Skyfall

Posted by Greg Butler On July - 16 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

Bond is back … not that he really left.

 

Director Sam Mendes is up at bat in this 23nd go round with Britain’s greatest spy James Bond. This time the theme of betrayal and abandonment permeates in the background. Mendes have visited the subject before in Road to Perdition. In that movie a mob father’s doubtful faith in his son makes a crucial decision with disastrous results, (interestingly enough starring Danial Craig).  In Skyfall the Bureau chief M ( a take no prisoner Judi Dench)  also  makes  a sacrificial call that nearly cost Bond his life. Rethinking his priorities about the unit and especially M herself,  James takes a long sabbatical away from the agency.
He’s forced back in operation when a hard-drive disk containing information of secret operatives under cover is stolen, threatening a shut down of the organization and M’s forced retirement. Coming back into the spy game has James a bit rusty in his usual physical skills as well as failing  psychological  sessions  especially childhood memories of  something called Skyfall, leaving  doubts  from intelligence and security head, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) , but confidence from M about the ability to handle said mission. The person responsible is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) , a rogue agent ( Shades of Goldeneye! ).  Decked out in blond hair and suited white tux and a bit of effeminate style,  probably the most interesting Bond villain in quite awhile. No global megalomaniac like Goldfinger Or Blofield, no; this is somebody hurt physically and emotionally.  The screenplay  pulls a sense of homo-eroticism between Bond and  Silva,  where  he massages  the captured agent’s  injuries in a gentle manner,  Challenging perceptions of  Bond’s masculine sexuality, subtlety planting the possibility  he would fuck for Queen and country regardless of gender.

Throughout the film, questionable decisions by M both past and present propels the plot of the story, in some way these events  are more about M than Bond,  but Mendes  made sure he gives a heaping shitload of baggage for just about everybody involved.

Craig continues to impress as Bond, a steely visage coupled with a not so pretty face, more of a street thug than GQ Pierce Brosnan   was.  No humor retorts for this spy, it recalls the attempt of Timothy Dalton’s take on a serious 007 decades ago.

The cinema photography by Roger Deakins is possibly the most gorgeous looking yet in the whole franchise. In one  sequence Bond fights an adversary, silhouetted behind glass walls with neon lights in the background, the glowing shadows  creates visual beauty to the choreography.  Another  is the lair of the villain, not a opulent palace of wonder, but some  island or scow adrift in the sea, Its decayed and muddling look is a nice contrast to the usual hideouts.

There’s enough eye- winking references to earlier films  of Bond, especially to the Sean Connery era, if anything in a retroactive or quasi alternative universe, this film actually is actually the first official start of the series…and  that is fine by me.

 

I give this your  4 best Absolute  Martini—shaken; not stirred.

 

 

The Iceman

Posted by admin On June - 29 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

Portrait of a Stone Cold Killer: The notorious Ice Man Richard Kuklinski is still an enigma today. One can only speculate on what through in his mind as he disposed the bodies in a most gruesome fashion.


An ordinary Polish man, struggling to make ends meet in NJ, ran into all the wrong people who gave him an offer he could not refuse, and uncovered his true calling in life that of a remorseless killer. If you’ve heard the expression, “Skeletons in the closet” before, one would have to wonder if the notorious Richard Kuklinski had a walk-in closet that extended 7 city blocks. By the end of the Iceman, the mystery remained was there ever a soul underneath the relentless thick layers built upon over the years?

Directed by Israeli filmmaker Ariel Vromen, The Iceman was a biopic that didn’t feel the need to over explain every thing about its central lead. Thus it preserved a sense of mystery, an essential ingredient when filming a story about a larger than life killer. Glimpses of Richard Kuklinski’s past are portrayed through 2 lines of dialogue. He had an abusive upbringing and his brother was just as troubled.

Michael Shannon who has an affinity for uncanny roles and memorable performances, was a natural fit as Richard Kuklinski. No stranger to playing a subdued character with a constricted affect and disturbed, internally preoccupied look, he gave a character with very little background, some subtle personality and even a sense of humor in a complex role that called for emotional detachment at very intense, violent moments throughout the film. It was that delicate balance that made Kuklinski not unlike any person whose profession entailed making objective decisions in ending life.
As his character’s love interest, Deborah played by Winona Ryder juxtaposed Shannon’s performance as someone who was emotionally fragile, trusting, and hopelessly naïve. While Richard buried his emotions, he was drawn to Deborah because there was a sense he could see that she accepted being emotional and wore her emotions on her sleeve. The dynamic of these two lovebirds that inevitably start a family life became the focal point for Kuklinski’s motivations and need to lead two lives.

Like all mob related films, it became clear that the ability to lead two lives never worked out like it did in comic books. In the end, untrustable people have no qualms about selling someone down a river. While Ray Liotta mailed it in as his 4th sleazy low-level mobster role, the performances of David Schwimmer and Chris Evans added some fresh, quirky characterizations, sporting some of the grungiest looks and fashionable staches.

For the great performances, The Iceman rated fine bourbon that became more and more complex as you worked your way to the bottom of the glass.

Cheers,

Ron

Oblivion

Posted by admin On June - 25 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

A Bitter Pill to Swallow: Beech played by Morgan Freeman shines a light in the dark for Jack played by Tom Cruise and this time, there’s no red or blue pill to choose from.

Sometime in the near future, mankind endured a catastrophic alien attack that wiped out most of human life and civilization. Stationed above the Earth in an outpost resembling a condo designed by Apple overlooking what was once NYC, Jack (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a watch dog/maintenance team entrusted with surveying the last collection of vital supplies before accompanying the mission to travel to the next star. When the departure date became imminent, Jack’s intuition caused him to have second thoughts about the course laid out for him. Like an itch he couldn’t scratch, Jack questioned orders and started to investigate on his own without authorization. His behavior pattern might suggest a psychotic break or the possibility that there was something wrong?

Director Joseph Kosinski brought together familiar components from 1970s Science Fiction films such as the Omega Man and Silent Running. When Cruise trekked out into the wasteland, there was something contemplative about man’s mortality, his legacy, and how at peace the Earth looked. Similar to his previous film Tron Legacy, he brought a polished, sophisticated use of computerized special effects that never failed to inspire a sense of beauty in the midst of urban ruin. Oblivion was a good-looking movie that one might not even need dialogue to enjoy the art captured its camerawork.

However the story suffered from too many cliché plot twists that never raised the bar from the material it was inspired by. Even though Tom Cruise was electric and his presence was commanding, familiar roles played by Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko flattened out the performances. In the last 10-15 minutes Oblivion delivered an ending that didn’t offer many surprises. Thus the film became generic.

Oblivion offers the familiar distinguished taste of a house brew. It won’t make you regret you had it but it won’t compel you to drink another.

Cheers,
Ron

Vampirella

Posted by Greg Butler On June - 17 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

 

“Vampirella; a Playboy magazine!” said sarcastically by one of the older kids on the block, as I tried shielding the cover from judgmental g eyes. There were other published anthologies such as “Creepy” and “Eerie”, both had a fair share of nudity and violence, mashed with horror genre, but the Vampirella issues at least in the early ones  seem to have a more emphasis on women be it as victims or perpetrators in the stories.

With cover like that how could I resist

 

 

She was the brain child of the great Forry Ackerman, creator of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. The basic origin was that Vampi was the sole survivor of a planet of vampires, where rivers once flowing with blood was slowly drying up.  She escapes on a manned rocket-ship back to earth where she befriends a drunken washed up magician named Pendragon. Taking a serum that curves her blood-lust and pursued and later befriended by a new generation of Van Helsings, each story would deal with her battles with a cult called Chaos and other dark forces.

 

The legendary Archie Goodwin would take on the writing chores later and perfected the twist ending to her twelve page adventures. Arguably these were the quintessential version, short as they were, it had a breezy quickness that hit the points it wanted to make. No heavy handed plot to detract its concise narrative.  Of course the stories wouldn’t have half the impact if not for Jose “Pepe” Gonzalez great artistic rendition of the the title character. Coming in at issue # 12, the makeover created a stunning siren,  seductive,  sexually chaste without the nymph prancing nature of her  more active  half sister of the sci-fi film Barbarella,  of which Forry  semi-christened our  gal  her name.

In the years to come, Vampi would be reinterpreted by other publications, whether manga styled or superhero horror,   concepts  that will continually evolve for every generations.

Before Ripley,  Xena, or Buffy,  she was the first female  ass kicker of fantasy horror genre.

By the way ignore the Roger Corman film Vampirella, the campy approach and low (low) budget is an injustice to the idea of the original, in other words it sucks.

 

The Purge

Posted by admin On June - 16 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

Bad Company: Thanks to horribly repetitive horror/suspense films, not every one in America may be proficient at handling disaster drills but no one in this country will hide under the bed during a break-in.

In the tradition of nihilistic not-so-distant future satires the Purge, a right wing American act to deal with interpersonal conflict, legalized manslaughter for 12 hours and somehow that release of aggression has eliminated crime and unemployment for the next 364 days of the year. Ethan Hawke, played James Sandin, an unscrupulous home security salesman who celebrated the Purge like it was the Christmas holiday. Business for home security systems against invaders was never better for those who could afford them. To further draw parallels, the day was commemorated with blue flowers that harkened back to the tradition of putting out poinsettia plants on Christmas. While James Sandin and his wife played by Lena Headey acknowledged the Purge, they were not participants. They chose to stay home, protected by their security, divorcing themselves and their kids from the psychotic, senseless slaughter outside their door. When his naïve son offered shelter to a homeless man fleeing a hunting party during the Purge, the successful suburban American family faced an unpleasant moral dilemma: Sacrifice the homeless man marked for death and guarantee their families lives but lose their dignity and children’s respect. Save the homeless man and take their chances with their lives at stake.

James DeMonaco, director of Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) and The Negotiator is no stranger to Mexican Standoff scenarios where every one with a motive is a threat and no one can be trusted. The build up tension was well played until the siege had begun and the participants were put in motion. From that point, the film steadily de-evolved into a level of predictable, repetitive stupidity more reminiscent in schlock horror but without the dark humor. Missing from the carnal stew was a few slices of well placed socio-political dark humor that director Paul Verhoeven delivered in Starship Troopers and Robocop. Without the humor the story became too concentrated in one area and the film unraveled quickly and clumsily. Still there was just enough with the enticing premise to warrant a sequel where one hopes the morning after the Purge, the writer/director explain how they prevented soaring health care costs and call outs.

As a result, the Purge could have been that bargain worth 5 times its value. Instead, it really was a $4 beer special sold at market price.

Cheers,
Ron

Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted by admin On June - 15 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

Hormones in Space: Young Captain Kirk played by Chris Pine (left) drinks obsessively, sleeps around, and disregards Star Fleet regulations until Admiral Pike played by Bruce Greenwood (right) gives some fatherly advice on how to be a better Captain.

The Romulan Ale fueled fraternity of rule breakers are back, in Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to JJ Abrams’ re-imagining of Star Trek as Animal House meets Star Wars. After having survived a Romulan attack from the future, raw and inexperienced Captain Kirk and his crew have learned very little from the lessons bestowed upon them by Admiral Pike and the elder Spock from the alternate time line. After having survived a near death experience forcing the crew to break the Prime Directive, Kirk and Spock still has trust issues to the point where the younglings aren’t even sure they like each other. To further complicate things, young Spock struggled to balance his duties as a first officer and continuing to dip his pen in company ink with Communications officer Lieutenant Uhura. If that resembled an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 in space, the film was very much an angst ridden tweener drama with shots of Romulan ale if not for a post 9/11 trope that involved two villains, looking to escalate the tension between Starfleet and the Klingon Empire. Unfortunately there are no POV outside of Kirk and Spock to give any fresh insight to make the stand off on the edge of Klingon space more dynamic. Benedict Cumberbatch played the rogue mystery man at the center of the storm. When the money shot of his true identity was unveiled, one should have expected a bewildered, “So What?” from an inexperienced Kirk, a confused, “huh?” from most of the audience born after 1989, and from long time Trekies “Groan.”

Cumberbatch’s performance had a cold, calm, calculating presence but his role was nothing more than a plot device to quicken the pace to a sprint at the end with not a moment to contemplate the meaning behind all the running, shooting, explosions, and screaming. The standout performance was Zachary Quinto as Spock. His performance has elevated Spock as the center of Abrams’ universe. He distinguished himself from Nimoy in that Spock used his cold logic as a defense mechanism to be cruel to his human crewmates. Apparently Vulcans have learned the value of embrace your stereotypes. Chris Pine’s Kirk took a back seat as a punching bag and always 3 steps behind the other superior alien characters. This depiction of a fatherless Kirk was very unlikeable in that he’s just plain foolish at every juncture. Shatner’s Kirk was always a coy, brash young man but he wasn’t stupid. Kirk’s recklessness had a virtue. His ability to provoke his opponent into doing something foolish. Re-imagined Kirk just did the most foolish things without any rhythm or reason. It didn’t seem to be necessary to have Kirk in the Captain’s chair at this point. Something one wonder could very well happen if Pine decides to take on another franchise.

In the last 20 minutes the obligatory fan service was hastily slung around, having ignored plot holes it generated so Abrams could deliver the theatrical climax of a giant vessel rammed through downtown San Francisco that realistically slaughtered thousands. To top that gratuitous scene, a final chase between Spock and his nemesis on top of moving transport ships. When the bad man was put away, there’s cut to a nice speech on a clear day about duties and value in the face of terror that never addressed the fact, Kirk and his crew had to break every rule in Star Fleet bring an end to this conflict.

Captains are supposed to make the ultimate sacrifices for the crew but that was never Kirk’s problem. His problem was putting himself in constant jeopardy that led to others taking the hit. Lost in the ADD of CGI was all the life lessons, which made Star Trek so much more contemplative. Instead, its a look that continues to be shallow. Despite the clean, polished look of the film, I have to rate Star Trek Into Darkness a lite beer. It’s not completely unsavory but it never left me with anything memorable. Instead it made me cherish the original Kirk and Spock even more.

Cheers,

Ron

 

Sinister

Posted by Greg Butler On June - 4 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

sinister stills, summit entertainment, ethan Hawke

Oh what has Paranormal Activity has wrought.

 

With apparently no end in sight, the “found footage” ploy rears it’s over used head again in Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. The approach this time around  is to combine it with back to basic  film narrative as the story plods along. There is however a wonderfully eerie scene at the beginning with an old  Super 8 film shooting  from a distance. A  family of four, hooded and bound, slowly being hanged from a tree mysteriously. Bodies in marionette motion, dances silently in the air before coming still. Losing that effective momentum,  the movie jets ahead to the present as a new family  moves  into a house,  headed by a once successful crime novelist Ellison (Ethan Hawke).  Unbeknownst to his wife  Tracey ( Juliet  Rylance) and the kids, the previous tenants were murdered of which Ellison is secretly researching for hopefully his next bestseller. In the attic he discovers a set of  Super 8 films (yea you know where this is headed), each depicting the gruesome demise of other families in different fashion.  Upon a second viewing, because we know once is not enough, a spectral visage appears in the background.  Rather than turning over the found evidence to the local authorities,  he splices, edits and digitally downloads the films to his computer ( a expertise not seen since Spielberg first picked up a camera)  consults a professor of the occult Vincent D ‘Onofrio (clearly doing a cameo cash grab here), who tries to keep the story on track..sort of.

The snuff footage is  effective but directer   Derrickson doesn’t have a follow up to sustain it, it’s all the cliches of movie horror past–overly long with a meandering third act. Having Hawke’s character wander three times around a darken house, without the common sense to turn on a light switch for at least two of the occasion is  redundantly clumsy. By the way the demon that shows up serves no  purpose other than what not to wear next Halloween.

I give this a domestic beer served at room temperature.

Iron Man 3

Posted by admin On May - 27 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

Lethal Weapons: Tony Stark made a bold statement on drone protection, unfortunately it winced from committing to a resolution on Homeland protection with fireworks and a rainbow ending in Iron Man 3.

Having faced intergalactic terrorism that created incalculable casualties and leveled NYC, Iron Man 3 examined how the constant daily threat to the homeland has taken its toll on Tony Stark’s psyche as his nightmares have become reality and unless he can come up with an answer, he might find himself unprepared in coming face to face with newest threat to national security in the Mandarin. Directed by Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black, his third act served as a looking glass where the POV of Tony Stark and the love of his life Pepper Potts are juxtaposed with two different takes in the post 9/11 world. From Tony’s perspective, life can never go back to normal. The threat will always be there and so he will continue to build and build his drone weaponry in a bomb shelter under his Malibu home. From Pepper’s perspective, life went on uninterrupted, business as usual and the battle for NYC on TV was so polarizing the extraterrestrial attack might as well have taken place someplace in Bangladesh. Unfortunately for Pepper, Tony brought the threat home the minute he taunted The Mandarin, a shadowy fiend who has a knack for being one step ahead of the US military. Similar to Kiss, Kiss Bang Bang, director Shane Black expertly used the narrative to keep Tony Stark’s thoughts connected to the story as each subsequent event unfolded. As a result, Tony Stark became a more evolved, stronger complex character but unfortunately his armor did not make that transition. In the first two films, the arc reactor technology was what separated Tony from his competitors to turn suits of armor into the next weapon of mass destruction. Why did Tony move away from the technology that was so sought after? Why did he accept a replacement that had him running out of power constantly through out the movie. Why didn’t Tony utilize the Iron Army when his prototype armor malfunctioned as the siege on his house was being laid? Or when he needed to infiltrate the villain’s lair? How come Tony’s Bluetooth to Jarvis never ran out of power but his suits constantly malfunctioned? How come all of his suits show no variation in weaponry? How did one of the villains figure out how to pilot the Iron Patriot suit without all the passwords and more importantly how was it remote controlled without Tony or Rhodey’s input? Why does Extremis make human beings heat up and why can’t Tony remember he unlocked the genetic equation? As dynamic as the sets and stunt work were, the cost was creating quite a few plot holes that any Iron Man fan can point out without working up a sweat. That said, Iron Man 3 was a thrill ride with one too many plot twists but it’s not for comic book fans familiar with the Five Nightmares, Demon, and Extremis. For that reason, I must rate Iron Man 3, a lite beer that won’t hurt you to see but definitely won’t leave much of a lasting impression as the Summer Blockbusters continue to come off the assembly line.

Cheers,
Ron

 

 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Posted by Greg Butler On May - 20 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

GREAT MOMENTS IN HISTORY——– At the risk of losing my critic credential; Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an enjoyable quasi/ what if our fore father of emancipation was axe choppin’ blood suckers all the way to the Gettysburg address. Traumatized as a boy when mother Nancy is murdered by a vampire, he dedicates his life the to find the monster responsible.

A grown Abraham (Benjamin Walker) pursuing an unsuccessful vendetta  results in him being taught by a mysterious mentor Henry Sturges (Rufus Sewell), training/guiding Lincoln to the appropriate kills, which will lead to a revelation that will determine his destiny and country. Of course with that scenario, there is more things stirring under the stove top hat than what appears.  Fight sequences  are pumped non-stop with adrenaline,  followed by a climatic train sequence that is so outrageous and exciting, it actually puts present action flicks to shame.

The Movie is a romp, no more than the Abbott & Costello films was about their Universal monsters in the 40′s. The CGI is just as excessive as any Evil Resident franchise, but here unlike those, the approach is more goofy fun than hardcore serious. It strikes with just amount of camp in relation to the bloodletting violence.  Director  Tim Bekmambetov  with screenwriter Seth Grahame- Smith makes no excuses, Your here to enjoy the outlandishness, and to the subjects credit it gets my vote.

I give this two glasses of  Blanton’s original barrel with a light wheat beer.

Megan is Missing (2011)

Posted by Greg Butler On May - 13 - 2013ADD COMMENTS

A self styled docu-drama detailing the horrors of cyber abduction and murder . Using found footage of taped dairies and news clips, the story chronicles the disappearances of  two young social outcasts being seduced by an internet stranger.  Although the movie’s heart is in the right place, the presentation of evidence becomes scripted as opposed to being in the moment. In one scene the directer  Micheal Goi makes the mistake of having a third video viewpoint shot by someone else, practically following the girls at a wild party. Trying to truncate both of the characters social and personal status in one event hurts the genuine approach to realism. Another problem are the extras or friends of Megan,  reused again in news interviews and other areas in the movie, not bad if it was situation television, but it becomes comic seeing the same people again.

The stalker in this piece skulks around like Micheal Myers from Halloween, He’s so good at being beyond visual range, you wonder if it’s  another in the long line of Criminal Minds episodes.

The final twenty minutes is grueling as we get the killer’s filmography of his crime, I’m really not sure what to take from this, admittedly there elements of truth based on actual cases, but it comes off phony and a bit gratuitous here.

I give this two  house whiskeys,  at best average.

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