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Movie Review: Riddick

I remember seeing Pitch Black when I was a sophomore in high school. I had never heard of Vin Diesel before. In fact, I don’t even think I knew what the movie was about when I bought my ticket. But it was amazing, a sci-fi thriller, a prison transport ship goes down on an isolated planet overrun with alien monsters that rule the night.


Diesel starred as Richard Riddick, a convict with special eyes that could see in the dark. His exploits gave way to a sequel, or a prequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, I’m not sure about the specifics, because I never saw the film. But Riddick’s at it again this time in Riddick, which, without ever having seen part two, it feels like almost a direct sequel to Pitch Black.

There’s no f’n around. Right from the beginning we find what appears to be a corpse’s wrist sticking out of the ground. Diesel’s monotone voiceover explains that, “This isn’t the first time I’ve been counted out,” as the hand springs to life, strangling an alien vulture that got a little too bitey with Riddick’s fingers.

And that choke scene, as the lizard/bird thing squirmed and died in Riddick’s blood-caked hand, it was obvious that whoever financed this picture didn’t really care about springing for the premium package with the CGI studio. It’s kind of a thing throughout the film. For a movie that relies so heavily on computer generated effects, I’m surprised that the quality was so shoddy.

It’s a superficial complaint, but it’s the backdrop for most of the movie. At one point Riddick and some other guy are on space motorcycles riding through the desert, and I barely had to use any imagination to picture the green screen taking up a majority of the shot.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For a while, it’s just Riddick. He’s in bad shape, first unburying himself, then setting his own broken bones. There’s a pack of wild space dogs looking to turn him into a quick lunch, but not only does he successfully fight them off, he then adopts one of their pups and raises it to be his trusty sidekick.

After setting off a beacon at a mercenary supply station, he attracts the attention of two rival space gangs, each looking to cash in on the outstanding reward for Riddick’s head. These dopes are no match for Riddick, but as our protagonist lets everyone know, “It ain’t me you’ve got to worry about.”

No, just like in Pitch Black, this planet has its own alien monsters that only attack during specific conditions, in this case, rain. And guess what? There’s a storm coming. And that’s basically where we get left off at the end of the trailer. It’s a race to get off the planet.

For all of its cheesiness, its lame special effects and two-dimensional plot, I really enjoyed Riddick. The pacing of the action was pretty smooth, and they kept the story simple. They could have riddled the secondary characters with pointless subplots and bad dialogue, but for the most part, everything was strictly business.

I like movies like this, these epic space operas, because there really aren’t too many out there. There were occasional allusions to what must have gone down in the second movie, something about an intergalactic empire, betrayal, some villain with scars on his face whose presence was never explained at all. But that’s what made everything compelling, those little tastes that reminded me that this layover on a hostile planet was but a minor stop along an interstellar epic. This is the type of actual sci-fi that Stephen Colbert pokes fun at with his Tek Jansen cartoons.

I’ve got to say, I always underestimate Vin Diesel. Every time I go to see one of his movies, I walk in the theater expecting to be disappointed. But the Fast and Furious franchise, XXX, and now Riddick, I’m impressed. There’s an unpretentiousness about his acting and his movies. He knows what he’s supposed to give and he delivers.

Riddick will probably be on the SyFy channel in a couple of weeks, so I guess there’s no rush. Still, I really enjoyed it, I loved watching it on a big screen. I hope they keep making Riddick movies, forever, cruising through space, getting stranded on planets, battling mercenaries and leading empires. It’s all so f’n cool.

Movie Review: The World’s End

Ah yes, a British movie. I went to see The World’s End, and I couldn’t help but thinking about all of the movies I’ve seen that were made across the Atlantic: not too many. I’m sure they make lots of films over there, but the ones that make it to me, to a pretty average American moviegoer, I don’t know, it’s like The King’s Speech, Monty Python … do Hugh Grant movies count? They totally don’t count. Even in his most British pictures, he’s really just something on loan from the UK to Hollywood, like even though Love Actually took place across the pond, there were all sorts of American actors and tropes and …

world's end robot

And what am I talking about, Love Actually? I never saw Love Actually, I just remember overhearing someone else talk about it once. Someone really stupid. And I could just tell how inauthentic the whole thing was, you know, from this non-Englishman’s point of view.

The World’s End is billed as the third part in a trilogy of sorts, although besides the principle cast and writing team, there’s not really a coherent story linking all three parts. Shaun of the Dead imagined how Simon Pegg would confront the zombie apocalypse, Hot Fuzz had something to do with police officers (I never actually saw Hot Fuzz,) and The World’s End follows five high school friends who reunite twenty years later to finish a twelve-stop pub crawl they almost completed back when they were eighteen.

I realized pretty soon into the movie that I was laughing a lot more than I would be at this point during an American movie, during parts in any movie that I wouldn’t normally find laugh-out-loud funny. I attributed a lot of the giggles to the fact that everybody’s talking really fast, jokes weaved tightly into every sentence, with absolutely no stopping for even the briefest of pauses between syllables or breaths. It’s just non-stop dialogue and everybody’s speaking in an accent and, yeah, I guess that is pretty funny.

The humor is very dark. Simon Pegg’s main character Gary King hasn’t developed at all since the early 1990s montage that opens the film. By the time we meet our protagonist in the present day, twenty years of partying have taken their toll. The whole intro, the extended speech explaining the almost-made-it night of twenty years ago, it winds up being told by King in the middle of a twelve-step meeting, and even the other participants seem disturbed by the enthusiasm in which he recounts the best day of his life.

King rallies his old friends and convinces them to have a proper night. Twelve bars, twelve beers, all culminating at The World’s End, a fitting name for the final tavern. As the Five Musketeers head out to their old home town, in King’s high school car, with the same exact cassette mix tape never having been removed from the tape deck, the gang starts to question the psychic hold their friend seems to manage over everyone else.

Just as the adults step in to make some belated adult decisions, it turns out that the town has been taken over by robots. And even though that’s pretty much the whole plot of the movie, once things get rolling, a lot of the genuine character-driven plot evaporates. I get it, I guess, that this kind of a spoof on a disaster movie is a way to confront existential problems, addiction, middle-age, conformity, feelings of isolation, but I just couldn’t help but feel that the group dynamic was building toward something. And then the robot thing happens and that’s basically the rest of the movie.

All the way until the really bizarre ending, something that, after having seen Monty Python, I’m just going to go ahead and make the sweeping generalization that all British movies have to have crazy endings. Except for The King’s Speech. Did I mention that I saw The King’s Speech already? Well, I saw it. Although, I guess it’s not all that normal of a movie, right? A king? With a stutter? And the doctor is some crazy guy from Australia? That didn’t really happen, did it?

Movie Review: Kick-Ass 2

Life isn’t a comic book. That’s the story behind Kick-Ass 2, the sequel to a movie based on a comic book about people who dress up as superheroes, but not like in comic books, because this takes place in real life, with real people, who get in costumes and fight crime. It’s a not-a-comic comic book movie.


I’m making fun, but it’s a novel premise. What if you or I decided to create a superhero alter ego and took to the streets to fight the good fight? The first Kick-Ass, and the comic book that it was based off of, answered that question in the character of Dave Lizewski, a high school nerd who dons a scuba suit and calls himself Kick-Ass.

Kick-Ass gets his ass kicked, but a cell phone video of his existence goes viral and spawns a whole trend of regular people playing dress up. Unfortunately, Nicholas Cage and his preteen daughter actually are superheroes, waging a very real battle against New York’s criminal underworld. Kick-Ass gets involved, Nicholas Cage dies, and that’s where we left off at the end of the first film.

Kick-Ass 2 is basically more of the same, but because the concept is still somewhat original, the movie is entertaining. We have the preteen daughter, Hit Girl, struggling to fit in as a high school freshman. McLovin is back as the would-be heir to his deceased dad’s criminal empire. He’s looking to show the world he’s not a joke while at the same time exacting revenge on our protagonist. And then there’s Kick-Ass, trying to take his heroics to the next level, getting in shape, learning how to fight, and finding some like-minded partners to form a real-world Justice League.

So while the plot of Kick-Ass 2 isn’t really that different from the first, the team dynamic introduces an expanded group of characters. Jim Carrey plays an ex-mafia turned Captain America wannabe, Captain Stars and Stripes, or Colonel Stars and Stripes, something like that. His performance was good enough to make me forget that it was Jim Carrey under the mask. That is, until he made a wacky Jim Carrey face, and then I was like, yup, classic Jim Carrey, always making crazy faces.

Speaking of out of the woodwork, John Leguizamo has a role as McLovin’s bodyguard. That’s all there’s to say about that, really. The whole time he was on screen I just kept thinking to myself, man, that’s John Leguizamo. He looks old. Much older than he did when he played Luigi in Super Mario Brothers. And I don’t want to knock him, like I’m glad he’s doing movies and stuff, but he didn’t add anything to the film or the story. They could have probably gotten away with a few carefully placed John Leguizamo posters on the wall.

Oh yeah, and it’s a pretty violent movie, very graphic. I kept trying to justify the violence by telling myself, well, the real world is a violent place. This is probably a pretty good depiction of what would happen if a guy in a costume got beat up on the streets by four robbers. But it was just too much sometimes, running lawnmowers used as projectile weapons, multiple close-ups of broken arms and necks. Crack!

In trying to be real, or in trying to imagine how this story could take place in real life, the movie went beyond anything I’ve seen in this world. Like a barbecue propane tank being ignited and thrown through the windshield of a cop car. I’m sure that it could happen, but it doesn’t really strike me as anything I’d label realistic.

It’s like, in trying to point out or make fun of the ridiculousness of comic books, Kick-Ass 2 winds up shoving our faces in it. And then after the message has been rammed down our throats, the principle characters wind up just as guilty as everything they claim to rebuke. For example, one of the super-group members is gay. He doesn’t wear a mask because it reminds him of the closet. Similarly, Hit Girl early in the film chastised some street punks for throwing around the homophobic f-bomb. That sounds pretty progressive, right? Cut to somewhere toward the end, she’s fighting a group of thugs at high-speed traffic, calling them “cocksuckers” before casually throwing them out of a moving vehicle. What’s the message, that some slurs are more acceptable than others? Or that only the good guys are allowed to throw around epithets?

Like I said, it’s an entertaining movie, sure, but I’m not sure it was really a good movie. I wasn’t bored, but it would be hard to get lost in a daydream in a movie stuffed with so much visual, violent stimuli. I remember liking the comics when I read Mark Millar’s series years ago, but I don’t know, something about that story was easy to read and something about this film made it difficult for me not to look away. It’s a comic book made through a real life filter, thrown back through the comic book filter, and then adapted for a movie. I guess it’s not that far from what you’d expect.

Movie Review: The Wolverine

After watching The Wolverine, I’m starting to doubt my power to give any superhero movie a fair review. Am I that biased? Have decades of reading comic books left me unable to separate the good from the garbage? I mean, yes, I loved Dark Knight Rises. Like, I really, really, really loved Dark Knight Rises. But I thought Daredevil was pretty cool. And Thor. And Iron Man 3. And Spider-Man 3. And X-Men 3.

the wolverine

And The Wolverine. I was watching that movie in the theater, sitting there, thinking to myself, man, this is a pretty cool movie. Pretty badass. Even when Wolverine got escorted through security, and the guards are waving the metal detectors all over his body, and all of the readings are off, you know, he’s got that metal skeleton and everything, and he says, “hip replacement,” I was like, well, OK, yeah, that’s kind of cheesy, but it’s still OK. I mean, yeah, he does have a metal skeleton and I’m sure that’s got to be annoying after a while, constantly trying to explain himself.

And then much later in the movie when he’s trying to get through airport security and the machine’s going nuts, and he’s just like, “I want the pat-down,” it’s like, really? Two metal detector jokes? But maybe it’s not a joke, maybe they’re just really driving home the point that, if you had a metal skeleton, this is what you’d have to deal with on a regular basis, deal with it. And that’s kind of like a really hard directorial trick, right? Like getting us really inside the character’s head?

But I’m jumping ahead. It starts in the woods somewhere. The Wolverine is sleeping outside, not like in a tent or anything, but just right outside. And he’s got a severe case of PTSD. But that’s OK too, because he’s sworn off killing, a solemn vow as he calls it. Except, there’s this guy in the woods who shoots this bear that the Wolverine has befriended, and that kind of sets him off, like it’s just the right offense to make him forget his solemn vow.

But that’s kind of believable, I mean, if I were living in the woods by myself, with a big beard and long hair, and a stupid little radio that runs on size D batteries, batteries that kept dying way too fast, so fast that I’d have to walk all the way into town and buy just one two-pack of batteries and then walk all the way back to the woods, and my only friend was a bear, and somebody shot my friend, I guess I’d be pissed. Yeah, that makes sense.

We’re out of the woods soon enough. The Wolverine’s got some business to attend to in Japan. Some guy that the Wolverine saved from the atom bomb in Nagasaki wants to say thank you, and goodbye, and also, sit still for a second so I can steal your healing powers, please. The whole rest of the movie takes place in Japan, showing off everything as Japanese as you might imagine: ninjas, samurais, secret orders of the black clan, marrying the Minister of Justice to help out with your family’s honor, getting scolded for leaving your chopsticks sticking out of your bowl of rice. It’s all very authentic. And very picturesque too.

In the comics, Wolverine does spend some time in Japan, and he winds up getting involved with a woman named Mariko. I only mention this because, when you see Mariko and Wolverine suddenly fall in love, the only reason that makes sense as to where the out-of-nowhere mutual attraction arose from is, well, it happened in the comics, so there you go, it’s happening in this movie also. But whatever, it’s love at first sight. That’s no reason to criticize a movie. In fact, it’s just another added dimension to the film. Look at me, I’m practically a romantic over here, gushing about true love.

There’s some blond villain named Viper. It’s one of those names that she kind of gives herself while she does this speech explaining her powers, more or less, “I possess the ability to manufacture any type of poison. Also, I’m immune to every class of venom. I guess you could say I’m a … Viper.” And it just takes off, because soon random Japanese people are referring to her as capital V Viper in their English subtitles.

But I can’t knock it. That’s her name, it’s Viper. That’s who she is. Who am I to judge her name, how she dresses? Hell, if I were a blond super villain named Viper, I’d probably only wear green also. Like green leather pants, and green tank tops. And then green dresses later on, and green eye shadow. That’s her thing, she wears green, like a snake, like a green viper. And she has that viper tongue, it’s always like slithering out of her mouth. She’s like a snake lady.

And then, I don’t know, there’s fighting and stuff. And there’s some sort of a plan to kidnap a granddaughter to trick the son, who in turn is using the fiancé, all in an effort to get back at the grandfather, I think. And the Wolverine is there. And he does this crazy fight scene on top of a three hundred mile per hour train.

It’s awesome! That’s probably all that it is, it’s just a truly great movie. I’m here doubting my reviewing skills, but it’s not me, it’s not me just blindly slapping a seal of approval on all projects Marvel. No, The Wolverine must have been a truly amazing movie. Some things don’t need to make sense. Or some things probably do make sense, it’s just my fault for not really getting them. Like when the Viper lady gets stabbed in the heart and dies, why is she able to peel off her skin and restart her pulse? I don’t know, it’s probably some really technical snake ability that I don’t get.

Whatever, superhero movies are the best. I could watch The Wolverine like three more times, today, and I’d still be entertained. Just keep them coming. Like man, I hope they make a Daredevil 2. Or even better, a Spider-Man 3 2. Maybe they could do a crossover, Spider-Man 3 Vs. Daredevil. That would be pretty sick. Even though Michael Clark Duncan probably won’t get to be Kingpin again, because he died.

Movie Review: The Conjuring

I saw the trailer for The Conjuring early last spring, you know the one I’m talking about, with the hide and seek, the clap, clap. Whatever movie this preview was opening for wasn’t even scary, and so I found myself totally unprepared for the terror that I was about to experience. Sure, and without giving too much away, the essence of that scene is mostly shock, or as they refer to it in that South Park episode, being startled.

The Conjuring Clap

But that’s exactly what you go to a horror movie to feel. A good one, anyway. The Conjuring is definitely a good horror movie. I felt like I was clinging to the sides of my seat the entire time, the sides of my seat, the bottom, I’d grab onto any part of the movie theater seat and clench my hands, my arms, everything, and I’d realize that it wasn’t really helping me manage the terror. So I’d shift, I’d grab something else. I wound up spending most of the movie sitting there with my arms wrapped tightly around my chest, exercising basically every muscle in my body.

So you get the picture, I was scared, I liked it. But why does this movie work where so many horror films fall flat? It’s all about pace, especially with a movie like this that doesn’t really stray too far from the time tested forms of the genre. There are creaky stairs, doors opening and closing by themselves, there was definitely a lot of stuff that we’ve already scene before.

But the pacing was perfect. It’s the kind of very slow, things-slightly-start-to-go-wrong mentality, an ominous build up that lets you know something very sinister is going on. That’s easy enough, at least, they made me scared during that trailer. But how would this idea play out for an entire movie?

We all know that there are going to be things popping out at you, lots of slow camera shots that just beg to be interrupted by a scary ghost-lady close-up, but at what point to you sit back and go, OK, this isn’t scary anymore? A lot of times whatever is being used as a plot gets too convoluted, like maybe they’ll look in the history books and figure out the origins of the paranormal activity, and they’ll have to return an amulet or something to set a certain spirit to rest.

So to me, the perfect horror movie never lets you go. Even as whatever is going on is brought to a climax, you’re still sitting there in your seat trying to find that magical position that might make the fear somewhat more bearable. That’s what this movie achieves. You’re never comfortable.

There’s a little side-story opening, involving a doll, which almost made me check out ten minutes into the film. Then we dive right into this family moving into this house somewhere in New England. It looks like it might have started falling apart a hundred years ago. They don’t waste time on too much backstory, and it’s not one of these things where only one person can tell there’s something wrong here.

And equally as important, there’s also not that one idiot character that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, remains firm in his or her conviction that there’s absolutely nothing going on here.

Oh yeah, and it’s in the seventies. I’m telling you, the seventies are fucking scary. So are the sixties. The eighties are just this big neon joke and the nineties, well, I grew up in the nineties, so to me, it’s all a little too familiar. And go ahead trying to make a horror movie set in the present. Whenever I get scared in my house, I turn on all of my TVs, my lights, and I start streaming as much music and video from the Internet at the same time. There’s too much distraction in our modern world to get really scared of anything.

But the seventies, man, you’ve got a problem with ghosts? You can’t just send an email to some random ghost hunters you found on the Internet. No, you have to stalk them at some college hours away where they happen to be giving a lecture. And what if you need emergency clearance from the Vatican for a last minute exorcism? Sorry pal, we’ll see if we can’t get in touch with Rome tomorrow morning. And by the way, that call’s going to be expensive, so we’re going to need a deposit.

Also, the kids say stuff like groovy, and far out. Yup, that’s pretty much how I imagine the seventies, no cell phones, lots of creepy black and white TV static, groovy. I’m terrified.

The Conjuring is fantastically scary. Seriously, I’m still shaking. And no, nothing especially new happened, no envelopes were pushed or anything like that. It’s just a very well put together horror film. It’s like a really catchy summer pop song that the entire world gets stuck in its head. No, there’s nothing especially revolutionary going on here, but something’s been tapped, something universal, and it’s been executed almost flawlessly.