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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

REVIEW - "Hot Fuzz" (2007)

Often when I see comedies I have to be with friends or family in order to enjoy it fully. Their laughing infects me and often helps me find what is happening on screen even funnier. As I sat alone through “Hot Fuzz” I realized I was laughing a lot harder than I normally do on my own. Perhaps the fact it’s spoofing off of a genre I grew up with made it that much more intense. Or perhaps the writing was just that genius. Whatever the case, “Hot Fuzz” is one of the most enjoyable films I’ve sat through since the “Evil Dead” trilogy—And that’s saying a great deal.

Writer and star Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angle, a London police officer with such high honors, skill and brains, his colleagues decide to ship him to the country where he can stop making everyone else look bad. There he finds an incompetent partner, Danny Butterman, who is obsessed with buddy cop movies like “Bad Boys 2” and “Point Break” and wishes he could “fire two guns whilst flying through the air.” (Although Angle denies he’s ever done that and admits his distaste for firearms.)

The town he’s shipped to has a very low crime rate and is possibly one of the friendliest towns in existence. Of course, not everything is what it seems and when “accidents” begin happening all over the small country town Angle goes in to action. This, of course, leads to a spectacular finale, spoofing off action movies in the funniest and yet most respectful way possible.

It occurs to me that writer Simon Pigg and director Edgar Wright are huge fans of the action genre, but also understand how absurd it is. Yes, Angle and Butterman end up flying through the air with two guns in their hands blazing. Yes, a spectacular gunfight ensues with our heroes hitting every mark they can, but the villain(s) missing them at close range with machine guns. Yes, a car flies through the air and remains flying, ever so dramatically, for what seems like minutes.

These throwbacks at the action genre seem rather subtle, but when it’s talked about so much throughout the movie, it’s just that much funnier when executed! Even the one-liners get a lot of exposure. “I feel like I should say something smart.” Angle says after a tough battle and a helicopter flies over them in slow motion to signify everything’s ok. As if the Calvary has arrived.

As one could probably tell, the chemistry between these two characters "is off the chain!" Danny wants to be an action hero and Angle doesn’t believe anyone like that exists. So the entire movie is basically building these two hysterical characters up to be badass action heroes. Timothy Dalton, who plays a cheesy store manager, almost steals the show, but he’s kept off screen long enough for the audience to focus on the heroes. Though when he’s on screen he’s a treat!

The only drawback to film seems to be the gratuitous gore that pops up now and then. For a movie that’s far more enjoyable than “Grindhouse”, I can’t stress this enough—This is not “Grindhouse”! It just seemed funny one or two times and pointless the rest of the time. I suppose I should’ve expected nothing less from the creators of “Shaun of the Dead” though.

Ultimately, gore is not enough to hurt your enjoyment. Once someone’s head explodes you forget about it immediately and remember the absurdity of the situation. You might just find yourself smiling for no reason simply because the whole movie is out of whack—Almost like it tries to take itself seriously in order to be funnier. In the end you remember why action movies can be enjoyable and wish you could kick ass like Angle. This will probably remain one of the most enjoyable movies of the year!

***½ out of ****

REVIEW - "Next" (2007)

I’ve got very mixed feelings about this movie. I enjoyed…I think. The thing is several years ago, when I was much younger, I would’ve thought this was the coolest movie. But a lot of what’s happening in “Next” just seems too familiar and too overdone to take seriously. It feels like “The Dead Zone” meets “24” and both shows end up being superior to this film.

The film’s star, Nicholas Cage, plays Chris Johnson, a Vegas magician with a real gift—He can see the future. But there’s a limit to this gift. He can only see two minutes ahead and it must pertain to his own life. Despite the drawback the FBI, lead by Callie Ferris and played by Julianne Moore, try to track down Chris and use his ability to find Russians in possession of a nuclear bomb. The Russians also catch wind of Chris and try to kill him before the FBI can grab him. Meanwhile, Chris discovers he can see much further in to the future when he's with a girl, played by Jessica Biel. Of course the Russians capture her, the FBI grabs Chris and a whole mess erupts.

When I say "mess" I’m not sure if I mean the situation or the movie. Cage does a good job playing the clucky Chris who seems to be a meaninglessly awkward person. Julianne Moore is naturally believable in her role-- Hell I even liked Biel. But the movie’s characters take a very contrived route. The love story between Chris and Biel’s Liz has nearly no substance to it. He meets her for the first time in his life and in 24 hours or less he makes it in bed with her. Furthermore, Liz seems to make the most confusing decisions for no reason. She’s a very muddled character. The Russian villains are nearly forgettable. I suppose they had to be introduced to make the movie work, but they’re unappealing and laughably sinister. The Russian’s small talk with his superior is so bad it would’ve been better suited as a spoof in “Hot Fuzz”.

The film seems to be needlessly over-dramatic following the Russian scenes. Moore spits orders that seem to take up 10 pages of lines in just a few seconds. Again, it seemed better suited for a spoof. And for an FBI agency that has endless resources and access to an absurd amount of video footage I question how they were so easily followed by the Russians trying to kill Chris.

Originality is not a strong suit either. Many of Chris’s visions seem to be lifted from the television series “The Dead Zone” and the more original visions are too strange to really accept. It seems knowing the future gives Chris the ability to be a superhuman and take down five federal officers with ease. At least “The Dead Zone” gave its main character restraint with this concept; Chris is basically unstoppable in any immediate situation. Meanwhile, the FBI acts more like a poor man’s CTU from “24”. The security of the FBI building is horrid!

On a better note, the movie seems to work as a fun action/thriller. If you check your brain at the door and accept what is going on it can be enjoyable. Some of the visions of the future, while ridiculous, are kind of fun to watch. The characters are still likable and the concept has always intrigued me. The ending, however, will throw you off. For some, it’ll be interesting enough to satisfy. For most, and I don’t mean to spoil anything, but they’ll feel cheated—Like maybe they just sat through a certain season of “Dallas”. It’s not all bad and I wish I could say better things about it, but to see a far better version of “Next”, go check out “The Dead Zone” Season 1. It’ll satisfy more.

*½ out of ****

REVIEW - "Grindhouse" (2007)

The first thing you must remember when walking in to “Grindhouse” is that yes, you are watching two full-length feature films. And yes, they are both b-movies. This is an odd movie to review because it is a double feature and a really unique throwback to the grindhouse concept. For those who don’t know, the "grindhouse" were small theaters stationed at large cities around the country showcasing double and even triple features that exploit violence, sexuality and everything else a soccer mom would detest. While the concept is brought to almost perfect light under Tarantino and Rodriguez, I wonder if they were trying TOO hard. Because we are dealing with two movies, I’ll review them separately.


I actually enjoyed Robert Rodriguez’s film the most. “Planet Terror” is an apocalyptic zombie flick that decides to push the R rating further than it’s ever been. A small town led by a gun wielding bad-boy, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), and his long time love interest, Cherry (Rose McGowan), combine forces to survive the onslaught of “infected” people. (Infected by what? Don’t know.) Cherry loses her leg to some zombies and ends up walking on a stick leg for a while. Later, when the entire town bands together to fight, Cherry is given a machine gun leg to do battle with the zombies (“sickos”) and post-Iraqi soldiers who are infected, but are able to maintain control of themselves.

To be honest, I’m a little confused as to how it all works, but does it really matter? It’s a b-movie, ass-kicking, zombie flick with a girl that has a machine gun leg. The answer is no. It doesn't matter. The movie litters itself with cheesy clichés, bad one-liners and even a “missing reel” just when a sex scene gets steamy. It’s quite a laugh and a fun ride.

The movie is actually very coherent and utilizes all the main characters to their fullest extent. It seems silly talking about character development in a movie as purposefully stupid as this, but it’s true. This film does a better job at bringing its characters full circle than most serious dramas do these days. Everything adds up to a rip-roaring finale of cheers and explosions before ending on an appropriately refreshing note.

As funny and entertaining as the movie can be, the violence made up more of the movie than I had hoped it would. For some gore maniacs this will be a treat. The stick leg going in to eyeballs, testicles being stepped on and tongues squirting blood will be great for them, but I was rather repulsed. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as gratuitous to me if scenes of testicles falling apart and bubbling skin excreting goop were minimized. Did I mention a person puking up his own testicles?

I realize this type of extreme violence is part of the grindhouse concept, and looking at it that way it’s superb. But the intensity that “Planet Terror” was set on wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a fun flick, and probably the better movie out of “Grindhouse”. But for me, it would’ve been more fun without the constant reminder of what bloody testicles look like.

*** out of ****


I was actually looking forward to Tarantino’s film the most. But as it turns out, “Planet Terror” was where the real fun was. On the other hand, I was sick of the gore by now and “Death Proof” offered a lot less red goo than the previous film. (And testicles.) Furthermore, Kurt Russell gives one his most fantastically eerie performances ever as an ex- stuntman (Stuntman Mike) with a fetish for killing young women with his “death proof” car.

The movie has your standard Tarantino lines and moments of shear, edge of your seat thrills. The problem is, it doesn’t have much of a coherent story to play on. The characters are muddled and the movie feels more like two back-to-back episodes out of a television series than it does a movie. The first half of the movie introduces a set of girls who are quite unlikable and, without spoiling anything, end up serving no purpose to the finale of the film. The entire first half should’ve been cut down by 20 to 30 minutes and used as a strong intro. Instead we dance around these pointless, horrid female characters and I look at my watch wondering when Kurt Russell will get in his car.

The second act, however, is much more pleasing. It actually stands as a more coherent film on its own. The second cast of girls are far more likable and give the audience a much more entertaining movie. For example, two of the girls are also stunt actresses who decide to play a dangerous road game that Stuntman Mike takes advantage of. The scene is probably the best one out of the entire “Grindhouse” presentation. I was on the edge of my seat chewing my fingers the whole time.

“Death Proof” makes up a lot of ground in the second half and, again, gives a very entertaining finale. However, it starts out really slow and isn’t nearly as consistent as “Planet Terror”. But for those who would rather skip the gore, Tarantino’s grindhouse feature is for you.

**½ out of ****

The rest of the movie features faux trailers before each feature. While these trailers don’t get a great deal of credit, I want to applaud the efforts put in to them. They’re probably the most hysterical parts of the entire experience. Don’t miss the trailer for “Don’t!” and keep your eyes peeled for Nicholas Cage’s greatest cameo of his career. You’ll be laughing so hard you might have to puke your balls up…whoops!

So “Grindhouse” is a fun experience, but I can’t see it holding up for repeated viewings. I feel like it tried too hard to be “bad” in some places—It definitely didn’t have the same parody-esque feel of “Kill Bill”, nor the comic charm of “Sin City”. But, it was a worthwhile experience and I can see myself enjoying these films in the safety of my home one day—Just not back-to-back. I got to hand it to Tarantino and Rodriguez; they know how to make bad movies look good!

*** out of ****

REVIEW - "Zodiac" (2007)

David Fincher is probably one of Hollywood’s last hopes when it comes to quality films. The man is responsible for the extremely dark thriller, “Se7en”, and the elusive “Fight Club”. Although he’s had some slip-ups (“Panic Room” anyone?) he’s a quick learner. His latest film, “Zodiac”, is nothing short of the best film I’ve seen this year so far. It is a near perfect masterpiece that utilizes Fincher’s keen talent for mystery and nihilism. One of Fincher’s previous films, “Se7en”, was a very straightforward nihilistic tale about the dark side of society. “Zodiac” takes on a similar theme, but enhances the experience and challenges the audience to look deeper in to the concept of wandering aimlessly in a confused lifestyle.

“Zodiac” is a story told in two very strong acts. The first half of the film features Inspector David Toschi (Mark Rufflo) and his partner William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) trying to find a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco throughout the 1960s and 70s. The killer, Zodiac, sends letters to the city newspaper which contained coded messages that are broken by cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and followed up by writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). However, as years go by, the second act intervenes. The murders stop late in the 1970s and people lose interest. The case remains open, but no one follows up on it. Graysmith, on the other hand, is still curious as to who the Zodiac was-- Compiling as much information as he can and interviewing many people involved with the Zodiac case, Graysmith gets unofficial help from Inspector Toschi to answer the question no one cares about anymore: Who was the Zodiac?

The movie has a long running time, but it never gets boring. Since the entire film spans from the 1960s to the 1990s the audience hops from one year to another at breakneck speed. There’s always something new that the Zodiac is doing, and if he’s not doing anything, other characters are left thinking about the mystery and even obsessing over it. Lives are put at stake, careers are ruined and the audience becomes as obsessed with the film as Graysmith does with the Zodiac.

The acting is top-notch from everyone. Gyllenhaal seems to have instant chemistry with Mark Rufflo and Robert Downey Jr.-- Who, incidentally, almost steals the show with his phenomenal supporting role. I cannot wait to see Downey in more films! Everyone and everything works. Even when you know there’s nothing to be in suspense about, Fincher accomplishes the concept that, sometimes, the idea is scarier than the reality. (A hard concept to bring to life. Even M. Night failed miserably at that, ala, “The Village”.)

As you watch the characters and their confusion with the entire ordeal, Fincher’s knack for dark atmosphere and social nihilism peeks through. The characters wander endlessly, looking for a killer that no one cares about. And while there are plenty of theories as to who he is, there’s just no proof. Did Graysmith find the killer? Or, like society’s quest to prove what religion is correct, is it a mystery that will always be in dispute? Are we all just…wandering in the dark? Furthermore, what kind of civilization do we live in that ends up not caring about a killer? Does no one believe he should have paid for his murders? Does it make it okay to forget simply because he no longer kills? The movie brings up a lot of interesting points and metaphors to ponder on, but they’re never just handed to you on a silver platter.

Fincher has brought on his newest masterpiece and probably his best film to date. I’ll always be a “Se7en” fan, but Fincher’s subtle approach at using storytelling to evoke powerful metaphor is masterful here. He’s raised his own creative bar and invented another unique and thoughtful piece of filmmaking. Yet this time, he asks us to think just a little harder.

**** out of ****

REVIEW - "Pathfinder" (2007)

So I go to see this with a few guys, expecting a pretty fun “guy” movie. I didn’t expect too much, really. I had low expectations, but I like Karl Urban and the prospect of him starring in his own movie intrigued me. Well…I should’ve set my expectations even lower. “Pathfinder” is everything a movie should not be. I can’t stress this enough: Stay away from this movie.

The story, such as it is, centers on a young Viking boy who is left in the Americas and found by a native near the wreckage of a Viking ship. (Why the Viking ship was wrecked is never explained…) The young boy is given the name, “Ghost’, and grows up to look like Karl Urban. Eventually the Vikings return and kill everyone in his adopted village. Ghost then seeks to exterminate every last one of them. It sounds like it could be a fun action movie, but when you look at your watch wondering when more story will unfold it’s not a good sign. Frankly, the action isn’t all that fun either and the whole movie ends up being more and more of a bore-fest as time goes on.

The movie actually started out with a great deal of potential; but when the Vikings start using snow sleds in a high speed pursuit you realize you went to see the wrong movie. Karl Urban’s a good actor, but he doesn’t do enough at all to prove it. He’s given very few lines and he’s too busy being told by director Marcus Nispel to rip off scenes from “Rambo II” to do anything else.

His character is the only one you remotely care about and the only one worth caring about. This isn’t saying much though. His own character development is contrived and none of the other characters grow at all. The relationships seem to excel with no real purpose behind them and when the so-called love story subplot comes in you have to ask yourself, “Why is this happening?”

The technical aspects of the film aren’t a highlight either. The scenery is nice, but you get sick of the dark blue tint to the whole film rather easily. And while the Vikings have impressive, huge, over-exaggerated armor mounted to their bodies, the natives are wearing costumes that look like they were bought from a Halloween shop. It’s really pathetic and unrealistic compared to the mighty Vikings.

It’s also interesting to note that the Vikings are, supposedly, speaking in their native language which are accompanied by subtitles. The natives, however, speak perfect English. I understand they’re not “really” speaking English, but I believe the concept was to make the natives appear more civilized and the Vikings more barbaric. Does anyone see a problem with this? Are people who speak a language outside English automatically less civilized? Why couldn’t the whole movie be subtitled with the natives speaking their own language? Subtitled movies are becoming more and more accepted these days, why not? I suppose the "teen" audience would have been turned off by it, but their weren’t many teens in the theater when I went to see the stupid movie anyway.

I can’t really find much good to say about the movie. It’s boring, it seems like it goes on forever, it’s riddled with enough clichés to make the sci-fi original motion pictures look like masterpieces and it has no regard for proper utilization of characters. It’s a shame really. Karl Urban has talent and I’d like to see him star in another movie one of these days, but someone has to hand him a better script…perhaps one with lines in it next time?

½ out of ****

TRAILER - "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (FINAL TRAILER)

The last trailer to the Fantastic Four sequel has arrived. I must admit, it looks exciting...but so did "X-Men: The Last Stand". $10 says the trailer is better than the film:

The Surfer looks cool though and Fishburne's voice coupled with that character might be enough to get my ass in the seat. I don't know. I'll probably end up seeing it.

Scott goes to "Nottingham"

The legendary director of "Alien", "Blade Runner" and "Gladiator" finds his way to Nottingham now. The story is an unique take on the Robin Hood mythology. Scott will team up agian with Russell Crowe who will play the Sheriff of Nottingham who is looked as a sympathetic character who gets involved in a love triangle with Marion and Robin.
Quite a different take on the Robin Hood story, but interesting. This sounds a great deal more interesting than the handful of Scott's recent films. Honestly I think the last really great movie Scott directed was "Matchstick Men". Lets hope this will be the next one. No word one when production starts. Currently Scott is set to helm the CIA drama with DiCaprio, "Body of Lies"

Aronofsky Gets on Board Noah's Ark

"The Fountian" and "Requiem for a Dream" director Darren Aronofsky seems to be piling on the projects as of late. Though he's slated to direct the dancer/thriller movie "Black Swan" and boxing film, "The Fighter", he claims his "next" project involves the biblical story of Noah.
But, according to Aronofsky, the story will be a lot darker than usual:
"That story has interested me ever since," Aronofsky states, "Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk. It's there in the Bible - it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor's guilt going on there. He's a dark, complicated character."
Again, I'll see whatever he touches. I'm just a little confused aobut his schedual right now. What's he doing first? No idea when this film will begin production as it appears to be in the early stages of writing.