Review: Drive

I finally watched "Drive" last night. Heard a lot of buzz about it, both negative and positive, and finally saw it on instant streaming.

An arthouse approach doesn't always work for me. But when it all comes together in a cohesive whole, like in Drive, it works. And boy, it really worked here. This is obviously one director's unique vision, and he went and crafted everything specifically to that vision and it's wonderful. The 80s soundtrack, the pink credits, the cinematography... it all felt right. Albert Brooks was amazing. This is a guy who normally plays comedic roles, but he's a joy to watch as a mob boss stabbing people with knives.

Some people had complained about the lack of dialogue and long scenes of staring. I gotta say... didn't have a problem with those at all. I really liked the tender relationship between the Driver and Carey Mulligan. They don't say much, but you can tell how they're feeling from their looks. Sometimes when there's a connection between 2 people, you don't need to say much. They were soulful gazes and it worked for me. It also highlighted that this was a very unusual thing for the Driver. He's socially inept, cause I guess he's always just been focused on driving. This was the first girl that had really gotten to know him, so it makes sense that he wouldn't know how to say much.

About the ending: 
 

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Review: The Avengers

The Avengers is a fantastic comic book movie. Right off the bat, I will say that I don't think it's as good as The Dark Knight (what is?) but they're such different movies that it doesn't really matter. It's a logical extension of the sort of fluffy crowd-pleasing summer blockbusters that we got before from Marvel, mainly Iron Man and Thor. If you loved those movies, then you're going to love this one, because they keep that same tone but add in more characters, more action, and more spectacle. It's more of a good thing, and results in the best superhero ensemble piece to date. While I don't think most future superhero movies will be too affected by this, the guys over at Fox have got to be worried... those X-Men movies are really gonna need to step their game up, because they're the ones with the most direct comparison.

A lot of people in their reactions have been throwing around Bay's Transformers movies as a comparison, and I think that's completely apt. Both have huge third act action sequences in cities with tons of explosions and all manner of chaos. But the key difference here is that The Avengers is Bay's Transformers movies done right. Here, you actually care about the characters, the scenes are filmed in a more restrained and comprehensible manner, and you're able to see everything going on, not just piles of indistinguishable scrap metal banging against one another. Joss Whedon, a guy who's only foray into the cinema was a flop called Serenity, manages to top Bay at his own game.

Joss Whedon is also known as the guy who wrote one of the worst lines in comic book movies, that one in X-Men about toads and lightning. Whedon claimed that the line itself was good, but that Halle Berry just couldn't deliver it right. Well, I don't know about that... but let's just say that all the one-liners in The Avengers are delivered well. They all work and the humor throughout the movie is consistently entertaining. Again, this is as close to an ideal crowd-pleaser as you'll find in the summer. Is the story a bit basic and simplistic? Well, yeah. It's not a plot with a lot of depth or surprises. You're not sitting on the edge of your seat being constantly surprised and rattled like we all were when The Dark Knight came out. Here, it's more of a lazy, sit back and enjoy the ride kind of experience. It's a hell of a ride, but these aren't the seismic shocks of a truly innovative and transcendent story.

Black Widow got basically nothing in Iron Man 2 to do other then look hot and do a fight scene. You didn't learn anything about her character. Well here, Whedon addresses that problem by giving her a lot more attention and she finally becomes a real character instead of just eye candy. I still kinda wish we'd gotten a Russian accent with Scarlett, as it's how I've always envisioned the character, but maybe it's not worth the risk of her butchering it. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner gives a very nerdy and effective portrayal which works well when bouncing off the sarcastic and charismatic Tony Stark. Tom Hiddleston as Loki continues to shine as a rising young star in cinema and does not dim in the heavy company of Downey Jr. and Sam Jackson. However, I do think the character of Loki is probably better in the Thor franchise, where we're able to connect with Thor and Loki's familial relationship and perhaps even root for the day when the brothers might reconcile. In The Avengers, this isn't as feasible as he has to play up the part of cackling supervillain.

The movie doesn't really have any noteworthy flaws, as it moves along like a well-oiled machine at all times, but here's a few observations and nitpicks, just because I'm a comic book guy and I notice stuff.  
 


The Avengers may not be as ambitious as some of us would like, but it knows what it wants to be and executes on that perfectly.

9/10
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Review: (500) Days of Summer

Well, with Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man trailer right around the corner... I figured I might go back and finally check out his first directorial effort, (500) Days of Summer.

And wow, what a film. I'm not a romantic comedy fan, but Tom's story just connected with me. It's honest and rings true in a way that most rom coms certainly do not. Webb does great, inventive tricks with the storytelling like the musical dance and the split between expectation and reality that work gangbusters and help provide some levity to what is ultimately a somewhat downer of a film. But the core of the appeal of the movie and why it's gotten so much praise since its debut at Sundance, in my opinion, is how realistic and relatable it is. I could certainly relate to Tom's predicament, we've all been there at some point in our lives. 

The film really spoke to me, and I think it pretty much succeeds in all regards, except for the very ending. IMO, and not giving away spoilers here... but I think the movie would have been perfect if it had just ended after the park bench scene. The last scene with Levitt and that job interview really felt like it belonged in a more traditional Hollywood rom com with its cliched resolution. The movie basically tells you the cinematic equivalent of, "There's plenty of fish in the sea." Well, that's kinda lame, after the incredibly raw events of the rest of the movie.

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Review: The Hunger Games

Hmmm, just watched the movie. It's uh, it's not a bad movie. I don't dislike it like the Twilight movies. But at the same time, I don't really have any desire to ever watch it again. The ending was really abrupt and left me unsatisfied. And the acting all around was pretty bland, except for a few roles like Woody Harrellson. Love that Woody, he was great. I was genuinely entertained by his performance.
 
Guess that's what I'd call the movie as a whole... bland. It's surprising, but a movie about teenagers running around in the woods killing each other ended up being kinda bland. You at least expect to be wowed by the natural beauty of the forest and the vibrant foliage. You would think that much of the appeal of this property would come from that. But Gary Ross directs the film with a rather generic and pedestrian approach, to where you can't even get much of that. There's no sense of a kinship with nature, like you get with movies like "The Edge" or "Predator." Not a fan of the shaky cam quick cuts either, and this is coming from a guy who loves the Bourne movies. But while the Bourne movies had the shaky cam, you were still able to see the vicious melee hits between the combatants. Here, the shaky cam and cuts just seemed designed to obscure the actual violence of the fighting, probably in order to secure that PG-13 rating.

I could tell that this was based on a young adult book as soon as I heard them talking about "tracker jackers." I'm sorry, but that's just a really dumb name. It's the sort of silly name that young adult authors know they can get away because their audience is none too discerning and won't mind. But c'mon... tracker jackers? What a joke.

So I know it's the future and all, but the flamboyant appearance of the people in the capital city was... oh boy. Got a big flashback to Michael Sheen's work in Tron Legacy there. I know that it's supposed to show how different this scifi future is, but they might've gone a bit overboard with it. Elizabeth Banks looked like a killer clown with designs on Gotham City.

Now, I've been hearing a lot of great things about Jennifer Lawrence in this movie. Honestly, what I walked away with was that she was... just fine. Just adequate. She's supposed to play the role of this frightened girl out in the woods being hunted and what we got was this frightened girl out in the woods being hunted. She did what I expected, but I wasn't blown away like the reviews had indicated. Now mind you, I do like the character of Katniss. She's this strong female character who's skilled with a bow and intelligent. We need more female characters like her, absolutely. But the performance did not wow me, did not make me believe that an Academy Award nomination was incoming. I mean, I expected something like Heath Ledger or Christian Bale in The Fighter. Maybe it's because I've grown older and the sullen teenager schtick just doesn't do it anymore.

Here's a few questions I had, but they're spoilers:


Ultimately, I'm not sure what sort of message or commentary The Hunger Games is supposed to provide us. I've been told that there's some deep commentary on society, but... I can't find it. I mean, other then that we shouldn't have reality shows where little kids fight to the death? But I already knew that. We all already knew that. Perhaps THG will be a revelation to people who've never had to read "The Lottery" in middle school.
 
5/10
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Review: Up

Ya know, I actually don't like Up that much. It's a big step down from Wall-E in my eyes. Everybody loves the first ten minutes, and the scenes of him trying to keep the house are good, and the flight through the thunderstorm is visually exciting, but after that... the film slowly starts to go off the rails.
 
It really starts when Kevin comes into the picture. Frankly, I didn't give a rat's ass about Kevin. He's just a big colorful bird. We care about the old man and the little kid, not this bird. I didn't see the big deal, but uh... yeah, kill that bird and mount its skeleton in a glass case. I don't care. It's just a big bird. There's nothing exciting or special about him. Now, maybe if they'd found the last living dinosaur or something, in this ancient tropical rain forest... maybe then I'd want them to rescue and save it. But a bird?

So the whole struggle over Kevin, which takes up the majority of the film, didn't work for me. I didn't care about what they were doing, because the bird was meaningless to me. Go ahead and kill that bird. Hell, cook and eat that bird. Fuck Kevin.

Then we come to the reveal that the famous adventurer Charles Muntz is still alive and still after that bird. Wait... what? You're gonna tell me that this guy, who seemed to be in his 30s or 40s when Carl was just a little boy, is still alive now that Carl is an old man? Muntz outlived Ellie? Did Muntz somehow come across the fountain of youth in Patagonia and I just missed it? How is this even possible? It sounds strange, but I'll go ahead and believe that a rat wants to cook french cuisine before I'll believe that Muntz is still alive and kicking.

And then you've got those action scenes of the dogs piloting airplanes and uhhhh... the movie just lost me. It started out really strong but by the end, it lost any emotional resonance. You're just watching dogs in planes flying around shooting (dogfighting, if you will) and it all just feels silly and stupid.
 
6/10

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The idiocy of the Star Wars EU

What I really find odd and perplexing is how they'll take obscure and totally forgettable characters in the movies and then somehow turn them into superheroes in the EU. It's just mindbogglingly stupid. Like... in the first movie, Wedge Antilles is just some nobody pasty faced pilot who manages to survive the trench run. He didn't really seem to do anything extraordinary, it just seemed like dumb luck that he got hit in his engine and his fucking X-Wing didn't disintegrate like all the other ones did when hit. His engine dies, but he manages to survive and gets out of there when the Death Star blows up. That's it. When it happened in the movie, I didn't really make a mental note in my head that this guy survived so that meant he was hot shit or anything.
 
Okay, now fast forward to the books and video games. Suddenly Wedge Antilles is now the most amazing starfighter pilot in the galaxy and heads up Rogue Squadron, the most amazing and awesome squadron in the known galaxy. They're not just sorta good. They're the best fucking fighter pilots in the entire galaxy! Wedge Antilles is a god among men, and can fly better then anybody. He's a living legend. It don't matter none if you send TIE Defenders or giant super star destroyers up against them, because Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron are unbeatable and don't afraid of nothing.

Then we come to the worst and most ridiculous example of this: Boba Fett. Boba Fett is a nothing character that doesn't do jack shit in the movies. Boba Fett follows the Millenium Falcon through a trail of garbage in Slave One. That's not really all that exciting. Most anybody could do that. Sensors on a ship can probably tell the different between an active ship and piles of garbage. Then he gets to Cloud City and calls in Darth Vader. Darth Vader arrives with his legions of stormtroopers and takes them all captive. Darth Vader is the one who confronts Solo and deflects his blaster bolts. Then Vader has Solo frozen in the carbonide chamber thingy. Boba Fett has frozen Solo hauled into his ship, with the memorable line "Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold." Then he takes off and leaves. Wow, what a great character. He followed a ship through garbage and then had a slab put into his cargo hold. Truly, the stuff of legends.

Then in the next movie, he's just standing around in Jabba's castle. And then this happens:
  

  
A blind and clumsy Han Solo accidentally hits his jetpack and sends Boba Fett to his death.

Wow. This is uh, this is just pathetic. Who cares about this character? He has about three lines in the entirety of the movie trilogy, and then dies a rather ignominious death. And this is somehow the greatest bounty hunter in the universe? The EU somehow took this jackass and made him one of the deadliest and most feared men in the galaxy? Why? Why is Boba Fett so loved? He's so damn dumb. He doesn't do anything, and then dies when a blind guy flails around and strikes him in the back. This is hilarious, not legendary. The guy's a boob. I just, I just don't see why Boba Fett's such a big fucking deal. Why did the EU books makes him out to be such a badass? Where did any of that come from? They're pulling this stuff out of their ass, cause I sure don't see it in the movies. Fans... I guess fuck the fans, they'll just eat up anything. Cause why would you accept this? Boba Fett even screams like a little sissy girl when he's falling into the Sarlacc. This can't be the deadliest mercenary in the galaxy, can it? Again, that's not even in the movies. Nowhere in the movies is it stated that he's the deadliest merc in the galaxy. At least, not to my knowledge. But yet there's somehow this prestige and mythical quality to Boba Fett. A guy who has Han Solo carried into his cargo hold and then gets thrown into the Sarlacc pit and eaten. Except somehow in the EU, he survives because he's such a badass. Yeah, right. Sure. Sure he survived. Keep telling yourself that. Jesus Christ.

I guess somewhere there's a book that says Salacious Crumb is the galaxy's deadliest court jester.
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Comic books for people who liked Chronicle

I have some comic book recommendations for you guys who really liked Chronicle but don't really read comics and would like some books that are along the lines of the film. Chronicle reminded me quite heavily of Unbreakable, but also of certain comics I've read. There's a lot of different influences that went in this film, other than just Akira.

First of all, check out Kurt Busiek's Secret Identity graphic novel. Busiek is best known for Astro City and Marvels (two books I'd recommend without reservation), but Secret Identity is another fantastic work that highlights his tremendous storytelling skills and love for the medium. SI is a Superman story, but not about Superman. Essentially, it's about a teenage boy in the real world who just so happens to be named Clark Kent by his parents as a joke. He's sick of his name and getting made fun of at school, until the day he actually does get superpowers identical to Superman's. It's never explained in the story how he gets them, he just does. The story isn't about that, but about what it would be like if a kid in real life actually got Superman's powers. You can obviously see the similarity to Chronicle, as they're both about teenagers in a realistic world getting powers. However, SI is quite different as Clark in the book takes the responsibility and uses his powers to help people, becoming a real Superman, while Chronicle goes off in the opposite direction. In the course of the story, he finds love in the big city, deals with an incredibly suspicious and hostile US government, and eventually even raises a family. I tend not to consider SI a "true" Superman story, as it does not take place in the DC universe or contain the actual character of Superman, but rather a kid named after Superman, but it's still a very good read.

The other comic I'd recommend is Brian Bendis's long-running series Powers. In a nutshell, Powers is about police detectives who investigate superhero, or "powers" crimes. They're just your average gritty cops, trying to do their job in a world filled with insanely powerful superheroes who demolish buildings and occasionally maim innocents. Of course, sometimes these superheroes turn insane, or end up getting murdered, and then they have to do their best to solve it. Unlike traditional comics where the superhero and supervillain are entangled in this intimate conflict to the exclusion of the outside world, Powers has a lot of collateral damage. People get their faces melted off, or just torn apart, because supervillains are sadistic fuckers. It's a comic that's alternately very funny, or very grim and dark.

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Star Trek: The desk is key

Oh yeah, another thing I hate about Insurrection: They fucked up with the ready room desk. 

For seven seasons, we were treated to this ready room. It felt comfy and warm and inviting. But most importantly, it was sparse. There was the goldfish tank and the model of the Stargazer and not much else. The desk had one of those LCARS displays and sometimes a single rack of data cards. That was it, that was all it had. The desk was mostly empty. It wasn't cluttered up with junk. Star Trek was about the future, and how technology would make our lives so much easier. So even though as Captain, Picard would still have to fill out paperwork, he could at least do it from a single display that would efficiently and effortlessly take care of everything. Every once in a while, someone would walk in with a PADD for him to check out. But never a desk in disarray. This was not the future that Star Trek envisioned.

But then we got to the movies. 
What the Christ? What the hell happened here, Picard? What are you, a two year old? Hasn't anybody taught you how to clean up after yourself? Why in God's name do you have dozens of PADDs and all kinds of crap all piled up here? Why is your desk so damn cluttered and messy? Is this the same side of you that enjoys off-road racing? I just don't... I really uh, don't know what to make of this. Why would you need so many different PADDs? Couldn't you just navigate through various data with a single PADD? There's amazing things people are doing with iPhones and iPads today, surely they'll be even better and more efficient in the future. Again... Star Trek is about how great the future is going to be. This looks like a goddamn bureaucratic nightmare. 
 
Now, on a different subject... um, just rewatching some Voyager episodes lately... I've really gotta say that I hate some of the characters. Not because the actors are horrible people, but because they're just written so badly and boringly. Like.. Tuvok. What the hell is there to Tuvok? We had Spock, and he was a Vulcan, and that meant he didn't really have any emotions, but there was still so much to the character. Spock was still so interesting and captivating and could elicit a lot with just a raised eyebrow. He even turned out to be the most popular character during TOS's run.

Yet we've got Tuvok, and he's also a Vulcan, but... there's just nothing there. When he says something in this flat emotionless voice, that's it. It's just this flat dialogue and there's nothing to the character. He might as well be wallpaper, standing back there in that alcove. He fades from memory because he's just so darn boring and unmemorable. What went wrong here? Spock was great but Tuvok is awful. I haven't seen Tim Russ in anything else, so I dunno if he's terrible in other roles. But probably not? I hope it's just the material he was given.
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Star Trek: Some problems with Insurrection and Nemesis

One of the problems I have with Insurrection is the whole idea that there's this beautiful native woman who just happens to be single and completely available for Picard to swoop in and sweep her off her feet. Like, isn't this an isolated society where people live to be 600 years old? So you're gonna tell me that this very attractive 600 year old woman is just single and has been waiting around all this time for an outsider to romance? Really? Nobody else in the Baku ever struck her fancy? Or is she just like the village slut and she's already been passed around so many times that nobody wants to have her as a girlfriend or wife? I dunno, it just seems silly to me that the big important female lead just happens to be single and waiting for the dashing strange outsider to hook up with. Even though I wouldn't really call a balding old guy "dashing."

You see it in lots of stories about strangers coming into alien cultures, of course. Avatar had it with Neytiri, the chief's daughter who just happened to be single, lucky for Jake.
 
And I never understood why in Nemesis the Romulans had the Remans enslaved and working in dilithium mines. Like, you'd think with an advanced civilization, they'd have way better and more efficient means of mining minerals, right?

Now, I know you're thinking back to Star Trek VI, when the Klingons had their dilithium mining prison on Rura Penthe. But see, in that case, it always just seemed like the Klingons had them mining because they deliberately wanted their condemned prisoners to suffer and endure backbreaking labor. It never occurred to me that the Klingons had them mining dilithium because that was the best way of doing it. Klingons were generally cruel dicks and it made sense that they'd punish their prisoners with hard and pointless work.

But with the Romulans, they had the entire race of Remans mining on their own planet. So the prison rationale doesn't work.

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Review: Carriers

So I just watched a rather obscure film on Netflix instant streaming called Carriers. And no, it's not a documentary about aircraft carriers. It's actually a low budget indie horror film about a world where a plague has wiped out most of humanity and the survivors have to try and... well, survive. Sorta like a modern day version of Poe's The Red Death. What really intrigued me about this film was that it starred a then unknown Chris Pine, back before he was cast as Kirk in Abrams' Star Trek. I'd already seen him in Bottle Shock and this was apparently that other film he did before hitting it big.

The film's basically like a cross between The Road and 28 Days Later, though there aren't any zombie shenanigans. It's strictly about surviving in a desolate wasteland while under constant fear of contracting the deadly virus. Because of the very nature of this story, it's incredibly bleak and nihilistic, which suited me just fine. It also explains why this had a very low budget, because it is dark and depressing and you feel awful and disquieted. This is not the sort of movie that has any kind of mainstream appeal, so I'd guess that they had roughly about 2 or 3 million dollars to work with, with most scenes shot on empty and barren highways out in New Mexico. Another factor is that the characters are all basically assholes and fairly unlikeable, which at first bothered me. It's naturally hard to get into a movie if you don't find yourself liking any of the main characters, isn't it? Well, they don't really get any more likeable as the movie continues, I can tell you that. At the end, they're all just as despicable and unsympathetic as when the film started. But as I thought about it... I came to peace with it. In a realistic depiction of this sort of horrendous post-apocalyptic situation... would people really be likeable? Do survivors need to be good-hearted chums that always do the right thing? Or would the few people that survive actually be those who are cruel enough to make the hard choices? When viewed in this light, I had to come to the realization that this movie was going for realism and that there was something incredibly grounded and true about depicting these survivors as people that we may despise. It was okay to have a movie with unlikeable protagonists, as long as it felt true to the story.

Fans of Stephen King will naturally point to The Stand as a direct influence on Carriers. Actually, I'd say that Carriers is most similar to Night Surf, the short story that King later expanded out into The Stand. There's revelry and a fatalistic hedonism that the survivors have, because there's no telling when you might get infected and die. Chris Pine gives a great performance as the wild and uncouth leader of this ragtag group.

Ultimately, this is a movie that you should watch only if you're prepared for a very depressing time. It leaves a bad feeling in your stomach and it should, because it's dealing with a nightmare and effectively depicts it with a stark minimalism. It's not something to watch while you're in a warm and cuddly mood, but I was left powerfully moved and very happy to be alive. For those who choose to take the plunge, I do believe you'll find a captivating but grim portrait of the last days of man.

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