Tag Archives: Action

Godzilla (2014)

Never have kaiju been so loud, so big, and so bad.
(And did I say LOUD? And BIG? And BAD?)

And never have some of the best actors in the industry been so wasted.

I wasn’t expecting a character drama, not at all; I was just looking for some hardcore monster-on-monster cagematching; but as Pacific Rim showed, a small, small investment to make your characters distinguishable from each other goes a long, long way. THAT movie wasn’t high drama either, but at least I had a sense of who people were and what they wanted, and it enabled me to care about what happened, mourn over the losses, laugh at situational humor.

Godzilla only really has one character whose motivations you understand, and that doesn’t last long; and the rest of the characters are just filler. David Strathairn? Elizabeth Olsen? Ken Watanabe? Juliette Binoche? Bryan Cranston? Wasted or close to it. You could have cast this movie with nobodies and it would have trawled in the same box office haul, and the movie would not have been any worse for it.

(But it’s so LOUD! and BIG! and BAD!)

And no, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not a bad actor in his own right, but his character here is just debris bounced from disaster to disaster, with little motivation of his own (except maybe “Homeward Bound,” kaiju eiga style). Which leads to probably the biggest reason why none of the human element worked:

The movie is not about the people, it’s really about the monsters — yet they spend 75% of the movie on the people without doing much with them.

The people never are able to stand in the way of the monsters, their efforts are obviously pointless from the start. Humanity’s only hope is Godzilla… and he shows up on his own to kill the other kaiju in order to “balance out nature.” He’s like starvation to an overpopulation of deer or a bolt of lightning to balance out electron quotas — the naturalistic deux es machina trashing the behemoths that humanity cannot, and he comes, he conquers, he descends to the ocean depths in glory at will, and one day he shall come again to judge the living and the dead kaiju alike, selah and thanks for all the fish.

(And “Gofira” is also terrible at cleaning up after himself, you’ll need one hell of a pooper-scooper… but I digress.)

((But wow, did I say it was LOUD? and BIG? and BAD?! ))

Godzilla is in essence the anti-Cloverfield. Cloverfield is in essence a love story using a city-razing monster as a backdrop, so keeping the monster hidden makes sense  and increases tension. Godzilla is really a monster movie that tries to use a love story as a backdrop (Dad wants to get home!), yet much of the movie focuses on Dad’s wanderings rather than on the Daddy Monster of them all. MOAH MONSTAH PLEEZ.

I still dream of a 90-minute IMAX 3D extreme-combat bonebreaking downtown-trashing smörgåsbord of destruction.

PS. Was that a handful of Zip disks being portrayed as antiquated technology? Oh horrors!

2.5/5

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Amazing Spider-Man 2

ASM2 seems to be one of the most heavily reviewed movies out there right now, being at the start of “blockbuster” season before the glut, but individual responses almost seem dependent on coin flips: Rotten Tomatoes seems split pretty much down the middle, and for every reviewer that hates this movie, another one enjoys it. I admit how disconcerting it’s been to read reviews that take an axe to the same ideas and scenes I found myself appreciating.

Where did it fall for me? No, it’s not a classic within “genre movies” like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or Wrath of Khan; and it’s not as solid as Avengers or Iron Man; but I still enjoyed it my viewing of it in the IMAX 3D. The opening sequence (a semi-routine Spidey heist-chase) is one of the best. And in this movie, Garfield continues to expertly convey the wisecracking variation of Spider-man, along with Peter’s skills as a gearhead… something Maguire’s version veered away from.

Some of the more personal scenes were moving enough to tear me up. Sally Field might not look like Aunt May in the way Rosemary Harris did, but she’s far more able to move me with the transparency of her agony over her evolving relationship to Peter and his own complexes. There is some great directing work when Harry and Peter meet for the first time in years and the mood has to shift abruptly from that awkward distance between long-separated friends to reexperienced comraderie.

And of course, it’s amazing how Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield can construct a realistic relationship through the intimate rhythm of their banter with dialogue that, on paper, is rarely ever a completed (even half-completed) thought. I believe they love each other when I see them — I believe so much. They’re like two parts of the same person, they can’t help but be together.

I didn’t mind flashbacks to Gwen’s dad (since a neurotic Peter who doesn’t deal directly with his emotions would necessarily be besieged through his subconscious by broken promises). I didn’t mind that there were in total “three supervillains” in the movie because none of them were on screen at once; only one is the primary villain, another’s predictable development is tracked steadily throughout, just in time to appear for a brief but significant encounter; and the third villain plays the same role that the Underminer did in The Incredibles, so he doesn’t even really count as being in the movie. I didn’t mind Electro’s plot arc, which if you break it down to the basics, is pretty similar in beats to Doc Octopus’s in Spiderman 2 [bad accident, recuperates, first encounter, villain hones his goals, final encounter]. And all these characters had clear and reasonable motivations for their behavior — you see it all unfold onscreen.

I didn’t mind that the movie also toyed with the resolution of Gwen Stacy and her romance with Peter. You pretty much have to live under a rock to remain unaware of the plot spoiler from the comic series, so it’s inevitable that you’ll start the movie feeling some anxiety. The movie plays with this, consciously. But every time it bluntly foreshadows one outcome, it’ll renege a bit later, leaving you wondering whether (a la The Walking Dead) a character’s fate on the big screen can truly be set in stone on the pages of a flimsy comic book.

I had a few regrets, one being that Chris Cooper got barely any screen time. (That guy is just too damn good to be resigned to a cameo.) Another was Kafka, the mad scientist who seems so much a cliche — although, if you’re a comic fan, you’ll recognize that name as being from the actual book. The “crossover clip” in the credits really came out of left field. The board meeting scene was pretty sketchy, writing-wise. And so on.

But like I said, it’s not high art. It could have been better, yes. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable for me, or that I couldn’t see moments of perfection within it. I came to see an action picture that would also move me on occasion with some authentic interactions among the cast, and that’s what I ended up getting. But there were things here that should remain burned into Peter’s psyche in regards to all of his important relationships, and I expect to see them followed up on in ASM3 if there is to be authenticity.

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Noah

While not a literal translation of the Old Testament story, “Noah” serves as a unique and decent-enough adaptation with some beautiful visuals and engrossing action sequences. Crowe brings solidity and weight to the role of this apocalyptic prophet, and even his occasional bit of singing (to address another amusing and tangential question) is commensurate with the movie’s needs.

Unfortunately, while Aronofsky offers some intriguing exploration of Noah’s prophetic visions and psychological headspace, on the large scale “Noah” is not one of his most resonant works. Aside from any fantastic quirks, the movie seems a bit more straightforward than Aranofsky’s other efforts (especially Black Swan and The Fountain); the director’s touch is most obvious during Noah’s prophetic dream sequences and the way he doesn’t flinch when showing the horrific outcomes of individual choices. Violence and emotions in this movie at times can be raw and explicit.

While Aronofsky has not literally recreated the story as Western Christians learned it as children on Sunday morning, it’s clear that he did his homework since even the stuff that left Baptists squirming in their seats has basis in Christian lore. For example, according to Genesis, there were angels that fell to earth to bed human women, and the offspring of that damned union were referred to as the Nephilim or (as often translated, correctly or not) “giants.” The Book of Enoch delineates further, listing the names of these fallen angels (called Watchers) as well as the specialized information that each imparted to humanity much as the Greek Hephaestus and Athena shared knowledge of the arts with men.

Aronofsky adapts this source to support the themes and plot  of his narrative. Here, the Watchers were angels who came to earth against the Creator’s will out of compassion for humanity, so He punished them by stripping off their wings and smothering their holy brilliance within grotesque shells of twisted stone. Now shambling rock giants, the Watchers bequeathed their knowledge to humanity, but men were unworthy and used that knowledge to not just destroy each other but lay waste to the planet. By the time Noah comes around, the world more resembled “Mad Max” than any proverbial paradise. Seeing the extent of their mistake, the Watchers finally threw in their lot with Noah, the Creator’s foreordained; and the Creator’s response to that choice can now provide a moral map to Noah as he struggles to reconcile the Creator’s judgment with His mercy. (The Watchers not only offer insight into the divine heart but also patch up weak spots in the narrative’s hull, justifying how Noah could feasibly construct such a huge boat so quickly, as well as defend it against the desperate human hordes that would steal it to survive.)

Aronofsky liberally adds other details to the mix. The character of Methuselah helps explain everything from where all the wood came from to how barren women might eventually become pregnant. He also establishes the character of Tubal-Cain not just as a physical foil but a moral contrast to Noah: The men offer competing visions for humanity between which Noah’s children must eventually choose, and Aronofsky avoids the temptation to stack the deck. Tubal-Cain raises some good points.

While none of those particular details occur within the Genesis account, they all help set up Aronofsky’s point of interest in Noah: How does a prophet of doom perceive and process the notion of mercy… if such a thing is even possible? Prophets are naturally severe in personality and perception, they foretell judgment on the community for good or ill; and for a man to persevere in such a large undertaking in the face of permanent human extermination would suggest that Noah by nature was an unyielding man, full of conviction that humanity deserved death for its crimes against innocent creation.

Aranofsky not only explores how that perspective might have developed in Noah as a boy, but he accentuates that bent to its logical conclusion and thus sets up the largest moral crux in the movie. Noah’s family is not exempt from corruption, they are all as human as those whom the Creator has destroyed; they are all descended from the first two people who ruined Paradise. So he must consider, what if his family was not chosen to be saved and restart the race of men, but chosen simply to bring the innocent animals to safety and then to complete the destruction that the Creator began, to prevent the world from being ruined yet again? Because of the severity of his loyalty, Noah must contemplate terrible actions in order to remain faithful to what he perceives to be the Creator’s intent, regardless of the cost to his family and whether anyone agrees with him. That final struggle, the battle within Noah’s heart, is one reflective of human beings in general: Is there a way to reconcile judgment with mercy… and how?

Even after Noah makes his decision, there are still ramifications to his past choices that the family must deal with. Perhaps the earth has been wiped clean of its current corruption, but only the future will tell whether that choice was effective.

 

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Divergent

One of Divergent’s strengths is that it isn’t “The Host” or “I Am Number Four,” but every time the movie almost becomes interesting, it swerves back to the format’s conventions.

Divergent is one of those vague post-apocalyptic tales that looks like it was paid for on someone’s credit card despite an $85 million budget.  It looks like it was shot in the ghost city of Pripyat, Ukraine; there are very little special effects (aside from maybe parts of the “fear” sequences and the short-lived zipline scene); and the prop lists consists of a train always running in the same direction, a springy net, an assortment of plastic guns, and whatever non-descript clothes the characters wear on their backs.

(As “The Host” exemplified, sometimes less is, well, less.)

People have labeled “Divergent” as “Hunger Games Lite,” which is understandable but rather unfair because “The Hunger Games” at least seems to make more sense. A revolution against the ruling class leads to the subjugated provinces being forced to pay tribute and having their children drafted into annual games for sport? That story is an old one; I can buy it.

What we have here, though, is more of internalized angst — the unnuanced adolescent quest for identity coupled with typical cynical mistrust of the system — externalized into a contrived plot. The remnants of Chicago have been divided into five rigid factions to which everyone must belong; and unless you’re “Divergent” (i.e., don’t fit into the system), you’re presented as part of the uninspired 95% — soulless, uninventive drones who just follow orders and support the establishment. Rebel against the system? Any sane person would, or at least set up a council populated by people from all the factions; but apparently few of the adults have any backbone or common sense, so that job is going to fall to the kids. The movie seems to be a cross between flipping the bird at tests like the popularized Myers-Briggs Trait Inventory (MBTI) and the typical unease teens feel at the thought of selling out one’s ambitions to find economic and social security in an undesirable career.

Woodley plays Beatrice (later renaming herself “Tris,” which sounds less stodgy), a daughter of Abnegationists who has reached the age of choice, but of course she tests as a multiple (Divergent) and ends up choosing Dauntless — which is not just the most exciting-looking faction but the one most convenient for the plot (since it allows for fighting and action sequences — the movie would far slower if she had picked the equivalent of the farmers, altruists, lawyers, or brainiacs). While they’re supposed to be cops and soldiers, Dauntless seems to spend the days and nights running around town whooping like drunk frat boys on the last day of class, climbing stuff and jumping off things. I suspect their mortality rate is much higher than the other factions.

Woodley is never quite convincing as a girl with enough edge to stay in the game; underneath she seems soft rather than hard. It’s telling that, no matter what trouble she gets herself into, her eyebrows and hair remain picture-perfect or merely mussed in the way a model’s would be. However, she and Tobias (Theo James, noticeably older than his character but more than adequately solid and empathetic) hold the movie together; both are likeable and relate well to each other, and I wanted to see them happy.

The movie trundles on by the numbers, each beat as predictable as the rails under a train track. Tris is the underdog but manages to make each cut mostly because she doesn’t quit. Tobias, the hot, kind, quiet guy, of course falls for her. And of course he is Divergent as well. (Believe me, that’s not really a spoiler.) She manages to bump a few times into Jeanine, the head of Erudite who also serves as the movie’s baddy; and Winselt plays the role with perfunctory coolness that doesn’t fool us for a second about her regard for Tris as more of a structural nuisance rather than an interesting rarity. Toss in some predictable family tragedy to clean up loose plot threads + provide additional motivation for Tris to really rebel, and you’ve got your setup for the next movie.

I can’t speak for Roth’s original text (which I haven’t read but suspect was deeper), nor for the travails of condensing this book to the screen, but the movie as completed seems overgeneralized — vague and thin. What would have happened if the factions and adults had been treated less as cliches? What if the deck hadn’t been stacked so much in favor of the Divergents? I’m hoping that later movies will reveal substantial reasons that could justify the existence of the faction system, or at least why the authorities fear those who have no regard for the establishment aside from simply the threat of losing their power.

You don’t necessarily need to be Divergent in order to be cool.

 

2.5/5

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Man of Steel

Jonathan Kent: You’re the answer, son. You’re the answer to “are we alone in the universe”.

Clark Kent at 13: Can’t I just… keep pretending I’m your son?

Jonathan Kent: You ARE my son. And I have to believe that you were sent here for a reason. And even if it takes the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.

Despite negative critical buzz, “Man of Steel” is the kind of movie whose success hinges upon your particular tastes. Yes, it doesn’t help that one of Snyder’s weaknesses as a director is creating nuanced pathos — that problem plagues him here, he has trouble knowing how to shoot a scene in a way that generates complex emotion, there are lines that fall flat — but the story by Goyer and Nolan at least gives him that chance that “Sucker Punch” never had.

It also doesn’t help that the movie breaks from established expectations for a Superman movie; while accusations of the tone being “brooding” honestly are overblown, it’s true that this Clark goes through his growing pains as a boy even while essentially on the same route to becoming the Superman the world knows and loves. It just seems difficult, in the eyes of many, for Cavill’s genuine earnestness to compete with Reeve’s understated sweetness of soul. The latter joined with Kidder’s tenacious but squirrelly Lois seemed to possess more chemistry than Cavill and Adams are able to generate here.

The best parts of the movie focus on Clark’s ever-maturing loyalties. The most important events in Clark’s childhood are revealed in flashbacks; the Clark who begins the movie is a young man still “searching” for himself, drifting through odd jobs across the breadth of North America. While he is aware that he is not human, the only definitive thing he knows about himself is that he often feels compelled to help those who are in need, even if it might expose him. When he finally runs across a simulacrum of his Kryptonian daddy, he can face the task of forging an identity that honors both sides of his heritage. The real dilemma is what happens when Zod and his mob of cray-cray finally comes earthside: Clark is forced to choose between an adopted home where he’s always felt untrusted as an outsider, versus blood relatives who are (in essence) total asshats. What should have been a Kodak moment becomes instead a family-holiday nightmare, but it’s through what follows that Clark finally comes to terms with who he is and what he values.

Yes, there are fight sequences, as one would expect in a movie about the mightiest mortal of them all. If you enjoy watching superheroes destroy large swaths of urban architecture, then this should be a veritable smorgasbord — the fights here make the Neo/Smith battle from Matrix Revolutions look like preschool recess. (The distance of the first knockback needs to be measured in miles, not yards; and whoever wins the Metropolis City construction contracts at movie’s end will be in business for at least the next century.) The only side that doesn’t stand a chance is (of course) us, the humans, even using our most advanced weaponry and battle tactics; and it doesn’t take long for the Kryptonians to recognize humanity as Superman’s only real weakness as well.

One honest disappointment of “Man of Steel” is that the supporting cast — many of them fine actors in their own right — are limited by the script and/or direction so as to be merely adequate rather than super. And the female characters so typically strong in a Superman movie don’t really get a unique voice here at all. (Diane Lane, as Martha Kent, shares a good portion of the female screen time with Adams, but her lines are sadly more paint-by-the-numbers than resonant.)

Only the two father figures of the movie — Jor-El and Jonathan Kent — fair decently; and of the two, Costner’s performance is easily the stronger despite Crowe’s trademark machismo. Jonathan Kent walks a tenuous line between hesitance and prudence, a simple man who places more value in character than achievement, and yet just when you think he’s holding Clark back needlessly, he lifts the boy higher so that he has a chance to fly. Although the Kryptonian father bequeaths his son with the coolest gifts (superpowers, advanced science, alien technology), it’s the human father who somehow creates a safe space around his son so that in the silence he can finally hear his own voice. (This is notably realized in a flashback scene with Martha, where she provides a safe focal point for Clark amid the sensory chaos he is experiencing during puberty while struggling to master his emerging abilities.) What Snyder lacks as a director of dialogue he often finds within a particular visual image, and this movie has a few such shots that are powerful without any words needing to be spoken. In the end, Clark might feel robbed by being stuck between two worlds , but in the process he has received a double-portion of something that some people don’t even have one of: A pair of loving parents.

While Shannon does not bring the same casual audacity and narcissism to the role of Zod brought so deliciously by Terrence Stamp, his zealot leader is almost more admirable, his motivations more accessible. Zod seems almost sane when explaining that everything he has done has been for the good of the people — well, his people. It’s the kind of justification that might even fly as long as you weren’t the one at the business end of the zealot’s brutal ministrations. But it does raise the stakes: The old Clark in “Superman 2” had no doubt that a Zod victory would be a disaster, while in “Man of Steel” stopping Zod means ensuring that the people of Krypton will be forever lost. It’s the general’s right-hand woman, Faora-Ul, who is the real amoral terror among the Kryptonian rebels, viewing mercy and restraint as evolutionary disadvantages that result only in extinction for those foolish enough to practice them.

How you feel about “Man of Steel” by the movie’s end will likely depend in part on how carefully you can track the human story through the movie, versus just the superpowered one. As a parent of both biological and adopted children, I could resonate with both sets of parents — the ones who gave away their son so that he might live, and the ones who invested and sacrificed to raise him regardless of where the boy would finally decide to hang his cape. Would that any of us had parents who loved us enough to provide us with the resources and freedom to, rather than bending us to their will, find our own answers and passions over the course of our own lives.

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Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher has a few good assets. The trailer grabs the eye, the first ten minutes is rather fascinating, and there’s an impromptu fight in close quarters at the halfway mark that reveals the importance of weapon choice and coordinated attack patterns over size, bulk, and numbers. The city is set in Pittburgh, Pennsylvania, without it being about a sports team or the steel industry. And, along with Richard Jenkins, we also get Robert Duvall.

Unfortunately, it’s all squandered on a pursuit of the predictable and (ultimately) boring.

Cruise isn’t bad, he’s normally a very dependable actor especially in the action genre. His normal cockiness plays well within Reacher’s character, but his intrinsic coolness almost comes off as indifference, leaving little sense of peril or urgency to the story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more indifferent hero. The lack of synergy with the female lead (Rosamund Pike, a decent actress but miscast in this role) doesn’t help, and the small periodic laughs aren’t enough to elevate the film beyond its mundane beginnings. There’s some actual wit in some of the banter, to show that Reacher’s not just another bully working for the right side of the law, but it usually comes off as contrived and missing an organic beat.

The movie seems “paint by numbers.” As expected, there’s a crime but it’s not what it seems; Reacher, the best at what he does, buys into it at first… until he doesn’t; a nasty crime lord with some idiosyncratic physical traits does nasty things to people to prove his nastiness; someone ends up being a traitor; and in the end Reacher must go up against the tough guy playing for the other side. The resolution seems like a done deal from the first moments of the picture; it’s merely a matter of how many extras get their bodies stacked up along the way.

There’s one moment in the film that is dramatically interesting, and it’s when the DA (Pike) visits the father of one of the young victims and finds herself stuck in that uncomfortable spot between doing her job (defending the accused and publicly convicted) while trying to reconcile that with the loss the families of the victims have suffered. The scene doesn’t last long because it’s effective at creating discomfort in the characters and audience (a good discomfort); but Reacher might have been more memorable if it had allowed itself to exist in that uncomfortable place longer.

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Dredd

Dredd, unfettered by philosophical complication, reads as follows: Bad-ass futuristic cop trapped with rookie in building full of remorseless criminals. Will he get out alive? And will the rookie not just survive but pass her impromptu on-the-job initiation exam?

Simple story, still enjoyable.

Yes, the plot has similar overtones to the imported “The Raid” (despite the fact that “Dredd” actually went through a number of drafts before “The Raid” even got made.) And the original Judge Dredd with Stallone back in the 1990’s didn’t exactly win any awards. And the villain here (the notorious Ma-Ma) was a bit understated, even if ruthless by the atrocities she orders her hirelings to commit; a more rated-R-bordering-on-NC17 tallywhacking cluster of scalliwags doesn’t exist on this side of the virtual ghetto.

One of the most interesting aspects of Dredd was the character development of the rookie, a budding telepath without proper combat training who passes from soft-skinned naivety to a fully fledged “don’t f*** with me, mofo” mindset in the space of eight hours. The change isn’t just imagined, you can actually observe it, especially in the scenes she shares inside the heads of the crooks she’s forced to confront. She’s tougher than you might expect at first glance.

The other interesting angle was the SloMo drug, which is more than just a trip, it’s a stretched-out sparkly ride into the depths of a mental black hole that makes even one’s impending demise seem wondrous, like riding a demonic blood-guzzling unicorn spraying clouds of stardust and black powder. The movie is filmed in such a way that we experience these moments along with the characters; it’s about as good a trip as you can take without shooting up yourself.

For a drama, there might not be substantial meat on the bones, but for an action movie, it’s more than enough to lend some depth to the grit and grime of Mega-City One.

Urban’s done solid work in action movies (Riddick, Bourne, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings), and he’s just as capable here of believably taking and dishing out punishment as he was in “Red.” He manages to pull off Dredd while showing only his lower face — not the easiest job for an actor, especially one who is substantially easy on the eyes and might be tempted to coast at times. Stripped down to the basics, his version of Dredd is capable, unruffled, pragmatic, remorseless. Even the rasp of a voice works better for him here than for Bale’s Bruce Wayne, creating legitimate unease in the viewer rather than a plethora of snide fanboy comments on the Internet. 

If this cop pulled you over for a ticket, you wouldn’t try to talk your way out; in fact, it would be advised to just keep your hands on the wheel and do everything he tells you. In this world, Dredd is literally judge, jury, and executioner.

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Chosen (Season 1)

Could you kill someone to save your own life? How about the life of your children? That’s the first season premise for Chosen, where defense attorney Ian Mitchell finds someone shooting at him when he attempts to retrieve a mysterious box on his front porch. What he finds inside throws his life into a further tailspin.

I’ve been a fan of Milo Ventimiglia ever since he played Peter on “Heroes.” As an actor, he naturally conveys a goodness of heart that makes Ian’s dilemma here even more believable, which is good at those times when small details in the show don’t seem to make as much sense. For example, Milo seems a bit too moral to earn a living defending likely criminals. (I suspect it was a hook by the writer, so that Milo could fall back on some shady ties in his moments of need.) And although Ian’s physical response to the first time he fires a gun at someone is believable from the average person, you’d think a defense attorney would have already hardened up a bit, based on the kinds of cases he’s been dealing with.  Which reminds me — did he mark “run for my life” on his calendar so that he wouldn’t have business meetings scheduled for the two days he’s off getting shot at?

The biggest oversight? Once — just once — I would have liked to hear Ian say, “Why? Why am I being forced to do this? What is the big picture here?” Ian seems a true pragmatist — he takes the situation as-is and tries to run with it, without ever really caring what’s outside the maze.

But these are very minor quibbles. Chosen itself has format down very well. Not only does it come in easily digested chunks (22-minute episodes, in a six-episode season), perfect for the viewer whose mental palette is exhausted by streaming shows with episodes lasting twice as long and seasons lasting even longer, but the answers to mysteries are well-paced. We get only a little bit of an answer here or there, just like Ian, and so it’s easy to understand why he’s frustrated … and yet enough progress is made that the quest doesn’t seem entirely pointless. He’s barely hanging on by his fingertips… but the point is that he’s still hanging on.

Ian’s encounter with his first would-be killer is perfect, in that we get a little bit of information and context as to what is happening… and also a frightening glimpse into what might be in store for Ian himself unless he can either find a way out of his problem or toughen up for the long haul.  “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” says Hemmingway, “but those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” The question here is whether Ian is good enough, gentle enough, or brave enough to end up dying early, or whether he’s not quite as pure as he seems and will bend to the rules of the Game (and thus survive) in order to save his daughter. As another player suggests, morality is one of the first things to go out the window when your family’s life is threatened; and Ian receives the same advice from another unexpected source as he nears the end game.

Ian learns how to practice battlefield medicine with the tools at his disposal, and Milo plays those scenes so perfectly. And when he starts calling in old favors, he’s forced to deal with people who are as scary and merciless as the shadowy figures he is hunting. As it goes, these “players on the other side” aren’t toothless Terra Nova baddies either — it’s very clear that Ian is still alive only because they have permitted it… and if he causes too much trouble, that goodwill might be rescinded.  Even the relationship between Ian and Laura (his ex) shows depth in the awkward way they sometimes discuss their daughter — the gulf that occurs when ex-partners continue to disappoint each other and yet no longer feel it’s worth expressing their frustration. Even divorce hasn’t completely sundered the bond between the two.

The show itself has decent cinematography, and the night shots aren’t a muddle mess like much of The Following’s were. One daytime shot in particular is vibrant, crisp, and framed so perfectly you’d swear it was an Audi commercial. And why is Ian’s ex dating the hospital administrator from “Liar, Liar”?

The season finale goes where it needs to go — no creative solutions, just good old-fashioned blood and sweat, as Ian decides whether he can justify killing another human being. Even the closing sequence, not entirely unpredictable, is certainly gutsy. Ben Katei, the writer, can’t be accused of taking the easy way out; Season #2, if there is one, would be a real test of his mettle to continue the story in a way that isn’t a cop-out. If it happens, I can’t wait to see what he does.

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Color of Night

Imagine a lazy Saturday afternoon where you don’t feel at all like cooking, the diet’s got you down, your  legs are shaky from exercising, and in the back corner of some forgotten cupboard, you run across a greasy Giganto bag of Fritos, and after making sure that no one else is home, you pop the seal and dig in.

Now imagine that the Frito bag is already open, notably stale, half-empty, and it’s not even Fritos but some lame knock-off store brand, yet you finish the bag anyway … and the only guilt you feel is that you don’t feel completely grossed-out by the experience.

That’s how I felt after watching Color of Night.

Never since Fire & Ice or Heavy Metal has “getting my stupid on” felt this good; never has the phrase, “Whut?? Srsly???!” found more use except perhaps when I was watching Sarah Palin debate Joe Biden in 2008.

I’m still wondering if Willis was throwing a party on the scale of Project X, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” came on the telly, and people started blurting out, “Hey, let’s do it! But we’ll make it a support group instead! And have lots of sex! And action! And a noir mystery!” And then someone cranked out a basic storyboard, and people drew names out of a hat to get their part, and then the cameras started rolling while the actors ad-libbed their lines. While tripping out. All before 5:25am.

The cast headed by Willis looks like it was culled from a pool of “Name Famous 90’s Character Actors” from Jeopardy: Lance Henriksen, Leslie Ann Warren (AKA Miss Scarlet in Clue), Brad Dourif, Eriq La Salle, Scott Bakula, and that’s just for starters. If you thought The Perfect Storm had some pretty big waves, then you haven’t experienced Warren’s bomb-burstic display of histrionics in this movie.

And then there’s Jane. Oh Jane. Pretty, sweet, Jane March, who puts in such a monumental effort for a movie so painfully trivial. Her contribution here cannot be disguised. Even when a particular scene appears beyond her, she dives right in and refuses to come up for air. Without Jane, this entirely deranged movie would fall apart.

While managing to be about as removed from reality as many its support-group patients (which include an OCD, a klepto, a nympho, an S&M’er, an antisocial, and a gender dypshoric who doesn’t seem to know which direction s/he’s going), the movie also is credited by Maxim as having some of the best sex scenes ever in American cinema. I kid you not, I even think I caught a Willis willy sighting during one splashy scene. And what is spectacular sex without a really crappy theme song blaring through your sound speakers by an orchestra channeling the zeal of a sixth-grade trumpet section playing “Rocky”?

Just because it can’t be stressed enough, the movie has a lot of sex. And mysterious, gruesome deaths. And terrible secrets harbored by distraught extras. And insane action sequences on the highway, full of smashed cars. (Hilariously, the red car driven by the villain sometimes has a crushed side, other times untouched, depending on where the script doctor and editors screwed up. Later, this sneaky red car with the mutating side stalks Willis from atop a parking garage, in order to better push another car down on top of him without even being able to see where Willis is. Did I mention this movie gets its stupid on?)

And then comes the spectacular, slam-bang ending where just about everyone dies, and the bad guy finally is revealed to be who we suspected it might be, and we are graced to hear the Villainous Monologue, and the there’s a final climactic battle, followed by a totally superfluous chase to the top of a needless tower … in a rainstorm.

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. This movie is the glue that holds together every tired, hackneyed, half-baked movie trope in existence.

I kept watching for the background smirk or the knowing glance or the more overt Breaking of the Fourth Wall as an actor addresses the audience director, but they play it straight. Didn’t they realize that it was all one big joke?

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Iron Man 3

Even this early in the season, Iron Man 3 will likely hands-down win the “Twist of 2013” award… perhaps to its detriment. If you’re into some creative shit-stirring, you might delight over Shane Black seizing an opportunity to break expectations; on the other hand, you might also feel like Ellie Driver after Budd claimed to have pumped the Bride full of rock salt and dumped her in Paula Schultz’s grave — not much relief, just regret, because at least one character deserved better.

(As a parallel, maybe punting the Jenga game against the wall in the final round is a legitimate move, but wouldn’t you feel horribly cheated by such a strategy, especially in a game you were invested in?)

Will Tony Stark ever get real? That’s kind of where this movie is going. Like any guy who almost wiped while saving the Big Apple, now he can’t sleep at night and has panic attacks in situations he can’t control. In the past, Tony tried to put out the crazy with even more crazy — a terminal blend of verbal panache and workaholism — but even that seems to be failing him. He’s realizing that Pepper is becoming the center of his world, yet she’s tired of playing nanny to his hotshot antics — and a dangerous fluke when she tries to help him through a nightmare only drives the point home that, if he doesn’t change something fast, he might lose her forever.

And it’s at this point when a super-stressed Tony shoots off his mouth and thus plants himself firmly in a game of chicken between the United States and an international terrorist known as The Mandarin. I admit to mainly being in this to ogle over RDJr, but I still have to admit I felt really bad about the Saleen S7…

From there, the movie spirals into an ever-expanding cloud of explosions, double-crosses, home invasions, White House politics, cute kid sidekicks, blame games, and Guy Pierce kicking ass in a way he never got to do in “Prometheus” while stuck in that walker. Much of it is exciting and often amusing (and that’s one thing that the Iron Man movies have really done well — seamlessly fusing humor and thrills). And it is so Girl’s Night Out — not only does a female baddy named Brandt send Stark into the kitchen, but even Pepper gets to play. It’s just unfortunate that the dramatic energy dissipates at a very notable, very obvious moment in the narrative.

Overshadowing the movies are the Iron Man suits themselves, proliferating like bunnies from Tony’s wellspring of anxious energy and coming in every size, shape, and rainbow-tinted hue. This isn’t just about some guy who flies around and blasts things in a static case of armor, this Tony Stark wields tech almost as an extension of his mind — ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ — managing in a moment’s notice to think outside the box of what you thought was already outside the box. The final slugfest with Killian is fast, furious, and ingenuous; you’ll see applications for the armor that you’ve never quite seen before. But will it be enough?

At the end, the fate of Iron Man as we’ve known him is unclear. Whatever happens, however, it’s been a good run, and as the end credit clip reminds us, Tony never gives up on his friends.

Rating: See it. 

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