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April 2013 Review Roundup

Another slow month as I had other things on the plate, though this month did witness my first trips to an actual movie theater since December when I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR 3D and didn't review it. Yes, I suck.

April 14 - The Big Hit (9/10)
April 15 - The Avengers (9/10)
April 21 - G.I Joe: Retaliation (6/10)
April 23 - Mimic: Director's Cut (5/10)
April 30 - Warm Bodies (6/10); Skyfall (4/10)

Most Enjoyed: The Big Hit (it's just so much fun)
Least Enjoyed: Mimic (Skyfall has such good cinematography it was at least nice to look at)

Month's Movies Watched: 6
Previously Unseen: 4
Theatrical: 2
Home: 4
Year-To-Date: 23
YTD First-Timers: 21
YTD Theatrical: 2
YTD Home: 21

"Skyfall" Blu-ray Review

I'm calling it now: The Daniel Craig Bond era has to end. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.

I liked Pierce Brosnan just fine and while Tomorrow Never Dies was a the best of his quartet of outings, Die Another Day was OK, too. While my girlfriend can't stop fixating on Daniel Craig's ears, I just think he should be remaking Steve McQueen's catalog. I don't dislike Craig, I don't like him as Bond and while Casino Royale (with cheese!) was adequate, Quantum of Solace was an empty nothing that I can't remember a thing about. (The only reason I have it in my library is because my Bond 50 box set included it.)

Which brings us to Skyfall, the most-successful financially, but frankly worst Bond movie I can recall offhand and I'm including Moonraker and The World Is Not Enough with the ignoble tag team of a villain who's only meaningful trait is that he can't feel pain and Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in shorts. I don't claim to be a Bond connoisseur but man does Skyfall seem to utterly fail at being a Bond movie at all.

After a raucous pre-credit sequence which ends with the loss of a sensitive hard drive which was in an Istanbul hotel room for some reason, Bond is presumed dead. M (Judi Dench) is typing up Bond's obit and being eased toward retirement by the government to be replaced by Ralph Fiennes who has a name that starts with an M, so he's an obvious pick. Meanwhile, Bond is hiding out in some tropical paradise, shagging the local wahinis and participating in a ridiculous drinking game involving a live scorpion.

When a mysterious hacker blows up the MI-6 office, killing several agents, it spurs Bond to get back into the game. Unfortunately, he's out of shape and more like 003-1/2 than 007, but M puts him in the game anyway. And this is the first of many problems Skyfall has by making the villain time and age and progress making dinosaurs like Bond and M obsolete. Since a metaphysical concept isn't much of an adversary, a very campy and flamboyant (get the inference?) Javier Bardem is the supposed bad guy, Silva, who has the hard drive and a vendetta against M.

Unfortunately, his beef is similar to what happened to Bond himself during the credits of The World Is Not Enough and Bond didn't wage war on his employers over it. Frankly, it's pathetic. We've gone from Bond villains who want to rule the world to a disgruntled employee who should've filed a workplace grievance with his union rep. I'm not kidding; it's that lame.

I'm not a Bond aficionado though I do have every movie on DVD and Blu-ray (it doesn't mean I've watched them), but there are several things that typify a James Bond movie: him shagging numerous beauties (whoops, AIDS stopped that in the Eighties); nifty and impossible gadgets like invisible cars and pens that turn into guns; a super-cool villain with a diabolical scheme; and Bond being a nearly infallible and indestructible. All these things are missing for the most part in Skyfall; sorry, a pistol with a grip coded so only Bond can shoot it isn't impressive. (What's next, requiring upper and lower-case letters, a number and a special character on his MI-6 login password?) While the producers said they wanted a more realistic Bond when they tossed Brosnan for Craig, they seem to be unaware of what the audience wants from a Bond flick.

While the plot is weak, the action sequences are uniformly above-average and the cinematography by ten-time Oscar-loser Roger Deakins is simply lovely. People I know who aren't hardcore cinephiles remarked about how beautiful Skyfall is, but Deakins went home empty-handed again.While Life of Pi was a beautiful film, most of its look came from special effects and post-production wizardry and its victory over Skyfall was a bad call on the part of the Academy. Better luck next time, Roger.

Score: 4/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

"Warm Bodies" Review

As anyone with access to the media can attest, zombies are hot. The Walking Dead is one of the hottest cable TV shows despite pretty much sucking most of the time. (Admit it: Andrea was the worst.) Zombieland is enjoying a possible second life as an Amazon show. But while zombies are hot as entertainment, no one has thought these rotting biters are sexy-hot, but that's not stopping the sweet-but-slight Warm Bodies from trying to change that up.

Nicholas Hoult, Beast from X-Men: First Class, is R (missed opportunity to make him a pirate!) for that's all he can remember of his name. He wanders around the airport with the other zombies after some plague has killed 99% of the world's population with an amusing, ironic inner monologue for our enjoyment. For some unexplained reason, he has set up house in an airplane and filled it with knick-knacks and a magical turntable that doesn't require electricity to play records.

One day, he and a zombie pack happen upon a group of humans who are raiding a medical facility for supplies and in the mayhem, he kills and eats the brain of Perry, the kinda sorta now-ex(pired)-boyfriend of Julie (Teresa Palmer). Since eating brains allows zombies to absorb the victim's memories and feelings, he falls for her (she's cute, but come on) and abducts her back to his swinging airplane pad. Despite grunting a few syllables to reassure her that he's not a threat, she attempts to escape and is almost killed, but R saves her and over time, she starts to fall for this cute dead guy even after he confesses that he killed her boyfriend. (Try that sometime if your girlfriend gets angry at you, guys; say, "At least I didn't eat your boyfriend's brain!")

As R and Julie fall in love - you did get the joke, right? If not, there's a balcony scene to really nudge you in the ribs - he starts to feel things again and is able to communicate more. Not only that, but other zombies who see them together start to feel things as well. Can love change the world or will her father (John Malkovich actually not being super crazy) who runs the city and is paranoid about its defense and the "boneys" - zombies who've given up and become mindless, desiccated and really-poorly CG-animated eating machines mess things up for our crazy life-challenged lovers?

What works best is Hoult's performance because he's got the narrowest set of behavioral options, but nails it. There is some good humor in the voiceover monologue, but they don't keep it up; they should've pitched more on the comedy side to make up for the thinness elsewhere. What didn't work is the climax when one faction suddenly seems to forget their role is to kill the other side. In the world of this story, no way would anyone suddenly say that a reversal makes total sense.

My girlfriend read the book and said it stuck pretty close to the source with some OK alterations. My friend has had a hate on for this movie since he caught wind of the concept, sneering at the idea of "sexy zombies" and I don't think anything above will sway him though it's not exactly what he thinks. I'm in the middle because it just felt too small and underwritten and cheaply done. While I may not sound super warm toward Warm Bodies, it's far from being a stiff of a flick.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

One thing that dampened my enthusiasm may be that I saw this at the thoroughly mediocre Silver Cinemas at Macomb Mall, a 2nd-run house with uniformly poor projection and sound quality in every room I've seen movies in. They run the bulbs under spec delivering a dim image, the focus is usually soft, and the sound systems are always messed up. This showing had most of the  audio coming from the left side of the screen and thus whispered zombie grunts were frequently inaudible. A proper presentation won't fix the script's problems, but it won't hurt either.

I had a similar experience when I first saw The Incredibles at a now-defunct independent first-run joint. Muffled audio made for a lackluster experience. Jump ahead to when I got the DVD and watched it on a plain old standard television and could finally hear better; totally better experience.

"Mimic: Director's Cut" Blu-ray Review

The only reasons people remember 1997's Mimic is because of the trailer shot of Mira Sorvino being swept up by a giant flying bug and it was the first English-language film (and second feature overall after Chronos) by director Guillermo del Toro, who has gone on to notoriety for the Hellboy series and Pan's Labyrinth as well as the upcoming giant-robots-vs-giant-monsters flick Pacific Rim. That's pretty much it and it's not much.

The plot is as thin as you can get: A roach-borne disease is killing the children of New York City, so to eradicate the roaches etymologist Mira Sorvino genetically-engineers a special "Judas Breed" super roach using termite and other bug DNA that will exude an enzyme that will kill the roaches. It's a smashing success and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Not really.

Three years later, something weird is afoot (or more accurately acrawl) as a giant something drags a Skid Row priest to his doom and weird bugs start coming to Sorvino's notice. Seeking the source of the bugs, she and her CDC investigator husband and a subway cop head down into the tunnels, eventually finding out that the bugs have been very busy and gotten VERY large. Frantic battles for survival ensue.

I haven't seen Mimic since it came out in theaters and I couldn't remember what was going on or what was different about this "Director's Cut." Hunting down a comparison online, it appears to be not that much; mostly superfluous stuff involving Sorvino trying to get pregnant that's easily omitted. In the one extra I watched, an interview with del Toro, he explains what he wanted the original ending to be and while it sounds creepy, it doesn't help the overall fact that nothing is explained as to how the heck bugs would mimic people.

Somewhat creepy and moody, but mostly murky and icky, Mimic may've spawned a couple of direct-to-video sequels, but not many imitators.

Score: 5/10. Rent it (since it's not going to be on cable).

"G.I. Joe: Retaliation" Review

The first movie in this toy-based series - 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - was such a forgettable mess that I've never picked up a copy for my library, which if you've seen some of the crap I've got speaks volumes. So the existence of a sequel and it's last-minute delay in release from last summer, allegedly for reshoots to capitalize on Channing Tatum's sudden star status, raised little interest. The only reason I schlepped out to the theater was because free admission coupons came with some Blu-rays I'd picked up on sale; so why not?

If you did see the first movie (or have forgotten it), it doesn't really matter because other than Tatum's Duke and Jonathan Pryce returning as the President, no one from that cast is in this one. Joining the team with Tatum are The Rock, Adrianne Palicki and some other dude. After a mission recovering loose nukes in Pakistan, the President orders all the Joes executed for treason, leading to Tatum being killed (sorry, ladies!) and the remaining three to fight for survival, find out what happened and clear their names.

It turns out that the President has been replaced by an agent of Cobra and he's working with Cobra Commander (no longer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose career apparently has been moving upscale) to enact a scheme to blackmail all the world's nuclear powers to disarm and swear allegiance to Cobra. Or something.

To say that G.I. Joe: Retaliation is better than the first is no great accomplishment. It's a decent, disposable, dumb action movie but I don't know if the audience is expected to come in with an encyclopedic knowledge of the cartoons and lore of the franchise, but when Snake Eyes (good guy) is captured and taken to a ridiculous subterranean prison to be held with Cobra Commander and Destro (bad guys) and discovered to actually be Storm Shadow (bad guy) and still incarcerated in this ludicrous space suit in a tube of water setup, I was like, "Huh? What?" That the fake President is able to do most of the incredibly illegal, unconstitutional, and generally bad things he does without any checks or balances strains even the low credibility threshold this sort of stuff gets away with.

There are some decent action sequences, but the fights are shot too close-up, making it just look like a mess, not calculated mayhem. More surprising is the quality of some of the banter in the scenes between Tatum and The Rock; genuine laugh lines. Too bad some of that wit couldn't have provided a little plot wisdom.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Big Hit" Review

In 1998 a pair of trash movie classics were released a couple of months apart: Wild Things, which Roger Ebert described as "trash that glows in the dark" (a compliment); and The Big Hit, which he panned and sneered at those who tried to point out that it's a comedy, "If it was a comedy, I think I would've laughed." Real tactful there, Rog.Well, Ebert has gone to the Great Balcony Down Below and I'm here to correct the record: The Big Hit is an absolute gem of comedic-action filmmaking.

Marky Mark stars as Melvin Smiley, an ace assassin able to take out an entire hotel suite of armed guards while the rest of his crew hangs back letting him do all the work and then steal the credit and bonuses for his kill. Not only that, his mistress is harping at him about not paying her bills (while she's cheating on him as well) and his fiance has invited her anti-goyim Jewish mother and bad drunk father over for a visit as a prelude to dumping him. No wonder he's guzzling Mylanta like water.

When fellow gang member Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips totally off the chain) offers Melvin a part in a side kidnapping he's pulling, Melvin reluctantly agrees. The target is a daughter (an adorable, sassy China Chow, who hasn't worked nearly enough since) of a rich Japanese industrialist. Unfortunately, her father is utterly bankrupt after making a movie with a title too amusing to share here and the girl is the goddaughter of the crime boss (Avery Brooks) they all work for and he's none to happy that an unauthorized kidnapping has been pulled on his turf, so he assigns Cisco to hunt down the perpetrators. I'll give you one guess as to whom Cisco plans to frame for the job and that same guess covers who is babysitting the hostage while trying to hide her from his houseguests.

When I saw it in theaters, the scene that alerted me that this was something special is this ransom note debacle:

There is so much gold in this scene as Chow asserts herself as not easily impressed even with a gun in her face, mocking her abductors.You can also glimpse Marky's meek persona which, coming a year after Boogie Nights and not many more from his Funky Bunch wigga days, did a lot to shed a different light on his range. (It's hard to believe Mr. "Good Vibrations" is a two-time Oscar nominee, huh?)

The movie is fast-paced front to back and pitched at such a high energy level that it really illustrates how few flicks get the comedy-action balance right. I don't know why director Kirk Wong never did anything after this, but he went out with a bang. F-bombs are dropped like they're taking out Dresden and there are subplots about how Bokeem Woodbine has stopped having sex with girls in favor of "Straight jackin'!" and a long-overdue video rental and the crazy kid calling Melvin demanding its return. How can a movie with "Tracebuster-buster-busters" be anything but awesome? It can't!

Score: 9/10. Buy it.

Unfortunately, the Wyclef Jean track with the "Staying Alive" sample does NOT appear in the movie. That made me mad back then because it was so cool in the trailer.

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