Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Saturday Night Jive - Episode 36 - Chris Pratt Premiere

This week on Saturday Night Jive, we talk about the first episode of Season 40 featuring host Chris Pratt, blending into the scenery in an episode that is somehow both bland and vehemently annoying. Is SNL suffering from Weird Al Syndrome? Should it be cancelled after all these years? How bad can my impression of Harrison Ford possibly be? Find out!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Dirty Sons Of Pitches, Episode 95! Now Available

This week on the Dirty Sons Of Pitches we get all political, inspired by the release of Atlas Shrugged, Part Three. We also talk Fall TV premieres and the state of modern television, and play a new-ish game, a refined version of last week's game Five By Five. Enjoy


Friday, September 19, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirty Five! My Giant.

This week, Saturday Night Jive tackles Billy Crystal's My Giant, and it tackles back, hard. We struggle to make sense of a movie where half the exposition is revealed by a mush mouthed former basketball player who acts as well as he speaks, and the other half is translated with a heaping helping of Borscht Belt pseudo-charm. Is Billy Crystal the worst human being alive, or does he just play him in this movie? Find out with us.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Dirty Sons Of Pitches, Episode 94, Now Available!

This week on the Dirty Sons Of Pitches podcast, we take a look back at the summer movie season to see where it all went wrong. Also, genital wigs, Joan Rivers RIP, and a brand new game if you can believe it. (Note: Take my advice, do not search for Merkins in Google Images).


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Saturday Night Jive - Episode Thirty Four: Real Men

This week, Saturday Night Jive takes on the bizarre 80's action comedy Real Men starring SNL alum Jim Belushi and the late great John Ritter in an adventure involving a dominatrix, CIA clowns, aliens, and commies. It all kind of works, though we both could have done with less Jim Belushi.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

New Dirty Sons Of Pitches Episode Available! Now With Boobs!

This week on the Dirty Sons of Pitches, it's all boobs, all the time. We get all kinds of inappropriately titillated by the release of a treasure trove of celebrity nude pics, dubbed The Fappening by people who put way too much effort into naming stupid things. Hey, did you know that putting keywords into posts like Nude Jennifer Lawrence or Nude Kate Upton is something called SEO, or search engine optimization? Well I do. You're welcome.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirty Three: Man Of The Year

This week, Saturday Night Jive delves into the Robin Williams masterpiece Man Of The Year. We pay tribute to a fallen legend by tackling what may be his worst film, because that's just how we roll. And its a bad one folks, an attempt by non-comedy writers to write about comedy writers doing comedy. Oi. R.I.P.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Dirty Sons Of Pitches - Episode 92, Now Available!

New episode of The Dirty Sons Of Pitches is up. This week we talk Mistaken Identity movies in honor of Let's Be Cops, a movie neither of us had seen at the time. Pictured above, a gaffer, not jerking off a movie star.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirty Two: Mom And Dad Save The World

This week on Saturday Night Jive, we mourn the passing of a legend and promise to do a more fitting tribute next week. In the mean time, we take about a shitty movie with a pedophile and Jon Lovitz. Mom and Dad Save The World is the film Lovitz quit SNL to make. Find out if it was worth it (Spoiler: No, it absolutely wasn't).


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Dirty Sons Of Pitches Episode 91 - Now Available!

Check out the latest episode of the Dirty Sons Of Pitches, where we talk about, well that thing up there, or rather down there...Also, the death of a beloved entertainer. And pitches about Idris Elba's cock...I mean Other Planets.

Download Here

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirty One - Ghost Dad

This week on Saturday Night Jive, we take on the 1990 Christine Ebersole classic (also featuring Bill Cosby), Ghost Dad. We question the physics of ghostly existence, then criticize the movie for trying to explain them. We also get run of the mill satanists, deleted ghost sex, and a theory of racial allegory that kind of falls apart as soon as it begins. Its not as bad, or as good, as you might remember. Enjoy.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Cinema File #376: "Hercules" Review

One of the most pivotal scenes in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is when the starship Enterprise self-destructs. So powerful was this moment that the marketing department decided to show the whole thing in the trailer, over director Leonard Nimoy’s strenuous objections. This happens a lot, where elements of a film meant to be shocking or surprising are outright spoiled in the advertising, so much so that you have to hand it to them when they can keep their mouths shut. The new film Hercules has a twist that is central to its premise that you would never guess from the commercials, and that I must regrettably spoil to review the film. Unfortunately, this is the only thing the movie has going for it.

Okay, well that’s not entirely true. There is one other thing, and that’s Dwayne the motherfucking Rock Johnson, who I’m fairly sure actually is the immortal Greek demi-god of the title, masquerading as an actor playing himself. The fact that this country is still so racist that this walking ball of charm isn’t playing Superman, and I don’t just mean in Superman movies but literally every movie regardless of whether it makes sense to have Superman in it, should be held up as a point of national shame. The guy is awesome is what I’m saying. Perhaps too awesome as it turns out, as in the context of this retelling of the Hercules legend, he’s not actually supposed to be.

That’s the twist by the way. Hercules is not in fact the immortal and indestructible son of a god, but rather the mortal but still extremely kickass leader of a band of mercenaries, spreading the myth of Hercules as a supernatural force in the ancient equivalent of a PR campaign. Its a brilliant angle, reminiscent of the original script for Ridley Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood, which cast the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero, retelling a story we’ve seen hundreds of times before in a new and different way that justifies one more go. Still, its a hard needle to thread, potentially losing a lot of what makes the traditional Hercules story interesting, so only a director of the highest caliber should attempt it. Let me just check my notes to see who made this…

Oh fuck.

That’s right, this is a Brett Ratner joint. If you’re only vaguely familiar with the name, perhaps you heard it in the wailing cries of a million X-Men fans over the travesty that was The Last Stand. Or maybe you just have “Fratboy Dickbag” as a Google alert (for what I will assume are completely legitimate reasons). Ratner is the director that everybody thinks Michael Bay is. He’s Uwe Boll with a bigger budget, and one might guess from his public displays of bravado, a much smaller penis. He is the last person you would want directing any movie, let alone one with as ingenious a premise as this one, and he does not disappoint in being thoroughly disappointing, turning what could have been and by all rights should have been one of the best movies of the year into forgettable garbage you’ll soon be ignoring in your Netflix queue.

Its not entirely his fault of course, or rather, while his inept direction is comprehensibly terrible, even a good director would have needed a better script to make this idea work. One would think that the main conflict of this movie would be similar to a con film, just in an action movie veneer, with the characters constantly under threat of having their secret revealed. Instead, the movie basically forgets the con altogether, as the crew fully admit to the fraud as soon as they’re hired. How about forcing them to test their supernatural claims? Maybe instead of just facing off against a nameless boring enemy army, they encounter a rival playing their own game, but better. Nothing so interesting. Its one of those movies that starts out so novel that you assume it will be more clever than it ultimately is, so that its predictable plot turns are only cloaked by your initially inflated expectations.

Hercules is a film that does not deserve the few good things that set it apart from the cliched rut it tries so doggedly to dig for itself. It takes a golden opportunity to do something different and dare I say wholly original and squanders it on barely passable action sequences strung together by the flimsiest of connective tissue featuring backstory and incidental character beats you’re given no reason to care about. The characters themselves are often engaging only because the cast is so much better than the movie, but when they shine, it only serves to remind you of the much better movie this could have been. It wouldn’t have been that hard for even a marginally talented action director and maybe one or two more drafts of the script. But instead we got Brett Ratner and the writer of the The Lion King 1 and ½. In a year with so many great high concept action movies, such a failure snatched from the jaws of greatness seems particularly egregious.

Not mention, it actually manages to make The Rock look bad, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. Doom couldn’t even do that shit.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Cinema File #375: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Review

Over two years before its eventual premiere, the announcement of a live action, Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was met with some of the most ridiculous Internet amplified nerdrage in recent memory. Legions of devoted fans jumped up to decry Bay for once again raping their childhoods just like he did with those other movies that still always seem to make billions of dollars despite the betrayal, defending the artistic integrity of a joke premise that has been radically different in literally every one of its many incarnations across every medium, all because the already intentionally absurd title might now implicitly include the word “Alien.” If only they’d stuck to their guns. At least if they’d made them aliens, there’d be something interesting about this movie.

If I have to explain the story of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to you by now, you’re likely too old to give a crap, and if you have kids, chances are they’re going to make you see the movie regardless, and you still won’t give a crap. It seems to me that to make a movie about giant anthropomorphic reptiles who know martial arts and fight crime that’s this boring and predictable, you actually kind of have to try hard. Sure the elements are all there and relatively well known after so many relaunches and reboots, but those components are so crazy that I would think just setting to the task of putting them together into a story that makes any sort of sense should invariably lead at least to something entertaining as an absurdity. The juxtaposition of something so silly taken so seriously is supposed to be the charm of this premise, but here it is drained of all of its insane creative energy.

Even for a Michael Bay movie, which this technically isn’t  but might as well be, the plot is painfully paint by numbers. Girl in yellow finds the Turtles, Turtles meet and fight Shredder, Turtles win, sprinkle in references to pop culture and pizza throughout as needed. Even the few things that seemed exciting from the outset, like William Fichtner as The Shredder, are just disappointing. He’s not The Shredder, for the record, but rather a supporting villain aiding an actor we only see in shadows and who was likely cast for his martial arts training, which quickly becomes irrelevant once he gets in the suit literally the second time you see him and becomes a walking special effect. The cyber Shredder design is actually pretty cool, sporting Wolverine-like claws each as big as a sword that can be launched and magnetically drawn back at will. I assume even this change has die hard Turtle heads apoplectically shitting their pants.

Speaking of nerdrage induced defecation, the Turtles look a lot different this time around as well. Like, they have noses. You know, like the original characters did. And like, you know, actual fucking Turtles do. Admittedly, these new Turtles are a bit off puttingly ugly, but then I think they would be given their origins, and apart from the motion capture CGI polish, its all well in keeping with the darker portrayal of these characters in the original movie, which out of all of this property’s many incarnations is the only one that was ever any good anyway, and the only one that still holds up to this day. This movie takes place in our modern, post-Giuliani sanitized New York, far from the grimy wasteland that was its own character in the 1990 film, and the movie as a whole exists in the same context, where all of our entertainment has been scrubbed, homogenized, and Disney-fied. Even if its just a visual reminder of better times, it seems to me that a little ugliness is something to be commended. Its a shame they didn’t go any farther with it.

If Michael Bay had actually directed this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie instead of just producing it, perhaps his characteristic brashness and immunity to criticism might have actually led to it having some balls to do something new and different. Okay, maybe not aliens, but something. You almost have to feel sorry for the people behind it, given how resistant to change so many fans of this franchise apparently are. In the wake of the epic freakout, its as if all innovation was curtailed and the safest movie possible was spewed out instead. This is why we can’t have nice things. Fandom can sometimes be its own worst enemy, especially when it denies the need to evolve, which can only lead to stagnation and extinction. This is the movie the fans demanded, the same rote story we’ve seen a hundred times before, nothing too risky, just bland, inoffensive familiarity. I hope they're happy.

Also, still no Krang, and in case you were wondering, Megan Fox is still terrible. Figured that went without saying, but just in case, there ya go.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Thirty - Heartbeeps!

We watched motherfucking Heartbeeps people. Its the worst movie we've seen so far on this podcast, which technically is something we say almost every week, but this time I'm pretty sure it's going to stick. This might just be the worst movie ever made. And it stars Andy Kaufman, the guy who more than anyone else should have had a movie career but didn't, largely because of how shitty this movie was. Watch as he doesn't fight a bear, doesn't move his mouth when he speaks, and generally doesn't try in a movie that couldn't have been helped if he had. Also, Randy Quaid is in it, and drinks beer from a pouch. Enjoy.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Cinema File #374: "Guardians Of The Galaxy" Review

However much money Guardians of the Galaxy ends up making, and it appears that it will be substantial, it will be quite some time before it technically makes a profit. Oh, it’ll make back its budget and then some, if it hasn’t already, but to be truly comprehensive, one must include the $4 billion dollars Disney spent to purchase the Star Wars franchise, which in the wake of this film’s outstanding success both creatively and financially appears to have been completely unnecessary and shortsighted. There is no way that J.J. Abrams, for all his talent with popcorn cinema, could ever make a Star Wars movie even half as good as this movie, and that was true before the last minute re-writes to accommodate the broken leg of one of its many geriatric stars. In any case, now we have two Disney sci-fi franchises about rag tag anti-heroes fighting intergalactic evil. Do your best to pretend to give a shit when they trot out the other one.

The story follows Peter Quill, a misfit space pirate known mostly to himself as Star Lord, who teams up with a motley crew of aliens including a pair of bounty hunters, a renegade assassin, and a revenge hungry warrior to stop a fanatical warlord from destroying an entire planet. Quill is basically a slightly less handsome but thankfully age appropriate Han Solo, a planet hopping vagabond mostly out for himself since he was abducted from Earth in the 80’s. Never without his trusty walkman, he dances around the galaxy stealing anything of value, until he comes across one of those infinity stones we keep hearing about, forcing him and his similarly unscrupulous shipmates to man up and become the heroes literally no one, including the Guardians themselves, think they can be. Again, sort of like Star Wars, except with characters that are actually interesting.

Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the best Marvel movie released in the cinematic universe’s somewhat informal “Phase 2,” and easily in the top five best Marvel movies of all time, which is bordering on ironic considering how obscure the property is even to most hardcore comic book fans. Making a movie about the second incarnation of a group that didn’t even get their own comic until a few years ago is like making a Big Hero 6 movie (oh wait…), or an Ant Man movie (oh wait…), or a relaunched Howard the Duck movie (oh wait...okay, that’s still not happening). Its lack of significant connections to the rest of the Marvel universe in context, setting, and tone is its greatest strength, starkly separated from the increasingly homogenized mainstream continuity of the other films. No one on the business side ever thought it would ever be as big as it turned out to be, so no executives were invested enough to fuck it up.

The best part of Guardians is, well, the Guardians themselves, an ensemble where every character, even the drunken cybernetic raccoon and the giant tree monster who can only say his name, all have moments to shine and justify their importance to the story. It would have been so easy to make them one note cliches, all fitting stereotypical sci-fi roles that are instead cleverly subverted the longer we stay with them. The aforementioned raccoon, a wacky sidekick in any other movie, simmers with an inferiority complex just under the surface, and a stoic, self evidently bad ass warrior alien, basically a big shirtless tattooed Worf, becomes one of the funniest characters in the movie, his literal minded-ness making everything he says unintentionally hilarious. Just in general, the humor in this movie is on a level unseen in the Marvel universe up to this point, so central to the movie that it almost comes close to undermining the balls to the wall action we all came to see.

Most of the credit must go to the director James Gunn, whose sensibility it all over this movie, which isn’t as much of a given as it should be with Marvel films. As Disney insists more and more on cookie cutter executions for its films so they all fit together, Guardians is a fluke that may just right the ship and convince them to give more leeway to directors with unique visions in the future, even if the collective result of the franchise might feel a little bit disjointed in retrospect. Originally coming from Troma, Gunn is on paper the last guy you might expect to make any Disney movie let alone one with as much riding on it as this, which coincidentally makes him the perfect person to make a movie all about the last people you’d ever expect to go up against the series big bad Thanos and win.

Well, actually, they only face the main villain indirectly through his subordinates, notably Ronin The Accuser, a blue skinned tyrant upset over a treaty his people recently made with their ancient enemies. Following the old ways, he teams up with Thanos to gain the power to destroy them once and for all, and unfortunately that’s the most character development we get for a guy with a rather complicated backstory and personality in the comics. Its one of the few things in the film that isn’t chock full of creative ingenuity, standing out as the lone boring element of an otherwise rousing adventure that’s irrepressibly entertaining pretty much from beginning to end. As with most big budget sci-fi action movies, its basically a series of explosion fueled set pieces strung together by Save The Cat artifice, but its clever enough and wall to wall funny to the point where you barely notice how little actually gets accomplished. It isn’t as intellectual as Snowpiercer or even as novel as Edge of Tomorrow, but as mindless fluff goes, it’s hard to deny its charm.

At this point, to say that Guardians of the Galaxy is a must see is sort of redundant, as by now you’ve either already seen it, or have absolutely no interest in seeing it. All I can say is that if you happen to be in the latter group, maybe reconsider giving it a chance. Even if you’re not a huge fan of science fiction and all the lasers and space ships in the trailers put you off, know that this is actually one of the more relatable and heartwarming Marvel movies as well, more so than you might think for a movie with only one human character. I literally can’t think of a person who wouldn’t find something to enjoy in the film. Its so unabashedly crowd pleasing that I’d almost accuse it of pandering if it weren’t so earnest and exuberant in its desire to entertain. In a year that is shaping up to be one of the best for sci-fi movies in decades, it may technically not be the best, but its definitely one of the most fun.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What The Hell Did We Just Watch?: Sharknado 2

Yo gents, check out the latest episode of my podcast, a Dirty Sons of Pitches special What The Hell Did We Just Watch? deconstructing the sharktastic awesomeness of Sharknado 2: The Second One. Look at the above image of a man about to chop a shark in half with a chainsaw like its afterthought, then listen to my co-host Nate try to argue that this movie is boring, and know how intellectual bankrupt his position is.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Edwin J. Hill Productions Presents: Homegrown

So here's the video of the movie my friends and I made a couple of weeks ago. It's called Homegrown, and it was made for the Columbus 48 Hour Film Festival, an annual contest where groups write, shoot, and otherwise completely produce a 5 to 7 minute short film in two days. The genre we randomly picked was Sci-Fi, and the required elements were a (character) An Award Winning Gardener named Mary Phillips, (prop) A Wallet, and (line of dialogue) "There's Only One Way To Know For Sure."

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Cinema File #373: "Lucy" Review

Any review of the new film Lucy is likely going to make some mention of the 10% Brain Myth, the idea that humans only actively use 10% of their brains, implying that unlocking the other 90% might lead to our becoming superhuman. It’s a fun bit of pop pseudo-science that’s been thoroughly debunked for so long that it's kind of amazing that anyone would still base a movie on it, and yes, this movie is completely based on it, right down to a running clock of the main character’s progress every ten percentage points. Because there are still people who unfortunately continue to believe this garbage, it can and should be pointed out as a major flaw of the film, but the thing is, all told it might just be the least stupid thing about it.

Lucy is just a typical girl living in Tai Pei for reasons never explained or even commented upon, thrust into the world of underground drug smuggling when she is forced to become a mule for a mysterious blue substance. When the pack of drugs in her stomach bursts, she doesn’t die of an overdose as is usually the case in this situation, but rather develops super powers, evolving in the way one can only do in movies (individually and in a short time period) using her newfound gifts not for the betterment of mankind, but rather to get revenge on the people who gave them to her. It’s the kind of premise that much like The Purge sounds completely ridiculous on paper, but unlike The Purge, it doesn’t ultimately justify itself by providing the backdrop for interesting storytelling.

What we get instead is a protagonist who, once she gets her powers, instantly becomes a completely different but equally ill-defined character never developed beyond her penchant for reciting bullshit jargon faster than an old white bearded guy in a room full of TVs, wedged into what I can only assume is Luc Besson’s shallow attempt to update his own classic film La Femme Nikita for the post Marvel movie era. And God help us if this is the prototype for the next great female superhero movie everyone’s clamoring for. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see that happen as much as anyone, but not if it’s going to be like this. This is not representative of modern inclusive feminism. If anything its more like the worst caricature of 80’s feminism, all sharp shoulder pads and anger, basically aping the worst qualities of men, or in this case, male-centric action cinema.

Lucy suffers from what you might call the Superman Problem, which ironically rarely afflicts Superman except in the shallowest interpretations. The basic idea is that as a character becomes more powerful and unstoppable, they invariably become less affected by conflict and thus less interesting. Superman avoids this issue through his essential humanity; his greatest weakness isn’t kryptonite, but rather that the people he cares about do not share his indestructibility. Lucy is so divorced from humanity, killing innocents with abandon and seeing the world through the eyes of a god, that nothing can touch her. The movie tries constantly to create moments of suspense, but there is no antagonist or situation that can possibly pose any threat to her, so there are no stakes to anything that happens

Not to mention, the powers that make her so unstoppable are all over the place and often make no sense whatsoever. They try to use Morgan Freeman exposition to provide some context, but basically Lucy can do anything and everything, whatever the situation may require. Literally every scene where she displays her powers, it’s a different power, and apart from establishing midway through that she needs more of the drug to advance, no rules are ever established concerning what she can and can’t do. She’s the ultimate Mary Sue, just indefinably awesome and without flaw or defect (at least in the context of a movie where being willing to murder anyone who gets in your way is considered a good thing). All the characters around her only exist to look upon her in amazement at how awesome she is and occasionally express their mystification at how such a goddess can exist.

If the cause of her “evolution” had been magical it would be one thing, but Lucy tries to establish a plausible scientific rationale for itself, the sins of which go far beyond the 10% myth. I’m pretty sure that this super intelligent being doesn’t understand the difference between a cell and a molecule, and later on when she’s explaining her powers, she declares that math is not the language of the universe and in fact doesn’t exist at all, only time does. The first part at least is technically correct, in that math isn't a physical thing, but one of the scientists in the room should have gotten up to explain that we measure time WITH MOTHERFUCKING MATH! Ultimately, this is just a flimsy pretext for some third act time travel, which isn’t a spoiler because it adds absolutely nothing to the movie, except to steal a theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey in a shameless attempt to stand on the shoulders of a giant, and then piss on its head.

Lucy is the perfect example of what I was trying to get at in my review of Snowpiercer, which is to say it is the perfect counterexample of what lazy science fiction movies do when they have nothing profound or meaningful to say. It cynically asks its audience to shut off their brains, then proceeds to throw out junk science on top of faux-losophy (copyright stupidblueplanet) to fill them in order to sound smarter than it is ever capable of being. We’ve seen in films like Under The Skin and Her that Scarlett Johannson is better than this. Morgan Freeman, who seems like he’ll do anything for a paycheck at this point including Dolphin Tale 2, is better than this. Luc Besson, who frankly hasn’t made a great movie in almost 20 years, is better than this. And for that matter, pretty much every sci fi movie released so far in 2014 is by far better than this.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Twenty Nine - Crazy Enough

This week on Saturday Night Jive, we look at the obscure Netflix gem (?) Crazy Enough, a movie starring not one but two Chris Kattans in a wacky switcheroo comedy, minus the wacky comedy. Its pretty bad, and if we weren't an episode ahead, I might suggest that its the worst one we've seen so far (stay tuned next week for the actual worst). Still, this is something to behold, and highly recommend you don't behold it, but listen to our podcast about it anyway.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Dirty Sons Of Pitches: Episode 90! Now Available.

This week on the Dirty Sons of Pitches, the above image is regrettably relevant. Also, we talk Purge pitches, Hercules without magic, Tammy without a script, and a This Meets That hat without any movies in it. It's episode 90, so we're basically free wheeling it at this point.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Cinema File #372: "Earth To Echo" Review

Not a lot of people know that before he settled on the genre defining sci fi coming of age film E.T., Steven Spielberg's original concept was actually a horror movie called Night Skies, of which a cute alien befriending a young human was only one subplot. Almost thirty years later, J.J. Abrams took this idea and ran with it in Super 8, thinking he knew better than Spielberg even as he was trying to ape his style and cement himself as his heir apparent for a new generation. The result was a predictable and somewhat spectacular failure. In many ways, the new film Earth To Echo feels like the movie that Super 8 should have been, which isn't to say its anywhere near as good as E.T., though it may just be the best we're gonna get in an age so bereft of whimsy.

Earth To Echo is a found footage movie, which usually should be enough of a reason to skip it, except that right away it demonstrates a deliberate tack away from all the negative things we typically associate with the well worn faux-guerrilla format. For one thing, the special effects are of sufficient quality to suggest the shaky cam wasn't just a cost shaving measure, and right from the beginning, we get a solid and only slightly preposterous explanation for why everyone keeps making sure the camera is rolling, and just who edited all of this footage together in the first place. It doesn't reconcile all the logical flaws inherent to the gimmick, but at least it tries to justify itself more than most of them bother to do, and for someone who consistently rails against lazy found footage trash, the effort is much appreciated.

The story follows a group of kids who receive a series of mysterious instructions through their cell phones leading them to a diminutive alien robot they name Echo, who in typical E.T. fashion needs their help to get home. Its actually sort of a cross between E.T. and one of its better imitators, the 1985 film Explorers, sending the group on an adventure to build a mysterious device while dodging sinister government agents along the way. One nice twist is that Echo, clearly a child himself or at least childlike, has the ability to manipulate machines, combining commonplace technology into new forms and completely disassembling matter and controlling it technopathically. One scene shamelessly spoiled in the trailer has him tearing apart an entire truck and piecing it back together a few seconds later, representing only a few seconds that were more effective than the entire aforementioned Abrams film.

I bring up Super 8 because, as a fan of this somewhat esoteric subgenre of family-oriented science fiction, I find it especially disappointing to see this much better execution of a similar premise come and go with so little fanfare, shuffled between multiple studios, never quite finding an audience. In my review for Oz, The Great And Powerful, I lamented the loss of innocence and cinematic majesty that has been brought on by too much reliance on CGI, but Earth To Echo seems dead set on proving that magic and wonder can come out of a computer just as easily as Jim Henson's Creature Shop. It doesn't quite succeed, but it comes about as close as I think any movie is capable of getting in this day and age. Found footage is supposed to be more immersive, but all too often it only serves to highlight our separation from what's happening onscreen, and I can't help but wonder how much better this movie could have been if it had been filmed more traditionally, in a way that allowed for its world to be more warm and inviting.

Earth To Echo's biggest problem just so happens to be the one thing that makes it novel and interesting. Its stuck going in two different, diametrically opposed directions, tonally evoking the past but narratively dependant on modern technology and the shallow expectations of today's shaky cam loving younger generation. Its not quite old school, but has just enough of the right feel to let you forgive some of its flashier, cheesier elements, even as they undermine what should have been the heart of the thing. But it does have heart, which is so often lacking in today's family movies outside of the best of Disney that I still say its worth the struggle to dig it out under a mountain of cringe-worthy attempts to appeal to low attention span kids glued to their I-Pads. It may not be the kids movie I want it to be, but then I'm almost 30, so the fact that I'm as invested in that prospect as I am is starting to get pretty creepy anyway.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Cinema File #371: "Snowpiercer" Review

At its best, science fiction has to be more than just crazy, high concept gimmickry. Literary sci-fi lives or dies by its intellectual acumen, but the visual medium has allowed science fiction cinema to all too often dispense with making its audience think in favor of flashy but shallow visceral entertainment. Even when this is done exceptionally well as in this year’s Edge of Tomorrow, it always feels like something is missing from the equation. The new film Snowpiercer, criminally consigned to a small theatrical run and VOD, sets out to prove that this divide between smart and entertaining need not be an either or proposition, effortlessly blending thought provoking and socially conscious ideas with some of the most engaging action and suspense you’re likely to see all year, resulting in a movie that is everything a great sci-fi film should be.

Snowpiercer follows the last of humanity after an ill-fated attempt to prevent global warming freezes the Earth. The rest of us remain on a high tech super train, the Snowpiercer of the title, endlessly circling the planet, its people segmented into a class system where social status is aligned geographically. Those in the front represent the rich and sophisticated (the top 1%), while those in the back represent the rabble, left in squalor and only kept around for those few, mostly children, who are regularly taken for mysterious purposes. A revolt led by a reluctant anti-hero leads to an escalating war of attrition as an increasingly smaller group of rebels travel car by car in the hopes of seizing control of the engine, learning dark secrets about their tiny encapsulated world with each level of advancement.

The film is the English language debut of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, best known to American audiences for redefining the Giant Monster movie years before Gareth Edwards with The Host (not to be confused with the terrible Stephenie Meyer movie of the same name). What The Host did for its genre, Snowpiercer does for post-apocalyptic fiction, instantly ranking as a modern classic alongside the best of the canon. It uses its dark futuristic setting not just to provide an interesting set-piece for its many action sequences, but to actually say something about the present, which sounds almost too obvious until you think about how many sci-fi movies waste perfectly good opportunities to do so. Leave it to someone from a whole different country to perfectly encapsulate our nihilistic class war politics and Randian social darwinism as public policy.

But if you’re not interested in the politics or social commentary, Snowpiercer still delivers as a dystopian action adventure piece even if you ignore all of the substance. Structurally, the film feels like a live action anime in the best sense of that comparison, its world implausible but completely believable, and its characters ranging from deadly serious to absolutely cartoonish with no disconnect from the reality the movie creates. The tone it establishes is so engaging from the start that there is no plot turn too insane or too depressing to take you out of it or stop you from having fun. The reveal of what their food is made of would just in itself be the final twist to an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but Snowpiercer is the kind of trip that throws it out at the end of act one and just keeps going.

2014 has been a particularly good year for science fiction and the slate of upcoming movies in the second half only looks better and better, but as of now at least, Snowpiercer is the one to beat, and its hard for me to conceive of what might do it. It is unlike anything you are going to see this year or likely in many years to come, wholly original and yet instantly relatable. Nothing about the narrative is predictable and the payoffs are many and uniformly satisfying. Rarely is there a movie that I might deign to call perfect, the closest in recent memory being my favorite movies of the past two years, The World’s End and Pirates: Band Of Misfits respectively, but I have absolutely no problem placing Snowpiercer in that category. Its a cliche, but there’s nothing else to say except that if you see no other movie this year, make it this one.

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