2012 Movie Blitz: Part 13

October 26, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

And the blitz continues. We’re heading towards November 2013 and I still haven’t done my best and worst lists of 2012. The heat is on!

Rock of Ages (2012)

rock-of-ages-poster

Not usually a fan of musicals (The Sound of Music being an exception, of course) but Rock of Ages seemed like it had potential because of the classic ballads and the fact that it featured stars you thought couldn’t sign, such as Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin.

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Rock of Ages is your typical romantic comedy about a young girl (Julianne Hough) who leaves everything behind to venture to the big city to chase her dream of becoming a star but learns things are a lot messier and more difficult than she imagined.

I enjoyed the film not because of the story it had to tell because of the stars. Tom Cruise really surprised me and stole the show somewhat with his performance as disillusioned rocker Stacee Jaxxx. The Scientologist can sing! It was also good to see the likes of Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Malin Ackerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and of course Bryan Cranston having fun with their respective roles.

It’s overlong, bland, cliched, cheesy and not especially romantic or funny, but audiences who like the music in it (Hit Me with Your Best Shot, More Than Words, Wanted Dead or Alive, I Wanna Know What Love Is, etc) might be able to overlook some of these flaws. It’s not a memorable musical movie like say Chicago, but Rock of Ages could have been a lot worse (like say Mamma Mia).

3 stars out of 5

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

man with iron

I get what they were trying to do with this movie, or at least I think I do. A farcical, satirical, yet semi-serious American martial arts film paying homage to the classic HK kung fu movies — the unintentionally hilarious dubbed ones — Quentin Tarantino loves so much. And yet the movie is directed by and stars rapper RZA, plus a cast including Russell Crowe and just about every Asian actor in and on the outskirts of Hollywood.

The story is set in ancient China and is about a blacksmith (RZA) entangled in warring clans. Needless to say, he ends up turning into titular character and takes on a bunch of kung fu badasses led by MMA fighter David Bautista. Crazy fight scenes, bloody violence and cheesy melodrama ensue.

The result is a mixed bag. But if you’re looking for a parody-type laugh and some half decent kung fu scenes, then The Man with the Iron Fists is OK. Not great, not horrible, but just OK. It’s intentionally silly and means well, but it walks a strange line the feels awkwardly out of place. The problem is that it doesn’t really offer anything original or exciting. The target audience — fans of such films — will enjoy it, but for mainstream audiences the message could be lost in the translation.

2.25 stars out of 5

Here Comes the Boom (2012)

HERE_COMES_THE_BOOM-Poster_596x951

I was really surprised with this one because I don’t exactly equate Kevin James to a leading man in a good comedy. The style of his comedy often feels too obvious to me, which makes him a better sidekick — or so I thought.

Here Comes the Boom is what I would call an effective family-comedy-slash-inspiring-underdog-story. Kevin James is a disillusioned biology teacher who turns to paid MMA fighting to help out a music teacher (played by Henry Winkler) struggling from funding problems. Winkler, doing his best Arrested Development Barry Zuckerkorn impression (making him the by far the best thing about the whole movie), helps James out in his corner with the aid of a trainer trying to gain his American citizenship, while fellow teacher and love interest Salma Hayek tends to his many wounds.

It’s a ridiculous premise that’s pure fantasy, especially if you consider James’s physique, but that’s what underdog movies are all about. The fight scenes are done pretty well and there’s not much to dislike about the film despite how generic it feels at times.

The reason why Here Comes the Boom works is because it doesn’t take itself too seriously but is amusing enough and the characters are likable enough to get the job done. Look, it’s not Warrior, the best MMA movie of all time, but it’s not exactly Never Back Down 2 (one of the worst MMA movies of all time) either. It definitely could have been funnier and the plot could have been stronger, but I think despite its flaws and lack of memorability, its scaled back violence, easy-to-get humour and heart-filled message makes Here Comes the Boom a good DVD choice for kids and families to enjoy.

3.25 stars out of 5

Rites of Passage (2012)

rites of passage

Wow. Christian Slater. Stephen Dorff, Wes Bentley. All guys who had promising careers at one stage. Slater was the man for a while (check out this list: Heathers, The Wizard, Young Guns II, Pump Up the Volume, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Untamed Heart, True Romance, Interview with the Vampire, Broken Arrow, Hard Rain — those are his major hits from 1988 to 1998). Dorff was in one of my favourite horror movies as a kid, The Gate, and hit the big time with The Power of One in 1992, though for some reason the biggest movie he did after that was Blade. As for Bentley, he was supposed to be IT after American Beauty, and your guess on what happened to him is as good as mine.

But I digress. All three guys are in Rites of Passage and it’s a straight-t0-DVD piece of crap. Basically, it’s about an anthropology college student (some random) who wants a right of passage to transition himself to manhood. He takes his college buddies to a ranch along with his buffed professor (Dorff) and runs into his brother (Bentley), who a psycho addicted to psychedelic drugs. And also hanging around is a psycho hillbilly (Slater) who talks to…wait for it…a monkey sock puppet. By the way, this is a slasher movie.

Piles of cliches, plenty of stupidity and hordes of unlikable douchey characters, though I admit there was also some occasional entertainment, mostly from watching Christian Slater talk to a monkey sock puppet. I just don’t know what to think of this film. It was just so silly and trite that I thought I might have been having a wild fantasy nightmare. I mean, just look at the poster. It says it all.

1.5 stars out of 5

Saluting Bryce Courtenay

December 6, 2012 in Best Of, On Writing

I’ll admit, I’ve never read any of the 20 or so books written by Aussie legend Bryce Courtenay, who passed away late last month. I haven’t even seen the movie based on his first and most famous book, The Power of One. All I know is that there the film launched the career of Stephen Dorff, that Daniel Craig played a young Nazi in it, and that there is a “young reader’s edition” of the novel, which must mean it’s a pretty big deal.

A young Daniel Craig as a Nazi in The Power of One

What has prompted me to write this post is the Walkley Award (the highest journalism award in Australia) winning article by Jane Cadzow in the Good Weekend, which provided some fascinating insights into the life of this professional writer and the amount of dedication it requires getting to and staying at the top. Hard work and determination are common themes seen in almost all the success stories I have come across, and it has me wondering if I’ll ever be able to be even half as dedicated as some of these people.

The article paints Courtenay as a fascinating fellow who is probably one of the biggest bullshit artists Australia has ever seen. Even the people closest to him admit that he embellishes (to put it in the kindest way possible), but Cadzow effectively tears apart most of Courtenay’s fanciful claims about his life.

It may be his ability to lie that makes Courtenay such a brilliant storyteller, but it’s his background as an advertising guru that helped him break out from the pack in the first place. As the article says:

When Courtenay decided to become a novelist, his marketing nous stood him in good stead. “There are writers in this country who are better than me,” he says, echoing the words of many a reviewer. But no one disputes that when it comes to pitching a book to the paying public, the former adman is in a class of his own. Who else tests cover designs with focus groups, distributes sample chapters at railway stations and hires sky-writers to emblazon titles high above cities? With one of his novels, he went so far as to launch a tie-in beer (Tommo & Hawk Premium Ale). “Bryce is, beyond anything else, a promoter,” says Hamill. “There are some great authors in Australia, and I know many of them, who won’t get off their bums and sign books in shopping centres.”

Whereas Courtenay is never happier than sitting in-store with a pen in his hand and a queue of fans in front of him. Owen Denmeade, another of his old advertising mates, salutes him for the enthusiasm he brings to the task. How many title pages has he autographed over the years? Denmeade hates to think. “We used to say, if you’ve got an unsigned copy of a Bryce Courtenay book, it’s worth a lot of money.”

Sometimes all you need is a break. Off the back of the success of The Power of One, which he was apparently terrified would fail, Courtenay became one of Australia’s most successful writers, with his books selling 9.5 million volumes (including almost 8 million in Australia) since 1997. In better times, a new Courtenay book would apparently sell 250,000 copies, whereas now it’s around 200,000. That’s simply incredible considering what a small market Australia is.

The other thing about Courtenay that impressed me was his tenacity. He apparently worked 12 hours a day, from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week. For you mathematical geniuses out there, that’s 84 hours of writing a week, 4,368 hours of writing a year. Of course, it’s likely he bullshitted about that as well, but the fact of the matter is that he had been launching decently-sized books just about every year. As the article says:

Courtenay takes seven months to write a novel. He starts work the day after Australia Day [January 26] and finishes on August 31, delivering each chapter to Penguin on completion to ensure that the book can be edited, printed and in the shops for the Christmas rush. “The last six books I’ve finished within an hour of each other,” he says, “right to the point of having a courier waiting for the last chapter at the front door.”

To help him keep to such a tight timetable, he employs a full-time researcher, his brother-in-law Bruce Gee. “Like a lot of people, he’s not a terribly quick reader,” says Bruce. “My job is to get information to him in a predigested form.” Also entrusted with checking each day’s output for errors, Bruce points out that he isn’t the only one on the payroll. “People advise us on music, for instance, and on esoteric things like historical railways. All sorts of stuff … Bryce is almost a cottage industry.”

Courtenay’s deteriorating health prevented him from delivering his final book, Jack of Diamonds, on time last year, and the disappointment he expressed is remarkable for a guy who supposedly wouldn’t have had to make another dime had he lived to 100.

Courtenay was inconsolable about missing his first deadline in two decades. “I know how stupid it is,” he says, “but when you have one of those A-type personalities where achievement is important, and you have my kind of background, then … failure is unthinkable.”

Then again, it could be because Courtenay needed the money (though he says money doesn’t interest him), which is a frightening thought for all struggling writers out there. According to his brother-in-law, Courtenay was not as wealthy as might be imagined.

“He’s lost it, given it away, made bad business decisions, whatever.”

So the moral of the story, I suppose is to work really really hard, be a perfectionist, spend extra time marketing your work and take care of your money if you ever make some. In any case, I salute Bryce Courtenay for all he has achieved throughout his life and for being such a great inspiration to all aspiring writers out there.

Cadzow’s full–length article can be found here.

Bryce Courtenay’s final book, Jack of Diamonds

Movie Review: Immortals (2D) (2011)

November 17, 2011 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

Immortals, the bloody, ultra-violent fantasy action film loosely based on Greek mythology, is widely mistaken as a Zack Snyder film (ie, the guy behind the epic 300).  I overheard no less than two couples make the erroneous connection when exiting the movie theatre.  It is easy to see why, given the similarities in content, styles, themes and incoherent shouting between the two films.  Besides, there is an overlap in producers (a fact they keep reminding us).  But unfortunately, Immortals is no 300.  Yes, it is also visually arresting and the action — when there is action — is blistering, but at the end of the day, Immortals impales itself on its laboured storytelling, rendering it plodding in comparison and ultimately forgettable.

In fact, Immortals is directed by Tarem Singh, an Indian director who was previously at the helm of The Fall and The Cell (yes, the infamous J-Lo clunker) and built his CV on music videos and commercials.  His visual style is slick, fast and brutal, with long, clear fight sequences and well-placed slow motion emphasis — rather Snyder-esque — but Immortals does not attempt to emulate 300‘s monochrome colour scheme or its comic book presentation.  I’d actually say that Immortals is closer to a mix of Clash of the Titans (for its Greek mythology and fantasy elements) and Centurion (for the excessive brutality last seen in this 2010 ultra-violent Michael Fassbender Roman conquest film).

The plot is straightforward — Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on Olympus, turning the world upside down to seek the mystical Epirus Bow in order to release these demi-god creatures called Titans to destroy the Gods.  Theseus (Henry Cavill) is an ordinary man chosen by the Gods to save humanity and gets caught up in the destruction.  He is assisted by a hot virgin oracle priestess (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) and a strangely-loyal-for-no-reason thief (Stephen Dorff).  Let the carnage begin.

Immortals does have a lot going for it.  There are some highly entertaining action scenes, all of which involve bone crushing, blood splattering, head exploding (and according to some, excessive and unnecessary) violence and most of which involve an agile, sword/spear wielding Henry Cavill and his impressive 6% body fat.  Watching Cavill (the man whom Stephenie Meyer expressly envisioned as Edward Cullen in Twilight before he got too old for the role, and the guy who was almost James Bond) on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t a massive star already.  He looks fantastic, oozes charisma and has reasonable acting chops.  Immortals won’t make him that massive star, but the upcoming Superman reboot (again?) Man of Steel, in which Cavill plays the titular character, most probably will.

Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are underused as Cavill’s companions, but that’s more the fault of the script than their abilities.  Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) is solid as Zeus, and Kellan Lutz (Twilight) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2) are semi-believable as Poseidon and Athena, respectively.

However, it is Mickey Rouke’s Hyperion that dominates.  Rouke is phenomenal and seems to relish playing these complex and unforgiving characters.  The film would not have been the same without him.  Big call, but I reckon it was his best performance since Wild Orchid (just kidding!).

So Immortals was exciting when people on screen were killing each other, but sadly, everything in between was kinda boring.  The storytelling really struggled after the opening third and never picked up any steam.  The characters remained stagnant and stopped developing, and when you think about it, the story doesn’t really go very far.  That would have been mildly acceptable had there been simply action, action and more action (like 300), but for for me it felt as though too much of the 110 minute running time was wasted on the boring stuff.

This makes Immortals an average and somewhat forgettable movie at best, but my bias for exciting battle scenes and visual flair probably boosts its rating a little higher than it should be.

3.25 out of 5!

PS: When I first saw the trailer for Immortals, I was very excited by the obvious allusions to 300.  I know that film polarised some viewers but I loved it — it was as close to a comic book or video game (I’m a big fan of both) as any film I had ever seen.

The Immortals trailer also reminded me, unexpectedly, of one of the best video game franchises of all-time, God of War, and in particular God of War III on the PS3.  If they’re ever going to make a God of War movie, I’d imagine it to be like this (at least visually).

Amazingly, I found the storytelling in God of War III, told through a series of cut scenes, to be superior to the storytelling in Immortals.  Now what does that tell you?

PPS: Forget about 3D.  It never even crossed my mind.

 
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