I recall sitting in the theater, watching the double-bill feature film deluxe Grindhouse and understanding exactly what I was getting when Robert Rodriguez opened his half of the film, Planet Terror, with a faux trailer for a film simply called Machete. It was just Danny Trejo slaughtering some assholes in glorious ways and big laughs, just pure fun. Now, 3 years since the debut of the first fully blown Mexican-explotation hero (unless I?m wrong and there are some other notable Mexplotion badasses who run their own eccentric flicks, and if so please tell me about them!) comes the feature film that never intended to exist: MACHETE.
The film of course isn?t billed to another film, it?s just by itself. It even lacks faux trailers, that said it begins with film grain which lead me to believe I?d be getting the Grindhouse experience akin to Planet Terror, but after the excellent opener the grain disappears and something else does to: the film?s absent mindness. With Planet Terror we got a silly plot that only took a second or two to realize it didn?t make much sense but that really didn?t matter. What Machete does is it tries to give the viewer a reason to continue watching Machete kill, as if it wasn?t enough. I?m well aware that this has been either a cause of criticism or praise, and I?m on the latter. It?s fairly clear that Rodriguez has jammed a pro-immigrant message into the flick, and I can dig it. I don?t want to get into the politics of it, but I think it can work regardless of your thoughts on the situation. It?s prominent, sure, but it?s not handled in an Oliver Stone realistic way; it?s silly. Really silly. To me, it makes it accessible. You can root when Machete uses a weed-killer to attack a man or you can roll your eyes, but don?t let it hurt your view on the film. After all, do you really consider the political message of film that features an ingenious/practical/just plain damn weird usage of intestines? I think not.
Back on to the film; it?s flawed. I?ll admit that some jokes/gags don?t work as good as others, but the film manages to hit way more then it ever misses and that?s largely in due part to Danny Trejo?s performance. He?s kinda hallow (the character, not the performance) and delivers his lines with such a straight-forward machoism that just kills (?Machete don?t text?). He also has a vulnerability to him that shows in his obviously mesmerizing face: battle scars galore, he?s seen some tough days. Yet he?s tall, muscled and truly intimidating. Notably is the films? primary antagonists: Robert De Niro and Steven Seagal (who?d ever thunk of these two being in a film together). De Niro, playing a Bush-esque senator is quite good and creates a sort of bizarre surrealistic quality to the film: while everyone else is playing for laughs in different ways, De Niro for the most part plays it like it?s serious. It?s certainly an effective performance. On the other end, Seagal is insanely silly and it works too. The rest of the cast is rounded out with two badass babes via Michelle Rodriguez (amusing) and Jessica Alba (honestly doing her best work), also Lindsay Lohan. I won?t say much about her, but I didn?t hate it like others probably do. It?s okay I guess. Oh yeah, Jeff Fahey is just as good as he was in the trailer.
Machete is, in my eyes, the last ?summer film?, where you?re allowed to be stupid and everyone applauds in advance of the storm of Oscar contenders. Rodriguez needs to be crowned king of bizarre hysterical deaths, because he manages to constantly top himself in how strange he can get. It?s eccentric, it?s fun, it?s a good time in general. Even if it?s a bit too-thick plotted for it?s own good at times, even if it could?ve been more Grindhouse-esque for my likes. It?s still a blast, from it?s electric start to it?s somewhat over-crowded ending. I can say I enjoyed it and with 3 years of anticipation riding upon it, that?s an achievement.
If the acid trip that was "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" turned you off, and the fantasy adventure of "The Brothers Grimm" didn't do it for you, then the combining of such films may not be your fancy, but if you liked those films on a certain level, then I this might be up your alley. This is a bizarre journey into the imaginative cerebral of an undying man, this is "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus".
Staring as the title character is Christopher Plummer, whose performance is interesting. Plummer's character doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but when he does it's generally with Tom Waits, who plays an incarnation of the devil. Yeah, that's right: Tom Waits as the devil. You see, back when Parnassus was a monk he made a deal with the devil that eventually ended with him being immortal. The films plot centers around a series of deals he constantly makes, there's a strange sense to these as Waits and Plummer's scenes aren't played with high tension but very mundanely which only makes it all the stranger.
Now, the thousand year-old doctor runs a sort of portable circus that contains a mirror allowing people to enter his mind, and experience their most awesome images stored inside their mind. The business isn't doing so well until they save a man hanging from a bridge. This man, Tony is charming lady-killer who helps business. He's played the late Heath Ledger. Ledger passed away upon filming his scenes, and what Gilliam does to tweak the plot so his footage can be used is fascinating. Every time Tony enters in the Imaginarium, he changes his psychical appearance. The actors who play the changed Tony are Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. Along with Ledger that is one handsome collection of actors if I do say so myself.
Parnassus has a daughter who will be given to the devil on her 16th birthday (due to another one of his bizarre wagers) and the actress who plays her is a model. That generally isn't a good thing but Lily Cole is surprisingly good in her role as a troubled teen living in bizarre situation. Also notable is Verne Troyer as a little man (aren't you surprised?) who assistants the good doctor. The film takes around an hour to get into speed, and I really think that's the films' main problem. For a film that is being boasted as a LSD-influenced color explosion, it takes far too long to get to that. What Gilliam tries to do is create a mysterious fantasy, and while I hate when directors feed the audience like babies, it really wasn't necessary to slowly explain things.
This is Heath Ledger's swan-song, and his final performance is great. He creates a flawed yet enthusiastic character. The other actors who play his character are all fun in their own special way. Plummer is good and Tom Waits is a scene-stealer. But the real appeal of the film is the Imaginarium, which is as visually interesting as it suggests. The color scheme is bright and up-beat, and it's mixed with some dark gothic landscapes. Terry Gilliam knows his way with images. There's also a nice bit of Monty Python humor (can you say shorty-short police men doing a nice little jig and song?)
When the credits being on Parnassus you'll have been taken on a journey that isn't like any other film you've seen before (or at least I've had). This is one of those films that progressively gets better as it goes, sure it starts off slow but ends up fresh. The actors are all great, Gilliam's visual side is as keen as ever. As stated earlier, it's a slow start but it transforms into a fantastic adventure.
An interesting exercise in anthology, Gotham Knight is well-executed? however, it?s one of those anthology films in which some stories are far better then others. ?Have I Got a Story for You? is really interesting and pretty smart but it ends far too quick for something as neat as it. ?Crossfire? is decent, but it doesn?t really go anywhere and just seems a bit of a throwaway story. ?Field Test? is a little out-there for Nolan?s take on the universe and just doesn?t really work. ?In Darkness Dwells? is incredibly exciting and just plain damn fun. ?Working Through Pain? is without a doubt the best segment and feels very Nolan-esque and is perfectly executed, such a marvelous piece. ?Deadshot? brings me back to the Batman: TAS days and is probably the third best (behind ?In Darkness Dwells? and ?Working Through Pain?) but it?s a bit short. In all, it works out 4/6 of the time (Crossfire and Field Test are ?meh?). For a animated Direct to DVD about Batman, it?s experiment in anthology is pretty cool and overall is perfect for a Batman fan.
Every year round Pixar studios manages to produce a high-quality animation that dazzles critics and snags the Best Animated Picture Oscar, this year that film was Up. Whenever Pixar produces a film (which is nearly every year) every other animated film essentially gets screwed with no chances of winning anything. As a Pixar fan boy, I've always wondered if any film could come close to capturing that Pixar quality and this year I got that, and in a bold statement: I got that and a film better then Up.
Now, you can call me crazy in advance for saying that, but I still believe it. Wes Anderson's Fox is (I won't say fantastic) marvelous. The stop-motion genre, which is a pain-in-the-ass to do is so underused in this time of computer-generated animation so whenever a stop-motion film comes around I pay attention. What is fascinating about Anderson's flick is how it isn't entirely fluent in movement. You can truly tell that it's animated and there in is the charm, being the keyword to describe the film. With Up, I truly felt that Pixar was trying to create a motion picture that could blend with all ages and have the heart of your most tenderness of Oscar films (and they were successful I might add). But Fox manages to entertain me far more due to Wes Anderson's quirky style. Some might note this as a flaw as he does heavily use it, but I love it. You might know Anderson to have only dabbled in live-action films and probably wonder how his unique visual style and camera-works would worked in an animation and I'll tell you: exactly the same.
The film centers around Mr. Fox, a newspaper columnist who a long time ago made a vow to stop stealing from local farmers in order to assure safety for his new family. But the Fox is up to his old tricks, which causes grave danger for all the creatures. Mr. Fox is voiced by George Clooney, who manages to carry his suave sophisticated charm over vocally. It's basically Clooney doing Clooney but it works. His wife is voiced by Meryl Streep, who unlike Clooney seems to aim for a different quality in her voice (or maybe that's just her regular voice, you can never really tell on the basis that she constantly does different accents for her parts), it too is nice to hear and works. Jason Schwartzman voices their son, Ash. I really dig Schwartzman and his voice performance is really great, there is one scene he nails involving his character's cousin Kristofferson (voiced by Eric Chase Anderson who does nice) at bedtime. Kristofferson, who moves in with the Foxes while his dad is in the hospital, is denied affection from Ash and cries at time, Ash hearing this comes down and they have a really tender moment. Remember the opening montage of Up which basically made everyone and their dog teary-eyed? That scene in Mr. Fox did it for me. Other good performances come from Willem Dafoe as a twangy rat, Michael Gambon as the primary antagonist and Bill Murray (in none-zombie form) as Badger.
What makes Fox work so well is the humor. While some younger children won't get into the dead-pan jokes in Fox, more older audiences should enjoy some of the absurdity. One thing I really enjoy, which isn't used as much as I'd like anymore is visual jokes, jokes set off by the way things are designed or look aesthetical. The film has a lot of them, in particular when Fox and friend go on chicken-collecting heists. One reoccurring joke, which only works because it's treated so mundanely is the replacing of any curse-term with the word "cuss" (ex: "Are you cussing with me?"). The film never tries to force the joke upon you, or any of it's jokes for that matter. That's what I really dig about it, it really works for me.
As someone who aspires to be a film director, who thing I always dig is camera-work. Animated films rarely have any interesting camera-work, on the basis that none is really needed (you're presenting us something entirely fictional, we need not be dazzled by the way you present it unlike real life) but Fox has a lot of great work, all standard Anderson. It's also noted that the film received an academy award nom for original score, and it is a joy. Also Jarvis Cocker does a song for the film, which is so fun (it leads up to an AMAZING joke by the way)
Mr. Fox is based upon a Roland Dahl book, and I can honestly say of any Dahl adaptation, this is solid. It's so interesting how Dahl's tale and Anderson's vision match up so perfectly. The result is a film that has some astounding voice work, a really keen visual side, enough humor and charm to capture both a child and adult audience to make what is easily one of my favorite films of 2009 and one of my favorite animations ever. Sure, don't care when Wes Anderson does live-action films but if you truly like his quirky style, then this film is for you. And I'll end it with me saying this again: I liked it better then Up.
Iron Man 2 just scored a solid 134 million opening weekend, and my five bucks went to that on Friday night. The anticipation for the film was high; Iron Man was a solid action film that boasted fun performances and great laughs that worked for the shallow popcorn genre, making it one entertaining film. Does the sequel manage to keep that going or downs Tony Stark succumb to failure in the height of his fame?
IM2 is to put it short, disappointing. The main problem with this sequel is the script, the original film had a four-man team but this time around, Justin Theroux writes with his only previous credit being a co-writer on Tropic Thunder. IM2's plot is well, halfassed and messy to say the least. Basically the film hurls itself into every direction, aimlessly until it's multiple plot-lines link together in a mediocre way. Robert Downey Jr. still delivers solid as Tony Stark, who to be honest has become one of the most unlikable superheroes ever (though we still love him due to Downey's sheer charm). However, any other character is written in a very stereotypical fashion. But what is interesting is how the very talented cast manages to take this generic characters and find depth in them where depth isn't. In particular is Sam Rockwell, who plays a goofball comic-relief prick of a rival arms-dealer to Tony Stark. Rockwell ends up being my favorite part of the film, Rockwell is honestly one of the most underrated actors of our generation.
What the first Iron Man lacked was a great villain, sure Bridges' performance is great but his character is very forgettable. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko has a very stock-motive but the performance itself is great. Rourke is very intimidating psychically, but he also manages to create someone who is scary in his dialogue scenes, it's a very great performance but I'm not sure if he'll stand the test of time because the character himself on paper isn't that note-worthy. Other characters include Scarlett Johansson as (geek-out!) Black Window, but the character is boring, it's just the "badass chick who's hot and kicks-ass and makes a funny joke" role we see too often, maybe it'll be expanded with The Avengers. Speaking of which, the film's second half plays out like a long ad for The Avengers with appearances from Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L. "What country you from?" Jackson) to the extent that during IM2's last 30 minutes I thought "I can't wait for The Avengers" rather then "I'm enjoying Iron Man 2".
Jon Favreau who is a decent action director, has to deal with a decent amount of action sequences. They're a huge improvement upon the first film's, but in the last half it becomes clear that Favreau was getting really tired (a bit where Iron Man and War Machine face off against a group of drones is insanely brief). Iron Man 1 boasted astounding CG, and it's back again but if you look back at the first one everyone watches it thinking "I want that suit", the effect isn't as great here. Rourke's villain has this "whip-lash" devices, and the sound design on them is great and to be honest, just any scene in general with them is pretty cool. Sometimes superhero films have effected by toy-marketers, and it's never been clearer then here. Tony Stark's Iron Man outfit goes through like four different changes, none of them truly necessary to the plot (though there is one subplot involving something with the Iron Man suit and how it harms Stark, but the way he fixes it is the most contrived thing I've ever seen in a film).
By the end of it, Iron Man 2 is loud with the dozens of characters, big action sequences, and just general nonsense. Even when the first film didn't have an action sequence going on it managed to keep hurling fun character moments and joke at us to keep the fun-tone going. Here it's lacking, and the plot isn't strong enough to keep us entertained during it's semi-serious moments. I know it isn't fair to compare it too it's first film, but it appears here they're trying to recreate that same "shallow popcorn film that's damn entertaining" and it just doesn't work. Despite it's glaring flaws, IM2 has enough amusing action sequences, great performers and geek-out moments to propel itself past the mediocrity it could've been.