Le Cinema de WTF: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Guy Ritchie is his own worst enemy. He’s not a terrible director, he knows how to film an adrenaline-pumping action scene. But his movies are so overwhelmingly stylized that any artistic merits his films have are mostly drowned out by all the weird stuff he piles on top, and his latest film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is no exception.

Image: Warner Bros.

On the one hand, you almost have to admire the guy (so to speak). Ritchie clearly has a way of making movies that he likes, and he sticks to his guns. But the fatal flaw with this approach is its hubris: Ritchie doesn’t seem to realize that just because he thinks something is cool, doesn’t mean everyone who watches his movies will think so too. Never is this more apparent than with his take on the King Arthur myth, which is hands-down the most aggressively bizarre cinematic experience I’ve had all year. Heck, maybe ever.

Here are just a few of the weird and/or crazy things in this movie. Giant animals (bats, rats, snakes, elephants, wolves, eagles). Demonic hell knights. Tentacle…witches, I guess? People with cockney gangster names like Goose Fat Bill and Flat Nose Mike. Slow-mo swordfights. Hyperactive, spastic editing. A completely bonkers plot. Nary a shred of plot cohesion or character development. In short, it’s a mess, a $175 million wannabe blockbuster that is the first major flop of the year, earning a paltry $15 million domestically in its opening weekend.

So what’s the plot, such as it is? Well, the movie opens with a battle scene featuring the aforementioned giant elephants, which are more akin to the huge elephant creatures in The Lord of the Rings than actual elephants. Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon defeats the elephants and the army accompanying them by killing their leader, a mage named Mordred, with the mystical powers of the sword Excalibur. And if you read that and thought to yourself, “Wait a minute, Mordred wasn’t a mage, he was the product of Arthur’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister,” then you would be right. This is the first sign that Ritchie’s version of King Arthur will have little to no resemblance to previous versions of the story.

Following this, Uther’s devious brother Vortigern stages a coup, and Uther and his wife are killed by a demonic-looking knight with a skull face, flaming cape, and double-bladed scythe. This guy looks like something from the cover of a heavy metal album, or maybe a Dark Souls boss. During his father’s battle with the Dark Souls boss, young Arthur gets in a boat which floats away, Moses-like, down the river where he eventually is found and taken in by prostitutes. There follows a rapid-fire montage of Arthur growing up rough in the streets of “Londinium” (was there ever such a place?), being raised by prostitutes, learning to fight and getting punched in the face a lot. As one might imagine, being raised in a brothel and getting face-punched a lot turns Arthur into a tough, scrappy adult. He is eventually forced to flee Londinium, ends up drawing Excalibur from the stone, and joins the resistance against the evil king Vortigern.

Image: Warner Bros.

This is definitely a fantasy movie, and is not intended to be historically accurate. That much is apparent from the very first scene, and I’m fine with that. The movie doesn’t pretend to be “Based on a True Story” or anything like that, which is good because if it did claim to be based on a true story that would obviously be nonsense. I’m still annoyed that the 2003 King Arthur movie had the audacity to claim it was “The Untold True Story Behind the Legend” when it was nothing of the kind.

And I’m fine with this being a fantasy movie, because King Arthur stories have many elements of magic and mysticism. The problem with the fantasy elements in Ritchie’s film is that they make no sense. For example, Vortigern has this weird cavern under his tower. When we first see the cavern, a mass of tentacles emerges from the water, which unravel to reveal three women. Two of them are kinda hot, the third is massively fat. What the hell are these things? I guess they’re witches of some kind? The movie never explains what these things are, and they end up feeling arbitrary.

This is a movie where things just kind of…happen. There’s no real sense of conflict, and the supporting characters, despite being played by capable actors, are underdeveloped. Jude Law makes for a fun bad guy as Vortigern, and Charlie Hunnam is a charismatic Arthur. But despite having two good lead actors, the movie never really sells the rivalry between them. It also doesn’t help that Vortigern has to be at least 20 years older than Arthur, but Law doesn’t look much older than Hunnam at all. This could be because Hunnam is 37 and Law is 44. But aside from this discrepancy, the movie never gives a reason to care about the story. I like Hunnam as an actor and I liked his portrayal of Arthur, but I wasn’t invested in the story.

Image: Warner Bros.

The movie also has editing issues. You’ve probably seen movies where people talk about doing something, then the movie cuts to the people doing the thing they’re talking about, then it cuts to them talking, then doing, and so on. This can be an effective technique when used properly. Think of a heist film, where we see the heist being planned out and executed step-by-step. This is good because it helps the viewer understand what’s going on, but Ritchie uses this editing technique when there’s really no need to, and as a result parts of the film are unnecessarily choppy.

I don’t hate this movie. It’s a mess, but it’s an enjoyable one, and it’s so full of crazy that it’s never boring. The acting is solid, the photography and special effects are good, and there are some fun action sequences. But ultimately it’s baffling. I would put this movie right up there with The Lone Ranger and Suicide Squad as one of the most bizarre blockbusters I’ve ever seen. But at least it’s more playful than other dour swords-and-sandals epics, such as Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood or Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur is a work of vision, even if it just so happens to be a completely demented vision.

A Whole Lot of Pretty and A Whole Lot of Crazy

David Ayer makes ugly films. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult, the world can be an ugly place. But between movies like End of Watch, Sabotage, Fury, and now Suicide Squad, the man’s movies are so drenched in blood and grime that I really think the man needs a hug.

I had high hopes for Suicide Squad. It boasts a great cast and had a ton of potential. It doesn’t live up to all of that potential, but it manages to be entertaining.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is a mess. But at least it’s an enjoyable mess.

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Suicide Squad is the latest installment of DC and Warner Brothers’ series of films based on DC Comics characters. The previous two installments, Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, were met with mixed reactions, to say the least. So was Suicide Squad. It got dreadful reviews but still scored a whopping $130 million-plus opening weekend.

One of the biggest problems people had with the previous DC movies was that they were too dark and stodgy. They didn’t capture the same sense of fun that Marvel has done so well with in its series of interconnected blockbusters over the last decade or so. To writer/director David Ayer’s credit, his film is funnier than the previous ones, there are quite a few funny moments and one-liners.

But like I said, the movie is a mess. Let’s start with the characters. There are a lot of them in the movie, but there are really only two worth caring about. Those two are Harley Quinn and Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, played by Margot Robbie and Will Smith respectively. Deadshot is the most skilled assassin in the world, expert with every type of firearm, including a musket we’re told, although unfortunately we never get to see him use one.

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Harley Quinn is the Joker’s former psychiatrist turned sort-of-girlfriend, although their relationship is unconventional to say the least. Both characters, along with many others in the movie, are making their big-screen debuts. The other characters are enjoyably quirky, but most of them aside from Harley and Deadshot have little background given to them and little personality beyond their obvious quirks.

Those quirks are largely tied in to their choices of weaponry. Captain Boomerang is a beer-swilling Australian who throws boomerangs, Katana is a samurai chick whose sword holds the souls of people it’s killed (?), Killer Croc is a giant lizard monster, Slipknot is a guy who’s really good with ropes, and Diablo is a Latino gangbanger with flame powers. There’s also Dr. June Moone, who just so happens to be possessed by an ancient spirit known as Enchantress. Sounds like a motley crew, right?

The movie desperately wants to be DC’s version of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as coherent. The motley crew described above is recruited by a government operative named Amanda Waller, an infamous hardass who implants the members of the squad with explosive devices in their necks to ensure their compliance. She thinks of them as the perfect black-ops crew, skilled in causing mayhem and completely deniable by the government if anything goes wrong.

Things go wrong rather quickly, with (spoiler alert) Enchantress promptly stirring up trouble by resurrecting her ancient evil brother and turning people into weird-looking gooey black creatures. I thought of them as mushroom zombies because they reminded me of some of the enemies from a video game called The Last of Us, which were infected with some kind of fungal virus (or would that be viral fungus?).

If all of this sounds vague, it’s because I don’t know how else to describe it. And all of this happens so fast that the viewer barely has any time to process it. In other words, the movie’s pacing is completely off. The squad is introduced and then things go from 0 to 100 in no time flat, and the squad is helicoptered in to a besieged city to stop the mushroom zombies spawned by the evil Enchantress.

I love (fictional) villains, and part of the reason I was so excited for this movie was because it is all about the bad guys. “Stay evil, doll-face,” Deadshot says to Harley at one point. But of course the problem is that the villains have to become the heroes in order to save the day, and the central antagonist they face is spectacularly uninteresting.

Probably the movie’s best-known character is the Joker, played here by Jared Leto. Words cannot describe Leto’s horrific appearance. Short, neon-green hair, red lips, metal-capped teeth, covered in tattoos (including one on his forehead reading “Damaged”), with pale, corpselike flesh, he resembles nothing so much as a grinning, green-haired zombie.

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Much of the film’s marketing centered around Leto’s Joker, but he has very little screentime. He pops up intermittently but has no prominent role in the story. He’s a bit player more than anything else, and he doesn’t have a standout scene like the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight or the museum vandalism in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Despite his nightmare-inducing visage, he’s not very memorable as an actual character.

We see part of the beginning of his relationship with Harley, including a rather upsetting scene where he makes her jump off a ledge into a vat of chemical sludge to demonstrate her loyalty to him, and there’s a brief confrontation between him and Ben Affleck’s Batman. The Caped Crusader makes a very brief cameo appearance, he’s in the movie for less than five minutes. There’s also a surprise cameo from another Justice League member, but I won’t spoil which one.

There are fun action sequences, and each member of the squad gets to kick some ass, with one notable exception. There’s one character who exists for the sole purpose of getting his head blown off in order to demonstrate that Waller wasn’t bluffing about the explosive devices implanted in their necks.

It is still fun to see these characters onscreen together, especially as a comics fan. I liked how the character of Killer Croc was done entirely practically, instead of a digital creation the actor was subjected to what I’m sure was like six hours in the makeup chair. It’s a hefty commitment to a character who (surprise) has little influence on the outcome of the story, and it’s nice to see the filmmakers’ dedication to bringing these characters to life, even if the end results are somewhat less than satisfying.

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A better Suicide Squad movie is the animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, which despite its title is a Suicide Squad movie in all but name. It features many of the same characters (such as Harley, Joker, Deadshot and Captain Boomerang) and a much more coherent plot. In it, the Squad must infiltrate Arkham Asylum to confront the Riddler, who is up to something nefarious, and things get complicated when Joker gets involved. Batman is more of a peripheral character, stalking the villainous characters from the shadows.

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It’s a plot I wish the movie had followed more closely. The film’s trailers made it look like Joker was the central antagonist, but he absolutely isn’t. The story is scattershot and the movie ends up being a hodgepodge full of fun but jumbled action and an overabundance of characters and subplots, most of which are either not very interesting or just outright bizarre. For example, the movie tries to work in a redemption subplot for the flame-powered Latino gangbanger, which feels shoehorned in and completely out of place.

Writer/director David Ayer wants so badly to make DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but he rushes it. He even tries to ape that movie’s wonderful use of 70’s pop music, but again, he rushes it. In its early going, the movie jumps from song to song so quickly that each one barely has time to register. Part of what made the music in Guardians so effective was that the movie spaced out the songs, lending each one its own impact. But Ayer crams them all together one after the other, rendering them much less effective.

I had such high hopes for this movie. But sadly it’s a mess. I don’t hate it, though. Much like The Lone Ranger or Batman Returns, it’s deeply, profoundly flawed, but I don’t hate it. It manages to be more consistently entertaining than Batman V Superman, and its sheer spastic weirdness makes it completely unlike any other movie now in theaters. It features a handful of good performances, most notably by Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who are the movie’s best assets.

It’s a stylish movie and the special effects, makeup and costumes look great, but it’s a shame that all of it is in support of such a clunky plot. “That’s a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy,” a prison guard says about Harley early in the film. It ends up being an apt description of the film itself.

The movie is choppy as hell, but I’ll still pick it up on Blu-Ray and watch all the special features. I’m not sure what that says about me, but maybe we should all be more worried about David Ayer. Seriously, someone give the man a hug and maybe a cookie.

The Untouchable

2014 was the Year of Scarlett Johansson. She had three movies that were all hits in their own ways. Her biggest hit was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was critically acclaimed and one of the top ten highest-grossing movies of the year. On the other end of the spectrum, she had Under the Skin, a strange little indie sci-fi flick that earned her some pretty great reviews for her performance as an alien in human skin.

And somewhere in between these two, she also made a movie called Lucy, a modestly-budgeted sci-fi action thriller, and it is this film which I will be taking a look at today. It was a financial hit, making its $40 million budget back several times over, but was polarizing among critics and audiences.

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Lucy was written and directed by Luc Besson, a French filmmaker who hasn’t been directing a whole lot lately, but if his name sounds familiar it’s probably because he’s been busy producing and co-writing films in the Taken and Transporter series, as well as movies like Lockout and From Paris With Love.

According to Besson, the script for Lucy took 9 years to write, so I guess you could call the movie a labor of love for him. In the film, Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy, a young woman living in Taiwan. In the film’s opening scene, she is arguing with her boyfriend Richard. He works as a courier, delivering things to the mysterious Mr. Jang. Richard is trying to convince Lucy to deliver his latest package, a silver briefcase.

Lucy isn’t stupid, and she refuses to do it until Richard handcuffs the briefcase to her wrist. He doesn’t have the key to get it off her, so she has no choice but to deliver it. She enters Mr. Jang’s building while Richard watches from the street, and while she is waiting for Mr. Jang to come down and take possession of the briefcase, she sees Richard be shot dead outside. Some mean-looking dudes in dark suits come down the elevator and take Lucy, now terrified, upstairs to meet Mr. Jang.

When we meet Mr. Jang, he is stepping over a couple of dead bodies, and his face and hands are spattered with blood. Our friend Lucy is officially having a very bad day. He gives her the combination for the briefcase, and we see that it contains three packets filled with blue powder. Mr. Jang offers Lucy a job. She doesn’t want it (understandably) and is knocked out.

Film Title: Lucy

When she wakes up, she has a scar on her stomach. Mr. Jang and his associates have sewn one of the packets into her abdomen and are going to use her and a couple other guys as drug mules.

Later on, a couple of her guards come on to her. She resists them, and is viciously kicked in the stomach. It’s tough to watch this very attractive young woman be brutally and repeatedly kicked in the gut, but I guess you could call it the Kick of Destiny, because it breaks open the bag of powder sewn into her stomach and releases the drug into her system.

From there, Lucy begins to become something not quite human.

All right, now I need to back up a little. I’ve explained the basic setup for the plot and described a few of the early scenes, but I’ve left out some details that are pretty important. In the opening scene, where Lucy is arguing with Richard, their conversation is intercut with footage of a cheetah stalking and running down a gazelle (or maybe it’s an antelope, I’m not really familiar with African wildlife). This is of course symbolic, with Richard as the cheetah, and Lucy as the unwitting gazelle/antelope.

And after the first scene with Mr. Jang, Besson cuts to a professor (played by Morgan Freeman, because everyone takes everything he says seriously no matter how ridiculous it might be) giving a lecture on brain capacity. And this seems to be the biggest point of contention about this film.

We’ve all probably heard at some point that humans only use 10% of their brain’s capacity. As far as I have been able to find out, this is purely a myth, but Besson’s film takes this idea, lights itself on fire, and scores a flaming touchdown against a team composed entirely of robot ninjas.

What I’m saying is that the movie takes the idea and runs with it. Like, really RUNS with it, and if you’re not down with it, well, that’s just too bad.

Once the drug is released into her system, Lucy starts to unlock more and more of her brain’s capacity, and gains more and more POWER. Remember Limitless, the 2011 Bradley Cooper movie where he takes a drug that makes him super-smart? Lucy is kind of like that, but in addition to becoming super-smart, Lucy also gains fricking superpowers.

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She gains telepathic and telekinetic abilities and is able to remember everything that has ever happened to her, including when she was a baby. She feels no pain and all of her emotions begin to fade. She becomes a superhuman, and all of the henchmen Mr. Jang sends after her are completely helpless against her. No one can touch her.

She ends up contacting the professor played by Morgan Freeman to help figure out what is happening to her, and enlists a French police captain named Del Rio to help round up Mr. Jang’s other drug mules.

Throughout all of this, Lucy becomes more and more emotionless and less able to identify with anything human. When Captain Del Rio asks her why she keeps him around, and quite reasonably points out that there isn’t really anything he can do for her that she can’t do for herself much more efficiently, she looks at him strangely for a second and says, “As a reminder.” She keeps him around to remind her of what it’s like to be human and to have human emotions, as she becomes more powerful she also becomes more disconnected.

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I really like this idea, it reminds me a lot of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen (remember the big blue naked guy?), who has the power to save mankind from itself but doesn’t want to because he has grown so powerful that he can’t identify with them anymore.

It’s a great way to keep the movie interesting and to keep us caring about Lucy, and it prevents her from being turned into a boring automaton. There’s not really any physical threat to Lucy once she becomes more powerful, so most of the film’s drama comes from wondering what will happen to her.

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And Johansson nails it. She just absolutely nails every stage of Lucy’s superhuman transformation, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Her demeanor and her body language and the way she talks change completely as the movie progresses, and the character of Lucy at the beginning of the movie is completely different from her character at the end of the movie, but I found it to be a fun journey, thanks in large part to the strength of Johansson’s performance (and I’m not just saying that because I’m in love with Scarlett Johansson, I mean come on, who isn’t?). Luc Besson has always had a thing for strong female characters, and Johansson’s Lucy is no exception.

And as for the whole 10% brain capacity thing…it really didn’t bother me. It seems like a lot of people were annoyed that the movie takes the idea that people only use 10% of their brain’s capacity and treats it as fact, when in reality it’s all purely theoretical at best. I can understand how that would bother scientifically-minded people, but never having been very science-y myself I can honestly say that it didn’t bother me a bit. I quite enjoyed the movie, it’s just so weird that to be honest, I kind of loved it for just how bizarre it is.

The tone of the movie is kind of all over the place, and there are some weird montages thrown in at various points, including one of animals mating and giving birth (gross), so that the first time I watched the movie I kept wondering if I was watching an action movie or some sort of weird Discovery Channel documentary.

The early scenes with Mr. Jang are chilling, and Besson is very good at building suspense, and Johansson is very convincing at looking scared out of her mind. Also effective is the actor who plays Mr. Jang. He is played by a Korean actor named Choi Min-Sik, who is very famous in his native country and is probably best to known to Western audiences for the movie Oldboy. He is incredibly menacing, made even more so by the fact that all of his dialogue is in Korean and none of his early dialogue is subtitled, so the audience is as confused and disoriented as Lucy is at the beginning of the movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy. I can understand why some people would be turned off by it but I got a kick out of it (so to speak). And the whole movie, including the end credits, runs only 90 minutes (not counting the end credits it’s only about 82 minutes) so if you do end up hating it at least you won’t have to put up with it for very long.

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So by all means, check it out. It really is very different from any other movie I’ve seen recently, and that alone counts for something.

Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap: Part One

In the 2007 Nicolas Cage film “Ghost Rider”, there is a scene where somebody says to Nicolas Cage’s character, “I’m worried about you because you’re filling your head with all this comparative exponential religiosity crap!” or something of that nature. One would imagine that Nicolas Cage hears this sort of thing a lot in day-to-day life, but that’s beside the point. It is easily the best line in an otherwise profoundly forgettable movie, and I guess you could say it served as something of an inspiration to me (kind of).

Today I am starting a series that is an idea that I have been kicking around for a while now, and with no movies that I’m really excited about coming to theaters in the near future, I decided now would be as good a time as any to tackle it.

In this series, which shall be titled “Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap”, I will be examining some movies that deal, however obliquely, with the concepts of faith and religion.

A word of warning: this series will not be to everyone’s tastes. The subjects of faith and religion are always controversial. It is not my intention to anger anyone, what I want to do with this series is take a look at some different modern movies to see what they make me think about these concepts, basically. Please do not assume from the title of this series that I think all religion is crap, because I don’t. It’s just a silly quote from a bad movie that I thought would make a good title. Who knows, maybe Ghost Rider will show up in this series at some point down the road.

Now that all of the introductory stuff is out of the way, let’s move on to the movies, shall we?

And yes, I wrote “movies” as plural intentionally, because for the first installment of this series we’ve got a double feature: 2010’s “Legion” and 2011’s “Priest”, both directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany.

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Let’s start with Legion, because everything has to start somewhere.

In Legion, Paul Bettany plays the archangel Michael, who has come to Earth to save mankind from…uh…angels possessing people.

Wait, what? Well, it seems that the big guy upstairs has lost faith in humanity, and has decided to send his army of angels to exterminate us. Michael was one of those ordered to destroy the humans, but he didn’t want to so he decided to protect us instead.

In the first scene of the movie, Michael falls to Earth and proceeds to slice off his angel wings with a big knife. He then pulls a classic Kyle Reese and mugs some dude, steals his trench coat and somehow finds a whole bunch of machine guns, which he takes with him. All of this is admittedly pretty badass, but what happens next is exemplary of the problems with the movie as a whole.

And what happens after this pretty badass opening scene, you ask? Well, the answer is: 20 MINUTES OF FRICKING NOTHING. After the opening scene, the movie shifts to some diner in the middle of nowhere, where we meet a whole bunch of annoying characters: there’s the guy who owns the diner, Bob (played by Dennis Quaid), his son Jeep (I hope that’s a nickname) who is in love with the diner’s waitress Charlie (what is up with these names?) even though she’s eight months pregnant with some other guy’s baby, the cook who is a big black guy with a prosthetic arm named Percy (again with the names), three rich douchebags (a mom, a dad, and their daughter) stuck at the diner because their BMW broke down, and a black dude (Tyrese Gibson, playing the exact same character he always plays in every single movie he’s ever been in) who got lost on the way to a custody hearing for his son, or something.

Whew. The movie crams all this into 20 incredibly boring minutes. The boredom is broken up when a sweet-looking little old lady comes into the diner, and promptly starts spewing profanity and telling everyone in the diner they’re going to burn, and then bites the rich dad on the neck, starts crawling around on the ceiling, and gets shot by Tyrese Gibson, who is of course packing heat (has Tyrese Gibson ever played a character who isn’t packing heat?).

Uh…what? Evil Grandmothers? Yup. In the immortal words of the great Dave Barry, I Am Not Making This Up.

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See?

So after all that, Michael FINALLY shows up again (after being gone from the movie for 20+ minutes after the opening scene), hands out the machine guns, and tells everyone to get ready.

He then tells everyone that God has lost faith in humanity and sent His angels to destroy us, and that he, Michael, still believes in us and is here to protect us. Oh, and the baby that Charlie the waitress is carrying is somehow the key to the survival of mankind. Why? I dunno. Because the movie had a low budget and could only afford to film at this diner in the middle of the desert, and the writers had to find some plot reason for Michael to come there, would be my guess.

But here’s the kicker: despite what the film’s trailer might lead you to believe, God does not just send his angels to destroy us. He, um, has them possess people (like the grandma) and turn them into zombie-like murderers, complete with shark teeth and black eyes (again, like the grandma).

I have many problems with this.

Okay, I get that this movie probably had a limited special-effects budget, and probably couldn’t afford to show Michael duking it out with legions of angels in midair (although that would have been cool), and so the filmmakers had to find some other way to convey this. And that’s fine. Not every movie has a Michael Bay budget.

But the solution they came up with just flat-out doesn’t make any sense. Angels are supposed to be, you know, good, right? I simply cannot fathom why being possessed by one would turn a person into a foul-mouthed zombie-like murderer. Seriously, if the grandma is possessed by a freaking angel, then why in pluperfect hell does she start spewing profanity??? Are all angels secretly potty-mouthed or something? Did God just say to His legions, “Eh, go nuts”? Why would the symptoms of being possessed by an angel so closely mimic the symptoms of being possessed by a demon, like in The Exorcist??? “Possessed by an Angel” sounds like either a Hallmark channel movie or the name of a Nicholas Sparks “novel” (I hate you, Nicholas Sparks) for crying out loud!!!

And wouldn’t it be more efficient to send actual angels rather than using them to possess people? Michael even says at one point that the possessed people are just vessels and that weak-willed people are easier to possess. I can buy that if we’re talking about demonic possession, but we’re not! Why is the whole possession thing even necessary at all?

But even setting aside all of the movie’s profound theological issues, Legion is a film that simply cannot decide what it wants to be. Is it a horror movie? Is it an action movie? Is it an examination of what it means to have faith despite the odds? Is it a family drama? It wants to be all of these things, but it ends up being none of them because it doesn’t do any of them very well.

Compounding this problem is the movie’s wildly jarring tonal shifts. It has a cool, action-y opening scene, followed by 20 minutes of talking, then the grandma shows up, then Michael shows up, then ACTION SCENE, then exposition, then ACTION SCENE, then more talking, then another action scene, some more talking and then it’s pretty much over. Nothing in the movie flows well at all and it sometimes feels like three or four different movies stitched together haphazardly.

The action scenes are actually pretty decent, and there’s a good fight scene between Michael and Gabriel, the other archangel, who still has his angel wings and a pretty cool mace thing.

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So yeah, the action scenes aren’t half bad, but they’re not woven into the rest of the movie well at all, and they make up a very small portion of the movie’s running time. Between action scenes, we get to learn all about the various boring backstories of literally every single character in the freaking diner, all of which are just about as boring and clichéd as you could imagine. The movie is like 90% TALKING, and all of the talking is BORING.

Let’s do some math. Legion is 100 minutes long, which makes it easy. It’s basically 10 minutes of action and 90 minutes of boring backstory and speechifying by every single boring supporting character.

The only thing in the movie that works consistently is Paul Bettany. He’s a really good actor, and he brings an air of credibility and gravitas to every scene he’s in. He singlehandedly makes the movie far more credible than it deserves, and without him it would be entirely unwatchable.

At one point he gives Jeep (the guy who’s in love with the waitress) a long speech about how he (Jeep) is the reason he (Michael) still has faith in humanity, and Bettany makes the whole speech very believable and even comes close to being effecting, and you get a glimpse of what the movie might have been. This is especially impressive considering that Jeep is a guy who looks (and sounds) a hell of a lot like Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2.

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On the left: Jeep. On the right: Ellis. Or is it the other way around?

The sad thing is that there is a decent germ of an idea to be found buried deep within the movie’s concept, and there’s maybe even a decent movie to be made from this concept, but Legion is not that movie.

In one of the special features on the DVD (NO I DON’T HAVE THIS MOVIE ON DVD SHUT UP) director Scott Stewart talks very seriously about how he believes that the suspense leading up to a scare is almost as important as the scare itself. Okay, sure. The problem is that the “scare” Mr. Stewart is referring to is the evil grandma (I forgot to mention that there’s also an evil ice cream man later), and that evil grandmas (in this movie at least) are not scary. I get the idea that you can take things that are usually good and turn them evil, and that can be scary (Stephen King is good at this), but in Legion, evil grandmas and evil ice cream men aren’t scary, they’re just chuckle-inducing.

Legion is a movie that wants to be many things, and it ends up being none of them. It really has nothing interesting to say, and comes off as being pretentious more often than not.

Wow, that ended up being really long. I was originally going to cover both movies in one post, but for ease of readability I think I will split it into two parts.

Please join me for part two, which will be up soon (hopefully no later than tomorrow).

Less Than Meets the Eye

If you were able to somehow tap into the brain of a 12-14-year-old boy and project that boy’s thoughts onto a screen of some sort, chances are what you would see would be something along the lines of a fire-breathing robotic tyrannosaurus.

fire-breathing robo trex

And, although I am now 25 years old, I think that fire-breathing robot dinosaurs are pretty freaking cool. Call me shallow if you will, but no matter how hard I try to keep him there, sometimes my inner 12-14-year-old self still manages to escape from his cage. I don’t know how the little scamp does it, but almost against my will, when I see a fire-breathing robot T-Rex some part of my brain says, “Yes. I need that in my life.”

And far be it from Michael Bay, that legendary purveyor of boobs and explosions, to not take that image and spend hundreds of millions of dollars bringing it to the big screen.

So far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the only reason Transformers: Age of Extinction exists. Michael Bay is a guy who has let his inner 12-year-old direct all of his movies, the result of which has been billions of dollars in worldwide box office grosses.

I have a mixed relationship with Bay’s Transformers movies. I genuinely liked the first one, I genuinely hated the second one, and the third one was a mixed bag. The fourth one was, despite the presence of a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex that also happened to breathe fire, kind of…well…boring.

This is partly due to the movie’s formidable length. For some reason, I had thought that the fourth movie was going to be shorter than the previous three, the shortest of which was still 2 hours and 23 minutes long.

Well, as it turns out, either I was completely wrong about that or someone was lying, because Age of Extinction clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes long, making it the longest Transformers movie to date.

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And, yeah, I was really feeling the length of this one. By the end of the movie, I felt physically tired. I inadvertently saw the movie in 3D, which probably contributed to the headache I had after it was over.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a fellow named Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, an inventor who becomes embroiled in the conflict between Autobots and Decepticons when he buys an old semi truck that turns out to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Cade is a likable enough fellow and Wahlberg does what he can with the role, even if his character is mostly a stock type. He’s the familiar movie character who is a single dad, loves his daughter but is overprotective of her, is super-smart but is kind of a screwup whose inventions don’t really go anywhere and who is running out of money.

Yawn. All of this is extremely familiar, and of course Cade’s daughter is a hot leggy blonde (played by Nicola Peltz, aka Bland Pretty Girl no. 57) who has a secret boyfriend (played by Jack Reynor, aka Bland Handsome Guy no. 89) that she doesn’t want her overprotective dad to know about. There’s also the shady government agent (played by Kelsey Grammer) and the rich industrialist (played by Stanley Tucci, looking a hell of a lot like Steve Jobs) who’s trying to reverse-engineer Transformers and has discovered that Transformers are in fact made of Transformium, which is the stupidest, laziest name for a metal in a sci-fi movie since Unobtanium.

I didn’t care about any of these characters or any of their relationships, and if a Transformer had landed on any of them and squished them all at any point I really would not have cared.

At least there was no Shia LaBeef. Mark Wahlberg is a far better actor than Mr. LaBeef, and in some ways, Age of Extinction is Bay’s most mature Transformers movie. There’s less broad racial humor, although some of it still manages to creep in every once in a while. There’s less doofy slapstick, which is also nice. And, to his credit, Bay doesn’t ogle his female stars nearly as much as he ogled Megan Fox in the first two Transformers movies or that random underwear model in the third movie.

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But that’s really the only way Bay shows any restraint at all in this movie. The rest of the movie is an endless barrage of special effects which, despite being state-of-the-art and looking pretty great, are just so pervasive that they get numbing after a while.

I felt no emotions while watching this movie. I didn’t care about any of the characters, either human, robot, or dinobot. And the dinobots, by the way, don’t even show up until more than two hours into the movie.

There’s also a fat robot voiced by John Goodman and a samurai robot voiced by Ken Watanabe, and some kind of robot bounty hunter who’s obsessed with catching Optimus Prime for whatever reason. And in addition to the robot T-Rex, there was also a robot triceratops, a robot pterodactyl, and some kind of robot dinosaur with spines on its back.

All of this should be awesome, and yet…none of it can save the movie. It’s pretty much a lost cause. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but I’m still a little disappointed by how indifferent this movie made me feel. I don’t think the Transformers series deserves quite as much hate as it tends to get, but at the same time I certainly understand the problems that people have with it.

trans4mers trex poster

And despite the greatness of this poster, which I would not mind having on my wall, it’s not a movie I’m keen on revisiting any time soon. All it made me feel was tired.

A Live Viewing of the Weirdest Disney Movie of All Time

For me, The Lone Ranger was the most puzzling movie of 2013. Yes, even more so than Iron Man 3 and G.I. Joe Retaliation. Ever since I watched it the first time, I’ve been trying to sort out what I think about it, but so far I haven’t really gotten anywhere. Today I find myself with time on my hands, so I am going to try something different. I am going to put the movie on and attempt to write about it as I am watching it. This will be a new experience for me, since with every other post I’ve done I haven’t written about the movie until after I was done watching it.

All right, here goes nothing.

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First observation: the frame story. For some reason I can’t quite comprehend, the movie starts in San Francisco in the 1930’s, at some kind of fair or exhibition, where a little kid in a familiar-looking white hat and black mask combo walks into a Wild West exhibit. He looks around a bit and comes to a stop at a display of a very old-looking Native American man. A plaque reads “The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat.” The boy thinks it’s a statue, until it looks at him. The old man seems struck by the boy’s appearance, and mutters “Kemo Sabe?”

Most kids and their parents watching the movie in the theater at this point are probably wondering what movie they wandered into.

The kid takes off his mask and asks, “Who did you think I was anyway?” The old man looks away from him and mutters, “Never take off mask.” The movie then cuts to a flashback of Tonto and The Lone Ranger robbing a bank. The boy is confused by this, since he didn’t The Lone Ranger and Tonto went in for that sort of thing. “There comes a time, kemo sabe, when all good men must wear mask.”

Then the movie cuts to Colby, Texas, in 1869, where the Transcontinental Railroad is being built (although I’m pretty sure the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t go through Texas at all). So most of the movie is seen in flashbacks as Tonto tells his story to the boy.

Back in 1869, notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish is being brought to Colby to be hanged, and wouldn’t you know that our mild-mannered hero John Reid is on the same train with him, as is Tonto. Tonto and Cavendish are both prisoners. It’s clear that Butch’s men are going to break him out. In the prison car, Butch is twisting a nail out of a floorboard, and there’s a close-up shot of his torn and bloody fingers, which is a disturbing image for a Disney movie. He removes the floorboard and takes out a gun, and promptly kills the two men guarding him and Tonto.

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Butch’s men board the train and kill several passengers. So at least five people in this Disney movie have already been killed by outlaws. Tonto and John end up chained together and there’s a genuinely disturbing shot of some of Butch’s men terrorizing the passengers, forcing them to sing songs while guns are being pointed in their faces. One woman tries to take a ring off her finger and screams “I can’t get it off!” while a creepy-looking guy waves a gun in her face. It reminds me of the upsetting scene near the end of Dirty Harry where the killer forces a school bus full of hostage children to sing songs while he waves a gun around.

There are some funny sight gags involving John and Tonto being chained together on the top of a train and inadvertently taking out a few bad guys. The train ends up crashing spectacularly and I have to admit that the special effects are impressive.

Okay, I realized something. I’m getting too caught up in plot summary, so I’m going to try to curtail that a bit or this post is going to be a thousand years long. I described the first part in so much detail partly because I wanted to try to get across the really weird first impressions you get from this movie.

Did I mention Tonto has a dead bird on his head and gives it food throughout the movie? But the bird is, obviously, dead, so he just ends up sprinkling bird seeds or peanuts or whatever down the front of his face.

So John heads out with his brother Dan the heroic Texas Ranger and a group of other Rangers to try to track down Butch, but a member of their group betrays them and they all get killed except for John.

So just in case anyone was wondering, this Disney movie has a body count in the double digits and we’re less than forty minutes in.

Did I also mention that Butch Cavendish shoots John and Dan and then cuts out Dan’s heart and eats it in front of John? And that this happens in a Disney movie? Sure, it isn’t seen explicitly (you see the reflection in John’s eyes as he watches), but the fact remains that Dan the heroic Texas Ranger ends up coughing up blood before Butch cuts out his heart and eats it in front of the dying man’s brother. Butch’s blood-drenched hands and face are clearly shown, as is Dan’s bloody corpse.

I mean, holy shit. Bloodiest Disney movie ever? Um, yes.

And then the movie cuts back to old Tonto talking to the little kid! The kid is confused because he thought Dan was the Lone Ranger, not John. Then the movie cuts back to Tonto burying the dead Rangers, except for John who is somehow not dead despite having been shot in the chest. THEN, this white horse shows up and starts pawing around John, despite Tonto’s protests that the so-called “Spirit Horse” bring Dan back to life instead of John. So THEN, Tonto ties John to the back of the horse and starts dragging him along behind them, AND THE MOVIE ACTUALLY STOPS TO LET THE HORSE POOP, AND THEN JOHN’S HEAD GETS DRAGGED THROUGH THE POOP. And did I mention that Butch Cavendish was shown peeing in a bucket earlier?

Less than an hour into this DISNEY MOVIE and we’ve got a bizarre frame story, an unreliable narrator, a double-digit body count, a gruesome act of cannibalism, some quasi-spiritualism, and multiple bodily functions. Not to mention Tonto’s bizarre appearance.

Skipping ahead a bit, John wakes up and he and Tonto end up sitting around a campfire, roasting what appears to be a rabbit. Some other cute little bunnies appear and watch them. Tonto tears off a chunk of meat and tosses it to the bunnies, who SUDDENLY BARE SHARP FANGS AND SCREECH WEIRDLY AND POUNCE ON THE MEAT CHUNK.

WHAT?!?!

Where the HELL did the vampire bunnies come from?!?! All that other stuff was weird, but at least it kind of serves a purpose to the plot, mostly.

Okay, okay, so John and Tonto end up agreeing to hunt down Butch Cavendish. They start by looking for the traitor in Dan’s group of Rangers who sold them out to Cavendish, and the first place they look is in a BROTHEL.

“Are all these women…professionals?” John asks Tonto. And yes, they clearly are. There is more cleavage in this scene than in just about every other movie I saw last year put together. And Helena Bonham Carter plays a one-legged brothel madam with a shotgun hidden in her fake leg! And then there’s something about a cursed rock and John has some weird visions and Tonto doesn’t like cats and runs around with a bird cage on his head and the white horse drinks a bottle of booze and what the hell is even happening.

Dear God, this movie is all over the place. I’m trying to keep up with watching and writing at the same time, but it’s not easy. I’ve had to pause a few times to catch up. And also, a guy in this movie gets freaking SCALPED.

I know you’re trying to process all this. So am I.

lone ranger poerp

Good luck processing this next bit: later, John and Tonto question a CROSS-DRESSING bad guy, and when the bad guy runs away and rejoins his fellow bad guys, he says, and I swear to God I am not making this up, “They was goin’ to violate me with a duck foot!”

Yes. Rape with a foreign object is implied in this DISNEY MOVIE. I feel that ellipses are the only way to express my feelings on this.

I don’t know who the makers of this film thought they were making it for. The appearances of two of the main characters are too frightening and there is too much dark violence for kids, and the movie is so pervasively weird that it’s hard to imagine it appealing to many adults on anything other than nostalgia.

And this movie cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 to 250 million dollars to make, not to mention another $150 million spent on marketing. I honestly can’t fathom why Disney acted all surprised when this movie tanked at the box office. It couldn’t be more all over the place.

lone ranger poster

The rest of the plot has to do with an evil railroad baron’s scheme to extend the railroad through Comanche territory, or something. In the process, an entire Comanche tribe is machine-gunned in one scene, which probably brings the body count pretty close to triple digits.

This movie is a giant bundle of contradictions. There’s a lot of dark, bloody violence and genuinely disturbing imagery, a very suggestive brothel scene, and the plot is too complicated for little kids to understand. There’s also quite a bit of drinking and quite a few uses of “damn” and “hell,” which is pretty mild language but still a bit much for a kids movie. And with a running time of 149 minutes, it’s also punishingly long.

And YET, there are things to like. The movie was directed by Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, and he has a hell of an eye for striking visuals. The scenery in the film is pretty stunning, and the special effects, costumes, sets, and the like all look great, and the climactic train chase is suitably epic.

The movie is also pretty well-acted. Tom Wilkinson and William Fichtner are great as the villains, and Armie Hammer is appealingly stoic and likable as the title character, although he gets second billing to Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto.

Depp’s performance is a bit of a mystery, however. He has this bemused expression on his face for much of the film, though in yet another of this movie’s many contradictions, it’s hard to tell if he’s acting or simply, I don’t know, reacting. His character is certainly memorable, despite his strangeness.

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And the REALLY weird thing is that you can’t trust anything in the movie, because old Tonto is an unreliable narrator. The viewer spends the entire movie doubting Tonto’s sanity, and therefore you cannot trust anything he tells the young boy in the frame story. Who knows how much, if any, of Tonto’s story is true? How much of it is he just making up? How much of it has become warped in his mind?

And for little kids who go to see Disney movies, this sort of storytelling is far too sophisticated for them to understand. One wonders why they even bothered to include the frame story at all.

Is this movie an action movie? Black comedy? Drama? Horror? Family? I have no idea, and clearly the movie doesn’t either.

And all of this, my friends, leads us to the most puzzling thing of all.

I didn’t hate this movie.

In fact, I kind of liked it.

Why? I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s the sheer audacity of the whole thing. That sense of, “Screw it, let’s just throw all this stuff at the wall and see what sticks.” The movie really is completely unlike any other movie I saw in 2013, and that certainly makes it more memorable than any other random six-pack of generic blockbusters.

You could call it a noble failure, perhaps. I dunno. Call it what you will. It’s worth a watch, just to experience the weirdness for yourself. And it’s hard not to feel a stir of emotion when the classic William Tell Overture starts playing at the beginning of the climactic train chase. And also at the end of the film, when old Tonto tells the young boy to decide for himself how much of the story is true, there’s a certain wistful quality that I like. I don’t think this movie will necessarily be remembered as a misunderstood classic or anything, but I could see it developing a cult following.

I’ll leave you with one final line from this messed-up masterpiece:

The Lone Ranger: “Hi-Yo Silver, Away!”

Tonto: “Don’t ever do that again.”

Some Really Bad Movies

My moviegoing philosophy is to try to find something to like in every movie I watch. Here, in no particular order, are seven films that made that extremely difficult.

Torque

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Whenever I think about the worst movies I have ever seen, Torque is always one of the first that comes to mind. Talk about not being able to find anything to like in a movie. This movie isn’t even fun in a silly-action-movie, so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. It’s so bad it’s just really, really bad. It’s a braindead, plotless, terribly executed, mind-numbingly stupid Fast and Furious rip-off. Just watch this video and tell me that isn’t some of the stupidest crap you’ve ever seen. In the immortal words of Roger Ebert: “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” Ebert wasn’t writing about Torque, but he might as well have been.

The Core

The Core poster

Why, Aaron Eckhart, why? You’re such a good actor, why do you keep making crappy movies? You were so good in The Dark Knight! I haven’t seen Olympus Has Fallen, but you’re a perfect choice to play a movie president! Hell, I’d vote for you in real life! You wouldn’t even have to have a platform! You could just say, “Hey, I’m Aaron Eckhart!” and I would say HELL YES and commit some kind of voter fraud on a massive scale to give you a couple million more votes! That’s how much I like you! But The Core is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen! You did your best to make it watchable, but even you couldn’t save this crapfest!

Please Aaron, I’m begging you.

Come back to us.

Please.

Stealth

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Speaking of Fast and Furious rip-offs, here’s the director of the original The Fast and The Furious film trying to rip off his own damn movie. Hey, let’s make FF again, but with PLANES!! Great idea, right?

No dude, it wasn’t.

It really wasn’t.

Batman and Robin

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Now here’s one that really, truly needs no introduction. This movie was so infamously bad that director Joel Schumacher freaking APOLOGIZED for how bad it was!! Bat-nipples!! Ice puns!! Everything in this movie was so inconceivably bad I have to use two exclamation points to express how bad it was!!

Perhaps even worse is that I loved this movie when I was a kid. It came out when I was ten so I think that says a lot about its target audience.

I was young and naïve!

Please don’t judge me too harshly.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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This obviously isn’t even the actual movie poster, and yet it sums up so perfectly what this movie is all about.

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Whoops, where did that come from? Honestly, I have no idea.

I will defend the first Transformers movie, but Transformers 2 represents bloated Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking at its absolute worst. This and Batman and Robin are hands-down the two worst big-budget summer blockbusters I’ve ever seen. In both films, the characters are grating and obnoxious, the plots nonexistent, the action boring, the…

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Gah!! How does this keep happening??

What was I saying? I don’t even remember anymore. I hate Transformers 2 so much. Ebert called it “a horrible experience of unbearable length,” which couldn’t be more accurate.

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LEAVE ME ALONE MEGAN FOX!!

Miami Vice

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Getting a bit more serious for a second, it really pains me to put this one on here. Michael Mann is one of my favorite directors. Collateral in particular is one of my top-ten favorite films. Heat is a modern crime classic, and Mann’s adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis is thoroughly epic. I even enjoyed Public Enemies, as flawed as it was. Miami Vice even has the distinction of being the first R-rated film I ever saw in a theater by myself, which makes it something of a milestone in my film-going career.

If only the movie itself were as memorable. I really couldn’t tell you anything at all about the plot, because there really wasn’t one. As good of a director as he is, Michael Mann’s main priority in this film seemed to have been to give every one of his main cast members multiple shower scenes. It’s just a boring-as-hell movie, which is really disappointing since it could have made for some good trashy fun. Instead it was just overly long, overly complicated, overly serious, and ultimately forgettable.

Sucker Punch

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Zack Snyder is one of the more polarizing directors working these days. The man has his share of strengths and weaknesses to be sure, but for the most part I’ve liked his movies well enough. His remake of Dawn of the Dead was actually pretty good as far as modern remakes of classic horror movies are concerned. 300 is something of a guilty pleasure and I thought Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen was about as good a film of that book as anyone could realistically be expected to make. I’ll even defend Man of Steel against its (surprisingly many) haters, but even I have to admit that HOLY CRAP SUCKER PUNCH WAS BAD.

The plot is utterly nonsensical in ways I don’t have time to explain here. The characters have stripper-sounding names like Baby Doll, Rocket, Amber, Blondie, and Sweet Pea. The action scenes admittedly look pretty cool, even if nothing in them makes any sense. Why are these stripper-sounding gals suddenly fighting dragons, robots, giant samurai, and World War I steampunk German zombie soldiers? Who the hell knows? Because Zack Snyder directed this movie with a part of his anatomy other than his brain, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, there are seven really, really bad movies. It’s my birthday today, and my gift to myself is that I don’t have to watch any of them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a (good) movie to…

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AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!