Your Highness

your-highnessrating-2.5Your Highness is a double-negative; whatever there is about the film that might be good or worthwhile is cancelled out by all the parts that aren't really worth the time and trouble. I'm sure everyone must have had a great time making the film, but that's hardly a reason to spend millions of dollars to make the thing. Ostensibly, it's about entertaining the audience with some vulgar, somewhat-lowbrow comedy. And, at that, it mainly fails.

Somehow a pretty good cast got roped into this. Danny McBride had worked quite a bit with the director, David Gordon Green, during Pineapple Express and "Eastbound & Down"; James Franco starred in Pineapple Express, so obviously there was already a bond there. For the life of me, I don't know what Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel are doing in this, much less Toby Jones and Damien Lewis. It's a very odd mix of actors that I wouldn't have quite imagined for a comedy like this. They all do an admirable job, though some are a bit underused. In fact, most of the movie feels like there should be more going on. And what's there should be funnier.

The script was written by McBride and Ben Best, McBride's co-writer on The Foot Fist Way and co-creator of "Eastboound & Down". They do what they always do and much of it was as-advertised: a fantasy movie filled with cursing and vulgar content. Unfortunately, aside from McBride's usual brash awkwardness, bravado, and irritably foul mouth, much of the movie's attempt at comedy is stagnant. The combination of silly vulgarity and scenes of awkward pauses don't quite mesh. What hilarity there is much too little and too far between.

The one area that the movie excels at is the fantasy atmosphere and effects. It pulls off the fantasy film better than most serious fantasy movies; as a comedy and ostensible parody, it really shouldn't be a head above most fantasy fare. And, yet, it does a better job with action, monsters, and effects than movies with higher budgets. That shows a real love for the source material and makes me wish that there was a bit more to the movie to make it more exciting. But a severed penis and some cursing can't quite make that 100 minutes into more than 45 minutes worth of content.

There was easily more room to play with the genre, more jokes to be had, more to be done with the actors and their characters, and generally more entertainment to be mined out of the concept, but the movie just missed it, settling for cute or occassionally amusing when it could have fought harder to be truly funny. A missed opportunity if I've ever seen one.

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priestrating-2.5Priest wasn't really a movie I expected much from; it had a good cast and looked like the type of thing I could have found interesting, but I just didn't have any faith that it was going to work out. Then, of course, there were all the people who talked endlessly about how terrible it was.

I don't care whether or not it represented the comic well, as I've never read it and have no interest in doing so. The only metric that's going to matter to me is whether or not I'm intrigued, entertained, or enjoy the film. In that regard, it was better than expected, especially given how negative everything I'd heard was.

That's not to say it was a great film. The movie suffered from feeling a bit scattered and... well, small. My girlfriend went so far as to say that nothing happened during the movie; it wasn't so much that nothing happened as what did happen was very straightforward. Point A moved to point B which moved to point C and ended at point D. There was the requisite killing of vampires. There was some action. Paul Bettany looked like a badass. Maggie Q looked like a badass. Cam Gigandet was, surprisingly, non-douchey. Karl Urban was villanous in a two-dimensional but not scene-chew-y sort of way. Several good actors appear in minor roles. Somehow, director Scott Charles Stewart gets really decent actors to line up to work with him... Perhaps it's his connections from his visual effect days, but Legion was nothing to write home about (so I doubt his previous work is drawing them in). In large part Legion's problems had to do with the script and, again, that's the case here with Priest. Legion had a crap ending and not enough plot and Priest maintained a baseline throughout, never really moving outside of its comfort zone.

The technology and environment of the film with its desert vistas, Wild West ghost towns, and futuristic dystopian cities make for a very different sci-fi action movie experience. And the motorcycle and vampire designs were both pretty cool. It was a definitely different take on vampires, if nothing else.

It's a shame that a visually-appealing movie with good actors can't find enough story to actually become something worthwhile, but I don't regret watching it. It was an amusing trifle, but it's not something I'll come back to again.

imdb   amazon

X-Men: First Class

rating-3.5x-men-first-classI have to admit that I grew up reading X-Men; it will undoubtedly color my entire perception of the movie series and, ultimately, view it more negatively than it would if I had never read the comics. The fact that I haven't read comics since the early 90's doesn't seem to matter, as all the comic movies seem to mine the time period before I stopped reading for their films. It may be the fact that those were the only truly good years of the X-Men that they feel the need to constantly go back to the 80's Claremont well for their material.

The X-Men films have never truly satisfied me. I know the characters and situations well and the movies never did a particularly good job of handling the characters and giving them a plot that brought everything together in a completely coherent way. Though there are moments of real enjoyability, they're only moments. One might think that my familiarity is breeding contempt, but I'm almost as familiar with the whole Marvel milieu and I intensely enjoyed Iron Man (and its sequel), Thor, Hulk, Captain America, and, to a lesser extent, Incredible Hulk. I hated the Spider-Man movies, as they were really shitty, but X-Men, for all it did do well, just didn't sit right with me. It was probably the fact that, if you strip away the flashy looks and big actors, the scripts just weren't that good. And the X-Men were never a team until The Last Stand, the most-hated of the series for the majority of people, but at least they didn't split up Scooby-Doo-style like they did at the end of X2.

Given how much they'd beat the same characters to death over those first three movies (Magneto got way too much use, as if they don't have a good rogue's gallery of villains to choose from), I was disappointed that their logical continuity sucked. If you expected this movie to make rational sense in concordance with the previous films, then you'll be unhappy if you start thinking about it too much. All of a sudden Mystique, who couldn't have cared less about Charles Xavier in the previous films, was more or less his adoptive sister for most of his formative years. Many of the characterizations don't seem to fit with that's already established.

But about the actual movie... A problem with the writing of this entry, aside from nothing particularly interesting happening, a weak plot, and silly use of a concept as interesting as the Hellfire Club, is the fact that they're basically back to square one and this is another damned origin movie, where the setup ends up eating all the running time of the film and the plot takes a back seat. Adding to this the weak background cast, with a bunch of stupid characters (like Angel... who the fuck came up with that chick?) and ones that felt mismanged with total indifference (like Havok).

As for the rest of it, the direction was the best of the series; Matthew Vaughn never seems to take a misstep when it comes to filmmaking and the style is great, even with the 60's retro-ness permeating the film. The acting is also top-notch (despite most people's complaints about January Jones, who wasn't terrible), though I question the need for the number of people they threw into the mix.Jennifer Lawrence was totally new to me, but I was impressed with how she managed to play the petulant, silly Mystique, despite how obvious the plot beats were. McEvoy and Fassbender were top-notch and Kevin Bacon really managed to surprise with his performance. Perhaps Mr. Bacon needs to take these kinds of roles more often, because it's become too easy to forget what a good actor he actually is, as rarely as i seem to see him anymore. Despite the fact that I think tossing Moira MacTaggert in as a CIA agent (the woman is a doctor and Nobel prize-winning scientist, for fuck's sake; why turn her into a spy?) was exceptionally dim-witted, I appreciated getting to see more of Rose Byrne, who I never seem to tire of in any role. It is a good cast, all-around, and they seemed to have fun together, making it fun to watch. Even still, that wasn't enoughto completely please me.

I was stuck spending most of the movie waiting for them to start tidying up the messy plot, which only seemed to be written the way that it was to make as many comic-related things happen as possible, never stoppng to ask if they were even right for the movie. The setpieces felt almost predestined and the actions around them served only to set them up. If I were to write this movie, it's definitely not at all the tack I would have taken.

Many will prfer this version of the X-Men, having no connection to the comics, as they find it humanizes the characters. That's fine and good, though I would have a hard time believing that anyone would like it better than the more fun, more interesting movies that Marvel is producing themselves. It makes me wish that they would just get the rights back from Fox so that the X-Men could be the proper X-Men again and that all the movies could tie back together. Maybe someday, but for now we've got to hope that they've learned something from this movie and that the next film won't be another Wolverine. Still, it was a good enough film to warrant viewing.

imdb   amazon


hannarating-4.0Hanna is an odd combination of action movie and art film, seamlessly bouncing between calm pastoral moments and Bourne-style fight scenes. Saoirse Ronan plays the titular heroine, a teenage assassin sent to kill the woman responsible for the death of her mother. Eric Bana plays the man that raised her and trained her to be a perfect killing machine in the desolation of the harsh Scandinavian wilderness, without any of the amenities that we in modern society are accustomed to. Most of the movie takes place as Hanna wends her way through the world, confused and unable to completely comprehend minor social interactions and things as simple as light switches. In the moments between Hanna killing her persuers, we see the wide-eyed innocence of a young girl in an alien world.

It's a beautiful-looking film with interesting techniques, often accompanied by a strange but somehow fitting electronic soundtrack. The acting is excellent; Ronan plays the role of Hanna better than most adults could. Rarely have I see any child actor play anything as well as this. Bana and Cate Blanchett give some star power to the cast and Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams round it out with minor roles. I can't think of any problems with the choice of cast or crew working on this film.

The one failing of the movie that takes it down the notch from "great" to "good" is its somewhat-sloppy and less-than-satisfying writing. It would be hard to complain specifically without spoiling the movie, but let it be said that I could write an essay of what the script does wrong in its final third. The intelligent, inquisitive and ruthless Hanna makes several strange decisions and suddenly turns into a nervous, self-aware and petulant teenager, despite the fact that this defies all logic. She allows people she's been shown to love to be hurt, runs when she could easily kill her attackers, and shows none of the tactical intellect and quick thinking that she showed in an extended setpiece toward the story's beginning. The complete change in tone and outright stupid choices in writing soured the entire end of the film. What could have been a truly great picture was diminished by the sloppiness of the plot.

Still, as sloppy as it is, it's hard not to recommend the film, as it's an experience that I don't think I've seen in film, combining the visceral with the innocent. It's both an excellent action piece and a strange coming-of-age story all tied up with the verve of an art house film.

imdb   amazon


rating-3.5colombianaI have to admit that I'm kind of a sucker for a Luc Besson/Robert Mark Kamen film. They're usually not the brightest movies, but they're pretty much always action-y fun. If you ignore Kamen's work on the Karate Kid films, there's a pretty decent body of work between them: The Fifth Element, Taken, the Transporter movies, Unleashed, District B13, The Professional, La Femme Nikita... None are Oscar material or will live on for eternity as an artistic statement, but they all aim to entertain and give something back to an action genre that has become cliched and stale.

Colombiana, for its part, tries to fit easily amongst all of the previously-listed films. Perhaps it fits a little too easily, lacking a bit of the invention or excitement of many of those films. Coming only a short time after Taken, a nearly perfect epic of revenge-meets-spycraft film that doesn't skimp on detail or try to add a glossy unrealistic sheen to the story, Colombiana feels slightly hollow, short on plot, and a little too feel-good by its ending.

Still, there's plenty to enjoy about the movie. Zoe Saldana commits well to the action and the character. Often actresses seem to be unable to appreciate a physical performance while maintaining any acting nuance; Saldana manages to run the gamut emotionally while seeming powerful, despite the fact that she looks malnourished in her tiny shorts and body-hugging catsuits. Perhaps the movie doesn't find the perfect balance to allow Saldana to show emotion and character and then have action sequences and assassinations. The opening flashback to her character's childhood is paced perfectly, as is its follow-up in a prison where her character pulls off an assassination that would make Agent 47 proud. But, as her daily life between jobs, her family relationships, and her inability to connect with others in any deep or meaningful way becomes the focus, the film loses momentum. Personal entanglements lead to her being chased by both the FBI and criminals that want her dead. The revenge plot at the center of the movie becomes muddied by extranious characters and relationships, though the film is ultimately saved by the action setpieces leading up to its climax.

Perhaps it's not as satisfying or perfect a film as it should be, but in comparison to the less-serious action fare of the Transporter films or District B13 movies, it stands as a decent, well-made movie. At its heart is an action film and those looking for more will undoubtedly come away displeased, but for those who just want some good ass-kicking and explosions, Colombiana fills the void nicely until the next Taken comes along.

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