Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter-review

Tongue in cheek historical fiction is nothing new.  This year, audiences got treated to the Poe murder mystery in “The Raven.”  Now we have a new movie based on a hit novel of the same name- a vision of Abraham Lincoln’s life as he goes from young adult to the “Great Emancipator” all the while hunting vampires.

As a boy, young Abraham Lincoln sees his mother killed by a vampire.  He vows vengeance against vampires and with the aid of a vampire ally, he learns their weaknesses. When he moves to Illinois, he spends his nights armed with his silver covered axe, killing vampires.  How can he find that he can fight better as a statesman then as a warrior?

The acting is pretty fun.  Benjamin Walker took the tongue in cheek job as Abraham Lincoln and made it work as a fun, dark, action role.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln does a good job playing the strong character.  There are other characters that are also very well cast.  I was a bit disappointed Robin McLeavy and Alan Tudyk have such short amounts of screen time.  They are better actors that deserved better. 

The plot is not bad.  At times it seems like it would be predictable.  Then you are sideswiped by over-the-top goofiness.  At the very least it’s something different.  The flaws are pretty minor.  The effects are so-so.  The CGI has a tendency to be blurry and choppy at times.  The villains are 2-dimensional and don’t really seem to have much motivation beyond cartoonish super villainy.

This is still an okay movie.  It’s certainly nothing amazing but it’s at the very least worth a rental or a matinee.  It’s a neat distraction where if you can allow suspense of the disbelief about the vampires, then you can relax on the gaping holes in the historical context.  So go give it a watch if you are in the mood for some mindless silliness.   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw- review

“Lollipop Chainsaw” should have its picture in the dictionary for tongue-in-cheek game.  It’s absolutely stupid at times and it can also be pretty funny at other times.  The music is killer and the voice actors do a really good job with their roles at least.  The biggest flaws come from the controls and the overall game length.

In “Lollipop Chainsaw” you play as Juliet Starling.  She is a bubbly cheerleader celebrating her 18th birthday.  She also comes from a family of zombie hunters.  Her weapon of choice is her customized chainsaw which she wields to hack and slash at the undead that have taken over her town.  She carries around the still-living severed head of her boyfriend Nick. Together, they square off against the music-themed zombies that have arisen to raise hell.

This game is a button masher’s dream.  It tells you the combos to do to produce amazing results in zombie killing.  However, in the heat of the moment you won’t remember them and you will hit every button you can, only to produce roughly the same results.  In addition, the game is too short. There are 6 levels in total. The levels are long, but I was able to beat this game in the lesser parts of two days.  The only thing extra they seem to be offering is more outfits for Juliet.  The game pretty much wants you to ogle her.  You can even get a trophy/achievement for trying to get an up-skirt.  Stay classy game.

The game has an interesting plot and funny dialogue.  The writer is James Gunn who was the writer for the new version of “Dawn of the Dead” and the writer/director of “Slither”.  The voice actors do a good job and many of them are C-list celebrities such as Michael Rooker, Shawnee Smith, Michael Rosenbaum and Tara Strong. The music is really good.  Every stage is themed after a certain type of music: punk, metal, psychedelic, funk, rock and roll, and rockabilly.  The writer even has a few zombie fan references.  Juliet is a cheerleader for the San Romero Knights and there is an Arcade called the Fulci Fun Center.   

As a whole, “Lollipop Chainsaw” is okay.  It’s certainly one of those games that can be popped in if you want to just chill and kill zombies for a while mindlessly.  It’s a fun distraction really.  If you want to shut off your brain for a while, this is a great game.  What keeps this game from being bad is that it seems to be aware of its cheese factor. It expects others to at least enjoy the ride as well. If you are into the zombie genre and into tongue-in-cheek humor this game is really going to be up your alley.  If not then I’d wait till the price goes down or it’s available to rent.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Americana in Cinema.

A lot of movies hold the distinction of capturing the American spirit.  The holiday classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” are well rooted with imagery of enough Americana that would make Norman Rockwell swell with pride.  How about other genres though?  Throughout every decade we get tastes of Americana in movies.  The cinema uses it to hold a mirror to society and in turn sometimes to see where we’ve come from and ask where we are going.  

As a whole, many movies with Americana in them seem to have common elements.  Take the protagonist for example.  Most are either one of two archetypes or a combination of both.  They are underdogs who come from humble beginnings. A perfect example of this is Rocky Balboa of the “Rocky” series. He is a loser with a heart of gold that just wants to prove that he can go the distance.  The other archetype is the antihero. This is currently becoming more and more popular as audiences seem to enjoy more morally flawed heroes.  The example of this could be Inspector Harry Callahan of the “Dirty Harry” series.  Here is a character that believes in justice so much, that he is violent and sometimes murderous with suspects in order to avenge the victims.

Many movies that are considered classics of Americana have colorful secondary characters.  Many of the Cohen Brother films have memorable side characters, like Jesus from “The Big Lebowski,” or from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” the character Big Dan.  “Back to the Future” and even the Romero movies “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead” have side characters that are all colorful and often times just as quotable as the main cast.  It shows a lot of care when you can watch one of these films and the clever writing has let it unfold into an entire ensemble of life as we know it (or knew it as the case may be).

With the exception of a few movies, the typical movie defined as your Americana film has adversaries that are really well defined.  In “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” it’s the Nazis.  In “The Good the Bad and The Ugly,” it’s Angel Eyes.  Even if the adversary is more of a concept, it tends to at least attempt to be well defined.  “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was a search for the American dream despite the roadblocks that would slow down the strung-out narrator on his path.  In “Scarface” one could argue that his true adversary is himself and since it’s a story of the rise and fall of a criminal immigrant, it truly encapsulated his greed, fear, and wanton destruction to the very end.

Americana has to be like a time capsule for a time period.  It has to capture what America feels like.  “Rocky” does that for a lot of people.  Ask anyone in Philadelphia why so many folks have their pictures taken running up the same stairs Rocky Balboa does in his movies.  “The Gangs of New York” felt like a bit of Americana in that worked in a big way.  This movie was released after September 11th. A movie incorporating the draft riots during the Civil War seemed topical.  It was a colorful setting to a dark time in history and it worked very well.

Many movies under the classification of Americana films attempt to challenge the status quo.  They want people to think about something in a new way or to see a new side to American life.  The movies of Clint Eastwood do this often.  One of the prime examples is “Gran Torino.” In it the Hmong people befriend a man with many racist tendencies in his neighborhood.  He comes to understand and eventually love and respect them.  On the other side we have movies like “Harold and Maude,” a love story about a young man and a much older woman.  With that, the movie’s theme is all about embracing life and love during an age when things were much more cynical and self-centered.

Americana films also reflect our own fears and views on the past and present.  “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” has a filthy urbanoia to it that makes it quite terrifying.  “Super 8” recently came out and is a big call out to the days of Spielberg style movies.  It’s about personal loss and the fear of loss as well in a very fun setting.  Even movies like “The Godfather” come from our view of how the mafia worked. You can thank Mario Puzo’s book every time you watch a mafia movie and it starts with a poor family of immigrants that start a criminal empire.

While I mentioned “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” another movie in the same genre has changed the way we see horror today. “Halloween” took the slasher, Michael Myers, into the suburbs and had him attacking a babysitter and her friends.  Many who grew up in neighborhoods similar to Haddonfield, Illinois could see similarities to their own homes and that made it all the more terrifying.   They saw a faceless killer stalking a person and that person screaming for help at a neighbors’ door only to get no answer.   It was a nightmare that could be a reality in their hometown.  The third movie of the series “Halloween 3:Season of the Witch” did something completely different and yet incorporated fear of corporate greed, and mass media consumption into the narrative.

As I mentioned earlier there is a lot of Americana in the movies “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  “A Christmas Story” is filmed in a way that it comes off almost timeless. It could be told from the perspective of any little boy anxiously awaiting Christmas.  It is like a Norman Rockwell painting and yet the humor is still fairly timeless for the most part.  “It’s a Wonderful Life” does something somewhat different.  Through its description of George Bailey’s life we come to know his WHOLE town of Bedford Falls.  The town itself becomes a character and that makes it more of a loss when, in the nightmarish reality, it’s turned into Potterville.  It becomes a story about a man and his town and that is almost the spirit of Americana.

Much like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Back to the Future” does this trick as well on a much grander scale because they are doing it through various time periods and realities.  It also had three movies to help build an entire universe around it.  The town Hill Valley and its residence become very well known by the end of the third film. It’s one of the few movies that goes into various genres (romance, sci-fi, comedy, teen movie and at the end even western) and still retain that home town charm.  

Arguably, the truly American style movie belongs to the western.  While the spaghetti western may have perfected the genre, the western seems to capture a lot of what was important during an age of rough and tumble individualism.  Despite their individualism, classics like “The Magnificent Seven” and even “A Fistful of Dollars” owe much gratitude to Japanese cinema. At the time, works of directors such as Akira Kurosawa were making films that would inspire filmmakers for generations to come. 

On a darker level, the films of John Waters take a look into a dark and deviant spin on Americana.  He has the ability to come up with characters that are average people with uncommon circumstances that make them unique, dark, and disturbing. His characters intrigue audiences, while making them uncomfortable at the same time.  “Polyester,” “A Dirty Shame,” and “Serial Mom” are all great examples of his vision of Americana. All involve characters that you would not expect to be anything extraordinary, and make them into something dynamic through unforeseen circumstances.

The Kevin Smith movies in his New Jersey trilogy are excellent examples of slices of 1990 American life.  “Clerks” is the story of the underachieving working man.  “Mallrats” became the ode to the slacker with no direction and no idea of where to go.  Finally “Chasing Amy” was the tale of woe of love and coming to terms with your own boundaries in relationships.  Kevin Smith has since grown as a filmmaker, making some good movies and some stinkers. There was a time when, as an indie-filmmaker, he made a mark on the films of Americana.

For the most part I am barely scratching the surface.  As long as Americans make movies they will add their special touches to them to give them the feeling of home.  Some give us an almost jingoistic look at America like “Red Dawn.” Others spoof the news at the time with satire such as, “Team America: World Police.”  You can honestly find out a lot more about the state of the country by looking at older satire in movies.  Movies like “Doctor Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” is the best example.  Here is a movie about the total devastation of the world in a nuclear war because of a lunatic General.  It’s played as a comedy of all things.

Still, as long as we have free speech and a marketplace of ideas we can be proud to know that there is such a plethora of Americana to choose from at the multiplex.  Art will always mirror society.  As a country we have had a lot of great movies that show us who we are and where we come from and in many ways what we value as a nation.  Many futuristic movies seem to be post-apocalyptic films or ones where society dystopian and on the brink of collapse.  I wonder if folks truly believe that is where we are headed or if people are only entertained by the concepts as outlandish flights of fancy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


The 1979 movie “Alien,” directed by Ridley Scott, was a smart horror movie.  After several other movies in the franchise, he returned to the helm to produce and direct the prequel to a movie loved by so many people.  The movie was good but not without a lot of things that weighed it down.  I am not sure why it needed to even consider itself part of the Alien franchise.  Maybe Scott should have moved away from it entirely and tried something new.  Then at least it would have been heralded as something new and original. On its own merits the movie has great acting, good effects and an interesting narrative.

In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth, played by Noomi Rapace, and Charlie, discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. They believe this as an invitation from humanity’s "Engineers". They board the space vessel Prometheus (funded by the Weyland Corporation as an IN joke to the fans) to follow the map to a distant moon. The ship's crew travels in stasis pods while the android David, played by Michael Fassbender, monitors their voyage. They arrive and they are informed of their mission to find the Engineers. The Prometheus lands near an artificial structure and a team is sent to explore.

The acting is damn good in this movie.  Charlize Theron as Mission Director Vickers is played as aloof and cold, but begins to thaw as the movie progresses. Noomi Rapace is great as Elizabeth and she seems to be able to capture the fear that is in the heat of the moment on screen.  Michael Fassbender is the android David, is who steals the show.  He is intelligent and cold and models himself on Peter O'Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”. He also manages to walk the line between good and bad where you are not quite sure his intentions at any given moment.

The sets and the special effects are really cool.  Watching it in 3-D impressed me a lot with this movie.  There were amazing landscape shows on Earth as well as on the alien planet and both were so stunning that at times, it felt it belonged on a documentary.  The creatures are stylized and very alien. The designs of H.R.Giger are looking great on screen using modern CGI.

The problems of this movie stem a lot from multiple plot threads branching off the main one and becoming a convoluted mess.  There are a lot of unanswered questions as well as problems of continuity between this and the first “Alien” film. Many of the minor characters are really forgettable with a few exceptions.  When I see this in a movie you may as well just write “Dead Man Walking” on their chest. The movie is also really big on religious overtones to the point that it beats that theme over your head with its not-too-subtle-symbolism. 

For the most part, “Prometheus” is a good movie.  If it didn’t have the baggage of being attached to the “Aliens” franchise, it could have had a lot more going for it too.  Still, it’s a good movie with decent acting and good effects- not scary at all though.  I’d recommend it as a matinee or rental if you want to catch some new science fiction.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman-review

This movie feels like someone brought “Magic: the Gathering” card illustrations to life on the big screen.  I have seen several adaptations of Snow White.  This one allows the actors to show their skills. It also gives us a lot of fun action scenes and some really smooth CGI that make for a truly fantastic experience.

Snow White, played by Kirsten Stewart, is born to a kindly king and queen. After her mother passes away her father meets and marries a sultry captive of the dark army named Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron.  On their wedding night she kills the king and usurps the throne and imprisons Snow White.  It turns out she uses dark magic to drain the youth and beauty of others to remain young and immortal.  After Snow White makes a daring escape to the dark forest, Ravenna summons Eric the Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth, to dispatch her.  Will the Huntsman carry out his orders for his own purposes?  

The acting is pretty damn good in this movie.  Kirsten Stewart gives a pretty decent performance and she shows some range as well as some action, which is pretty different for her.  It’s nice to see her expanding her repertoire a bit.  Chris Hemsworth does a fine job.  For the most part he seems to channel a lot of the “Thor” character. He has given this role a drunken sorrowful twist so there is still something to distinguish the two.  The dwarves are a lot of fun. Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, and Ian McShane, to name a few are the dwarves and each has their own very unique personalities. They are a charming addition to the movie.

The character that stole the show was Charlize Theron as the evil Queen.  She does an amazing job walking the fine bi-polar line where she can stare into your soul with a cold, steely, menace then in the next minute loose her mind and fly off the handle into a Nicolas Cage-style screaming match.  When she consults her magic mirror (which takes the form of the T-1000 turning into the Shroud of Death) we get a glimpse of her madness as we realize that she is not talking to anyone at all.  She is a very well played villain and Charlize was chilling sometimes in the roll.

The action was very fun and well shot.  Several battle scenes take place in different parts of the film and each time there is a good sense of menace.  At times there are CGI creatures in the battle, but since the CGI is really well done it makes it look amazing. A great example is when Snow White’s army fights golems of broken glass.  Despite the amount of CGI the movie still felt kinetic with the big battle scenes and the cavalries charging through a hail of arrows and catapults.

The design to this movie is amazing.  Everything from the costumes to the creatures are very fine tuned and give the audience an amazing look into the fantastic realm these people are supposed to be traveling.  The turtle with vegetation on its back and the troll were some of the most memorable CGI creations to me. It reminded me of what it was like to watch “The Princess Bride” when I was a kid and to see things of fantasy put on screen in a fun, and cool way. 

“Snow White and the Huntsman” really surprised me with how much I liked it.  While it is probably not going to win Oscars for its acting, the design certainly deserves a nod.  There is a lot going for this movie. If you are a fantasy fan or someone that wants to see a surprisingly decent movie this summer, then this is certainly a good pick. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Team America: World Police-review

“Team America: World Police” uses the political satire and the crude humor of a “South Park” episode performed with marionettes.  If you are a fan of “South Park” in any way you will more than likely appreciate the fun and skill that went into this movie. This movie can also be considered a self-aware Michael Bay movie, with puppets.

To begin, terrorists, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Il, attack various world locations.  Luckily, Team America: World Police is there to save the day.  The problem is that they piss of the rest of the world by the way they deal with the terrorists.  The list of people they’ve pissed off includes the Hollywood elite.  Can Team America band together and get over their differences to defend America?

There is a lot of skill put into “Team America: World Police.” Every location they go to is supposed to be a caricature of what folks think of other countries’ stereotypes.  For example, the French puppets have mimes and French poodle topiaries, while the Columbian puppets walk around bushes that are all pot plants.    The attention to detail makes it really a fun movie. 

In addition to detail, there are musical sections that are really well done.  They are catchy and fun.  The characters themselves are like every other Michael Bay character you’ve seen in a movie.  The film even tosses in a pointless sex scene that is made all the more hilarious that it’s done with marionettes.

The movie has become a huge part of pop culture.   Let’s face it.  If you’ve seen this movie and then seen Matt Damon you are going to offensively say his name much like he does.  I know when Kim Jong-Il died this year; there were tweets about how “Ronely” he was.  I am not sure if this movie is the greatest representation of what we, as Americans are currently.  It certainly was an interesting take on where we were during the Bush administration.  I think we are making progress in the world now. In this way, the movie is about as topical as the television show “Lil Bush.”

I get the feeling that this was a message that the makers really wanted to get out.  However, the line about how Americans can being dicks never really sat right with me.  In some ways it is apt, but the thing about it is that all sides, be they assholes or pussies, think they are doing what’s right even if both are on occasion, full of shit. 

The movie does a pretty amazing job of offending both the right and the left much like “South Park” has been doing for years.  It’s a witty movie.  Does it still stand up over time?  I tend to think some elements do.  The Kim Jong-Il humor is a bit dated by today’s standards, however a mocking song about Michael Bay is fun stuff as long as he is still making movies that suck.

What doesn’t work in this movie is that it can often rely too much on really crude humor for a joke.  For me, that works.  For others, that might not work and they may tune out by the time the smart satire gets going.  On the other hand, I can certainly see how it will help reach a larger audience.

When it comes down to brass tax, the movie shows a lot of amazing skills in terms of the design and the writing.  It’s a fun work of satire that shows as much of the skill that we’ve come to expect from the “South Park” gang.  They promised they would never make another movie with marionettes again.  That is sort of a shame since this really was an impressive movie that worked in a lot of ways.

Chernobyl Diaries-review

“Chernobyl Diaries” is a new horror movie that attempts new tricks with a hackneyed idea.  It takes a basic plot from “The Hills Have Eyes” and makes it less of a gore movie and more of a creeping-terror movie.    There were aspects of this movie that seemed to work to its advantage and others that hindered it.

To begin, a group of young adults are visiting Russia when they decide to do some “extreme tourism.”  This form of extreme tourism includes going to the ghost town of Pripyat, the town that housed many of the workers of the Chernobyl disaster.  After seeing some of the sights, they find their van has been sabotaged.  The group now has to spend the night in Pripyat. They soon find out, they are not alone.  Can they survive the mutant cannibals and the extreme radiation levels?

The acting is not bad. The script does not give the actors a lot to work with though.  The dialogue is somewhat predictable and tongue in cheek.  Always going back to get people who are most likely dead and running towards gunshots, are the biggest examples of the sort of cinematic foolishness that seems to come up.    There is also the oddity that folks seem to be willing to face hordes of cannibal mutants over their dogs. 

The setting looks like Pripyat.  It’s eerie, quiet, and a perfect place for a horror movie setting.  It worked well that they decided to keep the mutants hidden in the dark.  You get an idea of what monstrosities they were facing but you never see them face to face.  It did well in that respect.  The ending was weak and like something out of “Night of the Living Dead” or “Cabin Fever.”   

As a whole, “Chernobyl Diaries” is probably a better rental.  There is a lot that make this movie run-of-the-mill.  This movie is enjoyable at times and the characters are not bad actors, despite the lackluster script; you will at least be entertained.  At least this one succeeds in being creepy in it’s style, so it’s certainly not the worst thing in theaters now.