Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GREEN LANTERN (2011) - The summer of spandex begins

This summer has been a barrage of comic book adaptations, with Thor, X-Men: First Class and Green Lantern all hitting the big screen with gusto. Green Lantern looked promising from the previews, with Ryan Reynold's and his wit being matched up with some impressive visuals. As a kid, I was always a Batman and X-Men fan, so to be honest I know next to nothing about the Green Lantern story, but it looked interesting enough to warrant a watch.

That big, evil cloud thing is Parallax. It eats people and planets, but no vegetables.
The movie gets off to a quick start with a voice over giving a brief overview of the creation of the Green Lantern Corps millions of years ago by the Guardians of the Universe. The universe was divided up and each sector was assigned a Green Lantern to protect it from threats like Parallax, the evil, fear-inducing demigod that enjoys wreaking havoc around outer space. Luckily, one purple-faced alien Green Lantern by the name of Abin Sur (Temuera Robinson) was able to defeat Parallax and trap him on some forgotten planet.

Purple aliens... this looks promising.
Unfortunately for Abin Sur and the rest of the universe, some idiot aliens crash-landed their spaceship on said planet and released the greatest evil in the universe, which could have easily been avoided if these interstellar aliens had thought to invent an iPhone with GPS on it. Regardless, Parallax is released and is mad as hell, and goes on a rampage, destroying planets, killing fools, and just being a general pain in the ass. He faces off with Abin Sur and mortally wounds him, but not before Abin Sur manages to escape on his spaceship and make his way to Earth.

The world's only hope for survival is a Canadian.
While Abin Sur hurtles his way towards Earth in agonizing pain with an oozing chest wound, hotshot pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is late for work as usual. While flying a mock dogfight with his wingman Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) against some unmanned drones, he tries to show off and ends up crashing his jet. Abin Sur's ring ends up choosing Hal to be the first human Green Lantern. Hal is transported by the ring to the Green Lanterns' home, where Sinestro (Mark Strong) teaches him how to think and fight like a Green Lantern. He then returns to Earth to protect the planet and most importantly, Blake Lively, from being gobbled up by Parallax.

Mark Strong basically unrecognizable as Sinestro.
Ryan Reynolds has enough charm to carry the movie, but the end result is a forgettable comic movie. Charisma isn't enough to make for a good action movie. Iron Man had Robert Downey Jr and his loads of witty charm, but it also had an interesting take on the origin story, and a sharp script. In this movie, Hal becomes a Green Lantern and starts kicking ass in about 10 minutes. There's no development, no obstacles to overcome except his tendency to be an asshole most of the time. Blake Lively is there as eye candy, Mark Strong's Sinestro is only there to set up for the inevitable sequel, and the rest of the cast is forgettable.

Not even the ring could save this one, pal.
The CGI ranges from some outstanding close ups to the mediocre. Some of the best scenes in the movie come early, with the dogfight between Hal and Carol's F-35s and the drones being pretty slick, and the attack on Coast City by Parallax is awesome as well, as the big cloud of evilness and fear smashes through buildings, cars, and wreaks serious havoc every where. Apart from a few standout moments, Green Lantern is definitely not up to par with the best comic book movies. To be honest, the Green Lantern might be the most difficult of the comics to adapt to the screen, but you can't fault them for trying.

TL;DR - All flash and no dash for Hal Jordan - 5.5/10

Saturday, June 18, 2011

POINT BLANK (1967) - A masterful Lee Marvin revenge flick

What's there to be said about Lee Marvin that hasn't been said before? The man was a true screen legend, and starred in some of the best action movies to be put to celluloid. He made a career out of playing steely, tough guys in movies like The Dirty Dozen, The Killers, Hell in the Pacific and classic Westerns like The Professionals. 6 foot 2 inches tall, a deep voice that rivaled Darth Vader on his best strep throat days, a fondness for huge Smith & Wesson revolvers and with a body count that makes natural disasters jealous, it was no wonder that he was cast as Walker in this 1967 neo-noir crime thriller. Point Blank is somewhat of a cult classic that has gotten better with time and has been copied by countless other action movies since its release.

"Knock, knock. Who's there?" IT'S LEE MARVIN!
Criminally-inclined Walker (Lee Marvin), his wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) and one of his lifelong  friends Mal Reese (John Vernon) plan and execute a heist in San Francisco, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars during a money exchange at Alcatraz prison. As they are making good their escape, Reese betrays Walker, shooting him several times, taking Lynne with him and leaving the wounded Walker to die in the abandoned prison. Much to our viewing pleasure, Walker is a tough son of a bitch, since he survives and makes his way off the island. After some hallucinations, and flashbacks of his happier times with Lynne and Reese, Walker immediately begins planning his revenge. Walker will stop at nothing to find Lynne and Reese, kill Reese and get back his share of the loot: $93,000.

1960s vintage Angie Dickinson - yum.
Walker meets up with a guy named Yost, who has information about the people he's after. Apparently, Reese had betrayed Walker in order to pay off a huge debt he owed to a gang of high-class criminals that goes by the name "The Organization." Intent on finding that backstabbing bastard, Walker heads to Los Angeles, where he breaks into Lynne's new house, but Reese is nowhere to be found. Depressed and knowing that Walker will never forgive her, Lynne kills herself with an overdose of prescription pills. Their betrayal has made Walker indifferent to anyone's suffering but his own. He leaves Lynne lying on the ground and goes off to find Lynne's sister Chris (Angie Dickinson), who is supposedly Reese's new girl. Chris turns out to be more helpful than Walker thought. She agrees to help him and together they set out to find Reese. Revenge is the only thing in Walker's mind, and may God have mercy on whoever gets in his way.

Reese betrayed Walker, shot him, took his money and his girl. Yeah, you're f*cked pal.
Lee Marvin played badasses and tough guy roles throughout his career, but he was born to play Walker. Quiet, strong, violent and determined, Walker is a force of nature as he rampages through Los Angeles on his quest to get back his money. Angie Dickinson does a good job with her character as a contrast to Walker's emotionless granite demeanor. The script is tight and simple, and John Boorman's direction is amazing. The movie incorporates techniques and motifs that were relatively unknown at the time and uses them to tell Walker's story in a visually dazzling manner. Point Blank ends up becoming a no-frills revenge thriller with a career-defining role for Marvin, while at the same time breaking new ground in the action genre. My gripes? I didn't find John Vernon's acting all that good, which didn't detract from any joy at seeing Walker beat the living crap out of him though. The musical score is also a bit of an acquired taste at times, so be warned.

Walker just wants his $93,000. You better hope you don't get in his way.

It's not hard to see why Point Blank is regarded as an underrated classic. Lee Marvin in the role of his life, a simple yet convincing story, a gorgeous 1960s California setting, and a heavy dose of noir action and grit. This movie would later be remade in the 90s as Payback, starring Mel Gibson, but it was far from being as good as this one. Point Blank is a classic, with a forceful Lee Marvin and beautiful Angie Dickinson at the top of their game, and not to be missed.

TL;DR - Hard-boiled revenge thriller and a colossal Lee Marvin - 9/10

Monday, June 13, 2011

UNKNOWN (2011) - Liam Neeson has a slight memory problem...

Unless you've been living in North Korea for the last couple of decades, being force fed daily rations of propaganda films and polishing your Kim Jong Il pins, chances are you know who Liam Neeson is. You probably also know that the guy can play a pretty convincing badass. He shot, stabbed and throat punched half of Europe in Taken, beat the shit out of Batman himself in Batman Begins, cut dudes in half with a lightsaber in Star Wars prequels, and even his voice as Aslan, the lion in the Narnia movies, managed to make Mufasa burn with jealousy at the sound of a superior Irish voice. As if that wasn't enough, apparently he has a talent for bashing people's faces in in real life, seeing as how he was a champion boxer as a teenager. That being said, it doesn't take much to get me to watch a movie with Neeson in it, so I was waiting to get my hands on Unknown since I caught a glimpse of the snazzy trailer.

Liam's got ladies for every month of the year. This month, it's January.
Dr. Martin Harris (Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) have just arrived in Berlin. He is scheduled to speak at a biotechnology conference in the city, but their trip suddenly takes a turn for the unexpected as Martin remembers he misplaced his briefcase at the airport. He takes a cab driven by a pretty blonde back to the airport, which ends disastrously after the car plunges into a river after a freak accident. The girl saves the unconscious Martin and drags him to shore, where rescuers try to help him, and she leaves the scene of the accident. Martin wakes up in the next scene, completely confused as to his situation. A doctor informs him that he's been in a coma for the past four days, and that he had no I.D. on him, so they couldn't find any family to contact. Martin is eventually released from the hospital and goes out to look for Liz, remembering his reservation at the hotel and making his way there.

Visit Berlin! Experience the coma of a lifetime after a horrible car crash!
At the hotel, Martin gets the shock of a lifetime when his wife refuses to recognize him, and introduces him to her husband, another man by the name of Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn). Martin is escorted out of the hotel, and he's forced to try and piece together the fragments of his memory in order to figure out just what the hell is going on. He eventually gets ahold of Gina (Diane Kruger), the cabbie who saved his life. She reluctantly agrees to help him, while Martin also seeks help from an ex-East German secret police officer named Jurgen (Bruno Ganz). Jurgen finds a series of numbers written in Martin's notebook, which he figures must be some sort of code. As if shit wasn't confusing enough for the poor guy, he and Gina are also attacked by a gang of assassins, in a sprawling car chase through Berlin and several shoot outs. Martin must find out who he is, why the hell someone is impersonating him, why angry Germans are out to kill him, and why his bimbo of a wife is ignoring him.

If only all taxi drivers were as hot as Diane Kruger...
Martin slowly but surely begins to realize what is going on around him, and events will ultimately lead up to a thrilling, explosive climax. Without going any further into the plot, I'll state that the story has its good share of twists and turns, and never lets up on the tension. Although some of the twists are a bit obvious, the movie had me guessing several times and it all adds to the fun of the movie. Neeson is great at portraying the conflicted Martin Harris, and Diane Kruger does a good job as well. By far my favorite role was Jurgen, played by the excellent Bruno Ganz, who did a fantastic job as Adolf Hitler in Downfall and is just a very, very convincing actor. The rest of the cast was okay, but nothing else really stood out from the film.  

Somebody's gonna get stabbed.
Unknown draws inspiration from several other flicks, but sticks to its own guns enough to make the movie refreshingly original and interesting. Aside from some obvious half-assed CGI near the end, it looks as slick as any other action blockbuster you'd expect. The ending was satisfying enough, and wraps up things quite nicely. It's a good return to form for Neeson, who has by now firmly established himself in the parthenon of ass kicking leading men. Let's hope he keeps his game up.

TL;DR - Liam Neeson's back in ass-kicking mode, and yes, it's wonderful - 7.5/10

Monday, June 6, 2011

THE HANGOVER 2 (2011) - This time... it's in Thailand

I loved the original Hangover. After having to wade through tons and tons of unfunny "comedies" and endless Judd Apatow movies, The Hangover was a pretty fresh movie that made a huge star out of the fat & bearded Zach Galifianakis. It also made heaps of cash at the box office, which wasn't surprising since it was damn funny. A lot of R-rated comedies settle for gross out humor and raunchy stuff to get laughs, and although The Hangover wasn't above making bodily fluid jokes and waving exposed weiners around, the bulk of the movie just had hilarious dialogue and a great cameo from Mike Tyson. Now the sequel is here, and I fully expected another hilarious romp filled with drunken debauchery and all that.

The Wolfpack is back, but this time, they've added an Asian. Hooray for diversity.
The movie opens a few years after the events of the first flick. Stu (Ed Helms) has left his mean bitch fiance from the first movie and is now engaged to a lovely Thai chick, who he plans to marry in a few days. Despite his concern, his buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) convince him to party it up a bit before the wedding. Unfortunately, his fiancee's brother comes along with them, a Stanford med student named Teddy (Mason Lee). Even worse for Stu is the fact that his future father-in-law adores his son Teddy but absolutely hates Stu. That night, the guys have a campfire out on the beach and have a few beers, and of course we know what's waiting for them in the morning...

"What should we do for the sequel? Let's shave Alan's head. WHAT A LAUGH."
Alan, Stu and Phil wake up with a massive hangover (surprise, surprise) in a shitty hotel room in the middle of a sprawling city. Alan's head has been shaved bald, Stu has a Mike Tyson tatoo on his face and Phil is back to being his foul mouthed asshole self. Just as they're beginning to realize that they've royally screwed up again, they're attacked by a vest-wearing monkey. Phil also realizes that they've lost Teddy, and Alan finds a naked, passed out Mr. Chow lying on the ground. Chow wakes up and tells them they had a great night of drug fueled partying throughout Bangkok, and agrees to help them try and find Teddy. The crew sets out on their romp through the city which will see them face off with drug lords, transvestite hookers, a fat Paul Giamatti, and other assorted wonders.

Mr. Chow keeps the movie from being a catastrophe.
If you're reading this and wondering why I'm disappointed with this movie, let me explain. The Hangover was fresh and original and a lot of the humor came from the surprises that kept popping up throughout the movie, like Mike Tyson's cameo, or the photos during the credits, or the bare assed Mr. Chow leaping on people. The sequel tries so hard to be exactly like the first movie that it succeeds almost to a fault. It basically feels like you're watching the same movie again, except this time you know all the punchlines. It doesn't have the spark of the original, and most gags run on for longer than they should, and instead of having new jokes we get dumb stuff like more penises on the screen and more songs by Stu about spending a night with a Thai tranny. Crude can be funny, but crude isn't a substitute for funny. You'd think they would've learned this by now. Galifianakis does his best to keep the laughs coming, and he does a decent job, but everyone else just seems to be doing it by the book and it doesn't have nearly as much charisma as the first one. It just feels like a copy and paste job from the first movie and worse of all, it feels... tired.

The cast wondering where all the funny jokes went...
I loved the original Hangover, and I'll admit I was hoping for a sequel and for everyone to return. They did, but they forgot to bring their A-game this time, and it's a big let down. It's got plenty of laughs, no doubt. The frustrating thing is that this had a lot more potential and now I fear for the third movie which is no doubt already planned out. I'll be generous with the score seeing as how the drug-dealing monkey made me nearly piss my pants from laughing, but I'll deduct points for the trauma of seeing Paul Giamatti's waistline on-screen.

TL;DR - Almost a straight copy of the first Hangover, but without as many laughs - 5/10