Filmed entirely on location in the Uncanny Valley.
You know when I did a little research into this bowel obstruction of a movie I discovered it was the first effort of a new company called Clarius. At once I started to feel guilty about the vast load of bile I was about to dump all over it like a forest fighting aircraft who can only tank up on the deepest contents of my gullet. I like to see new studios try new things and I’m not comfortable stomping on first efforts.
Then I did a little more researched and discovered that they claim to have had a $70,000,000 budget and at once felt much better about clubbing this baby seal. You see, now I know what I am dealing with, and that is a bunch of idiots with too much money who assume that making movies is easy and that audiences do not require more than a few flashing lights and cute characters to be mindlessly entertained. The fact that they failed so miserably in the low hanging fruit of kids cartoons says a lot about how much they suck.
Given a budget like that I can name about 20 guys who could do between 2-4 films that would at least recoup the film investment and make money on the back end (including myself. If there are any Hollywood studio types actually reading this review contact me and I will tell you about my idea for a film about a humble movie review writer who develops super powers and saves the world from extraterrestrial zombies. I don’t want to demand too much control over the casting but for the romantic love interest I’m going to recommend Mila Kunis and for the protagonist let’s go with the sexiest movie reviewer in the country, me.) To spend that much money and fail is a sign from god that you should go back to whatever your day job was.
The good news is I have found an animated film from this year I hate more than the Nut Job. That one might have had a bad protagonist but it least it had one. It also managed to skip the whole singing issue entirely instead of subjecting me to the earhole raping that was this film. Given a choice between seeing this bomb, the Nut Job, or eating a pinecone I’d choose the pinecone, the Nut Job, and Legends of Oz in that order.
How did this film fail? Let’s pretend I was the man in charge of this studio. How would I have avoided the pitfalls this film seems drawn towards like a mouse to a glue trap? First off given a $70MM budget the first thing I would do is hire some writers who had more to their writing credits than a few crappy TV shows. You know, guys who’s brains don’t lock up when asked to write more than 22 minutes of story. Perhaps someone who has worked on something that made money. You’ve got $70,000,000. A couple hundred grand to good writers is not going to break your bank.
I would then instruct the writers to do whatever they could to maintain the feel and spirit of the original Oz movie. Specifically keep the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion the same in tone and inclination and NOT turn them into the Three Stooges (I’m not kidding about this. Scarecrow was Moe, Tim Man Larry, and Cowardly Lion Curly and at one point Scarecrow literally calls them all “Lunkheads”. Some days the urge to beat the projectionist is harder to resist than others). Remember how part of the charm of the Wizard of Oz was when the Wizard teaches each of them that the qualities they desired-intellect, emotion, and courage-they already had and needed only to see it in themselves and their actions? Well, forget about that. Now the Scarecrow is an annoying super genius, the Tin Man a big cry baby, and the Lion ready to fight anyone, anytime, for any reason.
I would also instruct them to try to keep these beloved characters involved in the story as much as possible, NOT replace them with three more sidekicks who for the first time ever make Jar Jar Binks look slightly cool (ewww. I just threw up in my mouth. Thanks a lot Legends of Oz). In this film we have a obese know-it-all owl (glorifying obesity in a kids movie is cool, right?), a marshmallow soldier named Marshal Mallow (ohh, I see what they did there), and a walking china doll clearly ripped off from Oz the Great and Powerful (you know how it is. If your Oz movie is going to suck why not rip off other Oz movies that suck?). As a fun note this movie lists Dan Ackyroyd, Kelsey Grammer, and James Belushi as the main voices of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion but they are in this film for about 15 minutes total, leaving us with Oliver Platt, Hugh Dancy, and Megan Hilty.
I’d also like them to keep the tone of Dorothy as a proactive individual and positive role models for girls, not a passive second banana.
Next I would hire a director who has also done a movie or two (oddly enough they did in this case, but this guy must have been asleep for most of the direction. I honestly can’t figure it out). Then I would look at my animation and make sure that the humans weren’t so deeply ensconced in the uncanny valley that you literally get sick looking at them. The human figures in this film were truly off putting in that way that only CGI can accomplish. CGI animation can do some amazing things but it can really suck on the other end of the spectrum. It looks like this film was feeling the budget crunch as nothing interesting was going on in any of the backgrounds. They might as well been painted on backdrops. Perhaps some more traditional animation, or a style that is OK with not rendering every skin pore, might have allowed for the occasional bird to fly by in the background.
Finally I would either hire talented songwriters or scrap the song business altogether. The music in this film gives new definition to the term “lame”. You know how in most musicals there is one song that you automatically skip? In this film that’s pretty much every song.
Anyway, I’m already at 1K words and haven’t really gotten into it. I have things to do tonight so let’s go, shall we?
The film starts off with Moe (I mean Scarecrow. Sorry my bad. Dan Akyroyd-Ghost Busters, Grosse Point Blank, the Blues Brothers) and his cohorts Tin Man (Kelsey Grammer-Cheers, Toy Story 2, X Men Last Stand) and Lion (James Belushi-K-9, Red Heat, New Years Eve) being chased by flying monkeys (with day glow mohawks. Aren’t they cute? In the original movies they used to give kids nightmares). Scarecrow has invented a “rainbow caster” which he uses to try to contact Dorothy (Lea Michele-New Years Eve (will that film ever stop haunting me?), Glee) in Kansas because she is the only one who can do something for some reason.
Time moves faster in Oz apparently so instead of the decades that have passed Dorothy is passed out in her basement after the last tornado wrecked her house. The fact that she is still missing and unconscious does little to concern Aunty Em (Tracey Adams-Parenthood, Gray’s Anatomy, School Dance) and Uncle Henry (Michael Krawic-Ghosts of Mars, Fire Down Below, the X Files) as they catalog the damage done instead of looking for their missing niece (wait a minute. Didn’t Dorothy wake up in a bed surrounded by her relatives, all of whom had been characters in the Land of Oz? Piddling detail, I’m sure). Their house is wrecked but before they can start repairs “the Apprairser” shows up and tells them the house is condemned and they have to leave. Aunty Em and Uncle Henry cave like sheep but Dorothy is suspicious.
At that point the rainbow lands and scoops her up. She gets half the message before the flying monkeys wreck the machine and dump her in the Oz countryside. Her enemy is apparently the Jester (Martin Short-Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie, Weeds) who is the brother of the dead witch and cursed to always be dressed as a jester. She hooks up with her fat owl friend Wiser (Oliver Platt-Love and Other Drugs, X-Men First Class, 2012) who, just like in the other movie is motivated to join Dorothy in order to find his…? Self control? Eaters Anonymous? Jenny Craig? The go to Candyland where he proves his ability to curb his appetite by eating everything in sight. Dorothy joins him in his food orgy (showing kids a cartoon hero eating enough candy to give the entire city of Butte, Montana diabetes is a positive message, right?) only to find out that is illegal and is arrested by Marshal Mallow (every time I see that name it just looks more and more clever. Hugh Dancy-Adam, Black Hawk Down, King Arthur). They are convicted in candy court (less cute than it sounds) but are pardoned when the judge learns that Dorothy is the Dorothy who killed the witch. Marshal Mallow joins them in order to find his king or something and perhaps some kind of spine?
They have to go through China and the Jester sends an earthquake to wreck all the china (oh, you thought the major world power? How narrow is your thought process is. Chairman Mao image courtesy of the Political T Shirt category). By the way, if the Jester has the power to summon up a 6.5 earthquake whenever he wants how is it he even has any competition at all? The China Princess (Megan Hilty-Smash, Secret of the Wings) joins up in order to…do something? Maybe ask the Jester to not send earthquakes? There was something about evaluating Marshal Mallow as a possible husband (given that she is 8 inches tall and he is at least six feet I hope she does a lot of yoga). The team opts to bring her along because there is no way an 8 inch girl in a formal gown made of china will be a liability when she falls off a curb and shatters.
Anyway, once the characters are established that’s pretty much it. The Jester sends stuff to stop them and they overcome it, mostly with dumb luck. One of the talking trees (inexplicably voiced by the great Patrick Stewart. How the hell did he get roped into this?) volunteers to be cut down and turned into a boat. Flying monkeys are no match for candy catapults apparently. The movie grinds its way to an inevitable conclusion.
I don’t do the black holes/stars thing for kids movies. That’s a good thing as far as this movie is concerned. I generally judge kids movies by how the kids in the theater were reacting and the kids in this flick (all four of them) were bored stupid. One of them was doing that thing where he insisted on moving to seat after seat and even ended up sitting right next to me (as an aside I have a realistic understanding of how I am perceived in the world and if you see a 6’5″ guy sitting at the very back of the theater by himself in a children’s movie I think it fair to assume he can be found on the Megans Law website. Odds are the responsible parent thing to do is steer your children away from him, and while I am most definitely not on that site I would applaud your parental instinct). If your kids are particularly challenged mentally they might enjoy it, but understand that by bringing them to see this film you are committing yourself to 92 minutes that compares favorably only to falling into an open septic tank and spending the night there. There is absolutely nothing here for the parents (or poor adult reviewers).
Thanks for reading. I’m seeing Godzilla tonight and hope to have time to write it up tomorrow although I have a lot happening this weekend (Big Wow in San Jose, if you live in the Bay Area). Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have a question or suggestion feel free to email me at [email protected]. Talk to you soon.
“The Infamous” Dave Inman
Oz may be great and powerful, but his movie is mediocre and predictable.
It always annoys me when a movie comes out with a title that is so rife with pun possibilities and then absolutely refuses to bury the needle in either really good or really sucktastic. Movie title puns are worthless when the film is content to hover in the mediocre zone, and consequently makes my review that much harder to write.
As members of the movie going audience you and I should be grievously insulted by the lack of respect the studio is showing us in the development of the story for this film. They seem to think we are all knuckle dragging missing links who are easily entertained by pretty scenery and bright colors. Now while that may be true in my case I am insulted for you, my beloved and intelligent nerd reader. I think what we are seeing here is is another example of art being sold out in every way in favor of money. You see my lovelies more and more studios are unearthing vast piles of previously unclaimed cash in the form of foreign market ticket sales. The fact is movies that are pretty to look at but have stupid/simple stories are the ones that make the most money overseas and since a stupid script does not seem to inhibit sales domestically (opening weekend in the US this film cleared $80.3 million) why not write a story that would have a hard time competing against fan created Kirk/Spock slash porn?
In a perfect world this recipe would be self correcting as American audiences eventually figured out how dumb this stuff is and voted with their feet this plan and these films would eventually die on the vine, but thanks to all you knuckle dragging missing links feeding the Great Stupidity Beast with your wallets it seems to still be working.
Sigh. That was a little bitter even for me. I think I am just more burnt because I really wanted this film to be great. The trailers were awesome, the visuals I saw were amazing, and Sam Raime has done some great films in his day. Of course recently he did Spider-Man 3 featuring emo-Peter Parker, so maybe he has lost his touch. I guess I just need to wait until the home movie making technology catches up to the point that three art students and a nerd can create an amazing film in the nerd’s basement before the story bar gets raised up again. I’m just tired of movies with a $215 million budget (to any of my readers in Guinea your entire country’s GNP last year was $199,274,000) having a story that looks like it was written by three guys who failed out of clown collage (AKA USC).
Before I get into the story I’m also going to say this movie is a good example of failure via bad casting. I have nothing against James Franco. I thought he was great in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and really funny in Your Highness. Aside from the burning hatred of 10,000 suns I feel for all Hollywood pretty boys for their amazing lives I can’t really say much bad about him. However, I really think he was miscast as Oz in this film. He just doesn’t read as a powerful wizard or carnival con man. The only thing that struck me as real was his ability to hook up with every hot girl in the film, but even that felt out of character. He just feels too sincere for a charleton. I heard the original cast was for Robert Downey Jr., which in my opinion would have been much, much better.
The story. Oz the Great is a circus performer who uses cheap tricks to get every girl around him into bed (there’s the wholesome Disney we all look for in a family friendly film). While on the run from the Strong Man for hooking up with his wife he jumps into a hot air balloon and is caught up in a twister. He lands in the magical land of color (I mean Oz).
I have used the phrase deus ex machina in other reviews. Translated from Latin (I took three years of that in high school) it means “god from the machine” and when applied to stories it refers to the unexpected intervention of some higher power or events that had nothing to with the story so far to propel the plot. It is a lazy writers tool to get out of a corner and generally makes for a lame story as nothing ever gets resolved from the actions of the characters. To say that this movie had a lot of deus ex machine would be like saying that the people of the Soviet Union were somewhat influenced by the Communist Party (Hammer and Sickle image courtesy of the political t-shirt category). Oz is met by the witch Theadora (Mila Kunis-Ted, Friends with Benefits, Black Swan) who immediately tells him that there is a prophesy of a great wizard with the name of Oz will save the land from the wicked witch and become king.
This prophesy is known by pretty much everyone in the land and they all believe him to be the dude. On the way to the Emerald City he rescues a cute flying monkey from a cowardly lion (ugh. This film seriously labors under the burden of referencing everything possible from the original film) and gains a lifetime sidekick. He also manages to talk Theadora into a one night stand (Walt must be spinning in his grave). Once at the city he is told by the other witch Evanora (Rachel Weisz-the Brothers Bloom, the Mummy, the Bourne Legacy) that his quest is to kill the wicked witch Glinda (Michelle Williams-Shutter Island, My Week with Marilyn, Brokeback Mountain).
I hope you are all sitting for the shock I am about to lay on you (big spoiler alert in case you are brain damaged) but Glinda is actually the good witch and Evenora is the wicked one! After Glinda convinces Oz of this by the infallible logic of “Any woman as hot as I am who you have not already slept with must be right” he joins up with the good people of Oz in their fight against the wicked sisters. Theadora eats a bad apple and turns pretty gross looking. More DEM as it turns out that 1/3rd of the population of the land of Oz are skilled craftsmen who can make anything. Oz tries to chicken out but has a completely unexpected change of heart and they all work together to fool the witches that they are not completely defenseless.
The stars. The movie was very pretty, and some of the visuals fairly stunning. Two stars. The monkey and the little china girl were both really good side kicks. One star. None of the women were hard on the eyes, at least before they ate the apple. One star. The evil flying monkeys were kind of cool. One star. Total: five stars.
The black holes. The story was just dumb. Deus ex machina should only be used if you get into a corner. It should not be the main plot device propelling the story. Two black holes. James Franco was not a great choice for Oz IMO. One black hole. Believe it or not, a lot of the CGI look kind of crappy. Most of the big scenes looked like some artists dream job but when it came time for the CGI creatures to interact with the humans you could really see the difference. The whole thing reminded me strongly of Cool World. Also the 3D was extremely intrusive and at the same time unnecessary. Can we finally admit that it is a technology that no one cares about? One black hole. Total: four black holes.
One star total. Is it worth seeing? Sure, just like any number of more or less worthless Disney films are worth seeing. You won’t walk away with anything but at least it won’t diminish your life. Date movie? Yes, especially if she is a big Oz fan from childhood or is just easily entertained by giant colorful flowers. Bathroom break? There’s a scene towards the last 1/3rd where Oz has to tuck the china girl in bed that’s pretty unnecessary. Go for it.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Post comments about this film or my review here. Off topic questions can be emailed to me at [email protected]. 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.
Could someone please explain to me where the title of this film comes from?
So, the Debt. I like a good spy thriller, and this has a lot of the key elements for one, but seemed to end up kind of flaccid. Not that it was bad. I don’t feel like I got ripped off on the $7 matinee ticket I bought. Just that it is deep down in the Mediocre Trench and is pretty much running out of oxygen.
I will say that part of the problem is ever since the Berlin Wall fell spy movies based on the Cold War have very little interest to me. Show me something in WWII, when we were actually fighting a tangible enemy and lives hung in the balance and I am there. I grew up during the Cold War, but honestly even then it didn’t have the punch to really pull me in. If the West pulled off an intelligence coup then we somehow gained some more credibility with our allies and neutral countries? Big deal. If the Russians pulled off something amazing we lost a bit of technology or some influence with someone? In the long run who cares? The entirety of the Cold War felt like we were playing poker for matchsticks. Now that it is over the stakes seemed kind of dumb and pointless. (CCCP image courtesy of the political t-shirts category).
This is probably unfair to the men and women who struggled back in those days, but at the time I was more worried about getting beat up again in the locker room of my Jr. High than the Russians invading.
That being said, I am very interested in seeing Nazi war criminals captured and brought to justice, which this movie was ultimately about. That should have held my interest, but somehow did not. I won’t spoil it, but if you see it you will probably understand what I mean.
Anyway, the Debt. It starts off in Tel Aviv in 1997 where three former Israeli operatives are being honored for their part in bringing the notorious Surgeon of Birkenau, a Nazi doctor guilty of horrific war crimes in a concentration camp during WWII, to justice in1965. The main character, Rachel, has a daughter who has written a book about her mother’s and father’s exploits in East Berlin. They flash back to the doctor trying to escape custody and Rachel shooting him dead as he ran.
However, things aren’t what they seem, starting with the suicide of David, the third member of the team. We start flashing back and forth as secrets are revealed and literally a ton of character development is dumped onto the screen. I always bitch when the movie scrimps on the character development in favor of the story, but this movie has gone too far in the other direction. We spend so much time on background and character that it honestly gets in the way of the plot. There were multiple points when a simple line or two of expository dialog would have alleviated the “what the hell is going on?” feeling I was suffering from but instead we get to find out more about where they all came from. The ironic part is the main character, Rachel (played in 1997 by Helen Mirren – Arthur, Red, and a bunch of crap I never heard of including Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole(?) and in 1965 by the very hot Jessica Chastain, whom I loved in the Help but still absolutely hate for Tree of Life (Tree of Uber Pretentious Boring Crap)) is the one we learn the least about. We find out about David’s whole family dying in a concentration camp and Stephan’s ambition to succeed, but except for her mother’s death hardly anything about Rachel. It doesn’t help that her performance was kind of flat and dull, as were her costars. The Nazi doctor (Jesper Christensen – Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale) was the most interesting character on the screen. Of course, I am always more interested in the villains, but still.
Anyway, there is a kind of interesting attempt to jump the Berlin wall that fails and reduces the movie to three people trying to keep one man prisoner in a dumpy apartment. Boring crap ensues. Nothing gets blown up. The action is brutally abbreviated and resolves almost nothing. Big secrets are revealed. The writers took a big swig of deus ex machina Cola to pull an ending out of their ass that was almost ludicrous. Honestly, if you are going to write a story about real secret agents who don’t have the ability to fight off an army of bad guys and have to resolve issues in the real world, can you spare us the amazing coincidence ending please?
The stars. The 1997 actors all did a great job in the performance, as did the Nazi Doctor. One star. Good story concept. One star. Subtitled for most of the dialog really worked. One star. The Nazi doctor being a gynecologist and young Rachel being examined by him as a means of getting close and confirming his identity was a super creepy twist on the plot that I thought was really cool (ever see Dead Ringers?). One star. Jessica Chastain is super cute to me, as was the girl they got to play her adult daughter. One star. They didn’t give the agents any James Bond-esque powers, and the East Berlin stuff seemed pretty accurate. One star. Total: six stars.
The black holes. For a spy “thriller” there was hardly any tension built whatsoever. Seriously, I’ve had more intense Thanksgiving dinners. One black hole. The 1965 acting was for the most part flat and dull, with occasional spikes that were almost over the top. One black hole. While I understand the the story was intended to be delivered in flashbacks, it seemed like they really liked jumping back and forth a lot in ways that bugged me. One black hole. The 1997 agents and the 1965 agents really didn’t look a lot like each other, and it took me about 1/3rd of the movie to figure out which of the two men in 1965 was which in 1997. One black hole. Overall an interesting premise and talented group of actors that really failed to intrigue me, the blame for which I lay firmly in the lap of the director (John Madden – Shakespeare in Love in 1998 and nothing but garbage since. What the hell was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?). One black hole. Total: five black holes.
So a grand total of one star, a really blase and mediocre score. I won’t say don’t go see it. If you are looking for something to do it will fill an afternoon. I just can’t say go see it. Honestly, I would wait for NetFlix streaming.
If you like my reviews be sure to post a comment, and to follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. It would be really cool to exceed 200 followers ;). I think Warrior is next. Have a great day.
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.
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)
Still more totally fun dates that involve moving somewhat.
Dancing-most women love dancing in some form or another. Also, it is one of the few of these where it is not only OK but actually most likely preferable if you get totally wasted before and/or during said activities. However, it is also a punji stick line tiger trap that will make you look like a total tool if you don’t know what you are doing, which most likely you don’t. My advice is to go back and read all the posts I did on nerd dancing, practice in front of a mirror, and then take her bowling.
Trampoline-believe it or not, but this is totally fun. A few weeks ago a friend of mine threw a birthday party for adults and as part of it we went to this indoor trampoline facility and played nation ball. It was a blast. Trampolines are really fun, and it is one area where any excess body mass you may have will actually work to your advantage, as it will propel you higher into the air. The best part about trampolines is it is one of those things that can make you look really athletic, in spite of being heinously out of shape. No matter how long it has been since you went to the gym, you will look like an Olympian when you are bouncing eight feet into the air. Just don’t hurt yourself.
Swimming-whether this is a good idea or not is a judgment call. I think I have composed an elegant equation to figure it out. Here it is. Rate the following on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being best/worst. F=how badly our body looks. D=how likely you are to drown or be eaten by something. W=how white your skin is and how badly you will burn. G=how good a swimmer you really are. B=how badly you want to see your girl in a bathing suit. Here is the equation:
If X is significantly over a 1.0 than it is most likely a good idea. If it hovers around 1.0 than I would hesitate. If it is significantly under a 1.0 than I would bail. Personally I don’t like swimming in water that I can’t see through, so that means I am stuck with pools, which will reduce my score for dying but will increase my F score, as you can look better in murky water. As with everything, it pays to do some research.
Organized sports-when I say this in my mind it is with a rising inflection, turning it into “Organized sports?” That being said, if you have some friends into it fun can be had playing volleyball, or softball. Something along those lines. Tennis is OK too. Stay away from football and rugby, as odds are she will hate it (and you will die). One nice side benefit of volleyball is you can possibly get your date to wear a bikini top without having to get in the water yourself, so bonus.
I’m starting to run out of ideas, so I will let this topic rest for now. I have a couple ideas of new stuff to talk about, plus I should be seeing something good and/or bad at a theater soon.
So yesterday’s question of Renaissance inventor/artist Leonardo de Vinci versus eclectic dope fiend and horn dog Ben Franklin, I think I am going to have to give it to Benjamin, based on time era alone. The problem is Ben Franklin had guns, which would have put the hurt on Leonardo regardless of whatever inventions he had with him. It takes more than a corkscrew helicopter to stop an ounce of lead. (Ben Franklin image courtesy of the political t shirt category).
I don’t have any brilliant who-would-win questions in me right now, as it is Easter and I have worked all day. Tomorrow I am going to rant about WOW a little, so look forward to that. Have a great day.
So if you are still reading after yesterdays post I can assume you aren’t frightened by the idea of being outside and generating a sweat. Here are some more idea for good date stuff that involves something more active than flicking the TV remote.
Skiing or snowboarding – if you are fortunate enough to be close enough to ski resort to do a one day trip to the mountain (or, as we used to call it, a burrito run) this can be a great date. It’s outdoors in some beautiful scenery, you get to rest on the lift between runs, its cold which can motivate her to snuggle up, and getting hurt snowboarding or skiing can look pretty studly, as long as you don’t do it while trying to get off the ski lift. Also, unless she is an expert skier at some point halfway through the day she will probably jump at your suggestion to get some hot chocolate and sit in the lodge for a couple hours. Skiing is one of those things everyone has to claim to love, but after five or six runs the average person is happy to sit watching other people be cold while looking cool in their ski clothes.
By the way, this should be pretty obvious, but don’t suggest this unless you actually know how to ski or snowboard. Nothing will make you look like more of a eunuch like flailing down the bunny slope. You need to make sure you are both at about the same skill level or you are better than her (being her teacher for the day can really make you look good).
Those dumb paddle boats – yes, the are stupid. But did you ever wonder how they stay in business? It’s because they make for great dates. You are out on the water (all two feet of it, usually) by yourself with your girl and having fun. It will usually be relatively quiet, and there will be ducks, frogs, and other local fauna to distract her.
As a side benefit, your (hopefully) superior musculature and body weight will more or less mean you can keep your half of the boat moving while doing about 1/3 the work. If you feel at all guilty about that just remember that odds are sometime in the next couple months she will be asking you to move a couch or something. Also, don’t forget that “mauled by a mountain lion saving her” thing from my hiking entry.
Bowling – yes, unless you are on the PBA you will probably suck at this, but as goofy as it is, it is fun and entertaining. This is another activity that everyone claims to love to do, but once faced with the reality of actually doing it are willing to hang it up after about two games. Be sure to practice your moon walk while on the floor with the shoes.
Ice or roller skating – ironically, this is one activity where it is actually OK to be much worse than your date at. Flailing aimlessly around on the ice while she does triple axles is in a weird way endearing and cute. You will not lose any credibility with her even if you fall on your ass. There is a good chance she will even admire your courage and willingness to try something outside your box. On the other hand, if you are great at it you will burn a ton of calories and look cool. There is not a way to lose here, unless you get hurt (not as cool as getting hurt snowboarding).
That’s it for today. More tomorrow.
For our who would win question, the Punisher versus Fidel Castro, I am going a assume Frank Castle either got co-opted by the CIA or discovered Castro was involved in the drug trade somehow. On the one hand, the Punisher is an expert in all forms of mayhem, and with enough planning could probably make something happen. On the other hand, by all reports Castro has survived any number of CIA or NSA attempts on his life. I honestly don’t really know, but I am inclined to go with the Punisher just because I like him better. (Castro image courtesy of the political t shirt category)
For today let’s go historical inventors. Who would win, Ben Franklin versus Leonardo da Vinci?