Hellboy II: The Golden Army

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

Guillermo del Toro’s last film before making the Hobbit movies, with his characteristically gorgeous visuals and fantastical creatures.  (If you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) you really should – and you’re in for a treat. A tragic, painful, wonderful treat.)

The story is very nicely put together, with a lot of beautifully realised creatures (and characters) revealed as we delve into the hidden world of faeries, elves, goblins, and such.  Including a new origin story for toothfaeries (yeah, plural – very plural), very old-school Brother’s Grim style nastiness.

(I love this kind of alternate mythology for our old and well known tales – the first thing dragged me into really liking Stargate SG1 was their alternate explanation for the Norse “gods” and such, with the Asgaard, and such.)

The special (particularly creature) effects are spectactularly good.  The makeup is fabulous.

There’s something about the look & feel of the movie that bothers me though, like it’s been processed at a lower res, then upsampled with some sort of sharpening applied.  Or maybe it was shot on strange cameras?  I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it.  But something felt a bit off.

Another thing that’s off, but probably even harder to put my finger on, is the story.  There’s a lack of depth somehow, there didn’t seem to be anything to really sink my teeth into.  I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t there.

Maybe it’s just that everything was thrown up on screen, with no real thought required?  I’m not sure.

Still, it’s a lovely colourful spectactle, if you see a lot of movies you should definitely see this one.

(Actually I’m putting some more thought into it, and there’s a possibility that the problem was my being distracted by an amazing smell throughout the film.  Like, I don’t even know, happiness & sunshine?)

Wanted (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

When you know a film was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who made Dnevnoy Dozor (2006), you know it’s going to be visually rich, heavy on the clever editing, and with intense action.

And you know that dialog is going to be spelled out in the environment rather than spoken.  If you remember Dnevnoy Dozor, you’ll know what I mean – the word ‘BITCH’ splattering on a wall in large bloody letters, and so on.  Here we have, for instance, the line “FUCK YO” spelled out in flying keyboard keycaps, and a single spinning bloodied tooth making up the last “u”, after a character is smashed in the face with a computer keyboard.

And you know that cars are probably going to be driven in very improbable ways.  Sideways along buildings… or sideways along buses.  Once you’re sideways and driving, it’s all much of a muchness, I find.

What you might not know is that Angelina Jolie is a FOX.  (Ok, actually you probably do know that.)  But you still wouldn’t expect that anyone would have the combination of a brain injury and sufficiently gigantic cojones to give her character the name Fox.  What you should know is that Morgan Freeman probably shouldn’t swear on screen (it sounds strange).  And that Tumnus can curve bullets in perfect arcs to strike objects behind obstacles.

Sorry, I don’t mean Tumnus, but actor James McAvoy, who played Tumnus in the first Narnia movie.  Here he’s a pretty close facsimile of the pre-psychotic break version of Tyler Durden.  Sitting in his office, inner monologue played out for all to hear, slowly swelling rage against his boss building inexorably to an explosion.

So, wow, not a fawn? That’s some dynamic range right there.

Actually, Fightclub gets just the first of many (ahem) tributes in this movie.  There’s a lot that really feels like it came from somewhere else.

But aside from being perhaps a little distracting, it doesn’t really matter that a lot of material is being lifted, because this movie is fun.  You will only take it seriously at your peril.  The action is ridiculous (but internally consistent).  There are ridiculous plotlines, and plotholes in them that you could drive a train through… Or flip a car over.

So if you can, just ignore the plotholes and enjoy the gunplay – this film features one of the most wonderfully preposterous sequences of running gun kumite battling.  (I was going to say gun kata, but that might make the few people who know what I’m talking about – *hint* Equilibrium *hint* – think it’s a more rigid and controlled sequence than the messy slow motion charging sliding, shot and bleeding, battle that it is.)

So, yes, I enjoyed it, and more than I expected I would, even in spite of so much of the premise being completely preposterous – everything with the loom, for instance, or the kid’s training (seriously? they’re just going to punch and stab him over and over again until he magically becomes elite?), or the overused curving bullets, that whole thing with the train, or any of the driving scenes.

Good fun, but if you don’t go to many movies you can probably skip this one pretty safely.

21 (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

The fictionalised “true” story of a group of MIT students who, along with a teacher use a card counting method to win large in Las Vegas.

Our protagonist is an entirely repugnant and unsatisfying character for the large majority of the movie, and went a long way to stopping any enjoyment I could have in the film.

Put simply: with some very dodgy writing and plot elements, and a terrible main character, they really just missed the mark.

It’s too bad, I wanted to enjoy it, but the good performances from much of the cast  – my favourite being Choi (Aaron Yoo), a delighfully kleptomaniac student, with good screen presence – just couldn’t save it.

Don’t bother.

Diary of the Dead (2007)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

George A. Romero’s latest zombie flick. Given that he (more or less) invented the genre, you’d think he’d be better at making them.

With terrible writing and direction, it really never had a chance. There’s just one cheese ball scene after another, no frights, no fun, and no depth.

If it’s reasonable to distinguish an actor from his dialogue – and the stupid awful shit his director has made him do – then perhaps it’s possible to say that some of the performances are… ok.  But no one stands out.

And let’s be honest, if a character is delivering awful clunky lines while making a series of almost perfectly bad choices, groping around in a shadowy warehouse, backing through doorways in the most suicidal manner, it’s very hard to separate the puppet from his puppeteer.

Filmed Blair Witch/Cloverfield style (though with a lot of smoothing/steadicam), but seemingly only so Romero can cack-handedly force his “social commentary” about, apparently, the perils of the media & being detached from events around you when you watch the world through a camera.

I know: you what?

The thing that elevates a good zombie movie from this type of dross – apart from good dialogue and reasonable characters – is relevant social/political commentary and satire.  Diary of the Dead absolutely strikes out on this front.  A good writer might have pulled it off, but I think he must have called in sick that day – assuming they even had one, which would seem generous.

I enjoyed the digitally composited effects (because the technology excites me – it’s easily within grasp of even the very lowest budget productions), and a few scenes with stereotypical-drunken-British-professor-archetype #3 (he wields a bow and arrow with devastating effect, and later on a devilishly sharp sword similarly well).

Avoid this terrible movie like the impending zombie apocalypse.  I watched it so you don’t have to.

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

A very sweet animated movie, with Jack Black and a bunch of other big name actors (Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, et al).

Even though you didn’t see it, you already know the story:
Hopelessly uncoordinated panda, a noodlemaker’s son, loves kung fu, but doesn’t want to disappoint his dad (who wants to pass on the family business), panda is chosen as savior through a series of unlikely events, and ends up saving the day against a seemingly undefeatible opponent.

And you know it because we’ve already seen the exact same story a hundred times, in fact you’ve probably done it a few times yourself. (You are a kung fu loving panda, right?)

Oogway the tortoise is awesome.  (Even if they do call him a turtle.  Americans, eh?  Sigh.)

These things are so formulaic you know every note before it’s played, but it’s so sweet and nicely made that I don’t think that really matters.

Beautifully animated, great voice acting, and they really hit every note.


The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

The second theatrically released installment in the continuing story of the long running – and long cancelled – TV series.

We see the now retired Fox Mulder (a conspiracy nut, with no indication of whatever his new career might be, if any) and Dana Scully (a surgeon in a catholic hospital) dragged back into service when Fox’s special set of skills are called for.

I can’t bring myself to go on very long here, as this movie left me breathless with confusion.  Not at anything that happened – it’s far less interesting than the first film – but trying to figure just what part of this production constitutes a goddamn movie.

This isn’t a movie.

This is a long episode from the TV series.

And not a very interesting episode.

*spoilers* There are no aliens. No shape shifters. Jack shit of anything really.  Just a well explained nutter surgeon plying his trade.  That’s it. *spoilers*

The performances are all good, and I enjoyed whatever this was, but it wasn’t a movie, and I suspect you’d hate the shit out of it for that.

Skip it. Download it. Watch it on TV.  Whatever.

P.S. *spoiler* by far the most interesting thing to any old X Files fan is that Mulder & Skully get it on, and appear to live together.  I know: WTF? *spoiler*

The Dark Knight (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

If you haven’t already seen it, you’re… well, you’re probably an idiot.

If you have seen it, but didn’t see it on IMAX, you’re certainly, without a doubt, an idiot.  (Unless you live in a city with no IMAX, in which case you get a pass. Grudgingly.)

You see, a number of sequences in The Dark Knight were filmed on IMAX, which is very unusual for a movie that isn’t a documentary, but the first time the screen fills up?  Just… incredible.  It will drag the corners of your mouth wide in astonishment at its grandeur.

If you’re one of those people who likes to watch movies at home, on DVD…  Change you habits for this one.  It simply has to be seen on IMAX to be fully appreciated.

I’m tired, now, of using that brand name.  Just, one last go: don’t see it anywhere but in… you know… that cinema…  I already named like three times.  Ok?  Please.  You won’t regret it.

And, come on, for fuck’s sake, it’s $2.50 more.  Two dollars and fifty fucking cents.  What are you?

Ok, I’m done with the IMAX stuff now.

The performances.  You will have to forgive me, it’s going to sound like a venerating the dead thing, but it’s not, Heath Ledger steals the whole damn movie.  His performance is incredible.  This is absolutely the ultimate Joker.  He leaves Jack Nicholson for dead.  Absolutely for dead.

Least compelling is Maggie Gyllenhaal, I mean her performance, I guess, isn’t too bad… But her voice is weak and girly when it needs to be strong – she’s supposed to be a powerful assistant district attorney, but she sounds like a little girl -  but worse, if people are going to be constantly talking about her beauty, she should probably be something that resembles beautiful.  And not just weeeeird looking.  In the face.

Michael Caine & Morgan Freeman are great. Christian Bale is very good as Bruce Wayne, but I find the voice he puts on when he’s *spoiler* The Batman *spoiler*, to be rather irritating and overdone.  Aaron Eckhart is pretty good as well.

Two-Face’s makeup is incredible, and goes far further than I expected.

But whatever other performances were good, and however fun the other characters, all of the best scenes are definitely reserved for the Joker.  Favourites include the one when he’s dressed as a nurse, hobbling along on his skinny little peg legs, and another when he’s hanging out of the back of a squad car, all crazy tongued and joyful.

There’s a reason this one has broken all the box office records.  And I’m sure you’re part of that reason.  So you already know all of this.

Hancock (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

Will Smith is the titular character in this most recent superhero movie – a superhero movie that, just for once, doesn’t come from those over-rated fucks at DC or Marvel.

We seem to have had super hero movies coming out of our ears lately.  I’m wondering if it has something to do with the War on Freedom Sanity Terror?  With the mouth-breathing public subconsciously wanting a magical super being to come and take the scary-boo-boo away.

Well I’ve got bad news for you, the scary-boo-boo isn’t a dude sitting in a cave somewhere, the scary-boo-boo is Corporate Interests who print money using your fear for ink – they have no reason to take away your fear, because your fear stinks of profit to these fuckers, whether it’s re-election, or selling advertisers your eyeballs, or big guns to large militaries (the kind of military that is completely unsuited to fighting a small highly mobile “enemy” that doesn’t even fucking exist except in the very rarest of instances).

Sorry, got a bit sidetracked there.  Awkward.

Ok, so Will Smith.  Superhero.  Movie.

Hancock isn’t like other heroes. Sure, he has some pretty familiar Incredible Powers, and is generally a good guy, but after years of being taken completely for granted – and reviled when he isn’t as… careful… as he could be – he’s now a terribly lonely alcoholic misanthrope, who only flies in to save the day when he’s shaken to consciousness from his alcoholic stupor on whatever park bench he fell asleep on most recently. (The thing about being utterly impervious to harm is that you probably don’t give a shit about the state of your diet or accommodation.  Or that the bad guys have guns.  Or that you shouldn’t fly through things in your way rather than around them.)

Regardless of the boozing, Hancock is a hero, he kicks arse and saves lives.  Unfortunately a lot of people aren’t able to look past the destroyed freeways and derailed freight trains.  Oops.

I can’t go much further here with verging into spoiler territory, as the film takes a turn in the middle – after which some critics say it turns into a stinker, but I say it really hits its stride, and gives you the bonus of, more-or-less two movies for the price of one.

Suffice to say that Hancock’s vulnerability (unbeknownst to him as it is) turns out to be far more heartbreaking than kryptonite could ever be.

This is one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen, right behind the likes of Iron Man and Batman Begins (better than Batman Begins in some ways, partly because Hancock doesn’t have Ra’s Al Ghul), and the film’s lack of popularity with the critics doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me.

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to get down to your local theatre and check it out before it’s too late.

Stargate: Continuum (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews, TV

The second of the made-for-DVD Stargate SG-1 movies, following on from Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008).  Not bad given that the cult TV series was only cancelled just over a year ago.

(After 10 full seasons, making it the longest running American SF series – and hint it wouldn’t have run for 10 fucking seasons if it wasn’t really good, so why you don’t like it is beyond me.)

In Continuum, the team are overseeing the extraction of the Baal goa’uld symbiote from his host – undertaken offworld by the Tok’ra, with the SG-1 team attending as witnesses, accompanied by our Jack.  Of course Baal isn’t going to take extraction lying down (or, ahem, bolted to a wall), so of course we know that something is going to happen

*Spoiler* Time travel may or may not be involved, so pretty much everyone on the team may or may not be brutally murdered then may or may not be restored with the convenient ‘we may or may not have just temporarily visited an alternate timeline where lots of really awkward things happened before we finally prevailed and may or may not have now restored our own timeline‘ trick. *Spoiler*

As a made for DVD movie that you won’t see, I don’t see any point in saying much more than:

This is very good if you’re already a fan of Stargate, but if you’re not, you’ll be completely lost. (“Who’s that guy? What’d that guy say when I said who’s that guy? Why did that guy’s eyes just glow like that? Hur hur that chick must be a tranny ‘cos her voice is really deep.  Braaaaaaaaap.”)

Fans really should buy it – otherwise they won’t make any more, and that would suck ‘cos Atlantis is like… methodone to the SG-1 Heroin.  Non-fans didn’t even read this far, so I feel safe in saying they must be broken in the brainmeats to not love this awesome show (that may or may not have jumped the shark years ago, but it’s so good it doesn’t even matter).

I may or may not be labouring a really lame joke, and may or may not continue until everyone gets really angry with me.

War Games : The Dead Code (2008)

General, Movies, Reckons, Reviews

Sequel to classic hacker movie War Games (1983) – Matthew Broderick’s first big movie.  (If you haven’t seen The Road to Wellville (1994) you should, it’s probably his best movie.  I don’t know why IMDB hates it so much – but then I haven’t seen it for 10 years or more.)

This time up, instead of JOSHUA (an AI) controlling 1983 America’s nuclear arsenal, we have RIPLEY (an AI) in control of 2008 America’s computer & utility networks (and some well armed unmanned aerial vehicles, for good measure).  RIPLEY is tasked with hunting down and killing terrorists, without the shackles of human interference.

What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, the way RIPLEY finds terrorists is by hosting an internet gaming site, it turns out that if you’re good at some crappy computer game, you’re probably a terrorist.  Do too well and the AI sends in the dogs.

What could possibly… Wait. What?

It turns out that ‘who is good at computer games’ is surprise, surprise, ‘some clean cut white American teenager (Matt Lanter, doing a pretty good job, all things considered), who loves his mum, and runs errands for his elderly neighbour, and has a hot girlfriend (the completely adorable Amanda Walsh), who also happens to be a hacker geek who makes cantennas and cellphone interceptors for a hobby’, that’s who.

I’m more annoyed when movies have potential, and completely fail to live up to it, and this movie does.  There are opportunities to give the Fear Industry a good kick in the ribs, and the movie does seem to hint at taking advantage of them, before devolving back into a completely ludicrous stinkfest where you DDOS the most powerful AI in the world by getting all of your friends to log into it and challenge it to computer games…

What could possibly… Ahhh, fuck it.  Fuck this fucking movie.

The actors are all just fine, the problems with this movie are everything else.

Whoever is responsible (Art Director?) for deciding that RIPLEY should look like a handful of exposed motherboards in a glass walled room, with dangly bits of ribbon cable, strobe lights and cold cathode tubes, should be shot in the reproductive organs.  With a gun.  A big one.

If you want to see how menacing an AI-gone-bad in a movie with a colon in the title should look, see 2001 : A Space Odyssey (1968).  Did HAL have dangly bits of ribbon and nightclub style strobe lights?  No, he had an unblinking one-eyed gaze, his face a simple rectangle adorned with little more than enigmatic inscrutability.  (I bring HAL up for a variety of reasons, one is that they referenced/ripped-off the lip reading scene in this movie.)

Don’t see The Dead Code, it suuuuuuuuuucks. (The movie, you see, is what went wrong.)