Quick Takes: The Lego Movie, Machete Kills, Only God Forgives

lego_movie_ver9The Lego Movie (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Cobie Smulders, Jadon Sand
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller

So pretty much everyone loves this movie, but I just thought it was OK. I also found it ironic that the song Everything is Awesome became so popular among fans of the film, but yet it’s the butt of many jokes about the conformity of the mainstream Lego people in the movie. Whatever. The jokes largely fell flat for me, and while I enjoyed the premise and the imagination on display, it was all too loud and abrasive for my tastes. I did love the little Star Wars cameos and Batman’s hilarious song, though, and I wish the film had more of that kind of comedic brilliance.

machete-kills-new-poster-and-13-new-photos-1Machete Kills (2013)

Starring Danny Trejo, Mel Gibson, Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, William Sadler
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

This, on the other hand, was pure entertainment for me. Robert Rodriguez makes fun B-Movies, and I love him for it. Machete Kills feels like more of a James Bond spoof than a sequel to Machete, but as long as you like both Machete and Bond (like me), that isn’t an issue. Charlie Sheen is wonderful as the US President, and Mel Gibson definitely makes for a fun asshole villain. The film is somewhat spastic with its ultra-long list of characters, though, which doesn’t allow many of them to get much screen-time. I understand this allows for a long list of celebrities to fill the poster, but quality is usually better than quantity. But this is a B-exploitation flick, so more is better, right?

only_god_forgives_ver6Only God Forgives (2013)
onehalfstar

Starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gordon Brown, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, Tom Burke, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Pitchawat Petchayahon, Charlie Ruedpokanon
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

There are times when I am a film masochist. Despite thinking Refn’s Drive was an overrated, boring mess of staring people, I felt compelled to watch Only God Forgives. I guess being set in Thailand was a big enough draw to pull me in, regardless of my misgivings. Anyway, this one probably has more staring than Drive. There’s even a whole scene where an entire room of people sit and stare, all while a man has his eyes cut out… Refn is clearly preoccupied with all things ocular. Even still, I think I liked this one a hair more than Drive because the exotic, urban Thai locations and the bold uses of color are pretty to look at. It’s also interesting to see what is basically a B-movie all dolled up in artsy clothes, but it’s not something that really works for me. At least in these clothes it doesn’t. For some reason, I still feel compelled to see more of Refn’s work. Like I said, sometimes I’m a film masochist.

The Rum Diary (2011)

Starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Amber Heard, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Amaury Nolasco, Marshall Bell, Bill Smitrovich, Julian Holloway, Karen Austin

Directed by Bruce Robinson

Expectations: Low. Heard bad things, but my love for Hunter S. Thompson is enough to get me to watch this.


I can now fully understand the negative backlash to The Rum Diary. When it released into theaters I decided against heading out to see it, despite a high interest. I did that because I’ve read Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, and I enjoyed it, but when I finally saw the trailer for this adaptation it looked as if they had taken the rather different source material and gave it a heavy dose of Fear and Loathing’s manic energy. I called bullshit and said I’d catch it on DVD. Well here I am a few months later, DVD in hand, and damn if the movie isn’t pretty close to the book. What we have here is a case of poor marketing. The film was marketed as a non-stop rush of waggling devil tongues and slurred words, so obviously people who bought into that in the trailer were disappointed when they saw the subtly chaotic piece on the discovery of a journalist’s craft. And conversely, I am pleasantly surprised by the shift in tone and focus from the marketing. So in effect the marketing is specifically targeting non-fans by drawing them in with empty promises, but turning off fans who know the book in the same stroke. The film is quite reverent of Thompson and his ideals, so I can only imagine the shitstorm that went down between the marketing department and the filmmakers. Or perhaps I’d just like to imagine something similar to the events of The Rum Diary surrounding the production of The Rum Diary.

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Mini-Review: The Ward (2011)

The Ward (2011)

Starring Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris, Dan Anderson, Susanna Burney, Sydney Sweeney, Sali Sayler, Mark Chamberlin, Jillian Kramer

Directed by John Carpenter

Expectations: High, I’m a big Carpenter fan.


John Carpenter is back after nine years away from feature films and old school horror fans are pumped. The master brought us such genre gems as Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China. While The Ward isn’t quite up to those standards, it’s a marked improvement from the rather lackluster and tired Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter’s previous film. The Ward is a simple story of a girl in 1966 who inexplicably runs through the forest and burns down a farmhouse. She is quickly locked away in a mental institution for care. There she meets the requisite cast of psych ward girls and we’re off on a creepy, minimalist ride through a fun, if somewhat clichéd, film.

Does anyone really want or need another mental hospital film? I know I sure don’t, but I soldiered on despite my indifference and all the negative reviews to watch the new John Carpenter flick. My love is strong, and all that. I’m very glad that I did though, as I got a much more competent horror film than I had expected. Carpenter clearly still has what it takes to construct a quality film and I only hope that he can scrape together the funds necessary to make another film in the near future if he is want to do so. Speaking of funds, I’m sure The Ward was a pretty low-budget affair, but it doesn’t look it in the slightest. The Ward looks and feels like an old school horror movie, with quality camerawork & editing and awesome physical FX from genre-masters KNB. It may not win any awards for originality, but I was thoroughly entertained by it every step of the way. It even got me to jump a few times, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

It would be wrong not to mention the opening credit sequence. It is easily my favorite credits sequence in years, with slow motion shots of old mental institution drawings and faded family photos that slowly fracture, revealing their fragile glass construction, and it’s intoxicating to watch. The rest of the film isn’t quite good enough to live up to this awesome opening, but critics be damned, John Carpenter’s return to feature films is a good one. You can’t go in comparing it to every past success he had from thirty years ago and expect to have a good time, but taken on its own, it’s a fun, scary horror flick. I imagine people who place no stock in the Carpenter name will get more pleasure out of this one simply because they have no expectations associated with it. Or it could just be that the horror genre and the viewing population have strayed so far from the old school aesthetics on display in The Ward that they are no longer accepting of a film made in the classic Hollywood style, without a bullshit handheld camera in sight.

Zombieland (2009)

Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Mike White, Bill Murray

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Expectations: Lowest possible. Modern zombie movies generally rub me the wrong way, but I’m stupid and I keep watching them.


This is not a zombie movie. I repeat, this is not a zombie movie. If you love traditional zombie films such as the George Romero classics, you are better off just re-watching one of those. From what the film shows us, hardly any zombies inhabit Zombieland. Most of the “excitement” coming from the fights and betrayals that play out between the male and female survivors. Even the apocalypse cannot settle the battle of the sexes. All kidding aside, this is absolutely the antithesis of what a good zombie movie should be. It is a stupid attempt at making a zombie comedy, but instead of being clever (like Shaun of the Dead) this just disappoints repeatedly.

Rarely is the survival of the characters an issue and therein lies the problem. Survival should be the main theme of any zombie tale because the zombie horde is ever-growing and as one of the last remaining humans you must constantly tap into the primal instincts of fight or flight. Your nerves fray as you know that sooner or later, you will become one of them. None of that comes into play in Zombieland. Sure, the main character has these survival rules he’s constantly telling the viewer about, but the rules are nothing more than fluff to draw your attention away from the almost complete lack of honest zombie danger.

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