Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ten Statements About....BLACK DYNAMITE (2009)

"Stare at my crazy face!  STARE, I say!
“Now Aunt Billy, how many times have I told you not to call here and interrupt my Kung Fu?"

1) Here is the major problem with this film--while comedy should be played straight, the cast plays it so straight that the humor dissipates, leaving just a sad copy of 1970‘s blaxploitation cinema.  For most of its running time, before the story finally gets silly, it’s just dull.

2)  I get it that this is a vanity project of Michael Jai White (you say labor of love, I say vanity project).  That doesn’t mean that Jai White is any good in the role.  He never gives us a sense of Black Dynamite as a character, his overtly earnest delivery never rising above being a guy playing dress-up.  He never gives us a sense of the character and his relationship to the world is (unlike, let’s say, Leslie Neilson’s Detective Drebbin in the Naked Gun movies).White aims for Richard Roundtree but ends up hitting a second rate imitation of Dolemite.

3) Even though he also gives us the sense of a guy playing dress up, I appreciate how Tommy
"I swear the talent in this movie is down here somewhere..."
Davidson’s Cream Corn is patterned so closely on Antonio Fargas that he inadvertently adds a hint of veracity in the proceedings.

4) Seeing Nicole Sullivan playing Pat Nixon mainly makes me wish I could see more of Nicole Sullivan, well, pretty much anywhere.

5) Even though this film is only 83 minutes, there are scenes that just go on forever.  One sequence, set at a version of The Pimp’s Ball, is obsessed more with introducing the actors doing cameos than advancing the story.

6) Yes, there have been blaxploitation films where the soundtrack plays as a Greek chorus, but they never repeated exactly what we’ve seen like this one does...and it’s not funny, it’s annoying.

So is that ‘Din-o-myte/Din-o-myte’ riff you play every time Jai White walks into a room.

7) I will admit that things do pick up once the script embraces the inherent silliness it obviously wants to be known for--but since that happens with only fifteen minutes left in the movie, it’s kinda too late.
President Nixon will kung-fu your ass!

8) I wonder who thought it was funny to have Black Dynomite’s back story contradict itself--first he’s promising his mother he’ll look after his brother, then he’s an orphan when the actor is obviously meant to be younger--but it only serves to  make the viewer question the world the film is set in.

9) I didn’t realize that Kevin Chapman was the same one who played Detective Fusco on Person of Interest until he was cut down in a hail of gunfire.  Which I guess says something about his chops.

10) I’m sorry, but that make-up effect of a fat guy displaying...something that ties in with the film’s MacGuffin...looks nothing like the thing it’s supposed to be.

Overall...An awful film that seems to be congratulating itself about how clever it is, yet is anything but.  It actually makes me yearn for an appearance by Creeper The Hamburger Pimp (look it up)....

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ten Statements About....AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

Ooooooh....double-plus purty
“I think the name of this operation is offensive. What, Abscam? "Arab-scam"? It's racist!"
“Are you fucking kidding? What do you care? You're Mexican.."

1) I don’t know, but for a film that’s supposed to be a period piece, it doesn’t feel like a period piece.  Hell, you could do this film more modern-day with only a little tweaking.  The whole sense is that these are not 70‘s people, but people playing dress up.

2) That being said, I appreciate how the bulk of the actors are made to look distinctively different from their normal look--thus giving us more of a sense of veracity and allowing us to immerse ourselves in the story.

3) David O. Russell must really love Good Fellas, because so much of the structure and the way the film handles music is lifted from that film.

4) I really don’t understand why this is considered a comedy, as the tone is more grim than humorous.
"Hey, Jeremy...move your hair.  It's blocking my sightlines..."

5) I was really taken with Amy Adams’ Sydney--and not just because she’s purty (and show quite a bit of cleavage throughout).  When she’s masquerading as the very British ‘Edith,’ Adams allows her natural intonations slip through at key points, reminding us that she’s new at playing a role.  And the fact that she’s manipulating Bradley Cooper’s Richie is very well handled.  That being said...

6) ...I really think it was a mistake to give Adams a narration sequence in Act One.  It disappears fairly early on in the proceedings and dilutes the fact that this is Irving’s story.

7) Boy, Jeremy Renner’s hairstyle should get its own credit considering how it seems to dominate the proceedings every time it’s onscreen.

"No, dammit...I won't play Pattycake with you!"
8) I love how Russell’s opening title card--’Some of this stuff is true’--allows him to embellish the story to his heart’s content.

9) I get that a pop music soundtrack is now essential to any period piece movie (and that Russell is trying to emulate Good Fellas’ usage of the same), but the songs seem chosen haphazardly and placed in the film obtrusively.

10) The resolution of the story arc of Sydney’s and Christian Bale’s Irving seems forced.  It seems like they’re made to do what Russell wants them to do and not what’s organic to the story itself.

Overall...painfully flawed but with some interesting performances, it’s mildly worth a watch.  I can’t see why it was nominated for Best Picture, though.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ten Statements About....THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN RIDE! (1972)

"I know I look nothing like George Kennedy or Yul Brynner.
Just go with it."
“Well, should we bury 'em?"
“The living need us more."

1) Maybe it’s because Lee Van Cleef is a different kind of actor than either Yul Brynner or George Kennedy, but his Chris Allen is a lot more ruthless and near-unfeeling in his deadpanedness.  At times, his attitude is downright offputting.

2) Even though it all happens off-screen, this film is awful rapey.  Not only is it implied strongly that villain Del Toro and his men have had their way with the women of Magdelena, but it’s explicitly stated that Mariette Hartley’s Arietta was violated before she was killed.

3) And speaking of Del Toro--because the character doesn’t appear until literally the last moment, we’re never given the sense of him the previous films gave us of their bad guys.  As a result, he’s a paper tiger, a target for the seven to shoot at.

4) I don’t care how hard you try, it’s impossible to make the sight of our heroes’ horses strolling along around an uncovered wagon look majestic.

"Watch it...critics right around this corner.  And they ain't
pretty!"
5) For a village of Mexican farmers, the women are all uniformly white.

6) By having the kid Chris holds partially responsible for Arietta’s death killed (off screen) by someone else, it sort of blunts the character’s arc.  If they had allowed the kid to be a part of Del Toro’s gang and confront Chris in the climax, the film would have had a more satisfying spine.

7) This film is so...drab.  The main characters are dressed not in the easily definable, colorful outfits of previous films in the series, but in dark, lookalike clothing.

"You gals are mighty white..."
8) I miss the ‘getting the band together’ sequences the previous films had.  The remaining five members are literally picked up in one fell swoop at the prison.

9) You know what would have made it easier to tell the seven apart?  Saying their names more than once, and even then in an offhanded way.

10) Gee, it’s nice to know that Chris gets over the death of his pregnant wife quick enough to take up with Stephanie Powers.  Good way to engender character sympathies, writers.

Overall...a tired, dull and lackluster last entry in the series with just enough of a scuzzy edge to it to make it unappealing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ten Statements About....OCTOPUSSY (1983)

Yes, he's dressed like a clown...but the scene is actually
quite tense...
"Mr. Bond indeed is a rare breed...soon to be made extinct."

1) As if overcompensating for the soberness of For Your Eyes Only , this film sees the return of the broad Roger Moore humor.  It can be difficult to see past the double-taking camels, swamis complaining about people lying on their bed of nails, Tarzan yells and other annoying gags...especially the seeming endless stream of lame puns coming directly from Moore’s mouth.  That being said...

2) We still get hints of the Bond we could have gotten if Moore had taken things seriously.  There is one moment in particular, involving a circus and a bomb, where Moore conveys some real emotion.

3) One of the clever things about casting Maud Adams as...*ahem*...Octopussy is that, because she is a mature woman, Moore’s advancing age is not an issue.  As such, the romantic moments aren’t as creepy as they could have been (and as they’re going to get soon).

4) As for the other Bond girl, Kristina Waybourne is an odd personage as Magda--and not just
Somehow, this version of Charlie's Angels didn't catch on...
because she looks very striking from one angle and frighteningly weird from another--because there’s no clear sense of her loyalties.  Supposedly she’s part of Octopussy’s organization, yet she behaves as if she is Louis Jordan’s Kamal Khan’s right hand doxy.  The script needed to take a more forceful stand on her.

5) Wait a minute...a Roger Moore Bond film that actually has some connection to an actual Bond story?  Say it ain’t so!

Well, I can’t.  I find it satisfying that the story the title is derived from is summarized at one point and connected to the film, making it a sequel to the Fleming short.

6) Much like Hugo Drax in Moonraker  Louis Jordan underplays Kamal Khan.  Unlike Drax, however, it works for him.  There’s an icy sort of self-assuredness to Jordan’s presence that makes him an effective Bond villain.
That weird-looking girl is looking over my shoulder again,
isn't she?

7) Steve Berkoff, a New York stage actor, is certainly...vigorous as General Orlov.  This serves to balance out Khan, but also provides the sort of playing-to-the-rafters grandiosity that is expected of a Bond film.

8) Go away, crocodile sub.  Just...go away.

9) There is an extended sequence beginning on a train that, even with some questionable fast changes and another broad bit of humor with The German Sausage Couple, should have been the film’s climax.  It is extremely tense, full of great fighting, and manages to skillfully conceal the age discrepancy between Moore and his stunt double.  This could have been a satisfying ending, but instead we get a silly assault on the Monsoon Palace by the circus and a sequence on a plane where the discrepancy between Moore and his stunt double is all too evident.

10) Unfortunate name to the contrary, Adams’ Octopussy is a surprisingly effective, willful and competent Bond girl...until the last ten minutes, where the script suddenly decides it needs a girl’s school screamer and have her kidnapped and menanced.

Overall...nowhere near as bad as some will lead you to believe--pretty good, actually.  If you block out the broad Moore/Glen humor, you’ll have a great time.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ten Statements About....FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

"Hey, guys...I built one of those motors you used to
find in your toys!"
“You're counting on these guys? A guy who can stretch, a girl I can't see, a human torch...I don't even know what he is.”

1) Man, this is one dark movie--not dark as in somber, but dark as in dark.  The film seems to take place in a continual twilight, and there are moments when you literally can’t figure out what is going on.

2) I’m sorry, but I don’t believe Miles Teller’s Reed is one of the smartest boys in the world.  There’s something...petulant about his performance that makes his Reed unbelievable.

3) You know what is the major problem with this film?  It’s that the leads are exactly the same person.  They’re all teens-to-young-adult geniuses who can easily see how to build a gate to another dimension.  With the exception of one brief sequence depicting Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny loving speedy cars (an aspect that is dropped immediately after it is introduced), they’re given no indication of a life outside of the lab.

4) Boy, is the sight of a pantless Thing disturbing.

"Sir, I've seen photos of Doom.  I've read about Doom.  You, sir,
are no Doom."
5) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again...when you change enough of the backstory of a property, it no longer is that property.  And this should probably have been named something else to divorce it from the property it claims to be.

6) The pacing of this film is truly out of whack.  It take almost half the film for our heroes to gain their powers, about three quarters before the menace is introduced, and it can be argued the film is almost over (counting the credits, which had to eat up seven or eight minutes, there was twenty minutes left) before the actual conflict arises.  I know director Josh Trank has done one good super-hero-y movie before, so I can’t understand why he lets this one get all lopsided.

7) Yeah, a sinister government organization looking to weaponize our heroes.  Because we haven’t seen that before...

This is as brightly lit as this film gets...
8) Why isn’t being super-smart enough for directors when it comes to Doctor Doom?  Giving him ill-defined abilities does not make him more menacing; it makes him more generic.

9) I swear, it seems like Trank is more interested in making a horror movie.  The trip to the alternate dimension and the sequence where the Sinister Government Organization is testing/examining our heroes is played out as something disturbing.

10) Okay, so Reed escapes from the Sinister Government Organization before they give the other three the suits that control their powers, right?  Then why is Reed wearing one of these suits when they track him down to South America?

Overall...dark, dismal and tedious, this is a Superhero Movie That Doesn’t Want To Be A Superhero Movie at its worst.  Avoid.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ten Statements About....10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)

"You're going to play Barrel of Monkeys Giant
Size Edition or else!"
“People are strange creatures. You can't always convince them that safety is in their best interest."

1) Mary Elizabeth Winstead owns this movie, and not just because she is the main character.  A lesser actress would be subsumed by John Goodman’s performance, but Winstead is able to keep the viewer’s attention, and gain his or her sympathy.

2) That’s not to take away from Goodman, who manages to walk a fine line between being creepy and being...well, sort of melancholic.  He keeps the suspense in this film running smoothly because he creates a character with different facets, so that when we’re sure he’s one thing we get some indication he might be something else.

3) That being said...there’s something that Winstead discovers towards the end of the second act that is pretty much unnecessary.  It adds nothing to the narrative, and diminishes Goodman from this interesting character to a cliche.  The whole subplot can be excised whole.

And up there you might find Roseanne's career...
4) You know what else can be excised whole? John Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett.  I get that he’s there so that Winstead’s Michelle has someone to explain things to, but Winstead and the director are talented enough to convey the things that need to be conveyed without Regulation Expository Dialogue.

5) Maybe it’s because it’s not used to punctuate violence like it’s used so many other places, but the use of 50‘s and 60‘s pop music here manages to be creepy, emphasizing the situation without slipping into the parodic.

6) I dunno...if you introduce an acid supposedly so toxic it’ll strip human flesh to the bone, you should show someone who falls into a pool of it has more than just a crispy temple....

7) Give ‘em credit...they introduce something, they use something.

8) The big revelation...I’m not sure about it.  Yeah, it’s there to cement the connection between this film and the original, but the way it’s shot is confusing and manages to obscure more than it reveals.  However...

Not time for a selfie, Mary Elizabeth....
9) This revelation does manage to throw Goodman’s Howard into a different life.  It makes you wonder how different the film would be if it concentrated solely on Howard’s survivalist tendencies and didn’t stray into the cliches it embraced earlier.

10) The ending seems to promise a sequel, which really isn’t necessary. My hope is that J.J. Abrams follows through on his original intention of making the Cloverfield franchise into an anthology of unrelated stories set in the same universe.

Overall...worthwhile for the excellent performances by Winstead and Goodman.  If you’re looking for something else, well...shrug.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ten Statements About....PASSENGERS (2016)

"Boy the commissary has gone all to crap..." 
"Who planted a tree in the middle of my ship?"

1) Boy, Jennifer Lawrence sure is purty.

That is all.

Wait, you want more?  Well....

2) What does it say about your movie that the most sympathetic character is an android that spends most of its time polishing glasses?

3) There are moments in this film that work as set porn--scenes such as the ones in The Observatory, the space just outside the ship and The World’s Coolest Swimming Pool are pretty damn good looking, and give you a hint at what was going through the creator’s mind instead of, you know, logical character development and the like.

"I am so serious about safe sex!"
4) While it’s obvious that the film expects you to identify with Chris Pratt’s Jim, it’s hard to have sympathy with him when he does something truly heinous to bring Lawrence’s Aurora into the film.  And when that heinous thing is exposed, the film refuses to let Jim have the comeuppance he deserves.  Hell, the script rewards him for this supremely dickish act.

5) This is a film that forces one of the main characters to do a total 360 in attitude because the third act wouldn’t work without it...and that sudden about-face sours said third act.

6) Gee, Laurence Fishburne--thanks for waking up from suspended animation long enough to serve as Captain Exposition and hand our protagonists a (literal) magic ticket before dying of Mysterious Movie Illness.

Yep...best special effect in the film....
7) And speaking of that magic ticket...we’re told, in no uncertain terms, that the protagonists cannot return to suspended animation.  But once they get that magic ticket, they find out that’s not the case.  Good job keeping your own rules straight, movie.

8) Why can our protagonists (no way I’m calling them heroes) survive such hazards as a vacuum, decompression, and nuclear freakin’ fire with little or no ill effects?  Well, because the script needs them to...

9) I give the movie credit for coming up with a unique starship design.  There’s something elegant in the way it moves forward that’s quite attractive.

10) I don’t know about you, but if I was the ship’s captain, I’d be pretty pissed at the way our protagonists leave the Grand Concourse for them.

Overall...while there are a few grace notes that almost let us forget about the shoddiness of the script, it’s hard to get away from the fact that it’s a sloppy little entry.  Add in a really awful, nonsensical third act, and you have something that’s Not Very Good A’Tall.