Month: September 2013

Weekly Trailer Reviews Part 1 (9/30/13-10/6/13)

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Hello, everyone.  This segment will now be a ‘weekly’ trailer review for two purposes.  First, it makes sense to recap released reviews a week at a time instead of a month’s worth all at once.  Also, it keeps me on task, as I haven’t been very prolific lately.  This is part 1, as I watched a plethora of previews over the past few weeks; part 2 is forthcoming.

“Plus One”– I have to hand it to the trailer’s creators, as I was definitely floored by the complete change of tone midway through the trailer.  Not only was I disinterested in seeing yet another “young people partying” movie, I nearly stopped watching until…somewhat interesting things began to happen. I have no idea why there are carbon copies of each person at the party, or why one set of doppelgängers are trying to kill the other, but congratulations to the marketing team, I’m now mildly interested in finding out more- the question is how?  Apparently this was released in March of this year, and I can’t find a physical video release date for it.  The only option thus far is Amazon instant video if that works for you.

“Divergent”– The obvious chase for the almighty dollar has caused this to be adapted from the novel of the same name.  This movie, starring Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, other pretty people, and a plethora of other male steamroom synchophants (brooding models), seems like nothing more than a money grab, hell-bent on capitalizing on the “Hunger Games” vibe.  If it weren’t for the two lead actresses, no one could pay me to see another “Logan’s Run”-type of movie.  Blah.  This opens on March 21, 2014.

“Escape From Tomorrow”– People who love Disney beware.  Apparently filmed without permission at Disney World and Disneyland, this movie follows a fictional father who is about to lose his grip on reality through the prism of happiness that the famous theme parks show.  He starts to see seriously disturbing things, etcetera, etcetera, will the children be ok, etcetera, etcetera.  Somewhere in time a film exists that will dig deeper into the Disney-fied idea of being happy “all the time”, which this trailer gives us, and maybe the interplay between that idea and losing reality’s grip will fixate me. Unfortunately I don’t think this is the movie, if the trailer tells us anything.  Having the actual Disney (allowed or not) as part of the film distracts me already, and seems to serve as nothing more than a facade to the (likely) underwhelming plot.  If you’re really motivated, this may see daylight on October 11th, 2013, if Disney’s lawyers don’t sic it first.

“Unhung Hero”–  The more I think about this trailer, the more annoyed I get.  We’re presented with the idea that a poor man (the filmmaker) had his marriage proposal turned down (at a live basketball game).  The reason his would-be fiance gives for stiffing him is that he isn’t “packing” down below.  We’ll skip past the part where this gentleman should have figured out his partner’s preferences at that point, and the part where proposing at a college basketball game isn’t going to knock the panties off any girl, and get straight to the main idea of this ‘documentary’- does size really, REALLY  matter?  There’s a discussion (a serious one) to be had about genital girth as it relates to relationships, communication, and sexuality.  Judging by the tone of this trailer, it won’t be discussed in this documentary.

* side note- if you look closely, you’ll recognize the ‘filmmaker’ as a prolific commercial actor, most notably as the “looks uncomfortably like quarterback Aaron Rodgers” pal in a Pizza Hut ad.  The reason I’m annoyed is that we’re supposed to believe the marriage proposal actually happened, when in reality I’ve decided that this documentary exists purely for shock and attention purposes, and no thoughts of substance about love, sex, or relationships will be presented.

“Grand Piano”– One can only hope that Elijah Wood is intentionally counter-casting himself in everything these days, for I’m not sure that I can bear another “Frodo plays a creepy guy” movie.  To be fair, this is a very strange, yet somehow effective trailer.  Wood plays an exceptional pianist who receives a not-so-subliminal threat written on his music, saying “don’t mess up a note or you die” or something to that effect. The man behind it?  Who else but John Cusack, losing his mind on and off-screen for our delight (chagrin).  Also in this film is Alex Winter.  Alex Winter of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.  Yes, that’s strange, but it may be just strange enough to be an effectively creepy film.  Spain has a release date of October 25th, 2013, but nothing is listed for the US.  Director Eugenio Mira being a native Spaniard may have something to do with that.

“Nebraska”–  Did you see “Sideways”?  “The Descendants”?  “About Schmidt”?  “Election”?  If you enjoyed any of those, this Alexander Payne yarn, filmed in black and white, is up your alley.  I’ve seen all of those films, and I can’t help but mention how much fun it is to watch the characters.  They’re always flawed, but interesting people still trying to figure out life.  In “Nebraska”, Bruce Dern and Will Forte (yes, him) are a father/son duo that travels from Montana to Nebraska in hopes of claiming a multi-million dollar sweepstakes prize.  Honestly, it wouldn’t matter to me if they were in search of a new way to cultivate corn, for Payne would find a way to make it interesting.  This is a solid trailer that may appeal more to those already familiar with the quirks of Payne’s films, but solid nonetheless.  Nebraska opens in theaters November 22nd, 2013.

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Film Review- ‘Riddick’ (****)

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Riddick (Vin Diesel) disembowels an alien T-Rex.
Riddick (Vin Diesel) disembowels an alien-tyrannosaurus-scorpion-thing.

“Riddick” (****) out of 5

Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, and Dave Bautista

Written by: David Twohy, Oliver Butcher, and Stephen Cornwell

Directed by: David Twohy

Every once in a while, a film that has no business being entertaining surprises me.  “Pitch Black” was one of those films, and oddly enough, its’ second sequel involving the enigmatic Riddick character does the same.   I don’t have a good or defendable answer as to why I’m drawn to films like this- only that I think they’re kind of cool, and space/aliens are directly or indirectly involved.  Director David Twohy (“The Arrival”, “A Perfect Getaway”) has always been able to make the kind of fare that looks great, is semi-creative, and appealing to a very specific audience, but never quite complete.

With the unlikely release of “Riddick”, nine full years after its’ predecessor, “The Chronicles of Riddick”,  I think Twohy has made the most complete film that he can possibly make, and it’s worth it, to boot. It’s true to itself and the world that has been established, loves the characters, looks fantastic in spite of some typical Twohy hyper-realism, and above all, is brave enough to be a hard ‘R’.  There’s no holding back- we are treated to decapitations, disembowelments, sexual assault, full frontal nudity, compound fractures, copious amounts of blood, alien goo, salty language, and a partridge in a pear tree.   All of that ridiculousness would be silly in a lesser film, but it works here.

I give Twohy and Diesel kudos for humbling up and scaling back after the big-budget disappointment of “Chronicles“, then re-establishing this character in a setting that takes full advantage of his best traits.  Is he tough?  Clearly.  Is he resourceful?  He’d have to be after being stranded on a remote planet by Vaako (Karl Urban).  Is he bold?  He’s the only character I know that can threaten the lives of multiple surrounding bounty hunters while being chained up and still come off as believable.  Is he a hero?  I’d go with the term anti-hero, as he seems to have his own sensible moral code, despite his savage and ‘animalistic’ nature.

The first half of the movie focuses on Riddick’s most interesting trait- his resourcefulness.  He’s left broken on a desolate planet that he believed to be his home world of Furya, then stalked by hyena-like creatures and alien-dinosaur-scorpion hybrids (imagine the Giger alien mating with the creepy leech-snake from “Enemy Mine”) of different sizes.  After he befriends one of the alien hyenas, he finds a remote bounty hunter outpost, triggers the beacon, and in no time, two starkly different bands of bounty hunters show up to claim Riddick as one of the top prizes in the known universe.  Both previous entries in this franchise aren’t ignored, and in fact help drive the plot here.  From that point until the end of the film, it’s Riddick’s wit and physicality versus the massive number of obstacles between him and escape from the planet.  We know he’s likely to defeat everyone, but we find joy in watching him scheme and the would-be captors squirm.

Whether or not you’re interested in the loose mythology behind the Riddick character, there is no denying how much fun this movie is.  The filmmakers cared enough about these characters to give us a smart, surprisingly funny, well-edited action thriller that made me smile on multiple occasions.  It’s not often that we get an action movie that dares to forego frantically kinetic hand to hand battles or explosions in favor of scheming, talking, and outwitting, and “Riddick” does all three surprisingly well.  On top of that, there’s just enough creepiness lurking about with the aggressive alien-dinosaur-scorpions to keep us on our toes.  Sure, an uneven musical score by Graeme Revell and the overuse of ‘diagonal’ camera angles took me out of the moment a few times, but they aren’t major issues.

Sincere props need to go out to Vin Diesel and company for making a movie that cares about its’ audience, and cares about the characters they’ve created.  Pay close attention, and you’ll even notice some neat science-fiction sounds that I can’t remember hearing before in a film (the motion tracker that the bounty hunters employ is one example).  It’s all a part of a movie that never needed to exist, but I’m quite pleased it does.