Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Fond Farewell To A Part Of My Life

The movies. The movies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember the first movie I ever watched or possibly how terrible it was, but I do remember the first film I had ever seen in a theater. My father took me to see A Bug’s Life when I was four years old and I still indeed remember it; getting the tickets, the smell of popcorn as you walked through the doors, seeing all the magnificent poster banners for upcoming movies hanging on the walls, the darkness as you head down the hallway toward your theater. I remember the experience as if it were yesterday. However, when the lights go dim and the screen takes shape as the top is lowered to project the massive green MPAA splash on the screen - that is when you are at the movies. It is not a process, or even an experience for that matter. The movies are an adventure, an event, a struggle, a realization, a way to be told a story, or have a point be made to you. The movies are my life and nothing is going to change that.
I had no idea what I was getting into two-and-a-half years ago when the idea hit me like a brick wall, watching an interview with a critic I had been a fan of for some time. The interviewer asked something along the lines of, “It’s everybody’s dream job to either get paid to play video games or watch movies, how does someone get that job?” That was it. I sat there wide eyed, with ideas running through my mind. I knew more than others about movies, it’s what I love, so why not do that?! I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I started doing just that. I created Flubs out of pure love for the art of film, it was never anything else and I will swear to that until my dying days. I created a blogger account, started putting things together, and it would be as ready as it would ever become. My first review was Rango (look at my progression) and that would be the film that changed everything for me. I adored it, but because of seeing just one good movie, that wasn't why I continued writing; I put out reviews every week because I felt accomplished and loved what I was doing. It was literally an addiction to keep putting out content.
Of course, like anything, doing something you love has its ups and downs. Moments became hassles, as I felt no one was listening to what I had to say and it felt more like a job without pay than a hobby. But in the end, I stuck with it. I had taken time off a couple of times, but I came back with the best of my ability to tell you what to see and not see. I was lucky enough to be published as a technical one-time playwright (I won’t get into that) and in my high school paper, which only showed me that people were indeed listening, whether they agreed or disagreed was beyond the point. I only cared that people were noticing what I had to say and that was when I knew this was something I was doing right. I realized that I had a voice. 

So I kept at it, writing reviews every weekend; getting better and better. Flubs was my baby that kept on growing. I knew one day I would have to say goodbye to it, but I never thought it would be this soon. I have been offered to write for The Cinematic Katzenjammer full-time and without any hesitation, I took it. I've been following the site for a while now, guest posting a review, guesting on their podcast, and they introduced me the LAMB blogging network that really helped me branch out and get more of a following from people who do the same as me. I love everything that they are doing, and they were kind enough to take me in as their trailer talker. I love the whole lot of them, making new friends who share the same interests is like nothing I had ever imagined. Now, it’s time to go a step further. If you think that my writing of reviews is going to stop, you’re wrong. I will be writing reviews for The Cine Katz as well as Trailer Parks as frequently as possible (all the time), I just won’t be writing for Flubs anymore.
Now, I’m writing this farewell because of two reasons. The first being: I want to thank those who have supported me through years of writing. You mean 100% everything to me, that is without a doubt. I would not be here if it weren't for you readers and followers of my work. Words cannot honestly express my love for you guys and all your positive and even negative comments. You believed in me, you saw something in me that sometimes even I didn't see, because you cared. You know who you are, and I thank you.
My other reason for this letter is because I feel I need to make something clear. I try not to get overly sentimental, especially about something that doesn't respond back or have feelings, but Flubs isn't just my writing, or my opinions. Flubs is me. And it is a part of me I have to now let go, just like everything we experience in life. I look at Flubs not like a body of work, but of my art about art. I watched movies as an escape, and wrote about them because writing is what I always wanted to do. I created Flubs as a safe haven for my ideas and opinions on what certain people were trying to say; what they were trying to tell the audience. And now I’m telling you, we all need a safe haven. Everybody is flawed, we all have our problems, but within those problems we need somewhere to go to get away from that. Flubs was my safe haven and now I’m letting it go, because I've faced my fears. I've learned and grown, and now am left to leave a new legacy somewhere else. That doesn't mean I’m leaving you guys, or you won’t be able to read what I have to say anymore, but that I’m starting a new chapter and am incredibly grateful that everyone at The Cinematic Katzenjammer is giving me an opportunity to do that. For the first time in my entire life I am not afraid of change, in fact, I welcome it.

I will find a way to preserve my reviews in a database so that they will always be there for those who need my opinion, but as of this week, Flubs will certainly be laid to rest. No sequel, no reboot, but to be held in your memories. As it will be in mine. 

               Thank you all for everything you have given me, I am eternally grateful. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

'The Fifth Element' (1997) Review

The thing you need to know about Luc Besson's The Fifth Element is that he began writing it when he was 16 years old, and with that little bit of information in mind, it helps to make much more sense of it. I'm not entirely familiar with Besson's directing works, having only seen this and Leon: The Professional (1994) which I think is the better of the two and then some. But from my knowledge he has been very hit or miss in his career. After watching The Fifth Element I can imagine why; it's a mess, but not a mess in a painful to watch sort of way, but more in the "throw a bunch of things together and see what good comes out of it" category. And fortunately there are a lot of cool ideas this film has to offer, it's just the execution that meanders ironically considering Besson initially wanted to get a good reputation, giving him complete creative control on the film.

We begin somewhere in Egypt in 1914, where you know immediately something isn't going to go right. You have a professor in an ancient tomb, examining a site of an event that took place centuries ago. There were four different stones, each one being that of an element and a sarcophagus which holds the fifth element in a human form, which were used to defeat a "Great Evil." Moments after the professor finds this out, a group of aliens come down to the site, and open the passage to where the elements are being held. These aliens are taking the elements as they explain, "The stones are not safe on Earth anymore," but when something goes wrong, the aliens give a priest the key to the tomb to pass down for generations while they take the elements and will return when the Great Evil eventually rises again. This whole opening sequence is wonderfully filmed as these mysterious beings are just now coming to Earth, even if their design is clunky and uninspired.

Fast forward 300 years later to what looks like a massive ball of black fire. This is the Great Evil and anything we shoot at it causes it to increase in size. We now have our fated priest, Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), approaching our President Lindberg (Tommy Lister) explaining "Evil begets evil, shooting it will only make it stronger." Yet, they do shoot it and it destroys one of their ships. We then smash cut to Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) waking up in his single roomed apartment, and when I say "single" I literally mean there are no other rooms; his living room is his bedroom, his bedroom is his kitchen, and his kitchen is his bathroom. This adds some life to this already fairly dry science-fiction story. But what shoots this film back to life is seeing a futuristic New York City.

With most sci-fi films, the future is depicted as dark and foggy, look at Blade Runner (1982), or Dark City (1998) for example. Honestly, my favorite thing about The Fifth Element is seeing this bright, colorful world that Besson creates that surely has dark moments, but doesn't fall on those cliches as most filmmakers would. Korben is a taxi-driver and former major in the Special Forces, he is looking for the perfect woman, as he is left to call a cat that visits him "sweetie." I love Bruce Willis, I really do, and here I still love him; however, it just seems like Willis is playing John McClane in the 23rd Century, which is not a problem as I adore four of the Die Hard films, but it just shows how much he never really escaped that character other than Pulp Fiction (1994) which comes to mind first. Anything with Bruce Willis and another character, whom I will get to in a moment, shined for me in this film. Willis has always had a tendency to entertain and he doesn't let you down here, I just wish there was more to grasp onto.

Now that the Great Evil has returned, the aliens who took the five elements are on their way to return the fifth one to Earth (the other four are somewhere safe) when they are attacked by another alien race that can shapeshift, who were hired by an industrialist named Zorg (Gary Oldman). The only piece scientists recover from the attack is the hand of the Fifth Element and with technology and an incredible sequence, they are able to rebuild the rest of the body using the DNA from the hand. After reconstruction, it turns out that the Fifth Element is a female by the name of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). Being confused after she awakens, she manages to escape and jumps from a skyscraper, landing in no other than Korben's taxicab. From there on, it becomes a chase movie. Korben is trying to save the universe as he gets one last mission to obtain the other four elements, he and Father Cornelius must protect Leeloo, Zorg is a backstabbing fiend who betrayed the aliens he hired, so now Zorg and the aliens are after the same thing, and from there it becomes more of a mess.

Watching this reminded me a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), because you have multiple groups of people going after the same thing in the end. When you break it down, that is exactly what The Fifth Element is. Moments feel like Luc Besson wanted to include all these different elements (no pun intended) into this one film and it becomes so clustered in blockbuster tropes that you never get a sense that the film has room the breathe. By the time we are introduced to Chris Tucker's DJ Ruby Rhod, you hate the character to begin with and it adds more weight to this already plot-heavy piece of filmmaking. There are many moments that are fun, like: Korben's taxi chase after Leeloo lands in his car or anything involving Willis and Jovovich at all, but there is too much going on to get any enjoyment out of certain scenes.

One of the biggest disappointments here is not Gary Oldman, but his character. I love Oldman as an actor and think he is brilliant, but his Zorg doesn't add anything to this film. I mean, he adds a villain, but there is no weight to his character. And that might be due to the fact that there are two villains, Zorg and the Great Evil, but neither adds feeling that there is a threat. Not to mention the terrible costume design in this film; multiple times it felt like the entire budget went to special effects, leaving them with just enough money to buy Halloween costumes from Walmart. One costume in particular that Willis is wearing made me not take the scene seriously, it's terrible. But that goes back to how most of the film is hit or miss. A lot of the visual set-pieces work, especially the final one in Egypt which had me wanting more of a sci-fi adventure movie, but there are just too many moments of silliness that had me rolling my eyes or just not enjoying this.

Coming from a director like Besson, I'm kind of at a loss for words as he was the man who gave us Leon: The Professional; looking at both films, I would never had been able to identify him as the director. I'm a genre guy, it's what I always turn to, but this is quite the misstep that gives the visuals time to shine, but doesn't have any texture. It's just pretty to look at. I know Besson wrote the film, but I wish he had someone to trim the fat. There are multiple characters that I know I would have cut, just to make a narrower plot. Too much is not always best and in this case, it hurts the film more than one would expect. On that note, I think there is some fun to be had, but nothing to have the necessity to see this, especially for film lovers. There is much better sci-fi to experience. I give The Fifth Element a **1/2 out of *****. I really would dig living in 23rd Century New York City, though.           

Monday, July 29, 2013

'The Smurfs 2' Review

I've never been a fan of the The Smurfs growing up, but much more partial to shows like The Flinstones and Scooby-Doo; I have no idea why. After having watched the first Smurfs movie just the other night, I can not tell if I would have liked or hated the show as a kid by the film's abysmal plot. I can, however, tell you that I know for a fact that the smurfs did not go to New York City, or meet Neil Patrick Harris and his pregnant girlfriend, or probably do anything they do in the film. However, the major fault of The Smurfs wasn't that it was obviously made because of the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks or Garfield movies, but because it felt just like that, as all these types of film franchises do. They're all just cash grabs.

Which leads me into just how unenjoyable The Smurfs 2 is and why. Aside from this being a now-franchise that never should have happened, this second installment takes what cuteness its predecessor had and smurfs it out the window. What could be called technically charming humor at times, is now replaced with more physical gags that may make your three-year-old laugh, but will leave you unsatisfied by every bit that this film has to offer; and also too many puns. It opens with wonderful colors that kind of pull you in as we get backstory that was already established in the first film of Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) and her origins. She was created by the evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) and his cat Azrael to cause havoc in the Smurfs' Village, until Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) uses a secret formula to turn the white colored lone female into one of them.

After that bit of exposition we get to briefly explore the Smurfs' Village yet again, tracking from one introduction to the other. We see Brainy Smurf, Handy Smurf, Gutsy Smurf, Hefty Smurf, Farmer Smurf, and pretty much every personality relating to the little blue creatures you can think of. However, the problem comes just like its predecessor when we never get to spend enough time with these characters. Sure, they're just smurfs with different personality types, but even with that in mind you want to see how all of them clash and interact with each other. Why the smurf would you want to go through a village meeting all these kinds of characters when you will only be spending most of the film with mainly six of them? Hence why these live-action film adaptations of cartoons don't work, because the filmmakers are spending too much time trying to fit in the fish out of water story instead of focusing on a plot that has to do mostly in the Smurfs' Village.

One of my chief no-no's when it comes to a movie like this is the attempt to tell a father story. We are mostly force-fed two paralleled plots of what it is like to have a step-father, that intertwine together to make an overall throughline. That's fine, I have no problem with that, but it's how they handle it in the context of the film. The first of the mirroring narratives is that of Smurfette originally being naughty and created by Garamel. When she is kidnapped and brought to Paris, causing the other five smurfs to go after her, it becomes a digression for her as she begins to become naughty again. I don't hate that, because she now has a new sister Vexy (Christina Ricci) and brother Hackus (J.B. Smoove) to connect with considering they are both naughty as well. In fact, I think having only this plot and adding a little more to the characters would have helped the film tremendously; it is the parallel to this that essentially destroys everything.

So since the first film, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) have had a son. Aside from them naming him Blue (Jacob Tremblay) which is smurfing stupid, they introduce another character who is Patrick's step-father, Victor (Brendan Gleeson). This technically side-plot just takes up way to much room from what the rest of this film is trying to do, because this is about the smurfs, obviously, but take away Smurfette's story and you have Neil Patrick Harris with daddy issues alongside some funny blue side characters. The rest of the smurfs almost give nothing to the film other than off-balanced humor. Victor comes in and ruins things by being overly loving and causing accidents that he can't really control. Personally, I would wring both character's necks as Victor is just too enthusiastic and Patrick is more or less a selfish jerk. It just becomes more melodramatic kiddie fare that doesn't make a whole lot of sense after you think about it.

With what we are given of the smurfs, their interactions in the the real world look much better than the last film. I didn't cringe nearly as much when these little blue beings were up close with the humans, but they are just written poorly with the bar so low that a piece of paper would have a hard time playing limbo. The stuff in their Village is fine, I got more enjoyment out of that 10 minutes than the rest of the film. The biggest disappointment is easily seeing both Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson thrown into these roles, because it's obvious that they have talent, but are just doing this for a paycheck. And you know it's even more sad when you would rather have a movie with just the smurfs and Hank Azaria as Gargamel because he is actually enjoying this role and is one of the better parts of the whole film.

I'm just kind of sick of these unfaithful adaptations. This isn't a film for me, or to me marketed towards me; and sure, they're kid's films, but this isn't a good one. I had a conversation on Twitter this week about if we could think of any live-action adaptation of a cartoon show and we couldn't. There hasn't been one and that doesn't mean that there won't ever be one, but this isn't one of them; even Bill Murray regretted doing Garfield. Look, for a three-year-old, they could get some enjoyment out of this, but I wouldn't recommend any age above that. There just isn't anything here; no love, or heart, just the greed for money. I'm still baffled and yet unsurprised that a third is in production. I give The Smurfs 2 a *1/2 out of *****. They had five writers on this and still smurfed it up.

Note: I used smurf adjectives because that is most of the dialogue for the entirety of 105 minutes. If that annoyed you, then you have your answer of if you should see this. Also, this is indeed in 3D and I highly advise you skip the inflated price if you choose to see it as it adds nothing to it whatsoever.     

Friday, July 26, 2013

'The Wolverine' Review

Throughout the entire series, the X-Men movies have been very hit-or-miss and it shows mostly with who handles each film. I like the first movie, but admittedly had problems with some characters and how Bryan Singer dealt with the canon. It wasn't what I felt the technical first X-Men film should be, but that all was left behind when X2 came out and blew me away. To this day I still think it is the best film in the series, bringing in new characters that really helped the storytelling and brought certain character arcs around to giving a heartfelt climax that completely delivered. Then disappointment commenced as X-Men: The Last Stand is just one mammoth of a mess, coining the infamous Juggernaut line that made us all quiver at its awfulness. Which lead us to a shift in the X-Men movies as we got a prequel that was nonessential, but even that wasn't the worst of its problems.

If there ever was a lowest point for the X-Men franchise it would be X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I don't usually have an immense problem when it comes to canon with films (aside from the first X-Men), but this thing not only takes a good origin story from the comics and destroys it, but it's just not a good movie period. In fact, this felt more like a parody at times than an actual film adding to this franchise. It took the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean route and took the side character of Wolverine and gave him his own film, but they didn't make a film good enough to make you care. There were too many callbacks to the original comics, causing an overstuffed mutant fest that had too many CGI'd adamantium claws and amnesia bullets. However, rejoice filled our hearts again as Matthew Vaughn brought us X-Men: First Class which is my second favorite of the series and is just a great period piece. 

Now with a full 13 years having passed since the first X-Men film and two years since the last, we get another attempt at a standalone Wolverine film with James Mangold's The Wolverine; and it is almost everything you want it to be. When this was first announced of course I was skeptical with the past attempts at this hero's journey, and with all  the marketing it just didn't look like anything promising. However, let me assure you that if you are a fan of this character and want to see more of this world that has been created, then The Wolverine does more than an excellent job of giving you that. But what we also get is more of a quieter, darker, character piece that takes its time to unfold and when it does Wolverine is there to slash, stab, and disembowel anything that gets in his way.

Taking place shortly after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan (Hugh Jackman) has hung up his Wolverine persona due to depression over killing the one he loved, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). He looks much like Jean Valjean, living in the mountains, just trying to forget the world; he literally tries to become an animal. Well it turns out that someone has been trying to find him for some time. Logan meets Yukio (Rila Fukushima) in a bar halfway through his fight; she uses a samurai sword to cut the leg off a stool and a beer bottle in half so quickly that it takes a couple seconds for each object to react. This of course intrigues Logan who finds out that Yukio's employer wants to speak with him in Japan for saving him so many years back. After agreeing to visit, they are immediately off to Japan which shows how well the initial setup is. All the scenes in Canada work well; it almost feels like a nod to the first X-Men film. But unlike the first film Logan remembers what he has done, giving a whole new side to him as he tries to heal his mind. 

When Logan finally gets to Japan with Yukio, we kind of see where this is going. That doesn't mean it's overly predictable, but just that it's a much simpler story than we have seen before which is to the film's advantage. Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi) is Yukio's employer, but also the wealthiest man in all of Japan; he has called for Logan because after he saved Yashida from an atomic bomb in Nagasaki, he saw his healing ability. Now, Yashida is dying and has a way to take Logan's mutation to make himself immortal, and Logan be able to die. Logan refuses this offer, but somehow he isn't healing the same; he can now possibly die, but after meeting Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) everyone is then out to get her. The film becomes a chase film, with Logan protecting Mariko and just by those means, it really helps this film.

The first action scene is terribly sloppy with shaky cam that is just too close to tell what is going on, although the sound effects give us a pretty good idea. Still containing a PG-13 rating, The Wolverine doesn't show too much blood, but just the idea that gets pictured in your head is brutal enough. There is some great imagery in the action scenes as Wolverine begins to get creative, while still going in hacking and slashing. An action sequence on top of a bullet train is one of the highlights of the film, but the action becomes progressively better as scenes become shot more centered and still. I personally really loved a scene between just Wolverine and another character using a samurai sword, because of the way it was shot. It felt like it was supposed to: a Wolverine movie in Japan being based off of Wolverine a famous comic by Frank Miller and Chris Claremont.

What a lot of this comes down to is the relationship between Logan and Mariko. If you are a fan of the comics, you should know this relationship pretty well and to see it on screen is mesmerizing. This is Tao Okamoto's first film ever, and she is so incredible that I honestly believe no one else could have played the role. She became Mariko as the film played out, and her relationship with Logan is much stronger than you would suspect from a summer movie like this. When you have Logan running through snow covered streets of a small Japanese town as Mariko is watching him from a tower above, whilst getting arrows shot in his back yet not stopping, is very moving when you watch it. Their love is what drives this film in many ways, especially when you have a character trying to heal himself mentally, but on both ends you feel everything and that is one of the major achievements The Wolverine finally gives us.

For a climax, this doesn't entirely disappoint as that there is just a couple of cartoonish moments. You have the Wolverine and the Silver Samurai going head to head, do you honestly think it wasn't going to be a little silly? Because once you get over that aspect of the scene, it becomes pretty awesome.You have three different fights going on at once, with excellent pacing and editing that really gets you involved within the scene. I found it only cartoonish when the sequence started as the Silver Samurai is too CGI'd, but the rest of the set piece is very enthralling, ending with a much needed moment of comeuppance. It blends together a superhero story and a fairy tale in many ways, even down to Logan calling Mariko "princess" and her ending up locked in a tower near the end. It finally becomes the Wolverine movie we always wanted, however, some punch-up writing would have made this the film we always deserved.

This is a year full of surprises, with The Wolverine being added to that list. This was a risky film for 20th Century Fox to bring to the X-Men table and while it does indeed feel like a setup film for the next true X-Men movie due out next year, this also feels like its own thing. You get Wolverine bringing bloody carnage to the table, a thought-provoking superhero story, some new mutants that are very cool, and a love story all wrapped in one. I no longer have doubts that the Wolverine can hold a film on his own, but I don't think they should take this risk again. Make you sure you stay through half of the credits for a very cool scene that will raise applause as well. I give The Wolverine a **** out of *****. If you look at Hugh Jackman in this film, he is so jacked that his veins have adamantium in them. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'The Conjuring' Review

After having been in production for over 20 years, The Conjuring is finally being released and it's better than you could have ever imagined. Think of the film's production as if it were ready to shoot in mere minutes; everyone is ready, the makeup and costumes are fitted, sets are finished, the actors have been cast, then everything freezes in time unable to begin shooting because of what some would call "development hell." That is what it was like to watch The Conjuring. It felt like it had everything perfectly in place to make a horror classic, but couldn't continue working because of production difficulties. However, once James Wan came onto the set to direct this, everything began moving again; it all fell into place, and he was the perfect fit to be the director on this project, bringing us a modern horror classic.

The thing is, I love James Wan as a director. I think he is the perfect example for an artist who has worked his way up visually and creatively. Starting out with Saw (2004), which I do like, he became famous for beginning what seemed to be a never ending franchise. However, he went on to direct Dead Silence (2007) which frightens any dummy hater and then briefly shied away from the horror genre to make a vigilante film with Kevin Bacon called Death Sentence which was released the same year. Wan's next film that would come before The Conjuring would be Insidious (2010) which I think is fun horror and don't understand the hate that people have for it. To me now, it feels like Wan was just preparing for what he was going to do next. Insidious feels like an experiment that worked and gave him confidence as a good horror director to go on and make The Conjuring. The only problem is, this feels like his last hurrah with the genre. He masters everything to the point of me not wanting him to continue with Insidious: Chapter 2, but he will give that to us anyway.

If you are a fan of horror in any way you should be familiar with the classics especially those from the '60s, '70s, and '80s. If you watch them from today's horror standards you might not find them entirely scary (I sure do), because horror relies on strictly jump scares for the most part. When you watch Rosemary's Baby (1968), it isn't about what is going to happen to the baby as much as it's about the atmosphere. Thinking about that apartment still gives me chills, and it adds a layer for the storytelling needed. Without proper atmosphere, a horror film won't work as well as it could because you aren't as afraid if you are shown a safe place with scary things inside of it. Think of The Exorcist (1973) where you have that house which is just creepy looking as well as Regan being possessed. It layers itself to have a more harrowing element. The Conjuring does this extremely well throughout multiple different sets.

The film opens with our paranormal investigator protagonists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) explaining at a presentation about a case they had solved in the 1970's involving a doll named Annabelle. We flashback to three girls who are dealing with the doll who they throw out, but appears back in their apartment. It sets up the tone of the film, showing us bumps in the night, and how a well placed doll can scare us. If you research the case, originally it was a raggedy Ann doll, but for the film is was changed to what looks like a China doll. It helps add to the creepiness which is respectable why Wan didn't go with the original design. This small introduction presents us with the fact that Ed and Lorraine feel there is always an explanation for something creepy happening. One scene involves them solving a case by telling two homeowners that sounds in the attic are coming from heated pipes causing wood to expand. However, that doesn't exclude their beliefs and experiences with the paranormal.

Once bright yellow text crawls up the screen explaining the Warren's experience with this case the film is centered around, you get chills. And with big creepy letters of the same color, The Conjuring moves up the screen. This already feels like a modern classic. What follows is our experience with a family of seven; including the mother Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor), the father Roger (Ron Livingston), and their five daughters. They buy a house without any knowledge of its previous owners in hopes to fix it up and live happily. After having found a mysterious and boarded up cellar, the first morning they wake up Carolyn notices that all the clocks stop at 3:07 a.m. this raises even more questions. Which leads into much weirder and paranormal occurrences. Once the mysterious activity starts, it never stops. The whole film never takes a moment to breathe which is the best part of it as you are on the edge of your seat waiting for what will happen next.

Fairly quickly (more quickly than most horror films), Carolyn finds and approaches Ed and Lorraine in hopes that they will help with what is happening in her house. They agree and we kind of get what we see in a lot of exorcism movies, which is someone coming in to right the wrong. It's like in The Exorcist where we had Father Merrin and Karras, but Ed and Lorraine have their own problems and special abilities if you want to call them that. One of my favorite things about The Conjuring is the character development with the two parents. You find out that Lorraine and Ed have a young daughter and that helps their motivations, but when it comes to the interactions between the characters it is expertly executed. Most horror movie tropes are that of not being able to create likable characters who you feel for emotionally. This does just that, which about halfway through I stopped caring about what the next scare was going to be, and started worrying about these character's fates.

Every scare in this film works to an exponential level due to multiple things mixing together perfectly. You have James Wan's direction with creepy atmosphere and creative lighting that just makes you want to cover your eyes when you can't see through the dark, precise and adept timing that is used skillfully to give the scare the right momentum, and finally an added music cue from composer Joseph Bishara who has worked on many horror films including Insidious. Those main elements create the best and most terrifying thrills I have seen in a horror movie in a long time. It takes a lot for a horror movie to actually scare me (it very rarely happens), but The Conjuring pulled it off in ways I haven't been scared in years. Every jolt hits its mark, striking true fear inside you, making your heart beat faster and worrying for these characters. One of the creepiest jingles that stuck in my head for all of last night was that of the doll box which is in the trailer. It's 48 seconds long on the iTunes soundtrack and I still bought it.

I read that both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga traveled to Connecticut to spend time with the real Lorraine Warren so that they could get more into the characters. I haven't met the real Lorraine or seen videos of her, but either way Wilson and Farmiga nail these roles with or without them resembling the previous couple, now only widowed Lorraine. Even Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor have great performances as the worried parents for their children. Some of the daughters don't have much to do and are kind of one-noted to be the damsels in distress, but it still creates enough fear to care. The production design is amazing, making it actually look and feel like a '70s horror film. The house we are in for the majority of the movie is continually terrifying and even Ed Warren's room at his own house, where he keeps the things that were possessed, makes me want to explore it personally. There is just so much going for the style of this film that everything else comes in second place by only centimeters.

It's been a long time since I've felt this way about a horror movie, and this only brings nostalgia as well as creativity back to the genre. James Wan has proven himself worthy as a horror director to me, making one of the creepiest haunted house movies in years. Had this been made in the '60s or '70s it would be a classic to us today; in 20 years I have no doubt that it will be a classic to everyone then. The Conjuring will inspire new horror directors and continue to live on as one of the greats. A sequel is already in the works, unfortunately, and I pray that it is not a direct sequel, but follows the Warrens on another case that we haven't explored yet. Mind you, they are the two that were involved in the Amityville Horror, which could be an interesting sequel/remake. Then again, I'm only speculating. I give The Conjuring a ****1/2 out of *****. People still aren't just leaving their houses.                  

'Red 2' Review

For what the first Red (2010) was worth, it had some moments that I really enjoyed. I really like the idea of four reasonably older CIA agents having to come together and fight for their lives, but it was the execution (no pun intended) that really made it fall flat. A grotesquely graphic comic book was made into a PG-13 action flick that was loosely based on its source material to bring in a bunch of old stars to get laughs out of what they were doing; but I laughed and had fun with the spy-thriller vibe it was going for. Now, looking at Red 2, I couldn't possibly think its predecessor was that enjoyable as a lot of scenes from both films mesh together into one ball of confusion. For a moment I forgot which film had Morgan Freeman in it.

One of my favorite decisions a filmmaker can make is bringing us to an action hero's home. The one that runs through the mind most is Mission: Impossible III (2006), in which we see how the spy lives and acts at home. It adds an emotional connection and stakes to the character as we will be seeing them kicking ass in a half-hour, rather than just putting them into a situation. Red kind of did that as we watched Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) living alone and calling his hot-line crush Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) to have any contact with a real human being. I liked that, I think it worked and helped humanize Frank a bit. Red 2 doesn't do that at all. Instead, the film opens in a Costco as Frank and Sarah are shopping which is the closest we are going to get to see of their home life. While at Costco, Marvin (John Malkovich) secretly approaches Frank trying to get him back in the field. "You haven't killed anybody in months!" he humorously exclaims. 

Well, eventually (3 minutes later) Frank does get sucked back into trying to save his life as well as Sarah's. The reason they're being attacked is unfolded relatively quickly as Marvin explains that Interpol is hunting them because of an operation they had taken part in during the Cold War. So after having escaped one attempt at killing them from a Jack Horton (Neal McDonough), Interpol hires Victoria (Helen Mirren) and a mysterious Han (Byung-hun Lee) to try again. One of Red 2's biggest problems is its ability to be convoluted and that starts with the characters. You already have three main protagonists you are trying to keep track of, but then they add essentially three villains with two that we have no real interest in, and then an added character a quarter through, and another more than halfway through. Too many characters cause this already bloated action film to try to stuff more in and it doesn't help in any way. 

With all these characters, however, there are moments between them that I really enjoyed; they happened mainly between Sarah and others. There is just something about John Malkovich lying on a couch telling Sarah that she is everything to Frank and he would be lost without here that is heartwarming to me. There are scenes where Frank will try to keep her safe by hiding her, and Marvin gives her a gun to protect herself. This playful banter between the characters on Sarah's safety is surprisingly and disappointingly the best parts of the film. Had Sarah not been in this film at all it would be an absolute train wreck, but somehow she is what doesn't make this movie bad. Of course, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, and Bruce Willis are all good as usual, but they don't shine like Mary-Louise Parker in this. For comparison, had the character of Han been deleted altogether, it wouldn't have made a difference other than one action scene.

If you remember that trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) where you see the point of view shot of Peter Parker swinging through New York, I really wanted to see that in the movie; I wanted to feel like Spider-Man. Unfortunately, if you read my review, you know that they cut that out of the film and I'm still frustrated by that. Red 2 showed the trailer with Catherine Zeta-Jones' character in the car going in slow-motion, moving a seat over for Bruce Willis. It looked cool and I wanted to see that. However, with poor editing (through the whole film) and no slow-motion, the scene might as well not even be there. It's one thing for a film to be marketed with a money shot and changed if it helps the movie in the long run, but here it's just to get you into the theater. Another money shot was Helen Mirren sideways in a car shooting out both windows; the scene is in here, but still with choppy editing and the song choice for it was pitiful. 

I love myself a good action film, but when the action and plot are so predictable that you can tell what is going to happen every step of the way, it doesn't really do anything for the audience. There are moments in Red 2 where I was bored, not because I knew what was going to happen, but because I just wanted to get to where I knew it was going. There is a character that is introduced and they allude to said character so much and what they're capable of that I knew who it was, what was going to happen, and how it was going to conclude. The climax of this film has Bruce Willis walking into somewhere and the moment he stepped into the area, I knew what he was going to do. And the funny thing is that the main antagonist doesn't see it coming, which is the worst possible outcome when it comes to this kind of thing. If it's not believable, it won't work. 

There are going to be people saying how bad Red 2 is and don't get me wrong, it's a bad movie, but it isn't horrible. Character moments bring it up enough to just being heavily mediocre and not giving it a second thought. With the editor it had, I'm not surprised that a lot of the action looked terrible, but it has its fair share of laughs I guess. This is what I would expect from a sequel that didn't need to happen and I wouldn't have thought would happen; I'm neither disappointed nor happy we got this, which isn't a praise or criticism. I do, however, of course wish this were better. I give Red 2 a ** out of *****. At least it's no A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). Am I right?         

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Turbo' Review

DreamWorks Animation has put out some quality movies in their history, some better than Pixar's worst I would argue. Their first was Antz (1998) which ironically went up against A Bug's Life (1998) that year and personally I haven't seen either in a very long time, so I can't say which is better at the moment. With some films scattered around what really defined DreamWorks Animation as a popular studio were three particular series of films that would pave a new way for the direction they would be heading. It didn't really start until Shrek (2001) which shied away from the elegant storytelling of Pixar and did it's own thing. I think Shrek is amazing, I really do, and Shrek 2 (2004) is a perfect sequel; but after that the series was driven into the ground so fast we didn't even have time to blink. We then headed into Madagascar (2005) territory which I just never understood why it became a hit, but it did and we got two sequels and a TV show to thank for it. Their last huge hit that would spawn off into a series would be Kung Fu Panda (2008) and my love for it is everlasting.

But the film that would seem to have changed everything for DreamWorks Animation would be How to Train Your Dragon (2010). Instead of pulling pop-culture gags and voice casting for really annoying actors, they decided to go for their most genuine and heart-warming story of the classic a boy and his dog tale. This is the closest DreamWorks ever got to Pixar, and deservingly so. It was their first film that stuck to the by-the-numbers pacing and was something we have seen many times before, but that didn't stop us from loving it. I think it just strikes the middle ground and I also have a problem with the ending, but it was a definite shift with the studio's storytelling. The problem would be what would come after with the way they wanted to tell stories. Once you strike that note and make a successful film that has a story that's been done before, it's hard to get away from that; which is Turbo's biggest fault. 

We all love the underdog story. Someone who wants to succeed in life, but for some reason can't, only to get thrown into doing it by some miracle, is uplifting to us; it makes us feel good. Unfortunately with Turbo, it's been done before and much better. You have a snail named Theo (Ryan Reynolds) whose only dream is to be fast. His brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), is continually telling him to just live his life and give up on his racing obsession, but Theo won't give up. After trying to prove the snail colony wrong, he almost gets himself killed and goes off to contemplate his way of life. Theo accidentally gets sucked into an engine of a drag racer and becomes genetically mutated, resulting in acting like a car and being able to move fast. This is where a lot of the humor actually begins to work as Theo is learning how to deal with these mutations in a way a superhero would in an origin story.

The film doesn't pick up to a better speed until Theo and Chet are kidnapped by a young-man named Tito (Michael Pena) who runs a Mexican restaurant with his brother Angelo (Luis Guzman). Theo and his brother are brought to the restaurant and Tito puts them on a small racetrack, where they realize they're going to race alongside other snails. There we meet Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg), Burn (Maya Rudolph), and Skidmark (Ben Schwartz) who have incredible character designs to look more like race cars. When they race, Tito sees that Theo has the gift of speed and wants to use it to get money for the restaurant. Theo decides on the name of Turbo, and is submitted into the Indy 500. Which is where the film's quality begins to move up and down.

The best part about Turbo are the side characters, but we never get much of them. There is a scene involving a race between the snail team alone, and it was a really cool sequence that had me excited and invested in what was going on. Then after that scene we never really get that feeling again. Whiplash is a really cool character that I wanted more from, but it seems that they got Samuel L. Jackson to voice a snail for no more than five minutes. I honestly don't think Snoop Dogg had more than three lines throughout the film and it's very noticeable how much some of these characters have nothing to do. I appreciate and liked the idea that there is a parallel between the human and snail brothers, which is a good element to the film, but with characters that aren't used to their full effect, it doesn't entirely work.

The animation in this film is as good as you will see from all the other animated features this year, with some stellar character design that is the best part of the film. The humans look just as good as the snails, but with character designs over their through lines it doesn't fully come fleshed out. When the characters are together and cracking jokes there are some really funny moments that add some comedic momentum to this already cliched and uninteresting story. However, there are also jokes we have seen before and that doesn't go unnoticed. It just kind of becomes a clustered mess in trying to do many things at once, but falls into the regular tropes you would expect. Don't get me wrong, some of the emotional elements work, but never to the extent that they should.

There really isn't anything special about Turbo; it's not the underdog story you want and doesn't do anything new enough to make it interesting. But it has some things worth renting if you're really that interested. This falls into Madagascar mediocrity for me and is a big miss from DreamWorks Animation to fill in space until we finally get their sequel to How to Train Your Dragon next year. There just isn't much to offer here, but kids will be happy and adults will be mildly amused. I give Turbo a **1/2 out of *****. Why do animation companies think general audiences care about professional racing anyway? Oh and by the way, they're airing a TV show on Netflix to expand this universe; it's called Turbo F.A.S.T. Just shoot me now.