Archive for February, 2013

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50 Movies in 100 Days: The Order of the Black Eagle

February 22, 2013

The Order of the Black Eagle

This is a late 80’s parody of James Bond, it is somewhat funny from time to time, but ends up being more of a drag than anything else.  The main character is actually pretty good, but the story just seems to drag on and on.  The Jax is kind of closer to Clouseau than to James Bond, but in a comedy that should work.

The story starts with a Nazi group kidnapping a scientist to try and take over the world.  The best spy is brought in to try and take them down, Duncan Jax, along with the help of Tiffany, a blond Interpol agent.  They manage to infiltrate the gang and find out that as well as using a laser beam to destroy countries, they are planning on bringing Hitler back from the dead.  Duncan escapes, but Tiffany is captured, and Duncan meets up with some people he’s worked with before.  They manage to get back and defeat the Nazi’s and blow everything up at the last moment.

Like I said, for the most part the acting is suspect, and everything in it is pretty suspect.  Ian Hunter is actually pretty entertaining as an actor in this film, he is obviously a caricature of James Bond trying to be as suave as possible, and then ends up being nearly a complete failure.  The other actors are pretty blah.

This movie almost seems like it had a decently sized budget, not because there is any actual talent in the film, but because everything seems really cheesy, and like they try and make something that is pretty grand.  The music in the film is pretty awesome 80’s sound, but overall not that hot. And it kind of just rambles on and on through many a different character and plot line.

This is one of those 80’s films that had a fair amount of potential but ends up being pretty much a failure.  The plot is kind of entertaining at least as a premise, but ends up being a failure as the characters are absurd, and it isn’t all that entertaining.  It has some jokes on it, but for the most part it seems to take itself more seriously than it should, or maybe more so it just is a poorly written joke.

Critical Grade: D-

Entertainment Grade: D+

Overall Grade: D

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Unicorn City

February 22, 2013

Unicorn City

This is a fun indie comedy about all things nerdy.  It is mainly about LARP-ing and role playing quest games but it’s done so in a very entertaining way and is completely over the top.  It is semi-predictable but they do a good job in character development as well as a good job with creating a villain that you really don’t like.

The story revolves around, Voss, a loser nerd who can’t keep a job and who basically just enjoys playing role playing games.  But when the dungeon master of their game kills him and he interviews for his dream job, he ends up creating Unicorn City.  Unicorn City is a place where people can play their role playing characters.  The “city” starts to flourish until Shadowhawk, the dungeon master from the RPG, comes and parks next to them, he steals all the LARP’ers away from Voss.  Things fall apart and Voss is kicked out of Unicorn City.  He decides to come back and save Marsha, the girl who loves him, but he hadn’t figured out that he liked her until now.

The acting in this film is surprisingly good.  Jon Gries is probably the biggest name having been in MIB, Supernatural, and other movies and shows.  He is a very solid bad guy in this film, not really evil, just egotistical, which is evil in the world of nerds.  Devin McGinn and Jaclyn Hales are Voss and Marsha.  McGinn is actually in The Last Lovecraft, which is also a very good movie and I’ve seen for the 50 new movies in 100 days.  He hasn’t done much besides that, but he’s a really good nerdy actor.  Hales hasn’t been in much else.

Visually much about this film is pretty low budget but looks good and is well done.  It is a character piece as much as having a major story developing Voss and the vilain.  They hit the nail on the head with how nerds are portrayed, those who believe themselves to be elite and better than everyone, and nerds who rage from time to time, and the much simpler just nerds for nerds.

Overall this is a really funny film that I highly recommend people.  It’s quirky, it is a good character character development, and a lot of good humor.  It is smart, and deals well with the nerd community and how it works.  Some of the nerd rage and elitism really reminds me of Batman fanboys flipping out when The Dark Knight Rises got less than perfect reviews, and that is what makes it work.  It is probably too nerdy for some, but the majority of people will like it.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: C+

Overall Grade: B

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Safety Not Guaranteed

February 18, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed

This indie comedy is an enjoyable ride through some character development and fun situations.  It isn’t what you expect when you start it out which is nice and enjoyable, unfortunately about half way through it is easy to figure out what else is going to happen in the film and it ends up being pretty predictable at the end.  It works well though and is an entertaining film that is put together with a bunch of heart.

The story revolves around a newspaper add stating that someone is looking for someone to travel back in time with them, safety isn’t guaranteed and you have to bring your open weapons.  A Seattle based magazine decides to write a story about it, mainly so the writer can try and find an old girlfriend of his who still lives in their home town.  He takes along two interns and they track down the old girlfriend and the time traveler.  Things aren’t quite as they seem, the girlfriend isn’t the same and the time traveler isn’t all that right in the head, but he really believes what he is doing.  The journalist can’t get in with the time traveler (eventually does with the old girlfriend) but Darius, the intern can.  They continue collecting on the story and Darius becomes the fellow traveler, but the story falls apart when the journalist is rejected by his old girlfriend after they sleep together and it turns out that the time traveler is going back to save someone that didn’t die, but was an old crush of his that never had the same feelings about him.  But he was rightfully paranoid throughout the whole thing as the government did suspect him as a terrorist and were trying to find him.  He turns on the time machine and we’ll leave my retelling of the story there.

The acting in the film is good.  Aubrey Plaza, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Parks & Rec, does a very good job as Darius, it isn’t a step outside of her comfort zone, she is still quiet and awkward and sarcastic, but she does a really good job of it.  Mark Duplass is good as the crazy time traveler, from the League, he comes across as paranoid, slightly insane and damaged but not as a dangerous crazy person, but someone who is off, probably suffering from some social mental disorder, but brilliant otherwise.  Jake Johnson is solid as the reporter who is fairly all over the place, he has a high image of himself but isn’t an outright bad person.  That is one thing interesting about this film, none of the characters are outright bad people, there is no pure villain, even the government officials aren’t bad, they have reason to be worried about the time traveler after he stole from government buildings, and they aren’t jerks.  Everyone is just normal in many ways, well very abnormal people, but normal in that there aren’t clear cut good and bad, everyone has their good things about them and everyone has their bad things about them.

Direction wise, this is a well put together film.  It has polish to it and doesn’t get caught up in trying to be stylized.  It is simply shot and shown and is a great character piece because of it, the characters only develop a little throughout the film in terms of progression, but there is a deep and rich back story which sheds light onto the characters as you go along.  There isn’t anything about this film that is overdone, even the time machine was a impressive looking machine is clearly cobbled together by the time traveler and isn’t this slick device.  It is bulky and the time traveler believes it will work, but no one else is completely sure about it and is very skeptical throughout the whole film.

The more I think about it, the better I like it.  The depth and flavor of character is really well done, even the side characters have their own back story which we get to hear part of.  It is predictable in the end, but that doesn’t detract a ton from the film.  Safety Not Guaranteed is a well crafted story that is very character driven in a very unique situation, and it doesn’t get bogged down in trying to be clever and people don’t act like they wouldn’t in those situations, so while the premise is very far fetched, the acting and everything seems very realistic in tone and makes for an enjoyable watch that I would highly recommend as a film that most everyone can enjoy.

 

Critical Grade: B

Entertainment Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Curse of the Puppet Master

February 17, 2013

Curse of the Puppet Master

This movie was just pretty flat out bad.  A mad man who was getting people to carve puppets and then would put their souls into them and us them to commit murder if need be.  Overall, can’t think of anything that was all that redeeming about it.  I think that I would put the one good thing from it was the opening scene/credits where there were tons of living puppets and they looked wonderfully creepy, but beyond that, nothing redeeming.

The story is that a man runs a puppet/amusement shop sort of thing mainly with puppets.  A few of them are normal puppets with strings, but many of them are living puppets which do their tricks.  His daughter comes back to college and looking for an old hired hand, her father said he left.  He finds a new puppet maker and his daughter falls for him.  There is a group of jerks in the town which go after the daughter including breaking into the house.  However things go sideways when one of the living puppets save her.  Her father then takes a number of the puppets and goes and kills the jerk.  Well, he watches, and the puppets kill.  The new puppet maker is now pouring himself completely into his work and falls sick, so the owner sends his daughter off to get a fictitious item of the puppet fair thingy and he puts the puppet maker into a new mechanical robot puppet thing, so that there would be a better interface or something like that, it is hard to understand it all.  The daughter comes back and his horrified, and then her father is sucked into something and the film ends.

I’m going to lump the acting, direction, sound, etc, all into one fell swoop, this film had no one of note in it, and you can see why with how lousy the film is.  The one thing the film had going for it was that some of the puppets looked creepy beyond that the whole look and feel of the film was nothing to write home about.  The acting was nondescript and the characters about as boring as you can get with no  reasonable plot development or character development throughout the whole thing.  The jerks were jerks simply because they were jerks, the puppet master probably is explained in some of the earlier puppet master films, but is a weak character, his daughter is dull and there is nothing going for this film acting wise.  The plot is predictable, which at times can be okay if it is done well, but this wasn’t, and you can have a predictable plot with interesting characters, but these characters like previously stated weren’t interesting.

Now, normally I’m one to like this sort of horror film, but there are a rare occasion during a film series where nothing is entertaining and with this film, there isn’t anything that is entertaining.  If you want to see the puppets that are alive, watch one of the many other puppet master movies and skip this one.

Critical Grade: D

Entertainment Grade: D-

Overall Grade: D

 

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50 Movies in 100 Days: The Experts

February 17, 2013

The Experts

Time to party like the 80’s, this is a hilariously absurd movie.  John Travolta with a mullet makes this movie, and the completely absurd plot makes everything work.  A Soviet town which looks like something from middle of the USA in the 1940’s is being used to train KGB agents for the infiltration of America.  Of course, it is set in the 1980’s, so the Russians are a bit backwards, which is where John Travolta and Arye Gross come in.

Anyways, more on the plot again now.  It is completely absurd like I said. A Russian officer goes to New York City to try and find something to bring the Russian training into the current time frame.  He ends up recruiting two young “hip” seeming former club owners, Travis and Wendell for a club that he says in the small town USA, Nebraska in particular.  They think the town is off and lame, so when they open up a new style club, it ends up flopping, they convince the Russian  officer to get them some stuff from the states,  and they end up creating in the people the idealism of the American freedom, some of the old steadfast KGB agents who decide to blow up Travis and Wendell, they escape, to get captured again when Wendell’s girlfriend turns him in, but by that point in time, the people in the town want to have freedom, so they escape again and  take almost the whole time with them to the USA and New York City, they realize that it feels wrong, so they take them to a small town in Nebraska to settle them there.

The acting is pretty hilarious.  John Travolta seems stoned throughout much of the performance, which is okay because it isn’t meant to be a serious film.  Arye Gross is maybe even more over the top.  His character goes through massive mood swings.  And they manage to change the whole town to their side in seemingly the matter of months, but, hey, it is a secret fake US town in Russia, so it is allowed to be hilarious.  Kelly Preston shows up as a KGB Agent who is sent by the committed Russian officer to break the boys and seduce Travis, but then she falls for Travis, and her performance/accent is as hilarious as almost everyone else in the film.

The film itself  actually has some solid look to it, the Russian town actually looks like it was a step back in time.  So Dave Thomas did a pretty good job with the look and feel of things, getting the actions of the people right.  And it was a great excuse for them to throw in almost every house song from the 80’s into a single film.  The sound track isn’t good, 80’s house music, isn’t all that great, but it is pretty hilarious, and it works wonderfully with the film.

This is one of those 80’s films that is so bad that it is great.  It is hilarious, intentionally, and just hits on every level of 80’s-ness.  If you aren’t up for a film that is very cheesy and absurd, then this isn’t for you, but if you want something to look back at (and reflect back upon if you were born in the 80’s or love the 80’s) and feel “nostalgic” about, this is a great film for that, extremely over the top, but very fun.

Critical Grade: D

Entertainment Grade: B+

Overall Grade: C-

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Dead Heat

February 13, 2013

Dead Heat

The best way that I can describe this movie would be to call it the poor prequel to Big Trouble in Little China.  This is a completely absurd buddy cop sort of film.  It is an 80’s film, and it is completely over the top.  There is very little that makes complete sense in this film, and it is totally okay.  This movie is cheese.

Two cops are investigating a string of dangerous daylight crimes, but the criminals seem to be super human.  They find a drug in their blood stream and track down a pharmacy that has a large order of it come in.  There they stumble across a machine that re-animates the dead.  One of the cops dies and they find out why the criminals are never repeats, the machine doesn’t keep the cells stable for that long, so they have 12 hours to solve the crime and take down the ring.  After that they run through a series of undead bad guys and things go from bad to worse as they start to unravel the mystery with everything being completely absurd.

The acting is over the top absurd 80’s like you’d expect.  The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, to call them good actors would definitely be an overstatement, but the film isn’t meant to be anything more special.  The rest of the cast has the quintessential 80’s feel.  It works because the film is really cheesy and the lines are cheesy and the action is cheesy, so who cares if the acting is cheesy.

The best way to describe how this film looks and feels is the 80’s.  The special effects are cheesy, there is a scene where a bunch of dead animals come back to life, and they are completely absurd and over the top.  This is what really reminded me of Big Trouble in Little China, the stuff that completely over the top and makes no sense, but for the 80’s, the practical  effects just aren’t there, but they are fun to look back on and laugh at.

This is a film that if you enjoy some 80’s absurdity, you’ll love.  It takes itself a bit seriously, but it is so goofy and you can ignore the fact that it might have been semi-serious when it was made.  The cheese flows and it is fun mindless entertainment.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: Doubtful there is one, D

Overall Grade: B-

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50 Movies in 100 Days: God Bless America

February 7, 2013

God Bless America

The best way to describe this movie is a pitch black comedy about the sensationalism of America and how horrible people are famous when they should be ignored.  It’s incredibly dark, closest dark comedy in terms of the dark humor I’d compare it to Teeth, but this one might even have Teeth beat, it is less uncomfortable than Teeth to watch, but it really hits hard to some issues about how we as America are obsessed with celebrities, and how we hold up and mindlessly repeat what people say because someone says it.

The story starts with Frank, and insomniac with migraine issues, a lousy job, and a general contempt for reality television and faux celebrities.  His life isn’t all that great, his daughter hates him, and his ex-wife is getting remarried, he loses his job because he was trying to be nice to someone, and his Doctor tells him he has a brain tumor that really is as risky to operate on as it is to leave in his head.  He almost kills himself one night but comes up with one thing he has to do first, as he is watching an MTV like Sweet 16 show.  He wants to take out the spoiled brat of a girl on the show who complains that she didn’t get the right car, that she couldn’t find the right dress, etc.  So he goes to her school where he meets Roxy as he is spying on the other girl.  Roxy basically thinks he’s a creeper until she happens to see him kill the girl.  He takes off in a hurry and again tries to kill himself, but Roxy stops him, because she has a laundry list of bad people whom she wants killed and she tells him about her family life which is terrible.  They go off on a killing spree, killing bad people, like the sweet 16’s parents, people who talk and don’t turn their phones off during movies, someone who takes up two parking spots at a mall, and several others (this is where it gets tiring at times because there is a distinct political slant to the film which ignores one side of the aisle, even though I don’t disagree with who they are killing because they aren’t good people, it is obviously tainted one way).  They eventually end up deciding that moving to France and just getting away to somewhere that dislikes America as much, seems like a great plan.  However, then Frank finds out that Roxy had lied to him, and she comes from a normal family, but she’s just an teenager who doesn’t like the world.  He leaves her (which I should point out, they aren’t having a creepy relationship, well, it is creepy, but not creepy sexual).  Frank goes off on one last mission which changes their relationship, and everything.

This film has great acting.  Frank, played by Joel Murray, has a Ricky Gervais sort of look about him, but much better acting chops.  He is very depressing and serious person who can’t lighten up, and plays that to a tee.  Roxy, Tara Lynne Barr, is equally up to the challenge, showing off a disturbing glee and hatred throughout the film.  Her performance is what really drives the film, and Frank is intentionally a blah downer character to have against the excited Roxy.  The rest of the characters are really spoofs of various political commentators, shock jock radio hosts, celebrities, and fake celebrities.  There are easy ties through out most of them to people in real life.  They end up being caricatures and aren’t all that greatly acted, but the film is really driven by the two main characters and exploring their dynamics more than any of the side characters.

Bobcat Goldthwait, yes, that is the name, does a good job directing this film and creating a world that is basically the world we live in, in the US, and creating a story that shows a strong duplicity to the characters in many ways.  Visually this film has a crisp professional look.  It doesn’t seem like a big budget film, but the quality of work done in the film is noticeable.  They also use Alice Cooper for some of the songs in the film, and to me that is great as I’m a huge Alice Cooper fan.

What works well in this film is the duplicity of the characters, they don’t like the heroes and anti-heroes as portrayed by the media and television, but are worried when they don’t hear anything about what they’ve done on the television.  They crave the fame in some ways, or at least Roxy does, and Frank ends up going that way slowly throughout the film. This duplicity builds the film which could be seen as a highly anti-American, which I don’t know that it is, it is just highly anti-American culture/climate of what matters in news/television, etc. and takes away from the political slant because the two main characters probably would lean one ways, but are themselves what they don’t like.  It is extremely dark, so I’ll warn people watching it about that and there is a fair amount of violence, but it is a well crafted film.

Critical Grade: B

Entertainment Grade: A

Overall Grade: B+