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Europa Report (2013)
Horror B-Movie Masquerading as Sci-Fi
Billions of dollars spent for the first manned mission to Europa, and the first words spoken from the surface are, "I can't believe I'm here!"
This is essentially a movie about how a bunch of screenwriters travel to outer space. There is no science here, there is minimal attempt to explain gravity on the spaceship, and even less to explain all the other numerous scientific questions such a journey would entail. Wardrobe questions are answered, food questions are not. A character is allowed to go wandering around on the surface when her oxygen is already low. These are not decisions intelligent people make-- this is a big dumb slasher movie with (1) no slashing, and (2) a budget higher than it deserved.
In a slasher movie, normally intelligent characters suddenly make a monumentally stupid decision for no reason, resulting in their death. And while one or two of these decisions are debatable, mostly they're just out-of-character moronic for no reason other than it movies the plot along (during moon missions, astronauts gave the lander an external once-over to make sure they were good to go. But we're not doing that on Europa in 2013? One more gigantic hole in a screenplay full of them).
The direction is hit-and-miss, sometimes allowing the actors to put emotion behind long streams of technical jargon, when these are (supposedly) scientists on a mission, not buddies on a field trip. The performances are as good as the director allows them to be, but none of that matters because this is a big dumb horror movie with no horror, that is pretending to be smart. It's not. 4/10 (including bonus point for convincing Sharlto Copley to be in it).
Top Gear USA (2010)
Rough First Draft
Top Gear US is currently rockin' a 4.1 on the IMDb. While it is a shallow echo of the original and brilliant UK series, it is by no means deserving of such disrespect.
The first season of the show aired Nov. 2010-Jan. 2011. I did not watch nor hear of it until May of 2011; I do live in America, but I'm just not a big watcher of the History Channel. I'd heard there was going to be a US remake, but it took so long and internet news kept changing and contradicting itself, I just forgot about it and assumed it would never happen, and if it did, it certainly wouldn't be good (especially if it was on NBC).
So I sought out that first season a few months later, just to see how it went. The results? Not terrible. But there is room for improvement. And the show obviously knows it.
The pilot is terrible. There is no chemistry between the hosts, the scripted, heavily-edited patter is insulting, and nobody seems to know anything about cars. But, what the hell, the season was 10 episodes, so I stuck with it. That first show featured a field piece that was kind of fun, so maybe there'd be more of those? As the season went on, the field pieces got better, and the chemistry of the hosts improved. The show stopped insulting my intelligence, and I was genuinely entertained watching the guys hang out, and wished the show would rely more on that, instead of the still-obviously-scripted (but by now less frequent) studio throwbacks. Clearly the producers adapted as the show went on, and I've heard it said on these boards that the first UK series wasn't very good, either.
The hosts have their own issues: Adam Ferrara seems to know nothing about cars, frequently picking New York City staples for off-road tests, when any moron with a junior high school degree would know you don't drive a Coup de Ville through the woods. He's a New York boy and made no effort to educate himself. On the flip side, Rutledge Wood actually did work with cars prior, on the Speed Channel, and while he knows his techs and specs, he's still a good ole boy from the country at heart, and as such, made the exact same "homer" mistakes as Ferrara. Wood and Ferrara's ignorance wasn't endearing, as on the UK show when James May or Jeremy Clarkson screw something up... it's frustrating, because this is a car show, and I should not know more than the hosts.
Tanner Foust is obviously a car guy, he's worked on movies, he's a professional drift racer. He makes for a charismatic host, but he needs somebody to play off of, and the show doesn't offer that. On the UK series, there's a clear leader... Clarkson runs things and May and Richard Hammond are allowed to chime in. Here we have three really polite personable guys who have no strong opinions or, if they do, are not allowed to express them.
Episode 9 features an Alaskan Adventure, showcasing "the great American pick-up trucks." And while I respect that's the theme, a 4th truck-- a Toyota-- was brought as a back-up in case one of the American cars broke down. There was no effort made to talk about the Toyota, to discuss its pros and cons, to compare it to domestic trucks. I felt like I was watching a propaganda film for the US auto industry, and that made me want to rate the show a lot lower than I did. The entire point is to talk about ALL cars, not just what's convenient. And to be honest and objective, and not suck up to companies who might be advertisers.
If you're interested in the concept, or just a fan of cars, or Top Gear, stick with the UK show. But the first season of the US version was an experiment, an audition, a first attempt. It's enough to make me want to watch a season 2, and hope they replace either Ferrara or Wood, preferably with someone who can teach me something about cars. How about a female? Would that be so bad? 60% is passing and I give it a 6/10. But that's still a D. Stop giving them copy and let them talk about cars, and if they can't do that, they don't need to be on this show.
Sucker Punch (2011)
What If You Spent $50 Million on a CGI Man Taking a Dump?
It's kind of difficult to comment on the movie, without just writing, "Terrible," and clicking the submit button. To write a good comment, one must write WHY it is terrible... but where to begin? If someone came into your home, and defecated in the middle of your living room, would you need to explain in a calm manner, three reasons why the person was wrong for doing such a deed? No. You'd toss them by their ear out onto the street, left with the unenviable task of having to clean up. Perhaps you'd even call the police.
If, on the other hand, you spent $50 million (or whatever the budget was; it was too high, in any event) to have someone take a CGI dump in your living room... is that any better? There are three actors in this movie: Scott Glenn, Jena Malone, and Carla Gugino. Four, if you count Jon Hamm, but he's not in the movie long enough to matter. There are these three, and everything else is there to talk until it's time for another special effect. Jena Malone isn't even required to do any of these things, but because she has actual experience as an actress, bothered to create a character and reflect an emotional state during the 'story.' Everyone else just showed up, put on the costumes, and talked until the director said 'cut.' Vanessa Hudgens should have been a clue.
Even if the story is awful, unmemorable, or predictable (Suckerpunch is all three), other Hollywood movies may rely on memorable action sequences or visuals. In a movie roughly 100 minutes long, these action sequences take up roughly five minutes of screen time. Then Snyder detonates an explosive in New York. Again.
It's not so much that Zack Snyder hates audiences, it's just that he's incredibly naive, like a 12-year-old suddenly given the keys to his dads liquor cabinet. He wants you to like a character, he makes them female and puts them in a low-cut top. He wants you to hate a character, he makes that character a rapist or molester of children. He does this again and again; these appear in every movie he's ever made, save for his first (and best) film, "Dawn of the Dead," which was written by someone else entirely. Someone who understands subtlety and character development. Realize, too, that I'm saying this about a movie where a smarmy rich dude accidentally chainsaws his most recent sexual partner.
Whatever fancy visuals made it to the trailer, the movie is this: Zack Snyder wrote a script with his camera-man, and it is neither funny nor exciting. It's a 100-minute demo reel, and considering this is his fifth movie, he really should have actually created something with weight, by this point.
I'm not going to call the police, but I am going to be mad for a week, because even though I've cleaned my floor, the smell lingers on. 3/10.
Tropa de Elite (2007)
Michael Bay's "Full Metal Jacket"
When rating or reviewing an American movie, the process is simple: Decide how much you liked the movie in a scale of 1 to 10. Usually this pertains to how much you enjoyed the story, or the style of filmmaking, or the actors. Most American movies are made for mass consumption.
On these terms, "Elite Squad" succeeds because it's a well-told, fast-paced story, told with the simplistic, high-on-adrenaline documentary style of filmmaking. There are a few good shots, but mostly the director just cares about getting in the face of the viewer, and quickening their pulse. For the most part, he succeeds.
But, this being Brazil, we must also look at the movie from another perspective: What is it trying to say? For certain, you can just ignore the politics of the film and focus on the gun battles, but there are long scenes of cops with their wives and girlfriends, or going through training, which for the "Squad" of the title, is really more like boot-camp.
I don't live in Brazil, I have never been to Brazil, but from my perspective the politics behind the film are shockingly naive. The characters claim to be fighting this great evil, slowly caving under the pressure of being the best cops in their nation, surrounded by corruption and dishonesty on all sides. And at the same time, they routinely lump in hard drug users, pimps, pot-smokers, and abortionists in the exact same category, while ignoring blackmail, bribery, and having beers after work. The film is not trying to say something about these cops-- it agrees with them, the protagonist spending the entire film training possible replacements, speaking passionately about the top two candidates via voice-over narration, as he hopes and prays the new squad leader will run the squad in exactly the same way as it was before.
If Brazil is this conservative from top to bottom, no wonder it's falling apart. "City of God" made us look at the favelas, the type of life their residents live in every day, and how hard it is to escape. It made us feel, and made us sympathize. In "Elite Squad," there is not a single redeeming character, and every male in it destroys countless others for his own selfish needs... while each and every woman and child is just there to get in the way, or else serve as punching bags.
The criminals are psychotic, the cops equally so, with innocent bystanders caught up either in the middle, or ignoring things from the sidelines. If director Jose Padilha is trying to tell us anything, it's "Brazil is an awful place, populated by awful people." I'm sure that's not true. But as long as the body count keeps stacking up, why would the audience care?
Filmmaking: 8/10 (its current IMDb average). Politically, 4/10. Bill O'Reilly would love this movie, because its message is even more idiotic than any movie Michael Bay ever made: "If we can only arrest or kill every pimp, every pot-smoker, every prostitute and every person who has an abortion, the country will be great again." Not only is that an impossible goal, it's the statement of an insane person. Compared to this, "Transformers" is positively intellectual.
Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005)
What If It Wasn't a Biopic?
I remember when this movie came out, it was universally panned across the board. "50 Cent can't act," "The script is terrible," "The dialogue sounds like it was written by a third grader," "What's so special about 50 Cent that he needs his own movie?" I stayed away from it for years, but then I happened to watch my first Jim Sheridan movie recently, "The Boxer." It was well-acted, well-crafted, the tone was consistent and dark throughout the movie, while illuminating the viewer into a world that he or she may never have seen before, all while putting well-rounded characters through the ringer. This plus universally positive reviews of every Jim Sheridan movie except this one, made me wonder if IMDb users (statistically mostly white teenagers) weren't just hating on this movie out of typical cultural bias. If you run down the list, after all, most every "urban" film, regardless of quality, gets a pretty low rating on this website. Sometime it's deserved. But sometimes it isn't.
"Get Rich or Die Trying'" isn't a terrible film, and is far better than the current 4.1 rating it currently holds, which would put it on par with Uwe Boll movies and any post-Oscar Nicolas Cage movie. While it isn't Citizen Kane, it's better than all of those, a well-crafted drama that could be enjoyed by anyone, whether or not they enjoy rap music.
Can 50 Cent act? He's not terrible. At no time does he look like he's reciting lines, and his natural charisma plus Jim Sheridan's direction makes for a passable performance. He's not better or worse than, say, Mark Wahlberg, who has a similarly limited range, but has utilized it to great effect.
Is the script terrible? No. It gets clichéd in parts (the beginning of the first flashback is the most over-used cliché in movies like this, and was parodied over a decade ago in "Don't Be a Menace..."), but overall tells a tight, fleshed-out story that wavers only periodically between poetry and cheese. 90% of the time, it walks the line between the two and does a credible job. Every character is well-drawn with their motivations clear, with the notable exceptions of Charlene and Bama. The script makes no effort to show who they are or why they act the way they do, and while the actors work to show depth to what's on the page, ultimately it is a large flaw in the film-- but this is no better or worse than any other Hollywood film, that fails to give dimension to even one female character.
Is 50 Cent worthy of his own movie? Look. He's not Elvis. He's not the Beatles, or Johnny Cash, or NWA, or Jay-Z. His music is middling at best and even in 2011 he's still a one-hit wonder. So if 50 Cent isn't as towering in the music game as all these others, the question we must then ask is: Is his story worthy of being told, if Marcus were played by someone other than Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson? The dude was shot five times and lived. His mother died on the streets. He made it out, and made enough of an impression to get a movie like this one made. Even if you don't like his music, it's a story we don't often see, and one worthy of being told... not unlike 'The Boxer.' There's a moment early on, in the first scene, where our main characters are riding to a robbery, and 50 Cent is playing on the soundtrack. We catch Marcus himself lip-syncing to the radio... in essence, lip-syncing to HIMSELF. I don't think that's a coincidence. The music is Any Music, the time is Any Time. It's a dramatic epic and reflection of a specific time, with painstaking detail used to recreate music, culture, and fashion, of a culture we don't see often given respect on film. Yet despite the specifics, it manages to remain a universal story for any community that has to face this kind of violence, and Jim Sheridan clearly knew this when he signed on.
Upon the films release, teenagers may have been expecting "Scarface," and this wasn't it. Adults may have been expecting a typical urban violence-fest, and stayed away... but the film wasn't that, either.
Ultimately, despite some fantastic camera-work, Sheridan didn't make art on the level of 'The Boxer,' and certainly not on the level of 'My Left Foot,' 'In the Name of the Father,' or 'In America.' But 4.1? It certainly deserves better than THAT. Six years on, and the film is no longer a publicity stunt made solely to peddle CDs... it's just a movie, and a good one.
Hawaii Five-0: Lanakila (2010)
Some questions: first off, why does the Five-O get their own logo in this episode? They started calling themselves the Five-O as a joke, starting in the last episode. Now it's painted on the floor of their HQ. Nice use of tax dollars.
Second, how can a waitress at a café in Hawaii afford a brand new 2010 Chevrolet Malibu? Maybe I should move to Hawaii.
Third, why does the bad guy keep shooting hostages, even after the knows the cops are after him? Did he not want to leave a witness, even though he knew he was already being chased? Plus he fires off a gun in the middle of a crowded bank, when he's already trying to keep a low profile. Worst. Bank robber. Ever.
Other than that, this episode holds together better than any other episode since the pilot. The action was fun, 3 out of the 4 leads get some character development this time around, and the helicopter chase wasn't completely ridiculous (except for the awful CGI).
I dug the bit with the sister. I didn't dig the bit where McGarrett plays ten points of prison yard basketball but somehow fails to break a sweat. Still, this is better than any show with "CSI" in the title. 8/10.
Hawaii Five-0: Malama Ka Aina (2010)
Still Playing Catch-Up with the Pilot
After a pretty well-put-together pilot, I was pretty angry to see such a mess of an underwritten, poorly paced second episode. I was ready to write the show off completely, but at least this third episode made an effort.
It still has the hindrances of a typical police procedural-- minimum character development, necessary coincidences to streamline plot resolution-- but at least it was an entertaining hour of TV. More so than episode two.
With the exception of Danno, no character is really given much growth, though they put forth a medium amount of effort for Chin (Daniel Dae Kim) this time around. Good, but not great. Bonus points for Max Casella.
Hawaii Five-0: Ohana (2010)
Makes the Pilot look like Shakespeare
Dug the pilot. Written by screenwriters returning to TV, and directed by film director Len Wiseman. This show could be the rare remake that works, I thought.
Episode 2 was generic TV crap of the easiest kind. Every show that fails makes the same mistake: shoot the pilot, make it good, get it picked up, then pawn off the rest of season 1 to inferior writers and directors. Episode 2 fits that cliché so neatly, I almost turned it off, but suffered through it just to say I gave it the chance.
The direction is lazy, with long scenes of uninteresting talking, shot as flatly as possible, before the next action sequence that (unlike the pilot) turned out to have little or no meaning. The ending can be seen a mile away. Even though the Governor gave our heroes carte blanche to do what they "had to do" to catch the bad guys (in the pilot), no explanation is given why our heroes can't just call the cops in on this case, since an important guy is kidnapped for his hacker skills. Our heroes find him thanks to random coincidence, our heroine finds out who the spy is thanks to random coincidence, and the Asian characters are ignored by the white characters except when it's time to give orders.
This is why remakes get cancelled. I'll give Episode 3 about twenty minutes, but if it's not interesting, then I don't care what the rest of the show has to offer. It's not fun, it's not funny, and only Scott Caan even bothers to play an actual character. I'm out, and I suspect the rest of America will be by mid-October.
Gangs of New York (2002)
An Absolute Mess
There's over 1000 comments on the film a this point, so I can't say I have anything new to add or any new point to argue. The characters are exceptionally weak, and the screenplay reeks of a vanity project written by committee.
After watching "The Deer Hunter" for the first time a few months back, I was looking through criticism for that film, and recall one critic of the time saying that given too much money and time, it is entirely possible for a filmmaker to become so self-important that he could literally climb up his own ass.
More accurately, in her review of "The Deer Hunter," Pauline Kael spoke thusly: "(It is) a small minded film with greatness in it... with an enraptured view of common life... (but) enraging, because, despite its ambitiousness and scale, it has no more moral intelligence than the Eastwood action pictures." The consensus of that film, released around the same time "Gangs" was conceived, was "Its (The Deer Hunter) greatness is blunted by its length and one-sided point of view, but the film's weaknesses are overpowered by Michael Cimino's sympathetic direction and a series of heartbreaking performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken."
"Gangs of New York" is precisely all of these, except without the great acting performances. Daniel Day-Lewis goes beyond superb and achieves something even greater, but the film around him is so ambling and weak (despite spectacular production-design), that there's still no reason to watch it. A different filmmaker made the far more wise decision of letting Day-Lewis chew scenery as a lead and not as a supporting player, and that entire film was lauded with praise and positive reviews it richly deserved. "Gangs" deserves none of these.
DiCaprio, though still a commanding presence, remains a weak actor without an ear for accents, as in this film he is only occasionally Irish. He feels it is his job to simply arrive on set and glower (or cry), and Scorsese is content to let him. The film is weaker for it, despite grand performances from every supporting actor, including Cameron Diaz. There is no shortage of attractive blondes in Hollywood, but even in 2002 she was aware she'd better put something on screen besides her piercing blue eyes, and shockingly, she does... despite the incredibly meager material. She is charming and damaged all at once, from the first time we see her until about 80 minutes into the film... the instant her character has sex with the hero, she becomes a glorified extra.
The entire film is similarly rambling, with no direction or clear plot. We're vaguely aware our hero wants to kill the man who killed his father, but he is given the chance several times and does nothing. In voice-over, we are told, "You don't kill a King alone in the dark, but in front of the entire Court," but of numerous chances given, some of them are indeed quite public. None are taken, as Amsterdams reasons for not doing so exist only in Scorsese's head, and not anywhere on screen.
Scorsese must have known this was a mess, because he pushed back the films original release date by a year, in order to keep working on it (something unheard of, and a concession that could only be made to a director of his reputation). He's made three more films with DiCaprio since then, and "The Departed" is easily the best of them, though by no means even in the Top Five for Scorsese's once-storied career.
If you're a fan of DiCaprio's strong presence, or weak acting, or his toned abdominal muscles, there are other films from not just Scorsese but other directors as well. If you are a fan of Day-Lewis' chameleonic transformations, there can be no other option but "There Will Be Blood." If you are a fan of violent history lessons, the 21st century has given us The History Channel.
The IMDb trivia section says Scorsese wanted to make this film in the early 1980s, but the failure of Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino's follow-up to "The Deer Hunter") caused studios to shy away from making big-budget, expensive historical dramas. Miramax should have done the same in the early 2000s, because there's nothing great about this film, and the only reason it got made is not because of any perceived greatness of Scorsese... he got here simply by outlasting all the rest. Maybe he's a little less Amsterdam, and a little more Bill, after all... in which case we should thank him for his past services, and hit him with something heavy if he keeps trying to make any more movies.
5/10, would not recommend to anyone, not even fans of Scorsese's.
The Pink Chiquitas (1987)
Spoiler Alert: Everybody Stays Dressed
I caught this years and years ago on the USA Network, at something like 3 a.m. At the time I was young and impressionable, and I thought I was watching something very dirty indeed. There wasn't much to see, but I was convinced I was watching an edited-for-TV version of a soft-core masterpiece. Did I mention I was young?
Years later I saw the thing on DVD (WHY is this on DVD?), and figured, what the hell. And, well... to call this thing PG-rated is being generous. There had been ZERO editing for that basic cable airing. No one get naked, and there wasn't even any swearing that I could recall. Even the underwear is pretty chaste.
The acting is terrible, the writing is embarrassing, the lighting/costumes/makeup are beyond amateurish, and the "music" (written by Frank Stallone himself!) is instantly forgettable. So if your plot is a pink meteorite that falls to earth and turns the local women into Amazonian nymphomaniacs... wouldn't the only possible saving grace be having naked women in your movie? (or, for the two women in the audience, at least one attractive male?)
There is NO skin, no jokes, no movie... The only reason this exists is so you can see the title on the IMDb and say to someone, "Did you know Sylvester Stallone had a brother? Who was in a movie?"