Friday, February 12, 2010

Surrogates - 3/5

Let's analyze the equation with "Surrogates". Bruce Willis + Action + Science Fiction + Asimov inspired Robot caution tale = a must see for this guy. Granted, now that the credits are rolling, I can't say that I wasn't disappointed with the outcome of the film, even if I did have a fun time watching the film when it was on.

Bruce Willis is a cop living in a world where everyone operates 'surrogates' (or mechanical representations of themselves) to 'live' in the world. People stay at home in a machine and go to work and live their life through their mechanical selves. But a new weapon that appears on the streets is able to not only disable surrogates but also kill their operators. So its up to Willis to put the pieces together to and figure out who is behind the weapon and unlock a bigger conspiracy that makes him question the worth of personal experience.

The comparisons with an Asimov inspired Robot caution tale was something that kept coming to the forefront of the movie as it continued to play. A lot of the comparisons in my mind I kept making were the the Will Smith project "I, Robot" more often than not. Just like that one, this film was a action packed fun entertaining film but lacked the depth the intelligence that it should have been sporting the entire time. It definitely touches on many aspects of the eternal Sci-Fi question: what makes us human? But never really gives a viewer a lot of details to chew on. Let's hit the examples.

We have Willis whom is left suddenly without a surrogate and having to figure things out in the 'real' world for himself again. They touch on this idea that his wife is losing herself to her surrogate allowing the robot to be her rather than coming to terms with herself but the scenes with them together run more like a TV drama rather than true gripping science fiction detail. There are moments but they never really go the distance. The same goes with the 'dreads', a group of people who live without any machine in rebellion against surrogates. We get the surface value of the idea but the film never goes into the reasons or shows the struggle between the two worlds. Hell, even the villain behind our weapon could have had a grand canyon of weight to his decisions but he just comes across a more or less crazy. It's things like this where they could have taken the chance to hit some points that this film just lacked.

The film did entertain me immensely though. As a person that loves sci-fi I was digging the concepts and story and the action was pretty legit for this kind of film that one could see wasn't made to be a huge blockbuster. So I did enjoy the film. It just had far more potential than it went to.

This film could have used another half hour or so of solid story depth added with some clever dialogue or issues that could have been brought to life. In the end, it ends up being a fun action film more than a classic Science Fiction film that it could have been. Take it with a grain of salt and don't forget to live your life for yourself. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Hurt Locker, The - 4.5/5

With all the acclaim that has been placed upon "The Hurt Locker", I kinda felt like I didn't really want to see it. Yeah, it was probably going to be good, but sometimes too much acclaim just makes me hate something more. Don't know why I just do.

So now I have seen this Oscar nominated film, and despite my initial 'hatred' for it, I have to admit: it deserves a lot of the credit its getting. There I admit it. "The Hurt Locker" is damn good.

Following in the shoes of a newly dead bomb squad leader in Iraq, James is a little different than the rest of his team. With only a month left until their time in the war zone is up, each of the three members of this elite bomb squad have different mind sets to what the end of their stay brings. Some, like James, find a solice in war and the adrenaline it produces than anyplace else.

Not that the film is perfect, in my opinion no film is, but for what the film was pointed towards, it accomplished a lot of great things. It's built on being very realistic and minimalistic in 'film' like qualities. The low droning score, no title sequence, and fly on the wall style of guerrilla directing all build this sense of character work and suspense that succeeds in every scene on the film. The acting is superb on all aspects (I got really excited to see Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes in the cast only to find them as secondary roles) with our three protagonists as our three muses of view points on the stress of their job.

Sometimes I felt as though the focus of the film gets a little jumbled at times, which is only reason it doesn't get the full 5 starts. With its intensity and subtle side of film making, there are some moments that felt a bit off pace with the rest of the film. Our moments with the potential death of 'Beckham' and its aftermath seem to blur itself too much at times for my taste. I understand that much of this is the 'artistic' side of the film and leaves it up to the decision of the viewer, but these moments tended to make me lose focus on what the general over-arching concept of what the film needed. Not that its actually a huge thing I had a problem with (obviously the ranking shows that) but it does leave a notch on an otherwise fairly perfect film.

"The Hurt Locker" deserves the accolades that it is getting. Its a slow burning suspense driven character study that hits almost all the right buttons right on the head. Films don't normally do into this much detail about this sort of subject matter so its a refreshing take on the 'war' film that isn't going to throw too many political fanatics into a fervor. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Smokin' Aces 2: Assassin's Ball - 2.5/5

Sigh. Sigh sigh sigh. Really, when you have something as stylistically fun as the original "Smokin Aces" and give it a franchise of 'let's use the same idea and just follow killer hit men around', how could you go wrong? Well, in all honesty, you go wrong by trying to go right and that's the blunder that "Smokin Aces 2: Assassin's Ball" makes.

Weed is an FBI desk jockey that ends up on the wrong end of an assassination contract. With the help of his FBI coherts they strike a plan to keep him safe until the contract expires. Unknown to them, a handful of assassins are already on the job and looking to score big. That's not the only issue as it would seem everything else is connected in ways the FBI has only inklings about.

"Smokin Aces" wasn't the brilliant film that many cult fanatics made it out to be, but it was damn fun to watch with its fantastical premise, wonderful visuals, over the top characters, and epilepsy inducing editing. What befalls our beloved sequel is that it tries desperately to regain that odd charisma of the first, but is unable to blend the parts together this time around.

At times, "Smokin Aces 2" feels almost too campy, for example, although the idea of strapping dynamite to clowns and blasting them into a building might seem awesome it comes across as a bit too much like violent Looney Tunes for its own good. Yet 5 minutes later, the film almost gets too serious with its back story of what it takes to be a patriot to the country and family issues. I like both sides, the ridiculous over the top action and ridiculous assassins and the serious Thriller like covert ops backing plot, but never do the two blend all that well. We spend way too much time on both when a focus on one or the other would have done the film wonders.

We also have far too many characters to really give a rat's ass about. We spend quite a chunk of the film burning a light coating of back story for each assassin when in the end most of them turn into 2D caricatures of what they should be. The acting doesn't help a whole lot as most of them are given scraps of what should be solid acting foundations and only a few characters actually chew with what they have (our lead FBI man for example).

Stylistically its snazzy and comic bookish in visual style, but the substance behind it doesn't make the cut. Again, its a fun watch that just has far too many flaws for its own good and it makes this one sit on the dead end of its contract. It needed to make a focus decision but never got around to it. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Universal Soldier: Regeneration - 3.5/5

Now that we have two completely different franchises on our hands that are both 'sequels' to the original "Universal Solider", sometimes I find it hard to keep track of what the fuck is actually going on. In fact, none of the sequels really made sense as follow-ups to the kick ass original...until this one.

Even the 'official' sequel, "Universal Soldier: The Return" was way too ridiculous for its own good (although I do have guilty pleasure in watching it), this one truly feels like a good follow up. It takes the darker and grittier parts of the series and expands on them almost to the point that its hard to call this an action movie. Which is both a blessing and a curse for "Regeneration".

Van Damme returns in the role of Luc as he enters a rehabilitation clinic to see if there is any humanity left in him to save. Unfortunately, he is thrown back into the system when a group of terrorists seize Chernobyl and threaten to unleash the radioactive build up there. The reason they need Luc back? These terrorists have a new generation of Unisol (as played by MMA badass Andrei Arlovski) that can decimate an entire army on his own if need be. Not to mention that these terrorists also have a fail safe in the form of Andrew...aka Dolph Fuckin Lundgren reprising his role from the original.

The director and film team must have looked at that synopsis and said, 'damn this could be way too over the top and we might make another "Return". Let's take it down and make it as realistic as possible'. It was a ballsy move to tone down the series, make it darker, heavier, and far more realistic and it paid off. This one just feels more depressing and gritty. At times it feels almost too un-action like with its droning score and slow burn build, but the last 20 minutes pays for most of it.

Which is the best part of "Regeneration". The choreography and final 20 minutes where Van Damme goes in just simply rocks. Although I question the limited involvement and impact of Lundgren's role in the film, the fights are fucking incredible. Seeing Van Damme and Lundgren throw each other around again brings me an immense amount of joy and the clever combination of Van Damme's martial arts training and Arlovski's brutal MMA style is pretty sick. This is definitely the highlight of this film.

The ending was somewhat of a piss off moment though, as it just sort of ends and has no real falling action. It almost seems like it wanted to throw a 'to be continued' credit in there for good measure. Which would have been ridiculous. For warning though, it did kind of ruin a chuck of the film that I liked.

Overall, I was massively impressed with "Regeneration". It does have its flaws: an odd ending, slow first half, and boring score - but the nostalgia and excitement of the last 20 minutes makes up for most of it. I hope the continue on with the franchise...well, official franchise after this. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

May - 4.5/5

I ended up taking a gander at this little indie Horror film due to some solid recommendations from trusted sources and I have to say that I was impressed. For its subject matter and low budget, this little pseudo coming of age tale about coming to terms with who you are packs quite a punch. At any given moment it could have moved into 'campy' territory but rarely does and it makes it worth the watch.

May is not your average girl. She's been an outsider her entire life (mostly due to her lazy eye she was born with) and now that she's on her own, she has some issues to come to terms with. Her only friend is a homemade doll in a glass case and her only real friends is her co-worker at the animal hospital. When she sees a boy that intrigues her (but doesn't really acknowledge that she is there) she sets off to find a real friend and ends up finding that sometimes the sum of the parts isn't as good as the good parts of a person.

Naturally, this film comes across as a pretty simple story. Really it kind of runs its way as more of a drama with romantic tendencies - until it starts hitting on some of the more sketchy areas of May's personality and disturbing qualities. As I mentioned, May could have easily come off as a cheap ass attempt for a slasher flick, but with some clever writing and a very impressive visual and stylistic eye from writer/director Lucky McKee it finds a depth and symbolism that you may not see coming. It's far deeper than it even seems on the surface and it took a good time of thinking for me to grasp at it with its 'hodge podge' attack at working the doll and homemade clothing themes. Its impressive with its subtle symbolism under its straight forward story.

Angela Bettis carries the film on her thin shoulders quite well. Her quirky and darkly comedic take on May takes us for a fucking ride as we follow her on her roller coaster life. Only when she wants us to, do we ever see her as a 'villainous' character rather than the victim at any given moment an its a ride I was more than willing to hitch shotgun on. A solid supporting cast (with a fairly impressive performance by Anna Faris - only known really for being in "Scary Movie" prior to this - as her friend/co-worker) helps out immensely with the world of May and elevates some of the weight of carrying the film off of Bettis. Its a combination and chemistry that took me out of the blue and adds even more to the tale.

"May" turned out to be a slice of indie Horror heaven that may have crashed and burned at any given time. There is an edge and realism to the tale that runs as a warning to society and yet comes across as just darkly comedic and fantastical enough to not be too heavy. The ending was a spooky treat of 'what the fuck' that may make some viewers confused but I found fitting for the film. "May" surprises on many levels and that's why it should deserve its praise. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

You Only Live Twice - 2.5/5

This is the beginning of the 'larger than life' era of James Bond. "Thunderball" was over the top, but this one puts that one to shame in this department. Full of massive moments, most of which are completely ridiculous but memorable, "You Only Live Twice" is a visual treat but lacks a lot of the depth and tenacity that can make a Bond film great.

STORYLINE: The Russians and Americans are at each others throats over disappearing space craft. Of course, only the British are willing to truly investigate before going to firepower as they try to prevent World War III. Bond is sent this time to Japan to find out where this mysterious spacecraft eating rocket comes from and put an end to the madness. He teams up with Japan's best spies to track down the organization behind it all...SPECTRE.

PLOT 2/5: Here's the thing with this movie. It's like when they went to make it they knew that they were going to send Bond to Japan so they decided to write a list of all the sweet ass things they could do with their massive budget. This list includes but isn't limited to: shooting Bond out of the torpedo bay, having him fist fight at least 100 men, having Bond fly a mini helicopter in death defying battle in the sky, have Bond sleep with at least 4 women (and make Asian jokes the entire time), have Bond ignite a dormant volcano, have Bond turned into a Japanese man, have Bond get married, have Bond crash a plane and survive, have Bond killed (and resurrected in an underwater super secret gotcha moment), have Bond train to be a ninja, have Bond fight alongside and against Ninja, and of course, have Bond somehow trick a driver into thinking he is an injured Japanese man with a coat and mask only to be discovered when he is inside the enemy territory. Seriously? When you look at everything included in this movie its kind of ridiculous. Considering that most of it was added for the sake of adding it rather than for the story, then it gets to be almost a joke. Then they take away almost all character work, pacing, and logic to pad the film with these moments. Why does Number 11 fake to defect only to take him in a plane to crash it? Fuck if I know, but it let Bond crash a fucking place and survive and I guess that's cool. It's frustrating when you think about the film this way so here's your warning. Just enjoy the movie for what it is instead of trying to make it out to be a good film.

BOND 2/5: Connery as Bond can't be bad right? Well, if the character has no direction, no build, no arc, and no purpose than to be as awesome as possible (must be the chest hair) then yeah he can be bad. Not his fault. He doesn't even get any real good dialogue with the villain. For shame!

VILLAIN 3/5: Honestly we don't have a 'villain' persay until the last 15 minutes of the film when we discover Blofeld is behind it all. And honestly, I love Donald Pleasence as Blofeld. He makes his 10 minutes of screen time worth it with a quirky film presence. Too bad he doesn't have enough time on screen, nor any good banter with Bond, nor a henchmen to really help him out.

BOND GIRL 3/5: This is another Bond movie that really doesn't have a specific Bond girl in it. Aki (whom is the closest) appears on and off as a Japanese spy and works her time on screen, but she is left somewhat hanging as a character and is wasted rather suddenly only to be replaced by, essentially, her doppelganger for the rest of the film. She works with what she has though and I appreciate that.

"You Only Live Twice" is a very memorable film due to its ridiculous amount of moments. Little Nellie, the submarines, the volcano, and the Japanese setting make this film a little hard to forget. As a kid, I loved this one, but as an adult, when really thinking about the film, it comes off as far too childish and over the top for its own good. They sacrifice too much for the sake of its own enormity of visual work. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider