Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Last Stand

Oh it pains me to say this, but... Schwarzenegger may be "too old for this shit". This review may be all over the place, but that's how my brain is when it comes to this movie. And to be honest, a lot of what is actually on my mind has more to do with his career than the film itself.

There are two very gigantic larger-than-life icons of action. And those two are Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's very hard to top them. Yes, you have Bruce Willis. But he was the counter-part to them. The anti-action hero. But with Stallone and Schwarzenegger, you had films that overcame practically everything. And it's not only fun to watch them do so, it can also being inspiring, no matter how ridiculous the circumstance. THAT is what made these two men action icons.

They ruled the 80's. After that, things started to crumble. But only for one. The 90's for Stallone were only decent. His average total box office gross was between $30-40 million. Which in comparison to Rambo: First Blood Part II's $150 million and Rocky IV's $127 million, it doesn't sound great at all. Schwarzenegger on the other hand, 4 of his films crossed the $100-million mark (one of which crossed $200 million [T2]). Come early 2000, though, Schwarzenegger hit the patch Stallone hit the decade prior. Then he did Terminator 3, it did $150 million (though it cost $200 million to make). Schwarzenegger then ran for governator, got elected, and has been out of the leading-man game until now.

When it was announced that Schwarzenegger was making his return with The Last Stand, I actually thought it was a perfect comeback-vehicle for him. An aging Sheriff taking on a drug dealer fleeing to the Mexican border, but has to pass through his town to do so? Perfect. Only... It wasn't so perfect.

When the films starts, it sets up what Schwarzenegger's character Ray Owens is up against. And for the most part, I was on board. Then it transitions into Owens' introduction. And you would think that after getting Arnold Schwarzenegger (fully) returning to acting, you would have a grander entrance. Unfortunately, it was almost like they were introducing a secondary character. And I understand his character isn't larger-than-life, but he still deserved something more... Powerful. But then again, maybe the problem lied in the writing.

The Schwarzenegger-less lead-up to watching Arnie destroy men with bullets wasn't as painful as I expected. They tried to give the heel of the film a back-story and development, which I appreciated. Did I really just want to get to Schwarzenegger cutting people in half with bullets? Yes. But the time between wasn't painful. 20 minutes later, it got to the action. Therein lies a lot of issues. First and foremost, Schwarzenegger is looking his age when he runs. I fucking HATE to say it, but he is. And to be fair, he always ran kind of awkwardly due to his size. He was mostly a gigantic fighting man in film. Not a running man. Despite the fact that he did indeed star in... The Running Man. In The Last Stand he just moves... Old.

Because he moves more lethargic, it tones down the action. Which is unfortunate because this is not a toned-down action film. It' R-rated. There is blood and violence. And a lot of the violence is brought forth because of Schwarzenegger... With a gun. And to be honest, it doesn't take a lot to fire off a gun. It's not until the very end that he gets really physical. And only for a couple minutes at that.

Im sure this isn't going to be a big issue for most, but it was one for me. The acting. Schwarzenegger isn't renowned for his acting abilities. I understand that. Do I think he's horrendous? No. He isn't fantastic, but in a lot of films, his delivery is pretty decent. It's just like Schwarzenegger talking like Schwarzenegger. The problem with this, his line-delivery is very awkward. And not in an awesomely-awkward way. More-so in a "holy-fuck-youre-rusty-as-fuck" awkward way. And it's a shame, because if this film is any indication of the rest of his career... Sheesh.

To the more technical problems of the film. A lot of the shots were an issue for me. In action films, I feel the shots should just flow. Whether they cut really fast, or cut every 15-20 seconds, they should flow. In this, every other 6 shots would seem "off". And who knows, maybe that is due to editing. But some seemed very amateur-esque. And I understand the director who created this film doesn't speak English and needed a translator on set. But maybe THAT was the reason for most of the flaws with the film (and maybe explains Arnold's awkward line-delivery).

The director of the film was Jee-Woon Kim. He's a South Korean director and was responsible for films such as The Good, The Bad, and The Weird and I Saw The Devil. And I can honestly say I haven't seen any of his films until The Last Stand. And unfortunately, I feel the language barrier may have gotten in the way with an American production like this one.

I also think that if the supporting cast had been a little stronger, it would have helped a great deal. Forest Whitaker was a good casting. As was Peter Stormare (who doesn't love that guy?!). But having Johnny Knoxville and Luis Gusman as your sidekicks? You can do better than that. If Michael Caine can be someone's butler and do not a damn thing in 3 films, Arnold fucking Schwarzenegger can get some radical sidekicks.

Before I go into my rant about how aging actors still "having it", I guess I'll conclude on The Last Stand. As a film, it's fun. Is it terrible. Not quite. Is it close to being incredibly awesome dumb fun? Unfortunately, it doesn't even achieve that. It's just... Fun.

In a couple weeks we have Stallone's Bullet to the Head coming to theatres. Am I sold on the film? Yes. Do the trailers help? No. Personally, I hate the trailers. But Im trying to see past the generic modern-metal soundtrack that raped the 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the trailer. And I see a 66 year-old man beating the shit out of people and believable so. I only bring this up because of The Last Stand. Had Schwarzenegger KILLED it in The Last Stand, this review would have ended with "... And we have Stallone's Bullet to the Head to look forward after this". But due to The Last Stand being an underwhelming effort, I have to resort to displaying a true exibit of how a 60+ year-old man can present himself as relevant.

You look at Stallone and you may think too much facial surgery. That's fine. I agree. Do I think he's grown into it? Sure. It looks a little better now then it did before. But one thing that is almost flawless: His body. The motherfucker is in Rocky III-shape. And if you need to be reminded, that was the peak of Stallone's physical shape. And because of his feats today, I proudly say that I am a Stallone-fanatic. And I totally understand that Schwarzenegger had the biggest state to govern for 8 years, so the shape he's in now is due to that. But to be honest, he started losing it even before he even began to think about running for governor.

Arnie has a slew of films lined up in the next coming years. The Tomb (with Stallone), Ten, Unknown Soldier, The Legend of Conan, Terminator 5 and more. Im hoping that he just needed wipe the dust off his soldiers with The Last Stand. Because the amount of films that he has lined up in the short amount of time they're set to be released, I can only seeing it slowing him down.
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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 10 Films of 2012

I am currently an hour, 12 minutes and 3 beers into 2013. 2012 was a fucking year. And Im not just speaking in terms of film. I've seen a ton of killer bands, moved into my apartment (twice!), and hit a few "snags" in the road (but I'll wait a couple years to disclose them). But back to what this fucking blog is about. Film in 2012.

For the most part, I was spot-on with what I thought I was going to enjoy. Yes, there were some duds. But it just wouldnt be Hollywood without 'em! But what may possibly be the best part about a retrospect of film are the surprises. More than half of the films on my top 10 were films I didnt believe were going to be nearly as good as they were.

I only got around to doing a handful of reviews for the films (don't forget, Im a movie theatre manager, so when Im not WATCHING the movies, Im RUNNING them). But any that I have reviewed, the link will be listed.

Enough dicking around. Wolves, tigers and Bane, oh my!

1. The Expendables 2

For most of you reading this, the chance of surprise was probably at -39%. Let's face it, this film improved on almost everything than the first film. On a TECHNICAL level, I think the first is superior. And Im not saying that either are pristine examples of film making, but at least most of the first film's shot weren't blurry. Now that's not to say the shots themselves were poor choices (too much shaky cam), but the actual quality of the film stock was just better. But it improved on character-involvment (WIllis and Schwarzenegger in combat), scope, villians, and of course raised the bar with it's cast. Can The Expendables 3 top #2? Bring me the casting of Kurt Russell, and a discussion will be had.

Read my Expendables 2 review HERE.

2. Get The Gringo

If you haven't seen this yet. Do so. It's available on Netflix Instant. And if you're a fan of Payback, then you definitely need to see this. It is literally like a Mexican-based sequel to Payback. Mel Gibson is batting 3 and 3 since his comeback in 2009. Edge of Darkness, The Beaver and now Get The Gringo.

This was a film that was painful to wait for due to it being shelved since 2009/2010. Originally titled "How I Spent My Summer Vacation", it was stalled soon after Gibson's incredible telephone rant. Which is unfortunate because most critics and audiences loved it. So had it gotten a theatrical release, it would have found it's audience in a wide sense.

The film is a terrific debut from director Adrian Grunberg. He was Mel Gibson's assistant director on Apocalypto, so we can see where he got some of his directing chops from. There is so much to love about the film. The locations, the naturalistic quality of it, the balance of comedy, violence and drama, practically everything.

It was basically filmed in the slums of Mexico. You can practically smell it in the air. It's gritty, sweaty and just raw. The location was a perfect one for a fish-out-of-water film. For those of you unaware as to what the film is about... Mel Gibson plays a con man who stole a giant lump sum of cash from someone inside the US, tries to get away and crashes the car across the Mexican border. He gets arrested by the corrupt Mexican Policia and tries to con his way out of the Mexican prison, certain problems arise and it takes off from there.

The last two films Gibson did didn't give him an opportunity to really show off his action chops again, but this sure does. Everything about him is impressive in this. His acting abilities are brought to the foreground in this as well. Because to be a convincing con man, you have to be a convincing actor. And he showcases that for sure in this.

The violence in this is radical. It isn't toned down whatsoever. And you know what? Had this gotten a theatrical release, I feel as if it may have been toned down. There are some killer Mexican stand-off sequences in this. Well, actually only really one. But a lot of western-esque battles. The body-count rises, the blood sizzles in the sun, and Mel Gibson... 'Nuff said.

3. Prometheus

This is a film that for the most part, I feel the same about as everyone else. Some people say it was a let-down and a pile of garbage. But most people had a dual-response. They were let-down, but still liked it at the same time. I am the center of the "those people" and "loved it" venn-diagram. I liked it more than most, but was still a tad disappointed. My issue with the film was the issue most people had with it. The stupidity. A lot of the characters do retarded things non-retarded humans shouldn't be doing. I have no problem with the abiguity of the story, and the altering of Alien-mythology. I mean, in a sense, that is kinda' what a prequel fucking is. Otherwise, what's the damn point? And yes, an argument can be made by saying, "Then don't do it". Okay, fine. But if you ARE going to do one, throw a fucking curveball at me, instead of showing me what I already know.

It's a fucking gorgeous film. If you watch the 3 hour+ "making of" documentary, you'll see how much went into building all of the practical sets, and mumbo jumbo that goes into making a truly gorgeous-looking film. Im going as far as to say that it should have an Oscar nomination/win for set design. It's outstanding.

Read my Prometheus review HERE.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

Unlike the previous two films, my stance on this film has changed quite a bit on this film. My initial review kind of scathed it. And for good reason. All the reasons why I initially scathed it, I still have problems with. But the film really did grow on me. And it's not like I tried to convince myself that it was good, because that isn't the case. I like Batman, and like the Nolan films, but I dont obsess over them as much as other people tend to do (in fact, I wonder if they even like Batman or just love to slob Nolan's knob). Anyway...

With TDKR, there really are a lot of things that work in the film. At a film making standpoint, it looks great, has great performances, a great score, and great characters. But a little weak with some of it's pacing and story-points. Though... They could have knocked it off with the 2nd-rate Clint Eastwood-impressionist voice...

Read my Dark Knight Rises review HERE.

5. Life of Pi

This is a film that really cannot be sold in a trailer or a clip. I watched the trailer, I've seen clips, and even walked into 10 minutes of the film when I was working. There was really nothing about it that demanded that I see it. Until one day I woke up and said, "Fuck it, I'll go into work a couple hours early to catch a movie before my shift". The only one that was over before my shift was Life of Pi 3D.

The movie starts off okay. It introduces everything necessary to the story. His family, the origin of his Pi's name, his reason for believing multiple religions, etc. The first half hour is only slow because you've seen the trailers, and you know most of this film takes place on a boat. So you just want the story to acheive getting to the boat. But like I said, it's a necessary slow half-hour.

Without really handing the story to you on a silver platter, I'll give you the gist. The story starts with Pi, a young Indian boy whose family owns a zoo. Years later, they run into some financial issues and have to move their zoo to Canada to stay afloat (no pun intended). Upon their trip across the Mariana Trench, a horric storm practically wipes out the ship. Thus leaving only Pi and a tiger on a life boat. From there on, watch for yourself.

There are so fucking many qualities that I love about this film. I'll start with the most important to the story, it's message. Pi doesn't believe in one religion, he believes in many. And that is what I love about it. The film doesn't preach, it doesn't denounce one religion for another. It simply says, "What you believe in is what is most important". If his faith is what enables him to survive the grueling months out at sea with nothing but a life boat and a tiger, then so be it.

I'll put it out there plain and simple. If there is a film involving animals as the a main character in a movie, chances are... I'll cry. And Im not a shamed one bit. This film is absolutely no exception. There are TWO scenes that completely ruined me. The relationship formed between Pi and the Richard Parker (the tiger [watch the fucking movie, you'll understand]) is frustrating and ultimately heartbreaking. Did I just reveal what happens to the tiger? No, I didn't.

Ang Lee isn't a film maker Im particularly a fan of. But I don't dislike him. He's just a film maker that I don't have a whole lot of interest in. This film changed that. Reports said that a dozen directors passed on this film because the novel it was based on was "unfilmable". I don't understand how it was "unfilmable". That isn't to say that Lee didn't do a phenomenal job with it. I just don't understand why so many directors passed on the film thinking it was unfilmable. But Im glad they did, because I couldn't be happier with the final product that Ang Lee gave to us. The visuals were incredible, the 3D was great, almost everything worked in this film.

6. Jack Reacher

This was another surprise for me. Tom Cruise has picked some pretty decent projects in the past few years, so I was looking forward to this. But I wasn't eager with anticipation. I thought the trailer was decent enough, but hoped it would be better than what the trailer implied. Surely enough, it was.

Eversince last year's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, I've been on a Tom Cruise kick. Not only does the man know how to choose projects, he knows how to give his all in them. Though, Jack Reacher wasn't his most physically demanding, you can tell he trained quite a bit to excel in other areas that weren't his height. Cruise got a lot of flack for not fitting the 6' 5" build due to him only being 5' 7". But if you've seen the film, you'll realize he owned that character. Tall or not. It's odd, it's a Cruise character you've seen before, but haven't. He's smart, but not always right. He's dominant in almost every way, but has weaknesses.

One of the absolute best things the film has going for itself is the humor. This isn't an Expendables 2 elbow-nudge action film. It has very dry humor, and at times has some very black humor. All of which is the best humor to have in an action film like this. The action in the film is great. It isn't wall-to-wall action, but when there is action, it fucking rules. All that needs to be said is: The car chase. It's so fucking well-done. It obviously harkens back to the car chases of the late 60's & early 70's (especially Bullit).

All in all, Jack Reacher is a damn solid film. A great follow-up to M:I:4.

7. Django Unchained

Tarantino, you redeemed yourself after Intolerable Basterds. I wanted to like that film, but when you threw 20-minute talking table scene after 20-minute talking table scene, I just couldn't take it anymore. Luckily, your follow-up hit the mark.

Django Unchained is Tarantino's first straight western (even though he refers to it as a "Southern"). Kill Bill Vol. 2 was close enough, but not quite. Inglourious Basterds had a lot of elements, but Django Unchained was his first full-on western.

My relationship with Tarantino's films is love/hate. For the most part, I really enjoy his films. But he bothers me because not only does he take someone else's lesser-known material and try to pass it off as his own, but I feel as if he imitates himself in the process. With Django, not much is different. But it's a whole lot more fun.

No matter what movie, rest assured, the cast will rule. In this case, he strayed away from some of his regulars and introduced new actors into the Tarantino filmography. First and foremost for me was... Don Johnson. He was the whole reason I wanted to see the damn film. He was fucking hilarious. In the film, there's a gag that involves a Klan-meeting in which they complain about the hole-sizes in their hoods. Johnson OWNS that scene. My second favorite? Leonardo DiCaprio. He plays a fantastically despicable villian. Something that is hinted about his character that isn't fully expanded upon is incest. How he acts toward his sister is pretty creepy. Though, I do believe it is intentional and provokes your mind to wonder.

One of my favorite things about Tarantino is his use of practicality. Everything from the bloodshed to the landscapes. He doesn't cheat you out of your squibs and scenery. The blood in this is killer. It's almost too red (like Dawn of the Dead). It's ridiculously fun.

8. Cloud Atlas

This was yet another surprise. But unlike some of the films on this list, I didn't expect to even watch the film due to who directed it. I never liked The Wachowski's, and can't really say Im going to be looking forward to their next film. But they did a damn fine job with Cloud Atlas (along with co-director Tom Tykwer). It's odd that the one film I did enjoy from The Wachowski's bombed at the box office, but the ones I despise (The Matrix films) did ridiculously well. I guess there's common ground: Speed Racer.

Read my Cloud Atlas review HERE.

9. The Grey

This was a fucking movie. After the abomination that was The A-Team, I didn't think I would ever associate "Joe Carnahan" and "watchable film" together again. But he shut me up. Very few films acheive what he achieved with The Grey. You have plenty of survival films, but nothing like this. You almost literally feel the frigid air while watching the film.

The whole film is solid, but there is one particular scene that has stuck in my head for a year now, and that's the plane crash scene. When I say this, I am 100% serious. It literally feels like a horror film. It's fucking terrifying. It made me feel so uncomfortable due to the sheer intensity of the scene. And the way Carnahan tinkers with your nerves in that scene, he applies that to all the scenes with the wolves. The Grey could almost be classified as a survival horror film. It becomes such an assault on the senses. Much like what having to survive in below-zero weather would be like.

My hat's off to Joe Carnahan. If he can stick to film making like this, and avoid big blockbuster fare, I may become loyal to the defiler of The A-Team.

10. Dredd

And lastly, we have yet ANOTHER shocker. There was absolutely NO REASON for this film to be as good as it was. That isn't to say it's a fantastic film, but it was really good considering it was on the shelf for 2 years and was yet another crack at a Judge Dredd feature film.

FIrst of all, let's get to the production of the film. Technically, this was an independent film. It was independently financed and produced. And Im sure that was the reason it sat on a shelf for 2 years. It wasn't until Lionsgate picked the film up, that's when we started to get a taste of the film. But sadly, Lionsgate did a piss-poor job marketing it. Did some cool shit at Comic-Con, but that audience is already built-in. They did next to nothing to attract the mainstream audience.

Enough about Lionsgate and their poor marketing strategies. The film itself is reminicent of a Paul Verhoeven film. And that is VERY much a good thing. It's not so much the style and shots themselves that share similarities, it's how the director went about the violence. As any Judge Dredd adaptation SHOULD be, it's ultra-drokking-violent (shame shame, Stallone). Shots through the cheek, head, leg, legs, cheeks, hand, hands, just about anything that can be penetrated with a bullet. And from what I could tell, it was mostly practical squibs.

Another surprisingly effective aspect of the film was the 3D. I say that because for the first time, the 3D was actually integrated into the story. There is a drug in the film called Slo-Mo that slows time down for the consumer. So when Dredd breaks down a door to the apartment of drug addict criminals and shoots 'em up, it looks AWESOME. Reason being, you're seeing what the addicts are seeing. Slo-mo blood flow. You can't beat it.

And there you have it. 2012. Though, there were a few films I didn't get to catch that I wanted to see such as Lawless, ParaNorman, Flight, and Lincoln. But fuck it... Netflix.
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