Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Besides being nuttier than a fruit cake, Frank Miller has established a reputation for penning some of the most brutal yet silly comics around. He hit it big in 1986 with his four-issue miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, and has more-or-less been riding off its success since then. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a pretty unremarkable and loosely adapted take on Miller’s comic of the same name, published in 1993. As one might expect, the Sin City franchise has struggled to maintain relevancy in this post-Avengers world.

Rodriguez’s wildly over-the-top action sequences and Tarrantino-esque, blood-squirty fight scenes are here in abundance, but frankly, that’s kind of the problem. The film literally can’t go five minutes without someone being beaten, shot, or otherwise maimed, and it really strikes me as a production that is afraid to take a deep breath and pace itself, lest it lose the attention of the audience. When there isn’t any fighting going on, you can bet the Rodriguez is busy flashing Eva Green’s boobs up on screen, which of course isn’t a bad thing in itself, but I’m left wondering what the point of it all is. I’m tempted to posit that Rodriguez and Miller don’t think very highly of their audience; ‘distraction’ really seems to be the operative word here, as the semi-monochrome palate, breakneck pacing, and even Miss Green’s ample assets are strategically used to shift the audience’s attention away from the sub-par story.

As far as the acting is concerned, performances are serviceable but bland. Mickey Rourke seems like he’s having fun as tough-guy Marv, though, and Powers Booth returns as the wonderfully fun-to-hate Senator Roark. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s depiction of Johnny, a charming drifter looking to try his luck in Sin City’s speakeasies. In some ways, he reminded me of his character Brendan Frye in the 2005 film Brick, which is still one of my personal favorites.

The thing about the Sin City franchise is that it is, and has always been, a thing for children, and I mean that in the same way that the 300 franchise is for children as well. At its core, its a mindless, juvenile celebration of fantasy ultra-violence that seeks to corner the “eighteen to twenty-five year old male” demographic with the promise of blood and tits. That being said, in the end it succeeds pretty well at what it sets out to do. No, the plot isn’t great, and while I can’t say the prospect of watching people get punched in the face for an hour and a half really thrills me, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For holds the interest well enough.

I’d like to bring up Sin City’s trademark visual style again briefly, because while it’s certainly a gimmick, at least it’s unique. Personally, I’m of the opinion that a film needs at least one special idea of its own—a unique selling point, if you will—even if it’s just a monochrome palate. The important thing is that when I see that black and white fight scene with vibrant spurts of crimson blood flying across the screen, I know that I’m watching a Sin City movie, which is more than I can say for a lot of films.

Rating: 3 out of 5

RED 2 Review

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It has become abundantly clear to me that the unofficial theme for this year is “Properties that don’t need sequels.” Over the course of this year, especially this  summer, we’ve seen Grown Ups 2, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Into Darkness, Iron Man 3 and many more. Here this week to join the cavalcade of unnecessary sequels is RED 2, based on the limited DC comic series of the same name.

The film is directed by Dean Parisot, who is responsible for the cult favorite Galaxy Quest as well as a few episodes of various popular television programs. Coincidentally (here’s your useless bit or trivia for the day) the director of the original RED, Robert Schwentke, is the man behind the paranormal buddy cop film R.I.P.D, which is in theaters at the exact same time as RED 2. Personally, I suspect the Illuminati. Be that as it may, the story this time around comes to us from brothers Joe and Eric Hoeber who seem determined to take everything that was fun and exciting about the original RED and throw it off of a cliff; but more on that in a moment.

Reprising their roles from 2010 are Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Dame Helen Mirren, who are working alongside the always impressive Anthony Hopkins. It seems strange that a film starring so many extraordinarily talented actors would fall so flat, and indeed, the RED franchise up until this point is nothing if not an enormous waste of acting potential. I suspect that the actors themselves thought so to, as some of the performances, Bruce Willis’s specifically, seem uncomfortably phoned-in. Then again, perhaps the acting is merely a reflection on the IP at this point, which has become a world class exercise in phoning it in.

The two main problems that I have with the film are the story and the tone. Let me explain. The story, if one deigns to call such a sloppy mess of loosely associated events a story, is essentially unintelligible for the first half, culminating in a painfully predictable finale. Throughout the first hour of the film, the story takes off at a breakneck pace and races from set piece to set piece, seemingly content to let actions unfold on-screen without any sense of connectivity or meaning. I get the impression that RED 2 doesn’t give a damn about me as a member of the audience. It’s almost as though the film takes for granted that I’m sitting in the theater, and can’t really be bothered with stringing together a coherent narrative. Instead, it throws up some half-baked word vomit and hopes that we’ll be satisfied with some meaningless explosions sprinkled over an allegedly exotic locale. I’ve never felt so unloved.

The second thing I took issue with in RED 2 was the hugely generic tone that it had adopted since the funnier and more lighthearted original. The whole gimmick of RED is right there in the acronym: Retired, Extremely Dangerous. The 2010 RED took the idea of old, inexplicably sharp government operatives and saw the opportunity for a unique and engaging movie with plenty of fun and an emphasis on over-the-top action sequences and comedy. RED 2, however, misses the point by several miles and continues to travel determinedly in the wrong direction. Instead of raucous fun, the film opts for a tone not dissimilar from every other action movie made ever. It’s only in a very few, slower moments that the film seems to remember what made the original RED so special, and tries to crack some jokes or make Bruce Willis’s girlfriend accidentally shoot something.

RED 2 is a disappointing movie, not only because it squanders the talents of some extraordinary actors, but also because it looses touch with it’s origins. The film never had the potential to compete with other big budget action movies this summer, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t still a place for it, had it executed correctly. As it stands, RED 2 brings nothing new to the table and will quickly be forgotten beneath the mounds  of other, samey action movies this summer.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Red 2: Rampant Cinemania Episode 12

 

This Week: Albert Cantu and Andrew King

Show Notes:

Grown Ups 2: 1:07 – 3:32

The Mummy: 3:32 – 5:19

The Kings of Summer: 5:19 – 8:07

Red 2 Review: 8:07 – 31:45

A very special episode with just Albert and I discussing the merits of Red 2, and the trend of unnecessary sequels.

Rate and review us on iTunes!

Audible link: http://www.audibletrial.com/simplyfilm

G.I Joe: Retaliation Review

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As a product of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the height of G.I Joe’s popularity fell well before my time. Happily, this detachment allows me to maintain a measure of objectivity, as I have no vested interest in the success of the G.I Joe movies. As contradictory as that may sound (a critique, by definition, being the subjective opinion of an individual) I can say nevertheless that I went into Retaliation with my sight unhampered by nostalgia. Surprisingly, G.I Joe: Retaliation succeeded expectations, and at the end of the day, proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable time at the movies.

Most famous for directing the greatest film in the history of mankind, Step Up 3D, Jon M. Chu takes a shot at this installment in the G.I Joe ethos, adding yet another entry to already labyrinthian franchise. Having never directed an action movie before, Chu does an admirable job, all things considered. It may be worth mentioning, however, that Chu’s background lies mainly with dance, as evidenced by his direction of two Step Up movies, The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, and two films featuring the antics of Justin Bieber. That being said, it seems more natural then, that many of the choreographed fight scenes in Retaliation seem to be so visually appealing, such as the kung-fu fighting scenes between ninjas Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. One might ascribe a dance-like quality to the precise and aesthetically engaging way in which the actors fight on-screen.

The film stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (or the Scorpion King, as he will always be known to me), Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, and a host of others, reprising their roles from the first G.I Joe film. It was nice to see The Rock return to a role in which he really seems comfortable, and I was pleased to see his lackluster performance in Snitch has not impeded him from being the unstoppable action hero badass that he was born to be. Unlike Snitch, Retaliation thankfully incorporates a little levity now and then, as the script knows that it’s supposed to be fun and lighthearted, which is ironic because over the course of the film literally millions of people die. Allow me briefly to get something off of my chest: Channing Tatum has grown into an excellent young actor, and I am quite tired of movies killing him off within the first 20 minutes. Side Effects earlier this year did the same thing. I find it irritating because he featured prominently in both trailers and we were all led to believe that he was actually starring in the production instead of making a 15 minute cameo appearance.

Now, Bruce Willis on the other hand, can stop appearing in movies all together because he’s essentially putting on the same song and dance that we’ve seen for years now. Has anyone else noticed that? He’s becoming increasingly type cast the the grumpy military veteran who just wants to retire. The first half of his career was marked by genuinely interesting roles and varied performances, but nowadays it seems as though he’s said “to hell with it,” and started playing the same character over and over again.

Switching gears now, the plot is all over the place, but it madness stems, not from being incomprehensible, but from simply being ludicrous in the best possible way. Like I mentioned before, Retaliation knows full well that it’s more insane that Kim Jong-Un on nitrous oxide, and it takes that free spirited fun and runs with it. Within the two hour run time, we’ve got ninja battles, the complete destruction of a European capitol, Lee Byung-hun’s glistening abdominals, an exhibition of the RZA’s acting prowess, tanks, guns, explosions, and a rousing game of angry birds.

Director Jon Chu is slated to helm the highly anticipated Masters of the Universe in 2015, and if his handling of Retaliation is any indication, I’m expecting good things. I’m pleased that the producers took a chance on Chu, especially since the film was such a big budget production. All in all, Retaliation is a recipe for fun if ever there was one, with the perfect mix of pulpy action and slick, cool characters.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A Good Day to Die Hard Review

Q: HEY! What if they made a movie out of a Call of Duty game? Wouldn’t that be awesome?!

A: What? You mean complete with incomprehensible plot gesturing vaguely in the direction of Russians with nukes? You mean with samey, monotonous firefights that seem only tangentially connected to the story? You mean with paper-thin characterization which leaves the audience with no investment in the fate of the characters whatsoever? Thats a horrible idea, and go put a helmet on before you hurt yourself.

Alas, that’s nevertheless what we’ve come to in the fifth installment of the pestilentially immortal Die Hard series. If you were excited about another one of these movies, you opinion is objectively wrong. The only thing positive I can say about this film is that it’s so bad that it may actually spare the flagellated series yet another sequel. That being said, get out your biggest rusty nails, and let’s crucify this thing!

Directer John Moore boasts a listless filmography including vastly inferior remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix to which he will determinedly add another entry. Everything about this production smacks of half-heartedness and generally being phoned-in. Set pieces feel artificial and small and fake in the context of world building, CG is some of the worst since Vampire Hunter, and writing is so uninspired it’s almost comical. The defining characteristics of the series since the original Die Hard are unapologetic dumbing-down and stagnation and sure enough, Moore gives it all he’s got in an effort to continue the trend.

Series veteran Bruce Willis as the legendary super cop John McClain joined by a couple of other undistinguished meatheads including Jai Courtney as CIA operative Jack McClain. I can’t help but blame the otherwise perfectly decent Willis for this debacle as he has allegedly “expressed interest” in shooting A Good Day to Die Hard as well as yet another installment, presumably due to the undoubtedly embarrassing amount of money he was offered to take the part. Even Willis though, who has had a long and actually stellar career, at this point seems to be involved only for the franchise to say “Hey, Kids! Look who it is!” and wring the last nostalgia dollars out of a fan base rapidly losing faith in the property. Suffice it to say, not a single performance stands out in this deliriously mediocre affair.

A Good Day To Die Hard is at a disadvantage from the outset as it will necessarily have to be compared to the original Die Hard, an infinitely better film. Where the original had a refreshingly subversive tone within the conventions of the genre at the time of its release, it’s ironic that the most recent installment in the series falls back into the same cliches and tired tropes that brought the original such widespread acclaim. Way back in the 1980’s, movies like Rambo and Terminator introduced to the world the concept of unstoppable, hulking slabs of muscle wielding obscenely large guns and systematically massacring the bad guys. In 1988, however, the original Die Hard came along and smashed existing customs to pieces, featuring a normal guy instead of shaved bears as well as not unwelcome elements of deception and subterfuge capitalizing on the growing threat of global terrorism at the time.

Even if A Good Die to Die Hard were not compared to the original, it would still stand up shamefully even by today’s standards. Devoid of almost all redeeming qualities, it’s a boring, repetitive, uninspired, cliched and repetitive addition to the franchise. Fans of Bruce Willis will be better off re-watching Armageddon, The Sixth Sense or any number of much better movies which constitute his filmography. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the film is overall strongly reminiscent of what a Call of Duty movie would look like if someone ever had the unmitigated stupidity to make one. It saddens me even more to think that there will likely be a Die Hard VI, which, at this point, will surely just contribute to making an even bigger mockery of the franchise. As it stands, I would sooner recommend throwing $10 down the garbage disposal than going to see A Good Day to Die Hard. 

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

The Expendables 2 Review

There’s something to be said about a movie that lives up to expectations. Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures that make for the best experience. To that end, Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables 2 will appeal to its target audience quite well. I don’t think anyone was expecting either this film or its prequel to turn any critics’ heads, but I can tell you that you’ll get what you pay for: The Expendables 2 brings fans yet another action thriller that manages not to take itself too seriously.

The rather predictable plot once again features mercenary group The Expendables as they slash, shoot, and explode their way towards vengeance on another generic Eastern-European baddie (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The plot was never the film’s strong point. Where the film shines, though, is in the complexity of the well-choreographed action sequences, and some truly excellent performances by the cast. The original concept for the Expendables, a movie that brings together all of the major American action film stars, once again serves as a great evening’s entertainment. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren, and with cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris, Expendables once again throws audiences into a fast paced action thriller that knows exactly who its target  audience is.

The script has a surprising quip, and the obligatory inclusion of all the stars’ respective film references (“I’ll be back” must have found its way in three or four times) happens in such a way that no one has to take this film too seriously. In fact, the surprisingly well-developed characters’ back and forth banter is one of its high points. Nan Yu’s turn as Maggie adds some much needed variety, and Stallone is careful not to let the script get bogged down in cheesy sub plots and the like. The obvious camaraderie among the cast benefits the movie to a great extent.

It’s certainly nothing that you weren’t expecting. If nothing else, it’ll get your testosterone flowing. Can audiences really ask more of a Stallone film than that?

Rating: 3 out of 5

Moonrise Kingdom Review

Moonrise Kingdom is one of those storybooks we all read as children. Everything’s here: the idiosyncratic child leads, the watercolor visuals, the youthful wonder, and even the adults there to ruin everything. It seems like Wes Anderson’s current resurgence is completely based on this central theme. Perhaps after adapting Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, he decided to create a children’s book of his own.

This particular children’s book is about love, to be more accurate the love of two lonely youths. These lovers are young Sam and Suzy. They are both weird kids who find themselves alone in their respective worlds. Pushed together by a fateful church play they start exchanging letters. Through their communications, they each find the other to be the only source of understanding in their otherwise ignorant surroundings. These two lost souls having lost all faith in everything around them decide to run away together. This drums up an appropriate amount of concern by the parties involved, and a search for the young lovers ensues.

This film like all other Wes Anderson films is filled with lots of quirk. Be it the eccentric characters or the whimsical approach to storytelling, it’s ever present. However, don’t let that fool you into believing that this film is nothing but quirk for quirk’s sake. Regardless of all the idiosyncrasies everywhere, it never gets in the way of the film’s big bleeding heart. There is real emotion here and behind these wonderfully bizarre characters is a story of authentic human feelings.

These feelings would be meaningless if the actors showing them are weak, and I’m glad to say that there’s no need to worry at all. Anderson has gathered a dream team of actors including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, and the always-amazing Bill Murray. But, let us not forget the two leads of the film, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who are fantastic and perfectly portray the awkwardness and wonder of a youthful romance.

Quark and good actors aren’t the only things Anderson brings from his other films. He also brings his distinctive visual style. Like in his other movies there is a certain meticulous nature to the filmmaking here. Every shot seems like it has been painstakingly executed to one hundred percent excellence. Even the color pallet is mastered perfectly, giving the movie a watercolor like veneer. It’s like every piece of this film’s cinematography comes together to bring about a cohesive and brilliant vision.

Anderson has outdone himself. He flawlessly gives us the wonderful story of two misunderstood children and their struggles for love and a place to belong. I have little hesitation in naming this his finest film to date.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5