Rainy Day Movies – “Dark City” (1998)

Holy shit, that’s a lot of rain! If you reside in Trinidad and Tobago (i.e. my homeland), then you must be aware of the HEAVY rainfall that has devastated crops, disrupted traffic, left commuters stranded due to flash flooding and so forth during the past few days. The Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Office says that this constant rain is normal around this time of the year, and it doesn’t mean that the rainy season (i.e. my homeland’s version of winter) has started just yet. Even though the rainy season is two months away (give or take), you can anticipate to spend some days during that season – or before – sick from the flu, or sleeping in your bed, or complaining for hours about how shitty the connection speed is simply because everyone within a 10-mile radius is at home and online as well, or staring outside, pissed off at Mother Fucking Nature for allowing the rain to fall on the one day you planned to go out.  But if you’re like me, and you want to escape the rain-drenched, chilly atmosphere of the world around you for at least a couple hours, then it couldn’t hurt to enjoy what I call a “rainy day movie”.

 

So what is a rainy day movie, you ask? For one thing, it’s not a term that I invented. I’m sure that some other person in some other part of the world where rain falls on a regular basis uses that term as well. But for me, a rainy day movie is, simply put, a movie that you can watch while the rain is falling. Unlike the “popcorn movie” which is a film (usually action or comedy) that’s far from intellectual, a shitload of fun to look at, and best enjoyed while chomping down kernels of butter-laden, salt-laced, sodium-increasing, cholesterol-raising popcorn, a “rainy day movie” can technically be within any genre from any decade – as long as it keeps you enthralled even though it’s cold inside and rainy outside. In my personal opinion, a “rainy day movie” is all about mood. It can either put you in a mood where you’re so emotionally invested in the film (whether it’s romance or adventure or comedy or tragicomedy) that you could hardly care less if it’s still raining or not, or in a mood where the cold atmosphere enhances your movie-viewing experience, thus mentally immersing yourself into the world of the film, making you feel as “cold” and “moody” as the world, and its inhabitants, presented onscreen.

 

Today’s post is the first (and hopefully not the last) in a new segment called “Rainy Day Movies” – the idea of which, admittedly, I came up with yesterday morning while I was stuck at home thanks to the rain. In this segment, I’ll write about a film that you’re guaranteed to enjoy during wet, windy (sometimes), and worrisome (also sometimes) weather.  Obviously, you don’t have to watch the film ONLY when it’s rainy outside, but if Mother Fucking Nature ruined your plans for the day, you can do no better than curl up on the couch or lay on the bed and be entertained with a movie or two – or even three.

 

Keep in mind that this write-up is pretty much a spur-of-the-moment affair. So if by the time you read this review, the sun is out and it’s blazing hot, please don’t consider this post to be meaningless. With that being said…..

 

 

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From Alex Proyas, the director of the still-AWESOME 1994 comic-book adapted action fantasy “The Crow” (well-known for the ill-fated death of its lead actor, Brandon Lee), the 2004 sci-fi action flick, “I, Robot” (with a moody performance by Will Smith and a pain-in-the-ass performance by Shia “BUMBLEBEE!! BUMBLEBEE!! NOOOOOOO!” LaBeouf) and the dark and depressing-as-fuck 2009 sci-fi disaster film “Knowing” (starring everyone’s favourite Best Actor Oscar winner Nicolas “NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES!! AAAAAAAHHH!!” Cage), comes his neo-noir, sci-fi film “Dark City”. It stars Rufus Sewell (who people may remember, provided they gave a shit about the damn movie, as the evil vampire Adam in last year’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”),  the always-attractive Jennifer Connelly (star of “A Beautiful Mind”, “House of Sand and Fog” and “Blood Diamond”), William Hurt (star of “Syriana”, “Into the Wild” and “The Incredible Hulk”) and TV’s “24”‘s  very own Jack Bauer himself, Keifer Sutherland.

 

Rufus Sewell plays John Murdoch, a guy who wakes up one night in a hotel bathtub  with no recollection of how he ended up there in the first place. While trying to figure out what happened, and what his real name is, John gets a call from Jack Bauer…oops, I mean, Dr. Daniel Schreber. He warns John to leave the hotel from a group of men on their way inside. Before leaving, he finds the corpse of a mutilated woman and a bloody knife nearby. This sets in motion the possibility posed in the film that John may or may not be the killer. Anyhoo, the men after John belong to a mysterious group of male (or androgynous though it’s hard to tell due to their pale-white faces and bald heads) extraterrestrials called “the Strangers”. They have names like Mr. Clean, Mr. Book, Mr. Sleep etc.  Mr. Hand (Richard O’Brien) is ordered by Mr. Wall (Bruce Spence), the leader of the Strangers, to capture John.  It’s revealed early in the film that John was part of an experiment led by the Strangers, which went wrong resulting in the erasing of his memory. Also looking for Mr. Murdoch are his wife Emma (Connelly), a nightclub singer whom John was unaware he was married to initially, and a police inspector named Frank Bumstead (Hurt) who has reason to believe that John is behind a string of murders similar to that of the dead woman at the hotel. Meanwhile, John begins to realize that something is incredibly wrong with the city around him. It’s always night time (with no instance of daylight), the citizens instantly fall asleep at exactly midnight and then they reawaken with no memory of the day (or in this case, night) before. He then discovers that like the Strangers, he has psychokinetic powers (allowing him to move matter with his mind, and create matter out of his own thoughts) which he uses to evade them. Will John learn his true identity, and the truth behind the city, or will he be forever shrouded in darkness?

 

“Dark City” came out one year before the Wachowskis’ (then brothers) groundbreaking sci-fi, kung-fu, philosophical, cyberpunk, action hybrid “The Matrix” in 1999. And while the latter remains an influential film of the late 1990s, “Dark City”  is usually little-known and underappreciated. Which is a shame since this movie is fucking BRILLIANT!  It is SO brilliant that the late, great film critic Roger Ebert rated it as the “best film of 1998” (and on a side note, Ebert has his own audio commentary on the DVD for the Director’s Cut of “Dark City” which you should definitely BUY).  And that was a year that gave us “Saving Private Ryan”, “Shakespeare in Love” and “Life is Beautiful” ….. so yeah, THAT’S saying something! As I mentioned above, the film is part neo-noir and part sci-fi. The concept of the seemingly-innocent man accused of a murder which is part of a much bigger scheme is a familiar staple of noir films. But in “Dark City”, this concept is only part of a much bigger story. “Dark City” deals primarily with memory and being defined by our memories. Questions are explored: are our memories really our own, or are they someone else’s? If you committed a murder, and the memory of that murder was suddenly erased, are you still capable of murder? But to the Strangers, the real question is: do memories make us truly human? Like “The Matrix”, “Dark City” also deals with the perception of reality; Is reality really reality, or is just a figment of our imagination – or in this case, memory?

 

And it’s funny that I would compare “Dark City” to “The Matrix”, since in actuality, they do share some similarities, most of which are coincidental. OR ARE THEY?! Hmmmmmm.  For example, the Strangers are just as devoid of humanity as the Agents from “The Matrix”. On the subject of bad guys, Mr. Hand (played menacingly by Richard O’Brien) is similar to Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). The scene where Dr. Daniel contacts John for the first time echoes the office scene in “The Matrix” where Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) contacts Neo (Keanu Reeves), also for the first time. John’s awareness of the false reality surrounding him, and his new-found abilities to bend that reality, resembles Neo’s path to becoming “The One”. But while “The Matrix” looks to Eastern philosophy, Japanese anime and Chinese heroic bloodshed films for inspiration, “Dark City” seeks its own from noir films of the 1940s and 1950s and German expressionist films like Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (which hugely influenced the themes and visuals of the film) and “Nosferatu” (evident in the make-up and costume design of the Strangers). And while “Dark City” is not as glossy, explosive and big-budget as “The Matrix” (even though its budget was around $30 to $40 million), it benefits from its dark, moody atmosphere, superb cinematography by Dariusz Wolski, solid acting from the entire cast, a powerful musical score by Trevor Jones and a well-written, well-crafted story by Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer (who helped write the scripts for the Dark Knight Trilogy and the upcoming “Man of Steel”) and Alex Proyas himself.

 

This film has it all: bad-ass action sequences, heart-pounding suspense, creepy bad guys, ingenious special effects, memorable visuals and even a heartwarming love story. It immerses you into its world  and keeps you there until the end credits start showing up on-screen. It’s one of the best sci-fi films I’ve ever seen, and it remains one of my personal favourite movies. Long story short, you shouldn’t have to wait until the rainy season  shows up to your doorstep to check out “Dark City”. See this shit as soon as you can! You can even choose between the theatrical and director’s cuts, as either one is DEFINITELY worth your time and your butter-laden, salt-laced, sodium-increasing, cholesterol-raising popcorn. Recommended viewing on a rainy day by yours truly.

 

MY RATING:  4 1/2 stars of out 5 (“Definitely see this movie”)

 

– Matthew

Double feature – “Evil Dead” (2013) & “The Host” (2013)

With Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” and Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3”  hitting theaters on April 26th and May 3rd respectively – both of which I’m eagerly anticipating (yes, even Michael Bay’s film) – today’s post will focus on two Lilliputian (in comparison to the big-ass lineup of summer movies starting from next month) films that are in theaters right now.

 

“Evil Dead”, from Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, is both a reboot of the CLASSIC 1981 horror film “The Evil Dead”, and loose continuation of the Evil Dead film trilogy which includes….you guessed it…. “The Evil Dead”, 1987’s “Evil Dead II” (one of my all-time favourite movies – in case you were wondering) and 1992’s “Army of Darkness”.  This is Fede’s first feature film thanks to Sam Raimi (the director of the Evil Dead trilogy, the “Spiderman” trilogy and this year’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful”) and Ghost House Pictures who discovered him after his very impressive 2009 short film “Ataque de Pánico!” (Panic Attack!) shot to instant popularity on YouTube. I put a link to the short film at the end of this post, so feel free to check it out afterwards.

 

The second film on today’s post is “The Host”. Fortunately, it’s not a remake of the highly overrated, but very, very good 2006 South Korean sci-fi/horror/family drama (not particularly in that order) of the same name. Unfortunately, it’s not a remake of the highly overrated, but very, very good 2006 South Korean sci-fi/horror/family drama (not particularly in that order) of the same name. Instead, it’s the latest film adaptation of a novel written by Stephenie Meyer, writer of the ridiculously popular “Twilight” young adult books which – as everyone over the age of 12 knows – were adapted into the ridiculously fucking popular, and popularly defined as “fucking ridiculous” “Twilight Saga” movie franchise. Now I haven’t had the ‘privilege’ of watching the final film in the franchise (2012’s “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2” ), and believe it or not, I would like to review it in the future. Mind you, I’m not a fan of the franchise at all. Two years ago, I added “Breaking Dawn Part 1” to my list of Worst Movies of the Year.  But I’m still curious as to whether “Breaking Dawn Part 2” is or isn’t “the BEST Twilight movie yet” as stated in the “REALLY?!!”-inducing TV spot for the film, which, as you would expect, was shown as a textual quote by an individual (most likely imaginary) whose name was shrunk small enough for a 4:3 screen that it’s literally hidden in the After Effects-designed clouds behind the text.  Anyhoo, after the Twilight movie franchise was buried came to an end in 2012, and MTV stopped giving a fuck about it (to the point that it wasn’t even nominated for Best Film at the recent Video Movie Awards), Hollywood began scouring the New York Times Best Seller and Amazon’s Kindle Store lists for the next best novel. What they found was Stephenie Meyer’s “best-selling” (at least I think so) adult novel “The Host”.  But with Meyer herself producing the film, and acclaimed director Andrew Niccol both writing and directing it, “The Host” should be a gigantic leap forward from the “Twilight” movie franchise, right? If only it was.

 

And now I’ll like to do some reviews, if you don’t mind.

 

 

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“EVIL DEAD” –  After an impressive post-title opening shot that eerily resembles the one from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece “The Shining”  (which, if you’ve been keeping score, came out one year before Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead”), our story begins with a group of friends on their way to an old cabin in the woods: school teacher and resident dumbass Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), nurse Olivia (Jessica “HELLOOOOOO NURSE!” (remember that shit from ‘Animaniacs‘ ?) Lucas), David (Shiloh Fernandez), his recovering smack addict of a sister Mia (Jane Levy), and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). This vacation of sorts is actually an opportunity for Mia to kick her life-threatening drug habit, and for her brother and loved ones to assist her in the process. Upon arrival, the group discover a book wrapped in a black trash bag and bound by barbed wire. Eric, school teacher and resident dumbass, removes the wire and the bag, and learns that the book is the Naturom Demonto (or Book of the Dead). Within the pages of disturbing Satanic artwork  in the book are a number of red-inked scribbled warnings, the first one being “LEAVE THIS BOOK ALONE”. Of course, Eric, school teacher and resident dumbass, continues reading, and he even recites a specific passage aloud which summons demons to the cabin. Like I said –  DUMBASS!

 

And…..people start dying.

 

Those familiar with Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” will be pleased by the film’s many visual and thematic nods to its source material, like the twisting-and-turning camera movement through the woods (which still looks fucking awesome in the original film), the creepy-ass make-up design and the gory violence. However, the story is radically changed, and the wickedly-bizarre humour from the original film is completely removed, which will infuriate some die-hard fans. Fede Alvarez’s directing is excellent in “Evil Dead”, and he does a great job in incorporating practical special effects in the film, as opposed to CGI, as part of the film’s tribute to the low-budget, but still effective, effects that made the original film a cult classic. The violence in the film is brutal, excruciating and sadistic, and the gore level is raised to an absurdly extreme level in this film. The horrific moments in the film are intense, disturbing and even disgusting (one character is subjected to bloody projectile vomit – that sorta looks like fruit punch – in one scene).

 

But even with an ear-splitting usage of sound design (jarring silence followed by booming noise is the technique of choice used in the film) during these moments, “Evil Dead” is admittedly not that scary.  And you don’t feel the least bit concerned for these characters to feel scared for and with them. This has mainly to do with their lack of characterization. All the characters aren’t developed well enough for the viewer to completely give a rat’s ass whether they survive or not. And the acting, which was aight by horror movie standards, doesn’t help. As a result, you’ll wind up rooting for the five protagonists to die in the worst ways imaginable – which is a lot more fun than it sounds, if you’re like me. But somehow, despite its flaws, I found myself enjoying the film way more than I expected. And in my honest opinion, it’s one of the more better horror movie remakes to come out in a long time, unlike films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” which put Leatherface, Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger respectively to fucking shame! The film’s strengths and flaws will put off some people – and believe me, “Evil Dead” is not for everyone. If you’re a gore-hound and you love extreme violence in your horror movie palate, you’ll enjoy the hell out of this movie. If you’re looking for something original and generic-proof in that same palate, then you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for an ambitious and near-successful attempt at recreating the relentless feel of a classic horror film – in this case, the grueling terror that made the original film a staple of horror movie cinema – then you should definitely check out “Evil Dead”. It’s certainly not “the most terrifying film you will ever experience” as indicated by the film’s poster, but it comes close enough.

 

 

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“THE HOST” – Written and directed by Andrew Niccol (director of such films like the thought-provoking “Gattaca” (1997), the darkly ironic “Lord of War” (2005) and some film starring Justin Timberlake called “In Time” (2011) that I have no intention of watching any time soon), this film stars Saoirse Roman (star of Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” – another film that I have no intention of watching any time soon – and the excellent action drama “Hanna”)  as Melanie Stryder. Melanie’s one of the last remaining human beings on planet Earth. Y’see, a benevolent race of alien parasites called “Souls” have assimilated almost all of the Earth’s human population, thereby eliminating wars, crime and other negative aspects of human history. THANK YOU, BENEVOLENT ALIEN PARASITES!!  Anyways, the rest of humanity (i.e. those not assimilated by the aliens) are on the run from the Souls. Melanie is captured by the Seeker (Diane Kruger) and infused with a “soul” called the Wanderer. Apparently, the Wanderer was a rebel back on their home planet. It’s never fully stated what it was rebelling against (or maybe they said it when I…ahem…had my eyes closed), but the fact remains that the Wanderer must regain its memories so the Souls can locate other rebels. Yeeeeeah. Anyhoo, the Wanderer, now inhabiting the body of Melanie, is conflicted by Melanie’s subconscious. In other words, the Wanderer can see flashbacks of Melanie’s life and hear Melanie’s voice talking to her. Later on, the Wanderer meets a group of human survivors, one of whom is Melanie’s boyfriend Jared Howe (Max Irons). As the Wanderer interacts with the humans, she falls for Ian O’ Shea (Jake Abel). And now we have a love triangle (technically a love square  if you really analyze it) between the Wanderer/Melanie, Jared and Ian.  Ah, a love triangle involving a person who wants to be something she’s not. Kinda like that one with the guy who was a vampire, the girl who loved him and wanted to be a vampire just like him even though he didn’t want to bite her, and the werewolf who couldn’t find any other girl in the town to have pups with than with the aforementioned girl, and, of course, loved to show off his abs.  Yeah, kinda like that one!

 

The idea of an alien entity living inside you, sharing your thoughts, memories and emotions, and desiring to be a human being like you is a very intriguing concept for a film. And “The Host” touches on these concept periodically, to the point where you say to yourself: “Goddamn! That’s a really interesting concept!”.  Unfortunately, the novelty of being amazed by this concept wears off very quickly throughout the course of this film. Instead of fully exploring the boundaries of the abovementioned concept, “The Host” dilutes itself with tepid, eye-rolling moments of teen romance, which usually conclude with unintentional humour. Take the following scene for example: In a later scene, Jared (who’s aware that Melanie is inhabited by the Wanderer) tries to express the passion he still feels for his girlfriend. Melanie, in turn, doesn’t want the Wanderer to fall for him, so she continually warns her (by mentally nagging the SHIT out of her)  not to fall for Jared. He tells Melanie/Wanderer “If I can kiss her, then I can kiss you”, and then plants a hot one on her lips. Melanie (still mentally nagging the shit out of the Wanderer) yells: “No! What is he doing?! Stop it! Stop now!”. The Wanderer pulls away from the kiss, and punches Jared in the face! Jared responds to the sudden attack by saying: “You hit me for kissing you…… I love you!” Ladies and gentlemen, and Twi-Hards far and wide, THIS is what passes as emotional tension in “The Host”! You were warned.

 

As she plays the film’s most interesting character, Saorise Roman brings a much-needed sense of complexity and dimension to “The Host”. And she achieves a rare cinematic feat by playing both the best and worst characters of the film: the sympathetic Wanderer and the annoying-as-fuck Melanie. I am aware that Melanie is the conscience of the Wanderer, but does she have to whine, nag and bitch at everything everyone says and does in the movie? Of course not. Yet she does, and because she does, I instantly stopped giving a shit about her. But for better or worse, she makes the most of the film’s sloppy, poorly-written script, even when she has to deliver some of the film’s most cringe-worthy lines. The jaw-droppingly terrible “Kiss me like you want to get slapped” is a major example of the dialogue that will, if it hasn’t already, secure this film into the annals of bad movie history. Andrew Niccol’s directorial skills pale in comparison to his previous work. The cinematography is nothing worth marveling over and the shot compositions are static with little to no camera movement. Oh, and I forgot to mention: this movie is fucking BORING!!! For two hours (yes, it’s THAT fucking long), hardly anything emotional, important or memorable takes place. And I will admit: I slept during certain parts of the film. Yes, it’s THAT boring! And the worst part about “The Host” is that despite the film’s slow pace and lack of anything exciting taking place, there was no emotional payoff. When the end credits started rolling, I felt nothing for the film’s characters because they weren’t interesting to begin with. Matter of fact, I felt nothing but anger for wasting two hours of my life on that piece of shit! “The Host” is a pathetic attempt to cash in on the success of the “Twilight” movie franchise, a pathetic attempt to get audiences over the age of 13 to sit through two hours of brooding characters, bad dialogue and a poorly-executed premise, and a pathetic attempt at intelligent, emotionally-moving storytelling in general. If you love the book, stick with that and skip this movie. If you never read the book, and have no intention of doing so any time soon (like me), skip this movie.  Better yet, watch the South Korean film “The Host” instead of this bullshit. However, if you have trouble sleeping at nights, and you’re looking for a sleep aid that won’t leave any side effects, then I recommend you watch “The Host” (the American one, that is). Before the first hour is up, you’ll be sleeping like a baby. And when you wake up, you’ll forget you what the movie was actually about. Which I will from this point onward. Thanks, “The Host”. And thank you, benevolent alien parasites!

 

MY RATING:

“EVIL DEAD” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)

“THE HOST” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked”)

 

As promised, here’s the link to the “Ataque de Pánico!” short film. Enjoy!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dadPWhEhVk

 

– Matthew

Double Feature – “Home Again” (2012) & “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (2013)

As misleading as the title may seem, “Home Again”  is not the long-awaited, R-rated, sixth installment of the Christmas-themed “Home Alone” movie franchise (the fifth installment being 2012’s “Home Alone: The Holiday Heist” which, unsurprisingly, not that many people watched on ABC Family….or gave a shit….or knew it existed). And it does not star former child star Macaulay Culkin as an older (obviously) and jobless Kevin McCallister whose on-screen common-law wife (Anna Chlumsky of “My Girl” fame) walks out on him on account of his inability to pay child support, thus forcing him to consider breaking into his neighbour’s house (since the family went on vacation to Tokyo) to steal their prized possessions so he can sell them to his on-again, off-again drug dealer, even though, unbeknownst to Kevin, the youngest child of the family (a girl, by the way) was “accidentally” left at home, which means that she’ll be forced to set a number of deadly booby traps around the house, which will eventually place him in a sense of pain, torture, humiliation, mutilation and a weird sense of deja vu.

 

No siree, it is SO not that movie.

 

“Home Again”  is actually a dramatic feature film written by husband-and-wife Canadian filmmakers Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness and directed by Sutherland. It deals with three deportees from Canada, England and the U.S. respectively, and the hardships they each face when sent to Jamaica. Though the film is set primarily in Jamaica, parts of it were shot in Trinidad and Tobago. Interesting. 

 

“G.I. Joe Retaliation”, on the other hand, is a sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”, a mindless shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, shout-unintelligible-statements-during-shootouts-and-explosions……em-up popcorn movie based on the G.I. Joe toy, media and comic-book franchises. In a nutshell, the first film had Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans (the comic relief and saving grace of the entire movie. Can you believe that fucking shit?!) playing Duke and Ripcord respectively, their inclusion in the elite covert special missions unit code-named “G.I. Joe”, and their attempt to stop Cobra Commander (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt of all people!) and his costumed goons from taking over the world. While it was far from a tribute to the iconic 1980s TV cartoon “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero”, it did succeed in destroying the childhood memories of those who enjoyed that series (myself included). Yes, “The Rise of Cobra” was a ridiculous, poorly-written, badly-acted, mind-numbing, over-the-top, piece-of-shit that tried to capitalize on the success of 2007’s “Transformers” and challenge its 2009 sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” in terms of cinematic stupidity. When I first saw “The Rise of Cobra”, I remember comparing it to an energy drink: it keeps you up for a period of time (in the film’s case, the first hour), but then you start to feel tired (five minutes after the first hour of the film) and then eventually, you crash (everything else leading up to the Paramount Pictures logo at the end of the film).

 

Back in 2011, when I heard that the news of a sequel to “The Rise of Cobra”, my expectations were low. But then in December, I saw the first (and still AWESOME) trailer for “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the forefront, a special appearance by Bruce (a.k.a. the TRUE last action hero) Willis in the last few scenes, and the BAD-ASS Glitch Mob remix to the White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” playing in the soundtrack, and I WAS SOLD!! Instantly, I was hyped and I couldn’t wait to see this movie (blame that on the power of marketing and promotion, folks)! The next year, Paramount Pictures announced that the June 2012 release date was pushed back to March 2013. Apparently, following a test screening or two, it was stated in some early reviews that the film needed more moments with Channing Tatum  and Dwayne Johnson (who plays Roadblock) (*COUGH*BROMANCE*COUGH) before Tatum’s character Duke got killed (and no, spoiler alert haters, that’s not a spoiler alert. His death was announced before the movie came out. So there!).  But here’s the real reason why they pushed the release date: Paramount wanted it to be in 3D! And we all know 3D means more money, and more money means more ticket sales, and more ticket sales means more people spending money on crappy movies that they could’ve easily torrented watched in the comfort of their homes. But considering how fucking godawful “The Rise of Cobra” was, I had hoped that “Retaliation” would be the G.I. Joe film I expected to see back in 2009.

 

So are “Home Again” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” worth their respective ticket price? Well….

 

 

HomeAgain

 

“HOME  AGAIN” –  Raised abroad since childhood, three deportees are sent to Jamaica: Marva Johnson (Tatyana Ali) from Canada; Dunston Browne (Lyriq Bent) from New York; and Everton Sinclair (Stephan James) from England. Marva is a single mother, torn apart from her two children. Upon arrival, she’s forced to contend with a lack of employment opportunities (since deportees are mostly perceived as “criminals”), and an incestuous uncle named Archie (played by an almost-unrecognizable (to me, at first) Jamaican actor Paul Campbell of “Third World Cop” fame). Dunston is a drug dealer who forms an alliance with a local crime lord or “Don” in Jamaican terminology (Kadeem Wilson) and winds up becoming his gun-toting enforcer. Jammix (Richard Chevolleau). a fellow enforcer, shows Dunston “the ropes” as he introduces him to Jamaican society. Everton, the youngest of the three deportees, is a private school student sent to Jamaica thanks to his mother Dulsay’s (CCH Pounder) negligence in securing his citizenship papers. His bad decision-making and naivete (mainly involving a nubile schoolgirl that he meets earlier in the film) leads him into a life of vagrancy. Damn, son!

 

The film deals primarily with each main character’s need to survive, and for the most part, “Home Again” excels at showcasing this. Marva, Dunston and Everton are literal fishes-out-of-water thrown onto the shores of Jamaica. And there are some convincing culture shock moments where each character learns the do’s and dont’s of Jamaican life. But once they learn the ropes and realize that Jamaica is not the paradise people think it is, things go from bad to worse. And this is where, plot-wise, “Home Again” begins to falter. What started off as a strong character study between the three protagonists becomes flawed after the first act. The most apparent flaw is the lack of screen time spent on Marva’s story in the first and second act. This is unfortunate since her story is actually the most compelling of all the three presented in the film. Not to mention, Tatyana Ali’s character is the most sympathetic out of the three leads. However, in Lifetime-Movie-of-the-Week style (which is funny since I felt that Tatyana played her role a little too safe – as if she were acting in a TV movie), she spends the second act being the token “rape victim” and object of Uncle Archie’s perverse attention. Dunston’s tale, with its emphasis on violent gang life and energetic night life, is admittedly the most entertaining of the three. Though the story veered into cliched gangsta movie territory rather quickly (right down to meeting the ruffneck chick – Cherry C played by Canadian pop singer Fefe Dobson – who, slowly but surely, falls for the protagonist), Lyriq Bent’s charismatic performance made it all the more watchable. Stephan James, in his first major feature film role, was quite impressive as Everton. Out of the three main performances, his was clearly the most challenging.  Although I felt that his character’s downward spiral into drugs and squalor became less pitiful and more annoyingly depressing,  and his story ended way too anti-climatic, Stephen’s performance rarely disappoints.  The main characters themselves were well-developed, though I felt that the side characters were fairly one to two-dimensional. The Don (played viciously by Kadeem Wilson) is the remorseless bad guy, Archie is the horny-ass uncle who loves to rape his niece, Cherry C is the girl who tends to her lover’s gunshot wounds, and so on. I’ve seen these characters before in other films and I would have loved to see them presented differently in this one.

 

“Home Again” even allows brief interactions between the three main characters to take place. Unfortunately, these interactions feel forced (as if the filmmakers tried desperately to think up scenarios where they can meet) and aren’t fully developed. The same goes for a few “filler” scenes in the film, like Dunston’s encounter with a group of Rastafarians in the second act. While this scene is understandable within the context of highlighting Jamaica’s Rastafarian community, it adds little to the film’s narrative and could have been left on the proverbial “editing room floor” (or Recycle Bin or whatever).  Flaws aside, the film does a great job in taking the viewer into the world and lifestyle of Jamaica. With vibrant cinematography, a reggae and dancehall-tinged soundtrack and an abundance of Jamaican patois, Jamaica is on full display here.  As mentioned, some scenes were shot in Trinidad (specifically in Port-of-Spain and Trincity), but thanks to some clever camerawork and casting of skilled Trinidadian actors (Michael Cherrie and Conrad Parris are the two main examples), the “image” of Jamaica (or the illusion thereof) intended for the film was still maintained. In the end, though it’s far from perfect, “Home Again” is a step in the right direction for Caribbean cinema. The gritty and overly melodramatic tone of the film won’t be for all tastes: and if you absolutely couldn’t care less about Caribbean films, then this one will do so little to change your mind. But for people like me who yearn to see films from a different cultural perspective instead of the constant diet of Hollywood films fed to us year after year, then “Home Again” is worth checking out – just not in a hurry.

 

 

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“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” – Speaking of Hollywood diet, here’s the equivalent to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Following the conclusion of “The Rise of Cobra” where Cobra member and master of disguise Zartan (played by Arnold Vosloo a.k.a Imhotep from the first two “Mummy” films) successfully placed himself in the White House as an impersonator of the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” shows him accusing the Joes of stealing nuclear warheads from Pakistan. Of course, they didn’t do it, but that doesn’t stop a military strike on the Joes from taking place. Many Joes are wiped out in the attack, even Duke (and even if I didn’t hear about his death over the grapevine last year, I still wouldn’t have cared). Three Joes survive – or should I say two Joes and a Jane survive – or should I say two Joes and a she-Joe survive:  Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (played by the smoking hot Adrianne Palicki). Presumed dead by the U.S. Government, Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye use this as a cover to hatch a covert plan to stop the bad guys (*COUGH*Major plot point in “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”*COUGH*) – Zartan, ex-G.I. Joe member Firefly (Ray Stevenson), Cobra Commander (played this time by Luke Bracey) and his ninja bodyguard from the first film, Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee). After Storm Shadow suffers injury during an attempt to extract Cobra Commander from a maximum security prison, he goes to a Himalayan temple to recover. News of his presence reaches the Arashikage ninja clan, led by the Blind Master (played peculiarly by rapper/music producer/Wu-Tang Clan de facto leader/star of last year’s “The Man with the Iron Fists” RZA in a role which proves, like “Iron Fists” that  Black Asians do exist). The Blind Master sends his student Snake Eyes (the resident ninja of the G.I. Joe team and Storm Shadow’s rival from the first film) and his female apprentice Jinx (Elodie Yung) to capture Storm Shadow and make him answer for the murder of his uncle. Add one of the Expendables into the mix – Bruce Willis (who plays General Joseph Colton) – and we have our movie.

 

With directing duties removed from Stephen Sommers (who, if I’m not mistaken, is somewhere hiding in Guatemala following the cinematic travesty that was “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) and handed over to Jon M. Chu, director of “Step Up 2: The Streets”, “Step Up 3D” and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never”  (take a wild guess which one of these movies I don’t plan to watch any time soon), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a solid action movie that avoids the unintentional humour of the original. But the film’s biggest strength is ultimately its biggest problem: it takes itself WAY too seriously. Yes, “The Rise of Cobra” was horseshit, but even when it tried to take itself seriously, it never completely did. It was almost as if the film itself was self-aware of its own crappiness, and just went along for the ride until it ended. And while the previous film felt like a live-action kids’ cartoon (which it was), “Retaliation” feels like a “mature”, adrenaline-soaked military sci-fi action flick (which it is). But with the film’s preposterous plot (fake President planning to nuke the world) and over-the-top action sequences (for example, London’s near-destruction in one scene. First, the Eiffel Tower in the first film. Now London. Real AMERICAN heroes indeed!), should anyone take this movie seriously? If not, then why present it that way? Consider “The Expendables 2“. I gave the film 3 1/2 out of stars and preferred it over the original (which I also gave 3 1/2 stars to, mind you) because it knew exactly what it was (a mindless, testosterone-fueled shoot-em-up with a slew of action heroes) and never took itself too seriously.  And because of that, I had fun with the movie. And yes, “Retaliation” has its fun moments, albeit a few. The ninja mountain showdown, in which Snake Eyes, Jinx and a team of ninjas face off against rival ninjas while swinging on ropes and cables in the Himalayan mountains, is fun. Oh, what am I saying? This sequence is fucking AWESOME!! It is easily the best, and most inventive, scene in the entire film – and ironically, the major characters aren’t even involved in it. The performances are okay, to say the least. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shines as Roadblock, though his character is just as two-dimensional as everyone else in the film – even Bruce Willis. And speaking of John McClane himself, he appears in only a few scenes in the movie. But his presence, and seeing him do his Bruce Willis-isms, brought a smile to my face. ‘Nuff props to the true last action hero!

 

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is everything it sets out to be: it’s mindless, loud, and chock-full of shootouts, swordfights, explosions and stylized slo-mo to boot. It is WAY better than “The Rise of Cobra”, and if that’s good enough for you, then feel free to spend your hard-earned money on this movie.  But with the exception of the ninja mountain showdown which, alone, is worth seeing on the big screen (and it really looks fucking great in 3D, by the way), everything else is generic PG-13 action film material. Like its predecessor, it fails to live up to its source material. But in an age where Hollywood studios look to toy franchises for the next big blockbuster, what more can you expect?

 

But hey, the “Seven Nation Army” remix is still the shit – so who am I to complain?

 

 

 

MY RATING:

“HOME AGAIN” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“G.I. JOE: RETALIATION” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you have to”)

– Matthew

Parting is such sweet sorrow

walking-away_2

 

And so, my fellow readers, the time has come….01/04/13. I’ve posted this date two Mondays ago on my Facebook page, and for those who noticed it and wondered what that date meant, here it is:

 

This is the final entry of A Legally Black Blog.

 

As to why I came up with this decision, the answer is simple: maintaining this blog has become too daunting a task for me. When I first started A Legally Black Blog, it was with the intention of reviewing  movies from a regular moviegoer’s viewpoint as opposed to a professional film critic sitting behind an office desk. I’ve written on a number of films for the past year and a half, and I must say: I enjoyed writing every single review. Even when I bashed a film….and boy, did I unleash hell on certain films…..I did so with pride and passion.

 

As a fan of both online movie review sites and YouTube movie review channels, it was a personal goal of mine to have my own movie review blog. But all jokes aside: watching films just to write about them almost every week and every month eventually takes its toll. And when a blog you created gets in the way of your priorities (as it has for me since beginning mine), then you have to make a decision: Do you continue to write half-assed reviews, knowing damn well that hardly anyone will make the time to read them, or do you let go of your creation for good, and move on with your life? I choose the latter.

 

Yes, ladies and gents, this is the end. It’s been a fun ride, and I managed to deliver the best reviews I could despite the odds stacked against me. But all good things must come to an end. And so, it’s time for me to say goodbye to A Legally Black Blog. To all those who supported me from day one, those who actually followed my blog on WordPress, those who made sure to leave a comment on my reviews and Facebook posts, and to the few who unfortunately joined my Facebook page too late, I leave to you these final words…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

april-fool-22v

 

 

Now I know what you’re thinking: Matthew, why in the holy FUCK would you pull a  childish prank like that?! How DARE you toy with our emotions like that?! I thought you were DOWN, man! I thought you were down for the cause, man!  Well, I’ll give you FOUR reasons…..man.

 

(1) It’s April Fool’s Day! DURRRRHH!!

 

(2) It’s been a month since I wrote anything on this blog. After the Academy Awards review, I was mentally spent and I needed time to recharge. So I kept myself busy, mostly with screenwriting and assisting my fellow colleagues with their student films – among other things. I had always intended to return to blogging in April, but then I figured – what better day to do so than on April Fool’s Day?

 

(3) When you devote your time and energy to something like a blog, there are moments where you do lose the zeal you had for it from the beginning.  As such, adding fresh content becomes more of a chore than a hobby. And the temptation of abandoning the blog altogether becomes stronger. Because of this, it’s always good for me to step away from the blog every once in a while, recharge my mental batteries and handle my priorities before getting back in the saddle, so to speak. The above introduction was my way of confronting that temptation, creating a scenario in which I gave in to it, and finally overcoming it.

 

Ahh, who am I kidding? It was an April Fool’s Day prank! LOLZ!

 

But seriously though, I can safely say that at this moment, I have no intention of quitting my movie review blog.  However, if I do stop writing in this blog, it won’t be because I gave up. More than likely,the reason would be that I’ve moved on to bigger and better things. Like making my own films. Or working as a professional screenwriter. Or joining another blog site. Who knows? The sky’s the limit. But for now, guys, you can breathe a sigh of relief. I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon (cue studio audience “AWWWWWWWWWW” track)

 

But I must mention the fourth reason why I pulled that prank. As you already know, today is April Fool’s Day/Easter Monday. By now, you’ve probably seen every Biblical epic shown on television during the Easter weekend, and you’re probably looking for something different to look at today. Fortunately for you two, I have the perfect alternative. But first, consider this scenario. You know that guy or girl that you were friends with in the past, and you both loved the same types of movies, and then one day he or she did some shit that fucked you up, and even though you guys aren’t on speaking terms anymore (even though you’re still “friends” on Facebook), you still want to get back at that person? Then why not recommend these two special April Fool’s Day movies to your ex-BFF? Now the poster for each film implies that the film itself should be great, but in actuality, it’s NOT!  All you have to do is persuade your ex-BFF that these movies are indeed great, and then he or she will sit through both of them and suffer AGONIZING PAIN…. for about four hours or so. But trust me – that’ll be enough to quench your THIRST FOR REVENGE! April Fool’s Day payback, bitches!

 

So you see, guys, my April Fool’s Day prank was worth it after all. You’re getting a Double Feature review today…..so LIGHTEN UP ALREADY! JEEZ!

 

 

wickerman_poster

 

 

THE WICKER MAN (2006)

Also known as the beginning of the end of Nicolas Cage’s acting career, “The Wicker Man” is a remake of the 1973 British film of the same name. Written and directed by Neil LaBute (director of “Nurse Betty”, “Lakeview Terrace” and “Death at a Funeral”), this film has Nick Cage playing Edward Malus, a policeman who’s requested by his ex-fiancee Willow (played by a seemingly-drugged up Kate Beahan) to search for her daughter on a remote island run by a group of  neo-pagans led by the elderly Sister Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn of “The Exorcist” fame). Now, without spoiling the plots of both versions of “The Wicker Man”, the first, and still EXCELLENT, version dealt with Catholicism versus paganism. This version, however, flushes that concept down the toilet (along with any positive redeemable factor for the film) in favour of the battle of the sexes. Yes, this version of “The Wicker Man” is about a pagan cult of females subjugating men for procreation, manual labour and sacrifices (oops…spoiler alert) in their ancient ceremonies.  And while the original film moved at an even pace while maintaining a sense of dread and creepiness, this version runs slow like molasses in the first half, then gets more and more absurd as it tries to gain momentum in the second.

 

The score sounds like something out of a fucking TV movie with its “DUMMMMMMM DUM!” musical moments, And the music is wrongly used to manipulate the audience into feeling a certain way about the events occurring on screen – even when the payoffs at the end of these events are nothing short of underwhelming. Also, apart from a few WTF-ish moments, the film is far from frightening. The acting is shitty throughout the film, but the standout performance….and mind you, this isn’t a compliment, comes from the man himself – Mr. Nicolas Cage. His overacting and unintentionally laughable dialogue in this film are extraordinary (also, not a compliment). He delivers the film’s best lines (and when I say great, I mean you can watch a number of videos based on his dialogue on YouTube) like “What’s in the bag? A shark or something?”, “How it’d get burned?! How it’d get burned?!! HOW IT’D GET BURNED?!!” and the infamous and hilarious-as-fuck “NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES! AAAAAAAAAHHHH!! MY EYES! MY EYES!”. In short, while the first film presented a provocative look at religion and blind faith,  this remake presents a poorly-written story, weird and uninteresting characters, terrible acting, hammy dialogue and bees. Lots of bees.  If you’re looking for a good laugh from a piece-of-shit movie, then you’ll get your money’s worth with this film. But whether you’re interested in seeing Nicolas Cage punch a woman in the face while wearing a bear suit (YouTube this shit if you think I’m lying) or not, I strongly recommend that you see the original film. Matter of fact, since this is a remake, you can tell your ex-BFF that “The Wicker Man” is better – and SCARIER – than the original. And don’t forget to tell him/her that it has one of Nicolas Cage’s  most memorable performances. So in essence, you’ll be telling him/her a half-truth, which is always better than a whole lie? Right?

 

 

troll-2

 

TROLL 2 (1990)

On the subject of lies, here’s the PERFECT horror film to recommend to your ex-BFF for April Fool’s Day: “Troll 2”. Why, you ask? I’ll give you two simple reasons:

(a) It’s not scary (but you probably figured that out already)

(b) There are NO trolls in this film! NONE! But there are GOBLINS though.

 

I shit you not, folks. “Troll 2”, a movie with the word “Troll” and the number “2” in its title, is about fucking GOBLINS! Now while you attempt to ponder on the monumental stupidity behind that last sentence, let me get to the premise of this film. The Waits family is vacationing in a remote farming community named Nilbog. As part of an exchange program or rental agreement or some shit that wasn’t fully explained, the Waits swap houses with a family of local residents. Now here’s where shit gets interesting….ly insane. Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson), the youngest in the family, is warned – even before entering Nilbog – by the ghost of his deceased grandfather Seth (Robert Ormsby) that there are goblins (“NOT THE GOBLINS! NOT THE GOBLINS! AAAAAAAAAHHHH!”), in human form, living in the community. The goblins are vegetarian (*FACEPALM*) and as such, they detest meat and people who eat meat. Through the magical powers of a Druid witch named Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed) who transforms her human prey into human/plant hybrids (*DOUBLE FACEPALM*) and the use of town-made milk products like Nilbog Milk and Nilbog Ice Cream (*MULTI-FACEPALM*) which turn humans into green ectoplasm, which in turn is devoured oh so ravenously by the goblins  (*GOD MODE*),  human beings in general have absolutely no opportunity of surviving in Nilbog for long. The only hope of stopping these evil creatures (and they are evil because Seth says in the beginning of the film: “Goblins don’t need to justify their evil acts. They’re evil creatures” which pretty much justifies the fact that they are evil) is Seth, who knows far too much about goblins than anyone else in this goddamned movie.

 

Many people regard “Troll 2” as the best worst movie ever made. Actually, there’s a 2009 documentary on the film’s cult status called “Best Worst Movie”.  But is it truly the best worst movie ever made or is there another piece of turd that can challenge that? While I can’t vouch for the latter, I will honestly say that “Troll 2” is the most entertaining piece of goblin shit I’ve ever seen in my life! Everything about this film screams “CULT CLASSIC”: the theme music that sounds like a late-80s action-packed kids’ cartoon; the unintentionally cheesy dialogue (“Speaking of eating, do you want some Joshua?”; “Think about the cholesterol”; They’re eating her… and then they’re going to eat me! OH MY GOOOOOOOOOOD!!!” (funniest… line….EVER)); the subtle tributes to other cult films like the food theme, disgusting green goo and zooming close-up camera technique of Peter Jackson’s  “Bad Taste” (recommended by yours truly if you’re interested in the early days of Pete’s film career before he became Mr. “Lord of the Rings”) and the corny-ass book reading by the character of Seth, that echoes the great fantasy adventure “The Princess Bride”; and of course, growling midgets wearing goblin masks. Ah, midgets with goblin masks. Now THAT’S cult film material! Anyhoo, the story is dumb as fuck with sub-plots that add nothing to the dumb-as-fuck story and moments that are either cringe-worthily awful or laugh-out-loud hilarious, or both. Consider the following scene, which combines the two: the Waits family discover, upon arrival at the house, that the occupants left food and drink on the kitchen table. The mother, father and daughter prepare to eat, while Joshua is warned by Seth that the food and drink will transform them into ectoplasm. Seth magically stops time – for 30 seconds, mind you – in order for Joshua to prevent his family from eating the food. The camera follows Joshua as he walks around the table, and the family members (or should I say actors) try their utmost hardest to appear “frozen in time”. When the 30 seconds are almost up, Joshua can only think of one solution: PEE ON THE FOOD! Now THAT’S cult film material! 

 

If I can pick a standout performance in the film, it would be that of Deborah Reed, who plays Creedence. If Morticia from “The Addams Family” and Natasha Fatale from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” were a lesbian couple (and I’m not saying that they are lesbians. I’m just making an example, folks), and they raised a daughter together, it would be Creedence. She is so ridiculously over-the-top with her bulging eyes, fake teeth, faux-European accent, and campy dialogue that she easily steals every scene she’s in! There’s even a make-out session (the only one in the film) with a younger and hotter Creedence (she is a witch, after all), a dim-witted young man, and an ear of corn! Believe me – it’s as ludicrous as it sounds. As I mentioned earlier, the movie isn’t scary. Not in the slightest. There isn’t even an effective plot twist in the movie, unless you count Joshua’s realization that Nilbog is “Goblin” spelled backwards! DUMMMMMMM DUM!

 

But despite the film’s lack of scares, “Troll 2” is redeemed by the sheer insanity of everything else. From the bargain-basement special effects and extensive use of green goo, to the the mask-wearing midget actors playing the goblins and the mere title of the film itself, it’s truly hard to take anything in this movie seriously. Because I had so much fun with “Troll 2”, and because I laughed my ass off numerous times while watching it, I strongly suggest that you check out this shit as soon as you can (today if possible)! Invite some friends over to your place, pop some popcorn, pour out the alcohol (believe me, if you’re not motivated to drink after watching the first minute of this film, your friends would be), and enjoy the “best worst movie” ever made! But whatever you do, don’t invite your ex-BFF! Let him/her stay home and watch “Troll 2” all alone. Trust me – it won’t be as fun as watching it with company! Recommended like eating a full carton of Nilbog Ice Cream!

 

Happy April Fool’s Day/Easter Monday, folks!

 

– Matthew