31
Jul
14

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel makes a bold move by taking a cast of characters that not a lot of people are familiar with and gives them the big screen treatment. While at this point any film within the Marvel Universe might seem too big to fail (The Avengers $1.5 billion worldwide, Captain America: The Winter Soldier $713 million worldwide), Guardians will be a proving ground of sorts for them. Should Guardians flop it could signal that smaller comic properties might not work. Should it prove to be as successful as the other Marvel Universe films, Marvel can start printing their own money because then they will be able to turn nearly any character or property into a new franchise.

I am here to tell you though that Marvel has nothing to worry about.

Guardians of the Galaxy marks Marvel’s first foray into outer space. While we got to see some of that in The Avengers, Guardians wholly takes the action off of Earth. It centers around a ragtag group of unlikely alien outlaws that come together to stop an evil psychopath from destroying peaceful civilizations. Though it does sound kind of out there, it’s got Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel to give you some sense of familiarity.

One of my biggest concerns going into the film was that I’ve always felt space based or cosmic characters really have their work cut out for them. With nothing to ground them here on Earth, how are audiences supposed to relate to characters that have nothing to do with us? Guardians gives us relatability straight off the bat with the origin story of our protagonist Peter Quill. Even before the film’s title is shown we see the circumstances around Peter’s abduction from Earth as a kid. Even though in the very next sequence we see Peter all grown up as the dashing and good looking Starlord, there is a sense that probably deep down inside of him, being away from his family is something he probably thinks about from time to time.

A lost child far from home and taken away from his family; that’s a fear that any parent can tell you they’ve thought about at some point in their parenting careers. With that in mind, it gives the audience an instant connection to Quill and a way to buy in to the movie.

While we get an instant connection to Quill in the first ten minutes of the film, both as a kid and as an adult, the rest of the team doesn’t get as much definition character-wise. Unlike The Avengers, Guardians doesn’t have the luxury of films building up characters and leading into the team-up. In this film, we meet each of the Guardians for the first time and everything we find out about them is built up through their actions and conversations in the film.

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From the trailer we are told that Starlord is a thief, Gamora is an assassin, Drax is a maniac, and Rocket and Groot are thugs; they shed these labels fairly quickly after their introductions. Once the Guardians come together and start working with one another; that’s when the film really starts to become fun. We get to see how each of them think, how they carry themselves in a fight, and their vulnerabilities as well.

Quill is easily the character that’s most relatable to us since his is the lone human in the film. Out of all the characters though, it’s Rocket and Groot that I enjoyed the most. With CGI characters, it’s sometimes a gamble because what you’re seeing isn’t a real raccoon or a tree that’s a living being. Since we know they’re fake, how do believe them as characters? Guardians answers this by making them nuanced and very well defined. The way Rocket talks, what he says, and how he acts and reacts in situations makes him a smart and savvy guy who people underestimate not only because of his size, but because they perceive him as a rodent as well. Rocket overcomes this by proving his worth in a number of situations in the film that allow him to showcase his smarts and make him more than a raccoon bent on destruction.

GuardiansRocket

Groot meanwhile, he doesn’t say that much, in fact he only says one line (repeatedly) throughout the film: “I am Groot.” It’s the way he says it and his mannerisms that tell us about him. He is the straight man to Rocket’s wild man. Probably what I loved most about him is that everyone seems to understand exactly what he’s saying even though to the audience he’s only saying one line. It’s like he has his own language that only people in the movie understand while we in the audience have to decipher it–which isn’t too challenging because the context of each scene informs us pretty well as to how he’s responding.

What helps these two CGI characters to be even more believable is that Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel change their voices ever so slightly that they’re not readily identifiable by them. Sometimes when you have a prominent star playing an animated or CGI character, having them use their regular voice takes you out of the film as you see the star behind the voice and not the character they’re trying to portray. That’s not the case here. Never once did I see Cooper or Vin, just Rocket and Groot. With great character building and solid voice work, these two characters blend so well into the fabric of the film that after a certain point I believed they were real.

GuardiansGamora

Gamora and Drax on the other hand I felt could have used a little more development. While we sort of find out Gamora’s background, her motivations for becoming a Guardian aren’t all that clear. Same sort of thing goes for Drax. Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora meet up with Drax while in prison and then he joins the party pretty willingly when he has a big ax to grind with Gamora. One thing I really liked about Drax though is that they made his character very learned and matched it with the way he spoke. From what little knowledge I have of his character from the comics, I thought he wasn’t as smart as they made him in the film. The way he spoke blew me away as I really wasn’t expecting that and it also provided some hilarious situations as well.

While overall I liked the characters and the way they interacted with one another, my biggest quibble with the film (and it’s a minor one at best) is the way the Guardians came together. I felt that they banded together a bit too easily. It probably has a lot to do with how the motivations of Gamora and Drax aren’t fully made clear, so when a team up is suggested it doesn’t feel fully authentic. It was as if they shed their initial reservations about the others too willingly. I know this is Guardians of the Galaxy, so at some point they were ultimately going to join forces, but unlike The Avengers where we knew where each of them were coming from, since this film is doing a lot more, some plot elements don’t get their due–character motivations and setup being two of them.

Once the film gets past this hurdle and the Guardians do come together, that’s when the film really starts to take off and live up to the exuberance that you feel from the trailers. Each of the characters plays to their strengths and you see how they work well together. Groot and Drax are their heavy hitters for sure. Gamora can hold her own, but her inside information is what really helps the team. And while Rocket sort of feels like savviest Guardian among them, Quill’s cunning tempers Rocket’s negligence. That is why Quill makes a great leader for them. While everyone else sort of only sees their goals for the mission, Quill uses his wit to focus their individual motivations and bring them together. That’s why he’s Starlord man!

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With each Marvel film contributing to the makeup of the overall Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy does its fair share of world building. While I won’t give away any of the easter eggs or reveals from the film, it did make me wonder if some of this extra universe building was really necessary.

In the last Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is a major universe changing event that happens that will definitely affect all Earth based Avenger films that come afterward. Back then I wondered whether this world building was at the expense of telling Cap’s story similarly to how the Stark/Iron Man story was sidelined by all the SHIELD stuff in Iron Man 2.

Ultimately, the universe building in Guardians isn’t on the level of The Winter Soldier or even Iron Man 2, but I did still feel that the underlying storyline that they added in was a little hamfisted and should have either been left out of the film or integrated better. They could have even saved something like that for the post movie credit scenes that they so love to include.

One of the fun things about Guardians is its soundtrack. Unlike almost all of the other Marvel films that predominantly only have a film score (instrumental music), Guardians of the Galaxy utilizes a soundtrack that not only adds some fun and nostalgia to the film, but gives the audience another connection back to Earth as well. I would venture to guess that anyone over the age of 25 will have heard most of the tunes in the film like Blue Suede’s Hooked on a Feeling or Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love among others. Subtly though, the soundtrack is another way that connects the audience back to Earth. Because we know these songs and we know that these are Quill’s jams, that gives us relatability to his character and gets us to buy into the film that much more.

Overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid film and I don’t perceive Marvel having a flop anytime soon. With another great superhero team on their hands who knows what Marvel will be able to do next. Do they bring out lesser known Avengers to feed into this universe? It’s totally possible, they can’t keep the core group of Avengers indefinitely so phasing the older guys out but keep making Avengers movies with new Avengers definitely makes sense. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into outer space, the sky isn’t the limit anymore. The Guardians of the Galaxy have made sure of that.

Cinematic Scene: Guardian Battle Planning

While there are many fun and action packed scenes in the film, it’s a quieter one that enjoyed the most. It comes just a bit before a big battle in the film while the Guardians are talking with one another and trying to strategize. I would say that it’s in this scene in the film where we can finally call them a team. No longer are they worried about the smaller things that they were concerned with when we are first introduced to them at the beginning of the film. In this scene they are all finally on the same page, opening up to one another, and are thinking as a single unit. Of course they banter and jest as well, and that definitely is part of their team dynamic, but it’s this one moment that stands out because finally, they do become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is now playing in theaters everywhere.

4/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2hr 2min

 

21
Jul
14

Wish I Was Here REVIEW: Emo Epiphanies

For $100, you can sit with Zach Braff.

For $100, you can sit with Zach Braff.

With Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff continues to document the life journey of the male emo millennial. If 2004’s Garden State showed us the said millennial in his 20s, Wish documents him a decade later in his 30s, domestically settled down with kids as well as non-artistic responsibilities.

Braff plays Aiden, an unemployed actor, married to the hardworking Kate Hudson, with two precocious children in a private Jewish school, a slacker brother and a dying father (Mandy Patinkin). And he, of course, is searching for answers. Or epiphanies. With arms wide open. Cue the incessant emo rock on the soundtrack that features The Shins, Badly Drawn Boy, Paul Simon and other usual suspects.

Although not as sweepingly effective as Garden State, Wish still somehow works while being set in a sit-com purgatory where everyone has the perfect one-liner under a pall of sanitized mumblecore navel-gazing. There’s also a welcome, healthy dose of Jewish religion to ground the work with some sort of sense of time and existence other than that of the flustered, aging hipster. The ultimate appeal of this movie probably comes from the abject, good-natured sincerity pouring off the script by Braff and his brother Adam. Even with all the magical unrealism going on, the depiction of the family dynamics and relationships feel genuine.

That jar holds all the Kickstarter money.

That jar holds all the Kickstarter money.

Hudson is charming and gorgeous as ever. Perhaps a little too charming and gorgeous for a mother working full-time doing data entry for the Department of Water. Patinkin verges on the edge of over-acting, but then he always does. Jim Parsons has a small part as an acting colleague of Braff’s and one wonders if he will ever be able to shake the aura of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

Controversial for its Kickstarter-funded budget, Braff’s very public battle for final cut may have resulted in a product a bit too precious and forced. But that doesn’t mean Wish I Was Here isn’t worthy of existing, complete with its heart on the sleeve of its hipster t-shirt.

——

At the end of the July 17 screening at the Kahala theaters, Frolic Hawaii’s Brian Watanabe hosted a Q&A with co-screenwriter and 6-year Honolulu resident Adam Braff (Zach’s bro, pictured left).

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Some of the highlights from that Q&A:

  • When questioned on how to get ahead in screenwriting: Find “a partner who is an international celebrity” and “sharpen your pencils.”
  • Braff would like to work on a project reuniting his brother with his Scrubs co-star Donald Faison.
  • Adam Braff’s favorite moment in the film—Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin in the hospital. “I don’t think you see someone reminding someone on their deathbed that they have unfinished business.”
  • “There’s quite a bit of things that will be on the DVD.”
  • Rowdy the stuffed dog from Scrubs is indeed somewhere in the film.
  • “I don’t know how this movie got so Jewish.”
  • They actually only had Mandy Patinkin for four days during the production.

Coolest part of the Q&A though? Once the film finished, they killed the credits in the middle and just started into it. I thought we’d have to wade through the whole thing before it started, but we didn’t have to wait.

(Sorry to all you end credit aficionados. Unless there’s a comic book movie easter egg just sitting at the conclusion of it all, I’m outta there. Things to do, drinks to drink. You know how it is. Wish I was here.)

Wish I Was Here is now playing exclusively at Consolidated Theatres Ward 16.

 

 

01
Jul
14

Top 5 Movies Based on Graphic Novels

Yes, that's Captain America himself Chris Evans leading the way, this time in Snowpiercer.

Yes, that’s Captain America himself Chris Evans leading the way, this time in Snowpiercer.

We here at the Red Band Project are excited for the upcoming release of Snowpiercer. Directed by Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho (Mother, The Host) the film stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and John Hurt as some of the last survivors on Earth who reside on the Snowpiercer, a train that continually navigates the frozen globe keeping its inhabitants alive. It’s a sci-fi fable that deals with class struggle amidst the backdrop of a future where the world is frozen over.

Due out tomorrow at Consolidated Theatres Kahala 8, the film is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. While Hollywood has been quick to jump on the comic book craze, it’s also adapted its fair share of graphic novels. While similar in many respects to comic books, graphic novels are usually self contained stories told in one book or a set of books and are not ongoing series.

This got me thinking, we’ve had all sorts of graphic novel adaptations, some of them good and some of them pretty crummy, but which ones have been the best? Listed below are my Top 5 Films Based Off of Graphic Novels . . .

#5 – Old Boy (2003)

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Loosely based on the Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi, Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s film of the same name is quite the twisted tale of revenge. I’m not going to lie, it’s the total 180 that this film pulls that got it onto this list. I remember the first time watching this film thinking it was going one way and then I get the rug pulled out from under me. Talk about mind blown. The way Chan-wook tells the story and how well he sets the table is was drew me in. That and the utter brutality in the film, the first I’d really seen like that, is what helps to make this film stand out.

#4 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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If there was only one thing I could say about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it would be that it makes me proud to have played video games at least for a time in my life. Based on the series of graphic stories by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the movie is jam packed with video game references and is so smart about the way it uses and portrays them that it’s no wonder that it holds a special place in the hearts of geeks everywhere. When you combine that with Edgar Wright‘s vision and style, the movie is truly unique and a love letter to video games, comics, music, and geeky pop culture. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gives us a glimpse into a world where real video game conventions (extra lives, power ups, restarting levels, bosses) do exist and is so awesome that it made me wish I could live in that same world as well.

#3 – Sin City

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Based on a few of the novels from the Frank Miller series, Sin City the movie is also directed Miller and Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids). The movie’s visual style is definitely what draws you in and for the record is really is quite gorgeous. The stylized black and white look with accent colors popping up every once and a while to add mood and tone to the film simply blew me away when I saw it for the first time. That combined with the engrossing and criss-crossing neo-noir crime stories that involve these checkered characters in this disreputable city really engages you. While comic book movies up till this point really tried to shy away from their paper based roots and go for realism, the coloring and stylization of Sin City made it truly feel like it was a ‘comic book movie’ through and through–and I thought it really worked for the film.

#2 – V for Vendetta

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There is just so much good stuff going on in V for Vendetta that whenever I see it on TV, I almost always get sucked into watching it. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the film version of V for Vendetta is an awesome example of when you take rich source material and create an appropriate adaptation. Themes in the film such as government having too much control, fear of the people warranting government protection, and propaganda spread by the government all underline growing sentiment that was going on in a post-9/11 world when this film came out in 2005. Add to the mix a very charismatic (and sharp tongued) character with a righteous mission in V and like I said, there’s a lot of stuff here to like. The film also has some snappy fight sequences with stylized use of V’s daggers that make him even more of a loveable folk hero. “Remember, remember the 5th of November,” from his lines of dialogue to the way he carried himself, though you never saw his face, Hugo Weaving did an awesome job of portraying V. From a strong lead character, to themes in the film that overlap with real life, to a fun story; V for Vendetta is a prime example of what a good graphic novel adaption should be.

#1 – 300

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While Frank Miller‘s graphic novel 300 isn’t the thickest tome, the translation from page to screen is really spot on. The way Zack Snyder literally took what was on the page, used green screen digital backgrounds and visual effects to create a visual look that was similar to what was on the pages of Miller’s book, the film adaptation is a visual spectacle to behold. Couple that with the charismatic portrayal of Leonidas by Gerard Butler and mighty Spartans would be forever engrained as pop culture icons. While the story is fairly straightforward, it’s the ferocity and undauntedness the Spartans exude on screen that get you pumped up and make you wish you were in battle with them. With a great visual style, colorful characters, and a never say die attitude, Leonidas and the brave 300 is quite possible the best film to have been adapted from a graphic novel.

——–

Of course a whole slew of graphic novels from a wide range of genres have had the film treatment; 30 Days of Night and Constantine from the horror genre, Road to Perdition and A History of Violence are period dramas, and American Splendor and Ghost World in the indie vein. While quite a few films were considered, in the end many didn’t make the cut. A few honorable mentions that just didn’t make it onto my list: Men in Black, The Mask, and i. If you have any suggestions on what should have made the list, sound off in the comments below.

While Snowpiercer certainly won’t be the last graphic novel to be adapted into a movie, it’s definitely one we here at Red Band have been looking forward for quite some time. Be sure you check it out this weekend at Consolidated Theatres Kahala!

 

26
Jun
14

Going Past Days of Future Past

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We should get a free pass cause we all got together.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I liked X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP). And I count myself as one of the hugest “mutant-and-proud” supporters of the franchise on the planet. Hell, I even liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine, amnesia bullets, ratchet Deadpool and all the rest of that nonsense. But unlike the rest of the planet, I don’t think DOFP was the best film in the franchise. (For the record, I reserve that slot for the more nuanced, sweeping, and socially relevant X2.)

SPOILER ALERT: Mind your words. We’re heading into spoiler territory. You’ve now been duly warned.

SPOILER ALERT: Mind your words. We’re heading right into spoiler territory. You’ve now been duly warned.

My biggest problem with DOFP: Nobody bothers to explain how they put Professor X back together after he literally fell to pieces confronting Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yes, the end credits for the latter film suggested he occupied another body but still, it was a different physical person. In the end credits for The Wolverine, the now whole Professor X tells Logan, “As I told you once before, you’re not the only one with gifts.” And that’s that. DOFP just plops a non-disintegrated Charles Xavier into our laps and goes on with the show. C’mon, there needs to be some explanation here, cause you know: THE GUY GOT OBLITERATED! That kinda exposition really matters.

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“When exactly do I lose my hair?”

(If you dig around online, reportedly in the commentary for the X-Men: The Last Stand DVD, it is explained that Xavier entered the consciousness of Moira MacTaggart’s patient, who just happens to be his twin brother. In the womb, the Professor’s overwhelming mind abilities just totally fucked up his bro. Fair enough, but since when did we have to research the internet for a film’s plotlines?)

Another franchise quibble: At the end of The Wolverine, where Logan makes friends and enemies in Japan, didn’t he lose his adamantium in the final fight? And keeping that plot point in mind, how does he have adamantium bones in the future in DOFP? Again, no explanation.

0626_03-WolverineAttacks

Rock, scissors, paper. Okay, go!

And mutant-logistically, while the scene was arguably the best sequence in the movie, doesn’t it seem Quicksilver is a bit too powerful? He may not have had an appealing sense of dress, but he really could have come in handy during the film’s many, many almost-assassination scenes. He just needed to run by and take the gun away from the person in question. In fact, he probably could’ve speeded up the film’s main flaw: Characters spent precious and long moments convincing each other that they had to do things to make the future a better place, or they shouldn’t do things that would ultimately bring on the end of the human race.

But then, I guess that makes me a dick cause the movie would be over in 60 minutes.

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Even in the past, there apparently was an Armani AX.

And on a purely personal and non-objective note, the end credits were initially confusing. They already announced the next movie in the series will be X-Men: Apocalypse, and it will feature the titular fearsome, totally buff-ass villain. What we saw was a child building the pyramids in Egypt in front of a worshipping crowd with four horsemen in the background.

Obviously this is Apocalypse Baby. I guess it’s just that I never imagined Apocalypse as a toddler. I mean, even The Avengers showed us what appeared to be the real Thanos. Would it have killed anyone to show us a glimpse of the real Apocalypse? Especially because in this day and age, he’s gonna be CGI anyway.

But enough with #100daysofhate. We could discuss the series’ inconsistencies till…well… the apocalypse, but in conclusion, I’m coming from a sincere place here. I genuinely care about these poor mutated characters. I mean, I think this is the most I’ve written about a movie in almost a year since my jaw-dropping shock at the collateral damage of Man of Steel. (This summer, even Godzilla had a nimbler touch around a city’s infrastructure.)

Again, X-Men: Days of Future Past was an entertaining enough film. I just want the coming apocalypse to be a little less bumpy.

25
Jun
14

Review: Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson takes a trip to indie town as she portrays an alien (?) on a mission to seduce men in Under the Skin.

Scarlett Johansson takes a trip to indie town as she portrays an alien (?) on a mission to seduce men in Under the Skin.

When you envision art house films, I’m sure many people conjure up things happening on screen that just make no sense. People doing things for no apparent reason, films that have very little dialogue, something with off the wall sound effects or score that just puts you in a really weird place. While movies that challenge the audience to think can put a moviegoer on top of the world, films that overdo it just make your head hurt by making the viewer ask the question ‘why?’ too damn much.

Such is the case with Under the Skin. While there is a very loose assemblage of a story, character motivations aren’t clear and the film challenges viewers to piece together what’s going on on their own. While my brains weren’t fried while watching Under the Skin, I did find myself scratching my head one too many times wondering what it all was trying to say. There’s definitely some high concept stuff going on here, and if I have to venture a guess some of it involves the exploration of what it’s like to be a human as well as sexuality.

So what exactly is Under the Skin about? Well, it stars Scarlett Johansson as an (for lack of a better term) otherworldly being in the body of woman wandering the Scottish countryside picking up men. While at first things appear to be sexual in nature, things take a dark turn when this being lures men into a dark space (literally) and under the pretense of having sex with them, kidnaps them to another dimension and destroys/devours/absorbs them. It’s really not that clear what happens to these unfortunate fellows that fall victim to this trap, but they go in expecting one thing, and never come back out.

While it may read as twisted, in the film things are a lot more vague with no real explanation given for why men are being lured into this space. What adds another layer to all this is that men who are chosen need to meet certain criteria to be selected–usually those who are unattached, live alone, and have no family. Are these types of men more sexually aggressive than others? Is that why they are being targeted? The film doesn’t really say, but it does give Johansson’s character serial killer like tendencies the way she selects men that probably won’t be missed.

Again I can’t be certain, but if I had to venture a guess, a big part of this whole thing has to do with Johansson and her peeps studying us humans. While a majority of the film is spent following her hunting down men, several other scenes in the film depict her observing reactions of ordinary people. One scene in particular she purposely falls down and just lies there on the ground. Passers-bye stop and offer assistance to see if she’s alright, but we never quite know why she does what she does. In another strange and creepy sequence, we see her stand idly by as someone drowns while another person tries to rescue them.

While a lot of this weird stuff goes on for more than half of the film, things change when Johansson encounters a man that is different from all the men that she’s selected previously. She seems to take to take pity on this soul and after the encounter her character and motivations seem to shift towards understanding what it’s like to be a human–as if she wasn’t doing this before. Things such as taste, what it’s like to be taken care of, what it’s like to have a sexual experience, and even what it’s like to be afraid Johansson’s character seems to experience for the first time after this pivotal encounter.

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One thing I will give the film huge credit for is its score. Right from the onset you are put on unnatural footing by the wistful and somewhat synthetic score. Throughout the film suspense builds with many long and slowly building notes that not only increase in volume, but in pitch as well. Coupled with the vague storytelling on screen, most of the time I had a heightened sense of awareness just from the score alone.

At the end of the day though, I was entertained by the technical aspects of the film more than I was the story; which for me is problematic. While I don’t think you’re supposed to relate or even identify with the Johansson’s character, without anyone’s motivations, I never understood where the film was really going. Was this otherworldly being ensnaring these men to feed off of them in some way? Was she doing it for kicks? Was she studying them? Was she exploring what it was like to be a human being? And why did this being have to look like Scarlett Johansson for?

While I think my second to last question might be the most insightful one, who’s to say with the vagueness of it all. Under the Skin is definitely a challenging film to take in, so I give anyone credit who ventures to check it out. Though it is very picturesque, well shot, and creates a wonderful sense of foreboding and tension with its score; I needed a bit more from the story to get under the film’s skin. For me, it was all above the surface really.

Cinematic Scene: Going Under the Skin

"Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

So what exactly does happen when men get lured by Scarlett Johansson‘s feminine wilds into another dimension? While this may sort of venture into spoiler-ish territory, in the grand scheme of the movie describing this scene doesn’t really give anything away. But, on the off chance you’re extra cautious, proceed with caution after the break . . .

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ScarJo is not amused by this SPOILER ALERT.

A couple of times in the film we see Johansson’s character lure men in to an alternate space that is completely black. While on several occasions we see both of them disrobe and the men sink into the floor, in one instance we get to see what happens after the guy gets sucked under. In the scene, the newest victim to succumb to the trap finds himself floating in a liquid like state. As he looks across the dark expanse he spots another victim, seemingly the last person that fell prey to the same trap. Though it’s dimly lit, you can sort of make out that the life seems to have been slowly sucked away from this guy since he looks wrinkly.

Then, before you have a chance to fully take in what’s going on, the guy vaporizes in a jump cut and in his place all that’s left is his skin. It just floats there like a deflated human balloon; eerily flapping back and forth with the current. It’s a really striking scene save for the fact that a dude was just vaporized. It’s also so abrupt that it keeps you off balance but at the same time blows you away as well. Technically its really creative and though creepy, there is sort of an elegance to it.

Under the Skin was released yesterday as a digital download via iTunes or Amazon. It will be released on Blu-ray/DVD on July 15.

2.5/5 stars // rated R // 1hr 48min

20
Jun
14

Jersey Boys REVIEW: I Don’t Love You, Baby

And the nominees are for Worst Old Age Make-Up...

And the nominees are for Worst Old Age Make-Up . . .

It’s an interesting move to release the adaptation of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys smack in the middle of the summer season, especially if the musical doesn’t star Adele Dazeem. On top of that, the film is about a doo-wop group whose core audience are probably baby boomers, not CGI-craving, catatonic young folks. And it’s directed by a man who talks to furniture. But improbably, it’s June and here we have Jersey Boys, directed by our favorite loony celebrity Republican, Clint Eastwood.

Of course it helps if you’re a fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the story documents their street thug origins, rise to fame, and their eventual dramatic dissolution. All the hits are also there: “Rag Doll,” “Working My Way Back to You,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and many more.

"Big boys don't have marbles in their mouth."

“Big boys don’t have marbles in their mouth.”

I saw the version in Vegas and as far as I can tell—full disclosure—or as far as my mother can tell, this version was just as enjoyable and true to the background material. In fact, this review is really all about my mother. And your mother. She is gonna love this movie. All those doo-wop tunes were from her time, not yours. During a highpoint, much hub-bub is made about playing “the song.” “Just play the song!” And Valli begins crooning those familiar lyrics: “You’re just too good to be true / Can’t take my eyes off you…” Somehow when we finally hear that hit though, it feels anti-climactic.

But then maybe it’s because I’m a non-objective 80s cinephile who can’t forget Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys bringing down the theater in a…well… fabulous montage sequence of the same song. There’s also the fact that the musical then goes on with one more act with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, complete with some truly atrocious old age make-up.

"See? That note right there? Eastwood wants us to talk to the sofa..."

“See? That note right there? Eastwood wants us to talk to the sofa…”

John Lloyd Young, who originated the Broadway role as Frankie Valli lacks a certain screen presence. Yes he has a nice voice and we see female, and even male members of the audience, in rapture with him, but once he’s not singing, he just looks kinda pouty. His performance probably went over better on the stage where he wasn’t at the mercy of Eastwood’s choice of unrelenting Les Miserables-style close-ups.

Only Christopher Walken manages to make an impression as a mobster supporter who, in the end, really doesn’t seem to do much to help them. But the actor manages to bring comic timing to his nefarious dealings.

It’s sad that the movie only truly comes to Broadway musical life during Walken’s scenes and during the end credits that has most of the cast dancing and singing down a street. The movie really could have used more of that energy. In the end, something is just wrong with the tone. At times it wants to be a hard edged tale of boys rising from the mean street of New Jersey and at other times, it wants to be the full fledged musical catalogue of the group’s hits with some slapstick mook comedy thrown in for kicks.

Or maybe I just didn’t get Jersey Boys because, as the movie keeps reminding us, I’m not from Jersey.

Jersey Boys is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

13
Jun
14

Review: 22 Jump Street

They got lucky the last time, now there's a lot of money invested to keep this thing going.

They got lucky the last time, now there’s a lot of money invested to keep this thing going.

When it was announced a couple of years ago that the TV series 21 Jump Street was going to be made into a movie, I’m almost positive that a collective sigh was uttered by just about anyone that knows anything about movies. I mean, we all know we’re living in the age of reboots, remakes, sequels, and franchises; but I don’t think anyone thought that a dated tv show from the 80s starring Johnny Depp would ever be referenced again, let alone be turned into a movie. Yet, in 2012 we were all pleasantly surprised that the new 21 Jump Street was such a breath of fresh air with it’s buddy cop premise and whip smart self referential humor.

Of course this wouldn’t be a true Hollywood moment if 21 Jump Street didn’t get a sequel. I mean, after all, it opened to critical acclaim and grossed a ton of money. Flash forward to today, and we have a sequel to a movie that not only pokes fun at itself and the genre, but it makes fun of Hollywood itself.

Right from the beginning we know that normal tv and movie conventions are going to be made fun of when the film begins with a standard tv open “Last time on 21 Jump Street . . .” and then proceeds to recap for us what happened in the last movie like a regular tv show would. While the recap isn’t so funny in and of itself, it is a signal from the directors that tell us “hey, we know what this sequel is, and we’re going to play with that expectation throughout the film.” From that moment on directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller not just return to some of the same comedic gags that made 21 Jump Street so fun; I almost want to say they turn the genre on its head and go full bore in making 22 Jump Street not just a continuation of the first film, but parody of epic proportions.

Giving it the old college try.

Giving it the old college try.

In an early scene of the film that setups Schmidt and Jenko’s new assignment, Captain Dickson (played by Ice Cube) not just lays out their assignment for them, but it also doubles as a jab at the hollywood studio system. Dickson outright tells Jenko and Schmidt that since they did so well on their first assignment, the department decided to upgrade their division and have Jenko and Schmidt go out for another assignment–in the same exact fashion. Dickson even explicitly states that they have “double the budget” for everything and tells the guys to “do the same exact thing as last time” to catch the drug dealer. If this isn’t making fun of the blueprint that Hollywood likes to follow for sequels these days then I don’t know what is.

Along the way the film takes shots at a lot of police, action, and buddy cop tropes as well. From Michael Bay’s signature ‘plane flying over Miami sign shot’ to a dig at John Woo’s doves, to the constant reference of the fact that this movie is a sequel; Miller and Lord pile on the satire and provide the film with so many high level laughs and references that it becomes to many to count after a while.

Meta jokes aside, on its surface 22 Jump Street does manage to pack in a lot of great humor. Playing on college stereotypes, relationship stereotypes between partners, sports stereotypes, and police stereotypes; a lot of the jokes are smart and funny, though sometimes not all of them land as well as they should.

As mentioned earlier the previous premise for the first film is recycled, though it’s given a good spin with the change of setting. Again though, it’s really the relationship between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill’s characters that provides a lot of the heart to the film. While we know Hill does comedy so well, again it’s Tatum that provides a lot of unexpected laughs.

Watch out, Jump Street is about to jump up in your crack.

Watch out, Jump Street is about to jump up in your crack.

While the first film looked at their partnership in terms of how much they needed each other, in 22 Jump Street we get to find out what happens when partners are together for too long. Do they rely on each other too much? Do they hold each other back? While Jenko and Schmidt go through similar arcs like they did in the first film, the circumstances this time around are different and provide enough differentiation that the trope of the ‘buddy cop comedy’ doesn’t get tired.

Finally, I’d be remiss if i didn’t talk about the closing credits of the film. There’s nothing spoilerish here, but the end credits basically call out studios for running amok with the sequel treatment for movies. In the same way 21 Jump Street ended with Captain Dickson giving Jenko and Schmidt their next assignment of going to college; this same scene is played out again, but taken to the Nth degree. This time around Captain Dickson continues to give assignment after assignment and each time title treatment is shown for the next sequel. After about 12 sequels were named, I stopped counting and just watched to enjoy the absurdity of creating more sequels. While I don’t think it would be impossible to make a 23 Jump Street, Miller and Lord pretty much set it up so that anyone that does will already be called out for trying to attempt something that is not original at all.

Overall I really enjoyed 22 Jump Street and while I loved all the high level references the film made, I don’t think everyone will get some of the humor that’s in the film. The conceit of rehashing the previous assignment also is a bit of a downer since we are covering familiar territory. However, I still believe 22 Jump Street is a hilarious movie that will make almost anyone laugh. As a follow up to its predecessor, I might even go so far as to say that this is one of those cases where the sequel is better than the original.

Cinematic Scene

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should definitely pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is a new element to reviews. In an effort talk about some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film I’ve decided to break off a specific section at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should definitely pay attention to.

In a really great scene that showcases Channing Tatum’s comedic chops and intersects with the creative minds of the directors, Tatum’s character Jenko is about to come to grips with a major revelation that connects Schmidt and Captain Dickson. While the audience already knows what it is and as Schmidt and Dickson talk about it, Jenko takes a few seconds for all of this to sink in.

When the realization hits of course Jenko’s reaction is priceless. However, keep your ears open otherwise you’ll miss the small ding of a bell going off signaling the exact moment that the everything clicks. It’s such a subtle effect, but it’s really great because it literally puts us into the mind of Jenko. In the few seconds before the bell goes off we get the sense that Jenko hasn’t quite figured things out yet. When the bell goes off it illustrates for us the gears turning in his head and makes the scene a lot more humorous.

22 Jump Street is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

4 out of 5 stars // R // 1hr 52min




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