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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) review
02/18/12 at 09:47 PM by EvilButters
I think everyone had the urge to run outside and kick the ugliest puppy in their neighborhood when it was announced a second Ghost Rider movie was going into production starring a returning Nicolas Cage. The director of the original Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson) was out and the directors of Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) were in. Now that it's been released it's been getting nothing but a barrage of negative reviews pretty much anywhere you can think of. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is practically a reboot and could serve as a full on reset of the franchise if Cage wasn't attached. With everything working against this requel (that's reboot + sequel combined) and every entertainment site on the planet practically guaranteeing its atrocity, I seem to be one of the few critics in existence who was actually entertained by this movie.

Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has gone into seclusion in Eastern Europe. Johnny fights not only the urge to become The Rider, but fights to stay hidden from those who are hunting for him. That is until a man named Moreau (Idris Elba) shows up on his doorstep offering Johnny a second chance and a way to lift his curse. The offer gives Johnny a chance for revenge against Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) who's Lucifer himself in human form and the man Blaze made a deal with to become The Rider in the first place. The one catch is Johnny has to guard and protect a boy that Roarke is searching for to fulfill the prophecy of becoming the antichrist.

The main attraction to this movie was how it looked. There's this featurette that highlights just how camera oriented Neveldine and Taylor are when they come to shooting their movies. Seeing Neveldine basically risk his life rollerblading on the back of a motorcycle or hanging off of a wire along with the stuntman just to get the shot was incredibly intriguing to me. Unique perspective and fascinating camera work is something I look for in movies and Spirit of Vengeance let you know it had that in the trailers. The flaw in this method though is that even though it gets you up close and personal with the action it also feels really shaky at times. It seems very rough in comparison to dolly tracks or tripods being used. The camera work also involves those slight zoom-ins at random intervals to make it seem like the camera wasn't in the right place when they started shooting.

I'm hearing a lot of people complain about the special effects, but those are another high point. Ghost Rider's appearance is more charred in comparison to how he looked in the first movie. His skull looks scorched, his leather clothes are melted, and the steel on his motorcycle is noticeably red hot and altered thanks to his transformation. The fire looks pretty fantastic all around and there's plenty of it. Everything The Rider drives becomes engulfed in flames and the special effects crew has a ton of fun with that. Maybe it looks terrible in 3D? I was going to recommend seeing it in 2D anyway. Johnny Blaze's transformations into Ghost Rider are pretty sweet, too. Seeing his eyes sink in for the first time is a bit unsettling, but it becomes a trademark. As he holds off The Rider the majority of the movie, his eyes are the first thing to show the transformation. It was a bit reminiscent of the T-1000 being shot in the face in the steel mill at the end of Terminator 2.

Nicolas Cage is exactly what you expect him to be here. The issue is that like always he's way too over the top during intense moments and not emotional enough during the quieter ones. The best example is when Johnny Blaze and Nadya (Violante Placido) are trying to catch up with the men who took Danny (Fergus Riordan) who's Nadya's son and the boy who's set to become the antichrist. Johnny and Nadya are interrogating a man named Vasil. Notice how twitchy Cage becomes here and how crazy he becomes during his "bad man" and "scraping at the door" speech. It's pretty insane in this so bad it's good kind of way. Cage's performance seems to evolve throughout the movie and he almost seems sincere by the end of it. Cage also modeled The Rider's movements off of his pet cobra and it's blatantly obvious. His performance as The Rider is full of rigid movements, swaying motions, and quick cuts. It's very bizarre, especially when it gets to the scene where The Rider is floating around in circles on his back as if he's duplicating Trent Reznor in the Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer."

You'll wish Idris Elba's wine-loving Moreau had more screen time than he actually does as the Moreau character is generally pretty interesting, but doesn't really get a chance to shine. He does have a few really memorable scenes though. This will make more sense after you see it, but the "decay vision" gets a little bothersome. It's like looking at the action through a giant peephole or fishbowl. The evolution of the Carrigan character (played by Johnny Whitworth) is pretty awesome though.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not as bad as people are making it out to be or maybe it is and it's just really entertaining anyway. The dialogue does get really cheesy at times ("You're the devil's baby mama."), but the story and part of the screenplay were written by David S. Goyer so that should give you a little bit of hope. The special effects are fantastic, Cage's performance eventually grows on you, and Spirit of Vengeance is a huge step up from the original movie overall. In the end, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is explosively entertaining and just the type of brainless fun you need to forget about a hectic week.

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Tags: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, review, action, thriller, Marvel, Nicolas Cage
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This Means War (2012) review
02/17/12 at 07:36 PM by EvilButters
McG hasn't really been seen in the director's chair since Terminator Salvation hit theaters back in 2009. Audiences were split as to whether they actually enjoyed Salvation or not as critics hated it and the movie failed to make back its budget in its domestic gross. So what's the logical next step after doing a movie about the nuclear holocaust and the ongoing war between humans and humanoid machines? You could probably guess the action bit, but the romantic comedy part would probably throw you off.

This Means War is the story of FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) two CIA agents who are two of the best agents in their field. FDR and Tuck are partners and best friends, but come to a gentleman's agreement when they both start dating the same woman named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). Both FDR and Tuck begin falling for Lauren and not only begin breaking the rules that they set for one another, but use whatever means necessary to keep Lauren in their good graces.

This Means War throws you right into one of FDR and Tuck's missions right from the start. The main issue becomes how dizzying the camera work is. The action hits extremely hard and is incredibly fast paced, but you have a difficult time actually following just what is transpiring in these quick cuts let alone trying to keep your wits about you. This is kind of odd since I wasn't a fan of Terminator Salvation, but felt like one of its strongest qualities was how the camera always seemed to be in the right place during the action. Maybe McG decided to regress back to his Charlie's Angels mindset for This Means War.

The action heavy romantic comedy is dragged down by annoying girl talk. Lauren and her friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) do nothing but whine and complain about their lives the entire movie while also revealing they're basically the most promiscuous girls around. This Means War paints this picture of women that they all date multiple guys at once and will put out just to try and make a decision. It's pretty demeaning to women in general. Between Lauren and Trish's talks of the size of a man's private parts or a lightning round involving sex, every inch of dialogue between them is unbearable right from the start. Meanwhile, FDR and Tuck have quite a bit of immature bickering between one another as well. It becomes borderline homophobic at times and just feels very third grade for nearly half of the film. The second half becomes a little easier to digest and the highlight comes when FDR mocks Tuck's British accent.

The storyline is very imbecilic, as well. Using the gadgets, technology, and basically every ounce of intelligence of the CIA to try and win over a woman is just asinine. The actual mission, which is certainly more interesting than the love triangle you're forced to endure, isn't even second fiddle. It's more like the third or fourth subplot of the movie. The FDR/Tuck/Lauren love triangle being the primary, FDR/Tuck's friendship falling apart being the secondary, Lauren trying to mull things over with Trish being the third, and Tuck trying to be a stand up family man the fourth. So that would make the actual mission the fifth subplot of the movie. How lame is that?

This Means War does get a little less irritating as it progresses. The jokes get slightly less offensive and Tom Hardy still manages to be the best part of the movie. While Reese Witherspoon has to make it a point to try and jiggle around while wearing horrible clothes and singing off key and Chris Pine attempts to be the biggest womanizer he possibly can, they still manage to squeeze in Tom Hardy being a complete bad ass. The paintball scene is one of the highlights, but the most original aspect of the movie comes in one of the first (of many) dates Tuck has with Lauren. He takes her to a carnival and at the end of it takes her on the trapeze. It's actually really cool and would be a really fun first date for anyone.

This Means War is a frustrating and awful excuse for entertainment. Its humor is lame and offensive in the way that it insults all of mankind by how stupid and immature it is, its plot is horrible and insulting, and Reese Witherspoon will test every last ounce of patience you possibly have. This Means War gives you the impression that women are easy and that if you've got enough game then everything works out for the best. While it does have a few moments that try to make up for how terrible it really is, This Means War still can't shake the fact that its spewed excrement into your face for over an hour and a half.

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Tags: This Means War, review, comedy, action, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy
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Blu-ray review: Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)
02/14/12 at 10:52 AM by EvilButters
Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.

Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.

Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.

The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment."

While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.

Despite how fantastic Three Outlaw Samurai looks and sounds, it literally has no special features. This is a bit unusual since nearly every Criterion Collection release I’ve come across is usually loaded with goodies. All that’s included is the theatrical trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri. So hopefully you weren’t looking forward to this release for the special features alone.

Three Outlaw Samurai is a black and white film that’s unrated and presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It’s approximately 93 minutes long, has a new English subtitle translation, and features high definition digital restoration. The film is now available on both Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray at most retail outlets and online stores.

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Tags: Three Outlaw Samurai, Blu-ray, Criterion Collection, review, movies, action, drama
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Safe House (2012) review
02/09/12 at 11:59 AM by EvilButters
Safe House has Denzel Washington return to the role everyone loves him for; that untouchable, bad ass, man of the hour kind of role that he's essentially played the majority of his career. Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds sets out to try to prove he's capable of being more than a raunchy goofball. CIA agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) has anxiously been waiting to prove himself. He's been babysitting an empty safe house for twelve months and is eager to get out in the field. Matt gets his chance when Tobin Frost (Washington), ex-CIA agent, traitor to the organization, and currently one of the CIA's most wanted fugitives, is escorted there. But things are turned upside down when a group of unknown soldiers attack the safe house and take out the entire team who accompanied Frost. Now in over his head, Matt tries to cope with handling the situation on his own while Frost does his best to manipulate the rookie.

You'll probably notice the visual style of Safe House right away. It makes full use of that raw, gritty style. It's especially grainy at times as fluorescent lighting seems to jump off the screen. Judging by how the movie looks alone, you'd think Tony Scott directed it. But it's actually the English language debut of Swedish director Daniel Espinosa. So it just seems as though he patterned Safe House after Tony Scott's films. It doesn't take long for negotiations to get tense. Those moments in between the mayhem are when Safe House is at its best. It's like a game of tug of war between Frost's way of manipulating and Matt's attempt to stick to protocol while also juggling a relationship. Those moments of panic are explosive; especially the one at the safe house Matt was in charge of and the intense car chase immediately afterwards. Safe House has a way of getting really LOUD when you're totally expecting it. It usually involves a gunshot or six, but it's kind of the movie's way of telling you that some heavy stuff is about to go down.

The majority of the movie is basically Matt trying to prove himself as an agent all while absolutely everything that you could imagine to go wrong does. Safe House is actually pretty damn good for nearly half of the movie. Sure, Denzel is playing a character you've seen him play a few dozen times before but he does it so well and the audience obviously eats it up. So why wouldn't you give the paying viewer what they want to see? Ryan Reynolds makes the most of his performance though. He seems to be the most emotionally invested actor of the film meaning he shows the most emotion and has the most range. The movie kind of gets coiled up in itself with everything it has going for it in the last twenty minutes or so. It's like it couldn't handle the pressure of being a fairly strong action thriller or something. It becomes extremely excessive and it throws a ton of twists at you in this small amount of time. It's difficult to care about any of them when all of the characters feel so similar and you can pretty much see them coming a mile away. The movie follows this certain path that you may be expecting, but then it shifts direction before shifting again and shifting back again. Did you ever see the movie Basic with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson? Safe House was reminiscent of the amount of twists in Basic.

Safe House begins as this white knuckled thriller with a fairly strong screenplay from first time screenwriter David Guggenheim. The action is heavy, the story reels you in, and the performances of both Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds are pretty superb. Everything eventually falls apart though as Safe House falls victim to stereotypical mediocrity. Brutal and intriguing at times and completely frustrating at others, Safe House is mostly exactly what you're expecting and the type of action thriller you've seen done several times before. It's basically a safe bet for success.

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Tags: Safe House, review, movies, action, crime, thriller, Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
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Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) review
02/09/12 at 11:02 AM by EvilButters
*This does contain some minor spoilers*

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth; you know that movie with Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, and director Eric Brevig all of which didn't return for the sequel. Fraser didn't want to return unless Brevig was back in the director's chair, but Brevig had his hands full with Yogi Bear when Warner Bros was ready to go for the sequel. So Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore director Brad Peyton stepped in and we have an entirely new cast other than Josh Hutcherson, which includes the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Luis Guzmán, and Vanessa Hudgens. The result is a visual effects heavy amalgamation of corny dialogue and forced feel-good moments.

Journey 2 was actually preceded by a new 3D computer animated Looney Tunes short entitled "Daffy's Rhapsody." A quick trivia note is that they actually dug through the archives and resurrected a Mel Blanc audio track to be featured in the short. So the legendary voice actor is back as Daffy Duck and Billy West steps in as Elmer Fudd. The short itself was very well done since it was brilliantly animated and made full use of the 3D technology. As a Looney Tunes fan, it was a welcome change of pace to see Daffy actually being Daffy again. I'm a huge Daffy Duck fan and while his run-ins with Bugs Bunny are hilarious Daffy eventually became second fiddle to Bugs and evolved into this greedy goofball. In earlier shorts, he was flat out crazy and that personality fit him best. It's almost as if the character is returning to his roots here. Also, when is the last time you saw Elmer Fudd hunt solely Daffy Duck without Bugs being involved at all? I was very pleased with Daffy's Rhapsody over all, especially in comparison to the recent 3D Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner shorts.

Returning to Journey 2 though, the movie immediately lost me in the opening credits as the score seemed to disrespectfully rip-off the famous theme to Jurassic Park. It doesn't take long for the corny dialogue to slap you in the face either. The phrase, "Here we go," should never be uttered in the face of danger or at all really. From the HDTV line to pretty much everything Gabby (Luis Guzmán) says throughout their endless string of adventures, Journey 2 will have you rolling your eyes and facepalming yourself more often than you can count. Characters seem to repeat words over and over again, as well. Dwayne Johnson is the guiltiest of this as his dialogue is pretty painful at times. Shall we bring up "thundercookie" or the "popping the pecs" scene that was only thrown in there for a cheap 3D effect?

Maybe it's because a Looney Tunes short was attached to the movie, but Journey 2 certainly borrowed from classic Looney Tunes shorts on more than one occasion. When they first arrive on the island, Gabby thinks he's been cut in half but it turns out the lower half of his body is just buried beneath the sand. This sequence is awfully reminiscent of a scene in "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid" and this scene in particular. Gabby also discovers a rock made of pure gold and essentially has almost an identical reaction as Bugs Bunny in "Barbary Coast Bunny." Even the camera placement is similar, so it had to be done on purpose. It honestly felt more like blasphemy than homage though.

I guess the hip thing to do with movies anymore is to make the majority of the cast as intolerable as possible, especially when it comes to family features. Nearly every male in the Anderson family is a snarky, smart aleck, prick; Michael Caine and Josh Hutcherson being the sole offenders. Alexander (Caine) already looks to have raided Indiana Jones' wardrobe and even uses that familiar sounding Jurassic Park-like theme when he first shows up. He spends the entire movie ripping on Hank (Dwayne Johnson). Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) is the same way though in the way she gives Sean (Hutcherson) the cold shoulder, so maybe the aim was to write everyone like a seventeen year old girl. Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson tries to cram as much of his The Rock personality into a PG persona as he can and even sings a little number that is actually pretty darn good.

Journey 2 relies on slow-mo to drive all of its biggest moments home and thanks to movies like 300 has made it all the more obvious in the movies that have followed suit. Even though the entire adventure is basically a race against time, it's like the characters always make time to try and be witty or funny or clever. It just rubs you the wrong way. "Quit standing around in the dark trying to amuse yourself and get out of that damn cave before it collapses on your scrawny butt," you'll say to yourself before throwing the nearest toddler at the screen in frustration. If that isn't the case, they manage to cram these family, touchy-feely moments in at the most inopportune time. "I know you're about to wrestle a giant electric eel, but I just want you to know that me being a hard headed douchebag towards you this entire time was my way of saying I love you." There's more than one comment about being killed after they die, as well. "If we die out there, mom is going to kill us." "If we get ripped to shreds, I'm going to kill you." But you'll already be dead, so who cares? And apparently, being in the Navy means you automatically become "MacGyver." If that's the case, send me a brochure.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island wasn't quite as terrible as I expected it to be. A few of the jokes are mildly amusing and some of the special effects sequences are actually pretty entertaining. In the long run though, it still can't pass as a good film. Its lame humor gets on your last nerve, its feel-good moments make you want to gag, you can tell that everything was done in front of a green screen, and the writing is downright terrible the majority of the time (“THE LIQUEFICATION RATE TRIPLED OVERNIGHT!”). Why did Sean know so much about the island to begin with? Did he read the books over and over again throughout his childhood? Did he watch a lot of National Geographic and the Discovery Channel? Imagine taking a few of the halfway entertaining sequences from the original National Treasure and combining them with the absolute worst moments from the Land of the Lost film starring Will Ferrell and you have a pretty good idea of what you're in for. In the next movie, I only hope that Brendan Fraser returns and challenges The Rock to a wrestling match...IN SPACE!

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Tags: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, review, movies, action, adventure, comedy
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Chronicle (2012) review
02/03/12 at 11:37 AM by EvilButters
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is what you'd call your typical high school loner. Most students peg him as a loser, but he's really just misunderstood. His mom is practically on her death bed, his dad is an abusive drunk, and he has no friends. Nobody is willing to give Andrew a chance and he's too shy to break out of his shell on his own. Even his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is a bit hesitant to hang out with him in public. As Andrew begins to start filming his life at all times, he soon discovers something of another world with Matt and student body president Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Despite each of them developing chronic nosebleeds, they also discover they now have superhuman abilities. Andrew, Matt, and Steve push themselves to the limit and become stronger in the process. But as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility." Friendships will be tested and destruction will become nothing more than an afterthought.

I felt a little weary going into Chronicle. The original trailer was interesting, but the TV spots seemed to show too much. They essentially gave away every key point of the storyline. Not only that, but they gave away too much of the special effects as well. That wouldn't be much of an issue if the effects didn't look so shoddy and cheap. Seeing it on the big screen did help, but they still looked a little hokey in the process.

Chronicle is shot in the documentary-style you've been forced to accept as a regular style of filmmaking ever since The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. The upside is Chronicle doesn't look as amateur as what you may be expecting. There are a few shaky moments, but it's mostly in the beginning before Andrew gets a new camera. Once that happens, everything visual becomes a bit clearer and the perspective becomes a lot more interesting. The "floating camera" perspective is one of the more original aspects to come out of the film. One of the highlights of this perspective is when Andrew first puts the firefighter costume on. That scene in particular is pretty awesome, but is even more exceptional thanks to the intriguing camera work.

Those scenes where Andrew, Matt, and Steve develop their superpowers to their maximum potential are the best in the film. What human being has never dreamt of flying? The way Chronicle pulls that sequence off is incredible. The humor in it isn't too shabby either. It's typical high school drama at times, but it eventually grows on you much like the rest of the film.

Coming back around to the special effects, they plague the film in the second half. It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't such a heavy use of them. More often than not, something computer generated looks out of place or is heavily shaded when it shouldn't be. It's almost as if you can get a glimpse of the original CG model that was used in whatever special effects software they used before it was actually rendered or something. Andrew's view of life is awful as everyone he runs into beats the snot out of him. After viewing the film, you can understand why this was done but most individuals aren't that cruel and it seems a bit much. Chronicle does seem to get better as it progresses, but it drops the ball in its final moments. You can see the opening for a sequel coming from a mile away.

Chronicle is much better than the trailers and TV spots let on. The camera work is fairly dynamic for a documentary-style film, the acting is very good for a generally unknown cast, and it's actually a lot smarter than it lets on. With that said though, its $15 million budget becomes very obvious with its heavy use of special effects and the finale of the film practically ruins everything good the movie has going for it. Chronicle is a pretty fun ride in the long run though. While it may not be totally original on the surface, the journey in the middle is fairly unique. Setting its flaws aside, Chronicle is quite possibly one of the most exciting stories of the birth of a super villain to ever hit the big screen.

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Tags: Chronicle, review, movies, action, drama, sci-fi, superhero, found footage
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The Grey (2012) review
01/26/12 at 11:14 AM by EvilButters
There were a lot of things that felt like they were kept secret on purpose before sitting down and viewing The Grey for the first time. The trailer hints at the movie being nothing more than a survival thriller starring Liam Neeson as he struggles to survive not only the unrelenting cold elements, but also the ferocious wolves that inhabit his surroundings. The Grey is written and directed by Joe Carnahan, the man who brought us Smokin' Aces and The A-Team. The movie is also produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, which you think the marketing campaign would jump all over but doesn't even mention. Not only that, but there is quite a bit more to the movie than the trailer and TV spots let on.

As the movie begins, Ottway (Liam Neeson) narrates a letter he's writing to his wife. This segment just made me realize what my life is lacking most right now and that's a Liam Neeson voiceover for every thought that crosses my mind. Think about that. It'd be the most amazing thing ever. The trailer reveals a few major things: that Ottway is stranded in the middle of nowhere in the blistering cold thanks to a plane crash and that wolves stand in the way of him actually surviving this ordeal. The plane crash itself is one of the best executed in recent memory. The way it's filmed and edited is downright ruthless. It's as if you're on the plane as it goes down. The Grey doesn't just place you in this blizzard-ridden hell infested with wolves, it kicks your teeth down your throat, laughs in your face, and throws you into it with everything it has.

The movie gives new meaning to some of the simplest things. Seeing your breath in cold weather takes on an entirely new definition and the way The Grey deals with death just feels incredibly powerful. Ottway questions faith right from the start and takes matters into his own hands throughout the movie. The events that transpire take a toll on even the most religious plane crash survivors. Death is more of a relief than something worth distancing yourself from. Ottway describes it as being a warm sensation and thinking about the thing you love most in life before completely giving yourself into it. Many of the campfire conversations are entirely more impactful than they have any right to be. The conversation about faith in general hits you like a potato sack full of cinder blocks.

The Grey manages to shout its message even when there's nothing being said on-screen. One of the images that stuck with me long after the movie ended was the shot of blood flowing into the paw print of a wolf in the snow. There's a scene by the river that strictly relies on sound and the way you succumb to it is nothing more than brilliant. There's another shot at the end of the film where (and I'm trying to avoid spoilers the best I can) Ottway is arranging some objects in the snow. The way Liam Neeson's fat, sausage-like fingers delicately wrap themselves around these objects and the way his hands tremble as he does this illustrates not only what this man has been through, but also that he's at the end of his rope. Plus the movie will make you want to look over your shoulder the next time you consider relieving yourself out in nature somewhere.

That level of greatness The Grey eventually achieves isn't around at all times. Some lame dialogue does squeak through and characters manage to do really stupid things at times (John Diaz, played by Frank Grillo, especially), but that seems to help the movie more than anything. People, real people, occasionally do stupid things especially when they’re scared. So this kind of made the characters feel more genuine and made it very clear that certain characters were caving under pressure.

There was a movie that came out back in 2000 that was called Vertical Limit. It was one of my most trying times at the movie theater. I fought vehemently to leave about halfway through because I hated it so much, but I was with people at the time who wanted to stay until the end. It was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had to pay for. The Grey is basically everything I wanted that movie to be. The cast is fantastic, their actions are mostly believable, and there's this meaning to everything that really speaks to you.

The Grey is a grainy thriller that knocks the wind out of you on more than one occasion. In fact, it's rare that the movie actually allows you to catch your breath. Everything is such a raw, vicious, and brutal test of faith. It's fantastically violent and Liam Neeson is superb. If The Grey is anything to fall back on, then 2012 is going to be one hell of a year for movies.

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Tags: The Grey, review, action, thriller, Liam Neeson, Joe Carnahan
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Red Tails (2012) review
01/20/12 at 09:55 AM by EvilButters
Over twenty five years after the fact and Maverick has become a drunk who makes hasty decisions under the influence, Goose has become a bit more reckless and still puts women before anything else, and Iceman's role has been reduced significantly as his smug arrogance is only felt in a handful of lines. What's that you say? Red Tails isn't the urban retelling of Top Gun? Well, you could have fooled me. It's not that it makes much difference though. No matter how you look at it, Red Tails doesn't really have much of anything to offer.

At the peak of World War II, African American pilots are considered the lowest of the low. They're considered to be incapable of performing their tasks to their country to the fullest and are given leftover missions that don't even qualify as scraping the bottom of the barrel. The Tuskegee training program is no different as the entire squadron is mostly reduced to shooting down trucks, trains, and perhaps a cow every now and then. That is until Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) succeeds in letting the higher ups give his men a chance and they take full advantage of the opportunity.

Red Tails feels really cheesy as soon as that quote is shown in the opening scene. The movie has a $58 million budget, but it certainly doesn't feel that way considering the opening credits. The amalgamation of planes ripping through the sky and tearing each other to pieces feels like a distraction or a cover up for the rest of your senses. Try to pay attention to the credits, how plain they are, and how cheap they look. That along with the score that feels like it was ripped straight out of a stereotypical action film from the 90s doesn't really seem like the type of tone they were going for here. The acting isn't much better as stiffness and monotony seem to be what they were aiming for. The Tuskegee airmen do begin to get a bit more comfortable in their roles as the movie progresses. David Oyelowo takes Lightning the furthest as far as Easy's (Nate Parker) squad goes, but they certainly seem their best in the face of tragedy. Terrence Howard has a few great moments, as well. Specifically his "highest expectations" scene he shares with Joe "Lightning" Little. But it isn't enough to save a second-rate film.

The script is very dry. I don't mean dry humor I mean about as pleasant as trying to listen to somebody with a mouthful of saltine crackers. It feels so stale and again contributes to that 90s atmosphere I mentioned earlier. Keep an ear out for the Americans and how third grade they sound. The dialogue along with the monotonous tone spread out amongst every actor in the film makes everyone come off as a robot. "These cows are armed," is a line that's actually used in the movie. There are a few lines that are almost decent. Winky's (Leslie Odom Jr) line where he says, "Every time I close that canopy I feel like I'm closing the lid to my own coffin," is surprisingly good. It gives the momentary belief that things may turn around, but they never do. Smokey's (Ne-Yo) "colored" conversation at the bar is the most amusing thing Red Tails has to offer, as well. There are many lame attempts at humor that just make you groan. Black Jesus is perhaps the worst joke of all, considering how things turn out for Deke (Marcus T. Paulk).

I was expecting Red Tails to at least offer a fair amount of eye candy, but the special effects weren't really all that impressive at all. There's a train explosion early on in the film that's been shown in nearly every trailer and TV spot. It's pretty much on the same scale as the train crash in Super 8, but it isn't nearly as spectacular. That's kind of weird considering Super 8 was $8 million dollars cheaper than Red Tails when it comes to its budget. What ruined it for me was that sloppy zoom-in effect that's relied on as a crutch the entire movie. The Tuskegee airmen will be in the midst of a heated air battle with the Germans. The camera would pan up to try and capture the action, but it would zoom-in (or out on a few occasions) nearly every time to try and show you who should be keeping track of. It just came off as sloppy camera work to me, as if they didn't have the proper camera placement for the scene and tried to adjust it accordingly. There are several things that don't really add up in the movie either. One of the main ones for me was that at one point, Easy tells everyone that there's no time to celebrate a completed mission and to return to base because they're low on fuel. But can you guess what they do in the very next scene? They showboat and celebrate. Not listening to your superiors and still getting praised for it is an overbearing theme in the movie, as well.

George Lucas fought for 23 years to get this made, but after viewing it you'll more than likely be convinced that the man has grown senile over the years and that retirement from Hollywood is the best thing for him. The turnout for the screening was insane and you can bet that Red Tails will more than likely make a killing at the box office, but there's no way in hell it passes as a good or even decent piece of cinema. Amateur cinematography, a boring script, terrible acting, and the fate of certain characters being extremely predictable (you can guess Lightning's fate around the time things start getting serious with Sophia), Red Tails is the equivalent of a stand-up act that gets booed off the stage. It is just awful. I was left wishing the entire movie was just Cuba Gooding Jr lifting a pipe to his lips, pulling it away, and pretending to smoke the entire film. If it was just those clips strung together with no dialogue and that dubstep track from the TV spot in the background, I could have at least gotten a good laugh out of it.

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Tags: Red Tails, review, action, adventure, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, George Lucas
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Haywire (2012) review
01/19/12 at 12:52 PM by EvilButters
Steven Soderbergh's outbreak thriller Contagion was one of the biggest sleeper hits of last year. The film made a respectable amount at the box office and was critically praised, but if you're like me then you may have written off seeing it in theaters since most films in the same vein weren't so great, but Contagion broke the mold you may have thought it fit into and some of the credit can be attributed to the rather phenomenal ensemble cast. I'm behind with much of Soderbergh's work, but the general consensus is that he's always able to put together one hell of a cast for nearly every one of his feature films. His latest effort Haywire is no exception.

I don't follow MMA, so I had no idea who Gina Carano was going into Haywire. After it ended though, I certainly wanted to see more of her especially with how beautiful she is. Carano handles herself extremely well on-screen and is a fairly solid actress. The fact that she's able to kick ass and at least appear to have acting range is a serious plus. Despite the incredible cast, you're left wishing that the majority of them were around longer than they actually are. I'm looking at you, Michael Fassbender. Channing Tatum seemed a little less annoying than he usually is in his on-screen efforts while Ewan McGregor stepped outside of his comfort zone a bit and played for the opposing team for once. There was a lot of potential for Michael Douglas' Coblenz character, but he's used so sparingly as he's only in three scenes or so. Antonio Banderas appears on-screen about as often as Douglas, but plays a bigger role in the storyline as far as who's pulling the strings on who betrayed whom as far as Mallory's (Carano) mission goes. The only person who's somewhat forgettable is Bill Paxton. There's an amazing scene that takes place at his house, but he doesn't really contribute and is just kind of there.

One of the interesting things about Haywire is that nearly every scene that takes place inside of a building has this yellow filter to it. The hum of fluorescent lighting makes a scene that is otherwise just talking a bit more memorable. It's more than likely a Soderbergh trademark as I seem to recall the same technique being used in Contagion, as well. As Mallory tells her story to Scott (Michael Angarano), we're shown what transpired in Barcelona which is what sparked the events to come. The set up process is fairly meticulous and feels somewhat similar to the preparations a team would have to make to pull off a successful heist. There's this well executed montage in Barcelona with no dialogue and a killer soundtrack that is incredibly memorable. The soundtrack is really fantastic anyway as it has this bluesy jazz kind of feel to it that is really exceptional. When the action gets heavy though, the music disappears and you're left with the loud clamoring of two or more individuals beating the snot out of each other. Those sound effects along with seeing opponents’ skulls bounce off counter corners and being thrown through windows are perhaps the greatest moments the film has to offer.

Haywire establishes this feeling that Mallory is being followed at all times, which is a must because she basically is. The way the camera shows how she's being tailed and those over the shoulder shots to show how she slipped behind a wall just in time to escape their line of vision is pretty extraordinary. The film takes us all over the world as we see the likes of Barcelona, San Diego, New York, Dublin, London, and New Mexico. One of the issues though is that despite a slight change in setting, every place feels exactly the same because a similar sequence of events occurs in every city. I overheard some people saying there were quite a few holes in the film, but I felt like the screenplay was incredibly solid. The spoken dialogue did a really superb job of reeling the viewer in while mostly feeling very natural. With that said though, it would have been nice to have a bit more action to compliment all of the talking.

Haywire is an energetic powerhouse of an action thriller with a fantastic ensemble cast, a story that throws you right in the middle of the action, and an absorbing script. The sensational soundtrack compliments the film in the best of ways. Just keep in mind that while Haywire is pretty good, it's nowhere near as good or as epic as the beard Antonio Banderas shows off in the film. That Peter Griffin beard of his is certainly something grandiose to be proud of.

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Tags: Haywire, review, action, thriller, Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Steven Soderbergh
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Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2012) review
01/19/12 at 10:08 AM by EvilButters
I have been following Fullmetal Alchemist since 2002. In college, I used to read scans of the manga translated into English by fans before it was picked up for U.S. distribution. I became addicted to the original series and blazed through its 51 episodes in less than a week (I went through "Brotherhood", a 64 episode series, in five days). The first movie Conquerer of Shamballa didn't exactly sit well with me in the long run though. It wasn't because the film was bad or of poor quality (in fact it was very much the opposite), but seeing the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric finally come to a close and live in a world without alchemy was extremely bittersweet. "Brotherhood" seemed to correct every misstep the original series had though while also offering better animation and was much closer to the manga it originated from. "Brotherhood" is more emotional than the original series and the conclusion just feels so right. I consider "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" to be one of the best anime titles of all time. So imagine the excitement when news of a new movie being in development finally reached this fan's ears. Maybe it's just because I've been on a Fullmetal Alchemist kick lately anyway, but The Sacred Star of Milos is everything I wanted it to be and then some.

The Sacred Star of Milos is a stand-alone animated feature much like Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door and Trigun: Badlands Rumble. This means that as long as you have a basic understanding of the characters and the alchemy they use then you'll understand everything in the film and more than likely enjoy it thoroughly. Bones returns as the animation studio for the film (credits include the original "Fullmetal Alchemist" series, "Wolf's Rain", and "Cowboy Bebop" among many others), which is fantastic for us. The animation is so crisp, smooth, and seems so naturally fluid while everything is overflowing with color and appears to be an incredible series of paintings brought to life. The action sequences are illustrated so vividly and are so detailed. The alchemy battles along with its dynamic use of perspective never really let up. If the movie isn't impressing you with its animation or its eyecatching action, it reels you in with its story. Interesting and complex without crossing over into convoluted territory, The Sacred Star of Milos is a perfect addition to the Fullmetal Alchemist universe.

Stand-alone anime films based on well-known anime series always seem to include the coolest and unrelenting villians. The Sacred Star of Milos introduces Ashleigh Crichton and his sister Julia. The town Milos is located at the bottom of a valley directly in the middle of a rising rebellion. Julia feels like she owes an obligation to the people of Milos and looks to help restore the glory the town once had. Little does she know that her quest has her being drawn to the Philosopher's Stone. Ashleigh breaks out of prison six months before his parole and uses a mysterious alchemy that even the Elric brothers don't recognize. His motives are unclear right from the start. Then there's the wolf chimeras (along with their incredible transformations) and the mysterious masked man. All of these characters play intricate roles in the storyline.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos introduces some fantastic new characters wrapped up in an elaborate and intelligent storyline while delivering the exceptional animation you've come to expect from both series. Having such a sensational film be released in this time frame of the year almost seems blasphemous.

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Tags: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, anime, animation, action, adventure
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The Adventures of Tintin (2011) review
12/21/11 at 09:01 AM by EvilButters
The Adventures of Tintin was a film I wasn't sure what to think of. Another motion capture CG animated film? Haven't we gotten enough of those from Robert Zemeckis? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really soured my opinion of an already faulty foundation known as Steven Spielberg's more recently directed films. However there was an upside: both the outstanding Edgar Wright and writer/director of Attack the Block Joe Cornish contributed to the writing of the film. The cast was also incredible and the film had a reputation amongst critics who had already seen it as being this nonstop action adventure. Tintin sounded like money going into it; BIG money. The final product turns out to be rather good, but isn't quite as spectacular as the hype lets on.

You're pretty much thrown into this mystery right from the start. This isn't an origin story. It's a continuation of a character most people either are already familiar with and/or immensely love. Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) buys a model ship at an outdoor market known as The Unicorn, but things become strange very quickly. Two men try to obtain the ship from him right after he purchases it: the first one warning him to get rid of it as soon as he can and the other, a man named Ivanovich Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig) offering him any price he'd like. Politely declining, Tintin takes the ship home and eventually discovers that something is hidden inside the ship. As a journalist always hungry for a story, Tintin embarks on an incredible adventure accompanied by his dog Snowy and a sea captain named Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis).

The opening credits are amazing. It's traditional 2D animation, so it stands out from the rest of the film. There's this mini mystery solved during the duration of the opening credits. The pace is perfect and it's easily one of the best film openings of the year. You'll probably also notice the incredible score by John Williams right out the gate. It captures the atmosphere of crime and noir films perfectly and makes full use of a wide range of orchestral instruments. It’s just an extraordinary score all around.

Peter Jackson once described the film's look as "photorealistic; the fibers of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people – but real Herge people!" This is a really exceptional quote to fall back on when trying to describe how the film looks. Textures, hair, and the way character's mouths move are all very realistic. Despite sharing motion capture qualities with recent Robert Zemeckis films such as A Christmas Carol, Beowulf, and The Polar Express, Tintin looks better. It could be due to the characters looking more like the actual characters and not the actors who portray them, but Tintin pays ridiculous attention to detail which is probably just as much a blessing as it is a curse.

There are two action scenes in the film that are worth the price of admission alone; Captain Haddock's pirate flashback and the motorcycle chase scene. The pirate ship battle makes it seem like the Pirates of the Caribbean films failed miserably at anything remotely resembling action. Tintin has this fantastic use of perspective in that it's dynamic, but it doesn't get too experimental or crazy. It's like you're always in the right place at the right time. You can clearly make out what's going on at all times, which is something Michael Bay isn't able to claim the majority of the time. The motorcycle chase is my favorite of the two since it's nonstop. The pirate scene cuts back and forth between what Haddock is remembering and what's transpiring in the real world. The motorcycle chase is just in your face the entire time, lasts around six minutes, and puts you on the edge of your seat.

Tintin does have its shortcomings though. It does feature two of the year's best action scenes, but it also drags quite a bit in the middle. You get a little bored at times watching Tintin and Haddock be stranded out at sea, stumble through the desert, and Haddock's incessant rambling of never having enough booze. It results in the film feeling longer than it is. There was also a big deal about seeing this on screen. "It MUST be seen in 3D," is what we were told. As you can imagine, the 3D isn't really mandatory for enjoying the film. Aside from one scene, I don't recall a huge use of it anyway. A lot of the action was also extremely unrealistic, as well. I know, it's Hollywood, it's Steven Spielberg, you're supposed to already have this suspension of disbelief anyway. If I get to the point where I notice that this couldn't happen in reality though, then I feel like the movie hasn't effectively done its job; not completely anyway. That feeling was almost overbearing at times with Tintin.

The Adventures of Tintin does seem to fall a bit short of the painting critics have painted for it, but is still well worth the price of admission. This year has also been an amazing year for movies featuring dogs: The Artist had Jack, Beginners had Arthur, and Tintin has Snowy. Snowy is easily the most entertaining of the three, but he's also the most animated and the most fictional. Tintin may be a bit slow at times, but visually it's freaking spectacular and the score is an easy contender for one of the best of the year. As far as animated films go, it's films like The Adventures of Tintin that movie lovers live for.

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Tags: Tintin, movie review, animation, action, Andy Serkis, Steven Spielberg
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) review
12/16/11 at 09:52 AM by EvilButters
The fourth paragraph of this review contains some minor spoilers

Mentioning Tom Cruise or the Mission: Impossible movies during a movie conversation with me would be very similar to picking up dirt or sand and throwing it in my face during a fight; even though it's smart and will result in you getting the upper hand it's still dirty and nobody really likes it. Mission: Impossible II is the only part of the franchise I've seen and despite being directed by John Woo is just all kinds of awful. I tend to not like most of Tom Cruise's work though outside of The Last Samurai and Collateral. Ghost Protocol at least had a few redeeming factors; Simon Pegg is usually pretty awesome and Jeremy Renner has been solid in his last few efforts. Not many people can claim they aren't huge fans of the animated films Brad Bird has directed over the years, so they'd have to be interested in seeing his first live-action film. The final result is a very loud movie that only manages to be lukewarm at best.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol starts off really strong. The skyscraper sequences and extravagant action scenes look really amazing on an IMAX screen and the movie is practically all action the first half; you barely have time to breathe. The opening is also probably one of the best executed of the year, as well. Something as simple as the combination of a very long fuse being used in a unique way, that familiar theme music, and an elaborate title sequence somehow make all the difference in the world. The storyline is fairly intricate in its details, but everything seems to add up in an impressive way and the gadgets Ethan and his team use are spectacular. Those moments when they use this amazing technology pretty much make the movie. But somewhere around the time Jeremy Renner's character gets introduced is where things go downhill.

In an Entertainment Weekly article a few weeks back, they went into pretty good length about Mission: Impossible 4. A fairly big deal was placed on Renner's character. "There's more to his character than he first lets on," is what the main point was. But once Agent Brandt (Renner) goes into detail about his past, it's fairly underwhelming and everything remotely connecting him to Ethan Hunt's team is completely contradicted in the ending. So the Agent Brandt character mostly just feels like filler and a waste of time. While the movie does go to great lengths to inject as much action and excitement as humanly possible into its 133 minute running time, there's this part in the middle that's fairly slow in comparison. There's a segment with a suitcase that goes on far longer than it should, Brandt tells his story, Ethan briefly goes solo, and a Russian agent named Sidirov (Vladimir Mashkov) begins tailing Ethan. Then there are the few attempts at humor that just aren't very funny at all and one-liners that are kind of obnoxious.

One of the things that bothered me the most about Mission: Impossible II was the amount of unrealistic stunts that were pulled off and the way action seemed to defy logic. The problem is that same issue is still there two movies later. After seeing Ghost Protocol, I was almost convinced that Tom Cruise couldn't die. Maybe after seventeen years, Cruise decided to show the world he really is Lestat de Lioncourt. In the span of this film, Ethan Hunt is hit by a car, is inside of a car as it is riddled with ongoing gunfire before flipping over and landing in a lake, dives out of a car, barely dodges a car that flips into the air and lands beside him, and survives a 100-meter vertical drop among other things. Most of these don't even faze him other than being out of breath as he tends to just get back up and chase after his suspect again. I know "Impossible" is in the title, but does it have to be the guideline in every action sequence, as well? Lastly, the "blue/glue red/dead" scene is filmed superbly. If you're afraid of heights, I could see this scene possibly getting to you especially in IMAX. But it just seemed like an excuse for Tom Cruise to play Spider-Man. "Oh, nobody's even going to consider me for a superhero film? Well let's just develop some new technology in the next Mission: Impossible to make me feel better!"

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol showed quite a bit of potential early on, drops the ball somewhere in the middle, tries to regain the momentum it lost during its second act, but is never really able to. There is a ridiculous amount of action at the beginning and ending of the film with a rather large segment sandwiched in between that drags quite a bit. The attempts at humor were mostly very groan-worthy. The formula is basically action, action, action, explosions, long boring streak, stupid jokes, lots more action, and a very expected ending. The gadgets and storyline are a lot cleverer than you may anticipate, but then slowly unravel into pretty much what you expect a Tom Cruise movie to be like. While it is very disappointing on one hand, it at least deserves some credit for breaking the mold of cliché action movies. It's as if Brad Bird started writing a letter to Michael Bay that started off like, "You see, Mike? THIS is how you make an action movie both intelligent and fun for audiences," but then realized halfway through that he was basically following in Bay's footsteps, crumpled the letter up, threw it away, and breathed an exasperated sigh before saying to himself, "Oh, nevermind."


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Tags: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, movie review, Houston, action, Tom Cruise
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Blu-ray review: A Better Tomorrow (2011)
11/10/11 at 12:59 PM by EvilButters
I've often joked that you cannot put weight in calling yourself a man unless you have seen at least one John Woo film. His early work especially was filled with epic gunfights, explosions, and just all around awe-inspiring action sequences. The only downside is that many of his older films featuring Chow Yun Fat all feel so similar that it's really difficult to distinguish one from another. The storylines are almost exactly the same and many of the same cast members are utilized in each film. It has literally been years since I've seen the original A Better Tomorrow. I was mostly hoping for an upgrade of sorts from Dragon Dynasty since their 2-disc and Blu-ray releases of classic foreign cinema are always top notch. Nevertheless, I do remember holding both the original film and sequel in high regard. I wasn't even aware a Korean remake was on the cards until I received an email informing me of the DVD and Blu-ray details. Given the amount of remakes that hit US shores at such a quickened pace, I was a bit weary of giving this film a chance. But then I began to realize how much I love Korean film and came to notice that John Woo produced the film. So A Better Tomorrow was given its proper chance and folks, maybe it's because I haven't seen the 1986 version in so long but this remake almost seems as worthy as the original film.

Before I get ahead of myself, I love John Woo's film. I want to make that point crystal clear. A Better Tomorrow features some of the most influential action sequences not only of the 1980s, but perhaps of all time. The remake takes a bit of a different route and is more story-driven. There are only a handful of action sequences, but they feel strategically placed and mean a bit more in the long run. Character development is key. The action is only there to compliment the drama. While the original theme, location, and character names may have been changed, much of the impact of what these characters are going through is still rather strong. The majority of the film is carried by the brothers Hyuk (Jin-mo Ju) and Chul (Kang-woo Kim) and their relationship or lack thereof. Hyuk abandoned Chul and his mother years ago. With their mother now dead, Chul seeks revenge and only wants to see his brother dead while Hyuk just wants Chul to be a part of his life. Hyuk is a policeman who illegally deals guns on the side. His partner Young-chun (Seung-heon Song) is more than likely the coolest guy you've ever come across while Tae Min (Han Sun Jo) is the lackey who dreams of becoming a gangster boss.

The film looks stunning. It's beautifully shot and features some amazingly vibrant colors along with some really impressive lighting. The Young-chun gun scene with the arms dealers from Thailand near the beginning of the film is where things begin to get interesting. The interrogation scene where the brothers meet for the first time after many years of separation show how powerful the performances of Jin-Mo Ju and Kang-woo Kim are going to become. But the massage parlor scene with Young-chun is where the film begins to show its first signs of John Woo influence. While the action scenes are fewer, everything seems to be riding on the final gunfight which is pretty extraordinary. The relationship between the two brothers is what drives the movie forward, but the way Young-chun tries to make himself part of that equation and the monster Tae Min becomes is what makes the film at least a little special.

The few reviews I'm seeing online of this film are saying things like it lacks the very important theme of the John Woo film and that there isn't as much action. There's also a lack of female roles, which I agree with. This version of A Better Tomorrow is good for different reasons than its predecessor. I feel like the performances were much stronger in the remake and that the story, even though it deviated quite a bit from John Woo's version, took a front seat rather than the action. The Korean remake is slower and not quite as violent. My only complaint falls onto the ending, which is way too anticlimactic.

A Better Tomorrow is not the same movie it's labeled as remaking and that's a good thing. Strong performances and fewer action sequences help pave the way for more meaningful character development and a story with a bit more of an impact. Maybe I'm biased because I love depressing films, but A Better Tomorrow is well worth giving a chance if you can settle with the fact that it's different and altered from the source material; arguably not for the better but enjoyable in a contrasting way.

Special features are pretty minimal. It says there are 27 minutes total of special features in the set, but I believe the same set of special features are on both the DVD and the Blu-ray. So it’s more like 13 minutes of the same features on both discs. There’s a three minute Character Intro Cast Interview that introduces the characters and shows you a little bit behind the scenes, a four minute Making of featurette that goes into more detail behind the scenes and gives you more information about the film including it being filmed in Thailand, the type of blood packs they used, and action scenes being shot from a helicopter. Challenges & Transformations is nothing more than a two minute interviews with director Song Hae-sung and producer John Woo (separately). Throw in the original trailer and a bonus trailer and that sums up all the bonus material. Keep in mind both the DVD and Blu-ray of the film are included in one package.

A Better Tomorrow is presented in widescreen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and features stereo 5.1 HD Surround Sound along with Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film is in Korean with English subtitles and is approximately 123 minutes long. The A Better Tomorrow DVD/Blu-ray combo package is available in retail stores and most online retailers now.

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Tags: A Better Tomorrow, movie review, Blu-ray review, drama, action, remake, Korean, John
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Tower Heist (2011) review
11/04/11 at 02:45 PM by EvilButters
Brett Ratner isn't exactly a director people love these days. After the below par Rush Hour 3 fell well below expectations and X-Men: The Last Stand genuinely pissed off comic book and movie fans alike, it's difficult to really get excited about anything he's a part of now. So along comes Tower Heist where Ratner teams with Eddie Murphy, another example of someone in Hollywood people have grown sour on, to assemble a movie that seems to have thrown together a wide assortment of middle class actors that hope to capture the same magic the Ocean's Eleven movies did. Sometimes you can predict a movie at face value and what you see in promos is what you get with Tower Heist.

Tower Heist did seem to finally get going in the middle of the movie; it showed signs of heart, jokes actually felt a bit more on point, and the story was progressing nicely. Unfortunately, it's sandwiched between an extremely lame opening half hour or so featuring what feels like nothing but rectum and feces jokes and a really stupid final half hour that is just too over the top to believe or actually pull off. Peña and Murphy seem to be in a competition with one another on who can say the most ignorant things that come to mind while Broderick falls victim to the same character flaw despite showing signs of intelligence in more difficult areas. Casey Affleck doesn't do a whole lot other than worry about his pregnant wife while Ben Stiller puts in one of the tamest performances of his career. Nearly all of the characters felt flat and underdeveloped. Despite having their own quirks and brief background stories, they all seemed to go in the same direction which was blurting ridiculous one-liners to try and make the audience laugh rather than try and move the story along.

There is some good buried in the middle of the movie though. The entire Lester (Stephen Henderson) subplot is the closest Tower Heist gets to developing any sort of heart even though it feels like it drops the ball as soon as it tries to pick it up. The conversations the team has before the actual heist take place are easily the funniest segments of the film; the lesbian conversation and Lego layout scene with the "Webster" line specifically. Gabourey Sidibe is used pretty sparingly in the movie, but seems to do the most with what screen time she does get. She's genuinely pretty funny nearly every time she shows up. Téa Leoni probably gives the strongest performance though. Special Agent Claire Denham is an FBI agent that does everything by the book and puts her job before anything else, but it's obvious she develops a soft spot for Josh Kovacs (Stiller). The scene where she and Stiller get drunk is charming in this awkward sort of way.

Tower Heist would actually be pretty decent if it wasn't for how everything is resolved at the end. What the team ends up stealing, how they get it out of the hotel, where it ends up, and what they do with it just ruins anything you may have liked up until that point. Nearly every actor that's part of the main cast at least has one line that will make you smile or laugh out loud, so everyone gets their moment to shine. It doesn't save a shoddy movie that can't find its footing in the story department though. With more downs than ups and one of the most unfulfilling conclusions to a movie in recent memory, Tower Heist comes off as nothing more than a generically ghetto version of Ocean's Eleven.


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Tags: Tower Heist, movie review, action, comedy, crime, Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy
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Warrior (2011) review
09/04/11 at 05:03 PM by EvilButters
I'm not a fan of MMA. I don't hate it and I can sit down and watch it, but I'm not a fan of the sport. I'm also fairly certain I've never seen a Gavin O'Connor directed film until now. To be honest, the one thing that made me want to see this movie was Tom Hardy getting top billing. Hardy's been around awhile, but most probably didn't give the guy much thought until he started showing up in Christopher Nolan films. Bronson was the movie that made me admire his talent though. Warrior is fairly outstanding in general anyway, but could also give even more weight to Hardy's name.

Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) lost everything when he was a drunk. His wife died without him by her bedside and both of his sons cut him off almost completely. His younger son Tommy (Tom Hardy) shows up on his doorstep one day after being in the army wanting nothing more than a coach for the big Spartan MMA tournament coming up. Tommy is withdrawn and doesn't want to share anything about his life and it turns out that there's a reason for that. Meanwhile Paddy's other son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is facing a foreclosure on his house and was suspended from his teaching job after being caught fighting in the parking lot of a strip club. Brendan enters the tournament in hopes of keeping his family afloat while Tommy's purpose has something to do with his army brethren. Warrior is more of a story about the Conlon family struggling to find it within themselves to forgive each other rather than who will win this massive MMA tournament.

The cast is really phenomenal in this. Nick Nolte manages to outshine both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as far as performances go. While Hardy and Edgerton are off beating the crap out of each other in the cage, Nolte portrays some amazing emotion. You can tell he's a broken man trying to get his life back on track and everything seems to be blowing up in his face. Joel Edgerton really plays up the whole underdog thing. A physics teacher in an MMA tournament? He doesn't stand a chance. Edgerton displays emotion as well, but his performance is otherwise forgettable. Tom Hardy plays the typical tough guy. Nothing is going to stand in his way. He'd rather not talk if he can help it, but he's an absolute beast in that cage. While each lead actor in the movie has their own strengths and weaknesses, they have all the bases covered between the three of them to make everything come together.

Some of the supporting cast is really interesting. This was an intriguing film to follow up leaving "House, MD" for Jennifer Morrison and it's nice to see Kevin Dunn be at least somewhat amusing and not completely irritating like he was in the Transformers movies. It was crazy seeing Kurt Angle in this though, especially as a Russian. It's as if he was playing a modern day version of Ivan Drago who took up MMA instead of boxing and never had anything to say about it.

Warrior did have its shortcomings though. It is a bit cliché and predictable. The whole movie is centered on these two brothers finally fighting in the cage and you can probably guess who's going to win; is it going to be the guy that breaks every rule imaginable with a chip on his shoulder or the kind, warm school teacher with a family that everybody loves? But the whole experience was about more than just who would win that fight though. Thankfully there's a bit of a deeper meaning to it. The camera work got really annoying at times as well though. It was as if it was attempting to go for this gritty, realistic style and it just came off as somebody not being able to hold a camera steadily or terrible perspectives that blocked more of the shot than anything else.

Warrior packs one hell of a punch. Its incredible, emotional, and powerful story is told by a talented cast amongst a flurry of knockout punches and submission holds that'll force you to tap to the spectacular journey you just experienced. Nick Nolte gives a scene stealing performance while Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton pick up the scraps and tend to take pride in delivering what Nolte couldn't follow up on. While Warrior does have its flaws, it's essentially to MMA what The Fighter was to boxing. In the end, Warrior is surprisingly heartfelt and delivers a wonderful message.

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Tags: Warrior, movie review, action, drama, sports, MMA, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton
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