Category Archives: Review

Easy A – A Better Late Than Never Review

So I saw Easy A last week, a few months after its theater run. It’s not a movie I’d normally see of my own volition, but it was a free showing, Emma Stone is hot, and since Easy A got decent reviews I figured it was safe to temporarily expose myself. And I’d like to make clear in advance that I knew what I was getting myself into. And it’s not really fair of me to begrudge the film its genre conventions. But they opened themselves up to it by openly acknowledging them, so I’m going to call this one fair game.

Emma Stone stars as an intelligent, unassuming hot girl, a cipher for all the bookish white teens watching. After lying about losing her virginity to best friend Michalka, Stone attracts the attention of their school’s stunningly efficient rumor mill (played with rigidly rehearsed efficiency by Steadicam operator Geoffrey Haley). Evidently this is a huge deal, and Stone is immediately labeled a harlot and shameless hussy by the school’s ardent, very vocal religious community.

Through a series of convenient coincidences incorporated to ease digestion of the plot, Stone chooses to embrace and perpetuate this rumor, first to protect her totally gay friend, and then because she pities a fat, sniveling stereotype. She proceeds to take payment for lying about her sexual escapades in the form of gift cards. This is doubly efficient because

1) It’s topical (Gift cards! I got like five of ‘em for Christmas!), and

2) It’s not real money, so you don’t have to explicitly address the fact that your protagonist has essentially become a prostitute.

One montage of wry commercial transactions later, and Emma Stone’s bad-girl behavior has gone too far. She doesn’t know who she is anymore, everything’s so messed up. Except it isn’t, because the nice-guy childhood crush trusts her version of events and actually really likes her. Together they stage an elaborate dance number in the gym on the day of the big basketball game to announce her live webcast explaining everything and clearing her name.

So basically, Easy A is exactly like every high school rom-com ever except for the fact that it was made in 2010 and therefore must exhibit an awareness of the culmination of pop culture that’s preceded it. I lost track of how many times the film winkingly referred to the fact that the plot was “just like one of those cheesy 80’s movies”, as if acknowledgement of that fact exonerated it of any derivativeness. Usually this meta-commentary was through Emma Stone’s webcast voice over. If this reach at “topical” youth culture wasn’t insulting enough, the narration is consistently used to repair lazy screenwriting, caulking in all the signposts and plot advancements the acting neglected to include.

Now, “meta” is something of a joke nowadays cuz it’s rampant, but it can be used effectively. In Easy A, it is not. Stone’s observations point out the creakings  of the plot machine and justify a couple homage moments, but the only element of meta wedded to the plot is the fact that it’s framed as a webcast. The movie doesn’t take it any further than that.

Think about this for a moment. There’s actually a lot going on here. It’s a mesh of the Scarlet Letter and 80s comedies set in the nascent technological wonderland of the 21st century. You could go to town on themes of vouyerism and spectacle; you’d even be able to implicate the viewers of the film for going to see a story about a hot promiscuous girl. The more I think about it, the more I realize this plot had a lot of potential.

Despite what my criticism may communicate, the movie wasn’t terrible. It was thoroughly average and even funny at times. When I think about how awesome it could have been, the mediocrity stings me more than an awful movie would. Easy displays the bare minimum of effort, the movie equivalent of fast food. It stands in the shadow of older, better works of art, offering no commentary or innovation. The pretense of meta-comedy becomes a shield the writers use to defend lazy and strategic screenwriting. What we see here is a cookie-cutter script developed for an up-and-coming marketable actress. It’s a remake of Mean Girls, with a Lindsay Lohan who hopefully wont self-destruct.

Every character is a stereotype chosen with formulaic calculation. Amanda Bynes plays an idiotic evangelical included to provide the opposing viewpoint with a villifiable antagonist. Dan Byrd is the non-threatening gay friend who shows up when the plot requires him. Penn  Badgley (listed as “Woodchuck Todd”) plays a love interest whose defining character trait is that he wears funny things. Thomas Hayden Church stole his deadpan teacher shtick straight from Tim Meadows. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they wrote in Stone’s adopted brother when they started shooting, took a look at the cast and said, “oh shit, we need a black person!”

There was some stuff for me to love. Stone’s protagonist is a bookworm, and so her jokes often appealed to the English major in me.  Her parents are pretty funny. But the few gems that existed were quips, shoehorned into static scenes chosen for convenience of shooting rather than any inherent interest. While their words may have been objectively funny, they were in a story without energy or momentum.

This overall laziness is evidenced by the sloppiness of the film’s exposition. The writers didn’t go to any trouble to embed the plot in the film, leading to moments like the Turning Point, where Stone’s scandalous behavior goes too far. What happens is the school counselor, who happens to be the wife of Stone’s English teacher, gives gonorrhea to a student who happens to be “going steady” with Amanda Bynes. The student implicates Stone because she’s an easy target, who agrees to corroborate the alibi because she cares deeply about preventing her favorite teacher from discovering that his marriage is a sham and he should probably get tested for gonorrhea. I could delve further into why this is absurd, but the main point is that none of this is set up or explained before it’s all dumped on us at once. We only learned that the school counselor existed about five minutes ago. We didn’t even know that she and another major character were married until one of them got gonhorrea.

This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens regularly, with Stone’s wry narration “reminding” us of three more things that weren’t mentioned before but are now vitally important to the advancement of the plot.

And part of me thinks maybe I missed something, and in actuality the whole movie went over my head. All these crazy coincidences and random plot elements, all the stereotypical cardboard cutouts, they’re all part of some grand deconstructionist joke that I was too judgmental to miss. Maybe all the random stuff that happens is just a reflection of the chaos of real life. Or maybe they just had a tight deadline.

2.5/5 Stars

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Season of the Witch – Demons, Camp, and Nicolas Cage

As anyone who knows me is well aware, I’m a self-professed masochist; if there’s an opportunity for me to experience something excruciating, I jump at it (keep that in mind, ladies). Obviously, when I saw that Season of the Witch had an abysmal 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, I simply couldn’t resist. I quickly found out, however, that I was sort of in the minority on this one (who knew?!)—after petitioning all of my friends, only one was intrepid enough to brave the theaters with me. We planned the trip for early Friday morning, our mounting excitement making Thursday’s sleep an ephemeral affair. I awoke that day to an act of God. In his infinite wisdom, he had bestowed upon me a migraine most malicious in an effort to prevent one of his flock from the even greater pain of watching Nicolas Cage play a disillusioned Knight in a fantasy movie.

But I am not a God-fearing man, and so, despite the advice of my friends, despite the admonitions of the critics, despite the wind and the cold and the rain, despite even the divine hand of God himself, I rose from the beanbag chair that was my bed and journeyed forth toward almost certain disappointment. After all, if The Last Airbender, a memory better left forgotten, had received a 7%, what hope did Season of the Witch have? I met Dphil, the intrepid friend, at the gates and handed my ticket to the clerk, who, with his snarling remarks, unkempt hair, and bared teeth, could have (save for the two missing heads) passed for the guardian Cerberus. My companion and I took our seats and surveyed the scene. I have to be honest with you here. It’s a little disconcerting when the only other people in the theater are an old man by himself, a huge lady in a squeaky wheelchair being led by a group of friends, and someone who probably rides the short bus and kept babbling and mumbling incoherently. I mean no offense. It was simply an odd crowd.

Season of the Witch is set in England during the Crusadin’ times. After a quick intro that proves witches to be all too real, we get a montage of battles in which the knights Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) kill many non-innocents, then finally, after ten years, kill some innocents. Ten years before the first undeserved death? Very impressive. Disillusioned, Behmen and Felson desert the army only to end up in a town ravaged by the plague, which is apparently caused by a hot young vixen who’s got this sexy witch vibe goin’ on. Setup complete, our two warrior heroes join forces with an elderly knight and the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), ready to transport the sorceress. At this point, my buddy turns to me and says, “I can’t believe they don’t have a rogue in their party!” Seconds later, Nicolas Cage goes, “We need a guide!” and of course the only person who can guide them is the lock-picking ne’er-do-well swindler, Hagamar (Stephen Graham). Dungeons and Dragons team assembled, they set out for an ancient monastery, for only there can the monks cast out the witch and end the plague.

One of the better aspects of Season of the Witch is the way it keeps you guessing. It utilizes the tried-and-true “Is she a witch or isn’t she” method to keep the audience interested, though I don’t understand why the characters never thought to simply compare the girl’s weight to that of a duck. Anyway, partway through, it simply tells you the answer. I’ve tried to craft this review in a similar style. Is Season of the Witch good, or is it not? I guess I’ve probably been leaning a little too obviously toward the “not” side, but the movie has a surprisingly good twist, and so do I. Season of the Witch was actually good! Maybe it was just because anything was better than the pain of a migraine, maybe it was because I was delirious from lack of sleep, or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist Nicolas Cage’s entertainingly unemotional acting, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie (like how those monks exorcised the hell out of that girl! Get it?).

Sure, it was a little bit predictable in parts, but that just made it more surprising when it caught me off guard. Yes, there was the obligatory bridge-crossing scene, with boards cracking and plummeting below the characters’ feet as ropes twisted and frayed, but it was reasonably well done, and, more importantly, it wasn’t there just for the sake of unnecessary suspense—the girl saves one of the characters from falling to his death, casting further doubt on her motivations. Yes, witch girl ostensibly summons a bunch of wolves to kill our heroes, but you find out later that there was more at play than you’d ever imagined. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining, I was constantly creeped out by how I was both creeped out by and attracted to the main girl, and unlike stupid The Last Airbender, the movie was surprisingly well paced. Plus, the final battle was pretty awesome. I mean seriously, what’s cooler than fighting a horde of cloaked, plague-ridden, undead monks who have boils all over their faces and battle with fearsome hooks in a room that’s on fire and filled with shelves of scrolls that go flying whenever someone’s thrown into them? All this while a priest epically incants an unnerving Latin ritual in the background, hoping to slay the giant winged demon that seeks to end all human life.

I honestly don’t see how this movie got so many negative reviews. The dialogue was a little campy, especially the lines delivered by Hagamar, like “This damn fog is like a veil before my eyes,” or directly after, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face.” As cliché as some of it might have been, Season of the Witch had enough new ideas that, when coupled with a hot girl, some twists and scares, and a general sense of fun, it ended up being well worth the price of a matinee ticket.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. I have proof that this was a “great” film. You see, I was so totally engaged that I didn’t even notice that, by the end of the film, everyone else had walked out! If that’s not hard evidence, I don’t know what is. The credits rolled and I looked around, extremely pleased that I’d decided to see such a fine film, only to find that there was literally no one in the theater. Had they ever even been there? How could I not hear someone get creakily wheeled out of the room? How could I not notice the babbling babbler leave the theater? Where did the old man go?! I was sure a witch had cursed me. Like I said, it must have been a damn good movie! I’d been looking forward to being able to tear this film apart, but I walked out of the theater perplexed: How was I supposed to write an entertaining review now? Just then, Dphil turned to me, and, as if he could see into my soul, said, “Russ, you’re just going to have to use nuance.” And, as you, the reader, are my witness, this is a review so nuanced that it knows no equal. I braved the wrath of God and more to bring it to you and returned from my quest unharmed (which, for a masochist, is rather disappointing). Someday, I hope to craft a movie of my own with as much nuance and subtlety as Season of the Witch, but until then, I must simply award it:

3.5/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Crap

Honestly, the worst thing about this movie was the way the sound kept cutting in and out. Perhaps it was another attempt by God to intervene, but I brazenly ignored him, sitting through what seemed like the worst dubbing ever because, dammit, I paid good money for this!

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Green Hornet – Cameron Diaz Attempts to Act

In an effort to battle the exorbitant cost of 3D movies (especially the ones that undergo 3D conversion post-production), I went to the Sunday matinee showing of The Green Hornet. I don’t know if that’s really the optimal environment for a superhero movie, but I do know that I felt super awesome seeing a movie by myself in a theater lightly sprinkled with moms. What made me even more awesome was my flirtation with the cute ticket taker and cashier, only to have them realize that I was friendless at the movies and therefore genetically undesirable for the production of offspring. But hey, free parking downtown on Sundays! Which makes me wonder…how many of those moms were actually angry San Luis Obispo meter maids?

As my stylish RealD glasses weighed down on my nose (which, by the end of the movie, was acting rather affronted), the previews drew to a close, and what followed was a moderately entertaining film. By no means a perfect creation, The Green Hornet lived up to its Buzz with charm enough to overcome the fact that it was little more than a souped-up, buddy-cop movie. While its generic overarching plot had a bit of originality Nested here and there, what really kept things aloft was Seth Rogen’s light-hearted tone and performance. Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou) were fun characters to watch and had pretty good chemistry. I believed their friendship, their obligatory fallout, and their eventual reconciliation, and I laughed out loud at lines like “Do some of that Ben Hur shit!” Sadly, I was the only one who laughed during the entire movie. Man, those parking enforcement officers really don’t have souls.

As always, Cameron Diaz was totally useless. She is the Queen of inane, managing to evoke a sense of lifelessness in every role. She Bumbles through her character, Droning on and basically adding nothing. At least it was a new take on the love interest. She wasn’t really interested, and neither was she interesting. In fact, I feel like she was almost more objectified this way. Rather than either of the main characters forming a connection with her, she simply served as a vehicle for Britt and Kato’s argument. I guess that’s what they get for trying to stick their Proboscises where they don’t belong.

Speaking of vehicles, the Black Beauty was one of the most badass cars ever. The sheer number of weapons and gadgets made it the coolest thing since MIB’s red button. What wasn’t particularly badass was the bad guy. In an attempt at humor, the villain constantly worried about his image and his hard-to-pronounce name, and he was right to. He just wasn’t intimidating. I never felt the Sting of real fear or the sweet Nectar of joy at any point during the film.

One of the more interesting stylistic choices comes partway through the movie when the villain puts a bounty on the Green Hornet’s head. The shot then enters an ever-expanding split screen as word of the reward spreads through all the different circles of evil, from the Thorax of malcontent to the Mandibles of hate. Watching the sheer number of thugs on the screen grow as they receive their mission really does add a sense of dread to an otherwise threat-free story. More and more split-screens kept showing up until I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t keep track of them anymore. I waited for the repercussions of this onslaught, only to watch as the group of villains murdered a ton of innocent people wearing green and then never reappeared. And just like that, the sense of dread was gone.

The Green Hornet was basically fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s some entertaining action and comedy. In no way does it surpass expectations, however, and many other films are better able to embrace the genre. If you’ve got some extra cash and a bunch of guys are sitting around bored, it might be worth checking this out, but otherwise you should probably just wait until it’s on Netflix.

2.5/5 Stars

Couldn’t work these in: Venom, Insect, Antennae, Hive, Apoidea, Vespa

Written by Russ Nickel

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Tangled – Best Disney Movie in Years, Maybe Ever

Without female companionship, it’s hard to go see Tangled and still maintain an air of manliness and virility. So, abandoning all hope of preserving that façade, I decided to go all the way to the deep end of the lame pool and see it with my parents. And for once, the dearth of self-confidence that inspired me to long ago stop vying for success with the fairer sex paid off, because when the dust settled and the credits rolled, there was only one fact left standing, and it towered above all other thoughts and insecurities: Tangled was AWESOME!

What a cast of characters! Zachary Levi, or Chuck from Chuck (for those of you who watch my favorite television show), is perfectly charming as Flynn Rider, the shallow and selfish thief whose good looks are rivaled only by Narcissus. Immediately likeable despite his negative qualities, Flynn Rider’s journey toward empathy is one which is quickly obvious, and yet it is so flawlessly executed that I found his transformation transfixing at every turn.

As for Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), well, I was pretty much in love with her the moment I saw her. The epitome of innocence, Rapunzel is a drop of sunshine in the darkness. Her unadulterated joy is contagious, infecting even the most jaded and cynical. It was a pleasure to see how people changed when touched by such a fair creature, whether it be a group of thugs singing about their dreams or innumerable citizens breaking out into dance in the streets. Again, Rapunzel’s character arc was rather obvious: from an obedient girl afraid of the world to a real person living her life. And again, it didn’t matter, because that arc was artfully crafted.

Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is an understandable villain. I mean, Rapunzel’s magic hair gives her eternal youth. If that’s not a good reason for keeping your daughter in a tower, I don’t know what is. The two characters of a different genus deserve quite a bit of recognition themselves. Pascal the chameleon makes for an excellent sidekick to Rapunzel. He’s just about the cutest thing ever (right behind How to Train Your Dragon’s Toothless), and his indignant looks are a great counterpoint to Rapunzel’s innocent absurdity. Even Maximus, the head guard’s horse, is an amazing character with a story of his own. He tracks Flynn Rider with brutal determination, but as per usual, ends up joining the team.

Honestly, this movie has the perfect setup. You see, Flynn Rider is a character you can really get behind. Sure, he doesn’t care about other people, but his charm makes him unarguably, well, charming. Oh, and Rapunzel is a character you can really get behind. The opposite of Flynn, she is trusting and cares deeply for everyone, and yet she has much to learn about the world. We love both characters from the beginning, and the traits that make each of them so great directly reflect the other’s flaws, so when fate brings them together, we get to watch an incredible relationship blossom.

Plus, there were a couple of little lines that broke the fourth wall in an amusing way. At one point, Flynn Rider calls Pascal a frog. Rapunzel, offended, points out that it’s a chameleon, to which Flynn responds “Nuance.” Bringing up the cliché of a princess and a frog is especially amusing, since Disney’s last animated film was titled The Princess and the Frog. Also, like I said, Mother Gothel isn’t particularly villainous during the film, just a bit attached to the idea of immortality. Now, when she argues with Rapunzel, she always complains that Rapunzel is “making her the bad guy.” Well, I really wanted her to be the bad guy so I could cheer when she got her comeuppance, and then finally, much to my delight, she snaps, saying “You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I’m the bad guy.” To her, she was harkening back to those old arguments, but to me, she was talking directly to the audience, letting us know that it was ok to root against her.

If I had one complaint, and I do, it would be that the songs didn’t quite live up to my expectations. They were still excellent, but they were a bit more ponderous than some Disney tunes. With the exception of “I’ve Got a Dream,” they were slow, character-heavy numbers that, while still of a high quality, lacked the pizzazz that got the Aladdin soundtrack stuck so firmly in my head.

But the songs certainly didn’t detract from the experience. The dialogue was sharp, the animation was beyond beautiful, and the movie was both touching and hilarious. And as an added bonus, there was a lot of great insight into human nature. I cared for those characters, and the film was able to jerk my emotions around however it wanted. My sides hurt from laughing, my eyes ached from tears. Flynn’s charm and Rapunzel’s joy didn’t just affect the other characters; they reached right out of that screen and touched me too, and because of that, I give Tangled:

5/5 Stars

The only truly sad thing about this movie was that Rapunzel ended up becoming a brunette. Oh, the humanity!

Written by Russ Nickel

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Tron: Legacy – Get a Clu. Quorrantine the Grid.

People standing in line at a 3:15 am showing of Tron fit into 3 basic categories: Drunk, High, and Wearing Tron Costumes. That line ended up being a lot like the movie: It was long and there was a lot of waiting around; the people, like the characters, made little to no sense; and while the whole thing was fun to look at, I found the experience sticky and barely tolerable.

Once we finally made it inside the theater, my slipshod crew of friends, family, and coworkers, inspired by our smuggled-in alcohol (we fit into the Drunk category), led the theater in cheering and got quite the response ranging from the uninspired “Wooo!”s and “Tron!”s to the more creative “This shit’s in 3d!!!” The only problem was that, as the movie continued, the excitement steadily decreased, because every single member of the audience completely lost track of what was happening. By the end of the movie, the only real fans left were the ones cheering for Daft Punk, the band that did the soundtrack.

For those of you who either have or haven’t seen the movie, here’s the explanation of the plot. Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), enters Tronland (the official name I think). Unfortunately, he is captured and sent to the “games.” Some really sexy programs (they appear as humans) dress him up and then he has to go fight. Sam battles well until he’s defeated by Tron, but you don’t know it’s Tron, then Tron takes Sam up to meet Clu, a clone copy of Sam’s dad, but you don’t know it’s Clu at the time. Things don’t go so great and Sam has to be a gladiator again, but he’s saved by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who’s this total babe. Quorra takes Sam to his dad, and his dad explains that the only way to win Clu’s twisted game is not to play. Oh, he also tells Sam about ISOs, these programs that came from nowhere and are the key to revolutionizing everything ever. Too bad Clu killed all of them. Anyway, they only have like 8 hours to go home before the portal closes because Tronland is “like a safe.” It only opens from the outside. Like a safe. Sam refuses to play the game of refusing to play the game and goes to the city, where he’s betrayed and things sort of go bad. Like it turns out Quorra is the last ISO, and Tron is evil, but Tron might actually be good, and Clu is actually linked to Sam’s dad, so they sort of implode, and Sam escapes, and he and Quorra totally hook up, except they don’t because that would be weird.

Don’t get me wrong, however. This movie is nothing short of a metaphorical masterpiece! We are man, beings who are different from programs because of ever elusive reasons. Programs are clearly not like men, and this brings up dilemmas.

List of Dilemmas:

1.How are programs different from humans?

a.This is not discussed. If it were, then the sexual tension between Sam Flynn and Quorra, the sexy program, might be much creepier.

2.In what way was Clu attempting to create the perfect world?

a.He was programmed to create perfection. This seemed to entail constant gladiatorial battles and the amassing of armies.

3.Why can programs not create new programs, only alter them?

a.This is not discussed, only stated as fact. If it is a fact, then why does Clu send a ton of programs to die in gladiatorial battles when they’re clearly a precious commodity? If he’s been doing this since 1982, then how in the hell does he have so many left?!

4.What the fuck are ISOs, how do they make any sense, and in what way can they save humanity?

a.They are self-created programs.

b.They make sense because, wait, who am I kidding? That’s not discussed!

c.ISOs are the key to curing cancer, stopping earthquakes, and transferring large sums of money from Nigeria straight into your bank account! That’s how.

Now for a new category:

Russ’s Favorite Scene!

In the final battle, Sam and his dad and Quorra are hiding from some bad guy. They’re perfectly well hidden, but Quorra decides to “take herself out of the equation.” This line is a reincorporation from an earlier scene, which makes it seem important, except that it makes no sense either time. Anyway, Quorra goes and turns herself in, which accomplishes absolutely nothing, because now Sam just has to save her. He’s about to rush in and do just that, when his dad stops him. There’s a very meaningful shot showing that Quorra is being held captive by Tron, and Sam’s dad says “There’s another way.” This would indicate to me that Sam’s dad had some kind of plan. Maybe one where he reprograms Tron to be good again or something, but instead his plan is nothing. NOTHING! They go with Sam’s plan, which is, quote “I’m a user. I’ll improvise.” Now wait…Sam’s dad built this entire freaking universe and has NO PLAN; Sam just got here a couple hours ago and they go with his improvisation?!!? Jesus Christ — who was writing this thing? Anyway, they’re able to rescue Quorra because of Sam’s brilliant instincts. Oh wait. That’s not true. They rescue Quorra because someone just brings her up to them during the escape process. Then, when they’re getting chased by a bunch of planes, Tron suddenly turns good for absolutely no reason and fights off Clu for them. Yay! It’s a good thing Quorra let herself get captured!

Ok, maybe I’m hating on Tron too much. The people who were incredibly baked all thought it was awesome, because like, look at that shit! That shit’s in 3d! And to be perfectly fair, I can’t really argue against that kind of logic. Sure the story didn’t make sense, but the people and the machinery were beautiful.

2/5¢

Oh, and the CG to make Jeff Bridges look younger was the creepiest thing since The Polar Express. I’m glad that abomination isn’t my father!

Written by Russ Nickel

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Red – Bruce Willis Blows Shit Up

Picture, if you will, the perfect day: you wake up early and grab a quick haircut (to hide the balding); next you purloin a new school ID card even though you’ve already graduated (so you can sneak into parties); then you head to the doctor and convince them to give you a slew of prescriptions (because you’re losing health insurance in 10 days); and finally you finish strong by pounding some beers and cheering on your school’s first collegiate Starcraft II tournament (no explanation necessary). I don’t know about you, but after a red-letter day like that, I knew the only place I could go was down.

What a conviction-altering relief it was, then, to see Red that evening. The awesome action, considerable comedy, and magnificent music teamed up like old friends long separated to create one hell of an enjoyable movie. At the beginning, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) finds himself sitting at home living an unfulfilling life. His one escape is his strictly telephonic relationship with Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), an overcubicled employee at Frank’s retirement fund company who has a penchant for romance novels. After a quiet introduction, things get a little more interesting when an elite team of agents arrives at Moses’ house to kill him. After dispatching that minor inconvenience, Retired and Extremely Dangerous Mr. Moses has no choice but to catch a red eye to Kansas City, kidnap Sarah and drag her along on his adventure. She complains here and there, but you can tell she’s enjoying it. After all, it’s just like the book she’s reading: Love’s Savage Secret (turns out the secret was good communication). From there, they pick up some more members, blow some shit up, and generally paint the town red.

You know, I keep thinking I’ve seen every sweet stunt, car chase, and fist fight imaginable, but then something like this comes along. It spends half its time making me laugh, and it still manages to invent fight sequences that had me explaining them in detail over and over to my fellow moviegoers afterward. They kept insisting that they, too, had seen it, but I still don’t think they ever fully understood how badass it was when Bruce Willis stepped out of that spinning car, gun blazing. Man, so cool.

But cool can only get you so far. Red travels the rest of the way on the backs of its comedic cast. The script plays up the actors’ ages just the right amount, funny but not overdone—e.g., after killing a bunch of people, Willis straightens out not the suit jacket, but the pajama robe. Plus, the relationships are hilarious. In the Red universe, you know a woman truly loves you when the bullets she pumps into your chest are meant only to wound and not kill. And I have to give a shoutout to John Malkovich, someone I’ve basically only ever seen Being himself. He’s hilarious, and at his introduction, Frank Moses tells Sarah not to “talk about satellites” around him, and she responds with “Seriously?” Now that’s some subtle humor, because how do we know she wasn’t actually asking “Siriusly?” as in, “Does that include satellite radio?” Clever movie indeed.

A clever movie with good music—it fuses old western twang and rocking metal to make every scene a modernized showdown. The music was so good that I actually noticed it, although maybe that makes it toooo good. Perhaps Christophe Beck needs to stop being so excellent.

Not everything was at an iron maiden level of excellence, however. The bad guys’ motivations were pretty murky. I mean, the vice president makes sense (they’re inherently evil), but there was this second big bad with no clear stake in anything. His death, while welcome, was unsatisfying. I wanted to really hate the guy I saw die in the climax, but Red opted for flimsy twists and red herrings rather than simple catharsis. Also, the final action scene is rather lengthy and not nearly as innovative as the rest. They do make it amusing, but there wasn’t one new stunt. Plus, Frank Moses is clearly the main character, and he sits out the entire final battle. I kept waiting for him to come in and do something amazing, but unlike the little kid on the tricycle from The Incredibles, my wish was not granted.

Here’s the skinny. Red is a great action comedy. It does both of those things to a “t,” and if you’re like me, you love Bruce Willis, so enjoying it was never really a question. All in all, Red was a really excellent denouement to my day.

4/5 Stars

Bonus Rating! Red’s one F-Bomb is delivered by Karl Urban in the form of “Fuck you, Cynthia.” It’s no “Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker,” and we barely know who Cynthia is, but Karl Urban is boss and has a hella deep voice, so it’ll do. F-Bomb Meter: 50%

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Social Network – Talk Fast, Live Faster

I’m not usually one for dramas. I feel like the last one I saw was probably Gone with the Wind or something equivalent that my mom forced on me in years past. But I guess someone has to make us see all the “greats” that are generally too slow for our modern attention span (I’m looking at you, 2001: A Space Odyssey). That said, The Social Network is a fantastic movie and anything but slow. There are certain times you walk into a theater, eschew your bag of popcorn (nobody else is getting any), grab a seat, and think “What am I doing here?” only to have the opening scene suck you in so vacuumingly hard that you’re not capable of conscious thought for the next 2 hours. This is one such time.

The movie begins with little fanfare in a bar where Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sits across from soon-to-be-ex girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). The opening was so sudden and understated that I barely even realized the movie had started. My moviemates had to intervene and get me to stop stalking my friends on my shiny new Facebook-enabled Droid X before I would start paying attention, but once I did, I was blown away. Eisenberg gives one of the best character portrayals in recent memory, slipping into the mind and mannerisms of another ’berg with ease. His quick speech, emotional control, and unequivocal beliefs will immediately make you question and perhaps dislike the person, but you’ll be hard-pressed not to love the character. All he talks about on this particular date is his desire to join an exclusive Harvard club because they’ll lead him to a better life, and the only way he’ll be able to do it is by creating something substantial that will get him noticed. Part of what makes this movie so enjoyable is the juxtaposition between Zuckerberg’s fairly normal human motivations and his super-human drive for success. Anything he can achieve, he feels entitled to be allowed to achieve, no matter how many friends he loses or people he leaves dead and bloodied along the way, just so long so he can make a name for himself, no matter how many friends he loses or people he leaves dead and bloodied and dying along the way. In short, he’s compelling.

Something that dramamentories like this often have to worry about is how to create enough tension to keep the audience riveted, especially when the plot is mostly about computer programming. Now, pretty much every single one of my friends is a computer science major (or, now that we’re out of college, “employed”—something we English majors find highly overrated), so I have spent many a dinner conversation listening to a bunch of hyperintelligent kids babbling about single-tree hash functions, bivariable parsing strings, and multiphasic reverse compilers. Needless to say, dinners are usually very dull, but all the CS kids seem really into it. I don’t know. Anyway, the techno-babble in The Social Network is about as good as it gets. It’s some amazingly hard to achieve combination of understandable, reasonable, and so over-your-head that you end up extremely impressed.

One of the other main features of the movie that keeps it relatively riveting is its use of intercutting.  Half the movie takes place during Facebook’s inception, following Zuckerberg on his journey to success. The other half takes place much later, in rooms full of lawyers where Zuckerberg is being sued by former friends and colleagues for colossal amounts of money. The fact that we know how badly things are going to end up keeps us constantly worried during the more linear parts of the movie. “How could things have gone so wrong?!” we wonder. This nonlinear storytelling manages to up the ante in nearly every scene and allows the main story to jump around in time without us noticing.

If I were forced to say something bad about the movie (and I am, thanks to the secret reviewers code by which we all abide), I’d have to question the final line. For something so high quality, I thought the movie ended with some pseudo-psychological nonsense that we’re supposed to assume is very deep. Some mostly irrelevant lawyer looks Mark Zuckerberg in the eye after hearing his whole story and tells him, “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be one.” Then she walks away and we see Mark finally decide to friend the girl from the opening scene, perhaps trying to make amends. Was Mark an asshole? Yeah. He was, though we empathize with him heavily by the end of the movie. I mean, what kind of asshole tries to be an asshole and fails? I think just by trying, you automatically succeed.

But I can’t fault a movie too much for having a single bad line, now can I? Action movies would never stand a chance. The Social Network is good. If it’s your kind of movie, there’s no way you should miss it. Hell, it’s not my kind of movie, and I still liked it. My main movie metric (other than its use of alliteration) is how long it keeps me silent afterward. This one did a good job. I was pretty quiet for a couple hours, busy simply trying to comprehend how different my world is from that of my parents. I’m connected to my friends at all times. Facebook has seriously changed the scope of the earth. Last I checked, 517 million people use Facebook. That’s almost 8% of the world population. How many things are there that that many people use? Food? Fire? Facebook? Who knows? Verdict: Good movie, but I won’t be thinking about it a couple weeks from now.

4/5 Stars

P.S. All that techno-jargon left my thoughts a bit scrambled; all I can say for sure is, Facebook certainly is The Social Network, though it’s A Lot Sketchier Now. Or, in other words, er, Look, A Wench’s Tit!

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Inception – A Dream Come True…or Maybe Implanted

Sooo, that pretty much sums up Inception. Not quite sure what happened? Me either—I just felt like some lyric poetry might help obfuscate the plot in the same way the movie does. But don’t get me wrong, I love lyric poetry. It sounds amazing and looks cool, and when I understand it–which, thanks to being an English major, I often do (brushes off shoulder)–I feel like I’ve gotten even more out of it because it was a bit of a mind fuck. All that is to say: Inception is confusing, but in all the best ways. At the end, you’re left with an image that leaves everything up for debate, and if you have a fun group of friends, debate it you will.

Christopher Nolan manages to do something very impressive with this movie. Somehow, he is able to simultaneously achieve greatness in multiple genres. It’s right up there at the top of the twisty, psychological genre with Memento (one of Nolan’s other great films), Mulholland Drive, American Psycho and the like. It doesn’t tie up nearly as neatly as something like The Usual Suspects, but somehow it’s also very easy to follow, for Nolan works in plenty of explanation of his world in a way that doesn’t feel pedantic.  By having Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team explain everything to the team’s dream architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), we’re allowed to learn the mechanics of shared dreaming right along with her. There may be some unexplained bits, but I didn’t catch most of those until a second viewing, giving this movie a great deal of both initial enjoyment and rewatchability.

Besides just messing with your brain, Inception is a great action flick. One of the fight scenes takes place in zero gravity and is absolutely mind-blowing. I couldn’t keep myself from gasping, whispering “whoa,” and generally annoying the people around me—it was so cool. Amazing that Nolan can invent new ways to astonish despite all the movies that have come before. The action, for the most part, is handled very well. The effects are stunning and made even more impressive because the reason for their existence is so well-explained.  Sometimes, the film drags because so many different things are happening at once, but it’s well worth it, for at the cost of rapid-fire action, we gain a very interesting character arc. To tie down the story with something relatable, we get Dom Cobb’s relationship with his wife. His guilt surrounding her death haunts him, and his subconscious version of her constantly works to subvert his goals, at times almost costing the characters their lives. Action, an interesting character-based story, and mind-blowing psychological experiences all in one! Definitely worth ten bucks.

But that’s not all! One of my favorite things about Inception is its commentary on movies. Everything about this film is meta. There are dreams within dreams within dreams, and much of the film is actually talking about itself. At one point, Cobb explains to Ariadne that in order to tell if you’re in a dream, you simply need to try to remember how you got to where you are. In dreams, we apparently start in the middle and never know what came just before. This is also true of movies. We cut from scene to scene, leaving out much of the travel. In fact, the very scene I’m talking about starts with the two characters in a café, and the audience is not in the slightest bit disturbed by how they might have gotten there. Also, through the power of dreams, the film is able to have action scenes in whatever settings they want. Basically, each dream is a movie. Cobb tells Ariadne that dream architecture is incredible because you can build cities that have never existed. Her job is virtually that of a director, screenwriter, and CGI artist in one. Creating movies is creating a dreamworld, but instead of making a world for one dreamer, Hollywood makes worlds for a worldwide audience. In fact, to watch Inception is to experience inception, for everyone who has seen the movie has had the idea of implanting ideas in people implanted in them. Trippy, right?

This movie is well acted, well written, and well directed. Rarely am I so far out on the edge of my seat, and rarely does my brain work so furiously. Go see it. Go see it soon. And then go see it again.

5/5¢

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Last Airbender – Worst Film of All Time!

Let’s start with the basics. The Last Airbender has absolutely no redeeming qualities. None! And believe me, I searched. This is coming from someone who loves G.I. Joe—I don’t really need quality drama in movies, but I do need something. Even hot girls and explosions are usually enough to entertain my rather muddled brain, but nooo, Shyamalan wouldn’t even give me those.

First, there’s no comprehensible plot. Somewhere, mired in the murky depths of this disaster is a tale about a young child, Aang, who, after being trapped in a ball of ice for a century, is both the last airbender and the Avatar, a chosen one who maintains peace. Through an uninteresting series of events, he befriends Katara, a waterbender, and her brother Sokka. They go around and do some stuff, and Aang tries to display some emotions. There’s some evil firebenders, including a banished prince with mercurial motivations, but Aang eventually defeats a small portion of them.

In all honesty though, the characters mostly just wander from location to location simply announcing their intentions. For example, here’s a painfully close to direct quote: Sokka: “Aang, should we go from town to town freeing people and therefore starting a rebellion?” Aang: “Yes, we should.” The characters proceed to do this so-called freeing, but we don’t really get to see it, and it never comes into play ever again. Ever! There’s not really much of an overarching goal for our heroes, so it’s hard to determine why they’re doing what they’re doing, and we can’t really foresee the repercussions of their actions, so every scene is pretty much tension free. The only real objective they have is to defeat those evil firebenders, and our merry crew comes painfully short of achieving even that.

Rather than show us scenes that either explain what’s happening, develop characters, or even just look cool, Shyamalan chooses to include a narrator who simply skips over important bits. “We arrived at the city and soon the princess and my brother became close friends.” Then again, maybe this was Shyamalan’s best choice. He probably realized the acting was so atrocious that there’d be no way Sokka and Princess Yue could possibly have any chemistry. Their only scene together before  (there’s really nothing to spoil so I won’t put a spoiler alert—just don’t see this movie) her death is really just a way to get across more exposition. Sokka: “My grandma would say your hair is odd.” Princess Yue: “I would tell her that it is odd because THREE MINUTES OF EXPOSITION.” I have to commend Seychelle Gabriel though. Her death scene is somehow touching, or at least, I was impressed at how close to touching she was able to make it. It feels sort of silly to have her tell Sokka that she’ll miss him more than he’ll ever know when we’ve never even seen them speak, especially when we’d only met her ten minutes before and our meeting was just some narration, but then again I guess Katara did tell us that they became “friends” and we all know what that means. Somehow, I still wasn’t buying it. Anyway, after the movie, we all agreed that her 1 minute in the limelight was the best part of the whole thing.

Plot and acting aside, the movie still could have been great. Sure I’d rather have those two things, but if Michael Bay has taught us anything, it’s that if you throw in gorgeous special effects, giant explosions, and hot girls, you have a recipe for success. Unfortunately, as I said earlier, this sad excuse for cinema lacked all three. The effects were lousy and, more importantly, relatively rare. Maybe the princess was hot, but these kids are all, well, kids (at least they’re supposed to be), so I can’t really talk about it without wanting to cleanse myself. Or at least pretending that I want to cleanse myself so that society will accept me. This movie advertised itself as an awesome fantasy epic filled with special-effects-driven action. Cool action that was a battle of the elements, something we don’t see too often. Instead, there were under two minutes of action in the entire film, give or take. TWO MINUTES!!! If they just cut most of the horrible exposition away and turned it into action, this would be a fun, albeit non-oscar-worthy movie. Did the bad guy have a cool death? Psh, no way. Four random waterbenders we’ve never seen before lift him into the air and drop him. Cooool. Did Aang do something awesome and unexpected at the end? Psh. He’d just learned to bend water, and a dragon spirit told him to use his new bending power and show the firebenders water, so it came as very little surprise when Aang made a giant wave to destroy scare away the enemies. That’s right. They simply flee when they see the wave. Ahhh, scary! Side note: I know it’s part of the show, but I don’t understand how the firebenders are so powerful when wind dissipates fire, earth blocks fire, and water douses fire. I mean, it’s clearly the worst element.

On another side note, the teaser trailer where Aang is blowing out candles when faced with an oncoming army of thousands of ships was what made me want to see this movie in the first place. “Wow!” I thought. “However will he get out of this situation? I can’t wait to see.” Too bad I’ll never get to see because it never comes up. They fooled me!

Finally, one last example to, err, exemplify what makes this movie so bad: At the very beginning, the words “Book One: Water” flash on the screen, and it wasn’t until about ¾ of the way through the movie that anyone I went with finally decided that we weren’t going to see all the books in one movie. The plot was so beyond us, or maybe below us, that we still thought they might wrap up books 2 and 3 in about 15 minutes, you know, montage style, or, more likely, in a beautiful piece of narration: “And so Aang mastered both earth and fire, thus defeating everyone. The end.” If this makes enough money to spawn sequels that I have to go watch, I’m going to cry myself to sleep. It made it into my bottom 10 movies list.

So please, if for some god-forsaken reason you have to watch The Last Airbender, do yourself a favor and go on a good old fashioned regular bender before you submit yourself to this.

.5/5 stars

Alignment: Unbearable Crap

Written by Russ Nickel

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