Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Saw This!! OK, Bloody OK

I Saw This (double exclamation point) is our all-too regular feature wherein Graig or David attempt to write about a bunch of movies they watched some time ago and meant to write about but just never got around to doing so. Now they they have to strain to say anything meaningful lest they just not say anything at all. And they can't do that, can they?

Arthur Christmas, 2011, Sarah Smith, Barry Cook (Mulan) -- download
The Equalizer, 2014, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur) -- download
White House Down, 2013, Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day) -- download
The Boxtrolls, 2014, Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi -- download
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) -- rental
Savages, 2012, Oliver Stone -- Netflix
Deliver Us From Evil, 2014, Scott Derrickson (Sinister) -- download

Its about time I cleaned out some of these, because I am again using it as an excuse to just not enjoy movies. Besides, I have to cover the movies seen recently, so I can blather on about some video games I recently finished on the xBox One.

That said, I am thinking of trying an experiment for one month. Watch all the movies I want, but only review the ones that strike me enough to actually say something about them. I can say something about any movie I see, even if it is only "yawn" but some I actually have something tangible to say. And some I just enjoy with little thought one way or the other. Those usually end up here.

Now that said, you would think, "Its your blog (yours and Kent's), why do you feel compelled to write about every movie? You make the rules don't ya?"  Yes, I do. But there is something productive in setting guidelines to follow. Hell, I have already re-written those guidelines by reducing most of my 'reviews' down to 3 (Not So) Short Paragraphs.  And then there is this format.

OK, that is said. Onto the actual post.

Arthur Christmas should be a proper X Days of Xmas post but again, we attempted, we failed, we only saw a couple. But this is a good Xmas movie! So it deserves some commentary. Also, see above. The movie is done by Aardman Animations, so I am rather surprised we didn't see it out of simple loyalty. We were huge fans of Wallace & Gromit. But honestly, we haven't been all that loyal if you check the catalog --- the only thing we had seen recently in the cinemas, was The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists which I have no clue as to why there is no post here on this blog. I loved it, I am kind of surprised I didn't write about it.

Arthur is one of Santa's sons. The whole Christmas Santa concept is represented as a family deal, a massive expedition done each year full of hundreds of support elves and high technology, currently run by the other son, the useful son Steve. His dad does the deliveries but Steve runs the night in the command centre at the North Pole. Its a precision exercise that compensates for his dad's doddering mistakes. Meanwhile Arthur is just assigned to answering the Letters to Santa.

Essentially, its a wonderful tale of saving Christmas, finding the real meaning of the commercialized version of the holiday (as opposed to the Christian one) and recognizing that Arthur is the best choice all along. Its hilarious, incredibly wonderfully animated and even visits Toronto for a misinterpreted flyby in an old broken down sled. Grandpa Santa has some issues. I might even add it to our repeat watching next year.

Next up, we have The Equalizer, a rather forgotten actioner from last year that was pretty much ignored in the cinemas but I still consider as rather enjoyable!

Full disclosure, I was a big big big fan of the TV show, The Equalizer. The idea of a retired CIA shadow man placing an ad in a local newspaper saying he can help with things that the police cannot was the perfect premise to my heroic Mary Sue mind. It was procedural, villain of the week and spy mystery wrapped up in one. I would easily compare Person of Interest to the feel I got from it then.

I was not part of the Outrage Culture cliq that our angry internet has devolved into, upon learning they chose to cast Robert McCall as a black man (Denzel Washington), which is weird considering they had cast the original man with a British actor, only later retconning it to explain why this obvious very British man was a top agent in the CIA. Fuck the morons who felt it was a wrong choice. I thought it was brilliant, as Denzel Washington is hitting that stage of his acting career where he is beginning to be defined by his age. Not quite yet a Liam Neeson, Washington shows a bit of aging around the gills and easily falls into the role of a quiet older man working a menial job, competently and unremarkably.

This rendition of the story has him working a local Home Depot analog, doing simple things, bonding with his coworkers and leading a simple life. He is kind of OCD, doing things repeatedly, placing his flatware and books very specifically for his every night visit to the diner to eat, and read and chat with the young prostitute who stops by on occasion. He is friendly but outside everyone's lives, until... he is dragged into it.

This is not the premise of the TV show, so if for any reason, this is why I was not sure I was going to enjoy their depiction. But it is so exquisite in those quiet first-and-a-bit acts. He is precise, as I mentioned, rather OCD. He is mysterious about his past but does not rebuff people. And that mood, that tone carries itself into the action, once it starts. The young prostitute is being abused by her pimps, the Russian mafia of this area of Boston. McCall attempts to buy her contract, assuming a few thousand dollars can cover it, not really knowing how much she is worth. He is mocked, threatened and makes to leave. But in a very precision ballet of violence, that John Wick reminded me of, McCall kills all the mafiosos.

Enter Martin Tsokas as a fixer for the Russian mob, who arrives in the US to find out what happened to his key pimp. Martin Tsokas is the best of the best when it comes to playing suave, scary, evil men. And this is a prime example. He and McCall come together as fixer plays investigator, putting the details together until he finds the man who works at the Home Depot but who must be much much more.  The latter acts of the movie sort of fall into a less enjoyable, familiar pattern of blowing things up and taking down bad guys. Creative use of the tool section.

But the ending of the movie gave me quite the grin. Robert has dismantled the Russian mob, saved the young prostitute but can never go back to his job at the Home Depot. We find him at his laptop filling out a Craig's List posting:

Got a problem?

Odds against you?

Call the Equalizer

Enter squee.  Sequel please.

White House Down. You already know I saw the other Attack the White House movie -- Olympus Has Fallen.  This was visibly the lighter of the two, comedic and with brighter stars in the leads: Channing Tatum as the hero and Jamie Fox as The President. Does anyone else matter? Not really, in a Roland Emmerich vehicle, where the trauma is the main star. But it was nice to see Lance Reddick, Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Woods in supporting roles.

Its all about the take over and rescue of America's centre of royalty - the White House and its President. They are rather a package deal in the mythology of the US. The hero worship around the American President has always fascinated me. We openly loathe our own Prime Minister, and while the current American public has their "Thanks Obama" meme, that doesn't reduce the reverence they have for the White House and the Presidential office. Its no joke they consider the job as their own version of a royal family. Both the movies play on the fear of reprisals on their own soil, harkening back to 2001, but amping up the trauma.

I saw Gerard Butler as a respectable, seasoned professional doing what experience had taught him. His President was pretty much a figure head to be rescued, no matter how much I enjoyed Aaron Eckhart in the role. Jamie Fox is better here, as much comedic (less so than I expected) as a competent leader. He represents a sobre but healthy respect for the job he represents, while Channing Tatum is just the right guy in the wrong place, shooting things and wise cracking. It was enjoyable, only because I enjoy the rah-rah American ideal presented by Roland Emmerich.

This is weird. I do these to quickly sum up what I wouldn't do in three normal paragraphs but often end up writing more.

The Boxtrolls was something I enjoyed a lot but wanted to enjoy even more.  The trolls in question, named so because they wear cardboard boxes as clothes (whatever the box is adorned with is their name, i.e. box that held shoes means he is Shoe), are little pesky thieves that live beneath the city of Cheeseburg. They "kidnap" a baby and raise him as one of their own, deep in their Rube Goldberg lair.

Meanwhile, topside an exterminator has promised to kill off all the trolls should he be given the white hat of station. He believes respectability, and access to the finest cheese in Cheeseburg, comes with just bearing the hat. He ignores the fact he is horribly allergic to cheese.

While the trolls themselves were charming and funny, the rest was run of the mill cute. I guess too many of these animations are cut from the same cheesecloth. Watching the trolls clap their boxes when happy made me giggle and the revolting nature of Snatcher's allergic reaction were definitely memorable, but overall the movie was just cute.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was one of those movies that actually forced me to download a properly rented version.  Yes, I actually paid for it. OK, I did attempt to pirate it but my current setup of movie transferral does not easily allow for English movies with subtitles. You have to find the right subtitle file, which is generally not easy. And I wanted to see how the rent a download on the Sony Store, was going these days, so I tossed some funds into my wallet and rented the movie.  8 gigabytes and an overnight download later, I was able to actually watch.  Yeah, the concept of renting a decent quality movie and watching it on the same night is not possible unless you have the highest speed of fibre as your ISP.  And they wonder why people pirate 1 GB versions.

In case you are wondering, it is the apes that are subtitled, as the movies picks up from the first one years later, and they all share a sign language between them.

So, yeah, years later. Caesar and his ape buddies all escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge in the first movie into the woods beyond. I kind of suspect that there is more than a giant forest on the other side of the bridge, but it made a point. Meanwhile, the (further) genetically engineered virus that made Caesar smart jumps to humans with horrible consequences -- the Simian Flu. The opening sequence is straight out of the pandemic game Plague Inc.  -- quite literally. There was a partnership between the movie makers and the game makers. It shows the spread of the disease with overdubbed news dialogue about the end of the world.  Its now ten years laters with the few survivors of the world eking out an existence next door to the apes themselves.

Unfortunately, again, this felt more like an establishing movie. Origin story times two. The apes in the woods come into conflict with the humans in the city and only war will resolve it. We all know where it has to go, so they do their best to dramatically direct us to that ending/beginning. But its kind of limiting and really only lends itself to conflict, both emotionally and violently.

Jason Clarke is our male lead, who wants to reestablish use of a hydroelectric dam in ape territory. Its nice to see Clarke doing a non-badguy role, but all of the characters, including his, are pretty thin. I will chime in with the rest of the internet in saying the lack of female roles in this movie is pretty obvious. Keri Russell is there to just fill a quota.  Meanwhile Serkis (and CGI makeup) as Caesar carries this movie. Everyone else, ape and human alike, is divided between idealistic and self-serving asshole. Humans betray the apes, apes betray the humans and war breaks out. Insert the final movie which has a chance to do something original, in an even further future, ape controlled world.

Graig's review.

Savages really has nothing going for it but a bunch of pretty people and Oliver Stone's name. Its a crime sex drama with Blake Lively (Green Lantern), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla). On the bad guy side is John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. The good guy bunch run their own naive marijuana cartel in southern California, practicing fair employment, chemical analysis and generally and a good vibe in all aspects of their selling of the MJ. They buy completely into their own hype. Meanwhile Salma runs the current blend of head-chopping nasty Mexican cartel who want to buy into the pretty boys business. Things don't go well, as we would expect.

The sex comes in the fact that the three are in a love triangle. Not the jealousy and hidden agendas kind but in the fact that she loves the boys both, equally, and they share her. Its an amiable relationship. It smacks of open relationships, bisexuality and just a little of how addled years of Mj use has made them. We don't quite trust their love & peace judgement.

Stone movies are usually intricate and compelling. This attempted at intricacy but it was all TV level of crime drama and the only thing that even remotely redeemed it was decent acting on the major's parts. But entirely forgettable. And Stone has got to drop the narrator thing he loves so much.

 End of Days (he was never convincing as a grizzled cop) and we have it again with Eric Bana as one who gets mixed up with a demon possessed soldier.
New York cops and Satanist agendas. We saw it in the Arnie movie

I like Bana in generic cop roles. He just has that weighed-down, tired persona well established. The movie plays into that having him balanced on screen against Joel McHale as his ToTheExtreme Redbull-slamming partner. McHale is hilarious, a little more buff than I can accept him as but great with the levity against Bana's growl. All New York cops have a growl in them.

This is your typical possession movie that really relies on a certain amount of acceptance of Judeo Christian mythos. Unlike Constantine and his constantly mixing of mythos and magic, this movie dabbles in older cultures but traces everything back to God and Demons. The movie draws upon a "real story" to base its plot but really, who cares. That won't help us accept or dismiss any of the drama.

It solid enough for these types of movies but nothing grand, and kind of disappointing considering how Derrickson's first foray into horror was pretty spectacular, even for revisiting the evil spirit genre.

There. Done.  Some cleaned out.