Monday, 13 December 2010

Fun in -10

It's the darkest, most stressful time of the year. But many of the most fun films ever made take place at Christmas. Movies like Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon and Silent Night, Deadly Night. So I figured it would be suitable to take a look at some of the films meant to be fun released this year. Now, I will do a best of the year list nearer to the end of this year (after all, there's still about 5 % of the year left). This post will feature some action movies that we watch just for fun. They aren't probably good enough to get to my end-of-the-year list, but I can still rate them by their funness, right?

The A-Team
Director: Joe Carnahan

The A-Team (c) 2010 20th Century Fox

First stop is the film version of the TV series about a crack commando unit I used to watch every sunday morning on reruns. Despite this, I never had any idea what was the crime our heroes didn't commit, but were accused of, which made them survive as soldiers of fortune. Not surprisingly, this remake is all about that subject, as it tells the orgin of (cue machine gun shots) ...The A-Team. And I still couldn't care less about the plot. The film's strengths are the same as the series': Charismatic lead actors and stupidly complicated plans to accomplish everything. And of course, as is suitable for a summer blockbuster, a bunch of stuff blowing up.

I suppose the morale of the story is that military should be privatized and bureaucratic ladders cut down. But one can also see why Mr T refused to have anything to do with the film. In the series, the character he used to play, B.A. Baracus, is a sworn pacifist. I don't think the A-Team ever actually killed anyone, even though they are soldiers of fortune. In the movie, much of the running time this same status quo is kept. But before the finale, Liam Neeson gives Baracus (played by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson") an idealistic speech about how one must be prepared to fight for what's right, and quotes Gandhi as saying this. As the film takes place after USA has withdrawn its troops from Iraq, the message coudn't probably be clearer.

Fun: ★★★★
Film: ★★★

Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau

I might be more forgiving to this film if they would've kept this awesome opening scene instead of the Spider-Man and Se7en copying vengeance montage there is in its place.

I had high hopes for Iron Man 2, as I think its predecessor was one of the funnest action films of the Naughties and could balance between light-hearted humour and massive explosions pretty niftly. It was all carried by it's boyish charm. the sequel promised more of everything, but bigger, as they usually do. And while everything seems to be OK on the surface - dialogue's still good, action is kick-ass, soundrack has AC/DC and The Clash on it - there is something amiss in the film.

It might be because the sequel tries to juggle so many stuff at once. There's Tony Stark's vunerability to his battle suit, which brings him ever closer to death and alcoholism. There's his quarrels with the US Military over the ownership of his technology and with a rival arms manufacturer Sam Rockwell (who is excellent as a puny douchebag). There's a vengeful character from his father's past (Mickey Rourke), who seems to have a one-up in creating battlesuit technology. There's his relationship with his assistant Gwyneth Palthrow, and him making her a new CEO of his company so he can deal with all the shit mentioned above. And finally, there is some pointless bullshit about the secret SHIELD organization testing Stark for the Avengers initiative to connect the film to the upcoming Avengers blockbuster. Iron Man is one of the rare superhero films where I'd rather watch the man behind the mask than the actual superhero himself. There is actually pretty little Iron Man action in the film. And two times out of three it's all very good. But the end fight feels a little anticlimatic, just like last time. It's a little worrying, since director Jon Favreau is no Pixar genius. Does he actually have any more tricks up his sleeve for the third part?

Fun: ★★★
Film: ★★★

Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Ethan Maniquis

Ah, I've waited long to see Machete. And had such bad luck doing so. When the Night Visions-prize winning mexploitation finally rolled on the screen, my expectations were as high as Cheech Marin on his glory days. And I was let down, even though the film isn't exactly bad.

Like Iron Man 2, Machete has had to cram way too much stuff into it. Everything that was in the Grindhouse fake trailer has to be there, as well as meaty enough roles for every one of the impressive ensemble cast. Even though this is the first film where Danny Trejo's starring, he still feels like a bit-part player. But he does deliver. I was surprised to notice that Machete the character actually isn't depicted as the sharpest tool in the shed. But then again, he gets double-crossed so often, and seems to always aim to look good killing, rather than efficient, that he is bound to be. Also entertaining after way too long are Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez and Steven Seagal, who finally got a role insane enough for him. Yet the anti-US border politics threads are way too hardhandedly delivered for a ridiculous exploitation flick and some of the battle scenes, particularly the one in the end, are too sloppily directed. There are some fun scenes not featured on the trailer (like the one featuring a turkey thermometer), but not nearly enough. I would've been happier with just the trailer, yet it's clear other people enjoy this more, so it's good that it got made after all.

Fun: ★★★★ for newcomers, ★★ for people who have seen Grindhouse
Film: ★★★

Director: Nimród Antal

Predators (c) 2010 Troublemaker Studios

So Robert Rodriguez didn't even direct Machete alone. Is he too busy or what? Unlike the old times where he released one action film and one kids' film per year, he brought us two action films this year. And the first one he didn't even direct, just produced and helped to write.

I am a Predator apologist. I think the first film in the series is one of the best action films ever made and I enjoy the hell out of the batshit insane Predator 2. The experience of watching AvP films was softened a little because they had Predators in them. But somehow, I didn't expect that much from this film. And unlike Machete, it managed to take me by surprise. It was quite good!

In a nod to the first film, the action takes place in an actual jungle once again. This time, the soldiers have been specifically brought there to be hunted down. By evil pussy-faced aliens. There is a nice international variety to the fighters this time around, and they react in a different way on all the slaughter going on around them. The Predators themselves are kept mostly at shadows. We don't learn much new about them we didn't already know and maybe this is for the best. Some characters are better when left a little mysterious.

Predators isn't still anywhere near the goodness of the first film. The characters are too heavily archetypical to become anywhere near more interesting than the dogmeat they are. In the first Predator, this was accomplished with very little dialogue and just short scenes. I would've also hoped some more (or at least some) humour in the film too. It's nice that the Predators are taken seriously, but the first one had the best macho bullshit ever written and this one only raises a smile when the action gets insane enough. Make wittier dialogue! Machete had some good quotes, at least.

Fun: ★★★★
Film: ★★★ 1/2

Piranha 3D
Director: Alexandre Aja

Piranha 3D (c) 2010 Dimension Films

And last, we come to probably the funnest of them all. For once, this is true exploitation instead of something trying hard to be. This is seen also on the decision to convert the film in post-production to 3D, which is a cheap gimmick which allows the producers to raise ticket prices. But I digress.

Piranha 3D is an unashamedly chauvinistic film. The first half shows big-breasted ditz's and moronic douches party out at a lake and the latter half shows them being ripped to sheds by prehistoric fishes as well as various accidents caused by mass panic. Unlike with action films, with horror I like the fact that the more ridiculous the premise is, the straighter it must be played. And Piranha manages to balance just right on the line between goofy and obnoxiously self-aware. Aja as a talented horror-director even manages to create one scene with actual suspense, even though to call the characters two-dimensional would be an insult to the Pong bats.

Returning to the previous rant, the biggest fault of the movie is the crappy 3D, which is probably the worst I've ever seen. Mostly the just looks like ViewMaster slides, with flat characters lined in different depths. but occasionally it gets a lot worse, as objects are sloppily cut and their outlines exist in two different dimensions at the same time. Even the supposedly flat lake seems as round as the whirlpool from the opening scene never left. Even though I enjoyed the film, I'll probably think twice before wasting my hard-earned money on another 3D film converted in post-production.

Piranha: ★★★★
3D: ★

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