Sunday, March 22, 2009

TALES FROM NETFLIX: '09 catch-up

Haven't watched many movies this year... between a 2 plus week vacation in February, prepping for Wondercon later that month, catching up in the office, and trying to keep up with the DVR... well our usual mass movie intake has gone slack. However, there are quite a few recent comic book related DVD's as well as a number of flicks worth talking about since I last checked in, so here we go!

First, the comic book movies:
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE - Okay, not much to say here positive, but I did enjoy the cartoonish over the top violence, however, it's so over the top, especially in the first scene, I can see this one positive for me, being just another con for many others. I did love the first scene with Frank though, where he crashes a mob dinner with more knifes to the skull and snapped necks per frame then perhaps ever seen (can't help but think Stalone's hyper violent recent Rambo led them on this path). Anyway, from there it's all woe is me Punisher, as he shambles from his subway lair (please) to neon set piece... As much as I enjoyed Ray Stevenson in HBO's Rome, he's dull and lifeless here, but that's his character, and the script. Don't even get me started on the clich├ęd villains here...

Skip it!

NOT RECOMMENDED

WONDER WOMAN - Like Punisher (wow, who'd think I could draw a parallel from that film to an animated take on DC's princess of power!?!) Wonder Woman comes out guns blazing... or in this case, the amazons come out swords swinging, in an epic battle with Ares god of war, and his forces of man's evil. It's a glorious sword and sandal meets fantasy throw down, amazingly crafted, choreographed, and slickly animated. We meet all the Amazonian side characters that will make up Diana's supporting cast, because this all takes place before her birth. Wonder Woman is an origin story, and when it's focused on Themyscira and the mystical aspects of her story, it really shines. For me though, once they introduce them and the story into modern times, and specifically Colonel Steve Trevor, I have a hard time buying into all of it. I think they could have skipped the outsider crashing into the land of the amazons plot, and just used the device they already do to get Diana off the island and into our world, and made things much more believable. Instead we're treated to a forced fish out of water love story, by way of Wonder Woman coming to NYC with love struck everyman/jet pilot. It's too contrived, and we've seen this story time and again before. The movie truly shines though when Diana is in action as Wonder Woman, with smartly written action and kinetic visuals. And the big finish in Washington DC, reprising the battle of Amazons vs Ares and his minions, is also lots of fun.

All in all, Wonder Woman is a smart, well produced, enjoyable work. It's worth noting the stellar voice cast, with Keri Russell as Diana, Nathan Fillion as Col Trevor, and Rosario Dawson among many others. Also, Wonder Woman is rated PG-13 and takes full advantage of that, by being fully mature in tone, while also keeping things light enough to play to a wide audience.

I'd like to give this one a stronger recommendation, but it's just a bit too unbalanced to do so. Still very good though.

RECOMMENDED

HULK VS - Meanwhile, the Marvel universe continues to get animated too, and like the current DC offerings, they're skewing more mature here, and bringing the animation style more in line with current sensibilities. Marvel's first few animated offerings were ambitious, but widely missed the mark, watering down mature storylines and needlessly changing things with the Ultimates, or completely failing with Iron Man (I skipped Doctor Strange, so I don't know how that came out, I've my suspicions though). This is all encouraging, especially when the last work was aimed squarely at kids, with Next Avengers, which was otherwise a very strong work.

Hulk VS brings two short features, one featuring Thor, and the other featuring Wolverine. Both showcase strong animation, that's clean and stylized, and both also feature a deep supporting cast from each respective character's mythos. For me, I enjoyed the Thor story a touch more, mainly because I thought they brought the Norse characters to life for me, in a way they've never been able to on the comic page. But Wolverine's story, and it's inclusion of Weapon X, felt a bit as if the Hulk was just forced into the story, or an afterthought once things got going. I think these would've worked better as either straight up battles between the characters here, or focused more on the characters they featured, sans the Hulk.

Still fun and very well made though.

RECOMMENDED


Next, the horror movies:
EDEN LAKE - A horror/terror import from England, Eden Lake is one of those works with a simple premise, a young couple alone in the remote wilderness being terrorized, that completely succeeds by capturing the vibe of menace and fear. Similar to the French import, Them, which was remade stateside last year as The Strangers (of which, Them is far superior), it's the simple notion that when you're all alone, miles from civilization, faceless teens can fuck with you to no end if they want. How far will things go? Will anyone survive? These films work if they can put you in the shoes of the hunted, and just like Them, Eden Lake slides you right in from the get go, then it gets all kinds of fucked up, and increasingly bloody as we go.

Eden Lake is well shot, cast, acted, and realized. Everything about it rings true, which helps you merge into the story. It is unflinching in it's presentation though, so be prepared, but if you can take it, it's truly gripping, and haunting. And Kelly Reilly makes for one of the better scream queens in recent memory...

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

AMUSEMENT - At times inspired, especially in it's jump cut presentation at the start, seemingly switching from different horror films mid story, both familiar, but deliciously different, Amusement is a solid effort at sending up horror and torture porn that doesn't quite hit the mark.

If however, you're a horror fan, that watches it all, you'll likely get a kick out of it, even though it fails to seal the deal.

RECOMMENDED

STORM WARNING - If like me, you've seen the ads for this one before untold numbers of other horror flicks, you likely thought it looked as lame and unoriginal as I did. However, it turns out Storm Warning is actually damn entertaining, and suffers from a truly uninspired trailer...

Like Eden Lake, with the success of Them (and The Strangers), we seem to be getting a fair amount of similar tales. But like all of those cautionary tales for couples in remote parts of the world, Storm Warning pushes all the right terror buttons, and offers up enough left field bizzaro Australian spun lunacy to engage the most hardened horror fiends (I'll just say there is a scene that involves a baby kangaroo, among other things). Also like some of those works, be prepared to face your fears in over-the-top, in-your-face fashion!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

MIRRORS - NOT RECOMMENDED

BAGHEAD - Okay, while Baghead is not a true horror movie, it is an indie comedy send up (of sorts) of horror though. From the same team that brought us the offbeat 2005 indy The Puffy Chair (recommended), Baghead messes with the viewer by way of messing with the cast in what's presented as a real life inside indie filmmaking weekend retreat. It's all good fun for four friends in a remote cabin, til someone with a brown paper bag over their head, may or may not be lurking outside the windows.

Worth a watch.

RECOMMENDED

RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION - Watchable and mostly high quality CGI animation, that either you need knowledge of the games to properly engage with, or more likely, just doesn't really connect on many levels. It's entertaining enough though, and does (sort of) feature zombies...

MILDLY RECOMMENDED


And now, a quick run down of the non genre stuff:
THE ROCKER - If you like Rainn Wilson (The Office's Dwight), this isn't a bad way to while away an hour and a half. Just don't expect anything special.

MILDLY RECOMMENDED

KABLUEY - Offbeat black comedy that follows Lisa Kudrow, a left behind Iraq mother who struggles to support her two sons... Enter their uncle, a slacker/loser who takes a job as a local giant blue mascot in the rural town... character and comedy developments ensue.

Unique, heartfelt, and enjoyable.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

ROCK'N'ROLLA -If you like Guy Ritchie UK crime films, it's a must see as he's back to form here. Not as special as Lock Stock, but a solid watch.

RECOMMENDED

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS - It's Cheech and Chong meets Rambo. Which is cool, but the cast here are what make this one shine (especially Franco). And since I was on the fence between RECOMMENDED, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, well, highly won...

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

HAMLET 2 - Entertaining, funny, and a bit inspired.

RECOMMENDED


Okay, outside of some offbeat recommendations I want to highlight separately, that should catch up most the noteworthy viewings so far this year. Now go check these out if you haven't already, there's some good stuff here!
(And, as always, click on the Netflix label below to see all of the Tales From Netflix recommendations)

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