Friday, August 29, 2008

Mad as Hell: Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer

You don't need me to tell you who Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer are. You know who they are, and what they've done. And, assuming you're with the general consensus, you hate their guts. You know their movies, or know of them, the latest of which, Disaster Movie, was released today. Their colossally bad comedy films (and I use the term "comedy films" very loosely), have, if nothing else become the standard for bad movies. We movie communities use it as a running joke, often fake-threatening each other with it: "I'll tie you down and make you watch Meet the Spartans!" Yet they keep coming. And we continue to watch them, even if only to make fun of them. After which we vomit and curse for a little while, then have a good laugh at the filmmaker's expense. But there's a deeper problem with this scenario you may not be seeing: the laugh's not on the filmmaker's, it's on you. You're the victim here, don't kid yourself.

Think about this. Disaster Movie is the fourth movie to be released by these hacks in the past three years. Four movies in three years. Two just this year. Despite the overwhelmingly negative response to their every creation, Friedberg & Seltzer continue of to shovel crapload after crapload down our collective throat. Why is this anything more this than a major irritation. Because this is not simply poor filmmaking, this is a personal insult to the audience. Hollywood has proved once and for all that they care nothing for their viewers, just the almighty dollar. Look at Disaster Movie (if you can stomach it), and see how little Hollywood truly thinks of us. The film industry has become totally disenfranchised from their consumers. What you want doesn't matter anymore, only what you're willing to pay settle for. And unfortunately, there apparently are those desperate enough to turn to Friedberg & Seltzer for a witless laugh.

If Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer aren't the very definition of Hollywood tyrants, I don't know what is. Obviously I respect the rights of these men to put whatever they so desire into their so-called "films", it's a free country (or so I'm told). But these men have been given an amazing opportunity, one many of us would kill for, and they have completely and utterly squandered it. They have abused their priviledges as much as humanly possible. These aren't filmmakers, they are serial rapists. They have taken a beautiful art form and repeatedly defiled it. They have repeated twisted and corrupted it until it is nothing but a repulsive mockery of it's former self. What truly angers me, however, is the fact that these men are given the exposure and backing of major films. You go to the major websites, Yahoo, MySpace, IMDB, and the pop-ups advertising the film fill the screen.

Why is Hollywood forcing this upon us? Why are we forced to endure what we so clearly don't want? Because Hollywood just doesn't care. They don't listen to us because they don't have too. They make money off it, so they keep making it. Hollywood hardly ever releases anything that hasn't been proven to be profitable in the past, because they aren't willing to take chances with their money. Take The Dark Knight for example. Obviously it was an incredible film, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum as Disaster Movie. But the only reason it was greenlit it was that is was a proven character with a proven cast and director. Imagine if The Dark Knight had consisted completely of unknowns. Imagine if Nolan and the cast were talented but no name filmmakers, and Batman was an entirely new character. Had that been the case, The Dark Knight would have never seen the light of day (pardon the pun). Unfortunately, as talentless as Friedberg and Seltzer are, they make money, simply because they have resources, and it makes me mad as hell.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movie Review: Sukiyaki Western Django

Japanese cult director Takashi Miike is known for his controversial portrayal of graphic violence in his films. He's sort of like Japan's version of Quentin Tarantino, just not as mainstream (interestingly enough, Tarantino is in this movie). The man never seems to stop making movies, having made fifteen films in 2001-2002 alone. And one of his latest films is a bizarre Asian-style western called Sukiyaki Western Django (say that three times fast). Having debuted in Japan last year, the film is set to appear in the U.S. on August 29th for a limited release. The movie takes place several hundred years after the Battle of Dannoura, in a small mountain town in Japan. Two rival clans, the Heike in red and the Genji in white, have come to the town searching for a legendary cache of gold, supposedly hidden somewhere in the town. They have enslaved the townsfolk, and devastated the town in their war against each other. In the midst of this wanders a lone, unnamed gunslinger (Hideaki Ito), apparently bearing a scarred past. The Reds and the Whites immediately begin biding for his services as a mercenary. The Gunman begins to play both sides, with the ultimate goal of destroying both parties and liberating the townsfolk.

The Pros: This is one of the most bizarre and visually interesting films you'll ever see. The colorful blend of east and west is something you'll not soon forget. Not many western gunfights happen in the snow, but you'll see one now. Miike is obviously paying homage to spaghetti westerns in both style and storytelling, but he also borrows from the historical War of the Roses, with his red vs. white theme (which is pretty much spelled out for you in several scenes, in case you missed it). The action is amazing, filled with six shooters and katannas. Swords slice bullets midair, holes are blown through bodies, and dynamite provides explosions a plenty. Between a gang leader obsessed with Shakespeare, and a schizophrenic milquetoast sheriff, there are some pretty interesting characters here.

The Cons: This is Takashi Miike's first (attempt at an) English language film, and it shows. It's pretty clear that for many of these actors, English is not the native tongue. They are not only trying to speak English, but trying to sound like cowboys, resulting is a weird mixture of eastern and western accent that is barely intelligible. Quentin Tarantino is here as an actor only, and while we all know he's a brilliant filmmaker, the man really has no business being an actor. His Clint Eastwood impersonation is painfully bad, but fortunately only takes up about 10 minutes of the film. They story is hardly original; being obviously borrowed from the spagehtti western A Fistful of Dollars (who coincidentally, borrowed it from the samurai film Yojimbo). Hideaki Ito doesn't have much presence as the main hero; frankly the villains are more interesting. Some of the violence feels kind of unnecessary, especially a rape scene that really feels out of place.

The Rest: As I said, the dialogue in this film is masked by the poor accents, so it's a good idea to watch this film with subtitles.

The End: As I said before, Takashi Miike is one of the busiest filmmakers in the industry. At the rate that he rolls out films, he's bound to make just as much crap as he does brilliance, if not more so. This is a good film, but it's hardly his best work. Happiness of the Katakuris, Ichi the Killer, Fudoh: The New Generation, Visitor Q, and Audition are all considered some of his best works, and Sukiyaki Western Django will not be ranked among them. Nevertheless this is still a visually unique yet genuinely western experience, and it's worth checking out. This is not the first time an Asian western has been produced, and it won't be the last (look for The Good, the Bad, and the Weird from South Korea next year).

Overall, I rate Sukiyaki Western Django as a 7 out of 10.

Click here to visit the official website for Sukiyaki Western Django.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cool Stuff: Clint Eastwood Facts

All of you are already aware of the internet phenomenon called "Chuck Norris Facts". This bits of satirical trivia floating around the web pay tribute to the martial srtist actor Chuck Norris. They say things like "There is no chin under Chuck Norris' beard. There is only another fist." or "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." But as cool as Chuck Norris is, to me there will never be anybody as cool as Clint Eastwood. He is my hero, my idol, and the presonification of awesome. So as a tribute to my hero, I thought it would be cool to write my own set of facts about Clint Eastwood. Yes, I realize that some of these are ripoffs of Chuck Norris Facts, but I think I've still got some pretty good ones here. Check 'em out:

Clint Eastwood isn't an anagram of Old West action. Old West Action is an anagram of Clint Eastwood.

The law of thermodynamics dictates that matter cannot be created or detroyed...except by Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum.

Clint Eastwood doesn't sleep, he waits.

When the boogeyman goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris. When Chuck Norris goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum can kill anyone, even a mutant hybrid of Chuck Norris, Vin Deasil, and Mr. T.

Some people sleep with teddy bears. Clint Eastwood sleeps with a grizzly bear.

Clint Eastwood, Chuck Norris, and Batman once walked into a bar. The bar was instantly destroyed, as that level of awesome cannot be contained in one building.

Ozzy Osbourne bites the heads off bats. Clint Eastwood bites the head off Ozzy Osbourne.

Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum doesn't just kill you. It wipes your existance from reality.

Only one person has ever answered "yes" to Clint Eastwood when he asked "Do ya feel lucky, punk?" Clint Eastwood didn't enjoy hurting Lucky the Leprechaun, but an example had to be made.

The only force in the universe more powerful than Chuck Norris's roundhouse kick is Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum.

There's no such thing as global warming. The earth is simply nervous with Clint Eastwood around.

Haly's Comet isn't actually a comet. It's a bullet from Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum.

President Bush considered sending Clint Eastwood into Iraq, but then remembered what Clint did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki the last time they deployed him.

Clint Eastwood knows how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop.

The gun used by Clint Eastwood is the Dirty Harry movies isn't his real .44 magnum. If it had been, everyone on set would have been killed instantly.

They considered putting Clint Eastwood's face on Mount Rushmore, but they were afriad the mountain would clumble from his awesomeness.

Clint Eastwood is the reason there are no other real cowboys around anymore.

The hole in the ozone layer wasn't made by greenhouse gases, but by Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum.

Clint Eastwood is classified by military forces as a, no, the WUD (Weapon of Ultimate Destruction).

Clint Eastwood once used Yellowstone National Park for target practice. The result was Old Faithful.

For every first-person shooter video game created, Clint Eastwood is payed a royalty.

The absolute value of 7 is Clint Eastwood.

If you answer "Who is Clint Eastwood" in Jeapordy, you win, for eternity.

Clint Eastwood is behind you.

Real men don't wear pink. Real men wear whatever Clint Eastwood tells them to wear.

Superman is faster than a speeding bullet...unless it comes from Clint Eastwood's .44 magnum.

Clint Eastwood doesn't need to shower. Dirt won't dare touch him.

Steroids are made from Clint Eastwood's sweat.

So what'd you think? Hopefully you liked them. Leave comments and submit your own Clint Eastwood facts. If I get enough of them, hopefully I post them in another list, with a few more of my own.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Movie Review: Taken

From french director Pierre Morel, who brought us District 13, comes a new spy thriller called Taken, starring no other than Liam Neeson. It debuted in France on February 27th, and has been shown all over Europe and Asia since, but is scheduled to come to America on September 19th. The film follows a former American secret agent named Bryan (Neeson). His wife (Famke Janssen) left him years ago, taking their teenage daughter with her and marrying a rich man (Xander Bereley). But Bryan seems pretty content, and maintains a loving relationship with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace). When Kim wants to spend a week in Paris with her friends, Bryan is reluctant, but his wife dismisses his concerns as paranoia developed by his years as a spy. Nevertheless, he allows her to go. Not hours after Kim lands in Paris, she and her friend meet a young man named Peter (Nicolas Giraud), who flirts with the girls and learns where they are staying. Apparently Daddy was right, because hours later, some foreign thugs break into the girls apartment and take them hostage. Fortunately, Bryan was on the phone with his daughter when the abduction occurred, and deduces the kidnappers identity. What follows is a rampage across Paris, as Bryan carves his way through the french underworld to save his daughter. But he only has 96 hours to find her, before she is sold into sexual slavery and disappears forever.

The Pros: Obviously, the primary selling point to this film is Liam Neeson. I don't know about you, but Liam Neeson is one of my favorite actors. He has incredible presence, and a voice rivaling Morgan Freeman's. And anyone who thinks Liam Neeson isn't a bad@$$ has another thing coming. Remember, this is the guy who taught Batman and Obi-Wan Kenobi everything they knew. And I haven't seen Neeson this brutal since Darkman. This guy shows no mercy, to anyone, not just his enemies, when his daughter is at stake. Neeson gives another great performance, portraying a loving father who will do anything (and I mean anything) to save his daughter.While Neeson is definitely the dominant presence onscreen, the rest of the cast also do well. Maggie Grace was particularly good and believable as Bryan's daughter. She really made me care about her character (partially because she reminded me of my sister). Pierre Morel proves himself a excellent director, capturing a good sense of realism, and well as giving the film a genuine threatening edge.

The Cons: The action can be a little lackluster at times. Aside from Bryan, none of the character's are very memorable, not that they're meant to be. It's pretty clear that the budget for this film is not huge, and most of the money probably went to the actor's salaries. Don't get me wrong, it's an exciting film. It's just not on Parr with bigger blockbuster films like The Bourne Identity action-wise.

The End: After a steroid-pumped summer dud like Wanted, it's nice to see a decent action movie for a change. No, that's selling it short. This a great movie, smart and well-made. Liam Neeson is a consistently wonderful actor, and makes no exception here. It will satisfy Liam Neeson fans and spy film fans alike, and makes an excellent appetizer while we wait for Quantum of Solace.

Overall, I rate Taken as an 8 out of 10.

Click here to visit the official (french language) website for Taken.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Movie Review: The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior

Despite the "2" in the title, this direct-to-video film is not a sequel. Instead it's a prequel, detailing the adventures of the warrior Mathayus (a.k.a. the Scorpion King) when he was younger, who first appeared in The Mummy Returns. A follow-up to the 2002 spinoff The Scorpion King, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior starts off with Mathayus (Michael Copon) as a boy in ancient Akkad. His father is a member of an elite warrior guard who defend the Akkadian king knowns as the Order of the Black Scorpions. When his father is murdered by an angry rival soldier called Sargon (Randy Couture), Mathayus vows to avenge his death. He enlists and years later become a Black Scorpion himself. Sargon, meanwhile, has become king, and gained magical powers through sacrifices to the dark gods. With the help of his fiesty childhood sweeheart Layla (Karen David), and a spirited young greek poet (Simon Quarterman), Mathayus must venture into the underworld and claim the only weapon capable of defeating Sargon: The Sword of Damocles.

The Pros: Um, scantly clad women? Other than that there's not much fun stuff in this movie. The sets and fights are mildly entertaining (stress mildly). Otherwise there's not really a selling point to the film.

The Cons
: The cookie cutter title tells you basically everything you need to know. This is just another standard unnecassary sequel completely motivated by profit. First, it makes almost no attempt to keep good continuity with the first film. Mathayus is potrayed as only child when he has an older brother in the first film. The original potrayed Akkadians as nomadic mercenaries, while Akkad is a civilized city here. Beyond that, the story is boring and predicable, and makes no attempt at historical, or even mythological accuracy. In addition, the casting is dismal. Once again the only recognizable face here is not an actor, but a pro-wrestler, except that Randy Couture makes Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson look like Morgan Freeman in acting ability by comparison, if that is even possible. Speaking of the Rock, his replacement here is an actor whose biggest role previously was Power Rangers: Time Force. Obviously they are casting on the cheap. Besides Couture, no one in this film has any name recognition whatsoever.

And in case you're wondering, no, the special effects don't make up for anything. The CGI is the most pathetic I've seen in years. A sense of adventure might have helped, but with such a cheap cast and a cliche plot, it impossible to care about anything that happens. Bottom line: This film was made on a minimal budget with only profit in mind.

The End: Anytime a theatrically released film gets a direct-to-video sequel, it's a pretty safe bet that it won't live up to the original (American Psycho 2, The Butterfly Effect 2, Starship Troopers 2, etc.). The original cast rarely, if ever return, and the very fact that it is direct-to-video means the studio has little faith in the project, which means a smaller budget. In other words, direct-to-video sequels suck. The Scorpion King 2 is no exception. Even if you're a fan of the first movie, this prequel is sure to disappoint. Better not to waste your money, but if you must see it, rent it, because there's nothing here to make it worth owning.

Overall, I rate The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior as a 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Movie Review: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Ever since George Lucas gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Hollywood has been spawning imitators to capitalize of it's success. Probably the most obvious example has the been The Mummy, a loose remake of Boris Karloff's 1932 horror film of the same name. Released in 1999, the film was successful enough to give birth to a line of sequels, the latest which is The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

The film begins with the usual prologue, chronicling the deeds of the first emperor of a china (Jet Li), a tyranical ruler with supernatural powers, who nearly conquered the ancient world. In his quest for immortality, he ended up cursed, but supposedly lies entombed, ready to rise again with his terracotta army and conquer the world. Fast foreward to 1946, in London, where the protagonists of the series, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello), have retired from archaeology. Meanwhile their estranged son Alex (Luke Ford), uncovers the tomb of the evil Chinese emperor, who, of course, is awakened. With the help of the sorceress (Michelle Yoeh) who cursed the emperor, the O'Connell family must band together to once again take down an powerful undead bent of world domination.

The Pros: As the trailers clearly show, the main selling point here is the special effects. They're not anything revolutionary, but there sure are a lot of them. They pour on CGI like it's going out of style. The title villian alone is capable of supplying most of the oohs and aahs, shape-shifting into mythical creatures and maniuplating the elements (fire, water, earth, etc.) on a spectacular scale. Add in kung fu-fighting Yeti, the lost kindgom of Shangri-la, and a massive battle between zombies and stone warriors, and you've got one cool-looking movie. And it was definately a treat for Hong Kong martial arts fans to see Jet Li and Michelle Yoeh go toe-to-toe, even if it was a very short fight.

The Cons: When I said the special effects were the main selling point of this movie, I meant they were the only selling point. The Mummy films have always been pretty mindless popcorn movies, focusing on cheap thrills and cool effects, instead of characterization or storytelling, but they at least has some sort of plot. This has none. They put absolutely no stock in the characters or story, hoping the CGI thrillride will compensate. All the dialogue is either overused or simply poor; all the jokes fall flat. The acting is is boring and utterly forgettable. Even the returning cast has even less personality than before. This is compounded by the fact that Rachel Weisz, one of the few bright spots of the previous films, has been replaced by the more mediocre Maria Bello. The logic of the film falls flat too, especially since the villian doesn't qualify as a mummy at all. And Jet Li may be in this movie, but The Mummy Returns had more martial arts than this.

The End: Is this a good movie? No, absolutely not. Is this a fun movie? As a cheap popcorn summer movie? It'll do. Indiana Jones this ain't, but as a summer movie it provides decent excitement. It won't win any awards, but it'll give your money's worth, as long as you don't spend or expect too much. Like it or not, The Mummy's going to be around awhile, since it seems to cast is already under contract for a fourth installment in the franchise.

Overall, I rate The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor as a 5 out of 10.