The California Republic is a little-known country that existed for a very short time in history. It only lasted 25 days! It was formed when a group of Americans inhabiting California, then a Mexican territory, rebelled against the Mexican government. The rebellion was started by thirty-three Americans. That thirty-three recruited many more. There were a lot of Americans in California then, even though it was owned by Mexico. This made it easy for them to recruit a small army. Together, they took the city of Sonoma. This military rebellion allowed the creation of a new Republic. The flag for the Republic of California features a walking bear. This flag was designed by a man named Peter Storm. The flag of the Republic of California is still a popular accessory to this day, on posters, mugs, and funny political t shirts. The taking of Sonoma happened with almost no violence. A group of American soldiers rode into Sonoma and found the Mexican comandante, or military officer’s residence. Pounding on his door, they demanded to negotiate terms and declared themselves to have jurisdiction over Sonoma. After forcing this negotiation, the commander on the American Side, William B. Ide, issues the following proclamation to all residents of the area:
He [William B. Ide] also solemnly declares his object in the Second place to be to invite all peaceable and good Citizens of California who are friendly to the maintenance of good order and equal rights (and I do hereby invite them to repair to my camp at Sonoma without delay) to assist us in establishing and perpetuating a “Republican Government” which shall secure to all: civil and religious liberty; which shall detect and punish crime; which shall encourage industry, virtue and literature/
This proclamation amounted to a miniature Declaration of Independence for the short-lived Republic. The flag, first drawn on a piece of cotton cloth, wound up symbolizing the new Republic.
This may sound very unlikely, but it came at a particular point in history. Both the United States and Mexico felt, at the time, that they should own California. A great deal of American immigration was seen as a threat by the Mexicans, whom the Americans at the time frequently referred to as “Spaniards”. The American Secretary of State during all this was a man named James Buchanan, who had instructed his subordinates in to take advantage of any unrest they could find in California. What this all means is that the United States government was looking for any opportunity it could find to create chaos in California and seize the state. There as a lot of international tension at the time, and the short-lived Republic of California was symptomatic of that.
It was a flash in the pan in history, but the Republic of California’s Bear Flag continues to be iconic to this day. It recalls that time in history, and also stands as a symbol for California itself. It can be seen today in many places, including funny political t shirts and other memorabilia.
Mother Russia comes out with the mother of all mixed movies.
My relationship with foreign films, like my relationship with single women, is complex, ill defined, and a mixed blessing. A the same time I love them and hate them. Some movies take on a new approach that no one in our culture would ever consider and open my eyes to the perspectives of the world (Save the Green Planet). Other films go back and do something so retro cool it reminds us of how movies are supposed to be done as opposed to the inane glitz and gimmickry that is the current Hollywood norm (the Raid: Retribution, the Killer). Still others are just surreal and fun in dopey ways that delight the creative soul (City of Lost Children, Man Bites Dog, Delicatessen).
On the other side of the coin are movies that are just bad imitations of the Hollywood aesthetic and would have been better done (or not done) here in the US (The Warrior’s Way (<–one of my first reviews. See if I have evolved as a reviewer!)). The weird thing is Stalingrad manages to be both the good kind and bad kind of foreign movie at the same time.
On the good, you will never see a war movie like this come out of a Western studio. In our movies the heroes are always better trained, armed, equipped, and motivated than whatever unwashed rabble they are sent against. Even in the rare circumstances where a group of soldiers is cut off from support and grossly outnumbered they are still able to kill dozens of enemies for each one of theirs killed (Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor, Saving Private Ryan). The best ones are where the enemies are not even human and can be mowed down with impunity.
In this film, at least for the first half, the story follows the reality of the Battle of Stalingrad in that the Wehrmacht is better equipped, trained, and tactical. Hundreds of Russian soldier die horribly in the first ten minutes in ways that make the Normandy assault scene from Saving Private Ryan look like a drive to your local mall. There is no glory in this film; the war is presented as horrible and awful as possible.
Unfortunately once the first 30 minutes are done the director starts channeling Hollywood, letting five guys take on the entire German army and hold them off. Once the stage is set the clear influence of Hollywood infects this film like a plague; super soldiers mowing down Germans left and right, two romance stories, and a villain so cartoonishly evil that they could have substituted Snidely Whiplash and I don’t think I would have noticed a difference. Then in the last 10 minutes the film stops being Hollywood and turns into the grim Russian war movie I was expecting to see the whole time.
So you understand my difficulty in reviewing this film. I would like to bitch about a very poor directing choice however. The movie rips off Saving Private Ryan almost completely including the flashback framing device. However in Private Ryan it made total sense and gave us an awesome reveal and in this film it was one of the most worthless and unnecessary devices I have seen in film in a long time. The whole movie starts off in Japanese and is about the rescue workers trying to save people after the big tsunami. I spent the first ten minutes not sure I was even in the right theater and if it hadn’t been for the Cyrillic lettering on the screen would have gotten up to check the marque and bitch to the theater manager. Then the actual movie starts and you more or less forget about it until the last five minutes when it returns with a vengeance and drops you out of the story with the abruptness of falling into a punji lined tiger trap.
By the way, it is my belief that you can often tell what the interests and fetishes of director are by what he or she keeps showing on the screen and it is apparent that director Fedor Bondarchuk has a thing for human beings being burned alive. That is pretty much what is shown for like the first half of the film (or so it seemed). Also since IMDB doesn’t have any photos for most of these actors I will have to skip my usual habit of identifying each one after mentioning their character. Honestly I couldn’t tell most of them apart during the film anyway and most of them don’t have any other credits. My apologies.
The movie starts off with foreign rescue workers volunteering to help in Japan. A Russian crew finds five teenagers trapped under rubble and the one guy who can speak German starts talking to them to keep them calm. He tells the girl that he had five fathers and once she questions that he launches into telling the story of his mother and five fathers at the battle of Stalingrad.
(Incidentally I found it more than a little weird that in order to calm down a hysterical German girl this guy is going to tell a story of horror and war wherein tens of thousands of Germans were killed or captured, only to be worked to death in Soviet prison camps. Of the 170,000 Germans in Stalingrad eventually only about 5,000 came home. Would you tell a trapped Native American stories about how your grandfather was an American soldier on the Trail of Tears? How about next time you tell a story about a little dog you had as a kid?)
Then the real movie starts with the Red Army advancing across the Volga. Their target seems to be three giant fuel depots and in order to keep them from falling into German hands the captain in charge orders them blown up. This causes most of the assault force to catch on fire but due to their strength of the Russian character still charge forward into the face of German machine guns while on fire (kind of dopey, and if this had been an American film I think I would have been rolling my eyes at that one. The Spirit of the Russian Soldier is a drum that gets beaten pretty regularly in this film. The Hammer and Sickle image is off of one of our funny political t shirts BTW).
Anyway, after getting their assault force obliterated five assorted soldiers and sailors take a building near the river. They are ordered to hold it at all costs. In the building lives Katya, a young girl who was abused by the Germans. She refuses to leave her home and hangs out with the soldiers. Meanwhile across the courtyard the Germans need to take the building and the captain is charged by his laughable evil colonel to do so.
There is a humanizing sub plot for the German captain where he loves a hot Russian girl but honestly that’s the rest of the story in a nutshell. The Germans attack, the Russians beat them back. The Germans set fire to Russian civilians. The five soldiers all come to love and care for Katya and one in particular may or may not have slept with her (little vague on this point). Meanwhile the German captain is obsessed with capturing the building while the colonel breathes down his neck and he does what he can to save Masha, his girl. I’m not going to spoil this one but remember this film is Russian so if you were looking for a happy ending skip on to the next movie.
WWII movie. One star. It was nice to see something from the Eastern Front. Most Americans assume we won WWII but in truth it was the Russians who did all the heavy lifting and lost 20,000,000 people doing it. The main motivation for invading Europe from the West was to keep Russia from taking over all of it. One star. I liked the different approach to war films. It was a true team effort and the grimness of the Russians in the face of the better equipped and trained Germans was cool. One star. I actually really like the ending. Not all heroes have to ride off into the sunset with the girl on their arm. One star. Aside from the charge of the Burning Men (haw! That joke is way funnier if you live in the Bay Area) most of the action was cool and well done. One star. If you ever want to see how grim warfare can be, especially in an urban environment, this is the one for you (unless you saw Enemy at the Gates). One star. I liked the humanization of the German captain, and the effort to show that decency can exist in even the worst conditions. One star. In general a decent film. One star. Total: eight stars.
The black holes:
The flashback framing device was kind of idiotic, as well as derivative and completely unnecessary. It felt like we were watching two different movies. One black hole. I’m never a fan of villains who are evil just for evils sake. It makes them comical. One black hole. The Hollywoodification of this film was greatly to its detriment IMO. One black hole. The 3D and IMAX added nothing except for a motivation to write in some dumb crap in order to showcase it. Special effects should be used to enhance a story, not motivate it. One black hole. Total: four black holes.
So a grand total of four stars. A better than average score but on the B- side of the bell curve. It could have been a lot better. Worth seeing? It’s certainly a better WWII movie than Monuments Men, which should say something to studios who let actors pleasure themselves on the studio dime. I’d say yes, it’s worth seeing. It’s a pretty solid R and fairly brutal so no kids and probably no date. A romance in a film doesn’t add much to your dates enjoyment when most of the cast ends up dead. Bathroom break? That’s pretty easy. The scene where the five Russians throw a birthday party for Katya could be missed entirely, although in a perfect world you would have been able to skip the opening and closing bookends.
Thanks for reading. If the girl I’m supposed to hang out with tonight blows me off (a good likelihood in my experience) I will go see Son of God (that sentence taken out of context looks a little weird) although there is a big piece of me that is dreading it. Look for that review (plus more bitching about my dating life) tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Mostly I just post new reviews plus the series I am doing on Star Trek, although the other day I found a couple of funny photos. If you have a comment on this film or my review scroll down and leave it here. Also my SEO guy says I need more Facebook likes so click the little button on the top right. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to [email protected]. Thanks again and have a great night.
I often find in myself certain animal characteristics. In Warhammer I combine the vicious savagery of a tiger with the cleverness of a monkey (tonkey?). When faced with obstacles in life I usually charge forward ignoring them confident in my bull like ability to batter them aside with my horns and thick skull. I tend to look like a giant bear (size, not body hair), am stubborn like a mule, and (apparently) have all the sex appeal of a rancid roadkill armadillo.
When it comes to movie reviews I think the animal I most channel is the coyote. For those of you who did not grow up in an area with coyotes let me tell you they are not dogs or wolves. They are something in between. They can attack when desperate enough but really only go after animals that are mostly dead already. Scavengers, basically. I, like a coyote, often salivate at the sight of a wounded movie that has already failed to meet studio expectations and will in all fairness truly suck. Sure it’s painful to watch but afterwards I have a whole smorgasbord of dead animal parts to fill my critical tummy.
This is why I sometimes go back and see films that have been out for over a month. It has been a little slow (and I think I need to steel myself to see Battle of the Year) so this is the perfect time to drop back and pick up any scraps I missed. Thus we come to Planes. If you were stupid enough to think this film was going to be anything other than Cars with wings then I’m pleased to announce you have won an ocean cruise that starts when you stick your head into your own toilet and flush yourself to Acapulco.
This film wasn’t so awful that I found myself looking for the door to the projection room in order to do bad things to the projectionist, but I was definitely eyeballing the exits. I actually see this film as a sign of the contempt that certain studios have for their fans. It seems to be pretty clearly designed to suck money from the hapless parents of kids while providing nothing in return except 91 minutes of peace and quiet (maybe. Some of the kids in the theater were pretty rambunctious. On a side note, I purposely saw a late showing in order to not be up to my ass in rug rats. Why are you parents taking your children to see a movie at 10pm? Shouldn’t your kids be locked in their sleep cages by then?). When I imagine the executives of certain studios discussing their fans I imagine them treating us like the robots treated humans in the Matrix.
There was one thing that bugged me about this film (and the whole Cars franchise) and about halfway through the film the answer struck me like a tornado touching down in a trailer park. The main character, Dusty Crophopper, is a crop duster (see what they did there? Clever.). He spends all day dusting crops of corn and has done so his entire life. His older buddy has done it for decades. Yet no where do we see anyone capable of eating and digesting the corn. There was some discussion of corn oil being used as a new kind of fuel but it looks like corn has been raised centuries so that is no explanation. Why are they growing corn???
Once I notice that I started seeing a bunch of other stuff. At the airports they kept running into giant commercial passenger planes, complete with the row of windows for passengers to look out of. There is a whole network of passenger planes and yet no sign of passengers. One of Dusty’s sidekicks is selling souvenir whistles, yet most of the cars and planes don’t really have arms to put the whistle up the their grill. Why would anyone need a whistle if you were created with a horn? The mystery of no humans yet stuff that only humans could need really ground on me until finally the answer struck me.
Sentient, autonomous machines? No sign of humans yet the vestigial remnants of human society? Machines mimicking human behavior? All of a sudden I realized that what we are seeing in the world of Cars is the post-human world in the wake of the robot revolution! This is the world after Skynet has won! It’s really the only explanation, and as cute as this movie is I’m sure at some point during his racing Dusty was flying over mass human graves and the broken battlefields filled with bones crushed under mighty robotic war machine treads. Is this really what you want to show your children?
(Obey Robot image courtesy of the Funny Political T Shirts category)
Also, what is the deal with forklifts? You see, cars and planes lack anything resembling limbs, so forklifts are now the only functional working machines in this society, and there are a lot of them. Way more than you would imagine in proportion to other vehicles. I had a job at a warehouse once and while the parking lot had 50-60 cars in it we only had two forklifts. Also, in the movie when you see the viewing stands at the race finish (no double very expensive seats) they are filled with cars and planes but you only see forklifts when it is time to do some form of technical task or labor. Clearly the forklifts represent the post-human proletariat. Karl Marx would have a field day with this movie. Power to the Forklifts! Join the Forklift Revolution! Study the Bourgeois Automobile Intelligentsia’s Methods of Struggle Against the Forklifts!
Anyway, the story. Just rent Cars and stick magnetic wings onto all the characters if you want to skip my recap. Good to go. Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook-Mr. Brooks, Dan in Real Life, My Best Friends Girl) is a crop duster who dreams of being a racer. He is aided by his dopey gas truck buddy Chug (Brad Garrett-Everybody Loves Raymond, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo) and his forklift mechanic (and possible revolutionary. The concept is never really explored) Dottie (Teri Hatcher-Tomorrow Never Dies, Coroline, Desperate Housewives). He enters a local qualifying race and barely squeaks in. He seeks training from local war hero Skipper (Stacy Keach-American History X, the Bourne Identity, the New Mike Hammer), a Corsair (which, in my opinion, was the coolest looking aircraft of WWII) with a troubled past.
Honestly just grab the kids movie cliche checklist and start checking stuff off. Dusty makes friends with a Mexican lucha libre plane (Carlos Alazraqui-Happy Feet, Reno 911, Toy Story 3) who acts as his goofy sidekick in the air. The Mexican also has a sub plot of unrequited love with a Canadian plane (Julia Louis-Dreyfus-Seinfeld, a Bug’s Life, Deconstructing Harry). There’s the obligatory love interest for Dusty (can someone tell me how planes actually have sex, and to what purpose? I’m honestly curious) in the slightly-less-than-racially-sensitive plane Ishani (Priyanka Chopra-Fashion, Barfi, Don!). There’s the stuffy British guy (John Cleese-A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python) just in case you hadn’t quite filled up on stereotypes yet, and of course the obligatory reigning champion and all around jerk to what he considers a lower class working plane (aha! More less-than subtle Communist rhetoric!) Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith-Wreck It Ralph, Resident Evil 5, Assassins Creed).
Just write it out the story your head before I type this. Dusty starts off sucking, but over time starts winning. Ripslinger feels threatened by him and does him dirty with the help of his two hench-planes Echo and Bravo (obviously counter-revolutionaries, the both of them. Anthony Edwards-Zodiac, Top Gun, Revenge of the Nerds and Val Kilmer(WTF???)-Real Genius, Heat, Top Gun). I don’t want to spoil the ending but if you thought you were going to be surprised, prepare to be surprised.
As per usual for kids movies I won’t dissect it with my stars/black hole rating system. I judge these films by how the kids in the audience are reacting and to be honest, it seems like a lot of the kids were more than a little bored. They were climbing all over the seats and running up and down the stairs more than I see in most kids films. I guess I’m going to have to unrecommended this film for your beloved tikes. They will get as much or more out of a viewing of Cars at home and you yourself won’t be subjected to this mind numbing cliche pap.
So I guess that’s it for this movie. Based on the trend I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we see another movie set in the Cars world involving some other type of working class vehicle that dreams of being a racer. Perhaps a tug boat or garbage scow in a movie with some kind of watercraft related name? However, there is some promise for this franchise in that I would really, really want to see either the Cars prequel featuring the destruction of the human race or the film of the inevitable forklift revolution (Lifts?). I dream of a world where studios develop the sack to take fun chances like that (also a world where I’m surrounded by hot women who play Warhammer topless and there is bacon on every form of food).
Thanks for reading. There are a couple more movies out this week that I will try to grind through but I am not looking forward to them. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Post comments on this movie or my review here, or send me an email at [email protected] if you have an off topic question or suggestion. Talk to you soon. Have a great day.
Pretty damned funny, but if you are easily offended or super patriotic you might want to give it a miss.
I am indeed a Sasha Baron Cohen fan. I find his style of humor, while cringe inducing, to be both clever and mind expanding. Borat and Bruno were both genius, and I laugh my ass off whenever I watch Da Ali G Show. (None of the Above image courtesy of the funny Political T Shirts category)
Dictator, the third in his series of one word title movies, contains much of the same humor but also represents a significant divergence from his norm in that instead of injecting one of his established characters into situations with Americans he is now working from a script. On the one hand this provides a nice framework upon which to craft a decent movie rather than trying to put it together in the editing room, but on the other hand it somewhat restricts his movement and also has the issue of allowing the situations to get so wild that they take away from the appealing reality of the situations.
By that I mean in Borat and Bruno Cohen was dealing with real Americans Alan Funt style and therefore had to present situations that, while extreme and ridiculous, were also within the realm of possibility. If things had gotten too weird or out there the people he was working with would have figured it out and not kept acting naturally. For me that “real possibility” is what worked and made it so funny. In this movie the few times he went really off the rails (the birthing scene, for example) of reality gave the film the taint of surreality, which did not work.
That being said, those moments were few and far between, book casing long swaths of brilliant and non PC comedy. Sasha Baron Cohen (Bruno, Borat, Da Ali G Show) plays Admiral General Aladeen, the brutal and eccentric dictator of Wadiya, an oil rich country in Northern Africa. His interest include sleeping with Western celebrities, gold plated Hummers, and executing anyone who bothers him even a little (there is a really funny montage of people he has sent off to death for things like finding the prize in his box of cereal). He is pushing his nuclear weapons program and is about to get sanctioned by the United Nations. He travels to NYC to address the UN but while there is kidnapped by a racist redneck. He escapes only to discover he has been supplanted by his double under the thumb of his Prime Minister Tamir (Sir Ben Kingsley-Ghandi, Sexy Beast, Hugo). He takes refuge with local granola girl Zoey (Anna Faris-What’s Your Number, Scary Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) who runs some kind of organic hippy store (let me say that for some reason I found her character here as the short haired, hairy hippy chick way more appealing than the fake seeming shallow blonde in What’s Your Number. Maybe it’s because I live in the Bay Area and meet more women like that). Some of the funniest scenes occur when Aladeen is telling her she is a boy and giving her grooming tips.
Anyway, he also hooks up with Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas-Baby Mama, I Hate Valentine’s Day, Please Give), his former head scientist whom he ordered executed for arguing with him about the shape of the nuclear missile. It turns out all the people he ordered killed were smuggled out of the country and now live in Little Wadiya. Nadal agrees to help him regain power. At that point if you have seen Coming to America and Trading Places you have seen the rest of the film. However, both of those movies are pretty good so I don’t think plumbing them for story points is a bad move. Comedic fish out of water stuff ensues. Some truly amazing comedy scenes happen, along with a few dead weights.
The stars. For the majority very funny. Two stars. Very non-PC and insulting to pretty much everyone. Two stars. The helicopter scene was some of the funniest stuff I have seen in years. One star. Sasha was typically brilliant. One star. All the supporting cast very well done, especially Jason Mantzoukas. I hope to see him in other stuff soon. One star. A really nice political message about the nature of a dictatorship towards the end had me laughing very hard. One star. The ending, which at first seemed to be ramping up to a dumb Disney-like happy ending, turned out to be well done and funny as well. One star. Overall a good movie. Two stars. Total: eleven stars.
The black holes. There were a couple scenes that felt really fake, not funny, and/or dragged on. One black hole. Some of the funniest lines from the trailers failed to make it into the actual film. One black hole. Some of the gross out humor was just not even necessary or well done. One black hole. Total: three black holes.
A grand total of eight stars, a most excellent score. If you are a fan of humor or Sasha Baron Cohen then by all means see this film. Try to see it in a theater. Every dollar it gets means more chance of another great Cohen film soon. On the other hand, this is probably a terrible date movie. Gross humor, nasty sex, and just not the right style of film IMO. Your date might laugh and enjoy it, but she will most likely not be inclined to take off her clothes afterward if you know what I mean. Bathroom break? That’s easy. The scene where the woman gives birth. It’s five minutes of disgusting and disturbing humor just to deliver one joke. If you are looking for a second bathroom break the Aladeen masturbation scene definitely qualifies.
Thanks for reading. I have two movies in my sights for this weekend, Battleship and What to Expect When You Are Expecting. One looks like it is based on a really dumb concept, and the other is about ships. I kid, I kid. Seriously, they both look pretty suckstastic so let’s see who plays out. I’m also running a booth at the Big Wow Comicfest, a comic book convention in San Jose. If you are in the area stop by my booth and say hi. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu send an email if you have off topic questions or suggestions to [email protected]. Feel free to post here if you have a comment on this movie. Talk to you soon.
Geez, must every movie be remade? It’s one thing when a great movie is remade into a cruddy one, but if I recall correctly Red Dawn was not exactly the greatest film ever made. I guess that’s the sound of the bottom of a barrel being scraped, which is funny when you think about all the really good movies out there that could be remade. Maybe the really good movies are somehow immune to remakes. It keeps looking like they are going for movies that were good enough to do OK at the box office but not so good as to make the fans get really pissed off.
The reason I pulled this Chairman Mao image from the Political T Shirts is the original story was supposed to be about the Chinese invading the US to reposes on a bunch of defaulted debts. That actually might have been good and would have definitely been timely. However, the studio decided they couldn’t afford to alienate the Chinese and opted instead to go with the sucktastic choice of North Korea. Do they really expect me to believe a county the size of Minnesota has the resources and manpower to even seriously threaten the United States? This is one of the rare times you get to see a studio actively make the decision to create a crap movie. It really just goes to show how little respect they have for their audience. I would bet they only see us as bleating sheep with wallets. I will not see this garbage. Dave probably will, and I hope he dumps all over it.
Ugh. I’m afraid this is going to be another review that makes me look and feel stupid. You see, if I were the type to use analogies in my reviews I might say a movie is like an engine. In most cases of mainstream Hollywood movies the engine is a simple and crude coal burning one piston steam engine. Low energy output, prone to breakdowns, and they create a lot of smelly smoke and pollution. By comparison, a movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a nuclear power plant, creating abundant energy at high output with a minimum of moving parts and a complexity that could be considered beautiful to a technophile. If I were to beat my analogy further into the ground, I could say that, while I understand the principles behind a simple steam engine (and, to be honest, if I were sufficiently motivated I could probably build one that would either work or blow up horribly) the complexities of a nuclear power plant are far beyond my ken.
Thus we come to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is a beautiful movie, amazingly shot and well crafted, but so complicated and convoluted that I kept losing track of what the hell was going on. Characters kept appearing, adding a little more complexity, and then vanishing back into the fold. It didn’t help much that, to a man (and in one case, woman) almost all the characters looked like they had all been pressed out of the same Playdoh mold using slight variations in the color white. Honestly, they all looked like they had been dredged up out of a river. Keeping track of any one character was like trying to watch a specific tuna in a huge school. Even the main character, the great Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordan from Batman Begins and the Dark Knight) I kept getting confused with John Hurt (Alien, V for Vendetta, Hellboy).
It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a movie adaptation of a wonderfully complex spy thriller book, but suffered from a lack of screen time to deliver the story. Ironically, there was also a lot of time spent on stuff that could be considered at best insignificant. Honestly, if they had dropped the five minutes exploring the romance between one spy and a hot Russian defector (all of which could have been delivered using about two lines of expository dialog) and used that time to further explore the relationship between two of the other spies I might have not been scratching my head so much on the way out. As this is a mystery (of sorts) I really don’t want to go into it too much as it might blow part of the ending, but if I had had a better understanding of what was going on between them I might have been able to figure out the motivation that seemed to be lacking.
That being said, the film is really well done. The costuming and lighting scream Cold War Era. The acting was good for what was needed (it’s not that tough to play an emotionless, acerbic anti-socialite, which is pretty much what the entire cast was composed of). However, in a weird twist this really complicated story described as a spy mystery had little to do with mystery at all. The puzzle, when solved, seems to be from the most mundane maneuvers possible. The movie could easily have been about discovering the source of an accounting discrepancy in a huge British bureaucracy, which is effectively what this was about. While there were definitive plot points that were critical to the story, the pacing between plot points dragged on and on. It was like traveling from oasis to oasis through a bleak desert. I wasn’t looking for car chases and gun fights, but a little more focus on the characters and/or motivations would have been well received.
Like I said, I won’t get too deep into the story as I don’t want to spoil anything. Gary Oldman is Smiley, an aged spy pulled out of retirement to discover who a mole is in the British intelligence community during the Cold War. He is aided by Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch-Sherlock Holmes (the new, really good BBC one, which I highly recommend), War Horse, the Other Boleyn Girl) and some other old guy who barely registered. He is at odds with most of his suspects, mainly because he was part of the old guard that the current heads swept away. Some detective work happens, although not as much as you would expect, and a lot of seemingly pointless flashbacks surface and more or less pad out the run time without contributing a lot. (Russian Spy image courtesy of the Political T Shirt category)
The stars. Gary Oldman. One star. Very complicated story. Two stars. For all that the movie was almost entirely shot indoors, there were some amazing camera angles and shots, very different from modern movie production. One stars. Acting was very good. One star. The director did a great job making you feel like you were in the 70’s in London. One star. If his intention was to show you what it would be like to grind through a massive, Brazil-esque bureaucracy than my hat’s off to him, for he totally succeeded. One star. Overall well done. One star. Total: eight stars.
The black holes. My head hurt from trying to keep up with what was going on and I left the theater totally confused. Sure, call me a moron but this is my blog so one black hole. The pacing at multiple points felt like trying feed a bike chain through a hand cranked meat grinder. One black hole. No real attempt to explain what anyone’s motivations really were. One black hole. For most of the movie nothing really happened, and when it did it had all the emotional impact of a minor breaking of wind. Even the final dramatic scene was delivered like a mechanic changing your oil. Deadpan and emotionless don’t even begin to describe this film. One black hole. A complicated mystery that was solved using techniques from the Scooby Doo school of detective work. One black hole. Did I mention confusing? I guess I did. Five black holes total.
So a total of three stars. Not great, and not what I would expect based on the quality of this film and what I heard about it. Once again I am at odds with the greater movie reviewing industry, but I won’t lie just to look like everyone else (in fact, that sounds like exactly the wrong reason to lie about anything). I found the movie plodish and confusing. If you are of a higher intellect you might get more out of this (or, if you like to pretend you are of a higher intellect, go see it and tell everyone else how great the film is. That way they will all assume you are some kind of super genius). There is nothing on the screen that really requires a theater. Not only do I recommend you wait until it comes out on DVD, but if you really want to enjoy and understand it odds are you should buy the film and watch it every night for a week or so. Date movie? Hell no. She will be bored stupid and will want to get as far away from you as possible. On the other hand, with the possible exception of Benedict Cumberbatch everyone in this movie is to good looks what Cheez Whiz is to fine dining, so you might gain some points by comparison. I wouldn’t take the chance.
More end of the year stuff tomorrow, I think. Kind of dry for new movies right now unless I want Bollywood, and I am Singh kind of burned that out of me. I might have to go off on other tangents once the awards posts are done. Maybe finish off that Star Trek rant I had going. Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Talk to you soon.
So something came up and I didn’t see a movie last night. I don’t really have anything on deck right now, and thought I might share some thoughts I have had recently regarding our current economic situation.
I normally don’t get political, but like most Americans have been worried about what we are doing with our economy and do believe that if you don’t do what you can to fix a situation than you deserve the results. I am also not any kind of expert in economics or politics, but I work alone, and therefore have a lot of time to think. I have come up with a plan that I believe has the duel benefit of helping people in our struggling economy and helping companies as well, thus resulting in an idea that should appeal to both sides of the political water, if for different reasons. (Ben Franklin image courtesy of the Political T Shirt category).
The problem we have had with the stimulus money is that (obviously) it went to people who don’t actually stimulate anything. Banks are not exactly lining up on my site to buy t-shirts, and as they keep sending jobs overseas it really doesn’t do much at all. Sure, some decent construction jobs were handed out, but the problem is those are all temporary situations. Eventually the bridge will get finished and all those guys will be out of work again.
What we need is stimulus into jobs where Americans actually manufacture stuff and then that stuff gets sold to other Americans. Sure, we tried that with cars by bailing out some incompetent care manufacturers, but no one I know is looking to buy a new car. The jobs we need are the ones that make all the little widgets that are current being mass produced overseas, mostly in China. Electronics, consumer goods, novelty items; you name it, our country used to make it and the companies making them made a profit. Why don’t we still do these sorts of things? Well, the obvious answers are corporate greed in an increasingly competitive market. However, the underlying reason is cost of labor. Americans just cost too much to hire and pay. As a country our workforce has priced themselves out of the job market and are therefore now unemployed.
So what is the answer? Glad you asked. What I would do if I were president and Congress (or had some kind of mind control device) is I would create a program called the General Labor Pool. Similar in theory to the labor programs started by President Roosevelt during the other Depression, the difference would be that anyone on unemployment insurance would actually be enrolled in this program and be required to report for work for however many hours a week was deemed appropriate. Not a full 40, as this would allow them time to look for work. But instead of sweeping up public buildings and the like, the people in the General Labor Pool would be hired out to private companies at significant labor discounts.
You see, instead of paying the unemployment insurance to the individual people, the money would be sent to any company hiring them to offset the cost of their wages. This idea has many benefits.
1. The companies participating would get a ready pool of employees at rates that would make it economically feasible to manufacture (or phone support, etc) here in the US rather than overseas. Furthermore, as labor is usually the number one cost to most companies this would give them the ability and incentive to actually grow and hire even more (previously unemployed) people.
2. The formally unemployed people would actually be making more money than they would be while unemployed, allowing them to buy things like shoes and clothes, thus supporting floundering retail business in local communities, and thus allowing those retailers to hire more people and place orders for more goods, hopefully manufactured by other recently rehired Americans.
3. People would be working, and not sitting around getting depressed and watching TV.
4. Since we are paying unemployment insurance anyway, it really doesn’t cost us anything. It’s more like a job placement fee.
Once the unemployment runs out there might have to be some kind of other incentive to keep people employed. However, if the company let go of the people every three months and hired more people from the same company, would that be so bad? Working for three months is not a bad deal, and odds are there will be another company looking to hire that same person through the same program.
Look, I’m probably some kind of idiot and there are probably 100 reasons why this plan won’t work, but to be honest I don’t really see any of them. It all seems pretty obvious to me. It helps the working person, so Democrats should be happy. It helps companies, so Republicans should be happy. If you can think of a reason why it wouldn’t work feel free to post a reply here. If you can think of a reason it would work do the same, and maybe write your Congressman.
Thanks for reading my plan. I promise tomorrow I will be back on the humorous movie reviews, with a full frontal charge at the newest Twilight movie. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Talk to you soon.
Luc Besson sequels the Professional by making Kill Bill.
OK, I was sold on this movie by the trailer. I guess I am a sucker for slick media campaigns (by the way, have you seen the new Slim Jim commercials? I have been eating those things by the bushel). As I gain experience in the movie review world I am learning to watch out for certain things, and movies that are released in late August generally seem to be the wimpy kids that are picked last for softball in grade school (something I know a good amount about). Was this movie bad? Not especially. Was it good? Not especially. It had some good elements, but overall seemed a little confused and disjointed. I think “meh” best describes it.
After seeing the movie last night I was kind of perplexed as to the origin and did a little research. Apparently this was supposed to be the sequel to the Professional and Luc wrote it with adult Natalie Portman in mind. After she passed he rewrote it with a South American back story stapled to the front end and ran with it. It did star another unrequited love of my life, Zoe Saldana, which was a big plus (I fell in love with her as a big blue alien in Avatar. Yes, I am one of those guys).
What is the real problem with this film? Well, it has several, including the fact that Luc Besson was “inspired” by about 2o different movies, but the real issue with this film can be summed up in one rating: PG-13. This movie really should have gone hard core for an R rating, and not just so I could see some gratuitous nudity on the screen. The combat seemed tame and disconnected, which aggravated the incredulity the audience has to constantly fight when watching a 90 pound girl beat the hell out of dozens of fully grown and extremely well armed men (sorry, ladies. I am sure there are any number of martial arts trained women out there who could beat the hell out of me. I just have a hard time believing Zoe Saldana has the upper body strength to pull herself out of a wrestling hold with a dude. Hate me if you have to). I’m not saying I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it work. I’m just saying in order for me to believe it I actually need to see the violence and gore in a realistic, R rated manner. Also, a little gratuitous nudity would not have hurt.
By the way, I thought at first Colombiana was the female form of Colombian in Spanish, but a little research shows that it is actually a term for black people living in Colombia. Not the most racially sensitive term I have heard used for a movie title, and I am reasonably sure a little research might show it is kind of derogatory. Not that Luc Besson is known for being PC.
Anyway, the movie. A young Colombian girl (Amandla Stenberg) has her parents killed in some kind of drug deal gone bad. She has some kind of data chip (this is 1992. Were they making mini disks the size of dimes back then?) her father gave her that has details of the bad guy’s never defined business. We see yet ANOTHER parkour chase scene through a South American hillside city slum (it really, really, really looks like Rio de Janeiro, in spite of the fact that is is supposed to be in Colombia) where an eight year old girl managed to give about 20 armed men the slip and also has the strength to lift a manhole cover from the inside (I know this is petty, but I am going to give them a black hole for this. I happen to know from personal experience that manhole covers start at 300 pounds and go up from there, and are really hard for a grown man to lift from the inside (please don’t ask me how I know this). This little girl lifts one like it was made of Styrofoam (it probably was). Can movie makers not respect their audience on any level, please?). Anyway, she uses the disk to get a ticket to American from the CIA, where she gives her handler the slip and travels to Chicago to hook up with her uncle, who in a blatant example of bad parenting decisions agrees to train her as an assassin. Skip forward 15 years and she is now a professional killer who uses her sex appeal, appearance, and lithe form to get into places others can’t. She is on a personal revenge kick after the Don who killed her parents, but does contract jobs for her uncle (he is also some kind of ill defined crime lord. How do these people make money, besides from murder for hire?). Somehow he is cool with her killing for money from all of his clients but freaks out when he finds out she is killing the people who killed her family (see what I mean about disjointed).
Anyway, a bunch of minor characters and sub plots, including an FBI investigation and some kind of CIA cover up, are introduced and go nowhere. Soft core explosive hijinks ensues. Henchmen die in droves. The part time love interest manages to completely screw up the girl’s life and more or less is forgiven in spite of directly causing the deaths of pretty much all of her friends and relatives. Other movies are blatantly plagiarized. More stuff blows up. The end.
The stars. Zoe Saldana, and while it was a PG-13 the director (Olivier Megaton??? No joke, he took this name because he was born on the 20th anniversary of atomic bombing of Hiroshima. What an a-hole. I wonder if he knows Megatron. Rising Sun image courtesy of the political t shirts category) took every single opportunity to show as much kid safe skin as possible. A scene doesn’t go by without Zoe running around in panties and bra, or skin tight body suit. Let’s just say wherever they were shooting this flick must have been cold. One star. One thing Luc Besson can do is write action scenes, even if they are really derivative of a bunch of other movies and a little hard to believe. One star. Revenge movie. One star. Somewhat exciting. One star. Lots of guns and explosives. One star. The opening hit, where she has to sneak into the Bakersfield police station (I’ve been to Bakersfield many times, and the police there are far less incompetent than this film makes them out to be. They also have a reputation in the Central Valley as being quick on the trigger, so take it from me, don’t mess with them) is actually really cool in a sneaky crime sort of way. One star. Filming was reasonably competent, and the running chase scene from early on (as lame is it was from a logical point of view) was well executed. One star. Total: seven stars.
Now the black holes. PG-13 when it should have been R. One black hole. Acting start to finish was flat and uninspired. One black hole. Little girl lifting manhole cover. One black hole. Subplots and minor characters that add nothing and go nowhere. One black hole. A really dumb scene where the little girl’s uncle pulls a gun out and shoots up a passing random car on a busy street in order to make a point to the girl, then sits there for about half an hour lecturing her before walking away with no consequences whatsoever (pretty much a rip off of the scene of Natalie Portman shooting out the window in the Professional, although I can’t call it plagiarism as Luc Besson wrote that too. I guess he really likes his own writing). One black hole. Every time they added a scene where they tried to inject some kind of emotion it was awkward and too brief and simplistic. Basically brought whatever momentum the movie had a that point to a crashing halt. One black hole. For someone who has worked for 15 years to kill a specific man, the girl kind of left his final death in the hands of fate. No real backup plan for any of her hijinks, but I guess that is typical Luc Besson. One black hole. While the gun fight scenes were pretty well shot and reasonably coherent, the one really big melee fight scene devolved into a million 1-1.5 second edits. I hate that fight scene style. Gives me a headache and no idea of who is doing what to whom. It pretty much says either the fight coordinator sucked (or didn’t exist) or the actors involved lacked the basic martial arts skills to reasonably execute more than one punch or kick in a row. One black hole. Story was overly complicated in a dumb way. A complicated story is good if the complications enhance the story and add depth. This was just complicated for complications sake, and really dragged down the story. One black hole. Total: eight black holes.
In the irksome category, I have some issues with the father. If you are going to confront your crime boss and you think there is a reasonable chance he will want to kill you and your whole family, would you not take the precaution of maybe having your wife and daughter somewhere other than where the bad guy knows they are? I’m just saying. If you are planning on leaving the country anyway (this was implied) and are about to have it out with the big man, maybe have your daughter and wife on a flight that leaves an hour before your meeting. Also, if time is a factor maybe tell your daughter how much you love her and give her the family medallion in the car while you are bugging the hell out of town, not while the bad guys are incoming. You know, just thinking out loud here. Also, they painted every American law enforcement person as kind of cowardly when confronted with a hot chick who threatens their family and life. It must be a French thing (Megat(r)on is French too) to try to constantly show Americans as incompetent, corrupt, and cowardly. Seems I can remember a certain European country surrendering pretty damn quick during a big war a few decades ago. Also, didn’t you get your butts kicked by Mexico on the 5th of May? I’m just saying.
I really didn’t want to see this movie end up in the black hole region, but try as I might I couldn’t find another star to give them. Even a couple of the ones I gave them smacked of pity stars. I like Zoe Saldana a lot and want to see her succeed, and feel gratitude for Luc Besson for the Professional (Taken wasn’t bad, either) and would like to see him do well, but I can’t really find another good thing about this movie. It’s not really bad, and you can get some excitement from it. Some of the action sequences are pretty good, although the best scenes are of Zoe sneaking around Splinter Cell style. It just doesn’t coalesce into a really good film. See it if you are really into Zoe and/or Luc Besson, but maybe wait until NetFlix.
Yes, I’m back on the movie kick. I had planned to see Furious Five in hopes it would both suck and blow, but turns out it’s insanely popular and sold out. The only thing out there I thought even worth considering was Water for Elephants, which appeared to be a movie about water and elephants (there’s a circus in there somewhere too).
I was surprised, as I knew it was based on a book everyone tells me was amazing and I expected the movie to turn into one of my boring “the movie was decent” reviews that I might not even write up the next day. The surprise was not that it wasn’t great or even that it wasn’t bad but that it was painfully bland. Throughout the course of the movie I wasn’t motivated to leave the theater but if the film had broke or aliens broke in from another dimension forcing us to flee the cinema I don’t think I would have been really at all upset. It was kind of like flipping playing cards into an open hat; you gain nothing from doing it, and even if you get skilled enough to hit it 100% no one on the planet will be even remotely impressed.
I was also surprised in that it has been a while since I saw a movie that was such a blatant rip off of another, more successful movie. The movie in question was James Cameron’s Titanic. Does any of this sound familiar? An elderly person finds an excuse to tell a story from the first part of the last century about a star crossed romance between a lower class pretty boy and the married (or engaged. My Titanic knowledge is somewhat limited) wife of a complete jerk on a vehicle that is headed to a disaster of some kind. The only difference between the two movies really is James Cameron had the integrity to let the movie end on a down note, while Water for Elephants drew it’s inspiration from the Disney school of movie writing.
Anyway, the story. SPOILER ALERT: I will probably give away more details of this film than usual for this one, but in a very real sense I am giving away nothing as the story is as predictable as watching a digital clock advance. Trust me when I say there are absolutely no surprises in store for you. Anyway, an old man is found wandering around a circus and finds the flimsiest pretext to tell the manager the story of how he joined the circus back in 1931. Pretty boy, national spokesman for eyebrow growth, and perennial bad actor Robert Pattinson plays a character ironically (or stupidly) named Jacob who, while starting his absolute, final exam at Cornell to become a veterinarian and have a good life and career, is pulled out to be told his parents, whom he had just seen like 10 minutes ago, were killed in a car wreck, leaving him destitute and homeless during the Great Depression. He finds his father bankrupted the family paying for his education and then, instead of going back to Cornell and getting the piece of paper that would get him a life, decides to see what being a hobo (that’s an old fashioned word for being homeless) was like. He jumps a train that happens to have a circus on it. After dealing with some local color he is hired by the owner, played by the awesome Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) to be the circus veterinarian.
Waltz’s policy, apparently in order to avoid the hassle of dealing with unemployment claims, was to toss men he wanted to fire off the train while it was moving. No joke. During one night he tosses nine guys off. You would think the trail of bodies would eventually lead some kind of authority to the circus, but it looked like the police were far more motivated to enforce Prohibition laws. Anyway, just an aside.
Jacob meets the wife of the circus owner (played by Reese Witherspoon) and, during the course of the movie, proceeds to fall in love with her in one of the worst on screen romances I have ever seen. Seriously, there was much better chemisty between Reese and Christoph at the start of the movie (possibly because Christoph can act). The romance between Reese and Pattinson looked as natural and real as a little girl making her Ken and Barbie dolls kiss.
Anyway, Waltz buys an elephant named Rosie, who is easily the most appealing character in the whole film. Jacob is given the job of training her, which August, Watlz’s character, seems to think can only be done by beating the hell out of her in a couple scenes that will make you want to vomit if you have any love of animals. Jacob, in yet another phases-of-the-moon-like predictable scene tries love which, low and behold, works. Actually, it works when he discovers Rosie apparently only responds to commands given in Polish (???). I guess there was some kind of connection between Polish speakers and elephant training. Also I guess elephants can’t be retrained to listen to commands in any other language once they learned one. Not known for their memories, apparently.
Oh, god. I just did a little research to see if August was at all a common male name in America and have discovered that the most common baby name for boys in 2009 was Jacob. Some days I hate America. Twilight sucks.
Anyway, circus hijinx ensue. Guys get tossed off trains. Love finds it’s awkward way onto the screen in spite of Reese and Roberts attempt to convince you that they both reproduce asexually. A million minor characters are added for color and then disappear like flatulence on a windy night. The big disaster alluded to at the beginning of the movie strikes, leaving the star crossed love birds free to pursue their dreams of a tepid marriage. Jacob finally does what he should have done in the first five minutes and gets his veterinary degree and a career. I won’t give it totally away, but the final conclusion is so insipid and dumb that the movie would not have at all been damaged if alien invaders had landed and probed all the main characters (in fact, it would have been dramatically improved).
First the stars. Watching the HBO show Carnivale has given me a liking of circus themes. One star. Christoph Waltz. Two stars. Rosie the elephant. One star. The depression era scenery and clothing were all pretty good. One star. Reese Witherspoon is hot. One star. The filming and pacing were decent. One star (can you tell I”m reaching here?). Total: six stars.
Now the black holes. Jacob doesn’t get his degree like a moron. One black hole. Romantic chemistry similar to mixing two glasses of tap water together. Two black holes. There is no established motivation for anyone to do anything, especially August to not chuck Jacob off the train first thing. One black hole. A lot of effort is spent trying to establish that the circus performers and roustabouts are all one big family, right before August tosses a bunch of them off the train. One black hole for discontinuity. Titanic rip off. One black hole. I should give one black hole for every seemingly interesting supporting character who disappeared after two lines, but will restrain myself. Two black holes. The plot device of firing people by tossing them off the train when simply saying “You’re fired ” (Trump) would have sufficed really bugged me. One black hole. Animal cruelty, even in cinema, really puts me off my feed. One black hole. There was a distinct lack of grime and despair that one normally associated with Depression era films (see Carnivale if you haven’t). One black hole. Total: 11 black holes.
Grand total of five black holes. Not great. Not even worth seeing in a theatre (I Hate Theatre image courtesy of the funny political t shirts category). Honestly, if you have two hours of you life with nothing better to do watch it on NetFlix streaming. Your mom would probably like it, so if you are looking for something to do with her that won’t cause your brain to shrivel up too much, take her to a matinee.
Incidentally, it does give me a warm feeling to help contribute another nail in the coffin of Robert Pattinson’s career (Twilight sucks), although that wasn’t my intent when I saw the movie. I just wish I didn’t also have to hurt Christoph Waltz’s in order to do it.
Before I get into this, my apologies for not posting more frequently. I had yet another show to do this last weekend, and while it taught me some good lessons (mostly about approaching shows in Southern California with more caution) they always turn into a ton of extra work. I am still folding shirts. Also I have a couple huge new projects to work on.
However, I don’t like to make excuses and will endeavor to post more often. I think I am going to see the new Fast and Furious movie tonight, which should turn into movie review gold tomorrow if it sucks like I expect. Of course I heard on the Howard Stern Show that it grossed a ton over the weekend, so it might end up being disappointingly good.
It seems appropriate to comment on the long awaited death of Usama Bin Laden, evil mastermind behind the 9/11 tragedy. It’s funny, because I am by nature more drawn to the evil villains in movies and comic books. I sometimes imagine myself to be an evil genius bent on world domination. However, while this is all well and good in the wonderful world of fantasy, it is rare that we run into someone who can truly be called evil in real life.
Make no mistake. Usama Bin Laden was a scumbag of the highest order. He killed thousands of innocent men, women, and even children to promote an agenda that for the most part none of us had ever heard of or for that matter gave a crap about. Hitler was evil, but he had the decency to direct his evil at obvious targets (I am not in any way endorsing anything Hitler did. Just pointing out that he did not resort to random attacks on people who he had not clearly identified as his enemies. He sucks too). I had never even heard of al Queda before 9/11, nor had I or any of the people in the World Trade Center been guilty of any of the offenses they claimed to be fighting against.
It should also be noted that he was also a cowardly hypocrite. He sent other guys on suicide missions while he sat happy in his Pakistani mansion. He kept innocent women on his property as a human shield and when finally faced with his just reward used one to protect his worthless ass.
I think it fair to say that, while I am extremely proud to be an American, I don’t drip with patriotic mucus. I have been know to distrust our government and question the directions we have been taking. However, when I heard about Bin Laden yesterday (thank you to the lovely Katie for the text) I felt so wonderful to be an American. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from the sky and all of a sudden all sorts of things seemed possible. I went out to dinner last night and everyone I saw seemed more upbeat. Kudos to the Navy Seals who put paid to that bastard, as well as the rest of the US Armed forces and President Obama for a job well done. I give you all bonus props for shifting all the media focus off the incredibly boring royal wedding. Thank you.
(Game Over image courtesy of the political t shirt category)