Friday Fisticuffs: Daredevil (2003)

Back before I knew for sure how good comic book movies could be with Iron Man and Batman Begins, I thought Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil was a pretty damn good flick. I was and still am a fan of Ben Affleck and really appreciated how the film wasn’t bogged down as an origin or Year One type story. They cover some of that stuff and then move on to a story about a hero who’s been doing his thing for a while.

So, how does it hold up? Not great, unfortunately, but I still like it. Aside from Jon Favreau’s performance as Foggy Nelson (I completely forgot he’s played not one, but two sidekicks to super heroes) and moments when Affleck’s Matt Murdock is hitting on Elektra, most of the performances are a bit overwrought. We get it, Murdock, your life kinda stinks. Actually, I thought Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin and Colin Ferrell as Bullseye were kind of awesome in an over-the-top way that reminded me of Punisher: War Zone, another film I dug.

But, the purpose of this post isn’t necessarily to discuss the finer points of the film and performances or how well it compares to the comic (something I care much less about almost 10 years later than I did when I was 20). The point is to talk about the fights. And, they’re actually pretty rad. Your mileage may vary, especially considering some of the goofier moments, like Matt and Elektra play fighting on a playground doing all kinds of crazy flips and whatnot and the fact that most of the final battle takes place on a giant church organ. The following clip has a pretty gigantic SPOILER if you haven’t seen the flick.

I thought they did a good job approximating Daredevil’s super senses in the early fight scene where he goes after a woman beater and rapist named Jose Quesada who got away with the crime (seriously, I can’t believe they named a rapist after Joe Q, that’s ridiculous). They look sleek and fast, but the whole shakey cam thing with super fast cuts hadn’t come into vogue just yet, so you can actually see what’s happening. Farrell and Garner deserve extra credit because you can actually see their faces during these scenes. I have no idea if Affleck did his own fights or what, but it would have been easy to sneak someone else in.

Anyway, like I said, it’s not a great film. It doesn’t really hold a candle to the two movies I mentioned above and I’m not really sure where I would rank it in my all time favorite Marvel movies, but I still like it.

I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Best Of The Best: Dazed & Confused (1993) & Empire Records (1995)

A lot of people have movies that they watched over and over and over as a kid. For me I had Batman Returns and Beetlejuice, but it wasn’t until high school when I really started watching movies repeatedly and two of my most watched movies were Dazed and Confused and Empire Records. Today I was feeling a little nostalgic and decided to watch both of them in chronological order, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I think my buddy Randy was the first person to bring D&C to my attention and I loved it immediately. It’s about a group of high school students in Texas in the 70s who are dealing with some fairly heavy concepts like what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, free will vs. the rules placed on us and, most importantly, where to party. It would take forever to lay down the entire plot for you, so just go see the movie if you haven’t yet (what’s wrong with you?). Writer/director Richard Linklater created two of my favorite 90s movies, this one and Suburbia which I watched again a few years ago and even though it’s pretty slow I still like how it captures that feeling of helplessness you feel during and after high school when you want to live a life that matters, but don’t really know how. Dazed deals with very similar concepts, though doesn’t get too bogged down with them.

And that’s what’s great about the movie. There are dozens of characters, some more important to the main story than others, but all of them seem important enough to care about. The script is written so tightly that you’re never bored and always want to know what’s up with the character who you haven’t seen for a few scenes (except Ben Affleck’s O’Bannion, that guy’s just a dick). Plus, everything about the 70s setting feels authentic from the clothes to the cars to the pool hall hang out spot. Oh, and of course, Matthew McConaughey and the rest of the cast make you think you’re really watching a movie from the 70s.

One thing I do want to mention about my past with this movie is that I’ve often been confused by what classes the people were in. For a while, I figured all the older kids in the movies were Seniors who just graduated, but then I realized that didn’t make sense because a big part of the plot revolves around Pink playing football the next year, so they have to be Juniors who are going to be Seniors. On the other hand the younger kids in the movie are going from 8th grade to freshman year. BUT, what about the girls being tortured in the beginning? Are the incoming Freshman or Sophomores? I’m still confused on this because only the boys in the 8th grade class seem worried and not the girls. Ah well. I guess I’ll have to watch it again.

Another thing I want to mention about watching this movie again–I actually watched the VHS version because I have yet to pick it up on DVD and it still looked pretty good–is that, since I’ve been watching this movie for roughly 15 years, I’ve related to vastly different characters when watching it. When I was younger, I related to Mitch, the 8th grader-cum-freshman who gets thrown into an older world of high school that he might not have been ready for but adapts really well. I’m still impressed with how well he adapts and how incredibly nervous I would have been in the same situation in high school. In later viewings it’s been Pink, who’s deciding what to do about his future freedom, Wooderson who seems to be an eternal child (with a sick ass ride, mind you) and even Don who delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie: “I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place… Dogged as many girls as I could while I was stuck in this place.” Not a bad way to live life.

To say I was obsessed with Empire Records in high school might be a bit of an understatement. One time, after watching Dazed and Confused, Randy and I watched Empire Records. Twice. I even remember the first time I saw it. Mind you, I have no memory of either of these movies being in theaters and only discovered both once they were on tape. Anyway, I went to an all guy Catholic high school. At some point either Freshman or Sophomore year, I went to a date dance with a girl who I was in the same group of friends with. We went back to someone’s house and the girls really wanted to watch this movie I’d never heard of. They turned it on and I was digging the hell out of it because, well, I’ve always wanted to work in a record store and would still consider taking a part time job at one today. Unfortunately, my ride came and I had to leave before it was over. The second time I tried to watch it, it was really late and I fell asleep. Luckily, the third time was the charm and I saw the whole thing, though it wasn’t until a few views later when I discovered the after-credits conversation between Marc and Eddie, which I now wait for every time.

I bought the movie soon after. And the soundtrack. And started a soon-abandoned-though-never forgotten compilation of the other prominent songs that soundtrack missed. And dressed up like Marc for Halloween one year. And have followed all the actors in most of their later rolls. And started reading about the movie online which informed me of a rollerblading female character who got cut from the movie but can still be briefly seen and the Tobey Maguire had a part that got cut. This was in the heyday of fan sites and I was reading all of them that I could find (like here, here, here and here, how great is it by the way that Angelfire and Tripod sites still exist while dumb Geocities went out the window?).

I can still recite the movie pretty well even today, though the version I have on DVD is the Fan Remix edition which has new scenes added in. That still throws me off a bit and the DVD is pretty great, though I wish there was at least a commentary on there from director Allan Moyle and/or writer Carol Heikkinen (who I just discovered also wrote the Center Stage movies). Neither of them have gone on to do too much else, at least not much that I’m familiar with.

I’ve mentioned before when talking about high school movies (either set then or watched then) can be very subjective. I’ve got friends who swear by Lost Boys because they loved it as a kid, but I watched it for the first time as an adult and liked it, but that’s it. I’d like to think that both of these movies are good, even though my love for them stems from being a kid. Dazed is a true classic for sure, I’ve got no doubt about that. Empire might have been the first “workplace” movie I saw which kicked off my love of these movies where all the action takes place based around a workplace and the people who work there instead a specific few characters like Car Wash or DC Cab. I do however wonder if Empire might not be as interesting to kids now as a movie about old time radio might have been to kids my age when we were in high school, but I hope that the themes and emotions explored therein can still be appreciated by anyone.

Damn, I really want to work in a record store…

Quick Movie Review: Extract (2009)

I really had high hopes for Extract. Not only was it written and directed by Mike Judge (who did the brilliant Office Space and Idiocracy), but it also stars some of my favorite actors and actresses: Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Wiig and David Koechner. So, it’s all the more disappointing that this movie turned out to be an incredibly dull and annoying affair that didn’t end soon enough (which is saying something for a 90 minute movie). Let’s see if I can relate the plot to you (it’s mighty complicated), Bateman owns an extract plant, but wants to sell it. He’s married to Wiig, who doesn’t have sex with him because she wears sweatpants. Meanwhile, Kunis plays a conwoman who reads in the paper that an employ at the extract plant got hurt and could be worth millions if he sued, so she becomes a temp for Bateman’s company. Bateman thinks she’s cute so he gets stoned with his friend Affleck who convinces him its a good idea to hire a gigolo to sleep with Wiig so he can cheat on her with Kunis (she flirted pretty heavily with him to get the injured employee’s contact info). Oh, also, before the accident, Bateman was in talks to sell the company, somehow the employees get word of this and freak out. As you can tell, there’s a lot going on and none of it really feels real or solid, mostly because a lot of it could have been figured out with a few simple conversations. I kept thinking that the idiot gigolo wasn’t really even sleeping with Wiig, but it turns out he was. And even though I liked all of the above-mentioned actors in their roles, except for Koechner who plays the most annoying neighbor on the history of the planet, I still could not get into it. One of Bateman’s employees, a redheaded woman, is also incredibly annoying. Usually in a movie like this, those characters get their due, but in this case, not so much. I will say that I liked Wiig actually playing a normal person. I’m a fan of hers, but I’m getting a little sick of most of her recurring characters on SNL (I hate hate HATE Gilly). I also got a kick out of the little bits of music/rock talk. The movie starts with Kunis flirting with two Guitar Center employees (one played by Hal Sparks) who go on and on about fusion (a combination of rock and jazz guitar playing). There’s also a later conversation about the different sub categories of heavy metal that I got a chuckle out of. But, overall, liking a few music jokes that last roughly 5 minutes (maybe) and some actors doesn’t make this a movie worth watching. I found myself constantly getting up and walking around because I just didn’t care (Bateman’s situation seems a little too close to his role in Juno actually and Em kept referring to Envy, a terrible movie I disliked so much I don’t even remember) and both of us were thankful by the time it was over. Em even said we should move on to Season Two of Doctor Who as a palette cleanser, so we are. We’re 20 minutes into the Christmas episode and it’s FAR better than this movie. Hopefully Judge’s next one will fix this. Everyone makes a few crappy movies, it’s inevitable.

Smokin’ Aces (2006)

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I really, REALLY wanted to like Smokin’ Aces when it came out in 2006. A bunch of us from Wizard were so psyched that we went to see it in the theater and man was I disappointed. I wanted so much for it to be this awesome battle of crazy hired killers killing each other at breakneck speeds. But, that’s not exactly what we got.

So, like I said I was disappointed. But sometimes I don’t like something because it doesn’t match up to my expectations, not necessarily because it’s a bad piece of work. For instance I hated Superman Returns when I first watched it. That sure as heck isn’t the Superman I’ve been reading about since I was a kid (the same reason I don’t like the original Superman movies either, but that’s a discussion for another time). But, upon further viewings I like the movie more. I’m not in love with it (Superman has a KID!) and it’s not even close to my top 20 (maybe even 50) comic based movies. I don’t really agree with the director or writers choices, but it’s a well put together movie.

I can’t say that’s the same case with Aces, though. The movie suffers from all kinds of pacing issues and an overwhelming amount of information, characters and business. Plus, you’ve got the bid end twist (which is incredibly telegraphed, too much I’d say) and then the VERY end is just ridiculous (why the heck would they let him in the room?). The alternate “Cowboy Ending” makes a LOT more sense, though it wouldn’t have made up for the whole thing. I feel like there’s a really good story in there somewhere, but frankly, it’s buried under a mountain of other unnecessary bits of business. The last 20-30 minutes have so many head-slapping and scratching moments that it really kills the movie.

There are some fun moments and bits that have more to do with casting and coincidence than the story. The redneck brothers have a pretty cool shoot-out with blades, guns, a rocket launcher (?) and a chainsaw that’s too short, but still great. Basically, it’s what you expect from the whole movie, but it only lasts a few minutes and resolves itself oddly. Aside from that and one other shoot-out, though, the movie lacks action. It doesn’t lack an awesome cast though. Here’s a brief list: Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, Common, Andy Garcia, Nestor Carbonell, Jason “Everything’s Better with Bateman” Bateman and even a small roll for Matthew Fox.

Oh, and those redneck brothers I mentioned? They’re made up of Keamy from Lost, Kirk from the new Trek movie and another guy. Yup that makes THREE Lost cast members in the flick and I still didn’t like it. What are the odds?!

All this being said, I would definitely check out the rumored sequel called Smokin’ Aces: Blowback, though I probably won’t shell out $10 again to see it in the theater. For my money, I’d rather check out a Shoot Em Up sequel, because that movie was exactly what I wanted it to be.