Archive for the ‘Angels And Demons’ Category

Quickie Reviews: Drag Me To Hell, Angels and Demons

June 6, 2009

I’ve falling behind on the reviews part of the site, so I’m going to go ahead and knock two in one post here. I’ll make them short and leave out the nitty gritty details. Well, at least I plan to. We’ll see once I start writing them.

Drag Me To Hell
If you’ll look back at that list I posted two days ago, you’ll see that one of the cliches I’ve seen too many times was ‘Horror films: Their Entirety.’ I then list a few of the gimmicks used in horror films today. I then saw Drag Me To Hell, which utilized some of those gimmicks, plus three thousand others common to horror films, including eerie gypsies, fortune tellers, and talking goats (okay, that last one is pretty new). The point is, the night after I wrote an article critiquing a lot of movie cliches, I saw one that was ridden with them. And I loved it.

Let me explain. I once had a language teacher who, in describing a certain grammatical phenomena, listed out the absurd abundance of rules specific to this very particular structure. I can’t recall if it had something to do with noun/verb agreement, tense, declension, etc., but I just remember her listing ten-thousand rules on this rather isolated incident. After she finished she told us she would be looking for those mistakes on tests. She told us, however, that if someone were to manage to break every single grammatical rule for that specific portion, that person would automatically get a perfect score. Her explanation was simple: the only way you could possibly accomplish this was if you knew every rule backwards and forwards. And nobody ever dared take the challenge.

Such is the way with Drag Me To Hell. They knew they were making a movie riddled with some of the most common conventions of old horror stories, and therefore did it in a witty, tongue-in-cheek sort of manner. In a nutshell, a bank loan officer denies an oldy gypsy woman a third extension on her mortgage, so the gypsy puts a curse on her that sends an evil spirit to torment and frighten her for three days before literally dragging her to hell. Are you serious? How could this movie not be cliched? But it knows it is, and it does it in a manner that somehow makes the hackneyed seem, well, original.

It’s not a movie that will haunt you when you’re done, really it’s not all that frightening. It’s what I would say is the equivalent to a roller-coaster ride. There will be some scary thrills and surprises, you’ll jump every now and then, but once you’re back on ground you wont be affected. I’d much prefer this from horror movies, rather than those that keep me up all night and double checking to make sure there’s nobody at the foot of my bed.

But you will jump. There’s a lot of the sudden, loud noise to make you scream. It’s also pretty damn funny, and a great gross out film. Not gross out like Saw or Hostel, which make you cringe and want to vomit. There’s really not all that much blood or violence. But there is a point where the gypsy lady’s rotten dentures fall out, and she gums the chin of the main character. And another part where she vomits maggots all over her. And another where an anvil crushes the gypsy’s head, which sends her eyes flying into the protagonist’s mouth. Gross? Yes. Scary? Kind of. Funny? As hell. In fact, a lot of the gross outs come from horrible things going into star Allison Lohman’s mouth. You’ll laugh and pull back into your seat, moaning “Oh my God, that’s gross,” as you watch, but you’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely.

MASSIVE SPOILER. The ending was pretty great. It used another cliche, “That minor plot point that you didn’t think mattered? Yeah, it just got real important.” But once again, it uses it well. If I hadn’t known there was a twist ending, I wouldn’t have been looking out for it, and probably would have been surprised shitless. Unfortunately I saw it coming, so I knew something like ‘that’ would happen. Soon I think I’ll post some of the alternate ideas I had during the movie, once I realized what was going on. Some of them, I think, would have worked just as well.END MAJOR SPOILER

All in all, this is a movie that you’ll thoroughly enjoy seeing. It’s a well acted, well directed, well written 80s B-movie horror film in the style on Sam Raimi can do. Lorna Raver plays crazy gypsy woman perfectly, and the more I see Justin Long, the more I like him. He doesn’t have a lot to do in this movie, but his presence was appreciated. There was a part where they zoom in on his iPhone ringing as he sits in the background. Pretty good product placement, and rather hilarious to have Mac’s figurehead in the shot with it. I can only assume this was intentional.

Take a friend, or better, take a date. It’s a fun popcorn film that will make you jump, laugh, cringe, scream, laugh again, and leave smiling.


Angels and Demons
I didn’t hate The Da Vinci Code as much as so many did. Yeah, Tom Hanks hair looked like a dead ferret, but I thought it was pretty entertaining and a decent adaption of the story. Angels and Demons, however, was the superior movie, just as its book the superior novel.

Robert Langdon (Hanks) finds himself once more swept up in Catholic lore. This time, the Illuminati, an ancient, scientific secret organization with a vendetta on the Catholic church, seems to resurface after centuries of dormancy. After the pope passes, they seem to have kidnapped the four most likely successors, and threaten to murder each one of them for four hours, until midnight. Once midnight strikes, they have a more dastardly plan. They’ve stolen a substance called anti-matter from CERN, which is held up by electromagnetism. Once midnight strikes, the battery will run out, the anti-matter will touch regular matter, which would result in a cataclysmic explosion that would level the Vatican City. So the Vatican Police call Robert Langdon, due to his knowledge of the society, and he, scientist Vittoria Vetra, all the pope’s horses and all the pope’s men set out on the Path of Illumination, hoping to save the cardinals and find the bomb before it’s too late.

It’s a movie that delivers exactly what you expect it to. There are plot twists and daring saves, an exciting movie that has some absurdities you just have to accept. Tom Hanks does a fine job as Langdon (thank God for the haircut), the rest of the cast is relatively stale, with the exception of Ewan McGregor as the camarlengo, the assistant to the pope (I think. I don’t know Cathloic…) But McGregor is a real scene stealer here, with so much compassion and religious zeal it makes your heart start to bleed.

The movie takes some enormous liberties on the book. It keeps a lot in, for sure, the plot isn’t changed all that much, but there are still quite a few differences. (I tread a fine line here, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody). Characters names are changed, some from the novel are combined into one head for the movie, some characters take on the roll of their novel’s counterparts… If I had been aware of this, I probably would have been overwhelmed. Fortunately I read the book two or three years ago, and only remembered the big generics. A friend of mine, however, leaned over during the movie and (at my behest) pointed out a lot of the differences. For one, the assassin the movie (the hassassin in the book) is no longer middle eastern, but a white guy with some indiscernible accent. It could have been a mix of French, German, Austrian, and Puerto Rican, but I just can’t be sure. Apparently, having a middle easterner brand and murder Catholic bishops just isn’t P.C. anymore. I can understand the alteration: they were already going to get flack from Christian religious groups, no need to piss off Muslims as well. Also, in the novel the camarlengo is Italian, in this he’s Scots-Irish (I believe). But if that means Ewan McGregor gets to play him, it’s another change I’m willing to accept.

There were some changes I actually liked a lot more than the book. One of them is, in fact, the camarlengo’s story line. It is much more believable here, and the movie alters the ending in way that makes it much more satisfying and believable. There’s also a particular incidence with a helicopter from the novel that is altered strongly from the book, and for the film’s benefit. I also thought that, due to some of the movies alterations, the big finish isn’t as predictable as I thought it was in the novel. They do it quite well, so I think a lot of people will be genuinely surprised.

It’s true, the movie is ridiculously lax on the scientific aspect, but I can’t smite them too strongly. Also, any hint of romance between Langdon and Vetra is completely removed, and Vetra’s roll is generally toned down. I didn’t really miss it that much, to be honest. Though we do miss out on a killer line about sex with a yoga instructor that graced the last page of the book.

The much-lamented CGI does detract from the film at times. They weren’t allowed to film on location (apparently stories about pope-icide aren’t popular at the Vatican), so they decide to use computers for a lot of those scenes. And it doesn’t always work right. But Ron Howard still directed a relatively good looking movie, and I appreciated what he tried to do.

Don’t expect to be moved to tears or to come out questioning your inner beliefs. If you want a good, suspenseful thrill ride, Angels and Demons delivers pretty strongly.

A note on movie scores: you cannot always cross compare my scores to denote what I find a better movie. Movies are judged on their own merit, not compared with others to see where they fit in.


Uncommon Common Movie Conventions That I’m Growing Tired Of

June 4, 2009

Ah the movie cliche. The cop that has to turn in his badge but solves the case anyway, the two guys of different race/belief/background who go from bitter enemies to the closest of friends, the romances that start strong, hit a snag, and result in a chase through downtown on a motorcycle, the car chase where the beautiful sports car is hardly damaged (or damaged so bad there’s no way it could still drive but still does); everyone has their favorite. And they are all over the place, hence ‘cliche.’ Now there are those that people always complain about:

“Of COURSE she drops the car keys when she has to hurry to start the car.”
“NOW her cell phone won’t work!”
“Now EVERYONE is a computer hacker!”
And of course, “The bad guys fire six thousand bullet and NEVER hit him! How bad is their aim?”

Yeah, these are really bad. That last one is perhaps most common, but I’ll let it slide. Why? Because I don’t want to see my hero’s temple explode and the credits roll. Sure it’s a bad convention, but there’s really no other alternative unless you want people to pretend they don’t have guns, or have them all simultaneously jam (another bad convention), or have them throw apples or something.

But there are others, plenty of them, that are rarely commented on but irk me to the point it distracts me from the movie. Here’s my list, in no particular order, of common movie conventions that have grown old, but are not spoke of all that often.

10. Romance in the Rain
The two players in the lovestruck couple have resisted each other at every turn, leaving only longing stares and sexual tension so thick you could choke on it. They annoy each other, sure, but only because their deep, sometimes forbidden love forces them to push away, because they don’t want to get hurt, or because some other stupid reason. Then, thunder rolls in the background. It starts to pour. They argue. She storms away in anger. He yells over the pounding water and roaring thunder, “Because I love you [girl’s name].” She half turns to him, a surprised look on her face. And then they’re kissing furiously.

Okay, so they don’t all play out exactly like this, but the rainy kiss has been exploited far too frequently. We get it, rain is chaotic, emotional, and beautiful, just like love. But their love does not control the weather, damn it. Pride and Prejudice, The Notebook, Spider-Man, Every B-movie romance ever made ever. It would be kind of awesome if Storm did it in the next X-Men movie, but other than that it’s gotten redundant.

9. The Super Secret Tunnel to a Super Public Place OR Why You Should Go In Through The Out Door
This is actually what first got my mind working on this in the first place. I saw Angels and
Demons, and there’s a point where they’re looking for this secret room that the Illuminati used to meet in. The police and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), find a car parked in a circular dead end. After a quick search they find nothing and leave. But Langdon isn’t convinced, and sure enough finds a super secret passageway tucked behind a huge slab. He takes it and finds the room, events happen (I won’t spoil it), and then it’s time to leave. Do they go the way they came? No, they take the back door, which exits right into the middle of Rome.

What? How did this place stay secret for so long? Did people really follow the ‘exit only’ sign that literally? The Indiana Jones series, classic though it is, uses this exploit far worse, twice. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, recall that they finally find the Well of the Souls. Pretty damn secret, no? Hiding place of the lost ark of the covenant? Now recall that Indy and Marion are sealed into the snake infested tomb to die. It looks bad, until Indy notices some snakes crawling through some holes in the wall. There must be something behind it, right? He smashes through the wall riding that huge statue, gets through the skull infested pit, and thank goodness finds his exit. Which issssssss….. A single stone block, that he pushes out of place, and finds himself in the middle of a Nazi air military base, air-strip and and all. Did nobody think to excavate that strange structure there? Evidently, to get to the ark, all they had to do was shift the rock, move through a very small room, and blow a hole in a very thin wall. Did the people who buried the ark really want to leave such an obvious entrance? Oh, that’s right, it’s only the emergency exit.

But my favorite happens in The Last Crusade. Indy’s at it again, and this time he’s found the secret tomb of the mythical last knight to return from the holy grail, the one whose shield reveals all the clues. How does Indy find it? He has to punch through a library marble floor and swim through a rat infested catacomb. But since this secret is supposed to be kept safe, some people torch the tomb and set the whole thing ablaze. In desperation, Indy covers he and Elsa with the coffin. But how is he going to get out? He goes underwater for ten seconds, come back and says, “I think I found a way.” Cut scene, they arise in a nice dining courtyard out of the sewer grate that was right under their feet. This super-secret tomb was a branch off the Venice sewer system. It took Indiana Jones three seconds to spot the entrance, how was that tomb secret for so long? Also, why did that nice restaurant put their dining area right over a sewer grate?! Okay, so that’s not as important.

I’m sure this was used in movies such as National Treasure or Tomb Raider as well, but bottom line is it’s getting ridiculous.

8. The Wise Blue-Collar Worker
This one has been beat to death. The lowly worker, typically a janitor, and typically black, who pushes our struggling hero to achieve his goals, or helps him in some fashion. Occasionally he’ll be endowed with powers, as in 17 Again. But typically he’s just a wise old philosopher who sweeps floors. He’s most prominently featured in Rudy, but you can find him everywhere. I appreciated Bruce Almighty, because they slightly spoofed it by having Morgan Freeman play the wise, black janitor who was actually God himself. But then Morgan Freeman played the exact role in Million Dollar Baby… But Damn. he played it well didn’t he?

7. Follow Your Heart
It’s the wisest advice that I’m sick and tired of hearing. This line cannot be said without sounding cheesy and ridiculous. Find another way to say it, I beg of you. And just putting ‘heart’ with synonyms doesn’t help. “You’re heart won’t lead you astray,” or, “Do what your heart tells you,” sound just as bad. From now on, mentors are not allowed to mention cardiac pumps whilst aiding the protagonist in difficult decisions.

Sidenote: When did the brain become such a second stringer? No one ever says, “follow your brain.”

6. James Marseden Losing the Girl in Every Movie He’s In
This one’s pretty self explanatory, but I’ve never seen such typecasting. X-Men, The Notebook, Superman Returns, Enchanted, he’s always losing the girl he loves to whomever the focus of the movie is. Ridiculous. I’m a straight guy, but I’ll admit James is a pretty damn handsome fella. Why are girls so ready to leave him?

Though, I’ll add a positive to this, however. In many romantic comedies, the lead girl is in a relationship with a man who the audience knows she isn’t meant to be. Why? Because he’s a total douche-bag, a general jack-ass, and almost always unfaithful (think Wedding Crashers or The Wedding Singer or perhaps some other Wedding movie. Wow I can’t wait til the Waynes brothers make Wedding Movie…). He has to be, right? Or else we’d feel bad when the girl leaves him for the male lead.

Except this is not how real life always is. A woman can love another man for inexplicable reasons, and sometimes the person she’s with isn’t a bad guy at all, it just wasn’t (cliche warning) meant to be. Also, when we see this woman in a long term, often betrothed relationship, with this ass-muncher, it takes away her credibility and intelligence as a character. It’s been three years and he’s had forty hickeys, and you don’t like the taste of his aftershave, figure it out. But James Marsden plays good characters, good men whom you should care for, and it does add a hint of realism to the relationships. But can’t we get another actor to play the part sometimes?

5. Horror Movies: Their Entirety
Some of these are common complaints, but I found too many cliches in this genre to narrow it down. There is the aforementioned “fumbling of the car keys,” but other conventions flood through the genre like herpes. Here are a few of my least favorites:

1. How fast can he walk? The masked killer never breaks stride, while the victims sprint as fast as they can. Somehow he catches up to disembowel them.
2. The dog in the trashcan. Generally this will happen in the beginning of the movie. There’s a rattling outside, and the protagonist tenses up, though s/he really has no reason to be scared at this point other than the fact that s/he’s in what will become a horror movie. S/he slowly goes to investigate, nervous as a whore in church, until a dog or some other harmless animal sprints out of the bushes or trashcans or whatever and sprints into the night. Whew! This is a cheap and stupid horror trick, done for a quick scare and nothing more. It’s even worse, when the camera will switch point of views to make it look like someone is watching the character creep up, until we learn we were looking through dog eyes.
3. Eerie musi-BANG. The animal scare is often used with this little horror gimmick as well. The suspense in the scene is mirrored by the eerie music that is getting more and more intense, rising to a climax we know will scare us. Suddenly, the eerie music increase in volume four-fold and there is a loud beat from the strings. Everyone jumps! Oh it was a dog, or it was just the friend of the character behind the door. This BANG is another cheap, artificial scare. I want the movie to scare me, not its soundtrack.
4. The helpless victim. Too often in horror movies, the people do nothing but scream. They don’t grab weapons, they don’t make good decisions, they just scream. Why not grab an effing shovel and smack that stupid punk with the mask in the forehead? He won’t walk so fast, then.

The fact that Silence of the Lambs uses none of these gimmicks, and is still scary and unsettling, is what makes it such a great movie. And you know what cliche will never get old? Creepy little girls. Those bitches are horrifying.

4. How Far Can You Fall?
I don’t want my heroes dead, I’ve said that already, so I don’t want them to be crushed when they plummet from great heights. But if they DO take that plunge, I wouldn’t mind a believable way for them to not splatter. In The Dark Knight Batman and Rachel are plummeted from a ridiculously high penthouse, and walk away without a scratch. Yeah, yeah he stuck out his cape, but that really didn’t slow them down much it just made them spin. And they landed hard enough to damage the car they used as a pillow, so you can’t tell me that wouldn’t break a leg or something. They could have done a lot to save this, all they needed was to make his wing slow them down enough to NOT cave in a buick.

You’ll see this in a lot of movies. In Spider-Man 2 a completely human Peter Parker falls and bangs off the walls and cars like we was a bouncy ball and walks off, just holding his slightly bruised back. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull they go over not one, but three waterfalls in their little floating car, no problem. It’s completely absurd! What’s worse is when they land in a dumpster and the trash acts like a magical cushion that completely absorbs their force. “Thank God this pile of broken glass was here. That really could have hurt.”

3. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!
Much like “Follow your heart,” this little gem has been polished a few too many thousand times. The desperate fall to the knees followed by the gut wrenching yell is just too cliche to be dramatic any more. Now it just comes off as silly. Especially when Darth Vader does it in Episode III.

Not exactly what I was looking for, but it gets the job done.

2. Shooting Everything But The Hero
What? I thought you weren’t going to mention this one, because you don’t want your hero dead? Don’t worry, guys, I’m talking about a subtle difference.

To illustrate I’m going to back to the only Indiana Jones movie I haven’t mentioned yet, Temple of Doom. There’s a scene where Indiana is up on a wooden catwalk, with wooden railings so thin they’re hardly visible on camera. But once the shooting starts, they seem to be all these bad guys can hit. As he runs along it, bullets pelt this little railing like crazy, and therefore barely save his life. What I’m trying to say is: I can handle the bad guys missing the hero. My suspension of disbelief ends, however, when the hero is protected by using that little wooden railing for body armor. You can find ‘rail bullets’ like this in a lot of movies (see: every James Bond). How about you just don’t show me where the bullet hit. I can imagine how it missed.

Similarly, when the aircraft (be it helicopter or airplane) takes its big ass machine gun and points it at the frantic hero running away, it’s always the case that the spray of bullets will be behind him and quickly catching up, only to pull up right before his legs are clipped. You gotta lead him, dammit!

1. Walk Away from that Big Ass Explosion
Either the hero or villain, depending, has set off a chain of events that he knows will result in a cataclysmic explosion. To show his stone hearted, bad ass indifference, he just walks away from it. Once it blows up? He keeps walking. He doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t look back, he just walks. Cause he’s cool. This little clip shows that this has run it’s course, or should I say walked.

MTV Shows

What else? What are some other great movie conventions that irk you? Let me know!

This Week in Blockbustsers: Angels and Demons, Fans Are Just Happy Tom Hanks Has A Different Haircut

May 14, 2009

Writing from the outer banks in North Carolina (though not from the same location of Grady), I apologize for the gap between posts. I do not have ready access to my computer, and am having to break into the neighbors house and use theirs. But this means that much to me.

Last week the Trekkies went nuts over Star Trek, and it seems for good reason. I have heard very few negative comments about the movie and it seems to be a huge success financially and critically (96% Rotten Tomatoes, 8.6 IMDB, both impressive numbers).

This week gives us the third hopeful blockbuster of the season, Angels and Demons, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard. It’s the sequel to The Da Vinci Code and based on Dan Brown’s novel (though the novel was, in fact, a prequel to The Da Vinci Code, so you readers don’t get too confused).

This movie actually looks quite good. Da Vinci was not terrible, I thought, but it certaintly was not the pinnacle of movie making. This is partly to blame on the story, it always worked more as a novel. However, even when I was reading the book, before the movies were in production, I thought Angels was the better novel, and would actually make a better movie. It has some great cinematic shots (I’m thinking of the four elemental deaths, mainly) and a murder mystery more suited for the silver screen.

It’s been a while, but I can give a decent synopsis of the plot. Structurally, it will be very similar to Da Vinci, and if you’ve read one of Dan Brown’s books you can pick out the bad guy as soon as he’s introduced. But basically, a recent scientific discovery at CERN has the catholic church and an ancient, secret organization in arms. The Illuminati seem to have resurfaced after centuries of dormancy, and now they’re killing Catholic Cardinals and threatening to blow up the world with a dangerous bomb made of anti-matter (wikipedia it, for those not familiar with modern physics voo-doo). This is all happening in the period of mourning for the death of the pope, and the selecting of the next. Those Cardinals that keep dying are, naturally, the front runners for the position. Robert Langdon (Hanks) is asked to help solve the case, despite recently accusing the Catholic Church of keeping secret the bloodline of Jesus Christ and the love affair he had with Mary Magdalen. Oh, you crazy symbologists, always getting tangled up in huge church conspiracies.

Needless to say, plot twists and betrayels and secret agendas abound. It should be an exciting thriller, hopefully better than its predecessor. Early buzz isn’t fantastic, but it’s still part of a well liked series. In fact, the third movie has already been contracted, and the third book isn’t even finished yet. However, the church has deemed this movie harmless after being up in arms over the first one. Bad news, since controversy only pushes people to watch the movie. Apparently killing future popes isn’t as blaspheming as claiming Christ was not a virgin. But I’ll definitely see it, and so will a lot of other people, I just imagine it to be a weaker summer release then the ones we’ve seen this far.

Says one viewer, “It was really great. Tom Hanks’ hair didn’t distract me at all. It looked like normal hair, rather than a greased up ferret. I was able to follow the story and not wonder who thought it was a good idea for his hair to look like that. But I don’t get what that anti-matter stuff is.”
Okay, so I made that up.

Excitement buzz: 7.2/10

Grading The Super Bowl Movie Trailers

February 2, 2009