29 November 2009

Worse than Wanted (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li)

Only one movie this time, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. The nicest thing I can say about this movie is that it just might make me look upon Wanted a little more kindly as quite possibly the worst movie ever made. Where Wanted is a mindless train-wreck of an action flick that tries desperately yet unsuccessfully to convince me it has a brain, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a mindless train-wreck of an action flick that tries desperately yet unsuccessfully to convince me it has a heart, and I don't know if that's a worse crime or just as heinous a crime. Given that the intelligence doesn't fare any better at convincing me it exists, I'll lean toward it being worse.
To sum up an overall impression of this film: everything that I was afraid Star Trek would be, this movie is in spades. It's a dishwater-dull, contrived, and by-the-numbers action film that is only vicariously associated with a more well-known and established property, often along the lines of "in name only at best," for no better reason than to avoid being doomed to obscurity. What's worse is that Capcom's name appears three times in the film's opening credits, so their official involvement in this film would at least appear to be beyond vague attachment. Fortunately, for the sake of their reputation, this is not the case.
When discussing matters such as heart, intelligence, and integrity with action films, the question of how well the visuals and action sequences stack up and compare inevitably rises. Rather, are the film's faults overshadowed, if not forgiven, by the action sequences? The answer is no, as the fight scenes aren't even that well-choreographed or interesting to look at. They're so choppy and truncated with broken bones that mend themselves from shot-to-shot (not scene-to-scene, shot-to-shot), one would get the impression that as much got left on the cutting room floor as what got left in for the theatrical version. However, this was not the theatrical cut, but the unrated edition, so the notion of continuity errors being excused by deleted or trimmed scenes does not hold water; this is simply bad editing. When the montage of a film fails, it's often up to the mise-en-scene to take up the slack, such as the actors and their performances. This should be where the film shines as fighting games are nothing without their characters, but in fact, it's one of the film's biggest shortcomings.
Michael Clarke Duncan plays Balrog (Bison in the Japanese version of the original game, as explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) and I have to feel sorry for him that his life (not just his career, but his life) will be haunted by his appearance in this film. Discovered at a gym by Michael Bay, Duncan has led a very successful career and has never, ever given a bad performance. Here, however, he gives the worst and most embarrassing performance of his career, which is really saying something given that the character of Balrog isn't all that well-defined in the first place. To call his performance hammy or camp gives it far too much credit, it is simply that unpleasant to witness. The sole saving grace, if it could be called that, to this atrocity of the actor's craft is that he's far from the worst in this film.
Bison (Vega in the Japanese version of the original game, as also explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) is portrayed by Neal McDonough, whose look in this film seems to be aiming for some sort of hybrid between Robert Patrick and Ray Liotta that's been soaked in bleach for ten days and sent off to the Hitler Youth camp. Remember how in Enemy at the Gates, Ed Harris' character is portrayed in a rather sympathetic light for the first ninety minutes of the film, then does a full turnaround and murders a child, completely throwing our empathy out the window and replacing it with fully-justified and unapologetic hatred? Not only does Bison have a scene like that in the first ten minutes, but he has one every ten minutes from there onward. You could almost make a drinking game out of each close-up shot that shows his face with blood splattered on it. After the second time, even the most inattentive and distracted audience member would be yelling, "Okay, he's evil. We get it. Can we move on, please?" at the screen.
Chris Klein plays Christopher Nash, an interpol detective hot on the trail of Bison's crime syndicate. He is, without question, the low-point of this film in terms of actors. Each delivery of a line by him is so grating, jarring, and unpleasant that he makes Christian Slater's performance in Alone in the Dark look like Oscar gold.
With this many terrible performances together in one place, I'm starting to think I might be being a little too hard on these guys and overlooking a greater travesty here because, essentially, an actor is only really as good as the dialogue they're given to work with. Of all the elements that could be labeled as low points to the overall mess, the script is inarguably the source of it all. The dialogue is so unnatural, stilted, and one-dimensional that lines are not so much spoken as much as passively allowed to escape from the poisonous barbs that are the actors' collectively suppressed hatred for the audible print so far beneath them that a snake's belly in a wagon rut would be stratospheric by comparison.
Shortly after this film came out and before I'd seen it, Justin Marks, the 'audible typist' (I will not call him a writer), in an article featured on The Escapist, had expressed dread over his premature (if potentially, totally right) supposition that his upcoming adaptation of the Playstation title Shadow of the Colossus would "not be given a chance" because of not only his previous efforts at bringing Street Fighter back to the big screen after a long absence, but also because of the avid followers of Team Ico's magnum opus. I meant to write him a very angry letter that would be posted in the comments page of the article, but given that I hadn't yet seen The Legend of Chun-Li, I decided (it turned out against my better judgment) to give him the benefit of the doubt and wait until then to see if I'd have a leg to stand on. Now, I can take my stand.
I'm not going to pretend that screenwriting is easy; I write scripts, it's hard, and I don't even do it professionally, so I can't imagine the hardships and emotional traumas of having a paycheck riding on one. With Marks' statements, however, I have no sympathy anymore, and now that I have ammunition in the form of this film, I must now resurrect from the deepest, darkest corners of my memory that letter I was going to write telling him under what terms I would give his upcoming movie adaptation of one of my all time favorite PS2 games a chance to prove my preconceived notions wrong. It involved him buying me a ticket and me promising to not only reimburse him for the ticket if I was impressed by the movie, but buying another ticket on top of it to give to my ego, which will have been sitting next to me at the showing eating a giant plate of crow. I know it sounds like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not; if he buys my ticket, and proves me wrong about his writing skills, I'll buy two tickets and even two copies of the eventual DVD release.

25 November 2009

Another Double Feature (G.I. Joe & Star Trek)

Just finished watching two movies I'd been half-looking forward to seeing. In short, I'm disappointed in myself for not seeing the first in theaters (and not just for starring two of my favorite actors, Eccleston and Quaid), and I'm not disappointed by the second.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was really good, beyond expectations by leaps and bounds. In fact, if the Transformers movies had been given this kind of care and attention, the world would be a better place. When it comes to the revivals of these time-honored properties and criticisms thereof, there's always an argument that crops up without fail between those who are eager with anticipation and those who are anxious with it. It goes something like this:

Eager: This is gonna be awesome!
Anxious: I don't think it's going to be any good.
Eager: Dude, it's based on a buncha toys, what do you expect?
Anxious: I expect at least what I got from the cartoon.
Eager: Like what?

Here's the long, but not that complicated answer to Eager's question:
I may not have kids, but I'm not old and/or jaded enough to forget what being one was like, and I know then as much as I know now that parents frequently and sadly underestimate them. Children are not sheep that have to be guarded from all the dangers of the outside world. They don't have to stick their hand in the fire to know it's hot, but that doesn't mean they're afraid of it, either. The point is, throughout history, certain groups of adults (of the not old and/or jaded enough variety) have acknowledged the fact that children see the world differently from adults, and therefore things that adults may regard as unsafe and/or damaging to children may not actually be so. This is how we get shows like Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, Starblazers, Transformers, G.I.Joe, Thundercats, Batman: The Animated Series, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, shows that are made for and aimed at children, yet never come across to them as remotely juvenile or condescending. Tom Clancy it is not, but it sits comfortably on top of pulp-era escapades like Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow or Indiana Jones, sharing the same floor space as the films of Pixar studios and the James Bond franchise.
It's as intelligent as any Bond movie, and certainly as exciting. The characters are broadly drawn, yet just deep enough to be interesting. Relationships and origin stories are re-written, at times drastically, from their source material, but keeps a high degree of familiarity and integrity to elevate above a pale imitation.
Possible Spoiler: The makers left this film open for a sequel, but given the state both sides are left in at the end and the way certain beloved characters are resolved, I won't be disappointed if I don't see it or it never happens; This is a good film, let's keep it that way.

Star Trek was better than I had expected. I was expecting some bland and generic science fiction drama that only vicariously uses the well-known name and occasional trappings to get attention (case in point, Battlestar Galactica). Fortunately, this isn't the case, but, by virtue of the movie's own metafictional admission, it is not to be an acknowledged part of the Star Trek universe. Don't get me wrong, I like this movie, and it's distinctly superior to the last two Star Trek films, but it can't really be a part of the greater whole. It's equally demanding of its acceptance by Trekkies as it is dismissive of its own place in regards to canon. In other words, it does just as much to be Star Trek as it does to not be Star Trek. What we have here, then, is a movie that has a love/hate relationship with its own audience.
Maybe that's why I liked it so much.
I've always had a love/hate relationship with the franchise, and it probably plays out like most middle-of-the-road Trekkies: The original series is equally fondly remembered by those old enough to see it at the time and those who came after, acknowledged by both as an unprecedented cultural landmark; The movies came and went, and we liked at least half of them; The Next Generation did the impossible, appealing to a new audience without coming at the expense of the old; Deep Space Nine was a welcome change of pace and scenery for the franchise, but wore out that welcome after the first year; Voyager wasn't much better, was practically ignored for it, and couldn't have died a quieter death; Enterprise was a competent enough return to form, but was too little, too late, and is tragically under-appreciated as a result.
Rather than do a full and proper review, list the problems I had with the film and its treatment of certain characters and concepts, comparing/contrasting them with what I liked, I'm going to give you a simple formula to use as a guide if you're unsure about seeing this film or what to expect going in:

If you LOVE Star Trek, you'll HATE this movie.
If you LIKE Star Trek, you'll LIKE this movie.
If you HATE Star Trek, you'll LOVE this movie.

18 November 2009

The first sign of the apocalypse

Yes, yes, I know, I've uploaded a Youtube video and I said I never would. In my defense, I'd said on my Youtube profile that I would only make an upload when I'd produced something of exceptional quality that would surpass the typical fare of the site. Unfortunately, I couldn't actually put anything together, so I made this instead.
Okay, so Yahoo!Video is playing nice again after two months of giving me grief when uploading. I don't know if I'll keep the YouTube video active, I'm sort of divided on it. I mean, I know it's not earth-shattering, but when my video gets 20 views in a week while some self-loathing british brat who hates Modern Warfare 2 gets half a million in 24 hours, I suddenly get the impression that the YouTube audience is not for me.
Also, I'm working on a longer version of NAZCA, which will have a full copyleft license, barring any discrepancies with the new music I'm going to find (none of that Creative Commons nonsense). I'm trying to find a royalty-free recording of the Prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold.
I'm also working on potentially two follow-up pieces to Digital Backlot, one taking a look at the animation technique known as rotoscoping (the Original digital backlot), and the second looking at the two films "The Fountain" and "The Fall" which were made in the last five years yet use only practical effects (making them, essentially, ANTI-digital backlot films).

09 November 2009

So many movies II (The Island, Hero, Able Edwards, & Seed)

And as for the rest of the films...

The Island was a pleasant surprise. This is probably Bay's best film, and that's saying something. Bay would make a great second unit director, and he has been so in the past. Unfortunately, for him to really have the freedom to shoot the kind of action scenes he wants, he has to be given the reins to the whole project. To make him a second unit director on a film would result in a very schizophrenic and uneven picture as very few directors' sensibilities would gel with Bay's trademark style. This is the ultimate tragedy of Bay's career, but he doesn't seem too disappointed by it. The Island, pigeonholed by certain, more elitist critics, as a modern re-imagining of the movie Clonus (better known as Parts: The Clonus Horror), does its supposed source material justice and beyond. Clonus, sadly, was not a particularly well-made film (as evidenced in part by its inclusion in the Mystery Science Theater film library) and it hasn't aged very well, either. Clonus could barely keep up with the science at the time, let alone the era's science fiction. In fact, I'd read a book about cloning published several years before Clonus' production that handled the subject matter better. Bay's usual lack of attention to anything not involving crashes and explosions is absent here, as the performances (even the most one-dimensional of them) are on par with any drama with less than half as many action sequences. If you're not a fan of Bay, and you haven't seen The Island, it may just be the one that changes your mind from a total write-off of his work.

Hero was brilliant, put simply. It, along with House of Flying Daggers, came with consistent praise and recommendation to me by friends, co-workers, and anyone else in my acquaintance who's seen the film. I had virtually no preconceived notions about the film, having only seen a few trailers leading up to the film's release. I knew nothing of its plot, but was very happy that it employed my favorite narrative device: Multiple Perspectives. Hero is about an assassination plot, told from at least two distinct viewpoints and even then in a variety of different variations. Each variation on the climax's preceding events is marked throughout by a dominant color (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, White). It sounds like a rather elementary way to tell the flashbacks apart, but it's very effective, and utterly beautiful. The only thing that honestly keeps me from taking a screen capture from nearly any frame of this film to use as my desktop wallpaper is is that it would mean taking down my current wallpaper, a publicity photo of actress Bai Ling (a little more on her later).

Able Edwards was... weird, but novel and certainly interesting. It's a low-budget vanity project combining two well-known figures, one fictional and one real: Citizen Kane and Walt Disney. In short, Able Edwards is about the clone of a deceased cartoonist-turned-business tycoon created to become head of a corporation operating on an orbital space station. The style is patterned after Orson Welles' classic almost to the letter, right down to the very typeface used for the film's title. Released in 2004, Able Edwards is probably the least-widely-known of the films that comprise the “Digital Backlot” cycle, accompanied by Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (featuring the lovely aforementioned Bai Ling) from the USA, Immortal from France (with a Slavic writer and director), and Casshan from Japan, among others. These films were all made using extensive amounts of digital backdrops and composites, to such an extent that few or no practical sets were built, with those that were serving more as references for the actors' benefit than the audiences' viewing pleasure.

I didn't say anything about Seed earlier because I'd only thought to include it at the last minute. This was the first Uwe Boll film I'd seen, and I had a little trouble actually watching it, but not because it's a bad film. Let me put it this way: Horror comes in three flavors which are Terrify, Horrify, and Gross-Out. Gross-Out's markings are pretty obvious, even if you've only heard of Hostel, Saw, or anything by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Horrify elements best described as “jump scares” the ones that play off your reflexes or get your adrenaline pumping (Alien, Jaws, any zombie film). Terrify is the hardest variety of horror to produce, and often the best results come from films outside what most people generally think of as belonging to the horror genre, as you don't have to be a horror movie to be a creepy movie (Jacob's Ladder, Flatliners, American Psycho). Seed is very much in the Gross-Out category, and that's by design, as Uwe Boll described the film in the accompanying commentary as “A horror movie for horror fans”. Like I said, Seed is not a bad horror movie. Far from it, it's at least as competent at what it does as the Saw movies or anything from Rob Zombie. I just happen to prefer suspense to gore.

There are more Uwe Boll films on their way through the combined efforts of Netflix, and I'm actually looking forward to giving them a go. Sure, Boll gets a lot of flack for his work and certainly for some of his more harsh statements about certain filmmakers and most filmgoers, but I try not to listen to gossip. I'll judge for myself his abilities as a director, and so far, from what I've seen, his only real fault is some slightly iffy casting (Tara Reid and Ray Liotta chiefly), and that's hardly something to hold against a director.

Along with Boll's work, the other films on the way are the aforementioned entries in the Digital Backlot cycle, Immortal and Casshan. I plan on doing a sort of video retrospective of the cycle, this being essentially the 5th anniversary of each of those films.

Thanks for reading.

So many movies (Transformers & Watchmen)

This really has been the time for me to catch up on movies.

Oct 29th:
Seed [link]

Nov 4th:
Wanted [link]

Nov 6th:
Watchmen [link]

Nov 8th:
Transformers [link]
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [link]

Nov 9th: (will sit down and watch in a few hours)
The Island [link]
Hero [link]
Able Edwards [link]

I had already seen Transformers (at the second run theaters... I felt I owed it to my inner child who ambivalently remembers being scared at the original animated feature to such an extent that I stopped watching after Starscream was disintegrated by Galvatron. That was just infuriating; I mean, they killed Starscream, he was my favorite. Oh, well, luckily he's turned out to have an immortal spark.) and while I was loath to give Revenge a go, my roommate thought the scene from the trailer where Sam tells Bumblebee about going to college was cute and wanted to see it almost purely on the power of that. I also thought it would make for an interesting experiment as she'd never followed Transformers as a kid (she was a My Little Pony fan) and had virtually no prior understanding of the source material. I don't think it really worked out as she was actually vicariously running a little experiment of her own to try and fathom, while we were watching, just what I'd hated so much about the first movie.

Watchmen was really good. In fact, at the risk of utter blasphemy, I almost prefer the movie to the comic. Don't get me wrong, if you've never read a comic book in your life and decided to read just one, it would at least be in my top five recommended titles (along with the Spawn/Batman crossover by Miller and MacFarlane and David Mack's contributions to Daredevil, which edge Watchmen out of the top spots).

I had a lot of problems with Wanted, much to the chagrin of my roommate, who's a huge Angelina Jolie fan. I'll write a full review and analysis on my Blogger page. Here's a preview of the introduction:
(movie ends)
Roommate: Well?
Myself: Hm?
RM: What did you think?
MY: It was slightly better than I thought it would be.
RM: Oh?
MY: I was expecting a zero, and I got a three.
RM: Oh... kay...?
MY: The scale's out of one hundred.
RM: Tsh! Matt! It wasn't THAT bad.
MY: That's just it... (and that leads into the review)

One of the big problems of using a projector is that, unless you can dedicate an entire room to using it or black out all your windows, you're at the mercy of the time of day and the inherent lighting, so I have to wait to watch the other three movies (I'd watched Watchmen on my computer, which I really regret doing; it deserved better).