Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Finally, our long national nightmare is over. This Pirates shit is over with.

For now, anyway.

For all the talk about how confusing this movie is, you can follow the plot if you make sure to listen carefully to every gutteral utterance by every tiertiary character in the goddamn thing. The real problem is that all the backstory and mythology that pops up out of nowhere in this, the third movie in the trilogy, is introduced in a string of awkward, leaden expository dialogues that make keeping up a chore that offers no real rewards. Even if you understand the plot, who cares? The stakes of the plot are so hazy (the evil British guy wants to rid the seas of piracy...and that's a bad thing?) that it's impossible to muster any interest. As for the characters, well, if any of the actors asked director Gore Verbinski what their motivation was in a given scene, he probably answered "Fuck if I know, dude." The characters shift allegiences at the drop of a hat and for muddy reasons (Johnny Depp wants to be immortal, Orlando Bloom wants to save his father, Keira Knightley wants to save piracy...until they don't anymore, of course) and you just want to say to the screen: "who gives a shit, blow something up already." And, indeed, when they finally do blow shit up, it's pretty cool.

The weirdest part of the movie is that it is objectively pro-piracy. Keira Knightley gives a big Braveheart speech to all the pirates near the end about how they were fighting for their freedom...persumably their freedom to steal shit from people after shooting them with canons. What with the bad guys being representatives of the East India Company, there's a possible anti-capitalist subtext at play here. The pirates talk alot about their "code" and their "honor," and as anyone who has read his Marx knows, capitalism is the ultimate destroyer of tradition: there is no "code of honor" in a capitalist system, only profit rules. However, there could be a Libertarian gloss to this, as well, since the East India Company wasn't an independent corporation, but rather a franchise of the British government. None of this is intentional, of coures, it's just the inevitable byproduct of making a series of films based on a theme park ride about pirates.

Whether inspired by Emma Goldman or Ayn Rand, At World's End is the film equivilent of doing your taxes: long, aggravating, and confusing, but it leaves you with a sense of accomplishment when you finally finish it.

Score: 6.0

Also, I saw the first full-length trailer for the Transformers live action movie and may I say: goddamn you, Michael Bay, for making me want to see this thing.

Friday, May 18, 2007

28 Weeks Later

He on a Rampage!

28 Days Later is a rarity: a horror film with indie cred. Part of it was the involvement of the Trainspotting creative team of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, part of it was the grimy digital video, and part of it was just the fact that it was British, and therefore cool. The fact that the movie sustains a sense of nerve-racking suspense from start to finish sure doesn't hurt.

The sequel that was released on May 11, 28 Weeks Later, is just begging for a smackdown. Not only does it fail to feature any of the actors from the original, but neither Boyle or Garland are driving forces behind the camera. In fact, the credits list four screenwriters, and the directore, Spaniard Juan Carlos Fresnadilo, is essentially a hired gun on the project. This all spells shit-burger, but instead, 28 Weeks Later singlehandedly justifies the very idea of the film sequel.

Most Hollywood sequels follow a simple rule: more of the same, but bigger. 28 Weeks Later, on the other hand, is committed to expanding the rage-virus concept that made the first movie such a goddamn tease. Because it was such an "indie" guerrilla affair, 28 Days Later started when most of the people in England were already dead or Rage-ified. It's understandable: they didn't have the budget to shoot hordes of panicked Londoners at Paddington Station getting chomped by zombies. As a result, for all the kick-assery of 28 Days Later, the movie is essentially a tease. A suspenseful, scary, wildly entertaining tease, but a tease nonetheless. This here sequel is the thick, gooey money shot. Screaming crowds getting zombified, army dudes unloading machine guns into hordes of zombies, city blocks get leveled to destroy the infection, and there's a helicopter-zombie scene that outdoes a similiar scene in Grindhouse by several magnitudes of awesomeness. Also, the film is a far more pointed political commentary than the first one was. For all the talk about the "relevence" of Days, there really isn't that much of a political subtext, just a zeitgeist-capturing focus on anxiety related to disease and terrorism. Weeks, though, offers a consistent and well-developed allegory for the Iraq war.

In a stunning abdication of my responsibilities as a critic, I'm going to cite some jag-off from imdb.com for the following analogy: 28 Days Later: Alien::28 Weeks Later:Aliens

Score: 8.7

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spider Man 3

I've not been a huge fan of the Spider Man series. They get a lot of critical notice because they spend more time than any other comic book franchise developing characters. The problem, from my view, is that a lot of that character development comes about through the deployment of cheesy dialogue and mooney, ridiculously broad scenes of emotional catharsis. In this way, Spider Man 3 is pretty much exactly like its predecessors. But, this one is getting hammered by critics. The dialogue is of the same vintage, the relationships have the same semi-hysterical pitch they always have, but what's causing such a backlash is that Spider Man 3 suffers from a wicked case of Villian Creep. Too many goddamn bad guys sharing too little screen time in between the Mary Jane/Peter Parker melodrama. When you're concentrating all of your villianious coolness of a single bad guy, be it a Green Goblin or a Dr. Octopus, that melodrama is forgivable, because it serves a tightly constructed plot. In Spider Man 3, Harry Osborne, Venom and the stupid, goddamn Sandman rub uncomfortably against one another, with Venom criminally underused. I really think that the downfall of the movie is presence of Sandman, also known as Flint Marko, which is one of the porn-iest names in all of comics (and there's a whole lot of competition). Sandman looks cool, but his relationship with Spider Man is non-existent, which is kind of crazy considering the fact that he KILLED UNCLE BEN!* All he does is take vital screen time from Venom, who makes what amounts to a cameo before being dispatched. Get rid of Sandman, significantly shorten the "Bad Spidey" sequence, get that fucking symbiote onto Eddie Brock before the first hour of the movie is over, and maybe you've got something.

Score: 6.5

*also, raped Aunt Jemima