An entertainment blog that pops culture right in the kisser.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

film | Chortle kombat

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE — and holy crap, there is a solid metric ton of ridiculousness in this movie — turns out to be its title. An invite-only fighting tournament summons the best brawlers from all over the world — among them, our heroines: scantily-clad babes with what my uncle would refer to as "bodacious ta-tas" — to a top-secret island compound, and you might think, based on the Dead or Alive part, that the losers and winners would very appropriately be determined by, y'know, who's dead and who's alive at the end of each round. But no, this Kombat ain't Mortal: Victory goes to the dude or lady who merely knocks out his or her opponent first. A pox on that pesky PG-13 rating! Actually, make that a double-pox, as DOA skimps equally on both the gratuitous violence and the gratuitous nudity that usually come attached to kind of Z-grade exploitation cheeseball, which means that broken limbs and inventive deaths are supplanted by the fakey wire-fu acrobatics of the Charlie's Angels films, and any and all bodacious ta-tas are kept snugly in form-fitting attire; it's like one of Andy Sidaris' tits-and-bandoliers action flicks from late-night Skinemax in the mid-1990s got edited for prime-time television.

At least two of the foxy fisticuffettes — My Name Is Earl's Jaime Pressly, the "superstar wrestler," and Aussie pop star Holly Valance, the "assassin and master thief" — seem fully aware that they're wading through campy garbage, but director Cory Yuen (The Transporter) forgot to prod Sin City's wooden Devon Aoki, the "shinobi ninja princess" (that translates as "ninja ninja princess"), into tossing a wink or nine into such goofy lines as "He says Leon killed Hayate above the Buddha head" and "I am not a cricket in a box!" Eric Roberts is cast the villain, of course, a psycho moneybags who secretly injects the gals with nanobots that upload their fierce fight moves directly to his designer Wayfarers. I guess it doesn't need to be explicitly said that DOA is based on a popular video game, and, well, you try to go easy on a brainless jigglefest that's this brazen about catering to preteen boys and their joysticks. C-

Sunday, October 07, 2007

film | Braaaaaindead

I'm not quite sure what the subtitle of RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, this season's gore-spattered zombie smackdown, refers to. The human good guys don't, of course, end up vanquishing all of their undead foes; the undead foes don't, of course, end up devouring all of the human good guys; and — gargantuan of course en route — the movie's finale alludes to a Resident Evil 4, so you know that the franchise ain't goin' extinct either. And that's precisely the problem: This second sequel to 2002's Resident Evil — rote but surprisingly watchable — feels less like its own chapter than an extended previously-on-Resident-Evil recap that exists to merely set the stage for future episodes. Blame the script's rampant lack of imagination, which dooms too much of Extinction to repeat the same ass-kickery on display in better horror shows ... including, yes, Resident Evil. You dug the scenes in RE 1 where Alice (Milla Jovovich), a babelicious security officer who takes on the abominable grotesqueries created by a virus manufactured in the secret underground labs of the über-shady Umbrella Corporation, tussled with monster Dobermans, ravenous reanimated corpses, and tentacled mutant behemoths? Great! Because here they are again. On repeat. For 95 minutes.

So while a good deal of Resident Evil: Extinction has the mushy palate of microwaved leftovers, it still boasts one or two skillfully engaging action sequences. And hey, that's one or two skillfully engaging action sequences more than 2004's execrable Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a film that roused me only during the moment where Jovovich piloted her motorcycle through a stained-glass window, and that's mostly because I momentarily thought the theater projectionist had swapped out a reel of the film for The Great Muppet Caper. But put the entertaining bits aside — the nifty siege by zombie crows that skillfully spins what Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds woulda been like directed by George Romero on speed, a carnage-happy climax that kills off most of the irritating cast members — and you’re left with a greatest-hits montage of stock genre components: the sidekick (RE 2's Mike Epps) who gets bitten and keeps his transformation to slobbering monstrosity a secret as long as possible; the phony-baloney scares (phew! It was only a can of nails! Or a lamp!); the pompous-ass British scientist (RE 2's Iain Glen) whose chin-strokingly brilliant scheme to rehabilitate the Living Dead naturally doesn't turn out too well for him. In a year that's seen both wittier — Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse lark — and smarter — 28 Weeks Later, with its dire political subtext — riffs on the old zombie formula, this Resident Evil just doesn't cut the gristle. C-

Friday, September 28, 2007

film | The disillusionist

In an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of the snarky robot commentators chides a film's horrendously nebbish leading man like so: "This isn't our star, is it? I will not accept this as our star! Can I see your supervisor, movie? This will not stand!" I thought the same thing during the opening moments of the botched techno-thriller NEXT, which introduce us to a low-rent Las Vegas magician played by a cringingly gallant Nicolas Cage under what might be the silliest receding mane of fake hair ever put on celluloid. As he dodges an array of bullets, explosions and bad-guy punches — he's a precognitive who can peek a whole two minutes into the future, because, you know, three minutes would really push that believability into the danger zone — you might wonder if you're watching Young Martin Van Buren: Action Hero or They Call Me MISTER Tesh!, Cage's bizzare New Age-y coif is so ridiculously distracting. And why wouldn't it be? Very loosely based on a 1980 book (The Golden Man) by famed sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, Next sports a dismally direct-to-DVD plot involving the government's attempts to nab Cage and use his psychic powers to thwart an impending terrorist attack, and if only I could also see two minutes into the future, I'd have tossed a pillow on top of my keyboard for when I dozed off writing that story synopsis. Ouch.

When the feds finally capture Cage, they strap him to a chair, attach a pair of the Ludovico speculums from A Clockwork Orange to his eyelids, and force him to watch the evening news. I think they're hoping for the day's headlines to trigger Cage into foretelling what city the nondescript Eurotrash villains — they're Russian, though I'm pretty sure they're speaking French — intend to blow up, but this is a woefully sketchy idea, not in the least because a warning window of two minutes ain't terribly reassuring when you're talking about a nuclear siege on unspecified American soil. Anyway, Cage seems less concerned with matters of national security than protecting the damsel-in-distress school teacher (The Illusionist's Jessica Biel) Next laughably asks us to accept as his tagalong romantic interest. Her character makes zero sense, as she's required to stick with — and sleep with! Ick! — the increasingly erratic Cage well after a reasonable gal would get skeeved out and boogie, but then neither does much of the rest of the movie, especially the fantastic Julianne Moore lending her talent to the thankless role of the FBI agent on Cage's case. (Seriously, Julianne: I mean, it's great to see you and all, but what the hell are you doing here?) However, just in case you're wondering, both Biel and Moore's locks look positively luscious, so that's one tic for the plus column right there. D

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

film | Poor bloodsport

So this might be, like, the most obvious review opener ever, but THE CONDEMNED, a moronic thriller starring and produced by the action figures of World Wrestling Entertainment, ain't gonna win this year's Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. As a Special Ops spook who's plucked from a corrupt Central American prison to compete in a grisly Internet showdown against other unscrupulously-assembled death-rowers from across the globe, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin — he of the sitout three-quarter facelock jawbreaker, the aesthetically bizarre hulking-frame/skeletal-face combo, and the Wal-Mart poster bin — gets bupkis in the way of crackling dialogue. You'd think screenwriters Scott Wiper (who also directed) and Rob Hedden would've tossed at least a couple of decent kiss-off one-liners his way, but he mostly just growls variations on the same old boring-ass fight taunt:

  • "Let's go!"
  • "Let's go, sweetheart!"
  • "Let's dance, asshole!"

And if you think I'm a bit outta line whining about the sophistication of the writing in a WWE flick, well, I'm not, cuz The Condemned takes itself seriously enough to betray its mindless-action-junk trappings and instead grandstand as a sanctimonious indictment of both violence-as-sport purveyors and hungry-for-blood spectators. Uh, hello, this movie was: A) bankrolled by an organization that makes scads of money from folks who watch with rabid enthusiasm as the overzealous man-ogres on their payroll pound each other in the face with folding chairs; and B) released by Lionsgate, the studio that plops one of those skanky Saw cesspools into theaters every Halloween. The Condemned, then, is almost amusing in its finger-wagging foolishness. Almost. "I want a fucking Arab! A child-killing, Koran-ranting, suicide-bombing Arab!" screams the sleazeball snuff producer (Robert Mammone), a real equal-opportunity offender, of the his program’s racial diversification; later, the worm predictably turns for a few of his tech lackeys who are shocked — shocked — when a female "contestant" is brutally dispatched, like, live on the Intarweb and everything! (Er, wasn't this in the job description?) As the feds frantically race to find this extremely illegal competition’s secret island location — why they don't think to simply ask the Diane Sawyer-esque journalist who was there shooting a segment for her TV show is beyond me — you'll feel increasingly like you just survived a sweltering jungle deathmatch yourself: i.e., in need of a very long, very hot shower. D

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

film | Dim sum

If nothing else, THE NUMBER 23 gave me a brand-spankin'-new entry on my List of Stuff I Never Ever Want to See in a Movie Again: Jim Carrey in the throes of kinky sexual make-believe. ("Pretend that you have a knife. Cut my shirt. Cut me! Cut me!") This ridiculous mystery-thriller from notoriously spotty director Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth [good], The Phantom of the Opera [not]) miscasts the erstwhile Pet Detective in a wonky dual role: a mild-mannered dog catcher who receives a mysterious secondhand paperback as a gag birthday gift from his wife (Virginia Madsen), and — as he reads along and visualizes the story — the book's main character, a Goth-noir private eye entangled in a seedy web of lust, murder, suicide, and a very peculiar obsession with the titular digits. As Literal Carrey allows himself to get sucked hard into Literary Carrey's paranoid fantasia, he starts to sputter kooky declarations like "I was born at 11:12 p.m.! 11 plus 12? 23!" and "Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City bombing both happened on April 19th! 4 plus 19 is 23!" Yeah. Okay. And? The film is never clear about what all these dire mathematics mean, other than that you can probably finagle a 23 from just about any given numerical sequence depending on your strategic placement of addition, multiplication and subtraction functions. That's less a terrifying movie scenario than, y'know, a rudimentary brain-teaser.

Actually, "rudimentary brain-teaser" is a good way to encapsulate The Number 23. The script, by first-timer Fernley Phillips, wants to flaunt twisted smarts in its portrayal of a fragile psyche collapsing in on itself, but it's mostly a load of stylized conspiratorial hooey that maybe never seems quite as awful as it truly is because of distractingly impressive technical credits. (Seriously, the cinematography by Requiem for a Dream's Matthew Libatique and the production design by Down With Love's Andrew Laws are worth checking out for at least 23 minutes.) Carrey's unflappably game, but he's not an actor who can pull off the Raymond Chandler-esque narration or the tough-guy body tattoos; in fact, the movie's increasingly rampant nuttiness (sample straight-faced dialogue: "It's all over, Topsy Kretts!") amplifies Carrey's ingrained wacky persona to the degree that he begins to seem smarmy and disingenuous — like he's mere moments away from talking with his ass or busting out a "Somebody stop me!" — as Number enters its gloomy homestretch. And though Madsen is a warm and lovely presence in any film, her character does things that make no sense ("I took the skeleton, but I didn't write the book!"), and I'm a little concerned that her acclaimed comeback in 2004's Sideways has yielded the same wifely duties in this, The Astronaut Farmer and last year's Firewall. She deserves better parts, and there were only 22 letters in that concluding observation. Ha. Suck it, 23. C-

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

film | Dud of winter

In the frigid thriller WIND CHILL, two college kids driving home for the holidays take an ill-advised shortcut on a remote backroad, wind up stuck in a snowbank as night falls and temperatures plummet, and then realize they're not alone out there — you know, in the bad way. It's a boilerplate horror clothesline, but whatever Wind Chill lacks in novelty is initially offset by its promising pedigree: George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh produce, The Devil Wears Prada's fabulous Emily Blunt stars, and for the better part of a half-hour, she and Ashton Holmes (A History of Violence), as the unlucky (and unnamed — they're listed on the credits as "Girl" and "Guy") travelers, are real and relatable enough to juice a weary movie scenario with engrossing, what-could-possibly-go-wrong-next? dread. Unfortunately, what does go wrong next is the film, which turns into a supremely half-assed ghost story — our photogenic leads are spooked by the spirits of a murderous state trooper (The Opposite of Sex's Martin Donovan) and his frostbitten victims — when the implications that Holmes might have stalker-ish designs on Blunt were already goosebumping just fine, thanks. From here, director Gregory Jacobs (2004's Criminal) focuses on the ho-hum supernatural jolts — a disfigured phantom vomits a snake, a car radio plays old Christmas jingles as sinister musical portents — but they're so murky and nonsensical that a tertiary stock character, the helpful tow truck driver, is needed to drop into the movie's climax merely to provide a psuedo-explanation. It has something to do with Nietzsche's theory of Eternal Recurrence, which I think is the idea that watching a puzzling shocker like Wind Chill can seem like a infinite loop of the same doofy scare. C-

Thursday, August 30, 2007

film | The mildest game ever played

BALLS OF FURY would be a terrific wink-nudge title for a porno James Bond adventure — picture this: Goldfingerer and his henchman Handjob steal the royal orbs from Suckingham Palace, and it's up to Agent 0069 and the spicy seductress Queef Latina to retrieve them — but instead it's a terrifically eye-rolling wink-nudge title for the latest silly sports spoof to emerge from the musty basement locker room of Hollywood's discount comedy warehouse. Not that the name ain't apropos. I mean, the movie's about a vicious underground table tennis tournament held at the secret Central American jungle compound of a bloodthirsty arms dealer, so it's actually a pretty good fit. But if you're already groaning at the sight of the poster or TV ads, you're reacting on the right track, as Balls of Fury isn't anywhere near as funny as, say, 2004's shockingly subversive Dodgeball. But it's also not so dreadfully unfunny that I'd be averse to paying it a few sundry compliments. And by that, I mean, y'know, it made me laugh every once in a while. Oh, and it sets the bar admittedly high for computer-generated Ping-Pong ball effects. And Christopher Walken performs a karaoke version of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" during the closing credits, which is something you don't see everyday, so there's that.

Walken — who must be a big fan of Ping-Pong and/or director/co-writer Ben Garant's Reno 911!, for I am otherwise loath to explain his unlikely presence in this unabashed nonsense — plays the eccentric crime boss, absurdly decked out in wig and wardrobe refurbished from the Bram Stoker's Dracula lot sale. An actor whose distinctive deadpan-staccato line delivery seems borne of impromptu farce, he's a boon to the comic la-la-landscape of Thomas Lennon — who co-stars as a burly German pro-Ponger — and Garant's script. (As two of Reno's aloof police officers, both Lennon and Garant are aces of improvised lunacy themselves.) A droll, what-the-hell mischievousness follows Walken around, but the rest of the movie relies too heavily on blind-Asians-are-hilarious gags, as our schlubby hero (Tony-winner Dan Fogler, gamely aping the entire oeuvre of Jack Black), a former table-tennis wunderkind, hops back on the paddle under the Zen tutelage of a sight-impaired master-trainer (James Hong) in hopes of vanquishing Walken for good. There are a few inspired Naked Gun-style visual gags, and a lots of doofy fortune-cookie dialogue ("Better to die like a tiger than live like a pussy"), but it's mostly lowest-common-denominator business as usual: When in doubt, farts, pratfalls and blows to the scrotum are always grand. Well, actually, they're not. Which is kinda the problem. C+

popScorn | I suffer so you don't have to

I'm always up for a bad-movie night, as my Netflix friends who shake their heads at my overstuffed-with-surefire-crud queue can attest. I've willingly endured some incredibly painful, er, "movies" — Killer Drag Queens on Dope, Rock & Roll Frankenstein, Entrails of a Virgin, Revenge of the Living Dead Girls, and Tales from the Crapper immediately come to mind — thanks to Netflix's intoxicating selection of dreck, and yet I sometimes can't help myself. Today, for example, I read Netflix user Flashbulb's review of a 1989 Japanese horror flick called Tetsuo: The Iron Man:

Boy is turning into a central air conditioning unit. Girl is turning into a Toyota transaxle. Boy meeets girl. Girl grows 8 foot long phallus made of 1 inch corrogated steel conduit. Boy feels masculinity is threatened and grows 3 foot diamond tip rotorooter out of his groin. It is shorter but much thicker, and girth is what counts. Every filmaker in Japan is influenced for the next 2 generations. AMEN.

Wow. Obviously, I couldn't add it to the queue quickly enough.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

film | Surf bored

You've seen those knock-off superhero action figures dangling on the pegs at the Dollar Tree: Arachnid City Defender instead of Spider-Man, Swarthy Green Behemoth as the Incredible Hulk, Guy-Dude in place of He-Man. (Sidenote: I would totally buy a Guy-Dude action figure. Seriously.) Well, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is a knock-off superhero action movie: At a glance from a distance, it might resemble the real deal, but when you get close enough to examine the packaging and the paint detail and the overall craftsmanship, you'll probably realize that nearly everything about it is nine kinds of shoddy. It's right around here where the dutiful reader would remind me that 2005's original Fantastic Four smacked of Dollar Tree-ness itself, though I'd argue that, at the very least, it was comparable to the high-roller shelves at Five Below, where items cost a non-budget-threatening $5.

FF 1's silly pandering to 10-year-old boys ran neck-and-neck with a pleasant, undemanding, junky-fun (or funny-junk?) appeal, kind of the same reaction this child of the '80s has to reruns of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. In Rise of the Silver Surfer, though, the race is over, and the brazen juvenility not only leaves the entertainment value eating its dust, but it doubles back to soak any straggling charm in a mighty torrent of urine — and it had asparagus and Bac-Os for dinner, folks. So soon after the crummy Spider-Man 3, do we really need to see another superhero busting a move on the dance floor? Hell no, but here's the elastic Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) winding his ropy limbs around a mob of delighted female admirers at a disco club regardless. It's his bachelor party on the eve of his nuptials to the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba) —  her powers: self-explanatory — but the celebration is cut short after what appears to be a chrome-plated Kelly Slater from outer space zips into our atmosphere and incites some alarming apocalyptic phenomena in Egypt, Japan and, of course, the U.S.

Okay, here's the thing: This Silver Surfer dude, as I've been told by too many friends who dig the old FF comics, is a pretty badass character, but Rise portrays him as a liquid-metal mannequin who speaks in soporific end-of-the-world portents (Laurence Fishburne provides his ominous timbre) and is brought to life via CGI effects that were more exciting in Terminator 2, oh, 16 years ago. He's the subservient summoner of a planet-devouring cosmic force known as Galactus, who's realized here as a cosmic funnel cloud, and not the über-imposing interstellar deity of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 1960s source material. This botches the climactic showdown — cardboard X-Men rejects (Chris Evans' piping-hot Human Torch and Michael Chiklis' Thing, a brick house with limbs and a temper, complete the bickering quartet) vs. a giant tornado — but hey, it's not like the movie, with its witless jabs at celebrity culture (Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman's wedding is a major media event) and anemic action sequences (the good guys save endangered patrons on the crumbling London Eye: swell!), suddenly took a turn for the worse. No, the whole show's a clunky sham, right down to the overblown title: The Silver Surfer doesn't rise as much as he crashes a chintzy toy convention you were already jonesing to leave anyway. D

Saturday, May 19, 2007

popScorn | And don't forget the robots!

Far be it from me to publicize a film i haven't even seen yet, but ... come on. This new trailer for Michael Bay's Transformers — opens nationwide on July 4! — totally kicks ass. True, i can't think of a single Bay flick i've ever liked, and okay, it doesn't inspire much promise that the thing's scripted by two guys who wrote The Mask of Zorro and Bay's The Island, and sure, it's a live-action, big-budget summer blockbuster based on an '80s toy fad — not exactly the benchmark of quality cinema. But hey, if it makes zillions of dollars, we can probably expect to see some pretty awe-inspiring shit in the near future. Just think: Reese Witherspoon in Strawberry Shortcake! G.I. Joe, starring Seann William Scott as Duke, Johnny Knoxville as Flint, and Lindsay Lohan in a dual role as Scarlett and the voice of Cobra Commander! Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, and the rest of the Glengarry Glen Ross cast reuniting for Food Fighters, featuring a very special appearance by Robert De Niro as Chip the Ripper!

Anyway, just watch the clip. If the ch-ch-chuh noise when Optimus Prime morphs from truck cab to automaton doesn't make you feel like you're 10 again, then maybe nothing will.