Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sneak Preview of First Cinema Babble Death Cage Match

The Challengers: Losers vs The A Team

The Criteria: Gonna be like an upgrade of cruise flick evals:
Estimated Body Count
Truly Arcane Ways To Get Rid Of A Rival
Lethal Hot Chicks
WMDs Involved?
Personal Peculiarities/An Interesting Back Story or Ultimate 'Whoa!' Moment for Villain or Hero (numero uno example? Darth 'Luke, I am your father' Vader)
Reason For Mission (Revenge? Righting wrongs? Patriotism? Extra points if a small group of renegade-and I use that term deliberately-military reunites to clear their name/take down a traitor among us))
A Traitor Among Us
Most Unique 'Mascot'
Most Cohesive, Likable Team
Major 'Awwwwww' Moment
Bad Guy Gets Left With the Check/A Brinks Truck Full of Newspaper?
The Parent-Child Connection
Really Killer Incidental Music/Soundtrack
Quality Of Over-The-Credits Materials (extra points for things which either provide closure or catch us up with the major players)

And now it's your turn: what other criteria would you most like to see as areas for grading The Ultimate Winner of the First Cinema Babble Death Cage Match?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Death Cage Matches

Hi, all!
Just had a thought: Hey! What if I made a comparison-critique-wise- of two books or films which were similar in genre (romcom to romcom, for example)- and had them do a death cage match-up: two enter, only one survives. I am definitely interested. Whaddayathink? Please advise.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Perfect Game

The Film: The Perfect Game (2009)

The Actors: Cheech Marin (who also produced), Clifton Collins, Jr, Emilie DeRaven, Louis Gossett,Jr, Bruce McGill, Dave Koechner, Frances Fisher, and some newcomer kids.

The Dealio: 'Based on a true story', (stop me if you've heard this before and ever wondered how much of the base was actually true to the original story), this tiny film takes on the story of a group of poor kids from Monterrey, Mexico who unite behind the leadership of a dismissed 'towel boy' for the St. Louis Cardinal major league baseball team. Seeing as how this took place in the 1950's, you should expect some stereotypes: the bigoted, ugly Americans, the grief-stricken father who can't relate to his surviving, dreamer-son, the kindly, old groundskeeper who knows more than the real team leadership and- my favorite- the polarising support for the underdog. Whom everyone loves to love.
Let's say one thing about stereotypes: they are what they are because they keep turning up over and over again.
I have a confession to make: I really do not like sports very much. As in, at all. Don't follow them on TV, don't typically go to a game unless there is another agenda (example: everyone in the command/from work is going, and this venue is an alternative to a room in the back of a chain restaurant). However, it is extremely rare for me to miss a film or TV show which has, as its foundation, any sport. And I am not at all picky. It could be anything from football to karate to tennis to surfing to chess-playing. (That's a sport, right?) Doesn't matter; I'm so there. But, baseball-based movies have a special place in my heart. So, yo!? Make it good. This one is good. Sure, sure, sure, it has all those stereotypical touchstones I was talking about back in the beginning of this review. But it also has those elements I look forward to in this sort of film: disgraced person gets a second chance, heroes who sprang from a disadvantaged background, underdogs united, and, best of all: that final, hungered-for face off between David and Goliath. No slow-claps, though. Surprising, that.

The Grading Session: 4.18 pengies out of 5. They lose a smidge for showing an American flag with 50 stars, in 1957- Alaska and Hawaii became states in January and August of '59, boys and girls. And some of the young actors portraying the players were clearly rookies in the acting field. However, overall, there is an unquenchable feel of joy and commitment in putting this little-known story onto the big sceen. And that counts for a lot with me. There is no hint of going through the motions in this film. I appreciate this, especially given that scores of movies with much larger budgets choose to sleepwalk through the show and rely on promotion to sell it. Nope, not here. Here, it's all about the story.

Lessons Learned: Watching an engaging baseball movie is a way better activity, to me, than actually watching a ball game on TV. Also this: it is easy to see why baseball has gone international: it has an appeal that seems to dissolve borders, language constraints, biases and customs. Let's hear it for baseball...movies.

Kick Ass

The Flick: Kick Ass

The Actors: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong (does he ever play a good guy?), Chloe Moretz (!), Nicholas Cage.

The Dealio: Starts out like Super Bad Redux. Typical teenage Fantasy World stuff. Been there, seen that. Then, about 30 minutes in, Blammo! We take a sudden, swerving, tire-squealing detour into Quentin World. Kiddies- hang on to your ipods. We're going on a strange and violent journey.
Now, normally, I have a weirdness meter that pings increasingly noisily when things I am reading or watching begin to exceed my comfort-level. And I would be lying to you if I did not disclose that this movie activated that meter several times during the show. However, I was willing to give it some slide this time because, well, this film is just extremely involving. For the right audience (recall, please, that this film is R rated...and for a reason).
Here's the dealio: When wannabe super hero, Kick Ass (who not only has no super powers, but also has no really cool stuff to back up the look) gets his ass kicked and undergoes some pretty riveting surgery (speaking here as a medical professional), his endurance is increased, but his actual abilities in the crime-fighting, girl-impressing, justice-meting arena remain highly deficient. Then he meets Big Daddy and Hit Girl- two mysterious peeps who are enormously talented in the pursuit of fair-play and evening up the score for the downtrodden. And also rock an audacious look and some incredible, self-designed weaps. His life has changed forever. He just doesn't know it yet.

The Grading Session: 4.51 pengies out of 5. Chloe Moretz totally kicks ass and takes names. She is the clear stand-out in this really talented group of mostly minor-key players. Except for Nick Cage- who, here, whips up and delivers yet another of his half-baked, exotic-but-vaguely-benign oddballs. His robotic voice and stiff delivery when he is Big Daddy must be something he felt essential to his vision of the character. But, as my side-kick for this movie (hi, Prendie!) said, 'Yep, he has a unique and special vision. He must be...interesting to work with.'
This hooky, quirky and ultimately highly enjoyable movie certainly has its soft spots, but I was willing to skate past the high-grade violence, inappropriate situations and occasional slack moments. If you are looking for something just a little north of the average teen fanboy movie, Kick Ass may be right up your alley.

Lessons Learned: Parenting styles vary wildly, and who, aside from me, is to say any particular style is better than another? Also- it takes a lot more than a hot costume to make a person a super hero. Some people do this work every day and have no cool go-withs at all. One last one? OK: never try to stop a crime-in-progress with only reason and a command voice. However, do be smarter and more heroic: run away to a safer place, so that you can survive to actually call 911. Just saying.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Runaways

The Flick: The Runaways

The Actors: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Riley Keough (Elvis' granddaughter) and so on.

The Dealio: This is the story of how the '70's all-girl band The Runaways was born, flew to the sun-or, at least, Japan-then self-imploded, as is historically and cinematically customary. Whether the story is biographical (The Doors) or fictitious (The Commitments), it seems that the tales always have a similar arc. So, it must be true.
The director of this piece is Floria Sigismondi, who, clearly, is a photographer and artist before a storyteller. Not one tiny element of authenticity is too small to be lingered over('Ooo, look: a bonafide '60's-'70's brocaded, rotary wall phone! Scrumptous! Look! Men wearing make-up and women wearing sequined halter school!'). Her background in music vids has also given Sigismondo cart-blanche to indulge in flashy-lit, jumpy sequences, zoom shots of Fanning's eyelashes and re-re-repeats of Cherry Bomb, arguably the bands' greatest hit. And, imagine! it was written, on the fly, without much thought or attention to anything but a rhyme and words that would -in the words of the Runaways' sleezoid manager (why do I have absolutely no difficulty in believing this was a fairly spot-on portrayal?)- would grab the listeners by the crotch. Or another related area of the anatomy.

The Grading Session: This was a movie I was really looking forward to- especially given how important a role I believe soundtracks play in the final product that is the film. I was under-served here. And not just by the lack of imagination in the soundtrack. I never really felt any identification with this historic, ground-breaking group, or any of the members. Yeah, I get it: they had lousy childhoods. Lots of people do. But what fed them? What drove them down this particular musical route? No idea. I also got the impression that Joan Jett just woke up one day, stumbled across an electric guitar, and the next day is able to find herself a manager. Even though she doesn't, at this stage, even have a band. And is taking guitar lessons from a high school music teacher- the first of many men to tell her that grrrrls don't rock. Somehow, deep inside me, I know the evolution was a lot more involved than this. But you don't see any of this on the screen. Where's the why and the hook? Where's the history, the personal back story?
The '70's were a time resplendent with indulgence and excess and this aspect is rudely and rashly brought to life in the film. So, what is more natural than the birth of legions of musical acts manufactured with an eye first to 'the look' and last to 'the sound'. The Runaways among them. They make music, answer to their own muses/curses. Drink and dope too much. Fall apart at the seams. Hope and pray for a second act.
Got it.
So, there I sat in the theater, alternately yawning (this is the Runaways, right!?) and wondering how soon I could get home and shower off the slimy, voyeuristic creepitude I felt coating my eyeballs? To me, this was more of a misdemeanor than a true crime- but only because it lacked the passion for the second. So, that, I guess was my biggest disappointment. Didn't show me the passion and the fire. Not even close.

The Grading Session: 3.01 pengies out of 5, mostly for era-appropriate costume, sets and design, as well as the good job Stewart, Fanning and Shannon did with the shoe-box sized amount of material given them.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, when you put objects under the microscope, they do not become larger than life...but smaller.