Speed Racer and Below   August 8th, 2010

I finally got around to watching Speed Racer at a friend’s house last night. I hadn’t been itching to see it because of middling reviews and also because I never watched the cartoon as a kid, so I wasn’t in the target audience. The movie was decent though. It’s no Citizen Kane but it was entertaining.

The visuals of course were the movies strong suit. The graphics and colors popped and the Wachowski brothers did a wonderful job in giving the movie a hyper stylized look inspired by the anime. Some of the race sequences were confusing and dizzying on the verge of seizure-inducing, but I have to give them props for the movie as a whole. All of the sets and props had that same design aesthetic and that was pretty cool.

The story wasn’t all that complex, but it served the movie well and from what I know of the anime it hit all the right spots and captured the story elements in a good package. I did like how they didn’t try and explain some of the oddities of the situation, they just ran with it like it was normal. A good example of that was one character outside the family giving a single askance glance at the monkey, but nothing being said about it. The little brother and monkey characters were kind of annoying in their antics, but they looked to be spot-on in their depiction.

So while Speed Racer was not something beloved from my childhood, and it’s not a movie I need to see again, I will say that it’s a fun diversion and the visual style of the movie is entertaining. It’s worth watching for that if you just roll with it.

Another film I saw recently had a much heavier and involved story. Below was a really interesting tale of a WW2 sub crew picking up survivors of medical ship sank by a U boat. Soon after the mysterious passengers are brought on board, things start going wrong… I don’t want to say too much to give anything away, but I will say that this is a movie definitely worth watching. It’s got a nice mix of atmospheric horror, military action and psychological thriller.

I wanted to see it as I remembered it was written by Darren Aronofsky, whose known for cerebral work. Pi ran a little long for me and I didn’t bother with The Fountain as it sounded too ponderous, but I like his ideas. While he didn’t direct this movie, his touch was still visible and it’s likely one of his more accessible films too, intelligent without being too overwhelmingly arty.

Hot Tub Time Machine   April 25th, 2010

Originally Written 03/27/10

Hot Tub Time Machine is a goofy, dumb and crude comedy, but it’s also a lot of fun.

It’s a love letter to the 80s, or more-accurately a spot-on spoof of all those 80s movies. I was amused at a couple of good riffs on Better off Dead. It’s got a fun soundtrack as well which is full of period songs . The actors really make the movie what it is too.

Crispin Glover was fun to see as a surly one-armed bellhop.

Kick Ass   April 25th, 2010

Originally Written 04/20/10

Kick Ass is not quite the movie the trailers made it out to be. Yes it’s a comic book farce but while it has humor based on awkward social situations and dark comedy it also has scenes punctuated with gritty violence. The film was both entertaining and engaging and it had more character drama than expected too.

The trailer made it seem that an average comic-book fan decides to don a costume and the easily becomes a local hero. Thankfully there was a lot more to the story and Dave Lizewski runs into some heavy obstacles on his journey to becoming Kick Ass. He’s shown in over his head and outclassed in several scenes, which play both for gritty drama and sly comedy. In some ways Kick Ass isn’t even the main character of the film, for while the film does focus on him for large parts of it, he’s more of a catalyst than the hero.

There are two intertwining story-lines running through the film. One of Dave’s world of a high school nobody and his alter ego and one of Big Daddy, a vigilante dressed as Batman with a dark side to match, and his daughter side kick Hit Girl. It’s with these characters that the meat of the story takes place. Nicholas Cage does a wonderful job of playing both a doting father and a driven man with a mission.

Chloe Moretz was also impressive as Hit Girl. Yes having a tween girl swear like a sailor, play with heavy weapons and kick ass, while also getting into some scenes of possible peril is definitely edgy. It’s subservse and part of the sly comedy to Kick Ass. If it was a young boy fighting bad guys it would be seen as male empowerment, but when it’s a girl in that role it leaves the audience with mixed emotions. Hit Girl’s character is where a lot of the character drama came from too, which was a pleasant surprise.

I was curious how close to the comic book the movie would be. Reading up on the original plot on Wikipedia (warning, spoilers), it looks like it was fairly true to the source material. There was some softening of the character Dave has a crush on, which was pretty obvious in a couple of scenes, but it worked well for the dramatic story and some awkward teenage humor. The movie did deal with the costs and danger of being a costumed super hero, much like in the comic.

So, the film is no Spider Man, but if you like comic books and don’t mind gritty violent dramas, then Kick Ass is a film worth checking out. One friend described it as Mystery Men meets Kill Bill which was a good way of putting it.

Originally Written 03/04/10

I saw Shutter Island a couple of weeks ago. It was a decent movie and a solid mystery. The mood and atmosphere worked well, though I did think some scenes were overdone. I was a little disapointed that I’d mostly figured it out before the end, but it still was satisfying the way it played out.

I saw The Crazies tonight. I love zombie movies, so as soon as I saw the trailer for this, I knew I was going to check it out, even though it looked like it could just be goofy fun. It turned out to be better than expected and was entertaining and effective with both the tension and decent characters. It won’t win any oscars, but it was well done. I also recently learned that it was a remake of a Romero film from the 70s, so I may have to look that up.

B-Movie Round-Up   April 25th, 2010

Originally Written 02/01/10

I ended up watching a bunch of b-movies this weekend, some good, some not so good.

There were two episodes of MST3K, which I believe I’d seen parts of before. First Spaceship on Venus from the 1960s was notable for being a European production with a multi-cultural team made up of members from various countries. It started out fun and had some good riffing, but once they got to Venus there was a lot of pointless wandering around and the last half of the film dragged.

Future War a low-budget turd from the 90s was the other episode of MST3K. It sounded promising, as it was described as cyborgs with hunter dinosaurs pursued an escape human slave from a space ship down to 1990s LA, where the fugitive gets help from a streetwalker-turned nun. Come on, that sounds like it’d be a lot of fun, but not so much. There’s lots of boring dialog and multiple fight scenes with bad kung fu and characters throwing empty cardboard boxes at one another. The dinosaur puppets were amusing though.

We also watched Carnival of Souls, which is somewhat of a cult favorite. I’d heard about it and been meaning to watch it for some time now. The premise is interesting, where a woman escapes a deadly accident but is then haunted by mysterious apparitions and ghouls which threaten her sanity. It started out interesting and with a good atmosphere for a low-budget film.

Unfortunately it dragged on way too long with lots of padding that didn’t do much to flesh out the story, and it was just a long march to a predictable ending. It felt like a 30-minute Twilight Zone episode that had been padded out to an hour and twenty minutes. I believe there was an episode of the original Twlight Zone series which handled a similar story and worked a lot better.

By far the best movie of the bunch was It, the Terror from Beyond Space. In that film a rescue rocket is sent to pick up survivors from the first manned mission to Mars. They find only the captain is left alive. He claims a mysterious monster killed his crew and is taken back home by a skeptical crew to face court martial for murder. So the film starts off with some nice dramatic tension and before long they discover the survior’s story may ring true, as something has snuck on board the rocket and mysterious events unfold.

The film is a time capsul of the late 1950s and echos the times it was created in. Everyone smokes and the women are resigned to stereotypical roles of nurses and essentiall stewardesses in space. When attacking the monster they use WW2 guns and grenades, not fancy sci-fi weapons, but it feels genuine to the age.

The monster is obviously a guy in a rubber suit, but it’s a fun design. While it’s dated now, it is a solid film with some good tension and nice set design and lighting to create a creepy mood. It could be argued that the idea is prototypical to the movie Alien as well. Of the movies I watched, this is the one I’d recommend fans checking out.