Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Confession

4/4

Starring: Chris Pine, Cameron Daddo, Peter Greene, Lukas Behnken, Bruce Davison, Tom Bosley, Kate Vernon, Adam Bussell

Rated R for Some Violence

The best thrillers are not about plots, but about characters.  Characters that are put into unenviable circumstances and struggle to get out of them as the nooses get ever tighter.  While movies like "Seven" and "The Silence of the Lambs" have their pleasures, movies like "Confession" are in some ways more potent because they're about people that have the same impulses we do.

Luther Scott (Pine) is the troublemaker at St. Michael's Prep.  He'll lie and con just about anyone for booze, drugs or porn (for the right price), has zero respect for authority, and does whatever he wants (including visiting his girlfriend at the sister school).  But when a party he throws soils the reputation of the school for a powerful senator (Robert Pine, Chris's father), Luther and his roommate, Robbie (Behken) are expelled.  When Luther realizes that the school's dork, David Bennett (Bussell), is the one who ratted him out, he decides to get even.  Things quickly spiral out of control and David ends up dead from a fall.  Luther confesses his crime to Father Michael Kelly (Daddo), a well-liked priest with a mysterious past.  His soul is in the clear, but his mortal life is very much in doubt, until the detective (Greene) becomes convinced that Father Michael is the killer.

I can't really remember the first time I became aware of Chris Pine.  I feel as if it was before I saw him in "Star Trek," but I guess not.  Regardless, he has become one of the best young actors out there, and this is his best performance, not to mention the most difficult role.  Luther is not a particularly likable character.  He's a self-pitying jerk who manipulates his weak-willed best friend to the point of ruining the poor guy's life, and that's just the start.  In a way, he reminded me of Enid from "Ghost World," in the sense that he doesn't like or care about anything (except that he's a likable guy ruled by adolescence instead of being a sadistic bitch). But Pine is especially talented at making nasty characters sympathetic, even likable.  This can be seen in "Star Trek" and in the criminally underseen "Carriers."  Due in part to intelligent scripting but mostly Pine, Luther becomes a character we feel for and care about despite everything.

The supporting cast is top-notch.  Cameron Daddo is good as the soft-spoken Father Michael, whose refusal to tell the truth, even if it means saving his skin, comes from within.  This wasn't the case of him doing it because the script required him to, I really felt his tearing of the soul, but also fully understood why he says nothing.  Lukas Behken is very good as Robbie.  Robbie is in many ways the most tragic figure.  He's not a particularly strong person, and being friends with Luther can only lead him to trouble.  He looks to Luther, who is more self-assured (or seems to be) for a way out, but ends up getting himself in deeper.  Peter Greene, much less sleazy than he was in "The Mask," is very good as the detective whose past history may cloud his judgement.  Bruce Davison, Tom Bosley and Kate Vernon are solid in supporting roles.

The film was written and directed by Jonathan Meyers.  When he made the film (which is loosely based off of Hitchcock's "I Confess," unseen by me), he was in his early twenties, and wrote the script when he was 14.  The fact that he got the film made that young is nothing short of amazing, and it's all the more impressive considering that the film is a near-masterpiece.  The film is almost flawless.  Some of the scenes don't land as well as they should, and there are a few very minor blemishes, but nothing worth fussing over.  The film looks incredible as well.  It's deeply atmospheric and full of color (there is a gorgeous shot of a girl running through the rain).

Some movies make you wring your hands in suspense.  Others make you feel like you got hit in the gut.  This one does both.

Note: the R-rating is befuddling.  There is some, but not much, and not at all graphic.  Plus, as Roger Ebert frequently pointed out in films such as this, this deals with the implications of such actions, rather than as a throw away.  This film should have been a PG-13.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Usual Suspects

2.5/4

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollack, Benicio Del Toro, Dan Hedaya

Rated R for Violence and a Substantial Amount of Strong Language

"The Usual Suspects" is a mystery so convoluted that it essentially requires a play-by-play synopsis to figure out what is going on, or more appropriately, what really happened.  An unreliable narrator, a plot that doubles back on itself and forces you to step back and analyze whether what you saw is the truth...the film is never dull.  But it's also often incomprehensible.

27 men are dead on a pier in an apparent drug deal gone bad.  But the $91 million haul wasn't even there.  There are two survivors: one, a severely burned Hungarian criminal named Arkosh Kovash (Morgan Hunter) and the other, a meek con-artist with cerebral palsy named Verbal Klint (Spacey).  Having been granted immunity, he's on his way out the door when he is stopped by Customs Agent Kujan (Palminteri), who wants to know the fate of cop-turned-criminal Dean Keaton (Byrne).  Verbal tells how he, and four other criminals were arrested for a lineup, and after a small job, ended up running head on into the notorious criminal Keyser Soze.

The acting is solid on all fronts, with one special mention.  The actor who has the most screen time is Kevin Spacey (which is ironic, since he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar).  Spacey is good, as always, but the one who is more memorable is Stephen Baldwin.  When he's over-the-top and energetic, he's not particularly menacing, but when he's low key (which is usually the case), he's a study in intensity.  He uses his eyes to absolutely chilling effect.

I really liked how writer Christopher McQuarrie and director Bryan Singer develop the villain Keyser Soze.  Any movie can say that the bad guy is ruthless and a total psychopath.  They can even show it. But it takes skill and care to make the mere mention of his name chill the audience to the bone.

Sadly, the film's plot is often incomprehensible.  Due in no small part to its structure, the film is very confusing, especially early on.  The flashback scenes are easy to follow, but the verbal repartee between Verbal and Kujan is not (partly because there's a lot of metaphors and wordplay).  In a way, the film is a lot like "Inception;" you kinda sorta think you know what's going on, but you're not sure.   That being said, Christopher Nolan is a superior writer to Christopher McQuarrie and a better filmmaker than Bryan Singer.

While one needs an outline to follow the story, it's not completely without merit.  Far from it in fact.  As I said, the performances are strong across the board, the score by John Ottman is excellent, and there is some genuine suspense and menace in the film.  I can't recommend it, but by all means go ahead if you think you're up to the challenge of picking apart the movie while you're watching it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HellBent

2/4

Starring: Dylan Fergus, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips, Hank Harris, Bryan Kirkwood

Rated R for Strong Horror Violence and Gore, Sexual Content, Language and Drug Use

I suppose it's only fair that since there are so many crappy horror movies featuring straight characters getting butchered that there be one with gay characters ending up in the morgue in various ways.  Actually, for a slasher movie that appeared to have been made for next to nothing, "HellBent" isn't half bad.  It looks like shit (not that that's an excuse..."Halloween" was made for $325,000 in 1978 dollars, which comes out to almost $1.2 million today, and that's pretty cheap), but at least writer/director Paul Etherage-Ouzts) knows how to make the most of it.  The shot selection is reasonably dynamic and there are some truly creepy scenes.

Eddie (Fergus) would be a cop had he not lost an eye in an accident.  I guess it makes sense that he's the worrywart of his group of friends.  They're going to a carnival for Halloween.  Eddie is extra cautious since the night before two gay men were brutally murdered nearby.  His friends, Tobey (Phillips), who is going in drag, Chaz (Levitas), a bisexual, and Joey (Harris), a gawky kid who is going in leather, are not so wary.  One by one, they are hunted by a mysterious man in a devil helmet carrying a nasty sickle.

Acting has never been a strong suit in the horror genre, and "HellBent" is no different (although considering how popular campy movies are in the gay community, that may be the intention).  The worst of the lot is Dylan Fergus, which is a shame since he's the protagonist.  Fergus' background is on the soap opera "Passions," and that's immediately obvious after watching him for two minutes on screen (he's cute, but untalented).  His co-stars are much better, although special mention has to be given to Matt Phillips, who's despondent plea to the killer (Matt, of course, doesn't know this yet) for some attention, earned a little of my sympathy.

Apart from the gay slant, this is a fairly ordinary slasher movie.  Characters do some amazingly stupid things, most aren't alive for the end credits, and there are gobs of gore.  None of them get naked, however, which is a hallmark of most slasher movies (pre-1990).  I suppose that's not surprising since the MPAA is so skittish about gay-themed movies (not that this movie had a chance in hell of being picked up for distribution).

"HellBent" isn't great, but compared to other horror movies, it's decent enough.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great Gatsby

3/4

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke

Rated PG-13 for Some Violent Images, Sexual Content, Smoking, Partying and Brief Language

The thing that made Jay Gatsby so interesting is that despite his unbelievable charisma and all we know about him, he remains an enigma.  It's only at the end that we realize that we don't know much about him.  We understand what drives him, but there is still a huge aura of mystery about him.  That is what makes him so compelling and so maddeningly captivating.  The best thing about the film version is that it remembers this.

Nick Carraway (Maguire) is a midwesterner looking to make his fortune in the financial business selling bonds.  He's a writer, but he abandoned that because the lure of quick and insane amounts of cash was irresistible.  He moves into a cottage across from his cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), who is married to the extremely wealthy Tom (Edgerton).  But his cottage is also right next door to the mysterious Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio).  At one of Gatsby's famous parties (they make Spring Break look subdued), he meets the man and they become quick friends.  It turns out that Gatsby had a love affair with Daisy five years ago, but due to the war it ended abruptly.  Gatsby is convinced that she is still in love with him, and will leave Tom to marry him.  Things don't quite turn out the way he expects.

A lack of closure can drive a person mad, especially when the situation ends abruptly.  Whether its a loved one who was murdered and the culprit is never caught, or a relationship that comes to a halt in an instant, it can be insanely frustrating.  That's what happened to Gatsby.  He was deeply in love with Daisy, so deeply that his feelings for her took on a life of their own.  His life zeroed in on getting her back, and he is unable to believe that anything between them has changed, and as Nick points out, "you can't repeat the past."

The biggest problem with the film is, ironically, Leonardo DiCaprio.  When I heard that he was cast as Jay Gatsby, I was wary.  DiCaprio is an outstanding actor capable of brilliant performances ("Titanic" and "Blood Diamond" are two of his best), but he's miscast.  DiCaprio is an emotional actor, while Gastby, at least how I imagined him, is aloof and more of an enigma (when I read the book in high school, I saw Hayden Christensen as Gatsby...only with more talent and a strong director).  He gains our sympathy on charisma alone.  We feel for him in a haunting, and cerebral way, not the way we do for Jack Dawson.  To his credit, he does what he can, and I did feel for him, just not the right way (he has trouble with the dialogue, especially Gatsby's famous mannerism, "Old Sport."  His best scenes are the ones where he isn't speaking).

I was also unconvinced that Tobey Maguire was the right man for the job of Nick Carraway (I forget who I imagined him as when I read the book...maybe Josh Hartnett?  No...someone else...), but the role is within Maguire's limited range.  Maguire is best at playing gawky and geeky characters, and Maguire works in the role because Nick is an outsider.  Carey Mulligan is good as the conflicted but self-centered Daisy, but like DiCaprio, she's too emotional.  Daisy is meant to be flighty and detached.   Joel Edgerton is a great villain; he gets the role of the dominating Tom.  Tom is written more emotionally, but Edgerton keeps it in check.  Elizabeth Debicki is delicious as Jordan Baker (ironically, I imagined her being played by Gabrielle Union), thin and cat-like, and in some ways more mysterious than Gatsby.  Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke are on-screen for so little time one wonders why they cast such big names for what amount to cameos.

I suppose that on some level it makes sense to hire Baz Luhrmann whose hallmark has been the polar opposite of subtlety, to direct a $105 million version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel of decadence and extravagance.  I didn't see the 3D version (which would be odd for a drama if it were directed by anyone other than Luhrmann), but I could see what he was trying to do.  The images sort of pop out on their own.

But Luhrmann has misinterpreted the source material.  He makes the film a doomed love story, which the novel certainly is, but Fitzgerald meant for us to look at the story and the characters from a distance.  It's meant to get under the skin, not make us cry.

For what it does, it works overall (although the decision to push back the release date was probably unfair, though it wouldn't have competed for many Oscars...important ones at least).  It may not have been the right way to film "The Great Gatsby," but it is a good movie.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Porky's

3/4

Starring: Dan Monahan, Mark Herrier, Wyatt Knight, Roger Wilson, Cyril O'Reilly, Tony Ganios, Boyd Gaines, Kim Cattrall, Chuck Mitchell, Scott Colomby

Rated R for Pervasive Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and Some Violence (I Guess)

Let me ask you a question.  Can a critic, in good conscience, give a positive review to a mess of a film that has no coherent plot, absolutely zero character development, and only a few funny scenes?  Ordinarily, I think not.  But such is the case with "Porky's."  There are some amusing bits here and there, but there are many that don't land.  There is, however, a sequence that has to last at least five minutes, if not longer, that is absolutely hysterical.  I was nearly crying I was laughing so hard.  You don't see that very often.

As I said, there's not much of a plot in this movie, just a series of comic set pieces of varying quality.  They revolve around six guys and their quest of sex, or failing that, a look at a naked girl.  The film is more or less bookended by them going to Porky's, a titty bar run by a mean giant of a man named, you guessed it, Porky (Mitchell).  But after he screws them and humiliates them, they vow revenge.

What sets "Porky's" apart from most other raunchy sex comedies is that it's not set in the present day.  It's set in the 1950's, which lends it an air of innocence and nostalgia that enhances the humor (somewhat).  Now, you'll get me to believe that there are teenagers who are this obsessed with sex (it's called adolescence), but teachers?  Right.  Still, they play the dominating role in the riotously funny scene that I mentioned before.

Acting-wise, the film is on solid ground, although few of the characters are given enough to work with to make them distinguishable from the next guy.  I remember Pee-Wee (Monahan), who is obsessed with and desperate to lose his virginity, Meat (Ganios), because he's big, Tim (O'Reilly) because he's anti-Semitic but gets redeemed, and Brian Schwartz (Colomby) because he's so damn nice.

The anti-Semitism aspect of the film doesn't work.  While it was true to the time period and adds an emotional component to the end, it's really too dark for something this silly.  There are many other scenes that don't land.  Either the timing is off or they're just not that funny.

The film was directed by Bob Clark, whose career was, shall we say, diverse.  He directed the slasher movie "Black Christmas," the holiday classic "A Christmas Story," and this.  You couldn't find much more diversity than that.

Even when the film isn't as funny as it wants to be, it's still likable enough because the characters are sympathetic (not early on, because it isn't established til later that they're all friends).  That, and the scene in the gym (you'll never think of "Lassie" the same way again), are the reasons why I'm recommending the film.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Virus

2.5/4

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, Joanna Pacula, Donald Sutherland

Rated R for Sci-Fi Violence/Gore, and for Language

"Virus" is a guilty pleasure.  The acting is weak, the dialogue is crap, the story is thin, and it's dumber than dumb, but it is sort of fun.

The crew of the salvage vessel Sea Star has been pulling a broken down barge through a hurricane.  It's about to sink them as well, but the borderline psychotic captain Everton (Sutherland), has risked everything he has on the salvage, so he's not about to let the barge go down.  Eventually, the chain breaks and he has no choice.  His luck changes when he and the crew come across the Akademik Vladislav Volkov, a high-tech Russian military vessel.  It's dead in the water, so salvaging it will make them stinking rich.  But they're not alone on the ship.  There's a terrified survivor, Nadia (Pacula), who informs them that an alien energy took over the ship via the Mir space station, and is building machines (including using human beings for spare parts) in order to kill everyone.  Now the Sea Star's navigator Kit Foster (Curtis) and her few remaining crew members must figure out how to stop an invincible machine before it takes over the planet.

Jamie Lee Curtis famously trashed the film.  I can see her point, although I don't necessarily agree with it.  Sure, the reasons I listed above are absolutely true, but the film's action scenes are adequately intense, and the special effects are awesome.  The robots look completely real, especially the merging of machines and humans.  They're really cool.

The acting is lousy.  If Jamie Lee Curtis hated the film so much, she has to lay at least part of the blame at herself.  She's pretty bad, easily the worst performance I've ever seen her in.  Actually, it's the only bad performance she's ever given.  This partly has to do with the terrible dialogue she's been given, but still.  William Baldwin apes his brother Alec.  Donald Sutherland is just awful.  He's played a wide range of characters, including psychos (such as in "Backdraft"), but here, he hams it up so much that he becomes annoying.  The only one who gives a legitimate performance is Polish actress Joanna Pacula.  She gives a good performance as the terrified survivor who grows a backbone.

"Virus" was directed by special effects wizard John Bruno.  It was his first (and apart from two episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager," only) film, although he did co-direct the footage for the ride "T2-3D: Battle Across Time."  His lack of experience shows.  There are very few dynamic shots in this movie, it lacks atmosphere and the gunshots lack "boom;" they sound like cap guns.

I can't in good conscience recommend the film, because many people who are looking for a solid action-thriller won't find it.  But, for those who like cheese, it's better than "Turbulence."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shame

1/4

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

Rated NC-17 for Some Explicit Sexual Content

I was wary of seeing "Shame" after suffering through Steve McQueen's (not the legendary epitome of cool) first "film," "Hunger."  That film boasted an interesting premise: the last days of hunger striker Bobby Sands (also played by Michael Fassbender), but it was ruined by an extraordinary amount of self-indulgence (an hour of people beating the crap out of each other, screaming and smearing feces on the walls...compelling stuff to be sure).  "Shame" suffers from the same problem: good premise, excessive ego.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a young professional living in New York City.  He's handsome, but quiet and reserved.  His boss, the fast talking womanizer (who is in fact married) David (Dale), likes him.  So do a few of his co-workers.  But what no one knows is that Brandon is a sex-addict.  He is driven by a need for sexual release.  It consumes him every single moment of the day.  But when his sister Sissy (Mulligan) moves in, it shakes up his whole world.

Or at least that's what the synopsis says.  The film is so lacking in content that I wouldn't have gathered that had I not read it.

Body language does not make a movie.  Or a character.  It is used to enhance a character that is developed through dialogue and action.  It is too limiting to drive a story in and of itself.  While it's true that there are exceptions to this rule (including a scene in this film...Brandon is seen having sex with two women late in the movie, and we can see his pain), watching untold amounts of time watching Brandon look sullen and staring out a window adds nothing to the film or his character.  Because McQueen insists on showing Brandon do this as much as possible, I grew bored and irritated.  I felt nothing for Brandon, nor did I understand his drives and impulses.

The acting is surprisingly weak.  Michael Fassbender, usually an impeccable performer, is flat.  Part of that has to do with the lack of dialogue and action, but many of his big scenes don't land because he is too low-key.  Also weak is Carey Mulligan.  This is also surprising, considering how good she was in "An Education."  The only other member of the cast that has a significant amount of screen time is James Badge Dale, who is quickly becoming an actor to watch.

The film looks fantastic, and has a moderately effective scene here and there ("Hunger" had one excellent scene between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham), but that doesn't excuse 100 minutes of self-indulgence and boredom.

Star Trek Into Darkness

4/4

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence

Of all the movies that are going to be released this summer, none had me more excited than "Star Trek Into Darkness."  I'm not a Trekkie (I got bored with the pilot episode), but I loved the first one.  My excitment for the film increased exponentially when the trailer was released.  Sadly, my hopes were not met.  Don't get me wrong, I had a great time and don't hesitate to recommend the film.  But it's not as good as I'd hoped.

James Kirk (Pine) is in trouble...again.  A rescue mission of a planet went sour, and Jim broke the protocol to save Spock from certain death.  Now the Enterprise has been taken away from him, and he's been sent back to the Academy.  His former officer, Pike (Bruce Greenwood), gets him a break and allows him to become his first mate.  That's all put aside when a bombing outside Starfleet HQ leaves dozens dead, and after Pike's death, Kirk is once again captain of the Enterprise.  He and the crew are tracking down the terrorist behind the bombings, a man named John Harrison (Cumberbatch).  Things aren't what they seem, however, and if Kirk doesn't play his cards right, he'll start an open war.

Paramount is going for the world market here, which means that plot and character are toned down in favor of special effects.  The plot still grabs us even though it becomes quite contrived at times, and our relationship with the characters in the first film carries us through the film. It's a shame, though, because Chris Pine and especially Zachary Quinto make Kirk and Spock so interesting in the 2009 film, and their relationship isn't as complex in this outing.

The cast does their jobs admirably, but the real star, of course, is Benedict Cumberbatch.  A rising star thanks to his "Sherlock Holmes" reboot (although to me, he will always be Paul Marshall from "Atonement").  John Harrison is terrific is-he-or-isn't-he adversary.  Alternately chilling and sympathetic, Cumberbatch owns the role.

J.J. Abrams proved himself to be a wonderful storyteller when he has a good script (I should say here that "Mission Impossible III" did not have a good script), and that's what's missing here.  Abrams doesn't find the right balance between story and special effects (although those are awesome here.  There were definately times when I was on the edge of my seat, and more than a few effective shocks) nor menace and crowd-pleasing humor.  The result is a disjointed, but still satisfying night at the movies.  Just avoid the 3D; even in IMAX, it's awful.

Revision: Some movies grow on you, for good or ill.  Believe it or not, I didn't like "Brotherhood of the Wolf" the first time I saw it, but I gave it another chance and liked it.  Now it's my favorite movie of all time.  I liked, but did not love, "Star Trek Into Darkness" the first time I saw it, but I saw it again in the theater with a friend of mine and enjoyed it a lot more.  I saw it five more times in theaters, and enjoyed it more and more.  I admire its construction and its strong story.  I liked how I felt multiple feelings about each of the characters.  And I liked how, every time I see it, I get on the edge of my seat.  This is relentlessly crafted and  the story holds up upon close examination.  But all of that is ultimately meaningless.  I'm giving it a 4/4 (as opposed to a 3/4, or a 3.5/4 as I briefly considered, because of the most important reason: I enjoyed the hell out of it, and it is considerably better than the first one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Very Bad Things

2/4

Starring: Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Leland Orser, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Rated R for Strong, Grisly Violence, Sexuality, Drug Use and Language

"Very Bad Things" would probably have worked better as a short story rather than a feature film.  There's not enough plot to fill up a 90 minute running time, and what happens in the film would probably be better left to the imagination.  The plot is twisted enough, I guess, and there are some amusing moments, but it seems to drag.

Kyle Fisher (Favreau) is getting married to the beautiful, if wedding-obsessed, Laura Garrety (Diaz).  To celebrate, he's going to Las Vegas with his best friends: Type A Boyd (Slater), quiet Moore (Orser) and the Berkow brothers, motormouthed Michael (Piven) and neurotic Adam (Stern).  Things are going great and the boys are having fun drinking, gambling and doing coke.  To top it off, Boyd has hired a prostitute named Tina (porn star Kobe Tai) to give them an exotic dance.  But during an energetic romp around the bathroom, Michael accidentally slams Tina's head into a towel hook.  The bachelor party has taken a wrong turn into manslaughter, and more and more of the wedding party is going to end up six feet under by the time Laura walks down the aisle.

I have no doubt that this could have been a great black comedy.  The problem is that the film gets pretty repetitive, and Peter Berg, in his directorial debut, lacks a creative enough vision to keep things from becoming pretty dull.  He is a good writer, though, a lot of the dialogue sounds improvised (and for all I know, it could be).

The acting varies.  Christian Slater is delicious as Boyd, who seizes this opportunity to let out his inner psychopath.  Cameron Diaz isn't far behind as the bridezilla, although she does have a few stiff moments and goes over-the-top on a few occasions (it's necessary due to the nature of the plot, but Diaz isn't particularly convincing in those moments.  Surprising, considering how good of an actress she is).  Jon Favreau and Leland Orser are also good, mainly because they're the everymen.  Jeremy Piven is irritating.  Daniel Stern and Jeanne Tripplehorn are kind of invisible, although the latter gets a great fight scene.

You gotta admire a film that has the audacity to go this far.  This is a blacker than black comedy that relishes in the violence (the film contains more gore than many horror movies).  It's not perfect, or even worth recommending, but it is admirable.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10,000 B.C.

3/4

Starring: Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Virgel, Mona Hammond, and the voice of Omar Sharif

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Action and Violence

By nearly every critical standard, "10,000 B.C." is a terrible movie.  The plot could charitably be called thin, the acting is awful, the dialogue is embarrassing (the narration by Omar Sharif seems to never end as well) and the CGI is unbelievable cheesy.  And yet, there is an admittedly perverse enjoyment to be found within Roland Emmerich's ancient "epic."  The first half is loaded with laughs (none of which are intentional) and the second half features some truly impressive visuals.

The story doesn't make a lot of sense, mainly due to the poor writing (by Emmerich and longtime composer Harald Kloser).  Much of it has to do with some sort of prophecy involving the town outcast, D'Leh (Strait), whose father abandoned the tribe, and Evolet (Belle), the girl who was brought to their tribe when hers was annihilated.  Anyway, as the first part of the prophecy is nearing completion, a group of marauders attack and kidnap many of the tribesmen.  D'Leh, who has loved Evolet for a long time, volunteers to go find them. Also tagging along are Tic'Tic (Curtis), his father figure, and two others from the tribe.  What begins as a simple rescue mission ends up being a fight for freedom.

This movie is so silly that it's hard to take seriously.  The characters are so dense that it becomes funny.  D'Leh is such bad rescuer that when he first catches up with Evolet's captors, he ends up with some of his companions being captured instead of freeing his people.  There are at least two more "rousing speeches" than is necessary, and the true villains look almost like drag queens.  And then there's the hair...did Bob Marley take a trip back in time and spread his seed high in the mountains?

The acting is uniformly terrible, but much of that is due to the fact that the dialogue they are supposed to utter is abysmal.  I get that it's 10,000 B.C., so speech isn't a refined science at the time (I'm guessing), but a little broken English goes a long way.  Here, every word seems like something out of a bad foreign film dub.

Once the film gets out of the forest (which is a pretty big steal from "The Mummy Returns"), the film takes off.  Sure, the CGI animals are never convincing in the slightest (the Woolly Mammonths, called Manneks in the movie, are the exception), but I liked that aspect of it.  It gives the film an "other-worldly" feel that is further enhanced by the cinematography by Ueil Steiger.

The film would be a lot better had the editing been close to competent.  The movie is hard to follow due to the poor job by editor Alexander Berner (who, ironically, also edited "Cloud Atlas").

Taken together, the film is fun.  Get a bunch of your friends together, a lot of beer, and you'll have a great time.  Or if you just like cheesy movies, then being drunk isn't a requirement.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Buck

3/4

Featuring: Buck Brannaman

Rated PG for Thematic Elements, Mild Language and an Injury

When I was growing up, we had an English Setter named Charlie.  Now, Charlie was not the brightest bulb in the bunch (although he did try his best), we did use a choke chain when we took him on walks.  Charlie was an excitable dog, and the thought of going for a walk was almost too much for him to bear.  Using a chain on a leash that tightened if he pulled seemed a little inhumane then, but it seems horrible now (fortunately, Charlie had too big of a heart to even think of getting angry in the slightest at the use of the choke chain).  Now with our Gordon Setters, we used chest harnesses while they were puppies and regular leashes now (and buzz collars just in case--which is frequently).

Now, I'm not going to use this review to brag about my dogs, although I could do that because I love them to death.  I do have a point to this story.  Love and acceptance easily get better results faster than violence and dominance.  Not that we were ever violent to Charlie, but you get my meaning.  Buck Brannaman, renowned "horse whisperer" uses a similar concept when it comes to "breaking" horses.

As a child, Buck and his brother were subjected to horrific physical abuse by their father.  They were then put into the foster care of the Shirleys.  Buck said it was his new father's mantra of stern but understanding and empathy that influenced his life, especially his interactions with horses.  Buck has been so successful that he influenced the lead character in "The Horse Whisperer."

Buck is a truly amazing person.  He says that by looking at a horse, you can tell a lot about a person, and I can see what he means.  Late in the film, there is a woman who has an outrageous amount of studs (males with their family jewels intact) to the point where Buck is flabbergasted.  He tells her that if she thinks she can take on that kind of a challenge, then she's got some issues of her own (which she tearfully agrees with).  She has brought a young colt that is violent and aggressive to the point of even after working with Buck, attacks the man who is trying to train it.  Buck says that that was the person's failure, not the horse.

The problem with the film is that while we see Buck's gift, we don't actually learn what he is doing.  How does one train a horse?  Certainly not in the way that they used to (there is an old, old clip of men whipping and chasing a clearly terrified horse into submission--it's stomach churning).  But it would make his accomplishments, which are already impressive, more meaningful.

I think that in the end, the film is worth seeing.  Buck is a compelling individual, that much is clear (even though he never becomes truly three-dimensional).  I also believe that we can learn a lot from him because we as a people often look outside to find fault when often times it is really our own actions that determine how things go.  Plus the film looks flat out amazing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Human Stain

2.5/4

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Wentworth Miller, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris

Rated R for Language and Sexuality/Nudity

Last night, I reviewed "Teeth," which was a horror/comedy (that wasn't scary or funny) that had an interesting premise and no follow through.  "The Human Stain" is almost the opposite.  There's a great idea here, just as there was in "Teeth," but while there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, it doesn't serve any point.  "The Human Stain" is a waste of good acting and good story.

Coleman Silk (Hopkins) is a respected professor at a small college in New England.  After he calls two students who didn't show up for class "spooks" he is called before a committee for making a racist remark.  But only Coleman is able to appreciate the irony of this due to a secret that he has kept for fifty years: he is black.

"The Human Stain" does not suffer from a lack of compelling material.  There's forbidden love, there's buried secrets (and from a different perspective), a lunatic breathing down the hero's neck, just to name a few.  But they're stirred together in a somewhat incoherent batch that serves no purpose.  None of these storylines have anything interesting to say about Coleman or the decision he made 50 years ago.  Frankly, they don't say anything at all.

At least the acting is good.  Anthony Hopkins is a little miscast, but not to the extent that he was in "Hitchcock" (and there wasn't any horrifically bad makeup...apart from what I assume is the usual touch up, he has a mole and green contact lenses to match Wentworth Miller).  Hopkins doesn't look much Miller, but they're both good so while it matters to the plot, I didn't care.  Nicole Kidman is excellent as the abused Faunia.  Kidman hasn't been this good in a long time.  Ed Harris and Gary Sinise provide solid support, but they're there mainly to serve the needs of the plot...whichever one it is at that time.

The film is well acted and well-directed.  Robert Benton, who has made some famous movies before ("Kramer vs. Kramer," "Places in the Heart," "Nobody's Fool,"), stages the scenes well.  But they're so loosely connected that I was wondering what the point of it all was.

Teeth

1.5/4

Starring: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Lenny von Dohlen, Hale Appleman, Josh Pais

Rated R for Disturbing Sequences involving Sexuality and Violence, Language and Some Drug Use

If there's one thing I hate more than a movie that doesn't even try to explore its premise, it's a movie that doesn't do anything period.  Mitchell Lichtenstein's "Teeth" is guilty of both crimes.  The premise, a young woman who has the notorious "vagina dentata" and uses it against slimy men who try to take advantage of her, is intriguing.  But not only does the film waste this unique idea, it doesn't do anything of any kind.

Dawn (Weixler) is a virginal booster of the promise ring.  Her ability to encourage young people to take a vow of chastity has put her in high demand in her small town, although there are those who think she's old-fashioned and backward (it's here that I should mention that Weixler is so good that she got my sympathy when she was made fun of, and this is coming from a guy who thinks that abstinence-only sex education is both futile and dangerous).  She's attracted to Toby (Appleman) and vice versa, but because they are both abstinent, they try to avoid each other.  But in a moment of temptation, she invites Toby to go swimming with her (not skinny dipping though), and that's when he gives into real temptation...and loses most of his penis (and his life from blood loss) in the process.  Soon after she realizes that she can use her "vagina dentata" to her advantage.

I haven't seen Jess Weixler in any other movies, but this was enough to make me feel sorry for her.  For the majority of the film, she gives a wonderful performance.  However, when the film stops making sense she's forced to undergo a series of bizarre and poorly motivated character changes (she also has a problem crying on screen, but a lot of actors and actresses do).  No one else has a lot of screen time, but John Hensley is good as her creepy step-brother.  Sadly his character isn't given enough screen time for the conclusion of his character to have much meaning.

This is really an exercise of self-indulgence for Mitchell Lichtenstein.  For one thing, the movie is half over by the time the plot (what there is of one) kicks in.  Second, the movie drags on forever, and during most of it, not much happens.  Third, the final act is so poorly written when it finally does get into interesting territory it becomes a boring mess.

There are so many interesting things that could be done with the idea of the vagina dentata, but Lichtenstein treats it as a gimmick.  He does nothing with it, and doesn't say anything about female sexuality (or male sexuality for that matter).  It's also kind of reprehensible because except for her father and boring friend, every male in this film is a perverted rapist.  This could have been an interesting movie had Lichtenstein bothered to do anything with this idea.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mike's Musings: You're infringing on my rights!

Now that I've publicly come out as gay, I feel I can write this without tiptoeing around the issue of my sexuality (what a relief!).

With the gay rights movement gaining more momentum by the day, a lot of gay marriage opponents are adopting an attitude that being criticized for expressing their views is infringing on their right to free speech.  At first, it sounds reasonable.  Shouldn't one be able to express their views without fear of retribution?  Of course.  But this "speech" is different because it is so hurtful.

First of all, being criticized for proclaiming that they think homosexuality is a sin, in the right context, is unfair. However, in the public forum, it is not.  When Chris Broussard proclaimed that he felt that homosexuality is a sin on ESPN, the public was furious.  ESPN issued an apology.  An overreaction that infringed on his first amendment rights?  Not at all.

The First Amendment says that the government cannot infringe upon one's right to free speech.  That does not apply to private enterprises, or in this case, public opinion.  Chris Broussard indeed had his right to say how he feels.  And the public had every right to be pissed about it.  While ESPN apologized, Broussard was not disciplined.  Therefore, any proclamations that his First Amendment rights were infringed upon, in any form, go up in smoke.

But what about in any public forum?  Should gay marriage opponents be able to say what they feel?  Absolutely.  But here's the thing.  Homosexuality is not a choice (despite some claims to the contrary), so a person can't choose their sexuality any more than they can choose the color of their skin.  Therefore, criticizing someone or discriminating someone based on their sexual orientation is the same as criticizing someone or discriminating someone based on their race.

I recall Brian S. Brown, the leader of National Organization for Marriage (who oppose same-sex marriage) complaining that he and others like them were accused of being homophobic.  Homophobia means "fear of gay people," rather than simply not feeling that gay marriage should be legal.  Strictly speaking, this is true, in a sense (although in a sense one has to wonder if they have a fear of homosexuality on some level).  But there have been occasions where the definition of a word has evolved into a new meaning.  A lot of people understand that "phobia" means "fear of," but it has become a catch-all terms for comments or actions that discriminate against gay people.


Similar comments are made about the same argument from a religious perspective.  People claim that by not allowing businesses to hire or serve someone because of their sexual orientation, or even express their opinion about it, restricts their freedom to religion.

This is more tricky.  While merely speaking out against it doesn't infringe on a person's freedom of religion any more than it does free speech, hiring or serving someone may.

In a religiously-geared business, such as a church or a faith-based organization, I say it is.  I oppose forcing churches to perform gay marriages.  It offends their beliefs, and while it may be socially backward and discriminatory to gay people, it's their right (just as it is a person's right to change churches as a result or to speak out against it).  And yet, people used this argument to legitimize discrimination against interracial marriages.  Still, I don't recall a church getting sued over refusing to perform an interracial marriage.

But for private, non-religious businesses, I say it is discrimination.  Because if it is not a faith-based organization, it is not entitled to the same protections.


The same principle applies to every part of speech.  Gay-affirming, anti-gay, pro-or-gay religion, what have you.  Just because you can say something, doesn't mean you should.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

O Jerusalem

3/4

Starring: JJ Field, Said Taghmaoui, Maria Pappas, Patrick Bruel, Nadim Sawalha, Ian Holm, Tovah Feldshuh

Rated R for Some War Scenes

I have long awaited a story that tells both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It's such a complex conflict that sound bites and quick news stories aren't able to do it justice.  "O Jerusalem" aspires to be the movie that I was looking for, but it could have been so much more.

Bobby Goldman (Field) is a Jewish American who has just returned from fighting in World War II.  While at home, he meets Said Chahine (Taghmaoui), an Arab.  Both are paying attention to the burgeoning conflict between the Palestinians and the Jewish people who want to emigrate to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  While Bobby and Said have opposing opinions on who deserves to be in control of Jerusalem, they become fast friends.  Eventually, they both end up in Jerusalem and while initially both appear to be on the side of peace, circumstances force them both to answer the call to battle.

"O Jerusalem" contains some big ideas, such as how one's perspective on a conflict changes when you know your "enemy," the price of zealotry, and the importance of having a home.  These are powerful notions that belong in a grand war epic.  The problem is that "O Jerusalem" is 100 minutes long.

I kept thinking of "The Red Baron," another movie that had great scenes, but no development.  A war story needs room to breathe, particularly one of this nature.  "Saving Private Ryan" was a hair under 3 hours.  "Schindler's List" crossed over that mark.  "Kelly's Heroes" clocks in at about 2.5.  "O Jerusalem" is about half as long as it needs to be.

The acting is strong.  JJ Field and Said Taghmaoui, two actors who don't get the recognition they deserve, are very good.  They're two friends on the opposing side of a conflict.  Had there been no war, they'd have been friends for life.  But watching your friend (in Bobby's case) or the uncle that raised you (in Said's case) die right in front of you can warp your opinion.  Both of them struggle to hold onto that one small element of humanity that they have left.  Character development is so minimal that no one else bears much mention except Ian Holm, who plays a surprisingly aggressive character.

The film's length deals the film a blow on two fronts: character and plot.  There's so little development of the characters that it's impossible to remember who is who, much less care about them.  The plot also becomes contrived.  For example, early in the film Bobby and Said try to stay out of Palestine, then the film cuts to "One Year Later" and they're moving there together.

One thing I liked about this movie is that it's remarkably even-handed.  Co-writer/director Elie Chouraqui, who is of Jewish heritage, takes pains to paint both sides in shades of gray.  Although Bobby has more screen time, it appears to be because his character has more story.  Or time constraints.

Given the volatile nature of the conflict and how politicized it has become, I doubt that we'll be seeing a big, epic version of this kind of story.  It's a shame that "O Jerusalem" falls short, because it could have been great.


Monday, May 6, 2013

The Prestige

3/4

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo

Rated PG-13 for Violence and Disturbing Images

Rivalry isn't such a bad thing.  It can cause people to push themselves to win, thus improving at whatever task they're doing.  Consider my dogs, Milton and Molly.  Molly is a little firecracker with the energy of a terrier (they're both Gordon Setters).  She loves chasing her toys.  On occasion, Milton, who is older and bigger, loves to play with them too.  When I throw the toy that they're both interested in, they both tear after it, trying to get it first.  The second place dog usually barks or snarls at the other to give it up.  Sure they make a lot of noise, but will they ever hurt each other?  Absolutely not (at least not intentionally...Milton has accidentally hurt Molly during play, and when that happens, he immediately stops to see if she's okay.  A few seconds later, they're off again).

But the rivalry between Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) is anything but friendly.  They're two friends who are working for a magician named Milton (character actor and real-life magician Ricky Jay) under the mentoring of Cutter (Caine).  But after a faulty knot that Alfred tied results in Angier's wife Julia (Perabo) dying during a trick, their quest to outdo each other turns into an obsession with deadly consequences.

The acting is terrific.  All the cast members are given strongly written roles, and Christopher Nolan has been as much an actor's director as he is a storyteller.  Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are given difficult roles.  At first, both Angier and Borden are friendly, likable guys.  But the more obsessed and competitive they get, the less likable they become.  Keeping an audience's interest, much less their sympathy, is difficult for any actor to do (although Bale has had some experience in this area from playing Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho"), but it's even more so due to the jigsaw nature of the first half.  But Jackman and Bale are as charismatic as they are talented, and they pull it off (although Bales' cockney accent is thicker than Caine's).  Michael Caine is his usual reliable self, playing a man whose encouragement of competition between the two has escalated into something he cannot control.  Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall are also in fine form as the love interests of Angier and Borden.

Christopher Nolan broke out into the mainstream with "Memento," which famously played with timelines and story construction.  His 2000 film was a masterstroke in making a compelling story into something truly awe-inspiring.  Nolan does the same thing with "The Prestige," albeit with less satisfactory results.  The timeline jumps around a lot in the first half...too much, in fact.  While some of this is necessary to set up the plot and foreshadow some events, it gets to be excessive.  It becomes difficult to form a connection with the characters.

Nolan's movies have always been moody and cold affairs, and this is no different.  "The Prestige" is a pretty bleak movie, but it is visually dazzling and compelling.

Iron Man 3 (contains vague spoilers)

2/4

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and the voice of Paul Bettany

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence Throughout, and Brief Suggestive Content

The first "Iron Man" was a breath of fresh air.  It wasn't original, but it was well-told by Jon Favreau (who has a small appearance here as Tony Stark's bodyguard).  The sequel wasn't as good, but it was fun at least.  The final film in the trilogy is simply lazy.  There are so many directions it could have gone in, but the story takes the easy way out at every turn.  While the resulting film is certainly watchable, it's not nearly as fun as the trailer would have us believe.

After the events in "The Avengers," Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) is suffering from PTSD: he's constantly on edge and worrying about the safety of his assistant-turned-girlfriend Pepper Potts (Paltrow).  Considering how seriously Joss Whedon treated (or should that be bungled) the action in last year's monster hit, this is not only facile, but borderline insulting to those who actually suffer from the disorder.  Trouble comes when a lunatic who calls himself The Mandarin (Kingsley) is wreaking havoc across the country with a series of mysterious bombings.  In flies Iron Man to stop him.

I was excited about this movie, mainly because The Mandarin looked so badass.  The trailer makes him out to be a madman along the lines of The Joker.  He looks like an unstoppable force capable of terrifying destruction anywhere, anytime.  But the truth is that The Mandarin is so cartoonish that he's not menacing at all.  And when the truth of his identity is revealed, it's such a lousy cheat that I was pissed off.  And on top of that, the real villain's motives are so lame that they belong in a spoof movie.

The acting is decent, although that's to be expected with a cast of this caliber.  Robert Downey Jr. slides back into the role that made him a star again.  There aren't as many one-liners as there were in previous installments, probably because Tony has so many panic attacks and moping scenes.  Gwyneth Paltrow is as lovely as ever.  Don Cheadle is okay, but there's not much for him to do in terms of acting.  Rebecca Hall and Guy Pearce are solid as well (as a wannabe love-interest and a rival...it's a big budget action movie...guess which actor serves which role).

Coming from Shane Black, this is a pretty big disappointment.  Once Hollywood's wonderboy for action movies after "Lethal Weapon" became a smash hit, Shane Black has made a movie with...this.  Considering the big budget, I have no doubt that there was studio meddling, but this is still inexcusable.  Part of the creative process is creating good material within the boundaries you are given.  The script is a mess, the film is way too long, and there is very little that can be considered clever.  Skip this and watch "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" instead.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Faculty

3/4

Starring: Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Shawn Hatosy, Laura Harris, Jordana Brewster, Bebe Neuwirth, Jon Stewart, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen

Rated R for Violence/Gore, Strong Language, Drug Use and Some Nudity

The goal of "The Faculty" is to do for sci-fi movies what "Scream" did to horror flicks, meaning crafting a legitimate entry while poking fun at its conventions.  "The Faculty" shares the same screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, but lightning doesn't strike twice.  The script isn't as knowing or witty, and Robert Rodriguez isn't as clever or, in this case, as skilled as Wes Craven.

That all being said, I still enjoyed the movie.  It does have its moments, and the acting is strong.  It's not a classic, nor is it even groundbreaking, but it is fun.  Where else can you find respected actors like Bebe Neuwirth and Famke Janssen in a teenage horror movie?

Strange things are going on at Harrington High.  The football coach, Joe Willis (Patrick), attacks Principal Drake (Neuwirth) late at night.  The teachers are drinking water by the gallon and have undergone unusual personality changes.  And the unusual behavior is spreading to other students.  Now, Casey (Wood), the school geek, Delilah (Brewster), the school sexpot, Stan (Hatosy), the captain of the football team, Stokes (DuVall), the emo loner, Marybeth (Harris), the new girl, and Zeke (Hartnett), the school rebel, will have to find out what's going on before a group of aliens take over the world.

There are nearly a dozen important roles in this movie, so character development is at a minimum.  But while none of these performances are Oscar-worthy, but they are effective.  The teens are just as good as the adults, which gives the film balance.  There isn't really anyone worth singling out, although Clea DuVall manages some scenes where she is not incredibly irritating (considering her lack of talent, that's an accomplishment).

Before "The Faculty," Robert Rodriguez was the new wonderboy of cinema.  His career was built on much of the same territory as Quentin Tarantino; affectionate but skilled love letters to 70's genre movies (specifically westerns).  His debut, "El Mariachi," was labeled as "the $7000 wonder," and both the sequel, "Desperado" and his next movie, "From Dusk til Dawn" were both successful.  The pairing of Rodriguez and Williamson seems like a genre lovers dream, but it's kind of a disappointment.  Neither is at their best, with Rodriguez particularly lacking.  The film is frantically paced.  A psychological thriller, which is really what this is until the final act, needs to be able to churn to get the creepiness up.

Still, "The Faculty" is fun.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Prometheus

3/4

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba

Rated R for Sci-Fi Violence including Some Intense Images and Brief Language

I've seen "Prometheus" three times, including once in the theaters.  I neglected to write a review as soon as I saw it because I couldn't wrap my mind around not liking a movie that I anticipated so much and was so excited about.  In all honesty, I'm glad I waited.

"Prometheus" takes place in the "Alien" universe, but isn't a direct prequel.  The xenomorph is largely absent, although the connections to the quadrilogy that started in 1979 are strong.  This film is heavily linked to the "Alien" movies, but it's a stand-alone feature.

Drs. Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green) have made a startling discovery.  There is a pictogram that has been found in various places around the world from wildly different time periods.  The pictogram depicts stars that couldn't be seen from Earth in any of these time periods.  Shaw and Holloway conclude that aliens, whom they call Engineers, have visited our planet and created man themselves.  So, with a trillion dollar grant from the Weyland Corporation, Shaw and Holloway travel to the planet that they think the Engineers came from, hoping to find answers to some of the most important philosophical questions of our time.  Where did we come from?  Why were we created?

This is not an action-oriented picture.  Although there is a bit of violence (including a very intense medical procedure), this is largely a talky picture founded upon ideas.  But they are so compelling and since Ridley Scott is a terrific director, the film is never boring.

The acting is very strong.  Noomi Rapace, who like sadly few foreign stars who have made a hit (Chow Yun-Fat, anyone?) has made headway into the Hollywood scene, is terrific as the naiive but idealistic scientist.  Michael Fassbender mixes pathos and genuine creepiness as David, although his intentionally emotionless performance has the effect of making some of his dialogue a little hammy.  Charlize Theron makes Vickers, their boss, into an aloof yet passionate woman.  She's very professional to the point of being blunt and has her own agenda, but she's not an out and out villain.  Logan Marshall-Green is also very good at playing the impulsive Charlie.

Ridley Scott takes his time telling this story, and that's a good thing.  There's nothing more disappointing than seeing a story rush through the provocative material in favor of quick, frenetic payoffs.  And after 33 years, he hasn't lost his skill at crafting scary sequences.  He also has an amazing visual sense (which has been proven before).  Although it's a chilly and dark movie, it's absolutely gorgeous.

The film runs into trouble in its third quarter.  The twists come too quickly and the pacing is uncertain.  The unresolved questions feel frustrating at first, but later I realized that they work.  If no sequel is made (reports are that one is in the works, and while at this point that must be taken with a grain of salt, the film was hugely successful, which means that 20th Century Fox would like one ASAP), the film would feel complete while leaving the audience to make up their own minds about the answers to the questions posed by the film.

This is one of the films that keeps growing on me.  I do enjoy watching it, and I think you will too.

Mike's Musings: Rape is not a Joke

The fact that I feel like I have to write this column should disturb everyone.

Rape is an act of violence.  It is a deeply violating and emotionally traumatic experience for victims of sexual assault.  But shame and fear keep many from reporting it, and talking about it can be almost as bad as the act itself.  But lately many have turned it into a joke.

I've lost count of how often I've heard say something to the effect of "[this person] is going to rape you" as an example of dark humor.  Now, as I've said before, anything can be the subject of humor, provided it is handled with care and respect ("Family Guy" is a master at this, and has indeed made jokes about rape and incest, among other unsavory topics).  But jokes about rape have become so widespread and so frequent that they've become another word for sex, when they are anything but.

I think we, as a society, have lost sight of what rape actually is.  One only has to watch "Boys Don't Cry" or "The War Zone" or something like it to see what it really is.  Sure, it's a movie, but the effect is the same: we know that it's a painful and terrifying act of cruelty.

Take for example a video of a little boy trying to kiss a little girl.  She pushes him away, but he keeps trying to kiss her (you can see the video here).  It's really pretty cute.  But some are, as a joke, calling it rape, or calling it a warning sign that he is going to be a rapist if its not stopped.

Let's think about this for a second.  These two can't be more than what, two?  Developmentally, they aren't able to think about what is happening in sexual terms, much less as an act of sexual violence.  The little boy likely saw someone doing it and wanted to imitate it.  That's normal behavior for a two year old.  Sure, the little girl isn't interested in playing along, but calling it rape, or even thinking about it in those terms is both reprehensible and sick.  I think that says something more about the viewer than the kids.  They probably won't remember doing it.  Should the parents pull their kid away?  Probably, but only because the little girl is getting annoyed and for the sake of the little boy's rear end.

What is the solution?  Censor the stand-up comics and movies that use sexual violence as a source of humor?  Absolutely not.  It's not going to have any effect and will probably make the problem worse.

The first and most important thing we need to do is get rid of this silly taboo about sex.  It's a normal and beautiful (not to mention essential) act of human nature.  Once we understand it and no longer fear it, we will be able to discuss rape in more open terms.  We need to re-educate people about what rape actually is, and teach them that this is no joke.