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punisheroverlode

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Lockout (2012)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Tries for 80s action, B-movie fun but ends up only with the B-movie part., 11 November 2012
4/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's been a while since there's been a decent 90s action movie throwback. Lockout has all the ingredients of a genre film – a wisecracking, reluctant anti-hero that's as obnoxious as he is indispensable; a would-be damsel in distress who can actually hold her own alongside said hero; hordes of faceless goons for the hero to beat on; a menacing antagonists (prison break mastermind Alex and his lunatic second-in-command and younger brother Hydell) and a ludicrous setting (the US-owned prison spaceship MS-One for the eminent ass-kicking to take place on. The big problem with Lockout though is that said key ingredient – ass-kicking – isn't here.

That an action movie has flat characters, a cookie-cutter plot, second-rate acting, and similar offenses that would ruin works from other genres is pretty much accepted by most moviegoers. God forbid though, that an action movie not deliver enough action. The Expendables, the most recent attempt at a B-movie action throwback, was awful by most cinematic standards but it knew what it's job was – entertain the audience with gunplay, explosions and general mayhem and violence as delivered by the biggest ensemble cast since… Valentine's Day. It might have taken a bit too much pleasure in its B-movieness and consequently missed its mark but at least its goals were clear – entertain.

Not so much for Lockout. It's difficult to tell whether Lockout wants to establish itself as a legitimate, first-rate action movie or a high-octane, low-substance B-movie romp. Instead, it falls down somewhere in the middle path, a quick route to mediocrity.

Lockout has a few things going for it though, namely the casting of the lead roles. Where Taken made an action icon out of Liam Neeson (whom most audiences hitherto recognize as that guy who saved all the Jews in Schindler's List) Lockout makes a star out of a guy who's most famous for playing the thin, sickly amnesiac protagonist in Memento. Guy Pearce is definitely not anyone's first pick for an action star, having done more indies than blockbusters, but he pulls off the role with aplomb and steals almost every scene he is in. Ex-CIA agent Snow's got it all – a devil-may-care attitude, more one-liners than you can shake a boomstick at (and they don't get old either), is almost as competent with his fists and firearms as he is with his wit, and has a humane and vulnerable side. Maggie Grace's character, (of Lost and Taken fame, the latter of which is another Luc Besson film) First Daughter Emilie Warnock, has a great rapport (or lack thereof) with Snow, as the idealistic yet sober-eyed foil to Snow's glib cynicism. She is definitely not the average damsel in distress, nor is Snow your typical knight in shining armor. The personality differences and "anti-chemistry" make this duo's back-and-forth a giddy pleasure to watch, more so than that of any ensemble cast's this side of the Whedonverse.

At the end of the day though, Lockout just doesn't have enough "action meat" going for it. It's got a nice big budget of $30 million, which bought some nice CGI (the scene where we see the cells with the prisoners locked in chemically-induced slumber is especially impressive) but the scene that's most likely going to stick with the audience is an early car chase sequence that looks like it was lifted from a bad Xbox sci-fi racing game. Disorienting camera angles and rapid-fire cuts alone don't make a good action scene nor will it disguise a bad one. The sets become hollow, lifeless backdrops when there's no engaging action happening in them. The scene where Snow has to float across a massive mechanical canyon to get to the First Daughter, just praying the gravity generator below doesn't fail him, brings to mind Mission Impossible but with none of the nerve-wracking tension. Also, one would think being trapped on a prison spaceship with hundreds of inmates recently awoken from chemically induced slumber is at least a bit claustrophobic but the sequences have about as much gravitas as an elementary school game of hide and seek.

And while everything is going to hell on MS-One, there's a subplot involving a mysterious briefcase and the circumstances surrounding Snow's criminal charges, which culminates with a twist ending, but it's a largely inconsequential afterthought that does nothing for the main arc.

Good antagonists can often redeem an ailing movie and Lockout does have quasi-mastermind Alex, who exudes menace and authority and his younger brother Hydell, the resident predictably-unpredictable rapist-murderer-psychopath. They get some great scenes where they terrorize the prison staff and various hostages but disappointingly they never face off against Snow. In fact, the two end up turning on each other, which might have been a shocking turn of events in another film and maybe even a good writing decision, but in this movie, which sorely lacks real action and confrontation, it's a misstep that puts the final nail in the coffin.

Shame (2011)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A work of astounding beauty on one of the most ugly and taboo topics in society., 11 November 2012
9/10

Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a successful young urban professional in his thirties. On the surface he has it all – a well-paying job, a nice apartment – but beneath this veneer of normalcy he is struggling with sex addiction. When his estranged sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), unexpectedly moves in with him, Brandon is forced to confront just how much of a toll this addiction has taken on him.

Shame (a word that is literally derived from an older word meaning "to cover up") emphasizes nakedness and layers, physical and social. Brandon's appetite for sex is a secret to everyone except his sister and the numerous women he beds. He is so consumed by his desire that he becomes an alien to others and himself. There are definitely people around him who are similarly promiscuous but none are as dominated by lust as Brandon is. Sex is only a part of their lives but for him it is his life.

It's not that Brandon is oblivious to the fact that he's addicted to sex. Like so many addicts, he is painfully aware of the damage his craving is doing to his professional and social life but he is just unable to resist them. He throws away his voluminous stash of pornography and his laptop but the next day he takes an attractive co-worker to a hotel to have sex with her. He stops in the middle of intercourse with her, realizing that he's crossed a line, only to bring a prostitute into that same bed minutes later. This is a man so in thrall of his lust that he has become his own personal voyeur, a captive passenger to his desires and the turbulent rides they lead him on.

Shame wisely avoids making any sweeping moral statements about sex addiction and lets the cinematography, sound and acting speak for themselves. Indeed, the film gets more of its expressive power from what is implied instead of what is explicitly revealed.

The cinematography in Shame beautifully captures this sense of alienation and emotional distance by rarely having the camera zoom in on the characters. It almost always stays at a voyeuristic distance from some odd, uncomfortable angle. Dialogue and sound are also cleverly manipulated. Brandon is a quiet, almost socially awkward man. Even when he does speak, there is so much more being expressed in his body language than his words. Around Sissy though, he becomes less reserved if only because he is lashing out at her. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give utterly heartbreaking and nuanced performances. They convey an incredible depth of emotion not just in dialogue but also in their body language – a sideways glance, a forced smile, a deep stare. When there is no dialogue, it is often music that fills the emptiness. And in these sounds, we get a better look into the deep melancholy and yearning in these characters that just can't be expressed in words.

Shame is one of those few films that manage to communicate deep emotion with such artful minimalism and effortlessness. It's a beautiful experience made even more profound by the darkness and complexity of its subject matter. Shame is truly a rare cinematic gem.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Trades in hand-held cameras and unrelenting terror for a chainsaw and the occasional laugh or two between killing zombies., 11 November 2012
6/10

Rec 3: Genesis, the latest installment in the Rec quadridology, abandons the found-footage style and serious tone of the original films in favor of a more conventional shooting style and a morbid sense of humor.

Where the first two took place in an apartment Genesis is set in an estate where a wedding party is taking place. Add to that, the shift from the previous found-footage style of the original to the traditional camera style. The original Rec films managed to capture a palpable sense of claustrophobia and chaos unlike the wave of imitators that came after whom used the hand-held camera conceit as a budgetary crutch and a way to squeeze out cheap scares. It's as if Genesis is Paco Plaza's reaction to the flood of found-footage horror films.

Genesis takes its sweet time trudging through the first act before all hell breaks loose and it pops the timeless question of "Can you kill someone you love if they turn into a zombie?" Luckily for the audience, Rec 3: Genesis provides a bloody good answer. When the action gets going, it gets going. Freed of skewed angles, blurred shots, and general shaky-cam hijinks, Genesis is able to display kills in vividly gruesome detail. The movie manages to throw in a whole gauntlet of killer toys, from your standard-issue chainsaw to a massive sword that's meant for cutting cake (go figure) but is uncannily effective at dismembering zombies. Take away the props however, and the kills are still satisfying. A good 'ol face-eating never gets old.

Genesis has its dark and gory moments but it's also a lot more playful and humorous than its predecessors. It's got a clever nod to the series' found-footage roots in the form of a professional cameraman who enthuses about capturing "cinematic quality" to the young nephew of the groom who is documenting the wedding with a hand-held camera. Then there's the child entertainer who dresses up in a Spongebob Squarepants suit but calls himself SpongeJohn (unrelated) to avoid copyright issues. And then there's the scene when Koldo, after narrowly escaping a horde of zombies by hiding in a church, discovers a suit of medieval armor and various weapon. What happens next, I leave to your imagination.

Rec 3 has stylistic gore and death in spades but not nearly as much substance. Zombie films are typically light on plot and character development and Rec 3 is no different. Despite the film spending a good 20 minutes of its first act in acquainting us with the characters, they do little to earn our sympathy for when they meet their untimely ends. When the zombie genre has been around for decades, filmmakers should almost be out of excuses for creating flat characters. Still, underdeveloped characters don't undermine a zombie movie as much as they would a work from another genre and Genesis does a damn good job of entertaining otherwise.

The conventional shooting style and offbeat humor might turn off fans of the previous Rec films but Genesis is an entertaining and surprisingly clever romp that walks the fine line between not taking itself too seriously and becoming a self-parody better most other zombie movies. A good time for fans of the genre but not essential viewing for those who aren't.

The Divide (2011)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Feel-bad movie of the year., 11 November 2012
6/10

Few movies will leave you as thoroughly disgusted and depressed as this one and in my book, that's a good thing.

Director Xavier Genes, most famous for his work in the French horror film Frontier(s), is not stranger to dark subject matter and The Divide is no exception.

The movie is mostly set in a fallout shelter in New York. In the first few minutes we see the city obliterated. Several explosions in the distance, one massive flash and then nothingness. A small group of survivors manage to get into the fallout shelter in the apartment complex, owned by Mickey (played by Michael Biehn of Terminator fame) the paranoid and bigoted superintendent and former 9/11 fireman.

Mickey quickly makes it clear to the other survivors that though they are on his property, he does not trust nor care for them. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie – hostility and paranoia.

At first the group's concern is communicating with the outside world – finding out who set off the bomb, seeking help from whatever government force is available. As days pass, however, their concerns become simpler – how to ration out dwindling food supplies, how to kill time and keep from feeling trapped within the grimy confines of the shelter, how to stay sane, how to retain their humanity… The group is fighting a losing battle against an enemy much more insidious and elusive than the one that set off the nuclear bomb and slowly but surely their minds turn on them.

And then they turn on each other.

The Divide is a truly tense and disturbing experience from start to finish. Few films create such a gripping atmosphere of filth, dread, nausea and, claustrophobia like this one does. It sinks its teeth into you and doesn't let go until the very end. There's no shortage of gore and grossness but rather than overwhelming the audience with all that nastiness, the movie lets those elements punctuate the psychological violence the characters inflict upon each other rather than become the central focus. It's a difficult balancing act but The Divide pulls it off.

The movie is not without its flaws however. One significant event that happens quite early in the film and sets the rest of the events in motion (no, it's not the nuclear explosion) is never properly explained. Some members of the cast are clearly more competent actors than the others though none are blatantly poor.

Despite these problems, The Divide is a solid movie. People who are fond of happy endings, the triumph of good over evil, cupcakes and sunshine and etc. should probably find another movie to watch. Those of us who delight in post-apocalyptic thrillers, human-on-human violence, or misanthropy and general unpleasantness however will be in for quite a treat.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The ultimate experience in mindf***ing terror and hilarity., 11 November 2012
9/10

Every once in a blue moon a movie comes along and blows your mind. The Cabin in the Woods is that movie.

Most horror movies are cannibals. Coprophagic cannibals, to be precise. They eat up genre conventions and clichés and crap them back out for filmmakers and the audience to consume. What we end up with is the same regurgitated turds with slightly different stinks. To be fair, there are movies out there that play up horror clichés and still manage to be plenty entertaining. Insidious, Hatchet, and Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell come to mind. Those films are the minority however; most modern horrors are uninspired turds.

On the surface, The Cabin in the Woods seems like just another one of said turds. The movie synopsis is this: five archetypal college students (the jock, the nerd, the stoner, the slut, and the virgin) decide to take a trip to a cabin in the woods for a fun-filled weekend of beer, partying, and sex. Once they finally reach the cabin, they stumble upon something in the basement that they shouldn't have and promptly unleash hell upon themselves. If this synopsis reads like the setup to countless horror films, it's because it is supposed to. Those who are familiar with writer-director Drew Goddard and writer-producer Joss Whedon's genre-bending work in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel series, however, know better.

One of the reasons why The Cabin in the Woods is so good is that was written by individuals that have a deep love and understanding of the genre. Whedon and Goddard know the utility and appeal of horror tropes, but also see how they have stagnated the genre. Stupid teens that go into the basement when common sense tells them not to, stupid teens that decide to split up when the group is attacked, stupid teens that decide to go out to investigate what that strange noise was… The genius of Cabin is that it takes these rules and assumptions about how the protagonists behave in horror films, hacks them up, and then assembles them into an eerily familiar but ambitiously unique beast.

In keeping with horror tradition, The Cabin in the Woods delivers the plenty of nightmarish monsters and gruesome kills. The movie defies tradition, however, by providing characters that are actually have personality and sympathetic. In a genre where the characters exist solely for the purpose of getting butchered for the audience's delight, Cabin has truly achieved something special. Each member of the gang gets their chance to shine and subvert their respective stereotype but it's ultimately the stoner, Marty (played by Fran Kranz who also starred in Whedon's TV series Dollhouse) who steals the mainstage show. Behind the scenes however, it's the two technicians Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) who bring the most laughs.

Cabin also manages to be absurdly hilarious while still delivering the scares. The only other recent film that can make that claim is Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, his spiritual successor to the seminal first two Evil Dead movies. Whedon and Goddard understand something that most people don't – that horror and comedy share a good deal in common. They make or break themselves depending on the setup, can get away with portraying the most ridiculous and offensive things, and are specifically calibrated to get a visceral reaction.

Horror and comedy aren't just limited to pushing people's buttons. Good horror and comedy can sometimes give them something to think about it. The term "meta" has used a lot to describe The Cabin in the Woods. It's a half-accurate label because while the movie is definitely a critique of horror but it doesn't have to resort to being self-referential to make that statement. The problem with "meta" films is that they typically ruin one's suspension of disbelief by being self-referential and deliberately poking fun at itself but Cabin's main conceit (which I will not spoil for you) itself is a perfect metaphor for horror film and allows the movie to critique the horror while still remaining serious and believable itself. Cabin takes a mirror and points it at the audience to ask some serious questions but desensitization to violence, manipulation, the importance of narrative to human culture, and more but it does not make the movie a mere vehicle for the message or trivialize the story and characters themselves. The commentary and content are one.

If there is any flaw to this movie, it's that it isn't that scary. There are a few "boo" moments and definitely plenty of blood and gore but you're probably not going to find yourself peeking through your fingers. The Cabin in the Woods gets a pass though because it does everything else right. It might not make you leap out of your seat but it will certainly keep you on the edge of it. It's entertaining, smart, thought provoking, funny, original, and most importantly, memorable, things that are hard to say about most other mainstream movies, not just horror.

Like the tagline says, you think you know the story, but really, you don't know squat. Go watch this movie, have a laugh and a scream or two, then get your brain matter splattered over the theater wall. You'll love it.

I promise.

Creature (2011)
Sorely disappointing, even by B-rate, slasher movie standards., 11 November 2012
3/10

Creature is a movie that's not ashamed to admit it's a throwback to clichéd monster and slasher flicks. This is not something that I have a problem with.

Creature ticks almost all the required boxes for a genre movie. A group of college-aged friends going out on a trip to some backwoods locale? Check. Creepy and suspicious rednecks? Check. Nudity and premarital sex? Check. Strangely elaborate and detailed legend for the film's monster/serial killer? Check. A monster/serial killer that's actually menacing, a high body count and numerous gory and brutal deaths? Not quite.

Like I mentioned earlier, I don't have a problem with a movie plays up genre clichés. What I do have a problem with, however, is a movie that plays up a genre's clichés without delivering its unique thrills. Simply put, the actual creature in Creature was boring.

One would expect a movie starring a half-gator, half-man monster named Lockjaw (because we all know the monster is the main attraction in this type of movie and that the "protagonists" are just humanoid chew toys) to feature some nasty deaths but Creature just doesn't deliver. He looks fearsome enough but his kills are just boring since his preferred method of inflicting pain is to simply pound and stomp on his victims.

There's not much else to say about this movie because there simply is not much to it. The acting is surprisingly decent by genre standards, the characters are likable enough for you to almost wish they didn't die painful deaths for our amusement, and the plot does its job in keeping you awake until it's time for people to die. It's just that when they do, you won't sit up and pay attention. There is literally nothing memorable or even exciting about the deaths in Creature. The most memorable kill in my opinion wasn't even done by the monster and if there's one sign that a monster movie has not done a job, it's a human character being more interesting than the monster.

For all its earnestness and delightful indulgence in genre clichés, Creature just doesn't deliver the gory fun it should. Go watch Hatchet instead.

Skyfall (2012)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
An admirable attempt to make an aging series modern and relevant again, though not a successful one..., 11 November 2012
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I should preface this review by saying I'm a relative newcomer to the Bond series. My first encounter with Bond was with Pierce Brosnan's final portrayal of the character in Die Another Day, which I saw in cinemas with my parents back in 2003. I've seen most, but never all, of The World Is Not Enough and snippets of the Roger Moore and Sean Connery movies on late-night television.

If I had to pick a movie that defined Bond to me however, it would be Casino Royale. As impressionable as I was back when I saw Die Another Day, I always felt Pierce Brosnan was a little too perfect. Daniel Craig, though, had the right amount of grit and darkness to balance Bond's charisma.

So how does this relate to Skyfall? Well, in the 50 years of the franchise's history, I've only been around for 18 of them and to date I've only seen 4 of the films in their entirety. I'm familiar enough with the series that names like "Dr. No", "Q", "Moneypenny", or, um, "Pussy Galore" and "Octopussy" don't completely fly over my head but not enough to associate them with anything deeper than superficial pop culture recognition.

In other words, that Skyfall marks the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's character and is the 23rd installment in the series, simply doesn't strike me as all that, for lack of better word. Curious situation to be in, then, when Skyfall is, quite explicitly, a celebration of Bond's history.

The movie certainly isn't shy about referring back to its history; nod-wink lines like "You know the rules of the game. You've been playing it long enough," or "The old ways are the best" are generously spread throughout the movie. If that doesn't quite spell things out, consider quips like "What did you expect, an exploding pen?" which are too specific for me not to assume it's a reference to, despite not knowing what to or the brief cameo of the Aston Martin DB5. Skyfall is a film heavy with nostalgia, which becomes a problem when the subjects it tackles are contemporary.

Early on in the film, James Bond is accidentally shot in the field and deemed killed. 6 months later, after seeing a news report on a bombing in MI6 headquarters, he returns to England, ready for duty. One wonders what Bond did in that half-year's time (besides shagging attractive locals and drowning himself in booze) and what went on his head, but whatever it was, it left his skills rusty. Bond returns to England as a husk of his old self. He fails his psych evaluation, his physical evaluation, and his marksmanship test yet M lets him back into the field.

M and 007's relationship is what drives the emotional heart of Skyfall and I feel it's where the movie succeeds. Theirs is a relationship that doesn't less about what is spoken, but what isn't. Neither character is about to wear their heart out on their sleeve. Skyfall fortunately, does a good job of capturing this dynamic.

What it has trouble with however is telling a convincing story about Bond's death and rebirth. It's not long after Bond's resurrection that he's back to kicking ass, walking into a lion's den and not only emerging unscathed, but capturing said lion as well. It's quite a transformation, and not a terribly believable one, when throughout most of the movie we are supposed to believe that Bond is a man on the ledge, that he's getting old, that he's no longer the agent that he used to be. That divorce between what other characters say Bond is like and how Bond actually behaves undermines any sense that he is any of those things. For the most part, Bond carries on like he's in his prime – singlehandedly dispatching groups of faceless thugs, plowing through women like it was the last days of Rome, and dishing out one-liners like nobody's business.

Skyfall is a success though when it comes to telling the story of Bond's adversary. The previous two movies, for all their merits, lacked memorable villains. Not the case when you have Javier Bardem on board. Cyberterrorist Silva is simultaneously captivating and disturbing. It's the perfectly coiffed hair dyed bleach blond, the gaudy clothing, the eloquent and accented speech, the little physical and verbal quirks, and a creeping sense that he's not all quite there mentally. Any more eccentric and Silva becomes a caricature but Bardem wisely doesn't overdo and nails his performance. This is a Bond villain that will be remembered for a long time to come.

The action set-pieces are merely okay this time around. The opening chase in Istanbul gets the excitement going but the final shootout in Bond's childhood home is disappointing - all gunplay and explosions but no real sense of danger. If there is an action scene that's sure to be memorable, it would be 007's brawl with French assassin Patrice in a high-rise building in Shanghai, with images of neon-blue jellyfish and other sea creatures flowing past on the building windows.

Bond also gets to visit some pretty cool places when he's not killing people as well. The traditional Shanghai-styled, floating casino Macau, complete with lanterns and wooden boat ferries, is quite a sight to behold.

There's no doubt that Skyfall is the best-looking Bond film in the Daniel Craig series, but sadly it's not the best story. 007's character development doesn't hold up well, there never really feels like there's that much at stake, and it struggles to reconcile its desires to both honor some of its more over-the-top traditions and become gritty, relevant, and realistic in the way that Dark Knight was. Still, Skyfall does boast some impressive action and visuals, has produced the most memorable villain the franchise has seen in a while, and leaves us with some exciting storytelling possibilities in the future.