Saturday, July 27, 2013

THE WOLVERINE

Yes it's better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE no question about that. Heck, this may be the best cinematic outing Wolverine has had yet! We get some of the best action that Wolverine fans have been dying for since X1. That being said, by the time this latest outing got to the third act I was shaking my head.

THE WOLVERINE adapts the comic book tale that die hard fans have been waiting for, Logan in Japan. Years have past since the death of Logan's beloved Jean Grey. Since then he's left the X-Men and has been on the lam living in the wilderness. He spends his days living in a cave listing to classical music. In town he runs into some dumb hick hunters/poachers who later that evening leave a Grizzly left for dead. Later that night in a bar, Logan “kindly” tells them he did not appreciate that none to much. Wolverine the loner is awesome. It reminded me of a cross between Outlaw Josy Wales and Jeremiah Johnson.

Right before Logan breaks his “no more killing” vow, a mysterious samurai sword wielding Japanese woman scares the rednecks straight. Her name is Yukio. This bad ass chick tells Logan that he must come with her to Japan. She is the associate of one of the richest men in Japan, Yashida. Logan and Yashida have a past. They know each other from their time together in WWII. At a P.O.W. Camp just outside of Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945 the two of them both save each other from the bomb.

Yashida is dying but isn't quite ready to pay the piper just yet, or at all for that matter. Yashida wants to live forever. Ever since Logan saved his life that day in Nagasaki, Yashida has been obsessed with his healing ability. Yashida has been keeping a close watch on Logan for years. He knows the pain and toll Logan's mutant power has brought to him. He sees that the power of immortality has now become a curse to his “friend”. Yashida offers the gift of mortality in exchange for Logan's mutant healing ability. This trade seems appealing to Logan after the death of his soul mate Jean Grey. Logan declines the offer but secretly gets it taking away from him anyway.

Yashida passes away during the night. The fortune left behind all goes to Yashida's granddaughter Mariko instead of her father Shingen, who immediately tires to have her killed so he can take over the business. Even Mariko herself tries to commit suicide to spare her family the burden of her being in charge. Logan being the boy scout he is decides to protect Mariko. What lies ahead is probably the greatest challenge Wolverine has ever faced. Vulnerable and pushed to the limits, he not only faces lethal samurai steel but also a inner struggle with is own immortality.

THE WOLVERINE had me. I loved the beginning of the film. The Nagasaki scene was amazing. The scenes of Logan hiding/living in the woods was cool and interesting. Hugh Jackman said it best that Wolverine's character whole life is full of pain. So it's better that he just escapes. He can't die really. He just wants to get away from everything. I couldn't agree more. Director James Mangold said THE OUTLAW JOSY WALES was a major inspiration and quite honestly he delivered on that statement.

Things started to get even better once Logan arrives in Japan. What makes this film stand apart from the rest in the series is that it's truly a character piece. Over time that fact alone may trump my complaints about how the movie just goes off the rails in the third act. When we get to Japan, Logan starts to realize everything isn't adding up and starts to “rage” when the Yakuza try to kill him and Mariko. While all this is bad ass with an amazing action scene that starts at a funeral and ends atop of a speeding bullet train. All the inner family drama surrounding the death of Yashida and the inheritance of his fortune really starts to bog down the movie. Seriously. This sub plot went on for way too long and got boring fast.

Where the movie stubbles is in two areas. One being a certain character that goes by the name of Viper. And the second is at the climax of the film where it goes toward the clich├ęd comic book big action sequence instead of something more quiet and bad ass like JACK REACHER. The big action climax does not serve THE WOLVERINE very well at all. Something better paced and moodier would've fit better in my opinion. Sorry for getting ahead of myself. Let's talk about Viper

Viper has to be one of the worst characters I've seen in a X-Men film or superhero movie in a long time. Every time this character opened her mouth it made my ears bleed. No offense to the very attractive Svetlana Khodchenkova who plays Viper. She's not the problem. The problem is a poorly written character who really did not need to be in the movie at all. Every time Viper was on screen it took me out of the film.

In the grand scheme of things the problems I have with THE WOLVERINE are not deal breakers. The movie is pretty darn good. Not awesome. Awesome would be less shaky action cam and more wide angle action, more blood, and more ninjas. We'll probably never get an R-rated Wolverine movie. PG-13 X-Men adventures I understand completely; however, Wolverine solo gigs really need to be R.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)

Speechless, jaw-dropping speechless. MIAMI CONNECTION is my current favorite 'so bad it's good' movie. This thing is epic. I went in expecting the amazing awfulness of a turd like DEADLY PREY but what I got was so much better. So much better! Okay maybe not, DEADLY PREY is pretty amazing.

Do you know who can eat a donut on their face without using any hands? Dragon Sound! Do you know who solves the worlds problems with Tae Kwon Do by day and then rocks a fat beat at night? Dragon Sound! What team of Tae Kwon Do black belts can take on a clan of about 30 ninjas? Dragon Sound!

Here's just a taste of some of the lyrics to the Dragon Sound pop synth anthem “Friends”!

“Friends forever / we'll be to-gether / We're on top cuz we play to win-in / Friends for eternity / Loyalty, honesty / Stay together through thick and thi-in...”

A group of Sturgis lovin' motorcycle ridin' ninjas tighten the grip on their narcotics trade in Florida. Orlando Florida. Meanwhile in another movie, martial arts rock band Dragon Sound is becoming all the rage with their hit song “Against The Ninja”! These cool dudes are all about spreading world peace with killer guitar solos and Tae Kwon Do. Yeah buddy! Dragon Sound being the hip new act at Orlando Florida's hottest night club puts a damper on the clubs previous band. Outraged, the band tries several attempts to kick Dragon Sound's ass but you cannot stop the power of rock and Tae Kwon Do! The rival band finally calls on the help of the motorcycle ninja clan. Better not mess with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do! The peaceful Dragon Sound get pushed too far and decide to lay out some board- breaking justice against the ninjas.

You gotta love late eighties low budget action-martial arts movies, god bless them that their hearts are in the right places. A common thread I see in a lot of them are picking up strangers of the street for five bucks and having them be extras. Just put on these sunglasses, jacket, and carry this Uzi 9mm water pistol and look bad ass.

The director, Y.K Kim who is a renowned motivational speaker and Tae-Kwon-Do black belt, had his heart in the right place making MIAMI CONNECTION but the execution was all wrong. Or was it? I really enjoy this train wreck. The tone is all over the place with this one. The opening scene is a bunch of ninjas killing some drug dealers. It's so graphic and over the top. I was thinking the whole movie was going to be like this? 120 minutes of over the top cheesy and badly choreographed action scenes with terrible over acting death scenes. Nope. A good chunk of the movie is Dragon Sound rockin' it out at the club playing music and breaking boards on stage. Them going to school at Florida Central College. And a motorcycle gang of a bunch of ninjas having a good time at Sturgis. All sprinkled with the positive message that Tae-Kwon-Do can end violence peacefully. Something like that anyway?

It's not until the end of the movie where Dragon Sound has no choice but to use lethal force against the ninjas. The gruesome violence is so hilarious at this moment because it's so out of left field and of course poorly done.

MIAMI CONNECTION will be a cherished addition to my movie collection. Some films just have to be seen to be believed.

AGAINST THE NINJA!!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

ONLY GOD FORGIVES

On October 10th, 2003 I saw volume one of my favorite movie, KILL BILL. That film and it's director has broadened my cinematic horizons for the past 10 years. It gave me a new love and appreciation for exploitation and international cinema. If not for KILL BILL and Quentin Tarantino I would more than likely hate movies like ONLY GOD FORGIVES and think Micheal Bay is the greatest filmmaker since Steven Spielberg.

DRIVE was one of my favorite films of 2011. When I had heard about ONLY GOD FORGIVES I could not wait to see it. I wanted to love ONLY GOD FORGIVES I really did, but walked away just liking it. The good news is that I was never bored. The movie is very atmospheric and a slow burn. Very slow. Plus it just oozes with style. Too much style? Nah, man! Why is style over substance in a film almost always immediately frowned upon? Not just by critics but also by moviegoers. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in motion pictures.

I admire the artistic style of Nicolas Winding Refn and his fetish for on screen violence. The simplest way for me to describe his latest film is imagine David Lynch directing a script written by Quentin Tarantino.

The basic premise is two American drug lord brothers are operating in the underbelly of Bangkok using a kick boxing gym as a front. The oldest brother Billy, is twisted and one night murders a prostitute. Out of revenge the young girls father kills Billy. Billy's mother wants her son Julian to find the people responsible and kill them. Revenge is never a straight line and in the middle of all this is a police officer (who is more like an angel of vengeance) dead set on 'restoring order'.

The performances are amazing. This is the re-teaming of director Nicholas Winding Refn and his DRIVE lead actor Ryan Gosling. Ryan's Julian is a troubled sort who would rather try and win the affection of his favorite prostitute than climb the 'corporate' ladder. Another dark and stoic performance by Gosling, but his Julian is by no means a anti-hero much like The Driver in DRIVE.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Crystal, the mother of Billy and Julian. Thomas' Crystal is one of the best performances in the film. I love it when actors play against type. She nails it. A lot is left to the imagination on how Crystal became the icy bitch she is. Think Lady Macbeth meets Desperate Housewife. The apparent Oedipal relationship she has with her son Julian might have something to do with it as well.

Then we have the true star of the film, the title character god himself, Officer Chang. A brilliant performance from Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. The line is blurred and left to interpretation if Chang is the hero or true villain. He's pretty villainous no question but aren't his acts of Old Testament 'angel of vengeance' just? At times they certainly seem so. Truly a great cinematic character!

Instead of your standard narrative what we get is a lot of style over substance. It is evident that Refn is more concerned about the image, human nature, philosophy, and a fetish for violence then liner storytelling when it comes to his films.

Pure cinema.

Recommended if you liked DRIVE. If you hated DRIVE then you'll probably loathe ONLY GOD FORGIVES. How could you hate DRIVE?

Friday, July 19, 2013

THE CONJURING

THE CONJURING is so far my favorite horror film of 2013.  The tone, atmosphere, and use of practical effects are pitch perfect.  This is the horror movie I've been waiting for since the Paranormal Activity phenomena.

  What a great year for horror so far.  Things were looking bleak with TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and THE LAST EXORCISM 2 but quickly turned around with EVIL DEAD(2013).  I haven't seen it yet but on high recommendation and a so-so one THE PURGE seems legit.  While it won't appeal to everyone  THE ABC'S OF DEATH is a milestone in horror genre cinema.   V/H/S/2 is a found footage/horror anthology masterpiece despite a weak wraparound. Even the remake of MANIAC was awesome. I feel dirty for saying that, but it's true. Somewhere hidden between all of the violence and killing was a interesting take on the slasher flick genre that kept me watching. It made me think what if Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO was an exploitation film? Cool stuff to ponder if you're a movie buff.

Everybody likes to be scared. Some will argue and deny it, but everybody to some degree likes to be scared. Nothing greater than the trill of a group of friends getting spooked and then laughing about it later. Horror movies for me are a great release. I love a good slasher movie with a jump scare here and there. The haunted house genre I always hesitate because despite what you may or may not believe, these flicks tend to appear more real than a zombie in a hockey mask.

As a kid the haunted house movies freaked me out more than Jason or Freddy because at school you would have a classmate or friend that swore their house was haunted. Bigger the house, the more haunted it was. A lot of times it was just for fun and games but once in awhile you'd hear a story that seemed true. Your friends sisters waking the both of you up in the middle of the night claiming the house is haunted? Playful B.S. A demon using your friends Nintendo to play tricks on you? You decide. But like I said, the movies freaked me out. One look at GHOST STORY and or POLTERGEIST then it's bye-bye for me. Back in the day I remember flipping through channels and I saw this couple in a tub and the woman pops up out of the water screaming. I could not change the channel fast enough! The same goes for POLTERGEIST when the kids clown doll comes to life and drags the boy under the bed. CLICK! Since then I've grown to appreciate the genre.

One thing to note is that THE CONJURING is an exorcism movie and I'm just as terrified at those as I am at the haunted house films.

THE CONJURING is based on a true story. The Perron family moves into a new house that unbeknownst to them is cursed. There is some serious evil in this house. How the story goes is that back in the Salem witch hunt days a mother daughter team lived in the house. The daughter got pregnant and her mom convinced her to sacrifice the unborn child to Satan. That's the gist of the story along with some cursing the house at it's future occupants. I don't want to spoil everything for you.

The evil spirits want the Perron family dead. After putting up with torment after torment the family seek the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the famous paranormal investigators. The Warren's have seen it all. The real deal all the way down to warped wooden floors that creak in the night. They are semi retired after a bad exorcism took a toll on Lorraine. The Warrens hear the Perron plea and decide to help. What happens next is truly one of the most terrifying horror movies to come out in years. In years!

When reviewing comedies I don't like to spoil the jokes. The same goes for horror movies, telling you the scary parts ruin it. The refreshing thing is that the movie isn't just jump scare after jump scare. Director James Was has mastered the ability to know just how long to build the tension until the viewer cannot handle it anymore. Perfect catch and release. One scene captures the 'somebody is in my room' probably the best I've ever seen done. The lighting and everything brought back memories of the boogeyman hiding in my bedroom. I could go on and on. This is what sells the film. The elements that make a horror movie scary are all present and accounted for in THE CONJURING.

My final thoughts are the more that I think about this movie the more I love it. At this moment it is my favorite movie of the year. It's been awhile since I've liked a horror movie this much and that makes me even more happy.

Highly Recommended!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

PACIFIC RIM

Yes!!! Thank goodness PACIFIC RIM did not disappoint. In fact the film exceeded my expectations. The awe factor took me out of the movie a few times, the detail of the Jaeger's and the Kaiju are just amazing. Groundbreaking special effects. In this day and age that statement seems to do more harm than good. So let me rephrase it by saying PACIFIC RIM is the most effects heavy movie that I've seen in a long time where the special effects are more a tool for storytelling. None of the action felt like it was video game cut scenes or distracting like a Transformers movie.

PACIFIC RIM is director Guillermo del Toro's STAR WARS. It was during the third Jaeger verses Kaiju fight that this fact dawned on me. There has already been plenty of word of mouth saying the scale of the fight scenes are reminiscent of seeing the Imperial Walkers in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for the first time. I happily concur with this belief.

I'm not an expert or big fan when it comes to Anime and my film knowledge is limited on giant robots fighting giant monster movies. I know enough of these genres to understand what the filmmakers intent to accomplish was. I went into this knowing full well that Guillermo del Toro was going to bring audiences the end all to end all Mechs fighting Kaiju film.

In the not to distant future giant monsters rise from the depths of the Pacific Ocean and bring utter destruction to coastal cities. With todays modern military defense it takes days and millions of lives lost just to kill one Kaiju. The attacks become more frequent and the destruction more rampant. The nations of the world decide to put their differences aside and come up with a solution to destroy all monsters. They come up with the Jaeger program. Giant robots that can beat the living hell out of the Kaiju.

The early trials of this program weren't all that great. Controlling one Jaeger was too much strain on the human brain that now two people run a Jaeger. One person for the right hemisphere and the second for the left hemisphere. To accomplish this the process of Drifting was created. Drifting is the mind meld of two Jaeger pilots so they can be in tune with each other and share the mental load. A pilot for the right side and a pilot for the left side. The Jaeger program becomes gangbusters and easily begin defeating the Kaiju left and right. Jaeger pilots become the new rock stars.

Raleigh Becket and his brother Yancy control the Jaeger Gipsy Danger, probably the most bad ass giant robot in the program. Maybe not. But these guys are the best of the best. A lot like Maverick and Goose in TOP GUN. Things go terribly wrong on what seems like a routine Kaiju smack down, when the giant monsters seem to have progressively become stronger and smarter. Gipsy Danger wins but not without a price. Yancy did not survive the battle. Being linked together with the Drift made the experience far worse than anyone could imagine. Having a mental connection to someone as they are dying especially a relative has to be one of the worst things I can think off.

5 years later. The Jaeger program has seen better days. The powers that be want the program shut down. Instead of the giant robots they feel building a giant wall will protect us from the increasing Kaiju threat. Head of the Jaeger program Stacker Pentecost does not like the sound of that so he wants to devise a plan that could possibly end the Kaiju attacks for good. But he needs all the best Jaeger pilots he can find, even Raleigh.

Raleigh has been a drifter going from job to job ever since the death of his brother. He never wants to set foot in another Jaeger ever again. He finds work building the wall which seems like a lost cause. Stacker finds him and convinces him to come back to the program.

Stacker's plan is to strap a nuclear device on a Jaeger and launch it into the dimensional rift where these Kaiju come from. With the help of some old pilots and new ones along with some scientists, Stacker and his crew have an honest shot at finishing this war of the gargantuans once and for all.

I wanna talk more about PACIFIC RIM but right now the best thing I can say is go this this amazing movie right now. Support this and let Hollywood know that films like PACIFIC RIM should be the new standard when it comes to summer blockbusters.

PACIFIC RIM is not all just about giant robots fighting giant monsters. The film has interesting characters that we end up caring about. This isn't TRANSFORMERS. With having characters we care about, the special effects end up becoming a tool for the storytelling and not the main attraction. Well okay, the giant robot and monster fighting is the main attraction, but now we have a lot more emotional weight invested. Like I said, this isn't TRANSFORMERS.

If you love summer blockbusters then put down whatever you're doing and go see this film.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

THE LONE RANGER (2013)

Before I was the age of 5 I had four heroes; my dad, Superman, Han Solo, and The Lone Ranger. My grandpa was the biggest Lone Ranger fan in my family. When I would come to visit he'd tell me about the adventures of the masked hero and his trusty sidekick Tonto. A few children picture books left over from when my dad was a kid were read to me frequently at my grandparents house. The classic t.v show was difficult to catch on television because of how old the program was, but given the chance we'd tune in every time and watch it.

I remember dressing up as The Lone Ranger one year for Halloween. It was also around this time, I wanna say 1980 that there was a Lone Ranger movie. Only two things I remember about that movie; that I saw it, and that they made action figures for it. The film must have been so bad because it has been forever lost in obscurity. You may find it listed on IMDB, but I don't think they even know it existed at one time? So I went ahead and looked it up. THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER was released in 1981 and was indeed a box office bomb. Apparently you can watch it on Amazon's Instant Video service. I might be planning a bad movie night pretty soon?

When I had heard that Disney was making a Lone Ranger movie with Jerry Bruckheimer producing, my interest went to zero. Gore Verbinski directing and Johnny Depp staring did not sweeten the deal either. When the trailer hit things were actually looking good except for Depp as Tonto just looking like a Captain Jack Sparrow wannabe. It wasn't until the final trailer before release that I decided to see the film in the theater. Doubts started to creep back in when mediocre reviews started showing up but I tend to ignore things like that anyway.

Lawyer John Reid rides along with his brother Texas Ranger Dan Reid to nab the dastardly Butch Cavendish and bring him to justice.  In an ambush Butch and his gang kill all seven rangers including John and his brother.  Disgraced Comanche Indian  Tonto comes across the dead bodies only to find that John Reid isn't dead but in fact a spirit warrior and thus The Lone Ranger is born. The new duo decide to go after Butch and bring him to justice. Along the way they discover a evil scheme involving sliver and the railroad.

For the most part the new movie stays true to the origin of Lone Ranger with the exception of a few things here and there and of course making the character Tonto more interesting than just a sidekick.

There is nothing special about the story in THE LONE RANGER. Greedy business types trying to control the railroad is nothing new in a western. I don't want to read into the movie too much but I wanna give Verbinski and the screenwriters credit for some subtext that the villain of the film is progress. White man stealing sliver and causing Native Americans to relocate or worse start a war. All of that just for total control of the railroad

What kept my eyes glued to the screen was the direction of Gore Verbinski and his love for the western genre. The opening of the movie made me think of LITTLE BIG MAN. A 100 year old Tonto telling a young boy about the legend of the Lone Ranger isn't just a coincidence. There were a few scenes that reminded me of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, THE GENREAL, and John Ford westerns with the monument valley backdrops. The score by Hans Zimmer had a few Spaghetti Western touches. I swore I heard Frank's theme from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST a few times?

When I started writing this review I planned on talking about all the homages I noticed but this film is a good enough movie that I decided not to spoil the fun. Fans of westerns should have a blast! I don't see THE LONE RANGER becoming a franchise and I'm fine with that. The fact that Gore Verbinski made a awesome Western is good enough for me!