Tag: 2 stars

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: Vs (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

Four superheroes wake up in an isolated small town rigged to explode if they don’t follow the rules of a vengeful villain’s (James Remar) homicidal obstacle course. Charge (Jason Trost), Cutthroat (Lucas Till), Shadow (Sophie Merkley), and The Wall (Lee Valmassy) were once a crimefighting team before going their separate ways due to ego struggles and relationship drama, but now they find they must either work together or kill each other if they want to get out alive and save the various innocent hostages tied up around the town.

Vs has a really solid premise. I enjoy dark superhero stories, and this one definitely has a Watchmen-esque take on things as the characters’ relationships are explored and their very human flaws and uncertainties are given focus instead of their superpowers (they’ve been injected with a power-muffling serum) or witty quips. Everyone is expendable, which is also nice for a less predictable story. Unfortunately the execution doesn’t live up to the promise of the set-up.

With uneven performances, some questionable narrative choices, weak characterization, and a tendency to take itself too seriously, Vs just doesn’t really work for me. I wanted to like it because I think the premise is so promising, but wound up being very disappointed. The cheesy flashbacks and stilted dialogue were unintentionally laughable at points, and while the effects are decent the action isn’t very engaging. I’ll spare you my seething diatribe about the incredibly incompetent, whiny, useless female superhero “Shadow”, who gets to stare blankly at the boys while wearing high heels and waiting to be ordered around, but suffice to say her character alone is enough to forfeit any respect I might have for this film.

James Remar looks like he’s having a fun time as the cocky bad guy and Lucas Till is pretty, but there’s little to really recommend in this film. It’s mostly wasted opportunities with a few showy moments. It strives for affecting superhero drama but manages to lay on the cheese with a dated Fantastic Four-esque dynamic and unconvincing characters. I would actually love to see someone remake this with a bigger budget and stronger script. I’m not trying to dump on the filmmakers here, I recognize that a lot of hard work and dedication went into making this film, the execution just didn’t work for me.

But seriously, are we really not past these stupid, infantile, one-dimensional depictions of women in superhero movies yet? It’s one thing when they’re being adapted from 60’s comic books but this is a new character written for the screen in a 2011 release. I continue to be infuriated by the lack of any decent female superheroes, it just seems like we should really be over this by now. Is Tank Girl all I’m ever going to get?


Pair This Movie With: Well I didn’t really care for the Watchmen movie but maybe if you like that you’d like this too? Long double feature, though. I would recommend to instead read Uncanny X-Men #123 with Arcade when he traps the team in a high-concept obstacle course. Good times.

Vs facebook page
Vs trailer

Movie Review: Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

Seen: On VHS on my tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Ok Sasha, I’ve finally seen Riki-Oh! And it was everything I dreamed it could be and more! Based on the manga of the same name, this insane Hong Kong action flick delivers all the head-explodys and poorly-structured dubbed dialogue you need for a high-on-life kind of evening (seriously, watching this movie kind of made me feel drunk?). Ambiguously super-powered Riki-Oh Saiga (Siu-Wong Fan) goes to jail for murdering a dude, but finds the futuristic privatized complex is totally corrupt or whatever. All the guards are killing people and Riki’s gonna take everybody down to free the prisoners. Is that the story?

This movie is crazy times. The gore is plentiful- from shattered brains to ripped off faces to intestine choke-holds- but the effects are so low-grade they each read laughable OH SHIT moments. The plot doesn’t really hold together, or at least not in any way that I could follow, but the weirdness of the characters and inventive action held me in their grip. I loved the bad guy “Gang of Four” group, who each had weird talents and shiny outfits. It’s basically a live-action video game, with Riki moving up levels to more and more ridiculous fight scenes. The dubbed dialogue is clumsy and presumably poorly translated, but naturally that only adds to the fun!

I’m in a weird frenzied mood right now (well, the past week and a half really) so I can’t think of much more to say. Riki-Oh is awesome (and surprisingly coming to Blu-ray soon). The end.

As a movie: Oh fuck who can know? I can’t grade this movie on any normal scale. 2/5?
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Easy choice here, it’s obviously Fist of the North Star. This is like the perfect double feature.

Drive Stupid Marathon: The Fast and the Furious (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Everyone in this movie is an assholeSeen: On HD-DVD (yes we have a player), on our big screen/projector set-up.

We’re making our way through America’s most perplexingly popular (and prolific) car series, which I’ll call collectively Fast/Furious. It is a gripping epic of muscular dudes with shitty hairstyles and the ladies who love them, of cars that drive fast and the drivers who drive them, of world-famous cities and the criminals who live in them. It is a grandiose tale of friendship, loyalty, and adrenaline. Oh, such depths of the human soul are explored and taken to even greater distances in this masterpiece of road cinema: Fast/Furious.

Also: I don’t really remember the plots of these movies so I’m going to sort of make it up as I go along here.

When bleach-haired and cocky-faced Brian (Paul Walker), a very-obvious undercover agent, tries to sneak into a gearhead gang run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), he finds he’s in for the RIDE of his LIFE. They go to a bunch of races together and become best friends but maybe Toretto is a bad guy because people are stealing stuff from trucks or something. But it doesn’t matter because Paul Walker and Vin Diesel totally mate for life and not even the stupid law enforcement that Paul Walker works for can come between them, right?

Right. Except in the next movie Vin isn’t even around anymore! He’s off gallivanting with Michelle Rodriguez or whatever and Paul Walker is all alone. So he teams up with Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendes to take down an evil drug lord (I think). I barely watched the second one, I’ll be honest, it was hard to focus on the story line. Or maybe it didn’t have one? They drove some more cars, that much I remember. And Paul and Tyrese totally wanted to date. They even had a romantic sunset together that I kind of co-opted. Also maybe I had been drinking a little.

So flash forward to the future or something (right?) and also Japan for some reason, and none of the original cast except for one nice cameo. Asshole teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas “Chest Hair” Black) moves to Tokyo to live with his dad because he keeps fucking things up in the US. He loves driving. So he pals around with Bow Wow and joins the underground teenage racing circuit and never has to learn Japanese. And there are yakuza at some point. And a HULK car! Because there’s no space in urban Tokyo they have to learn how to “drift” on the sharp and windy turns. It’s a real-life thing.

I don’t know anything about cars, and to be honest I don’t really care to. I like seeing things go fast and/or explode, so I enjoy movies that focus on cars, but I don’t actually want to see something ABOUT cars. The first film features dialogue that is exclusively about driving or crime, and that’s it. It’s almost funny if it wasn’t so boring. Luckily it’s got a decent cast and solid enough action to make it mildly interesting. And a lot of fast cars! The other two are just sort of wasteful, with some ridiculously bad and entertaining moments but not enough to warrant anyone actually watching them. They all feel like time capsules of the early 2000’s, with very specific fashion styles and lingo that probably felt dated the moment they were released. Everyone is trying way too hard to be stylish and cool, it’s pathetic. Except for Michelle Rodriguez and Devon Aoki, obviously, but they don’t get to do much. Ladies can drive and stuff, but they can’t win the big races and they certainly can’t carry a film about cars.

2Fast 4FashionTokyo Drift is by far the worst, with a nonsensical script and wholly uncharismatic cast (except for Sung Kang, who plays “Asian Guy Who’s Always Eating”, aka “The Best Character”). It’s like no one actually thought about this movie as they were making it. Why does Sean go to a Japanese-speaking school? Where are all these kids’ parents and how do they have the money for souped-up cars and clubs and whatnot? Why is Sean the protagonist when he’s so boring? It does have better direction though, with better-shot racing and action scenes than its predecessors, so good to know Justin Lin is directing all the subsequent entries to the series.

Since I plan on seeing them all, for some reason.

1Fast 1Furious: 2.5/5
2Fast 2Furious: 2/5
3Fast 3Furious: Tok3o 3hrift: 1.5/5

Movie Review: Batman & Robin (1997)

Seen: On VHS on an old TV at my family’s rented beach house, from my personal collection.

Here’s a test to see if you’ve been paying attention: What movie was I utterly obsessed with around 3rd grade, watching it almost every weekend with my best friend from down the street at our weekly sleepovers? What movie do I still know almost every line to? What soundtrack do I own that features both R. Kelly and Jewel?

Did you answer Batman & Robin?! YOU ARE CORRECT. If you haven’t seen it, well I feel sorry for you, but here’s a synopsis: Crime-fighting duo Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) are experiencing tension in their (totally not gay) partnership since Batman’s a mature asshole and Robin is a younger, cockier asshole. When two new villains- the vivacious and seductive Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and the diamond-hungry Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger)- team up to terrorize Gotham, the boys must put aside their differences to save their city from the destruction, with the help of daredevil college student Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). Oh also Alfred’s (Michael Gough) dying.

Honestly, if you don’t think this movie is amazing I’m not even sure why you’re reading my blog, because THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING. It’s so chock-full of ridiculousness it essentially requires multiple viewings just so you can take it all in. The overly-scripted dialogue, marvelously convoluted plot devices, over-use of close-up during suit-up scenes, stretchy leather, garish color schemes, and amped-up characterization are just some of the treats in store. Almost every shot is coated in a candy-colored neon glow and exaggerated lighting, and almost every line is delivered with the pseudo-conviction of a terrible movie that knows it’s terrible.

The thing about Batman & Robin is that it totally takes away all of the serious pretensions of the first three- even the third one had moody flashbacks about parental murders- and just gives in to how silly this world is. A lot of the sets and props are still dark and metally and “edgy”, complete with multiple high-speed motorcycle chases and futuristic gang presence- but there is little attempt at the Brooding Batman we’d come to love through the comics and Burton’s films. It’s much more Adam Westy, except George Clooney isn’t as self-aware so it’s up to Schwarzenegger and Thurman to carry the script’s cheesy puns and melodramatic motivations. Luckily, they are well up to the task. I can gush and gush about Thurman in this film for ages; maybe it’s the slick green tights but DAMN is she the best part about the movie. She’s got killer costumes, hilarious dialogue, crazy make-up, saucy exaggerated line delivery, and some interesting powers. And she’s a mad scientist, always a plus. We’d act out her parts when we were kids.

Schwarzenegger yells a lot of ice-themed threats, Chris O’Donnell is whiny (but I probably had a crush on him in 3rd grade? Unsure. I do definitely remember thinking Clooney must be super old and therefore gross because he had gray hair), Alfred Gough is cute and almost unbelievably British, Alicia Silverstone wears glasses and rides a motorcycle, Vivica Fox has a cameo (what? I know), John Glover is ca-razy, and Elizabeth Sanders livens things up as Gossip Gerty. Everyone is great. But mostly Uma Thurman, as detailed above.

Admittedly, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this film primarily because for whatever reason it affected me pretty strongly as a kid. I imagine it has something to do with the elaborate setpieces, Poison Ivy’s seasonally-themed costumes, the consistently cheesy dialogue, and the sexually suggestive bat-nipples. I’m not blind, I know it’s a shitty movie, but whatever. Everybody just needs to CHILL and remain COOL and have an ICE time watching the film.

It’s a real hoot, I tells ya.

As a movie: 2/5

As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Batman Forever is the obvious choice, but there’s always Grease if you want to creepily recreate my childhood sleepovers.

It’s a CAR-TASTROPHE (Get It?!) Double Feature: Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011)

Seen: low-quality torrent on big screen/projector (Cars); in 3D at Harvard AMC (Cars 2)

*This post is part of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grr*

Until last week Cars was the only Pixar film I hadn’t seen, and I’d often heard it was the weakest of the studio’s output (though some uphold its values). With the release of Cars 2 and my completist nature, it seemed time to finally give it a viewing, followed shortly by the sequel. The script/characters/animation aside, I had a difficult time just rationalizing the world the writers have created, which really took away from any enjoyment I might have had. A throwaway line or winking joke would launch a sea of questions that distracted me from the actual story. No suspension of disbelief here, there are just too many holes.

In the world of Cars, automobiles are just like humans, and lol they do human things only with car motivations! They drink motor oil instead of beer! They have a Leaning Tower of Tires! They… drive around! Lightning McQueen is a cocky racer who gets stuck in a “town that time forgot” when a major highway was built nearby. They make him stay to re-pave the road he accidentally destroyed, and in the process he makes new friends/learns about small-town living/comes to appreciate that maybe the rural Southwest is ok. But he’s got a really important race coming up- WILL HE MAKE IT, and if so WILL HE EVEN WIN. The stakes! They’re… not too high, actually.

The general plot of this movie isn’t too hard to figure out- it’s standard family fare with lessons of tolerance, friendship, loyalty, and humility. And it teaches everyone to maybe not be such a dick all the time. I have no problem with these themes, or the way the script carries them out, though I think it is generally with less wit and charm than other Pixar efforts. The characters are all strangely mired in stereotype- is this town really so “diverse” as to have a pothead hippie, loud military drill sergeant, Latino mechanic with those high-rise things (what are those called? Like when you can make your car taller? Suspension?), a bucktooth “hillbilly” who wears his own ignorance like armor, and an Italian who sounds like he stepped right out of an Olive Garden commercial? At least Paul Newman’s character actually resembled a person. I miss that guy.

It’s got some good jokes and I appreciated the investigation of a struggling small town, which is definitely aimed a bit more at adults than children (that whole montage of the 1950’s would probably go over some kids’ heads, I assume). The animation is of course swell, with excellent attention to texture in the cars themselves, fun racing scenes, and a few cute visual gags. There are three lady characters, all of whom own their own businesses. And one of them is a lawyer or something.

The sequel sees McQueen and pals traveling to Tokyo, Rome, and London for a series of big races sponsored by an alternative fuel company. He takes along his best friend Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), whose loud antics and unconscious rudeness cause problems both on and off the racetrack. Mater accidentally lands himself in the middle of a spy thriller when he is mistaken for an undercover secret agent by two British spy cars. There is some evil organization blowing up the race cars in the big race, and he stumbles upon the truth and everyone learns to be nicer to him even though he’s a complete idiot.

The story is all over the place, the star of the film suddenly isn’t at all the star as attention shifts to Mater (note to filmmakers: Do Not Make Larry The Cable Guy The Star Of Your Movie), and a whole host of new questions arises about the set-up of this world. I was biting my tongue throughout most of the film. The James Bond-y scenes are cool, with Michael Caine having a good time voicing “Finn McMissile” as his car shoots out grappling hooks and torpedoes left and right. And there’s a lady who knows about computers (since all the other female characters are essentially wiped from the film). The best character remains the Italian mechanic Guido, though. He doesn’t talk and he’s adorable and he’s tiny. Most of the background characters are weird ethnic stereotypes though, which is a trend I guess.

So if you follow either me or the much funnier Miles on twitter you might have seen the myriad problems we had with these movies. Not only do they both read as 2-hour long toy advertisements, they also don’t make ANY FUCKING SENSE. Let’s really think about the ramifications of a world populated by cars. Are they born or made? They have mothers and siblings, so perhaps they’re born, but then how the hell do they copulate? Do they have sex? In the second film it is said they are “manufactured”, in which case what kind of creature is manufacturing them? And why are some of them cruelly made to be “lemons” (a big point of the sequel)? Did they spring into existence in the early 1900’s? Or have they been around as long as humans have? The sequel hints that the history is the same as humans, meaning somehow these complex machines that could not have existed in ancient times were somehow being constructed.

Some machines are shown as animals, meaning everything is a car here, not just humans. There are car flies and tractor cows. They’re farming for some reason, but they don’t eat regular food (although now that I think about it, maybe it’s corn and stuff for clean fuel). They have planes and boats, which are also sentient, but which seem to only exist to ferry cars around. We don’t see them with their own plane/train/boat-based cultures. This is the equivalent of our own cars in real life being sentient transportation slaves, which is pretty fucked up.

I KNOW THESE MOVIES ARE FOR KIDS, before you say it. I get it. I know several little boys who love these movies and collect all the toys. I’m sure they also go over well with the Nascar set, which admittedly is a culture I’m pretty removed from in the Northeast. I understand that a lot of my questions and points about plot holes wouldn’t occur to a child watching them. But hey, I’m totally grown-up, I’m not going to apologize for watching a film as an adult. I usually enjoy kids’ movies, especially Pixar, but the Cars franchise just feels lazy and poorly thought-out. The writing isn’t as clever and even the messages are pretty muddled, especially in the sequel, which I’m pretty sure is anti-handicapped people? And anti-alternative fuel companies? It also preaches that Mater, an ignorant and stubborn idiot, shouldn’t have to change or shouldn’t listen to anyone who doesn’t like the way he is. I’m all for being yourself, but he is incredibly rude to other cultures and completely incapable of behaving like an adult, and this is saying he never has to grow or learn or adapt.


Cars: 3/5
Cars 2: 2/5