’s Alexandra Paul, I can say that whether you want to call this thing a remake or a reboot or a sequel, “Piranha 3D” is an awesome horror film. Like me, any gorehound is guaranteed to have a bloody good time. GRADE: A

Friday, August 13, 2010

Great Scott! The Sensational “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is an Inventive Romantic Comedy for Video Game Nerds Everywhere

It’s amazing how much director Edgar Wright wants his film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” to look and feel like a video game. I can think of movies that look like video games that are just plain awful… Speed Racer… 300… the Star Wars prequels (just kidding!). But besides just corny visual effects, these movies were just silly eye candy that ended up being headache inducing. But with “Scott Pilgrim,” which is based on a series of graphic novels (what else is new?), Wright infuses his film with such original and inventive touches you can’t help playing along. This is a fantastical movie which is grounded in reality which works for me as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of flying of magic. The movie begins with the traditional Universal Studios logo appearing in pixilated 8-bit graphics and a monaural video game tone all of us who grew up in the 80s are so familiar with. It sets the tone for the film perfectly and the movie delivers in spades.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a 22 year old normal guy. He has some friends who have formed a rock band called Sex Bob-Omb. They are still in their, “practicing in their friend’s living room phase.” He lives with his gay roommate Wallace (a wonderful Kieran Culkin) whom with he shares a bed with. And he’s just started dating a 17 year old high school girl name Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). She’s Asian. Everyone sort of teases Scott for dating a high school girl, most of which comes from Scott’s sister played by recent Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick. But then Scott notices a girl with pink hair at a party and it’s love at first sight. This is Ramona Flowers. They begin courting and Scott has to eventually break up with Knives. I just had a thought; is it smart to break up with someone whose first name is Knives? But I digress. It turns out this colorful girl of his dreams, Romona, comes with a little baggage: seven “evil exes” who he must defeat in order to win her heart.

The movie sets up its strange tone with wacky editing and on screen graphics. For instance every time the telephone rings we get a big “RIIIINNNNGGGGG” graphic flying across the screen. We also get text which points out characters and their traits and makes sure we’re all following along. So it’s not too shocking to see when Sex Bob-Omb first appears on stage at a club for a gig, an eyeliner wearing goth dude flying through the roof and starting a fight with our hapless hero. It turns out there has been a “League of Evil Exes” formed by Romona’s evilest ex-boyfriend Gideon. Other evil exes who show up in small but memorable roles include Superman himself Brandon Routh with special vegan powers and Chris Evans as an action movie star with totally awesome skateboarding skills. Every time Scott defeats one of these Exes they burst into coins, like every other bad guy in every other video game. It’s pretty clever. Of course not ever Ex is a dude. Mae Whitman, who played Cera’s girlfriend Ann (who?) on TV sitcom Arrested Development, shows up as the “bi-furious” Roxy Richter.

Edgar Wright (who co-wrote with Michael Bacall) is such a talented and inventive director. He’s so great at taking conventional stories (zombie flick, buddy cop flick, romantic comedy) and turning them into something unique and wildly entertaining. And let’s not forget his brilliant phony “Grindhouse” trailer for “Don’t” which was wonderful. He uses visual effects to tell his story, not replace his story. And while some may find this visually overwhelming, you can’t deny the level of energy radiating from the screen. It sort of began to wear me out a little by the end, but it’s a small price to pay for such a creative, funny and entertaining movie that is a true standout in an otherwise mediocre summer at the movies. GRADE: A-

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Dancing Feat: Acting? Writing? Plot? Who cares! “Step Up 3D” is in 3D!

"Step Up 3D" is a horrible, horrendous movie. It has bad acting. It has a clichéd script filled with atrocious lines of dialogue. The direction of the actors leaves something to be desired. However, with all those flaws, I can honestly say the visual aspect of the film is pretty outstanding. This is a film that is fully aware it’s being shot in 3D and it goes for it. The dancing scenes are really in-your-face and the talent of the dancers is simply amazing. It’s too bad they couldn’t read a line of dialogue well to save their lives. If you want cool dancing and a fun 3D experience Step Up 3D delivers. If you care about characters and story, go see “Inception” instead.

I’m not quite sure I even want to discuss the plot. But think of the basic elements of the Muppets flick “Muppets Take Manhattan” sort of crossed with “You Got Served.” We get a bunch of people living together in the city, trying to “make it.” They have big dreams and we have to sit around for 97 minutes while they do it. And spoiler alert, we get a happy ending. We’re introduced to Moose (Adam G. Sevani), who’s entering his freshman year at NYU. Avid “Step Up” franchise fans will remember him from the last movie Step Up 2 the Streets, which featured only two dimensional dancing. Bor-ing! He’ll be majoring in engineering and putting that silly dancing on the backburner. That is until he meets Luke (Rick Malambri, who has about as much charisma and acting ability as tree bark). Luke is a street dancer and aspiring filmmaker (the dream is alive!) who lives with a bunch of other dancers who share some kind of apartment building living space that seems like an unused set from the musical “Rent.” Luke wants to recuit Moose so they can win the battle royale of hip hop battle dancing so they can save their beloved apartment from foreclosure. Luke meets Natalie (Sharni Vinson), who also is a talented dancer whom he lets crash in his place. I think they might end up falling in love, but I’m sure something will get in the way.

Ok I’m not even going to bother with any more plot details because then you’ll just make fun of me for spending 11 dollars on this thing. I don’t ever remember hearing lines of dialogue like “Some people learn to dance... Others are born to.” Sometimes I thought I was watching a reimagining of “Showgirls.” I’m willing to forgive screenwriters Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer since it’s their first script and since they were hired to made a “product” ready for mass consumption. After all, this movie is basically a bunch of impressive dance sequences with a weak, uninteresting story woven in. But enough of that! Let’s get to the good stuff.

I read somewhere that some critic called “Step Up 3D” the best 3D movie since Avatar. And that’s pretty accurate. How to Train Your Dragon featured some cool 3D sequences. Luckily, this is a film that wasn’t just converted into 3D to make a quick buck, it was made using 3D cameras and while some scenes are obviously gimmicky, like floating Slurpees for instance, the effect is pretty darn fun. This, like Avatar, is a movie that really used the 3D to envelope you and make you feel like you’re their. The dancing features great artists who obviously have a tremendous talent and it’s cool to see them putting it to good use. These battle dance scenes, while sort of corny, in a modern “West Side Story” dancing rivalry kind of way, are pretty thrilling if you ask me. And I really enjoyed the old school dance, between Moose and his longtime friend Camille (Alyson Stoner) which featured a decent unbroken tracking shot with Fred Astaire’s “I Won’t Dance” playing on the soundtrack. And let’s not forget the guy (Chadd Smith) who does the robot moves; he was pretty awesome as was everyone else. It’s too bad they only got to play paper thin characters with bad acting ability. Although Joe Slaughter, who played rival dance master Julien, gave Mr. Malambri a run for his money in the horrible line readings department.

So yeah, I’m not too embarrassed to say I enjoyed “Step Up 3D” for what it was. It had cool 3D visuals and awesome dancing, with enjoyable music to go along with it. This is not a movie that’ll be winning any awards anytime soon, unless the Razzies are what director Jon Chu had in mind. GRADE: B-

Friday, August 06, 2010

Cop & a Laugh: The Funny “The Other Guys” Skewers Silly Cop Movie Clichés

Explosions. Shoot outs. Drugs. Bad guys. Good guys. Bluesy musical score. “The Other Guys” has all this stuff. Thankfully it all involves a comedic angle. You see this is a movie that parodies all the tired action cop movie clichés we see time and time again. This is actually the second buddy comedy spoof to come out this year. There was the critically derided Kevin Smith comedy “Cop Out,” which I had the pleasure of not seeing. Let’s just assume that “The Other Guys” is actually a movie that works as a silly comedy and an action genre skewering satire. Think “Hot Fuzz” by way of “Anchorman.” Now those are two movies that everyone really loves except for me. Call me crazy, I know, but those movies didn’t really do that much for me. So therefore I can say with confidence that “The Other Guys” is funny for what it is, but isn’t Earth-shattering amazing. However, if you’re a fan of Will Ferrell and his previous collaborations with director Adam McKay (ie Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, both of which I loved) then you will find “The Other Guys” extremely likeable.

I’m glad that former pants-on-the-ground rapper/model Mark Wahlberg is finding more comedic roles because I find him to be an enjoyable and talented actor. He was great earlier this year in “Date Night” and is similarly enjoyable here. While he mostly plays straight man to silly Will Ferrell’s lame desk cop Detective Allen Gamble. Wahlberg is Terry Hoitz is also relegated to a desk job after he mistakenly shoots Derek Jeter. Hoitz and Gamble are the standard “odd couple” who we’ve seen dozens of times before. But each actor totally goes for their respective roles and sells the crap out of it. Their boss Captain Gene Mauch is played hilariously by Michael Keaton. He’s constantly quoting the girl group TLC, much to Hoitz and Gamble’s confusion.

These two loons stumble upon a high profile case which could add a major boost to their floundering careers. It’s a case which I found uninteresting which is probably the movie’s biggest flaw. I realize most movies actually need a plot, and that’s no exception with comedies. Except this plot which involves British funnyman Steve Coogan and other bad guys. Most of which I don’t really care about. But let’s talk about the stuff I did care about. Like, for instance, the funny running gag involving Ferrell’s Toyota Prius being the brunt of lots of jokes (“what is that a tampon with wheels?”). I was glad to see Keaton put to good use as I mentioned earlier, and luckily Samuel L Jackson and Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson’s roles are almost the size of cameos. They are the cocky cops Hoitz and Gamble wish they were, but they aren’t in the movie for very long…

Adam McKay is a funny writer and director who can easily take a simple premise and go all out on it. “The Other Guys” is probably his most ambitious since it involves an almost too complicated plot, not to mention much more explosions and special effects than his other films. And maybe that’s really the problem here because I think the film’s third act is a “we’ve got to wrap this plot up” type of act and eventually I sort of stopped caring. But the film otherwise is pretty strong and features plenty of decent laughs. Heck even Eva Mendes showed her comedic ability as Ferrell’s saucy doctor wife.

Fans of McKay’s previous work should eat up “The Other Guys.” It does a great job mocking all of the typical buddy cop scenarios we’ve seen a billion times before, while still feeling fresh and original. It may not be the funniest movie of the year, but it should have most people cracking up to some degree. Even if one of the best parts is a random cameo from Rosie Perez, Brooke Shields and Tracy Morgan at a Knicks game. GRADE: B