Saturday, March 26, 2011

Trailer Trash: Age of Dragons, Three Musketeers

Welcome to Trailer Trash, were I trash trailers of upcoming films.

Age of Dragons - 2011

I like the idea of taking the concept of Moby Dick and putting it into a different setting so that we can freshen it up and use the fantasy setting to revive certain elements that would seem over tread in a straightforward adaptation.

The idea of hunting dragons for their "fire" sounds cool, and there use in stories as dangerous predators make it sound more exciting then hunting whales, but this trailer doesn't scream "Excitement"

The setting looks so small, like we're on the location of wherever they shot "Stargate SG-1" in Vancouver. We don't get any wide angle shots of the supposed "harsh terrain", let alone the sky, you know, where the dragons are flying! Theres a scene in the end of the trailer were see them slowly climbing up a tiny hill (shot from a low angle to make it look bigger) in in fact they're walking slowly because they don't have that much hill to work with an have to fudge the shots to make it look epic.

Rachel with her perfect cheekbones and shiny hair looks too good to be a huntress and her lone one facial expression renders her completely unappealing. Then we get some cleavage shots and a long look at her bare back and she actually becomes less attractive because she's clearly teasing, but hasn't given me a reason to care at all.

Then theres Vinnie Jones, with his patchy beard to let us know that he's a tough, experienced outdoorsman who has braved the arctic chill. Oh please! My beard is thicker than that and its much warmer were I am than were he is supposed to be.

This also makes be wonder why dragons, cold blooded reptiles, would be flying around in this arctic circle of a place. Maybe there internal fire flips things around, I don't know.

I can hardly be excited about the actual dragon hunt when their harpoon and rope both have the thickness and durability of a toothpick. How to you expect to injure and pull down a creature that weighs as much as a semi, with something so flimsy? You'd probably have better luck using a freshly sharpened pencil. Come back to me when you've got a double coiled rope, or enough world building were you can't be out done my a children's movie like "How to Train Your Dragon."

Grade: Person Interest Zero, but my brother is a big fan of SyFy Channel Original Movies, and this certainly has that look and feel to it. Maybe I can use the Shakespearean speech of Danny Glover to introduce him to higher quality cinema.

The Three Musketeers - October 14th

The trailer starts with a Musketeer doing a James Bond Goldfinger-Ninja submersion stunt before killing someone with spring loaded 3-D shot weapon before jumping off the roof like Batman. Then we've got Milla doing her own action scenes and reminding us that corsets showcase cleavage.

Its clear producers are going the same route with the recent "Sherlock Holmes" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, trying to spice up a period piece with lots of action scenes that are cut just like modern blockbusters and raking in millions since young people with be attracted to fast moving stuff plus a recognizable name ever if they're never read the story before.

My problem with the trailer is that it seems to be selling three things: 3D shots, Lots of swordfighting, and a thin layer of sex. You might argue that theres humor, what with wisecracks about "Are you sure it wasn't 400" but that humor isn't very effective because I don't know the character or the situation. I think I only got one of the character's names and even less of what the actual story is about, which is kind of important if you want to make it endearing. Especially when you consider that many viewers will know the name and not much else.

What do were have of substance here? Um... Shot in 3D!!!! Might as well have called it "The Three-D Musketeers".
Grade: Originally I was going to say "Mild Interest", but then I learned Paul WS Anderson, director of Event Horizon, Alien Vs Predator and Resident Evil was behind this project, thus setting the bar at "Avoid like the Plague".

Trailer Trash: Thor, Captain America

Thor - May 6th

The first trailer for "Thor" showed Thor kicking ass and taking names before giving us his backstory about being exiled to Earth before cutting to action scenes in Asgard of Thor fighting monsters and it looked awesome!

This trailer, not so much.

Here we show more of Thor's arrival on Earth as opposed to before where Thor fighting soldiers was spliced with after the fact narration. Now that we can see things first hand, we're building up suspense, which is good.

What's bad, is the character of Darcy, and how whenever she opens her mouth, all that tension just deflates when she says stuff like, "What he was freakin' me out!" or "Oh this is going on Facebook!" Also, whenever she speaks the music comes to a halt, to let us know that the people whoever wrote the script thinks that line was funny.

Then we cut to the epic Lord of the Rings style action that I want to see, intercut with typical disaster movie footage of wrecking and running with "The Destroyer" rampaging through the city.

It seems the heads of marketing what this to blend  "epic action" with "contemporary and relatable" for wider appeal. Hey if you want to appeal to me, make Darcy the first victim of the Destroyer and I'll be there opening night.

Grade: Diminished Interest. I'll likely wait for the reviews to weigh in. It just feels so divided.

Captain America: The First Avenger - July 22nd

We are introduced to our underdog hero Steve Rogers, weak and frail, yet aspiring to greatness.

Personally I'm still a bit phased by the "Benjamin Button" technology used to put Chris Evans head on a scrawny body, but I should probably be grateful that at least they're showing some distinction in the Before and After of Steve Rogers unlike in the 70s and 90s Captain America movies were he was just as big and muscle bound before the super soldier program.

Despite the title "The First Avenger", I hoping the story won't be polluted with all manner of tie ins to other Marvel Films like "Iron Man 2" was. I'm a little nervous since we have a shot of a young Howard Stark, with the actor playing doing his best Robert Downey Jr. impression, and while that's a fun tip of the hat to other parts of the franchise, we've got enough going on here that we need to get too involved with sequel hooks already.

Other than that it looks like a fun, pulpy, two fisted, "stop Hitler's jetpack soldiers" adventure movie.

Grade: Elevated interest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Megamind (2010)

Voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross and Brad Pitt
Directed by Tom McGrath
Rated PG: Action Violence

The Story:

Megamind, the notorious blue skinned evil genius finally succeeds in defeating his archnemesis, the square jawed hero Metro Man, and now suffers an existential crisis about what to do with his life, inspiring him to create a new superhero to battle against.

My Thoughts:

Since there seems to be no diplomatic way of expressing this, I'll just say that I consider this movie to be better than “Despicable Me”. While the two films have an extremely similar story, "Megamind" is better structured.

I think the pivotal moment in reaching this decision comes at about the halfway point in both films. In “Despicable Me” Dr. Nefario, a mumbling old man who has so far been there solely for comic relief, suddenly gains lucidity in order to set up a very convenient obstacle when we really have no idea who he is in the first first. Conversely, Minion has been with Megamind since the very beginning and has been pressed with the mission to “watch out for him”, so when he thinks something is wrong with Megamind getting too involved in something outside of "The Big Plan", you can see his passion and determination in preventing it. Then followed with the loneliness when they truly are apart, making Minion’s return in the end all the stronger.

Also, this movie has an actual “world”, its built on archetypes sure, but that just shows that tropes are not bad as I can at least understand how this world works with its reversal of the classic Superman-Lois Lane-Lex Luthor dynamic. We see reactions to Megamind’s villainy, although things go back to normal after a while during his reigme this is likely due to Megamind’s pettiness being directed primarily at Metro Man and at causing mayhem. 

Getting back to judging the film on its own merits;

 I never know what to expect whenever I go into a Dreamworks Animated picture. The studio has made just as many movies that I've loved as I've hated or thought were only okay, so I didn't come into this film with high or low expectations which is something that is becoming rarer for me nowadays.

The movie starts off with the "Moments before my doom" scene were the protagonist talks about how he is about to die and then has a flashback to the proceeded events along with accompanying narration. This is starting to become a pet peeve of mine. The out of context image of a character we don't know about to die feels very exploitive and the direct narration towards the audience feels quite intrusive if not lazy. I understand that exposition is one of the most difficult challenges for a screenwriter, to have a voiceover infodump in the first third of a film only to never use or reference it again feels insulting to our intelligence.

I can't say I laughed much during the course of the movie, at best I got a handful of mild chuckles. Mispronouncing words; not funny, Code Obvivous; not funny, Obama Poster; its an overused gag now, The Marlon Brando impression; I get it, but its kind of annoying. The things that did get me going were things like Megamind and Minion wearing shower caps when neither of them have any hair, or Megamind in a giant robot suit playing with a car like a little kid. Subtle little sight gags like that, which were treated like the salt and pepper when they really should have been the bread and butter of the film.

The final battle between Megamind and the frightening homicidal man child "Tighten", is possibly the films greatest strength, causing mass destruction to the city and putting our leads in situations were we believe they could actually get hurt. There is also great back and forth use of deception with the hologram projection watch, which really engages the mind to pay strict attention. The movie ends with Megamind being proclaimed a hero by the city, for solving a problem he caused, and destroying half the city to do it. But hey, why worry about that when we can end on yet another Dreamworks Dance Number!!!

Final Score:

3 1/2 out 5. Respectable.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Seven Per-Cent Solution (1976)

Starring Alan Arkin, Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Laurence Olivier
Directed by Herbert Ross
Rated PG
Based on the novel by Nicolas Meyer

Warning: These reviews are highly opinion based and will contain spoilers.

Doctor Watson returns to find Sherlock Holmes on a cocaine binge, raving about his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty, whom Watson learns is a well to do professor who is frightened by Holmes persecution. Watson plots a scheme to lure Holmes into the care of Dr. Sigmund Freud in order to cure Holmes of his addictive obbession.

The first act is well written and well filmed with some hallucinogenic POV shots to show Holmes struggling withdrawl, but its also painfully slow. The acting is great, Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud steals the show with every scene he’s in. You can tell a lot of care was given to make his character feel authentic and historically accurate. Unfortunately he gets more character development than Holmes and serves Watson’s role for the later half the movie, sadly robbing Robert Duvall a chance to shine. Its odd that Freud is the one who has the heroic final confrontation with the villain and saves the lady, rather than Holmes. While Holmes isn’t especially known for these "action hero" traits, it only highlights how this isn't a really a Sherlock Holmes story.

Speaking of qualities associated with Holmes, the first half of the movie is about his recovery, we don’t actually get any sort of “mystery” until the one-hour mark, which also happens to be halfway through the film! There isn’t much suspense because the villain is established fairly early on, and his role as the bad guy couldn’t be more obvious. 

Things pick up in the third act. The railway chase is exciting because of the determination and ingenuity of the characters, but the final confrontation is a bit anticlimactic. Holmes has a sword fight on top of a moving train, which sounds good on paper, but with a dated rear projection effect, it looks a bit goofy. Freud is the one to who stares down the bad guy in a short, bloodless showdown that while efficient and in keeping with character, isn’t terribly exciting for the modern viewer.

Then comes the second conclusion. Freud puts Holmes into a trance and learns that everything about Holmes' life is do to his discovery that his mother was sleeping around with his tutor ,Professor Moriarty. Then Holmes witnessed his father shoot his mother out of revenge. This is why Holmes pursued a field that would allow him to “punish the wicked”, and is also why he thinks of Moriarty as his nemesis and views women as “untrustworthy creatures”.

This reveal bothers me for a number of reasons. The first of which being that the incident molded Holmes' life to “punish the wicked”. It seems that in Hollywood, your entire life, especially your career choice is shaped by a single traumatic childhood incident. If you're a doctor in Hollywood, its because someone close to you died when you were young. Apparently no one goes into a field simply because they’re interested in it, or talented in a certain area of study. I always saw Holmes as someone who pursued criminology for the intellectual challenge since in his time it was still a developing field of science, rather than for the sake of justice. He has a keen mind, but he isn’t Frank Miller’s "Goddamn Batman"

Then there’s Moriarty. If his affair with Mrs. Holmes was responsible for her death, why would he still be in London? Wouldn’t he be haunted by the memory of the incident assuming Holmes Senior didn’t try to hunt him down? Also wouldn’t have his reputation be ruined by the scandal of being involved in an extramarital affair and a homicide? If he really did get away from the scene scot free, he should have changed his name and left the country. 

Finally, and perhaps most irritating, Holmes distrust of women, rooted in his mother sleeping around. In this interpretation, Holmes seems to be distrusting of women as a whole. This is very much at odds with Holmes' nature: to observe and to never assume, and yet here he has a predisposition against half the population.

Bottom line, I like the way it is written with focus on character development as well as the depiction of historical figures such as Sigmund Freud as well as numerous references to other Holmes stories. I was not at all surprised to learn that this was adapted from a tribute novel because the pace lends itself better to a book than a motion picture. It is well researched, intelligently written and superbly acted, but the pace is glacial and the big reveal at the end unwound so much of the quality it had going for it.

Final Score: 
2 1/2 out of 5.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trailer Trash: Super 8, The Smurfs and Conan

Welcome to a new segment called "Trailer Trash", were I'll be looking at trailers for upcoming attractions and giving my thoughts and grading how interested I am in seeing the full picture.

Super 8 - June 10th

I wasn’t too hyped up for “Super 8” when I saw the original teaser trailer which made it look like Cloverfield 2.0. This new trailer is a step up, introducing us a wide-eyed child protagonist (no name given) who, from the information we're given looks like he’s just lost his mother and has a rough relationship with his father. He has a close group of Goonies style friends and a budding young romance and a hobby of making movies. Then some mysterious stuff starts happening, fast paced images evoking suspense, horror, destruction, and intrigue are aided by the "impending wonder" music.

Steven Speilberg serves as producer and the movie feels like a project he would be involved in, the focus on children in the mid 1970s, their fascination with making movies, the "sight unseen" element with focus on people looking at "it",as well as the rocky relationship between father and son. Add to that the popular internet theory that aliens are somehow involved, and it feels like a loving homage to Speilberg's early work in the past brought to the present.

Grade: Interest Peaked.

The Smurfs- August 3rd

Looks like the marketers are following the same strategy as those of  “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, with animated creatures abusing our lead star. Neal Patrick Harris really needs to fire his agent. Being in “Beastly” was one thing, but this is just too much crap, even for him.

We follow that up with a sexual innuendo joke with Smurfette. You Know… For Kids!  Some dodging dangerous feet hijinks to give this movie some reason to be in 3D. Then we cut to the bad guy and his cat laughing before the music cuts off and he tells the cat that he’s overdoing the evil laugh, as if to look at the camera and say “See, we’re aware that our joke isn’t funny. 
Having the bad guy lampshade his own clichés came and went with Austin Powers, but at this point if you’re saying “We know this is cliché, but we’re going to reference it in an attempt to cover it up”,  that is just lazy.  We things up by saying “Smurf” in place of other words a couple of thing, and end with a gag were “Smart Smurf” gets thrown off a building screaming “Goodbye Blue World!”.

So in the span of less than two minutes you have a man being abused by creatures that he caused no harm, jokes that the film admits aren’t funny, and concludes someone diving off a rooftop to what is presumably their death. If I had to actually watch this movie, I’m pretty sure I’d be tempted to do the latter.

Grade: Avoid at all costs!

Conan The Barbarian - August 19th

Audio snippets mixed with faded images that barely establish anything and awkwardly stitched together with someone doing a terrible Don Lafontaine voice, (Sorry, but no one gets to say "In A World" other than the master)  This would be lousy even for a teaser, but this is a full minute trailer, throw us a bone or something! To quote Tom Servo, "Visuals for a movie? Who needs them!"

Grade: If the marketing department can't get excited about this movie, how can they expect me to be excited about it ?!