Monday, April 26, 2010

The Losers

"I can't get no... sat-is-fac-tion."

A Black Bag operations team, betrayed by their C.I.A. handler, takes on a mission from a mysterious young woman in hopes of reaping revenge and clearing their names.

When I first heard that there was a planned movie adaptation of The Losers I found myself a little confused, and very interested. My (then) knowledge of the title was as a comic set in World War II. Come to find that there was a much more recent (2003) revamp of the series set in (then) present day and upon reading the first volume I found myself, again, very interested. Upon seeing the film however, I found that a great deal was different (surprise, surprise). Characters and events were of course re-arranged and/or deleted entirely, to the point where comparing it seems like kind of a waste. I will say, however, that Director Sylvain White has managed to capture a lot of the essence of the series, a feat worth mentioning as it so rarely occurs.

The Losers strengths are few but well developed. The first being it's aesthetic. With the production design (or maybe "arrangement" would be a better word) and color scheme of the film, White has built something that evokes a comic book feel over all- without going frame by frame and shooting each image- the set pieces do much to reinforce this. Writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt help this "graphic novel" feel by entertaining some of the small asides that tend to make or break such a format while being trimmed, cut, or down right demolished when print turns to reel. These little side stories (thin as they may be) help to connect you to the rest of the story- such as it is. I don't fault The Losers for being a bit predictable. The truth of these commando/buddy cop sorts of movies (The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, Navy Seals, Magnificent Seven etc.) is that they're all a bit formulaic and that's ok. It's ok because with these sorts of stories the joy is in the journey, not the where's and why's. Well, the journey and the strength of the characters taking you on it.

This is where The Losers shines, and inevitably fails. The characters are strong (even if chopped down to bite-size pieces), the laughs are fairly potent, and the cast shows up to try and make it work. In terms of comedy, none more than Chris Evans and Colombus Short, who are paired together to deliver some of the films best lines. The two riff off one another in a way that makes the simpler part of me wish they would do a straight "buddy cop" movie together, while the more complicated part of me chastises it and explains why that movie would most likely be horrible. On the other side of the spectrum we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba. The good news is, these two are paired together to play a sort of odd couple and it works for the most part. The bad news is we've pretty much seen all of their big hits in the trailer. With the rest of the leads paired off, the other two characters are left free to be stoic or, in Zoe Saldana's case, to deliver plenty of Lady-Kick-Ass schtick.

Ahh, but I said fails too, didn't I? This part is a little hard for me to say- quite frankly because I never thought I would have to say it- but for all the back-story and endless comedy sent our way, there is a severe lack of actual action. I know, I know, the exact opposite of my usual complaint, but walking away from The Losers I found myself wondering at what point comedy kills action. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of shooting and explosions to be had, but I feel as though White has fallen into the Micheal Bay trap of shoving so much comedic relief into his movie that the action (what little there is in this case) loses credibility. What would all the "Quarter-back is toast's" of Die Hard be with McClane chain lynching Nordic dudes to balance them out? You cry, you laugh, you punch the bad guy in the face- that's why all the movies/shows mentioned above worked. They had it all.

The Losers biggest mistake is that it is too front loaded with comedy to leave room for anything else. The action sequences are to short to be sweet- instead feeling a bit under developed. While it brings us a great bad guy moments in the form of Jason Patric, when our heroes finally catch up to him in the big climax, we find it's really more of a medium to small climax. I'm not a fidgety man-child who gets bored if there hasn't been an explosion in the last few minutes but, when the story requires it, I expect a decent throw down- and I never really got one. The Losers is very entertaining, but in the end unsatisfying, even as the confection I expected it to be. Call me picky, but I don't buy a black-ops strike team that shoots everyone with tranquilizer darts- and I don't think you will either.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Stomp The Yard: Directed by Sylvain, Starring Short, it's good- for a dance movie.
Push: Evans in a spectacular movie nobody saw.
Watchmen: Morgan stars, if you've read the book then you'll either love it or hate it.
RocknRolla: Elba in another Guy Ritchie insta-classic.
Star Trek: How could I say any other title for Saldana?
Narc: A gritty cop drama with Jason Patric.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Upon Further Review

I Am Legend
Spoiler Warning!

When my fiance (I love calling her that!) unveiled I Am Legend as her latest Netflix arrival I'll admit, I mocked her a little bit. It was something along the lines of: "If you wanted to see Will Smith with his shirt off, you could have just gone to YouTube- no need to spend a queue slot on it." What can I say, she likes the chocolate... Anyway- upon sitting down to watch it we were confronted with an interesting option. Watch the theatrical version, or the Alternate version? Seeing as we had both seen the theatrical cut already (and because I'm a sucker for exploring alternate anything) we went for option B- and I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, it included a handful of incredibly short but rather worthwhile scenes- not the least of which being Nevel mistaking Anna and Ethan as his wife and daughter as he first wakes up to breakfast. Most of the others consist of small parts of Nevel's daily/weekly routine that were deleted from original, and then a return to those things as Nevel shows them all to Anna and Ethan after they save his life- glad to be able to share them with someone new.

Another interesting thing to me was the scene in which Nevel points out that the trap he was snared in was indeed set by the "Dark Seekers". Many of you would say: 'of course it was silly.
Why would we need to be told that?" And it would seem Director Francis Lawrence agrees with you, since he chose not to include this scene. But for me (and other viewers prone to over thinking I'm sure) I found myself wondering after my viewing in theaters, whether it was a trap set by them, or whether he had unknowingly wandered into on of his own traps. A little bit of a stretch? Maybe. But then, there are so many deliberate examples that show us that Nevel has been mentally frayed by his time alone ("Fred if your real you better tell me right now!"). Not the least of which being the fact that when Nevel first notices the mannequin out of place, it turns it's head ever so slightly.

By far the best alteration delivered by this... well... alternate, is the ending. I won't detail it here, but this ending meshes much better with the piece as a whole, even without the other additions I mentioned before. Not only does it tie the movie just an infinitesimal but closer to the original book, but it also draws together other themes touched on in the movie, but left hanging by the original ending, the most obvious being the lions from the opening sequence. This is something Lawrence obviously felt was true as well, as he brings the trio back for the end sequence. Though obviously not as polished as the theatrical cuts ending, this alternate ending is a far superior resolution- making for a better overall experience.

Walking away I was immediately reminded of movies like Aliens, Abyss, even Attack of the Clones just to name a few (two of which were James Cameron's now that I think about it) where the theatrical versions had scenes edited out of them that actually made them much better films- though in the case of Attack of the Clones I think we can agree it wouldn't have been enough to stop the runaway train. Either way, for me it was definitely enough to save I Am Legend. The additional scenes and alternate ending took a blah movie and kicked it up a notch (BAM!). Had this been what I'd seen in the theaters, I might not have felt like this movie was a complete loss.

Upon Further Review
Movie: I Am Legend
First Impressions: Technically this was my first viewing...
Current Status: Upgraded (as compared to the original)

Thursday, April 22, 2010


"What the hell are we supposed to use man? Harsh Language?"

An ordinary high school boy decides he wants to be a hero, and in doing so accidentally stumbles across two ruthless vigilantes.

I won't lie to you, I've never read a single page of the 8 issue series that spawned Mathew Vaughn's latest motion picture. Though aware of it's existence, and admittedly curious, the closest I've ever come to picking up a copy of Kick-Ass #1 is passing it on my way to the M's. As for the movie version, I was entertained but certainly not floored.

Narrating the movie and taking the lead as Dave Liweski, Aaron Johnson introduces himself as the newest face on the lovable losers list. This is my first movie with the adult Johnson, and though entertaining, I quickly forgot about him completely as Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl stole the show. In truth I'm not even sure "stole the show" is the right term considering she did so in from her very first scene. A more true way to look at it might be that she didn't so much steal the show, as she made me wonder why the movie was named Kick-Ass and not Hit-Girl.

She swears like a sailor (why is fictional children swearing funny? And does that make me a bad person?), sasses people many times taller than her, and slices up gangsters to the tune of Joan Jett. The only thing odder than how enjoyable all this can be to watch is how she manages to work in a hint of adorableness to it all. I felt a great swell of joy as I watched her weave a talented tapestry since she'll be playing Abbey (Eli) in Matt Reeves remake of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In. Being reminded how talents Moretz is helps me talk the fan boy inside out of tearing his fictional hair out at the very thought of Reeves undertaking.

Cast- Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and all the rest- is this movies strongest point. Writing however, is another story. That the movie is hilarious and entertaining is by nature of it's subject matter alone I would venture- as in terms of straight writing it's rather unoriginal. All together I think Kick-Ass will work for anyone who's ever seen a comic book movie. If you know what's supposed to happen when the music swells, or the hero is out gunned and out numbered, then you'll inevitably laugh at what actually happens here. This serves as both the movies rise, and it's downfall however, because for all it's intentional lampooning, in the end it lacks the courage of it's convictions. When it's time for the climax, all goes according to the standard plan, with all the good guys getting the girl and living happily ever after, all the anti-heroes dying in a semi-redemptive blaze of glory, and the bad guys either being righteously smyted, or left in their hideouts to brew up new schemes for the sequel.

If you are not of a sensitive demeanor (read: if foul mouths and gored henchman don't offend you) and you know your way around a comic book adaptation -or if you just want to hear Nicholas Cages awesomely bad impression of Adam West- than Kick-Ass is definitely worth your time. If any of these things doesn't apply, than I can't believe you'll have missed much when you see Why Did I get Married Too instead, as these are the best things Kick-Ass has going for it (though I'll definitely question your decision making skills). For me Kick-Ass was, if nothing else, an enjoyable, palette cleansing opener before all the comic worlds heavy hitters start dropping this weekend.

Reel Deal Recommends:
(500) Days of Summer: Moretz supports in a movie I'll take any excuse to mention.
Matchstick Men: Nicholas Cages best movie.
My Dreams: A perfect place to find Adam West.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Catching Up Is Hard To Do.

So with a couple pretty hectic weeks under my belt it seems I've fallen a bit behind on my review schedule. Normally I would just post the full reviews late but given how far I am behind, and my rather- and the movies in question- I thought maybe it would be best to just shave the reviews down a bit and post them together.w This way we can all get on with our lives. Let the abridged reviewing begin!

First up: Hot Tub Time Machine
Hot Tub Time Machine was written by Sean Anders and John Morris, the same team that brought us She's Out of My League. I think the thing that saved Time Machine from the swirling vortex of lost direction that sucked League down to Davey Jones' locker was the theme. Morris and Anders knew that all they had to do to make Time Machine work was reference as much 80's pop culture as they could, and where available throw in some comparison's to present day culture- which is exactly what they do. For all it's comedic power, only a few shots fell short for me (I've never found on screen vomit to be very funny).
In Short: If you've any sense you'll go for a stupid, good time and you'll get exactly what you paid for.

Next on the docket: It's Complicated
Nancy Meyer's succeeds in showing us yet again how hard it is to be rich and white. Meryl Streep plays one part of a poorly written foursome obviously meant to be evoke a sex and the city vibe in the over fifty crowd. This woman's "crisis" is that fact that the handsome, successful, sweet and thoughtful architect that's helping her add on to the already huge house she lives (alone) in is interested in taking it slow and getting to know her. This comes right as the husband she never wanted to leave expresses interest in coming back. What next,
In Short: It's actually quite simple.

Third we have: Crazy Heart
At first glance this the story of a burnt out star's path to redemption. Upon seeing it however, it struck me more as the story of how a song was born- for this I appreciated it. The story proves to be a bit predictable, which comes back around as a compliment in the fact that despite this- it remains interesting, though in the end not enthralling. Jeff Bridges hits rock bottom with all the skill we already knew he had, even if it's a rock bottom we've seen before. I don't know if I would call it the best performance he's ever given, but that doesn't mean he didn't deserve an Oscar for the many great ones he's given over the years.
In Short: A movie definitely worth seeing, even if only on your home theater.

And Finally: Clash of the Titans
Any one who read my last Five!! knows I went into this one with one nagging fear- well I came out with hat fear made reality. What's the only thing worse than cutting Bubo out of Clash of the Titans? Having him in it only for a moment as the butt of a joke! All fan-boy-edness aside however, this movie was far from what even the pessimist in me expected. Often with these re-makes, the very thing that excited you about the thought of it happening (the wild advances in special effects technology) turns out to be it's downfall. Not so with Clash of the Titans. No, the CG is phenomenal here, the problem is- quite simply- piss poor writing.
I have no trouble admitting that the original had areas ripe for improvement in terms of pacing, or just flat-out storytelling, but why bother with that when we can write cool one liners!? So instead we get new and for the most part uninteresting characters awash in a movie that smacks of multiple re-writes by multiple writers. Certain story lines are pounded to death at points only to be all but forgotten in others. Some great characters are erased, only to be replaced by others that just can't get the job done. And others just randomly explode (I'm not kidding). Overall the entire outing feels watered down and half-asked.
In Short: To put it in terms of modern tellings of ancient stories: Louis Leterrier tried to give us another 300, when the movie would have been better suited by for Wolfgang Peterson trying to give us another Troy.

And there you have it, the summation of my time away. But I'm back now, and I'll try to avoid another huge lapse in the near future. Believe me, nobody likes half a review any less than me!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Five!! 80's Films That Could Use An FX Update

I was in my middle school social studies class the first time I saw Clash of the Titans. It took three days to watch, and there are as many things that I remember vividly from that specific viewing. The first is Mr. Seck forgetting to fast forward through Andromeda's bath scene (like I said, I was in middle school). The second is being completely awed by the film. And the third is thinking how completely out of date the special effects were. And that was in the 90's.

Now it's 2010, and Clash of the Titans is arriving back on the big screen. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand Liam Neeson is playing Zeus, on the other I have a gnawing fear that Bubo will have been cut from the epic. But good or bad, we've already seen the night and day difference between the updated beasts and creatures and their original counter parts. So here are five other 80's movies from my childhood that I'd love to see get an FX make over, and -because I'm feeling playful- some options for casting.

Innerspace (1987)
For me, this movie is a classic. It's an epic journey of molecular size, that takes the "second chance to get it right" storyline and twists it with all it's might. Chalk full of stars (some of which remain and some of which have faded... or started wearing fat-suits) and cutting edge special effects for it's time, Innerspace is not only an excellent choice for a special effects remake, but done right it could easily end up the poster child for 3D experiences.
My Cast: Nathan Fillion as Tuck Pendleton, Joeseph Gordon-Levitt as Jack Putter, and Grace Park as Lydia Maxwell.

Flight of the Navigator (1986)
David was blown away by how different the world was just 8 years later, imagine if Max had brought him from 1978 to 2010. He'd go from the year of the first Senate radio broadcast to the year of iPhones and e-commerce. His then 8 year-old younger brother Jeff would be 32 instead of 16 like in the original, with his own family- maybe even a son of his own? And of course with today's technology the CG for Max would be pristine, but more importantly- he wouldn't sound like PeeWee Herman.
My Cast: C.J. Sanders as David, Alan Tudyk as Max, and Anthony Mackie as (Adult) Jeff.

Labrynth (1986)
Jim Henson's kid friendly gem chronicles the story of a 15 year-old girl learning to accept the new family members her fathers re-marriage have forced on her. I'm gonna go ahead and guess that the divorce rate has gone up a bit since 1986, and hence this movie is still relevent. Or, if we're trying to darken it a bit (which we probably shouldn't), maybe it could even be her own baby that she wishes away- further reinforcing Sarah's acceptance of responsibilities and maturity that we see towards the end of the original... just a thought.
My Cast: Emily Browning as Sarah, and Bon Jovi as Jareth with a David Bowie cameo as Sarah's Father.

The Thing (1982)
Creature effects abound in one of the greatest sci-fi thrillers in history, and The Thing is a relevent re-make for the decade that comes to a close this year. The alien could be anyone, anywhere. The man your talking to right now could be an alien. Every other man here could be an alien, and you'd never know until they'd already struck. But if you act against him or them, it could turn out he or they, were just as scared of the alien as you were- potential allies who's blood is now on your hands- and the alien would still be out there. Now replace the word "alien" with the word "terrorist".
My Cast: Sam Rockwell as R.J. Macready, and Terry Crews as Childs.

The Last StarFighter (1984)
Yup, you saw the picture, you knew it was coming. These lists, for the most part, are posted in random order, but in this case I definitely left my favorite and most fitting pick for last (Though it was the very first title that came to mind). Anyone who's watched this movie knows two things about it: 1.) At it's core it has a universal (no pun intended) story about never backing down from your potential. 2.) The graphics look like they're a video game you should be playing with a track ball.
My Cast: Jay Baruchel as Alex Rogan/Beta Unit, Willem DaFoe as Grig, and Christopher Plummer as Centauri.

Other titles you'd love to see get a second FX life? Other casting visions? Let me know! Otherwise I see you next week with my review of Clash of the Titans and Hot Tub Time Machine.