Some thoughts on The Hobbit (uh, from last year)

hobbit

NOTE: This was written in December of 2013, and never published. It was a year late then, so its now two years late. I remember wanting to add a little about the actors who play Thorin and Bilbo, as well as something about the Unexpected Party scene. Never got around to that stuff, then forgot about this entirely. I don’t give a fuck, got my kitty to my right, pup to my left. 

Without further ado, below is last year’s review of 2012’s Hobbit movie.   

I have not yet seen The Desolation of Smaug. I am very excited to see it, although not expecting it to be good. At all. Kind of a weird combo. But actually, that combo’s existence is the key to Peter Jackson’s success. Nobody I know is expecting this movie to be good, and yet anyone with a nerdy bone in their body will see it.

I recently purchased the extended edition of An Unexpected Journey, and have watched it 20+ times in the last month*. I realize that sounds excessive, but I’ve mainly just had it on as white noise while I work at night. Still, a lot of viewings. Too many, really. I believe I finally have my thoughts on this movie in order.

*I bought Pacific Rim at the same time I bought The Hobbit (Cyber Monday on Playstation network, dweebs). Watched it 10 times, probably. Its a solid movie, but I’m not sure why I keep watching it. I think Howard Hughes used to do this? 

I’ll start off by saying I still enjoy seeing any Tolkien onscreen. Peter Jackson, Ralph Bakshi, Bass and Rankin, it all gets watched repeatedly in my cluttered bachelor abode. So, in that way, I am still very much looking forward to seeing The Desolation of Smaug. No matter how bad it is, I’ll be like a kid in a candy store the first time I see it. I was recently postulating that there would likely be a remake at some point in my 40s and 50s. Definitely looking forward to that. Plan is to get all stoney and go see them solo.

Lets talk about Peter Jackson, and why he sucks. Because he definitely sucks, there can be no mistaking that now. Feel free to check out King Kong some time if you have any doubt of that. I now refer to that movie as “Exhibit A.”

His success is easily explained. He was handed the best and most popular source material in fantasy history and given an unlimited budget. Your grade school gym teacher could’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars directing LOTR. Regardless of how good or bad they were, legions of people were going to see those movies multiple times. What I can’t explain is how Jackson got the job, or how he got a contract giving him a %. The spin is that nobody knew if these movies were going to make any money. That can’t possibly be true, so I’m left wondering what the real answers are. They gave him this job coming off The Frighteners? Did they not bother checking that one out beforehand? What, were they big fans of his B horror movies?

There actually is one thing Jackson does very well, and its an important thing. With very few exceptions, he nails the look and feel of Middle Earth. Really exceeded expectations there. Bag End, Rivendell, Moria, Minas Tirith, Erebor, it all looks great. Just as it should. Most of the characters as well, at least in the trilogy. Dap where dap due, dude do deserve dap for that. The Dwarven history flashback scenes in The Hobbit were incredible.

Where Jackson fails, repeatedly, are in his deviations from the source. That was true in the trilogy, and its doubly true in The Hobbit. His original additions are embarrassing, and his changes are infuriating. It makes me wonder how many times he’s really read these books. I’m sure he has read them, and I’m sure he likes them, but I don’t think this is someone who daydreams about kingdoms referenced in The Silmarillion. If you take my meaning.

I’ve tweeted about this several times, but seriously, why all the wargs? What is his obsession with them? Radegast’s chase scene was a strange addition*. Much like the warg battle in The Two Towers. Completely fabricated scenes, based on nothing. For whatever reason, Jackson saw fit to spend significant time on both. Yet the one actual warg scene in the Trilogy, the attack on the camp as the Fellowship heads south, he did not include. Thats weird, right? To always be adding warg scenes, but then not include the one actual warg scene? Fucking wargs, Jesus. I can’t even believe I’m talking about this. He could not have fastened on anything less interesting.

*Radegast’s depiction was particularly disheartening for me, as he is a character I’ve been fascinated with since I was 12. Barely referenced in the books, and never actually encountered, we were left to wonder and imagine what he might be like, and what his powers would entail. I’ve been thinking about this for literally 20 years. And now here is onscreen and, Oops! He’s a silly little man with bird-poop in his hair and bugs in his mouth! Tee-hee! This is fun! What else can we destroy? 

The Hobbit movies are going to be worse than the trilogy, I think we all realized that going in. The fact that there are 3 is totally ridiculous. When I first heard about Jackson’s decision to split in into two movies, I saw it as a money grab, but supported it. I figured he’d be able to spend some time on the backstory, flesh out the White Council’s actions a bit, and include Beorn. All good things. 3 3-hour movies for a 310-page book is insane. There is no reasonable explanation for that, and the resultant filler is obvious. I’m convinced even someone who hadn’t read the books could tell what was actually in there and what was original.

The bonus features of An Unexpected Journey focus heavily on the 13 dwarves, and the actors who play them. I would not recommend watching that. Jackson, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh focused HEAVILY on these dwarves, specifically the process of differentiating them from each other. To that end, I would say they succeeded. They managed to make each one fairly unique, at least if you watch the movie more than once. That can’t have been easy.

Their creative process though, yikes. Like seeing how sausage is made.

Lets just say it all makes sense now. And no worries ya’ll, these movies were never going to be good! Because none of these people are great at this, and they don’t give a fuck about the source material! Just chillax and enjoy the show, brosephinos! Plenty more where this came from. And all for the low low price of $14.95.

Bring on Desolation of Smaug. As long as its only a little worse than Unexpected Journey (inflation being what it is), we’ll be good to go.

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Oblivion’d

Tom-Cruise-Oblivion1

When I first saw the trailer for Oblivion, I thought it was based on a video game. Not a super promising start, although I did still want to see it. This video game anecdote is meaningless, essentially. Doesn’t go anywhere. I’m gonna leave it in.

I wasn’t expecting this movie to be good, but for some reason it grabbed my attention. When I didn’t have any field work on the docket Friday afternoon (a serious rarity for me), I knew it was time to take advantage. Solo mission to Court St Cinema.

Movies about space, the future, aliens, etc….these are well-traveled safe-zones for me. Throughout my life, whenever I couldn’t find anything to watch, I would take refuge in some mediocre Sci-Fi. It’s really easy for me to zone out and half-watch something that takes place in a space-station, or underwater lab, or some such. “Oh man, nothing on. OK, I guess I’ll watch Sphere.” My inner monologue has said those exact words many times in my life. Insert The Fifth Element, or Pitch Black, or practically anything with the word “Star” in the title. Event Horizon is one of my all-time faves. I’ve seen all those stupid underwater movies that came out around 1990 a dozen times or more. Gimme  a shout if you ever want to watch talk Deep Star Six.

One might say I was predisposed to liking Oblivion. Or at least, to kinda liking it. It was a safe bet for me, in that way. Post-apocalyptic, earth abandoned, apartment in the sky with futuristic amenities. The framework was there.

Tom Cruise, though. Not my favorite actor. I find it a little strange that he’s still out there getting these roles, what with being a known lunatic and everything. I don’t even dislike him, per se, it’s just difficult for him to melt into a role at this point. I mean, we’ve seen this guy jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch, we’ve seen him doing a crazy Scientology recruitment video, we’ve seen his weird sham marriages. After seeing all that, am I really going to be seeing “Jack”(his character’s name) when I see this movie? No, I see Cruise. Thats all you can see.

He’s increasingly jacked in his old age too, which is kind of a bummer. I mean, every leading man is shredded now, thats just the game*. But Cruise has been in the game since before that was the norm, and its a little sad to see him getting on a steroid cycle just like all the new guys. After all this time, shouldn’t he be above that? It doesn’t look natural at all. He’s 50 years old and what, 5’5”?

*How/when did this become the norm? Its been a while, but when specifically, like what movie was the turning point? I don’t think we can just link this to Arnold, that was overt. Nowadays its presented as such a casual thing, as if everyone lift weights 5 times per week. “Yep, here’s Jack, just an average Joe, loves his girlfriend, eats at home, 9-to-5er. Totally shredded, just like everybody. Did we mention he wears a ball cap?” Maybe if these movies want us to believe the character is an average joe, they shouldn’t mandate gigantic biceps? Lets go back to the Costner/Kilmer/Quaid body type. 

Is Cruise a bad actor though? I struggle with that. I don’t think he did a bad job with this. I never found my inner monologue mocking him or scoffing. Someone more low-key would’ve been better, but Cruise was fine. Maybe good, even, if you’re a fan of his.

Morgan Freeman was also in da how, of course, but the days of him eliciting any reaction from me are long gone. Good actor, same wise elder statesman role every time. Nothing new to see here.

In terms of pleasant surprises, it doesn’t get much better than my boy The Kingslayer. Was happy to see him show up, wielding weapons and looking handsome. I think he’s pretty good? Hard to say. None of the actors besides Cruise are allowed to do much, really. Still, nice to see a familiar face from Westeros every now and again.

I was hoping to be blown away visually, and frankly, I was not. A post-apocalytpic story provides a golden opportunity to use the ruins of humanity’s past glory as a backdrop. That potential went largely unrealized here. The football field scene from the trailer was one of the few attempts, and that did absolutely nothing for me. Borderline laughable, in fact. Just a regular guy remembering football games, you know? Helmet off, ballcap on. Reminiscing about how the crowd roared.

The Sci-Fi visuals, on the other hand, were pretty well done. The aforementioned sky apartment? Matty likey. In particular the pool, which was essentially a gigantic glass-bottom boat suspended in midair. I will have a pool like that one day, mark my words. I don’t care who I have to kill how hard I have to work to get there.

I wasn’t expecting much of a story with this one, and I was actually pleasantly surprised on that front. Decent backstory*, decent twists, pretty well-executed I thought. Formulaic at times, maybe, but I was kept pretty interested. This was contrary to pretty much every review I’ve read. Must be that my tastes are next-level sophisticated.

*The aliens blew up the moon before they invaded, wreaking havoc with the tides and such. Has that ever been done before? I thought it was clever. Provided a cool visual throughout the movie, too. If I ever want to invade Earth, I’m most definitely going to attack the moon first. 

Look, I’m not going to tell you to pay money to see Oblivion. If it ever hits the netflix/hulu/HBO circuit though, its worth a watch. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to finish watching Witness, starring my boy Harry Ford, and then hit the sack. I’ll check back in with you guys once I’ve seen the new Star Trek. There’s also talk of a retroactive* Hobbit review. Things are happening at the SFC!

*Words also considered here: posthumous, postmortem, punitive, retrospectical

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A Movie I Knew To Be Bad

This scene isn’t nearly as funny in the Colin Farrel version. In fact, its like he’s not even trying to be funny.

Around 5 o’clock on Labor Day I saw my final kitties of the holiday weekend. That cat sit, with my boys Sam and Merv, marked the end of an absolutely brutal month at the office for your boy the (former)Stoney Film Critic.

In the dog-walking/pet-sitting world, there are two busy seasons: the Holidays, from Thanksgiving to NYE, and Summertime, June through Labor Day. I always find the Holidays exciting. Hordes of new clients come out of the woodwork as everyone scrambles to find care for their pets before they go home. This means new critters to be met and lots of money to be made.

I also really enjoy being in the city for Christmas. Pleasant visually, and also a unique feeling: to be alone all day, in the most populous city in the country, at a time when everyone else is either off work or out of town. The city slows down, in a way that you wouldn’t notice in a less crowded place. I find myself staring at nothing for minutes at a time and remembering things I haven’t thought about in years. Ever-wistful. I don’t know why winter in New York has this effect on me, but it does. Maybe winter in any big city would. The point is, no matter how hectic my job gets, I look forward to the holiday busy season.

Summer, and specifically August, is another matter entirely. Just as busy, if not more so, but for a different reason. My walkers take the majority of their vacation days in the Summer, and I cover their pups. My days are spent biking to and from other neighborhoods, and my nights are spent catching up on emails I missed during the day. Not a lot of time for movies in that routine, other than whatever white noise garbage I play on netflix while I’m emailing (Highlander 2, currently; this movie is fucking awful).

So on that day, when I bid adieu to Sam and Merv, I hopped on the L train and headed to Union Square. I was treating myself to a movie, damn it, at long last. And I was gonna eat Chipotle beforehand, too*. The old routine. A night to remember.

*Clocked myself at 10 minutes in Chipotle. Door to door. Dine in. 

Were I a saner man, I’d have used the Batmin to wet my nerdy whistle. But alas, something about the public’s reaction to The Dark Knight Returns soured me on the franchise. I realize this is ultimately my fault. But maybe also, society’s fault? I mean, did you guys really think Ledger was that awesome? Do you really like Maggie Gyllenhaal? Hey, I’m just asking questions.

I wanted to see Total Recall. Can’t say why, exactly. I knew it couldn’t possibly be good. And yet, there is something inside me that wanted to see it. Nostalgia for the Arnold version? Perhaps. Bad taste? Sure, a little. Although to be fair, I’m not sure its bad taste if you go in expecting a poor showing. Isn’t bad taste thinking bad things are good? What do you call it when you want to see something you know will be bad?

Its like I can’t talk myself out of it. I hear about a movie, my knee-jerk is to want to see it, and thats that. No amount of valid evidence can change that initial reaction. One $14 ticket to Total Recall, please.

I’m not a Colin Farrell guy. Is anyone, really? Any man? I mean, its not like I hate him. As a leading man, he just doesn’t interest me. The exact opposite of Arnold in the original, basically.

The plot is largely the same, with Australia filling the approximate role of Mars. I actually kind of liked that. There was some sort of chemical war, and Britain and Australia are the only habitable zones. Britain is rich, Australia is poor, and workers from Australia have to “fall” through the earth in giant passenger shuttles to get to their menial factory jobs. This “fall” is seen as some sort of humiliation, although it looked like something I would pay money to do.

If they had gone into the history of why the chemical war happened, why those two zones survived, their relation to each other, basically anything fleshing out the world around the action, I would’ve found that interesting. Action movies don’t really do that, though, and this one certainly didn’t. All we know is Australia is futuristic-ramshackle, and Britain is futuristic-clean. The former achieves a certain Blade Runner feel. The latter is more I, Robot.

I should just declare right off the bat that I loathe chase scenes. They bore me to tears. And this movie, of course, was full of them.

Quaid Breaks out onto the roof! Jumps to the next roof, then the next one, then the next one, then doooooown…..to another roof! CRASH into an apartment (bewildered occupants! Tee hee!), BUST through a wall, out onto…..a roof! Awning, gunfire, roll, thud, groan, look around. Safe! Or is he?!?!

It is crazy to me that directors choose to waste their precious minutes on stuff like this. Its become cliché to rip on car chases, but can we talk about cross-roof chases? Is it possible they’re even more boring? No, actually, not possible. Still way boring though. And not accurate to real life. People only go out on roofs to get stoney by themselves, everyone knows that.

There’s also a futuristic car chase. Magnetic streets in the sky, tons of inept cop cars, crash at the end. I think you can fill in the blanks.

Most of the movie is Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel being chased by Kate Beckinsale and a bunch of these robots they call “synthetics”. Funny name, right? Or have I lost touch, and think any stupid robot name is funny? The Synthetics also had a bit of an I, Robot feel, if I can go ahead and re-reference that one.

I should get back to Biel and Beckinsale. They are both extremely hot. The fact that I am into Biel brings me shame, as she’s an awful actress and seems like a pretty terrible human being. Still, on looks alone, she merits a perfect 10.

Her performance, however, scores right in her standard 3-4 wheelhouse. As usual, its obvious at all times that she isn’t her character. I wasn’t laughing at her or anything, she’s just consistently mediocre. This holds true for every part she’s ever played, as far as I can tell. Except Blade: Trinity, in which she was obviously awesome. Word is Biel and Ryan Reynolds went total method acting on that one.

Beckinsale is what, a half-tick better? Looks like she had surgery of some kind on her face. Can’t say I approve of that. She’s playing the part Sharon Stone did a weird, bad job with in the original, so there was nothing to fall short of. She probably did it better, actually*. Had me forgetting her inevitable heel turn, so kudos to her I guess.

*Am I the only one who thought Stone’s performance in the original Total Recall was totally bizarre? It was like she was suppressing a grin the whole time.

I wonder how I’d feel if I saw the original for the first time today? Am I crazy to think I’d still like it? Some of Arnold’s movies actually hold up pretty well, particularly when compared to the reboots. The new Conan made the originals look like they were directed by Stanley Kubrik.

The bottom line is the new Total Recall falls right into that bad, but not bad enough to be funny dead zone. There’s no lesson here. Just a ticket stub in a pile. Summer blockbusters be stankin’.

Although I sure did like Prometheus. I guess there is a lesson: when a movie looks like it is going to be bad, and is said to be bad, it is most likely bad. Except, of course, when that movie is Congo, which is obviously good no matter what it looks like or what anyone says.

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A Boy and His Hammer

These two really clicked. I was happy for them.

Three times this month I sat down to write a review, and three times I fell asleep in my chair before I typed my 100th word.  I’m not apologizing for this; I owe you people nothing and I’ve been very tired lately.  Just know that I have four reviews on the back-burner, and I’ve not forgotten them.  My intention is for June to be a busy month here at the SFC.  I know you’re all looking forward to that Priest review.  I say to you, you shall have it!

But not yet.  Not yet….

What can you say about a guy like Thor?  Not much, unfortunately.  And therein lies the problem.  It’s pretty hard to get behind a hero who has no personality to speak of.  Even the comic book version of Thor was never especially interesting to me.  He’s arrogant, he’s strong, and……thats it.  Oh, and his power comes from a hammer.  Not the most engaging of characters as far as I’m concerned. 

A couple of months ago I took stock of all the comic book movies coming out this summer and concluded that none of them were likely to be very good.  I’ve never been interested in Thor or Captain America and Ryan Reynolds as my boy Hal Jordan is a travesty.  This X-Men movie actually looks interesting (god help me), but is more likely to continue that franchise’s laughable descent.  I told myself I was only going to see two of these movies.  That seemed like a reasonable compromise.  Then the first (and possibly stupidest) one comes out and I wander into the nearest theater like a zombie.  I can make no headway against these bad movie yearnings.  None. 

There were a few things I liked about Thor.  A scant few.  They are as follows:

  1. Asgard- I’m a sucker for sweeping shots of mythical realms, even if they are CGI.
  2. Idris Elba– I like Idris Elba.  Seeing him in gold armor with a sword was muy bueno.
  3. Portman’s reaction when they hit Thor in their car was, I thought, perfect.  Kinda made me laugh, even.

That’s it.  Pretty much everything else was bad.  Or if not bad, mediocre.  Hopkins was fine I guess.  I’m certainly not going to accuse an accomplished pervert like that of mediocrity.  His acting is starting to feel like shtick though.  Doesn’t delight me as it once did. 

I’m also not going to hate on Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the title character, because I feel like he did what they asked him to.  Had blond hair, got really jacked.  Like, crazy jacked.  I always chuckle the first time a male lead takes his shirt off these days.  Every one of them is as chiselled as Arnold was in The Terminator.  Imagine if when you’d first seen that movie, someone would’ve told you in 20 years time all actors’ bodies would look like that.  It would’ve seemed inconceivable.  Yet here we are.  Progress!

When it comes down to it this movie just doesn’t do anything for you.  It has that strange combination of feeling long and yet uneventful that has somehow become common in super-hero movies.  You feel like you’ve been in the theater forever, and yet you can’t recall much happening.  Fantastic Four was the first movie I saw that really captured this empty feeling.  These movies are like cotton candy: they seem plenty big, but when consumed shrink to almost nothing and inevitably leave you unfulfilled.

I get really frustrated when a movie intentionally wastes time.  Filler should not exist in cinema.  If a movie needs filler, it shouldn’t have been made.  If a writer and director are worth a shit they should be cutting down to two hours, not trying to stretch an hour into two.  Thor devotes a full five minutes to the hero wolfing down plates of food in a diner while Portman and co. give each other looks like “Who is this guy?!?”

Equally frustrating are the smiley-scenes.  See, Thor and Portman are falling in love.  You know how it is when you’re falling in love with someone you’ve only known for a day: all smiles.  Just looking at each other and grinning.  Words not always necessary

Still, the most annoying aspect of this one for me was, by far, it girl wannabe Kat Dennings*, otherwise known as the not-very-likable daughter from 40-Year-Old Virgin.   I didn’t get the memo, but apparently Hollywood has decided she’s funny now.  Girlfriend was wisecrackin’ all over this one, lemme tell ya.  She was the principal comic relief.  A girl who has probably never said anything legitimately funny in her life is plugged in as the funnyman on a movie with an endless budget.  That’s where we’re at. 

*Guess what gang?  Someone hacked into her cell-phone and stole naked pictures of her!  And boy is she steamed!  Definitely NOT INTENTIONAL.  These pictures were for PERSONAL USE ONLY guys.  Seriously, whoever stole them from her is fucked up.  That is some fucked up shit.  But at the same time, the fact that she took these pictures, I don’t know, it adds a certain edge, right?  And if that edge should happen to be profitable for her, then so much the better.  But to suggest she did this intentionally?  Come on guys, grow up.  We’re talking about the funny girl from Thor here, she wouldn’t do something like that. 

Even the villain just wasn’t very cool.  Loki?  Really?  Reminded me of the dude who played Ozymandias in Watchmen.  Was it the same guy?  I’m purposefully not going to look that up.  Lets discuss it!

I can’t in good conscience recommend Thor even to my nerdiest of friends.  It is folly.  Makes me wonder about Portman a little, too.  The same actress from Black Swan wanted to be in this movie?  That just doesn’t make sense to me.  Surely these people have goals for their careers, right?  Directions they want to go?  Dreams they want to chase other than “be famous” and “make money?” 

Sorry Hollywood, that was out of line.  Please accept my apologies for offending you.  “And behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you” (Judges 19:24)

Oh and also, Ray Stevenson again.  I feel like he’s following me.

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Shiny Objects

I walked out of Sucker Punch thinking I might’ve just seen a good movie.  Couldn’t be sure though.  I’d gotten extremely stoney beforehand.  This was intentional.  I wanted to give the visuals every chance to wow me and the best way to facilitate that is to go in so spooney you can barely follow the plot.  I smoked six batties on the walk from the subway to the theater.  My googly-eyed goal was accomplished, but the unfortunate side-effect is I don’t have a very firm grasp on the actual quality of the first hour or so of the movie.  I was lookin’, not thinkin’. 

I broached the subject at my trivia night  and the crowd was incredulous.  No, this movie was not good, they insisted.  It couldn’t have been.  Critics agreed.  I was officially not sure enough of myself to comment on a movie I’d just seen.  A weird place to be.  Didn’t want people to think I was uncool, you know?  So I’ve mostly kept mum.

But now your boy is ready to speak up, and I’ll start here: these girls are super, super hot.  Like, crazy hot.  I honestly wasn’t expecting that.  The subway posters made them all look like teenagers, which isn’t my cup of tea (yet).  In reality none of these girls are younger than 23, and the average age is 26.  Girls in their twenties dressing like teenagers?  Thats more like it.

Naturally, I had my worries that this would be a girl power extravaganza.  Those worries proved to be unfounded.  The female heroines are most often portrayed frightened and vulnerable.  The fantastical action scenes featured in the ad campaign only account for a fraction of the film.  Most of it takes place in a 20s-style brothel setting.  And both of these are actually fantasy worlds inside the head of a newly interred mental patient in a 1960s asylum.  It sounds more confusing than it is.  A girl gets unjustly institutionalized and creates a fantasy world to cope with it.  Pretty easy to follow.

I’m not gonna lie to you and say the plot or acting are good.  They are not.  Emily Browning in the lead role is straight-up unfortunate.  Wooden, not particularly likable.  Even her shy act wasn’t that convincing.  Of the five girls she was easily the worst actress.  Arguably the worst-looking too, which I only mention because a surprising amount of the film dwells on how much hotter she’s supposed to be than everyone else.  Given that, I thought this actress was an odd choice.  I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who saw this movie and has an opinion on her. 

Most of the others were good enough, although I don’t see any stoneys being handed out here.  Abby Cornish (hotter than shit) as Sweat Pea was probably the best, and even she didn’t exactly wow me.  Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung* are fantastic, top-of-the-line eye candy whose characters are barely developed.  They are meant to look amazing, and they do.  They really, really do.  Zack Snyder must have an eye for hot chicks.  Lord knows he’s scoring points continually casting my girl Carla Gugino

*Also known as Jamie from the Real World San Diego.  I didn’t piece this together until the very end.  She’s way hotter than I remember.  At the time I was all about Robin(‘s fake boobs), and to a lesser extent Cameron.  Now Robin is sobbing into an ashtray somewhere and Jamie is the most tantalizing eye-candy in a movie full of it.  And she’s, like, a borderline successful actress?  How did this fly under my radar?  Every Real World cast member for the last fifteen years has been shamelessly trying to become an actor or actress and this girl actually did it?  Hey, good for her.  She seemed to humiliate herself a little less than the rest of her reality TV colleagues along the way.  Maybe that was the key. 

I think I might be a fan of Zack Snyder.  I realize he hasn’t exactly killed it so far, but I think he has good works ahead of him.  Watchmen was mighty fine (and I’m a nerdy fanboy of the graphic novel so I was ready to cross my arms and shake my head).  I’m not a huge fan of 300 and its weird he directed that owl movie, but I’m willing to bet he’s trending up.  His next project is the Superman remake with Christopher Nolan as producer.  That is sure to be a success.  And after seeing Sucker Punch, I think I have a good feel for his strengths. 

He may not be an innovator, but I see Snyder as a guy who will consistently get the job done.  His movies always look pretty cool.  He makes interesting casting decisions rather than going for the big stars.  You’ll see some familiar faces, and they’ll be faces you’re pleasantly surprised to see.  The colors always pop and contrast well with each other.  The soundtrack will be good, but not great. 

To be clear, I don’t see Snyder ever winning, or deserving , an oscar.  But I do see him directing movies I see and enjoy.  Sucker Punch falls into that category.  Great scenery of all kinds.  The sets, the chicks, and the special effects.  When I like the way a film looks I’m less inclined to sweat the other stuff.  I guess thats what seeing this movie was: a lesson in not sweating the other stuff.

I’l leave you with this scintillating tidbit: This film lives up to its name.  There is, indeed, a cinematic sucker punch, and it’s delivered by none other than Jon Hamm.  If that doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.

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The one where Ray Stevenson kills people

If I was just a little dumber, I’d probably really like Ray Stevenson.  I already almost do.   And In Kill the Irishman, he managed to toe the line between affable and murderer pretty well.  Not that thats especially hard to do.  It’s actually really easy, come to think of it.  The lovable scamp criminal is a fixture of modern cinema. 

I have two main problems with Stevenson.  One: he isn’t a good actor.  Two: he is an actor.

Allow me to explain.  Actors are not tough.  They’re the opposite of tough.  Not that I place a lot of stock in toughness (outside the cage).  But whenever an actor tries to make a name for himself specifically as a badass I just think it comes off unbelievably lame.   For me this all started with Sam Jackson constantly being referred to (and referring to himself) as a “bad motherfucker.”  Even then, over a decade ago, my reaction was “Yeah right dude, you’re not a badass.  You pretend to be fictional badasses.”  And thats pretty much how I feel about Ray Stevenson, too. 

Hey, maybe he actually does, I don’t know, fight people or whatever.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, but even if he did it wouldn’t change much for me.  It would just be a different can of worms.  An actor trying to typecast himself as a badass is lame even if he actually is one.  That’s my feeling on the matter. 

As to his acting abilities, they’re extremely limited.  I used to love him as Titus Pullo in Rome.  But both he and the guy who played Lucius Vorenus are really pretty bad actors.  The beauty of the set and the richness of the material cover for them at first, but when you start to watch these episodes for the second time it becomes obvious both of those guys, and Stevenson in particular, were far from impressive.  Some of their scenes together are borderline laughable.  And I love that show. 

Kill the Irishman was by no means his worst work.  In fact, I enjoyed it.  But I’ve had some people assume I’m a big Ray Stevenson fan, and I want to go on the record and say that is not the case. 

I’ll tell you who I am a fan of: Val Kilmer.  He’s in it.  As are Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio.  Pretty interesting cast, I thought*.  Kilmer is Kilmer.  Walken has some funny parts.  D’Onofrio brings his usual  brand of confused facial expressions.  Vinnie Jones was also in da how.  I’d really like to know which of these guys, if any, were hanging out together during filming.  A Kilmer/Walken hang in particular would be fascinating. 

*The exception to this being that douchebag Guido Steve Schirripa.  “Hey, check me out, I’m fat!  I’m Italian!”  Barf.  The guy “wrote” a “book” called The Goomba’s Guide to Life.  Shameless.  Fuck him. 

This movie tells the story of Danny Greene, an Irish gangster who went up against the mafia in Cleveland in the 70s.  Obviously a little before my time, but I gather this guy was somewhat of a household name back then.  36 car bombs went off in the Cleveland mob wars in 1976 alone.  Greene survived countless assassination attempts, and even killed several of the assassins the mob sent for him.  In 1977 he was finally killed, but the war he’d started crippled the mob in Cleveland, and they never really recovered.  It’s a pretty cool story.  Inspired a book entitled To Kill The Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia.  If I ever stumble across it in my travels, it will be purchased and read.

My main problem with the movie was that it seemed all too willing to sacrifice historical accuracy in the name of an easy-to-digest narrative.  I guess you could probably say the same of every mob movie to an extent, but the good ones always seem very genuine and unique.  Kill the Irishman borrows from the genre a little too much.  As opposed to something like Goodfellas, which never really gives you what you want or expect.  That movie ends with Liotta’s character living a dull, normal life full of regret.  Nobody would’ve written that, but the fact that it’s actually what happened makes it much more interesting.  Kill the Irishman‘s ending can be predicted five minutes in.  Very obvious, very contrived. 

Ending aside, director Jonathan Hensleigh* deserves some dap for managing to avoid a few common mistakes.  First, he didn’t try to play up how much Greene and his wife loved each other.  Didn’t try to make a cookie-cutter romance where there wasn’t one.  I’m tired of every movie having to be about the greatest love ever known.  You shouldn’t be subjected to that onscreen unless it’s what you’re going to the movie for.  You go see fucking Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in Water for Elephants (stupidest title ever?) and you’ve signed up for some love-at-first-sight-that-lasts-forever-and-burns-with-the-passion-of-a-thousand-suns boo-shit.  A mob movie shouldn’t feel obligated to cram that down our throats.  Thankfully, this one doesn’t.  Greene’s first wife and children play a very small role, as does his later romantic interest. 

*Hensleigh hasn’t done much directing, but check out these hilarious writing credits!  The Punisher (Tom Jane version), The Saint, Next, Armageddon, Jumanji, Die Hard: With a Vengeance.  That right there is a rap-sheet worthy of some discussion

The other mistake Hensligh avoided was the unknown side-character ridiculous death scene.  You know, the one that goes for the heartstrings but misses the mark so badly its laughable?  These are becoming increasingly common.  Almost every action movie comes equipped with one.  Sometimes its a character you don’t even recognize.  Kill the Irishman features numerous deaths, but other than Greene’s they’re all handled in more or less the right way.  The sad ones are actually characters you’ve grown to like, and the plot doesn’t dwell unnecessarily on the others. 

This movie doesn’t try too hard to pull on the heartstrings until the very end.  I appreciated that.  Everything in its measure.  A real historical character becomes much more tragic if his true story is told.  I can’t say for sure if that was done here, and frankly I suspect not.  You’re definitely fed cheese, but it hasn’t quite curdled.  These days I’m calling that $13 well spent.

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The Rain From Spain

Really bad scene, here. Kind of a deal-breaker.

I occasionally review foreign films.  My reviews of them are bad, I think.  I never really know what to say.  I’m….not qualified for this.  Me critiquing foreign culture is an affront to the “art” of criticism.  As opposed to my sterling efforts with English language films (people are still talking about that time I reviewed The Next Three Days while watching Edge of Darkness). 

Even the Rain was the Spanish entry for best foreign film in 2010.  I saw a trailer for it while watching The Company Men and was intrigued.  I like to see these movies when they look at all interesting.  And this one surely did.  Muy muy.  There was a shot of a giant cross and then some angry people and I was like, “Oh yeah.  I’m seeing that.”

The movie is about a movie…..about a movie!  I actually tacked on an extra “about a movie” there.  It follows a director and producer attempting to make a film about Christopher Columbus.  They shoot in Bolivia to keep costs down, but this is during the Cochabamba water riots ten years ago.  I can’t say I remember them, but after a cursory study the situation appears to be one of the worst examples of white people gone bad in recent history.  Bolivia was forced to sell its water supply to foreign corporations, who, of course, jacked up the prices and squeezed the local population as much as possible.  Barf.  Who is in charge of these companies?  Whose idea was it to buy a country’s water, and how many promotions did they get?

This is a real drama, which I like.  And the acting was pretty good, for the most part.  There were some unfortunate exceptions.  Juan Carlos Aduviri, who is arguably the film’s protagonist, ends up being pretty bad.  He plays Daniel, a local leader of the water protests who the director casts as Hatuey, leader of the tribe who resisted Columbus.  For most of the movie Aduviri pulls off stoic with a touch of hostility well enough.  Unfortunately, his last scene requires acting chops he simply doesn’t have.  He gets exposed.  Like the Chiefs in the playoffs.  I’m sure the rest of his performance would look very different to me now if I watched it again.  This scene was really supposed to bring it all home, and it was laughable.  I literally laughed at one point (like a bitch). 

Gael Garcia Marquez as the director, Sebastian, is pretty good.  And Luis Tosa as Costa, the director, is decent.  But the movie often confuses their roles in the plot.  in some scenes Sebastian speaks up for the people’s rights, in others everyone’s well-being comes second to his own goals.  Costa, too, shifts back and forth.  You’re never quite sure which of them you’re supposed to like and which is the quasi-villain.  In the end I guess roles don’t always have to be clearly defined, but I thought this was poorly done.

The best acting by far came from Karra Elajalde as the actor cast to play Christopher Columbus.  He was damn good.  A character I really grew fond of although he wasn’t central to the plot.  More of an occassional wise sage.  I now think of him as the Spanish Michael Caine. 

The plot was solid, although message-wise, director Iciar Bollain’s reach exceeded her grasp.  Still, I was invested.  And there was some cool scenery.  I sort of feel about this movie the way I felt about The Secret In Their Eyes.  Pretty decent, a worthy effort, but not something I’m giving two thumbs up.  My hope for foreign films is always that they’ll be able to avoid the mistakes that seem to have become endemic to Hollywood.  In some ways, they do.  But I’m looking for a country whose cinema I really like, and I haven’t found that yet.  Also haven’t looked very hard.  Methinks I should spend some time sampling eastern fare.

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