Friday, October 29, 2010

The Decline Of Western Civilization

I hated Westerns as a kid.

I mean, I couldn't even sit through a Western if my dad was watching one.

I really didn't like them.

However, that's changed in recent years.

It's dawned on me as I've gotten older just how awesome Westerns really are.  I don't care if the guy is 10 for 110, part of him will always want to be a cowboy in the old west.

FACT: Every man secretly wants to be this man.
There's something very visceral about the way any good Western plays out.  It's a world filled with anti-heroes and hookers.  What's not to love?

The thing about Westerns, that I didn't realize until I was in my twenties, is that it's not about the action.  Much like the Japanese art of Ikebana, it's about the space between.  It's about the pacing and the tension.  It's about all the moments that lead up to the hero shooting down the line of bandits that have him cornered.

Maybe that's why Westerns don't get made anymore.  In today's fast-paced, gotta-get-it-now society, nobody takes the time to appreciate the moments in between the events.

Maybe it was simply the way of the world.  In today's cinema, Westerns have been replaced with Superhero movies, just as Westerns replaced Historical Epics.

Who knows?  Maybe ten years down the road Westerns will hit it big again.

Though for right now, it seems that we are in the moments between.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Separated At Birth: The Losers vs. The A-Team

Whoa.  Talk about déjà vu!

Two movies about government sponsored teams who get double-crossed and go out to clear their names.  Two movies featuring over-the-top action peppered with lighthearted humor.  Two movies which have their third acts take place at the port of Los Angeles.

Talk about déjà vu!

The Losers

Based on the comic book by Andy Dingle and Jock, The Losers wastes no time getting in your face with it's heavy dose of action-comedy.  Seriously.  Five minutes in and people are getting shot.

I'm not complaining though.  I knew what I was in for with this one, so I wasn't exactly expecting a thought-provoking film.  The movie is fun, and that's really all it tries to be, so I give the filmmakers credit for doing their job well.  I, personally, liked that there were little stylistic touches throughout the movie, telling the audience where the characters currently were.  It reminded me a lot of Zombieland, which is a good thing.  It works in a movie like this.

The cast is great to be honest, if not very well known.  Almost everyone knows who Chris Evans is these days, and I'm glad to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan coming up in the Hollywood hierarchy.  You may remember him best as the dead boyfriend from Grey's Anatomy, or the dead dad from Weeds, or the dead superhero from Watchmen.  The other actors are all fantastic as well, but these two steal most of the scenes they are in.

My biggest complaints on the movie are that slow-motion seems completely overused in the first half of the movie and that Eric Stoltz felt like a generic-brand Bond villain with an evil scheme, that rivaled the ridiculous plot of G.I. Joe, involving a super-bomb called a 'snuke' (all I could think of was an episode of South Park form a few years ago).

The A-Team

If you thought that The Losers took action to a new level of ridiculous, then you clearly have not seen Bradley Cooper fly a tank.

No, really, he flys a tank.

Based on the television show from the 1980's of the same name, The A-Team was released mere weeks after The Losers.  I would almost say that the two movies were based off the exact same premise.

The A-Team seems like the younger, more eager twin of The Losers, always trying to one-up it.  The Losers fly a helicopter?  Well, The A-Team flys a helicopter upside-down.  The Losers blow up a private jet?  The A-Team blows up an entire freighter.

Anything you can do, I can do bigger.

Being that The A-Team is based on a more well-known property, it of course landed more high-profile stars, and they work well together.  This is another one that I was shocked didn't do better in theaters.

Featuring a more interesting bad-guy (played by up-and-comer Patrick Wilson) and more intense action, it's hard to see where The A-Team may fall short.  Well, it falls short in a few areas.  Sometimes, the camera cuts can be a bit jarring, as if Mr. Michael Bay himself had done the editing, and it isn't hard to miss a bit of dialogue because you were so distracted by the fact that you have no idea what just happened.

The Decision

Honestly, I'd sit down with a cold beer and a couple of friends to watch either movie and be perfectly content.  They are both fine additions to the action genre, and I'd be more than happy to see a sequel to either one, seeing as both have endings left wide open for the sequel option.

In fact, I'd like to see both movies get a continuation, though I don't really expect either one will.

So, to be honest, neither movie is really superior to the other, as they both feel like opposite sides of the same double-headed coin.  I would recommend either one as a rental at least, that way if you don't dig The A-Team, at least you have a Plan B.

Cheesy, I know.

The Losers is currently out on DVD and Blu-Ray, and you'll be able to pick up The A-Team on December 14th.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The People vs. Sam Raimi: The Real Reason Spider-Man 3 Sucked

Ok, let's start off with a harsh truth: Spider-Man 3 wasn't very good.  It may have been acceptable, decent, or passable, but it wasn't good, and after the first two Spider-Man movies, fans were expecting not only something good, but something great.

So why wasn't it very good?  Why didn't it live up to the expectations of the fans from the first two films?  Was it the fact that James Franco was flying around on a snowboard?  Maybe.  That probably played a small role.  Was it the scene where Peter Parker dances around a piano bar looking like the lead singer from some local scene band that only plays house shows?  Yeah, that sucked quite a bit, and was incredibly awkward to watch.

However, if you bum around any film site long enough, you'll probably discover the root of most peoples' outrage: The handling of Venom.

Geeks the world over were pissed about the way Venom looked, the way Venom acted, even the way that Venom talked.  As most people would argue - it just wasn't Venom.

So the backlash came and most of it was targeted right for director Sam Raimi.  Here was a guy who had delivered two fantastic Spider-Man movies and then completely bungled the third, forever tarnishing what could have been a near-perfect trilogy.

Here's the kicker though: It wasn't Sam Raimi's fault.

The thing is, Sam Raimi outright said that he didn't want to include Venom in any of his Spider-Man movies.  The reasoning behind this was that he was making an homage to the Spider-Man that he grew up with in the 1960's, and really just didn't care for Venom as a character.

So, why did we end up getting a half-baked version of Venom, Spider-Man's antithesis, in Spider-Man 3 then?  Because we, the fans, demanded Venom.  The studio did what seemed to be the logical choice, from a financial perspective, and told Raimi that Venom was going to be in the third movie, whether or not he liked it.  They did exactly what the fans wanted.

Now, before I wrap this up, I know there are probably going to be a few people who don't know a great deal about the film industry who bring up the fact that directors are the people in charge of movies.  They are supposed to have final say.  Well, yes, that's true.  In theory, anyway.

However, if that were true in practice, why would we get DVD/Blu-Ray releases with the words 'Director's Cut' emblazoned on them?

Ever notice how the 'Director's Cut' is usually a better film?

There's a simple reason for that: Directors are in the business of making movies.  Studios are in the business of making money.

So, next time you happen upon someone complaining about how badly Sam Raimi screwed up Venom (you'll probably hear it at least once if you decide to see Sony's Spider-Man reboot in the theatre), kindly let them know that Spider-Man 3 didn't suck because of Sam Raimi.  Spider-Man 3 sucked despite Sam Raimi.

Your friendly neighborhood filmophile will thank you.