Movie review: Oblivion

•May 1, 2013 • 2 Comments

Oblivion-2013-Movie-Poster1-600x876About midway through OBLIVION, I was slightly surprised, thinking that I wasn’t going to see Tom Cruise do what he does best – run very, very fast, very, very earnestly – seeing as how there were spaceships and other sci-fi elements that precluded him breaking into a sprint.

Nearly five minutes after that thought, however, Cruise took off sprinting across the desert, signaling that while the film has some unique elements, at its core, it’s still a Tom Cruise Movie, complete with all the standard beats one comes to expect from such a production. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

As one of the few people who unabashedly loves “Tron: Legacy,” I was on board with whatever director Joseph Kosinski was going to bring to the table with this, his second film, and the visuals do not disappoint, especially in the crystal-clear IMAX format. Like “Tron,” your mileage may vary with the creaky story.

Cruise stars as Jack Harper, who helpfully informs us at the beginning of the film that Earth fell victim in 2017 to a roving group of aliens called the Scavs, who, while during the war, destroyed the moon and wreaked havoc on our planet, forcing the population to flee to Titan, or a holding facility that looms over the planet called the Tet.

Sixty years later, working with his partner/lover Victoria (an eerily effective Andrea Riseborough), Jack keeps watch on the planet, repairing monitor drones and patrolling the ruins of the world under the guidance of absentee boss Sandy (Melissa Leo).

It’s a lonely life, one that Jack goes through with a great deal of wistfulness. Even though his memory was wiped, he still has flashes of a mysterious woman who appears in his dreams from a life that appears to be his. On his patrols, Jack collects mementos from the former planet, using them to help populate a homey lakehouse/man cave that’s a far cry from his spacey digs high above the clouds.

Atmospheric, stunning, creepy and backed by a moody score from M83, the early part of the film is the strongest, with Cruise jettisoning some of his action star tendencies for a portrait of an everyday man with, literally, the world at his hands. I would have loved to seen the film explore this angle further, with Jack and Victoria coming to terms with their own madness and frustration with being stuck in this thankless mission on an alien planet.

But $150 million movies don’t work like that.  Continue reading ‘Movie review: Oblivion’

Movie review: Spring Breakers

•April 11, 2013 • Leave a Comment

spring breakersIt’s almost impossible to fathom that in 2013, you can walk into a multiplex theater in well-heeled suburbia, as I did, and see the latest film from Harmony Korine amid the big-budget blockbusters and romantic comedies of the day.

After all, Korine was once the enfant terrible behind a series of notorious, button-pushing films, from “Kids” to “Gummo” to “Trash Humpers,” that made him one of the outre young directors. However, his relative notoriety began to fade as his later films were met with diminishing returns, making it seem as if he might be forever consigned to the extreme corner of indie cinema.

But you can never underestimate the power of babes in bikinis in resuscitating a career.

Stuffed to the gills with sex, drugs,violence and trashy characters – all Korine trademarks – but enhanced with a glossy sheen, star power and a healthy budget, SPRING BREAKERS is the most accessible film the director has ever made, so it’s no surprise that it received a major marketing push and wound up at your local AMC.

Now, those expecting any kind of straightforward story from the previews might be in for a bit of a bait-and-switch, although Korine keeps some of his more avant-garde tendencies in check with this tale of a quartet of girls who find much more than they bargained for when they travel to Florida to participate in the debaucherous rite of passage known as spring break.

Good girl Faith (former Bieb paramour and Disney queen Selena Gomez) joins her very bad-girl friends Candy (former Disney queen Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Brit (Ashley Benson) on a trip to St. Pete that happens only after the latter three girls rob a restaurant to get the money they need to fund the journey. Continue reading ‘Movie review: Spring Breakers’

Movie review: Movie 43

•February 6, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Movie-43_510x756Hyperbole is a weapon wielded recklessly during our pop culture discourse. Not a month goes by before something is labeled “the most awful thing of all-time” or “the greatest song evar!,” which truly devalues the best and worst of our myriad entertainment offerings.

The most recent victim of this tendency to leap to wild, unjustified conclusions is Movie 43, a sketch comedy masterminded by Peter Farrelly and starring a host of familiar faces, all of whom distanced themselves from the product – which took four years to complete – upon its release last month.

This, of course, brought out the jackals, who were quick to pounce. Review after review gleefully eviscerated the flick. Stories were written about how Farrelly coerced poor stars like Halle Berry and Richard Gere into appearing. Suddenly discerning audiences stayed away in droves. And just like that, Movie 43 seemingly had snatched the title of “the worst movie ever.” Richard Roeper called it “the Citizen Kane of awful.”

The inanity of that statement is mind-boggling. Can a hit-or-miss sketch comedy be worse than R.O.T.O.R.? Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li? New Year’s Eve? Miss March? That movie where Madonna has a one-night stand with her gay friend and they raise a baby?

Of course not. Movie 43 is by no means a great movie or even a good one. But the fact that there are a couple of laughs in there automatically disqualifies it from any discussions of the worst film ever made. No, it’s only gaining this much publicity because of the cast involved and the tortured process it took to bring it to the screen.

There’s not much of a connective tissue between the sketches, other than a mentally unstable producer (Dennis Quaid, wearing a god-awful wig) pitching his movie of crude shorts to a stuffy studio exec (Greg Kinnear), which forces the film to cut back and forth between them after nearly every skit – not the smoothest way to set up a film like this.

The tone is set from the start, as the first “story” features Kate Winslet as a woman set up on a blind date with a guy played by Hugh Jackman. Sounds good, right? Except for the fact that the guy has a pair of testicles dangling just under his chin, which seems to faze no one except the flustered date. Yes, this is a tasteless gag, especially as the balls are lifted, dipped and dangled, all to the horror of Winslet’s character. But I guess I’m a tasteless kind of guy, because that’s a funny bit, especially given the short and sweet nature of the skit.

(Winslet and Jackman were the first to sign up for the film, and they shot their scenes four years ago – at some point, they were probably hoping Farrelly forgot about the film and this would never see the light of day.)

Some of the sketches work better than others, as is usually the case with this kind of movie. Highlights include real-life married couple Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts being 100% authentic in homeschooling their son, and Terrence Howard’s motivational speech to his young basketball charges amid 1960s era racism. I didn’t even mind the one in which Anna Faris asks Chris Pratt to poop on her as a sign on love, because, let’s face it, poop is funny.

I wasn’t too keen on the angry leprechaun skit (directed by Brett Ratner) or the iBabe sketch, both of which were a little too straightforward in their crudeness. But I give everyone credit (even if they don’t want to take it at this point) for being game and playing against type in these off-the-wall scenarios.

So no, Movie 43 is not the affront to cinema I went in expecting – it’s just a mediocre movie undeserving of the critical brickbats its been receiving. We’ll just have to wait til next month for the next-worst thing.

CD review: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

•December 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

big boiRemember when we thought that Andre 3000 was the outre member of OutKast? Recently, however, he’s been spending his shrinking musical output on 16-bar guest spots for the likes of A-list rappers like Rick Ross and Young Jeezy.

Meanwhile, Big Boi, previously considered to be the traditional boom-bap member of the duo, seemingly has been getting in touch with his alt-side, apparently spending all his free time studying Pitchfork for obscure indie artists.

The result of this newfound musical freedom is Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, Big Boi’s sprawling, messy, sonically diverse, rambling and thrilling new CD – a 66-minute mind through the mind of Daddy Fat Sacks, who, by virtue of this musical odyssey, is a much more complex artist than we ever thought.

“If ya’ll don’t know me by know, y’all ain’t never gonna know me,” he says on the album-opening “Ascending,” and yes, perhaps we don’t know as much as we thought about Big Boi.

While half of the album sounds like an extension of the underrated “Sir Lucious Leftfoot,” the other half is what the soundtrack of “Drive” might be if it were set in the ATL. I’m not sure that it all works as a cohesive album, but if you approach each song separately, it’s a spectacular collection of work from an artist unafraid to cross musical borders or push the limits on those with which he’s familiar.

I’ve never heard of Phantogram, Little Dragon, Wavves or any of the other indie artists that Big Boi is working with here, but the collaborations are pitch perfect, blending rapid-fire verses with lush, electro-sounding rock backgrounds.

Who else today could tackle the thumping “In The A,” a hardcore slice of braggadocio with T.I. and Ludacris, and then shift to “CPU,” a synthy, dreamy collabo with Phantogram that is a complete 180 from what you’ve just heard? Big Boi moves effortlessly across genres here, a testament to his talent and appreciation of the musicians he’s working with.

OutKast of course, has traversed non-traditional rap avenues during its career – one of the all-time great Kast songs is “Liberation,” a tender, nine-minute jam  buoyed by Erykah Badu’s sweet choruses – and Big Boi continues the tradition here with “Descending,” a funky, pensive ode to his family that brings to mind the sonically similar “Toilet Tisha” from Stankonia.

Big Boi has said in interviews that he’s nine-to-10 songs deep into his next album, and if it’s anywhere as visionary and challenging as this release, I eagerly look forward to it.

Movie review: The Expendables 2

•August 19, 2012 • 1 Comment

“The Expendables 2″ is the rare sequel that improves upon the (admittedly low) bar set by the original, a more fully realized piece of ’80s throwback schlock that would make Golan-Globus proud.

Of course, we here at WWJCVD Do? are somewhat biased, but the biggest improvement from the first film is the absolutely fantastic performance from patron saint Jean-Claude Van Damme as the absurdly named villain Jean Vilain (insert rim shot). From his initial appearance to his bitter end, Van Damme energizes the proceedings with a casual menace and a cool demeanor that is often lacking from his too-eager-to-please co-stars.

I’ve got to admit, I giggled like a schoolgirl the first time JCVD appeared. I’ve been saying for years that he would make a great bad guy, and here’s hoping someone else takes note and keeps the man on the big screen.

As far as our heroes go, the old gang is up to the same tricks, with an opening scene showing them delivering mercenary justice in Nepal with a new face on the team – rookie Billy (Liam Hemsworth), whose name might as well be “Dead Meat” given the way the film goes through great pains to establish that he will be killed to cap off the first act.

Leader Barney (Stallone) gets another mission from the duplicitous Church (Bruce Willis) – retrieve a case from an airplane crash that contains key information to … something secret, and bring along operative Maggie (Nan Yu) to help with the case. (I guess Maggie’s role is to fill the Asian Expendable slot, since Jet Li parachutes out of the film in the first 15 minutes, never to be seen again.)

When one of the crew is killed (I’ll let you guess who it is) and the case (which contains a map to Russian plutonium) is stolen, the guys go on a mission of revenge across eastern Europe. Back for more mayhem are Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture, and each get a nice little line or minor subplot for their trouble.  Continue reading ‘Movie review: The Expendables 2′

Movie review: Total Recall

•August 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Perhaps Colin Farrell should stay away from remakes. “Fright Night” was tolerable in a low-expectations way, but “Total Recall” is an absolute mess, a bland, joyless slog that barely skims the ideas brought up by the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle and Philip K. Dick’s short story in favor of lifeless, “Underworld”-style gloom and doom.

I don’t understand why you would bother remaking this film if you weren’t going to have some fun with it? Director Les Wiseman can’t hold original director Paul Verhoeven’s jock, so I wasn’t expecting the satirical tone of the Arnie version, but the fact that he does NOTHING with the iconic scenes from that film or utilize the advancements in cinematic technology to create a realistic world is disappointing to say the least.

The kiss of death for any big-budget action film is to be boring, and during the interminable slog of the film’s final 30 minutes, I found myself longingly wishing for the comfort of my bed and a good night’s sleep. That may explain why this is going down as one of the summer’s biggest flops.

Farrell stars as Douglas Quaid, an everyman who lives on The Colony, one of the last two vestiges of population left on Earth (that’s right, Mars doesn’t even play a role here). He works on the other, the United Federation of Britain, building synthetic police soldiers and dreaming about adventures with a mysterious woman while his super-hot wife (Kate Beckinsale) coos worryingly.  Continue reading ‘Movie review: Total Recall’

Movie review: Safe

•May 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

Going to see a Jason Statham movie is like enjoying a nice bowl of soup – sure, it’s not as revelatory as experiencing a lush dinner from a five-star restaurant, but at the end, you still feel warm and satiated.

After the D.O.A. box office from “Safe,” I went in thinking perhaps this wasn’t going to be a vintage Statham performance, but that is far from the case. “Safe” is one of Statham’s best films, a propulsive, violent, crunching jolt of action that makes up for its sheer implausibility by rarely giving you a second to think about it before someone else is getting beat up or shot.

This movie would have fit right in back in 1985; there’s no subtlety about what’s happening on screen. This is Statham’s show and he delivers the goods with extreme prejudice.

Luke Evans (Statham) is a down-on-his-luck cage fighter who angers the Russian mob when he doesn’t throw a fight, leading to the cold-blooded execution of his wife and vow by the Russians that they will kill anyone whom Luke gets close to, forcing our guy to become homeless and hopeless.

On a parallel track, we are also introduced to Mei (Catherine Chan), a precious young Chinese girl whose genius-like math tendencies make her an easy target for the mafia, who capture her and force her to memorize payment schedules and secret codes.

When Luke and Mei cross paths, as she is being pursued by the Russians, Chinese and a horde of dirty cops, he decides to ditch his loner ways and protect this kid at all costs – so yes, this is Statham’s version of “Mercury Rising,” with much less Alec Baldwin. Continue reading ‘Movie review: Safe’

 
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