Saturday, April 24, 2010

Firefly (2002-2005)

Creator: Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass.

Well, I have to admit, this series is just amazing, and why didn't I check it out before? I don't know. It must have been some kind of error in logic on my part. Whatever it was, this series is fucking awesome, and that's really the first thing you need to know about it. I'm really going to keep this short, because...well, what else is there to say? The story's engaging, the characters are masterfully written, the acting is great, the direction is gritty and stylish as's just a great show all around.

It's about, well, space pirates. Space pirates who travel in a spaceship (called Serenity) but do business and battle in suspiciously Old Western-style settings a lot of the time. The theme of the show is basically that Earth's nations liquidized down into just America and China as world powers, and those cultures inter-mingled and expanded across an entire galaxy of moons, planets and other manner of foreign, far away places. The main story revolves around a grizzled, sarcastic war veteran named Mal, and his crew, composed of first mate Zoe, her husband Wash the pilot, cute, spunky mechanic Kaylee, big, dumb and tough Jayne and the seductive "companion" Inara. They pick up a preacher named Book, and are further joined by fugitive doctor Simon Tam and his government-addled sister River, who isn't quite all there like most people are.

So there's your crew. They're all played by very, very good actors, and the character writing is just wonderful - subtle enough to not become too shallow, but they don't throw anything in your face, either. The dialogue is good, quirky and realistic and it really lets you relate to these people. Joss Whedon said that he wanted a show that offered sci-fi action in a more humane context, to where the viewers could really get involved with the characters and the fact that they, like us, are just regular people, with the same problems we have. There are romantic tensions and old friendships, and everyone has their own motivations.

But that isn't the only thing this show does well, as the other main draw is just the huge amount of kick-ass action and suspense the show gives us with every new adventure. You can pack a lot of stuff into 45 minutes, and the show makes full use of that. Every episode is packed with two or three subplots as well as a main one running through the larger whole, and it's all really interesting and cool to watch. I could go on about all of the episodes here, but really that would take too long, so I'll just sum up a few of my favorites. I think the point where I really fell in love with the show was the fourth episode "Shindig," in which Mal fights in a sword duel against a guy named Atherton Wing, who not only has the nerve to steal Inara, the woman who he likes but is too prideful to admit, but also to disrespect her. It's heroic and cool, but the rest of the ship has their own motivations - like Kaylee, who wants a dress to go to the party, even though she really doesn't fit in. Everything is given equal weight.

In "Ariel," we get heavy plot dynamics and exciting chase scenes as Jayne turns on the doctor and his sister, selling them out to the Feds. The scene where Mal almost kills him toward the end is just completely chilling, as well done as can be. This is the kind of stuff that movie producers wish they could put out. In "Out of Gas," we see the ship desolate and cold, switching between flashbacks of the crew back when they were first getting together, flashbacks of a more recent time as the ship, well, runs out of gas, and the present, in which a bloodied, out-of-breath Mal gropes in the dark, trying to find a way to stay alive. Haunting and masterful.

In "Objects in Space," which would tragically be the last episode, a new character named Jubal Early is introduced. He acts like a young Samuel L. Jackson and completely steals the show with his witty diatribes and cool, unpredictable actions. The conflicts between him and the crew are spirited and gripping, and what better way is there than this to end a show, if the bitter end is indeed coming? You go out with a party, fighting hard and giving it your all. That's what Firefly does here. Long live Firefly, and may new fans discover it by the hour. What a great show.

The White Noise Retrospective


If ghosts are transparent, then movies about them should reach beyond that and create something with depth and feeling, to display the emotional connection we have with the dead, and the interesting moral dilemmas that come up when we...yeah, okay, none of that really is explored in the White Noise movies.

I mean I don't think I've ever met someone who likes either of these movies. How did they even get the budget to keep making them? These movies have got to be just about the most throwaway examples of modern American horror ever made; the junk food of the genre. It's just about as disposable, and not even as tasty, either. How bad can these movies get? Well, how far does the Grand Canyon reach down?

Director: Geoffrey Sax
Starring: Michael Keaton, Ian McNeice

So, let's start off with the first one. This watered down, stumbling mess of a movie is one that I don't think I've ever seen get a positive review. And why the hell should it? Starring a very dull Michael Keaton, White Noise explores nothing except the disturbing, wrongheaded possibility that apparently we can talk to people after they die - not a bad premise for a film on its own, but the execution just feels hammy. It's cheapened and trivialized to the point where it just can't be taken seriously even for a second. The characters are cardboard cutouts who I don't care about, the shift into an almost superhero-type direction in the film's last quarter is abrupt and not really done in an exciting way, and the climax is just fucking silly. But it wasn't that offensive overall. It's bad, but not quite as bad as the sequel...

Director: Patrick Lussier
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Katee Sackhoff

I think the worst thing about this movie, innocuously titled "The Light," is that it ALMOST had some good things going. I actually kind of liked the main character played by the great Nathan Fillion of Firefly - although what the FUCK he was doing in this movie continues to baffle me - and the really hot Katee Sackhoff added a lot of visual candy to the movie, as well as being a genuinely likable character. The movie almost seemed interesting for a while, which is why it is so goddamned painful when it finally dawns on you, as Fillion spends a painstaking five whole minutes figuring out that there's a satanic conspiracy at work that would make the Omen blush, that the movie does not know what it's doing at all.

I mean...this is stupid. Really, really stupid, you guys. It's one thing to have this kind of religious nonsense in your movie to begin with, it's another to have it so stupidly written and sloppy - it seriously just boils down to "We couldn't think of a good enough plot in time because we spent all our time staring at Katee Sackhoff's rack, so...HERE'S SOME STUFF ABOUT THE DEVIL AND LUCIFER AND 666!"

...But it is another thing entirely to examine this plot more thoroughly.

This plot is so contrived and so needlessly complex that it completely unravels and turns the movie into a total mess. Apparently, Fillion's character can see auras that tell him when people are going to die. He tries to save them until he figures out - through the incredibly long-winded and needless satanic conspiracy I mentioned above - that after three days...yes, three days; I suppose convenience is a top priority on the devil's list of things to care about...of being saved when they were supposed to die, they...start killing people and go crazy? What's the story behind this? The movie sure knows how to throw inexplicable plot devices and pictures from Dante's Inferno at us, but it does not make me believe even for one second any of this. It would be one thing if it was a simple concept like the first one; that would be easy to discard and forget about...but this is just so ridiculously specific, so niche and so intricate in its trappings, at the same time without actually explaining anything, that it makes the movie completely worthless. The hammy, grueling mess of a climax doesn't help matters, either.

What a stupid pair of movies. How bad do you have to be to make movies that NOBODY likes? Neither of these movies contain anything resembling good filmmaking. Sure, the first one has some nice colors and settings here and there, and sure, the second one has some okay characters, but if you can't write a good story, don't make a fucking movie. Pfft. I don't think I have to tell anyone to avoid this pair of aching yak testicles.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca

I just knew from the start that this movie would be awesome. Kick-Ass is a superhero film, but it's so entirely different from the norm that it becomes something new entirely. It's a film that really defies traditional classification, but that isn't the reason we watch it. We watch this movie because it's so much fun, such a pinnacle of big-time enjoyment. Everything about this is enjoyable, over the top and hilarious.

It's about a guy named David who is as average as they come. He is invisible to girls and can't talk to them to save his life, and he spends most of his time with his two wise-cracking best friends - one of whom is that kid from Sex Drive. The movie is based around this premise: Why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a superhero? David asks, "Is real life so exciting that people just don't feel the need to do it?" So, as the laws of moviedom would dictate, he decides to become one. With a green wet suit and a mask that looks kind of like a Gimp mask with eye and mouth-holes cut out, he becomes the fearsome scourge of the night known as KICK-ASS. "It requires a perfect combination of optimism and naivete," he says, and he promptly gets stabbed and hit by a car on his very first endeavor into fighting crime. Charming. Kick-Ass in general is just a well done character. He completely sucks as a superhero at first, but he's just...really, really likable. The scene where he first defends that guy being beat up by the gangsters is really awesome; one of the best scenes in the whole movie.

I love the narration, I love the off-the-wall daring quality the film has and I love how I could never anticipate what was going to happen next. It's bloody, it's gory and it's funny as hell. There are a lot of characters, all really funny, interesting and pleasing to watch. Like Frank D'Amico, who has some great lines - like where he's fuming about the Kick-Ass impersonator he killed, snorting cocaine the whole time. And I really like something about Red Mist, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. He just kind of works. There's something really funny about his mannerisms and the way he's such a putz even though he poses like he's this really cool, confident guy. Great character.

The fight scenes are just enthralling. Nic Cage and Chloe Moretz as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl make a great team - their first scene starts off with Cage shooting Moretz in the chest. Any scene in which they exchange dialogue is simply golden - "I'm just fucking with you, Daddy" - and any movie that has a bunch of trained adult bodyguards running in fear of a twelve year old girl with a purple wig is at least trying, and succeeding wholly in this case. Hilarious.

One more scene I have to mention as particularly great is the 'live execution' staged by D'Amico's thugs, just for the 'oh shit!' factor you get. It's just two superheroes falling prey to real life violence and crime and paying the price. Adds a little something to the film, I think. Brutal, harsh and dreadful...but also not that realistic. I'm personally willing to overlook that.

The climax is simply one of the best action movie climaxes I've seen in a while. It's goofy, it's spunky and it sets everything aflame with a beautifully witty intensity that I love. Pure cheese, sure, but it's some of the best cheese around. Explosions, machine guns and high-flying jet packs are the order of the day here and you will certainly feel like coming again once it's over.

The whole movie is done with the intensity of a normal movie's climax, even the really normal-seeming parts. It's all played up to a ridiculously over the top kind of urgency, a strange, kinetic energy, with every bit of the plot being too important to sacrifice or leave off as trivial. What would normally be called 'build up' or 'exposition' is done here with enough flair and style to be just as good as the high-octane action. That's why it's such a damn good summer blockbuster type movie! Simply impeccable. This is a film that is too enjoyable not to love. It's good because it makes you sit up and pay attention every time they introduce a new plot point, and say, "did they just do that?" But of course they did, and you will love it. I'm not trying to dictate your emotional response me, you will.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Twins (1988)


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston

Directed by: Ivan Reitman

"Twins" is a film about...well, twins...who are separated at birth, and are unaware of each other's existence until decades later. It soon becomes clear that they are very different, and not just in physical appearance, as they try to bond, evade dangerous criminals, and search for their long lost mother.

This is a good movie. To be honest, it was not quite as funny as I thought it was going to be and I did not like it as much as "Kindergarten Cop" (one of Arnold Schwarzenagger and Ivan Reitman's other collaborations). Still, I had a decent amount of laughs while watching the film and it has its own little charms. It was kind of amusing seeing Schwarzenagger playing a "Mr. Sensitive" role for once. Danny DeVito also does well as a schmuck who gradually learns that he has a conscience, and the two of them have good chemistry with one another. There is one scene in the movie where DeVito's character successfully persuades his girlfriend to help him out using a puppy-dog look. That really sums up the feel of the movie: you know what you are getting is not high-quality material, but you cannot help but be won over by it. It is not a strong recommendation, but it is a recommendation nonetheless.