Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Expendables (2010)

You have likely seen various previews for The Expendables, the main selling point of which is that it contains 75% of the action stars from the past three decades. I mean, of the previews, not the movie. My point is that the previews did not actually try to sell the movie on any axis other than star power. And there is some extent to which I have to agree with this decision, because the script was only barely distinguishable from some of the early ’70s Marvel comics I’ve been reading lately; about the only significant differences are a) the lack of radiation-spawned superheroes and b) the concept of the tinpot island dictator having American backing; after all, we weren’t very cynical quite yet, as of 1971. Still, it was on the whole a pretty decent movie in which a lot of familiar people are involved in a wide variety of car chases, gun battles, and explosions, just as advertised. Don’t expect to have any significant memories about it the next day, though.

Despite this barely positive review, I feel compelled to make two more complaints beyond the genericism. Firstly, I found the title a little misleading as to the tone of the film. I’m not saying it’s shiny and happy and nothing bad happens as in some action flicks, but it really isn’t nearly as dark as it should be. And, I’m disappointed in Jason Statham’s romance subplot. After enough consideration to convince me into writing this paragraph in the first place, I think the problem is not merely that it was disconnected from the rest of the movie and therefore irrelevant. Rather, it’s that he was presented as a secondary main character after Stallone (who had plenty of character development moments with other strong side characters), yet this half-hearted attempt to develop Statham’s character hurts things more than if they had just let him be a sidekick. If neither he nor his plot had existed in the movie, it would have been the same movie. If both had existed without the rest of the film, they could have been the seeds of a completely different (and maybe stronger) alternate film. But crammed together, it made an otherwise generic movie with several interesting characters worse. And that is sad.

Piranha 3D

MV5BMTU3NDg2NTY4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM0OTE3Mw@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but it has been too long since anyone released a good monster movie.[1] Which is not to say Piranha 3D is itself good, because that word doesn’t really apply in a traditional way to this particular subgenre in nearly the same way that Joe Bob Briggs’ drive-in totals do. Honestly, the title tells you everything you need to know about the plot, which is that a school of hungry piranha are about to crash a co-ed beach party to blood-spattering result. I will say that as a prior resident of San Marcos, Texas, where the original Piranha was filmed, I appreciated the scene in which naked nymphs are filmed making out underwater through a glass-bottomed yacht, as this was clearly a shout-out to the sadly defunct Aquarena Springs mermaids.

As for those drive-in totals[2], there were 11 breasts, 15 bodies, and one full-blown spring break massacre. Multiple propellers to the face. Frying pan to the piscine face. Head rolls. Torso rolls. Legs roll. Penis rolls. Drive-in academy award nominations to Jessica Szohr for vomiting in 3D, to Jerry O’Connell as the sleazy video promoter, to Christopher Lloyd for saying, “They don’t have fully-developed genitalia!” with exactly the delivery you’re imagining, and to Richard Dreyfuss just for showing up. Three and a half stars, and if you do in fact want to check it out, hell, I’d go again.

[1] I mean, besides Sci-Fi SyFy original motion pictures, weekly on Saturday nights.
[2] …that a quick web search [to see if I could compare them with the original count, which likely does not exist due to the movie’s 1978 release date being too early] tells me every reviewer on the planet is referencing this weekend.

The Other Guys

You know how buddy cop movies, even the comedic ones, have these heroic types who rush in, guns blazing and authority fully-bucked, to destroy a lot of property, set off several explosions, and generally save the day in the most visible way possible? This movie isn’t about them. You know the wisecracking jackass rival cops who inevitably do the wrong thing but are never quite actively evil, just in the way a lot? Not them either. Not even the cop who’s three days from retirement and will probably die nobly very soon. Nope, as the movie itself will tell you moments in, this one is about the other guys, the ones who are relegated firmly to background shots, the ones who fill out paperwork and ride desks.

In addition to a reasonable amount of comedy, there’s also some amount of social relevance: the big case isn’t about drugs or prostitution or terrorism; no, it’s about financial shenanigans, in the tens of billions of dollars range. You know, exactly the kind of thing that’s been in the public consciousness since 2008 or so. I wish I could say that big of a lead time has been enough to get it back out of our minds, but the way things have gone, nope, it’s every bit as relevant as when the writer first started the script. (Thankfully, the main focus on comedy keeps it from being too trite, the way the same movie written as drama would’ve been.)

All in all, it’s not life-changingly funny or life-changingly insightful, but it was a decent way to spend half an afternoon.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

I am thinking that today may be a good day to watch movies. Not sure yet if that’s how the rest of my day will proceed, but I can state definitively that it has begun that way, with the Prince of Persia movie that came out back in May. Which I think was the only movie I’ve actually missed all summer? Yay for being caught up! Possibly because it was based on a video game or possibly because I never heard anyone really talking about it, I am surprised to report that it was pretty good.

In the pro-column: a good soundtrack and really a lot of excellent action sequences that captured the spirit of both the specific game it was based on as well as the whole series, while cleverly jettisoning the majority of that game’s plot, which was good enough for a platformer game, but, well. Instead, our titular prince must unravel a plot to overthrow the throne of Persia when he is framed for the murder of his father the king, with only a princess who hates him and a sporadically magic dagger for allies. Y’know, pretty much the same plot as any action-adventure movie, when you get right down to it, but on the bright side, those are usually good.

In the con-column: way, way too many “sly” references to current events, including a search for weapons of mass destruction and railing against high taxes. This is why Star Wars is the better movie, y’know. Nobody was complaining about taxes in Star Wars. That and the desert may be the only substantive differences, though.

Silent Hill

It is a true fact that a few weeks ago I read a graphic novel whose primary accomplishment was making me itch to play the games, none of which I had ever finished besides the first one, and that with the worst possible ending. The itch is not really scratched, since there are so many chapters in the series and so very little revealed storyline per entry[1], but I have indeed replayed that first Silent Hill game. Which is impressive when you realize that it’s 11 years old and yet seems to have no more than double the graphic quality of a 2600 game.

I am perhaps exaggerating, but man was it hard to play on this giant, giant screen. The sound was still awesomely atmospheric and scary as I remembered, except for the bug that would randomly set up an unstoppable whine when I fired weapons. And the story… it’s a mess. It’s like, I really wanted to know what was going on, and I do more or less have some idea, but there had to have been a way to throw more cohesive plotting in with the creepy faceless knife-wielding children and possessed nurses and ubiquitous skinless dogs and pterodactyls to fight-or-run-away-from. What plot there was, I liked, though? Apparently, this guy and his daughter decide to visit a town, only to get into a car accident on the outskirts resulting in the girl going missing, and the guy fighting his way across a town in the throes of both demon worship and a hallucinogenic drug ring. …for some reason? I don’t know if there’s more I should expect to learn later or if I should just be rolling with it. At least I was able to in my mid-twenties, and I do still want to play more of them and see what else I can figure out.

[1] This reminds me of the Saw movies.

Salt (2010)

I saw Salt on Wednesday, but between my punishing workload and the unexpected discovery of lots of new spam here, I have been too busy to actually talk about it. Which is sad, as it was a pretty entertaining film that seems to have flown under everyone’s radar. See, there’s this CIA agent, Veruca Salt, and she is interrogating a Russian walk-in when he names her as the lynchpin of an unlikely plot to assassinate a visiting foreign dignitary. This sets off an action-filled sequence of events designed primarily to keep the audience guessing about what’s actually going on and who is on what side. I’m not ashamed to admit that my early guesses about who was for sure a bad guy, based mostly on the company he kept, were not accurate. Because the plot was convoluted enough to keep secrets from start to finish, without ever being entirely ridiculous.[1]

There was, I should note, one particularly bad scene. I wasn’t looking for a Bechdel moment, because, action movie, right? So when Ms. Salt climbs through a window into an apartment occupied by a school-aged girl (during some escape or other, you understand) and they have a brief conversation, I was duly impressed, above and beyond Angelina Jolie[2]’s asskickery in general. Up until the substance of that conversation turned out to be about the girl’s homework and Salt’s response of “I hate math.” At which point I cringed way, way more than if the test had not been passed in the first place. Or, for that matter, if she had not otherwise been such a strong, self-reliant character.

But gender politics aside, awesome movie!

[1] I mean, there was one coincidence that stretched the bounds of likelihood, but the flick moved fast enough to keep me from thinking about it at the time.
[2] She plays Salt, you see.

The Walking Dead: Life Among Them

Unexpected event: reading two books in a row by Robert Kirkman. And both with zombies, at that, despite the fact that he apparently writes lots of non-zombie scripts as well? (I have some small evidence of this, at least.) So the main difference is that I started off kind of angry about this book; the first few moments contained a bait-and-switch that made me pretty confident the series will in fact never end and not-at-all confident about my willingness to be dragged along for the next 72 issues. But then, over the course of the rest of the book, Kirkman reminded me why I’m still on this ride in the first place, which is that he really is good at the psychology of the zombie apocalypse, not to mention good at tension.

Life Among Them raises a new question that has not been asked before in the series: is it possible to go back to the old life? And although watching various familiar characters trying to adapt to the hope and possible fact of new safety, among people who claim to have held it for some time, is interesting enough on its own merits, I was most taken with my own reactions so similar to the characters. Constantly looking for something out of place, latching onto to anything strange, and unwilling to let my own guard down. If that’s how I feel about it, it must be only the very tip of how tense they feel. And by the end of the book, other new questions are being raised, questions that leave me squirming uncomfortably and yet still completely sold on at least one more volume, just to see where he goes next. Considering I started off angry, that’s a pretty neat trick.

Marvel Zombies

I’ve been sitting on this book for over two years, apparently. As has often been the case in my various Marvel readings, it’s worked out really well for me, the delay. Sure, there are things I haven’t read yet and things that haven’t happened yet and so on, but the very fact of making it all the way through Stan Lee’s era as chief editor of Marvel (which ended just this month, basically, where this month is September of 1972) means that I have seen at least most of what any given Marvel homage is going to make reference to. And boy howdy does Marvel Zombies assume you are familiar with most of the characters and at least a couple of the plot lines their universe has spawned over the past 50 years.

The very concept seems ludicrous at first blush. Take all the Marvel super-powered characters, infect them with a zombie virus, let them destroy humanity in a matter of hours, and then leave them doomed to eternal hunger while figuring out what to do next? But it works, partly because this particular earth has missed a key event in the Marvel mythology, but mostly because, zombie or not, they’re all the same characters when they’ve had enough food to clear their heads for a moment. Hank Pym is still a colossal jackass; Tony Stark is still entirely full of himself; Peter Parker is still wracked with guilt and uncertainty. It’s not a classic zombie story where the zombie thing is just a backdrop against which some social theme is highlighted, but it is pretty damned funny. And I think I’m glad; if they’d played up the existential angst of heroes sworn to defend humanity having been its extinction, and with hardly a pause for thought until after the fact? That just would’ve been depressing.

Proven Guilty

The only problem I have with the Dresden Files series, at least for right now, is the pretense that there is a broader world beyond the bounds of Chicago in which things are happening over which our wizarding hero Harry (no, not that one; the cool one, Harry Dresden) has no influence and can only react to when odds and ends of it affect his city and the lives of his nearest and dearest. I mean, that’s factually true, which I suppose makes some kind of case for it not being a pretense at all and me just filling a paragraph with lies for the sake of volume. But the thing is, we all know that sooner or later these world-shaking events will drop onto Harry’s doorstep and he’ll be forced to deal with them[1], and while that will make for an exciting plotline, it’s still somewhat disappointing that the depth of world will be proven a bit of a pretense after all and it really was all about Harry Dresden, start to finish.

On the bright side, Proven Guilty is yet another entry in a long and seemingly unstoppable series of books designed solely to justify making it all about Harry by presenting a cool, funny hero who is always clawing his way out of the hole with equal parts style, honor, and romantic frustration.[2] In this case, much to my delight, he’s doing all of that at a horror convention that is being stalked by exactly the kinds of horror icons the fans are there to see, more or less. Stir in a new practitioner of the dark arts on the loose and Harry’s new duties to take care of that kind of problem, plus all the usual suspects (good and bad), and you have, well, a book of the Dresden Files, which alone is enough to pretty much guarantee a good time.

[1] In fact, this has already happened at least once.
[2] The many, many series of urban fantasy with female protagonists seem to have as a common thread how irresistible said protagonists are and how much sex they either could or do have, depending on whether they’re co-filed into the paranormal romance section of the bookstore. The Dresden Files, in addition to being just about the only one with a male protagonist in the first place, also seems to be about the only one without any supernatural powers of sexiness for the protagonist. This leads me to no particular conclusion, but what with my psychology hobbyism, I can’t help forming questions.

Killers (2010)

Dollar theaters, as I have surely said before, are awesome because they give you a chance to fill in gaps in your summer movie experience that would otherwise be relegated to Netflix or cable channels, both of which I am largely terrible at. Also, I suppose, if you are poor (or temporarily jobless for four months), they would then be awesome for different reasons. Of course, another factor is that these gaps occurred because you try to see the best stuff first, and the ones that slip through the cracks, you probably feel better only having paid a buck or two to see. Which is not to imply that Killers is a bad movie! It had several pretty funny moments, and the action was decent without resorting to any kind of fireballs-per-minute equation that some producers do when they ran out of budget for a script doctor[1]. It’s just the kind of movie that benefits from lowered expectations and, yeah, a smaller hit on the wallet.

Another upside to it, though, it that the premise was very, very simple. It’s exactly the same kind of family drama you saw all over the place back in the early ’80s, when Hollywood was beginning to admit that sometimes marriages end and people get angry with each other and have to deal with a big mess and see if they can put their lives back together[2]. Which is not to say that Ashton Kutcher is going to fail to have the manly wherewithal to convince Katherine Heigl that their relationship is worth saving, or for that matter to say the opposite; my point is, the topic of the movie is the impending dissolution of a marriage. But then they cleverly did the thing where they increase their audience share by putting that movie in a blender with a completely different movie; in this case, it’s about spies. To hilarious result? Y’know, maybe; like I said, it was pretty funny. But there’s something funnier to me about the pitch meeting where some guy was telling Ashton Kutcher’s manager, “No, no, it’ll be great, it’s a relationship drama, but with guns!”

[1] I know this makes no sense; I can only speculate that something about the oxygen/pollution ratios in Los Angeles make explosions cost far less to accomplish there than anywhere else, or else that nobody told them most writers don’t make anything approaching a living wage from their craft. Or both?
[2] But before the late ’90s when this genre lamentably metamorphosed into the celebration of relationships ending so that the girl could clear the way for the fairytale guy that was obviously right around the corner. (I suspect I’ve made this complaint this before, though.)