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The Losers – A Rant

In a world where Jeffery Dean Morgan gets more screen time than Chris Evans and Idris Elba, 4 Elite CIA agents will try to cram as many action movie cliches in before the opening credits as they can, such as disregarding orders, witty banter during a firefight in which they are hopelessly outmatched, and exploding helicopters filled with what I can only assume were paper mache children (no body parts).

Everything, absolutly everything.

See, good cast. What can go wrong?

Directed by the filmmaker who brought us, ‘I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer’, Sylvan White spends 97 minutes trying to convince the audience that Chris Evans is a nerd that no woman would be interested in, that Columbus Short is not Donald Faison, and that the Mexican Cowboy that follows the team around is actually supposed to be in the movie. After a sexy sex fight between Clay, played by Morgan, and Aisha, played by Zoe Saldana because she has a contract with hollywood to have a role in any movie involving comic books from now on, results in an inferno of death for many poor Bolivians, the team must track down Max, played by Jason Patric because why the hell did they cast him in this movie? The team proceeds to follow every action movie cliche in alphabetical order until the final predictable scene with the predictable betrayal and the predictable on the nose warning, “you will die badly” comes predictably true.

You can find our full podcast reviewing ‘The Losers’ at Buried Cinema.

Option C — Rango

By Tom Kapr

Every week on Buried Cinema’s podcast, one of us chooses a film to review and another chooses a second film to pair with it. This is Option C.

This past week we reviewed the new blockbuster from Pirates of the Caribbean director/star team Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger. It was terrible.

But the question remained: Could these two make a good Western under other circumstances? The answer is yes. Under other, very strange circumstances.

Whether or not Rango qualifies as a “buried” film is, I suppose, open for debate. But since I’m the one who coined the phrase, I’m just going to go ahead and say, hell yes, Rango qualifies. It’s an endangered film at the very least, one that could be buried by time, lack of the proper audience, and a misunderstanding of its nature. It has no doubt been viewed by lots of kids and passively enjoyed by their parents, but the audience Rango truly deserves are any and all serious lovers of the art and history of cinema, because it revels in both. It is a surreal homage to the Great American Western, and it is, simply, a beautifully animated film.

 

 

Rango is filmed as if it were a live-action production, one of the few CGI films I’ve seen that actually seems to have a sense of cinematography; not only is it bright, but it seems deliberately lit. (With Roger Deakins on the crew, this is not so surprising.) On top of the live sense of photography, the performances are the pinnacle of what can be achieved with CGI characters. Rango may be an animated lizard that looks nothing like Johnny Depp, but Depp’s performance comes through so clearly that, in his mannerisms and even his facial expressions, one can see Johnny Depp’s mannerisms and facial expressions. The rest of the cast of characters is no less impressive, with actors such as Isla Fisher, Stephen Root, and Ned Beatty giving great performances, as well as Timothy Olyphant doing an impeccable Clint Eastwood as the “Man With No Name”-inspired Spirit of the West. (Also, Johnny Depp manages a brilliant cameo as a character from one of his earlier films; it happens during the highway scene early in the film.)

Rango has a great sense of fun, of adventure, of humor, and even of drama. A thrilling stage chase through a canyon is one of the highlights. This is actually quite a mature film in its sensibilities, with plenty of gunplay, violence, and irreverent humor full of double entendres that only the adults will get. Though the plotting gets just a little sloppy during the finale (par for the course in spectacle films like this), it is a brilliant, textured, loving homage to the Western genre. It may be Verbinksi’s most accomplished, classic-status-worthy film.

As Nate said on the podcast, Verbinski should have accepted his Oscar (yep, this film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film) and walked away from the Western genre. We may not have a good Lone Ranger movie, but as long as it’s not forgotten, we’ll always have Rango.

Tom was once a mere temp worker for a disreputable science lab, until he was kidnapped by a mad scientist and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

Masters of Horror: Incident On and Off a Mountain Road

By Tom Kapr

Last October, I undertook the self-imposed challenge of watching 30 horror movies in 30 days. I called it “30 Days of Madness,” and though it stretched me as a film critic, as a writer, and as a human being, it also stretched my sanity more than once. This is the time of year I always get back into the horror genre, and it’s no wonder why–such a fascination is ingrained in many of us and only intensifies at this time of year because of the annual arrival of Halloween and the movie traditions that accompany it. I wanted to do another horror series this season, but nothing on the scale of last year’s madness, so I’ll be watching the first season of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series and recording my impressions here at the Rant Pad.

Masters of Horror ran for two seasons between 2005 and 2007. Created by Mick Garris, perhaps best known for his televised adaptations of Stephen King novels, the premise is simple: 13 episodes a season, each episode a one-hour mini-movie made by a director known for his or her work in the horror genre. During my 30 Days of Madness last October, I reviewed two episodes from season two. “The Black Cat” is still one of my favorite works of horror ever; “The Washingtonians” is still one of the worst things I’ve ever sat through. With these two diametrical examples to go by, I know I am to expect a vast divergence in quality from one movie to the next. Hopefully I’ll find some good horror flicks along the way.

Masters of Horror #1.1 — Incident On and Off a Mountain Road

(Spoiler alert)

I have a love/hate relationship with the horror genre: I love horror as a genre. I’m drawn to it. I love that it can explore aspects of the human experience in ways that a more straightforward dramatic piece can’t. It can be thrilling. It can be therapeutic. But I hate that so much of the genre is crap.

I don’t mean that I hate that most of it is cheesy. And most of it is cheesy. But I can enjoy a cheesy horror flick. When I say crap I mean, purely unpleasant sadistic crap with no redeeming human value. So much of the genre is pessimistic in nature, and I hate pessimism. (And I realize the inherent irony of saying “I hate pessimism.”)

Horror should horrify, by definition, but it should be a way to explore the macabre, not to revel in it.

I had hopes that Phantasm writer/director Don Coscarelli’s “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (which is a terrible title, by the way) would be a story of female empowerment in the face of victimization–a push back against the majority of the slasher genre in which so many girls make so many stupid decisions and then lay back screaming and begging and take what’s coming without much of a fight. After all, the premise was that a young woman has a car accident on a lonely mountain road and is victimized by a crazed backwoods killer, but recalls the lessons she learned from her survivalist husband to fight back. And she does, eventually. But the moment the killer throws the knife at her and misses, and it becomes embedded in a log inches from her head, and instead of grabbing the knife she runs away, after she’s already made the decision to fight back–well, then the premise is lost on me. At that point, it’s just bad writing.

Bree Turner as the heroine and John DeSantis as "Moonface." Do I need to specify which is which?

But that bad writing slowly turns into ever-more disturbing writing. We get to watch the other girl being terrorized by the killer get strapped to a table, alive, and have an electric drill put through her eye. We get to watch, in flashback, the ways in which the heroine’s survivalist husband (played by Ethan Embry) becomes increasingly paranoid about survival, going from teaching her survival methods to terrorizing her with them and eventually tying her up and raping her for weakness. Rape is just as valid a part of a dramatic work as any other part of the human experience, though I believe it should only be depicted if absolutely necessary, and here it does inform later revelations about the lead character and how she survives, but the final outcome is so cheap and schlocky that it the rape scene loses all validity. (A note on Ethan Embry: he certainly stretches his acting beyond the goofy, charming characters he’s best known for, and he’s actually quite believable as a militia nut, but I just personally don’t want to see him in the role of a man who would victimize and rape his own wife. I’d much rather remember him for Empire RecordsThat Thing You Do!, and Can’t Hardly Wait.) Finally, we get watch the heroine become, not just the victor in her struggle, but swing completely to the other side of the spectrum as she continues to kill in cold blood. (Side note:Phantasm villain Angus Scrimm, one of the best horror star names ever, has a supporting role as a creepy old man. Shocker.)

And I haven’t even given away the big twist which, everything else aside, I have to admit, I did not see coming and is pretty effective.

Mostly, this is just one of those bleak, heartless, unrelenting slasher flicks that tries to pack as much awfulness as it can into its 50-minute running time. I see no value in such productions. It’s a thin line between this and torture porn. Hopefully, subsequent episodes will be more about exploring human fears and the unknown aspects of life and psychology that scare us, and less about cheap violence.

I can almost hear you asking, Why do you watch so much horror when you have so many problems with so many of the most prevalent themes and filmmaking methods of the genre? As a person with such a strong interest in horror and such strong feelings about violence in movies, I wonder that myself sometimes; but perhaps, reading some of my earlier writing on the genre will give you a better understanding of my fascination with it.

Scary Movie Alien Countdown: The #1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time

By Tom Kapr

We finally made it to the end of the countdown. Here, after a quick recap of the other films discussed in this series, is my “Number 1 Scariest Movie Alien of All Time.” Watch and enjoy.

#10. Battle Los Angeles (2011)

#9. The Blob (1958, 1988)

#8. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

#7. Star Wars Episodes IV & VI (1977, 1983)

#6. Predator (1987)

#5. War of the Worlds (2005)

#4. The Thing (1982)

#3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978)

#2. The Alien series (1979, 1986, 1997)

#1…

Steampunk Nazis, samurai statues, and android armies, oh my!: A review of “Sucker Punch”

By Steven Moore

Is Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s pet project, a good movie? I have been wrestling with that from them moment it ended. This is the kind of film that does so many things well, while simultaneously doing so many things badly. Is it a good movie? No. Is it awesome? Yes. Am I using a lot of rhetorical questions? Yes. Why? Because my reaction to this film is more complex than it has a right to be. I see a twinkling of brilliance in all of the glitter and gunshots. There’s a message here about exploitation and titillation, but it’s buried underneath a reveling in the over-the-top exploitation and titillation.

The plot for this film is confusing at best, and really is secondary to the experience. A fetching Emily Browning plays Baby Doll, a 20-year-old girl who is institutionalized in an all-girl mental hospital after trying to defend herself and her sister from her step-father. The psychologist on staff uses fancy European methods that encourage the girls to live in a fantasy world. Within this fantasy, Baby Doll goes deeper into her own fantasy world (Inception-light), discovering she can use her sensuality within the fantasy to control her audience. Hmm, this sounds a lot like a certain filmmaker I know. This film will frustrate anyone looking for a one-to-one allegorical relationship between fantasy and reality… or rational plot points. I don’t think I knew what was happening or why until the last five minutes of the movie, and by that time, I stopped caring about the story.

Partway through Sucker Punch, The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” begins playing. Snyder is not exactly subtle in his musical selections, but if you’re expecting subtlety from this filmmaker, you haven’t seen Snyder’s other films. The first line to the song is, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” This is essentially the anthem for the film, perhaps for all of Snyder’s films. It’s not often I recommend a film that requires less thought, but here it works. Here it delivers something unique and artful. And in the end, it rewards the viewer for the trust placed in the process. I’m left thinking about myself as a viewer, about what I expect out of a film. I can see Snyder standing in front of the theater screaming, “Are you not entertained!”

Baby Doll is clearly an exploited character, both in the story and for the audience. The fantasies she gives us when she is dancing for various men are a metaphor for the escapism the audience expects. Men want to watch her dance, nothing more. We want to watch her kill steampunk zombie Nazis, dragons, and killer robots all while wearing high heels and fake eye lashes–nothing more. Snyder has implicated you, dear viewer, and you should feel ashamed… almost, if not for Snyder’s absolute wallowing in his own material. He lathers on the thick colors and bright lights until they fall of the screen in great big gobs. He revels in the sensuality of it all, and in doing so loses all credibility in his message. One of the final images of the film is of Baby Doll, who has just has a procedure that should have left her ragged, but instead she looks perfect, in fact more beautiful than when she started. Snyder could have used this moment to show the audience the cost of exploitation, but he couldn’t bring himself to make it real, to muss it up a bit.

So in the end, Sucker Punch becomes a visually impressive film that almost said something important. It’s like Snyder really wants to tell you how bad candy is for you, but then he would have to give up candy himself or risk becoming a hypocrite, and candy is just too awesome for that. Sucker Punch is a movie that I would watch again, probably with a group of friends. It fits perfectly in with those guilty-pleasure films like the Resident Evil series or Starship Troopers. Candy is good.