Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lockout (2012)


Lockout is a product of outright laziness.  There is nothing new here, nothing unique, and nothing to recommend.  Aside from a few good jokes from our hero, Snow (Guy Pearce), the film has nothing going for it.  The plot is stock beyond belief, the dialogue is groan-inducing, and the action editing is some of the worst in years.  What is technically a good idea on paper, a prison break in space, is spoiled with extremely lousy and inept filmmaking.
Snow has been set up.  He is convicted of a crime he did not commit and is on the way himself to the maximum security space prison known as MS-1.  Coincidentally, the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), is on a fact finding mission to MS-1 when an inattentive security guard sets in motion an impossible chain of events which ends up with all of the prisoners woken up from stasis, released from their cells, very quickly in control of an immense prison complex, and the captors of the First Daughter. 
If only there were one man, a loose cannon if you will, who the government could send on what would basically be a suicide mission to save the girl.  Whoa, you mean there is such a guy?  Let me guess; is it Snow armed with his chiseled abs and snappy one-liners?  Quickly blasted off into space, only Snow can somehow break into an impenetrable prison, find the girl, escape with the girl, and somehow keep all of these violent and psychotic criminals aboard their floating prison which also seems to now be crashing towards the eastern seaboard.
There is a sub-plot where Snow is trying to clear his name but that is just a side note in what is a one man versus many scenario.  It is good to see Guy Pearce again in an action film and leading role.  Long ago are the days of The Proposition, Memento, and The Time Machine.  Unfortunately, for the leading lady they picked Maggie Grace, best known as one of the most annoying characters from the Lost series.  Another character actor you may recognize from Prison Break is Peter Stormare who provides his usual menacing one-note skill set.
The target audience here of male action fans will be disappointed by the amateur chase and fight scenes.  An early chase scene is reminiscent of Ultraviolet (2006).  Remember that horrible film and its horrendous chase scenes which looked like they were done on a computer pre-dating Tron?  There is a very similar choppy computer feeling here and you almost expect to see the green screen behind the actors pop into view. 
Lockout did not have to be this bad.  The idea of a prison break in space, in the right hands, could have been a quality action film with a juicy story and evil bad guys.  Here, the bad guys are cartoon characters, the filmmaking is cheap and shoddy, and the film is just a complete mess.  Go see The Raid: Redemption instead for your action fix.  

Damsels in Distress (2012)


Damsels in Distress is perhaps the most pretentious screenplay ever filmed.  I imagine there was a more comprehensible first draft and then writer/director Whit Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) pulled the thesaurus off the shelf and went to work.  These damsels come across more as ridiculous caricatures than actual flesh and blood characters; nobody could retain any sort of patience around people who talk nonsense the way these girls do. 
Lily (Analeigh Tipton) arrives as a new transfer student to Seven Oaks University.  During orientation, a group of girls seemingly pick her out at random to join their group; perhaps it is because her name fits the floral naming scheme.  Violet (Greta Gerwig) is the leader of the bunch followed by her one-dimensional acolytes, Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke).  Violet talks incessantly about the goals of the group which include finding and improving boys who are not particularly good looking or intelligent and staffing the volunteer Suicide Prevention Center.  The answer as to why a somewhat normal Lily would so eagerly say yes to joining up with this gang and rooming with them is not forthcoming, but then again, there would be no film if she did not.
Seven Oaks is not your normal university.  Instead of a Greek system, they have Roman Letter Houses.  So many students are depressed that they take to jumping off the roof of the education building; unfortunately it is only two stories tall so instead of killing themselves they only maim.  As for suicide prevention, the route to recovery is neither mood altering pills or talk therapy, but tap dancing led by an instructor calling himself Freak Astaire (Nick Blaemire).  I told you; pretentious beyond belief.
The damsels have incredibly keen senses of smell and frequently sniff soap whenever unhygienic dorm dwellers walk by.  They are also exceptionally open and frank about their feelings.  Violet thanks Lily for chastising her for being hypocritical about arrogance and routinely references Lily as better looking and skinnier.  This sounds duplicitous on Violet’s part, but it is not.  She really is that open and sincere...and blatantly towards a more psychotic end of the mental spectrum.
There is no particular plot thread or story arc to tie the action in Damsels in Distress together.  It is more random episodes and contrived situations to spur more inane commentary about the student population and the subject of depression.  There are men in the film who cause bits of conflict within the group such as Fred Packenstacker (Adam Brody) and Xavier (Hugo Becker) who has an unhealthy infatuation with a sexual maneuver best left unsaid.  Furthermore, an undercurrent storyline is blatant stupidity on the part of almost all of the males.  One guy does not know primary colors and gets extremely upset when he sees a rainbow and another is fixated on his bean ball. 
I want to impress upon you potential viewers out there that Damsels in Distress is truly as awful as it sounds.  Great Gerwig, who eats up most of the screen time, was excellent in Greenberg but I have no idea what she is doing here playing an undergraduate; she is noticeable way too old for this role.  There are a few laughs in the dialogue but it is not worth sitting through the whole mess to find them.  Avoid this calamity at all costs.   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Raid: Redemption (2011)


There is no genre mixing in The Raid: Redemption.  Unlike films which are billed as both comedy and drama or mystery and suspense thriller, The Raid is strictly action and that’s it.  There are different types of action such as martial arts, assault rifles, and knives, but that is as varied as the genre becomes.  If you have the desire to see pure action and violence with hardly any intervening scenes to slow it down and provide plot, then The Raid is probably what you’ve been looking for.
On a very early morning in Indonesia, an elite police squad is on its way to clear out a drug and gang infested building, floor by floor.  The sergeant leading the operation, Jaka (Joe Taslim), does not lie to his troops about what awaits them.  The building is controlled by Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and his two trusted lieutenants, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and Andi (Doni Alamsyah).  I leave it up to you to guess which of these guys is the muscle and which is the brains.  They hold court on the 15th floor of the building which is used as a narcotics operation and as a boarding house for every violent thug imaginable.
The rookie on the team is Rama (Iko Uwais) who, of course, has a very pregnant wife at home.  Along with 20 other police officers, they are to sweep the building, arrest the bad guys, and bring in Tama and his two cohorts.  Things obviously do not follow the plan; otherwise The Raid would not be rapidly gaining in cult status as it is.  In a twist, Tama, who quickly figures out what is going on in the lower floors of his buildings, makes an announcement to the hundreds of bad guys that whoever helps kill the cops, will get to live in the building forever rent free.
Out come the pistols, machetes, knives, and every other item imaginable as the building’s residents suddenly surround the cops and shut down the exits.  Wave upon wave of hopped up gangster reigns assault rifle and machete-wielding fury upon the quickly diminishing and out-gunned crime fighters.  Rama emerges as a very capable man not only with a knife, but with his bare hands.  The close-quartered fight scenes are not short nor are they quickly edited and jumpy.  There are extended sequences of men just annihilating one another all over the room employing some extremely impressive martial arts.
Do not go into this film looking for plot and character development.  You will not find it because there is no room for it in between all of the mayhem and bodies being flung all over the place.  Normally, I would shrug off a film which is so one-sided; however, The Raid is so accomplished in what it is offering to the audience that I applaud it.  These fight scenes are so well done they must have taken forever to choreograph and film.  Sure, the script is ludicrous but the goal of the filmmaker is not to tell a story, but to impress its intended audience with a level of screen violence and authenticity it probably has not seen before.
The Raid: Redemption is not for everyone; there are audience members (namely females and anyone who does not enjoy flowing blood) who will be repulsed by it and I urge them to stay away.  The majority of the audience I saw this film with was male and solo.  However, there were enough audible “Ouch!” and “Damn!” exclamations in the theatre that you might as well have been seeing it with your best guy friends.          

Saturday, April 14, 2012

American Reunion (2012)


What high school class puts together their big reunion on the 13th anniversary of their graduation?  Well, if it needs to fit the plot because American Reunion was a few years late, then it’s made to seem like it’s the most normal event in the world rather than a plot device.  All of the main characters we were first introduced to in 1999 are back and it feels comfortable and nostalgic.  Also, for those of us who have passed the 30 mark, it is refreshing to see that other people have as well, even the American Pie kids.
The characters are in various stages of success and home life and for whatever reason, some just get a lot more attention this time around while other are shuffled towards the back of the line.  Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) remain front and center and show up to reunion weekend with a two year kid and lack of steam in the bedroom.  They stay with Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy) who is just going through the motions after losing his wife three years ago.  The most successful of the group is Oz (Chris Klein).  He lives in L.A. and is on TV as a sports anchor as well as carrying around his fame from a stint on a rip-off version of Dancing with the Stars.  He also brings his girlfriend Mia (Katrina Bowden) who has to drink at every “I never” in the ‘I never’ game because she is so…experienced. 
For some reason, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a bit of an afterthought here.  He was right up front in the first two films in the series but now he has faded to make room for the more outlandish characters.  He has a long-term girlfriend who has a bit of a DVR obsession but no real problems.  Vicki (Tara Reid) shows up for the weekend so the audience gets to watch to see if they will or they won’t.  It doesn’t really matter.  Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) screams up on a motorcycle and appears to be the most interesting man in the world with tales of South America and Africa.  Finally, there is Stifler (Seann William Scott).  He never left town, still lives at home, and works a horrible office temp job.  This reunion weekend is lined up to be the highlight of his decade.
That was a lot of plot description and there are still plenty of characters not mentioned.  This is what reunions are for, you see people you used to know and get the two minute “what have you been up to the past 13 years?”  Even though all the kids are now grown up and have adult lives, they are still able to find themselves in those classic American Pie sexual mortifying episodes.  Jim and Jim’s dad still have those frequent and choppy sex conversations which are no longer amusing, there are misunderstandings when caught with half-naked teenagers, and Stifler still creates the most absurd yet hysterical comedic episodes.
Instead of the usual American Pie crew, they brought in the Harold & Kumar team (John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg) to breathe some fresh life into this iteration.  They also brought back all of the original cast members.  Just like at a real reunion, you start asking yourself where have some of these people been lately?  Jason Biggs, Tara Reid, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, etc…  It’s good to see you guys again but I know that after this reunion, you’re just going to leave again and I probably will not see you for another few years.     
The pranks and shocking scenes live up to their predecessors’ example and American Reunion has surprisingly made itself to be a quality get together.  It was easy to upstage the lousy American Wedding and move past the mostly forgettable American Pie 2.  Reunion does not reach the peak of the original film, but it is enjoyable and if you look past the ridiculous 13 year issue, you will laugh and enjoy the time with some old character friends of yours.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wrath of the Titans (2012)


The ancient Greek mythological realm is ready made for Hollywood script writers.  There are seething rivalries, petty jealousies, jilted lovers; pretty much every conflict known to man is already pre-packaged with at least a few immortal deities to go along with it.  Even with all of this rich material, Wrath of the Titans chose ‘daddy issues’ as its central conflict and plot instigator.  When you are dealing with names as powerful as Zeus, Hades, Ares, and Perseus, daddy issues cannot be the first story idea which jumps to mind.
Oh, where to begin to describe this ridiculous story.  Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his son, Helius (John Bell), reside by the sea as fishermen and seem to be living an enjoyable, yet isolated, life.  Perseus’s dad, Zeus (Liam Neeson), drops by seeking his son’s help warning of dark days to come.  Perseus, ever mindful that daddy did not pay him very much attention as a child, refuses and sends Zeus on his way.  Zeus meets up with another of his sons, Ares (Edgar Ramirez), to go and meet Hades (Ralph Fiennes) in the underworld to see what is making all of the trouble.  Oops, Zeus’s poor parenting strikes again.  Ares, jealous of his father’s love for his half-brother, Perseus, teams up with Hades, also jealous of Zeus, and starts torturing Zeus and tries to wake up Zeus’s daddy, Kronos. 
This script received thumbs up from the green lighters?  This is Hollywood’s big budget mythological movie this year?  Daddy didn’t pay attention to me; daddy likes my brother more than me, so now I feel like destroying half of the world.  Oh, and the Gods are starting to lose their powers.  Why, because humans do not prey to them anymore.  It turns out that the Greek Gods are like fairies in Peter Pan.  If you do not believe in them and clap your hands, they fall down and die. 
Here comes Perseus to save the day.  First, though, he must put together an ad hoc band of heroes to travel down into the underworld and set things right.  He picks the beautiful Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) who is required to look good with some dirt smeared on her cheeks rather than to provide any useful qualities to the group.  Perseus also picks up another demigod, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), a son of Poseidon.  Agenor appears to be an ancient Greek version of Russell Brand.  Together, this disparate group encounters Cyclops, the God Hephaestus (an annoying Bill Nighy), the Minotaur, and evil creatures which have two torsos wielding four swords but share the same legs. 
There are plenty of technical special effect achievements to marvel at though.  The Cyclops are very well done as is Kronos who after being turned to stone for so long lets the lava flow.  Those leg-sharing double torso guys are also pretty intriguing to watch as they swivel around chopping up tiny humans.  The editing process would have benefited from a bit of a leash though; Perseus’s fight with the Minotaur is almost impossible to watch and as a result, the audience never gets a very good look at the monster.  There are just way too many cuts in that scene to make it seem incredibly frantic.       
Wrath of the Titans is a misleading title.  It should be called, “The Titans’ Offspring Cannot Move Past Their Childhoods and as a Result, the Puny Humans Must Suffer.”  Last fall’s Immortals is superior in comparison because the character’s motives are more understandable and the Gods seem almost normal instead of caricatures inside a soap opera melodrama.  Do yourself a favor and stay far away from Wrath of the Titans.