Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Posted by ron On August - 16 - 2010


More than just an exercise in T-shirt culture, Scott Pilgrim might be in over his head if he can’t find a way to defeat all of Ramona’s evil Ex-lovers.

Whether or not you are a gamer, every one can relate to love as a game. Scott Pilgrim vs the world was the 7th level of a no holds barred fight to the finish for the girl you love. Director Edgar Wright took the best elements of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s 6 book series by emphasizing the video game spoofs and clever visual language. For all intents and purposes, the adaptation worked on the cinematic stage.

In a similar set up to Shaun of the Dead, the main protagonist was a slacker, content to simply exist in his small fish bowl world until a crisis threatened to take away the one thing he desperately loved more than garlic bread. Not much of a stretch for Michael Cera to play a self absorbed amoral puppy who often took the path of least resistance when it came to his prior relationships. Cera’s comedic limitations were identified in the scene where his character was so desperate to get dumped, he resorted to racial insults. Without the right comedic timing, the delivery felt awkward. Pilgrim’s love interest played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead captured Ramona Flowers’ reserved, mysterious beauty with poker faced emotionally withdrawn expressions. Is she concealing her emotions for Scott or is she emotionally immune to his charms? The ambiguous nature of her character was necessary to convince us that a reckless young man’s pursuit to capture what was deemed unattainable seemed logical and convincing between two young people.

The more enjoyable super hero movies are attributed to great acting performances by the villains. Have no fear, the performances delivered by each evil ex exhibited their best characteristics and most fun in the film. Balancing the theatrical dialogue with the physical demands, each fight scene was brilliantly choreographed and executed. Even if the viewers didn’t catch all the homages to specific old school video games, they certainly enjoyed the vibrant colors, stunts, and camerawork.

In my never ending homage to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer I am giving Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a rating of a great tasting bourbon that provided good times, action, adventure, and a righteous score for the good guys.

Cheers,
Ron

The Expendables

Posted by ron On August - 11 - 2010


Sly hangs onto dear life in the Expendables, a throwback to beefcake 80s gun porn the perfect film for D-Box theatres.

The Expendables attempted to revive 80s Republican cinema with the very man who helped institute the Reagan era of musclebound gun porn and American invincibility. From a lost era Sylvester Stallone returned as the last American action hero to deliver one big box office bang for Hollywood. Unfortunately he didn’t bring Governor Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers along for the ride. Instead, he brought in the tweener action heroes like Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Jason Statham with Bruce Willis in the background. Like tax breaks to the American middle class, the Expendables squandered its opportunities to deliver its nostalgic brand of pornography. It was a makeshift film with pieces of an action film that didn’t satisfy the blood lust of many prior one liner money shots. In having failed to do so, there was no sense of nostalgia but more of a reminder of why Sylvester Stallone’s legacy was one that deserved to stay in the past.

The 80s action film formula emphasized slightly homoerotic testosterone injected action that was reminiscent of choreography in American professional wrestling entertainment. That is to say, the protagonist and antagonist traded one sided blows in a sea saw battle. The traditionally topless oiled up muscle bound men rolled around in grimy surfaces with other muscle bound men as explosions go off in the distance. The climax of the physical bravado was always highlighted by a catch phrase or one liner and a spectacular death as the coupe de grace. It was an excessive form of entertainment.

American audiences will still enjoy this form of ridiculous contest of manly men trying to one up each other in feats of implausible skill and survival. They will enjoy the one-thall showdowns: Jet Li vs. Dolph Lundgren and Sly vs. Steve Austin. However one wonders if the use of muscle men as real life super heroic stuntmen is still relevant today? Sophisticated digital cameras, the blue screen, and Hong Kong high wire choreographed fights have changed action films in cinema. The audience has already accepted that an anorexic woman can jump from a speeding car, slide down a rooftop, and grab onto the side of a truck without one scratch. What was once an exclusive club to the physically endowed has become available to anyone. While modern times won’t diminish the feat of the Expendables, it has already made it appear dated.

The physical feats and complexity of the Expendables are worth appreciating as a dying repetitive art form of extreme violence. True to form, It also suffered from a lot of same flaws as its predecessors. Bad acting, empty dialogue, and an implausible plot never failed to take the viewer out of the movie. Worse, it may have crippled the overall enjoyment of the film, something that Rambo, Commando, or Action Jackson never did.

In my die hard appreciation of George Thorogood’s one Bourbon, one Scotch, one Beer I rated the Expendables an old stand by beer that didn’t disappoint but never quenched by thirst. 

Cheers,
Ron    

I Am Love

Posted by ron On August - 8 - 2010


Milano and Swinton are captivating onscreen in I Am Love.

Tilda Swinton is precious, beautiful and embodied feminine sensuality lost in the cosmopolitan energy of Italia in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. She delivered a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination as an Italian speaking Russian mother to a wealthy Milano family of textile producers that must change with the times. Since her performance in 1992′s Orlando, Swinton has always downplayed her commitment to refining her craft. Irregardless, it’s impossible to ignore her command of the big screen. Like a painter always expanding her palette from a campy theatrical depiction of the angel Gabriel in Constantine to her Oscar award winning performance in Michael Clayton, she has continued her trend of hitting the hightest marks in acting excellence.

Director Luca Guadagnino’s visual language captured the best ingredients of all things Italiano: Excessive wealth, rich tasting foods, self indulgent parties, sophisticated fashion, breathless architecture, and timeless landscape. We are seduced by this lush environment as his visual language was so powerful that the sex felt only natural as next logical dish served in a ridiculous multi-course meal.

Food is communication in Italian culture. Guadagnino emphasized this cultural aspect very well. When Italian families congregate, they dress for dinner in order to show appreciation and respect for this art form. Food has vital significance because it dictated the mood of the conversation as well as it’s direction. A chef might not have the most wealth but he wielded the most power in the film. Is it possible to be seduced by one bite from a culinary masterpiece? Guadagnino seemed to think so. One bite served as an afrodisiac to Swinton’s character Emma Recchi. It reminded her of a time when she had choices as a single woman before she abandoned her identity and became Italiano. Her marriage had provided many wonderful things such as security, stability, a good family, and wonderful children. It did not provide anything that she wanted for herself. Food liberated her temporarily and she wanted more.

This was a film about making a difficult choice between family vs self. It’s an exploration into taking back control of one’s life by accepting change and losing yourself in it. It’s about rediscovering passion, love, and freedom. Guadagnino is talking about what it feels like to be alive vs what it feels like to just live. We are race of creatures who were never meant to be kept, so set yourself free to love.

In my homage to Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and one Beer I rated I am Love a delicious tasting bourbon.

Cheers
Ron

Girl who Played with Fire

Posted by ron On August - 1 - 2010


Lisbeth Salander is not your usual tourist or woman for that matter.

The Girl who Played with Fire is the second film in a trilogy based on a best seller. This film didn’t waste any time reintroducing the relationship between the main characters. However this film required understanding the unusual relationship between Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvst as it relates to the plot.

Once again Sweden’s answer to Nancy Drew was placed in grave danger after she overplayed her hand against the man who raped her in the previous film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Having delivered substance over style, director Daniel Alfredson never let the story stray an inch from his talented leads. Yet, the two main characters never shared a scene unlike the film’s predecessor. The film’s pacing was important as the story was designed as an elaborate chase. First, Lisbeth chased after the murderer to clear her name. Blomkvst then chased after Lisbeth, while trying to stay one step ahead of the police. As the brilliant and troubled heroine became mired in the mystery, Lisbeth’s troubles suddenly had some disturbing coincidences and revelations.

Swedish filmmakers don’t believe in wordy dialogue. The actors never waste a word and will never speak 4 words when 3 will do. Much of this film’s emotional baggage was reserved in the subtle facial expressions and body language. Once again, Noomi Rapace delivered a commanding performance. As Lisbeth, she was both mysterious and emotionally complex. Like a ghost she visits her friends and lovers yet disappears without a trace or care in the world. In one scene, Lisbeth told her occasional lesbian partner that she did some traveling with a detached and somber delivery. Did she even have a good time? The answer was keyed into next scene. Dressed like a ridiculous tourist wearing a NY Yankee baseball cap and sweatshirt, she used her souvenirs to keep a low profile while searching for evidence that might clear her.

In Hollywood, there seems to be confusion over what is a strong female lead. Most of the roles today are derivatives of Buffy of the Vampire Slayer. Sexed up twenty something vixens who can kill anything 10 times the size and weight of their 80lb anorexic frame. This heroine was by no means a combat machine but skilled in using her brain to trick men into underestimating her. Not just Lisbeth but all the women in this film are far from helpless.

It was difficult to appraise this film because the plot was not even half as complex as its predecessor. Yet, a streamlined plot is not necessarily a bad thing. This film relied heavily on the lead actors’ natural charisma to carry the film. Dissecting the chemistry between the two leads was a critical component to what made the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo so special. Still, I firmly remain convinced the Girl who played with Fire was a solid companion piece. I am looking forward to the next mystery involving the mysterious Lisbeth Salander.

In my never ending homage to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer….I am giving the Girl who played with Fire smooth tasting shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon.

Cheers
Ron

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Posted by ron On August - 1 - 2010


Nicolas Cage takes Jay Baruchel to school in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a fancy special effects package loosely based on the short Mickey Mouse animated classic in Fantasia. Mixing sorcery with a college romance might sound like a clever marketing endeavor except the marriage didn’t work. The sophomoric script resembled a doomed marriage between J.R.R. Tolkien and Nicholas Sparks.

Jay Baruchel played Dave, a smart kid and a lousy liar, who had a traumatic experience with the supernatural. Ten years after the incident, Dave still had a crush on his childhood friend Becky Barnes. If that’s not disturbing enough, sorcerer extraordinaire Balthazar Blake played by Nicolas Cage has been searching hundreds of years for a boy like Dave to be his apprentice. If Dave is the one, he will become the Prime Merlinian, a sorcerer charged with keeping the world safe. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century where young people aren’t stupid enough to take on more responsibility without some compensation so Dave walked. Despite Blake’s protest Dave refused to care about the world in peril. He’s too busy obsessing about his childhood crush. Thank goodness Dave had his priorities set.

Director John Turteltaub who brought you 3 Ninjas, Cool Runnings, and National Treasure has a light hearted positive approach to overcoming adversity in life. If he could have tempered the obstacles he had set up for the protagonists, the plot wouldn’t be overshadowed by plasma bolts, morphing effects, and other expensive CGI candy.

No Disney fairy tale can be complete without a love interest. As Becky Barnes Teresea Palmer was fated to be Dave’s dream girl. Too bad she didn’t have any material to work with. She believed anything Dave told her and never seemed to doubt him despite her life being constantly put in danger. I guess, Dave’s a keeper. One baffling scene had Ms. Barnes intervene on Dave’s behalf atop the Chrysler building. How did she know where to find him? More importantly how did two college kids get past security to reach that summit?

The villains are theatrical and having the most fun in the film. Alfred Molina delivered a performance with the panache of a classic Disney villain. From RocknRolla, Toby Kebbell’s character was a comical parody of The Mind Freak, Criss Angel. In this era of desperate sequels, one can only hope he gets his own movie. Unfortunately, not even two great villainous actors going along with the ride aren’t enough to offset this film’s short comings.

In my ode to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one Scotch, one beer I give the Sorcerer’s Apprentice a lite beer with very little taste.

Cheers,
Ron

Inception

Posted by admin On July - 30 - 2010


The talented Mr. Cobb takes a journey into the subconscious but he might not like what he finds.

In the midst of a dry summer and nostalgic 80s remakes, Christopher Nolan’s multi-layered psychological driven caper stood as a breathe of fresh air because it might be the only movie of the year where the concept overshadowed his collection of incredible young acting talent assembled. Obviously Nolan was as meticulous with his choices  as he was about his film making. Intense focus, restraint, and precision was required on the parts of every actor involved to carefully move such a complex story forward. Every scene was integral to the story. No camera shot was squandered.

One has to wonder, how Christopher Nolan was able to green light such an anti-Hollywood script from the studio producers? Perhaps it involved a certain character with pointed ears? No matter. It’s difficult to say Inception was his best film. While the Dark Knight might be his most resolved and polished film, Inception was his most bold, complex and intellectually provocative work to date.

The story focused on a haunted man with a tremendous gift for understanding the subconscious. It began having explained why  an idea can be the most dangerous, volatile component to the human psyche once it’s released upon the world. Boiled down to it’s most essential ingredients, it was the ultimate price for living in the subconscious. The consequence was an illegal money making endeavor. Thus, a crew was assembled with the difficult task of planting an idea for a corporation in exchange for clearing a haunted man’s name. Whether or not he deserved to, is a moral question each person must ask themselves.

Without tired money wasting gimmicks like 3-D, the action sequences and camerawork were mind blowing, original, and innovative. However, the real genius was how Nolan drew the audience into this detached character who provided us dark secrets about his past. As we went deeper into the psyche of the mark, we also went deeper into the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio who has come a long way from looking boyishly cute in the film, Man in the Iron Mask. His character’s self torment and guilt were an expression of  Nolan’s fetish for the human psyche with an almost Kubrickian approach. This was film making that should excite audiences and inspire our imagination. Perhaps we are all victims of Inception because it kept alive the idea of cinema as art in this era of overpriced retreads and pricey gimmicks.

In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s song of One bourbon, one Scotch, One beer I am giving Inception a rating of a very fine Scotch aged to perfection.

Cheers,
Ron

Splice

Posted by admin On July - 30 - 2010


New credence to the question, what came first the chicken or the egg?

Two arrogant Generation X hipster scientists take their ambitions too far in what was a prime example of why narcissists with t-shirt fashion sense shouldn’t procreate. Splice wasn’t original by any means. The man plays God motif has been recycled more times than I can count. It’s more of a post Roe vs Wade psychological study into why certain intellectuals shouldn’t be parents because they aren’t ready to take the responsibility or give up the control that they exert in their careers.

When the new life form took shape, we learned how the scientist couple was recklessly dishonest with each other from the very start. It’s pretty easy to predict when this experiment went wrong. By the end of this film, it’s pretty clear not only should these two people not have created a life form together but they shouldn’t even be dating.

Director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) is not without a sense of humor. There are two awkward scenes that offer a temporary relief to the cathartic direction of his film. It’s not enough. For all their intelligence, the two scientists lacked common sense and that’s why it was virtually impossible to get behind these characters.

Still, the movie had a chance to end on a note that would have given a hint of character development. Can two people learn from their failures as parents? Can they grasp the concept of unconditional love irregardless of what a child does?

Nope. It de-evolved into the obligatory monster hunt, followed by a rape scene so horribly executed that it induced an eye rolling moment and laughter from the audience. That’s a really bad sign. I also didn’t buy the ending after Sarah Polley’s character had confronted all of her childhood and fertility issues yet, based her decision in the name of science.

In my homage to George Thorogood’s song, One bourbon, one Scotch, one beer…I am giving splice a very disappointing lite beer.

Cheers
Ron

Predators

Posted by ron On July - 30 - 2010

It‘s hunting season, and the hunters are not hunting rabbits.

Predators aspired to be the proper sequel that would hopefully revive a long dormant franchise. By closely adhering to the original premise with a few plot tweaks, its audience should be readily familiar with selectively injected catchphrases, weapons, and strategy. unfortunately it’s not compelling enough to warrant another Predator film. The first film took place on Earth and to be clever, this film was set on a Terra formed planet in a galaxy far, far away.

The unlucky contestants who unwillingly participated in an intergalactic foreign exchange program for hunters more closely resembled the Village People 2010 revival tour than cold hearted killers. We know this by the way each carefully selected Earth race imaginable were thrown into a completely foreign environment and can simultaneously deliver the stupid look. Yet like a newborn, they quickly cling to Maslow’s most basic needs. They quickly trust each other and take orders from someone they have no reason to trust at all. That someone, Adrian Brody is an amoral mercenary who quickly understood the Predators’ game plan as if he was given a manual at the start. If he meets the right woman (cue the cliché gong) he’ll become as sympathetic a character as a hooker with a heart of gold. Since we had to convince the audience a soft expression Brody character was a real lethal killer, he strategically set up each of his ensemble without consequences. Yet, they continue to listen and follow his lead. Well think about it. Would you trust someone who said, “Don’t worry that car won’t hit you..” after the same person got you hit by oncoming traffic? Didn’t think so. In fact, to retaliate you might try to convince that person to unknowingly face oncoming traffic just to send a message. Yet, no one tried to turn the tables on Brody. Cautiously yet cluelessly our rugged band of killers trek onto their inevitable doom.

The talent in this film was wasted on the body count and I was curious if a talented method actor like Brody imagined that the escape ship was a way off the movie set. Laurence Fishburne played a squatter on the alien world who figured out how to use the Predator technology. Too bad no one seemed to care how he learned to use their weapons against them and lived so long to tell the tale. The film failed to explain if or how Predators recognize each other when they are cloaked. Keep in mind, predators don’t attack in groups if we are going by the first two films.

The problems with the film are plagued by inconsistencies attributed to being a fan of the first film and trying to be its own animal. Fishburne’s character spoke how quickly the Predators adapted to the tactics of their prey. Yet, Brody employed a tactic similar to Arnold’s character Dutch in the original with even greater success against the Predator. Maybe he didn’t get the memo that he all he had to do was zone in on Brody’s heart beat and he could grab the earth man with ease. It’s not like the same Predator didn’t use this technological feature in the same scene. Oh wait it is. Of course there are two Predator species and this was the slower thinking tribe.

The first Predator film was a singular creature attracted to conflict dominated species like humans. The suspense was based off the fact that you barely saw the Predator and the tension between the characters. It picked its opponent based on their ability to survive. In this film, there is no tension between the characters. The director would have you believe they are trying to teach human killers all over the world a lesson about themselves. The implausible nature of this paradox becomes stunningly clear when you learn the predictable truth behind Topher Grace’s character. By the way, if the race of Predators was so intent on administering “let the punishment fit the crime” bill you would think they’d make a deal with the governments of Earth to take their overpopulated prison problem off their hands. Instead, its a more convoluted objective than importing ice from Pluto. I guess human beings aren’t the only race willing to waste their resources and energy on a pointless pursuit.

In my never-ending tribute to George Thorogood’s 1 bourbon, 1 scotch, 1 beer I must rate Predators as a very flat beer sitting out on a humid NYC day.

Iron Man 2

Posted by admin On July - 30 - 2010

Tony Stark is running out of options as the troubles in his life close in from every direction.

When Tony Stark’s reach overextends his grasp, he finds himself unable to keep up with the problems of the world. Tony might have the smarts to bring about world peace but not if he can’t deal with problems of his own. Iron man 2 is a case of a super hero celebrity desperately trying to do the right thing but burning himself out in the process and threatening to undo every thing he worked so hard for in order to make the world a better place. This sequel picks up where the first film left off. Iron Man is the top watch dog of the world and all eyes are on Tony. If every faction wasn’t trying to discredit him, his rivals were desperately trying to steal the Iron Man technology for their own purposes. Director Jon Favreau cleverly blended in several of the comic book story arcs: armor wars, demon in a bottle, murder in monaco, and war machine with the Senate hearings involving the legendary Howard Hughes who was the real life inspiration for Tony Stark.
What ends up happening as a result is what every normal human being deals with when they are pushed beyond their limitations, it’s a self destructive process.

Favreau who wrote Swingers understands comic book movies can explore serious subject matter without forgetting to bring the fun, imagination, and uplifting element of redemption. It’s at this point, Tony Stark realized while Iron Man may be invincible, he isn’t. The movie was very clear in depicting that a man-child like Stark needed his friends to nurse maid/stand up to him/hold him up in order to do the right thing. This redemptive moment was where The movie best modeled itself after the comic book. Tony Stark isn’t your typical super hero. He’s an insufferable arrogant bastard with the best of intentions. The unique charisma of Robert Downey Jr emboldens the character to convince us why people would risk their lives for him. Fortunately, the supporting cast has the necessary talent to do just that.

I still believe the forced Avengers/SHIELD nonsense does more to take me out of the film, than serve as some kind of transition point for every act of the film. I am still not convinced Favreau knew how to choreograph a fight scene. He could have used some of the cool armor functions from the comic book such as the chameleon effect, EMP, particle shield, and pulse bolts when Tony upgraded his armor. Still the flaws are a minor quibble. This film was easily the most enjoyable, balanced blockbuster that i enjoyed this summer.

In a homage to George Thorogood’s legendary song, one bourbon, one scotch, one beer….I gotta give this film at least a smooth shot of a 12 year old scotch.

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Thoughts on Cinema is dedicated to film reviews. An uncompromising opinion on the intellectual, artistic, and entertainment value to the consumer. With rising ticket prices, we dedicate ourselves to present to you content regarding what you should or should not be viewing. -Ronald H. Pollock Founder and Editor in Chief

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