August 27, 2013

Red Dawn/Olympus Has Fallen

It's hard to be a hack action filmmaker these days. In this era of global harmony and peace among nations, there aren't any dastardly villains anymore for Buck Plankchest to shoot at the end of the movie just before he kisses Anorexic White Woman (with Collagen-Enhanced Lips!) as the credits roll. Since the fall of the Evil Empire deprived us of the Russians and their subsidiaries in Eastern Europe as go-to bad guys, bad action movie producers have been on the hunt for the next great enemy of 'Murika. We used Muslim terrorists for a while, but since one of their hare-brained schemes actually worked in real life (Nevar forget!!!1!11oneoneone), they can't be goofy movie psychos anymore. We can't shoot Europeans because they more or less do what we say. We can't shoot the Japanese because they make us stuff. The Chinese keep our currency afloat, the Indians take care of us when we're sick and build our bridges, the Arabs sell us oil. Oh sub-Michael Bays of the world, where can you turn for a true threat to freedom, democracy, mom, and apple pie?

To North Korea, of course, also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Democracy Republic People, or the DPRK, or That I'm So Ronery Country.

They're nonwhite, they hate America, they don't make anything or have any money, and they have no minority presence within the Empire to protest their negative portrayal in Hollywood. They're perfect! Plus, their leadership is a series of doofy fat guys.

So we have North Korea, a country so poor its people are losing relative height due to malnutrition, trumped up into a Dire Threat to the Empire Itself. We're talking about a leadership so inept there remains doubt that their nuclear bombs actually work. When North Korea declares war on the South, people in Seoul don't even look up from their lattes, yet we're to believe Kim Jong Un is just one fit of pique away from conquering the western half of the Empire, or storming the Imperial Palace and taking the Emperor captive.

People, when the Swayze died, so did your Red Dawn remake that nobody asked for and nobody wants. Remaking Red Dawn without Pat's Power Mullet is like nabbing Princess Vespa's empty Mercedes: All you're left with is a nice-looking and rather expensive hollow shell. In Red Dawn: The Real One, the Soviet Union launched a surprise attack on the Empire and seized the West Coast, and since the rest of the country sorta shrugged and muttered "Best thing, really", only the Swayze and his merry band of high school football players could resist the iron-fisted rule of the dastardly Commies. The producers of the remake decided to replace the bygone Soviet Communists with the in-name-only Chinese Communists, but China said no, so the producers re-cut the film to transform China into North Korea. It's movie magic!

So North Korea conquers the West Coast of the Empire, despite having a population significantly smaller than the state of California alone and lacking the facilities to deliver weapons, troops, or supplies to the theater of conflict. (Lip service is paid to this fact with a single throwaway line that Russia delivered the DPRK's troops, so why they didn't just make the Russians the enemy in the first place is anybody's guess.) Anyone who doesn't toe the Commie line gets locked into a giant prison on the edge of town. That means our old buddy Thor has to take up Mjölnir and go forth to do righteous battle with the million man army of mighty North Korea. Many shootings and explosions ensue. The North Koreans are pretty stupid and easily fooled by the plucky "teens", so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when the film ends not with the original's realistic downbeat ending (eventually the resistance is discovered by the Soviets and wiped out) but with the Wolverines liberating the prisoners and re-taking their town as triumphant music plays, an eagle sheds a single tear, and an Imperial flag waves in front of the camera.

As stupid as Red Dawn is, Die Hard in the White House is even worse. King Leonidas stars as John McClane and charisma-free Rick Yune is Hans Gruber, with that unappealing guy from The Dark Knight as the Emperor who gets kidnapped by North Korean commandos after they take over the Imperial Palace. In a highly realistic sequence, a four-engine prop cargo plane that couldn't possibly make it from North Korea to the Imperial homeland shoots people at random while our own TIE fighter pilots defending the capital look up and wonder where all the gunfire's coming from. Okay, that's not fair, two American fighters did scramble to intercept the bogey when it was maybe a couple miles from the Imperial Palace. Of course, they flew right into the path of the enemy plane's fixed sideways-firing guns instead of, I don't know, planting themselves on his six to acquire a missile lock from safety, so they're quickly disposed of. Ah-ha! All this was a ruse, for no sooner is the enemy plane is finally shot down than the North Korean commandos dressed as tourists start mowing down Secret Service agents in their ground assault on the Palace. Of course they waited until the plane crashed to launch their little attack, thus negating the whole "distraction" thing, but since the movie only allows Leonidas to actually hit the North Koreans with his gun, the evil Commies fairly quickly and easily manage to dispose of the Secret Service and stormtroopers defending the Palace.

Now I know what you're asking: Why is Rick Yune's Korean still so goddamned bad? No, I'm sorry, you're asking why Rick Yune has taken the Palace. Answer: He wants to destroy the Empire's nuclear arsenal. I'm not kidding. That's the goal. Yune needs three codes to activate Cerberus, a program that will cause all of America's ICBMs to self-destruct in their silos, leaving the Empire defenseless before a Russian first strike. (Of course 2/3 of our nuclear weapons are missiles on submarines which wouldn't be affected, but why start with logic now?). Leonidas has to rescue to the Emperor's son because threatening the kid is the only way Yune can get the Emperor to reveal the third activation code. Leo rescues the kid an hour into the movie--though sadly without screaming "This is AMERICA!" and kicking a colored man down a well--and so Yune is defeated. The movie then refuses to play by its own stupid rules when Yune activates Cerberus even though he doesn't have the third code. Somehow this means the ICBMs themselves will utterly destroy the Empire even though self-destructing an ICBM wouldn't cause its warhead to detonate and ICBMs are located in remote areas just so their nuclear destruction would cause the least possible harm. Goddamn, this is the laziest big-budget script I've seen in a while.

Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett sit in a room somewhere and recite their lines in that voice that actors use when they're just in it for the paycheck. This is the first time I've ever seen a Freeman performance that could be described as "phoning it in", and by God I hope it's the last time. I know this movie didn't deserve a genuine Morgan Freeman performance, but he looked so unhappy to be there that every time he appeared I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him everything's going to be okay. And of course it was okay for him, since neither he nor Bassett had to suffer through watching this crap. If you guessed the movie ends with Leonidas disabling Cerberus with just one second to spare on its bright red countdown display, then you watch too many shitty action movies.

God it pains me to say this, but Behind Enemy Lines II had North Koreans that were more recognizable than either of these big-budget travesties had. When you can digitally swap one country's flag for another and re-dub a few lines from one language to another and thereby completely change the identity of your movie's villains, exactly how much thought did you put into your movie? Lines sucked donkey balls, but at least its creators attempted to incorporate the culture of its cardboard villains. These Hollywood studio crapfests can't even be bothered to do that. Interchangeable villains in a paint-by-numbers plot add up to a bland miasma of mediocrity.

I've got to stop watching these snooze-inducing blockbusters and find something truly godawful, something to get royally pissed off about. Hmm, let's see what I've got in my stack of $2 DVDs....

August 1, 2013

The Host

No, not that one, this one.

That's right, it's the new awful film adapted from the latest female disempowerment classic of the greatest setback to women's liberation since Ann Coulter, our own Stevenie Meyer.

The world of The Host is a peaceful paradise, with no suffering or want or discord of any kind. Everyone is perfectly nice and beautiful and healthy. According to the opening narration of Jeb Stryder (A Wooden Plank), "there is no hunger. There is no violence. The environment has healed. Our planet has never been more at peace." I knew it! Mormonism wins out and converts the planet. You heard it here first.

No, it turns out that nearly all of humanity has been wiped about by parasitic clouds of glowing sperm. These aliens take over host human bodies when surgically implanted into the back of the neck while the hosts, after a certain amount of time spent trying to win the psychic war for their own bodies, just "fade away", which sounds suspiciously like "die" to me. Think of a Trill symbiont, only instead of a slug that melds its memories and personality with yours, it's luminous ejaculate that kills you

Just when you thought "Bella Swan" was embarrassingly hamfisted in its symbolism, Meyer tops herself by naming this story's protagonist central character "Melanie Stryder" (Waify McBlankexpression). Get it, strider, because she goes on a journey? (Never mind that Meyer's characters never grow or change in any way.) We meet her fleeing in terror from the aliens as she leads them away from her younger brother (Typical Child Actor) so he can escape. In accordance with the most noble feminine virtue in the Meyerverse, Melanie sacrifices herself by leaping from the building to her death. She doesn't die because if she were killed by a seven-storey plummet to the concrete below, the movie would be over. Instead, she's captured and implanted with an alien that calls itself Wanderer. No, I don't know why the aliens exclusively use English and even give themselves English names like Wanderer. Oh wait, yes I do, because coming up with alien-sounding words is, like, hard, and if there's one consistency of bad writing, it's laziness.

Our Bella Melanie is able to resist Wanderer's mind mojo, so she spends the rest of the movie talking in voiceover while Wanderer talks back to her out loud. Why does Wanderer have to speak to Melanie aloud instead of communicating through thought, as Melanie does? Because having the same actress doing both roles in voiceover would be impossible to follow. Instead, Melanderer just comes across as a girl with severe schizophrenia, and the voiceover only gets more annoying as the film drags (and I do mean drags, Oh My Brothers and Only Friends) on, especially since 90% of Melanie's dialogue consists of her mentally shouting at Wanderer not to do something which Wanderer then proceeds to do. Yeah, the alien ignored you the first 300 times, but if you keep shouting at it to stop, no, don't, STOP!, it might actually listen the 301st time!

Wanderer has access to all Melanie's memories, so it reveals the name of Melanie's boyfriend (Trunk Slamchest) to the chief antagonist alien (Diane Kruger). I don't know what position this alien has, if it has any. It just hates and pursues Wanderlanie through most of the film. Later Kruger tells us that this information has been of great help in crushing the human resistance, though I have no idea why. All the aliens wear godawful blue contact lenses, making humans identifiable on sight, and there appear to be no humans who aren't part of the resistance (i.e., collaborators). Nor do the aliens appear to care to spare human collaborators if there were any. So why would the spermaliens need to know Trunk's name?

Wanderer starts to sympathize with Melanie and the humans, and so it steals a car. (Well, it asks a passing motorist if it can just have the car. Being Mormon an alien, the motorist happily hands over the keys and wishes Wanderer on its way.) It drives toward where the human resistance is hiding, until it realizes Melanie is leading it the wrong way. It turns the car around, but before it can head back, Melanie uses her ability to control her body whenever it's convenient for the writers and intentionally crashes the car. Wanderlanie gets up and wanders (hey!) randomly in the desert until she/it/they are found by her/its/their uncle Jeb (the aforementioned Wooden Plank, making its first appearance onscreen) and a small group of humans. Everybody wants to kill Wanderer because of its ugly contact lenses, but Wooden Plank overrules them because if they killed it the movie would be over. He gives it some water and they take it back to the humans' little community hidden under desert rocks. So I guess Melanie was leading Wanderer to the humans, since she let it get more or less within walking distance of the resistance settlement before deciding to wreck the car.

And now the movie gets weird. In the humans' spacious and idyllic underground desert caverns, where they have a river of rushing water complete with bathing pools and a towering waterfall and an entire field of planted wheat, Wanderlanie reunites with Melanie's boyfriend Trunk Slamchest, but Wanderer finds itself falling in love with Another Guy (Smoke Manmuscle). Come on, it's a Meyer work. You knew there had to be a love triangle with absolutely no tension or drama because a brain-damaged centipede knows exactly who will end up with whom.* And do I even need to say that, like Jacob, the "loser" of the triangle gets a happy ending deus-ex-machinaed to her? (Well, it.) In fact, as soon as it became clear that Melanie wanted Trunk and Wandererererer wanted Smoke, I guessed that Kruger's "bad" alien would be removed and Wanderer transferred to its host body, because she was the only other hot girl in the movie and that would wrap everything up in a nice neat bow with no negative consequences whatever. That's how things work in the Meyerverse, where the good guys never really get hurt and no true sacrifice is ever made. The joke's on me, though, since that doesn't happen. No, what Meyer pulls out is even dumber.

But first we have to have some fake drama that we know will immediately be resolved with everybody happy and loving and with no bad things ever XOXO hearts unicorns. Melanie's brother Typical Child Actor is with the survivors, and he gets an infection. Everybody's worried because Doc (Token Black Guy)--come on, you've got to have an older, somewhat grizzled guy called "Doc" in these things--doesn't have the medicine to treat him. Of course Wanderer likes humans now because...erm, right, and she deliberately injures herself so that she can be treated by an alien healer and their magical "fix any disease or injury" device, which she steals as soon as the healer leaves the room. Wow that was...too close. There isn't even a scene where the alien equivalent of cops (yes, they have such, even though they've established that the vastly superior alien race has no crime or disease or bad things of any kind, apart from the deliberate and systematic genocide of entire sentient species for the sake of their own self-empowerment) appear and the audience worries if she'll be able to get the medicine past them. In fact, since the aliens don't use money (we see Wanderer go into an alien store and simply take what she wants and leave), can she even be said to be stealing the medical doohickey? Of course, Wanderer, despite not being a healer, knows both how to operate the thingamabob and how to implant an alien parasite into a human host, the only two things we ever see these "healers" do. So what the hell does it mean to be a healer when the other aliens are just as capable of doing their jobs as they are?

Later there's a highly silly scene that has Wanderer having a fit at discovering the humans have been removing the alien parasites from infected people, effectively killing both alien and whatever's left of the person. Err...what did it think we'd do? Wanderer implies the aliens have conquered at least 12 planets. Has there never been an attempt by conquered species to combat them? And it's okay for the aliens to kill us, but not for us to kill them?

I'm not saying Wanderer should be okay with people killing the aliens or that it shouldn't be angry or upset, but I am saying it shouldn't be so omg SHOCKED! and HORRIFIED!. Let's see, we invaded their planet and murdered literally billions of them, and then when I see two or three of our guys dead, I can't believe it's happening! And this from an alien that has supposedly lived for more than 1000 of "our" years. Why do all Meyer's characters come across as mentally stuck in middle school?

I'm not even going to get into how Meyer once again can't separate herself from her characters. They're all the same as each other, and so are the same as all the Twilight characters, because Meyer doesn't create actual characters, who have their own personalities that emerge in such a way that they move the story in ways she didn't expect it to go. She invents ciphers to march her story to its predetermined conclusion.* This naturally means the characters in this film know things they couldn't possibly know from what we've seen onscreen, but they know because Meyer knows, and having people just know things when they need to know them sure makes the whole writing thing a lot easier.

Let's just get to the end. Kruger gets captured by the humans and her alien parasite is removed by Wanderer in a way that doesn't cause harm. (Wanderer coaxes it out by directing loving thoughts at it. I so wish I were joking.) Kruger, like Melanie, turns out to be resistant to the mind mojo, too, but since this is the Meyerverse, she exhibits no psychological trauma from years of her will being subjugated by an alien presence that invaded her very mind and controlled her own body while she struggled futilely against it, to say nothing of being completely cut off from communication with anyone but her controller, if it ever bothered to communicate with her at all. But with Kruger the human saved, there's no hot young white women for Wanderer to inhabit so it can be with its man Smoke Manmuscle! Oh noez, mild disappointment!

As it turns out, Doc didn't kill all the people he de-parasitized. He's got one braindead human left. (So they can't treat an infected wound, but they can perform invasive surgery and keep a braindead person on full life support.) And that human just happens to be a young, attractive white woman! Just like Melanie! What are the odds? At least 3 to 2 against, gotta be.

So Melanie gets back with Trunk, and Wanderer can be with Smoke without any clutter, like her being in the body of, say, a man, or an old lady, or *gasp* a woman with a high melanin content. And so The Host just sort of limps off the screen, letting everything intriguing about its premise go utterly unexplored, its major characters all blissful and happy (a couple of humans died, sure, but they weren't major characters and are quickly forgotten), safe and consequence free.

Supposedly, Stevenie Meyer doesn't want to write any more Host novels because that world is "a dangerous place" and she doesn't want any of the characters to die. I don't know what's more absurd: that Meyer is so attached to her "characters" that she'd rather not write about them at all than see anything bad happen to them,** or that Meyer actually thinks anything bad would happen to any "characters" in one of her stories.

Forget it, Jacob. It's the Meyerverse.

* Meyer claims that Another Guy (the one played by Smoke Manmuscle) had a small part in her original workup of the novel and that his "character" demanded additional attention, including involvement in the romance stuff. I find it hilarious that this "character" who supposedly had his own voice such that she had to alter the story led her to exactly replicate the Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle.

** I mean, not everybody has to be George R.R. Martin, but yeesh.

July 18, 2013

Total Recall

Colin Farrell, fresh off of his towering performance in the completely unnecessary remake of Fright Night, decided to take his career in a new direction by starring in the completely unnecessary remake of Total Recall.

The 2012 version of Total Recall is the answer to the question on nobody’s lips: What would it be like if a bunch of hacks shot Minority Report on the set of Blade Runner?

The makers of Another Damn Remake hope you haven’t seen the original film, since their film has the exact same plot. I kept waiting for the twists not to follow lockstep with the original, but such a moment never came. This is doubly mystifying since one of the strengths of the original was its mysterious plot. Who is Hauser? Can Quaid trust him? How and why did Hauser get replaced by Quaid? If I’m not me, then who the hell am I? What if your entire life was just an implanted memory? The answers to all these questions in the Total Recall remake are...exactly the same as they are in the original Total Recall. There's only one real plot change, and it renders the entire film pointless.

If you haven’t seen the original Total Recall, then you’re a bad person and also stupid and wrong. Go watch it four times before you come back to this review, because by giving away the plot of the remake, I’m giving away the plot of the original. The remake can go to Hell, but nobody hath committed so great a sin that she should be denied the spectacle of California's hulking Austrian bodybuilding former governor shouting “YOU BLEW MY COVAAAAHHH!” and “Gif dis peepal aiya!” Watch Total Recall, go on, do eet nao!

From this point forward, you’ve either seen the original Total Recall or you’re not reading this because you’re currently watching the original Total Recall, so I’m assuming you know the plot and characters already. So in the original, Hauser agreed to take on a false identity in order to find the leader of the Mars resistance, Kuato. This is necessary because Kuato is a mutant with the power to see through any deception. Thus, in order to reach Kuato and lead the bad guys to him, Hauser must “become” someone who is genuinely seeking him and doesn’t know he’s actually a secret agent for the other side. In the remake, there is no psychic. Hauser (Farrell) successfully penetrates the resistance as himself, but he betrays Cohaagen and goes over to the resistance. He is then captured by Cohaagen’s forces and implanted with the false identity of Douglas Quaid, and in the course of trying to get his original memories back, finds the resistance leader, only to be ambushed by Cohaagen’s forces who have been tracking him.

Um, why was Hauser given a new identity? The original Hauser got a new identity because he was actually working for Cohaagen and needed to hide this from Kuato’s powers. But remake Hauser isn’t working for Cohaagen because he genuinely changes sides, and there’s no psychic to ferret out his true motives anyway! So there’s no reason for him to be Quaid! Cohaagen could've tracked Hauser to the resistance leader exactly as he did without the false identity. Of course, if they’d done that, Quaid wouldn't have a wife to betray him and so the director couldn't put his own wife (Kate Beckinsale) in the movie like he always does.

Now I know who both Kate “Underworld” Beckinsale and Jessica “Next” Biel are, yet I didn’t realize either of them was in this movie until I saw the end credits because the movie's colors are so washed out that both actresses are unrecognizable. Beckinsale got the Evil Girl role so she could switch to her English accent upon being revealed as evil to satisfy the "the English are Evil" trope, and also to make herself instantly sexier. The original Total Recall was hardly revolutionary in terms of its plot or tropes, but still, it was nice that it had the blonde Sharon Stone (pre-Basic Instinct, natch) turn out to be evil and the brunette Rachel Ticotin be the good one. Ah, the 21st century, firmly rooted in the stereotypes of the 1930s; both female leads are safely white, and the American is good while the Englishwoman is evil. Now if they'd just made Cohaagen German....

Speaking of tropes and stereotypes, Bokeem Woodbine is on hand as Token Black Guy. He doesn’t Die First, but he does die, because really, you expected the black man to survive in a picture with a body count in the low hundreds? He turns out to be a bad guy because, well, the black guy in the original film turned out to be a bad guy, and this film is nothing if not a rote clone of its predecessor. Except, given that the remake is a 21st century film, the black guy is demoted to a meaningless part instead of playing a key role in the story as he did in the original.

The filmmakers seem to have taken “remake” a bit too literally. All they did was combine Michael Ironside’s Richter character with Quaid's double-agent wife character. (This is the movie’s sole right choice. Far be it for me to begrudge giving Ironside work, but the inclusion of Richter always struck me as the filmmakers’ chickening out of making Schwarzenegger's main opponent a dumb ol’ girl.) But the rest is beat for beat the same. Well, except the movie has nothing to do with Mars!

“Now wait just a damn minute, Carl Eusebius!” you ineffectually shout from your mother’s basement. “You just complained the remake was too slavish, and now you’re complaining it’s not slavish enough!” Well first of all, be glad I changed your gibberish into something comprehensible, since we both know you’re incapable of using grade 9 words like “slavish”. But, my drooling neanderthal friend, there are two things that make a Total Recall movie: one, it involves discovering that your entire life was merely an implanted identity and you're actually a secret agent, and two, it has to do with Mars. All you needed to do was have these two things in your Total Recall movie, and the rest was up to you. The jokers who shat out this turd kept all the same plot points (and I do mean all, including the “guy tells Quaid he’s still strapped into his chair at Rekall and this is all in his head” scene and the "gross removal of a tracking device from inside his body" scene) but jettisoned one of the two essential elements. It would be like rebooting Star Wars with the exact same characters and plot, only there's no mention of Jedi or the Force.

Take Battlestar Galactica, just about the best case for a re-make you can make. First, the original sucked donkey balls despite having a great concept, so there’s both a solid core to build on and plenty of improvements to make. Second, the original BSG screamed ‘70s, its futuristic setting notwithstanding, and so is laughably dated. Third, the original BSG was created by a complete hack and re-imagined by a genuine talent. Total Recall fails on all counts, since the original is pretty good and doesn’t come across as notably dated. And its worst failure is on the third count: The original was written by the writers of Alien and directed by the man who gave us Robocop, while the re-make was written by the writer of Ultraviolet and directed by the man who unleashed the horrors of the Underworld franchise upon us, and I don’t just mean Kate Beckinsale’s acting.

But leave that aside and look at what was actually done. Battlestar Galactica took the basic premise (humanity is destroyed but for a hodgepodge group of fleeing ships, protected by the last surviving warship on a journey to reach Earth and escape the pursuing enemy) and developed it in a completely different way. Many character names are the same, but the characters themselves are radically improved. Instead of the original's parade of whiteflesh (barring, of course, its Token Black Guy), there’s a little more racial diversity in the new version. In a similar vein, in the rebooted version, women exist, and they even do things. The near-extinction of humanity is treated with respect and gravity instead of the tossed off “Dude, these devastated human population centers drag, let’s make space tracks” of the original. The enemy, while also keeping the same name, is totally different, because really, the identity of the enemy was never integral to the concept of the show. The new show kept the father-son relationship of the warship’s commander but made it antagonistic. Anybody with half a brain could look at both shows and see that the 2003 version is a true re-make of the 1978 horrible version, yet it doesn’t follow lockstep with the original. At best, events from the original provide starting points for the re-make, but the re-make doesn't steal entire plotlines.

This Total Recall re-make jettisons a key part of the premise but keeps just about everything else, including character motivations and actions, dialogue, and let me just say this again because it’s so amazingly stupid, the exact same plot, twists and all. If all the same people are going to do all the same things for all the same reasons, why not just watch the original? And if you are going to change a key part of the premise, shouldn’t that, I don’t know, affect something? What’s the point of changing it if it’s not going to have any impact on the story or characters in any way? And because we're all stupid in the 21st century, the original's not-exactly-subtle critique of European colonialism has become infinitely more hamfisted. Instead of "the metropole doesn't care how the colony is run, so long as it gets what it wants from the colony", we get "the metropole invades the colony and murders everyone in it, evil." That's right, this remake was made by people less subtle than Paul fucking Verhoeven.

Oh, and I’m just going to say this up front: Colin Farrell is not lead material, at least not in action films. Yep, I went there. He was fine in Minority Report as the smarmy douchebag bureaucrat (presumably not a stretch for a man of Colin’s arrogance and overestimation of his own talent), but he consistently fails in lead action roles. Alexander, Daredevil, the remake that shall not be named even though I named it in the first line of this review, this film right here...he doesn’t have the charisma to pull these roles off. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of an actor, but he had charisma in spades. You want his Quaid to succeed just because Schwarzenegger is such a likeable presence on screen. I never cared if Farrell lived or died, especially once it turned out that Hauser was a good guy after all. Well then what’s the big deal? The climatic conflict of the original Total Recall was Quaid’s refusal to go back to being Hauser because “Guy’s a fucking asshole!” (Remember to say that line aloud in your best Schwarzenegger.) But re-make Hauser went over to the resistance to make amends, so he's kind of a good guy already, meaning there’s no real conflict there. Re-make Quaid’s not wanting to go back to being Hauser just makes him seem petty and selfish. Maybe that’s realistic (hell, you wouldn’t see Carl Eusebius giving up his body for Martin Luther King, Jr.), but it’s not very heroic. And for a bloated, goofy action film, we’re looking for heroism, not realism.

People, The Dark Knight is a good movie. Hell, it’s a great movie. But there are other movies out there to ape. Can we have a moratorium on angsty, conflicted, morally torn anti-heroes? Are we so cynical and ironic now that we can't have genuine heroes? Aren’t there any straight-up unabashed and unashamed good guys anymore, even in fiction?

Wait, what's that?

Oh no. 

N-no. No.

July 11, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard is the story of an immortal CIA agent (Jai Courtney) who murders Russians for highly top secret CIA reasons that I’m sure make sense to someone somewhere. He has to protect this one Russian guy from this other Russian guy, and in order to do that he has to murder yet another Russian guy so that he can be in the courthouse alongside the one Russian guy when the other Russian guy launches over 9000 more Russian guys and a badass Russian gal to assassinate him. (In the 21st century, you've got to cast a spindly white woman to kick people for gender equality!) Courtney helps the one Russian guy, whose safety is apparently vital (though the movie neglects to tell us why until approximately four hours in), to escape the courthouse, but then a confused old man (Bruce Willis) wanders into the movie and cocks up the CIA’s attempt to extract them. It turns out the doddering old codger is Courtney’s father, who came to see him one last time before he was to be executed for killing that other Russian guy in order to get into the courthouse to protect the one Russian guy, so it’s a good thing the one other Russian guy decided to launch his assassination attempt before Courtney went to the gas chamber for murder. Anywho, Courtney is forced to chaperone his senile father all over Russia even as he’s racing to save the Russian guy with a beard from the Russian guy without a beard. Many explosions and shootings ensue.

This movie is damn cheap. I don’t know who cast the film, but she must’ve had no budget to work with. Apart from Bruce Willis as the senile father, I’ve never heard of a soul in this movie except for Cole Hauser, and that’s only because he has a titanically stupid name. Also, one can’t help but suspect the movie is set in Russia in order make cheap-to-film-in Eastern Europe look more authentic.

Under-written and over-directed, there isn’t much to say about Die Hard Another Day. Because the main character and his father are immortal (leaving aside for the moment that immortals can’t have children), there isn’t much suspense. How many movies have not one but two scenes of the hero running through a building while being shot at by a helicopter gunship? (Different buildings, different helicopters, same hero.) The second pilot gets so frustrated at being unable to kill or even slightly injure her target that she crashes the helicopter into the building, destroying the helicopter in a fiery explosion and collapsing the building. If you just leaped off your couch and pointed at the screen shouting, “Ah ha, but there’s a scene of him running and jumping out of the building in slow motion just ahead of the fireball!”, then you need to watch fewer shitty action movies, and also relax and sit back down. It’s a bit of a letdown that there’s no evil immortal at the end to challenge our heroes, because it's no fun watching mere mortals—who apparently haven’t heard that it’s only over for immortals when their heads come away from their necks—take on two immortals who aren’t even in the middle of fighting each other for the Prize. It’s like watching an in-his-prime Mike Tyson fight, well, anybody.

Apparently Russia is more of a lawless wasteland of failed dreams than even I thought, since law enforcement never once makes an appearance in this picture, apart from CIA sp00k Courtney and New York City cop Willis. The only law in Russia is Imperial law, baby! Actually there isn’t even Imperial law, as countless people are maimed and killed as collateral damage throughout the extended car chase, and Courtney straight up murders the helpless, unarmed villain at the end because he makes a crack about Courtney’s old man. I think even the Empire frowns on wanton destruction and cold-blooded murder by its law enforcement, at least on so grand and public a scale.

The comic relief is painful, the worst example being that the doddering old man keeps saying he’s on vacation, only he’s so senile he doesn’t realize he’s not on vacation because he came to Russia to see Courtney before his trial. The action, on the other hand, is hilarious, with cars crashing through concrete and the old codger dodging an RPG with the cunning use of his commandeered vehicle’s handbrake. The goofy action was about all that kept me awake, what with a confusing, uninvolving plot and characters that lack even the first dimension. And not even once does somebody shout “There can be only one!” and chop off a guy’s head. At least there’s a plot twist that even your average paramecium would roll its eyes at. Well, would rapidly undulate any number of its cilia at in a derisory manner.

You know, this review’s just going to have to come in under length. It’s not because I’m lazy (though I certainly am). There’s just nothing more to say about this movie. It’s not any good, but it’s nowhere near bad enough to get worked up about. In fact, this was the second of the three movies I saw on the flight, and I forgot what it was when I sat down to write these reviews. I'm so not joking. I Googled the airline's inflight entertainment since I couldn't remember the second movie I saw. When that didn't work, I had to look up the list of 2013 movies on Wikipedia and read down the list until I got to this title, and then I remembered, “Oh yeah, it was that new Die Hard movie.”

Wait...this is a Die Hard movie? Well, all I can say is that this movie needed more William Sadler doing naked tai chi and Samuel L. Jackson shouting racial epithets. Without that, it’s just another shitty action movie, and all its moments will be lost in time, like...tears in rain....

July 4, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man

In my capacity as a random asshole on the Internet, it’s my job to deliver to you, the gibbering lunatics who read this blog, the taglined hatred and bile. Sadly, I couldn’t muster up any hate for The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s kind of crappy and a little pathetic, but unfortunately for the 99% of me that hates humanity, somebody cared enough about this misbegotten project to inject a couple of things I actually liked into it.

A lot of people have bagged on Andrew Garfield’s performance of Peter Parker. Now I don’t know who Andrew Garfield is and I don’t care, but the faults of this movie can’t really be laid at his feet. Peter as written is virtually unplayable--a “nerd” who’s handsome and ripped, dresses well, has a cool-by-high-school-standards hairstyle, does skateboarding tricks--and Garfield made the most he probably could out of the role. Likewise, he can’t be blamed for not having any chemistry at all with female lead Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). This is the fault of director Marc Webb (Get it? Webb? Spiders? Oh bite me, it’s fun!), a detail confirmed by Webb’s claim that he cast Stone based on her chemistry with Garfield. Both Garfield and Stone were believable as high school students despite looking far too old, and Stone was fine considering her nonsensical character: a high school student who, despite looking like the beauty queen, interns with a cutting-edge geneticist, has apparently never been asked on a “date” before, and is attracted to the clumsy stuttering of the (not actually very) nerdy Peter Parker.

Really, most of the stuff that doesn’t involve Spider-Man at all was alright. Great? Hardly, and Garfield is no Tobey Maguire (I can't believe I just had to write those words), but alright. Plus, since I maintain my sanity by blocking out the very existence of Martin Sheen, he wasn’t able to cock up the rest of the movie. There was even some decent Spider-Man stuff mixed in. His costume is okay (apparently replacing spandex tights with “webby latex-type bodysuit” is movie shorthand for “dark and brooding Dark Knight wannabe”), and the filmmakers mostly played straight with the audience, like having Spidey’s web-shooters believably short-out when he gets immersed in water. I liked that Peter at first breaks stuff with his newfound strength, since suddenly being ten times stronger would require adjustment of even such simple tasks as closing doors. Spider-Man’s quips are moderately amusing, and his fights with the Lizard (the Lizard, really?) show him using some innovative ways to get around the giant reptile’s superior strength and toughness. The best scene has Spidey locating the Lizard through vibrations of lines of webbing he has placed throughout the sewer. The shot of Spider-Man sitting in the center of his web detecting vibrations like, well, a spider was a pretty nifty moment. (Which they immediately ruin, but it was fun while it lasted.)

The movie’s biggest problem—apart from its being utterly unnecessary and deeply unoriginal—is that the serious, heady family (melo)drama and high school romance stuff doesn’t mesh at all with the goofy Spider-Man-fighting-a-giant-lizard-monster stuff. This is epitomized by the scene that has Peter going to Gwen’s dad (Denis Leary)—who just so happens to be chief of police in New York City—with a warning that Dr. Curt Connors is actually a giant lizard monster rampaging around the city. Leary reacts as anyone in the real world would, which is completely believable in the My So-Called Life part of the movie, but Peter's reaction is out of the superhero part of the movie, namely utter disbelief that Leary would doubt his giant-lizard-monster story, despite his lack of any evidence to back up that story. (I'm ignoring the fact that earlier the Lizard attacked dozens of people in front of probably a hundred witnesses on a crowded bridge, because the movie does, too.)

In fact, everything with the Lizard doesn’t work. The CGI animating him is cheesy and his look is ridiculous. The actor playing him (some guy I don’t know) is unremarkable, his mad-science dialogue is generic and uninvolving, and his bad guy plot is pedestrian and routine. (Think the Joker’s plot in Batman or, if you have no taste, the villains’ plot in Batman Begins. Or if you have my taste, the man-fish's plot in Zaat!.) Every time the movie might develop a modicum of dramatic momentum, the fake CGI Lizard appears to smash things, or worse, Connors appears to pontificate about how all people ought to become lizardmen before transforming himself into a hammy actor overselling a monster transformation sequence. They also play the oh-so-tired "hero involved in the creation of the villain so that it's personal" card. Actually, Peter says he's responsible for creating the Lizard, but he really isn't. All Peter did was give Connors a bogus equation to finish his turn-people-into-lizardmen ersatz-Predator-blood-serum. It was Connors who chose to then create the serum and inject it into himself in order to turn himself into a man-lizard. Bizarrely, the movie seems to know this, and Peter's reason for fighting the Lizard ends up being more along the lines of "He's the villain, and I'm the hero of the picture, so like, I gotta fight 'im."

Because this movie inexcusably lacks J. Jonah Jameson, Denis Leary's police chief has to fill the role of "authority figure who doggedly hates and opposes Spider-Man no matter how many times Spidey proves himself the good guy". Thus, even after the Lizard begins the movie’s climax by smashing buildings and murdering people, Leary continues to hunt Spider-Man, even as the Lizard is engaged in his rampage. It’s not as if the police are somehow unaware of this, since the Lizard slaughters an entire squad of cops sent to stop him. But instead of making, I don’t know, a second attempt to stop the Lizard from murdering not only police officers but real people as well, Leary orders any number of police helicopters and SWAT officers to capture Spider-Man, currently engaged in the heinous crime of “swinging from buildings by his webbing”. Only when Leary successfully captures and unmasks Spider-Man (oh please) does he finally trust him because, well, he’s Peter Parker, a man Leary met exactly once, when they got into an argument in which Peter, in defense of Spider-Man, accused the police of gross incompetence. If that doesn’t make the chief of police trust Peter/Spidey, what the hell would?

Not content to be merely an unnecessary retread of Sam Raimi’s infinitely-superior-even-at-their-worst Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man rips off the ending of the execrable Spider-Man 3 by having the villain save the hero from death. Then Leary gets a death scene because, well, somebody’s got to die for some pathos and it sure as hell ain’t going to be the villain a 21st century superhero movie, so they might as well give the death scene to the movie’s only actual actor. Now I’m a big Denis Leary fan—not the least because he’s a staunch supporter and proponent of the one true sport—but any decent actor can do what Leary does here. Like Christopher Walken, he can be effective in a straight role, but what’s the point? Why hire a man of his particular talents for a role anybody can play? You hire Walken so that his Walkenizing can provide at least a few moments of audience entertainment in your piece of shit cash-grab without your having to do anything that takes actual effort, like doing a thorough script re-write or directing the film with a modicum of flair and style. And you hire Denis Leary for his signature rants. Well, unless you’re the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man, in which case you’re soulless artistic whores of corporate America and I'd like you to leave a comment describing what it’s like to live without a soul.

Oh, and I’d just like to point out, Uncle Ben in this movie is a moron, and not just because he’s played by Martin Sheen. Now, legally, since he had a pistol, the bearded guy who stole money from the convenience store committed armed robbery, even though he didn't use or even reveal said weapon during the theft. (I liked that the robber tosses Peter the milk the clerk rudely refused to sell him when he was exactly 3 cents short. Even better, Peter in turn refuses to help the clerk stop the thief.) Again, he didn’t actually produce said weapon or even claim to have it; he merely tricked the punishingly stupid clerk into looking away from the open register so he could reach over and grab the cash. So at this point, all he’s done is sleight-of-hand some money away from somebody who frankly deserved to get robbed. The fat tub of shit who got robbed chases the thief out of the store, shouting for someone to stop him. Then the thief falls down and the gun tumbles onto the pavement. At this point, Uncle Ben, observing all this unfold, decides to intervene, engaging with the thief in a struggle over the gun. That’s right, a decrepit old man with one foot in the grave thinks he’s going to wrestle a gun away from a man forty years his junior. A gun the man hasn’t used or even shown to anybody. The gun goes off during the struggle, and Ben is kacked. The movie doesn’t even have the thief gain control of the gun and shoot Ben so he can escape. No, it clearly goes off accidentally.

Now as I said, I understand that the Empire's inhumanly harsh "justice" system employs something called the felony-murder doctrine which dictates that, legally speaking, the perp murdered Uncle Ben because once someone has embarked on the commission of a felony, any death that occurs as a result is adjudged murder. But I’m talking about reality here, not the fiction of the legal world. Ben wasn’t protecting any person, or even any property (since the money was already stolen), and the stolen property isn’t even his. No, he was using physical force to stop an alleged petty thief of an entirely unrelated party's property from leaving the scene, which so far as I know is illegal in any jurisdiction of the Empire. The entire chain of events is Ben's fault. He chose to go for the thief’s gun, which the thief hadn’t used or even threatened to use on anyone. Once he failed to reach the gun before the perp, he chose to struggle with him for control of the gun. At this point, Ben is assaulting this guy and attempting to steal his property. The fact that the guy stole at most a couple hundred bucks from the register doesn’t give Ben the right to steal his gun or get into a fight with him. Ben shouldn’t have been involved at all. This isn’t a matter of not having the Courage to Get Involved and Help or not being Cold and Uncaring and Indifferent to the Plight of Your Fellow Man or won't somebody please help the children! This is about not being a fucking idiot and going for somebody’s gun based solely on the word of a fat tub of shit you've never met who didn't even see the guy take the money. Hey Ben, I’ve got an idea: Why don’t you take that cell phone you've been established as having out of your pocket, call the police, and give them the guy’s location and physical description? I mean, nobody is in any danger. The guy isn’t firing the gun or waving it around or yelling that people had better move or he’s gonna blow ‘em away. Frankly, I wouldn’t have cared if the guy had just shot Ben, but the movie doesn’t even go that far because, as noted, the shooting is accidental. Ben shouldn’t have been there, and he got shot due to a situation that he brought entirely upon himself, because he's the one who engaged in violence. There’s a reason the police say things like “Don’t try to wrest a gun away from a petty thief who is currently a threat to exactly no one, because you might end up getting shot in the struggle and dying, you stupid fuck.” Okay, they might leave off that last part. 

And this, this is what inspires Peter Parker to don the mantle of Spider-Man and get repeatedly punched in the face by a lizardman?

Fuck Uncle Ben, and fuck The Amazing Spider-Man. I hate this movie.

January 14, 2013

Twilight: My Dinner with Vlad

Twilight, pp. 196-206.

Bella awakens the next morning, fighting the belief that it was all a dream. I don't know what was so dreamlike about it--the almost-rape seems like something that would be etched in memory--but there you go. Edward is there, ready to take her to *snicker* school.

When I first read this novel, it was Edward I hated. His emotional power games, his use of his powers to manipulate and deceive, his commanding and domineering manner, his casual disdain for everyone outside of his own family, his whiny "but I don't wanna be a monster!" bullshit, his domination of Bella's sexuality--he really is a fucking tool. But this second reading is making me hate Bella a lot more. In fact, this chapter does something I didn't think possible, which is to make me, for a very brief moment, almost kind of like Edward. Why? Because he continues to be the voice of reason when it comes to Bella's inhuman nonreaction to his vampirism.

He turned to smirk at me. "What, no twenty questions today?"

"Do my questions bother you?"

"Not as much as your reactions do." He looked like he was joking, but I couldn't be sure.

I frowned. "Do I react badly?"

"No, that's the problem. You take everything so coolly--it's unnatural."

Do you think he'll ever figure out the reason for this, that she's an empathy-less pathological narcissist who views other people entirely as tools to be manipulated for her own ends? Yeah, I don't think so, either.

In another indication of the Cullens' wealth--substantial in the first book, though it reaches positively O'Leary-an heights as the series wears on--the other Cullen kids are forced to take Rosalie's car, a red convertible that Edward tells us is very, very expensive. The vampires have this expensive car because they like to drive fast, even though later in the series it will become clear they can run faster than a car (that, or Stevenie Meyer can't be bothered to indicate the passage of time when they travel somewhere), so I don't know why they like driving a fast car. Usually the Cullens take the sweet ride (by which I mean the Volvo) to school instead of the convertible since it's less conspicuous (even though Bella noticed it immediately on her first day at Forks High), but they had to take the convertible this time since Edward took the Volvo just to pick up Bella. That's right, he tells her, "I'm breaking all the rules now". Oh, snap! I think Edward's a little too good at wooing insecure fourteen seventeen-year-old girls, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Bella has been ruminating over what she will tell Jessica when they meet, since the latter will undoubtedly want to question her further about last night's interview with the vampire. My first thought was "The truth?", but then I remembered who we're talking about here.  Jessica appears and so Edward naturally reads her mind because he's a dick. After Jessica hands Bella back her jacket--thank God Meyer didn't leave us hanging about whether or not Bella got her jacket back--Edward tells Bella that Jessica won't ask her about their situation in front of him but will do so at the first opportunity, in the trigonometry class she and Bella share.

And now it's time to play our favorite game, What Will Bella Do? Get this one right, and you move on to the next round! Here we go: When faced with this gross invasion of her best friend's privacy, What Will Bella Do? Will she

a) ...angrily demand that Edward no longer read her friend's intimate thoughts and respect her privacy?
b) ...tell Edward that, while she may be powerless to stop him from reading her best friend's mind, she doesn't want any part of using that ability against her?
c) ...not react at all?
d) ...angrily demand that he tell her more specifically what her best friend was thinking so that she can more effectively prepare responses to avoid honestly answering Jessica's questions?

D is your final answer? You're correct! What's our contestant won, Johnny? That's right, you get to continue to read snippets of Twilight!

"So what are you going to tell her?"

"A little help?" I pleaded. "What does she want to know?"

He shook his head, grinning wickedly. "That's not fair."

"No, you not sharing what you know--now that's not fair."

That's right, in Bella Swan's world, it's wrong to use your magic powers to enter without permission and steal from the most intimate space a person has--her own mind--if you don't use those powers for her benefit. That's our Bella!

It turns out Jessica wants to know if Edward and Bella are dating and how Bella feels about him. Wow, he needed vampire mind-reading powers to know that? I'd better check to see if I'm a vampire. Edward gets the last laugh, though, because he tells her he'll be reading Jessica's mind when she tells her how she feels about him, so she'll effectively be telling him, too. Of course, knowing this, Bella could tell him not to do that, or tell him her feelings right there, or refuse to tell Jessica her feelings, but then Jessica would lose her narrative function of "serve as a vehicle for Bella and Edward to play out their dominance/passive-aggressive power games", and Stevenie Meyer isn't about to let that happen.

The conversation with Jessica goes about as you expect, with Bella being evasive and telling half-truths, only this time, in what may be the most off-putting use and abuse of the Jessica character yet, she's actually talking to Edward through Jessica's mind. So she tells her things like Edward's driving is scary and drops really, really obvious hints that she wants him to kiss her when they go out on Saturday (even though she said immediately before this that "it's not like that") because she wants Edward to know these things. I thought Bella was a terrible person when she constantly ignored her alleged best friend, but now she's talking to her on the surface while in reality actually talking to Edward. A conversation between Jessica and Bella is in reality a conversation between Edward and Bella. I told you he takes over the novel. Not only does Meyer not show us any conversations that aren't about him, but now she doesn't even give us any conversations that don't involve him.

Bella makes sure to point out to us that she thinks Jessica would forgive any of Edward's flaws simply because he's, as Jessica says, "unbelievably gorgeous". And while that may be true, I'd just like to point out that that's exactly what Bella's doing. Oh, she pretends it's because he's a monster trying not to be a monster by saving people's lives (by which she means, of course, her life, because that's the only one he's ever saved or will ever save, and that's the only one that matters, so it's the same in her mind as saving "people's lives"), but really, I've been leaving out all the times she's talked about his gorgeous face, his muscled chest, his ripped torso, etc. etc.. Go ahead, go back through the novel and add up the number of times Bella talks about Edward's physical appearance, and tally that against the number of times she talks about how attracted she is to his good vampire-ness. I fucking dare you.

Bella tells Jessica that Mike asked her if Jessica said anything about her and Mike's date, and so the conversation moves to trying to figure out how much Mike likes Jessica. Of course, since this directly involves neither Edward nor Bella, we don't get any details of this, just a paragraph saying it is discussed. Remember, Jessica only speaks when it concerns Edward, and she's talking about Mike now, so her dialogue disappears. The bell rings for lunch, meaning Bella is finally free of having to talk to her best friend so she can bounce off to see her creepy stalker, and I'm finally free of this tripe for another week.

January 9, 2013

The Boondock Saints

Quentin Tarantino. The very name conjures up boundless admiration in some, unbridled vitriol in others. Those of us in the middle are rather taken aback by either reaction. I liked Reservoir Dogs--surprisingly, I like it more each time I see it--and loved Pulp Fiction, but I've never been much motivated to go out and find more of his stuff. Django Unchained has shown that Tarantino remains a critical darling, but then again, critics raved about Kill Bill, one of the more depressing and unpleasant cinema experiences I've had. I freely admit that his films aren't really about anything, that they're the ultimate triumph of style over substance. But that's okay, I don't mind occasionally taking in such works, as long as it's well-done style. And there's no denying Tarantino is a talented filmmaker, though as I've said, his talent lies more in his screenwriting than in his directing.

The worst thing about Tarantino--other than the fact that he comes off as needy, haughty jerk--is the imitators he inspired. I've already written about people still ripping off Pulp Fiction after 20 years, but it deserves another mention. I can think of nothing better than to quote Ken Begg of Jabootu, in his review of the Christian Slater Pulp Fiction wannabe Hard Cash:

"Tarantino’s work seemed to revolve around easily replicated elements: Casts of faded, formerly ‘cool’ stars; hipster dude haircuts and suits; discursive conversations full of pop culture references, constant profanity and casual racial invective; overwrought stylistic elements, including the heavy use of slo-mo; sudden bursts of horrific violence, portrayed with baroque visual flair, and lots of ‘70s pop music on the soundtrack.
The thing that those who seek to imitate Tarantino don’t get is that he’s not primarily a director....He’s a screenwriter. And while he has his characteristic stylistic tics, as enumerated above, he brings a lot more to the table than that. And so his apers copy the profanity but miss the poetry of his dialog. They include the abrupt violence but miss the intense characterizations that motivate it. They include the snarky pop culture references but forgo the fierce and playful intelligence behind Tarantino’s use of them."

Now, some people are good at imitating Tarantino. Guy Ritchie, before he went insane and married Madonna (not necessarily in that order), was one of these. Other people, like Troy Duffy, are not.

Who's Troy Duffy? He's the egregious shit-bag who incubated The Boondock Saints in his womb of bad ideas and then huffed and puffed and squeezed out its bloody, pulsing stillborn corpse into the...bedpan of the...the hospital room, where--okay, I lost my metaphor there. Anyhow, Duffy's hatred of women would make Kim Ki-duk suggest he tone it down a little. In fact, Duffy's film hates you, hates filmmaking, hates everything in the world. It's truly one of the most morally bankrupt, ludicrous, and godawful pieces of cinematic crap you've never seen, and you will truly be a sadder, angrier person for the rest of your life if you make the soul-crushing mistake of seeing it. Plus, it wastes a pretty decent Willem Dafoe performance, which makes me think of Body of Evidence. That alone is enough to consign Duffy to whatever Hell awaits shitty hack filmmakers who force their lead actors to talk like Lucky the Leprechaun.

Remember True Lies, when Jamie Lee Curtis asks the Governator if he's ever killed anyone and he replies, "Yeah, but they were all bad"? That's this movie, minus the wit, charm, comic timing, and desire to continue living under the same sky as the people who made it. The Boondock Saints takes place in a hellish, dystopian Boston that all women have left to move to a real city or have died or are hiding just off-camera. Okay, that's not true, but it is true that there are hardly any women in the movie. The two leads talk about their father but never mention their mother, they don't have girlfriends and sleep shirtless next to each other, none of the cops in the city of Boston is's just weird the way women are almost completely absent from the movie. And sister, when they do appear...but we'll get to that.

The film tells the story of the titular Saints, two Irish-American brothers whose names I never caught. Yes, I've seen this film twice and neither time did I get the names of the two leads. This is partly because their performances are the worst in the film--at least until Ron Jeremy(!) shows up--and partly because Troy Duffy is a terrible filmmaker. Wikipedia says they are "Connor" (Sean Patrick Flanery) and "Murphy" (Norman Reedus), apparently chosen by Duffy to be the most stereotypically "Irish" names possible, and that's good enough for me. We are introduced to the Brothers McManus in a cathedral(!) during a Mass(!!) while jaunty "Irish" bagpipe music plays(!!!). While the priest is sermonizing, the brothers get up, blow right past him, go up onto the altar, kiss Jesus's feet, and walk out. Now I'm not a Catholic, but I'm pretty sure you can't approach the altar if you aren't ordained, especially with the Eucharist laid out upon it. The priest is talking about Kitty Genovese, and Troy Duffy knows as much about her case as he does about Catholicism, which is jack shit. Everything the priest--and therefore, Duffy--says about the Genovese case is wrong.

--Genovese did not cry out "time and time again", but probably only once.
--Several people in fact did "so much as call the police" shortly after the initial attack.
--No one simply "watched". A few people saw what happened in the first attack but, since it was dark and Genovese didn't scream until after she was stabbed, only one of them happened to be in a position to see the stabbing.
--No one saw Genovese "being stabbed to death". She didn't die until the second attack, which no one saw.
--The attacks occurred at night, not "broad daylight".
--No one saw her assailant at all after the initial stabbing. The killer was in fact arrested on an entirely separate charge and confessed to the Genovese murder.

Duffy, if you're going to steal from a real life tragedy to bolster your shitty Tarantino-knockoff exploitation flick, at least get it right.

While relaxing at their favorite pub (which also has no women in it), they get into a brawl with a Russian mob soldier...for some reason...and the mobster tracks them the next day to their pad, intending to kill one brother and (I guess) leave the other alive to live with it. The brothers make out like the mobster is all butthurt because he and his boys got whomped by a few drunks in a dive bar, so I guess they were too drunk to remember that after they won the fight they strapped the mobster to the bar and set his ass on fire! Who could've possibly guessed a mobster would seek revenge for an insult like that? (That is if getting beat up by a bunch of drunks in a pub isn't enough for him to come after them, which it is.) One brother drops their toilet from the roof of their building onto the mobster (don't ask), allowing the second brother to use the toilet lid to beat the mobster's buddy to death. Then they rob the two corpses (our heroes!) and go to the hospital to deal with their wounds.

Actually, we don't see most of that yet. We see the mobster acting tough just before the brawl breaks out, and then we cut to the police examining the mobster's body. Why? Because, well, Quentin Tarantino jumps around in time and jumps forward to the aftermath of a chaotic scene before revealing what happened in bits of flashback, so that's what Duffy's trying to do. Only he sucks at it, so instead of what happened slowly revealed to us in fragments, we just get the whole scene later (the barfight, the ass-burning, and the mobster's revenge-gone-awry all together), making you just wish Duffy had shown it in order. Actually, you just wish he hadn't shown it at all.

In the meantime, we get to watch the only thing actually enjoyable in this movie: FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker (Dafoe), who takes over the homicide investigation from the Boston cops because it involves a mobster. This gent arrives on the scene and immediately shows up the detective who thought he'd figured out what happened so that we "get" Smecker is a crime-solving genius, and he does this all the while listening to opera through headphones (Tarantino quirkiness!). It's a scene so cliche I could predict the dialogue as if I'd written it myself, but Dafoe, as he always does no matter how good (Shadow of the Vampire) or bad (Spider-Man) the material, throws himself into the role, and his casual disdain for the lesser intellects around him makes the scene more entertaining than it has any right to be.

Smecker figures out that it wasn't a mob hit and orders one cop to search for two shell casings and another to go to the nearby building to question potential witnesses. Maybe 20 seconds later, the first cop is complaining he's only found one of the casings. Well, you're in a dingy city alley full of filth and trash there, smart guy. I think it'll take more than glancing around your immediate area to find two tiny spent shell casings. Then the second cop returns and says he found a witness on the fourth floor. So this guy went all the way to the fourth floor, found somebody there, had an entire conversation with her in which he learned what Smecker asked him to learn, and came all the way back down in less than a minute? Either this guy is the fucking Flash, or Troy Duffy hired an editor that is fully his equal as director and screenwriter.

The brothers turn themselves in and are left alone in the interrogation room, and then Smecker comes in and questions them together. Okay, so first you have the FBI taking over a homicide case from city police just because it involves a mobster, and now you have a detective leaving suspects alone to cook up a story, even letting them whisper to each other before answering his questions. Christ, anyone who's seen a single episode of Law & Order knows more about police work than Duffy. The brothers reveal they speak several languages, even though they will never use any of them in any of the coming scenes.

It turns out Smecker already knew...somehow...that it was self-defense, so he's not going to charge them. (Then why did he have them arrested in the first place? Um...right.) This immediately makes front page news--yes, the release of two suspects in the death of a Russian mob soldier makes the front page in Boston--and the brothers are community heroes. I guess Smecker didn't ask about how they robbed the dead men, or maybe Bostonians figure that if you kill a guy in a fight, you're entitled to his stuff. They spend the night shirtless in jail to avoid a media circus, and during the night God tells them to kill bad people, so they decide they will. They go to a room full of guns during which, I shit you not, romantic music plays, as they lovingly caress the instruments of power by which they will wash all the scum from the streets. They decide to off the Russian mob boss, and despite completely screwing up their entry so that they end up hanging from the ceiling by a rope entangling their feet, they somehow take out eight armed men and then brutally execute the unarmed boss. Hilariously, they take a moment to attach silencers to their pistols before they kill him, even though they just shot the room to pieces with unsilenced weapons. Then the brothers' best friend the Funny Man (David Della Rocco) shows up.

I haven't mentioned "the Funny Man" yet, an errand boy for the Italian mob. He has a name, but names aren't this movie's specialty, so I'm going with "the Funny Man", even though he has an excruciating "comedy" scene with the Italian mob boss that had me begging my TV to blow a fuse and shut down. Actor Rocco gives the most enjoyable performance apart from Dafoe, since he at least has some energy and screen presence, but the guy playing the mob boss--who somehow runs a Mafia family despite being called "Papa Joe"--is fucking awful. After putting their masks back on and making Funny think they're going to kill him, the brothers reveal they're just kidding and help Funny figure out that the mission Papa Joe gave him to kill the Russians was a suicide job to get Funny killed. Funny decides he wants in on the bad guy slaying, and he and the brothers declare they will wipe out "evil men" like pimps and drug dealers. So running prostitutes and selling drugs are crimes worthy of death? I'm not saying pimps and drug dealers are good wholesome folks, but I can think of people much more worthy of summary execution, like Nancy Grace and Bono.

The Saints take out Papa Joe's underboss (Ron Jeremy, so not a moment too soon), so Joe calls in Il Duce. Imagine my disappointment when we cut not to the corpse of Mussolini reanimated by the nether powers of Sicilian magic and toting a submachine gun but to some old guy in a beard from a cheap Gandalf costume. This guy is "The Duke", which isn't what "Il Duce" means in modern Italian. (God, you'd think by chance Duffy could get something right.) The Duke is supposedly so fierce that the mob only calls on him when they're in really deep shit, so what does he do when he confronts the Saints despite having absolutely no way of knowing their location? Why, he stands in plain sight in broad daylight firing off endless rounds of ammunition from his dual pistols, failing to hit them just as they fail to hit him. Yeah, I can see why you needed this tactical wizard, who apparently shops at the same store Neo bought his "vest that has a bijillion holsters" at, allowing him to drop his guns when they're empty and immediately draw two more loaded ones.

Actually The Duke does hit each of them, though naturally this will in no way affect their ability to mow down baddies, but then he gets bored and leaves. The Saints retreat and tend to their wounds, while Smecker gets drunk and goes to confession. He's figured out, you see, who the Saints are and what they're doing, but after some spiritual soul-purifying talk in the confessional booth, he decides--and I hope you're sitting down--not to turn them in. Funny Man wants to take Smecker out because he could always change his mind, but the Brothers McManus put the kibosh on that because Smecker is a good man and they don't kill good men. The next day Smecker meets up with a retired mobster, who tells him Papa Joe brought in The Duke to take out the brothers, and Smecker gets a panicked look and leaves in a hurry. Then, and I swear to God this happens, we cut to the Saints in Joe's house, tied to chairs and being interrogated. there a reel missing? How the hell were they found? When? Who found them? How were they captured? You might think we're getting another of Duffy's flashbacks, but no. It's never explained how, when, where, or by whom they were captured. Stupid movie.

This scene almost reaches of the level of something you might find in a real, honest-to-God, actual movie, as the brothers seem poised to meet the fate that a couple of untrained nobodies who pick up some guns and think they're going to take down organized crime would undoubtedly meet. But no, after Funny Man bites it for some pathos (oh, please), the brothers are rescued when The Duke shows up and...reveals that he's their long-lost father. No. That's not true! That's impossible!

The film ends with the Saints and Darth Duke storming a courthouse--whose metal detectors apparently work on the honor system, since there's no one manning them to ensure people actually walk through them--and brutally executing Papa Joe before he gets away with his crimes due to lack of evidence. This time they don't even bother with the masks, so I guess Bostonians are totally with Smecker on the whole "let the vigilantes murder whomever they deem evil" thing. Tough town, Boston. 

Yes, Troy Duffy's solution to crime: Let a couple of Irish knuckleheads appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioner and allow them free rein in your city. I'm sure the NRA would be on board.

Now, let's talk about how Troy Duffy is a gay man who views women as sex objects. Simmer down there, Sandra Dee. Don't blow a headgasket! Let me explain.

The male gaze. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's the claim that images--film, television, advertisements--are generally presented to the viewer as if he is a straight male. Take your typical piece of misogynist tripe that passes for a modern comedy: Female nudity is sexy and appealing, while male nudity is either absent or presented for comedic effect. I remember a positive experience I had watching a New Kids on the Block performance the other week. (Wait for the explanation. Wait for it.) Now, the New Kids were clumsy and awkward, but what struck me was how often they took off their shirts to show off their ripped bods. (For those of you unfortunate enough to have seen a Twilight film, substitute Taylor Lautner taking his shirt off.) By the fourth time it happened, I was all "Enough, already!", and it occurred to me that this must be what it's like to be a straight woman watching your typical Hollywood action film. "Okay, breasts...can we move on, please?" It was healthy for me to be placed, if only momentarily, in that position. Some people wonder what feminists are so angry about. Having various New Kids' smooth, oiled torsos constantly (and gratuitously) shoved in my face for four minutes, I wondered why they aren't angrier.

Why am I talking about the male gaze? Well, the assumption of straight maleness is so prevalent that even feminists often fall victim to it. For example, when talking about viewing women as sexual objects, the unspoken assumption is often a straight man viewing a woman as a sexual object and evaluating her solely according to this criterion rather than seeing her an actual person, classifying her as either a bitch (not fuckable) or a ho (fuckable). But straight men aren't the only ones who view women as sex objects. For every gay best friend with whom a straight woman can go shopping, exchange fashion tips, and cry about boys, there's a gay man who sees her only as a sex object. The difference is that, in his case, she is a sex object in which he has no interest. So if he makes a film, women are largely absent from it, since they don't enter his world unless they're either connected to a man or barge in, unwelcome, on their own. David DeCoteau is an example of this sort of filmmaker. Based solely on the evidence of The Boondock Saints, I think Troy Duffy is also a gay man who views women entirely as sex objects.

I've already mentioned the continual shirtlessness of the leads, including the jail scene in which water is dripped on them so that their muscled torsos glisten in the moonlight. Smecker is gay, and this is presented matter-of-factly when he answers the phone in bed, with the camera zooming out to reveal a man in bed with him. In another film, it would've been a nice moment of homosexuality being the non-issue it ought to be, but of course, Duffy's inner hack can't leave it at that, so he has to include a joke with Smecker disdainfully calling the guy a fag. But I've known gay men who do this, and it fits with Smecker's character, so it didn't bother me. What I kept waiting for was the scene with Smecker being emasculated or trumped because of his sexuality, but it never came. All of this, and then there's the odd lack of women in the movie overall. But what about when they do appear? Well, let's have a look.

The first woman we see is an offensive bull dyke caricature (is there any other kind?). You know, fat, piercings, short hair, mannish stance and voice--the whole bit. This lovely lady shows contempt for our leads from the beginning, and then when one of them utters the phrase "rule of thumb", she goes on a "feminist" rant about husbands beating wives and then kicks him in the balls. Now, in my time I've talked to a number of feminists, and lesbians, and feminist lesbians, and I've even outright disagreed with them, and I've yet to get a jackboot to the daddy marbles for my trouble, yet Connor (or Murphy, whichever) utters the phrase "rule of thumb" and takes one to the jimmy. Tough town, Boston. The other brother lays out Offensive Bull Dyke Caricature with a haymaker as the "Irish" music swells to a crescendo. Ah, good times.

Okay, let's see....there's the stripper who is onscreen for all of three seconds, during which time she never speaks while the Saints threaten her at gunpoint and then Funny Man gropes her breast while she's unconscious. Why yes, this sexual assault is played for laughs! Oh, and then there's Funny Man's drug-addict girlfriend and her drug-addict galpal that he threatens at gunpoint. Oh, and the one guy's wife we see for maybe five seconds while the Saints threaten her at gunpoint. Oh, and the woman whose back we see for one second before she's executed at gunpoint.

You know, I think there might be some kind of pattern here....

I've gone on for long enough about what is a thoroughly loathsome, hateful, and shoddily made piece of hokum that appeals to the basest instincts of caveman mentality. I haven't even mentioned the scene of Willem Dafoe in drag making out with a guy so as to gain entry to the mob boss's house in a failed attempt to rescue the Saints, and trust me, we're all the better for it.