Transformers: Dark of the Moon A.K.A. Sentinel Prime & Cybertron vs. Physics

He is Optimus Prime.

Let’s start the way the movie starts: a bunch of explosion-based exposition followed by some exploitation. Dark of the Moon was a brain-crushing, eye-melting, overwhelming, draining, exhausting, soul-sucking experience. To say it was action-packed would be an extreme understatement, and to use understatement would go against everything Transformers stands for. There was, in fact, so much action that I became entirely incapable of rational thought. Then, 40 minutes later, when there still hadn’t been a break in the fighting, even irrational thought was lost to me, and soon I was reduced to a twitching, drooling husk of a man. By the end I couldn’t tell if my overwhelming nausea was due to eating an entire bucket of popcorn, the uncomfortable 3D conversion, or just because that was Michael Bay’s intended effect.

Luckily for me, beautiful women are one of the things that make me feel better (the only time I’ve ever ended up in the ER, I was instantly cured by a busty blonde in a nurse outfit—and I’m pretty sure she was a nurse), so I was hopeful that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley would be able to help me out. If there’s one thing you can count on in a Michael Bay movie—well, besides explosions and over-the-top action, and I guess poorly crafted characters, and, ok, let me rephrase this. One of the things you can count on in a Michael Bay movie is a lot of sexy shots of sexy females, and yet, after the opening close-up of Huntington-Whiteley’s ass, we get nothing! And trust me when I say it’s not because Bay has suddenly gained some respect for women. On the contrary, this film treats the fairer sex with nothing but contempt, and when I notice that a movie is being chauvinistic, it must be truly reprehensible. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s character (Carly, whose name is almost never spoken) does absolutely nothing in the film except to, at one crucial point, sow dissent. Literally her only active role is to make another character jealous. Ugh. The only other female character in the entire film is a totally unreasonable bitch who constantly gets in the way. If you’re going to treat women poorly, at least have them take their clothes off. That’s all I’m saying. Or better yet, portray them with tact and still find a way to get them naked. I dunno. I’m sure it’s doable.

If this were an earlier Transformers film, I'd be able to find a way more revealing screenshot of the girl.

Also, normally I’m into blondes (Blake Lively, anyone?), but Huntington-Whitely just wasn’t that foxy (joke alert!). Even still, she was hot enough, which makes me wonder why she’d end up with Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky. I don’t remember him being particularly annoying or unbearable in the earlier movies, but here he’s nothing more than an entitled asshole. He spends most of his time whining about how unimportant he feels and how he can’t get a job. And when he’s not whining, he’s yelling at people for basically no reason. I mean, I can relate to the being unemployed thing, but I still find it in me to be a somewhat decent human being. It’s not that hard, Sam.

When LeBeouf finally does get a job, it’s a crappy one in the mail room of a company run by John Malkovich, a character whose role in the film is, uh, I don’t have any idea actually. The job serves almost no purpose, but it does allow for the villain to derisively spit “You’re just the messenger” and have it be technically accurate, though he’s referring to Sam’s relationship with the Autobots, a relationship to which the quote doesn’t apply at all. Oh, and it gives Sam the opportunity to have a totally kick-ass pre-mortem one-liner: “I’m just the messenger!!!!” Oh wait. That’s not even slightly cool.

Look at that smug face. Sickening.

You know what else isn’t cool? The way nobody accomplishes anything and nothing makes any sense! At one point early on, Bumblebee (the friendly Autobot!) is training soldiers to land on the backs of Decepticons and take them out that way. Then, during the epic, 2-hour climax (and who doesn’t want one of those?), there’s this great scene where some ground troops distract the bad guys while paratroopers prepare to swoop down from above and destroy them. Except the ground units are incredibly effective, killing the Decepticons with ease. Even still, I was excited to see the paratroopers jump out of the building and kick some ass. I watched them fly through the air, plummeting with purpose, pulling their chutes, and then landing on the ground? What? They didn’t do anything at all except become more ground troops. Yaaaay!

And though I couldn’t tell any of the transformers apart (except there was Optimus Prime, and I think a green one), even I knew that the Autobots were tragically outnumbered. The Decepticons’ plan allows them to teleport in hundreds of their brethren, and there’s like 8 Autobots. Since the human soldiers do jack shit, I don’t really understand how those 8 defeated the entire Decepticon army.

Oh wait. I remember. It’s because NO REASON. That’s right. Kind of like how the Decepticons’ plan is to teleport their entire planet next to earth and then use humans as a slave army to rebuild it. The thing is, I kept having this weird feeling that an advanced robotic species should know enough about gravity to realize that having a second, gargantuan planet closer to earth than the moon would cause the two celestial bodies to crash into each other and explode. I mean, Cybertron was well within the fuckin’ Roche limit.

Self-explanatory.

Whether or not it made any sense, at least we got one good line. As Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy, explains the physics-defying teleportation device in all sorts of technobabble, the bitchy director of the transformer program explains “It’s like some sort of teleportation device!” Thanks, Sigourney Weaver.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This movie was ok. The main problem was that it was stupid and the writing sucked and that I couldn’t handle the intensity of the action. But despite all that, it was sort of enjoyable. For one, the cinematography was notably impressive. There were a lot of very cool sweeping shots and other things I noticed but don’t remember because the rest of the film fried my brain. My brain was also able to determine that the stakes were high. At one point all the Autobots are dead, and the Decepticons are taking over the world and killing a crapload of people. All the heroes basically give up, and everything generally sucks. That was good.

But probably the best thing about this film was Patrick Dempsey a.k.a. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy. I never quite understood why he was such a heartthrob on that show. Sure, he’s attractive, but I always felt that something was just a bit off. That’s why he’s perfect for Transformers. McDreamy was born to play villains. Still as charming, but he uses it for evil rather than sex, or I suppose in addition to sex. I loved hating that slime ball.

Sex AND Villainy. Is there anything that guy doesn't have?

As this review draws to a close, I’m realizing that I didn’t explain what actually happens in this movie, and you know what? I think that’s pretty fitting. I mean, I just watched it, and I certainly don’t know what happened. I walked out of that theater significantly less intelligent than when I walked in, and I literally spent the next hour groaning because my brain hurt so much. I didn’t hate it, exactly. It was just plain bad. Therefore, I give Transformers: Dark of the Moon:

Score: 1.5/5 ¢

Alignment: Unbearable Crap

Alan Tudyk’s gayish butler/bodyguard/former super soldier is incredible. Is there anything that actor can’t do?

Written by Russ Nickel

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X-Men: First Class – Magneto Turns Evil and Xavier Gets a New Ride

And a First Class film it was!

Not since 2003 have we been graced with a truly good X-Men movie, but it seems the curse of the Wolverine has been lifted, for X-Men: First Class is a film that has evolved beyond its ancestors, a film that is equal parts entertaining and compelling, that portrays relatable, human (technically non-human) characters while still placing the fate of the world in their hands. Somehow, amidst a profusion of by-the-numbers superhero movies, a mutant has been born, and its power far exceeds that of the average cinematic experience.

One of the main reasons this film succeeds is because the CGI battles take a back seat to more poignant scenes about mutants grappling with their place in the world. The villain Shaw (Kevin Bacon) believes humans and mutants will never be able to coexist, and since his power allows him to absorb energy, he attempts to provoke Russia and America into nuclear war. In one fell swoop, the war will wipe out a huge percentage of humanity and at the same time provide Shaw with nearly limitless power. The backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a parallel that casts a thought-provoking light on the difficulty of coexistence. For once, an X-Men movie’s plot is poignant and metaphorically effective.

[Mini Spoiler Alert] And it thankfully chooses not to focus on Wolverine for a fifth time. After eleven long years spent watching Wolverine carcajou his way through his problems, it was a nice change of pace to have Hugh Jackman’s role cut down to about 15 seconds of screen time—just long enough to drop the PG-13’s one F-bomb (and it’s a great one). Other than that, however, we’re met with an entirely new cast who manage to make us truly feel for these mutants. [End Mini Spoiler Alert]

They look normal enough, well, except for their movie-star attractiveness levels.

James McAvoy steals the show as a young Charles Xavier. He’s a walking, charming, drinking, womanizing piece of brain who just so happens to be a telepath. It’s nice to see that he’s not that different from us, really. The so-wise-he’s-untouchable Yoda version of Professor X from the prior films is gone, and in his place is someone you feel you could get along with at a party, though he’d probably beat you in a chugging contest. I never truly understood Xavier’s idealism before, but McAvoy shows us that doing the right thing can be a struggle. Xavier feels what all others feel, remembers what they remember. When he reads Magneto’s mind, he is filled with just as much rage, and yet he is somehow able to still walk the path of righteousness. When I noticed how deeply I was reading into his character, it became apparent that this film was incredibly well written. How do you write dialogue for someone who is able to empathize completely with everyone he meets? Personally, I don’t know (and as an aspiring screenwriter, this distresses me), but these guys nailed it.

While there are epic stakes and CGI mutant powers aplenty, this film is mostly about the relationship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr a.k.a. Magneto. Luckily, Michael Fassbender does just as well with Magneto as McAvoy does with the Professor. The two have a genuine rapport, and Fassbender perfectly straddles the line between evil and relatable. After witnessing his life story, you can’t really begrudge him his actions. His parents’ death at the hands of the Nazis left him broken, a man for whom “peace was never an option.”

The movie seemed not to want me to have peace either, since right about the time Magneto’s explaining his situation, I felt this itch on the top of my big toe. I go to scratch it with my flip flop, but I guess there’s a shard of glass in the bottom and I manage to impale it into my foot. Honestly, this must have been poison glass or something, cause suddenly I’m in excruciating pain and can’t focus on anything except not disgracing myself by whimpering like a little girl. I quickly determine the only course of action is to turn on my phone and use the light to perform some mid-movie surgery. But as soon as the phone boots up it gets all the messages it’s missed for the last half hour. “DROID!” it yells. “DROID!” Then “You dare speak to me.” Everyone at the theater’s pissed and I’m bending over in my seat using this totally ineffective light to try to pick some glass out of my toe that feels like it’s been dipped in some terrible, scalding acid. It was HORRIBLE. Now I’m at home writing this review and my foot just keeps getting bigger. I guess I’m a lot more like Beast than Wolverine. Huge feet, terrible at healing.

All I have to win over the ladies is hang upside down by my feet? It's so simple! Why didn't I see it before?

Speaking of Beast, I found his romance with Mystique to be uncharacteristically weak. For a film so good at delving into the hearts of its characters, I was disappointed to see their love story reduced to nothing more than a high-school level cliché. I get it, you’re both blue and neither of you can accept what you’ve become. But if the civil rights movement has taught us anything, it’s that you’re not required to have sex with people who are the same color as you. Branch out a little, blue folk. Then again, this was the early 1960s, so maybe they were just taking care to avoid any anachronisms. Either way, their potential relationship was nothing more than Mystique fawning over Beast with endless doe-eyed gazes just because he also didn’t fit in. I guess he’s probably into the doe-eyed thing though—deer are beasts, right?

Poorly executed romantic entanglements aside, Mystique still brought a good deal of heart to this film. One of my favorite aspects of the X-Men franchise is that Magneto the villain and Xavier the hero share a close bond. Good and evil are more subtle here, shades of gray drawn with the ink of human emotion, rather than unrealistic characters who embody pure justice and malice. X-Men: First Class delivered on this complicated relationship more successfully than I could have thought possible, perfectly portraying the way two groups can be enemies in intent and method, but friends on a personal level. It was in this way that Mystique’s presence was so compelling, for she and Xavier are foster siblings, yet in the end, she sides with Magneto, unable to come to terms with the world Xavier is working toward, a world in which mutants may forever remain downtrodden. The two siblings still love each other, but they are unable to reconcile their differences, and their parting is a touching moment.

Real issues, real relationships, real badass. I never thought I’d like another X-Men film, but it turns out I was wrong. The actors nail these roles, and the script is fantastic, actually making you care about its characters in a way that no superhero film ever has. It’s a great movie!

Score: 4/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold (It just squeaks into the low end of gold. Still, an impressive feat for a superhero movie.)

How did a bunch of drunk kids pick perfect character aliases first try every time? Mutants with powers that make physics look like a set of suggestions is one thing, but there weren’t any mutants with the power of overwhelming creativity on the team, were there? WERE THERE? Ok, sorry. Maybe this is just hitting a little too close to home.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides A.K.A. Mermaids, Zombies, Blackbeard!

Arr. It be a good enough film.

So imagine you’re a mermaid, right? The top half of you is insanely hot. Your hair’s got that sexy, just-came-out-of-the-shower thing going on, maybe the smallest strand of it is stuck to your face. The buoyancy of the water means that your breasts are always bouncing, and somehow your skin never gets pruny. The bottom half of you is kind of fishy, but you’re still fully capable of holding intelligent conversation, of making rational choices, and, most importantly, of feeling human emotion. Look, I understand that you and I are different, but do you seriously have to devour us regular folk? I mean honestly. I don’t eat other people, and do you know why? Because I like talking to them! Because I empathize with them. Because they’re my friends. For god’s sake, there’s a crapload of reasons I don’t eat people. And I don’t see why mermaids should be any different.

Plus, when mermaids are out of the water, their somewhat-less-than-attractive fish tails magically go away and turn into alluring lady parts. On land, they’re completely human! All I’m saying is instead of cannibalistically devouring us homo sapiens, they should just eat fish or something—I’m sure there’s a way. I mean, one of the mermaids is even the center of the main love story. You can’t have it both ways, Pirates of the Caribbean. Either they’re horrible sea monsters who just use their charm to feed, or they’re sexy, briny, love trout. The only way I can even begin to make sense of this, and the movie doesn’t give us much to go on, mind you, is that the mermaids were the guardians of the fountain of youth, and the only reason they were killing people was because they knew these were bad men who would use the fountain for their own, evil ends.

Phew. So as you may or may not have gathered, this new installment of Pirates is about the quest for the fountain of youth, which so happens to be located on an island surrounded by lovely, fangy mermaids. Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the Spaniards (various) are all racing to be the first to unlock the power of the fountain, and these mermaids are hell bent on stopping them. The only person they don’t attempt to kill is a missionary (Sam Claflin). The reason I spent so long ranting about this is not because I disliked the mermaids. Quite the contrary. The mermaid love story was, in my opinion, the most touching and interesting part of the film. The major players were acted expertly, mind you, but they just didn’t have good story arcs. Ian McShane made a menacing Blackbeard, but his character was one note and weak. Geoffrey Rush is one of the best actors of our day, and he lent a great deal of formidability to Captain Barbossa, but his story is nothing compared to his quest to free himself from the Curse of the Black Pearl. And we’ve already seen so much of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sure, he’s great and all, but it’s the random missionary and his mermaid lover (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who manage to capture our imaginations.

Aww, look how cute she is when she's not eating you.

Other than the love story, which feels almost tacked on, this movie is very simple, which is actually a good thing! After a great start to this series, the sequel and threequel were huge letdowns. Each became more mired in its sense of the grandiose. The plots became a tangled jumble of unrelated elements, each more confusing than the last. Impossibly hard to follow, these sequels left audiences with nothing but Johnny Depp’s charm and a good deal of sword fighting. Here, though, the plot is straightforward. Three different groups are racing toward the same goal, and everything comes together nicely. Yet, for all their effort, the film lacks a certain something. The story structure is there, but there’s just no magic to it. Because things are so clearly foreshadowed, there’s no mystery, no surprise, and this makes it nigh impossible to become emotionally invested. I almost nodded off at the beginning, but by the end all I could say was, “Well done, I guess. Things did sort of come together there, didn’t they?”

At least most of the basic plot made sense, because if you start digging a little deeper, this movie is riddled with details that do not add up to two licks of a wench’s tongue on Tuesday. In fantasy, you’re allowed to invent some things, but On Stranger Tides goes too far. In the first film, for example, there’s a curse that causes men to live forever, but their bodies wither away, turning to skeletons. That’s the one example of magic that drives the whole story. Here, however, the writers throw in an endless barrage of unexplained mysteries. Why does Blackbeard’s ship have giant flamethrowers? I don’t think they had that kind of technology back then. And I’ll grant Blackbeard a sword that lets him magically control his rigging, but how does that translate to his being able to capture real life ships in tiny bottles? For that matter, how is Blackbeard able to create zombie deckhands that can’t be killed? And why doesn’t he have more of them? And why is it never important to the story?

"Woah. Watch Where You Point That Thing: An in depth analysis of Blackbeard compensating for something."

Things may not hold together completely, but there’s still a lot to love. This is definitely the 2nd best Pirates movies and will provide a bit of fun for those who decide to go. Thanks to the expert acting, a reasonably well-plotted story, and some compelling missionary mermaid action, I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:

Score: 3.5/5¢

Alignment: Standard Fluff

Mermaids are just too hot for me to believe they’re killing those poor guys. Hot girls can’t possible have bad intentions, right? Maybe they’re just dragging them underwater to the love kelp?

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Nine Alignments Of Movies

If reading’s not your thing, click here to skip ahead a bit. Otherwise…

Before there were movies, before men and women gallivanted in front of a camera, tugging at our heartstrings, before Spielberg and Kubrick and Scorsese, before even time itself, there was a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. At least, it started before I was born, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s right around when time began. My birth was apparently quite a hassle—I came out mouth first and the doctor thought I had a gaping hole in my head. I mean, I did, but he thought it was an unnatural hole when really I was just hungry. After that, it was smooth sailing for 12 or 13 years, until…

Doesn't a game that takes place in your collective imagination sound COOL?!

My friend, tempter that he was, showed me the magical world of D&D. And like any self-respecting nerd, I salivated over descriptions of Barbarians killing things in a raging frenzy, over Druids cavorting sexily with nature, and over Sorcerers who could bend the world to their will thanks to the dragon blood that coursed through their veins. Sure, at high school I was a pimply outcast, but in the game I could be whoever I wanted! I could be powerful! There was no way the jocks could defeat my level 13 Wizard and his maximized fireball spell.

Now I’ve grown up and of course become absurdly popular, but you know that. What you didn’t know is that I owe it all to Dungeons & Dragons. The tools I learned in those books were the keys to understanding and conquering life. Whenever I meet someone, I figure out what Character Class they would be. The hot girl at the party is a Rogue, trying to weasel drinks out of me but hiding her true motives. That guy everyone likes is a Bard, using his charisma and good looks to win hearts and minds, but deep down, he has no real skills. That dude wearing resplendent white full plate and wielding a dazzling longsword in one hand and an oversized cross in another is a Paladin, trying to stamp out evil in the name of God. You see, once I classify my competition, it’s easy for me to navigate the ins and outs of that daunting thing known as “basic human interaction.” But the most important tool by far is Alignment.

There are nine Alignments, each a combination of the two Axes.

I'm pretty sure Descartes died graphing on one of these.

On one side, Law and Chaos, on the other, Good and Evil. Put it all together and it looks a little something like this:

Take a moment to classify yourself, then let me know in the comments so I'll be able to interact with you socially.

If people, complicated beings that they are, could be broken up into 9 easy categories, then why shouldn’t movies? Exactly. They should.

Don’t worry, good citizens. Russ Nickel is on the job.

The system of giving movies stars, thumbs, and scores is as antiquated as it is uninformative. For years, we have abided by these subpar schemes, too afraid to stand up and say enough. But we need fear no longer, for I, intrepid innovator that I am, have devised an entirely new method of judging cinema, and I call it:



The Nine Alignments of Movies






Below, you’ll find each category expertly explained, if I do say so myself.

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Spectacular Gold

We know them when we see them—movies that spin tales so brilliant even Rumpelstiltskin would be proud. They win awards for their acting and direction, but they’re not so artsy that they bore us common folk (not that you’re common). Yes, these are the films that help critics and bumpkins set aside their differences and embrace in the joy of cinema.

My Pick: Gladiator. To answer Peter Graves’ question, I do like movies about gladiators, especially this one. Russell Crowe is a champion (just like all Russells), the plot is poignant, and the action is awesome. It’s nearly universally praised, and it boasts an award for Best Picture.

Other Examples: Forrest Gump, Groundhog Day, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, Pretty much all Pixar movies

—————————————

Spectacular Fluff

The acting may not be award-worthy, the plot may be absurd, and there might be a distinct lack of originality, but these movies are fun dammit! Of medium quality, film snobs will ignore them, but you and I know better. Good work, us.

My Pick: Independence Day. Will Smith entertains with his alien-punching and general badassery, Jeff Goldblum amuses with his ability to hack into a computer system of alien origin when most of us can barely make Windows Vista do what we want, and Bill Pullman rouses our patriotism with his epic speech. Plus, there’s an awesome Russell in this movie too. Unlike him, however, I certainly haven’t quit drinking.

Other Examples: Live Free or Die Hard, Troy, The Notebook, How to Train Your Dragon, Basically every good action movie

—————————————

Spectacular Crap

My personal favorite category. Riddled with terrible dialogue, these movies are endlessly quotable, and the outlandish setpieces are a blast to describe to your friends! Whether it’s wolves on a boat in the middle of a city street or a bus that has to ramp off a freeway because it can’t slow down, these films’ plots are laughably over-the-top, the characters’ motivations are bipolar, and there’s usually a preposterous amount of illogical action. What’s not to love?

My Pick: G.I. Joe. Just listen to this dialogue:

Cobra Commander: “This will only hurt a little. What comes next, more so.” Very reassuring, doc.

Zartan: “Oh. That’s right. You don’t kill women.” Storm Shadow: “For you, Zartan, I’d make an exception.” Buuuuuurn!!!

Storm Shadow: “When our master was killed, you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.” How fitting!

James McCullen: “Once unleashed, the nanomites will not stop. Ever.” They won’t stop EVER?!? That doesn’t sound like a smart plan, seeing as they can eat entire cities.

As for ridiculous action sequences, the Eiffel tower explodes (a digitally embiggened version of the Eiffel tower, no less—you know, to make it more epic), there’s an underwater base that gets crushed when a bunch of ice sinks onto it, and two ninjas duke it out in a giant reactor core. That, my friends, is some Spectacular Crap.

Other Examples: Speed, The Day After Tomorrow, Speed Racer, The Core, Most disaster movies

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Standard Gold

They come out every year, the run-of-the-mill, Oscar-hopeful films. Brimming with great actors, these movies deal with whichever depressing issue currently holds the nation’s attention. The director is probably foreign and it’s almost certainly a period piece. Perhaps a young white boy with a mental disability learns to play the piano with the help of his black football teammate despite the fact that they’re both orphans and everyone on the team persecutes them for their friendship. Or maybe there’s a war on, and only the fastest warhorse the world’s ever seen can turn the tide, but how is it supposed to run with a degenerative leg condition, especially when the only one standing up for him is a plucky cavalryman who’s coping with his homosexuality in an oppressive and close-minded society?

My Pick: True Grit. Great actors? Check: Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Great director? Check: The Coen Brothers. Heartwarming and semi-tragic tale? Check: the drunkard who cares only about himself learns the value of caring about others. The problem is that there’s just not much to this movie. The acting and dialogue are superb, but the story is unexciting. There’s little emotional attachment, and therefore it’s only somewhat enjoyable, even if it is Gold.

Other Examples: Seabiscuit, The Blind Side, Brokeback Mountain, The Pianist, Movies about boxing

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Standard Fluff

Devoid of anything even bordering on original, these films leave absolutely no impression on you. Six months later, you won’t be able to recall more than one or two details, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply means your brain realizes it’s not worth committing the hard drive space to that hour and a half of mindlessness.

My Pick: Clueless. So my parents rented Clueless because they thought it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. We promptly watched it and went on with our lives. A few years later, my parents rented Clueless thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes, I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu, and I say, “I feel like she’s going to get mugged.” My parents brush off the idea as absurd. A mugging in a light-hearted comedy? Never. Then, a few minutes later, boom! She gets mugged. My parents were amazed that I was a psychic, but then we went on with our lives. A few years later my parents rented Clueless, thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu déjà vu. I say the mugging thing, parents brush it off, boom! She gets mugged. I kid you not—we watched this movie THREE times before any of us were able to remember having seen it. Man, were we Clueless. And that, my friends, is Standard Fluff.

Other Examples: I don’t even know. That’s the point right? Every romantic comedy ever. Every subpar action movie. Everything about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Every animated Disney movie in between Mulan and Tangled and all but about three Dreamworks movies.

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Standard Crap

The acting is a few shades short of acceptable, the dialogue is just above cringe-worthy, and the plot is riddled with holes so big you could drive your Hummer through them. Still, you can’t help but enjoy yourself, mostly thanks to the fact that there’s probably a hot girl in it.

My Pick: Fantastic Four. Jessica Alba is good looking. We can all agree on that. And I think some basically entertaining stuff happened. There were special effects and fight scenes and…well I’m not sure what else, but it was enough.

Other Examples: Clash of the Titans, Tron: Legacy, Alexander, Season of the Witch, Most Adam Sandler movies

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Unbearable Gold

It wins all sorts of awards, but for the love of god, why?! Your parents think it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, but apparently we’re jaded since we’ve never known a time when bread required effort on our part. You sit through it because you love your parents, but you’ll harbor that resentment forever. It’s just so slow moving, and there’s so much talking, and Nothing. Ever. Happens.

My Pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Monkeys banging sticks around, 15 minute scenes of a spaceship landing on a planet, 20 minutes of some guy re-experiencing his birth. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, this film is sure to bore anyone who’s seen Star Wars or virtually any other movie. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, and whatever it is goes on for SO LONG. Sometimes I find it hard to keep on living when I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back.

Other Examples: Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Ben-Hur, Master and Commander, Almost anything that’s over 2 hours that adults say you need to watch because it’s a “classic.”

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Unbearable Fluff

With Unbearable Fluff, you’re not quite sure what went wrong. You know you want to stab your eyes out, but you’re almost positive you haven’t slept with your mother. What could it be then? These movies have good actors, maybe even a good premise. You can see how some people might not be driven into a frothing rage by the inanity of it all, and yet you notice foam spewing uncontrollably from your maw. If it were better, maybe you could enjoy it; if it were worse, you could rip on it, but instead it’s in that horrible middle ground, a spiky, castrating, death trap that no one in their right mind wants to straddle.

My Pick: Dinner for Schmucks. ’Twas truly a movie for schmucks. Look at that poster. Even Paul Rudd is ashamed. The only reason he’s involved in this travesty is because he got paid a boatload of money. But what about us saps, the viewers? We had to fork over a very small raft of our own hard-earned moola just to sit through this torture. It had actors with the potential for hilarity, but instead of being funny, this movie was a plodding endeavor in mental anguish. Finally the situations got so painful I had to leave the theater. I wandered around, striking up conversations with the employees I encountered, because I literally could not bear to watch this film. On the plus side, the employees were very friendly.

Other Examples: Meet the Fockers, Across the Universe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Transformers 2, Anything with Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Kevin James, or Ben Stiller that’s more about uncomfortable situations than about clever writing.

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Unbearable Crap

The worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. The unbearablest of the crappiest. These “films” have no redeeming qualities. By the gods, do they suck. Halfway through you have to run to the bathroom to wretch, and the only reason you don’t walk out is because you’re on a hot date. Even that wouldn’t be enough to stop you, but she’s also your ride. If you rented this, you’d watch it on fast forward and then throw the disc in the fire, fees be damned, because you’re doing the world a service by removing even one copy of that abomination from this world. And then you don’t even tell your friends you ever watched it. It’s that embarrassing. Or, if you’re like me, you spend the rest of your mortal existence bashing it, hoping that if you can get enough entertainment out of it that way, maybe, just maybe, the regret and guilt will stop and you’ll be able to sleep again at night.

My Pick: Fucking The Last Airbender. I already spent an entire review explaining why this is my least favorite film of all time, and then I proceeded to give it virtually all of the negative awards in 5¢S’s version of the Oscars, but I’m always willing to write just a little more, for I am driven by a hate so powerful that no matter how much I pour out, I can never be sated. The battle sequences are devoid of excitement and originality, the dialogue is delivered by children who clearly have no grasp on what emotions should look like, and the pacing is too terrible for words. The whole thing is narrated, presumably because Shyamalan was too lazy to explain things with actual scenes, and it was impossible to tell what was going on, though that may have been due to the fact that I spent a great deal of my focus driving a spork into my leg to help distract me from the much greater pain of watching the movie.

Other Examples: The Hottie and the Nottie, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Santa with Muscles, Everything by National Lampoon (ok, except Animal House), Everything by writing team Friedberg and Seltzer (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck, and Scary Movie). If you ignore their first film (Scary Movie, after which they’d used up every idea they ever had), their remaining 5 films have a total of 16% on rottentomatoes.com. 16% total! For 5 films! They’ve been called “evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization’s decline” and “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team.”

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Phew, that was a mouthful. For those of you who managed to read this far, it is now your sworn duty to spread this wonderful, amazing, spectacular and golden new rating system as far and wide as you can manage.

Why? Because it is time for change, my friends. Time to move away from simple numbers and stars. You know as well as I that a 2.5 out of 5 could be a time-sucking romantic comedy just as easily as it could be a life-changingly eyegasming G.I. Joe. It is up to us, armed with this new system, to help viewers everywhere make more informed decisions.

Thus, I rate this post:

Score: 5/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold

If somehow this post leads to internet fame, I swear by Cinæmus, god of film, that I shall sacrifice a small goat in honor of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax.

Written by Russ Nickel

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THOR!!! A Magical Ride on the Bifrost Bridge

By Grabthar's hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be...avenged!”

I was to be married in but a few hours. Someone had to be, and my Sigma Pi brethren had voted that I was the man to forge an alliance with the Delta Delta Delta chapter. I could no more shirk those duties than I could forsake the bonds of brotherhood, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy my last moments of freedom. There was still time, time before I tied the knot, before the metaphorical Bifröst Bridge was shattered and I could no longer travel as I wished, trapped in the realm of married life.

As my final act of bachelordom, I decided to venture to the theater and see the manliest movie I could: THOR! Hold on, I’ll have to come back to this; it’s time for the ceremony…

Soooo…things didn’t quite go as planned. There was apparently a lot of alcohol involved, and I think, in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe my vows were too slurred, maybe my wife didn’t like that I was grinding on all those other girls, or maybe it was the fact that we’d only known each other for half an hour; but no matter the cause, I’m a free man again, and as my first order of business, I’m supplying you lovely internet people with a review.

In Thor, we are presented with an otherworldly hero of extreme power who hails from the planet Asgard. Thanks to his reckless arrogance, he is stripped of his strength and cast out from his home world, forced to live as a mere mortal on the planet known as Earth. Before he can regain his hammer and his power, he must overcome his faults, thus proving that he is fit to be king. Thor’s comic book plot and over-the-top fantasy could have made it unrelatable, but Chris Hemsworth’s grounding performance saves it from such a fate. He’s chiseled enough to fill schoolgirls’ dreams, but more importantly, he really nails this role. He manages to be spoiled and conceited, yet charming. He is a powerful prince and warrior but somehow hilarious. By the end of the film, he’s the kind of hero you love to root for. And then there’s Natalie Portman, every nerd’s dream. She’s as cute as always here, but unfortunately her character is not particularly relevant.

You know, for a crazy homeless person, he's pretty cut.

In fact, Earth itself isn’t particularly relevant. Most of the movie takes place on Asgard, the Asgardians are the main characters, and all the drama and conflict is between their world and Jötunheim, land of the evil frost giants. Earth is involved only tangentially, connected to these other realms by Yggdrasil, the world tree. A whole bunch of mythology is thrown at us, and though I tried my best to catch it, a great deal went over my head. Although I liked all the Asgardians simply because they were attractive and wore shiny clothing, I found it a bit hard to care about them when my old standby, humanity, was left out of the mix. I mean, Earth is never even in any danger! The trailers make it look like all sorts of evil creatures are going to start flooding our cities, threatening to destroy us with robots that shoot fire from their faces. In reality, only one villain ever comes to Earth to destroy anything. And in fact, its only purpose is to capture Thor—it’s got nothing against us puny humans!

And man are we puny. Natalie Portman’s apprentice tazes Thor, but that’s about the most any of us evolved apes does. Portman herself is just in the movie as a shallow love interest to fulfill the hero-learns-humility-by-falling-in-love trope. Not to say that I wouldn’t fall for her immediately, but Thor spends only one or two days on Earth, and there are very few scenes of him and Portman interacting at all. He does appeal to the scientist in her, however, saying “The answers you seek shall be yours, once I claim what is mine.” (Which, incidentally, is how I’m going to be hitting on all women from now on.) Their romance just didn’t hold water for me, especially since [Minor Spoiler Alert] the movie ends with them worlds apart, longing for each other. There simply wasn’t enough time for their relationship to go from whirlwind romance to the “I’ll spend my life searching for a way to travel through space so we can be together” phase. [End Spoiler Alert]

I am going to be so attracted to their children. Err, you know, when they're grown up.

While those faults keep this movie from achieving true greatness, they certainly don’t prevent it from being basically awesome. Thor is a great character, the other worlds are breathtaking, and there’s a good balance of action and comedy. Plus, Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard, is undeniably badass; he wields a giant golden sword, sports a matching horned helmet, and has bright orange eyes that can see across the cosmos. Also, he’s literally immune to being frozen to death.

Be afraid, children. Heimdall sees EVERYTHING

The only actually bad part of the movie was when Thor supposedly dies. [Spoiler Alert] The main character DOES NOT DIE! I know it’s shocking, but it’s the truth. He’s lying there, all dead like, and the camera just keeps lingering and lingering on a close up of his face. Finally, he grabs his hammer and surges back to life, more powerful than ever now that he’s proven he’s willing to sacrifice himself. The moment is painfully cheesy, and yet, somehow, I found myself cheering. [End Spoiler Alert]

When it comes down to it, Thor is your basic superhero movie. Even though it’s not too original and there’s little sense of danger, the characters are eminently likable, the CGI is stunning, and the action is fun. It’s a lighthearted film, and  unless you try to follow the mythology of it all, you won’t have to think too hard.

Score: 3.5/5 ¢

Alignment: Spectacular Fluff

Most worthless character: Hogun, the token Asian Warrior. All he did was repeat what the other characters were saying in a much more ominous, Asian-y way.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Fast Five: aka Vin Diesel Beats the Shit Out of The Rock

Vin Diesel vs. The Rock. ‘Nuff said.

What’s that, blog reader? It’s not enough? Oh, I see. Here goes, then. The Fast and the Fiveous is a high octane thrill ride that speeds along at a frantic pace, leaving plot and character in the dust. But that’s ok, because all we care about is who wins the race. The movie gets into gear with the opening scene and never lets up. Sure, it’s low quality. I know, the writing is bad and the characters’ choices make no sense. And yes, watching Vin Diesel try to smile is a painful experience. But in the end, you’ll find the whole thing stupidly entertaining.

In fact, it was so stupid that my brain sort of shut off while I was watching and I’m having serious trouble coming up with anything useful to say. Did I already mention that Vin Diesel fights The Rock? Basically, if that sounds good to you, you’re gonna love this movie. Otherwise, steer clear. But if you feel like reading on, be warned that my mind is not firing on all six cylinders. Five Fast Five Furious picks up where the last one left off (as if anyone’s keeping track), with Dom (Vin Diesel) in jail. It takes all of 30 seconds for some stunt driving to flip the prison transport bus he’s on, sending Dom twirling towards freedom–and man does it flip, over and over and over and over, until it comes to its final resting place. Boom: title screen. What an opening. Though there were only 6 people in the theater, it immediately filled with cheers. The movie must have anticipated my fear for all those poor prisoners’ lives, for shortly after the title, we get a news report assuring us that no one was harmed. Dom and co. would never hurt an innocent prisoner.

From there, we launch into a kickass train sequence with all sorts of fighting and stunts that would leave the main characters dead a dozen times over (I’m looking at you, 500 foot fall off a cliff). But who cares? It’s awesome! That’s sort of the theme of Fiveous in case you hadn’t noticed. Unlike Source Code, which fails because it tries to be smart but is instead riddled with errors, this movie succeeds with flying colors. It tries to be dumb, so we watch it on its own terms, accepting everything that doesn’t make sense.

For example, the characters are totally weak and one-note. Doesn’t matter how many cops Vin Diesel kills. He’s not a bad guy. He just loves his sister and gets put in tough situations. We feel so much empathy for that dude. Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) isn’t just a cop who turned against the force and became a car-stealing criminal. No, he’s a guy with a wife. How can you not feel for him? Especially when his wife is extra hot. She is, after all, the lovely Jordana Brewster. She doesn’t do a whole lot, but not only does she have an amazing body, but also she’s pregnant. Gotta care about her if she’s got a baby in her belly. The characters make all sorts of irrational decisions and have no depth, but they’re exactly good enough.

The cops are even worse though. Dwayne Johnson’s motivations are all over the place, and his sexy partner lets her lust for Vin Diesel’s muscles get in the way of her job time and again. In another film, these might be problems, but in Five Furious, everything’s already so ridiculous we just don’t mind. Like I said, we get to see Vin Diesel fight The Rock. That’s all I need, and it’s probably the highlight of the movie. My friends and I kept shouting “Ohhhh” when someone would land a particularly devastating blow (which happened like every other punch). I’m pretty sure the other 3 members of the audience were as into it as we were.

When people weren’t fighting or smashing things, the movie did start to drag, however, and not the race sort of drag. Every once in a while I’d catch myself actually listening to the dialogue, which was a big mistake, because I’d overhear things like this: There’s a basically uncharacterized Hot Girl repairing part of a car or something. The also uncharacterized Asian Guy walks up and says: “You really like doing that stuff, huh?” Hot Girl thinks a normal response to that question might be something along the lines of: “When your life is on the line–that’s when you learn about yourself.” Then Asian Guy says: “That’s a fair deal.” Deal? What deal? Are these people even talking to each other? The exchange makes absolutely no sense, which apparently gets Hot Girl off, cause next she flashes this overly flirtatious look, followed by a cut away. What a beautiful scene. But hell, when the two of them hook up while driving at the end of the film (very dangerous. do not recommend), I was happy for them. Why not?

Why not? I’m pretty sure that’s what the screenwriter must’ve said whenever someone questioned one of his scenes. But it works! I mean, this is an action movie first and foremost. Whether or not it’s a good film boils down to one thing: how much did it kick ass? The answer to that question, my friends, is A Lot. I mean, Dom literally rips a 20 ton bank vault out of a wall. Before this movie, if you’d ask me how many times I could be entertained by seeing a giant bank vault smash a cop car while being dragged along the street chained to two sleek racing vehicles, I’d probably have said four or five times. But now I  know the truth. It’s dozens and dozens of times. Scores of times! Vault smash this car. Vault smash that car. Vault smash one car. Vault smash two cars. I think the movie actually states that the vault smashes every single cop car in all of Rio. A very impressive feat by anyone’s standards, to be sure.

There ya go. Fast Five is pretty awesome. Shut off your brain and turn on your, I dunno, eyes? If you go to this expecting B-grade entertainment, you’ll have a great time. Fast Five does a surprisingly good job of keeping up the excitement at all times, and as long as you don’t listen to the dialogue, there won’t be a single dull moment.

Score: 3.5/5 ¢
Alignment: Spectacular Crap

Was anyone else constantly afraid that Mia might have a miscarriage when she was jumping off of roofs and crashing through windows and flying around hairpin turns?

Written by Russ Nickel

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Flashback Review – Psycho: An Unbalanced Film

I haven’t showered in days. My cute lab partner keeps giving me these disgusted looks, and even my cats are starting to avoid me. It all began when I woke up from a nightmare around 3 a.m. one night and decided to watch Psycho alone in the pitch dark. I wasn’t scared or anything, I just, you know, haven’t wanted to take a shower since then. Even worse, I’ve no longer been able to maintain an iota of normalcy in my interactions with taxidermists. I always get this overwhelming urge to flee now, especially when they start talking about their mental illnesses and love for dead things. But such is life.

Ruined taxidermical relationships aside, Psycho was a film of singular value and quality whose ingenuity actually ended up detracting from its greatness. There is much to be gained by breaking away from convention, and Hitchcock has certainly done that here, but in the end, conventions exist because they make for good storytelling, and there’s a reason Psycho’s formula isn’t often replicated.

After some wiggly credits in which the word “psycho” dances around, the film opens with a bedroom scene that was apparently quite racy for its time (spoiler: she’s in a bra). We see Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) whispering sweet nothings to her lover, Sam (John Gavin), lamenting their unfortunate state. If only the pair had more money, they could have a real life together. It’s actually a very compelling scene, and from the first minute of Psycho, I was hooked.

For a while, the movie only gets better. When Marion heads to work and $40,000 in cash is placed in her care, I never thought for a second that she’d abscond with it. You’re used to main characters being good people, so when she stole the money, I was totally surprised (Hitchcock: 1; Russ: 0). After that, things keep getting more intense. Her boss sees her driving; a police officer taps on her window; and the used car salesman doesn’t believe her story. Every moment was an inspired scene of mounting thrills, and it was satisfying to see how bad Marion was at all of this lying and deceit stuff. How was she was going to pull it off?! For 45 minutes, we follow her story, becoming ever more invested, until she ends up at the Bates Motel and has dinner with a creepy taxidermist whose mother puts mine to shame in the overbearing department.

Before I go on, let me simply say that whenever you manage to create a scene an entire population remembers, you’ve succeeded. There’s no arguing that. When you implant a screeching sound so heavily into the public consciousness that any single person can hum it, instantly conjuring to mind images of a shower, a knife, and some Hershey’s Syrup swirling down a drain, you deserve a lavish amount of praise. Thanks to my being a so-called member of society, it came as no surprise when, around the 45-minute mark, Marion was killed (Hitchcock: 1; Russ: 1).

I had finally beheld the shower scene! I was elated, and then suddenly, I was left without a main character, and yet still an hour remained. I continued to watch, but nothing could get me excited again (err, about the movie). I’d spent 45 minutes getting to know Marion, worrying for her, hoping for her, and now she was gone, the only one left in her wake the freakish Norman Bates. But he’d only just been introduced. Why should I care about him? The film spends the next hour throwing random characters at you in waves—a private detective; Marion’s sister; the cynical sheriff—hoping that Norman Bates’ utter creepiness can sustain the film, but it’s not enough.

Why do we root for characters in movies? It’s because the story helps us understand their motivations. We can relate to their situation. Whether or not we like the person, whether or not they’re good or evil, something about them makes them human in our eyes, and we want them to succeed. I wanted that for Marion, but I didn’t care about Norman Bates. If this is meant to be a mystery movie, then it felt like an unpolished episode of CSI or Columbo. By now, writers have realized that you need to kill off the girl in the first 5 minutes. You establish the mystery, and then watch the real main character unravel the story.

Then again, the film is entitled “Psycho,” so it’s probably supposed to be viewed as a psychological thriller or even a character study. If it’s the former, then Psycho packs far too few thrills. The shower scene is the only real one, for as I’ve said, we don’t care enough about the detective to fear for his life. If it’s a character study, then Norman Bates needed a lot more screen time. He’s not introduced until far too late, and even then, we get only a few scenes with him. And we don’t actually witness much of his psychosis. The eventual twist did catch me completely by surprise (Hitchcock: 2; Russ: 1), but it felt a bit silly, and the way it was so fully explained (again by a completely new character) was the opposite of subtle. The viewer couldn’t possibly have predicted the ending, for there is far too little characterization of Bates. It’s 2011, and audiences have now been inundated with movies whose twists rely on multiple personalities, and while Psycho laid the groundwork, the formula has since been improved upon.

For all that, the acting was always compelling, especially Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, who, when he did get screen time, teetered masterfully between charming and creepy. The writing was often superb, the final voiceover a chilling note that leaves you shaken. And there’s no denying Psycho’s cultural impact. But in the end, Psycho is praised thanks not to its innate quality, but because it paved the way for slasher films and multiple personality twists, genres that have gained subtlety and depth since 1960.

3/5 Stars

I think I’ll go take that shower now. I mean, what do I really have to fear anyway? Norman wouldn’t even harm a fly.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Source Code Should Get with the Program

Suddenly, I came to a horrifying realization: Source Code was going to start without me. Still hoping to defy the odds, I drove downtown at a breakneck 25 miles per hour, flying up to every stop sign (then stopping) and racing through green lights. It was 8:17, 7 minutes past opening, and I still needed to find parking.

I circled the block once, but there were no spots, and I just ended up back where I’d started, like nothing had changed. Yet I knew the clock was still ticking. I decided to make another circle. There was the theater; there was the ticket box. It was the same block, but it was different. A parking spot! This time I knew what to do. How had I missed it before? I pulled in and jumped out of the car, happy to finally find freedom. Soon I was in the theater, and it was like I’d stepped into an alternate dimension.

For all that, I still missed the first 30 seconds, so I admittedly can’t be entirely sure that the movie didn’t meet my expectations. That opening shot could’ve been life-changing, but somehow I doubt it. I think probably my hopes were just too high. A sci-fi thriller told in the style of Groundhog Day? How could that not be the best thing ever? Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies, and I tend to love any film whose structure defies the norm. The end-to-start style of Memento twisted my mind into knots, and I spent days discussing its every mystery. Vantage Point’s multiple, well, vantage points, raised it from blasé formula to edge-of-your-seat suspense. And the half-crazed chronology of 500 Days of Summer told us a tale of romance in the way we usually perceive it: scattered thoughts remembered seemingly at random. Each time, structure was perfectly united with story, creating that movie magic we so love.

Unfortunately, in Source Code, the time loop gimmick merely forwards a dull plot and hardly serves a higher purpose. The conceit of this film is that Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is able to relive the last 8 minutes of a different man’s life (in this case someone named Sean Fentress), using the time to investigate the facts surrounding his death. You see, Sean died in a train bombing, and it’s up to Captain Stevens to relive those 8 minutes over and over until he can figure out what happened, thus preventing a second bombing set to take place in just a few hours. Now, a variety of characters repeatedly state that finding the bomb is Captain Stevens’ main purpose, so you’d think the task would prove to be relatively difficult. You’d be wrong. He finds it in like 10 minutes. That’s ok, though, because what’s actually important is finding the bomber. Surprise! It takes him like 2 tries. There are no twists, almost no misdirects, and things happen so fast that ultimately, there’s no tension. We get only one scene in which Stevens impresses us with his foreknowledge, and the things he knows about are as exciting as spilled soda. Spilled soda!

Jake Gyllenhaal may be more charming than a street performer with a basket full of snakes, but even he can’t bring Captain Colter Stevens to life in this straightforward story that eschews twists and thrills in trade for, I don’t know, romance or something. The trailer bills Source Code as sci-fi action with a girl tossed in, but there’s not a single action sequence. Sure, the train blows up every 8 minutes, but it’s much more melodramatic than it is awesome. And the science fiction–don’t even get me started on the science fiction!

Too late. I got started. Now, Groundhog Day is a classic because science is cast aside, leaving room for that little thing known as character growth. Rather than try to explain why Bill Murray is caught in a time loop, the writers spend all their time taking him from unlikeable cynic to lovable romantic. Source Code, on the other hand, feels compelled to explain things to us, but its half-hearted attempt only leaves us feeling more confused than ever before. The ‘source code’ itself is described with Star Trek style technobabble, then made into a painfully simple analogy. Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) explains how everything works, saying, “It’s uh…quantum mechanics, parabola calculus…when a light bulb turns off, there’s an afterglow…the brain is like that.” Wow. Sounding real smart, doc. Source Code tries to prove how cool its premise is by throwing pseudoscience at us, but it never really matters since most of the movie actually takes place not in the ‘source code,’ but in reality, where we spend so much time that the train plot falls by the wayside, making Captain Colter’s ultimate success seem secondary and irrelevant.

While his triumph over terrorists is implausible at best, his skill with women is even less likely. In just a few iterations of the train fiasco, Colter is able to woo the lovely Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan). This is especially creepy for two reasons. First, Colter is literally stealing the identity of a guy that Christina obviously has some interest in. Now, for most of the film, Colter has to keep up the façade for only 8 minutes, but what happens afterward? Someday, Christina will find out that Colter is not in fact Sean Fentress, but is instead some hardcore war veteran on a top secret mission who, for all intents and purposes, has killed the guy Christina was interested in by taking over his body! How’s she going to feel about that (probably the way most women feel when that happens)? Second, Colter has fallen for this girl in just a few hours, and she has fallen for this new, more exciting version of Sean in literally 8 minutes. I know love happens fast in movies, but 8 minutes is just embarrassing.

There you have it. I love non-linear storytelling, but only when it’s done well and serves the plot. Here, it didn’t quite come together. Things happen too quickly, and nothing is particularly believable.

2/5 Stars

I know I railed quite a bit, but if the screenwriter had wanted to keep things on track, he should’ve trained more.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Flashback Review: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is a film of verifiable value, vetted by viewers both venerable and vernal. Victor and villain alike vivify this version of sovereign violence, a vicious and venomous violation of governmental volition. But valiant V, vexed by these vile and vindictive vices, evolves into a vigilant vanguard, vowing to revive virtue. Viewing such valor vindicates the conviction that this movie is a valid investment, a vibrant venture not devised in vain.

I’ve always found dystopian film and literature compelling. I railed against 1984’s annihilation of individual thought. I rallied behind Christian Bale’s change of heart in Equilibrium. And as an English Major, nothing angered me more than the book-burning senselessness of Fahrenheit 451. V for Vendetta is a film that paints such a strong picture of an overbearing government, develops with such skill the fear of the people, and so deftly raises its main character from terrorist to idealistic freedom fighter, that it deserves to be heralded as one of the greatest dystopias in recent memory. Its unique artistic style, compelling dialogue, and sublime acting weave together into a tapestry of excellence.

The year is 2020, and the condition of the world is, shall we say, subpar. America is in the throes of a second civil war, and across the pond, a deadly virus, thought to be the work of terrorists, has left Britain in a state of fear. Using that fear to gain more and more control, High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) has managed to cow his people. A purveyor of art and champion of idealism, the masked man known only as V (Hugo Weaving) rises up to take a stand against the imperious chancellor.

The plot is made all the more thrilling by the film’s unconventional pacing, sequences of high tension and of quiet contemplation intermingled—a mounting crescendo of elevated emotion and profound introspection, ever building toward a poignant and powerful finale. The movie starts off with a bang, and from the moment V delivers his astonishingly alliterative address to love interest/disciple Evey (Natalie Portman), we’re hooked. Then, when tension is nearly at its highest, the film veers away from the main plot, as a fellow prisoner passes Evey a scribbled autobiography during her incarceration. We are whisked away to another time, another place, and are told a tale of love and of sorrow. I can think of no other film that takes such a protracted break from the main conflict, but the Wachowskis pull it off expertly, using the time to show us how truly terrible this new regime is, and our breath of fresh air from the action leaves us wanting, so when it resumes, we are all the more engaged.

Natalie Portman gives us a stellar performance in Evey, who is both compelling and relatable, but it is Hugo Weaving who truly shines. Allowed to portray V through only his voice and body language, he still conveys more emotion than most main characters. Bereft of facial expressions, his head-tilts and hand gestures become all-important, and when matched with Weaving’s arresting voice, a sublime character is formed.

Dipping heavily into the inkwell of symbolism, the Wachowskis have crafted something much deeper and more literary than their previous endeavors. While The Matrix addressed issues of religion and morality, it catered more toward effects than true philosophy; this film, while still visually impressive, succeeds in layering substance beneath spectacle. For example, when V finally gains his freedom, escaping from a prisoner-testing facility, he is surrounded by flame. Then, when Evey reaches a similar freedom, she flees to the rooftops, engulfed in the pouring rain. The juxtaposition of fire and water brings about such an eye-catching parallel that I was left stunned, but more importantly, it shows that V and Evey are connected not only in name and in goal, but by nature itself. Theirs is a relationship of the deepest level. In another symbolic moment, V sets up thousands of dominoes, then knocks them over, a breathtaking chain reaction that ends up spelling out his name. Akin to a series of dominoes, V’s plan is so multifaceted that if even a single piece is out of place, he will fail.

Even the main character himself is a symbol. He wears a mask, a faceless representation of freedom and courage. He represents the downtrodden. He represents hope. He represents the idea of being more than just a man, more than just flesh and blood. He is change personified. In one of his better lines (Who am I kidding? They’re all good.), he tells the evil, second-in-command Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”

Beneath the mask of a special-effects driven comic book movie, there is an ingenious script, and that level of writing is a rare thing indeed. The chancellor’s every speech incited in me palpable hatred, and I couldn’t wait to see him brought down. V’s every word brought me to new levels of idealism, making me question my own beliefs and relative apathy. Should I not try to be an agent of change in a world filled with misfortune? V’s morality moved me to tears more than once, and I could barely breathe by the end, stirred by the way the people began to believe in his message.

While some might claim that the villains are one-note to the point of parody and that their deaths are over-the-top in their grotesqueness, this film knows that it lies firmly in the grasp of metaphor; these characters exist as extreme examples meant to be taken symbolically rather than literally. In the end, V for Vendetta is a movie that is stunning on both a visceral and emotional level. It is well-written, well-acted, and stylistically revolutionary. Wachowskis, you’ve done it again.

5/5 Stars.

Can you believe they actually had 4 professional domino people spend 200 hours setting up 22,000 dominoes just for that one shot. How do you even get that job?

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Lincoln Lawyer, the Film that Never Ends

If you read my Sucker Punch review, then you know a little bit about O‘ahu and all the totally fun things you can do there. In fact, we were having such a good time with the rain and lack of surf that when it came to our last day of break, we decided to go to the movies…again, only this time we had to walk the 3 miles there, and we were late, and it was hot out. Who knew that three, shirtless, power-walking dudes would get so many cheers and catcalls? That’s right. Hawaii thinks I’m sexy.

After showing up to the theater sunburned and pouring sweat and getting told by a manager that clothing at this particular establishment was not in fact optional, we settled into what was a perfectly good but rather forgettable thriller. And that’s how I think this review will end up: Thrilling!…or forgettable. One or the other.

Anyway, I don’t remember how the movie started, but I do remember that lawyer Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) was a great character to root for. He’s charming and slimy in all the right places. He hires a guy to pretend to be a reporter, then talks him out of filming in order to keep heat off his client. As far as the client knows, Haller has complete control over all cameramen. Amazing! Haller loves his daughter and is on good terms with his ex-wife and is friends with a bike gang, and damn, what a good-looking guy that McConaughey is.

For all that, he’s no Tom Cruise–level lawyer from A Few Good Men, which I finally saw last night. I can’t believe it took me so long to not be able to handle the truth! I’ve been waiting for that for so long. Anyway, The Lincoln Lawyer is much more of a mindless beach-read, but it does a great job of being what it is. The thrills keep increasing in intensity, for not only is the courtroom setting nerve-wracking, but there starts to be real danger outside the office as people get killed off and the mystery weaves its way into Haller’s life.

There are twists aplenty, to the point that the person sitting next to me kept gasping and squeaking in fear and excitement. The twists were just unexpected enough, the acting never got in the way of anything, and the pressure was always on.

I enjoyed myself pretty much the whole time, and if I were a betting man, which I am, I’d put money on your liking it too. Still, there were some problems. For instance, the ex-wife: completely unnecessary. I’m sure she’s a relevant character in the book, but she doesn’t actually add anything to the film, thematically or plot-wise. In my opinion, they should’ve just cut her and found some other way to scare Haller, rather than relying on threats to a family to which his ties are tenuous at best.

Oh, and there’s some shameless product placement that was jarring and painful. When Haller is carrying his daughter home after their dad date, she’s holding this bright red AMC popcorn bag, then later it cuts to a scene of Haller and his ex-wife talking, and the first thing the wife says is “Who knew 3-D movies could be so much fun?!?!!” in this over-the-top “this is an advertisement” voice that reminded me of the wife in The Truman Show. Why advertise AMC to people who are already at the movies? It reminds me of when they used to have those “Don’t download movies” messages before the trailers. Preachin’ to the choir, man. Preachin’ to the freakin’ choir.

Last and the opposite of least, this movie has no ending whatsoever. The evidence is starting to mount against the bad guy, Haller is just about to be all kinds of awesome, and you can’t wait for the moment you get to see Haller kick ass in the courtroom and put away Mr. Evil for life, but instead a minor character pops in and informs us that everything worked out. There’s absolutely no catharsis. Your emotions are all pent up…and that’s how they stay. It’s especially obvious in the final scene as the bike gang pulls up alongside Haller’s car and you’re worried they’re going to betray and kill him. You know some manner of horrible thing is going to happen because otherwise why would this scene be there. I mean, the movie’s got at least 15 minutes left, right? WRONG! It’s just over. The bikers are all friendly and un-twisty.

Thrilling the whole time, but nothing new, plus that bad ending left a sour taste in my mouth.

2.5/5¢

Also, don’t watch the trailer. It gives away one of the twists, and though it’s not the most surprising twist, it’s certainly important.

Written by Russ Nickel

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