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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Into the Blue 2: The Reef (**)

 
Expectations were low for a direct-to-DVD follow up to Into the Blue.  The low expectations were met early on when Into the Blue 2: The Reef ramped up the B-movie bad acting and the pointless swimming, volleyball, and nightclub dancing montages, complete with gratuitous, distracting split screening.  Also, boobs.  Lots and lots of boobs on display.  I'm not complaining about the boobs.  The big surprise is despite all that nonsense, Into the Blue 2 turns a corner and sincerely attempts to become a taut, action-thriller. Smallville's Supergirl Laura Vandervoort has the thankless task of trying to fill Jessica Alba's bikini.  Chris Carmack is no Paul Walker.  But they try, so they get points for effort. Carmack and Vandervoort's Honolulu-based dive-master business gets more grief than they bargained for when Adam Munroe from Heroes and Naomi from Lost stroll into their dive shop, promising riches in exchange for help locating a fabled sunken Spanish vessel full of treasure.  Instead, no, there's no treasure, just sunken dirty bomb warheads, because - get this - they want to nuke Hawaii. ("Pearl Harbor: The Sequel.")  Too bad Into the Blue 2: The Reef didn't keelhaul the shitty acting (including an unbelievably off-putting, attention-whoring cameo by the chipmunk-faced chick from The Hills) and just focused on being a sincere thriller (with diving and bikinis) from the get-go. Sincerity counts for a lot.  So do boobs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (***1/2)

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is awesome. It's the real deal. Gorgeously animated and endlessly visually inventive, Cloudy's secret weapons are 1) a sharp, witty script that never panders and 2) characters who are brought to life by some excellent voice-over acting by a gung-ho cast lead by Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T. Mr. T almost steals the movie entirely and finds numerous funny ways to pronounce "Flint Lockwood!"  There are true-to-life relationship issues deftly worked into the story, including surprisingly touching parallel stories of love between fathers and sons, along with an awkwardly sweet romance at its center between Faris and Hader's characters. ("You actually thought pretending to have allergies would make you more attractive?" Faris' secretly nerdy reporter Sam Sharp says to Hader's wonderfully named eccentric inventor Flint Lockwood.) I also liked Faris' camera man from Guatemala, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, who is also a doctor, a pilot, and a comedian (but not a physicist.) There are jokes in the dialogue like, "That spaghetti twister is just an amouche bouche compared to what's heading our way!" that go right over the kids' heads but work for the grown ups in the audience (who watch Top Chef.  Me.). Watching Cloudy in a theater packed with rugrats (I brought two) made me feel like Professor Frink on The Simpsons playing with the vacuum cleaner toy and chastising Bart and Lisa's classmates: "You won't enjoy it on as many levels as I do!" This is simply a terrific animated 3D family movie, as good as the movies produced by Pixar. For an animated film, there's no higher compliment.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Smallville 9x1 - "Savior"


SEASON NINE(!) ROLL CALL:

SUPERMAN! (Formerly The Red and Blue Blur, now just The Blur) CHLOE SULLIVAN! LOIS LANE! TESS MERCER! ZOD! (Major Zod, not yet a General) THE GREEN ARROW!
Special DC Universe Guest Star:
METALLO!

Ever see the old Simpsons episode (I think it was the one explaining how Lisa got her saxophone with flashbacks set in 1991) where Homer watches an episode of Twin Peaks? The visual on the screen is Kyle McLachlan's character dancing with a horse or something. Homer says, "Brilliant! I have absolutely no idea what's going on."

That's exactly how I felt this entire episode. The whole season premiere was dancing with a horse.

Even for Smallville, they reached new, unimaginable heights of incoherence:

*Clark walked away from his ties to humanity at the end of last season and went to the Fortress to train with the voice of Jor-El. He now dresses like Neo from first Matrix movie with a silver faded S on his chest. (And I would buy that shirt if they sold it.) He used to be the Red & Blue Blur but now he's just the Blur.

* Clark asked Jor-El why he can't fly when his cousin Kara can. Jor-El told him it's all in his mind. So then next we see Clark on top of the Statue of Liberty and he jumps off to fly but instead he plummets straight down, which begs the question of how he got up there in the first place. (Oh, never mind, he leaped a tall statue in a single bound.) But at least, after nine years, Clark is showing an interest in flying, finally.

* The Justice League went "off the grid", and with Clark gone, Jimmy Olsen dead (Henry James Olsen, not James Bartholemew Olsen), and Lois in the future, Chloe was pretty much all alone in the Watchtower.

* Lois returned from the future and was being chased by a superpowered chick who looked a lot like her but wasn't a doppleganger or anything. Turns out that chick is Kryptonian and is in league with...

* Zod, who's only Major Zod, and leads a rabble of Kryptonians who are all hanging in the old Luthor Mansion now owned by Tess Mercer, who was held prisoner while the Kryptonians wonder why they don't have their powers under the yellow sun, so they depose Zod of leadership when he commands them to kneel before Zod, and toss him in the same room as Tess Mercer, who they beat up and tortured, and Tess says Zod is not the same voice as the orb had, and then Tess tries to strangle Zod, who threatens to kill her, and is any of that making any sense at all?!

 
* Later, Zod and Tess are held in some sort of trial by the Kryptonians who again want to know why they have no powers like they ought to, but Zod gives a speech about how he'll do something about that and maybe get some answers and he beats up the black guy Kryptonian who punched him earlier, and they all kneel before Zod, and Tess looks impressed, and then somewhere along there they mention Kandor but it's not clear if they're from Kandor or were just fighting in Kandor or something, and it's not clear how or why they are all on Earth now and why they're living in Lex's old house, and then they show that the Kryptonian trying to kill Lois is there and that brings up the question of when exactly this scene is taking place because that woman has powers when we see her in other scenes chasing Lois and fighting Clark and my head hurts.

* Later, Tess finds that the Kryptonians have all vanished from the mansion without a trace and we find that she has been secretly videotaping them while they were squatting in the mansion but the Kryptonians erased the recordings and HUH?!

* Lois, who has been missing for three weeks (this episode is dated today's date, September 25, 2009, which means the season finale took place around Labor Day if that makes any sense), runs into John Corbett, who it turns out is a reporter for the Daily Planet.

* Although Chloe has spent three weeks trying and failing to find Oliver Queen, Lois knew exactly where to look and finds Oliver right away in some fight club. Because they wouldn't let her in, Lois dons one of her many black leather and vinyl high-heeled prostitute outfits from her closet and comes into the fight club as a ring card girl. The Kryptonian woman tries to kill Lois again but Clark shows up after Chloe warned him in a random rooftop tete-a-tete that someone was trying to kill Lois (and has been heat visioning the S symbol all over Metropolis). After Clark and the Kryptonian chick leave, Lois and Oliver have a conversation about why Oliver's not really a hero, or that maybe he is, or something.

* Clark grabs the Kryptonian chick and superblurs her back to the old Kent farmhouse, where she whips out blue Kryptonite which is supposed to take away Clark's powers but does not, nor does it take away her powers, and they fight and she says she's from the future, one year from now, and she's come to stop Clark from destroying the world, and then Clark knocks her across the barn and she gets impaled on something and she dies, but not without touching Clark's face and WHA?!

* Chloe asks Clark to use the Legion flight ring to travel back in time and save Jimmy's life but Clark yells at her that he's not a god, he won't change the past again because the last time he did something like that Jonathan Kent died, so he tells Chloe a firm no and she's pissed. But he can't change the past. Whatever happened, happened. Wait, wrong show.

* Finally, we wrap up in the Daily Planet where Lois is at her desk, despite being missing for three weeks and thus was fired because of it, and we find John Corben is Clark's replacement because Clark is on "indefinite leave visiting family". And, uh, we're out.

* Oh wait, no, the dream. I forgot the dream. Lois, in her hot tank top and PJs, hits the sheets all content and dreams about her and Clark doing it all naked and sweaty, Chloe dead on the ground, Zod, and other bizarre imagery. She wakes up confused. And then we're out.

So, uh, yeah. Huh?

Community 1x1 - "Pilot", 1x2 - "Spanish 101"


I thought the Community pilot was very strong. There were a lot of good jokes and I liked the characters, especially Jeff, Britta, Abed, and Chevy Chase pretty much instantly. 

TV sitcom pilots always struggle with the burden of having to introduce the main characters and the main theme/concept of the series yet still has to be funny. Exposition is the enemy of comedy. 

I mean, The Office and 30 Rock's pilots weren't knock-you-off-your feet funny and look at where those shows went. Community started off really well last week, I thought.

"Spanish 101" was really good, much better than "Pilot". I liked the switching shirts sight gag and the slow motion montage of Joel McHale and Chase's presentation with everyone's facial expressions worked for me. A lot of good stuff there. 

Some of the best stuff was Abed and Troy's teaming up, especially their Spanish rap over the closing credits. 

Brilliant to set the Joel and Chevy presentation to Aimee Mann's super depressing music from Magnolia.

Parks and Recreation 2x2 - "The Stakeout"


The hernia humor and those two scenes with Ron and April the intern killed me. Might have been the funniest things the whole of Thursday night.

"It's a minor medical procedure."
"AIDS?"
"No."
"What is it?"
"It's a hernia."
"Is it syphillis?"
"I just said it's a hernia."
"You can have two things."

Amazing. So was "Motion sensors." and "I was born ready. I'm Ron [BLEEEP!] Swanson." 

For me, Ron's hernia was the breakthrough comedy moments of this series. The "Homer falls down Springfield Gorge" moment that puts this show on the comedy map.

Louis CK as the cop who likes Amy Pohler was great. "Parking while Indian." was killer. And so was the kiss on the cheek on Rashida Jones. "Now we both have herpes." 

I'm glad I stuck with Parks and Recreation. It's paying off.

The Office 6x2 - "The Meeting"


I must cry foul on The Office this week. They can't just introduce a plot point ripe with potential hilarity as Andy having a "flirty" email relationship with his cousin and just drop it cold like they did! I need more on that! The more we learn about Andy's bizarre secrets and confusions, the better.

David Wallace is always welcome. It's great to introduce a straight man who's from "the real world" and have him react to the insanity in Scranton. His facial reaction to Andy's cheese plate presentation was golden. (So was Jim's mental calculations of why Andy brought a cheese tray into the conference room.)

It didn't really occur to me until this episode that Jim really has toned down his slacking off and become responsible, what with an impending marriage and baby. He's becoming a responsible man. His reactions to Michael sabotaging and betraying him were some deft acting from John Krasinski. He didn't overplay anything because Jim never gets overly emotional unless Pam's involved, but his fuming anger was very effective.

The big winner of the episode was the Marvel Team Up of Dwight and Toby. Who knew those two would be comedy gold together? My favorite moment was Dwight talking to the camera about how Darryl and his sister look alike.

Poor Pam trying to get RSVP confirmations. Pam and Jim's wedding has been a great vehicle to remind us that everyone at Dunder Mifflin Scranton is a huge asshole.
 
I wanted to cheer when Jim was promoted to co-manager. That's a big and welcome change in the structure of the show.

Dwight's reaction was perfect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

U2 360

U2 360

Magnificent

Reunited with my all-time favorite band last night at Gillette Stadium.  This marked my third U2 concert and completed a perfect record of my attending every U2 tour this decade.

The stripped-down Elevation tour with its heart-shaped stage ramp will always have a sentimental place in my heart, being the first U2 show I finally was able to attend after missing their every tour during the 1990's.  The Vertigo tour has some pleasant memories but is somewhat tainted by the band's overt political posturing. (Lads, I'm trying to rock out to your hits.  Stop telling me to text Nelson Mandela's cell number to one.org.)

All things considered, U2 360 was the best U2 show I've been to.  It was phenomenal.

I don't know how to best describe the 360 stage, besides "world's largest Erector set".  Here's a picture of me overlooking it:


And here's a picture of the world's largest Erector set all lit up:

Bono, during his first chat with the audience after they finished an awesome rendition of Get On Your Boots, explained that the 360 stage is actually designed as a spaceship, "to bring us closer to you. Lift off!"

In terms of production values, U2 outdid themselves with 360.  The visual and aural stimulation were unlike anything I've ever experienced in the many, many concerts I've attended over the last 20 years.  The stadium was bathed with lights of every color. Mirrored monitors descended from the top of the archways that would shimmer in glorious white light. A disco ball effect at the top of the "spaceship" succeeded in drawing us all in so that the enormous 70,000+ seat Gillette Stadium felt as intimate as the Boston clubs U2 first performed in over two decades ago.  It was at times magical, at times futuristic.  It was unforgettable.

Special effects aside, we all came for the most important thing, the music, and U2 didn't disappoint there either.  Here is the set list:

Magnificent, No Line On The Horizon, Get On Your Boots, Mysterious Ways, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Elevation, Your Blue Room, Beautiful Day, Unknown Caller, Until the End of the World, Stay (Faraway, So Close), The Unforgettable Fire, City of Blinding Lights / Mofo (snippet), Vertigo / Stories for Boys (snippet), I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix), Sunday Bloody Sunday, MLK, Walk On.  First encore: One, Where the Streets Have No Name / Amazing Grace (snippet).  Second encore: Ultraviolet (Light My Way), With Or Without You, Moment of Surrender.

They played The Unforgettable Fire.  Repeat: they played The Unforgettable Fire! I never, ever thought I'd have the chance to hear U2 perform that song live.  Once they did that, I was on cloud nine.  Good Lord, everything else was gravy after that.

What's more, this was an inspired song selection spanning virtually their entire catalog.  "No Line on the Horizon" was of course represented well, being the album they're touring to support. The pleasant surprise was how they dug out songs from their lesser known efforts.

Your Blue Room was a total surprise, from the little known (beloved by me) "Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1" album from 1995.

"Zooropa", another personal favorite from the 90's that gets little love elsewhere got a shout out with (Stay) Faraway, So Close!, which knocked my socks off.  An angel hit the ground.

"Achtung Baby" was represented by One, naturally, and Mysterious Ways (cool!) but I never saw (a personal favorite) Ultraviolet (Light My Way) and Until the End of the World coming. (I am likely the only person in the stadium who immediately yelled "Proof of Life!" because Until the End of the World was used in the soundtrack to that little-seen, little-loved Russell Crowe/Meg Ryan kidnapping movie.)

"All That You Can't Leave Behind" was showcased by Beautiful Day ("Livin' like a hermit!" - a reference five people will get), Elevation ("Lara Croft!"), and Walk On. The end of Beautiful Day got an unexpected bonus when the band worked in the chorus of The Police's King of Pain. There's a little black spot on the sun today. That's my soul up there.

Vertigo (impossible not to think of Bono on South Park - "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!") and City of Blinding Lights, the Barack Obama theme song, stumped for "How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb".

As for "The Joshua Tree", we got Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and With Or Without You.  The most surprising and wonderful thing about With Or Without You is that Bono actually sang almost the entire song.  In the past shows I've seen, Bono expends little effort into With Or Without You, singing just a few lyrics and letting the audience do most of the real work.  This time, Bono really sang it.

Honestly, I was so caught up in the show and so pleased by the surprises from the band, I didn't even notice until later what was omitted.  No Bad.  No Pride (In the Name of Love), which is a bit of a shock.  No The Fly.  Those are the big ones missing.

Now, you'll never have everything you want from a U2 show.  You have to know that going in.  Their catalog is just too massive.  I'm sure some were disappointed by the omissions, but I've heard all those missing songs in prior concerts I've attended.  Hearing the songs I never expected more than made up for it.  (Once more: they played The Unforgettable Fire!)

It wouldn't be a U2 show without some shenanigans involving Bono bringing a woman on stage to dance with. Even this was a hilarious reversal of expectations.  As soon as the woman gained her balance on the inner circle, Bono leaped into her arms and had her carry him around the stage!

It also wouldn't be a U2 show without some political statements, but this time, thankfully and to the band's credit, they waited an hour to beat us over the head with the politics.  The triple shot of MLK, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Walk On that closed the main set brought the politics but it wasn't anywhere near as theatrical and uncomfortably melodramatic as in the Vertigo tour (as seen in U2 3D) when Bono was blindfolded and pantomimed being executed as a prisoner of war.  For Walk On, a troupe of people marched across the outer ring of the stage and stood there as the band performed, then dutifully walked off stage with the band.  It was simple and much more enjoyable.

As the closing statement on the decade of the 2000's by U2, the 360 show was just about perfect for me.  It was their most elaborate, stimulating, and overall most enjoyable show that I've attended.  Between the three shows I've been to, I've heard just about every great song from by U2, save one.  My favorite U2 song of all:

A Sort of Homecoming.

That's the song I'm chasing from U2.  When they come back for the next tour, I'll be there.  If they don't play A Sort of Homecoming, I'll just go to the next one, and the next one until they do. And so on, and so on. Until I find what I'm looking for.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jennifer's Body (**1/2)


Jennifer's Body, the tragic tale of two BFFs who aren't meant to be besties forever because a demon came between them, didn't slay me as I'd hoped.  It's equal parts snarky teen comedy and blood-splattered horror movie, yet doesn't push far enough in either direction. Trading heavily on the milky promises of Megan Fox's body, Jennifer's Body is a cock tease to the Nth degree.

Though Jennifer's Body is being sold entirely via the willful exploitation of Megan Fox as a sex commodity, the dramatic heavy lifting falls to Amanda Seyfried, who plays Fox's long-suffering best friend with the unfortunate but accurate nickname of "Needy."  Seyfried is the only person in the movie who has a complete character. She plays sweetness, vulnerability, lesbianism (of course - too bad it's merely a toned down Wild Things moment), tragedy, hell-hath-no-fury grrl power vengeance, you name it. I had a hard time caring about her, per se, or anyone else in the movie for that matter, but Seyfried had the most to work with and did the most with it. The bookend scenes and closing credits montage reveal Jennifer's Body to be about empowerment, literally, for the poor girl in Megan Fox's shadow. Yet even the Clark Kent glasses, dowdy outfits, and her stringy hairstyle can't suppress Seyfried's radiance.

Sadly, comparatively little care and attention was paid to the character of Jennifer, who begins the story as an unlikable small town teen harlot and becomes... an unlikable small town undead teen harlot who eats her classmates.  As Jennifer, Fox's only assignment is to embody a cunning, irresistible temptress. She's up to the task at hand, but Fox generates little sympathy, empathy, or any emotion outside of fleeting lust. The only time we feel badly for Fox is when she's tied up in the woods by the Satanic rock band Low Shoulder and they "go Benihana on her ass" to sacrifice her soul for a record deal. This is simply because even after two Transformers movies where she's chased around the world by giant robots, it was the first time on screen Fox was victimized and robbed of her impenetrable veneer of hotness. (She immediately regains it and maintains it for the rest of the movie.) Jennifer is never interesting, with or without the devil inside her.

The laughs in Jennifer's Body are provided by Diablo Cody's pop culture-laden, hit-or-miss candy girl dialogue. Generating chuckles are offbeat choices like dressing the reliable JK Simmons in a wavy wig and giving him a hook for a hand. The biggest LOL moment for me turned out to be during the dueling sex scenes as Fox murders and feasts on Kyle Gallner, the clueless emo kid, while Seyfried and her easygoing boyfriend get busy under the sheets.  (I liked that they both kept their watches on and he bragged that he made love to her "for four minutes.")  As Fox turns Gallner into "lasagne with teeth", Seyfried's boyfriend is oblivious to her squirms and tears as she's visited by visions of Fox's murder victims.  (I found it to be a hilarious reversal of the infamous sex scene from Munich, perhaps the worst sex scene ever filmed.)  When the boyfriend finally notices Seyfriend in distress beneath him, he assumes, "Am I too big?"

For the red-blooded heterosexual male who buys a ticket in order to have mind's eye sex with Megan Fox's face, cleavage, and what limited other body parts she's willing to bare, the surprise is Jennifer's Body isn't quite "Twilight for boys."  Titillation aside, Jennifer's Body is way more for the girls. Cody's script is positively loaded with modern teenage girl issues: jealousy, betrayal, obsession, your BFF stealing your boyfriend, eating disorders (Fox, newly a demon, gorges on rotisserie chicken and vomits up buckets of blood), etc.  Seyfried's character is introduced lovingly gazing at Fox cheerleading. Another girls calls Seyfriend "gay for her" and the movie deals with this head on. And mouth on, and tongue on. (But also with clothes on.) When Fox explains her newfound supernatural powers to Seyfried, she demonstrates her healing ability ("It's like some X-Men shit!") by cutting her wrist.

Somewhere in the third act of Jennifer's Body, Seyfried has a pow wow with her boyfriend that Fox is "evil evil, not just high school evil."  She'd hit up the Occult section of their school library ("Our library has an Occult section?") and studied up on how to defeat the Succubus demon that inhabits Fox's body and forces her to feast on the flesh of boys to stay looking hot.  It was an amusing riff straight out of an early season episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, with the movie's Willow and Xander stand-ins strategizing how Buffy might slay the demon of the week.  Except there is no Buffy in Jennifer's Body, or worse, Buffy is the demon. Therein lies the rub.  It's kind of depressing when Buffy is AWOL and Willow has to do everything herself.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Office 6x1 - "Gossip"


By now, Michael, Jim and Pam are Ol' Faithful. So reliable. This episode was owned by the supporting cast, who got all the best lines.

Kevin: "I might have extra. It depends on how many I eat."

Creed's entire aside about scuba. "If I can't scuba, what has any of this been for?"

Stanley's shocking revelation of an affair.

My favorite: Andy's utter confusion about whether the rumors are true that he's gay. "Michael, am I gay?!" That was the biggest LOL moment for me, along with the line about "the coincidences." Oh, and Jim telling him to sleep with a woman and then a man to compare and the sound Ed Helms made. Honestly, who was in a bigger, more popular and profitable movie this past summer than Ed Helms (and I don't mean The Goods).
 
Dwight to the summer interns: "One of you will be wildly successful in business, one of you will do all right, one of you will be a great mother."

"Michael, you told people I use store bought compost, even though I showed you where my compost comes from."

Six years in, the supporting cast of The Office are worth a zillion Dundees.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Update

The original Back of the Head is no more.  I own the URL www.backofthehead.com which now directs to this blog.  Naturally, this change didn't come without headaches, in the form of pretty pictures.  Missing pretty pictures.  Most of the pictures on this site were uploaded from the old site, which no longer exists.  D'oh.  New project: Put all the pictures back on this site, which for some reason makes them smaller than before.  Oh well.  The pictures will all return eventually...  Working on it...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Love You, Man (***)


Affable and very funny bromantic comedy that walks some fine lines without teetering over. The clever central conceit is that Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are both straight. Period. Once their core heterosexuality is established as iron clad, they are free to carry on in as gay a manner as they want in their friendship and we buy everything because there's no chance of an "Ending of Chasing Amy Situation" happening. Segel convincingly plays the polar opposite of his lovesick mope in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Rashida Jones plays Rudd's fiance as the sunniest, most understanding and forgiving woman ever. Such a creature couldn't possibly exist. Her one flaw is that she doesn't like to give blowjobs, but wait, no, she does! The supporting cast, including Andy Samberg, JK Simmons, Jaime Pressly, and Lou Ferrigno are so good, it's a shame they're not given more to do. I Love You, Man doesn't have an ounce of malice. There is no artificial villain. The closest the movie provides to a heavy is Jon Favreau as Pressly's asshole husband, but it's understandable why he's got a chip on his shoulder after he endures a gallon of puke on his face. The only real chink in I Love You, Man's armor is that the movie has a lot of funny stuff to say about modern day bromance but doesn't necessarily have a story to tell. The third act resorts to some standard movie artifice to create some easily resolved conflict before the big finale. Still, it's impossible to not like a movie that's so gay for the band Rush.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Extract ( **1/2)


I would have waited to see Extract on DVD or cable were it not for the glowing recommendation from Beavis and Butt-Head. Those two have never steered me wrong about what sucks.  Extract doesn't suck, and it has some really funny moments, but it's not quite as good or focused as Office Space. This time Mike Judge reverses the perspective from the put-upon employees in Office Space to the troubles of Jason Bateman, the frustrated owner of a company that makes food flavoring extract. Bateman showing some traces of Michael Bluth is one of the main pleasures of Extract, including his saying the Michael Bluth-ism "We've gotta power through".  Mila Kunis steals every scene she's in as the manipulative con woman lust object of everyone at the extract plant, and a shaggy Ben Affleck has some funny lines as Bateman's drug-pushing Jiminy Crickett. Gene Simmons from KISS, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, appears as an ambulance chasing shyster. Extract is 90 minutes but feels like two hours with its meandering pace and overplotted story, but it's worth it just to try to reason out the logic of why Bateman would rather pay the pool boy to have an affair with his wife than let him do her for free.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Green Lantern: First Flight (**1/2)

GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT
Before Hal Dies, He'll See The Ring

If I were 12 years old, I would have loved this.  Green Lantern: First Flight wastes no time in whipping through the origin story of how test pilot Hal Jordan received a Power Ring from the dying Green Lantern Abin Sur before launching him into space to uncover a galactic conspiracy.  The characters are a who's who of Green Lantern lore, most of which I learned about reading DC Comics' Who's Who: Sinestro, Kilowog, Tomar Re, Arisia, Ch'p, Ganthet, Appa Ali Apsa, Kanjar Ro, the Weaponers of Qward.  The voice acting is the same basic sleepy-monotone style pioneered by the Batman animated series in the early 90's. Big name talent like Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer, and Kurtwood Smith deliver their lines as if underwater.  One of the big problems in First Flight is a lack of imagination, especially for a cartoon where budget isn't an issue and anything and everything could be animated. The Green Lanterns' powers allow their rings to create anything they can imagine.  All Green Lanterns can ever seem to conjure up with their imaginations are energy beams, clamps, winches, and force fields.  I'd have loved a giant green boxing glove, at least. Having said that, the stunt Jordan pulled with the two moons, literally, was pretty cool. First Flight is okay overall, a notch below last year's Justice League: The New Frontier.  It's a decent place holder for when Ryan Reynolds dons the green suit as the live action ring jockey in a couple of years.

Big Man Japan (**)

BIG MAN JAPAN

Weird Japanese mockumentary about a man who, when charged with electricity, transforms into Big Man Japan, the Ultraman-like protector of the Japanese islands.  When he isn't a fifty foot tall naked, tattooed, fat guy who carries a big stick and battles even stranger monsters, Big Man Japan is a lonely divorced father who squeaks by an ignoble existence while angry citizens mock him and throw rocks through his windows. The sixth generation of Big Man Japan, Masaru Daisatรด, as he is known in real life, is a sad sack.  His ex-wife keeps his beloved daughter away from him so she can't carry on the tradition of turning into a huge naked monster-fighter.  His father electrocuted himself and his grandfather suffers from dementia and sometimes transforms into Big Man Japan and destroys parts of Tokyo.  The CGI spends a lot of time in the uncanny valley.  Big Man Japan is supposed to be a comedy, I think, but maybe the language barrier took away what was supposed to be funny.  Ultraman and the Power Rangers never had it so rough.

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