Saturday, February 27, 2010

TRON LEGACY - JAKOB'S BADASS INFO DROP




TRON LEGACY hype has been ridiculous this week. JAKOB, the Mediasaurs’ Canadian connection, was in on the event.

Finally the houselights dimmed. The Scotiabank IMAX theatre in Toronto, half-full of devoted Tron fans, was about to show us . . . something.

We didn't know what. Speculation was rampant. Was it going to be the new trailer and then a pre-screening of Alice in Wonderland? Was it going to be a scene titled "The Pit Cell"? This possibility seemed most likely since the viral website from which this collection of dedicated nerds had scored free passes to this event is called www.pitcell.com. What everyone was hoping, of course, was that they'd show the whole film—nearly a year before its release date.

Why else would there be a strict no cell phone policy? Certainly they'd be showing more than just a trailer. A trailer is, after all, just a commercial, and you want as many people as possible to see your commercial, right? And the hoops people needed to jump through to get these tickets were too numerous for a paltry reward. Love and dedication should be rewarded, right?

Clearly, something big was going to go down. You could feel it in the air. The vibe in the theatre was electric, and now that the lights were down, lightening was about to strike.

Except it didn't.

It was just the trailer—the trailer that anyone will be able to see with Alice in Wonderland starting next week. And it wasn't even a good trailer.

If there'd been any lingering fears that a Hayden Christensen-type block of wood was going to be cast to play Kevin Flynn's son, those fears were realised. The kid is entirely uncharismatic except for a slight whiff of douchebag.

Of course, he's the star of the trailer which focuses on the real-world setup of the new movie. After a heart-to-heart with Bruce Boxleitner and street-racing his motorcycle, Flynn Jr. finds a secret lab in the back of Flynn Sr.’s abandoned arcade and gets zapped into Tron-land. Then there are a few quick flash-cuts of lightcycles, recognizers, and identity disc duels with hot program babes, and the trailer ends.

It's about a minute long.

And entirely underwhelming. You could feel the pheromones of disappointment expelled by the audience seeping into your skin as it dawned on everybody that this was it. It wasn't even shown twice. Expletives were muttered as people dejectedly tossed their 3D glasses into the basket on their way out.

Speaking of the 3D, it's old school crap 3D. It's not even in the same game, much less on the same court as Avatar. And it was clearly a Disney afterthought that Tron needed to be cutting edge.

The original trailer (first leaked, what, a year ago?) was far more inspiring. It created a sense of anticipation and a hunger for more Tron. I can see why they didn't want this new trailer leaked hence the no cell phone rule. When the angry mob of nerds starts blogging about this event tonight, Disney won't want them to be able to illustrate their postings with poorly framed cell phone video of this boring-ass trailer.

Jakob Rehlinger, nerdhurdles.com


MEDIASAURS TRON 2 thread

Friday, February 26, 2010

NINJA ASSASSIN - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



NINJA ASSASSIN - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

“Ninjas? More like Nonjas.”

—Pops Racer (John Goodman), SPEED RACER

Sometimes watching a film that has had nonstop bad press can be a good thing. When something great happens onscreen, it is all the more enjoyable because it wasn’t expected. But in the case of NINJA ASSASSIN, there is nothing whatsoever that makes the experience pleasurable. This movie is a slick, well-choreographed, broken machine.

At first it really looks like it is going to work, but soon it becomes apparent that the film's inner workings are hopelessly flawed. The truth of the matter is that Andy and Larry Wachowski produced this film, and their names brought the fanboys to the multiplexes. The Wachowskis have earned fanboy cred as a result of their involvement in the well-received MATRIX series. But since then, their heavily panned yet superior SPEED RACER is the only thing that they have done worth mentioning. And NINJA ASSASSIN is a mistake that would be better if it just went away.

That being said, NINJA ASSASSIN does manage to follow basic film convention. There is a protagonist, an antagonist, and some serious conflict. There is a story arc and conclusion. This is all a credit to Wachowski disciple James McTiegue who has directed the film. NINJA ASSASSIN looks and feels like it should work, but it is absolute, blood-soaked cornball. The plot is so completely asinine that it is basically nonexistent. What substitutes for plot are pornographic geysers of blood and hacked body parts. When viscera aren’t being punctured, the film lags.

NINJA ASSASSIN starts with some punk Yakuza named Hollywood (Sung Kang) getting a tattoo at the needle of a Tattoo Master (Randall Duk Kim). Their unrealized conversation about respect and tattoo pain is interrupted by the delivery of a wax-sealed envelope containing black dust. The Tattoo Master tells of a time fifty-seven years ago when he saw an envelope with such dust that was followed by a bloodsoaked ninja attack. Accordingly, this story is followed by one henchman’s DEAD ALIVE-status beheading, complete with tongue lolling in the now exposed mouth. The lights are knocked out, and there are slashed, gushing torsos and legs chopped. The ninja is unseen, and bullets won’t hit him. Wounds splash as if they are blood-filled water balloons. The Tattoo Master doesn’t survive the ninja attack this time around.

This tsunami of blood and appendages gets the attention of Mika (Naomie Harris), a forensic researcher, and her buddy Maslow (Ben Miles) at the Berlin Europol Headquarters. These two reveal all of the details of a network of ninja clans via more stilted conversation.

The ninja clans are comprised of young orphans turned ninja in a strange secluded compound. They are trained by a sadistic reverse-Mr. Miagi named Ozunu (Sho Kasugi). Ozunu is the type of sensei that disciplines his pupils with a blade slash to the face or by reaching into their chests to attack their heart like the high priest in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Ozunu raises ninjas that are trained killers, and for the monetary value of one hundred pounds of gold, they will eliminate any target.

Running parallel to the Mika and Maslow story is that of ninja assassin Raizo (Rain), told as a dirty ripoff of KUNG-FU. Raizo flashes back constantly to his old master Ozunu’s teachings. His most specific lesson is that weakness compels strength and betrayal begets blood. In these flashback sequences, young disciple Raizo (Yoon Sungwoong) comes up in the ninja ranks. There is a botched love story with teen Raizo (Joon Lee) and a free-spirited teenage ninja girl Kiriko (Anna Sawai) that ends in her punishing death and sours Raizo’s feelings towards the clan. When Raizo is full-grown, he rejects his training, slashes Ozunu’s face, takes a bunch of ninja stars to the gut and cinematically falls off of a skyscraper into a body of water. If this film were more intelligent, the water that he falls into could symbolize a baptism into humanity. This film isn’t intelligent, however, and Raizo proceeds to rack up a triple-digit blood-avalanche of ex-ninja buddies.

The rest of the film is annoying as Mika earns Raizu’s respect but inadvertently brings him in to the custody of the authorities. What organization he is being held by is so nebulous that it is stupefying. The CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security are all mentioned, but then there is also the GDR and the aforementioned Europol. Whoever is running the show does not have a chance when the blood-flood ninja brigade storm the compound looking for Raizu. The all-out ninja-versus-mystery-military-operative showdown essentially blood-surfs the plot to the end of the film. Raizu is taken back to his original ninja training grounds for execution.

The CIA/FBI/WTF team follows with Hummers, helicopters, grenades, and bazookas. When they drive through the wall of the compound, there are so many bullets being fired in random directions that the word absurd is completely deflated. What follows is more impalings, lost limbs, neck stabs, ninja stars, and katanas than I have ever seen before in one film sequence. Add a football stadium sprinkler system for the bloodspray and splatter, and this scene becomes one of the silliest showdowns in mainstream film history.

In the classic kung-fu movie final confrontation, Raizu has to go to war with his old sensei Ozunu. This battle is reminiscent of a video game boss-fight with one of those completely overpowered bosses that has you throwing down your controller and screaming profanities. Ozunu can disappear and reappear, and he gloats, reminding Raizu that he sucks. The silhouetted katana fight sequences make for some amusing shots, so do the falling ashes of the burning compound, but the suspension of disbelief collapsed in the opening scene. All that is left is the hope that this film will end soon.

B-movies are supposed to be fun. NINJA ASSASSIN is an ugly task. Its few attempts at humor are mired in such obvious timing and setup problems that they force groans and winces. This film is a disservice to better films with smaller budgets that actually give a damn about what they are doing. NINJA ASSASSIN is a mixture of all that has been wrong with martial arts films for the past forty years with some fresh air blown through and some nice effects on top. The only positive thing that can be said about this film is that there wasn’t an obligatory graphic rape scene which seems to be a cornerstone of the seedier elements of this genre. NINJA ASSASSIN is broken. There is nothing that resonates afterward, and hopefully, in time, this unnecessary piece of trash will be forgotten.


-Mediasaurus Rex

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

EDGE OF DARKNESS - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



EDGE OF DARKNESS – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

EDGE OF DARKNESS was marketed as a Mel Gibson beat-‘em-up. In this regard, it is mildly successful. When EDGE OF DARKNESS is running full-tilt in its second act, it really feels like PAYBACK 2.0. Unfortunately, with its cliché, long-winded government conspiracy plot, the frenetic pacing isn’t maintained. Mel Gibson plays a hybrid of his Porter character from PAYBACK and his Tom Mullen from RANSOM. If you cook EDGE OF DARKNESS up and scoop off the impurities, the film is obviously RANSON remixed as an absentee father in the middle of some treacherous plot. He just wants to know who took his daughter so that he can kill them.

Mel Gibson’s return to cinema is a welcome one. He has racked up a respectable syllabus in his checkered career. Gibson does badass and has been doing it since the late ‘70s. It is too bad that he chose EDGE OF DARKNESS to be the film that is supposed to wash his drunken, anti-Semitic rant out of our brains. EDGE OF DARKNESS isn’t particularly bad, but it isn’t particularly good either. Gibson’s Tom Craven is a “safe” starring role that just about any modern leading tough guy could have done. It does feel like it was tailor-made for Gibson, but Bruce Willis could have pulled it off too.

EDGE OF DARKNESS opens with a straight-out-of-film school juxtaposition. Dead bodies are shown floating in the Connecticut River immediately followed by boiler plate, dated home-film footage of a little girl on a beach interacting with her father who is holding the camera. The next scene is the here and now with Craven meeting his 20-something daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) at a crowded train station. Dead bodies floating in the water followed immediately by this scene of a father and daughter; we know what to expect.

Although Craven fantasizes that he has a close connection with his daughter, he doesn’t know where she works, who her boyfriend is, or how she passes her time. It is a no-brainer that Craven is scripted as a police detective. So when the obviously physically ill Emma takes a Youtube worthy shotgun blast to the chest, Craven is ready to spring into all sorts of dirty-detective action.

Craven hustles and soon learns that Emma was blowing the whistle on Northmoor, the company she worked for. He also learns that this company is up to some corporate/international nuclear weapons tomfoolery. Emma’s blood vomiting underscores a subplot featuring radiation poisoning and dementia.

EDGE OF DARKNESS is a standard action film. Just about everyone is corrupt, and certain smiling, helpful faces at the beginning of the film are proven to be double-dealing backstabbers at the end. Those that aren’t criminal are smoked too soon by assassins that are too handsome and drive what look to be government-issue black-ops vehicles.

Craven’s character is straight from an action movie cookie-cutter. He isn’t the only one. As a matter of fact, every character in EDGE OF DARKNESS is a bland retread except for Ray Winstone’s Jedburgh. Jedburgh just happens to stick out because he is a British-accented man in an American film full of bad Bostonian accents. By the time Jedburgh, a clandestine securities officer, meets with Craven, all of the clichés are in place, and nonstop tension, action, and macho one-liners ensue.

Craven’s exchanges with Jedburgh show a mutual respect and a code of honor that are supposed to cultivate the yin and yang attraction/repulsion of DeNiro and Pacino in HEAT. It is really too bad that EDGE OF DARKNESS doesn’t zero completely in on this aspect of the plot.

Mel Gibson’s acting strength as a man grieving the loss of his daughter isn’t weak at all. His grizzled face and hoarse voice speak to an inner spiritual fatigue and devastation. Gibson’s acting is also solid as he warms up his human vengeance machine and starts seriously knocking fools out. He even manages to pull off the “stumbling in pain while firing” maneuver that he performs in PAYBACK. This is a role that Gibson has played before, and there is no new wrinkle in his delivery. This is a film that could have been tacked on as a Massachusetts afterward to the LETHAL WEAPON series.

EDGE OF DARKNESS is a Mel Gibson movie through and through, and the Tom Craven role fits him perfectly. The downside is that if you have clocked substantial Mel Gibson time or even substantial action movie time, you already know how it is going to play out. EDGE OF DARKNESS has a couple of crazy action sequences, but the bulk of the film was better in its original form elsewhere.


-Mediasaurus Rex

Mediasaurs Main Page

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



SHUTTER ISLAND – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW
By: The Mad Hatter

"Do you really want to know?"


We've all heard those six words at some point, and in all of us they evoke a certain unease. They answer a question with a question and tell us that we're not going like the truth. That's the feeling that lingers over much of SHUTTER ISLAND, that every single answer we get in this mystery will lead to further and more unsettling questions.

US Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are dispatched to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a federal hospital for the criminally insane. The facility's chief administrator, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), seems as perplexed as the marshals are, wondering how in the world it’s possible for a patient to get away from such tight security. However, he is also quietly worried since there are few safe places on Shutter Island to hide. So the longer the patient is missing, the more likely it is that the patient is dead.

As Daniels heads the investigation, he begins to fight off flashbacks of traumatic moments in his own past. He fights off memories of a liberating the Dachau concentration camp during World War II. He also has to contend with visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams). She was killed when their apartment was burnt down by an arsonist who just so happens to have been committed to Shutter Island. She still haunts his quiet moments and seems intent on warning him to let it all go, leaving us to wonder, let what go?

As a vicious storm moves into the island making outside communication and departure impossible, Daniels and Aule start digging deeper into the goings on of Shutter Island. Unfortunately, every answer they get leads to six more questions, each more unsettling than the last.

SHUTTER ISLAND is a dark descent into the human psyche, but not one that seems concerned with the actual weight of a true psychological thriller. It's clear early on that things aren't always what they seem and that all the audience can do is continue further down the spiral. At first though, it feels a lot like pulp fiction—the genre, not the Tarantino film. You know the one—a storm is coming, the ferry can't leave the island, the phones are down, and the power goes out.

But it's at this point that the story really makes its mark. DiCaprio wears our tension and our fears on his face as he tries to put this puzzle together (and we get a good look at that face since he's in every single scene). We get prodded and poked with various faces giving us various explanations for what's going on, and much like Leo, we're left in a sad confusion as to which story to believe. After all, when the logic is being given to you by patients in a mental hospital, it leaves you in a quandary about which nut in the nut jar you think is being the least nutty.

Martin Scorsese hasn't made this sort of movie in a while. It echoes back to CAPE FEAR and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, neither of which are the sorts of titles people bring up first when talking about the man's greatest films. That's not to say that this isn't a great Scorsese film. It's a complete vision and yanks you out of the reality you know for over two hours. It is filled with moments of deep despair, all of which are shown with gothic elegance. In a way, it's fitting that its release date was pushed to this late winter slot since the film echoes the mood of this time of year—a desire to find the promise of spring amongst the last throes of cold darkness.

Occasionally, I end up liking a movie that a lot of people hate, and in some ways, I wonder if SHUTTER ISLAND is that sort of film. It's not a "Leo Movie" though Leo is in it. It's not a "Scary Movie" though there are moments of true terror. So if either of these is what you're looking for, move on. However, if you feel like striking a match and trying to make sense out of the whispers in the darkness, then SHUTTER ISLAND is the movie for you. Just be careful which of those whispers you decide to believe.

-THE MAD HATTER

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Friday, February 19, 2010

THE COLLECTOR - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



THE COLLECTOR – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW
*mild spoilers*

THE COLLECTOR offers no explanations as to the origins of its seedy antagonist. The writers who penned this film know the playbook too because they have mentioned in all of their promotional materials that they wrote SAW IV, V, and VI. Unfortunately, what they have presented to us this time around is almost completely unfair to the audience. THE COLLECTOR presents a creative, sadistic killer facially encased behind an uncomfortable-looking polyester gimp-mask. He is cut from the classic Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers sort of Leatherface, aggressive killer cloth.

The film starts with a drunken middle-aged couple returning to their house late at night. The camera’s view of the house is obscured by a construction site with a lot of caution tape hanging about. Upstairs they find a large travel trunk. The power for the house has been cut, and there is an unnerving thump from the trunk. The man, against his wife’s will, opens the case, and the scene ends abruptly with a scream as he is rushed by a figure from behind.

What follows are some intense opening credits that directly reference the intro credits of SE7EN, right down to the pounding industrial music. There are flashes of this Collector guy dragging his trunk, house blueprints, and spiders. As the film progresses, we do learn backhandedly that the Collector is an exterminator. The insects also seem to reference the Buffalo Bill killer in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But unfortunately this aspect of the story (and its hypocritical nature because he seems to actually like insects) is never really developed at all.

THE COLLECTOR’s plot is mostly concerned with an ex-con named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who decides to rob a couple, Michael (Michael Riley Burke) and Victoria (Andrea Roth), for whom he has been doing window-work. The robbery is the result of multiple points of pressure put on Arkin, most noteably his from his bitchy ex-wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso). Arkin is presented as a generally good fellow who is willing to sit and play tea-party with the couple’s young daughter, Hannah (Karley Scott Collins). But then again, he is also willing to share a cigarette with their older, more sensual teenaged daughter, Jill (Madeline Zima).

The setup of Arkin connecting with the daughters is cynically in place so that he can later attempt to protect them. Michael and his self-botoxing wife Victoria are their throwaway parents that never really connect with the audience, even when they are screaming for their lives.

The film doesn’t really kick into gear until Arkin breaks into the house and starts working over the safe upstairs. The dressed-in-black, masked Collector has already been at the house for some time, however, torturing Michael and Victoria downstairs. He has also left a series of vicious booby traps throughout the house. How vicious? The chandelier is festooned with butcher knives, waiting to drop. There are also fish hooks dangling at eye level, and there is a thick patina of acid on one of the floors. Viewers will also have to wrap their heads around spring-loaded wires that wrap, drag, and throw victims into all sorts of trouble. Some of the depraved kills in THE COLLECTOR manage to one-up ugly exploitative films like SAVAGE STREETS. Oh, and that ominous traveler trunk is there too, thumping.

In truth, the amount of time to lay out all of these traps probably would have taken a construction crew a solid workweek to implement. Some of the shots within the house have so many wires crisscrossing the scenery that the effect is that of spiderwebs. This Collector guy has even added extra deadbolts to the doors.

If there is a hole in THE COLLECTOR, this would be it. Of course, knowing the writers of the SAW films, there probably isn’t just one Collector on the loose. We do at one point see the Collector (Master Trap Exterminator) in his exterminator garb earlier in the film, working on Michael and Victoria’s house with his face obscured by a ventilation mask. He seems to have an apprentice at this point. However, the inevitable sequel will have to straighten that question out.

The rest of the film is riveting. The second and third acts of THE COLLECTOR have been finely tuned to stress the viewer completely out. Finding and saving little Hannah is the main reason why Arkin chooses to stay in the house and put up with the Collector’s headgames. The shift Arkin makes from petty thief to the only possible savior this family has is fascinating.

Arkin is on the make for the goods in the safe for as long as he possibly can be. In the process, he takes some serious booby-trap damage. Meanwhile, the Collector inflicts some brutal torture-porn atrocities on those that he gets his hands on. There is a heavy amount of blood and creative splatter in this film, coupled with multiple reasons like Arkin’s midnight stolen-goods exchange meeting and a 9-1-1 call, for the viewer to want to know what time it is in the film. What lifts THE COLLECTOR out of the standard horror pile is the nonstop urgency of it all. Arkin has to keep quiet and play headgames of his own in order to stay one step ahead of the Collector, and truthfully, it is a hell of a lot of fun.

It is no mistake that Arkin’s showdown with the Collector smacks of Schwarzenegger’s screaming match against the alien in PREDATOR. THE COLLECTOR is alien in all respects. He has no fear, and I put this on the policeman’s neck he snaps. He is completely remorseless. He is also a weirdo. What the hell is a jarful of Madagascar cockroaches supposed to do if held to a wound and then heated up with a lighter? No idea, but this is how the Collector likes to get down. It is as if he is actually some form of an insect. The spider motif that is running through the film (multiple scenes are built around spiders crawling in various places and the “webs” that people need to avoid) obviously fits the bill, but a little more on the Collector’s arachnid obsession would have driven this point home perfectly. The closest that we get to this truth is when the Collector eyes a spider in the rafters of the basement and then lets it out of a window. This is his only moment of tenderness in the whole film.

The Collector is a cruel badass, and Arkin rises up to the challenge and meets him with his own level of badassery. The parallel is a cool one. Who has the strongest will? THE COLLECTOR pits two seriously stubborn, flawed individuals against each other in a high-class mansion and lets them go at it. Some of the tactics are far from original (like the velociraptor fake-out from JURASSIC PARK), and other methods are bang-on, like Arkin’s “freshman pranking” of the Collector’s dog.

While there is a supreme lack of explanation as to what drives the perverse Collector to do what he does, there is no question that he is very good at it. There is also no question that this film is a testing step in the waters of a franchise. THE COLLECTOR has had a lot of underground press surrounding it and a limited theatrical release which has further stoked the curiosity fire. This is a film that had a lot of thought put into it. THE COLLECTOR is some solid horror entertainment, and when the imminent sequel drops, hopefully there will be more of an explanation of who this guy is and what he is all about.


-Mediasaurus Rex


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THE WOLFMAN - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW




THE WOLFMAN – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

By: The Mad Hatter

THE WOLFMAN is a remake of the 1941 classic of the same name. It begins with an unseen monster ruthlessly kill a man in the woods. The man is Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells), and his death brings his brother Lawrence (Benicio del Toro) back home like the prodigal son. Lawrence needs to know how his brother died, especially after seeing the eccentric state of his father John (Anthony Hopkins) and the sorrow of his sister Gwen (Emily Blunt).

His search for the truth sends him to a gypsy camp. Moments before Lawrence can get answers, the camp is attacked (in pretty cool fashion, actually) by a primarily unseen beast. In an act of bravery, Lawrence saves a child and draws the beast, a werewolf, away. He is badly bitten on the neck but ultimately survives thanks to the gypsies. However before they bring him back to his father, they whisper among themselves about what they believe he will become.

Before long Lawrence is having nightmares. He’s also demanding Gwen leave for London, getting visited by a Scotland Yard inspector (Hugo Weaving), causing villagers to melt their silver spoons down into bullets, and getting an amazingly screwed up case of “father knows best,” all before the first full moon.

In case you didn't know, this movie was delayed like no tomorrow as the effects wizards tried to get the look of Wolfie just right. Well I don't know if they just threw in the towel or ran out of funding, but Fuzzy still doesn't look that hot. It's strange; nearly seventy years have gone by since Lon Chaney, and yet this wolfman doesn't look too much more believable. Hell, the werewolves in NEW MOON looked better than this creature who looks more like a hybrid of a gorilla and a sasquatch.

As if the effects weren't crummy enough, we get a cast who all must be feeling the credit crunch, since almost all of them do little more than look sad. They also look bewildered, constipated, or all of the above. Emily Blunt's accent changes with each scene which boggles the mind when one considers she's a Brit for starters. And then there's Anthony Hopkins doing his best Malcolm McDowell impression. I'm pretty darned sure this is his worst performance ever, and I'm the guy who saw INSTINCT. He's subscribed to the Walken School of Ignoring Punctuation, but unlike Saint Christopher, he can't pull it off.

There's some pretty darned good talent at work in THE WOLFMAN, but I have to believe that the highest paid of all of them was composer Danny Elfman. The only reason I can think of for his textbook scary movie score to be played so freakin' loud all movie long is that it cost the filmmakers so much to get him to do it. This is actually a pity because THE WOLFMAN did have a few good scenes, and unfortunately, all the tension is removed from them by the furious strings coming from the score.

Perhaps the only good thing that could come of the silliness that is THE WOLFMAN is that Hollywood might take it as a cue that movies that scared our grandparents are "ooga-boogas" from a bygone era and just don't adapt very well. Argue amongst yourselves on the merit of Coppola's DRACULA and Branagh's FRANKENSTEIN, but for me this is the final nail. It gave me a laugh here and there, and did provide one especially good kill, but none of that was enough to change my opinion that this movie is nothing but an immense waste of time and money.

-The MAD HATTER

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BLACKING UP and director ROBERT CLIFT - A BADASS INTERVIEW




BLACKING UP and director ROBERT CLIFT - A BADASS INTERVIEW

BLACKING UP is a documentary that will make you think. A shorthand view of what is presented is basically the effect of hip-hop on white American society and a querying of the concept of “white rappers.” There is also an incisive look at the posture of hip-hop within white American culture, and a rather complete takedown of the word, “wigger.” I watched it several weeks ago and wrote up a review of it here: http://mediasaurs.blogspot.com/2010/01/blacking-up-badass-documentary-review.html.

But I still had questions regarding the film and the concepts behind it, so I was fortunate enough to secure BLACKING UP’s director Robert Clift for a follow-up interview. This is a man that has thought the subject all the way through. His responses below are rather fascinating.

What was the inspiration behind tackling this touchy subject?

The idea for the film came after moving to Bloomington, IN to start graduate school at Indiana University. I was living in an on-campus apartment with other graduate students, right next to 3 fraternities. IU is what people call a “dry campus,” which basically means people hide their drinking a bit more than on other campuses. Because of this, most of the frat parties seemed to be indoors. But one day, toward the end of the Spring semester, one of the frats had a party outside that was very, very loud. I looked out my window and there were about 100 people, a podium set up, a dj, some very large speakers, a bunch of kegs, those red drinking cups and banners announcing that it was that particular fraternity’s “annual hip-hop battle.” The scene struck me; it probably wouldn’t today, but it did then. I had never seen a hip-hop event made up almost entirely of white people. Wow, I thought, all these white kids in the middle of Indiana, 30 minutes from the alleged birthplace of the KKK, listening to hip-hop on a sunny spring day. I wanted to know more. . . . . So I grabbed my camera and went over to the battle. When I got through the crowd and to the podium, the finalists were on stage. One was white and one was black. It was like the setting for the ending of “8 Mile,” except the racial dynamics were totally inverted. Instead of a mostly black crowd with a black emcee as the crowd favorite—and with the underdog, Eminem, overcoming the racial obstacles to beat the black emcee—the crowd was mostly white with a white emcee as the crowd favorite and a black emcee that was trying to win over the racial animosity of the white crowd. The results were also the opposite of the movie – not only did the black battler not overcome the racialized sides of the audience as Eminem did but played right into it, almost starting a huge fight and causing the crowd to jeer at him when he accused the white battler of wanting to be black. It got pretty tense. The crowd didn’t think it was fair for the black rapper to bring race into the battle. It was fine to talk about women and mothers and penises, but not about race. So that pretty much ended up being the footage I used to raise money for the film, and it’s also the footage that is at the opening of the film. Through all the editing, that footage—the first footage I shot—stayed there, at the top of the film. It works the same in the film as it did for me, as a way in to the film’s issues.

White kids rapping is by definition subversive to white middle class social conventions and decorum. How much of this concept is explored in your film?

White kids rapping can be subversive, but it’s not inherently so. In many cases, it plays right into race, class, and gender hierarchies. But the question of when it is subversive and when it is not, of what the white hip-hop fan or performer means, politically speaking, is what the whole film is about. It’s central to the film. Is it, as you asked, subversive? If so, when? In what circumstances and why? Those questions are treated throughout the film. And in a way where they can’t be simply dismissed as either-or, yes-or-no. There’s too much happening, I think, for people to easily take a one size fits all position, which is not to say that some cases don’t seem pretty clear. Still, I tried to incorporate a variety of perspectives—people with different motives and completely different relationships to hip-hop—so people had to think about the distinctions between them. They’re not all the same, and I think it’s important, if we are not going to be tone-deaf to how race works in this country, to think about those differences.

How long was your production?

The bulk of the shooting was in 2004–2005. I did most of the editing in 2006. After that the film sat on the shelf for a few years waiting for people’s nerves at PBS to calm a bit after the FCC’s fining rampage following Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2005 Super Bowl. http://www.current.org/fcc/fcc0613indecency.shtml. It seemed like everyone was getting fined. Even Martin Scorcese’s documentary about the blues brought down a fine on one station.

What was your budget?

Much smaller than needed. This is why I ended up, in most circumstances, running camera, doing sound, setting up lighting, and eventually doing most of the editing. When I did have help, it was great. Matthew Nauser did great camera work. Danny Hill was great with organizing shoots. In Bloomington a number of very talented students of mine helped. Also a fellow graduate student, Matthew Guschwan.

What equipment did you use on your production (cams/mikes)?

The main camera was Panasonic’s first version of the DVX100, a Sennheiser wireless lav mic, a boom mic, a tripod, and a scattered mix of cheap, half-functioning, lighting set-ups. I acquired equipment as funding became available so the shooting got better as the production went on. At first, I just had the camera and wireless mic, and no light or boom mic. For most of the interviews, I just put the camera on a tripod and let it run so I could focus on the interviewing.

Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your other film STEALING HOME: THE CASE OF CUBAN BASEBALL?

Well, Stealing Home played on PBS in 2001. It’s a film that uses baseball to look at politics, both in Cuba and in Cuba’s relationship with the United States. Almost everything we hear about Cuban baseball in the United States focuses on the individual player, how much he could make in the Major Leagues, how little he makes in Cuba, how he has to ride bicycles to practice, how he might compare to other Major League players, how it’s a shame that we (US spectators) can’t see him play on TV (for an American Major League team). It’s all so absurdly one-sided that it seemed impossible not to ask, what happens to baseball in Cuba if all the players are mined for talent? Is there not a league there, with spectators, with announcers, with coaches, with a whole infrastructure, that would be sitting at home watching the US Major Leagues? Is that fair? Would baseball in Cuba then resemble baseball in the Dominican Republic? What is baseball like in the Dominican Republic? It all becomes political very fast, with tensions between the individual and the collective, between American interests and Cuban interests, between Major League Baseball and La Liga Nacional Cubana, all playing out through baseball.

Every production has a crazy story, what was the craziest story in your production of BLACKING UP?

The “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2005 Super Bowl. I never thought something like that would affect me. When it happened, I thought the whole thing was kind of funny. It ended up making it very difficult to even make a documentary about hip-hop and had me sitting on the fence for a long time just waiting for the climate to change. That one event, in the middle of the Super Bowl and with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, ended up changing the landscape of television for years. That still amazes me.

Where do you see yourself going in regards to film after BLACKING UP?

I’m writing my dissertation for the Department of Communications and Culture at Indiana University, Bloomington. I also just finished directing another documentary, with Hillary Demmon, called Road Comics: Big Work on Small Stages. It was part of a collaboration with an Anthropology Professor at IU, Susan Seizer, who served as the film’s producer and whose research was the foundation for the film. The film stars three comedians who work the Midwest comedy circuit: Tim Northern, Stewart Huff, and Kristin Key. I’m waiting on news of how the film will be distributed, but I’ll be sure to spread the word when I know more.
BLACKING UP is playing through the next month on PBS. Check your local channel’s schedule for times and dates.

-Mediasaurus Rex

Read the original review of BLACKING UP here

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

DAYBREAKERS - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



DAYBREAKERS – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

A good horror film should stay with you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t need to be too gross or too offensive; what it needs to do is force you to consider concepts and realities that you haven’t thought about. Good horror is a vehicle that takes me to a bent town that I haven’t been to before. However DAYBREAKERS took me to a town called, “I have seen this movie already only done better.” Sticking with the metaphor, DAYBREAKERS took me to a pedestrian ghetto outside of a rather original town named BLADE 2.

Both BLADE 2 and DAYBREAKERS are about vampire mutations. Both films contain varying degrees of para-military vampire-ops that handle their business with state of the art, military-grade weaponry. Both films feature a reluctant vampire. Both films also prefer the flash-burn explosion of any killed vampire. Furthermore, the ripoff of BLADE 2 is completely obvious in the first scene of DAYBREAKERS in which a young vampire girl writes her suicide note and then goes out to kneel before the rising sun. She lets off a raw, dying-animal squeal as she flames, disintegrates and collapses in a glowing heap of golden ashes.

Next we meet Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) who is invisible in the side-view mirror of his car. The year is 2019, and vampires now rule the earth. There are a few humans, but they are being rounded up because the vampire population is starving from a lack of blood. Dalton is the chief hematologist of the Bromley Marks Blood Bank. He works directly under the blood-for-profit man himself, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill).

The majority of the film chronicles the insidious evils of Bromley himself and his Bromley Marks Blood Bank. The remaining findable humans have been pricked and neatly seated upright, naked, pale, and bleeding out on huge shimmering, sterile columns. What is dripping down is the last of the world’s blood supply.

Dalton is in charge of finding a synthetic blood substitute. He is on top of his game, but he hasn’t cracked the code yet. A test subject takes a sample dose of the latest attempt, and his temperature increases eight degrees. Then he suddenly projectile-vomits a geyser on the chest of a nearby nurse, his face rapidly blemishes and pustulates, there is a false beat of sanity, and then his head pops like a blood-filled surgeon’s glove.

If this isn’t enough of a problem, Dalton also has a gung-ho brother named Frankie (Michael Dorman) who is in the neo-vampire military hunting down humans. Frankie’s contrived, refound humanity much later in the film is treacley-sweet and just as vomit inducing.

On the whole, vampire society is crumbling. Graves are dug up and punk-vamp kids suck on corpses looking for blood. A Bromley Marks slideshow presented to both Dalton and Bromley demonstrates that as vampires starve out, they lose their intelligence and take on the classic physical traits of NOSFERATU.

As mentioned above, humans are the tiny, hunted minority in this future. There is a TERMINATOR/ MATRIX/ ROAD WARRIOR interlude with a resistance faction of humans. But it is frail. This aspect of the film is weak when we first meet these people right down to the point where these people get taken out. It isn’t a spoiler for me to tell you that they get smoked because they are nothing more than whispers of cliché, throwaway characters you have seen in better movies. These poor bastards might as well be introduced onscreen with laser scope dots on their foreheads.

Dalton does manage to run across some humans who have found a way to cure vampirism. Elvis (Willem DaFoe) is a former vampire who has become human again thanks to a serious, sun-scorch treatment that smacks the vampire out of you. Clearly DaFoe is an actor that could do anything. He could have pulled off THE WRESTLER; I am sure of it. Why did he choose to saddle himself with a role that requires a weak southern accent that sounds eerily like Slim Pickens as O.L.D. BOB in THE BLACK HOLE? Why is he dropping cornball lines like, “I do love a good barbecue,” and “We’re the folks with the crossbows”?

Hawke’s Dalton is also guilty of trite, throwaway lines. When he utters, “I can’t remember what its like to be human,” Hawke’s not even trying to work for his paycheck.

Part of the issue here is that we have currently blown out the walls in movies, television, music, and literature with vampire market oversaturation. There is nothing new or original in the concept. DAYBREAKERS makes the anemic reach for the reversal of the lame, vampire movie plague, but the result feels like a drunken, five minute noodling with the script of the superior (yet flawed) BLADE 2. There is not a moment in this film that doesn’t seem completely staged, prepped or under some sort of off-camera duress.

If there is anything remotely amusing about this film, it has to do with the shape of this futuristic vampire society. Chain-smoking is the norm. Extra blood-shots are currently not available at the local corporate coffee shop. Also, there are sun-screening domestic Chryslers that squawk “UV warning” in that same know-it-all voice that seems to accompany all futuristic vehicles. The police presence is pronounced, and people with pointed teeth and ridiculously colored contact lenses are everywhere.

The society is amusing but unconvincing. DAYBREAKERS plays it close and keeps its societal vampire musing within the confines of Edward Dalton’s immediate life. The scope of world-wide vampire infestation is never remotely realized in this film. It is only mentioned and then assumed.

With two slight twists involving corporate skullduggery and re-humanized blood, DAYBREAKERS grinds out its last act with Elvis and company driving into the future in a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT car with “From the ashes spring new life,” hick-decaled on the side. “We have a cure, we can change you back, It’s not too late,” is what Dafoe’s voiceover trails out with.

This film would be perfect if it was running a metaphor about our loss of humanity within society. It would be worth poring over if it was about the loss of the world’s moral compass and the few people left who wish to fight for some shred of decency in a damned culture. If the metaphor extended to the Bromley Marks Blood Bank as a warning about certain businesses and banks and how these monopolies are, in essence, causing us as a society to cannibalize ourselves, the film would be worthwhile. The corpses of the bodies of the dead vampires engulfed in flames could speak to society’s latent fear of death, whether the end of existence or the beginning of life as a slave in hell. Sadly, none of these weightier points could possibly be housed on a carriage as weak as DAYBREAKERS. Forget about this trash. Trust me, after I post this review, I will be doing my best to do just that.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WOMEN IN TROUBLE - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



WOMEN IN TROUBLE - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

WOMEN IN TROUBLE is a busy, interconnected, offensive slab of exploitation written and directed by Sebastian Guiterrez. Guiterrez knows his exploitation well. This is the man who penned the screenplay for SNAKES ON A PLANE. He has also penned other cheeseball classics like GOTHIKA, THE BIG BOUNCE, and THE EYE. With such a lame resume, one has to wonder how he secured an actress like Carla Gugino for the starring role as Electra Luxx, a pregnant pornstar. One also has to wonder how he has secured Gugino for the sequel to TROUBLE which will be called ELECTRA LUXX. Oh wait, Gugino is Guiterrez’ girlfriend in real life.

Other well-known stars round out this film’s tedious gridwork plot such as Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Berkley, but this is Gugino’s show, and she does well with it. In fact, Gugino’s acting happens to be the brightest aspect of TROUBLE. The rest of the film is more or less a loquacious, deep pondering on all things trashy with a strong Virgin Mary theme.

TROUBLE starts with a nun staring into the camera. The background is dark, and the nun is framed in what appears to be a confessional booth. She bows her head as if to go to prayer. However this is not a nun but a porn star named Electra Luxx (Carla Gugino), and she is not in a confessional but a jail cell set in the middle of a porn shoot. Before Luxx, Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), and some guy named El Capitan (Ermahn Ospina) are able to give this jailhouse set its sexual perspective, Luxx’s phone rings. The news is that she is pregnant. A quick, stylistic visual montage expresses Luxx’s feelings on the subject which are akin to a nuclear holocaust.

Luxx later finds herself in a stalled elevator with Doris (Connie Britton) who is in the middle of some strange cellphone wranglings with her sister Addy (Caitlin Keats). These two spend the bulk of the film in varying stages of undress, conversing in this elevator. It is this point of the film where the classic multi-player template from better films like Robert Altman’s SHORT CUTS or even Lawrence Kasdan’s GRAND CANYON begins. What is at play is the fact that all of the characters that are later introduced are interconnected in some way. It is a flashy editing job, but most of these characters are sporting varying degrees of despicable, and it is hard to connect with them.

Holly Rocket is an up and coming porn star who has vomiting issues when performing cunnilingus. Holly also has a tendency to be hit by cars. She is presented as the ditzy porn-star/hooker with a heart of gold. She does know her higher math though, but this seems like more of a strange scripting fluke than an actual development of her character. Holly is sexually attracted to a “working girl” named Bambi (Emmanuel Chirqui).

Maxine McPherson (Sarah Clarke) is a therapist who’s husband Travis (Simon Baker) is sleeping with her client Addy. Addy is the sister of Doris who is stuck in an elevator with Electra Luxx. Addy runs into Holly and Bambi, and they all go to a “dyke bar” run by Rita (Rya Kihlstedt).

Meanwhile there is a subplot featuring the musician Nick Chapel (Josh Brolin with a dirty British accent). Ground zero holding all of this garbage together is Charlotte (Isabella Guiterrez) who is a thirteen year old that can see through the piles of BS all of the adults in her vicinity are shoveling at her. Charlotte also likes to pretend that she is smoking cigarettes, but there is no real explanation for her behavior other than the fact that she is definitely imbalanced.

Such a gnarled plot with minced editing and nonstop, uncomfortable introductions to characters who may or may not matter would be tolerable if there was a payoff to be had. But on top of this comes a torrent of behaviors and lifestyle-choices specifically geared to get under your skin. One example is Electra’s creepy sales pitch for a plastic vagina molded after her own that is a top seller.

Rapid-fire, quirky dialogue is one thing this film has going for it. If one were to take a second viewing of this film, the dialogue would still deliver. One-liners and witticisms are constant and rather inventive although not particularly funny.

TROUBLE is a lot of work to get through. Initially it is a serious task to stay on top of the references and sub-references in order to determine the connections between all of the characters. And TROUBLE never realizes completely where it is going. It jettisons itself off in a particular direction and then proceeds to drift and sink. At the midway-point where the script’s neurotic learning curve is mastered, there is no prize for unraveling the puzzle. The trickery afoot is that the viewer is supposed to feel some form of accomplishment because of the mental reconnaissance that this film requires. Regrettably the payoff is barren. With a sequel in the works, perhaps the payoff will come around later. At this point, WOMEN IN TROUBLE is flat, flat, flat. If you want some fun modern exploitation without a lot of pontificating moralization, stick with lighter fare like BITCH SLAP.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BULLETFACE and director ALBERT PYUN - A BADASS INTERVIEW




BULLETFACE and director ALBERT PYUN – A BADASS INTERVIEW

I first noticed director Albert Pyun’s name back in 1989 when I watched CYBORG at an East Texas hellhole theater. The movie went on to become one of my all-time favorites. This wasn’t his first film though. His 1982 film, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, is the first project that put him on the map, and he has been making his mark ever since.

Pyun has racked up a formidable syllabus of films as director. Some are notorious, like CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990), and others are cult favorites like MEAN GUNS, BRAIN SMASHER, and NEMESIS. Along the way Pyun has worked with the best in the business. Currently he is gearing up for the DVD release of his latest project BULLETFACE. IMDB gives this summary of the storyline:

Bulletface is about a dirty Federal Agent (Victoria Maurette), who's busted and imprisoned in Mexico. She's given a 60 hour furlough to return to Brownsville, Texas to bust up the drug cartel who set her up and are about to bring a new, highly addictive drug to market. The drug is made from human spinal fluid...tapped from the living.

I was lucky enough to secure some of Albert’s time and ask him some questions about his experiences and his latest film.

What do you feel is, hands down, the best movie you have made in your career?

I think the film that came closest to my vision of it was MEAN GUNS. I think INVASION and LEFT FOR DEAD are interesting, but the budget restraints prevented them from really working well for a broad-based audience. I also think BRAINSMASHER. . . . A LOVE STORY, DOWN TWISTED, DECEIT, OMEGA DOOM, and POSTMORTEM are flawed, but I am more [or] less satisfied how they came out. I made some poor choices, and if I could go back and refine, I would. I loved my director's cuts of CYBORG and ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH. They could have been my best films instead of the films they are now . . . or maybe not. I think my director's cuts of CAPTAIN AMERICA and TICKER are far superior to the release versions.

Is it true that you trained under Akira Kurosawa, and if it is, how would you describe your relationship with him?

Brief. Language (I spoke no Japanese) was a problem. And I was very young. Eighteen. Most of my time was spent with his brilliant DP, Takao Saito and the production staff at Mifune Productions. I worked quite a bit with Toshiro Mifune. Working in Japan certainly taught me discipline and stamina. They worked fourteen days straight, then a day off, then another fourteen days straight. Everyday was like a seventeen hour shoot day. The crew would sleep at the studio because there wasn't time to go home. Very tough. But no one complained, and everyone was highly motivated and tireless.

What is the best production you have worked on in your career?

Oh, that's hard to say. I've certainly gone through a lot of bad situations but just as many great ones. I tend to work with the same people over and over, and we're all very loyal to each other. The best situation under horrendous circumstances was probably my upcoming TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE. Where I felt everyone, including me, was in sync and doing our best work. DOWN TWISTED was great as well. We got a lot of help from the PREDATOR production which was shooting in Mexico at the same time. Thanks for those lenses!

What was the worst?

Geez. There are clearly a couple at the very tippy top of the list, but I need to be discreet. Maybe after I retire I can answer that in detail. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But I can say I worked with three of the worst people I've ever met between 2000 and 2004. My Axis of Evil.

You have worked with just about every major action movie star; who is your favorite?

I don't know. You don't really think of it in terms of favorites but how they worked with the film in making it work. Each has a different style, from Van Damme to Sheen to Hauer and Seagal. They bring different things and have different working styles. The funniest [were] Burt Reynolds and Christopher Lambert. The most generous was Seagal. The most creatively challenging, Hauer. The most technically amazing was Charlie Sheen. But I've really enjoyed collaborating with them all. Van Damme was very hard-working. And I must say that Robert Patrick, Rob Lowe, Ice T, Snoop Dogg, [and] Tom Sizemore were all really fun to work with. I especially enjoyed watching Dennis Hopper, Teri Hatcher and Thomas Jane work. They were mesmerizing. Recently I've had the pleasure, after a few attempts, of working with Michael Pare', and he was a great gift as was his co-star Clare Kramer who is one of the very best actors I've ever had a chance to work with. She's incredible.

How long have you been in production for BULLETFACE?

Two years. It was shot in 2007 and was in heavy post until mid 2008. Then I went off to shoot ROAD TO HELL and TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE before finishing the film. I just wasn't satisfied with some of the dramatic underpinning that the story hangs on until I met producer Joe Baile in August 2009. He helped me find the solution to the problem I was having. He and Howie Askins co-directed additional sequences in September 2009, and we did the final edit and post-sound work in December. Adam Benson and Ikuo Saito, two amazing digital effects artists, added a number of enhancing effects shots in early January, and we finished everything up on Jan 30.

What was the budget for BULLETFACE?

About $120,000, more or less. It was done more like an indy art film although its probably one of my most mainstream and straightforward films. But definitely the most sexually graphic film I've ever done. Shot in five and a half days.

Every movie has a crazy production story (something strange happening behind the scenes). What is the craziest production story you have for BULLETFACE?

Well, the most frustrating was the HD camera had a bad pixel in its sensor so we had to fix over 100,000 frames. That pushed us to the brink of insanity.

We have heard that you are really pushing the boundaries with BULLETFACE. Can you give us some insight into that?

Just in the depiction of the brutality and sexual aggression towards women in some not well-supervised prisons and how that changes a woman. In this case, Victoria Maurette as the character "Dara". There are explicit sexual and bi-sexual scenes, so that was a departure for me. Most of the scenes are filtered through sexual desires, conflicts and sexual histories.

You have worked with Randall Fontana, the writer of BULLETFACE in the past, would you consider BULLETFACE a departure from both of your normal styles? If so how?

Yes, in terms of the sexual component -the amount of raw nudity and aggressive sex. That's a big change as well as the straightforward coherent storytelling. I really wanted to tell a contemporary noir story in a very creative and the most lurid way possible--to capture the jackhammer storytelling and characterizations of pulp novels and magazines. Sensationalistic and where every beat is almost melodramatically striking.


It was good to have contact with a director whose work I have been following for so long. Ever since the first hearing whispers of BULLETFACE online, I have been clicking reload looking for more information. The story sounds intriguing and from what I have been able to ascertain, promises to be something different.

Look for BULLETFACE coming to DVD this February.

-Mediasaurus Rex

READ THE BADASS BULLETFACE REVIEW HERE


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Saturday, February 6, 2010

THE INFORMANT! - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



THE INFORMANT! – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

It is great to know that Steven Soderbergh is willing to come correct after his actorless spirit-killer, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. Unfortunately, he is still signing on to directing projects with weak plots. This time around he is dragging the waters of the “based on real events” realm of moviemaking. There is even an artistic license disclaimer at the beginning stating that the characters are composites, and the dialogue has been touched. THE INFORMANT! is carried solely by the quality of acting in the film, especially that of Matt Damon.

Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a corporate whistle-blower who is in way over his head. Damon’s performance is captivating. He has put on the extra pounds around the middle, grown a fireman’s moustache, and mastered some twitches that come off as intelligent yet imbalanced. Damon’s performance is initially zany, but the off-kilter pacing of the film and general lack of plot make the Whitacre character less and less amusing as the film wears on.

The general plot of THE INFORMANT! concerns the FBI investigation of corporate extortion and international price-fixing crimes involving ADM, a corn-processing company. Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is the vice president who reveals to his bosses that he’s received a corporate extortion demand for ten million dollars. His bosses (against Whitacre’s better judgement) bring the FBI into the mix. Whitacre’s home phone lines are tapped, and at the prompting of his wife Ginger (Melanie Lynskey), Whitacre tells Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula) about ADM’s price fixing schemes.

The rest of the film features a lot of unnecessary globe-trotting to sit-down meetings where Whitacre wears a wire and also compiles hundreds of secret recordings documenting corporate malfeasance. The travels that are presented onscreen, from Zurich to Mexico City to Tokyo to Paris, are all unremarkable because they merely feature hotel meetings and waiting areas in airports.

When Whitacre finally manages to accumulate enough damning evidence against ADM, he envisions himself helming the company now that he has managed to clean up the crime. He even adopts the G-manspeak when telling others of his exploits. But Whitacre’s delusion is apparent to everyone but himself. There is no question that Whitacre is a dazzlingly intelligent man; he is just so full of eccentric narcissism that a lot of what he says and does falls short of rationality.

THE INFORMANT! is a sophisticated “talkie.” There are no guns, explosions, or fists to the head. There are some pretty shots, but what is communicated in the film could have been done in a radio show or a dramatic podcast for that matter. This is a film completely concerned with the words that are being spoken and not the action happening onscreen. All of the codes to be unraveled in THE INFORMANT! are verbal.

The film presents a shell-game for the viewer to suss out; sadly the answer is rather unremarkable. When the last ten minutes of the film give the answer to the whole story, it becomes a lesson in unfair scriptwriting. Soderbergh and screenplay writer Scott Z. Burns have chosen to present half-truths and obscured facts in order to bloat and float the plot. They further bog the story down with extraneous jargon and business rhetoric in order to maximize their 100-plus minutes of runtime.

What makes this film feel like more than simply a quirky, wordy documentary are the comedic AMERICAN PSYCHOesque musings of Whitacre in voice-over. Whether he is considering the syllable count of the word “pen” in German or the potential maximizing of time by flossing his teeth and conditioning his hair simultaneously in the shower, it is all amusingly left-field and captivating. Another tangent that Whitacre indulges in has to do with expensive clothing and high-end automobiles. Most unsettling is Whitacre’s sinister thoughtlife that has to do with suddenly dropping dead. Elements of this and Whitacre’s constant fidgeting create a tension that suggests that the THE INFORMANT! is headed toward a violent conclusion.

THE INFORMANT! is basically an exercise in finding the truth about Whitacre and his employers. There is a parade of familiar faces on the way to such truth. The dumpy comedian Patton Oswalt plays Agent Herbst of the FBI’s “economic crimes division.” Clancy Brown of STARSHIP TROOPERS and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION also plays a corporate heavy lawyer named Aubrey Daniels. The performances of all are strong.

The red herrings that pile up become elements of comedy, and the ground of logic in the plot is continually shifting. Idiosyncratic behavior rules this film, and it isn’t just Damon’s character. The film looks at corporate incompetence and crime through a peculiar lens that playfully skewers the FBI, corporate culture, the American public and anyone who has ever fallen for a Nigerian ponzi scheme.

THE INFORMANT! nurtures the build-up towards full-disclosure of who this Whitacre character is and what he is all about. But when full-disclosure is finally reached, it is far from satisfying. By the time Whitacre feels that he can unveil “the master puppeteer” behind all of the wrongdoings in the story, the film has already worn out its welcome. The interest level in the characters has waned, and the plot is obviously extending itself, abusing the audience by holding basic facts from them. THE INFORMANT! achieves feature-length by padding itself with counterproductive or trite details. It would have worked better as a bizarre, hour-long documentary on the History Channel.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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Friday, February 5, 2010

THE MESSENGER - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



THE MESSENGER – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

The similarities between Kathryn Bigelow’s HURT LOCKER and Oren Moverman’s THE MESSENGER are perplexing. Jeremy Renner and Ben Foster (the leading roles in both films) look pretty much the same at a distance. They are both named William. Both are tow-headed young men who like heavy metal and hard drinking. Lastly, the muted emotional notes presented by both protagonists trying to keep a lid on their own personal holocausts seem pulled from the same template. The stories work in tandem so well that viewing them both would work on double-feature night. Lamentably, the preachiness of THE MESSENGER comes across as a color-by-numbers, cliché presentation of emotional suffering rather than something substantial.

THE MESSENGER starts with a wounded Sergeant named Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) looking into the lights over his hospital bed. There is a scar under his eye, and the camera makes sure that we see his war injury. It is no mistake that these hospital lights are reminiscent of ceiling fans or that the clanging guitar notes in the background are reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s THE END, all elements of Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW.

The comparison of the war in Iraq to Vietnam is made multiple times in THE MESSENGER. However, as Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) mentions, at least there was sex in Vietnam. As he point out, these soldiers in Iraq have no brothel to go to and “all of the religious bullshit, the crusades and jihad and nobody getting laid! I mean that right there is half the reason why everybody’s so angry!”

The Captain Stone way of looking at life provides a serious spine to this film. Sexual dysfunction of soldiers is a running theme. Captain Stone’s driving force seems to be sexual. He spends his time at the bar as a recovering alcoholic, drinking hot water and tea with lemon while ogling the barmaid.

Will’s problem is a little more complex. He has a strange sexual hook-up with his soon-to-be-married ex-girlfriend Kelly (Jenna Malone) but isn’t ready to commit to anything. Kelly’s tryst with Will has to do with checking the pulse of their old relationship. The scenes that Kelly and Will share together are so painfully incompetent on a social level it is a wonder that they ever functioned as a couple.

A similar level of painful incompetence is also presented with Will’s new military assignment as part of a “casualty notification team.” This new, thankless position requires that he notify civilian families about their loved ones who have died in action. Will is placed directly under the tutelage of Stone who is all about the cold-blooded, by-the-book method. Stone’s heartless delivery of news from the battlefield and the reactions he gets from those he notifies are truly heart-wrenching. Stone proceeds to try to mold Will into another son of hell like himself, but Will, though battle-scarred and cynical, still has a heart.

One of Stone’s most serious rules is to not have any physical interaction with the N.O.K. (next of kin). This specific rule becomes a point of contention between the two. Will is prone to offering an understanding hand on the shoulder. The situation is made even more complex when he finds himself attracted to a widow he notifies.

Foster’s performance of Will is so reserved and guarded that it is hard to make a connection with this character or know where he stands on just about any issue. However, at least Foster attempts to humanize Will. Renner’s William James from THE HURT LOCKER never lowers his guard as much as Foster’s Will does.

Will’s treatment of Kelly and his berating of a military mechanic are obvious symptoms of some seriously stunted social skills. When assigned to the casualty notification team, Will cites himself as never having received grief counseling or being in a position to give it. Will has demons, the kind of demons that need a well-scripted expulsion. With the portrayal of Will as cloaked as it is, the catharsis really needs to be visible. Unfortunately for the viewer, the exorcism presented is in the form of a cliché band-aid.

Captain Stone has problems of his own. His teetotaling stance on life is sidelined for long, drunken carousing sessions with Will during which Stone and Will proceed to draw closer and closer in a distant, manly fashion, each subtly bringing their own personal dysfunctions to the table for dissection. Unfortunately, a lot of the dissection feels forced.

When Will and Stone tear a guilt-ridden verbal strip out of a highway patrolman for pulling them over, it feels rehearsed. Their drunken game of total warfare role-play in a parking lot also feels strangely false. The glimpse into their world of pain feels stilted. There is also emptiness at this film’s core. Emptiness and distance are presented through the lives of Will, Stone, and how they interact with each other and the people around them.

The scenes that really feel sincere, like the scene in which Dale Martin (Steve Buscemi) is informed that his son was taken out by snipers or the scene in which Will smashes holes in the wall as he wrestles with his feelings for Kelly, are overshadowed by scenes that feel contrived. An example of this would be the heartless, cynical conversation Stone has with a one-night stand of his in which they both flippantly tell each other to “have a nice life.”

THE MESSENGER isn’t quite “must-see viewing.” It is flawed but not completely disfigured. If there is one reason that should be cited for seeing it, that reason would have to be the performance of Woody Harrelson. This movie is essentially his show. When he is not onscreen you are waiting for him to return. It isn’t really possible to second-guess what the next thing coming out of his mouth will be or how he will react to virtually anything. Harrelson’s Stone isn’t even particularly likeable, but you can’t take your eyes off of him. His complexity as a character is staggering, and he upstages everyone else in every scene he is in. It is no surprise that Woody Harrelson is up for an Academy Award for his work in this film. Ever since NATURAL BORN KILLERS, he has been perfecting his “dangerous hillbilly” routine. Every twitch, every part of his swagger, and the way he grimaces when portraying anger are all charged with lethal amounts of unpredictable testosterone. Harrelson’s Captain Stone is a cocky, blunt man with unrealized dreams. His presentation of a man totally out of touch with his emotions is rather remarkable. Harrelson does a pitch-perfect job of displaying some superhuman bluster while slowly revealing the weak joints in Stone’s armor.

THE MESSENGER ends on a hopeful note, and this is what really sets it apart from THE HURT LOCKER. Will and Stone both manage to present and wrestle their demons within the parameters of the story. Unfortunately, the story is too simple. The idea of the adventures of a casualty notification team can only go so far. Within its simplicity also lies a disjointed presentation of human interactions. This should come as no surprise because director Oren Moverman also wrote the horribly disjointed and overwrought I’M NOT THERE. THE MESSENGER comes across as a well-acted, didactic note on the ramifications of the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, its lofty intentions are bogged down with an overwritten lack of sincerity.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CRAZY HEART - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



CRAZY HEART – A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

-By THE MAD HATTER

Amongst the many great songs in CRAZY HEART is one whose chorus says "Funny, I fall and it feels like flyin' for a little while."

I keep coming back to this lyric since the two sensations can indeed feel so close. In both cases the weight of the world gets lifted, and anything seems possible. However in life, one obviously shouldn't confuse the two since the end results couldn't possibly be more different.

CRAZY HEART is the story of Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). Blake was once a big country star, but at 57 he's fallen on hard times. How hard? When the film opens we see Blake arriving to play the night's gig . . . in a bowling alley. To say Blake is down on his luck would be putting it mildly. The man is driving from gig to gig alone in his 1980 Suburban. He has no family, is staying in seedy motels, playing for food money, and essentially bleeds whiskey. Bad Blake has become the embodiment of every sad country song you've ever heard.

At one tour stop in Santa Fe, he is introduced to Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). She's a budding writer and asks Blake for an interview. When Blake agrees, her charm ends up disarming him, and he finds himself opening up far more than usual. As the interviews continue, the two develop a relationship, and soon enough Blake is finding reasons to double back to Santa Fe. Jean is enticed by the sudden life spark she can see in Blake but wary since he isn't exactly walking the line, and she's a single mom who has witnessed such behavior before.

In amongst all of this, Blake is having trouble dealing with the success of Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a hotshot star of new country who he mentored to fame. Sweet has all the fame and fortune that Blake doesn't but not near the talent. Blake isn't quite seething with jealousy, but it's a bitter pill to swallow when your protégé is playing amphitheatres and you're playing bars.

Bridges gives a great performance in a good film. As Bad Blake, he embraces the grizzle of a life lived hard. From his posture to his voice, he embodies a man who has accepted a particular lot in life and really doesn't have the drive to make his own luck. It's amazing to watch him talk to fans and admirers since he smiles politely and speaks with warmth but always seems like he wants to cry from shame. Bridges takes the roughest elements of Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard and rolls them into one character. It is indeed an award-worthy performance.

The movie on the whole, however, is spotty. By the final act, the movie feels like a Frankenstein of a few other movies. Indeed, CRAZY HEART has elements of WALK THE LINE, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, and THE WRESTLER. The music scene is full of people like Blake, people who played songs we all know by heart but who are now playing a nightly gig at the Holiday Inn. CRAZY HEART is unfortunately not their story. In fact Blake's performing and songwriting get packed up and set aside for a good long while, and the story instead focuses on his relationship with Jean and her son.

This is especially sad since the music is one of the very best things about this movie. It's filled with original country songs created by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, all of which have the appropriate amount of built-in sadness even when they are up-tempo. Each one sums up Bad Blake in ways he can't seem to say himself. If you listen closely enough, within the lyrics and chord changes you'll hear the story to every single line on Blake's face. It’s music you will want to download the moment the credits roll.

It saddens me that the waters of this story have been so muddied since all the elements of a truly great film are there. Much like the character of Jean, this film leads with its heart instead of its head, and that's where it goes wrong. It wants us to fall for the weary legend like a groupie on the side of the stage, but it’s one thing to fall for the star and a whole other thing entirely to fall for a tribute band covering the star. CRAZY HEART comes close, and features one of the best performances of the year, but when it's all over, the film doesn't fly. It falls.

-MAD HATTER

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