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RED 2 (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, Barry Dejasu Columns, Based on Comic Book, Bruce Willis Films, Buddy Movies, Campy Movies, Comedies, Fun Stuff!, Government Agents with tags , , , , , , on July 23, 2013 by knifefighter

RED 2 (2013)
Movie Review by Barry Lee Dejasu

RED2PosterSeveral months after the events of RED (2010), former CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is trying to happily move on with his life, now truly retired and living with his girl Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker).  When Frank’s old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich), also a former CIA agent (but with a bad case of paranoid eccentricity due to decades of LSD experimentation), shows up, it’s clear that trouble won’t be far behind…and sure enough, trouble comes for them, in spades.  With conspiracies, assassins, and weapons of mass destruction abound, it’s up to Frank and his R.E.D (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) friends to save the day again.

Director Dean Parisot (best known for his 1999 film GALAXY QUEST) turns in a decent action-comedy with RED 2.  The film is rated PG-13, which is understandable, since it’s aiming for a widespread audience; as a result, there are numbers of pulled punches—sometimes literally, as an early fight sequence left me a little confused as to what was happening at times.  There’s lots of gunplay, fistfights, and explosions, and a few well-staged sequences, but nothing particularly new or unusual—which was probably the idea, since the movie is played more for laughs than anything else.  Still, a few of the fight scenes might benefit from an “Unrated” cut, and one can hope that such may show up on the eventual home video release.

Like with the first film, however, what I enjoyed most in RED 2 was its cast, which, even with an occasionally stilted conversation (more on that later), gets along very nicely, and works together well in some genuinely screwy scenes.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, and John Malkovich in RED 2.

 “You haven’t killed anybody in months,” Marvin says at one point, and the same could be said for Willis at this point in his career, with A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and G.I. JOE: RETALIATION having been released just earlier this year. Bruce Willis has become one of the main go-to guys for action movies the past couple of decades; generally speaking, his presence brings a fun and laid-back (yet simultaneously rugged and smarmy) presence in the middle of the cinematic chaos—and this movie is no exception; he nicely chews up the scenes with his relaxed (and occasionally grumpy) persona, and while this vehicle is nothing new or unusual for him, it’s hard to ignore his charm.

Mary-Louise Parker is a hoot in her return as Sarah.  Although her character is now quite familiar with Frank’s former career and skills, she’s also his dedicated lover, and will do anything to help him—including eagerly stepping in to fight alongside him in every situation he’s faced with.  This of course leads to much bickering about her safety versus his, and more than a few times she has to “prove” herself in action.  If you think Mary-Louise Parker can’t handle an action scene, well, think again—that’s the whole idea with her here, and because she’s a capable actress, it worked quite nicely.  (Coincidentally, Parker also appears in this past week’s fellow acronymic action-comedy R.I.P.D., directed by the original RED’s director, Robert Schwentke!)

Now, traditionally, I’ve disliked John Malkovich as an actor; I find him to be very hammy and more than a little unpleasant most of the time, even when he’s portraying (allegedly) sympathetic characters; yet, I have softened a bit towards him in recent years, and that reason, I now realize, began with RED, and continues now in RED 2.  He portrays Marvin in a very goofy, dopey-eyed manner, and I genuinely laughed a few times with him in these films.

Dame Helen Mirren steals every scene she’s in, which is to be expected when you put an automatic weapon into the hands of the Academy Award-winning actress.  She portrays Victoria every bit as tongue-in-cheek as she did the first time, coolly portraying a charming lady who’s more than ready to deliver asskickery.  (There’s also one scene of hers in particular, which I won’t spoil, that had me seriously cracking up; I’ll just say that for anyone who’s familiar with her career, it’s a real treat.)

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Helen Mirren + gun = scene officially owned.

Alongside Malkovich, Byung-Hun Lee was the real surprise for me in this film.  Previously, I’d only seen him in the two G.I. JOE films of recent years – coincidentally alongside Willis in the second one; and as a result, I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him.  Here, however, I got to witness just how charismatic he can be, and he’s gracefully capable of some truly jaw-dropping stunts.  He was also very funny, which went a long way towards fleshing out his role as Han Cho Bai, a contract killer seeking revenge.  (“You stole my plane!”)

When Catherine Zeta-Jones appears, everything seems to stand still—and I’m not just saying that as a longtime fan of the actress (here portraying former KGB agent Katja, also an ex-flame of Frank’s).  She comes sweeping across the screen, in full movie star glamour, just before delivering a hard kiss on Frank (much to Sarah’s disgust).  Her screen time is unfortunately a bit limited, and her character’s nature a bit uneven, but if the filmmakers were seeking a memorable and gorgeous actress for the role, then they succeeded.

It’s also quite funny that Anthony Hopkins is in this film, and for more than one reason.  As an eccentric scientist (and weapons maker) being kept in a mental institution, Hopkins turns in a rare comedic role in this film.  Oddly enough, he has starred alongside not only Jones and Mirren in previous films (respectively in 1998’s THE MASK OF ZORRO and last year’s HITCHCOCK), but even has a face-to-face appearance with “the other Hannibal Lecter” himself, Brian Cox (1986’s MANHUNT).

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Anthony Hopkins once again finds himself in a mental hospital.

Like the first film, RED 2 is based on characters and a general setup from the DC Comics graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.  This film takes a nice wink at this origin with various screen shots of the actors transitioning into stills of their respective comic characters; it helped serve as a reminder that this isn’t a film to be taken too seriously, and thus was all the easier to enjoy.

That said, there were times where I found the plot kind of hard to follow (mostly in the shell game of different characters’ shifting loyalties and/or revealing their true natures), and there were a few stretches of wooden dialogue, but then again, the script (written by the first film’s team of brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber) exists solely to set up one funny scene after another, and it works well for that.

So ultimately, RED 2 was a bit of a retread of the first film, but it took all the elements that worked well and put them to good use here, starting and ending with a fun and enjoyable cast.  If you liked the action-packed screwball antics of the first film, then you’re in for more in RED 2.

I give it two and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Barry Lee Dejasu gives RED 2 ~ two and a half knives.

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WARM BODIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comedies, Dark Comedies, Romance, Teen Monsters, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WARM BODIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Warm_Bodies_6

(THE SCENE: Morning in a quaint little New England village. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are walking along the deserted street, surprised that no one else is up and about)

MA: It sure is quiet around here.

LS: It’s strange, because I heard there was some kind of zombie virus going around. But I don’t see any sign of it here.

MA: Maybe it was a hoax?

(A ZOMBIE dressed in a bathrobe and slippers comes out of a house and walks toward them, to check his mailbox)

ZOMBIE: Well hello there! Nice to see some visitors to our humble little town.

LS: You can talk!

ZOMBIE: Of course I can talk. It took a lot of practice to learn again after I died, but I can talk just fine.

MA: You’re not going to try to eat us, are you?

ZOMBIE: No, of course not! Just because I’m a zombie doesn’t mean I’m uncivilized! I am a very cultured zombie and have learned to refine my tastes to more, inoffensive food sources.

LS: That’s wonderful!

MA: All is right with the world now!

ZOMBIE: Well, I must get back before my zombie wife and zombie kids wonder where I’ve gone to. Have a delightful day and welcome to Zombie Village.

(ZOMBIE goes back to his house)

MA: That sure was a pleasant conversation.

LS: Not very scary, was it?

MA: Not at all.

LS: After all the years we’ve been going to see horror movies, that’s not much of a zombie, right?

MA: You said it.

LS: Which leads us to this week’s movie review, the new zombie movie WARM BODIES, which gives us a lesson in the rejuvenating power of love!

MA: Oh, that sounds wonderful!

LS: You can cut the crap now.

MA: Thank you. I was about to throw up if I went on any further.

LS: WARM BODIES begins with the humorous witticisms of a young zombie named simply “R” (Nicholas Hoult) who delights us with some funny comments right off the bat. He wonders what he’s doing in an airport, wandering around with the other zombies, and finds his new “life” a little monotonous. Things perk up a bit when some humans infiltrate their “home,” led by Perry (Dave Franco) and Julie (Teresa Palmer), young lovers who are on a mission to get medical supplies for the humans. Julie is also the daughter of the president of what is left of the United States, Grigio (played by John Malkovich).

R and his pals attack the humans (they are hungry zombies, after all, and need some nourishment), but R instantly falls for Julie, who he goes to great lengths to save from a horrendous fate. He sneaks her past the other zombies and brings her back to a deserted airplane that he calls home (for some reason, no other zombies go there). He struggles to speak and lets her know that he is going to keep her safe. At first, Julie is terrified, but she slowly learns to trust R (who can’t remember his real name, but knows it started with an “R”).

MA: Isn’t that cute?

LS: Painfully so.

MA: Seriously, that’s the word that kept surfacing throughout this movie: cute. Isn’t this a cute movie, I could hear people saying? And it is. So, I guess if you want to see a cute zombie movie, this is the flick for you. But for the rest of us—.

LS: Can I finish this damn plot summary now?

MA: Please.

LS: Don’t be so polite! I can’t take “polite” after this movie!

MA: Get on with the friggin summary!

LS: That’s better.

As they spend time together, R begins to change. His once-dead heart starts beating again, and he slowly becomes more and more human. And it affects his zombie friends as well, until there are a whole bunch of zombies who have working hearts and long for the tender warmth of love.

(A girl plays a harp in the background as they walk by)

Oh, I forgot to mention the “bonies,” who are zombies who have decayed to the point where they are just skeletons, and are the most vicious and least recognizably human of the creatures. The bonies kill anything alive without hesitation, but we start to see the more “human” zombies rebelling against them, even helping the living humans fight against them! How spirited!

Another conflict involves Julie getting her gung-ho zombie-killing father to wake up to the fact that the zombies are curing themselves! Will he listen to her, or just continue to blast away at any zombies he sees?

WARM BODIES is aptly titled, because it really does warm the cockles of your heart as you watch it, between the gentle humor and the sweet love story, this movie will get your heart beating again, just like those zombies!

MA: Give me a barf bag! And for the record, you’re being sarcastic, right?

LS: You think?

It’s bad enough that zombies have been coming out of our ears. The word overkill has taken on new meaning. Sure, there are some worthwhile zombie-related movies and TV shows, but they’re few and far between. Enough already! It’s gotten to the point where my first reaction to a new zombie movie is to cringe before I even see it. But that’s not the worst thing about WARM BODIES.

MA: Not at all. While I agree with you about the overkill aspect, I like the zombie movies and TV shows we’ve been inundated with, so I had a very open mind about this one.

(A “Bonie” hovers nearby, licking its skeletal chops as it closes in on MA’s head.)

MA: Not that open!

(LS pulls out a shotgun and blows Bonie away.)

MA: I could have easily enjoyed this one, but for reasons you’re about to explain, I didn’t.

Warm-Bodies-new-poster-2-616x913

LS: WARM BODIES takes zombies and mixes them with a TWILIGHT-inspired love story. Two teenagers fall in love—a zombie hunk and a blonde honey—and inspire each other to reach new heights. How completely and utterly…..nauseating. It’s bad enough I had to sit through the TWILIGHT movies to review them. To be subjected to movies that aspire to follow in TWILIGHT’s footsteps is just intolerable.

MA: I agree. And can I say this right now, at the risk of alienating some in our audience? WARM BODIES is a chick flick, pure and simple. That’s what it is. A chick flick disguised as a horror comedy.

LS: I’m offended. But WARM BODIES has something the TWILIGHT movies—for the most part—do not. A sense of humor. Instead of self-important vampires who strut around the TWILIGHT series, we’ve got a self-deprecating zombie with a heart, and he’s even got a funny friend. How original—a zombie movie with a humorous attitude. This has never been done before. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND were obviously figments of our imagination.

MA: Well, WARM BODIES is nowhere near as funny as those movies. Or as good.

(A TEENAGE ZOMBIE in a red hoodie approaches them)

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Hello, welcome to Zombie Village.

MA: Yeah, thanks.

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Is there anything I can do for you gentlemen? Do you have a lawn that needs mowing? A car that needs washing? I really like to help people, and I just finished my paper route.

LS: Don’t you have some brains to go eat or something?

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: That is pretty funny, sir. No, I’m just a typical, sweet, boy-next-door zombie looking to give a helping hand to whoever needs it.

MA (throws up his hands): Oh get out of here already.

LS: Yeah, beat it you wimpy zombie, before I blow your head off.

TEENAGE ZOMBIE: You guys aren’t that friendly, are you? Well, I’ll be shuffling off.

(Shuffles away)

MA: Back to our review?

LS: Yeah, the sooner we finish, the better. This village gives me the creeps.

There are several aspects of WARM BODIES that I really didn’t like.

First off, the zombies are never scary. Not for a moment. Even when a bunch of them attacks the humans and starts chomping on them in the beginning, it’s not overly gruesome or scary in any way. In fact, “R” is cracking jokes and revealing the fact that he has a conscious mind way before Julie even comes into the picture and steals his heart.

MA: Exactly! I had a problem with this too, because it defeats the point the story is making, that it was his connection to Julie that set this “cure” in motion.

LS: How are we supposed to get sucked into a dramatic transformation when it never really happens? From what I could tell, R was funny and sweet from the first scene. He doesn’t really change at all, he just gets more verbal when Julie enters his “life.”

If he had started out as a shambling, dangerous, flesh-eating monster from the beginning and slowly became self-aware and funny and sweet, it would have been much more dramatic.

MA: Absolutely.

LS: But the fact that he’s really all these good things from the get-go means he’s never scary and, frankly, he’s never really a zombie. Zombies aren’t self-aware. They don’t crack jokes. THEY’RE DEAD. R is more a half-dead creature than a real zombie. And the fact that his heart starts beating again so easily shows he probably was never really dead (well, not completely) to begin with. Even his name is wrong. Instead of “R,” they should have called him “PG-13,” which also happens to be the rating for this toothless monster movie.

Secondly, the “bonies,” are a joke. If they are decayed to the degree that they are just skeletons, chances are they would be very fragile and easy to defeat. They’re rotted. They’re frail. They would NOT be more formidable than their more fleshy counterparts. And the fact that the bonies are fast-moving CGI creatures that look incredibly FAKE insures that they won’t be scary. They’re just stupid.

MA: Yep, the bonies look like rejects from an old Ray Harryhausen movie.

LS: Don’t even mention Harryhausen’s name in the same breath as those fake-looking losers!

MA: And they are fake-looking, that’s for sure. I’m not sure which ones annoyed me most, the bonies in this movie or the cute werewolves in the TWILIGHT series. I think I’d go with those werewolves.

(A “BONIE” pops up from behind a bush)

BONIE: Darn it. If I wasn’t afraid my teeth would fall out, I’d bite you for saying that!

LS: Get out of here before I blow your skull off.

(BONIE runs away, and his legs fall off. His upper body crawls away)

MA (laughing): Look at him go!

LS: The acting is okay for the most part, considering the more stupid aspects of the script.

MA: To me, that’s the one thing that saved this film. The actors in it did a nice job, even if they were playing characters I didn’t like.

LS: Nicholas Hoult is likable enough as R, I guess. We’ve seen Hoult before in movies like CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), where he played Eusebios, and, more memorably, Hank McCoy (the Beast) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). He’ll also be playing Jack in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER. I have to admit, I wasn’t a big fan of his zombie character, R, but people sitting in the audience seemed to think he was great. Maybe it was those hunky good looks and piercing blue eyes that won them over? So much for rotting, ugly monsters.

MA: Don’t even get me started about the theater audience. I saw WARM BODIES in a packed theater, and they were oohing and ahhing, and giggling— I thought I was in the wrong movie, watching a re-showing of MAGIC MIKE (2012) or something. They even clapped at the end of the movie…..

LS (cringes): Oh god, it was like TWILIGHT all over again.

MA: …I clapped too – because it was over!

But getting back to Hoult, yeah, I wasn’t into his character at all, but I can’t deny that he made the guy likeable. Between R and Edward from TWILIGHT, I’d rather hang out with R. And I’m going to gag saying this, but he makes R seem like a really nice guy, the kind of guy girls would want to bring home to their parents.

LS: Sorry, but I don’t go to horror movies to see monsters who are “really nice guys” you can bring home to meet the parents.

Teresa Palmer as Julie obviously went to the Kristen Stewart School of Acting. She sports a similar sneer in some scenes, and clearly thinks she’s more of a badass than she really is (it’s clear that when her boyfriend Perry was around, she called the shots). You might have seen her in some recent movies like THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010) and I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011). I didn’t think she was awful in the role of Julie, and she’s pretty enough, but she didn’t really do anything all that original to make her stand out for me.

MA: And I would have liked her a lot better had she not reminded me of Kristen Stewart so much with those sneers. But for the most part I enjoyed her performance as Julie. I bought that she fell in love with R, although she did get over her old boyfriend awfully quick!

LS: Maybe that’s because her first boyfriend, Perry, was a loser. How do we know this? Because after R kills Perry during the big attack in the beginning, he takes big chunks of Perry’s brain and puts them in his pocket to eat later. Every time he munches on Perry brains, he gets these vivid flashbacks to milestones in Perry’s life. He starts to absorb Perry’s memories. And Perry isn’t really all that interesting. And those brain chunks sure do seem to last a long time. Perry must have had a pretty big brain—something I wouldn’t have guessed to look at him.

Speaking of eating brains. It is never addressed in this movie what revitalized zombies eat! Another key plot problem. As we all know, real zombies eat human flesh, and are overwhelmed by a violent need to feed. Our pal R must be on a diet, because he doesn’t seem to be controlled by his hunger all that much. In fact, once he meets Julie, he pretty much forgets all about eating (except for those occasional brain snacks). After he starts to “cure” himself, he doesn’t eat at all. So much for overwhelming urges—which could have provided a powerful dramatic conflict—to love the girl or eat her. This never comes up with R.

MA: He’s just too nice a guy for conflict.

LS:  So what do zombies who are becoming human again eat? Do they eat brains? Do they eat normal food? Do they eat raw hamburger? That would have been something interesting to explore. But the movie just ignores all that. Just like it ignores most dramatic elements that would have made the script more interesting.

warm-bodies-poster

But back to the cast.

Rob Corddry plays R’s friend “M,” and he’s one of the few characters I liked at all, even though he’s not all that “fleshed out.” But it’s Rob Corddry, and I like him, and he has the funniest line in the movie, even if he’s relegated to the boring sidekick role here and not given a helluva lot to do except help his buddy out. Most people will know Corddry from the movie HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010) and as Dr. Blake Downs on the current Cartoon Channel/Adult Swim live-action series CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, where’s he’s pretty funny. He was even a member of the UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (TV series from 1998 – 2000).

MA: Yep, I liked Corddry too, but as much as I liked his character, he was nowhere near as funny as he could have been, which goes back to the problems this movie has with humor. It’s all very light, and inoffensive, I might add.

LS: John Malkovich, a normally strong actor, is pretty much sleepwalking through his role as President Grigio. Which makes sense, because he could play such a one-dimensional character in his sleep, and proves it.

MA: Can you say, ‘paycheck?’

LS: Definitely. You’d be better off renting BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), the underrated RIPLEY’S GAME (2002), or even CON-AIR (1997) for better Malkovich performances.

MA: I also liked Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s best friend Nora. I thought she had some of the funnier lines in the movie, and there was a quirky honesty about her character which I enjoyed.

LS: I liked her, too. It’s funny, I liked her and Corddry—the two “sidekicks” —better than the nominal leads here.

As a horror movie, WARM BODIES isn’t scary and isn’t particularly horrific in any real way.

MA: It’s about as horrific as MAMMA MIA! (2008). In fact, Pierce Brosnan’s singing in that movie is scarier than anything in WARM BODIES!

LS: Some of the characters are zombies (or so we’re told – I still say they’re not really zombies, since many of them are self-aware and non-threatening from the start), but that’s not enough to make it a horror movie. As a romance, WARM BODIES is trite and annoying, and completely unoriginal (see the aforementioned TWILIGHT). As a comedy, WARM BODIES is just too toothless to have any kind of edge to it, and too sweet-natured to really have anything satirical to say about zombies or teen romances masquerading as horror movies.

The script by Jonathan Levine (who also directed), based on the novel by Isaac Marion, fluctuates from being tolerable to being completely irritating.

I give this one one and a half knives. Not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but not exactly something I would recommend to anyone, either. And it’s kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back for me after watching all those awful TWILIGHT movies. I’m really, completely sick of teen romance movies where one of the lovers is a monster. I think I liked this one a little better than the typical TWILIGHT flick, but not much more. The concept is now beyond irritating. And I am so glad we decided not to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES when it comes out this Valentine’s Day, since it’s about a teenage witch who falls in love with a mortal. I am SOOOOOO sick of this teen romance pablum!

MA: Same here. And the problem with these movies, as you’ve already said, is they’re too trite. There’s nothing to them, and so you’re left with watching very light and weak material that just doesn’t resonate, and as a result, doesn’t satisfy.

I didn’t like WARM BODIES either, for all of the same reasons you gave, but I did like it a bit better than you did, mostly because I warmed up to (off camera there is a collective groan) R and his feelings towards Julie. R is a fairly entertaining character in a mildly nice guy sort of way, but he would have been funnier if it had been more difficult for him to win Julie over. Think Woody Allen as a zombie.

LS: Now that would be hilarious!

MA: Here, instead, it’s more like Tom Cruise as a zombie. He’s not going to have a difficult time winning over the girl.

LS: And he obviously won over lots of people in the audience for the same reason. I’m sure this movie will do well at the box office. But I still don’t like it.

MA: That being said, R is not an arrogant Tom Cruise-type character. He’s self-conscious and vulnerable, but everything he touches ends up smelling like roses. So even though he’s a “nice guy” and even though his running comments throughout the movie are somewhat entertaining and made me chuckle a couple of times, there’s no real conflict here, everything comes easy for him. Not the best recipe for strong storytelling.

Also, there’s a reason nice guys don’t make the best movie characters. They’re boring.

I liked Julie a little less, but at least I believed in her feelings towards R, and I also believed in R’s feelings towards her. This is another advantage this film had over the TWILIGHT movies. In TWILIGHT, everybody loves Bella, and for the life of me, I could never understood why. At least here, Julie isn’t always brooding and depressed. She seemed likeable enough, and I could see what R saw in her. I bought into their romance. I just wish it hadn’t been the main topic of an entire movie. Had it been one part of a more entertaining film, had there been more about M for example, this might have been a better movie. Then again, maybe not.

For those reasons, I didn’t hate this one, but I certainly can’t recommend it.

I give it two knives.

Okay, we’re done here. Let’s get out of here before I start throwing up.

(Zombie approaches them.)

ZOMBIE: Leaving so soon? We’re about to have a poker party. Won’t you join us?

MA: Really? A zombie poker party? What’s next? Zombie zumba?

ZOMBIE: That’s across the street.

(LS shoots Zombie in the head.)

LS: Now, so are your brains.

MA: That wasn’t very nice, but somehow, in this case, it felt right.

(Other zombies start coming out of their houses to see what is going on)

LS: Let’s get out of here before they try killing us with kindess.

(LS & MA flee.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives WARM BODIES ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives WARM BODIES ~one and a half knives.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Hot Chick Movies, Michael Arruda Reviews, ROBOTS!, Sequels with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2011 by knifefighter

(Editor’s note: Listen to Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon” while you’re reading this, for an extra kick.)

 CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011)
By Michael Arruda and (special guest star) Dan Keohane

 

(The Scene: The interior of an office building. MICHAEL ARRUDA is seated at a table when suddenly the building begins to tilt dramatically, and people and objects begin to slide past MA, who remains calmly seated. One of the people grabs onto the table and manages to take a seat across from MA. It is DAN KEOHANE).

MA: Hey, Dan. Glad you could join me.

DK: No problem. (Brushing himself off) Thanks for giving me such a dramatic entrance.

MA: Well, this is one of the more dramatic scenes from TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, and I thought it would be a cool way to start our review. Besides, I thought you’d get a kick out of sliding down a tilting building.

DK: Well, when you know it’s fake, it’s all in good fun.

MA (looks uneasily at camera, and then over DK’s shoulder as two screaming people slide through a broken window into oblivion.) Yeah, fake. Anyway, ready to start our review?
DK: Yep.

MA: Welcome folks to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m joined by Dan Keohane, who’s filling in for L.L. Soares today (who’s gone to Norway to get us the lowdown on TROLLHUNTER), and we’ll be reviewing the new Transformers movie, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011).

I’ll say right off the bat that I had zero expectations for this one, other than I expected not to like it, but for the most part, I was entertained and felt like I got my money’s worth.

DK: Well, almost. Linda wanted to see the 3D version so I relented, being the chivalrous chap I am. Until the movie was about to start and she realized we were seeing TRANSFORMERS and not GREEN LANTERN (2011) as she’d thought. But, we already had the glasses and the popcorn, so we stayed. Good thing, too, otherwise this review would have been pretty confusing.

MA: Chivalrous? Sounds like you pulled a fast one. “Sure, honey, let’s go see (covers mouth with his hand) Trans-gree- lan-mers. Yeah, the 3D one.”

DK: I saw the first TRANSFORMERS movie at the drive-in a few years back and was pleasantly surprised, so I figured I would be entertained at the very least with this one (caveat, never saw the second one). If you came for alien robot monsters destroying things and CGI effects on steroids, then yeah, I guess it delivered.

MA: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, the third film in the TRANSFORMERS movie series by Michael Bay, gets its name from its opening sequences, in which we learn that a Transformers ship crash-landed on the dark side of the moon, and this ship was discovered by the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission. And the reason we have never gone back to the moon is because of the manipulations of evil Transformers here on earth who don’t want us going back. Until now. And this sets up the rest of the movie’s plot, as we switch to present day.

DK: I have to reluctantly toss in here that it was pretty entertaining how they messed with history like this, mixing footage from the original NASA moon landing with pretend stuff. They even had astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a cameo explaining the cover up. That was cute. Anyway, carry on….

MA: Yeah, the opening grabbed my interest, too. I liked the whole “dark side of the moon” bit, the whole NASA conspiracy, the “real” reason we got involved in the space race. I thought this was fun, and a strong way to open the movie. I also liked the way they did the historical footage, the mixture of actual JFK footage, for example, mixed in with new footage with an actor playing JFK. These opening scenes worked.

DK: Though they could have gotten better actors, or better makeup for the ones playing the presidents.

MA: Once we switch to present day, we meet up with Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) the young hero from the previous TRANSFORMERS movies. Sam is living with a new gorgeous babe Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) as he’s broken up with babe Megan Fox from the previous TRANSFORMERS movies. Gee, this guy has it rough! Sam is out of a job, and he’s depressed and frustrated about this, and during his job search he gets to utter one of the better lines of the movie, “I’ve saved the world twice, and I still can’t find a job!”

DK: Yeah, he had some cool lines. Hell, this movie was littered with clever lines. By the humans. The robots were annoying, but I jump ahead.

MA: Sam does find a job, working in the mailroom for a company run by an eccentric crackpot Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich). Malkovich is hilarious here and in top form. It’s too bad this character isn’t in the movie more. At this new job, Sam meets another crackpot Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong, basically doing a watered down variation of his Mr. Chow character from THE HANGOVER movies) who tells Sam of a conspiracy by the evil Decepticons that involves the dark side of the moon.

(VOICE from somewhere off to the right)

VOICE: Did someone mention Chow?

MA: Before Sam can learn more, Wang is sent hurtling by a Decepticon through his office window, falling to his death on the street below.

(On cue, a man hurtles past them and crashes through a window. He shrieks as he falls to the ground.)

DK (nodding approvingly): Very realistic. Well done.

MA: Yes— we —strive for realism here.

So, Sam decides to seek out answers, and he soon hooks up with old friends like former agent Simmons (John Turturo), and Autobots Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. However, he also has to deal with Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand), who, in a realistic turn, wants Sam to have no part in the operation since he’s a civilian who—in spite of his past—has no business working with the government at this level.

DK: I was SO psyched to see McDormand and Malkovich in this film. Both were terrific, and I agree, the film would have done well to have more Malkovich in it. I can never have enough of him.

MA: It turns out that on the dark side of the moon is the famed autobot Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), and Optimus Prime must revive him so they can defeat the evil Decepticons once and for all. Of course, once Sentinel Prime is revived, there’s a twist in the story, which all leads to the ultimate battle between good transformers and bad transformers, with the humans in the middle. If I said this wasn’t predictable I’d be lying.

DK: Yeah… (cough…) I saw that coming too… yeah, I really did, sort of…. Nimoy had some cute lines as well, homage’s to his Spock character throughout.

MA: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON provides decent entertainment for 2/3 of its excruciatingly long running time of 157 minutes. Yes, this movie failed on the “butt comfort” meter. I was in pain by the end!

DK: Have to agree there. This movie was WAY too long. “Butt” seriously, what do you expect? They give someone like director Michael Bay a gabillion dollars and tell him to go ahead and do whatever the hell he wants. You get an exhausting two and a half hour movie with so much friggin’ violence, I actually checked the marquee to see if it was rated R. Nope, PG-13.

MA: You thought it was really violent? Either I’m getting desensitized, or you haven’t seen too many violent R-rated movies lately. I didn’t find it violent at all.

DK: Well, I was watching it with the idea that it’s kind of supposed to be aimed at kids. Wrong assumption I think, but in that light, it’s pretty intense. For an action film over all, not too bad.

MA: I have to give credit to Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger. They filled this movie with likeable characters who really held my interest for most of this movie, before it turns its attention to the Autobots and Decepticons. If this movie hadn’t been about Transformers, I would have loved it! But it could have been much worse. It could have been one of those colossal special effects bores, where there are no characters to speak of. This is not the case. The human element of this movie is very good.

DK: Yes! I really enjoyed the cast (most of them). I actually said at one point that this would have been a far better movie if they had fewer Transformers in it. At least, give them fewer lines. Actually, thinking about it now, the filmmakers seemed to do just that. Over such a long stretch of film, the Transformers themselves had very few speaking parts. In a way, I think Bay pulled a fast one on the producers and used their money to film quite a stunning alien invasion movie by writing the Autobots and Decepticons (man, those are the dumbest names—obviously I was never much a fan of the cartoon) just enough to get his paycheck.

MA: As I started to say before, I really liked the characters in this movie. Shia LaBeouf makes for a very likeable young hero as Sam. I think that of the three TRANSFORMER movies, this was probably his best performance.

DK: Agreed. LaBeouf was good. He plays his character straight, and his frustration with his job situation and girlfriend issues was well done.

MA: Speaking of best performances, John Turturo delivered the best performance in the movie as former agent Simmons, still interested in alien conspiracies, and as eccentric as ever. He was my favorite character by far, and although he is in the movie for a decent amount of time, I wish he had been in it more.

DK: Yeah, he was good, but I have to disagree. Along with Malkovich, my favorite was Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of Dutch. Tudyk (FIREFLY, DEATH AT A FUNERAL) has to be one of the funniest actors around. His fake German accent (and I think he tried to make it as bad as possible) and bizarrely out-of-place scene in a Russian bar was absolutely hilarious.

MA: Yeah, that was a good scene, but I still like Turturo better. His performance intrigued me more, while Tudyk just made me laugh.

Patrick Dempsey makes a good villain, as he plays Dylan, Carly’s boss, who at first just seems to be a weasel for putting the moves on another man’s girlfriend, but as the story unfolds, he’s up to things far more sinister.

Frances McDormand, as you would expect, is very good as Secretary of Defense Mearing. John Malkovich is hilarious as Bruce Brazos, Sam’s weird boss. While Malkovich is terrific, sadly the role is a thankless one and is nothing more than an extended cameo, since Bruce disappears for the entire second half of the film, which is too bad, because he’s a hoot.

Kevin Dunn and Julie White return as Sam’s parents, and I found them much less annoying in this movie than in the previous ones, mostly because their screen time has been greatly reduced. However, that being said, the brief scenes they share with Sam are excellent. Ken Jeong is also on hand as the outrageous Jerry Wang. Again, Jeong pretty much reprises his Mr. Chow shenanigans from THE HANGOVER movies, though here he’s giving us the PG-13 version.

VOICE: Did someone mention Chow?

(Mr. Chow is slowly crawling toward them, through the debris, when he loses his grip and slides through the window again, with a scream)

DK: Yea, the guy is a scene-stealer, especially in the bathroom scene (of course), but the actor seems grossly pigeon-holed into this kind of role. Like you say, though, every actor in this film, from the soldier grunts to Jeoong’s psycho-scientist, gave 110% to their roles. Everyone seemed to be having a BLAST making this movie.

(On cue, there is a huge explosion outside.)

DK: Even the sound effects seem real.

(Behind DK, blood spatters a glass window.)

MA (winces): Where was I?

DK: The cast.

MA: Yes, this is a veteran cast that does not disappoint. To Michael Bay and Ehren Kruger’s credit, they really stock this film with likeable characters. The problem is eventually they all take a back seat to the Transformers, which I find silly and boring.

DK: Me too. Visually, they were stunning to watch (because of the very cool CGI, NOT because of the 3D glasses).

MA: What would have made this movie succeed at a higher level, would have been including more of these characters at the end of this movie. During the final battle, Sam and Carly are pretty much the only main characters directly involved. Had John Turturo, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich also been there in on the action, we’d be talking about a much more entertaining movie.

DK: I have to disagree there. The soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Lester Speight, to name just two) were the main characters in the second half of the movie.

MA: I know. That’s why I didn’t like the second half as much, because I didn’t like these characters as much, nor did I consider them main characters.

DK: Well, the soldiers are involved at the end because, once the bad alien robots take over Chicago, it becomes a war movie. Sam and his always-stainless Stepford girlfriend were simply the visual constants running among the cast. For a war movie, it was pretty awesome to watch.

MA: Speaking of Stepford girlfriends, one cast member who doesn’t fare as well is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Sam’s beautiful girlfriend Carly. Yes, she’s absolutely stunning and beautiful, but she’s also strictly eye candy here. Not that her acting was necessarily bad, because it wasn’t. She’s fine. She’s just rather dull, and if not for her beauty, we wouldn’t be talking about her. Another gripe, though not her fault, is during the film’s climactic battle, she’s running around in heels!

DK: Listen, this movie is geared to guys of our generation who watched the original cartoon (me being the exception), but it’s also aimed at teenage boys. Whiteley’s Carly is not a real character in any sense of the word. In fact, if we want to add any depth to the plot—just for kicks, because Bay and company had no intention to have this be the case—Carly is not real, she’s a figment of Sam’s imagination, a wish fulfillment of a young boy in a man’s body. Why else could she have been in a war zone for so long, in a building which was crushed and destroyed, tossed out a window, nearly crushed by a hundred blocks of concrete and a bus, and yet not have one stain or blemish on her flimsy outfit? Because she’s not real. Did you ever wonder why no one ever spoke to her except Sam and the bad guy (and, being the Bad Guy, he uses Sam’s delusions against him!). Actually, that’s quite clever. I’m a clever guy, did you know that?

MA: Well, you heard it here first, folks, on Cinema Knife Fight, the truth behind Carly’s character! Pretty neat theory. I don’t buy it, but it’s a fun theory. I mean, I think John Malkovich’s character talks to her at one point, doesn’t he? As does John Turturro’s character, and Frances McDormand— okay, toss out that theory!

There’s also a veteran cast voicing the Transformers. Peter Cullen returns once more as the voice of Optimus Prime. Cullen has voiced Optimus in all three movies, and also did back in the animated cartoon series from the 1980s. Cullen is also the voice of Eeyore from the WINNIE THE POOH cartoons.

DK: Really? I like Eeyore. He’s funny.

(Eeyore goes sliding past them.)

EEYORE: These things always happen to me.

(EEYORE slides off the edge of the building.)

DK: Was that—?

MA: Nah!

Hugo Weaving voices the villainous Megatron— we’ll be seeing Weaving soon as The Red Skull in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and Sentinel Prime is voiced by Leonard Nimoy, which opens the door for a bunch of STAR TREK in-jokes in the movie, as Dan mentioned way up at the beginning of this review. At one point, Mr. Spock is seen on TV in a STAR TREK episode, and as Sentinel Prime, Nimoy gets to deliver one of his more famous lines from the STAR TREK movie series, from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982).

So, it’s quite the cast, and that took me quite a long time to get through. Nearly 157 minutes!

DK: I had to go pee at one point. That’s a long movie.

MA: I enjoyed the screenplay by Ehren Kruger. The first half of the movie was very witty and good for some laughs, and Kruger did a nice job creating a bunch of likeable characters.

Even director Michael Bay gets some high marks for this one. The movie looks great, the action scenes are decent and entertaining, and for the most part they don’t go on too long.

DK: Yes, visually this movie was amazing and the scenes were short enough to not drag on. It’s just that there were so many of them.

MA: I loved the sequence in the tilting office building. It was completely unbelievable, but it was still fun!

DK: Totally over the top, but a hoot to watch.

MA: I saw the movie in 3D, too, though I knew I was going to see TRANSFORMERS and not GREEN LANTERN, and once again—so much so, I’m growing tired of saying so—the 3D failed to impress. It added nothing to the movie. In fact, again, midway through, I forgot I was even watching it in 3D. So, if you have the choice, save your money and see it in 2D. I didn’t really have the choice, because the 2D version was playing only once and at an oddball time, compared to the two convenient showings of the 3D version.

DK: Definitely, yes. The 3D is pointless here. Actually, one of theaters in Worcester had more showings of the 2D version than the 3D, which tells me even the theaters are growing weary of this gimmick.

MA: So, what’s wrong with TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON? The biggest thing wrong with it is it’s about TRANSFORMERS. I mean, regardless of the humongous budget, the impressive special effects and the veteran cast, this is, after all, just a big-budget big-screen kids’ movie about giant robots. It’s difficult to take this film seriously, and I certainly can’t classify it as satisfying adult entertainment.

Sure, this movie is probably the darkest of the series, but how dark can a TRANSFORMERS movie be? You know Megatron is not about to mercilessly murder our young heroes. Sure, he’s going to try but—I mean, it’s Scooby Doo stuff! Megatron would have taken over the world, if not for “those meddling kids!”

Lastly, the relationship between Sam and Carly is a microcosm for what’s lacking in these TRANSFORMERS movies. Sam is desperately in love with Carly, so much so, we’re supposed to believe he’d go to the ends of the earth and risk his life to save hers. Really? Why does he love her so much? Is it because she’s absolutely beautiful? Is that why he loves her? Because she’s an incredibly hot babe? It must be, because they share no on-screen chemistry. Nothing we see them do convinces us they’re in love. Their relationship is eye candy without depth, and that is the central problem with this movie.

You want me to care deeply? To really care about what’s going on? Then give me real characters, real relationships that I can believe in, give me a reason why two young people love each other so much, and I’ll return to your movie series time and time again, because I’ll care about your characters and won’t sleep unless I know what’s happened to them. If this were the case, then we’d be talking about raising TRANSFORMERS up a few notches.

DK: Okay, you just spent WAY too much time talking about Sam and Carly. Their relationship is merely there to serve as wish fulfillment for teenage boys. Period. And to show the mental delusions of Sam, who has suffered such serious post-traumatic stress from saving the world, that he invented a new girlfriend.

MA: I disagree. Sam is driven in this movie by his “love” for Carly. I’m simply saying I didn’t find this “love” believable, and had I found it believable, I would have liked this movie more.

DK: No, the driving force behind the character Sam is to keep moving before the clowns in the walls can get him and eat him up.

MA: Oka-ay.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON could have been much worse. As it stands, it’s a fairly entertaining movie that’s got enjoyable characters, a humorous script, decent action sequences and eye-popping special effects, but at the end of the day, it’s all fluff, the stuff that 10-year-old boys dream about. I give it two and a half knives.

DK: One point to make, and worth seeing, if you take a 10-year-old boy to this movie, keep one thing in mind: it’s pretty violent. You see innocent people in the streets of Chicago blown to pieces over and over again. Two of the good Transformers die pretty horrible deaths, one execution-style. It might actually be too traumatic a movie for kids under 10. Seriously.

MA (laughing): Seriously? I mean, there’s no blood in these scenes at all. I wouldn’t classify them as violent. However, the film is rated PG-13, so parents probably shouldn’t be taking their 10 year-olds in the first place!

DK: Trying to take what little kids will think (which isn’t hard, being a dad myself) into account, I thought the Chicago invasion and liberation section of the movie (the last third) kicked major butt. And the Transformers spoke very little, which helped a lot. And it could have been a shorter film, I agree. But despite all the money, all the special effects and all the cool actors, well, I kind of wished we’d gone to see GREEN LANTERN instead, because I didn’t enjoy this one much.

MA: Actually, GREEN LANTERN was worse! The characters in this movie were much more entertaining than the characters in GREEN LANTERN.

DK: But dinner was good afterwards (at least until the police called because, unbeknownst to me, I knocked over my neighbor’s mailbox on the way to the movies—but that’s another story for another time). I give it two knives.

MA: Well, that about wraps things up here. Thanks again, Dan, for filling in for L.L. today.

DK: Happy to do it. It was fun. Speaking of fun, now I can ride the slide.

MA: Excuse me?

(DK lets go of his chair and slides down the tilted building towards the edge.)

MA: No, Dan, wait!

DK: Geronimo!!! (DK slides off the edge of the building.)

MA: That’s not good.

(Cell phone rings. MA answers it.)

MA: Hey, L.L.! Yeah, we’re just finishing up now. Dan? Oh, he’s—he’s not here right now. He’s—

well, how do I put this?

(Suddenly DK flies into view outside window and gives MA a thumbs-up while in midair.)

DK: Trampoline! I’m okay! (DK falls out of sight once again.)

MA: He just had so much fun he had to go off and jump around some. You know Dan. Oh yeah, I’m sure he’ll be back to do this again sometime. (DK flies by again, dancing with Eeyore.) I hope.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and Daniel G. Keohane

Michael Arruda  gives TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON –  2 and a half knives!

Dan Keohane gives TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – 2  knives!

RED … It’s Old People Blowing S#!% Up!

Posted in 2010, Action Movies, Campy Movies, Comic Book Movies, John Harvey Reviews, Spy Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by knifefighter

When it comes to a film like RED, you have to walk into the theater with your tongue pre-inserted in cheek. The previews, trailers and all the promotion for this movie spells out that you’re going to see —a gimmick comedy wrapped in the trappings of an action/adventure flick. Despite the lineup of heavy hitters in the cast, we’re not looking for a lot of depth here.

The storyline (based on a Warren Ellis comic for DC) goes something like this. Retired old-school CIA uber-spy, Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), slowly withers on the vine now that he’s no longer in the field. He lives a structured, dull life in some nameless suburb where the high point of his day is flirting with the government drone/employee, Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who helps him with his pension payments. Suddenly, a team of CIA assassins shows up and fires several million rounds of ammunition into his house. But it’s okay, Frank puts them all down like misbehaving children and then drives to Kansas City to gently kidnap Sarah. Why? He concludes that she’s a target as well, just because he cares for her. Right. This is the point where you realize that David Mamet did not write the script, and you need to suspend your disbelief to an altitude so high that it might collide with on orbiting satellite. If you can do that, you’ll have fun with this film. If not, you’re in for a hair under two hours of being very annoyed.

Following the kidnapping, Frank reunites himself with a collection of geriatric allies, cohorts and enemies to figure out why he’s a target. This includes kindly (but deadly) Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman); lunatic Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich … who steals nearly every scene he’s in); and the prudish (but also deadly) Victoria (Helen Mirren). We also get Russian ambassador Ivan Simanov (Brian Cox) and the guardian of the most-secret-of-secret CIA records (Ernest Borgnine, clocking in at 93 years-old).

Pitted against them is CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) who fills the role of young, talented, but woefully-misguided whipper-snapper. RED also provides us with Richard Dreyfuss as the strutting, over-the-top bad guy.

Crammed tightly into this precariously-constructed plot are countless one-liners, sight gags, chase scenes, fight scenes and love scenes. All of which revolves around the films central conceit: we’re old but we kick ass.

Honestly, RED is as easily consumed as buttered, salted popcorn, but you never get the impression that director Robert Schwentke is shooting for more than that. So, it works. Though some of the gags fall flat, many of them don’t. Mary-Louise Parker’s understated sense of comedy and timing works very nicely against Willis’ intentionally heavy-handed approach to his tough-guy personna. And John Malkovich … —let me put it this way—if someone ever films a geriatric version of the A-Team, then Malkovich will make the perfect “Howling Mad” Murdock. As a cherry-on-top sight gag, RED also gives you Helen Mirren firing a 50-caliber machine gun in a slinky evening gown.

Speaking of Helen Mirren, while the love interest between Frank and Sarah is supposed to get the spotlight, it’s really the love story between Victoria and Ivan that rings true. Mirren and Cox give us some of the most poignant and genuine scenes in the movie, which makes for a nice break, considering the rest of the film is not especially deep.

If you’re looking for something that’s both fun and disposable, then RED is the perfect movie for you. This is a perfect example of an action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and consistently brings the oddball humor.

Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Jon and Erich Hoeber
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss.
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 1hr 51min

© Copyright 2010 by John D. Harvey

– END –

JONAH HEX!

Posted in 2010, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Westerns with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  JONAH HEX
BY MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES

(THE SCENE: the interior of a saloon in the old west. MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the swinging doors and walks toward the back of the room, where L.L. SOARES is playing cards with a group of dangerous-looking desperadoes)

MA (grits his teeth): The clock is ticking, amigo.

LS (puffs on a cigar): Yeah?  What of it?  Don’t you see I’m involved in some serious business here.

MA (spits onto ground):  The movie isn’t going to review itself.

(A COWBOY with a scar across his face stares into LS’s eyes.)

COWBOY (swallows saliva): You got any threes?

LS (takes cigar out of his mouth): GO FISH! You got any eights?

COWBOY (growls, then starts crying): Yes, I do.

LS (dancing around): I WIN, I WIN. OH BOY, OH BOY!

(The other card players groan and growl in defeat. Then they get up and shuffle away)

LS: Like taking candy from babies.

MA (sits down at the table):  Ready now to review JONAH HEX?

LS: Just one more thing. (raises arm and shouts) Barkeep, a bottle of your finest whiskey for me and my compadre here.

MA:  Much obliged, pardner.

LS:  JONAH HEX is the latest comic book to be turned into a motion picture. This time around, it’s a weird western character from DC comics who came into prominence in the 1970s. Since then, he’s appeared in various series and miniseries, including a few written by horror writer Joe R. Lansdale. So you can see the character has some horror credentials, too.

Hex has the ability to temporarily raise the dead by touching them. But, the longer he revives them, the more they start to burn up. So he only has limited time to get the information he needs out of them.

He also seems to be a kind of immortal. Being that he’s died a few times, but continues to come back. This has something to do with the magic of the Crow Indians, who have a close connection to Hex (his wife was a member of their tribe).

MA:  “Kind of immortal” is the operative phrase here, because he’s says in the movie that he’s not immortal, meaning that at some point or by some way he can die, yet you’re right, he has died a few times and come back. So, maybe he’s like a cat with nine lives, or maybe his mortal weakness hasn’t been discovered yet.

LS:  As we begin, Jonah Hex is a soldier in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When some of his fellow soldiers, including his best friend, Jeb Turnbull, and Jeb’s father Quentin (John Malkovich), a general who gives the orders, decide to start killing innocent women and children as part of their tactics, Hex has a problem with that and shoots and kills Jeb.

Quentin decides to avenge his son’s death by taking away Hex’s family in retaliation, burning Hex’s wife and young son alive, and branding Hex’s face with a Q, so he will always remember the man who “took away everything he ever loved.” It’s not like Hex was going to forget that anytime soon!

Tied to a cross and left for dead, Hex is revived by the Crow tribe in a strange ceremony. He comes back brimming with a desire for revenge. When he hears that Turnbull has died in a hotel fire, Hex channels his fury into being a notorious bounty hunter instead, who— when it comes to bringing them in “dead or alive”— rarely opts for “alive.”

But Turnbull isn’t dead after all. In fact, he’s the leader of a gang of thieves and cutthroats who have been pillaging banks and trains, in an effort to gather together the pieces of a kind of “weapon of mass destruction” designed by cotton gin inventor Eli Whitney (I bet you never learned THAT in history class). The weapon, which resembles a gigantic Gatling gun that shoots cannonballs, is Turnbull’s tool to finally defeat the Union Army and President Grant (Aidan Quinn). Once assembled, Turnbull plans to use this weapon to assault the nation’s capital during Fourth of July celebrations.

MA:  This super weapon also shoots glowing orange balls, which, and correct me if I’m wrong, aren’t explained all that well in the movie. What are they?   Are they supposed to be nuclear or something?

LS: Well, the glowing orange balls are shot out after the cannonballs, and are the “detonators.” But you’re right, this is never really explained to anyone’s satisfaction, and we have no idea where these orange balls came from.

Once Hex finds out that Turnbull is alive, however, he finds a renewed purpose in life, and the U.S. government capitalizes on this by recruiting Hex to stop the insane Confederate general. Hex is happy to oblige in going after the man who killed his wife and son.

And that’s the story in a nutshell.

(A mysterious figure enters the saloon and approaches their table)

LS (looks up at the shadowy figure): Can I help you?

(Figure tosses coat aside, showing he is really DEPUTY DOG)

DEPUTY DOG: I heard you were back in town, Cinema Knife Fighters.

LS: Got that right.

MA:  Keep your shirt on, deputy. We’re just two honest folk doing a job here, nothing more. We don’t want no trouble, do we now?

LS (chews cigar):  Nothing we can’t finish, anyway.

DEPUTY DOG: No?  Well, I’ve got news for you. I’ve come to clean up this place.

(LS puts his hand on his holster)

(DEPUTY DOG pulls out a wash cloth and starts wiping down the table)

DEPUTY DOG: Is that clean enough for you?

MA: Actually, you missed a spot, but we won’t hold that against you.

DEPUTY DOG: Gee, thanks!  If there’s anything else I can do for you gentlemen, just let me know.

LS:  You can leave us alone so we can get on with our review.

DEPUTY DOG:  Yes, yes, of course. (He goes over to the other tables)

LS: Where was I? Oh yeah, Josh Brolin is actually pretty good as the disfigured, amoral lawman Hex, who will stop at nothing to get the vengeance he craves. I’ve always liked Brolin and I think he’s a good leading man. Malkovich does a credible job as Turnbull. And Megan Fox is even along for the ride as Lilah (at one point, she says her full name is Tallulah – wouldn’t that make her nickname Lulah?), a prostitute who loves Hex and acts as kind of a sidekick in a few scenes. Michael Fassbender also adds some oomph to the movie as Turnbull’s right hand man, Burke, who is adept at hand-to-hand combat, and killing, and who would love to add a notch on his belt for killing Hex.

MA:  I liked Brolin a lot too as Jonah Hex, though truth be told, this really isn’t a good movie for any of these actors. While Brolin is fine, his character remains incredibly superficial throughout this movie. Now, this isn’t Brolin’s fault. He’s fine. The fault is with the writing. The screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor is more interested in action sequences than characters.

Megan Fox is as beautiful as always, but her character is so very limited, I can’t even tell you whether I felt she gave a good performance or not. She did so very little, it’s hard to judge. She should have had many more scenes with Jonah Hex.

I was most disappointed with John Malkovich as the villain Quentin Turnbull. I’m not sure if he just mailed it in, or again, if it’s the writing, or both. But here’s a guy who should have been really nasty and hated, not some generic cardboard cutout bad guy.

LS:  Yeah, after he kills Hex’s family, you’d think Turnbull would be a lot more despicable. But he’s actually kind of bland. Which is not what you expect from a Malkovich performance.

While I liked JONAH HEX and thought the cast was pretty good, I also found the movie kind of skeletal.

MA:  VERY skeletal.

(A COWBOY SKELETON pops up behind them.)

COWBOY SKELETON:  That’s what I’m talking about!

LS:  At 81 minutes, it moves at a nice pace and takes you from Point A to Point B quickly, but there’s not a long of meat on its bones.

COWBOY SKELETON:  There’s nothing wrong with that.

LS:  Get out here, you numskull!

(COWBOY SKELETON storms off towards bar.)

LS:  No one here is given much to work with, not even Brolin, who chews the scenery when he can. What this means is that a movie that could have been much deeper and more resonant has been reduced to cinema fast food that will leave you hungry afterwards. The dialogue is another weak spot, peppered as it is with lots of sly one-liners from everyone involved, which adds to the light atmosphere.

MA:  And the one-liners aren’t even that good. The best ones were all in the trailers.

LS:  I actually hate it when one-liners stand in for real dialogue. For a movie about family-killing and vengeance, JONAH HEX doesn’t seem particularly intense. And it seems to be a bit too “comic booky” for its own good. Of course, by “comic booky” I mean what people who don’t read comics think they should look and sound like, not taking into account the heights of storytelling the medium has actually been capable of.

JONAH HEX almost seems to be trying to be like an old west spin on the IRON MAN formula with mostly non-stop action and clever little bon mots.

Real people don’t act this way. Real people don’t turn everything into a witicism. Real people suffer. And while there’s plenty of suffering to go around in this movie, we don’t exactly FEEL any of it. Which is too bad. Because had they gone a darker and slightly weirder route  – like the work people like Lansdale have done with the character – this could have been a satisfying foray into old west justice.

As it is, JONAH HEX is a throwaway film about a minor DC Comics character who never really got his due. This movie could have redeemed Hex and given him the showcase he deserved. Instead it just turns him into an action hero in a Stetson.

MA:  This film could have been much more intense, and it would have been better for it.

It started off that way. I thought the initial sequence where Quentin kills Hex’s family in front of him was a rather powerful and intense way to start the movie, and I thought it set the stage nicely for the whole revenge plot. I understood completely why Jonah would be driven to go after Quentin. But other than this scene, that was it for intensity.

You and I often go back and forth about PG-13 vs. R-rated horror movies, and I often argue that a PG-13 horror movie can be just as scary as an R-rated horror movie. Here, though, I’d make the argument that JONAH HEX would have been a better movie had it been R-rated. The revenge theme is dark and very adult, and to do it justice, I think you need to visit some dark places. These places were not visited in JONAH HEX.

I started off really liking this movie. I liked Brolin as Hex, and I liked the comic book look and feel of this movie, but as it went along, and as it became apparent that, as you said, there wasn’t much meat to the bones, I grew tired and disappointed that better things weren’t happening.

I thought the screenplay was strictly average, and definitely much more interested in things exploding  than character development. I have nothing against action scenes, but in a movie where the characters aren’t giving you much in terms of reasons to feel for them, these scenes grow old quickly. And it’ s not even like these action scenes were all that great. They’re not.

Director Jimmy Hayward gave the film a nice look, and unlike you, I liked the comic book look and feel of this film. And there actually were some cool scenes in this one.

I loved the Snake Man scene, for instance. The Snake Man himself was scary, and it’s disappointing that he only appeared in that one scene.

LS: In a better movie, the Snake Man would have become Hex’s sidekick and would have been developed as a character. Here, the character is a throw-away. Which pretty much describes the entire movie. The whole thing is very disposable, which is disappointing. Because you know it could have been a much better movie.

MA: The scene where Hex announces that they’ll need more coffins is a direct homage to Clint Eastwood in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964).

Now, I love the old “spaghetti westerns” with Clint Eastwood. Even though those movies were violent for their time, there was much more to them than just scenes of violence.  In terms of style, director Sergio Leone imbued those movies with so much style you can’t even compare them to something like JONAH HEX. Those Eastwood movies blow HEX out of the water.

Call me old school, but I prefer my movies to have some decent character development and dialogue, and not be one action scene after another. To me, that’s a video game.

LS: Exactly.

MA: But that’s not to say I didn’t like JONAH HEX, because I actually did. A little bit, anyway. See, I enjoy westerns a lot, and for a while anyway, this one was moderately entertaining, but ultimately, offered little that was new. I’ve seen these revenge stories played out countless times before in films much better than JONAH HEX.

I did like Hex’s power to talk with the dead, and I thought the scenes where he does talk to the dead were the best in the movie. Here was something that you don’t see in westerns every day.

LS: Yeah, the resurrection scenes are definitely some of the better ones here. I wish they’d delved more into that ability of Hex’s.

(A horse dressed like a man comes over to their table, followed by a short burro in a sombrero)

LS: If it isn’t the sheriff in these parts. Quick Draw McGraw!

BURRO: And don’t’ forget me, Baba Louie!

MA:  Can’t I?

QUICK DRAW: This here saloon isn’t big enough for all of us, Knife Fighters.

LS: I know that.

BABA LOUIE:  You’re right about that, Quick Draw.

LS (puts his hand on his holster again and grits his teeth): So what do you two plan to do about it?

QUICK DRAW: Well, there’s another saloon down the street. Me and Louie will probably go there instead.

LS: Good thinking, for a horse.

(MA throws him a lump of sugar).

QUICK DRAW: Gee, thanks!

BABA LOUIE: We’ll go this time, but you two better watch your backs. I hear EL KABONG has been cited in these parts.

QUICK DRAW: Let’s go, Baba Louie. I’m dying for a beer. I think I’ve got the shakes.

LS: JONAH HEX is fine as a popcorn movie, and you won’t be bored by it. But since it’s so shallow and one-dimensional, I saw it as a missed opportunity to be a much better movie. The seeds are there. They’re just never given a chance to sprout.

I give JONAH HEX two knives. Brolin is suitably angry and intense, but the movie doesn’t give him enough to rail against. Malkovich is mostly wasted. And while Megan Fox is known more as being eye candy than for her acting (which isn’t going to change anytime soon), she’s not in this movie enough (and we don’t get to see enough of her, if you get my drift).

Everyone seems to be in a rush, and we’re left with an appetizer instead of a meal. Which is too bad, because I’m sure everyone involved could have given us much more.

I did enjoy the music the band Mastodon contributed to the soundtrack. They’re one of my favorite metal bands.

MA:  I think I liked it just a tad bit more than you, which isn’t saying a whole lot. I found JONAH HEX to be average, average, and did I say?  Average?

LS: Not really surprising, when you consider that director Jimmy Hayward’s only previous directing credit is 2008’s HORTON HEARS A WHO! Not exactly a logical choice for a good, gritty western.

MA: Yet, I’m still going to recommend it because I liked the main character a lot, Jonah Hex, a bounty hunter who can talk to the dead, and I liked Josh Brolin in the lead. I thought the film had a good look to it, and in spite of shallow characterization and action sequences that won’t blow you out of the water, there was just enough meat on those old bones for me to be mildly entertained. You called it a popcorn movie, and I agree, but I like popcorn. It’s not a meal, but it is a satisfying snack.

I give JONAH HEX two and a half knives.

(COWBOY SKELETON returns to their table with a group of other skeletons.)

COWBOY SKELETON:  We have a bone to pick with you.

LS:  Yeah?  What’s that?

COWBOY SKELETON:  Step outside.

(CUT To line of SKELETONS in dusty street outside saloon, facing LS and MA, all of them ready for a gunfight.)

COWBOY SKELETON:  Draw!

(They all whip out pencils and paper and begin to sketch.)

MA (shows LS his drawing of skeleton):  What do you think?

LS:  Not bad. Here’s mine. (Shows MA sketch of 2 skeletons in a suggestive pose.)

MA:  What the hell is that?

LS:  They’re playing “horsey.”

MA:  I think it’s time to end this column. We’ll see you next time folks, with a review of another new movie.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

RATINGS

Michael Arruda gives JONAH HEX – 2 and a half knives

L.L. Soares gives JONAH HEX – 2 knives