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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: August Edition


Hello boils and ghouls.  Okay, this isn't the Cryptkeeper, and it's nearly three months away from Halloween, but I couldn't help myself.  But what I can offer you is The Simplistic Reviews Podcast for the month of August (and some of June and July, we had a lot to catch up on in this edition).

After an extended hiatus the boys are back (of course this is Matt speaking in the 3rd person) and maybe not better then ever, but at least their adequate.  This month they jump into the "Ben Affleck as Batman" debate head first, share their shame in everyone's favorite segment, "Simply Ashamed," talk some "Breaking Bad," celebrate the filmography of Sinbad, and campaign for the best film coming this Fall.

Be sure to check the show notes below for more fun and hijinks.

Show Notes:

What Makes Breaking Bad so good?
SlaughterFilm
Cinema and Suds
Fall Movie Preview


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to School Special: Bully (2011)

Bully (2011) - Frustrating

For most kids, the end of August is always a sad time, because that is when Summer fun is over and it's time to go back to school.  Yes, on one hand it's when you get to see all your school friends again and you get to share stories about your vacations or how many chicks you hooked up with, or for high school juniors who are now high school seniors; college plans, or, once again, how many chicks you hooked up with or are going to hook up with.  As you can see these were the priorities when I was in high school, or at least what I think most high school kids talked about when I was in high school.  As I digress, going back to school can either be a magical time, or it can be a kid's worst nightmare.  Let's take middle school for instance, easily the most awkward time for most kids.  It's a proving ground for most kids, Darwinism at it's best, and worst.  Some kids have hit that magical growth spurt and think they can do anything, while the weaker are preyed upon by those trying to stake their claim.  What happens between that bus ride to school and that 3:00 pm bell to go back on the bus can be a mystery.  Sadly, it's a mystery to mostly parents and school officials as well.  "Bully," the Lee Hirsch documentary, not the exploitation classic by Larry Clark (come to think of it, aren't all documentaries just as exploitative?) exposes a frustrating look into the underbelly of the American School System, kids who are bullied, bullies themselves, and the parents who have had to deal with the ultimate cost of bullying.

"Bully" is a first-hand look at how the act of bullying is affecting today's youth.  Yes, it's no secret that bullying has been around as far back as the first man.  The strong prey upon the weak and create a hierarchy of the strong at the top, and the weak at the bottom.  Survival of the Fittest if you will.  However, only now are we starting to understand the dynamics of bullying with the discovery of social illness' and the internal problems within a family household.  The documentary follows kids from all walks of life, including Alex, who suffers abuse on the bus to school and comes to the conclusion that to beat the bully, you might have to become the bully.  A chilling conclusion that bully culture has created, and we've seen play out in tragedies like Columbine and numerous other school shootings.

The most frustrating part of "Bully" occurs with both parents and teachers.  While the old adage holds "kids will be kids," it's frustrating to see the laid back attitude of teachers and how the wool has been pulled over their eyes by said, kids.  Two unfortunate things have happened to in recent years to schools and teachers.  One is the omnipresent fear that teachers have for their jobs.  Between constant testing, overbearing parents, low wages, the childcare aspect of teaching is lost, so bullying goes unchecked.  The other is the teacher/parent relationship and how it has degenerated.  More so the fault of the parent and the rickety notion that their child is perfect and can do no wrong.  This shows how out of touch most parents are with their kids and the fear that teachers have to tell parents the truth about what's really going on while kids are in school.

It's no secret that there is bullying in schools and that it's never going to stop.  Kids are cruel, especially between the ages of 11-15.  It's between these ages that kids really try to stake their claim and try to become the alphas in the middle school hierarchy.  The worst part is that kids who are the victims of bullying think this is how it's always going to be, and sadly lack perspective in the grand scheme of things.  Middle school and high school are blips on the radar of life for kids, but it's hard to put that in perspective when you're barely a teenager.

Should "Bully" be required screening for all schools?  Yes and no.  While the documentary shows bullying at it's worst and the repercussions and consequences it causes either directly or indirectly, the documentary only shows the side of the bullied.  I'd be interested to see what makes bullies.....bullies.  What drives them?  What are their parents and home life like?  What really makes them tick?  I say if you are going to exploit the bullied, why not exploit the bullies as well?

The Bully Debate will never go away as long as tragedies continue to pile up, from suicides to mass school shootings.  However, there simply isn't a way to fix the issue short of homeschooling all kids, which isn't a viable option to many parents of bullied children.  It's a delicate problem in this day and age, but it's been made worse by overbearing parents and soft teachers who care more about their "jobs" then their real job; their students.

Fun Fact:  For more information on how to become involved in stopping the bullying epidemic, please visit: http://www.thebullyproject.com/

Friday, August 23, 2013

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Cinema and Suds, 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown, The Perfect Crime Black Smoked Saison



In celebrating the life of Elmore Leonard, it felt appropriate to dedicate this edition of Cinema and Suds to him.  Shoot, if I had it my way I would've cracked open a 40 oz of Olde English, but due to the fact that I only have access to 32 oz Olde English bottles, and being a man that still has integrity, I had to resort to what I had.  Sometimes fate smiles upon you with a beer that is so appropriately named that all you can do is go with it.

In this edition of Cinema and Suds, we take two Leonard adaptations and get drunk, well, I get drunk, you can get drunk if you want, I'm not here to live your life.  Anyway, we have the 2007 version of "3:10 to Yuma" starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, and the modern classic, "Jackie Brown" from 1997.  The aptly-named beer is "The Perfect Crime" a 2012 collaboration between Stone Brewing, Evil Twin Brewing, and Stillwater Artisanal Ales.  Listed as a Smoked Black Saison, this brew is perfect for planning your next caper, or double-crossing Ordell Robbie.  And don't let the color fool you, this beer is surprising light, (6.8% ABV) but packs a smokey kick with plenty of funk that you would expect out of a saison.

Enjoy the video companion to this review, and check back every week for another edition of Cinema and Suds.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nature Calls


Nature Calls: Ouch

79 min  -  Comedy (?)  -  2012

So one night a friend and I went on Netflix looking for a film to watch. You know, late night snacking with a “funny” movie playing, drinking beers and pissing the night away. When we finished watching this film we both could not help but wonder why we watched the whole damn thing. It’s such a crappy film, I think we both were in a shocked state of mind.

Polar-opposite brothers Randy and Kirk never saw eye-to-eye, but their rivalry is taken to a new level when Randy hijacks Kirk's son's sleepover, taking the boys on a Scout Trip to remember. (IMDB)

So why does this film suck so much?

It’s a comedy film that has maybe 12 seconds of funny in it. Out of the 79mins only 12 seconds is funny? Well I’m not sure how that can be counted as a comedy film.

I mean, Schindler’s List was funnier…

With a cast like Nature Calls I think I’m angrier that it’s as bad as it is.

Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggie, Darrell Hammond and Patrice O’Neal (his last film).

And this film still sucks? I like the story, the actors but the script just wasn’t ready and maybe could have been worked on by its awesome cast.

If you come across it one night, Skip it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

R.I.P. Elmore Leonard

On August 20th, 2013 we lost one of the masters of the modern crime novel, Elmore Leonard.  The voice behind classics like "Rum Punch," (which was turned into the Tarantino classic "Jackie Brown) "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight" and the short story, "Fire in the Hole" (which was turned into the FX TV series "Justified") passed away today at the age of 87.  For future reading, here are our reviews on "Justified" and "Jackie Brown."

He will be missed......

Elmore Leonard
1925-2013


Kick-Ass 2 (Matt's Take)

Kick-Ass 2 - Subversive
SUBVERSIVE

*Caution, there might be some naughty language in this review*

Before I start this review, I'd like to begin with a story;  Normally, I don't like hearing kids in movies, and as a personal preference, kids shouldn't be attending films meant for adults in a movie theater setting.  I have nothing against kids watching R-rated films, just make sure they shut up and don't talk while I'm trying to enjoy the film.  Anyway, while watching "Kick-Ass 2" this past weekend, the film I'll start reviewing in a minute, there was a scene where, spoiler alert, a box is dropped to reveal a stash of S&M gear, including a set of anal beads.  Now, imagine being the parent(s) of the child that you brought into "Kick-Ass 2" only to be asked in the middle of film "What are those?"  That kid is a winner in my book, whereas the parents as losers and got exactly what they deserved.

Anyways, "Kick-Ass 2," the follow-up to the 2010 cult hit, has some hits and misses, and decides that it wants to be as subversive as possible, which somewhat robs it from whatever charm that it could have had.  I agree with numerous other reviews that I've come across and yes, it's not as good as the first film, but how many sequels are, just watch the sequel conversation from "Scream 2" and you'll get your answer.

Once again we follow Dave and Mindy, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, respectively, still fighting crime in New York.  Now living with her murdered father's friend, Marcus, Mindy is being forced into living a quiet life free of Hit-Girl.  Dave, on the other hand, is still fighting the good fight with a new group of super-heroes calling themselves "Justice Forever," including Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) and Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison).  Meanwhile, still sore about his father's death, Chris D'Amico takes up the mantle of the city's first supervillain "The Mother Fucker," and begins recruiting a team of super-villains, aptly calling themselves, "The Toxic Mega-Cunts," to destroy Kick-Ass.

Now, if you thought the first "Kick-Ass" was subversive, and off the wall, "Kick-Ass 2" has it beat.  What I couldn't help noticing is all the talk about pedophiles and an extreme undercurrent of sexual tension between Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, which gives their relationship a certain element of creepiness.  I understand the idea behind their relationship; Dave's mother is dead and Mindy's father died in front of her, so each character is seeking that additional parental figure, and not being a reader of the comic, perhaps this is expounded upon more in the books.  The film also features attempted rape, multiple cop killings, and plenty of jail-bait "mean girls."  The film goes for an extra squirm factor this time around, and it makes "Kick-Ass 2" come off as cheap more often than not.

What made "Kick-Ass" work was the way it made superheroes seem real.  They bled, had their bones broken, shoot, Kick-Ass was banging his girlfriend on a motorcycle at one point.  Would Batman do that; probably not, but would a super-hero without much discipline do that; hell yes they would!  "Kick-Ass 2" expands on the idea that anyone can be a hero, even two parents that are just looking for their lost son.  The other element that worked for the first film was it's inclusion of the social media.  With social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, expanding exponentially since 2010, the use of social media for the sequel is more gimmicky and doesn't add as much to the progression of the plot.  It almost seems like a cash-in for the sequel where Facebook or Twitter adds another zero to the bottom line every time a character mentions "The Mother Fucker just posted this on his Twitter account!"

Could Matthew Vaughn have done a better job as the helmer of "Kick-Ass 2" as opposed to Jeff Wadlow, who's claim to fame was the underwhelming "Scream" knock-off "Cry_Wolf?"  I'd go out on a limb and say yes.  A director with a pedigree like Vaughn could have reigned in the insanity and given the film a more polished look.  Not that I'm knocking Wadlow, he did an admirable job in the director chair, but the film's reliance on CG and some shaky camera work during some of the fight scenes, made me realize that he's no Matthew Vaughn.  "Kick-Ass 2" gets the job done if you want to see how far a superhero film will go as far as violence and gore, but when a film tries so hard to go as far as it can, shock just to shock, gross out just to gross out, the magic of the film gets lost and you're left with kids in the theater asking what anal beads are.

Fun Fact:  Colonel Stars and Stripes from the film is actually a combination of two characters from the "Kick-Ass" comics.  Colonel Stars and Lieutenant Stripes, both ex-Mafia enforcers.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Conjuring



The Conjuring: Fun

112 min  -  Horror | Thriller  -  19 July 2013


It’s a simple film, unlike the recent past horror films; this one takes a simple classic approach. I’ve always thought horror films were a somewhat beat to hell genre these last few years. Anytime a new “horror” film would come out, all I could think was cheap filmmaking for a quick buck. A lot of shitty remakes have come out to the point I called this genre, dead.

Well after watching this I can happily report, we are back on the right road. I’m not the type of person who gets scared or jumpy, just the type of moviegoer who sits there entertained with a smile on his face. And watching this I had that smile on my face.

It’s not a perfect film but one I think did its job, and did it pretty well. I honestly was suppressed that it wasn’t one of those cheap horror thrills; we’ve gotten so much of lately.

The story uses Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amityville Horror fame) who where paranormal investigators as the vehicle to introduce and explain everything a regular viewer would need to know. It starts off with a real creepy short doll story, which sets the mood right away. It’s something fun to see, which also pops up again later one.

All in all the whole thing was just a real fun popcorn film. Sadly we didn’t have that so much this summer, but if your looking for a fun film to watch give this one a try.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (DJ's Take)

CLUMSY
Matthew Vaughn's 2010 film Kick-Ass is one of my favorite superhero movies ever.  It really breaks down the archetypes, underlying messages, and mythos of superheroes just as well as M. Knight Whats-his-face's Unbreakable did.  It pulled no punches and entertained from start to finish.  Even the low ticket sales for Kick-Ass didn't stop it from becoming a cult hit.  It is the pure definition of lightning in a bottle.  Unfortunately, lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice.  Kick-Ass 2 lends some credence to that old saying.  Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!  Easy fanboys.  I'm not saying Kick-Ass 2 is a bad film.  It's fun.  It's mostly entertaining.  Compared to it's predecessor though, the movie comes off as just a little too CLUMSY.

Not to sound presumptuous, but I kind of knew this was coming.  New writer/director?  Check.  Concept lacking initial luster and shock factor?  Check.  Actors who seem to have grown out of their characters age-wise and talent-wise?  Double check.  The writing was on the wall, but I hoped to be proven wrong.  Sadly, the magic of the first film is never fully recaptured in this sequel.  A very common occurrence with sequels as a whole.  The frustrating thing is that there are moments in Kick-Ass 2 that you start to feel the same joy of the original.  Then the movie quickly stumbles and squanders those moments.  It's like watching a newborn doe trying to walk or a child learning to ride a bike without the training wheels.  Just when you think they got it, they fall flat on their face.

Kick-Ass 2 is a victim of it's own genius.  The first Kick-Ass, in my opinion, should have been left as a stand-alone.  Yes, I know this film is based on creator Mark Millar's follow up comic book series aptly named Kick-Ass 2.  However, Hollywood is so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel that they don't stop to think if they should.  Yes, I'm indirectly quoting Dr. Ian Malcolm.  But it is to make a valid point.  For every Jaws, there is a Jaws 2.  For every Men In Black, there is a Men In Black 2.  Speed, The Sting, The Fly, The Matrix.  I could go one.  Some films hit the mark so perfectly the first time, it is best to just leave well enough alone.  I personally wish that thinking was used for Kick-Ass, because it pains me to see the sequel not live up to the expectations.

There are some interesting concepts attempted in the film that I was very enthusiastic to see.  Hit Girl trying to deal with high school sounds great on paper.  But even with the...how should I put this...messy end result, I felt a little shortchanged.  With all the emphasis of this movie obviously switching over to Hit Girl, you'd think the film would spend a little more time filling out that arc.  Chris D'Amico becoming the first ever supervillain sounds great on paper.  However, you don't get a fully fleshed out arc of him going to the darkside either.  It is done through quick disjointed scenes and a humorous but also rushed montage.  Even Kick-Ass himself joining a team of real world heroes is passed over so fast you don't get a chance to really enjoy it.  This is due to one of the main flaws I think this film has.  The running time.  With a film with so much more going on in it, you'd think it would be much longer than the original.  Not fifteen minutes shorter.  I know the impatient filmgoers/youth of today scoff at anything longer than two hours.  However, I can't help but think that this film needed a much longer running time to properly tell this story.  I mean, I haven't even mentioned that they try and pack in a storyline with Kick-Ass and his father, Hit Girl her surrogate father, a break up, a romance, an unrequited romance and a friends growing apart angle all in a film that is a smidge over an hour and a half.

The performances thankfully are one of the few things that don't decline in this sequel.  Aaron Johnson still delivers the comical awkwardness of Dave Lizewski.  You still pull for him and still believe in him.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse hams it up a lot, but you never get annoyed by it because it totally fits his character.  Jim Carrey, is not as delightfully quirky as Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy, but has a fun and surprisingly restrained performance.  ChloĆ« Grace Moretz's return to the character that put her on the map was the one thing I was initially worried about.  I've stated how much of a fan of her I am.  And she herself has proven to be a fine actress since.  However, time has erased much of the novelty of her age matched with her attitude in this role.  Thankfully, the strength, wit, and charm of Hit Girl are still brought to bear by Moretz and still makes her a great character.  Though maybe not a fresh one.  The story takes Hit Girl out of her element, as I mentioned before.  A take no prisoners superhero forced to deal with the hierarchies and cliques of high school?  Awesome!  And Moretz does a great job with what she is given.  It just feels hurried.  Thankfully Moretz will get a similar crack at this subject matter in her upcoming take on Carrie.

Moretz and all her fellow performers, however, suffer from a script that has too much expositing and too little clever dialogue.  A ratio that was clearly flipped in the original.  Speeches are given by these characters almost at nauseum.  And where it felt natural in Kick-Ass, it feels out of place here.  Don't believe me?  Drinking game then.  Take a shot whenever someone gives a overly wordy, long winded, score driven speech that completely stops the story's momentum.  I'm not talking about Dave's narration either.  It literally happens with Hit Girl in back to back scenes.  A character who is supposed to be the true definition of short and sweet.  She is supposed to show, not tell.  Writer/Director Jeff Wadlow navigates his way around these characters like a CLUMSY late night watchmen.  Matthew Vaughn would have guided them better on the page and behind the camera.

Kick-Ass 2 again is not a horrible film.  In a summer of disappointments, it ranks as just fine.  But for a film that is supposed to be the celebrated follow up to one of the most original superhero films ever made, it under-delivers.  It won't scar you like Green Lantern or upset you like The Amazing Spider-Man, but it certainly won't kick your ass.  Don your costume...stay away from sick sticks...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Cinema and Suds, A Film Quadruple-header and Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer


When I think of pizza I automatically think of beer.  Nothing goes better with a slice of pepperoni and mushroom than an ice cold beer.  We also know that beer goes with movies, but what happens when you combine pizza, beer, and movies?  Episode 2 of Cinema and Suds happens.

What I'm sure started out as a joke, has become a reality for beer and pizza lovers; PIZZA BEER!  Yes, pizza beer, folks.  A beer that tastes and smells like an actual pizza.  You might be thinking; were these people stoned when they came up with the concept to combine pizza and beer into one convenient 16 oz. bottle.  Probably, but you know what else goes great with pizza and beer.....I'll leave that up to you of course.

So, you got your Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer in your glass (hopefully a wine glass since this is such a classy beer) now it's time to pick a film.  You could go the safe route and pick "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" but where's the fun in that?  You've got a damn Pizza Beer in your hand!  Be adventurous, or since you're already pizza drunk (you might need a few of these since the ABV only clocks in at 4.7%) and don't care what you're watching, why not pop in one of these classics, and I have four of them for you today.

Why not start the night with "Date Night" starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell.  Continue on with "Superbad" followed up by "Spaceballs."  And why not finish up the night with "The Thing" considering the fact that by this time you'll be talking to Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer asking, "What is this thing?" Or, "How and why did they make this thing?"

Enjoy the video companion to this review, and check back every week for another edition of Cinema and Suds.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elysium (Matt's Take)

Elysium - Preaching
PREACHING


As the Summer movie season winds down, we start to enter this zone of thoughtful Summer fare where the lines are blurred between balls-to-the-wall action and films with a message.  When Fall movies begin to roll out in the next month or so we'll start to see legit Oscar contenders and not as many giant-robots-punching each-other-in-the-face films.  It's the natural order of things.  This brings me to "Elysium" a solid, yet heavy-handed, sci-fi epic from "District 9" director, Neill Blomkamp.

"Elysium" is the story of Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) a former car thief who now works for Armadyne, an infrastructure/munitions manufacturer for the aforementioned city in space.  An accident at Armadyne forces Max to seek the help of local hacker and gangster, Spider, who offers him a way up to Elysium if he puts on a metal exoskeleton that resembles what Mickey Rourke was wearing in "Iron Man 2."  Political intrigue, exotic sci-fi weapons, and weird accents are the highlights of "Elysium" which is a little ham-handed with the way in which it deals with class issues and immigration, but at least one movie this year will call out the elephant in the room we are all dealing with as a global society these days.

Coming from a middle class family and living a middle class life, I know the class gap is widening even as I write this sentence and who knows, one day there very well might a space station where all the rich One Percenters live, while the Earth degenerates into a cesspool of crime and poverty, hey, have you seen Detroit lately?

The one problem 'Elysium" definitely DOESN'T have is how it looks.  This broken vision of Los Angeles looks beautiful, on par with what Alfonso Cuaron did with London in "Children of Men." The world looks lived in and is populated with actual people, not CG fill-ins.  The fact that Blomkamp decides to shoot scenes in actual trash heaps and squalor shows his dedication to his world and how he intends on making it look. You feel gritty and grimy on your time on Earth, but funny enough, that grim and grit carries over when you visit the world of Elysium.  Despite it's pristine surface, there is a rotten underbelly to the wealthy off-planet with it's ID-scarred citizens and the use of primitive looking robot helpers offering cocktails and Hors d'oeuvres.  There is something off-putting about Elysium, but at the same time you have to ask yourself; would you prefer Elysium to Earth?  I think most of us would sympathize with the citizens of Elysium, who seem to be under attack a lot, even though these people were likely the cause of the Earth's plight in the first place.

The acting is solid in "Elysium" with Matt Damon leading the way.  But the real revelation is Sharlto Copley, who plays Kruger, a sleeper agent for Elysium's Secretary of Defense, played by Jodie Foster.  Copley plays a villain with deranged glee, almost of the level of Heath Ledger's Joker in "The Dark Knight."  Kruger is built up as a psychopath, which fits the bill nicely based on his enjoyment in his job, namely killing immigrants without a second thought.  But there is a certain mystery and sadness behind his eyes.  Was he a psychopath before he was made a sleeper agent or did years of death and Med-Pod treatments warp his mind into what we see on screen.  I'd love to see a prequel with just Kruger.


Speaking of Med-Pods, this brings me to another important aspect of the film; healthcare.  In the time of "Obamacare" and free healthcare for all citizens, at what cost could free healthcare mean for us as a society.  Yes, we all love free, but when government is in charge of what we put into our bodies just because it's free, is it plausible to believe that something could go bad.  Most of the citizens of Elysium seem to be in a haze, almost dead from the outside, as they live their carefree and safe lives.  Could too much exposure to medicine and these "Med-Pods" cause some long-term damage, and psychosis?  Take Kruger as an example.  In his line of work I'm sure he's met plenty of bullets, knives, lasers, and grenades where he's had to make some pit stops into a Med-Pod.  The "free" healthcare could have some side effects, couldn't it?

This is just me reading in-between the lines, and who knows, this could just be be preaching at this point as well, but Blomkamp has said, quote, "No, no, no.  This isn't science fiction.  This is today.  This is now."  Now who's preaching.

Bottom line, "Elysium" is a step in the right direction for "intelligent sci-fi," but with films being a medium for escape, especially during the Summer time, it's odd to see such a preachy film in August.  However, Blomkamp raises the question(s) as to what should we need to do in order to stop this potential future only 140 years away.  Are we doomed to live on Earth while the most wealthy skip town and leave us the scraps?  If Blomkamp is the minister to this sermon, we should listen up, but still keep an open mind and hope that there is still some humanity left in our future.

Fun Fact:  "Elysium" marks TriStar Picture's return to big budget pictures, their first since 1998's "The Mask of Zorro" who's budget was $95 Million, compared to $115 Million for "Elysium."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Elysium (DJ's Take)

ALLEGORICAL
Neill Blomkamp tops the list of my five favorite great directors of the future.  (Duncan Jones, Rian Johnson, Matt Reeves, and Josh Trank are the others)  His first film out of the box, District 9, is probably the most original, groundbreaking, sci-fi action film we've seen for two decades.  Though, that film's faux documentary style allowed Blomkamp some leeway to radically tell a story.  A style that worked like gangbusters.  However, I hoped and knew that Blomkamp wouldn't want to be pigeonholed to that type of filmmaking.  The question was how well could he tell a story in the more traditional fashion.  His sophomore effort Elysium proves that Blomkamp can be a multifaceted director.  However, he might need a bit more subtlety as a writer.  Because for all Elysium's pulse pounding action and jaw dropping visuals, its message seems to clumsily get in the way.

The concept is great.  The rich and affluent people of earth depart for a super advanced space station called Elysium.  There, food shortages, crime, and diseases are nonexistent.  A small group of earth rebels, led by a recently dying Matt Damon, fight to get up to Elysium before his time runs out.  An ALLEGORY that is clear enough to understand even for the normally oblivious.  However, Elysium's flaw is not allowing the audience to absorb the "We Are The 99%" ALLEGORY on its premise alone.  The film seems to beat you over the head with it over and over again.  So much so, the last three minutes become a montaged commercial for financial equality.  Now, I know what you're thinking.  District 9 is also based on the huge ALLEGORICAL message of racial inequality and South African apartheid.  However, I believe District 9's documentary style and alien creatures mask that film's message a bit smoother than Elysium.  Elysium suffers from not being able to sugarcoat what it wants to say.  Thus, distracting from and sadly short-changing all the things great about it.  And trust me, there is a lot of great here.   The world building is strong.  The acting is solid.  And the action is tremendously outstanding.

It always floors me how Blomkamp seems to make every action scene he does original, gritty and exciting.  No one does a clusterf%*k action scene like Neill Blomkamp.  NO!  NO!  Not Michael Bay.  Bay's action direction, admittedly one of the few things he does well, is hyper-stylized.  Blomkamp's action direction feels out of control.  Out of control in a good way.  You feel exhausted after each crazy entanglement Blomkamp puts you through.  Did you forget that mech suit battle in District 9?  His fights are sloppy, unpredictable, harrowing and great.  Elysium is no different in this regard.  The fighting style of the exosuits, the spaceship crashes, the corridor battles, the desert plain assaults.  They are all amazing.  Blomkamp also flexes his muscles again in the futuristic tech department.  He seems to always know how to introduce and use unique weapons and technologies just enough so we buy them as an audience, but not get bored of them.  Sanctimonious self indulgent statement here but...THEY DIDN'T WANT THIS GUY TO DO HALO!!!  DAMN IT!!!  Sorry.  It always bothers me.

As stated before, the performances are solid.  Matt Damon, while not breaking any new ground here, is still his usual charismatic self.  Jodie Foster playing a baddie always seems to vibe with me.  Though, her accent is a tad inconsistent.  A joyfully over the top performance by actor Wagner Moura as Spider also entertains.  However, there is one actor that steals EVERY SINGLE scene he is in.  One performance that people will talk about when they talk about Elysium.  And that is Sharlto Copley.  I was partially avoiding any spoilery trailers leading up to this film's release.   This led to my surprise when I saw Copley was in Elysium as much as he is.  He's Blomkamp's boy, so it makes all the sense in the world.  However, he isn't really promoted as much as he should be.  The guy completely owns this film.  After his role as the psychotic Kruger and his apparently terrific performance in Spike Lee's Old Boy, Copley has got to be a star on the rise.

Elysium is another strong sci-fi follow-up from Neill Blomkamp.  Its only sin is a slight difficulty to get out of the way of its own ALLEGORICAL message.  If you aren't prone to eye rolling from preachiness or a registered Republican, you'll enjoy the hell out of it.  Even if you are, you'll still be entertained.  Suit up...be careful of hand grenades to the face...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

True Stories: The Iceman

RUSHED
The thing about reviewing films based on a true story is you're usually limited to technical aspects of the film.  Barring some historical inaccuracy, the only fair thing to harp on is how the story is told.  Essentially because it all really happened.  You can't complain about an ending that really happened.  You can't complain about character choices that really happened.  You mainly hope that the way the filmmakers tell the story is compelling and that the actors give strong and truthful performances of their real life counterparts.  The Iceman, sadly, is a film that seems to fall just short of doing both of those things.

The story of The Iceman centers around the real life story of cold blooded mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski and how he keeps his murderous career a secret from his family.  Essentially, what if No Country For Old Men's Anton Chigurh on his off days was Danny Tanner from Full House.  It is as terrific a set up and interesting a story for any film.  Just as the plot for that gets started, just as you are ready to see the rise of this hitman through the mob ranks and the elaborate lies he must concoct in order to remain the unassuming patriarch of his family, the film starts a two hour journey to RUSH past both elements clumsily.  And it doesn't stop.  Both selling points the movie has are handled either through stunted montages or RUSHED time jumps.

One minute, Richard has just entered the world of contract killing.  The next minute, he is a seasoned pro.  All the ins and outs of being an effective hitman and rising through the ranks as the number one mob soldier are skipped over or RUSHED.  A counter to that criticism could be that the film isn't about the contract killing.  Maybe it is about the family dynamic throughout.  Fine.  One minute Richard is a brand new father struggling to get he and his wife a better place to live.  The next minute, he has a second teenage child and they're all living in a house in the suburbs.  All his lies to his wife and kids and all of the moments you want to see from a guy leading a dubious double life are skipped over or RUSHED.  Maybe the film isn't supposed to be about the double life stuff either.  Maybe it is about Richard's cold blooded nature and the horrible past that leads to the apropos title of this film.  A true character study of a sociopath.  Well, the structure of the film short circuits that by being mum about his upbringing until a sudden exposition dump in one scene.  There is a pivotal part where the normally cold blooded murderer Richard discovers a young teenager has witnessed him killing someone.  He decides to let her go.  Why?  It is alluded to later, but to that point the film had done nothing to hint at this character having a conscience.  Basically the opposite, in fact.  It hadn't earned that moment.  My point is that if these dynamics of Richard Kuklinski's life were focused on or fleshed out more instead of sped through, the film would have had a clearer direction.

The cast for The Iceman is of a particularly high quality but a bit misplaced.  Michael Shannon, or as I like to call him, Willem Dafoe 2.0, is the centerpiece of this film.  As much as I do like him as an actor, I am not certain of him in the part of Richard Kuklinski.  Now don't get me wrong.  The lack of anything but intensity behind his eyes make him perfect as the murderous hitman.  He has made a career of playing people like that.  However, Shannon is somewhat unconvincing as a loving husband and father.  I mean ladies, are you really going home with THIS GUY?  This goes again to my previous dilemma of criticizing true stories.  Perhaps Kuklinski was as stoic a dad as he was in this film.  I'm not sure.  However, I can't help but wonder how better the movie would have been served if someone like a Thomas Jane, a Josh Brolin or a Mickey Rourke was cast as Kuklinski.  Someone you can buy portraying both facets of the man's life.   Winona Ryder plays the oblivious wife Deborah.  Ryder is fine here but her chemistry with Shannon is marginal at best.  And though the film wants to split time between home life and mob life, Deborah's relationship with Richard still feels too short changed.  Right when we start to get a solid emotional scene between the two of them, it ends unceremoniously.  The cast is rounded out by an odd Chris Evans, an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer, a very recognizable James Franco, Stephen Dorff, and Ray Liotta.  Liotta, a man who's best role was in a film that had the structure I wish this film would have had.

As true stories go, The Iceman isn't a particularly high ranking one.  The disjointed and RUSHED method the story is told really hamstrings what this film could have been.  The story of Richard Kuklinski is still best told by the man himself in the HBO documentary Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman.  However, if you happen upon the story's one dramatization, try to keep up...look out for ice cream trucks...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Simplistic Reviews Presents: Cinema and Suds, Hot Fuzz and New Belgium Sunshine Wheat


It's not a mystery that beer goes with anything.  Just ask your drunk uncle when he shows up at Thanksgiving having started at 6 am, reading The Washington Post while on the toilet.  Hey man, Miller Time is any time! So with that image of your uncle on the toilet in mind, get ready for "Cinema and Suds" a new weekly series from Simplistic Reviews.

To kick things off, the work of Edgar Wright meets craft beer from Colorado as "Hot Fuzz" is paired with New Belgium's Sunshine Wheat Ale, a refreshing ale brewed with spices.  "Fuzz," starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, are cops in a sleepy English town, but as people start ending up dead in some particular gruesome ways, a conspiracy is uncovered that the unlikely duo must thwart.  What does this have to do with New Belgium Sunshine Wheat?  Well, nothing really, but I'll try and make something up to give it credence.

"Fuzz" is a fun film where you can turn your brain off and enjoy it as an action parody, which it's meant to be.  Sunshine is a low ABV beer (ABV is short for Alcohol By Volume, of course) clocking in at 4.8% so you can knock back quite a few during the course of "Fuzz."  Or hey, play a drinking game whenever mention is made to "Point Break," "Bad Boys," or "Bad Boys 2."  That would be perfectly acceptable with Sunshine Wheat.

Enjoy the video companion to this review, and check back every week for another edition of Cinema and Suds.

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