The Hobbit: An Unexciting Journey

The best part of the journey is out of the theater.

The best part of the journey is out of the theater.

An interminable journey? Uninteresting journey? Long fucking journey of ultimate boredom? So many options. My drive to the theater was more entertaining than this film, and I listened to Christmas Music. And I so wanted The Hobbit to be good. That’s the problem. All of us have seen The Lord of the Rings. All of us love The Lord of the Rings. We were hoping for another installment in that epic franchise, and what we got instead was a lot of walking broken up by meaningless battles of ultimate meaninglessness.

The Hobbit: An Uninspired Journey starts off nice and slow, letting you really sink your teeth into the exciting town of hobbitshireville, where such events occur as cooking dinner, writing in a book, seeing Elijah Wood, and then cooking a bigger dinner than expected. This lasts for about half an hour, but after that, Bilbo finally decides to join the thirteen dwarves on their mission to retake their underground home from the evil dragon Smog, or Mist, or something. I can’t remember.

The problem with this is that we’ve already watched three films where the stakes are the safety of the entire planet (or the middle of it at least). And now we have to care about 13 dwarves getting their home back. It’s a little bit hard to feel anything, especially when the dwarves get about as much characterization as in a Snow White film. There’s Hungry, and Fatty, and Foody, and Fighty, and so on.  From the very beginning we’re uninvested, and then we have to spend two and half more hours watching a bunch of characters get marginally closer to their pedestrian goal.

The movie tries to explain why Bilbo is on the quest; it really does. The brave company apparently needs a thief for some reason, and dragons are particularly bad at picking up on the scents of hobbits (because they’re so clean? Because they don’t use old spice? I don’t know). But here’s what I’m thinking. If I’m Thorin, and I say, “Yo, Gandalf, can you find a 14th member of our party?” And he comes up with Bilbo Baggins, I would be seriously pissed off. Like, can’t he get us one fucking eagle. Honestly. It could just fly us straight to Arabor and everything would be chill. But no. He gets a hobbit.

Everyone's pretty confused about Gandalf's decision.

Everyone’s pretty confused about Gandalf’s decision.

And armed with that hobbit, they journey on foot rather than on eagleback, and they have to deal with a bunch of things that happen. This film is like a tv show that has an awesome pilot, but then realizes it has no idea how to fill the plots of each episode. We get a great opening sequence, but then the rest of the movie is a series of unrelated events. The group fights some trolls, and doing so has little to no impact on the characters or the storyline. Then they walk some more and then they fight some orcs. Doesn’t affect anything. Then they’re walking along some mountains and it’s raining and someone shouts the stupidest line ever: “That’s not a thunderstorm. That’s a thunderbattle!” And then the mountains come alive and these two rock giants start fighting for no fucking reason. And then after that Bilbo decides that he should go home, which is an entirely unmotivated character change, because his actions during the random-ass giant battle didn’t endanger anyone, and it’s not like this battle was any different from any other. It’s like the writers knew they had to have some sort of story progression, but they were afraid audiences would get bored if the movie ever dealt with dialogue or characterization for more than five minutes at a time, so they constantly inserted bland and unnecessary battles, battles made worse by the light-hearted tone which robbed the film of any sense of danger. They fought some goblins, they walked, they fought some more orcs. It was so unexpected!

This scene especially made me feel like Peter Jackson was trolling the audience.

This scene especially made me feel like Peter Jackson was trolling the audience.

And then the tv show gets cancelled, so you know they can finally use all their good ideas in a great series finale. The problem is, we have to wait a year for the series finale. There simply isn’t enough story to sustain this two hour and forty minute movie. And the story that does exist is bad and I hates it.

We have the same shots of the ring falling onto the outstretched hand. We have the same deus ex machina at the end of the movie. Nothing feels fresh, and nothing is epic. The stakes are low, the characters (other than Bilbo) are uninteresting, and it’s impossible to be emotionally invested.

And honestly, keep an eagle with you. At all fucking times. It’s just a good idea.

The Hobbit Eagle 2

There were some good things about the film, however. For one, Radagast is awesome. He’s this animal-loving wizard who rides a sleigh pulled by rabbits and lets birds live in his hair, and whose top priority is saving hedgehogs from death. Who doesn’t like that? Another good thing about the movie is that, due to a clerical error, I was able to see it for free. And my third favorite thing about The Hobbit: An Insipid Journey, was that, since I didn’t want to spoil any of Star Trek, I walked out of the theater during the 9 minute preview and got to bond with the girl who handed out the hobbit posters. That was nice.

Score:

2 Pennies

Alignment:

Standard Crap

It’s like Lord of the Rings, but with short people, and no Liv Tyler.

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The Cabin in the Woods Explained — It’s a Giant Metaphor

Perhaps a better title: The Cabin in the Air?

This movie should be required. For everyone. Not only is it brilliant, but it’s the only film I’ve ever seen that alters your perception of all other films. It’s funny. It’s scary. It’s clever. And the whole thing is, as the title of this review suggests, one giant metaphor.

Go see it right now. I don’t care if you don’t watch horror movies. I don’t watch them either. I had to leave a party once because Final Destination was on and I got too scared. Final Destination of all things. You can handle The Cabin in the Woods. I promise.

And you have to see it right now because it’s impossible for me to discuss it without spoiling it. So be warned. Beyond this point, there be SPOILERS.

The basic premise for this movie is the most clichéd of all premises. Five friends (the jock, the dumb blonde, the stoner, the “virgin,” and the intelligent dude) decide to take an RV to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway, but they don’t expect the horrors that await them. What horrors, you wonder? Well that depends on what object they pick up in the mysterious basement.

This isn’t your average horror movie. You see, imprisoned beneath the earth are the old gods, the demons that used to walk the land, bringing death and destruction. The only thing that keeps them trapped are the ritual sacrifices that we provide. But sheep’s blood and virgins tossed into volcanoes don’t cut it anymore. The gods have grown bored by such things and demand not only the sacrifice, but also a show.

That’s where the secret underground operations center comes in. An advanced and elaborate facility, it is up to the many technicians to create the ultimate performance. They must lure unsuspecting youths out to a cabin in the woods, then pump in the proper pheromones to cause them to make bad choices, and, finally, they must unleash the monsters that will murder said youths a graphic display of violence. If successful, the blood of the fallen 20-somethings will drain into the sacrifice chamber, the old gods will be appeased, and life, as we know it, will continue.

Throughout this film, we flash back and forth between the stereotypical horror movie plot and the facility. The dramatic irony involved in these jumps makes the whole movie fun. Sure, those poor kids are being gruesomely murdered by a family of zombies, but everyone at the facility is so desensitized that they’re getting a kick out of it, even betting on which monsters will slaughter everyone this round.

Gotta bring a cooler to the horrible, graphic, slaughter.

What makes this movie so wonderfully amazingly super fantastic is the metaphor. Don’t you get it? The old gods, that’s us! We used to be satisfied by simple plotlines (girl in a volcano), by a song and a dance, but no longer. We have developed discerning tastes, desensitized by decades of cinema. We watch horror movie after horror movie titillated by the death scenes.

The workers in the facility are the moviemakers. They know they have to appease the old gods, i.e. their audience, and if they fail, their world ends. If their movie isn’t entertaining enough, it will flop, and the old gods will write nasty reviews and complain about it on the internet, and the people in the facility will lose their jobs, which to them is equivalent to losing their lives. When they bet on which monster will kill them all this time, they’re wondering what new horror will rake in the most cash. And they’re just like us, to some degree. They get excited when they hear about a new plotline. When the creepy old men zoom in on the couple about to have sex, when they root for the girl to take off her clothes, that’s every male member of the audience secretly hoping for a shot of some boobies.

Best way to see boobs? One-way mirror, of course!

The poor kids in the cabin? Their plotline is the actual movie. It’s standard. It’s cliché. The actors go through the motions that the moviemakers force them to. Writers plan out a film. Those are the workers in the facility who build the cabin, who place the evil objects in the basement. Directors are the people in the facility who run the show in real time, summoning monsters, releasing pheromones, and collapsing tunnels. I mean, the head of the facility was even called “The Director.” The kids in the cabin are the actors. They have no free will, but are puppets on strings, tugged this way and that by the script and the director and everything that’s been set in motion. They perform for our entertainment.

Watching this movie is a life-changing experience. Not only is it entertaining, but it explains every other movie. Any time you ever noticed an inconsistency or witnessed a character making a stupid decision and thought “why on earth would they split up?” you now know the explanation. This movie fixes every problem in every film. We can assume that there was a facility controlling the actions of every character in anything we’ve ever seen, and because of that, we can’t fault the characters for their actions.

This is how you used to feel after watching a character decide to go down into the basement alone, but no longer!

And there was a facility in all those movies, wasn’t there? A director, a writer, trying to solve some problem with the story. Sometimes they do a good job. Sometimes we’re appeased. Other times they make The Last Airbender.

The Cabin in the Woods is primarily a comedy, mostly because it’s constantly poking fun at these conventions. When beautiful man Chris Hemsworth says they should stick together and defend themselves, the facility pumps in some stupidity in gaseous form and he changes his plan. When they’re trapped by a giant chasm and someone says, “What are we supposed to do? Jump?!” you get that classic movie moment. Hemsworth hears the word jump and gains a flash of inspiration. He pulls the motorcycle off the back of the RV and gives an inspiring speech. He’ll come back for them. He’ll come back with an army and save everyone. It’s a scene you’ve witnessed time and again, but this time it’s hilarious because the movie is pointing out the trope.

And even though I’ve already given plenty away, let me just say without ruining it that this movie has an absolutely amazing climax. I did not see it coming, and when it did, I was unthinkably happy.

The Cabin in the Woods is the epitome of meta cinema. The movie itself contains three separate layers, 4th walls within 4th walls, and once you understand the metaphor, even deeper layers are created. In just the same way that Dollhouse was a commentary on television, this is a commentary on film. It’s a lot like Inception, really, but instead of dream architects being sci-fi moviemakers, members of the facility are horror moviemakers.

The point of all this is that The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliant film. Anyone who loves movies must see it, especially if you’re a horror buff. In fact, I’m gonna go see it again right now.

Score:

Alignment:

How great was the title card at the beginning? The most mundane scene ever and then in bloody red letters “The Cabin in the Woods!” with accompanying horror screech and everything. I couldn’t stop laughing.

And any Topher fans will love watching the greatest Dollhouse character get to play a major movie role.

Plus, who wouldn’t be stoked about seeing one of the Yellow Rangers naked.

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John Carter and its Infinite Flaws – Sex, Goals, and Telegrams

Technically a way to spend your time!

We made sure to get there early. After all, John Carter was so well advertised that almost two of my friends had heard of it. What if it sold out? This was opening day after all. As we pull into the theater, I see a giant, swarming mass of bodies. Lines everywhere! Noooo! Whyyy? Why didn’t we get there even earlier?

Turns out it was Bollywood night and it was just a bunch of Indian folk lined up to see Kahaani-D. Still, we barely managed to snag a seat for John Carter. By the time we arrived, they only have 307 seats remaining, at least, 307 in the IMAX theater. As far as I could tell, the other showtimes were completely empty.

And by the end of the movie, did we ever feel foolish for being there. What an utterly horrible attempt at cinema! The acting was flat and generally atrocious, the characters unlikeable, and their motivations were muddled or non-existent. The love story was totally stale and unbelievable, and the girl wasn’t even that hot. Even the color scheme of the movie was confusing! All people are red people, but some red people fight with blue energy? And some blue energy users are bad, and there’s green aliens who are good, but also green ones who are evil, and…Oh god.

The first problem with the movie is the opening scene, always a bad sign. It begins on Mars with some lofty explanation of some cultures and their problems. One city at war with another one or something, and there’s an evil one and a good one, but who knows which is which? Then there’s a battle on some sky-ships, and you have no idea which characters represent what, but one ship is getting shot the fuck up by three other ships, so you immediately start rooting for the underdog. And then, suddenly, when he’s about to be overcome, some godlike people come down and grant him an all-powerful wristband. If he chooses to wield it, he can be the next king.

I should have known Mark Strong was evil because, well, he's always evil.

Now, my friends and I are pretty intelligent. High SAT scores, good schools. But as we watched this, we assumed that this underdog was the aforementioned good species and that he would now have a way to fight off the villains. Yay! I thought. The hitherto unseen villains are about to get some serious comeuppance. And then my mind continued. Is this in the past? Does this king go mad with power after so many years? Will John Carter have to stop him now that he’s abusing his bracelet, and if so, how will he defeat the bracelet?!

Turns out this wrist-band wielding character is the villain and some god-people decided to give him the bracelet for no reason, and now John Carter has to defeat him. And when I say “no reason,” I mean no reason. This movie commits the worst atrocity I’ve ever heard of in the history of storytelling. At one point the villain (played by Mark Strong, who is awesome) has  captured John Carter. And Carter says something like “Why are you doing all of this?” And the bad guy replies, “We have no goals. Our species is immortal. We have no motivations for any of the things we do.”

Whaaa?!?! I’m sitting there, mouth agape, utterly taken aback. That’s the opposite of characterization! How can I possibly buy into the storyline if—what?!?! If you have no goals or motivation, why are you doing any of the things you’re doing?! Why are you doing anything? Wouldn’t everyone be living peacefully if you hadn’t interfered? I just, I, ergg, laskjg ahhhhhhh.

I still can’t think about that statement without my brain breaking. It’s like Captain Kirk outlogicing a robot into blowing itself up “Russ, I have this great idea for a character,” Kirk would say to me. “Sweet. Tell me about him.” “Ok, so he’s this immortal guy, but when I say immortal, I mean that he immediately dies from even a single gunshot no matter where it strikes him, and he has no goals or reason to do anything.”

And then my head explodes.

My friends and I decided that these immortals had lived so long that almost nothing could entertain them anymore. They’d seen and experienced so much that only the most epic situations could stir any emotions in them. Thus, they traveled from planet to planet, riling up the local species and working behind the scenes to create an all-out war. Watching it unfold and seeing all living creatures murdered in their apocalypse is the only thing that can help keep the boredom at bay for a moment.

That would also explain why these all-powerful beings chose to interfere in only the most minor of ways. They have access to an infinite amount of energy, can shape-shift to look like anyone, and can teleport. Who knows what other powers they have? If they want to get something done, they could fucking do it. Why have the princess come to her wedding? Why not just shapeshift to look like her and attend the wedding yourself? Why give the evil king that bracelet? Why not just kill him and become king? Why do anything at all?! Oh wait, even the movie couldn’t figure that one out. That’s why they had the villain state his complete lack of motivation! Well I guess that justifies it then. They’re 100% illogical beings.

Oops, this is already really long and I haven’t talked about the main character. I’m just trying to make the experience of reading this review a lot like watching the movie. Confusing, out of order, and utterly terrible. In the best way, of course! John Carter himself is completely unlikable. He’s a confederate cowboy who doesn’t care about anyone or anything and just wants to find a cave full of gold (and then he fights aliens. Sound like Cowboys & Aliens, anyone? And then he ends up spending a lot of the movie wandering through the desert with a princess. Prince of Persia much?). He sucks in every conceivable way. He has no sense of humor, he’s only sort of attractive, and the actor has no range whatsoever.

This was taken just after they asked him what the movie was about.

Throughout the film, he’s constantly bludgeoning into your head the idea that he fights for no man, that causes are for chumps. And this princess chick keeps trying to convince him that her cause is worthy, and then he says, “I fight for no man. Causes are for chumps,” and so forth and so on.

That’s great. At least this guy has characterization, albeit a crappy one. And you’re watching, thinking, I bet he’ll undergo a thing called character change, and by the end he’ll realize what’s important. I don’t think the people who wrote this have ever heard of character change, because it DOES NOT OCCUR.

He never, ever decides to fight for a cause. He’s never convinced that princess girl’s cause is just. The first time he fights, it’s to save the girl because she’s hot and he wants to bone her. And then he’s fully committed to going home and letting all the Martians perish, but someone points out that technically hot girl is a Martian, and that she’d be perishing. And you can see the moment when the thought crosses his face (again, thanks to such great acting). Wait, if hot Martian girl perishes, I will have no place to house my glorious cock! “To battle!” There is no indication ever given that John Carter gives one modicum of a shit about anyone. The moral of this movie is: don’t believe in anything. Believing in things is stupid. Now, how do I get laid?

I probably shouldn't be complaining. That's basically my main motivation.

Some of you might say John Carter has a change of heart because he falls in love. Love? LOVE?! There are a few scenes that look as though they might be trying to convey this feeling, but there are only about 2 such scenes, and they take up almost no time, and they’re horrible written. “Still playing at the madman?” asks the princess, referencing an earlier line of dialogue. “Or the thief,” smiles John Carter. And the princess swoons. Have you ever heard a line so charming? Oh wait, it’s not charming at all, and yet the director clearly tells the girl to swoon, and he asks John Carter to try to make it sound like he’s wooing her, although I’m sure no direction is capable of altering his monotone feeling: mild anger.

I can see casting an actor without range. Sometimes movies cast a hot person instead of a talented one, you know, to appeal to us young folk. But this movie was so poorly cast I wanted to tear my beard out. The main actor is such a pretty boy that he clearly cannot grow a beard. He wears one in the beginning of the film, and it looks so ridiculous that when you first see him you can’t help but laugh. He’s supposed to be this withered old war veteran with a wife and children, but he’s super young looking. This role absolutely needed to be played by someone much, much older, like Harrison Ford or Daniel Craig (oh shit! Cowboys & Aliens again!).

Lookin' Good

Those are most of the major problems, but I still feel that I haven’t accurately conveyed how riddled with minor flaws this film was. What about the time Carter, princess, and that utterly irrelevant green alien girl all go to that mystical river? Green alien girl is about to get into a canoe, which, to me, seems like a completely reasonable action. Then Carter sprints over to her all dramatic-like and says something along the lines of “Noooo! Don’t throw your life away!!” What?! What is he talking about? Is it some sort of suicide canoe? How do you even kill yourself with a canoe? Like, maybe if you had some rope, you could tie yourself and capsize it, but that doesn’t seem that effective, and they didn’t have any rope. This movie never explains the stakes of any given action, so they all just seem silly. And after Carter successfully convinces her that life is worth living, after she’s determined to avoid the dangers of canoeing, Carter goes “Let’s all hop in a canoe!” And the three of them start canoeing down the river. Whaaa?!

What’s so mystical about the river anyway? I get that there’s important technology at the center, but the green chief makes it sound like no one ever goes to the river because it’s so powerful and ancient and whatnot. But then Carter and co. run into a giant horde of violent green aliens who are right there. They don’t seem worried about the river’s mysticism one bit.

They seem more interested in fighting John Carter, which is a bad decision, because he and his dog-like companion fuck them up in one of the worst examples of intercutting I’ve ever seen. Some sappy music sets the mood, drowning out the sounds of violence, and we’re treated to scenes of Carter burying his wife and child spliced in with scenes of him killing huge quantities of aliens. His shove stabs the earth, his sword stabs an alien. What a clever juxtaposition! Too bad we know nothing about his wife and feel nothing for his plight. Too bad the actor doesn’t have the gravitas to make us care. The scene does not work at all.

On the plus side, the dog creature is a real champion. In fact, he was my favorite character. He seemed to make the most logical choices and have the clearest motivation. He took a liking to John Carter and spent the movie trying to protect him, always choosing the course of action that would best bring about Carter’s safety. The more I thought about it, the more I figured maybe the whole thing was the dog’s plan. There was only one of his species shown the entire film, so he has to be some sort of rare magical beast. Maybe he’s the counter to the villain—an all-powerful creature who uses his strength for good instead of evil. Maybe he knows that John Carter is the key and is nudging him to greatness. Yeah. I like that.

The best character in the movie, and I don't even know his name.

Almost done, but first I have to talk about some fun logic problems. Carter explains at the end that teleportation works like a telegram. A copy of his earth-based body is created on Mars. He then goes on to explain that his earth body must be protected at all costs, because if he dies on earth, his copy dies on Mars, you know, like a telegram. That’s what made those early world wars so problematic. Burn the original telegram and all others are immediately destroyed! Made sending orders super difficult.

So based on this, Carter devises a way to protect himself. He will lock his earth-body in a crypt that only opens from the inside. This stone structure will surely protect him from the immortal beings who can shoot blue rays that incinerate everything in their path including giant metal warships. Brilliant, Carter. Brilliant!

And he also doesn’t explain what his body is doing the whole time he’s on Mars. It’s not like telegrams instantly fall into comas or anything. The way he tells it, it seems like his body would keep doing stuff, completely unaware that a copy was out on planet number 4 being a hero. When Carter teleports back to earth, what the crap is happening? In order to accomplish that, wouldn’t he actually just be producing another  copy of himself? Wouldn’t there be two of him on earth now? One that had the memories of the Mars trip, and one who just thought he fell asleep in a cave? Jesus. I don’t know.

And what’s up with Carter drinking some weird Martian liquid and then immediately understand Mars-speak. You know what, I’m actually ok with that. It’s science fiction. They can have some magic. But why does the universal translator juice selectively malfunction? It’s able to translate every word perfectly, that is, unless it sounds cool not too. I was dying of laughter every time Carter and the princess bickered over the correct name of something. Like Mars was called “Barsoom.” But they were both perfectly happy to call water “water.” And sex was easily translated to “the only reason I choose to do anything.”

And yet it was all worth it, because once we got out of the movie (which began after TWENTY-FOUR minutes of trailers), we stood outside in the freezing cold for an hour and a half, just to tear the thing apart. We got an entire movie’s length of entertainment ripping on the thing! And what a blast that was! So if you have a couple of good friends who are great at picking apart every single aspect of a film, bring them along. It’s worth your money.

Score:

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W3—Mulholland Drive—Or, What the Fuck is Happening, by David Lynch

Strange nightmares, amnesia, lesbian love scenes, murder, and Hollywood politics. Those are just a few of the things jammed into a film that will leave you questioning reality. David Lynch, whose mind seems to naturally synthesize hallucinogens, outdoes himself with Mulholland Drive, in which an up-and-coming actress stumbles upon a woman who has just lost her memory in a car accident.

Interspersed into the main plot are at least a half-dozen mini stories that often seem entirely unrelated, but which slowly weave together to give you a semblance of understanding. Each plot is so strange that you can’t help but be intrigued. It’s the Lady Gaga Effect. You just can’t peel your eyes off her music videos because your brain is too busy attempting to piece together the images on screen into something it can rationally understand.

If you’re a fan of the open-ended, mind-bending, psychological neo-noir thriller genre (a very general category), you’ll suddenly find yourself with a new favorite. Nowadays the movies we talk about for hours having a couple of possibilities. Take Inception. Was it a dream or wasn’t it? Sure, there are fine points to debate, but in the end there’s only a few real options.

Not so for Mulholland Drive. Once the credits roll, you’ll be left in a stunned stupor, and once your brain unmushifies itself, you’ll spend the next couple weeks debating every single scene and sometimes wondering just what the hell it was even doing in the movie. I, for one, couldn’t stop talking about it and ended up calling my parents and all their family friends to get their take.

How can you not want to watch the movie where THIS happens?

It’s one of the trippiest, craziest, films around, so check it out! Oh, and make sure you watch this movie with a couple people so you can talk about it after—that’s half the fun!

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The Muppets Kidnap Our Hearts

When I walked into the theater, I immediately felt out of place. I was there with my two fraternity brothers, tough guys with a soft spot for The Muppets, but other than the three of us, not a single person looked to be between the ages of 12 and 35. Fearful that we’d made a bad decision we sat extremely close to the screen. Any farther back and our enormous, twenty-something bulks would’ve obscured the views of some innocent children. Necks craned into the ready position, we waited.

And soon found out that The Muppets was incredible! They made a serious marketing mistake by ignoring my demographic; the three of us laughed harder than anyone else in the theater. While the movie is light-hearted enough to appeal to children, it also spends a great deal of its time making fun of how ridiculously upstanding it is, all the while tossing in plenty of humor for adults. It’s the first movie I’ve ever seen in theaters where I walked out of there sure that only a monster could dislike such unadulterated greatness (my apologies to all you non-monstrous Muppet-dislikers out there. I’m sure you have good reasons).

The basic plot of this movie is genius. An oil Baron cleverly named Tex Richman is planning on buying the rights to The Muppets Studio, pretending that he wants to build a museum when really the studio sits on vast quantities of oil. He knows this because he “Can smell it. Also, the geological surveyors said there was.” Our hero and new addition to the Muppets cast, Walter, is the only one who overhears the evil madman, and it’s up to him to help get the Muppets back together for one last show so they can raise the ten million dollars necessary to buy back the studio and simultaneously prove that the Muppets still have what it takes in this ever-changing world.

The crew has to be tracked down, Animal must reacquire his inner rage in order to drum, Kermit and Ms. Piggy must reconcile their rocky relationship, a celebrity host must be secured, and Walter has to find a talent, all in two weeks!

One of the main reasons I got such a kick out of The Muppets is because it was relentlessly meta. I recently found out that this was a term unknown to my parental units, so for all you un-meta-educated out there, something is considered meta when it breaks the fourth wall. It describes that whole play-within-a-play routine where the characters are aware that they aren’t real and constantly acknowledge that it’s all just a show. In The Muppets, this manifests itself in a number of hilarious ways. For example, they’ll have a huge song and dance number, standard for a kids’ movie. But as soon as it ends, all the back-up dancers collapse in exhaustion, finally happy that the main characters are gone and their duties to the audience are over.

Even more amusing is when the two old guys (probably the funniest Muppets), read out the key details of the oil baron’s contract, stating that it’s fool-proof except for one minor detail. If the Muppets can manage to raise the money in time, they have first right of purchase. One old guy then says, “It sounds like you just explained an important plot point,” and the other responds, “I sure hope so! Otherwise I just bored the audience half-to-death for no reason!”

Thug Life

The movie falls into all the traps of an easy-to-follow children’s film, but it’s well-aware of it, and by pointing out its ridiculousness, The Muppets can have its cake and eat it too. The kids are happy with the simplistic plot, and the adults can crack up at the way that simple plot is parodied. In fact, the entire movie is one giant endeavor in meta-narrative. The film is about the Muppets being able to prove that they’re still relevant, that they can still make people laugh. They want to show the world that in a time when television and film are shifting toward either the unintelligent, irreverent comedy of things like Dinner of Schmucks, or the dark gritty edge of new superhero reboots, the wholesome and clever entertainment of the Muppets still has a place. Children are not as stupid as we think, and the Muppets believe they deserve well-written film with a positive message. In this case, that is the message, and The Muppets proves its point with every top-notch joke and clever spoof.

As you watch the film, you’re sure to enjoy it, and that very fact proves the film right. Realizing that will make you enjoy the film more, thus proving it right further. They’ve managed to create an endless feedback loop!

As always, Jason Segel is eminently lovable, and his man-child character is no different here. He plays Walter’s brother, and his conflict is that he cares too much about his furrier sibling, sometimes accidentally ignoring girlfriend Amy Adams. Chris Cooper’s Tex Richman is a fantastic villain, and his one song catches you totally off-guard, then proceeds to be hilarious. In fact, with the exception of one Ms. Piggy/Amy Adams duet that I found slightly off, the songs were fantastic.

Maniacal Laugh

Like I said, you will enjoy this movie, and the more of that childish joy you still have within yourself, the more you’ll like it. I would recommend this to everyone, and I’m doing so now (though if you’re extremely put-off by kids’ movies, you’ll probably just find it to be one of the more excellent examples of such, rather than anything that will knock your socks off). The film deftly balances genres, managing to be a perfect kids’ movie whilst simultaneously parodying dozens if not hundreds of movie conventions.

Score: 4/5

Alignment: Spectacular Fluff

This is the best thing Jack Black has done in so long. “Why are you cleaning me? You’re ruining my look!”

Even their posters are great parodies!

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The Three Musketeers: Orlando Bloom Successfully Acts

A Stabbingly Good Time!

For the second time in my life, I went to a movie alone. For some reason that I could not possibly fathom, not a single one of my so-called friends wanted to go see a poorly reviewed action-adventure comedy that was a remake of about a dozen films before it and starred nobody important.

I arrived and purchased my single, loneliness-implying ticket, and the cashier says “just one?” voice filled with such pity that my confidence shriveled up inside itself. I eked out some half-hearted reply, walked inside, and made my way to the middle seat of the best row in the entire place. Apparently going to the movies by yourself means living like a king!

I then proceeded to watch the most enjoyably movie of the fall season so far. This was crap so spectacular that it sprayed my eyes with constant, unabashéd, gooey glee, never ceasing its barrage for long enough to take itself remotely seriously. I barely know how to review this piece of utter joy, so I’m mostly going to list all the things that make The Three Musketeers the most awesome piece of haberdashery-infused, swordplay-ridden cinema in recent memory. Step aside pirates, both Depp and triple X, because there’s a new kid in town, and it doesn’t matter if he’s just a cocky pretty-boy who’ll never succeed at the box office, because he’s won Russ Nickel’s heart.

The movie starts off with lazy and ridiculous introductions that set the tone for the rest of the film to come. Each character gets a tongue-in-cheek bit right at the beginning, showing off how cool they are, and then the screen flashes their name. It’s much easier than having any sort of subtle introduction or characterization, and it leads to such beautiful things as having Aramis land on a ship, beat up a bunch of people, then turn to the prostitute in the back who asks who he is. “I’m not a priest,” he says, to which she replies “I’m not a real lady.” Then, Aaramis, in all his chivalrous, musketeer glory, says “I’ve got ten minutes.” Screen freeze. Aramis.

While the introductions, dialogue, and acting really help bring the movie together, the sword fights are what make it worth your five dollar matinee price. In the first fight, the musketeers face off against dozens and dozens of the evil Cardinal’s guardsmen, and at one point, musketeer Athos stabs this dude and determines that it would be too much effort to simply pull the sword from his belly, so instead, he freakin’ headbutts the guy with such fury that he flies off the sword, freeing it to be immediately placed in another unsuspecting enemy.

In the middle of the battle, D’Artagnan, the young musketeer hopeful, hits on this super hot blonde girl with a few charming lines, initially asking her for her name. She says “Constance,” and he replies, “sounds very…steadfast.” At the end of the fight when he tries to woo her to completion, she rejects him with “I suggest you stick to swordplay. In the battle of wits, you, sir, are unarmed.” That’s a lot of lip coming from someone whose character name is literally “blonde.” It’s pretty cute I guess, except for the fact that it’s in no way applicable. D’Artagnan is nothing but witty throughout the film. It’s totally apparent that the writers had to come up with some reason for the girl not to fall for the sexy swordsman immediately, but if wit were really the deciding factor, her shirt would’ve been off after a couple of sentences.

He just witted the hell out of her.

I guess it’s only PG-13 though, so, as much as I might have desired that outcome, I knew it could never happen. But we do get the next best thing. When the hot love interest undergoes her requisite capture, she is tied to the front of an airship, and the ropes are wound tightly just below her bosom, serving as a medieval pushup bra that works splendidly with her +3 Corset of Extreme Cleavage. The fact that she’s in the clutches of a giant skeleton that serves as the figurehead at the prow of the ship only makes it that much better. Ah, The Three Musketeers, you know me so well.

I had to illegally watch this video online to get that blurry screen capture, but I think it was worth it.

Remember that Cardinal I mentioned earlier? Well he serves as villain number one for the film, and most of the plot circles around his dastardly scheme to plant the queen’s diamonds on villain number two, the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), in order to incite a war that would require the public to give the Cardinal power since the boy king isn’t old enough to rule in a time of battle. The king is a ridiculous character who cares more for fashion than strategy, and in order to assure us, the audience, of the Cardinal’s unmatched, vicious intellect, they give us a scene of him playing the king in a game of chess. The Cardinal puts the king in check, and when the flustered king doesn’t know what to do, the Cardinal wisely says, “The king is the most important piece, but he is vulnerable. He needs protection. May I suggest you castle him?”

I’ll let that sink in for a moment. I was the only one in the theater who cracked up, gaining me a slew of angry looks, but I know that if any of you chess players out there had been watching with me, you’d get just as much of a kick out of it as I did because…

You can’t castle out of check.

It’s a pretty important rule. So much for the Cardinal being frighteningly intelligent.

That book obviously isn't the rules of chess.

Before this review draws to a close, I simply must say that Orlando Bloom is better here than he ever has been in his life. He was born to be a sneering, mustached, over-the-top villain. I’ve never thought he could act, but that’s just the point here. Subtlety is tossed out the window and completely ridiculous pure evil climbs the tied bed sheets of melodrama into the bedroom of entertainment. I cannot wait for Bloom to be cast in more villainous roles. I’ll finally be able to unshield my eyes and enjoy his performances.

Bad guy number three was great too, because he had an eye-patch. And anybody with an eye-patch is so totally evil.

Because evil scoffs at depth perception.

The only bad thing about this movie is that the score was pretty standard. With everything else being so out-of-this-world, I figured the film would have a score to match, but it was so bland that I was actually aware of its blandness, and that’s never good. Even still, I can’t wait to see it again, so I give this film

Alignment:

Another amusing aspect of the movie is when Aramis says something confusing and D’Artagnan says “French,” the way we say “English” when we want someone to dumb it down for us. It’s a little weird to have French characters speaking English to begin with, but altering their idioms to draw attention to the fact simply seems unnecessary.

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Real Steel: Atom the Sparring Bot Is The New Rocky

Steel Yourself Against the Unrealistic

In this highly original film, Hugh Jackman plays Charlie, a young, down-on-his luck boxer who is forced to fight in illegal underground leagues since the professional circuit won’t give him any matches, but he doesn’t understand the true danger that lies in these viscous boxing circles. In his first fight, he is maimed and beaten beyond recognition, and as he lies dying, a programmer surgeon boy genius from the audience comes to his rescue. With the boy’s newly invented technology, they can rebuild him, better than he was before, and Hugh Jackman becomes the first Robot Boxer.

Flash forward fifteen years. Jackman’s given birth to a part-cyborg son, Max, but he hasn’t spent any time with the boy because he can’t face explaining his robot origins and doesn’t want to tell Max that he’ll never be able to live a normal life. But when Max’s mom dies, Jackson is forced to take custody of the bio-robo-child, and while Charlie trains Max to be the best boxer the world’s ever seen, the two of them slowly learn what it means to feel semi-organic machine love.

No wait, sorry. That’s not the plot at all. The plot is actually Rocky…WITH ROBOTS. I just didn’t want to write about something so generic, so I made up my own storyline. It’s literally exactly the same as Rocky, only Rocky is named Atom, and instead of rooting for him, you’re rooting for the estranged father-son team who controls him with a joystick. It might be the most cliché thing since sliced bread, but who cares? It’s ridiculously fun to watch, maybe because robot boxing is literally the best sport of all time.

For example, there was this one part when this robot fought this other robot. Holy crap. It was awesome. And then the robots were jumping all around, and one of their heads came off this one time, and another time one of them exploded, and there was this sick Japanese one, and this really badass undefeated one named Zeus. Whoa.

Zeus serves as the main villain sort of. He’s Rocky’s Apollo Creed, but you know that he’s even more hardcore because Zeus is higher up in the chain of command than Apollo. Since Zeus is just a robot, he can’t really be a villain though. The actual bad guy is probably this hardcore Asian dude who programmed Zeus to be INVINCIBLE!! Asian guy looks super badass and is always glaring and snarling and he has the best lines in the movie, like “He has been programmed for every possible contingency!” and “The outcome of any match is inevitable!”

One of the best parts of this movie is Atom’s storyline. In Rocky, it makes sense to see him training and improving, and you can really root for him. Here, the writers need to go out of their way to make the tug-at-your-heartstrings Atom a likable character, and one of the main ways they do it is by giving him a “shadow function,” meaning that when you flip a switch he turns into a mimic, copying exactly what you do. That way, instead of training looking like a scene from Hackers, with Hugh Jackman inputting a ton of lines of code into a computer, you get to see Jackman literally teach the robot boxing moves.

Atom’s got a cute face and these big blue eyes, so he seems almost alive. In fact, pretty early on, the movie hints at him being sentient. The fact that he has a shadow function and can constantly learn from his surroundings lends credence to this theory, and maybe that’s why this amazing bot was found discarded in a junkyard…because he was becoming dangerously self-aware! I was excited for that plotline, but it was just a big mislead. In fact, it was so big of a mislead that I don’t think it was supposed to be there at all and I just read really heavily into things for no reason. I wonder if anyone else felt the same way.

Atom’s a sparring bot, which means he was built for other bots to practice on and he can take a lot of hits, but that’s pretty much all we know about him. When he gets knocked down, he gets back up, cause, you know, it wouldn’t be good sparring practice if he just stayed on the ground. It’s actually surprisingly emotional to see this robot constantly struggle to his feet, but when you think about, without the whole sentience thing, it’s not particularly impressive. Ooh, his wiring didn’t short circuit. Ahh, he’s not out of energy. Wow, he’s still got all his limbs.

Throughout the film, Max keeps talking about how Atom can do things no bot has ever done before, and that’s why he’s so amazing, but the movie makes very sure not to ever mention or show any of these so-called “things.” Walking out of that theater, I was totally unaware of how in the world Atom had succeeded at anything. It’s not like he had heart, or drive, or even any particular skill. I think there was probably some witchcraft involved in a deleted scene. Eye of newt, tongue of shrike, make this robot Rocky-like.

I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear yet, but this movie is AWESOME. I absolutely loved it. The complete absurdity of it all was fun and never once got on my nerves, and the robot battles were almost sweeter than in Transformers. The kid was actually a good actor, and the movie was surprisingly emotional. Oh, and Evangeline Lily of Lost fame managed to land an another acting role, so that makes me relatively happy. If you like fun, nonsensical Hollywood movies with a heart, go check this out.

Score:

Alignment:

Shadow boxing is the coolest sounding climax gimmick in the history of film.

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Moneyball—The Art of Winning via Beane Counting

I would certainly love to happen upon a ball of money.

I love baseball. Played 14 seasons growing up. Even helped win some championships. Batting was always my favorite. There’s nothing more intense than standing there, staring down that pitcher, bat twisting between your palms, waiting for the ball to come whipping out of that hand at insane speeds. Watching the pitch come flying toward the plate is the only way I’ve ever experienced bullet time, and the satisfaction of tracking a curveball in perceived slow motion until it smacks into the sweet spot of your bat can’t be matched. Fielding was good too. I mostly played pitcher, first, second, shortstop, third, left, right, and center. Plus, when my dad was the manager, every night he’d look over all of the team’s stats with me and spend hours agonizing over how to arrange the team to create the perfect fun/success ratio.

What I’m saying is, I know a thing or two about baseball, so when I go to a movie on the subject, I expect a lot, and if they don’t get it right, I’ll tear into it with a passion.

They got it right.

But then again, it almost wasn’t a baseball movie. Brad Pitt plays Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane at a time when the team’s just lost its three star players. Faced with the difficulty of getting new hotshots on a bare bones budget, Beane turns to economy major Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand convinces Beane that stars don’t win games. Runs win games, and runs aren’t scored with big hits and amazing plays in the field. They’re scored by getting on base.

Don't worry. Jonah Hill's still chubby for this one.

Beane takes this advice to heart and throws out all the conventional wisdom of baseball sages, willing to hire players who don’t know anything about fielding as long as they can take pitches and end up with a walk. Most of the film is about people who think they know baseball not believing in this new system and Beane trying to stick with it in the face of early failure. Like I said, it’s not a baseball movie.

It’s an economics movie.

But The Social Network was a movie about computer programming, and if they can make that exciting, I guess they can do it with anything. Brad Pitt helps with a great performance as the conflicted manager, and Jonah Hill is surprisingly good. The success of the film rests squarely on their shoulders, and while shots of endless statistics scrolling across a computer screen are a little cheesy, they’re not that bad. As the film builds up the hopelessness of being such a monetarily poor team, you can’t help but root for them. Right from the beginning, you’ll be emotionally hooked, and it won’t let up until the very end.

It's no Troy, but it'll do.

One of the cool differences about this underdog story is that the characters aren’t stars. The power wasn’t inside them all along. Instead, you’re rooting for the players to get walks, to get hit by pitches, to hit scrappy singles, to allow runs to score on a bunt and take the easy out. The movie gets around this by making the climax not about a championship, but about the potential for a record-breaking winning streak, and man is it exciting.

Another key difference is that, for something advertised as a pure sports drama, it’s surprisingly funny. I think I laughed harder at this than at The Hangover 2. In fact, I think it’s the funniest movie I’ve been to this year.

This movie makes you believe. It’s makes you believe on the same level as Remember the Titans or any of the great sports movies, except you believe not in the players, but in the power of statistics, and for some reason you care. When the other characters in the film refuse to believe, when they work at every opportunity to undermine and diminish our hero, Statistics, you want to punch them in their grubby little faces. I love when a film can really make me despise somebody, and Moneyball pulls it off.

If you love baseball or Brad Pitt or sports movies or economics or feeling emotions or laughing or good cinema in general, go see this movie. It’s worth your time.

Score:

Alignment:

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Moneyball contains one of the greatest scenes in any sports film ever. When Beane and Brand are trying to trade for Ricardo Rincon, it’s nearly show me the money status. I won’t say much more since I don’t want to spoil it, but you’ll love it. I promise.

Written by Russ Nickel

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W3 – Moon – Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey Steal the Show

It’s that day of the week! No, not shower day (some weeks I skip that one). It’s

What to Watch Wednesday

And this week you should watch Moon, in which Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey steal the show from…themselves? One of the coolest things about Moon is that there’s only one actor on screen for the entire 97 minutes. Sam Rockwell plays a lonely man on the moon stuck doing a 3-year stint maintaining a nearly automated mining facility.  His only companion is an understated robot voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Being alone on the moon is a dull existence, that is, until you stumble upon the injured body of…well, you should just go watch the movie. Everything is not as it seems, and Sam Rockwell must forget the life he thought he knew in order to accomplish something important with what time he has left.

And if it stars Sam Rockwell, you know it’s going to be good. He might be the actor with the best quality to fame ratio. He’s Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest: “I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m just ‘Crewman Number Six.’ I’m expendable. I’m the guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is. I’ve gotta get outta here!” And he’s Justin Hammer, that slick, evil guy from Iron Man 2 who almost outshined Robert Downey Jr. in their scenes together.

If you want a low-budget, high-concept film that will keep you interested and make you think, all the while forcing you to question your concepts of morality, then this is the movie for you. On the other hand, it’s mostly slow and dialogue driven, so if you’re in the mood for something more fast-paced with action, plot twists, and, well, character interaction, then steer clear of this one.

Score:

Alignment:

Written by Russ Nickel

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Killer Elite: Yvonne Strahovski Can’t BALE Out This One

And may the worst movie make no money at the box office.

I’m going to be upfront about this: Killer Elite sucks. I’d end this review right here, but then my employers wouldn’t be too happy about that, and I need to make that scrill somehow.

Oh, who am I kidding? I have no employers.

I was literally this close to ending this review right there, so can you just imagine what that would’ve been like and try to get the humor value out of it. Give it a sec. Pretty funny, right?

But since I’m naturally inclined toward prolificism, I just couldn’t stop myself. That’s not even a word, prolificism. I think it sounds better than prolificacy, prolificness, and prolificity, personally, and those are the real options. Clearly, we English speakers are having some amount of trouble settling on that particular noun, though, so I’m not entirely crazy.

Look at me, I try to write a Killer Elite review and this is what happens. God, it was bad.

First of all, this is the only movie that’s ever made me feel like an old person. I had no idea what was going on or why any character was ever doing anything. People were running around with guns, and some of them were shooting at other ones, and I feel like you’ve got to have some reasons if you’re gonna be shootin’ at somebody, but they weren’t sharing their reasons with me, that’s for sure.

The basic premise of the movie is an outdated and hackneyed story format: the three-part quest. There’s this one sort of Arab dude and he wants to kill these three other dudes who are British, so he captures this guy to make this other guy go kill the dudes before he releases the first guy, and he’s doing it all so his son can travel or something, but his son doesn’t even want to go anywhere, and this other British guy is pretty unhappy that a guy is gonna come to kill some of his friends, but we never see any reason why they’re friends, so he decides to stop the killy dude, but there’s some other British guys who don’t really care whether the killy dude is stopped, so they try to stop the guy from stopping the guy, but the killy dude already has problems enough without stoppy guy ’cause he’s busy getting betrayed by at least two dudes, one of whom is…a travel agent?

I guess maybe I was paying attention.

What happened to you, De Niro?

Jason Statham stars as Killy Dude. Robert De Niro co-stars as Other Killy Dude. And Clive Owen plays Stoppy Guy. Jason Statham’s love interest is Yvonne Strahovski, who mostly spends her time not being characterized and sort of worrying vaguely. She never really becomes relevant, except as a symbol of something for Statham to return to. Also, in one scene when Statham comes home, she’s just sort of tossing some bales of hay around. The task looks completely useless. I can just imagine the director going “Yeah, but you can’t just be standing there when he shows up. You have to be doing something.” And one of the set guys is like “Well there’s some random hay here,” and the director goes “Oh yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Just like, toss that hay around a bit,” and Yvonne’s like “What the fuck?” in her Aussie accent, of course. “You want me to just toss some hay around?” And the director goes “Woman, this is only like your second movie role, so if I say you’re gonna throw some god damn hay around, you’d better fucking throw some god damn hay around!!”

I don’t know why there’s so many expletives on that set. Those guys should work on maintaining a better business relationship. Plus, this was the director’s first movie, so he’s got even less experience than she does. Where does he get off? The end result is a scene transition that had the audience laughing.

I did only go to this movie because I have a huge crush on the lovely Yvonne, and I must say, it was a lot better than that soul-destroying The Canyon, but saying that something isn’t soul-destroying is not exactly the highest praise.

Yvonne

So I’m watching this movie, befuddled as a bumpkin, and I think to myself, this is the kind of movie where there has to be more at stake. Statham’s just being played, and soon the truth will have to come out, and maybe he and Owen will have to work together or something. That’d be a twist, but it never really happens. It’s so very very straightforward: They ask him to kill three dudes; he does it. There is one scene with some sort of reveal, but it really wasn’t much of a twist, and I couldn’t understand how it was relevant. And I didn’t even know who the guy was that was explaining the twist. Something about oil or something. I don’t know. Then that guy just dies, and I was trying to figure out whether his explanation changed anything, and I don’t think it did, but at least it was there, so, ya know, they were trying.

Just like they tried with the action, which was watching-grass-grow boring. Every time I endured one of the 10 car chases, I made vows to myself that if I ever write a movie, there will be at least one new thing in every action sequence, just one little thing to set it apart. I’ve never seen such genericism! It’s as if they took all the car chases from all the movies till now, edited out everything remotely interesting, then spliced together the filler. Hmmm, maybe the movie should be called Filler Elite. Heh. I just thought of that.

With De Niro essentially just making an appearance in the movie, we’re left to root for Statham, but he’s this horrible Killy Dude. Most of the time a film finds some way to redeem the main character, even when he’s a killer, but this one never pulls it off. Yeah, he’s trying to get out of the business, but he spends the entire movie killing a bunch of people. I just didn’t see it.

It’s not entirely a bad film though. There’s a single cool chair flip (that’s in the trailer), and a tiny bit of random nudity. And at least it all ties up really well at the end there’s NO RESOLUTION!

Score:

Alignment:

Or maybe it should be called Filler Plebeian… Har Har.

Written by Russ Nickel

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