Monday, 31 August 2015

Movie Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)



Well… This is going to be a weird follow-up to my last review. I mean, after a film that broke me that much, I could be watching anything today and it would be a vast improvement. Not only that, it was about as far away from my comfort zone that I've reached yet, even considering my old YouTube days, so going back to my standard formula after that is going to feel a bit off. Still, I don’t want to grind that gimmick into the ground just yet, so for now it’s business as usual. And with that, it’s time for a film remake of a classic 60’s spy TV show… and no, I’m talking about Mission: Impossible. This is The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The plot: In the face of Nazi sympathizer Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her plans to construct her own nuclear weapon, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are forced to work together to stop her. They each send an agent out into the field, C.I.A. agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), to protect Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a former Nazi scientist who Victoria wants to use to build the weapon, all the while trying to keep each other out of the loop on their other mission objectives involving the weapon plans.

After the initial one-two punch of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Guy Ritchie does hold a certain place in my heart as a legitimate filmmaker, even if his more recent efforts haven’t yet been able to match that early peak. After 2013’s one-two punch of Man Of Steel and The Lone Ranger, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer both hold a certain place on my watch list as actors to be cautious of. If I didn’t know any better, I’d call this stunt casting as bringing together two doses of critical poison under a single roof could hardly be an accident. Still, these choices still look better than those made in that other Henry Cavill action movie even without watching the film, and after watching this Cavill and Hammer actually work together. Most of their banter may resort to manhood measuring, but their on-screen chemistry at least makes that prospect palatable. Cavill’s Solo is a bit of a prick throughout, but he at least follows the golden in that regard by at least being funny while he does so. He feels a lot more in his element here than he does as Space Jesus, as he wears Solo’s proto-typical American smugness rather well. Hammer, aside from pulling off the accent a lot better than I ever would have expected, makes for a decent contrast to this as the brutish Russian Illya and while his anger issues come across as a bit shallow in terms of development, it gives him a few notes of characterization that are honestly missing from most of the rest of the film. However, aside from these two, no one else really registers all that well; yeah, the two guys whom I fully expected to crash and burn here ended up being the best actors here. Vikander as Gaby ends up just being a stock femme fatale, and while Debicki is fun as our villain, she’s only fun in that immediate sense; I can barely remember what she did in the film specifically, just that it was enjoyable to watch.

Even during his lower budget days, Ritchie had a flair for slick and stylized filmmaking and this is no exception. Going into this, the fact that this is based on a pretty dated 60’s action TV show makes this feel kind of unnecessary, but Ritchie seems to have taken that fact to heart. This has a lot of 60’s sensibilities surrounding it, mostly to do with sexuality. Nowadays, subtlety seems to be a lost art in that area, but here we get a return of the classic spy innuendo with maybe some off-screen sounds; a bare back is the closest you’ll get to nudity in this film. It may enter the realms of too chaste, given how we don’t even get to see characters kiss in this film, but it’s admirable that he went in that direction at all. Less admirable, however, are the rest of the style choices made in the production. The action scenes are rushed through, shot with a camera on loan from a found footage studio with all the shakes to match and are edited to the point where it is near impossible to focus on what’s going on. Add to that the weird segmented and almost comic-book-panel framing of a couple of scenes, and this makes for a pretty drastic step-down from the relatively high pedigree for action from earlier this year.

This film has an awful lot of tonal problems as well. At times, it’s as if they’re trying to go for a Get Smart kind of mood, and at others it’s more like Mission: Impossible. This see-sawing between tongue-in-cheek and attempts at sophistication makes it kind of difficult to tell when the film is supposed to be taken seriously. The best way I can illustrate this is the difference between both of the film’s torture scenes involving an electric chair: One is treated with utmost seriousness, and the other mere moments after is treated as a joke by our “heroes”. Maybe this is an extension of Solo’s stance of “America, fuck yeah!”, where torture is only taken seriously if it’s done to them and not by them, but regardless it’s just a good example of how not to mindfrag. As a result of the bipolar tone, along with the milquetoast characterization, a lot of the scenes don’t really register and the basic spy thriller plot doesn’t help with that. Aside from the aforementioned first torture scene that was handled well, the only other scene that stands out is Solo’s picnic. Said picnic is probably the epitome of Solo as a character: He’s an asshole, but still willing to carry out his job when necessary and will even help out his allies in a pinch.

All in all, this is pretty darn lame. While I give credit to Cavill and Hammer for not sucking bricks like their reputations would have audiences assume, their admittedly decent buddy dynamic doesn’t do much to rescue this film’s poorly paced action beats, misguided stylistic decisions and lack of tonal consistency. Given how Snatch is one of my all-time favourite films and that the man is responsible for bringing Jason Statham to the world’s attention, it’s kind of disheartening to see Ritchie fall by the wayside like this. Then again, given how he followed up Snatch with Swept Away and Revolver, this fall from grace isn’t all that surprising either. It’s better than Far From Men, as I didn’t really go into this with any expectations that weren’t met; if anything, given who the lead actors are, this turned out better than I thought it would. However, it ranks lower than Love & Mercy as that film actually got me to connect with the main character. I can’t find a reason to properly recommend this to anyone; I haven’t watched the original series so I don’t know how it compares, and it isn’t all that good on its own either. If you catch it on TV one night, it won’t kill you to keep it on if nothing else is playing.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Movie Review: Vacation (2015)

It’s about a 20 minute trip to the movie theatre from where I live, an easy walk provided you aren’t wearing a jacket designed for ski trips and spring isn’t approaching. When I arrived, sweating profusely from the heavy-jacketed walk, I got a few snacks and a drink from the grocers below the cinema. Because fuck paying cinema prices for candy when I’ve already spent so much money on a film I didn’t even want to see in the first place. I entered the lobby, that familiar smell of stale popcorn in the air, and picked up my ticket from the one machine whose scanner hadn’t broken. Or maybe only one of them was brave enough to admit that I had bought a ticket for the film, out of fear that I would break them further. I got past the ticket checker and made my way down the Walk of Shame, otherwise known as the corridor where the posters for the coming attractions are. Every time I pass that Batman Vs. Superman poster, I keep thinking that it’s grinning at me with malevolent intent; your day will come soon, Snyder. It’s funny because it’s paranoia.

Given my habit of watching films at the last possible session each day, I wasn’t expecting many people to be there with me. Tonight, however, was different; it was by no means full, and it was one of the medium-sized theatres admittedly, but there was a mass of people there all the same. There was general chattering during the previews, and honestly anything to drown out the ads about the bank with the orange lion is a blessing, but they were decent enough to clam up once the screen widened and the film began. To get the audience’s nostalgic mouths salivating, the theme of the original Vacation ‘Holiday Road’ is playing and I get that warm feeling coursing through my body. It’s like John Hughes came back to life for a brief moment to hug me and tell me it’s all going to be alright again. We’re off on a good foot. Then the credits roll with pictures of awkward family vacations, which devolve into just having people with hard-ons under their Speedos. The other foot fell into a pothole and is now stuck. The tone has been set, and it is by no means an appeasing one. It’s funny because it’s erect.

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are scolding their youngest son for defacing his brother’s guitar by writing “I have a vagina” on it. It then leads into a long, drawn-out monologue by Helms that is awkward but not funny awkward. Well, unless you still equate ‘funny’ as “please shoot me so it will stop hurting”. The young son wags his blue tongue at his family and they tell him not to cuss. The audience laughs in an uproar and I sit there with my face in my hands. A recurring fear for some is the idea that they are going insane; that something about them has changed and they no longer belong in their own world. Being in this audience, where I am the sole person who isn’t enjoying themselves, feels a fucking lot like that. Ed slams his arm into the door for some slapstick and Kevin keeps threatening to kill his brother. It’s funny because it’s murder.

We get a repeat of the Dream Girl sequence, but no June Pointer this round. No, because we have a need for this to be different while still copying the same formula, something heavily lampshaded earlier, it’s the older son who gets it set to Summer Breeze. Then Kevin wraps a plastic bag around his head and tries to choke him. Audience laughs and I immediately worry about them doing the same to me; I must be rendered breathless by the comedy or they will do it for me. Christina ends up at her old sorority house and needs to prove that she can still do an obstacle course while drunk. This could just be a shallow excuse to shove stoned asses and drunken tits in front of the camera, but no. Instead, it’s a shallow excuse to see Christina roll around in her own vomit, all because it’s for charity: Raising funds for people with ‘ass-burgers’. It’s funny because it’s ableist.

Ed scares away the young Dream Girl and fails to describe what a rim job is. A milestone is reached with my first legitimate laugh. A lesser critic would make a joke about how puerile the humour is and how they might as well be wallowing in human refuse if they’re begging this much for giggles. And then it happens; the family go to the wrong hot spring. Why this image was used to advertise the movie is beyond me, but then again it must have worked; the cinema is half-full. It’s funny because it’s poop. They need help from Ed’s sister, Leslie Mann and her husband Thor. The film is attempting to recreate the polyamorous themes of the series, what with Clark constantly going after other women and Ellen’s thing with Wayne Newton. Having Thor laying cheaply constructed pipe for several minutes on screen with no actual punchline does not narrative theme make. It’s funny because it’s infidelity.

Then, a miracle takes place. In my life preserver of a theatre seat, I see it along the horizon. A small island on which I can rest these weary bones and catch my breath. It presides at the intersection of four American states, inhabited by a group of exhibitionists and four cops squabbling over jurisdictions. It is a very surreal moment, and more than a little stupid, but it finally happens. The first cracks of a smile appear on my face and air escapes the bottom of my lungs in a successive rhythm. This fit of hysteria may just be a case of me wanting any reprieve from the torment that I have been witnessing, and will continue to do so, but I send a thousand prayers on the wings of a thousand troll-faced angels to the person who gave me this moment. It’s funny because it’s actually funny.

After a suicidal man tries to guide them through a rafting adventure of the Grand Canyon, their gag car explodes from a muffin button. KaiserNeko should sue. It is at this point that I hit two major revelations: I feel nothing and I think nothing. My body had gone completely numb by this point, having exhausted itself from the gnashing of teeth and wondering if I should abandon this sinking ship while I still can. My mind had gone completely numb as well because I knew that I would never be able to write a review for this movie. Comedy is an abstract painting; no two people will see it the exact same way. I see a four-leaf clover where everyone else sees a pitchfork. Merely complaining about something not being funny for my usual thousand word-minimum would not suffice. I do this potentially tumour-inducing work for free, but I still believe in some modicum of a standard for that work. So I had to get inventive with how I did it. It’s funny because it’s Gonzo.

A truck driver has been following them for several hundred miles. The original dad of the Vacation lot was touted alongside our main actors, so I expected that to be his entrance. Another rare occasion is when you aim low and still overreach. Instead, it’s a pederast who has been chasing Christina to give her her wedding ring back. My chair starts shaking and my armrests are restless. Are the people behind me kicking my seat in their glee? I have been feeling a mild nudging at my elbows since the film started, after all. Oh wait. It was me. All the energy my mouth wanted nothing to do with just bounced to the rest of my body, with my rage as the combustion engine. I couldn’t stop myself, I was vibrating in my seat like another prop for the film’s comedy. As they get dropped off in San Francisco, I whispered to myself “Fuck this movie.” Only I imagine the film would like that, so I immediately retraced that statement. Then they meet Clark and Ellen, who now run a bed and breakfast. It’s funny because it’s desperate.

Between Clark’s leathery tan and multiple chins and Ellen’s surprising amount of preservation, Ed and Christina work out their marriage issues and they all go to Not-Disneyland. What I wouldn’t give for John Candy to suck air through his teeth for the rest of the film. No, instead we get another means to fake us out with an anti-climax. One of Ed’s business rivals gets the last seat on the big rollercoaster at the park. It is the only ride they came for. Because travelling two thousand miles and some change for a single ride shows the intellect of a man who would probably need diagrams to even know how to conceive a child, much less raise them to be anything more than the kind of people who would find this entertaining. He tries to reason with his adversary, and he tells him and his family to fuck off. My stomach drops. It is at that moment that I connect with this family; the audience are the Griswolds. We have been lead along this murky and shit-encrusted trail for God knows how long at this point, only to meet a fleshy roadblock. A fight breaks out, ensued by a punch square to the cheek. Catharsis ensues and I punch the air, letting the reserves for my contempt flow into the screen and fuel the carnage. It’s funny because it’s violent.

They got on the ride, it breaks and Ed and Christina decide to go to Paris anyway, because I doubt that they would have agreed to this film without some kind of hefty compensation. It is here that I show my hand with the end credits, with Mystikal doing his best James Brown impression being played over it. I have seen utter trash doing this, even before this blog came into being. Movie 43 left me drained upon finishing it. The Tree Of Life gave me nothing but two shifted watch hands for my effort in sitting through it. That’s My Boy made me question if I would ever laugh again. The Great Gatsby had me feel genuine betrayal for the first time ever. This film rolled a combine harvester over all of those fields of emotions. I would normally be thankful for the destruction of such cancerous products, if it hadn’t force-fed me the concoction that spewed forth. Home was an incessantly annoying drudge of a watch, but even it didn’t have this lingering defeatism instilled in me by its end. It may not be in canon with the rest of the franchise for much longer, but it still pierces my memories of watching those movies as a kid. One of the benefits of being raised by an 80’s kid is that I grew a serious fondness for John Hughes. Now, I just hope that they don’t have movie theatres in heaven so that he and Harold Ramis don’t have to see what their beloved creation has been reduced to. I finally found it: A film that could break me. I must now rinse my mind with a fellow critic’s views on the film to restore my sanity, and binge on David Fincher to remind myself of why I watch movies in the first place. I fear I may end up quitting this entire enterprise if I don’t. It’s funny because it’s true.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)



Say what you will about the progression of technology and whether or not the Amish have a point about certain things, but it must be said that there are three key things that the Internet provides alarmingly immense access to that print media is just unable to keep up with: Kittens, porn and diatribes lacking in any form of perspective. And no, as much as I want to, this isn’t some lead-up into my own personal rant about the Australian government and the attempts to legalize same sex marriage. Instead, it’s involving the subject of today’s review: It has been a very long time since I heard so much vitriol being spewed out at a singular film, not to mention how loudly said spewing can be heard. Between its single digit rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this article that invokes a guilty pleasure version of Godwin’s Law, and a radio review I heard for it that said in no uncertain terms “[Fantastic Four”] is not a movie. It is a piece of shit that runs for 108 minutes.”… I’m kind of at a loss for words here. How in the hell can this film not only be considered worse than the first two Fantastic Four movies, which I honestly think are over-hated all things considered, but as one of the worst reviewed superhero movies of the last 20 years? Well, only one way to find out: This is Fantastic Four.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Movie Review TRIPLE FEATURE!: Trainwreck/Last Cab To Darwin/Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' (English Dub) (2015)



Yep, a triple feature review… and no, I’m not going to make this a regular thing. This is more a matter of necessity: Between several time-stealing occurrences that got in my way, Blip.tv’s recent shutdown (Yeah, being a fanboy has its drawbacks sometimes) and just plain procrastination on my part, I have three films that need to get written up and quick. As such, today I’m reviewing three films in one go: Trainwreck, Last Cab To Darwin and Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’. No plot synopses like I usually do; just straight forward opinions on each.

Trainwreck

Ah, gender politics; the one topic where, no matter what I say, someone out there will want to chew me out for it. While this has a lot of the traditional trappings of a rom-com, like the overly dramatic finale and the third-act break-up that irks me so, credit where it’s due to Amy Schumer because she seems determined to lacerate gender roles when it comes to these films. The way it’s done is extremely risky, as I’ve seen writers try to flip the genders in order to make a statement about said genders and have it fail quite disastrously. Here, it feels more like this is the result of women learning how to interact with the opposite sex from growing with rom-coms where the men are supposed to be the woman-conquerors and any attempts of them trying to be genuinely kind-hearted has to have some sort of sexual/monetary motive behind it. It’s almost like a call to arms for romantic love, and I mean actual romantic love and not just “I’m an uptight woman who needs a penis in my life” as is usually the case in these movies. The whole “following bad media for advice” thing isn’t limited to just the women either; through the eyes of a younger and na├»ve intern who works with Amy, we also see how media can warp the expectations of gender roles and sexuality for guys as well, particularly teenagers. As much as statutory rape isn’t exactly the funniest thing in the world, a close pass is given for at least having it serve a bigger purpose than just embarrassment over nearly having sex with someone who is underage.

Among the other things that this film takes that I normally can’t stand and make funny is the walking, talking gay joke that is John Cena. As I have learnt through several games of Cards Against Humanity, my morals are willing to take the backseat if something is legitimately funny enough; with that said, his sex scene with Amy is pretty damn funny. I guess it also helps that Cena’s character is one of the few that has a proper head on their shoulders when it comes to knowing how relationships between the genders work nowadays, something also rather amazingly illustrated through Amy’s connection to her father. The whole “even arseholes turn into top blokes after death” angle is poked at and shown as being kind of true, which makes sense considering how as much we may say otherwise in polite company, there is something kind of funny in the blatantly offensive. Must be the reason why I find this film as funny as I do in the first place.

All in all, this is easily one of the most organic feeling comedies I’ve seen in a long while, with full credit to director Judd Apatow for his improv-heavy actor direction that made for some great moments, editor William Kerr for accomplishing Stylstic Suck by leaving mistakes in that made Schumer’s writing feel that much realer (also, seeing the actors corpsing on-screen was funny too) and Schumer herself for some damn good rom-com deconstruction that actually worked for the most part. Also, bonus film buff points for bringing out Matthew Broderick and Tim Meadows from Frith knows what hole for some smaller roles, and Tilda Swinton in yet another unrecognizable portrayal as Amy’s astoundingly vile boss. It ranks higher than Chappie, as the characterization is a lot more consistent here instead of having a couple of characters that are really well-developed and half-assing it for the rest. However, as much as I love rom-com skewering, I have to stand behind the creativity that went into Wyrmwood: The Road Of The Dead on this one so it goes just below that.

Last Cab To Darwin

I really wanted to like this film a lot more than I did: The cast list shows prime Aussie talent, like Michael Caton, David Field and Jacki Weaver; the cinematography is downright gorgeous with some equally beautiful and haunting scenes, like the ‘Pussy Willow’ that might be one of the more disturbing cinematic images of the year; the soundtrack, comprised of bare-bones acoustic guitars, gives a nice rural flavour to the overall film; and the first act involving said cab ride to Darwin has a lot going for it. The relationship between Caton’s Rex and Mark Coles Smith as Tilly is a bit rocky but makes for a great buddy dynamic and the two genuinely feel like people who could become friends in such a short amount of time. The film also takes a scalpel to Australian culture in terms of its prejudices, raising some really good points about how we’re perfectly willing to accept tourists and treat them with due respect but how we aren’t doing the same for those who already live here. Yeah, this inevitably ties into Aboriginal communities in context to the rest of Australia, but it also ties into the main character’s plights as well: One group is unable to live a proper life, while another is unable to die a proper death. I know that stories about prejudice will always be relevant, but a story about a person who feels he isn’t given the rights he deserves is yet another occasion where a film has been released at just the right time in this country. If only Oscar season took place during this same-sex marriage debacle; maybe then I wouldn’t be as allergic to its tropes as I am now.

Anyway, as good as all this sounds, it starts to go downhill once our mains actually make it to Darwin. Not only does the pace slow to a crawl, and Tilly’s role is drastically reduced in favour of bringing British nurse Julie (Emma Hamilton) into the forefront, but the script starts to seriously doubt itself in terms of its stance on euthanasia. Don’t get me wrong, a change in perspective makes sense given how Rex comes face-to-face with the final question of where he actually wants to die. However, that would only work if it was just Rex who went through this change; instead, the entire film, both its tone and its supporting cast, do the same and end up making the film feel extremely uneven. It doesn’t help that the film drops its commentary on societal prejudices, save for one admittedly well-done scene, in favour of delivering a rather basic medical drama.

All in all, this is half of a good movie and I sincerely wish that it was more than that. It’s better than The Duff, as this isn’t nearly as generic as the script for that one turned out. However, even though my enjoyment for the thing may come from a less genuine place, Paper Planes was a more fulfilling watch even if it was solely in terms of entertainment.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’ (English Dub)

After dealing with such touchy subjects like feminism and voluntary euthanasia, it’s nice to close out this triplet with a film involving a cat-headed god of destruction with a severe sweet tooth. Right of the gate, the fact that Freeza, otherwise known as the best villain in the series’ history, is the antagonist this time around already makes this better than Battle Of Gods. As much as I like Beerus, he’s a lot better as the comic relief than as the main threat, something illustrated really well here as he and Whis spend most of the film being their adorably goofy selves while Freeza takes charge. He carries some of his original goofiness, mostly as a result of what his version of Hell turns out to be (Or, as a possibly funnier take on things, what everyone’s version of Hell turns out to be), but also the psychotic drive that makes him work so well. He’s a little too… well, fabulous in his new final form, but overall, he still makes for a marked improvement over Beerus; at least his motives extend beyond “a new challenger appears”.

Aside from our big bad this time around, I really liked how the majority of Team Z got their turns in the spotlight here, given how BoG mostly focused on just Vegeta and Goku. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a Dragon Ball Z movie so they’re still the main focus but it’s nice to see that they aren’t the only focus amongst our fighters; hell, even Krillin gets an action hero moment during the battle with the Freeza Force. The fight scenes are traditional Toei animation, which whether you love it or hate it has always been pretty bare bones, but aside from a few budget-cut moments works really well here with the action setpieces. It follows the DBZ speed-line-heavy style but the physical attacks have the visual impact that they should possess, bolstered by some classic sound design. This is very much a film for the fans, right down to an extended cameo from Akira Toriyama’s other famous creation, but kudos for how it explains enough about the plot background to bring newcomers up to speed without much hassle. I’m very much a surface fan of the series and haven’t seen everything it has to offer (despite my foreshadowing last year that didn’t pan out), and I didn’t feel like I was being left behind in the dust at any point. It even comes with a bit of lampshading its own convoluted history, what with it involving time travel and casually becoming a god and all that, but in a way that could get people interesting in what other bizarre stories this series has to offer.

The plot is fairly basic, and while it is definitely helped by the presence of a worthy villain (which also sets the tone to be a bit less goofy this time around), it still carries some of the tried-and-true DBZ contrivances. The convenient power level spikes and the cure-all Senzu beans may be staples of the franchise, but that doesn’t excuse how they still drag the film down somewhat. Yes, this is part of a shonen fighting anime franchise where plot is likened to sprigs of parsley, but a little more effort would have been nice as well.

All in all, this feels like a decent step-up from Battle Of Gods. The characters are well-utilized, the fight scenes are good and the animation works without the CGI clashing too heavily with the more traditional character designs. Between this and BoG, these newer Dragon Ball films helmed by Toriyama are looking pretty damn good and I eagerly look forward to when the next one comes out. It’s better than Minions, as at no point did I feel run down from all the action on screen; I’d make a joke about the film’s energy levels, but… no. Just no. However, as fun as this is, this is pretty much the emotional equivalent of snack food and out of that need for something a bit more filling, this ranks just below Amy.