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Posts Tagged ‘the 2010s’

Green Lantern (2011)

06/27/2011 4 comments

In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let all who worship evil’s might
Beware my power, Green Lantern’s Light!

Green Lantern is a superhero movie directed by Martin Campbell, based on the DC Comics character of the same name created by John Broome and Gil Kane. It stars Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, and Tim Robbins.

Millions of years before Earth was even a twinkle in the universe’s eye, a group of benevolent, immortal beings called the Guardians figured out how to harness the green essence of willpower. Placing this power into magic rings, they formed an intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps, whose job was to patrol the universe and battle evil. One member of the Corps, Abin-Sur, defeated a fear-entity called Parallax and locked him away in a lifeless planet in the Lost Sector. An ungodly amount of time later, Parallax breaks free and attacks Abin-Sur’s sector, mortally wounding the Green Lantern and forcing him to run like hell perform a strategic withdrawal in order to warn the others. His ship crash-lands on an insignificant blue planet called Earth, and as he lays dying he commands his ring to find a successor. What it finds (and forcibly abducts) is Hal Jordan, a hotshot test pilot for Ferris Aircraft. Hal isn’t sure about the whole superhero thing, but decides that this magic ring is really awesome, and being a member of the Space Police sounds really cool. Unfortunately, humans are a relatively primitive race in the galaxy, and the rest of the Corps isn’t so sure about this loud pink monkey wielding a Green Lantern ring. Fortunately, Hal will soon have the perfect opportunity to prove himself to the others, because Parallax is headed directly for Earth.

Oh, crap.

I was not very familiar with the Green Lantern mythos before watching this movie. All I knew, really, was that the Green Lantern was some sort of space cop with a magic ring, who was vulnerable to the color yellow. Which in my opinion is a damn stupid weakness to have. Fortunately the infodump at the beginning of this movie gets Green Lantern newbies quickly up to speed, introducing them to the mythos of the Corps, who the hell Parallax is, and why we should be rooting for this hotshot fighter pilot with more balls than sense. The vulnerability to yellow has been updated to a vulnerability to the essence of fear, which opposes the essence of willpower wielded by the GLC. This makes a lot more sense, because if you have something that manifests your own willpower into reality, the only real limitation is your imagination and self-doubt. (Incidentally, in an earlier iteration of the Green Lantern, the vulnerability was wood, which somehow manages to be even dumber than a vulnerability to yellow). To give Hal a bit of background, a flashback sequence shows that his dad was also a fighter pilot who died in a plane crash, and Hal has been following in his contrail ever since, striving for Dad’s level of fearlessness, and to offer a mortal face to the Parallax threat, a lab rat charged with dissecting the body of Abin-Sur is infected with a bit of Parallax juice and turned into a psychic insane Elephant Man who wants the sort of powers Hal’s ring gives him.

Overall, the special effects used to bring the Green Lantern’s mythology to life were exceptionally well-done, from the advanced alien world of Oa that serves at the collective headquarters of the GLC, to the nearly photorealistic alien beings that dominate the corps (of whom I believe only Sinistro was an actual dude in makeup – maybe), to the portrayal of the will-made-material powers of the ring, best demonstrated in a great sequence where Hal saves the passengers of a crashing helicopter by turning the helicopter into a racecar and summoning a giant green Hot Wheels racetrack to guide it away from innocents at a party. Hal’s Green Lantern armor was also well-done, offering a new take on the hero-dipped-in-rubber look that had crashed and burned with Joel Schumacher’s attempt at a couple of Batman movies, by adding Tron lines to make it clear that the suit is composed of Hal’s will. Best excuse for no zippers ever, and Reynolds was in good enough shape to pull it off. My only complaint was Parallax himself, a force of ultimate fear and corruption that regrettably resembled a demonic octopus made of feces.

If you like superhero movies, and your interests lie slightly outside the core group of A-listers that have been so popular of late, watch Green Lantern. It captures the spirit of the mythos without spiralling off into absurdity, and it offers an action-packed origin story that’s perfect for a summer blockbuster.

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The A-Team (2010)


“I love it when a plan comes together.”

From 1983 to 1987, The A-Team followed the adventures of a group of Vietnam vets turned mercenaries as they helped the innocent, solved problems, and generally blew shit up. In 2010 they decided to make a movie of it, with none of the original cast and generally kicking the storyline back to its origin. How did they do? Let’s find out.

The A-Team is a 2010 action movie directed by Joe Carnahan, based on the 80’s television series of the same name. It stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Patrick Wilson, and Brian Bloom.

Right off we get to meet the primary players. John “Hannibal” Smith is being held captive by some corrupt Mexican police working for the renegade General Tuco, who mock him for carrying a gun with no firing pin (discovered when they try to execute him with it. Turns out he does have the firing pin, and it comes in damn handy for picking his cuffs. He’s an Army Ranger. He can do this. He sets out to rescue his partner Templeton “Faceman” Peck, currently held by Tuco’s men, and enlists the aid of a guy whose van he tries to hijack, one Bosco “B. A.” Baracus, who declines to be carjacked but, as a fellow Army Ranger, decides to help. Further hilarity ensues at Tuco’s ranch as they pick up Peck (likewise an Army Ranger) and they set out to make their escape with the help of cracked pilot H. M. Murdock, who they must pick up at an Army hospital. Oh yeah – he’s also an Army Ranger. We don’t know how. He’s also batshit crazy. The rescue consists of driving a truck through the wall (on which Murdock and the other inmates are watching an episode of The A-Team in 3-D) and skedaddling in a medical chopper during a dogfight that leaves Baracus with a fear of flying (not just flying with Murdock, but flying in general) and ends up with Hannibal leading Tuco into American military space, whereupon Tuco gets blown out of the sky.

And… breathe.

Eight years later, the boys are riding high as an elite Special Forces team. While stationed in Iraq, they are unofficially assigned to relieve some Iraqi insurgents of U.S. Treasury plates and about a billion dollars in currency. An old girlfriend of Face warns them away from the mission, but this is the A-Team, dammit, so they go after the plates and succeed in spades, but when they get back to base the plates, cash, and the only one who knows they were authorized to steal them get blown to kingdom come by an opposing private military firm called Black Forest. The A-Team are stripped of their rank, kicked out of the Army, and sentenced to ten years in prison. Now, you know they aren’t just going to let this slide. Fortunately, Hannibal is extremely patient, waiting for just the right moment… and when it comes, over-the-top action-movie physics ensue.

This movie follows in the spiritual footsteps of the series, with the clever chessmaster Hannibal cooking up plans, the handsome Faceman doing the social engineering bits, the aptly named “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock acting as the laser-guided Jack Sparrow of the group, and Barracus being the Big Scary Guy Who Hits Things. The movie serves as an origin story for the team, in much the same way that recent superhero films have covered the origins of familiar faces like Batman, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and the Fantastic Four for the benefit of those who might have heard of them but are largely unfamiliar with the mythos, and it offers some nods to the original series as well. Liam Neeson is the most familiar face in the group, and he acts as a cool-headed father figure of sorts to the men, while Sharlto Copely (whom I’ve seen in exactly one other movie besides this one) is a lunatic with a pilot’s license and the origin of Barracus’ fear of flying. (Handy tip: never do a barrel roll in a medical helicopter that has the doors open.) The action is thrilling and gleefully over-the-top, and the moments when the proverbial plan comes together will have you cheering at Hannibal’s sheer ingenuity.

However, there were a few parts were the action was a bit too insane, and pushed me out of my comfortable suspension of disbelief (which must be loosely girded to begin with when watching a movie like this). The most notable scene has the lads escaping in a cargo jet containing a tank. Okay, fine. If it has wings, Murdock can fly it. A few attack drones come by a commence trying to shoot down said cargo jet. Fancy flying and battle damage ensue. Okay, fine. It’s an action movie. The cargo jet finally gets destroyed, and the team escapes in the tank, which is now parachuting down. Okay, fine. There’s really nowhere else for them to go, and the tank is the best alternative they have. The drones come by again and start trying to take out the falling tank, shredding a couple of the parachutes, so that the tank is now in near free-fall. Okay, fine. Of course the drones would still go after their target. Now for the silly part: Hannibal sees a lake below them, a fair stone’s throw that way. He has Face (IIRC) turn the tank’s turret and fire sideways, using Newton’s First and Third Laws to propel them in the opposite so they can splash down in the lake. That’s right. They flew a tank. Unfortunately, the laws of physics don’t work that way, and the Mythbusters already busted their technique of firing into the water to cushion the impact. But hey. This is an action movie. Action movies laugh at our silly preconceived notions of physics.

If you’re a fan of the 80’s series and you don’t mind heroes who essentially hack the physics engine of the real world to pull off hair-raising escapes, you’ll probably find The A-Team to be an enjoyable little romp through Action Movie Land. The spirit is largely the same, and with only a few complaints the action is thrilling and entertaining. Worth a rental.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)


In any dating situation, one can expect both sides to enter the relationship with a bit of baggage – it’s part of having a past. Sometimes this baggage affects the impending relationship, sometimes not so much. Scott Pilgrim has just met the girl of his dreams. Naturally, she has baggage. Too bad all her baggage has superpowers. That’s okay, though. Scott Pilgrim knows kung fu.

Or something.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a comedy film directed by Edgar Wright, based on the independent graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. It stars Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Kieran Culkin, and Ellen Wong.

Scott Pilgrim (age 22) lives in Toronto. He is the bassist for the band Sex Bob-Omb, and has just begun dating a high school girl named Knives Chau (over the protests of all his friends), who shares his love of video games and really digs his music. Then he meets Ramona Flowers, an American girl with technicolor hair who has been appearing in her dreams. Suddenly his entire world revolves around wooing Ramona, leaving Knives in the dust – and then he learns about Ramona’s little baggage issue – seven evil exes whom he must defeat in order to gain the right to date Ramona. They’re, like, a League of Evil. And they all want to annihilate Scott. In the meantime, Sex Bob-Omb hopes to sign a record deal with a major producer, and Scott has to cope with issues surrounding his gay roommate Wallace. And… a really weird movie ensues.

I’ve never read Scott Pilgrim, so this movie was essentially my first taste of this world, and the presentation left me pretty confused. On the one hand, Pilgrim himself seems like an average guy with very few social skills, a garage band, and a slightly complicated love life. That plot alone, would make a decent slice-of-life drama. And then there’s the video-game stuff that ensues surrounding the Seven Evil Exes, with sequences that come out of nowhere like the final boss rush of a beat-em-up game and don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie. The battles with the Evil Exes are highly stylized, more so even than the rest of the movie, suggesting that they take place in a Calvin and Hobbes-esque view of reality rather than in what we would call reality. The only characters that manage to ascend beyond the rank of one-dimensional cardboad cutout are Scott himself, whose character development is portrayed in the context to racking up points and coins with the defeat of each ex, and Ramona herself, who remains mysterious even as we learn more about her and her checkered past.

The presentation of Scott Pilgrim’s world was often distracting, with certain sound effects manifesting visibly, comic-book style, and a minor running gag wherein a foulmouthed character’s salty language is obscured by a black censor bar over her mouth and a sound effect obscuring the words themselves. These effects, coupled with the fantasy-laced fight scenes that come out of nowhere like random encounters in an RPG and thereafter play out like battle in Mortal Kombat, culminating in an explosion of coins (seriously – where the hell do the coins come from?) and the occasional powerup (one of which becomes crucial to Scott’s ultimate victory) from each defeated foe, made this movie seem like the independent comics equivalent of Ang Lee’s Hulk, laced liberally with comic book tropes for good measure. The main plotline was decently interesting, with Scott fighting Ramona’s past in order to be part of her future, but it often drowned in the gallons of special effects surrounding it.

I tried very hard to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, what could have been a good story was ultimately lost in the ludicrous amount of shiny used to present it. Fans of Scott Pilgrim might enjoy it, but I found it to be schizophrenic and spectacular, without a strong enough storyline to back it up.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

04/19/2011 1 comment

Some horror movies work because you don’t know why things are happening. Of course, humans are curious creatures, and when faced with terrifying, inexplicable phenomena, we try to figure out what is going on and why. This is both a minor failing and a major boon for the species, as it helps us understand the world when we risk getting eaten by it. A number of horror movie sequels try to explain what happened in the first one. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. How does this one fare? Let’s find out.

Paranormal Activity 2 is a supernatural horror film directed by Tod Williams, serving as both a prequel and a sequel to the original Paranormal Activity. It stars Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Seth Ginsberg, Sprague Grayden, and Micah Sloat.

In the year 2006, new parents Kristi and Dan Rey find themselves faced with a chilling event: their house has apparently been burglarized, with every single room ransacked save for the nursery. However, the only item that has been taken is a necklace belonging to Kristi’s sister Katie. Justifiably spooked, Dan installs a number of security cameras around the house, through whose neutral eyes we witness the events that unfold throughout the film. Over the next few days, Kristi and Ali, Dan’s daughter from a previous marriage, start to hear strange noises and see items moved by an unseen forces, and their housekeeper and nanny Martine is convinced that they are being tormented by evil spirits. Dan is skeptical, and fires Martine after her repeated attempts at spiritual cleansing. All the while, though, the security cameras continue to record, until it becomes apparent that the spooky activity is centered around baby Hunter, and it might be connected with a secret in Kristi’s family’s past…

I enjoyed this one about as much as I did the first movie. In haunted house franchises like this, too often the attempts to explain or justify the haunting makes it something lame, but not so here. While the collective plight of Katie and Micah from the first movie is given an explanation, the reason behind it makes their situation seem so much worse. This, paired with the stinger at the end, combines to chilling effect as you see the ultimate result of Dan’s final decision. Watching the first one along with this one helps a lot, especially as the timeframe of the second one is established relative to the first. The ending definitely leaves you with an “Aw, crap!” feeling that sticks with you.

As with the first, the characters here feel like real people. Dan’s attempts to reckon with the mysterious activity mirrors Micah’s from the first movie, but he’s less of a dick about it and he genuinely comes off as wanting to protect his new family. The role of poking the demon with a stick falls to older daughter Ali, who believes in the paranormal but doesn’t recognize the danger of the hauntings until much later, and her boyfriend Brad, who thinks the whole thing is a joke. Ali parses out a likely reason for the demon to torment their family through her research, and in the context of the tale it appears chillingly plausible. Her attempts to contact the thing with an Ouija board get half a pass here, as she had no psychic to warn her against such a thing, but even so she seems like she should know how stupid that would be. At least she doesn’t make their situation (much) worse with her messing around.

If you liked the first Paranormal Activity, you will likely enjoy Paranormal Activity 2. It expands on the overall story and explains some of the unseen spectre’s motives, without ruining the perceived menace. I do recommend watching the first movie before watching this one, so things make sense, but this one is a pretty spooky movie in its own right.

The Wolfman (2010)


Even a man whose heart is pure
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright…

Lawrence Talbot is about to have the worst family reunion ever…

The Wolfman is the 2010 remake of the 1941 horror film The Wolf Man. It was directed by Joe Johnston and stars Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt, and werewolf makeup by veteran monster maker Rick Baker.

After Ben Talbot is mauled to death by an unknown creature in Wales, his brother Lawrence is summoned from a stage production of Hamlet by Ben’s fiancee Gwen to find out what happened to him. Lawrence has a tense reunion with his father, Sir John Talbot; Lawrence’s mother had committed suicide when he was a boy, and Lawrence himself had been sent to an insane asylum to cure him of the delusions that John had killed her. Many of the locals blame a nearby troupe of gypsies for the killings, but others claim that there was a similar rash of murders decades ago, with the culprit suspected to be a werewolf. When Lawrence visits the gypsy camp, an old fortune teller named Maleva tells him that an evil had befallen his brother – just before a creature attacks the camp, killing many of the gypsies and leaving Lawrence gravely wounded. Little does Lawrence know that he is about to get an up-close look at the terror menacing the countryside, as well as the dark secrets of his own past, as he finds himself on the run from the police, led by the famed Inspector Aberline…

For some reason it seems to be really hard to make convincing-looking werewolves in recent horror movies. Costumes look like people in bear suits, and CGI tends to look like cheap video game graphics. So, it was refreshing to see filmmakers take a step back towards the Universal Studios roots of the modern werewolf movie and do a wolf-man-style makeup for the title beastie. Rick Baker’s work here in effect helps him come full-circle, as he had been inspired to go into effects makeup by watching the original The Wolf Man, and went on to do the effects in An American Werewolf in London. The wolf man makeup looks great here, espcially considering how much like a werewolf Del Toro looks by default (seriously, he is a very hairy man), and enhancing the transformations with CG only strengthens the effect. Many of the stunts were done with live performers rather than CG, another good move, and the whole thing comes together well to breathe new life into an old legend.

The core cast is also brilliant, composed mainly of veteran actors with a fair amount of experience under their collective belts. Even Emily Blunt, a relative newcomer to horror, is well-experienced in doing period pieces and so is not far outside her usual environment here. Del Toro, as the tortured monster with a grim past, is fantastic here, and he speaks with a very convincing American accent… in, uh, Wales. Most of the Welsh characters default to what sounds like a generic British accent, even Anthony Hopkins (Welsh by birth), but this can be excused due to the likelihood that American theatergoers would know what a Welsh accent is supposed to sound like (slim to none). Fortunately there is a lot of chemistry there, particularly the romantic chemistry that develops between Lawrence and Gwen, and the familial tension between Lawrence and Sir John. And that little oh crap scene where Inspector Aberline sees the brutish reality behind the gypsy tales of the wolfman was extremely satisfying. Aberline was fresh off the Ripper case in London, and here he gets to see what real monsters look like.

If you are looking for a contemporary werewolf movie that backtracks to the roots of the Hollywood werewolf, I highly recommend The Wolfman. A well-woven story, a tight cast, and werewolf effects only lightly supplemented by CGI will leave you howling for more.

Trailer: Puss in Boots (2011)


Trailer: Apollo 18 (2011)


Apollo 13 meets The Blair Witch Project? This might have potential.