Archive for the Action Category

MAN OF STEEL, STEALS MY CHILDHOOD

Posted in Action, Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 06/18/2013 by joycereview

3--clawsmanofsteelMAN OF STEEL.  REVIEW 043

It’s been over 3 years since I’ve reviewed a film.  After seeing Zack Snyder‘s remodeling of the Man of Steel, and the dismantling of a personal childhood hero, I felt compelled to get back into the game; at least one more time.

I think most of us thought the trailer was phenomenal. Am I right?  And sensationally reviewed or not, I was going to sit in that theater and watch Superman fly into space, back into our lives and consciousness again.

Now, I don’t consider myself very resistant to change – but as I sat in that theater, I could feel my body cringe and the lightness in my heart sadden (similar to the feeling I had with George Lucas’ changes in Star Wars).

I needed to face some facts.  The viewing audiences are not the same as they were, nor are the studio executives and movie critics of Hollywood.  Critics don’t want to stand against a film, obviously because there is more exposure and more money in promotion.  Directors are becoming fixated on smoke & mirrors (CGI), diluting the story and disrupting the pace in order to keep viewers stimulated.  What they miss (when they follow this formula) is that people go to the theater to be “moved” (as James Lipton once put it).  Man of Steel, although superbly cast, is over-stimulating, devoid of humor, and re-invents Kal-El as a confused and somewhat immature orphan.

MY QUICK OVERVIEW

“I think it’s safe to say that Christopher Reeve still holds the mantle, that simplicity is best, and that 2-hours of special effects and blowing stuff up doesn’t amount to one General Zod being flung into a big Coca-Cola sign.”

THE BEGINNING (No ‘real’ Spoilers)

The malaise began immediately – no John Williams music*, no traditional Superman opening – instead, we go straight to Kal-El’s birth (and labor is just as just as painful on Krypton as it is on Earth).  Was that a spoiler?  I apologize if it was.

After Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends his son to planet Earth, we meet a seemingly steriod-laden ‘Clark Kent’ (Henry Cavill) [who actually didn’t go by that name in order to hide his identity] as he helps man a fishing vessel.  I was confused to see that there were no ‘crystals’ to speak of on Krypton or in Superman’s possession, and a mode of Kryptonian transportation is a flying komodo dragon (very ‘Avatar’ of Synder/Goyer/Nolan).

THE CHARACTERS

general zod man of steel-1One of the saving graces of this film is due to the fact that it is star-studded, with each actor delivering a great performance.  It is a bit concerning, however, that the 13 year old Clark exhibits more emotion and depth than the main star.  But with that aside, Laurence Fishburne makes an excellent Perry White, Amy Adams Lois Lane, Diane Lane Martha Kent, Kevin Costner Jonathan Kent, and the list goes on.

Being a fan of the strong women in films, I greatly enjoyed Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who plays the Kryptonian ‘right hand’ of General Zod (Michael Shannon).  But if you’re going to have General Zod and play on the banishment into the Phantom Zone, then why not have Ursa and Non (from Superman & Superman II)?  If you’re going to have Perry White and Lois Lane, why no Jimmy Olsen?  Did Snyder/Goyer/Nolan want the movie devoid of any comic relief (apart from the unneeded ‘measuring dicks’ remark from Lois Lane)?

THE SENSE OF URGENCY

superman helicopter sceneA strong element that I feel should be attached to any action film is a sense of urgency, suspense, or of possible death.  In Superman you had the intense helicopter scene where Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is tangling from a seat belt.  In Superman II, you had 3 super villains hell-bent on provoking Superman through the destruction and killing of Metropolis citizens.  Superman had to change the battlefield, he had to use brain over brawn in order to save lives.  In Superman Returns, the ‘Man of Steel’ saves Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) yet again, this time in a Boeing-Space Shuttle Launch catastrophe – not to mention, 2 near drownings, a Kryptonite shiv stuck in his side by Lex Luthor (Keven Spacey), and Superman’s death/’resurrection’.

CHEMISTRY

Iron Man has Pepper Potts, Spiderman has Mary Jane Watson, and Superman has Lois Lane.  Love, whether guys like it in their films or not, is a potent ingredient when it comes to film.  On-Screen chemistry is a hard thing to pull off in a lot of cases.  Some have it and some don’t.  However, in Man of Steel, there wasn’t enough time and attention to the Superman-Lois Lane story to feel that love was even possible.  But maybe ‘Love’ wasn’t what the director and writers were going for?

As someone who dabbles in script-writing himself, I don’t think we should simply ‘forgive’ Goyer/Nolan for this problem and I don’t think the audience should overlook the importance of this connection.  You must remember, Nolan played the same trick on us with the last Batman movie.  How did Catwoman go from unobtainable, pesky thief to finally locking lips with Batman in the end?  Shouldn’t Bruce Wayne find that odd or suspect?  Again, I suppose a kiss at the end of the movie is all studios think we want out of two attractive actors.

DIRECTION

Both Richard Donner and Bryan Singer are directors who care deeply for story.  They go to great lengths to make sure that their actors understand the characters of the film and the tone, mood and intensity at which they want their actors to play their respective parts.  To be fair, there is so much that goes on behind-the-scenes between directors, producers and studios that criticisms are merely opinions on the final product; nothing more.  Why was there nearly 45 minutes of non-stop action in the third act of Man of Steel?  Was it because they wanted to show us something new (which they did not) as far as visual effects, or did they do it to cover weaknesses to the story?

STORY-TELLING

The integral component to any movie is story.  Ideas, themes, scenes can be amazingly brilliant – but if there is little-to-no originality, if it’s un-relatable, and/or has no consistency, the film may be doomed to fail.  The way for audiences to relate to Superman is through Clark Kent.  Yes, Snyder/Goyer/Nolan gave us flashbacks of young Kent being bullied, and learning that he was an alien – and maybe the placement was decent (given the pace of the film) – but it wasn’t enough for the audience (in my opinion) to understand how these feelings changed his constitution, challenged and helped to form his sense of right and wrong.

When it comes to original, forward-thinking ideas, I thought the movie was shallow.  Krypton had a Matrix-like incubation chamber, villians that climbed after Superman using The Hulk method, and I already mentioned the flying dragons of Avatar.  In Superman II, Mario Puzo‘s story had Superman outsmarting the General Zod and his entourage by reversing the direction of his radiation chamber, deceiving both the villians and the audience at the same time.  I won’t spoil it for those that see Man of Steel, but let me just say that General Zod meets his end not-so-spectacularly. It left both my wife and I looking at each other going, “huh!? well,… alrighty then.”  On thing it certainly reminded me of was Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises and the seemingly obvious way at which he ‘permanently dispatched’ Bane.  Any warrior knows to go to his enemies’ weakness, and Bane clearly had a breathing problem (sorry if that was a spoiler, but the Dark Knight’s been out for a year!).

MUSIC*

I can’t believe I forgot about the music [I’m a fitting this in several days later].  While John Williams’ epic tracks continue to be what people hum when they think of Superman, Hans Zimmer didn’t do a bad job at all.  Hans has a great understanding of rhythm, pace, and mood and thereby, creates a superb soundtrack to a less-than-mediocre movie.  The sound is bold and original and would definitely be something I’d listen to at home.  My only criticism is that I wish it had a small resonation, an echo, of Williams’ theme(s).  I don’t believe, especially when it comes to Superman, that to incorporate the old with the new (in this situation) would be “taking the easy road” or plagiarism, but of a musical collaboration.

A QUICK ASIDE

Singer ComicbookMovieComI have even more respect for Bryan Singer’s vision, Superman Returns (2006).  Some of the reasons why people didn’t like Singer’s version is are: too close to Donner/Lester’s version, Brandon Routh’s portray was too like Christopher Reeve, it was too heavy with the the love triangle and with the Christ mythology/symbology.  As Singer explained to Ed Gross (2011. ComicBookmovie.Com),

…I am very much in love with the Donner picture, and for me the journey was exciting because I got the chance to reprise those images and explore it. When you’re fascinated by something and you love it, part of making the movie is trying to please everyone and make a successful movie, but part of it is an experimental kind of thing.”

In Singer’s version, there is a sense of peril, urgency, and you truly felt for the characters involved – partly because they are extensions of the characters we know and love.  The Boeing/Space shuttle scene that reintroduces Superman to the world was genius, nail-biting, unique and nostalgic.  A good example (Superman) of this

“I hope this hasn’t put any of you off flying.  Statistically speaking…”

Great nod to the original.  It was almost as if Mr. Reeve was mouthing the words.  It sure felt good to hear those words again.

FINAL WORD

It will do me some good to get some time and distance from this film.  It might seem silly to some, but writing has always been a cathartic and certainly stress-relieving experience for me.  It’s a difficult thing for any director to tackle – especially trying to live up the the expectations of the 8 year-old inside me.  But on the other hand, I don’t feel like I was asking too much.  What I got from Man of Steel was mind-numbing action with only glimpses of greatness thrown in here and there (i.e. the touching scene w/ Mr. Kent and young clark, the school bus scene); all of which were in the opening trailer.  I will have to come to terms with this I know… because I share Bryan Singer’s thought (as he said to the Voices of Krypton), that my idea of a great Superman film “would simply be a reboot” of Donner’s (/Puzo’s) visions with “balls-to-the-wall” action sequences*

Of course, done the right way!

by: MICHAEL JOYCE

Also of: CombativeCorner.Com, OutFoxxed.Com & YourTherapy.Info

MOVIE DETAILS

WARNER BROS.  2006

PG-13.  TIME: 2 HOURS 28 MIN.

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

PLEASE OFFER YOUR THOUGHTS OF THE FILM BELOW

Advertisements

THE HURT LOCKER :: ACTION :: 036

Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller, War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/09/2010 by joycereview

What looks like a sandbox and smells like poop?

Give up?  Answer: The Hurt Locker.

But like sandboxes and pooping… The Hurt Locker can be a little bit of fun.

If you think about it, sand is fun to build stuff with, but in essence, there’s nothing grand about it; it’s just tiny rocks.  And pooping…let’s face it, is sometimes an inconvenience, but at the very least, gives you a well-deserved break from your job, day-to-day stessors, and like all us typical Americans, overeating.  The Hurt Locker is fun at points, but there’s nothing too deep about it.

And in comparison to pooping – a  break from your daily “duties” , but might be a bit of “a waste” [look at that! A double pun!].  Watcher beware.

THE BEAR ESSENTIALS

US Army Sergeant First Class Will James (Jeremy Renner) joins Bravo Company in Iraq, having only a month or so left till they are relieved.  Sgt. James is a bomb disposal expert sent to replace former Bravo leader Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce).  Sgt. James’ “cowboy approach” to bomb disposal clashes poorly with squad members Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty ); whose main objective it to return home in one piece.

Don’t be fooled by my ‘poop’ simile, The Hurt Locker, is brilliant in several ways.  One particular example of brilliance lies within the character of SFC Will James, who (somehow) operates the battlefield with a searing focus.  He resembles Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down*; someone not overly concern with death, but of getting the job done, by whatever means possible.  The role of “The Bomb Specialist,” in his huge, protective suit resembles an astronaut exploring a foreign planet.  This image is one that cinematically paints an atmosphere of isolation and danger, and portrays Sgt. James as a heroic figure on a perilous mission.  From this, one can easily tell that the director has a flair for the artistic [she actually spent 2 years at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painter].

The second dose of “the spectacular” comes in the overall “vibe” of the film.  Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break) gives us a glimpse of Iraq without the politics; a battle on simple terms – Man vs. his fear of death.  The bombs that they are there to defuse are the very similar the the bombs they carry with themselves day-to-day through the war… either you adapt/disconnect the wiring, or you eventually detonate.

Where this movie fails (in this reviewer’s opinion) is mainly in Bigelow’s artistic styling, lack of supporting details and character traits.

Bigelow (the ex-wife of “Action film great” James Cameron) is fair, not great, as an action director.  Artistic action, such as Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, masterfully conveys depth and is clearly, poetry in motion.  Ridley Scott (Gladiator, G.I. Jane), on the other hand, is a veteran director whose directorial wizardry gives the eyes the full extent of light and motion, without overload.  Bigelow performs nicely with scenes involving tention, but nothing beyond what one might catch in an episode of 24.

At one point in the film, while under enemy fire, the camera fixates – in slow motion – on a bullet shell as it discharges from the sniper rifle, spins in the air and bounces on the desert sand.  The next shot, showed both the sniper and spotter, as the spotter looks through his binoculars and utters, “You got him [the bad-guy].”  With the consistently mounting tension of the scene, most viewers would be clamoring  for the result… for the bloody aftermath of that final shot… Bigelow just handed us a heaping handful of failure.   Word verification of a kill?  Only?  (Sheesh!)

Finally, (and there are certainly more concerns that reduced this film to a 6) I don’t understand the point of many of these bomb defusings.  I wouldn’t think a deserted road of sand and rubble merits a soldier’s life.  Certainly the main character wants to MacGyverishly defuse a record number of bombs in his extraordinary career, but don’t they have “bomb containment boxes/chambers”?  Why risk life and limb over such a small thing?  Why not walk up to the bomb, plant some c4 explosives on top of “the threat” and detonate (after clearing the area of bystanders/civilians of course)?  Never any explanation from the film.  Also, why the cumbersome and stuffy protective suit?  Either way, suit or naked, you’re as good as dead if you cut the wrong wire.   At least if you’re naked you would have a better chance of running to safety.

In conclusion… not a total dud, wonderful at parts, but not “explosive” enough for me.  Only 2 hrs. and 7 minutes, but felt like 3.

Let us hear what you thought!

* * *

*Kathryn Bigelow is noted for casting Tom Sizemore (i.e. Point Break, Strange Days).  I didn’t know this when I made the comparison to Sgt. Will James and Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down.  This connection was made after noticing this little bit of trivia at IMDB.com.  Must have been used as character model (at least in some capacity).

AVATAR :: SCI-FI :: 033

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/12/2010 by joycereview

Alien worlds fascinates me.  They always have.  Pandora is the closest we’ve been able to get to that world cinematically.  Jim Cameron’s vision delighted me on all levels and was perhaps, the most fun that I’ve had in the theaters wearing dorky 3d glasses.

It’s obvious through his films that the mind of Cameron is a colossal wonderland, full of floating islands, 6-legged horses, brightly-colored pterodactyls, and the blue-skinned, golden-eyed Na’vi.  At least this was the latest of Cameron’s dreams to be shared with us…  a dream tucked away for more than a decade.  In 2005, he revisited the script and agreed that it was time.  What emerged? You’ll have to see it to believe it!

THE BEAR BONES

Following the death of his twin brother, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington; Terminator Salvation), steps into a unique position to continue his brother’s project and travel to the amazing world of Pandora.  The mission is for Scully to inhabit a lab-grown-replica body (known as an “Avatar”) of both his twin and of the Pandorian race known as the Na’vi and to infiltrate the tribe and negotiate an exodus, away from an area rich in an Earth-rescuing mineral known as “unobtanium.”  Trigger-happy Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) strikes a deal with Sully to gather intel on the Na’vi in return for post-mission spinal surgery.  Cheif Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) wants diplomacy (only because it looks better), and scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens) wants to truly understand the biology and hidden mysteries of Pandora.  As the Avatar, Jake Sully forms a bond with the Na’vi and must make his choice;  stand with his new family, or help the human race blunder Pandoria’s most precious resource.

As a movie-loving public, we’ve seen literally hundreds of movies.  In my case, (and as so many others film-nuts) we’ve seen thousands.  Themes and scenes, especially the good ones, always stand out.  It was apparent to in this film that connections can be made with the following: Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, and even Braveheart.  The world of Pandora was a cross between the amazon rainforest and a coral reef.  The Na’vi were a cross between native american indians (I don’t mean to lump you all together) and african tribes.  The “horses” a cross between a seahorse, and a regular horse – add a pair of legs.  The flying creatures of Pandora were pterodactyls with the head of a savannah monitor.  But the question we must ask ourselves is “does our knowledge of these traits/similarities take away from the film?”  The answer is “no friggin’ way.”

It was explained to me a long time ago, that there is very little in the world that we would fail to assign complete uniqueness to.  To this theory, I agree.  Many years ago, when phones were the size of a Tom Clancy hardback we watched in awe as Kirk and Spock had what looked to be my first Motorola flip-top cellphone.  That debuted in 1966!  From then on we become desensitized to technology and even of artistic creations (to some point).  Had Cameron and his visual artists created creatures, machines and contraptions without a likeness to images of our time, our minds would be quite likely to reject it.  For Avatar, a thin line had to be threaded in order to lock our collective minds into a state of belief and wonderment.  Cameron performed like a surgical Annie Oakley due to his experience, years in film and the fact that his body is made of 60%water and 40% of awesome!

Do you want to know why there are no more Jim Cameron’s in the world?  I’ll tell you why!  Answer:  Because he’s a nerdy woman in the body of a good-looking man.  He’s a tree-hugging, technology-embracing, liberal – not just for alien rights but for universal equality.  It’s a widely-known fact that most powerful men place other powerful men as heroic characters in their stories.  Cameron simply changes the gender and leaves the balls.  Sigourney became the first of Hollywood’s top heroines by way of her role in Alien, and as if she were acquiring more balls along the way, Aliens (the sequel).  Aliens even had Jenette Goldstein playing the toughest female marine in cinema history as Lt. Vasquez.  (Note the enormous similarity of Goldstein to Avatar’s Michelle Rodriquez)  … Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in both Terminator 1 & 2.  (She was so bad-ass in T2, that Jim married her!) Even Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic can be seen as unsteriotypically masculine… just in the bold, strong, take charge way… not in the “I bust a cap in alien asses”-type way (obviously!).  Now… we have Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), playing Neytiri, the warrior princess of the Omaticaya Clan.  Blue, fierce and dead sexy!  I remember as a kid I had a crush on Betty Rubble of the Flintstones (yes, the cartoon version), but if the 10 year old in me where to react hormonally (after seeing Neytiri) he’d run out into the woods, risking an arrow of neurotoxic death.

Before viewing Avatar, I had (and still have) some reservations on the use of CGI.  Call me old-school (again), but motion capturing, CGI and the lot can never truly portray what an actor or actress can do.  Recreation is not creation.  CGI gives control and is cost effective but can only be a reflection and a refraction of what a performer creates.  E.T. was more-or-less a sock puppet, but was as real to me today as it was when I was a kid.  The creations of Avatar will always stay with me.  Not just because Earth is “played out” and I want to move to Pandora, but because the CGI realism of Avatar finally hit the mark of believability.  What is key is that we put this technology in the hands of skilled samurai (i.e. James Cameron, Peter Jackson) and not in baby, knife-wielding hacks (i.e. Michael Bay).

I agree 95.8% with my fellow critic, Colin (read his Avatar review at: Cineaste John) when he says,

“I felt like I was on the same emotional journey as Jake Sully.  I felt for the Na’vi.  I felt for Hometree and the Omaticaya.  I felt that the true struggle for Jake Sully, a born-and-bread Marine, suddenly feeling like everything he once knew and was trained to be was savage and inhumane.  Avatar was everything I’d hoped it to be and more.”

It wasn’t a far leap for me (being skinny, tall and good-looking in blue)… but Avatar will always be a film that I feel connected to – for its messages of environmental responsibility, diplomacy, and the fact that it’s far less cool to be human.  At least we can dream.  For the less and unimaginative folk, Cameron holds us up to the viewfinder… and what an awe-inspiring view it is.

Leave your paw-print below!

  • What was your thought on the film?
  • What would you rate it personally?

THE LINES ARE OPEN…

CHE :: FOREIGN :: 032

Posted in Action, Documentary, Drama, Foreign, Special Interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/05/2010 by joycereview

After seeing the film, The Motorcycle Dairies, I knew I had to learn more about the man, the humanitarian, the revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Steven Soderbergh’s Che (initially split into Che: The Argentine and Che: Guerrilla) is a beautiful, yet somewhat laboring look (pt 1= 134 minutes; pt. 2= 135 minutes) at the asthmatic doctor who fought so hard for the “miserable and alienated” and who becomes not only Latin America’s most legendary revolutionary leader but also one of the most iconic faces for freedom and liberty the world over.

Che is played by Benicio Del Toro with a searing elegance and believability that won him the Best Actor Award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  Fidel Castro, played by Demian Bichir, was a revelation to watch, and (I felt) the Chilean sensation, Santiago Cabrera fit the role of loyal Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos most perfecto!

The entire movie was filmed like a window into the past.  The action was gritty, emotional and in-your-face.  The dialogue throughout the entire will was approximately 98% Spanish and besides a few notables (Franka Potente and Matt Damion), nearly the entire cast of the film was hispanic.

A BEAR OF A QUOTE

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.  It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.

If I am to be as honest as my nature compels me to be, I’d have to say that Che is on my list as one of the Top 5 films of 2008-2009.  The only noticeable flaw (if you know history) is that Che was of average height 5’9 (quite perfect for a guerilla soldier) and no where near the 6 foot 3 inch-sasquatch-ness of Del Toro.  So although Benicio could channel the spirit and essence of the ‘Che’, somehow, and quite disappointingly, he couldn’t make himself smaller.

The next blunder comes when Soderbergh gives us over 4 hours of action, history, and brilliant acting.  I mean, who wants to attach their phat fannies to the sofas for that length of time?  Well… I did.  And I’m sure there are lots of history buffs and Leftists out there that would too.  Not-to-mention the godless communist scum* that I’m sure still need someone to look up to (even though all of this took place half a century ago).

Okay, if I had to pick one truly sour point in the film… which was no big deal really… it was that each part (remember, the movie was split into Che’s time in Cuba [part uno] and in Bolivia [part dos]) began with a map of the country – slowly highlighting the different regions and names of the cities and towns.  If they had used a more photographic and stylish image, perhaps overlaying it with old photos each city/town/village/region, your attention might not go towards how heavy your eyelids are (especially at the very onset of such a terrific film).  I was surprised to see there were no opening credits during this time!  I don’t know why that was… but even a flash or brief flicker of an actor’s name might have woken me from the dreary and drab geography lesson.

Had Benicio not taken the role, Che might have been handed to Val Kilmer.  And had we a gringo playing such a legendary figure, we might just have had… I don’t know… Ben Affleck playing Camilo and even though he kinda looks like him if he grew a big, mangy beard, I would have had half a mind to start a revolution of my very own.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

*eventhough ‘Che’ was Marxist-Communist and was in fact ‘godless’ (when asked, Do you believe in God? Che answered, “I believe in mankind”) I don’t mean all godless communists in a bad way.  The whole “scum” at the end was meant to imply “the frothy goodness.”  Wait a minute, that’s “skim.”  Whatever.

DISTRICT 9 :: ACTION :: 031

Posted in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/31/2009 by joycereview

I’ll certainly be standing at the gun barrel for my review of this film, but let me spell it out for you if you are using this review as a nudge towards “should I stay or should I go?”

I’m very old-school when it comes to science fiction.  I treasure story-line and style in my sci-fi flicks like I treasure Texas Pete hot sauce in my morning eggs.  If an alien is to be the center-point of any story, they best be either scary (H.R. Giger’s Alien), interesting/realistic (Roswell), cute (E.T.) or a combination or these, to keep my interest.  It could be an obvious sock-puppet-alien, but if the story is intriguing and is shot in a stylistic fashion, I just might, one day, own it on dvd or (the testament for a truly epic filmblu-ray.

THE BEAR BONES

Twenty-eight years ago, an alien spacecraft hovered above the city.  Military raided the ship and found ill and malnutritioned aliens aboard.  They were given refuge at a camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, known as District 9.  The year is 2010 and District 9 has deteriorated into a militarized slum and it is the job of the munitions corporation, MNU (Multi-National United) and operations manager Wikus van der Merwe to evict the alien tenants.  However, during the operation somethings goes wrong and Wikus must save his own skin… and rescue his new-found brothers.

Before I begin to rip District 9 a new alien butt-hole, I have to begin by saying that there is a deeper layer to this film that many of us North American’s (for the most part) cannot appreciate.  If you don’t know about Apartheid in South Africa, please read A Subtle Knife’s article, “Becoming the Alien: Apartheid, Racism and District 9.”  And although I appreciate this aspect of the film, my critical conscience will not allow this film to escape on the basis of it’s social, historical and political underlining.

As I sit here writing, I am being uber-nerdish.  Moving my fanny to-and-fro to the Star Wars IV Cantina song, I am thinking just what could have made this movie a Joyce Review success?  My answer:

  1. Don’t lie to me via the movie’s trailer. The one I saw was short and sweet.  The government had an alien in what looked like an interrogation room.  The alien, so disgusting he was cute, said, “shrump, sher, chularp, twanp.”  Translation: “We just want to go home.”  (awww!) Instantly my heart hurt for the poor gargantuan cockroach and thought this was going to be a fascinating movie with the aliens being held hostage – not that they were so pathetically weak and stupid they couldn’t get back and repair their ship.
  2. Make the Multi-National United actually consist of united, multi-nationals.  If aliens make themselves known, and there is money to be made and research to be had… you better bet your sweet behind that America will be present (not to mention the UK, Germany, France and Russia).
  3. Build a friggin’ wall! Confining a couple million aliens to a refugee camp will take more than a metal fence and barbed wire.  At one point in the film, Wikus actually sneaks into District 9 by crawling under the fence!  Oh, you poor aliens.  You can build and hide secret, underground, laboratories but you can’t arouse a single en-force mutiny or break out?
  4. Create realistic tensions. Racism amongst humans is absurd, but when you have aliens as ugly, irrational and temperamental as this, absurd becomes understandable.  If we know the capabilities of their weaponry, wouldn’t we be a little more kind to them, since we know that a) there may be more of them somewhere; b) they could find a way to leave; c) since they can be hostile, and are quite strong they could cause a rebellion; or d) find a way to leave and return to destroy us?  It is for the same reason we don’t intentionally anger our dentist.  Yes some can be sadists, bent on causing pain to us lesser mortals… but they are usually more intelligent than you or me and does us a decent service.  My feeling is that the world would have seen them as a great nuisance and threat, and would come to the consensus of termination/extermination.

District 9 did satisfy me in a couple of aspects.  It took itself lightly (for the most part) and gave the audience a likable protagonist in Wikus Van De Merwe.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a South African version of Martin Short and Steve Carell?  Personally, I would have liked more backstory.  Had the aliens been able to communicate anything to us other then their love for cat food… maybe it would have earned another bear print (but maybe not)?  Are they scientists, soldiers, or explorers?  Do they have a leader? Do they have similar anatomy/physiology as humans or are they just as we see them, armored Jar-Jar Binkses with octopus lips?  District 9 was entertaining but did not make its way into my top 10 alien films, and is quite far down on my list of sci-fi favorites.  I think I’ll re-watch Blade Runner now.

Just how wrong do you think I am?  Drop your comments below!

and remember…..

*** CHANCE TO WIN A FREE DVD ***

Winning is easy.  Simply write out your thoughts on this, or any other review on The Joyce Review and you are instantly entered into a monthly drawing.  Winners are picked at random and qualify if their comment meets the criteria: no vulgar language, no disrespecting the other commenters or myself, and offering at the very least a two sentence comment.  Winners will be announced privately through an email and will be asked for a mailing address and dvd genre preference.  Tell your friends and join in our film discussions!

TERMINATOR SALVATION :: ACTION :: 030

Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/26/2009 by joycereview

James Cameron has my complete sympathies.  It must feel like the lose of a beloved family pet… or maybe it’s like a divorce (he’s had four of them) to have his creation ransacked like this.  At least in a divorce he knows his matrimonial future is bright (come on, he’s James Cameron).  But putting the film in the hands of (let me just quote Bale’s inspiring words to his director of photography) “f#@%^*$ amateurs” was a move that even I wouldn’t have predicted.

The crux of Terminator Salvation is set in the year 2018.  John Connor, the leader of the human resistance against Skynet and the machines known as Terminators.  Connor’s world is rattled when he comes face-to-face with Marcus Wright, a stranger whose existence questions all he was lead to believe.

Terminator Salvation, although much grittier and explosive in Hollywood terms, lacks heart… just one of the elements this film was trying to bring back to the Terminator franchise.  Story, character, mood and atmosphere are sacrificed for the sake of pace and action.  Here are a couple of the rules when making a Terminator sequel:

RULE #1: Don’t hire a man named McG.  Besides his name be pretentious and lacking of any vowels, his claim to fame was Sugar Ray’s “Fly” music video.  Then he ruined a guilty pleasure of mine when he directed Charlie’s Angels 2.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why.

RULE #2: Hire actors based on professional ability, and almost as importantly… plausibility. There’s no way that squeaky teen John Connor would grow up to sound like a cross between Rambo and Batman.  Oh wait… it’s just Christian Bale doing the only “intimidating” voice he can do.

(recently added) RULE #3:  Re-watch the previous Terminator movies beforehand.  When Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) asks Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) what it’s like in the future… his reply is “We stay down by day…”.  So why was so much of T4 shot in daylight? A movie such as this lives and dies based on its story.  Why is it when we ask bacon and eggs, McG hands us a cold waffle?

Young John Connor was played by the puberty-ridden Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 and every fan has a memory of him as he squeals, “Dyson! Miles Dyson! She’s gonna blow him away!”  I’ve heard that war can change a man, but a transformation from the only John Connor we (fans) have been able to accept to the one that Christian Bales tries to pull off is ludicrous and wrong.  I would have suggested he lean towards his work as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho; someone complex and explosive rather than drab and angry.

Despite the numerous connections to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, nostalgia could not become Terminator Salvation‘s “salvation.”  The Guns N’ Roses song, “You Could Be Mine,” John resorting to his ATM-hacking skills, and a much anticipated cameo by the T-101 (Ah-nuld!) are but three examples of where this movie succeeds.  In this respect, the movie re-connects with true-blooded fans… but the rest plays out like your typical video game.

Terminator Salvation was the first of the four Terminator films to be given a rating of PG-13.  Obviously this was to increase the viewing demographic.  But we realists know that any post-apocalyptic future, without a doubt, would be darker, and much more savage (see Mad Max, The Roadwarrior).  When will we stop sacrificing creativity and vision for a box office draw?  And an equally justifiable question, “Why would you re-hire writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, writers of the epic failure Terminator 3: Rise of The Machine? The absurdity of this baffles the mind.  But then again, George W. Bush can get re-elected, and the “Flock of Seagulls” hairstyle can come back in fashion (see, Twilight).

Terminator Salvation, as much a let-down as it was, did have some positive aspects.  Both actors Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese) and Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright) did a fine job and as any action fan would be, I am always eager to see Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall) in what is always an intensely fearsome performance.

The biggest plus, and the reason why the movie received 5 claws and not 4 is due to the thrill that comes with good special effects.  Whether we think another director could have filled Cameron’s shoes better or not, McG does provide some amazing visuals.  Yes, I’m giving this over-hyped “phenom” a cookie in this respect… deal with it!  Heck, on a second viewing, I might call him the “cookie monster”… but undeniably the fault is not with the direction but with the writing.  This story (or lack of story) only leaves me believing that the human resistance is futile, and the humans should go underground and party like it’s 1999.

But perhaps we should keep our chins up?  James Cameron’s success with Avatar brings him back to a major, dollar-earning standings and is slated to have a hand in Terminator 5 (2011).  As Wes Craven did with his beloved Nightmare on Elm Street series, let’s hope Cameron can bring the Terminator fans what they are hoping for, a film of “true metal.”

* * *

*Just a note:  I know I can’t be the first person to point this out – but John Connor, the “savior” or the world has the same initials as both Jesus Christ and writer (of Terminator 1 &2) James Cameron.  Interesting, eh?

*** CHANCE TO WIN A FREE DVD ***

Winning is easy.  Simply write out your thoughts on this, or any other review on The Joyce Review and you are instantly entered into a monthly drawing.  Winners are picked at random and qualify if their comment meets the criteria: no vulgar language, no disrespecting the other commenters or myself, and offering at the very least a two sentence comment.  Winners will be announced privately through an email and will be asked for a mailing address and dvd genre preference.  Tell your friends and join in our film discussions!

THE BRAVE ONE :: DRAMA :: 023

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/02/2009 by joycereview


The Brave One, a remake of the Charles Bronson classic Deathwish is a sensational flick, perfectly cast and well-acted.  Here’s the “skinny”…

Erica Bain (Jodie Foster), WKNW radio personality, walks the street finding sounds, stories and observations of New York life for her program Streetwalk.  On one dark evening, Erica and her fiance, David (Naveen Andrews) walk their dog through Central Park and are confronted by a group of malicious punks.  They are severely beaten and David dies from his injuries.  Her world completely shattered, Erica purchases a gun for self-protection, only to find it as an instrument for her chosen brand of justice and vengeance.

Many of you who read these reviews know that besides my love for critiquing films, I have a passion for educating and empowering individuals (women in particular) to defend themselves against violence (see The Golden Thread).  One of the major obstacles that I come across is convincing women to be proactive in their efforts to learn self-defense, to be diligent enough to train, and to come to understand themselves amidst a cloud of fear.  Erica Bain, unfortunately, began to understand the depths fear can penetrate after that tragic stroll.  A quote from the movie that I particularly like is

I always believed that fear belonged to other people.  Weaker people.  It never touched me.  And then it did.  And when it touches you, you know… that it’s been there all along.  Waiting beneath the surfaces of everything you loved.

The story of revenge is an old one, but plays to that part of our human nature that demands a certain “final” justice.  However, this film (achieved largely by the skilled actors, writers, and an extremely talented story-telling director in Neil Jordan) doesn’t, at any point, imply that her actions are justified.  If we have that notion of “They got what’s coming to them,” it’s on us… it’s our (0ver-)reaction towards violence… and it’s our sympathetic connection to the protagonist’s ordeal.  We are wrong.  Erica Bain knows she is wrong… that what she is doing is wrong, and this is a major quality in a film that transcends the typical revenge movie stereotypes.

It was nearly 30 years ago that Jodie Foster played opposite Robert DeNiro in the New York vigilante picture, Taxi Driver. The city has changed a lot in 30 years, but the history of violence stands and it is fitting to see Jodie play a character that is like so many of us: happy, optimistic,…blind.

There are so many things that are right about this film that it is hard to find any faults.  Jodie Foster’s performance is one of the best that I’ve seen and Terrence Howard does a magnificent job as the “detective playing his hunches.”  Artistically crafted by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) this film sets itself apart from the masses of revenge-driven stories and opens the doors for us to see our own morality and perhaps even question it.  Per example, “How can justice prevail, when the good do nothing?”