Sunday, February 12, 2017

10 for 10: Cleaning Out the Cupboards

[GK] 10 for 10... that's 10 movies which we give ourselves 10 minutes apiece to write about.  Part of our problem is we don't often have the spare hour or two to give to writing a big long review for every movie or TV show we watch.  How about a 10-minute non-review full of scattershot thoughts? Surely that's doable?  

[DP] Yes! Yes it is. But it is also over an hour all by itself, and I think it can only properly be done all in one sitting. [edit: of which I failed at immediately]

[DP] I need to reboot this post and delete what I wrote and start again.

[DP 2 months later] Anytime now....

aaaand GO.

Zootopia, 2016, Byron Howard, Rich Moore (Tangled, Wreck It Ralf) -- download

This was the latest Disney animated movie, at the time. Its a world of anthropomorphic animals all living together in a peaceful, predator-friends-with-prey city. And then something goes wrong, that draws out the more animal instincts of the city's predators. Judy the Bunny (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the farm girl who has come to the city with the idea of being a big city cop, but really, who is she kidding? She's a coot wil bunny wunny. And Chief Bogo (Idris Elba, water buffalo) is pretty much convinced of bunnies-cannot-be-cops idea. But then she gets caught up with a con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) and uncovers a rather disturbing plot.

Charming. That is the primary thing I can say about this movie. Really, everything is just likeable, not all that memorable but definitely likeable. The most memorable thing is a gag that is probably going to show up again and again in pop culture --- when Judy and Nick set off a howl to distract a bunch of wolves. Once one gets going, they all get going. Ow ow ow owwoooooooo. Heh!

The theme sitting behind it all is racism, that nature does not predetermine who you really are. Isn't connecting that to racism, kind of racist? But seriously, it was about pre-judging people by their ... nature? Predators are born predators but in this world, can be mean, nice or plain goofy. But does that carry over as a metaphor to people? Nobody is born a certain way, we attribute stereotypes to them based on real or imagined history.

Wait, kid's movie!  Charming! Fun! Funny!

Bonus points for Shakira as a pop star gazelle and Peter Mansbridge as Peter Moosebridge. (9:03)

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London Has Fallen, 2016, Babak Najafi (Swedish movie Sebbe) -- download

Antoine Fuqua did the first movie, Olympus Has Fallen, a throw away actioner piece that I remember being rather upsetting due to all the collateral damage. Still feeling sensitive about that these days. But it was a memorable movie, one of those that comes as the better of its Evil Twin Movie White House Down, where a single man must save the President of the United States when his White House (not actually burned during the War of 1812) is attacked by foreign terrorists. Gerard Butler is that man, a Secret Service guy who has a history with the President.

Wait, we already did that movie so THIS movie is still about Gerard Butler, still about Aaron Eckart as POTUS and still about terrorists attacking him. This time he's at a funeral in the UK, when the terrorists attack London. Boom boom boom boom. Explosions all over the city cut it off while killing other key dignitaries, including the Canadian Prime Minister. Sure, Gerard saves him but not our guy. Anywayz, the President is taken (tee hee) and Gerard must get him back.

The motivations were shaky this time, and unlike the first, it's not as much a contained movie. All of central London becomes his locale, as Mike Banning (Butler) must fight his way to  the stronghold of the terrorist. Do we ever remember the actual motivations of the Bad Guys? Does anyone remember why Hans Gruber took over the Nakitomi Building? Anywayz, Banning shoots, explodes and fights his way to the centre and saves his President again.

If not for Butler's charm, I really had no reason to see this movie. OK ok, I still like city destruction. And this one was disaster movie like in its display as the collateral damage is much hidden. It didn't feel as personal as the first. (9:50)

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Victor Frankenstein, 2015, Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) -- download

McGuigan was once considered to be the next Guy Richie, which is both disingenuous (he also did superhero movie Push) and insulting consider Richie's state these days. But here he is helming the movie that was supposed to be the next in line for the Universal Monster Movie franchise. We have the completely forgotten Wolfman, the maligned Dracula Untold and now we get a Frankenstein movie, but not at all about The Monster but about The Man. And its as much comedy, as it is drama. It is never horror nor action.  Weird.

[DC: Aaaaand we forget this one as well, as The Mummy comes out soon to Start the Universal Monsters Franchise]

I honestly want to join the camp that believed this movie should have been called Igor, because it is really about him. Daniel Radcliffe plays a circus hunchback being abused by his employers / owners when he is rescued by madman student Victor F. Victor has recognized something great about Igor and after he spirits the young man away, he points out that Igor is not a hunchback at all. In possibly the most revolting scene I have ever watched in a A List movie, Victor points out the massive cyst on Igor's back and drains it by hand. With the addition of one back brace, a cleanup and a nice suit, Igor becomes a man about town. And Victor's assistant.

Victor is hated by students and teachers alike, and his father Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). He has been experimenting where people shouldn't and Inspector Moriarty (Andrew Scott) is determined to reveal the ungodly nature of his experiments. When you see the monkey, you might agree with him. But Victor needs to make his monster, to prove his father and the world wrong. Alas, Igor begins to suspect that doing this might just be.... wrong.

What I didn't get about this movie is how it tried so hard to be grim and funny at the same time. And there was no way this could connect to any coming movies. It was just... odd. (9:55)

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American Ultra, 2016, Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) -- Netflix

The premise of this movie is rather familiar fun -- a well trained assassin/spy/hitman/gun-fu expert is hidden in plain sight as a stoner kid (Jesse Eisenberg) working at an all night convenience store in the middle of rural nowhere America. He doesn't know what he is. He is an impressive stoner that really wants to take his similarly stoner GF (Kristen Stewart) on a trip but has massive panic attacks when he tries to enact the plan. She understands, but you can see the pain in her.

And then, out of the blue (its always out of the blue) he is triggered and takes down two trained agents. He is triggered but he doesn't awake to who he is. What he is, is a deactivated American agent hidden away until they need him, or they need to get rid of him. The latter bit is in play here, as a ladder climbing CIA flunky (Topher Grace) decides to clean up the failed hidden spy plan by killing Eisenberg. Topher's rival, who worked closely in the plan, fully triggers Mike (Eisenberg) to allow him to protect himself.

Weird; not sure why I watched this because I am rather not fond of the two leads. Topher is always a fun, manic bad guy but combining stoner personalities with two people I don't like surely would lead to a movie I would not like?  Lo, behold -- I liked it ! It is well played out, well scripted and artfully playful. There is wit and heart behind how the mains are handled and even Stewart is likeable. And, of course, who wouldn't want to watch Walton Goggins play another looney tunes bad guy? The Laugher is probably my favourite of his characters, even his bit role from the Bourne movies. (9:23)

[DP] So far, I am not hitting a full 10 mins before I get distracted by the clock and have to stop short.

MI-5, 2015, Bharat Nalluri (The Crow: Salvation) -- Netflix

Straight To, this is a generic spy movie done by... waitasec, the guy who did The Crow: Salvation way back when?  Wow, I guess this guy is still working after all this time. Good for him.

Anywayz, John Snow (Kit Harrington) comes to us as a disenfranchised MI-5 agent tasked by a disgraced MI-5 leader (generic British TV guy #132, Peter Firth) to help clear his name and catch the Bad Guy Walter O'Brien (Elyes Gabel). He gets some help from Tuppence Middleton and a familiar cast of other British regulars.

This movie wants to be Bond or Bourne but is really more tailored to look like those popular British MI-5 TV shows, which is not surprising consider one of the most popular is called Spooks and this movie is called Spooks: The Greater Good in Britain. Is it a spin-off? Who knows. But anywayz, there is global travel, a skilled but disenchanted agent, assassination attempts, old white guys with shadowy pasts and lots of gun play. What there isn't much of is originality.

Google google. Oh! So it is based on the TV show, so at least I caught that look n feel. But its funny, because I don't have much more to say about the movie because it was MONTHS ago that I saw it and I don't have much of a feel for it anymore. It's weird, because it keeps on merging in my head with another movie that will end up in another of the 10 for 10 segments, again about disenfranchised agents, one with Pierce Brosnan called The November Man. (9:20)

The Huntsman: Winter's War, 2016, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (visual effects guy) -- download

OK, I should have seen this in the theatre, because you are probably aware I am a fan of the first one. And yes, The Huntsman who is the character played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth also played a Ranger NPC in one of my D&D games. Anywayz, it just never happened and we ended up downloading it as soon as it appeared online.

This should have been a prequel proper, as the Evil Queen died in the first, and to be honest, from all the trailers I assumed it was. But no, its not. It is a sequel to the first, despite it depending a lot on a lot of prequel based details.

In this one, The Huntsman has clearly forgotten his love for Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who does not appear in the movie at all, so they decide to explore his connection to his dead wife, the wife whose death left him a slovenly drunk in the first movie. We knew he was a disaffected soldier, but what we didn't know is that he was a soldier in the army of the Evil Queen's (Charlize Theron) sister, the Winter Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) along with his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain).

There is a weird weird prequel backstory where Huntsman and Sara are children captured by the Queens and trained to be ninja samurai ranger soldiers in this Not Earth fairy tale world. At some point in their future they rebel and Sara is killed, while he is thought killed as well. Lo, Sara is also not dead and when we are tossed back to the sequel, she hates her husband because he left her. And now she is tasked with killing the rebels who killed Freya's sister and her army.

This one tries to repeat the beats of the first, again by including CGI enhanced dwarves and some magic and some Ranger style fighting. Jessica Chastain is not a good immediate choice for this character, but to be honest, she can make just about anything believable these days so I went along with her. She will also probably show up as an NPC in one of my games.

Not much else stuck but that they had to really push hard to get Theron back as an Evil Queen who, well who ends up fighting against her sister. I guess Theron is the Eviller Queen. Movie ends up happily ever after but still forgets Snow White is alive. (10:26)

Tracks, 2013, John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore) -- Netflix

Walk across the desert. Its something I would love to do, well if my feet would start to cooperate with me again. Walking used to be a great therapy for me; I could do it for hours. Then I (or retail) ruined it. I don't enjoy walking as much as I used to, whether my feet are working or not.

Tracks is the Australian Wild.  It is about a woman trying to truly discover herself by walking a good distance. Except that Robyn Davidson is not taking an established hiking trail; she is crossing a massive Australian wasteland to the ocean. Why? Don't quite remember why and if I say it has something to do with her mother or family, I fear I am more remembering the Cheryl Straid story. But it was family related, definitely about personal discovery.

The biggest difference is that this is the 70s. Maybe self discovery was at its height back then, but the idea of wandering off in a direction because you could was not entirely there. There is something to say for her white privilege taking a part in contributing to her success. She wanders off at the beginning to learn about camels from a man who raises camels. Camels are good if you are going into a desert, even if that desert is Australia's west. But without the privilege she was born into, could she have done what she did? Doubt it.

While she is walking, or riding, Kylo Ren chases her down. First he is doing a story for National Geographic, but soon he is in love with her. Mia Wasikowska is Robyn, always the reserved beauty without all the trapping of Hollywood. She is convincing as the woman who is just going to do this, despite what men think women can do. Even when she bumps into despair, she continues. At that point, what else can she do. But with the friendly help of some Aboriginal men who accept her journey, despite being a woman, she gets to the ocean. A bit more brown for her efforts.

So, what? What did she gain, what did she learn? We never really know. This is about the journey. We don't get the benefit of Cheryl Straid's remembrances and by the time we are deep in Robyn's story, we are there in the moment, which is really all we need to be in. (9:57)

Survivor, 2015, James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) -- download

What movie was this again? Oh yeah, another Straight To thriller from Britain. This one has Pierce Brosnan and Milla Jovovitch. Milla is a security officer working for the American Embassy or Consulate in London. She is set to go to a party, but gets delayed by something present related and BOOM the place is blown to bits. The party was for her coworker Bill, and Bill was actually tagged to set her up to be in the explosion, because she was so good at her job monitoring visas into the US. They end up trying to frame her for the explosion.

So, Milla is on the run and she still needs to investigate the explosion and why her own coworker tried to have her killed. That brings the bomb maker, Pierce known as The Watchmaker, into play. He is named because he is a well known hitman. Pierce seems to like the idea of playing skilled assassins. Which works for me, since I had him as my James Bond RPG main character.

Milla ends up chasing him back to the US, in a pseudo-Bourne style international chase. She has determined they were trying to get Brosnan into the US so he could set off a very large bomb in NYC's Times Square during the New Year's Eve festivities. She has to find him and kill him.

This was decently done, but I so easily tire of these movies that want to be better, but don't really know how. C'mon folks, make a new style thriller that doesn't try to be a Bourne mimic. Let's find another style and roll it out, don't recreate just create.

Milla does these rolls well, being able to absorb the action and the drama well. Of course, Brosnan does a serviceable job. Everyone else is .... supporting. I don't even remember any names or faces, but for Robert Forster, the 60s 70s actor that Quentin Tarantino resurrected. Oh, and Dylan McDermott. (10:34; most of it trying to recall details)

Open Grave, 2013, Gonzalo López-Gallego (Apollo 18) -- download

This was supposed to be a Days of Halloween choice but ended up being seen much later. Its weird, but I always mixed up this movie, in my head, with the Italian schlock horror Cemetery Man and even envisioned that Sharlto Copley was doing a remake / reboot of that old movie. But no, its not even remotely related not even in plot or style. The only thing they have in relation is a main character in a pit with dead bodies. And I cannot even say in confidence that Cemetery Man has such a scene.

So, yeah, Sharlto wakes up in a pit full of bodies. He doesn't know why he is there. He doesn't remember much. Not even who he is. But he yells and screams until someone shows up and tosses down a rope. He is pulled out, dragged back to a house full of a bunch of people who also don't remember who they are. They argue, they fight, they wander the house looking for clues as to who they are and why he was in a pit full of dead people.

I loved it. The tension, the questions, the worry and mystery. I have always loved locked room movies.

They continue by wandering the environs around the house, a sort of forested waste land empty of people or civilization. They find ruins, ruins locked up but a kid hiding within. More mysteries grow up, more bits are revealed but only a bit of memory comes up in flashes of the past. As time progresses and paranoia and violence continues, they run into even more violent strangers, a sort of fast zombie emerging from the memory loss plot.

This turned out to be a wonderful post-apocalyptic flick and zombie plague combined. Copley is great, his paranoia and fear palpable. I realized with this movie that I am a fan of the guy, and someday I have to go on and on about Powers the Sony TV show adaptation of one of my favourite comics. The guy has done a lot I have enjoyed after  the very South African heritage of District 9. (9:46)

Warcraft, 2016, Duncan Jones (Source Code) -- download

OK, ok. Everyone knows Warcraft for World of Warcraft which in video game years, is already an ancient idea. We played the MMO for years, and I rather enjoyed the world it was set in. But I also played the isometric strategy game waaaaay back in the PC days when it was about peons and poking sheep. Not that way you pervert, but poking them until they explode. Again, not that way pervert.

I am still weirded out when they take a franchise that was super popular almost 10 years ago and suddenly get around to making a movie of it. I am also weirded out more by the idea that Duncan Jones of Moon and Source Code helmed the movie. In today's era of Assigned Directors I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised, but hadn't he already setup he could do a good Hollywood thriller when left alone? Anywayz, I was also worried that this would be studio meddling out the wazoo. I wasn't disappointed in that aspect, as this is an incredibly unbalanced movie that seems more about setting up a franchise of its own than being concerned with making a decent standalone movie. Remember Producers, if you want an example of perfect standalone movies that launch a phenomena, you need to look no further than Iron Man.

Again, surprisingly, this one reaches back to the plots from the early games as they explain how the Orcs (wonderfully CGI orcs) arrive in the world of Azeroth (human world) from their own Draenor. The orcs have destroyed their own world with bad magic and are raiding into lush, new ones to survive as a species. Their initial incursion kills lots of humans and the King has to respond.

Meanwhile one orc Durotan has realized their own dark wizard is responsible for the downfall of Draenor and wishes to stop him before he does the same to Azeroth. For some reason, not all orcs are ravaging monsters like we game players know, and maybe its all because of the influence of the dark magic. Which, if Durotan succeeds here, then won't that make the coming games/stories/movies moot? No matter, well established drama and tortured main characters on both sides.

So, this movie establishes that the melding of CGI and human characters can be done. This was the science fiction future I was told about as a kid, and this is the first real full example of it. Too bad its such a sloppy, ill conceived, obviously meddled with production of a movie. (10:02)