The Interview — a review

The suckage will begin...right now!

The suckage will begin…right now!

I realized this movie sucked when I stopped watching it to have dinner. Usually, I would finish a movie before eating, but sitting through The Interview was such a tedious exercise that I started staring at the walls and began to wonder if I should repaint them even while watching the film. Seth Rogen stars as the producer of a sleazy TV interview show that’s hosted by James Franco–who plays his clueless sleaze-pit party boy in such an over the top fashion that he looks like he’s acting in a completely different film than Rogen and the others. Franco’s bizarre, wigged out performance is just one of the problems I had with the movie, but it didn’t stop there.

Of course she didn't know this was a Seth Rogen film! You seriously think she would have agreed to do it knowing you were a part of it?!

Of course she didn’t know this was a Seth Rogen film! You seriously think she would have agreed to do it knowing you were a part of it?!

Upon finding out that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), is a fan of their show, Rogen’s character reaches out to them for an interview through the North Korean Olympic offices–and to his surprise, they are granted an interview. There’s a big catch–the interview must be done in North Korea, and they control the questions–but of course our whacky dudes jump at the opportunity. And that’s when they get a visit by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan, who’s actually pretty funny in a nice, deadpan way) from the CIA, who want to recruit these loveable party guys into assassinating the ‘dear leader’ of North Korea.

I can't help but wonder what the hell would James Bond would do in this situation? Hey, let's go ask him!

I can’t help but wonder what the hell would James Bond would do in this situation? Hey, let’s go ask him!

As you can see, it’s pretty silly. But so was Dr. Strangelove. Yet as silly as Dr. Strangelove was, not only was it just an enjoyably goofy film, it also worked very well as a sly satire that poked fun at the Cold War, with lines that are still extremely quotable even today (Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.). The Interview makes it very clear from the start that it’s not interested in giving us anything more than a big, dumb popcorn comedy movie, despite tackling a real-life dictator (who apparently managed to strike back at the studio that released this turd).

This is way better than Disney World! Woo-Hoo!

This is way better than Disney World! Woo-Hoo!

Another sticking point for me with The Interview is that it’s racist and just plain crude. I didn’t find it funny, and since the movie didn’t strive to be anything more than a brain-dead laugh fest, there’s nothing to recommend about this. In view of the real-life circus that sprouted up around the canceled release of this film (which proved to be far more interesting to watch than the film itself) many people online have jokingly stated that North Korea has done us a favor by preventing The Interview from being released. But, in all seriousness, Seth Rogen has every right to make whatever film he wants to make and get it released, just like we have every right to avoid seeing it because it’s a steaming pile of shit.

Lucy — a review

Bitch, please...when I'm not making cool arthouse films, I'm hanging with the Avengers!

Bitch, please…when I’m not making cool arthouse films, I’m hanging with the Avengers!

Luc Besson has spent the past few years writing and producing films for other directors (Taken), but he returns to the director’s chair every now and then (The Family). He’s a favorite of mine just because he directed The Professional, the original La Femme Nikita, and the goofy but fun The Fifth Element. One aspect that the last three films share is a strong female central character, and that’s evident in Lucy, Besson’s latest project as a director. Scarlett Johansson stars as a student overseas who runs across a ruthless gang of drug smugglers. Suckered into a drug deal by a friend, Lucy is then recruited against her will by the drug smugglers, who surgically place a bag of their product inside her stomach.

Whoa...what a trip...am I on the ceiling again?

Whoa…what a trip…am I on the ceiling again?

But instead of smuggling the drugs, Lucy runs afoul of a rival gang, who torture her, inadvertently ripping the bag and spilling its contents into her system. The result is that Lucy gains the full use of her mind, which turns her into a super-powered human. Besson’s theory seems to be that with great intelligence comes great ruthlessness as Lucy grows into a cold, calculating mastermind with superpowers who proceeds to get more of the drug to increase her mental ability even more. While the scenes of her fighting back against the bad guys are thrilling, further scenes showing her needlessly killing innocents just to obtain her objective makes it hard to root for her.

There, I've been massaging your aura for the last ten minutes...feel better?

There, I’ve been massaging your aura for the last ten minutes…feel better?

But sympathy isn’t the only loss here once Lucy gains her powers; any attempt at creating suspense goes out the window, because, the stronger she becomes, the more invulnerable she is. It’s the same problem that many Superman comic book writers have dealt with: when you have somebody with godlike powers as your main character, how can you create and maintain suspense? Perhaps that’s why Lucy soon takes a sharp turn into science fiction territory as she seeks to know all that there is to know.

Yes, Morgan, I've heard about your little wormhole show. It's cute...it's all wrong...but still cute.

Yes, Morgan, I’ve heard about your little wormhole show. It’s cute…it’s all wrong…but still cute.

Where the movie starts to fall apart for me is when the evil minions keep attacking Lucy, despite seeing her godlike powers firsthand. Most people, even thugs, would know enough to back away from a superior opponent who’s got a major advantage, and the scenes with the drug runners still chasing Lucy at the end is a little hard to take. Morgan Freeman is wasted as a professor who’s sole reason for existence is to explain scientific stuff to the audience (and it’s not really based in real science to begin with). Still, the movie moves at a fast pace, and Johansson is engaging enough to make you want to know how it all turns out. Just don’t think too hard about the plot holes. –SF

The Man In The High Castle — A review of the Amazon Pilot

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s midway through January, when New Year resolutions go down in flames like a shot-up Messerschmitt over the English Channel, but it’s also TV pilot season on Amazon Prime, the streaming network owned by the online store goliath. Most of the pilots are, as usual, extremely forgettable–with one notable exception: The Man In The High Castle, which is an adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick novel that’s written by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and is executive produced by Ridley Scott, who directed Blade Runner, the adaptation of Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Talk about redrawing the map.

Talk about redrawing the map.

Taking place in 1962, The Man In The High Castle deals with a former United States that has lost World War Two. Divided up into two territories, controlled in the east by the Nazis, and controlled in the west by the Japanese, with a Neutral Zone running down the center that serves as the Checkpoint Charlie for these two superpowers. Judging from the incredible opening titles–with its stark, somber tone of the lofty dreams of freedom and liberty having been snuffed out–it would appear that the Nazis have control over far more land than the Japanese.

You eating that last mint, or what?

You eating that last mint, or what?

Tensions between the two powers are also rising, as rumors furiously fly that Hitler is suffering the final stages of Parkinson’s Disease, and with his imminent death will come another war, this time between the Nazis and the Japanese. Throughout all this, we’re focused on two young people: Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is a young man trying to earn his trust with the resistance movement by driving a straight job truck across country. Meanwhile, in Japanese-occupied San Francisco, Juliana (Alexa Davalos) seeks to complete the mission set out by her half-sister, who was brutally killed by occupation troops for treason.

You guys wanna see what Vin Diesel taught me?

You guys wanna see what Vin Diesel taught me?

I have to admit to being a fan of Davalos since first seeing her in The Chronicles of Riddick, where she easily held her own among a testosterone-heavy cast led by Vin Diesel. She’s instantly likeable and sympathetic here as Juliana, and is one of the more intriguing characters of this pilot, along with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi, a Japanese high official who casts a wary eye on the Nazis. The creation of an alternate Earth here is visually stunning–as well as disturbing–making one want to view this over and over, just to take in every detail.

Hanging with Vin never prepared me for this crap....

Hanging with Vin never prepared me for this crap….

I really hope this one gets the green light and goes to series, because it’s a superb pilot that sets up an immensely interesting and dangerous world that I definitely want to see more of. I haven’t read the book this was based on, but now I really want to. Just a fantastic job all around, don’t miss it. –SF

Wonder Woman ’77 — a review

Behold, for I am armed with bracelets!

Behold, for I am armed with bracelets!

Back when I was a kid, I was introduced to Wonder Woman via the wonderfully wacky TV series that starred Linda Carter. It was a series that showed Diana Prince, WW’s civilian alter-ego, changing into the Amazon Princess just by spinning around (she would spin in the opposite direction to change back into Diana, which often made me wonder what would happen if she just kept spinning–would she wind up being naked? Yes, I was a real perv as a kid…still am, come to think of it.).

The first season took place in the 1940s, showing Wonder Woman’s campy adventures at fighting the Nazis during the Second World War. But the second and third seasons had the show take place in the swinging seventies (when the series itself was shot).

Behold, I still have bracelets in electronic form!

Behold, I still have bracelets in electronic form!

Well, DC Comics has decided to release Wonder Woman ’77, an e-comic strip based on the 1970s Wonder Woman series, with the title character drawn very closely to the likeness of Linda Carter as possible (did they need to get Carter’s OK to do this?). I read the first chapter on my Kindle Fire.

There’s no origin tale; we meet up with WW in action fighting against a Russian Women’s Rollerball Team as they try to abduct a Russian scientist who defected to the West (???). Steve Trevor shows up, warning WW there’s another defected Russian scientist who’s in danger…oh, and by the way, has she seen where Diana Prince has gone off to?

The horizontal adventures of Wonder Woman continue.

The horizontal adventures of Wonder Woman continue.

This comics series tries to recapture the goofiness of the latter two seasons of the 1970s Wonder Woman TV series. Eventually, their investigation takes them to Studio 54–which, of course, everybody back in the has been to at least once (well, my mother actually went there one time, and she said later that it was wildly overrated).

The problem for me is that when I watched this series as a kid, I preferred the first season, which took place in the exotic 1940s, over the latter two seasons. I thought having Wonder Woman in the (then) modern day made her adventures seem more mundane. Now, I suppose, the 1970s seem to be just as exotic to a young person today as the 1940s did to me then. But like Captain America, Wonder Woman was a character that worked best in a period piece.

But another problem for me is that the e-comic feels very slender. Granted, it’s cheap (just 99 cents), but there’s not much meat on these bones; the story is cut off just when it feels like it’s barely getting started. Another little quirk that irked me is being forced to read this on the Kindle Fire in the horizontal format, only. This reduces the number of panels, which makes the ‘comic’ feel even slimmer. If I want to relive the true glory days of Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, I’ll just re-watch the first season of WW. –SF

Movie pick me ups for the winter blahs

It’s the middle of the winter, the sun has been chased away by a blanket of gray skies that smothers a landscape covered by bland white snow. It’s cold, slippery, and just plain miserable. What do you do? Put on a movie to lift your spirits! Here’s a list of what works for me to chase away the winter doldrums.

Wait sec...did I forget my keys...?

Wait sec…did I forget my keys…?

Head Above Water

Cameron Diaz stars in this light-hearted murder mystery about the much-younger wife of a judge (Harvey Keitel) who inadvertently sinks deeper and deeper into murder and mayhem at their summer beach house. Based on the Norwegian film Hodet Over Vannet, if this seems a little bleak for a pick me up, bear in mind that it is a comedy, a very dark comedy (just imagine if Hitchcock had made a comedy back in the day–no, wait…actually, he did: The Trouble with Harry). Head Above Water is pretty funny, and its warm summer setting helps to take your mind off the chill.

Man, the WWE really went all out this time. It's a battle of the divas...to the death!

Man, the WWE really went all out this time. It’s a battle of the divas…to the death!

The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001)

Any movie that features the lovely Rachel Weisz (along with the equally lovely Patricia Velasquez) in a wild knife fight scene while clad in skimpy Egyptian bikinis is a must see (at least for me). But both The Mummy and The Mummy Returns are just plain fun, with Arnold Vosloo hamming it up as the titular villain in two imaginative romps that are enjoyable together as a flight of fancy. Avoid the third Mummy film, which lacks Weisz, director Stephen Sommers, as well as the wondrous charm of the first two films.

Wait, that's it! If we just stay out of the water, the sharks can't get us! Girl, you're a genius!

Wait, that’s it! If we just stay out of the water, the sharks can’t get us! Girl, you’re a genius!

Shark Night

Shark Night involves a bunch of good looking, hot young folks on vacation who meet up with a bunch of killer sharks under the control of rednecks with nothing better to do. Yes, the movie is just as silly as that description makes it sound, and that’s a part of its charm. The hot-bod cast spend the better part of the film’s running time in bikinis (and ladies, there’s equal time for you with the guys here, too), and you’ll spend the better part of the night laughing at the ludicrous plot (plot? what plot?) and the over the top villains. Think of it as being a good (unintentional) comedy.

This PInhead guy wants to show me things? Jinkies!

This PInhead guy wants to show me things? Jinkies!

Scooby Doo (2002)

Daphne and Freddie are badly miscast with bland actors, and the CGI Scooby looks downright creepy in some scenes, but I actually liked the 2002 live action Scooby Doo, which makes for a good winter viewing film thanks to it taking place on a tropical island. Besides, the smart script (which was co-written by James Gunn, who would later go on to do a little film called Guardians of the Galaxy) pokes gentle fun at the original cartoon’s tropes, which a lot of the hard core fans (like me) will pick up on. And Linda Cardellini and Matthew Lillard are both picture perfect here as Velma and Shaggy, respectively. Zoinks!

No need to go see the rodeo whenever Wonder Woman's in town.

No need to go see the rodeo whenever Wonder Woman’s in town.

Wonder Woman (2009)

This underrated animated feature stars the voices of Kerri Russell (The Americans) as Wonder Woman, Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) as Steve Rogers and even Alfred Molina (Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2). It’s an entertaining introduction to DC Comic’s First Lady of superheroes that’s fast-paced and visually striking. Here’s hoping Gail Gadot’s take on WW in DC’s upcoming live action films will be equally as enjoyable to watch.

There’s plenty more titles that I can think of, but that’s what I can come up with here and now. The main point is to pass on the heavy message films and just go for whatever makes you happy, no matter how silly it is. Happy winter movie viewing! –SF

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit–a review

I told you I would be meeting you in disguise, Jack. So just sit down and act normally. No, don't look at me, just look at the guy as if you're actually talking to him.

I told you I would be meeting you in disguise, Jack. So just sit down and act normally. No, don’t look at me, just look at the guy as if you’re actually talking to him.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is actually the second reboot of this character, who was created by the late novelist Tom Clancy, first appearing in his debut book, The Hunt For Red October. Alex Baldwin played Ryan to perfection in the film based on Red October, directed by John McTiernan. Baldwin dropped out of the sequels to this blockbuster, and Ryan was played by the sturdy Harrison Ford to diminishing returns in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. In 2002, Jack Ryan returned in the first reboot with Ben Affleck playing him in The Sum Of All Fears, an enjoyable outing that still lacked the charged energy of Red October.

Scotty, beam me up! Scotty?! Oh wait, wrong movie....

Scotty, beam me up! Scotty?! Oh wait, wrong movie….

For this second reboot of the 21st century, Jack Ryan is played this time out by Chris Pine, who also played Captain James T. Kirk in the JJ Abrams-directed, lens-flare crazy Star Trek films. It’s clear that all concerned want to try and get Ryan up and running in the twenty first century by making him more of an action film star–and that’s the problem. When I think of super cool movie spies, I immediately think of one man: Bond, James Bond. I have several Bond films on DVD, and they’re automatically what I reach for when I want a good blend of espionage and popcorn thrills (with Goldfinger and Skyfall among the all time best). I also enjoy Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies, and even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a good bet.

Wait, this is a spy movie? I thought I was in another Jane Austin adaptation! Blimey, how am I supposed to win an Oscar now?!

Wait, this is a spy movie? I thought I was in another Jane Austin adaptation! Blimey, how am I supposed to win an Oscar now?!

But Jack Ryan: man of action? Meh. What made The Hunt For Red October work so well was the fact that Ryan was an analyst, a regular dude who worked in a cubical who found himself on a high-flying adventure. He spent the better part of that movie reminding people that he was just an analyst–yet when the chips were down, Ryan fell back on his inner reserves and rose to the occasion. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit uses the same joke as having him remind people that he’s just an analyst–but it falls flat this time out, because they have Jack acting like Bond: ruthlessly fighting assassins and recklessly hunting down a baddie in the streets of Moscow in a car chase.

Chis Pine meets another Star Trek fan who prefers the Classic cast, instead of his films.

Chis Pine meets another Star Trek fan who prefers the Classic cast, instead of his films.

In short, Ryan is practically a badass super spy here, and it just doesn’t fit the character. It’s clear that the producers wanted to create another James Bond franchise, and who can blame them? The Bond films are a goldmine. But they should either go full bore and change the character drastically by making Jack a CIA field agent (and ignore the mythology established by Clancy), or go with the Jack Ryan of Red October: a man who relies more on his intellect who normally shies from violence, unless he’s caught in a life or death moment. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a nice try, but maybe the character should be retired once again for a few more years, until the next reboot. –SF