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Saturday, August 28, 2010



Invictus can be looked at two ways: 1) It's the worst sequel to District 9 ever made. I mean, how do you do a movie set in South Africa without any Prawns? Where are the fucking Prawns?! 2) More accurately, Invictus is a fine, noble film by Clint Eastwood about Nelson Mandela's Presidency over South Africa and his attempts to unite his country after decades of apartheid. Mandela's fierce determination to find ways to bring the minority whites and blacks of South Africa together finds focus via the Springboks, South Africa's rugby team, whom Mandela is determined to inspire to win the World Cup, thereby inspiring the entire nation. Mandela forms a friendship with the Springboks' captain, Francois Pienaar. Both men are pillars of nobility, each admiring the other without a hint of conflict; any skepticism or hostility regarding Mandela is left to either Mandela's underlings or Pienaar's teammates, all of whom fall in lockstep with Mandela's unifying vision by the end. As Mandela, Morgan Freeman does admirable work, while Matt Damon takes on the South African accent successfully, though he sports a nose prosthetic that's only slightly less distracting than the one he wore in Ocean's Thirteen. Rugby is never fully explained to the non-rugby-indoctrinated audience - Harry Potter took much more care in laying out the intricacies of Quidditch - so it was difficult to invest in the big rugby match at the end, which seemed like a lot of sweaty, bleeding dudes piling on top of each other. Much more powerful was Damon leading his rugby team on a visit to Robben Island and seeing the tiny jail cell (46664) Mandela occupied for 30 years. I'll never forget Nelson Mandela's prison cell number for as long as I live because Bono used to put it on the big screen at U2 concerts and ask everyone in the audience to text it during the "Vertigo" tour.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Piranha 3D (*****)



Piranha 3D cannot be discussed in polite company, and I mean that as a superlative. Boobs! Boobs! Blood! Blood! Piranha 3D has a simple agenda and it fulfills it with a shameless, go-for-broke, anything goes glee that's reprehensible if you're a churl, and yet, frankly honorable. Opening with an homage to Jaws featuring Richard Dreyfuss himself, Piranha 3D freely abandons any lofty aspirations (why would a piranha movie have lofty aspirations?) and dives headlong into copious amounts of viscera-soaked schlock and soft core porn.  An earthquake exposes underground caverns in an Arizona lake that unleashes "thousands" of prehistoric piranhas that had been thought be extinct for two million years. Sheriff Elizabeth Shue and scientist Adam Scott discover the threat of the piranha too late to prevent the alcohol-soaked orgy of scantily clad spring breakers partying at the lake from becoming fish food. Meanwhile Shue's son Steven R. McQueen and the girl he loves, Jessica Szohr, fall under the sway of smarmy, thinly-veiled Joe Francis parody Jerry O'Connell and his harem of delectable porn stars, played gamely by the very bouncy Kelly Brook and Riley Steele. Brook and Steele deserve special Academy Awards for their eye-popping extended skinny dipping sequence, and then the Academy should retire that Oscar after they accept. Character development is non-existent, but Scott and Shue transform into credible action heroes; Scott dispatches piranha with a shotgun (of course) as he zips around on a jet ski, while Shue, in her forties, asserts herself as the sexiest woman in the picture even with all the young bare flesh on display. The way our heroes manage to slay the piranha is a Mythbusters episode waiting to happen. Appearances by Ving Rhames (his pride wasn't fuckin' with him here. Fuck pride!), Christopher Lloyd ("Great Scott!"), Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer, and Eli Roth (who goes down in ghastly fashion) add that extra layer of "Hey, what's (s)he doing here?!", but the real stars are the grotesque CGI piranha and the jaw dropping amounts of carnage on the screen. Piranha 3D's money sequences, especially when the piranha attack and massacre the hundreds of spring breakers in the third act, are a shocking, relentless, unbelievably depraved (in an admirable way) barrage of young bodies being torn apart, flesh being ripped off of faces, piranha bursting through faces, and gallons upon gallons of blood. Even the tease for a sequel at the very end is shameless. And kind of wonderful.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Other Guys



You ever hear a guy tell a joke, get a laugh and then decide the best way to follow up the joke he just told was to tell it again? That's The Other Guys. In a live action cartoon version of New York City narrated by the godly omniscience of Ice-T, Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg are a pair of desk-bound, going-nowhere detectives handling the paperwork of human demolition derby supercops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Jackson and Johnson get their swaggering asses killed, leaving a hole open for another duo to step up and become the alpha males of the department. Despite loathing each other - Farrell is a straight-arrow nerd and Wahlberg is a competent but desperate powder keg - the Other Guys get involved in cracking some sort of  bewildering ponzi scheme involving Steve Coogan that absolutely no one in the audience understood or gave two shits about. There is some funny stuff in The Other Guys; the first act is a gonzo bonanza of oddly clever one-liners and bizarre behavior (especially the jaw dropping scene of how Johnson and Jackson bite it). Wahlberg's utter disbelief that Farrell is married to Eva Mendes and his infatuation with her draws some real laughs. By the mid-point, The Other Guys starts to repeat itself and its jokes ad nauseam, staying far too late at the party while tacking on badly choreographed and banal action sequences. Was Michael Keaton's running joke about not realizing he constantly quotes TLC song lyrics a joke worth going to the well to over and over? On the other hand, The Other Guys does some amusing riffs on Lethal Weapon: the suicide jumper scene, the leads getting blown back by an explosion, when the renegade cop has dinner at home with his straight laced partner and learns to like him. The "bribery" jokes cracked me up, but I liked the flashback that Wahlberg ended up in the police doghouse for shooting Derek Jeter (I'd say that makes him a hero) more than Farrell's backstory of being a pimp in college. The movie certainly didn't need a role reversal between the leads tacked on, nor did a subplot of Farrell and Mendes breaking up and getting back together add anything but length to the running time. Then again, with cameos from David Wallace from The Office and Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, it was good to have a reminder that the NBC fall season is right around the corner. Also, stay away from cocaine-covered cars and "soup kitchens".

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Batman: Under The Red Hood



Batman: Under The Red Hood opens with a bizarre redo of one of the most famous and tragic moments in the history of Batman: The Joker beating Robin II (Jason Todd) to death with a crowbar and then exploding him, as depicted in the seminal "A Death in the Family" story. Bizarre, because suddenly Joker is murdering Robin in the Himalayas instead of Beirut in the comics, while Ra's Al-Ghul, who wasn't in the comics story, frets about it in his mountain stronghold. Five years later, the Red Hood, a new masked crimelord-slash-vigilante stalks the streets of Gotham. Batman and his first Robin Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, are on the case, and gradually uncover the identity of the Red Hood - gasp! - it's the late Jason Todd! (Resurrected via the Lazarus Pit by a penitent Ra's Al-Ghul.)

Under The Red Hood is steeped in Batlore both old school (Joker's origin as the Red Hood as depicted in the classic "The Killing Joke", flashbacks to how Batman meets Jason Todd and makes him Robin) and recent (Black Mask ruling the Gotham Underworld). The main plot starts off awkwardly; Batman and Nightwing randomly battle and defeat Amazo, the One Man Justice League, while the thugs they capture provide forehead-slapping exposition to the audience - "That's Nightwing! He was the first Robin!" Gradually, the plot thickens involving The Joker and Black Mask, who looks exactly like Captain America's arch enemy The Red Skull, only, you know, with a black mask. There's some nonsense involving Red Hood employing Black Mask's henchmen, then killing them, then robot ninjas coming after Red Hood until Batman shows up. Batman and Red Hood fight and fight and fight and fight and fight - sometimes together, sometimes against each other, sometimes Nightwing's there, then he's conveniently injured and sits the denouement out.

Jason Todd's convoluted master plan to reunite himself and his mentor Batman with The Joker doesn't make any sense and is riddled with plot holes galore. The biggest one was Joker and Red Hood falling into Gotham River while Batman, flying overhead in the Batwing, receives a voice mail from Red Hood: "I've got him! I'll meet you in Crime Alley!" Oh? And how did Jason Todd manage to drag the Joker from the middle of the river all the way to Crime Alley undetected? Later, the Red Hood unmasks himself to reveal he is Jason Todd, but beneath his mask, he's wearing his Robin mask. Let me get this straight: he's wearing a mask under his mask? Shoddy comic book plotting and dialogue by Judd Winnick aside (and you know it's Winnick because one character calls another a "brain donor") the morality play in the final showdown between Jason Todd and Batman was well done, with the Joker providing some funny commentary. (And luckily, Joker didn't overhear Red Hood calling Batman "Bruce".)

Under The Red Hood employs a more anime design than Batman: The Animated Series to great effect, especially with the chase sequences around Gotham. The voice acting was better than average for a DC Universe cartoon. Bruce Greenwood does a convincing job growling like the beloved voice of Batman Kevin Conroy. Jensen Ackles and Neil Patrick Harris are very good as Robin and Nightwing. The oddest was John DiMaggio as The Joker; hearing Bender's voice come out of Joker's red, smiling mouth took some getting used to. Under The Red Hood's story contained a few too many similarities to the rather excellent Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which also involved the Joker and a traumatized Robin, but even if it's sort of the same Bat-tale, Under the Red Hood is overall a fine Bat-time.