Hit & Run

Hit & Run (2012), directed by Dax Shepard and David Palmer

You know what, I might be in the minority here, but movies like Hit & Run have to be my favourite popcorn, escapist cinema fare going. It’s light but exciting, it’s funny and smart, there’s plenty of action but none of it is gratuitous. Nobody dies, which is so refreshing, but there’s enough swearing and sex jokes to make the film decidedly adult.

It’s actually probably one of the best movies I’ve seen in theatres this summer.

Hit & Run is Dax Shepard’s baby. He wrote it, co-directed it, edited it and, of course, stars in it. I only really know Shepard from The Freebie, but I liked him a lot in that. I hear he used to be on Punk’d but I never watched that so I don’t have any preset opinions of him. From what I have seen I think he is really quite talented, both as an actor and also, seemingly, as a writer.

I say that because this is a shockingly well written movie. It actually does what I wish so many Hollywood films would do, in that it celebrates what makes a Hollywood action movie good, while throwing away and explicitly making fun of all the rubbish that normally comes along with it.

It’s a smart movie. Not like, Fellini smart, but smart in a way that it’s not insulting to audiences and actually gives us some credit for being people that can enjoy a car chase or two but also might not be comfortable with having that surrounded by sexism, homophobia and predictability. It gives us some credit for wanting something more.

It’s the kind of movie that can have a reference to Charles Bronson, but then explain that it’s actually a reference to the British prisoner who named himself after the American action star. I liked that.

Kristen Bell’s character, Annie, is someone we can like and respect, not just leer at or find annoying. She’s smart. She has a degree in nonviolent conflict resolution, which comes in handy at times in the movie. She is funny and charming and makes decisions that make sense.

This is the kind of movie where the main character can use the homophobic slur f-word and you’re like “well, there it is. Awkward,” and then the movie ADDRESSES THAT and actually makes a running joke about how he used that word and how inappropriate and juvenile it is (even if the line he used it in is a great one…he’s right, nitrous is bs.)

I guess I’m a sucker for smart dialogue in a movie like this. It’s certainly nowhere near as dense or reference-laden as a Tarantino movie but the characters still converse in a way that’s a lot more intelligent and literate than us average folk. But I love it. It’s a pleasure to listen to. I like a film that pays as much attention to that as it does to the action.

And then you combine that with a car chase movie and I’m really sold. Carsploitation films are my absolute favourite bubblegum movies. I’ve done the list before on the blog, but Hit & Run harkens back to the great classics Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Gone in 60 Seconds, even Smokey and the Bandit. And that works for me. Few things get the old ticker going like the sound of a big-block ripping rubber up the street with someone hot in pursuit. Man, oh man.

I wish we got more films like this. And I don’t think I’m alone. Everyone leaving the preview screening that I went to last night seemed notably happy and entertained as they left. There was a buzz in the room. People had a good time. That’s more than can be said for most of the movies this summer, even for something like The Dark Knight Rises, which, though impressive at times, wasn’t exactly a lot of fun.

Hit & Run is fun. I like fun.

Hit & Run is in theatres on Friday.

The Campaign

The Campaign (2012), directed by Jay Roach

Do you remember the days when satire had bite?

When it made you rethink the whole system and how things are run? I’m thinking Dr. Strangelove. Or The Candidate.

Well, people are calling The Campaign a “political satire” and while I suppose it is, things sure have changed. And that makes me concerned.

No longer does a film like The Campaign ask us to rethink how the system works. Instead it harps on the disillusionment and distrust that we already all know and feel down to our core and asks us to laugh at it without really thinking about it. It’s sad that instead of exposing holes in the system, it instead has to rely on making fun of how corrupt the system is to get laughs.

In its own crude way the film condemns lobbying, corporate financed campaigns, media coverage, citizen’s lack of political intelligence, smear campaigns and back-room deals. All worthy things to condemn.

(All of this sprinkled with a little sexism for good measure, but hey, par for the course right?)

But it does so in such a flippant and obvious way that it never asks you to really think about it. We all just assume everything is corrupt to its core and go from there.

Beyond that the form of the film, the way the story arch is carried out and the way the film is shot, is so run of the mill that the director never once seems to actually be asking you to think about politics. Just laugh when the baby gets punched and let’s move on.

As a pure comedy The Campaign is marginally successful. Some parts are genuinely hysterical. I must admit that the baby punching scene is a highlight.

But I must also admit that even then I have trouble remembering most of what was funny about the film. It’s not one that will be quoted by my friends for years to come.

The problem is it exists in the middle. On one hand it wants to be a typical ridiculous Ferrell vehicle, but on the other it has aspirations for something more. But there it sits, turning out as neither as it tries to be both.

Alternatively, The Campaign brought to mind in some ways Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Only with, you know, a nip slip scene. The film does go for that little man against the system type story, where in the end honesty and integrity are the virtues that rise above the corruption and disillusionment.

Unlike a film like Mr. Smith, however, we get no sense from The Campaign that the filmmakers believe this. Obviously the two films are very different, one is an outrageous comedy and other a heart-on-sleeve David and Goliath story, but even so there’s no real heart to The Campaign, nothing to make you actually care about anything that’s happening.

It very much has a paint by numbers feeling that holds it back from having either the bite or the heart that could have made it something more.

The Campaign is in theatres now.

Total Recall

Total Recall (2012), directed by Len Wiseman

Let’s start off this review by saying that I have seen the original Total Recall but it was years ago and I barely remember it. I’ve never been a big Arnold fan (more of a Sly Stallone kind of guy) and what I do remember I don’t have any fondness for, as many people seem to. I kind of want to re-watch it, now that I have seen this one, but part of me is so discouraged about the whole concept that I’m not sure I can be bothered.

Anyone want to convince me?

So this is the remake of the 1990 film. We have Colin Farrell (who I am on the record as a fan of) taking the Arnold role, a future, post-apocalypse earth instead of mars and a string of incomprehensible action sequences for what, I can only assume given my memory, were action scenes that actually made sense in the original.

I went in to the theatre really in the mood for some junky, popcorn movie escapism, but this poor excuse of a summer film failed to meet my most basic requirements for schlock fun, namely characters I care about and action scenes I can follow and understand.

The problem with this remake is that it brings absolutely nothing new to the sci-fi genre. The sets look like the director just reused the old concept drawings from Blade Runner, the story is, of course, from the original film and the characters are all the old archetypes we have seen time and time again: the ordinary man up against the system, the power hungry megalomaniac, the resistance fighter.

And it’s not that I would even mind that if the film were competently made, or even had some fun with it all, but this is just such a drab, lifeless mess it’s honestly hard to sit through.

Wiseman is the guy behind the Underworld series of films, which somehow has managed to keep going. So he’s obviously a fan of dark, rain soaked tales of future distopia. And action. Lots of dark, flashy action.

There’s plenty in Total Recall. There’s gun fights and standoffs and a hover car chase and a cat and mouse game played out in a series of tunnels with elevators flying every which way. There’s military robots and military humans and resistance fighters. The bullets and fists fly.

But right from the start you realize that the director is going for a certain action aesthetic and that it doesn’t work. Farrell takes out a room of baddies near the beginning that is shot like a slowed down fight in a video game. I mean, not just choreographically, it really looks like a video game. In my books that’s not a good thing for a film.

Things continue on like this. As Hauser (Farrell’s character…sort of) jumps from rooftop to rooftop of the slightly offensive stereotypical Oriental urban cityscape, the scene is shot from afar, showing both Farrell and his pursuers from the side. The side. It looks like a side-scroller, I swear.

And the rest of the action, including the hover-car chase, falls into that oh-so-lamentable staple of modern action: the incomprehensible action scene. You know the ones, close-ups, quick edits, blurry flashes of action, none of it making any real sense. You’re supposed to just know that some action is happening and that it’s exciting and that should be enough. Anything more, like knowing spatially where the characters are, or having any sense of actual drama in the scene, is asking too much.

One more thing: why is it okay to make Britain the facsist ruler of the future? Why not make it America? I understand that that might not sit well with Americans, but why then turn on Great Britain? Sure, we (I’m a citizen technically) did used to colonize the world, but it’s just such a lazy plot point. And when did Australia become Asian? Why not Indian, there’s just as many of them? Having it set on Mars solved all of that nonsense.

Sorry, this is turning into a rant.

This is just simply a waste of time, resources and (some) talent. I’ve been pleased with some of the remakes this summer (Spider-Man, namely), but this is one of the worst films of the year so far.

Unless you are a huge fan of the original and need to see what they’ve done (or if you’re one of those sci-fi geek weirdos that openly gets excited at seeing a woman with three breasts) check it out. All others, avoid.

Total Recall is in theatres now.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012), directed by Christopher Nolan

Well what should be a fun and feisty discussion about one of the biggest movies we will ever see open in our lifetimes has been marred by one of the worst tragedies we will hopefully ever witness.

A movie, no matter how popular or brilliant, is, of course, pittance compared to the lives of those who died in a cinema in Colorado. We all know that. My heart goes out to all those affected by this act, especially to those still fighting for their lives in hospitals.

But that doesn’t mean the actions of one disturbed individual has the right to take away the joy, meaning and sense of community that many of us find in movie theatres. I had already purchased my ticket for The Dark Knight Rises before the shooting took place. I thought about not going. In the end though I decided that the shooting wasn’t about the movie, the movie was not to blame, and that I wasn’t going to let this coward ruin what is for me a safe haven, a place of joy.

That’s what I have to say about that.

As for the film itself, well, this is the big one. Whether you love them or don’t mind facing the wrath of fanboys, it’s hard to argue that Nolan’s Batman films aren’t one of the most important and popular series of films from the past decade or two, perhaps rivaled only by Potter or The Lord of the Rings.

Early negative reviews of this film brought on some intense reactions from fans, including death threats. Rotten Tomatoes actually shut down their comments section for this film because they didn’t want to deal with curating the madness. It felt like you had to like The Dark Knight Rises, and if you didn’t the only possible explanation is that you’re the biggest snob in the world. Like the citizens of occupied Gotham, these harbingers of the internet rose up and wrote poorly spelled, disparaging comments asserting that the people have chosen. Batman is the king.

I think all that has died down in the wake of the shooting, but that’s the atmosphere this film opened to.

Luckily, for my own health and reputation, I’m a fan. I almost wish I wasn’t, it seems cooler to not like Nolan’s take on The Batman. But it’s hard because, well, they’re generally so darn good. Batman Begins (2005) was really unlike any other comic book movie that came before it. Dark, moody and serious, it chilled you to the bone while at the same time inspiring fist-pumping zeal for the action and the main character.

The Dark Knight (2008) upped the ante with one of cinema’s greatest all-time villains in Heath Ledger’s Joker. I would say it’s the best in the series for having such amazing characters and being able to present the story in such a tight, impressively paced manner. It works incredibly well as a large-budget superhero movie.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to the saga and another excellent film from Nolan. I don’t think it’s the best of the series and I think it would have been impossible to top The Dark Knight. But Rises certainly gives its all to do so and I think comes off as an extremely apt and fitting finale.

For all my problems with Nolan, especially with Inception, I still think what he’s done with his Batman films is among the greatest achievements by a modern director. Maybe more as a phenomenon than as films themselves, but certainly one has lead to the other. He’s a cold, calculated director, who has trouble finding heart at times, but for the Batman trilogy he has proven himself to be the man for the job.

I enjoyed the way Nolan associated the movie with the Occupy Movement and politics. I don’t think I would like the film if I was an Occupy person, as it shows the dark side the mob mentality that the 99 per cent can create, but it was still one of those touches that helps it to rise above (pun intended) the typical blockbuster. It’s an example of the scale this film goes for, which is grand in scope, something that is hard to pull off well. Nolan does it.

Despite the concerns over the audibility of his voice and so on, I also thought Tom Hardy’s Bane was an excellent villain. Hardy had a few moments to show his Bronson-esque exuberance and the physical presence of the character really worked. That classic comic shot of Bane holding Batman up over his knee is a pinnacle of the movie.

There were a few issues that bothered me, mainly as the film tried to tie up loose ends or make tenuous connections. It’s an ambitious film, with a large complicated finale, so it’s inevitable that you have to suspend your disbelief for a few points, but there were a few unanswered questions.

For instance, how is it that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is the only one who has managed to put two and two together and figure out Batman’s identity?

Oh and I’ve never managed to take Bale’s tongue-hanging-out, expressionless Batman voice seriously. I may have made fun of it after seeing the film.

It’s also been determined by Vulture that, believe it or not, the correct way to fix a broken back is not by punching it.

But these are small points that I make mainly for fun, because really it doesn’t get much better for summer cinema than fare like this. Nolan went for it, pulled out all the stops and made a finale fitting for this ambitious series.

Don’t be afraid, don’t ruin your own fun in the name of someone’s twisted actions. Go see The Dark Knight Rises with the same anticipation you had before all this and enjoy the heck out of it. Because it’s worth it and because that what movies are for.

The Dark Knight Rises is in theatres now.

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), directed by Marc Webb (hilarious!)

So I went to see Magic Mike last night. While standing in line for tickets, feeling slightly self-conscious as a solo man going to see a movie about male strippers, I discovered that it was sold out. Apparently women are sexual beings too or something. I don’t know, not the point. The point is I wasn’t going to be seeing Channing Tatum’s ass that night.

So for all my dismissal of the unnecessary Spider-Man reboot I decided to take the opportunity to begrudgingly shell out $18 dollars to see the damn thing in IMAX 3D. I got in a couple minutes late, missed the opening credits (if there were any), sat down, glassesed up and prepared myself to be something less than dazzled.

But I gotta tell you, and pardon me for taking the obvious road here, but The Amazing Spider-Man is freaking amazing.

I’m going to go out on a huge limb here and say that, as far as summer superhero movies go, it might be better than The Avengers. I suspect nobody is going to agree with me on this one, but in all honesty, in my books they’re neck and neck (sort of a Seabiscuit, Tobey Maguire joke, but kind of a stretch).

It’s just a topnotch, exciting as all hell, fan-pleaser of a summer movie.

Here’s one reason I might have fallen in love with it more than others. I’m still new to this whole 3D thing. I’ve been living in an isolated community for the past two years where the only 3D entertainment in town was watching the meatheads fight outside the bar (love you Powell River!).

I frequently snobbishly dismissed 3D movies as a fad and a terrible idea. Now, sometimes I’m right, and I still think Real3D looks like hell in general. But with this and two screenings of Prometheus under my skin now I’m ready to declare IMAX 3D as the greatest thing since the invention of the talkie (although that did ruin silent cinema, but that’s another argument).

I haven’t had that little kid at the movies, gape-mouthed experience in as long as I can remember, but watching Spidey swing from crane to crane through the streets of New York I was in absolute awe.

Now The Amazing Spider-Man, like Prometheus, was actually shot in 3D, which so far, in my limited experience, seems to make all the difference. But if we can get more 3D movies like this, I have to say, bring them on. Praise the Lord, I have seen the light.

There’s something else I have to admit that might have influenced my opinion. For all my “What? Another reboot already?!” attitude about a new Spider-Man movie, I realized as I sat down and started to watch the origin part of the story unfold that I never saw the original Spider-Man from 2002. I saw the second one, which was fantastic, and the third one, which was horrendous, but I never saw the first.

So while a lot of critics are going on about how we know all this already and how unnecessary a recap is, I didn’t have that experience. It was all new to me. I mean, I know the story from comics or common knowledge but I had never before seen it played out on the big screen. I now have a plan to watch the Tobey Maguire one and maybe I’ll be convinced otherwise. But until then, this one is better.

As for the movie itself (‘Finally!’ they say), it’s truly a well made, wonderfully paced and acted, thriller of a blockbuster. I don’t think most people will see that because they’re too hung up on the reboot thing, but it really is a fabulous popcorn movie. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are perfect, because they go against the stiffness of other superhero movie actors and make their characters believable and human. For all the amazing effects and hair raising action sequences, Spider-Man is also a touching, relatable film. I got into it, I have to say. And Garfield and Stone are the ones that make that happen.

It’s not perfect (I always say that don’t I?). The lizard bad guy dude is only okay as a nemesis. I’m more of a Green Goblin man myself, but I understand you have to make some changes. Some of the action sequences were hard to follow.

But really, put that up against the special effects, the tone, the acting, the surprising care and maturity of the piece, and they are minor criticisms.

The Amazing Spider-Man is the best summer movie of the year so far, with the possible exception of The Avengers. And Prometheus, but I consider that beautiful mess to be something other than summer movie fare.

Anyway, you get the point. It’s amazing. Sorry.

The Amazing Spider-Man is in theatres now (go see it in IMAX 3D. Seriously, spend the extra $5 or whatever. It’s worth it ya cheap bastard.)

Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are, summer movie season. This is for all the marbles. Granted two of the biggest films of the year are already behind us (Hunger Games, The Avengers) but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more Hollywood spectacle to come. What follows is CineFile’s official top 10 most anticipated movies of the summer. Enjoy.

Click on the posters for the trailer

 

10) The Campaign, directed Jay Roach

I’m split on this one, because I do love Will Ferrell when he’s on, but have a hard time with Zach Galifianakis (I have to look up how to spell that every time) in most movies. He only ever seems to play idiotic men, who may or may not be gay, that we are supposed to laugh at. Still The Campaign looks like a good summer laugh, which is a great movie tradition. Plus Ferrell punches a baby, so it has to be good, right?

Out August 10

 

9) The Bourne Legacy, directed by Tony Gilroy

In some ways this is even more exciting than if Matt Damon had a new Bourne film coming out, because with this one we finally get to see Jeremy Renner as the top billing in an action film. He’s not playing Jason Bourne, but another agent in the Treadstone program that bred Bourne. Expect thrilling chases in Euorpean locales. I’m in.

Out August 3

 

8. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, directed by Timur Bekmambetov

This looks silly and awesome. As a piece of revisionist history fantasy, this movie tells the tale of Lincoln before the presidency, before the Civil War, before the assassination, back when he hunted vampires. You got that history lesson, right? This just looks like a ton of fun.

Out June 22

 

7) Rock of Ages, directed by Adam Shankman

I can’t believe I want to see this one, but you know what? It looks really good. I’m rarely a fan of modern musicals, and I must say I’m not fan of the music this movie is celebrating either, but darn it if this doesn’t just look like a whole lot of fun. Plus I like it when Cruise camps it up. This will be something different, that’s for sure.

Out June 15

 

6) Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh

Although this seems like one for the ladies (Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey look like will be shirtless for the majority of the film), this movie about male strippers also looks like it will be a flirtatious, gyrating, all-out-fun ride around the pole of a summer movie. Plus with Soderbergh at the helm you know it is in…well, good hands.

Out June 29.

 

5) Lawless, directed by John Hillcoat

I know, I know, Shia LaBeouf. He’s not my favourite either, but at least the kid tries. And here we have Tom Hardy as a moonshiner and Guy Pearce as a flamboyant lawman to make up for it. A great trailer promises a good old fashioned prohibition era gangster flick, which I can get behind. Plus Jessica Chastain (isn’t she in everything?) is in it, so all the better.

Out August 24

 

4) Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane

Full warning: mature content advisory for the trailer.

Even I, a hardcore college fan, am getting a little tired of Family Guy, but this movie, about a man and his walking, talking teddy bear, looks freaking hilarious. Plus I can’t resist Mark Wahlberg in a comedy role, and his listing off of the trailer trash names in the red band trailer is pure gold. This is the comedy event of the summer.

Out July 13

 

3) Savages, directed by Oliver Stone

This is Taylor Kitsch’s last chance to impress this year (well, not me, but most other people), and I think he has a good chance to do it in this off-the-wall, explosive film from Stone. The set-up looks killer, Travolta looks eccentric and Salma Hayek is ready to kick ass and take names. This looks intense. I’m in.

Out July 6

 

2) The Dark Knight Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan

This is unavoidable and even though I would love to seem cool and not care about it, I’m so flipping excited to see the final chapter in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. This really speaks for itself. We all saw Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. This is the third one. Tom Hardy is Bane. Anne Hathaway is Catwoman. It looks dark and epic and intense. Will likely be the biggest movie of the year. Get some.

Out July 20

 

1) Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott

Dark Knight Rises may be the biggest, but I am ever so slightly more excited about Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi and the Alien franchise (sort of) with Prometheus. I mean, the man directed Blade Runner and Alien. Come. On. The trailer is fantastic, the buzz electric, and if you’re as big a fan of 1980s sci-fi and action epics as I am, this is the summer film for you. And it opens this weekend!

Out June 8

 

So there it is folks, my rundown of the best of the debatable best. Stay tuned to CineFile over the summer to find out if I was right, or if there were some unexpected gems that I didn’t foresee. Either way, remember to stay indoors this summer, away from that dangerous sunshine, and go see a movie. I’ll see you there.