We Want Action: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Holy crap, you guys. I kind of loved Cowboys & Aliens and I didn’t really want to. First off, I have a problem with some of the shady dealings that went on in the making and “selling” of the original graphic novel of the same name. As such, I’ve never read it, so I have zero idea how much this film follows the source material, though I believe it’s more of an anthology kind of thing.

Anyway, I don’t remember hearing much of anything about this movie when it finally came out which was kind of surprising because it was Jon Favreau’s follow up to Iron Man 2, was written by Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman along with three others and has a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Olivia Wilde. What’s not to like?

Actually, I have no idea because I walked away really liking this movie. First off, it looks gorgeous. Favreau and his cinematographer really did a bang up job making this movie look fantastic. That actually includes the aliens too, when we finally do see them. The design is interesting and I thought they looked as good as CGI aliens actually could with a weird design that was both kind of gross and kind of familiar.

I also liked the plot which finds Craig waking up with almost complete memory loss. He wanders into a western town that’s basically run by the cattle guy played by Ford. As a war starts to erupt between Ford’s guys and the town, these aliens roll in and attack. This being a crisis, strange bedfellows are made, so the main characters join forces and go after the aliens. A lot more happens and I actually worried that the film would feel too long, especially when they joined up with the Native American tribe, but I wound up really liking those parts which also turned out to be important for the story, so it was a worthwhile tangent.

Cowboys & Aliens reminded me of a lot of Favreau’s other work where he does a great job of mixing the big, special effects heavy action stuff with personal moments that round the film out. I just looked and this movie opened two weeks after the last Harry Potter movie and one week after Captain America, so I’m wondering if people were just not feeling like seeing a movie. I also remember my wife’s friends being confused about what the movie actually was about so maybe the ad campaign didn’t really do such a great job. Whatever the reason, I think folks should check this one, it’s a pretty fun outing.

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.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

Iron Mongering: Iron Man 2 (2010)

I hadn’t heard a lot of great things about Iron Man 2. Between friends and the Totally Rad Show guys, the reviews weren’t the greatest. I think those people are crazy. Sure Iron Man 2 had some problems, but overall, it gave me the things I found the original wanting: a really good final battle (the Iron Man vs. the drones was probably cooler than the final battle with Whiplash), a better actor portraying Rhodey and more action in general.

Some people complained that the movie was too long and maybe felt like there were too many characters which took away from the Tony Stark/Robert Downey Jr. goodness, but I disagree. It felt like a very well paced and balanced movie to me.

I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I’m sure some people haven’t seen it yet, but I will talk about a few things that I really, really liked. First off, Don Cheadle annihilates Terrence Howard’s performance. He should have been in the role from the beginning. Second, even though Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow wasn’t the kind of role I expected it to be, I like they worked her in and her fighting style was awesome to watch. I could definitely go for a movie with just her. Third, the comparison between Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played perfectly by Mad Men’s John Slattery) and Walt Disney is perfect. It obviously wasn’t directly stated, but between Slattery sporting a Walt-like suit and telling the people at home about his idea for the future and Stark Expo aping the World’s Fair (a showcase for many of Disney’s creations that are still in the parks today), it’s on the screen. Plus, the way Howard helped Tony later in life was awesome.

The movie’s not perfect, though. There was one plot hole early on that I actually forgot in all the awesomeness towards the end, but I did think it was odd that Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash would allow Tony and Rhodey to communicate towards the end of the movie. Rourke was fantastic by the way. I however did not like two of the performances in particular that of the Sams Jackson and Rockwell. Jackson seemed to be playing his role as a buddy of Stark’s which just doesn’t wash for me. And for Rockwell, I’m kind of shocked at how much everyone liked his character, or liked to hate him. Yeah, he was annoying and douchey, but it came off as a bad Dana Carvey impression of that character to me. Hopefully if he shows back up in Iron Man 3, he’ll be a little less over-the-top.

All in all, I had a fantastic time watching Iron Man 2 (I love that they called it Iron Man 2, by the way, and not something with a colon). It had everything I wanted and actually topped my medium-sized expectations. Plus, for me at least, the first Iron Man movie seemed amazing at the time, but on repeated viewings I found it wanting. Maybe that will be the case with IM2, or maybe knowing that the sequel picks up on the potential of the first one and continues on will actually make me enjoy the original more.

Vince Vaughn Double Feature: Couples Retreat (2009) & Wild West Comedy Tour (2006)

I was pretty excited about Couples Retreat when I first heard about it. The cast is killer. I’m a big fan of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman and putting them all together seems like it would be comedy gold. Plus there’s plenty of eye candy in the ladies (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis). I don’t mean to sound like a total pig, I’m just not familiar with them beyond Watchmen, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and hating Sex in the City. I didn’t know anything about Faizon Love or his partner in the movie.

In the end it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. There were definitely funny parts with each person doing their shtick (Bateman’s the neurotic, Vaughn talks fast and Favreau plays a jerk again). I did like that Vaughn actually comes off as a pretty good guy as opposed to say his character in Old School. But there were a few things that kind of put me out of the movie. It definitely feels like a bunch of friends wanted to make a movie together with beautiful women in an exotic locale.

Another problem comes from the fact that, with the exception for Favreau and Davis, none of the couples seem to be appropriately matched age-wise. Vaughn and Ackerman have been together for eight years and I just barely buy it. Even worse is Bell who may never not look like a high school detective whose show I never watched.

The plot also seems to be a little all over the place. They go to a resort that’s supposed to be a regular resort but then turns out to be a full-on couples place, which everyone but Bateman and Bell are bummed about as they were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place (I thought they were actually playing a trick on the others who seem to have more problems than them). The relationship trouble all flies, but then there’s this whole thing with a party island and everyone going there and a really ripped yoga instructor (that did have me laughing). Anyway, it was a fun enough movie, but didn’t have a quickness that I wanted from it.

Interestingly enough, this documentary following a series of stand-up comics headed up by Vaughn did offer the snappiness I wanted from Couples Retreat. The comics are Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebastian Maniscalco and they’re all pretty great. Instead of showing full sets, we get snippets of their acts as they travel through 30 cities. We also get walk-ons from Vaughn, Justin Long, Dwight Yoakam, Favreau and Couples Retreat director (and Ralphie from A Christmas Story) Peter Billingsley.

Aside from showcasing a great group of comedians the movie does a few other things that I really appreciated and bumped it up from being just a great stand-up movie. First off, one of the guys makes a really interesting point about stand-up nowadays: guys headlining tours like they are were getting huge and starring in sitcoms in the 80s and 90s, but now they’re struggling to survive (one of the guys was a waiter leading up to the tour). I also think it’s cool to see how positive Vaughn is throughout the movie. Sure he’s got his quick, biting sense of humor, but he’s also really supportive of the guys after they have a lousy set. It’s also fun to see him geek at different times.

But what really elevates the movie is how it deals with Hurricane Katrina, which hit while they were touring. In fact, they had to change a few venues because of it and donated the proceeds from those shows. They also went to a camp ground acting as a shelter some of the displaced people. I give the director and editor kudos for portraying this honestly, with the guys not really wanting to do it and then going and enjoying the experience. It’s just more honest that way. Good stuff all around.

Christmas Stories: Elf (2003)

Em took yesterday and today off so we could get ready for Christmas. I really hadn’t realized that Christmas was only a week away. Luckily, we’re pretty well set up. All our presents are coming in from Amazon, most of the decorations are up and we’ve got our tree. We just need to wrap presents, decorate the tree and make the food for when the parents come. While putting lights on the tree today, we turned on Elf, which is one of my two favorite Christmas movies from the last 10 years (the other is Love Actually).

I first saw Elf in college and it really helped me get in the holiday spirit thanks to Will Ferrell’s infectious naivete and joy with all things Christmas. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it’s got Zooey Deschanel singing my favorite Christmas song of all time “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” so that helped. Christmas time during college was always a bit weird for me, you’re trying to get in the spirit and have a good time with holiday parties and what not, but then you’ve got all these exams looming over you and travel plans back home. One of my favorite parties every year was the post-exam Christmas party. Everyone, even the most intense students, seemed to just cut loose and have a good time at that one.

So, I was really glad when I saw Elf and it got me in the spirit. The story follows Ferrell, as Buddy the elf, but he’s not really an elf. He was an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack and stowed away to the North Pole. Now, he’s 30 and discovers that he’s not actually an elf and wants to meet his dad James Caan (his mom passed away). So, Buddy heads to New York City and finds his dad married (to Mary Steenburgen) with a kid. Ed Asner plays Santa and Bob Newhart plays Buddy’s adoptive dad Papa Elf. Buddy explores NYC, meets his jerk dad who thinks he’s crazy and becomes part of dad’s family. He also falls for Zooey and they start dating. It’s all very festive and sweet. I know a lot of people are probably sick of Ferrell’s man-child routine (Step Brothers, Old School, Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro, pretty much everything he’s done, really), but it really serves this movie because he’s not playing it with any meanness or irony (like there is in Fred Claus). Buddy really is one of the happiest, nicest people you’ll ever see on screen.

I give a lot of the credit for this goodness to director Jon Favreau. The first 10-20 minutes takes places in the North Pole. There’s just such a great, fantastical consistency to the place. It feels classic and up-to-date at the same time. The difference in size between Buddy and the elves is really well done and outside, you’re treated to several claymation-like characters. Even the snowflakes look big and cut-out and fun. It’s little touches like that that really impressed me about Elf and gave me a lot of hope back when Favreau was announced as the Iron Man director and everyone was freaking out. I actually like this movie so much that it’s not filed away with all the other Christmas DVDs, it’s in the binder with the rest of my pre-moving collection (which quickly filled up once I started working 15 minutes away from a Best Buy). So there you have it, my thoughts on one of my favorite Christmas movies.

A Double Feature for the Ages: PCU (1994) & The Boondock Saints (1999)

2008-07-07
2:37:26 am

The other night (Wednesday I think), I decided to get caught up on my movies from Blockbuster so I watched a double feature of PCU (1994) and The Boondock Saints (1999). Now, these two flicks don’t have anything in common (trust me I looked), but I really enjoyed re-watching both movies.

 

PCU’s about this high school senior (pre-frosh) who comes to visit a college (based on Wesleyan from what I’ve read), but instead of staying in the dorms, he ends up in a place called The Pit that used to be a fraternity house back in the day, but is now co-ed housing. We had something like this at my college, they were called SLUs (for “single living units,” I think). Anyway, the blind dude from Becker signed Jeremy Piven (who even then, looked about 30) up to house a pre-frosh, but he’s having none of it. After the usual “introducing the new kid to all the different groups on campus” scene (I still love those scenes, even long after high school and college), the pre-frosh successfully pisses off each and every highly-sensitive group and minority on campus. Meanwhile, David Spade plays a yuppie who belongs to the fraternity that used to live in The Pit. He’s conspiring with the president of the school to get The Pitters kicked out of their place. All of this leads to a killer party at The Pit (so they can raise money to keep their house) where George Clinton and Parliament/The P-Funk All-Stars play. Then they ruin the bicentennial thingy so the dean gets fired. Basically, the whole idea is that being overly politically correct (hence PCU) actually separates people instead of bringing them together. Oh, and that beer and funk solves everything.

I remember watching this flick on Comedy Central back in the day. I’m not sure if it was on the T & A Matinee that they used to do right around the time I got home from grade school (excellent scheduling CC!) or just on the pre-South Park station, but I saw it a lot. And it made me want to go to college. It was a lot of fun watching the movie post-college because, even though the movies about 15 years old by now, there’s still a lot of truth in the cartoony antics. Oh, it’s also a lot of fun watching it and calling out different people. One of the guys from Big Love is in it, so is Gary Busey’s son Jake. Oh, also, Zak Penn of X-Men movie writing fame go-wrote this movie. That’s awesome. If you haven’t checked out PCU, I highly recommend it.

Which brings me to Boondock Saints which is a flick about two Irish brothers in Southie (that’s in Boston, kids) who decide to become vigilantes and kill bad dudes in their neighborhood. One of the mob bosses isn’t too thrilled about this, so he arranges for an incredibly dangerous hitman that goes by the name Il Duce (played by the second teacher from Head of the Class Billy Connelly) to kill the brothers. Oh, duh, Willem Dafoe plays an FBI agent trying to figure out who’s killing these bad guys. He’s like a profiler I guess. They shoot the scenes pretty interestingly, basically they show the brothers about to kill somebody, then jump to the aftermath when Dafoe shows up. Dafoe then re-imagines the whole thing, at one point, even acting like a conductor. It’s a hard thing to explain, but it was pretty cool to see.

I was kind of surprised about the reaction I got to my friends when I told them I re-watched Saints. I really enjoyed the movie (in the same way you enjoy a good Punisher comic, who doesn’t like watching bad guys get wasted? especially when the guys doing it are just so damn likeable), but when I mentioned it to a few of my friends they said they didn’t like it very much. But it wasn’t really the movie they disliked but the hype that surrounded it. I only ever had two people tell me I should watch it, so I didn’t realize there was such a huge cult following around the movie comparing it to Pulp Fiction (which I would definitely not do). So, I suggested they check it out again, like I suggest all of you to check it out. I’m also excited to see the long-planned sequel that may or may not ever happen. Heck, I’d even check out a comic based on The Boondock Saints.