Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Marine 3: Homefront (2013)

Tagline: He's back home from war, but the battle has just begun.

Curiosity: I unironically love the shit out of the first two movies. No, seriously

Plot: When his sister and his dickless boyfriend get kidnapped by terrorists on a rusted out boat, it's up to marine Jake Carter (Reality show star the Miz) to save the day. Well, him and a whole mess of cops and government agents. Also the terrorists are kind of bumbling and have vaguely defined plans. You know what, Jake, just go home. Everything is going to be fine.

Thoughts: It finally happened. I finally hated a Marine movie. And let me tell you, watching the Marine trilogy (TRILOGY!!!) has been a rather significant bonding experience for my friends Nick, Eric, and I. Dubbed "Night of Men," we saw the original in theaters. That's right, we paid to see it in a theater, and then paid to own it on DVD. Eric and Nick are almost definitely going to buy it again on Blu-Ray. These were action movies that deserve to be cult favorites. They blend humor and explosions into a fine mix rarely seen these days.

The first in a three-picture deal with Fox, The Marine 3 breaks away from the series by A) having a sister get kidnapped instead of a wife and B) making the titular Marine completely inconsequential to the plot. Seriously. Jake Carter's actions do not matter in this movie. The terrorists, led by a slumming Neil McDonough, start off pretty cool with a bank heist so precisely planned that they know the most secretest details about the bank's staff...only to set the money on fire. The whole thing has an Occupy connotation to it, but it neglects to mention that most banks in the U.S. have this thing called insurance. Their actions do not accomplish anything.

After the heist, their motivation gets completely lost. They buy a shit ton of guns, shot their weapons dealer for haggling, and then hang out on a boast for most of the film's 85 minutes. When they finally get a chance to do something (plant bombs or something), they get caught in a shootout with law enforcement in the streets, Heat-style. Even when Jake gets a chance to shine by disposing of the bombs, he still feels inessential to the plot simply by trying too hard. The Miz simply does not get enough to do despite playing the main character.

Nick observed that the title character feels shoehorned into the film, as if WWE Films bought the script and then added some Mariney stuff to keep the franchise going. Compared to the production values on the first two films, there's very little here in the way of choreography, set design, plot... everything, really. The film barely makes any sense, even by action movie standards. Watching the special features is profoundly uncomfortable, as the cast and crew try to sound excited about filming on an actually abandoned, tetanus-loaded boat.

I cannot recommend the first two Marine films enough, as they have a real charm to them. Marine 3, however, simply does not meet that standard. It plays more like a made-for-TV movie, bad effects 'n' all.

Reflections: I cannot believe I keep buying these movies, nor can I believe how sad the documentaries make me feel.

Justice League / Justice League Unlimited (2001-2006)

Tagline: More Batman!

Curiosity: More Batman!

Plot: When Superman and Batman realize they’re outnumbered in an alien invasion, they enlist the help of Wonder Woman (she’s strong and can fly!), the Flash (he’s fast!), Green Lantern (he can fly and make green stuff shoot out of his ring and he yells a lot!), Hawkgirl (she can fly and she yells a lot too!), and the mysterious Martian J’onn J’onzz (his powers kinda fluctuate a little bit…). After stopping that threat, the collective decides to form a team of superheroes, dubbed the Justice League. And they take on new threats every couple of weeks, in thrilling two-part episodes. Or, if you’re watching Justice League Unlimited, for a length of time that changes every so often.

Thoughts: I like Justice League. But I don’t love it. Coming off of the darker storytelling of Batman and the ambitious retro fantasies of Superman, it feels a little, well, vanilla. Part of that at least comes from the producers taking on new challenges. Showrunner Bruce Timm was against helming a Justice League adaptation in the ’90s simply because he couldn’t see all of those characters getting enough screen time (He apparently didn’t watch X-Men…). Switching to team-based storytelling was a hard challenge for the writers, so they opted tell episodes in two-parter installments. About half of the stories they created warranted the extended format; the remainder usually has about 1.5 episodes of story and .5 filler.

But the problems didn’t end with the writing. Justice League is the first show Timm and co. did with all digital production. As of such, the animation in the first season has a very flat, uniform look to it. Every fire looks the same. Everybody moves the same. It takes a few episodes for the show to achieve a strong visual style. The same thing happened to Batman, but that was also Timm’s first show. The first season of Justice League is like watching the master relearn everything he knew about making a TV show.

The other big problem, as I can see it, is the Internet, and that’s a double-edged issue. By monitoring message boards, Timm was able to integrate feedback almost instantly. For example, many stories had Superman get knocked out first in battle, so as to establish that a given villain was a serious threat. When fanboys pointed out that it has become a writing crutch, Timm snapped out of it. But he also started including a little too much fanboy humor that, occasionally, went against character. Then again, look at me. I’m using the Internet to complain about superhero stories. How original.

From JL’s second season onward, it’s a strong cartoon that rewards dedicated viewing. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited build on loose ends from Timm’s other DC shows. The aborted fifth season of Superman actually folds nicely into JLU’s first season. Every nook and cranny of the DC universe gets explored, resulting in some pretty weird, but great, television. Batman, of course, is my favorite superhero on the show, but the producers do some pretty excellent work with the Flash as well. While he’s not that well utilized (the show had a tough time balancing superpowers. The idea that the Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Superman would be on the same level as Hawkgirl or the Elongated Man is kind of preposterous), the few episodes that focus on the Flash are usually hilarious and/or action packed. They remind me of Superman, actually.

One thing that I prefer about Justice League Unlimited over Superman or Batman is the idea of a season-long story arch. The first JLU season covers the shadow government’s attempts to control and neutralize the Justice League, and it features a stellar performance from the perfectly cast Jeffrey Combs as the Question. The second season covers Lex Luther’s attempts at uniting with Braniac. At just 13 episodes, it’s the briefest season by far, but it’s still solid.

Top 10 Episodes:
1. Twilight (of the Gods)
2. The Great Brain Robbery
3. The Enemy Below
4. Double Date
5. For the Man Who Has Everything
6. Divided We Fall
7. The Savage Time
8. Injustice For All
9. The Once and Future Thing
10. Kids’ Stuff

Reflection: On the one hand, I watch too many cartoons for a married man. On the other hand, I sure would like to revisit Teen Titans

Monday, March 12, 2012

Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)

Tagline: More powerful than a locomotive! Not as cool as Batman!

Curiosity: Bruce Timm followed up his brilliant Batman adaptation with this spin on the Superman mythology.

Plot: In the city of Metropolis lives Superman (voiced by Tim Daly), the last known survivor of a planet called Krypton. Powered by Earth’s yellow sunlight, Superman can fly, see through anything other than lead, and use super strength and heat vision to combat those who would threaten his adopted home. And there are many, ranging from the murderous, god-like conqueror Darkseid (Michael Ironside) to the bizarre Toyman (Bud Cort). Luckily, Superman has a bevy of buds on his side, like ace reporter/love interest Lois Lane (Dan Delaney), budding photography Jimmy Olsen (David Kaufman), and the superhero Steel (MOTHERFUCKIN’ MICHAEL “WORF” DORN).

Anyway, Superman spends his days catching cars and going on space adventures and fighting dinosaurs. How the hell is he not as popular at Batman?!

Thoughts: Batman: The Animated Series is an amazing piece of superheroics and noir darkness. It’s a really, really good show. But if I had to compare it with Superman in terms of consistency, I’d say Supes got the better show. Batman ran for a while before Timm got the scripting and animation up to a high quality. Superman benefited from being his second show. While it never quite matches Batman at its best, there’s a more open world, filled with a sense of gee whiz adventure, prevalent in Superman that makes it a thrilling watch.

It’s also straight up a more ambitious show. Batman tried really hard to tone down DC’s dense comic book history for kids; Superman combined the Silver Age and John Byrne eras, threw in obscure heroes, and even had the guts for two-, even three-part epics. The very first pilot episode barely even has Superman in it! It’s all about his dad Jor-El! While the writers had trouble generating tension in their stories (Superman is just about impossible to defeat), Superman as a whole is a wondrous, stunning show to behold.

Put it another way; when I finished watching Batman, I was sad, but still very satisfied with the run. Superman, though, only ran for 54 episodes before Timm moved on to Batman Beyond. And it ends on such a downer! I didn’t realize it when the show originally aired, but you know that episode where Darkseid brainwashes Superman into attacking the Earth and scaring the shit out of everyone? And then Superman finally kicks the shit out of Darkseid but it doesn’t matter because everyone is afraid of Superman now? THAT’S THE LAST EPISODE. That’s such a downer ending. Holy shit you guys. I just… wow.

Top 10 Episodes:

  1. Legacy Parts I-II
  2. The Last Son of Krypton Parts I-III
  3. Apokolips…Now! Parts I-II
  4. The Late Mr. Kent
  5. World’s Finest Parts I-III
  6. Knight Time
  7. A Fish Story
  8. Heavy Metal
  9. Feeding Time
  10. Monkey Fun

Reflection: Who am I kidding? Of course I still like Batman more.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999)

Tagline: I am vengeance. I am the night. I… AM… BATMAN!

Curiosity: He’s the goddamn Batman.

Plot: Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) may be one handsome dude, but he’s actually a costumed vigilante known as… THE BATMAN. Batman protects Gotham City from a horrible horde of villains, including The Joker (Mark Hamill), Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau), and Da Riddler (John Glover, my man from Brimstone… but you probably know him from Smallville. Or that one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where he kidnapped Dax). These villains may be cartoony compared to X-Men, but they’re still quite deadly.

Luckily, Batman has help from Robin/Nightwing (Loren Lester), Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert), and his faithful butler Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). A second Robin joins them later on (Matthew Valencia).

Thoughts: The impact Bruce Timm and company had on Batman, and comics in general, when they launched this cartoon is impressive. Batman: The Animated Series helped bring the darker take on the character begun by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Tim Burton to a grander level, creating a show that routinely dealt with death and violence without celebrating them. It created a dark, troubled world, led by a single man capable of cutting through all the moral ambiguity. It instilled morality in me, that’s for sure.

At the same time, the animated series took the sillier elements of Batman’s history and managed to update them without mocking them (especially so on “Legends of the Dark Knight”). Sometimes it didn’t always pay off – season four’s attempts to create the kind ridiculous villains found on Adam West’s Batman run seems misguided – but the show’s experiments also yielded new, refreshing takes on the likes of Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and many more.

More than any other superhero, Batman represents purity to me, the same way Ian MacKaye or Bill Watterson do. He’s incorruptible. Superman is too powerful and Marvel characters have too much personal drama at stake. But, setting aside his limitless wealth, Batman is a pure driving force dedicated to the preservation of society and a role model. Yes, you can make the case for him being a fascist who rules by fear, but damn it he gets results. And we can all be just like him simply by caring. We might not have his adventures, but we can certainly preserve his legacy.

Sorry, that got tangential. Based on the first 20 episodes, I feared that the animated series wouldn’t hold up. The animated looks rubbery and inconsistent, and the plots are too simplistic. But then, the producers had a lot origin stories to knock out. Once the show really got underway, Batman started knocking out ace episodes one after another. The Jokers one are the best, natch, but there’s some great stuff from the likes of Two-Face, The Riddler, and especially original creation Harley Quinn. Sure, there’s still some clunkers along the way, like when Batman battles a crazy farmer (“Critters”) or a guy who thinks he’s Zeus (“Fire From Olympus”), but overall the series has a wiz-bang, retro feel to it reminiscent of Indiana Jones or The Rocketeer, just, ya know… with Batman in it.

Batman also marks the beginning of the DC Animated Universe, which I’ll talk about later. I do want to comment on the three animated movies, though. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman is complete shit and Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero is alright, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the third best Batman movie of all time, behind Christopher Nolan’s two films. It explores Batman’s origin, something only touched on in the series (Although both Robins and Batgirl get great origin episodes) while intercutting his attempts to both stop the Phantasm, a more violent vigilante who has taken to murdering gangsters, and to settle down into a normal life.

I like Batman.

Top 10 Episodes:

  1. Robin’s Reckoning Parts I-II
  2. Harley’s Holiday
  3. Almost Got ’Im
  4. Riddler’s Reform
  5. Harley and Ivy
  6. Mudslide
  7. Old Wounds
  8. Harlequinade
  9. Over the Edge
  10. Second Chance

Reflection: Volumes Two and Three are the best. One has growing pains. Four is half-brilliant, half crap.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

Tagline: Rutger Hauer is a…

Curiosity: The Grindhouse trailer helped. But in the end, it all comes down to the title.

Plot: The Hobo (inexplicably played by Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner) is hopping to start a lawnmowing business in Hope Town, but with The Drake (Brian Downey) and his cronies terrorizing the populace, that seems unlikely. After a series of fights, the Hobo finally realizes his destiny and buys a shotgun. He then proceeds to use that shotgun. People lose body parts, etc.

Thoughts: My fiancĂ©e and I recently obtained a Netflix account. This makes it a lot easier/cheaper to see movies. It also means I don’t get as mad when the films I eagerly await turn out to be crappy even by SNC’s standards. Hobo With a Shotgun is a very disappointing film, simply because it is not the greatest trashterpiece ever committed to celluloid (or at least digital).

To be fair, Hobo With a Shotgun is on par with Troma’s line of horror films. This movie has buckets of blood and plenty of profanity. It is low, low culture and I know it has a dedicated fanbase. But it never lives up to the hype and anticipation. Hobo began as a joke trailer as part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. It actually won an amateur contest to boot, and it was hilarious. When it was announced as a real feature, with Hauer in the lead, well, it looked like maybe the joke would last a little longer.

Sadly, it doesn’t. Hobo has a problem with offering too much all the time. Too much blood. Too much profanity. Too many attempts at being “shocking.” There’s no nuance. No downtime. It’s pure id run rampant. Without any restrictions, it goes into sensory overload.

Reflection: I feel like an old man.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

Tagline: When up against pure evil… just giv’er.

Curiosity: Cuz Scott said so.

Plot: A group of sexy college students is on its way to a sexy vacation out in the woods (Because fuck the beach right in its stupid beach face!) when they run into a couple of creepy rednecks named Dale (Tyler Labine) and Tucker (Alan Tudyk, freakin’ Wash from Firefly). As history has taught us, rednecks are got-damn terrifying. When one of the sexy college students (Katrina Bowden) is an accident, the hicks take her body back to their cabin, much to her friends’ horror. It’s up to the survivors, led by Chad (Jesse Moss) to rescue her and kill these godless murdering mountain men.

Or maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity?

Thoughts: Tucker & Dale vs Evil has heart. A lot of heart. In that sense, it’s kind of like a Canadian cousin to Shaun of the Dead; they’re both horror comedies that remember to be gory as well as funny and sweet. It’s a comedy of errors taken to the extreme. Bolstered by endearing performances from the leads, Tucker & Dale is a really good film.

But it’s not quite a great one, if only because writer/director Eli Craig tips his hand in the titular duo’s favor a little too soon. I would have loved if he played up the “socially awkward rednecks = creepy” angle a little more in the beginning before the body count started building.

Still, Tucker & Dale gets a lot of things right. Like how quickly sexy teens jump ahead to murder in horror movies. What the fuck? It’s also one of the few cult films in recent years to earn its laughs. There once was a time when low budget horror flicks could be unintentionally hilarious. In recent years, though, filmmakers have tried beating viewers to the punchline. These films try to laugh at their terribleness, but it just comes off as forced. Tucker & Dale sidesteps this issue entirely. Much like Wrong Turn 2, it offers strong performances that boost the pathos, a script that’s actually decently mapped out, and a nice smattering of gore. It’s a sweet, bloody film about what happens when people can’t communicate.

Reflection: “Oh hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day. There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Tagline: When the curtain goes up the terror begins.

Curiosity: It’s a sequel to a much beloved horror film.

Plot: A kid loves Creepshow comic books, so much so that he turns into a cartoon or some shit! While reading a trio of terrifying tales, he also seeks revenge on a gang of bullies!

Thoughts: Creepshow 2 is both superior and inferior to its predecessor. It moves along faster, and its 90-minute running time is a little easier to handle. Much as I love Creepshow, it was a little uneven. Creepshow 2’s stories are all solid, even though there are only three of them this time out. “Old Chief Woodenhead,” about a wooden Native American chief who takes revenge on a some robbers who killed his owner, is a little cheesy, but it packs genuine pathos. “The Raft” used to scare the shit out of me as a kid, and it feels a little too short to me now, it’s still my favorite segment.

“The Raft” has a typical horror movie setup: Four sexy teens go out into the woods to have sexy times, and end up murderized instead. Out in the middle of a lake, they encounter this strange, oil slick-like creature. When it starts devouring the teens one by one, well, shit gets real, until all that’s left is this one guy who’s a total wiener. He gets his comeuppance though.

“The Hitchiker” is the final segment, in which a two-timing wife (Lois Chiles) hits a drifter (Tom Wright) with her car and leaves him for dead… or so she thinks. While its gimmick is a little repetitive (“THANKS FOR THE RIDE LADY!”), it comes closest to recapturing the manic insanity of the original.

George A. Romero, who directed the original, scripted this go-round, and he makes the Tales From the Crypt homage much more apparent by adding a Cryptkeeper-esque host called the Creep, played by Tom Savini and voiced by Joe Silver. The Creep is the only element of the film I don’t like. He’s poorly animated, and the prosthetics used to render him in three dimensions look a little garish for the suburbs. Still, though, Creepshow 2 still delivers plenty of fun for all the ghouls and boils.