Archive for the ‘Stupidity’ Category

Your Highness (2011)

 

YOUR HIGHNESS is one of the most strangely-reviled movies of the past couple years.  Why?  2011 was a year that inflicted upon us BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, HALL PASS, SUCKER PUNCH, COWBOYS & ALIENS, SOUL SURFER, a remake of THE THING, another BIG MOMMA movie, another TRANSFORMERS movie, a Justin Timberlake action movie, a Justin Timberlake romantic comedy, an Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy, a Russell Brand movie, a Kevin James movie, two Adam Sandler movies, and like three Tyler Perry movies.  Which, by the way, were totally redundant after the BIG MOMMA movie.  There’s plenty of horseshit to revile before getting all worked up over a harmlessly crude medieval weed-comedy.  You’re really going to tell me, after that Fassbender-length list of SHAME, that YOUR HIGHNESS is the one that turns your tummies?

 

behold!

 

Yes, internet, I loved this movie.  Sorry!  Was I not supposed to enjoy a silly-stupid sword-and-sorcery movie starring Danny McBride and James  Franco?  Because it kind of feels like they made it with me in mind.  It could be a fair ways better than it is, sure, but it’s still pretty fun.  Danny McBride, his co-writer Ben Best, and director David Gordon Green deserve our lifetime allegiance for EASTBOUND & DOWN, and James Franco (you know, from SPIDER-MAN 2 and MILK and 127 HOURS and many other admirable ventures) has done plenty to earn the benefit of the doubt in his own right.

 

Film Title: Your Highness

 

Franco plays the heroic warrior on a quest to save his true love (Zooey Deschanel), who has been stolen away by a powerful and disgusting wizard.  McBride is his boorish, self-centered younger brother, forced to accompany him on his quest by their father (Charles Dance, who is now on GAME OF THRONES but is best known to me from THE GOLDEN CHILD).  Franco can be an anarchic presence himself, but here he gamely and perfectly plays the over-earnest straight man to McBride’s loud-mouthed lout.  To me, Franco and McBride’s not-even-trying British period accents and sometimes-camaraderie/ sometimes-enmity are a total gas.  I also deeply, deeply love that the guys each get BEASTMASTER-style animal sidekicks.

 

Your Highness

 

The problem with this movie, I think, is that the villains are just too gross and not at all menacing.  In this kind of effects-based comedy, the bad guys ultimately need to be a little bit scary – they can’t be competing for punchlines, the way the bad guys are here.  Think of Gozer The Gozerian in GHOSTBUSTERS, think of David Lo Pan in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, think of Victor Maitland in BEVERLY HILLS COP.  Those are solid villains because they are played as if not entirely aware they’re in a comedy.  You really believe that they want to destroy the heroes.   If Justin Theroux and, in particular, Damian Lewis had been allowed to play it straight, I think YOUR HIGHNESS would have worked a lot better.

 

Charles Dance

 

It’s probably also true that the movie is a bit remedial when it comes to the matter of women.  Zooey Deschanel is game for whatever she’s asked to do in the movie, but ultimately this is a guys’ showcase.  The attempt to include Natalie Portman as a Xena-style warrior princess who helps the brothers out is a good impulse, but as it plays, she’s just another foil for McBride, a pong-paddle to his bouncing pink ball, or balls.

 

SNAKES

 

As it is, YOUR HIGHNESS is juvenile and a bit of a mess, but it still cracks me up.  If only for the fact that it has both a minotaur and a dragon, if only for the fact that I can’t be unsure that these guys didn’t come up with most of the ideas for the movie while watching WILLOW, if only for the scene with the Wise Wizard, which I still can  hardly wrap my mind around on account of how insanely funny it is to me, this movie entirely justifies its existence.

 

MINOTAUR

 

Maybe it’s just me and my weird sense of humor.  Maybe the idea of a $50 million studio movie where two movie stars talk to a really crappy puppet is only targeted to my hyper-specific sense of humor.

 

the great wize wizard

 

Or maybe a lot of people need to lighten the fuck up.  Could be either one. Just to be safe, smile!

@jonnyabomb

P.S.  If you like YOUR HIGHNESS, check out my review of 1982’s CONQUEST.  That’s a similar movie that is nearly as funny, but not even remotely on purpose.

And this has been an expanded version of a bit I did for my pal at Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  Check his site out!

Your Highness (2011) Your Highness (2011) your_highness_ver2

Your Highness (2011)

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Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

Pacific Rim Elysium (2013) Anchorman 2

There are some potentially great movies coming out this year. Go anywhere else on the internet and you will read about movies like PACIFIC RIM and ANCHORMAN 2 and THE WORLD’S END and ELYSIUM. I’m excited about those too. There’s also all the obvious nerd bait like STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and HUNGER GAMES 2 and THOR THE DARK WORLD. Not really my thing, but it’s certainly understandable if those are the kind of titles that make your heart do a happy dance.

But step off the beaten path with me. Let’s take a moment to give some attention to the real weirdos out there. Let’s look at some of the movies of 2013 which no one in their right mind is looking forward to. I’m not talking about intentional cult items like MACHETE KILLS or ESCAPE PLAN. Those movies are that guy or girl at the party who’s trying too hard to be sexy and therefore failing big for exactly that reason. I’m talking about the ugly guys or girls who just don’t give a fuck what you think they look like. They just wandered in off the street because they got a whiff of the guacamole dip.

This isn’t about schadenfreude.  Well, not really. I mean, I’m no saint. There are a couple movies I wouldn’t mind watching crash and burn. In that category are ENDER’S GAME — written by a bigot, directed by the guy who made X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; sure, no way that pairing could go wrong — and a pair of Vince Vaughn movies, one where he hangs out at Google for an entire movie and another movie where he plays a sperm donor, because no one learned anything from THE SWITCH and holy Lord do I ever not want to see or ever be asked to think about Vince Vaughn donating sperm.

But generally, my natural good nature wins out and I am a sweetheart who only wishes the best for everyone. Still, there are some movies coming up in 2013 whose very existence perplexes me. And that in turn makes me curious. Call me a a jerk, a creep, a kook, a contrarian, a nihilist, an anarchist — I’ve been called all of those things before and that was only this morning at the nunnery — but I like really bizarre movies that make no rational sense, and I like it even better when those movies turn out to be entertaining.  So the following bunch is a group I’ve got my eye on in 2013 (some are getting real close now!):

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Assault on Wall Street (2013)

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

_______________________________

Java Heat (2013)

JAVA HEAT (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s the caveman version of HEAT!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Mickey Rourke may actually be an Al Pacino, but Kellan Lutz is no Robert De Niro. I mean, maybe he is. I’ve only seen him in ARENA. He did not come off too brightly there. Also, his name is Kellan Lutz.

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Robosapien

CODY THE ROBOSAPIEN (May 28)


Why It Could Be Cool: “From the producer of SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and IRON MAN…”

Why It Probably Won’t Be: …And the director of SOUL SURFER!

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Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:

Pseudo-stop-motion-animated skeletons!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Skeletons aside, this looks impressively bad. Like ten dollars worth of stolen garbage. I bet you Sinbad doesn’t even do his MacDonald’s milkshake routine!

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After Earth (2013)

AFTER EARTH (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Will Smith! A clone of Will Smith! Space! Volcanoes! Monkeys!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: M. Night Shyamalan.

But that also means it could be as funny as THE HAPPENING. At this point, Shammy is probably done for as a serious director. But as a director of hilariously-solemn unintentional-comedies, he’s got a better shot than most.

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Axe Giant

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN (On DVD June 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Well, it’s a horror movie about the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan.  Ain’t a thing I can say I’ve ever seen before, and brother, I’ve seen plenty.  Also, while there are no signs from the trailer or the official site, there’s still a better-than-average chance of a cameo from Babe The Blue Ox.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Actually, I have no reason to expect it won’t be amazing.

_______________________________

Hammer of the Gods (2013)

HAMMER OF THE GODS (July 5)

Why It Could Be Cool: It’s a movie about Vikings!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Vikings that say “Kiss my axe.”

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R.I.P.D. (2013)

R.I.P.D. (July 31)

Why It Could Be Cool: I’ll never not have hope for a movie that has Jeff Bridges and James Hong in it, and unlike most of the huge movies this summer, this one seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: It’s trying way, way hard to be both GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK at the same time. See if you can spot the big, gaping difference.

_______________________________

The Frozen Ground (2013)

THE FROZEN GROUND (August)

(No trailer yet.)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Cage versus Cusack. Hate to paraphrase myself so quickly, but: It’s like HEAT for weirdos.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  This comes to us from 50 Cent’s production company, Cheetah Vision, and yes, 50 Cent co-stars in the film.  50 Cent’s movies are becoming an obsession of mine — not because they’re particularly awful, but because they aren’t particularly good, despite often tremendous casts.  Also, NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.  He’s so famous yet his movies are so under-the-radar.  But that’s a much longer conversation.  THE FROZEN GROUND is based on a true story.  John Cusack plays Robert Hansen, the notorious serial killer, and Nicolas Cage plays the Alaskan cop who hunts him down.  It’s no secret that Cage, once (and still) a tremendously gifted and unconventional actor, took a severe detour into mostly silly movies.  It’s less commented-upon that John Cusack has kind of done the same thing.  There’s an outside chance that a movie teaming the two of them could end up being great, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be colossally entertaining.

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Don Jon

DON JON (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the smartest actors around and this is the first movie he wrote and directed.  He seems to have brought his old accent from LOOPER along, and that was surely a fine movie.  Scarlett Johannsson, who is also great, is his co-star, and she looks particularly phenomenal in this trailer.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  Well it still could be.  There’s a ton of major talent involved. But I have to admit, and you probably should also, that if it were anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt making this movie, there’d be plenty of cause for agita.  It’s hard to escape the suspicion that JGL came up with this movie back when Jersey Shore was hot.  It’s tough not to notice that Scarlett is using one of her SNL accents.  It impossible not to consider that porn addiction is pretty difficult to make charming on film. And on top of all that, Tony Danza.

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The Butler (2013) The Butler (2013)

THE BUTLER (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool: There are a lot of good actors in this movie.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Watch the trailer. Listen to and look at all the shit those good actors are made to do, say, and wear. Listen to that music. Have you done all three? Great! Now your incontinence is cured!

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Gallowwalkers

GALLOWWALKER(S) (release date unknown, may actually have already been out for two years)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s exactly BLADE, but then also a Western!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

I mean let’s be reasonable with our expectations here.

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Bookmark this page because I will be updating it as I discover more beautiful treasures!

@jonnyabomb

From here on out, I’m just going to refer to Lockout by my preferred title of Space Prison, if you don’t mind too much.  Lockout sounds like a GI Joe code name, and a movie as brutishly high-concept as this one demands to be named as on-the-snout as possible.

I loved it, by the way.  I know it can get confusing, but when I call a movie “stupid” it’s not always a putdown (or a lockout.).  In local parlance here in the multiplexes of New York City, to exclaim “Yo that shit is stupid, son!” does indeed imply that a movie has some inherent stupidity, which Space Prison has in abundance, but it also connotes that said stupidity is very enjoyable, which Space Prison also is.

Space Prison was co-written and directed by the team of Saint + Mather, otherwise known as the Irish filmmakers Stephen Saint-Leger and James Mather, who got hired off the strength of their pretty cool short film, Prey Alone.

The man who hired them, basically, was Luc Besson, the writer-director who has made action films as influential as La Femme Nikita and Léon (The Professional) but has had an even more prolific career as a producer of  films of drastically varying quality, including Taken, Columbiana, the District 13 movies, the Transporter movies, and Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada.  (!!!)  Here Besson wrote the script with Saint + Mather based on his original idea, which, as you can tell from the title I am insisting on, Space Prison, is about a space prison.  The idea is that in the near future, the nation’s worst criminals are put into cryo-sleep and stored about a facility which orbits the Earth.  When they get woken up and abduct a member of the Presidential family, the last-ditch effort of the authorities in charge is to send in a lone man, a specialist, to get in and get out.

Call it Star Wars meets HBO’s Oz.  Call it Demolition Man meets Escape From New York, In Space.  Just don’t call it late for dinner.  This movie is hungry and what it likes best to eat is scenery.  In a lighter-hearted turn than he usually gets to take, Guy Pearce (LA Confidential, Memento, The Proposition) is a lot of fun as a cantankerous rogue named Snow, which I think is the Eskimo word for “Snake Plisskin.”  Snow is a captive of the future government, wrongfully imprisoned, about to be shipped off-planet to a state-of-the-art jail in Earth’s orbit.  You can tell he doesn’t play by the rules because he wears a T-shirt that reads “Warning: Offensive” and he sneers a lot. 

Not a lot of movie action heroes would be caught dead wearing a novelty T-shirt, but I guess on the sliding scale of novelty T-shirts, “Warning: Offensive” is a touch witter than “I’m With Stupid” and a touch classier than “I Fucked Your Girlfriend.”

So this guy Snow is introduced as he’s being beat up by police-state thugs.  That’s the title sequence, for the record.  Every time Snow takes a punch, his head drops out of frame, and then another screen credit comes up.  How can you not immediately warm up to a movie that starts that way?  

Elsewhere, while Snow is taking his lumps, the plot starts happening.  The President’s daughter (Maggie Grace from Taken) is making a standard publicity visit to the Space Prison.  When one escapes and frees the others and she’s taken hostage by armies of belligerent convicts, that’s when her dad, Liam Neeson, springs into action.  He has a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career…

…Sorry, wrong Luc-Besson-produced movie.

No, instead, Snow’s adversary, Langral, agrees to send Snow on a suicide mission to infiltrate the Space Prison as the inmate he was slated to be anyway, and instead bring Future Chelsea back to safety.  This standard officious-prick character, apparently a Southerner, is played by all-purpose-European Peter Stormare, a great character actor whose strength is not accents.  Hey wait:

Somebody asked Peter Stormare to do a Southern accent for this movie.

Somebody asked Londoner Idris Elba to do a Southern accent in Prometheus.

Neither Southern accent is a good fit.

Guy Pearce is in both movies.

Coincidence?

Or space-conspiracy?

Anyway, when it comes to Space Prison I know you guys are still stuck on thinking about Escape From New York, but let me just tell you that this guy Snow escapes from New York in the first ten minutes of the movie.  See?  Totally different.  He gets on board the Space Prison and almost immediately gets into a zero-gravity fight scene that actually reminded me a lot of that “Burp, Charlie! Burp!” routine from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.   

That’s the thing about this movie, for everything that feels a bit fresh about Space Prison — such as the “voice sensor” grenades which are throwable explosives that are sound-activated (like the Clapper!) — there’s an equal and opposite moment that feels like a blatant and occasionally bizarre reference to a movie you’ve seen many times already.  If you watch Space Prison expecting it to be as hardcore serious and straight-up badass as Escape From New York or Die Hard or No Escape or Lock-Up or any of the other cool movies it owes a beer to, you’ll see it as a missed opportunity.  It’s such a silly movie that as long as you’re willing to go with the silliness, you’ll have fun. 

I mean, let’s talk about the villains.  They’re supposed to be these horrible felons, the worst of the worst, murderers and rapists, but at the same time everyone cracks jokes as if they they share ghost-writers with Dane Cook.  All of the bad guys look like they come from that Marvel Comics storyline back in the 1990s where all the X-Men had tattoos and scars and everybody carried guns and knives. 

The main bad guy, “Alex”, looks like that hilariously awful X-Men character Cable.

 

Even Guy Pearce looks like he was drawn by Todd McFarlane or something in this movie.  He looks like he was redrawn to look like Brad Pitt, or like Liev Schreiber (but only in X-Men Origins: Wolverine).  Check it out — there are literally a couple of scenes where you can see him thinking, “I’ve uttered words written by Brian Helgeland, the Nolan brothers, and bloody Nick Cave, and now… I’m not doing that at all.”

Space Prison is an enjoyable, energetic, good-looking movie, and I had a good time, but let’s face it, there’s a climactic scene where the main characters literally jump out of space and land safely on what looks for all the world like Southern California’s 10 Freeway.  (The story started out in New York, remember?)  It’s a very, very stupid movie.  In the press notes for the movie, Stephen St. Leger talks about Billy Wilder being a pivotal influence on the interplay between Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace, and also says that “The relationship between Emilie and Snow brings to mind Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. In other words, two polar opposites who are forced to get along.”  Which is great.  Even the press notes are stupid.  To watch Space Prison, you’d have guessed they had John Carpenter on the brain, but it turns out it was John Huston all along.

But hey, they can’t all be The African Queen.  Not even the ones that apparently wanted to be.

Shout at me on Twitter, son!  @jonnyabomb

 
 
 
Wrote this routine three years ago, still enjoy it, hope you will too.
 
 
There is something very wrong with me.
 
 
I saw the G-Force trailer for the first time the other day, and have been obsessed with this movie ever since. It opens tomorrow. I live in fear that the demons that drive me will drive me to the theater and force me to spend precious money on opening-weekend admission tickets.  Take a look:
 
 
 
________________________________
 
 
G-Force is about a team of specially trained guinea pigs who work as covert operatives for the government. They can talk and they like to have adventures and also, to fart.
 
 
This is a high-concept so incredibly shitty that I am entirely drawn to it.  It appeals to the most childish and irresponsible side of my imbecilic nature. 
 
 
Smarty-pants comedians always bring this up, but movies like this truly ARE why the terrorists hate us.  Only in America could many millions of dollars be directed not towards curing cancer or feeding our homeless, but in animating, producing, and marketing [everywhere] a movie about farting guinea pigs.
 
 
Well, the terrorists are dicks, and they’re always pissed off about something anyway, so screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke.  Bring on the farting guinea pigs! As long as you know, they don’t make me think about those sick or poor people.
 
 
The terrorists also hate this movie because somewhat insanely, this premise isn’t too far from reality. Periodically, the eagle-eyed news reader will notice various articles that mention various U.S. military attempts to use animals in warfare. I’m sure that real-world verity was on the minds of the makers of this movie!
 
 
Here are some reasons to rejoice in the impending arrival of G-Force:
 
 
1. Besides guinea pigs, it stars Zach Galifianakis!  Yay!  You fell in love with him after The Hangover, America – now watch a brilliantly original stand-up comedian stumble sleepily through a loosely-scripted, massively-budgeted Hollywood monolith.  (In all honesty, this IS something I would like to watch.)  Also, Zach Galifianakis kind of looks like a chinchilla already, so I guess it’s appropriate casting.
 
 
Other talented people who will get a paycheck out of G-Force: Will Arnett, Steve Buscemi, Jon Favreau, Tracy Morgan, Bill Nighy, Sam Rockwell, Loudon Wainwright III (Undeclared fans represent!).  Whatever keeps people like these working can’t be an entirely bad thing.  Hopefully the G-Force money allows them the freedom to do other, more interesting things – particularly Buscemi and Favreau, who are directors who have made movies (Trees Lounge; Made) that have inspired me in the past.
 
 
2. Featuring the voice of Penélope Cruz!  Yay!  Of the diverse possible reasons to like Penélope Cruz, I would have ranked her phonetic aptitude and her comedic timing close to the bottom of the list, but okay, maybe she’s been waiting for this exact movie to display those deeply-buried talents.
 
 
3. Also featuring the voice of Tracy Morgan!  Yay!  This is a win-win for comedy fans and for film producers, because if Tracy shows up, you get the benefit of his unhinged delivery, and if he gets distracted and wanders away from the ADR studio, you can hire underground rapper Kool Keith to do the voice and still advertise with the bigger star’s name. 
 
 
Seriously, if you closed your eyes, could you entirely tell whether you were listening to Tracy or to Keith?  Two different talents, one similar voice.
 
 
4. Directed by Hoyt Yeatman!  Yay!  Another visual effects supervisor getting a shot at directing a feature film!  Why take a chance on one of the thousand directors in Hollywood who have been studying cinematic storytelling for decades when you can get an ace VFX guy?  At least the guinea pigs will look believable!  (Until 3 months from now, when the outdated CG will look archaic and clumsy.)
 
 
5. Screenplay by “The Wibberleys”! Yay!  Even the credits are adorable!  Actually, a quick IMDB search for The Wibberleys reveals that they are a married couple who have provided the scripts for some of the most awful big-budget sequels of the past decade.  I don’t enjoy criticizing fellow writers, but the fact remains, they’re hacks.  Is it a criticism if it’s a fact?  Like “that mud is dirty” or “that fart smells bad”?
 
 
I bring up farts, of course, because farts are a major selling point in the G-Force trailer. I’m as immature as the next guy, but when I calm down for a minute I like to picture the writing session that birthed such moments:
 
 
______________________________________
 
“EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – DAY…
 
The G-Force are riding at super-speed in a space-age exercise ball. One of the guinea pigs lets out a thunderous FART that would shock even Carlos Mencia.
 
GUINEA PIG #1
Yuck! Disgusting!
 
GUINEA PIG #2
Roll down the window!
 
TRACY MORGAN GUINEA PIG
These things don’t have windows!”
 
 
______________________________________
 
Dang!  Look at that expert screenplay construction.  Take that, Charlie Kaufman!
 
 
Please note:  The Wibberleys are Writer’s Guild members who command multiple-figure salaries, and I am not.  Who you gonna listen to?
 
 
Sometimes life is so ridiculous that a sane man’s only recourse is to take a break from the fight and just enjoy the senselessness of it all.
 
______________________________________

 @jonnyabomb

So the publicity for The Expendables 2 is ramping up.  I’ve been seeing a new mini-trailer in front of movies at the theater recently, which we should talk about.  For one thing, am I the only person who thinks it looks like they majorly skimped on the cinematography budget?  Seriously, dude.

Expendables 2 was shot by Shelly Johnson, who made pretty pictures for movies like The Wolfman and Captain America (regardless of what you thought of those movies, I liked the look of them), so the ugliness of these frames is clearly not his fault.  Did some less-talented second unit take over for the trailer scene?  These are some rapidly-aging screen queens — you have to light them up pretty like you’d do Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep.

Of course, we’ve got bigger problems.  For one thing, as my friends at Daily Grindhouse have reported, Expendables 2 will be rated PG-13.  Which strikes me as wrong on a few different fronts, but since creative and moral concerns aren’t foremost with this particular franchise, maybe good old American bloodthirst will do?  Expect to see as much gore and viscera in this supposedly manly flick as in an average episode of True Blood.  And with fewer pairs of titties. 

What’s wrong with going full-bore after your core audience?  Tyler Perry does it, to great success.  So do the people who put together the Darling Companion ad campaign.  Better to please your base than to spread your appeal too thin.  Expendables movies are supposed to be for guys.  It’s not a four-quadrant kind of a deal.  That’s why, when you watch the Expendables 2 trailer above, you hear a chorus of male voices asking “Who?” after the name “Hemsworth” comes up.  “Hemsworth” is Liam Hemsworth, and nothing against him, but he’s here to bring in the ‘tweens off his role in the Hunger Games franchise.  If any guy knows the name Hemsworth, it’s because his brother Chris played Thor (I know of Liam because he was in a very good horror movie called Triangle, but I’m always in the minority).  And hey, if you really want girls and women to come to the movie, why not cast an actress anyone’s ever heard of in a prominent role, or even — revolution! — let her join the team?  Where’s Charisma Carpenter, from the first movie?  How about an Angelina Jolie cameo?  Personally, I suggest borrowing Gabrielle Union away from the Tyler Perry juggernaut — she could probably do a cool Pam Grier riff that this franchise badly needs — but again, no one listens to me.

Well, Stallone seemed to, when he apparently made Bruce Willis the villain of the sequel, but there’s more to be righted here, and I’m concerned.  For every right move Expendables 2 looks to have made, like adding future-star Scott Adkins, or casting Jean-Claude Van Damme, who seems to have a sense of humor about himself, there’s a major wrong move, like casting Chuck Norris, who doesn’t. 

It’s enough to demand a referendum on the varying coolness quotients of the stars of Expendables 2 in anticipation and dread of the new movie, which I did here when I looked at the poster, and have since expanded upon for the sake of this article.  So anyway, let’s have a look at the poster again, then take that bitch apart.

There’s a lot going on here.  We’re gonna have to go through it all, element by element:

1.  Sylvester Stallone

Again with the beret. I think the beret is Stallone’s way of saying:  “I’m taking it back to the glory days, and by that I do not mean First Blood Part 2, but instead Demolition Man.”  (Personally I happen to like Demolition Man, but I am not what you would call a highbrow critic.)

Letter Grade: C.

2.  Arnold Schwarzenegger

Nice Gozer The Gozerian hairdo there, bud.  Seriously, what’s up with Arnold’s hair?  Is the male pattern baldness getting so threatening that the only direction to go was up?  This is not a respectful hairstyle befitting the star of Predator.  You need to treat the star of Predator with more respect, even if you ARE the star of Predator

Letter Grade: D.

3.   Bruce Willis:  

He’s got that look that says, “Not that long ago, I was in real movies. Ah, hell. Fuck it anyways.” 

Letter Grade: C+.

4.  Jason Statham

He’s got a beret on too.   It’s like he’s got a junior Stallone thing going.  He’s the teacher’s pet.   The thing about Statham is, even his fans have to agree that he bypassed the Rocky phase entirely for his Demolition Man period.  Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

Letter Grade: C-.

5.  Chuck Norris

I’m sorry, but I still find it impossible to believe that this country ever had a red-bearded action hero.  This is a man whose entire fan base is ironic.  All this craziness going on around him, and Chuck Norris is still the one who stands out as a cartoon character.

Letter Grade: F.

6.  The girl

Unless that’s Jet Li in drag, no one even bothered to put a name for her on the poster.  Let’s be real:  These movies aren’t interested in women.  Not even as sex objects!  We can only imagine that her death prompts one or more of these dudes to seek revenge.  And then she is never mentioned again.

Letter Grade: C+.

7.  Dolph Lundgren

Not sure what’s up with the Tilda Swinton haircut, but his presence here is a triumph.  He died in the first movie, didn’t he?  It’s time to re-assess Dolph Lundgren.  He’s too tough to die, in real life and in sub-par movies, he was the best thing about the first Expendables, and he’s arguably our best hope of elevating the sequel.

Letter Grade: A-.

8.  Van Damme:

He’s got an expression on his face that’s like, “Yeah, I’m wearing a fur scarf and carrying the skinniest gun on the poster. It’s all right. I’m gonna put this gun down in a second and then you’re gonna get to see me kick some motherfuckers in the ear.”

Letter Grade: B+.

9.  Terry Crews

I just need to point out that the ex-NFL player is, technically speaking, the most interesting and inspired actor in this entire cast.  (The only one you could even argue comes close to Crews is Willis, and I would win that argument.)

Letter Grade: A.

In conclusion:

I couldn’t wait to see the first Expendables movie. 

Overall, I found it to be a disappointment

Regardless, as a masochist, even after all I’ve expressed here, I still absolutely plan to see the second Expendables movie.

This poster is the perfect representation of all my hopes for it and of all my reservations about it.  The new trailer falls more on the latter side of that statement.  I’m the masochistic kind of optimist, I guess.

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UPDATE!!!

Thursday, April 26th, 2011

Via one of my very favorite sites, IMP Awards, Here are the new character posters for The Expendables 2, which I believe only serve to confirm my prior rulings.  Check them out and see if you agree (and let me know if you don’t):

_________

STALLONE (Beret Sr.)

SCHWARZENEGGER (The Gozerian)

WILLIS (Mr. Apathy)

STATHAM (Beret Jr.)

LI (Exempt From Judgment)

COUTURE (Means “Women’s Clothing” In French)

HEMSWORTH (Most Likely To Get Buggered By One Of These Guys)

YU (Minimum Daily Recommended Amount Of Female)

NORRIS (The Worst One)

CREWS (The Best One)

VAN

LUNDGREN (The Tilda Swinton One)

VAN DAMME (Increased In Awesomeness Due To This Poster)

ADKINS!!!  (If You’re Not Completely Thrilled To See Him Here, You Need To Watch More Action Movies)

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Find me, love me, hate me on Twitter:   @jonnyabomb

Admittedly, when my friends and I turn our debates to the more philosophical questions in life, it usually goes like this:  “Who do you think would win in a fight: A grizzly bear, or a great white shark?”

We figure that the battle would take place in an enclosed space, in shallow waters, where there’d be enough depth for the bear to stand and the shark to swim.  My own argument tends to emphasize the underrated fearsomeness of bears — bears catch fish, it’s what they do — but see, I’m already getting off topic.

As the resident film-obsessive, I’ve been inevitably asked the question, “Has there ever been a movie where zombies attacked a great white shark?” It’s a great idea – mindless undead eating machines taking on the world’s oldest and most perfect toothy eater from the sea.

Well, to my knowledge, there’s never been that exactly. That’s the bad news.

The good news: There has, in fact, been a movie where a zombie fought a tiger shark.

Next best thing, right?

It happened in a movie directed by Lucio Fulci, Italian horror icon of the 1970s and 1980s, known as Zombi 2. (Also known, somewhat amazingly, as Zombie. Oh, and also Zombie Flesh Eaters, Island Of The Flesh Eaters, Island Of The Living Dead – Italian horror movies go by a lot of names.)

I can’t rightly recommend a beginning-to-end screening of the movie. Here’s what it does have to recommend it: Some interesting, grisly, zombie make-up, a legendarily-gross scene of eyeball damage (not really my thing, sorry), a cool shot of zombies ambling across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a great, eerie title theme by composer Fabio Frizzi. Besides that, crucify me if you dare, but I don’t think Zombi 2 is all that good.  There’s a major disconnect between what the movie’s fans seem to want it to be and what it actually is.  It happens.

Also, as you’re about to see, the marquee fight is not as stellar as you’ve been dreaming about. The shark’s teeth have clearly been removed entirely (where was the ASPCA on this?) and the zombie just kind of grabs onto the shark and hugs at him, at one point bloodily chomping on what’s supposed to be a fistful of sharkhide, but so obviously isn’t.

So sadly, it’s not much of a fight. But for fans of interspecies underwater ballet, you’ve hit paydirt!  This scene is slow, weird, almost dreamy – certainly worth watching if you’re so inclined.

But there’s still room in cinema for this scene to be topped. Some freak somewhere is thinking up the ultimate shark/zombie battle. Guaranteed. That freak might even be me… although right now I’ve kind of shifted my attention to the idea of a polar bear fighting a ninja.

Zombi 2 is playing on October 21st and 22nd in limited cities across the country, including NYC’s Landmark Sunshine Theater, LA’s New Beverly, and Yellow Springs, Ohio’s Little Art Theatre. (Look for showtimes here.) A repackaged DVD from the great Blue Underground label follows on October 25th.  Portions of the preceding article have appeared elsewhere on the internet, believe it or not.

http://twitter.com/jonnyabomb

Awwww!  That’s so sweet!