R.I.P.D. (2013) Howard the Duck Dressed as Jonah Hex?

Film poster for RIPDThere are many reasons that R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department), the Dark Horse limited edition comic-based film died a dismal death on screen and Jeff Bridges announced that the “suits” screwed the whole thing up after the movie got panned universally and was even compared at one point to Howard the Duck. Critic Roger Moore also blasted the film and called it the worst comic book adaptation since Jonah Hex.

Ouch.

A trifle unfair of Moore as at least R.I.P.D. did not have Megan Fox in it. Although the film is a stinker overall despite having a good cast to work with. Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon and Stephanie Szostak the film should have entertained with so much talent shoved into one film.

Directed by Richard Schwentke (RED, Insurgent) the film confuses more than it entertains and spends far too much time on the James Hong, Marisa Miller gag which appears to be a lift from Dead Like Me where the returned deceased look different from when they were alive. Having said that, the joke could have been used to much better effect with a little more emphasis on the interaction of the two “avatars.”

The comic book, published by Dark Horse Comics; who published, amongst other cult favorites, Hellboy and Sin City, ran for four issues. Not unusual for the comic publisher who seems to specialize in “one-offs” and limited editions of comics. In the comic, the joke includes the fact that Nick Cruz and Roy’s big boss is indeed “God” and that there is a heaven and a hell. While the film skirts around this issue by referring to “judgement” and they mention hell, Nick’s old partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) mentions that he refuses to go there, the big boss thing aka, God, is shuffled off to the side.

*To be fair, however, I have never read the comics and apart from the odd synopsis of the short-lived series, can only guess at the “God angle,” although it does seem that this was part and parcel of the wry tongue-in-cheek delivery of the comic.*

The plot of the film, which apparently does follow the comic’s main premise, has Nick Cruz being killed, although in the Dark Horse publication he does not know who killed him and in the film Nick knows his crooked partner did him in.

*A major complaint that I had with the film was the whole “shot in the face” schtick that is mentioned several times in the movie and the scene where Reynolds as Cruz is pumped full of lead, not one of the bullets hits him in the face. Was this considered too graphic or horrid for the film’s PG-13 rating or just on oversight?*

Watching the film one cannot help but have a sort of Deja Vu feeling. It is not too dissimilar to Last Action Hero; the Arnold Schwarzenegger hodgepodge where the comedy made no real sense, such as the inclusion of a cartoon cat as cop, and the producers used a “kitchen sink” approach to the comedic mix. R.I.P.D. feels much the same. The biggest difference between the two films is reception, Roger Ebert actually admitted to liking parts of the Schwarzenegger film.

It should be pointed out that Bridges got a chance to pay respect to his late father Lloyd Bridges with a visual lifted straight from Airplane!. Father Lloyd played a character named McCroskey in the 1980 film who had “picked the wrong time” to stop a number of things, including sniffing glue. At one point in the hysterically funny film, Bridges Senior has a close up of his wildly smiling face and his hair is standing straight up. The camera repositions and the audience can see that McCroskey is upside down. Jeff Bridges replicates that shot as his Sheriff Roy hangs upside down under a building overhang holding a rope attached to a “dead-o.” Complete with wild smile and long hair dangling Bridges does the shot, although without the camera repositioning.

R.I.P.D. iS just not as entertaining as it could have been. The lack of direction, the kitchen sink attitude towards its comedy and the missing coherency hurts the film overall. Bridges and Reynolds fail to mesh as the former seems to be channeling his Rooster Cogburn and the latter plays it all too serious. The two styles never quite fit together.

Watching the film, I kept wanting to see more of Miller and Hong in action and wondered how Mary Louise Parker could still look so young and attractive. This is a 2 out of 5 star film with little to recommend it except for the presence of the beautiful Parker and Szostak who each brighten up the film with their performances. The chaps in the movie are never really given a chance to shine.

Sorry fellas.

While the film is not really Howard the Duck dressed as Jonah Hex, it is a curious blend of both these misbegotten films where direction and focus were both lost by those making the film and the actors never stood a chance. Wait for this one to show up on telly.

10 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Familiar (2012) Extreme Passive Aggression

Film Poster for Familiar
Written and Directed by Richard Powell, Familiar is a look at passive aggression in the extreme. Starring Robert Nolan (Worm, Heir), Astrida Auza (Feed the Devil, Return) and Cat Hostick (Ejecta, Three’s a Crowd) we learn that in the Dodd household, all is not well.

Rather interestingly, John is the twin brother of Geoffrey Dodd from Worm. In the earlier 2010 film, Geoffrey is portrayed as being psychotic; so in no small way this mental problem could be said to be a “family tradition.”

Powell (Consumption, Worm) is a master at showing the less pleasant things in life, whether it is a relationship gone sour (Familiar), dissatisfaction about the job (Worm) or hidden desires (Heir) he skews the material into moving and dark glimpses into the human psyche.

In this tale, John Dodd is a man fed up with his relationship; a wife he detests and a daughter whom he refers to as a “parasite,” this leaves him feeling trapped and desperate. Nolan, as Dodd, gives an exceptional performance as a man driven into apparent madness. His internal dialogues and the increasing panic at being unable to escape are brilliant.

Auza plays the passive aggressive partner to perfection. The whole film actually depicts this mental problem with disturbing reality. The long silences at meal times, the body language and having to “pry” information out of the non-communicative spouse are all experiences suffered by those who have been in this type of relationship.

Dodd decides that he must rid himself of the wife who is driving him insane and begins to work on removing her via drugs after successfully using steroids to solve another problem with the woman. After the steroid episode John begins to notice that what he thought was an internal dialogue is, in fact, more of a dictatorial rant.

The man’s battle then becomes focused on his sanity and the loss of control he believes has occurred. Powell’s tale feels like a Henry James plot. Think A Turn of the Screw here, and all the elements of the film click neatly into place like well crafted puzzle pieces. By the end we ask ourselves just how much of what happens is in John’s mind and how much may be real.

Cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson once again shows the mastery of light and shadow which makes his work so brilliant. The contrasts of crisp clear camera work with the element of darkness applied are perfect as in his other films.

Familiar is available on iTunes right now and this is a short film not to be missed. Easily as powerful as any of Powell’s other films, but the title is evocative of the feeling one gets when watching the movie. Anyone who has been in a marriage like this empathizes with John Dodd immediately and the whole thing does indeed feel familiar. A 5 out of 5 stars for an excellent snapshot of the madness behind passive aggression.

29 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

YouTube Holds First Annual Music Awards Mainstream Vs Homegrown (Video)

YouTube Holds First Annual Music Awards Mainstream Vs Homegrown (Video)

Following hot on the heels of Google’s recent reveal that YouTube will start competing in the world of digital music, the media site has announced their first annual music awards event. The ceremony will take place on November 3 in a contest of mainstream music vs “homegrown” local, and not so local, internet artists. The video at the end of the article talks about the upcoming event.

Katy Perry Busy Birthday Girl Lets Prism out Early

Katy Perry Busy Birthday Girl Lets Prism out Early

October has been a very busy month for Katy Perry. This is the month where she will celebrate the day of her birth – on Oct. 25 – and she has just been named the new face of CoverGirl. This busy birthday girl is even hitting the promotional trail for her Prism album which, due to hackers leaking her tracks, she has let out early.

Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball Knocks Katy Perry Roar Off Number One Spot Thanks to iTunes

Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball Knocks Katy Perry Roar Off Number One Spot Thanks to iTunes

Ip Man 2 (2010): Continuing the Tale

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Directed again by Wilson Yip (for the last time in the series) Ip Man 2 continues the tale of Ip Man and his rise to worldwide fame. There have been less complaints about the film makers “frugality” with actual events this time around. Picking up where Ip Man finished, the film takes place in Hong Kong.

Donnie Yen reprises his role as the modest yet powerful Wing Chun master Ip Man. But he is not alone, he’s got company from several actors from the first film. Actors Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Siu-Wong Fan, and Li Chak are all back reprising their roles from the first film.

One very delightful addition to the cast is Sammo Hung, who choreographed Ip Man 1 and 2, playing the overbearing martial artist master Hung-Chun Nam. Despite recovering from major heart surgery just prior to filming, Sammo gives his usual level of acting and (performing all his own stunts and getting injured in the process) fighting.

This time around it’s not just other martial arts masters that Ip Man has to deal with, it’s the occupational British who have claimed Hong Kong for their commonwealth. With an overbearing attitude, which to be far the English in those days practised wherever they happened to occupy, and a clear distaste for the new British commonwealth citizenry; the people who “run” Hong Kong are equal to the Japanese in their attitude if not their actions.

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Despite this being the real focal point of the film, the actors playing the snobby and dislikable English overseers of Hong Kong are abysmal. Not one of them can decide which accent to use sounding like a strange combination of Australian, quasi-English, American, and God knows what else.

Bad accents aside, the acting level was such that I harboured suspicions that the film makers had grabbed foreign tourists off the street to plug into the roles of the villainous British leaders. In a film where most of the climatic scenes take place against these oppressors, it really hurt not only the credibility of the film but it marred the film’s message as well.

Still, the fight scenes were impressive, the students were likeable, irritating and endearing, and Ip Man’s wife was a lot more understanding this time around.

I need to say a quick word about Siu-Wong Fan who got to reprise his role as Jin from the first film, his character is a reformed man after  the experiences from his interactions with Ip in the first film. He gets more of a part to play in the proceedings as a good guy, but then,  he practically disappears for the rest of the film. I loved what he did with Jin and he was easily my favourite character besides Ip and Hung.

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Donnie Yen has gone on record as saying that this is the definitive Ip Man film and that it easily overshadows the first film. I disagree. While he does a brilliant job, again, as Ip; the film doesn’t have quite the same structure or fluidity that the first film offered. The scenes of Ip fighting Master Nam (and his sycophants) could have been a lot longer although, admittedly, the premise of fighting on a loose table top was pretty damned impressive.

When Ip Man 2 was in its pre-production stage, it was going to focus on Ip’s relationship with famous pupil Bruce Lee. Due to their inability to get legal clearance from Lee’s family in time, Lee’s “appearance” in the film is shortened to just a few seconds of a very young Lee “meeting” Ip Man. A short sequence that was amusing, but intimately un-needed, I thought.

Overall, despite Yen’s assurances that this the Ip Man movie that will gain legendary status, I did not enjoy the film nearly as much as I did the first one. Consequently, I’ve given it a 4 out of 5 stars after taking a full star off for the un-even acting skills of the non-Chinese actors in the film.

Although I am sure that all the “foreign” actors in the film were hampered somewhat by working in a film that doesn’t feature English as its main language, a problem that I’ve noticed in most Asian films that feature English or American actors/characters. I hope that the next project they work on doesn’t handicap them as badly as this film did.

This is available on iTunes at the moment.

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005): A Gay Buddy Film

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After being told by numerous people (well, two at least) that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a dynamite film that showed implicitly that Shane Black was an awesome director before Iron Man 3, I decided to watch it. Especially after seeing a clip from the film that featured Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr and Evan Parke where Downey shoots Parke in the head.

Despite that sounding bad, it was actually quite funny and after being told by my soon-to-be illustrious director Natasha Harmer that, “Oh, it gets even better.” Watching the film became a “done deal.” Just for the record the other “fan” of this film is my daughter Meg’s significant other Max.

Based, in part, on a Brett Halliday novel titled Bodies are Where You Find Them (whatever that means) and with a screen story/screenplay written by Shane Black and directed by same, – And yes, it’s the Shane Black who wrote the Lethal Weapon films, plural, and other great bits of movie magic – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or KKBB as I’ll refer to it for the rest of this post, is a kick ass, funny film with just enough tongue in cheek humour directed at the audience to take the sting of the sadder bits of the film.

Whew! Try reading that last marathon of a sentence with one breath. Go ahead, try! I dare you!

Narrated by Downey, KKBB is a journey through the Los Angeles movie crowd as dictated by every movie ever made about Hollywood. It abounds with stereotypes, clichés and enough two-dimensional characters to populate a Top Cat cartoon.

But…

These have all been done on purpose. At the beginning of the film, Downey is introducing himself as our narrator and cheerfully telling us how bad he is going to be and then proceeds to show us. He also starts the film standing by a heated swimming pool, occasionally dipping his shoes into the water.

The reference to Sunset Boulevard is obvious and if you didn’t see it? Shame on you! Now go out now and watch Sunset Boulevard and tell me you can’t see the reference. I’ll wait.

Gay Perry and Harry...There must be a joke there somewhere...
Gay Perry and Harry…There must be a joke there somewhere…

Downey plays Harold a cheap thief who gets to Hollywood and the fabulous party with the pool via a  perfectly timed escape from east coast cops where he bursts into an audition and gets hired. While at the party he meets Val Kilmer, a gay private detective who goes by the name of Gay Perry. He meets the host who is mega rich and mega rich Harlan Dexter (played by Corben Bernsen who makes a great bad guy) and sees a girl that piques his interest.

Later he finds out that this intriguing girl is non-other than Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan), a childhood crush from his hometown. While trying to win the girl, Harold gets involved with Gay Perry to learn how to be a detective. This “one-night-stand” results in a murder mystery that serpentines through the entire film involving all the main characters.

Love interest Harmony. I will resist all temptation to make jokes about Christmas Stockings...
Love interest Harmony. I will resist all temptation to make jokes about Christmas Stockings…

Downey was, as usual, brilliant. How anyone can put themselves through so much substance abuse hell and still continually “knock it out of the park” is beyond me, but we’re glad he can.

Val Kilmer actually entertained me for once and I actually liked his character.  So kudos to the man who I’ve never really liked much except for  his Doc Holliday in Tombstone and  his role in the  film Red Planet, where he also knocked his role(s) out of the park.

Michelle Monaghan was quirky and cute and funny. She was also sad and funny as the girl who “didn’t make it.” Her bear/beer commercial was sadly funny as well, although having actor Laurence Fishburne voicing said bear in the commercial didn’t hurt.

This film is a real 5 out of 5 stars effort by all concerned. It didn’t quite make me feel a full range of emotion. I cannot, hand on heart, say that, “I laughed, I cried, blah blah.” But laugh I did and the film delivered so adequately on that score that sometimes I even laughed when it wasn’t politically correct to do so.

A great film, that shows that Shane Black is more than a one trick pony.

Simply Great.

Downey Jr and Black...Bromance...
Downey Jr and Black…Bromance…