Monday, February 28, 2011

TRON: Legacy - 2010

"TRON: Legacy" - 2010
Dir. by Joseph Kosinski - 2 hrs. 5 min.

As a movie-going experience, "TRON: Legacy" is something spectacular.  Even seeing it without the 3D bells and whistles, it was visually spectacular.  As a story, it's visually spectacular.  I left the theatre kind of confused as to exactly what I had just seen.  Even trying to reconstruct the plot later didn't quite work.  I've never seen the original film, so I don't know how much (if anything) I didn't catch.  I suspect that it wasn't a ton, since this is a PG-13 movie from Disney, but I'll cut the story that much slack.  But it didn't make a ton of sense, when it gets down to the details.  In broad strokes, it works, at least partially because the only thing better than a movie with Jeff Bridges is a movie with multiple Jeff Bridges.  Despite not really being the main character of the movie (that would be his character's son), he anchors the film with a much-needed humanity (as well as playing a cold, inhuman version of himself, main villain Clu).  Also, Olivia Wilde was great, playing wide-eyed cute as a button, yet not cloying or annoying.

I'm having one hell of time trying to come up with a way to discuss this movie.  Without question, the draw is the action and special effects, and I have to say that they're definitely outstanding.  I found myself at multiple points in the film with my mouth open, just taking in the stylized digital world.   That's worth something, even if I couldn't even begin to explain the plot.  So I'll just leave it at this: if you're comfortable with a movie being not much more than a visual feast, this would be on the short list of films to see.  If that's not going to be enough, TL is likely going to be a frustrating experience.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre (2D)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit - 2004

"Iggy & the Stooges: Live in Detroit" - 2004
Dir. by Tim Pope - 1 hr. 7 min.

Back when I was in high school, there was a record store in Portland that sold bootleg VHS tapes of concerts.  I never bought one, but this Stooges concert video is pretty much exactly what I imagine they were like.  That's somehow more fitting for a band like Iggy & the Stooges - no frills, no fog machines, just a great rock band doing what they do.

This was filmed during the Stooges reunion tour in 2003, with Mike Watt on bass.  They play all the songs you'd want to hear if you were watching this, including "I Wanna Be Your Dog" twice.  Iggy is amazing, a force of nature.  The sound mix is a little off (the vocals are way out in front), the camera work isn't anything you couldn't pull off on an iPhone these days, but that's fine.  It's the Stooges.  If that's not enough, I can't help you.

4 / 5 - NF Streaming

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gamer - 2009

"Gamer" - 2009
Dir. by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor - 1 hr. 35 min.

It's kind of surprising when you see a film that brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  Even if it's just a deft camera move or a funny line, even the worst films usually have at least one moment that justifies it's existence.  The only thing that I laughed at here was in the first few minutes, where one of the gamer-controlled people started "tea-bagging" a fallen foe (in quotes, because it's a fully-clothed gamer version of tea-bagging, not a buck-naked sex act).  Beyond that, I'd seen literally everything here before.

There's the plot, lifted wholesale from"Death Race," "The Condemned," and "The Running Man" before that (death-row inmates given a shot at freedom by entering a life-or-death entertainment program).  There's a collection of characters utterly without nuance (which is an achievement of sorts - you'd think some nuance might creep in on accident or through the acting, but you'd be wrong).  I suppose the filmmakers thought that making the scenario a video game was the twist that made their film unique, except they'd already kind of played that card in the "Crank" movies.  It even had the underground movement leader played by a washed-up rapper (Ludacris, in this instance), tying it to Ice-T's similar role in "Johnny Mnemonic" (which I also watched this weekend).

Look, all of this recycled, done-better-elsewhere material is executed competently and energetically.  And on those terms, it's almost watchable.  But it's a complete bore watching cardboard cut-outs try to out-badass and out-cool one another.  And it felt like every time I was begging the film to give me a reason to give a shit about any of the characters in it, they'd just blow something up, as if shaking a shiny key-chain in front of a frontal-lobe damaged toddler.  It would be a fitting punishment for the duo behind this film to have their PS3 taken away for a week.

On the bonus side, I was thrilled to see James Roday and Maggie Lawson of "Psych" have minor roles here, Roday rocking an awesome mustache.

2 / 5 - NF Streaming

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Johnny Mnemonic - 1995

"Johnny Mnemonic" - 1995
Dir. by Robert Longo - 1 hr. 43 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Based on a William Gibson short story, this movie has a couple of my favorite things.  First, it has Keanu Reeves.  Despite what you may think of his acting skill, he's racked up a good resume of interesting films over the course of his career, and he's got to get at least a little credit for that.  Secondly, this is a mid-90's computer film.  It's as if most people knew that we were all largely headed online, but things weren't developed enough to give any clear indication as to what this future would look like.

An easy visual comparison movie is "Hackers," although this story is set in the near future of 2021.  But whereas Hackers pitted dirty computer punks against the outdated system and old fogeys, "Johnny Mnemonic" delves more into the class warfare aspect that access to advanced technology inevitably creates.  But I have to stop myself, I'm probably making this seem a lot more interesting and deep than the final product is.

The basic plot is thus:  Johnny is an information courier, augmented with "wetware" upgrades.  Keanu has an 80 GB brain!  These couriers are used to transfer sensitive information in the black market, like super-secure data sticks.  Johnny needs to pull off one more dangerous transfer in order to get out of the game, but things go south almost immediately.  The job entails putting way too much data into Johnny's head, and if he doesn't get it out of there, it'll seep into his brain and kill him.  The whole thing is a set-up, and Johnny and his bodyguard Jane (Dina Meyer, of "Starship Troopers" fame) have to hook up with a band of low-tech rebels lead by Ice-T (sporting nearly the exact same look as in "Tank Girl").  In the end, stuff blows up, and a freaking DOLPHIN ends up extracting the info from Keanu's head.  Henry Rollins also has a fun role as a really angry doctor named Spider, and there's also an obligatory goggled virtual reality sequence.

Visually, there are interesting aspects to this film.  The aforementioned early look at what people thought cyberspace might look like 25 years in the future is kind of cool.  I think the 90's cyberspace look is probably going to occupy the same territory as 80's dystopian sci-fi films do.   On the downside, this film also picks up on two of the worst trends from the 90's: a complete lack of sexiness to anything (I'll thank the AIDS crisis for that, but Dina Meyer appears to be wearing a burlap sack as a coat for much of the film.  I've seen "Starship Troopers, so I know how hot she was in this time period.  Why cover that up?), and a weird glossiness to what's supposed to be grimy, seedy areas.  People are afraid of dark alleys because they're wet, filthy, weathered, and a little rape-y, but the common approach to those scenarios was to just make everything shiny and light the hell out of it with neon.

This was not a great film, but there are a few interesting elements to it.  I giggle a little bit that an iPod now is smarter than Keanu's character in another 10 years.  But if you're a big fan of Keanu Reeves, Henry Rollins, or you like 90's computer movies, it's not terrible.

2 / 5 - NF Streaming

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Blues Brothers - 1980

"The Blues Brothers (Collector's Edition)" - 1980
Dir. by John Landis - 2 hrs. 28 min.

25th Anniversary DVD Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

One of the things that strikes me about "The Blues Brothers" is that the entire thing is about teasing a reveal.  The opening sequence in the extended version (released on DVD in 2005, it's 18 minutes longer than the theatrical cut) runs for a full 7 minutes before you even get a clear shot of John Belushi's face.  I'm not quite sure, but it also seems that you never even see Belushi's eyes until after they've played their big concert, and the brothers are fleeing in a tunnel.  That's something like an hour forty-five into the movie!

There are other examples of this - Carrie Fisher's character repeatedly attempting to attack Joliet Jake with heavy armament with no explanation.  Even the other characters in the movie don't even seem to react, as if it's a daily occurrence to be shot at with a bazooka.  The police, even when buried in rubble from an attack, don't even acknowledge it.  The explanation comes right before Belushi finally takes off his Ray-Bans.

In contrast, there are moments where things are taken to excess; not one, but two police chases ending in dozens of wrecked cruisers, a car containing Nazis dropped literally from a mile in the sky, seemingly full armies chasing down the brothers.

The whole thing sounds pretty simple - get a couple of comedians at the top of their game, stack the movie with great musicians and let them do their thing.  Drop in a couple of car chases to keep people's attention.  But if that could work, a movie like "The New Guy" (also littered with musician cameos) would be an instant classic.  It's just as easy to see why "The Blues Brothers" is a classic, but the reason that sticks with me is that the movie doesn't look like a comedy, and the actors don't act like they're in a comedy.  Again, if this was easy to pull off, everyone would be doing it.  Characters have a clearly defined motivation, and act towards that goal.  When there's a new setting, director John Landis makes sure that you see it and understand where they are.  He keeps the camera at a distance (no tight shots for mugging at the camera) because it's more important how the other characters in the movie react to Jake and Elwood than them tossing off lines and making faces.  Even the performance scenes keep their distance a bit - as a viewer, you need to believe that the Blues Brothers can command a 5,000 seat venue, so Landis lets them.

I know that sounds revolutionary, to actually let performers do what they do best, and maybe it is.  But when you get the right talent in place, it's as much of a skill to know when to get the hell out of the way.

Even though the extended cut of the movie runs nearly two and a half hours, it doesn't feel that long because of the musical interludes.  I don't think there's that many people now who would have debated the greatness of Aretha Franklin or James Brown, but my mind boggles as to how a disco-crazy audience might have reacted at the time.  Heresy, likely.

So yeah, this one is pretty funny, and you might want to check it out.

5 / 5 - DVD

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Good Hair - 2009

"Good Hair" - 2009
Dir. by Jeff Stilson - 1 hr. 36 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Here's the thing - structuring a feature-length documentary is tough.  And I don't think that "Good Hair," was poorly structured at all.  But I also don't quite feel like it was quite enough for an hour and a half.  Nearly all of the bombshells of the film come in the first half hour or so (mostly about the economy surrounding black hair), and my jaw was on the floor for at least that long.  It's entirely possible that I haven't, over the course of my entire life, spent as much money on haircuts AND shampoo as one weave (or "hair system," as one stylist puts it) costs.  And as much as I hate Al Sharpton, he makes a good point about literally wearing economic oppression on your head on a day-to-day basis.  It's absolutely flabbergasting.

But once the narrative progresses past the financial aspect (and exactly how much harm the chemicals in relaxer can do not just to human heads, but to pop cans as well), there's a bit of time-killing going on until we return to the hair-cutting competition that wraps up the movie.  Chris Rock (who is a very engaging host - there's one moment in the movie where he asks another man in a barber shop if he'd ever decided against asking a woman out because he didn't think he could afford her hair that's a little touching, and shows how well Rock knows the results of this situation) travels to India to find the source of the hair, he travels back to L.A. to see how it gets sold into the market, and there is a predictable sub-SNL skit about the value of actual black hair.  It's not necessarily bad, but after the first chunk of the movie, it feels like padding to reach feature-film length.

3.5 / 5 - DVD