Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Red Eagle' Movie Review

If movies like “RoboCop” are to be believed, the near future is going to be a festering cesspool of violence and corruption. It must be true, because no matter what era “near future” we’re talking about, the prediction is roughly the same. So, you should probably be on the look out in the next few years and be prepared. Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng’s (“Tears of the Black Tiger”) new superhero film, “Red Eagle”, a remake/homage to a 1960s action series, holds to this bleak vision. When the world is going to hell, and in desperate need of a savior, up steps Red Eagle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

'The Hangover 2' Movie Review

You may or may not know this—depending on how much of the advertising blitz for “The Hangover Part 2” you’ve absorbed in recent days—but it seems that the Wolfpack is in fact back. The most common cry across the landscape of the internet has been that the sequel looks exactly like the first film. On a recent episode of “Ellen”—yes, I watch “Ellen” from time to time—Bradley Cooper confirmed as much, and he is entirely correct. Director Todd Phillips and company employ the same “lost night” story-telling technique that worked so well in the original, and “The Hangover 2” is a really little more rehash of “The Hangover”. Which means that it is still pretty damn funny.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'12 Paces Without A Head' Movie Review

“12 Paces Without A Head” tells the purportedly true tale of German pirates Klaus Stortebeker (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Godeke Michels (Matthias Schweighofer). The film imagines the story of these folk heroes as a buddy-action-comedy, one that includes modern touches, like contemporary diction, and twentieth-century pop and punk music. The first scene is a beheading set to a Clash song, so right away you know where you stand. That sounds like it could be annoying, but it actually fits rollicking nature of the movie. It may be a modern revision of a popular historical myth, but the laughs and swashbuckling action of “12 Paces” is enough to make it every bit as fun as any of the movies in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.

Stortebeker and Michels are foul-mouthed, toe-sucking, small-time high seas bandits. They’ve had some mild success, predicated on Klaus’s extraordinary nautical prowess, but their time and options are running out as the Hanseatic League, a corrupt, heavily bureaucratic trade federation increases in power and tightens down the clamps on activities like piracy. Mostly the two bros rob ships when they can, and spend the rest of their time drinking and chasing ladies. Their life combines brutal shipboard hand-to-hand combat with an easy, almost frat-boy type of chilled out sensibility. They love the freedom of the sea, just want to have a good time, and use pirating as a means to an end.

Their fortunes take a turn for the worse when their motley crew gets their asses handed to them in battle, and their ship sinks. Struggling to start over from scratch, they procure a beaten down vessel that barely floats, and comes with a dead body on board, an ominous omen. Add to that the fact that Klaus has lost his nerve, and becomes afraid of the sea and the wind, and the outlook for the friends is bleak. The crew mutinies and abandons Stortebeker and Michels in mid-ocean, and there is a definite time of existential-pirate-crisis, complete with a few suicide attempts. Fortunately they stumble upon a hidden piece of combat technology, a new weapon of mass destruction from the Far East—a big ass cannon—something none of their contemporaries have. Using their newfound advantage, Klaus gets his groove back, and they go on a tear of epic proportions, driving the Hanseatic League to the brink of bankruptcy and collapse. Of course they can’t have this, so they call in the big guns, and shit gets real.

Bros through thick and thin, Stortebeker and Michels have a good dynamic. Klaus is the romantic dreamer who longs for a simple life on a farm, and is easily emotionally wounded; while Godeke is a hothead who takes things too personally, never backs down from a fight, no matter what the consequences, and has tendency to get them into trouble, including pitting a single ship against a cruel, monolithic empire. The two sail on towards their ultimate doom with a cocky bravado and a gallows humor. Their relationship and back and forth is really what carries “12 Paces”, providing most of the emotional weight and dramatic tension. There are a few missteps, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that can’t quickly be forgiven with a dashing smile and a cavalier wave of a hand.

At it’s heart, “12 Paces Without A Head”, is about the quest for freedom, including all of the inherent risks, consequences, benefits, and dangers of such a search. Freedom, true freedom, has a high cost, and you have to be willing to accept the possibility of complete, absolute, tragic failure if you’re going to reach for that goal. The brutal, draining climactic scene, set to a Johnny Cash song, perfectly illustrates the detriments and sacrifice intrinsic in the quest to live a free live. In most cases it isn’t going to be entirely pretty. I hope “12 Paces” winds up with a distributor from SIFF, because I think it is a movie that a lot of people will really enjoy once they get the chance to see it.

'High Road' Movie Review

For years I’ve used appreciation of “Upright Citizens Brigade” as a litmus test for friendship. That’s not an attempt to be clever or anything like that, it’s actually true. At some point I realized that something about my sense of humor lined up so completely with the sketch comedy of Amy Peohler and company that those people who didn’t enjoy it, weren’t generally people I usually got along with. How can you not love the “Bucket of Truth”? If I show a new entry into my social circle my well-worn DVD copy of season one, and they don’t laugh, I generally distance myself from them. That may sound harsh, but it’s served me well (and had these measures been enacted earlier, they could have saved me many headaches and heartbreaks). Given my proclivities, of course when I heard that Matt Walsh, one of the founding members of UCB, was going to be at the Seattle International Film Festival hyping his directorial debut, “High Road”, I giggled like a little girl.

Friday, May 20, 2011

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Movie Review

Did anyone actually expect “Pirates of the Caribbean” to be as good as it was? Sure, it’s a movie about pirates and Johnny Depp’s tipsy Keith Richards impersonation, but it’s also based on ride at Disneyland for Christ’s sake. It certainly surprised the hell out of me. The sequels, “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, both sucked, but the original holds up. And while nowhere near as good as the first, the latest film in the franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, is exponentially better than the second and third installments.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

'Elephant White' Movie Review

Prachya Pinkaew is largely responsible for some of the best martial arts movies in recent memory. Films like “Ong Bak”, “Tom Yum Goong” (aka “The Protector”), and “Chocolate” are full to overflowing with flying knees, spinning elbows, and basically crazy Muay Thai freaks doing insane stunts, and that’s what makes them great. His latest movie, “Elephant White”, is his first English-language feature, and has just been released direct to video.

Friday, May 13, 2011

'Bridesmaids' Movie Review

I’m going to start this review with a time saver, with two words that serve as a litmus test of whether or not “Bridesmaids” is for you. If you read them and giggle, by all means, go see this film. If you read them and make a face like you smell something foul and rancid, you’ll want to sit this one out. And these two words are…sink diarrhea.

'Hesher' Movie Review

What do you get when you take a nice quiet film about people trying to cope with sudden trauma and the tragedy of their daily lives, and throw in a psychotic butt-rocker with a penchant for blowing shit up? The result is Spencer Susser’s new indie flick “Hesher”. Okay, it’s not super new, it premiered at Sundance in 2010, but it’s finally found a release, and is totally worth the wait.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DVD/Blu-ray Review: 'Blue Valentine'

“Blue Valentine” garnered a great deal of buzz in December 2010 when it was slapped with an NC-17 rating. Eventually the Weinstein Company managed to release is with an R rating without having to make any cuts to the film. I honestly don’t see what the big deal was about, the sex scenes that were cited in the original ruling are way less graphic, and way more tame than what you get in a lot of standard R movies. The discussion about the arbitrary nature of the ratings system is a topic for another time, but “Blue Valentine” is now out on DVD and Blu-ray, so if you, like me, missed out on the theatrical release, you can check it out and judge for yourself.