Saturday, March 26, 2011

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

If you read my Most Anticipated List then you probably know by now that I was really looking forward to this movie and it's been my most anticipated film ever since I saw the first trailer for it. Now having seen Sucker Punch, I'm left with a cocked jaw tapping my hand against my keyboard trying to bring myself to write these words: It didn't live up to my expectations. And I blame myself for that, not the movie.

The reason why I blame myself is mostly due to my opinion of Zack Snyder. I know I'll lose fans for saying this (especially with some of the big film buffs) but I think Zack Snyder is the best working director out there right now and one of the best visionaries since Stanley Kubrick. Kind of a heavy statement isn't it? Well, up until Sucker Punch I had yet to be proven wrong in my opinion. Dawn of the Dead and 300 are in my Top 10 of all time, Watchmen is number 12 and Legends of the Guardians is in my top 30. His films are held in high regard in my household and whenever I get into debates about directors I always tend to go on and on about him. But Kubrick, Spielberg, Lucas, and Scorsese have all had duds before, or at least films that don't live up to the standards of their best and so why shouldn't Zack Snyder? Maybe it was about time he made a movie that wasn't five stars.
 Usually by now I would be talking about the plot, then follow up with a quick analysis and then a score. But this time, it's different. Why? Well when your Most Anticipated Movie turns out to be not the best movie of the year, you tend to want to give it some more thought than usual.

If you've been over to Rotten Tomatoes recently then you will know the critics have not been kind to this film. The local paper where I'm from only gave it one star and it seems like this outpour of hatred won't stop anytime soon. And despite what you may think from reading the first two paragraphs, I DID like Sucker Punch. Was it the epic "Best movie of the year" I was hoping it to be? No. But did it show promise and excel in some areas? Yes. So what worked and didn't work? Let's start with the story.

Sucker Punch is the story of Baby Doll (Emily Browning). That isn't her real name I'm assuming, but her real name, along with the other four girls, is never revealed. The movie starts with her mothers passing which leaves her and her sister alone with their abusive and violent step-father. When the mothers will leaves everything to Baby Doll and her sister, the step-father kills Baby Doll's sister and pins it on her, claiming she went insane and needs to be lobotomized before she hurts someone else. So they send her up to a mental institution where the step-father pays off an orderly named Blue (Oscar Issac) to forge the signature of the head psychiatrist (Carla Gugino) so she can be lobotomized in five days (to keep the detectives investigating the case from asking her questions).
 Before I go on with the plot I will stop and point out a major flaw with the movie early on. That entire scene I mentioned, save for a quick voice over about angels, is silent. That's right, silent. The whole time that scene is going on Emily Browning is singing a cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These). Snyder has done this before, most notably with the Comedian fight/death scene in the beginning of Watchmen, but here it goes on for way too long. Snyder's reasoning I think has to do with his emphasis on music in the film (everything pre-sword fighting seems like a giant music video) being an integral part of the film but it comes off as dull.

Anyway back to the plot. Baby Doll arrives at the institution and quickly buries herself inside a dream world, in which her and the other inmates are whores in a whorehouse. The why is never really explained and the transition is jarring to say the least (all of a sudden Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) is Baby Doll and calling cut) but this world is definitely a lot more colorful and entertaining then the real world and it's here the movie starts getting good. In this world Baby Doll is going to get picked up in 5 days by the High Roller (Jon Hamm) and taken to be one of his personal whores. The whorehouse is run by Blue Jones (that orderly from before) and the girls are supervised by the dance instructor/theater director Madam Gorski (that head psychiatrist). One interesting note: the real world is very sparingly used until the end, so most of the movie takes place inside the dream world).

After spending a day there, Baby Doll makes friends with Rocket (Jena Malone) and learns from Madam Gorski that to survive here you need to dance. Due to nerves or something Baby Doll enters into ANOTHER DREAM WORLD WITHIN THE DREAM WORLD while she dances and there meets the Wiseman (Scott Glenn) who tells her a plan to escape. She teams up with Rocket, Sweet Pea (who's Rocket's sister), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) and their plan is that Baby Doll will dance and while she's dancing, everyone will be so distracted that they can take what they need to escape. And whenever she dances, she enters that dream within the dream world and in there they are a spy/ninja/soldier group that do missions for the Wiseman.
And that is the basic synopsis of the film. No spoilers at all, just the basic plot outline. And in there lies another problem. Did that seem long, confusing and hard to follow? If it did then you are most people. I admire Snyder for doing something original (and by that I mean something not based on another work, his influences from other films are obvious here) but being overambitious can sometimes get the better of people. Eventually it starts sounding like the guy who goes "And then...and then...and then...and then." for two hours, it gets really hard to follow. But Snyder's witty dialogue, his attention to characters and quotable one liners are evident in this movie and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't get a little teary eyed in the end so the story, while flawed, does have promise and is worth sitting through.

The acting is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I've had a giant crush on Emily Browning ever since A Series of Unfortunate Events and she looks stunning in this movie, but acting-wise she just wasn't all there. She doesn't talk a ton (which looking back was probably good) but she always looks really bored or uninterested the entire movie. Abbie Cornish and Jena Malone as Sweet Pea and Rocket on the other hand are fantastic. Rocket is a firecracker with a lot of zing (wow that sounded cheesy) and Malone really shines when she gets to just lay line after line on people. Cornish adds a lot of dramatic excellence as Sweet Pea acting as a sort of watchdog/guardian to the group. Hudgens and Chung are just kind of there and really don't add anything to the group. Issac and Gugino are quite good as well. Issac brings a lot of that pure, demented evil person out and you really love to hate him. Gugino is working a great accent the whole movie and does have some really good moments in the film. Hamm is barely in it but he seems to be enjoying himself and does competently with what he's given.
Now I can't talk about a Snyder film, or at least one after Dawn of the Dead, without talking about the visual effects. One thing critics and I seem to agree on is that the effects are great. They are truly something to behold and are a treat on the eyes. The steam-punk zombies, demon samurai's, orcs, dragons and cyborg soldiers are all really well done and show off how good CGI and make-up have become nowadays. Heck the dragon CGI was so good I kind of felt bad for the dragon. The backgrounds are also beautifully done and each world does feel truly unique. I wish more time would have been spent there, since that's where the film truly shines the most, but what's there IS really good.

So where does that leave us now? We have a confusing, convoluted, story that shows some signs of promise, a mixed bag of acting where the duds are really duds and the stars shine really bright, and fantastic visuals that are a treat to watch. So now comes the big question? Do I recommend this movie? Well when it comes right down to it I do. It certainly has it's problems and it may not be for everyone, but I do think that some of the good can and does outweigh the bad. So in the end I say...


Thursday, March 24, 2011

"S**t, I'd rather be in Afghanistan."

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

If you follow me on Twitter or have read my personal Facebook wall then you already probably know my opinion about this movie in a few short sentences. But a couple short sentences don't cut it here so I'll elaborate in greater detail. Battle: LA is a loud, obnoxious, dimwitted, poorly paced, sci-fi action thriller that has terrible acting, piss poor writing, heavy handed symbolism, non-existent characters, terrible special effects and is seemingly shot by the guy who did the Bourne series after he's taken speed. That said it has amazing, edge of your seat, intense and fulfilling action scenes that, while disorienting, are hard to take your eyes off of. And for that I can't really hate the movie. Fundamentally there is SO much wrong with it that the jaded critic in me wants to throw this under the bus, but the 20 year old guy who loves action movies in me can't get enough of it. My opinions are almost as mixed as the reviews it seems.
 The plot is about as deep as a petri dish but, in the film's defense, it does it's job and doesn't try to complicate things. One day a bunch of meteors fall from the sky and hit Earth. Turns out these "meteors" weren't really meteors at all and instead are spaceships filled with aliens. And these aliens want our water...bad. They don't want to negotiate, they don't want to talk, they just want to get the water and kill everything that comes within a country mile of them. While most countries and cities are devastated Los Angeles seems to be still hanging on by a thread. The military's plan, at least with LA, is to set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB), rescue any civilians still in the city, and then blow everything to pieces. The Marines get stuck with the rescue operation and send Staff Sargent Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), an aged veteran who has a bad reputation for getting people killed, 2nd Lieutenant Martinez, a young but bright soldier, and about a half dozen so characters that are basically nameless (they ARE named but it's hard to keep track of who's who) and are only distinguished by a certain trait (guy from New Jersey, African doctor, black guy with glasses ect) and fight off these aliens in what's basically a suicide mission.
 I gave this synopsis more thought than the movie ever did, that's for sure. Basically it's "AHH LOUD YELLING *SWITCH ANGLES* LOUD YELLING *SWERVE INTO A NEW SHOT* ALIENS!! *BANG BANG* LOUD YELLING." It's borderline incoherent. It's also confusing to look at since it keeps switching directions every five seconds. At one point I thought one character was dead only to realize during a slow moment that he was still alive and that someone else had died. That's never good. I also have the sneaking suspicion that this was written in a day and in all caps. If it wasn't then he never should work in Hollywood again. It doesn't help the acting is stiff at best, unbearable at worst. When a R&B/Hip Hop artist is one of your best actors you have a problem. Eckhart tries his hardest but at his best comes off as overly cheesy and hokey. Michelle Rodriguez and Ramon Rodriguez do okay but nothing special. Michael Pena has a good scene towards the end but it's short and bittersweet.

But with all the negative I have shoved at the film there is one giant positive: the action. It's intense, gripping and it seems like the only time the faults work in favor of the film instead of against it. I was engaged the whole time I was watching the action scenes but I'd be a liar if I didn't groan a little when each one was over, knowing that a talking scene would be coming up next. 
Battle: Los Angeles is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. If you are willing to sift through the crap and deal with all the fundamental problems this film has on a basic level (writing, shooting, acting, directing) then you will find the diamond in the rough known as the action scenes. It's not much of a consolation but they are entertaining and worth watching, if nothing else in it is.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How many of us ever know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

Looking back, I should have picked up on Bradley Cooper's potential as a star way back when I first saw him in Wet Hot American Summer. Rugged good looks, a great sense of humor, the twinkle in the eye that you see in all leading men, and most importantly the ability to be versatile in any role you are given. And despite being stuck in comedies for most of his career (save for a few films) Cooper has certainly gotten nothing but better in the last 10 years.

Limitless, the latest from Illusionist director Neil Burger, is picture proof of how good Cooper has gotten. Limitless lives or dies by Cooper's performance both on screen as well as in the numerous voice overs and inner monologues he delivers throughout the entire movie. If he didn't deliver on both, this film would have been dead on arrival. Acting's certainly not easy but being able to be convincing and entertaining while basically reading your lines out loud is certainly a challenge most actors can't live up to. But luckily Cooper's charm and charisma cut through any doubt and no matter what other problems may arise from this film, you always are entertained thanks to Cooper.
 The story of Limitless is based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. Eddie Mora (Cooper) is a struggling writer whose life can't seem to catch a break. His book is overdue, his girlfriend dumped him, his money situation is in the toilet and said book only has one word written on it. One day, while roaming the streets of New York, Eddie runs into his ex brother-in-law (Eddie also has a failed marriage under his belt) who offers him a drug called NZT which will stimulate his mind, increase his intelligence and make him more focused then he has ever been in his life. It also makes things more colorful (I don't know why). When the effects wear off he decides he needs more and, after discovering the ex brother-in-law dead, finds his secret stash and takes it as his own.

With his newfound powers Eddie becomes the perfect him. He's in shape, dresses well, looks clean, learns languages, martial arts and other talents and even manages to finish his book. But like every red blooded American he wants more. So he ups the dosage and decides to take on Wall Street. But when side effects start occurring and people start following him, maybe being the best him isn't the best decision after all.
 The story is well done but suffers in a few key ways. First it relies on NZT as a crutch whenever they write themselves in a hole. Need to fight? NZT. Need to run? NZT? Need to accomplish a goal? NZT. Need to fill a plot hole in seconds? NZT. It goes on and after a while gets a little frustrating. I understand the point is that it's a miracle drug but it can't make you God of all sudden (which this movie may lead you to believe). Second, besides Eddie, all the other characters are painfully underdeveloped. DeNiro is basically a caricature of Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko, Abbie Cornish is just there to be the girlfriend and nothing more, and all the other supporting cast members either don't get a name or aren't developed past stereotypes 101. Seedy lawyer? Businessman? Russian Mobster? All there. Finally, some side plots are basically just dropped mid film for no reason other than they must have run out of time. The best example? One character's motivations change in two seconds flat with no explanation. It baffled me.

The acting is a mixed bag but with more good then bad. I've already raved about Cooper enough but he is fantastic and a treat to watch the whole time. DeNiro, despite not having much depth, is good as well and does a good job with what he's given. He mixes intimidation, evil and kind quite well. It's kind of a throwback to his older roles. But that's where the praise ends. Everyone else either phones it in or gets swamped by Cooper/DeNiro. It's sad really when you think about it, but luckily you don't notice the bad that much unless you really go looking for it.

The only other thing worth noting is they do a tunnel effect multiple times during the movie (the longest being the opening credit sequence) and while cool at first, it gets annoyingly disorienting and I almost got nauseous. Just fair warning you might want to look away.
Overall Limitless is one of those movies that should be a great vehicle for Bradley Cooper. It shows he can do drama and action well and that if you give him a script he can deliver. The story suffers from a few issues but overall is entertaining and doesn't overstay it's welcome. The acting sans Cooper leaves a lot to be desired but an interesting role, albeit shallow, from Robert DeNiro is at least somewhat fun to watch. If you're a Cooper fan or like kinda trippy thrillers then give this a whirl.


Desert Island CD Blog-a-Thon

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I *HOLY F****N ASS CRACKERS!*

Holy Moses M Mamajamba what just happened? One minute I was on my eternal quest to find the Holy Grail filled with Tigerblood (which should explain so much) and next thing I know I wake up and I'm in an airplane with a bunch of my fellow critics. After some angry stares I push through everyone to get to the front and see who the pilot is and lo and behold it is Castor of Anomalous Materials. He looks at me, hands me a laptop which has my entire iTunes library on it, and says I have five minutes to make a 12 track CD with all my favorite songs. There are two catches though: They all have to be from film soundtracks (because otherwise this would be way too easy) and the plane is about to crash on a desert island so we will be stuck with these tracks for a long time.

After soiling myself in fear I compose myself and quickly make a playlist. He pops out the CD, hands me an indestructible walkman (aka any walkman because those things are DURABLE) and tells me to sit down. In a matter of seconds after I sit we crash into the side of a mountain and hit the beach.
I awake to find me and the others strewn about. Most are alive but some did perish. One was killed for noting this looked like Oahu, not some desert island in the middle of nowhere. His name was Jacob Black or something like that I never caught his name. I decided, thanks to all my knowledge of Survivor and the movie Castaway, to start making a camp, gathering wood for a fire, and talking to myself or a nondescript person off in the distance. So while I did all those chores I decided to whip out the walkman and start listening to my playlist.

(Sorry if that was overly long but I wanted to have fun with this)

1. I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow-Soggy Bottom Boys (O Brother Where Art Thou)

Up until about 6 months ago I had never actually seen the entire film "O Brother Where Art Thou." Before you tar and feather me I had seen parts of it but be it I was tired, busy ect I never got around to finishing it. But one part of the movie always stuck with me: the scene in the recording studio where they performed this song for the first time. It's such a powerful song but sung in such a subtle way. He doesn't have to oversing his pain for you to feel it. It's also one of those songs I could listen to for hours on end without stop and not get bored. That's worth something in my book.

2. Dueling Banjos-Arthur Smith (Deliverance)

It's easy to laugh at this one I know, but this song is really quite something brilliant at it's core. A banjo vs a guitar in an eternal game of oneupmanship (or at least five minutes). But why have it as a desert island song? Well for one I'm a sucker for banjos but also it's one of those songs that can provide comedic gold when necessary. Just turn up the walkman to a very high volume and blast the first few chords of this song whenever something backwoods or rednecky happens around camp and it's always usually good for a laugh. And since I'm gonna be stuck here for a while, humor is definitely important.

3. Lux Aeterna-Clint Mansell (Requiem for A Dream)

Probably one of the most recognizable pieces of film score (at least in my opinion), Lux Aeterna is probably going to be on a few people's lists. But for me I picked it not because of its fame but because it really hits me hard on a much deeper level then I had first thought. When I watched it in context with the film I was very moved by the piece but by itself Lux Aeterna really got to me. I hate to sound cheesy here but it invoked emotions I didn't think I had. I also picked it for the simple reason that I wanted a mix of song songs and long instrumental pieces so I'd have plenty of material.

4. Blade Runner Blues-Vangelis (Blade Runner)

Any excuse to put Blade Runner in...oh wait you need more? Well I figure if I were to be on an island for a long time, there would be times where I stare thoughtfully out in the distance. And what better song to stare out in the distance to then this? It's very transcendental and calming while at the same time captivating. Vangelis did such a great job with Blade Runner that I could have picked any song from the soundtrack, but this one always stuck out to me. That and when I'm thinking I like to play this song.

5. Piano Concerto #22 In E Flat K482 3. Finale-Mozart (Amadeus)

Every mixtape that has to carry longevity (aka being on an island) needs classical music. Be it Bach, Beethoven, Strauss or Mozart, if you are going to be stuck somewhere you need some class. I doubt I'm the only Amadeus enthusiast in the bunch so plan on seeing a ton of Mozart music in these lists but this one has always been my favorite piece. Why? It was my Grandma's favorite piece. Every time I hear it I think of her. And those warm memories are enough to keep me sane for however long I'll be stuck on an island (DAAWWWWWWWWWW)

6. Back to the Future Theme-The Outtatime Orchestra (Back to the Future)

Do I really need to explain? I mean honestly. I refuse to show it because it would shame me to no end but I have a picture of me with my head replacing Michael J Fox's head on the Back to the Future Movie Poster. On top of that I used to wear a orange vest and ride my big wheel saying I needed to get to 88 MPH and when I got fast enough I went "Great Scott!" So needless to say I'm a fanboy of BTTF. But why the theme and not Power of Love or other songs like that? Well the theme invokes so many memories and events in my life that I would be an idiot not to put it in. That and it is a damn catchy theme. I'm humming it right now and have been since I started writing this.

7. One More Time-Daft Punk (Interstella 5555)

Is this a bit of a cop out? Yeah...and I know full well I'm playing fast and loose with the rules but I had to get this song on here somehow and Discovery is technically the soundtrack to Interstella 5555 so...yeah. And before you say "Well what about Tron Legacy or other songs on Discovery?" Well simply put they don't live up to the awesomeness of this song. Every time I hear this song I'm always rocking out and singing at the top of my lungs like a crazed fanboy. And along with Man of Constant Sorrow, it's one of those songs I've listened to for hours on end without stop. No matter what happens on that island I will celebrate and dance so free because the music has got me feeling so free, I'm gonna celebrate.

8. Sympathy for the Devil-The Rolling Stones (Alien Nation...among others)

I've always loved the Rolling Stones. They may be as old as dirt but Jagger and crew sure know how to put on one helluva show. And when I think of my favorite Stones songs it's hard to just choose one. But I don't want any repeats on here so I had to narrow it down to one, which took me a few days honestly. In the end though I chose Sympathy because it has great ambiance. Anyone who has played Call of Duty Black Ops knows what I mean. When I listen to Sympathy it just makes me feel like part of my environment and that everything around me is moving. It's calming but chaotic at the same time. Jagger is cool the whole time but Richards is intense and when it breaks down into the guitar solo with the woo woo's it's hard to not get into it. A great song and one I would definitely need on a desert island.

9. Sweet Home Chicago-Blues Brothers (The Blues Brothers)

Up until I saw Shaun of the Dead, Blues Brothers was my favorite film of all time. I watched it at a young age and it really had an impact on me. For one, it introduced me to some great musical talent that were alive and well at the time. Second, it gave me plenty of lines that would be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Third, it gave me John Belushi, a big guy who has made it in the world and doesn't let anything keep him down. That was inspiring to someone like me. On top of all that it had great music. It would have been easy to pick Jailhouse Rock or Everybody Needs Somebody but I wanted to pick a lesser known song that showed off all the funk that made the Blues Brothers the Blues Brothers and the fun they could have on stage. It's funky, it's fresh and it's entertaining...therefore it needs to be on this list.

10. Wake Up-Rage Against the Machine (The Matrix)

Rage Against the Machine is one of my favorite bands. The Matrix is my favorite film trilogy ever. Are you surprised this made it? Granted I almost put Clubbed to Death (another awesome song from the Matrix) or the song they played during the final Smith/Neo fight, but I have plenty of instrumental music on this mixtape already and needed something a little more upbeat, in your face and something you could listen to in the morning to get you going. Wake Up is actually my alarm sound on my phone so it makes sense that this would be the song to beat for that spot. That and I needed a song I could headbang to.

11. Freebird-Lynyrd Skynyrd (The Devil's Rejects)


On top of being the greatest rock song of all time (as well as having the best guitar solo of all time) Freebird is one of those songs that needs to be on everyone's playlist. The first half is this calming reassuring song about how death isn't that bad and then halfway through it turns into this bad-ass piece of musical genius that needs to be heard to believe. I have listened to this song plenty of times over the years and if I were to be on an island, stuck for God knows how long, this would be second on my list of songs that need to be on there. This song is a sign of hope and hope is all you got in this situation sometimes.

So what's the number one song then?

1. Afternoon Delight-Will Ferrel and Co. (Anchorman)

Oh yeah...this would be the first song chosen on any mixtape let alone one I'd be stuck with for years. Why? Well it's the only song I know all the parts to (I can play all the parts as well as sing all the parts) and it's one of  those songs that tells you that nothing possibly can go wrong, if you get a little afternoon delight. It's an expression of love and in the words of Burgandy himself "If you don't think this is the best song ever...I will fight you." And if I happen to be in a scenario where more than me lives, I will start an A Capella group. And what's the first song we would learn? That's right...this.

I included the video with this one because...well, it's just as awesome as the song.

Well there you have desert island mixtape. Now if you don't mind I have to go put a bloody handprint on a volleyball and develop an emotional attachment to it.

To Read the other entries and to see what this whole thing is about...go here