Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hatchet III

The tagline for the original Hatchet was “Old School American Horror” and it was just that. No frills or gimmicks, just a classic mindless slasher in the vein of Friday the 13th or any number of its multiple imitators. I loved it. It was fast, fun and best of all – funny. The gore was abundant and the kills were creative and brutal. The characters were entertaining and well written, therefore I gave a shit about them when the body count began to rise. Back in 2006 when the market was saturated by sterile PG-13 horror films this was a breath of fresh air to a genre fan like myself.

2010’s Hatchet II picked up at the exact moment the first film ended and continued the story in a logical, yet clichéd fashion. It didn’t have quite the same flair, was more than a little boring in spots and felt like a rush job in some areas. There was some controversy upon its release due to it being shown in theaters unrated. I did manage to see it before it was pulled from screens nationwide due to its overhyped gore content (it wasn’t nearly as nasty as it was made out to be). I enjoyed it, but the original is superior in every way. One of its bright spots is the expanded role for horror icon Tony Todd.

And here we are with Hatchet III
Like part 2, this picks up at the same moment the previous film ended as Marybeth (Danielle Harris) unloads a shotgun into the face of the murderous undying Victor Crawley (Kane Hodder). Unfortunately her nightmare is far from over when she learns from a local investigative journalist (Caroline Williams) that the curse will never end until she reunites Crawley with his father.

While I did find this entry to be a nice improvement over its predecessor, it’s still a far cry from the comical thrill ride the original was. Series creator and director of the first two films, Adam Green, wrote the script and handed the reigns over to first timer BJ McDonnell (a Steadicam operator with over 120 movies to his credit). The change in directors did some good as the film feels new and fresh thanks to the vision of McDonnell and his background. He keeps the film moving at a fast pace that effectively ratchets up tension the closer it gets to its conclusion. While I didn’t find the ultimate resolution satisfactory in the slightest, I cannot blame that on McDonnell. He knows when to show the gory goods and when to keep it vague and off-screen. He still needs to work on his technique to get decent performances out of his actors, but for his first time as a director he’s shows that he has some skills.
The script by Adam Green has two massive issues that I felt were unforgivable. One was leaving the main character, played once again by genre icon Danielle Harris, on the sidelines. She has absolutely nothing to do for the entire runtime except look pissed off and scream “fuck you” at people who are trying to help her. Her big scene in the finale is underwhelming in the extreme and left me cold. The other was how all the police/SWAT officers we spend most of the movie with were written as either idiots or assholes. I didn’t like any of these people at all, which is the exact opposite of the first film where I liked all the major characters. On the flip side Green does manage to sneak in a few awesome callbacks for characters from previous films (one took me completely by surprise), the humor is still in full force and there is always something going on.

The acting, never a highlight in films of this type, is about as decent as it can get. As much as I like Danielle Harris as an actress she really doesn’t have any material to work off of and she is completely wasted in the part. Seeing Zach Galligan (Gremlins) again was a pleasant surprise, but he is more than a little out of place as the town Sherriff.  Caroline Williams seemed to be on her A-Game and plays the only character I really liked out of them all. Perry Shen shows up yet again, albeit as a completely new character unrelated to the brothers he played in the other films. Too bad he’s written as a spineless piss stain, but he is given a few funny lines. But the best of all, of course, is Kane Hodder as Victor Crawley. This guy just has presence and the perfect body language for an unstoppable killer. I laughed a little whenever his character would roar like a grizzly bear (honest, that’s exactly what it sounds like), but it’s all in good, cheesy fun. His Jason in Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood is still his crown achievement, but as Crowley he rocks all the same.
There’s not much else to say without giving the twists away, but I will say this – Hatchet III is (supposedly) the final film in the series. That being said, in my humble opinion the ending is anticlimactic and lame. There is absolutely no closure and the film just ends, as the previous films did as well. I was not happy with anything that happened in the last five minutes and was let down in the extreme.

In the end, Hatchet III is a good step up from Hatchet II, but is nowhere near as awesome as the original Hatchet. With just a couple of decent rewrites this could have been awesome. As it is it’s merely a mediocre sequel. I did enjoy it, but it could have been a hell of a lot more.

3 out of 5

Friday, June 28, 2013

White House Down

It has been a while since there were dueling movies in Hollywood. You know, when there are two similarly themed flicks released within a few months of each other? We’ve had Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug’s Life or even Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. Crap, I just realized that last year we did have one – Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. I’ll just retract my earlier statement and say that it’s been a somewhat uncommon occurrence since the mid-to-late 90s.

So here we are in 2013. Back in March the Washington D.C. under siege action thriller Olympus Has Fallen was released, and a mere three months later the virtually identically titled and plotted White House Down is hitting theaters. How does this fare against the competition?
Cale (Channing Tatum), a private security officer for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), takes his daughter on a tour of the White House just as terrorists decide to take over. When she is captured by their leader Stenz (Jason Clarke) and traitorous Secret Service officer Walker (James Woods), Cale teams up with the President (Jamie Foxx) to stop them from carrying out their plan and save his child.

First off, this film is cheesy as all hell. It’s corny, idiotic and sometimes downright stupid. But that’s all part of the fun of it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously like Olympus Has Fallen, and therefore it was more enjoyable in my eyes. White House Down is not a great movie by any means. Shit, it’s not even good. When it comes to pure summer popcorn escapist fare this is exactly what I expect to see when I plop down my $12 for a ticket. I just want to be entertained and this flick did just that.
The cast is top notch. Some can claim that Olympus Has Fallen did as well, but here the actors seem to know that the movie they are performing in is ridiculous and just go with it. Channing Tatum is awesome as the hero, sort of a mash-up of John McClane and Jason Statham. He actually manages to give his character a personality (unlike in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and I enjoyed watching him taking out wave upon wave of bad guys. He won’t win a Golden Globe for his skills, but he’s definitely not as bad as he usually is here. The fact that he does the majority of his own stunts is impressive as well. Jamie Foxx is likeable and fun as well as President Sawyer, a combination of Barack Obama’s cool and hip exterior with a little bit of Django thrown in there for attitude. He shares a great chemistry with Tatum and when the two of them are on-screen together the movie really hits its high points.

The casting of James Woods in a movie like this was a bit of a surprise since I haven’t seen him in anything in years (not since his TV show Shark went off the air in 2008) and action movies aren’t exactly what he’s known for. Regardless, he hams it up incredibly well as the main villain and, like General Zod in Man of Steel, has a method behind his madness that puts his motives in a gray area that is somewhat sympathetic (the scene when his wife learns of his plot is probably one of the best moments in any Roland Emmerich film). Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Death Race) as his right hand man is a nice contrast against Tatum. He goes a little overboard with the screaming now and then but for the most part he plays a decent physical adversary.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is decent, but really has nothing to do but look concerned and worried. She can’t seem to keep the smirk off her face during the hokier moments (“The President wants to do ‘the thing’”) and for some reason I got the feeling that she was just cashing a check. She has some good moments though (the Capitol building explosion). Richard Jenkins, Jimmi Simpson, Lance Reddick, Matt Craven, Nicolas Wight and Joey King all perform above what a movie like this would normally call for. However, Rachelle Lefevre as Cole’s ex-wife is downright awful. He daughter is all over the news as a hostage and not once does she look like she gives a shit.

The script by James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-Man, Zodiac, The Rundown, The Losers) is beyond ludicrous at times (the car chase across the White House front lawn is one of the goofiest things I’ve seen all summer) and filled to the brim with every cliché in the book, but I’m of a mind to say that he was told to just spin a tale that is fast and fun with reality checking in only occasionally. He does tend to go over the top with the sentimental stuff (anything involving Cole’s daughter), it’s slow going from the start because the main plot doesn’t kick in until 45 minutes into the movie, events are tied up to neatly, some of the humor is lame (“How are you still awake?” – “Caffeine and patriotism.”) and some of the tactics on display are incredibly suspect (everyone seems to love the White House’s basement). Some of the characters are well drawn, the action scenes are plentiful and the a lot of the happenings are fun as well as somewhat disturbing (seeing the Capitol building collapse reminded me of 9/11 imagery). Another aspect I thought was interesting and ballsy was that the majority of the villains were white supremacists and want the President dead because he’s African American. Funnily enough Vanderbilt’s script covers a lot of the same ground as Olympus Has Fallen. However, this was in production long before that film was even in the scripting stage. The end product showed its rushed origins and it suffered immensely due to it. Thankfully that’s not the case here.
Director Roland Emmerich is extremely hit or miss with me. His older movies like Stargate and The Patriot I still find entertaining, but some like Independence Day have definitely soured over the years. His more recent films (2012, 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow) I cannot stand for the most part due to how badly written they were. The fact that he didn’t go crazy with the overall scope of the story makes this one of his most restrained offerings in decades. You can tell that he wanted to go small and stay small instead of destroying as much property as he possibly could as usual. Sure some D.C. landmarks get effed in the A, but that’s to be expected. Emmerich has always excelled in his direction of action and here is no different. We get plenty of cool shootouts, fist fights and aerial shenanigans. Everything makes sense due to some good editing and choreography, and thankfully the entire film takes place during the daytime unlike Olympus Has Fallen (scenes were so dark I couldn’t see anything). He manages to wring a decent performance out of Tatum, as I mentioned earlier as well. His problem, as it usually is, that he loves to fill his movies with pointless events (the “Thing”), redundant scenes and lots of dumb humor (“Get your hands off my Jordans!”). His editor sure can put together a nifty car chase, but trimming the fat from the rest of the movie must be a no-no. This could have easily clocked in at under two hours, but it is needlessly stretched out to nearly two and a half. Sometimes brevity can be your friend, which is a lesson Mr. Emmerich has yet to learn.

When the credits rolled I realized that I had watched what amounted to 75% of repeated material from Olympus Has Fallen. But I was okay with it. Why? Because this is what I was expecting to see back in March – an entertaining movie. While this is definitely not a flick I would call “good”, it’s exactly what it set out to be and doesn’t pretend to be anything but. White House Down is too long, dumb and hokey, but it’s also one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen this summer. And its 150% better than its doppelganger.
Let’s just see how well it holds up fifteen years down the line. Time was not kind to ID4.

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Lone Ranger (2013)

I never thought I would watch the ultra-disappointing and horribly realized Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull again, but when the lights came back on in the theater after watching an advance screening of Disney’s The Lone Ranger I realized that I had done just that, only starring 110% more Johnny Depp and the CGI groundhogs were swapped with CGI jackrabbits.

So the story goes that lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) vows to avenge the death of his Texas Ranger brother (James Badge Dale) at the hands of the depraved criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Along with an outcast Comanche, Tonto (Johnny Depp), he dons a mask and sets out across the Wild West to put an end to his evil ways.
I enjoyed all the Pirates of the Caribbean films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Disney. However, you can clearly tell that everyone that was involved with the making of that series and was transplanted here to kick off a potential new franchise, from director Gore Verbinski to writers Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, were completely on autopilot. There is nothing new here; you could have easily swapped out Depp’s Tonto for Jack Sparrow and the western setting for the ocean and you would have had a new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. I might have seen it for free, but I was pissed that I wasted the time it took to watch it because it’s the worst film I’ve seen so far this summer.

What went wrong? I’ll tell you…
The writers try way too hard to inject unnecessary and insultingly unfunny humor into the story. Rossio and Elliott, along with some help from Justin Haythe, beat the audience over the head with lame jokes and out of place slapstick routines. The Tonto character is built to be the comic relief most of the time and none of the material thrown his way works at all. There’s a moment that kills any badassery that The Lone Ranger might have had going for him when he is shot in the shoulder with an arrow, screams like Chris Tucker and promptly passes out. Or the scene that screeches to a halt to allow Silver (the Lone Ranger’s horse) to take a massive shit so he can drag a person’s head through it a moment later.

Director Gore Verbinski cannot decide if he wants to make a family friendly flick or a seriously gritty western action movie. The schizophrenic script goes through such jarring tonal changes that it gave me a headache. One moment you have someone being eviscerated with a bowie knife and their heart eaten to Tonto wearing a birdcage over his head because he’s afraid of cats.
I had read that Johnny Depp, when approached to play Tonto, demanded that the Native American character be written respectfully and not a pile of stereotypes. Unfortunately that is not the case. Tonto is made out to be a mentally deficient moron whose only purpose to the story is to generate laughs. He talks in horrible broken English and is the recipient of every racist cliché you can think of. If I were of Native American decent I would be furious. And what’s worse is that there are other Native American characters that seem to be okay with the fact that the white man is kicking them off their land and killing their people. One chief calls it “progress” and that Tonto isn’t interested in being a part of “the future”. WTF?!

The focus of the story is on Tonto because of the fact that Johnny Depp is a bigger star than Armie Hammer. If memory serves Tonto was always a sidekick to The Lone Ranger, not the other way around. We never really get any decent backstory on John Reid, but by the end of the movie we know all about Tonto and his deal (granted, it’s tragic and pulled off successfully). What really bugged me is just how much Tonto is patterned after Jack Sparrow. The mannerisms, the snarkiness, the clumsy heroics and even the headdress is the same. Seriously, just remove the dead bird and the costume choice boils down to a bandanna with a bunch of useless chachkies hanging off of it.
The advertising lies to the audience by making it look like Helena Bonham Carter is a major player in the story, going as far as to give her character of Red Harrington the madam her own poster. Her role is basically a glorified cameo because she’s in the film for a grand total of five minutes. Her casting is a transparent ploy to make fans of Tim Burton’s films where Depp and Carter are paired give up their money to see them together again. Sorry, but that doesn’t happen.

It’s completely obvious who the real villain is from the get-go because a visual clue fills the screen and gives it away. Sure the old cliché of having a great named actor playing a bit part also ruins the surprise, but I’ve never seen it so blatantly thrown out there so quickly. Some build-up or suspense to the big reveal would have been nice.
The wraparound story is lame and doesn’t work. Having the meat of the story being told in flashback by an elderly Tonto to a young boy seems to exist only to give Johnny Depp additional screentime. It’s bad enough that his character is an annoying joke for most of the movie, but having him shoehorned into this storytelling gimmick made me dislike him even more. It doesn’t help that the old age make-up Depp wears in these scenes looks like complete ass.

Every western cliché is used here. Some were even ripped from movies that you wouldn’t expect like Back to the Future III. The steam engine finale is extremely reminiscent of what went down in that film, especially when Ruth Wilson’s Rebecca Reid nearly falls off the train. The friend I was with at the screening said he could almost hear her scream “Emmett!” because the scene is shot in the exact same way including each and every action beat.
Silver is made out to be some sort of a magical flying unicorn. I don’t know what the reasoning behind going this route was, but it’s silly beyond words. Not only is he portrayed as a medium, but he can jump across giant chasms, onto speeding trains, up to the roof of a burning barn and climb trees. He can also eat scorpions without any of the painful death side effects.

There is absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters because the acting is so off key. Tonto and John don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company, Rebecca and John show zero attraction toward each other and every character seems like they are in a different movie. Depp coasts through his role, Hammer is horribly miscast, Wilson is boring and taciturn, and Tom Wilkinson is non-threatening and somewhat laughable.

Barry Pepper out of fucking nowhere!
I like some ridiculous movies that defy realism at every turn, but for some reason I was unable to allow my suspension of disbelief to kick into overdrive. It was given an intense workout, but was unable to cope with the massive amount of garbage that it was taking in all at once.

I will admit that there are some positives. William Fichtner plays a great villain as Butch Cavendish, there are a few scenes that are directed and edited in such an effectively serious and dark tone that they took me by surprise (the assault on Rebecca’s home especially) and the train finale was choreographed and planned out so meticulously that it reminded me of that superawesomeamazeballs freeway scene from The Matrix Reloaded. The cinematography is decent and the costumes are accurate for the time period (not counting Tonto’s outfit). Where the Lone Ranger's signature mask comes from is also disturbingly rad.
Outside of those pluses I cannot say that I enjoyed this movie at all. It was a chore to sit through, is painfully unfunny and has a racist streak running through it that made me feel dirty. Shit, even Hans Zimmer’s score was crap, and coming off his superb work on the recent Man of Steel I find that unacceptable. It really says something when the main character’s signature theme, “The William Tell Overture”, is used in a supremely hokey way. This is a misfire of epic proportions (I read it cost $250m to produce) and I predict it will be a bomb of equal measure. I like Johnny Depp as an actor, but I feel even his box office clout will not be able to save this dud from failure.

The Lone Ranger is joyless, hokey and worst of all zero fun. Skip it in the theater and just wait to see it on Netflix.

1 out of 5

Sunday, June 23, 2013

ThanksKilling 3

I am a connoisseur of B-Movies as you can probably already tell if you’ve ever read from this blog before. Most of my favorite films are of this type since I really enjoy watching legitimately bad movies in order to get a good laugh and revel in their awfulness. However, there are movies that are so bad that I am completely incapable of finding any redeeming qualities within. ThanksKilling 3 is one of those films.

So this overly convoluted story picks up after the second film has been made, but there’s really no second film to watch because the series goes straight from the first flick to the third. The joke is that the second film was so bad that every copy was set ablaze to rid the world of its awfulness. It turns out the evil Turkie (voiced by Jordan Downey) had placed a curse upon that film that would entrance the world to do his bidding, and when he learns there is one last copy of it in existence he decides to track it down.
I’m going to do my best to review this flick since I watched it so long ago for my podcast Van Damme That’s Good a few months back. Regardless of all the small details I might not remember, I do know one thing – this is one of the worst movies ever made.

The original ThanksKilling was a simple film that satirized slasher films, cost next to nothing to make, made fun of itself constantly, went from one ridiculous idea to the next with reckless abandon and didn’t outstay its welcome (its 66 minutes long). While it is definitely a bad film I can see myself watching it again at some point due to how batshit crazy it is. I mean, how can anyone resist a giant homicidal turkey puppet chasing a topless pilgrim girl through a forest with a butcher knife while screaming “Gobble gobble, motherfucker”? What it lacked in plot, filmmaking standards and acting it more than made up for it in the humor and insane wackiness department.
ThanksKilling 3 is the exact opposite.  It was funded via Kickstarter (the first film project to reach $100k in donations as of 2012), it takes itself and its inane plot too seriously, the movie is too long for its own good and it stars just 2 actors. The rest are puppets. Yes, 90% of the characters are puppets. Like Muppets, but unlikable and cheap looking.

The main character, Yomi (also voiced by Jordan Downey), is a young girl (puppet) who has had her brain removed (it looks like a uterus and ovaries) for some unknown reason and gets mixed up in all the craziness involving Turkie and his son trying to find that last copy of their flick. There’s also a small alien worm named Rhonda (voiced by Kevin Stewart) who rides on the back of her bodyguard Muff (also voiced by Jordan Downey) in Master Blaster fashion, a rapping grannie puppet named Flowis, a Revolutionary War theme park owner named Uncle Donny (Daniel Usaj, one of the only human actors here) and some other useless puppets that show up.
There is no plot, just a random series of events that don’t link up at all and are all filmed/acted horrifically. There is no cleverness, intelligence or even a script driving this project. It feels as if once the filmmakers obtained their $100k from Kickstarter they just threw caution to the wind and said “let’s do whatever we want!”, and they did. It’s a mess. It’s unfunny, painful to watch and an embarrassment to the art of filmmaking.

The acting boils down to one guy reacting to a bunch of vulgar and terribly voiced puppets. Most of them are voiced by the same two guys, even the female characters. Daniel Usaj looks lost for the entire run time and I don’t blame him. If I were in his shoes I’d be having trouble finding any sort of motivation to continue working on this shitstorm and might reconsider the career path I had chosen. He’s that bad. The voice actors are all godawful as well, with Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart showing off that their idea of being funny is yelling non-stop obscenities and making rape jokes.
All the puppets look cheap, the FX (a vortex being one of the only examples I can remember) are lame and the sets are of the bargain basement Styrofoam classic Star Trek variety. Honestly, I can’t for the life of me figure out what they spent that $100k on, because it looks like they spent maybe $20k on this back alley abortion. Maybe the Red camera system rental? I don’t know and I don’t really care. All I know is that if I were given that much money to make a film I would have produced something watchable.

I hate this film. I hate it with every fiber of my being. There is nothing positive I can say about ThanksKilling 3 other than after an overlong hour and thirty nine minutes of absolute brain melting torture it finally ended. Director Jordan Downey should never be given the opportunity to make a film ever again. He had his chance and he blew it on this travesty of epic proportions. And with that I am done giving this wretched excuse for entertainment one more moment of thought.

0 out of 5

P.S. If I could give this a negative score I would. ThanksKilling 3 is now the second worst film I have ever seen next to Battlefield Earth in the top spot.

P.P.S. I give total props to my pal James who had to sit through this rancid turd once more for our podcast. He said it was his third time watching it. He is a brave, brave soul.