Friday, March 26, 2010

Chloe


What makes a good erotic thriller? The simplest method I've found is what I call "the giggle test." If either or both the dramatic and sexually-charged scenes of a movie make you giggle (or groan) it fails the test. An erotic thriller that makes you guffaw uncontrollably may become a cult classic (see Showgirls) but a slight giggle or two means only mild amusement at best (and only at the expense of those on screen). Chloe doesn't pass the test.

One might expect, given the cast at his disposal and experience in this genre, director Atom Egoyan (Where the Truth Lies, Exotica) fully capable of adapting the French erotic thriller Nathalie... for American audiences. One would be wrong.

The premise is simple, though hardly original. Jealous, possibly unstable, housewife Catherine (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of having an affair. Her chance encounter with a young prostitute named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) leads Catherine to come up with a genius plan to learn the truth. She will pay Chloe to attempt to seduce her husband.

Well, I can't see anything that could possibly go wrong with a plan so genius it's the plot for 20% of the late night movies on Skinamax. Anyway...




Thrown into the mix is Catherine's estranged and troubled son (Max Thieriot). We are never given a reason for his behavior, but that's okay because it (along with other disappearing and reappering traits of other chacters) comes and goes as the script calls for.

The affair itself is told completely from Chloe's perspective who relays the events to Catherine in a Penthouse Letters kind of way. Catherine becomes either crushed or turned-on (as determined randomly by the inconsistent writing of individual scenes).

The structure suggests one of the film's many twists, but in an attempt to keep the audience guessing the script continually throws contrivances in your path. And to keep the insanity going each twist is forced to become more outlandish than the last. For example, in the one instance where clarity should be given to a character allowing the plot to naturally move forward in a new direction instead it leads to a remarkably puzzling choice and series of events that defy even the loosest definition of logic.

Chloe is helped by three strong leading performances, but they can raise the bar of this unimaginative sleaze only so far. Saddled with an increasingly ridiculous script the cast and director do what they can, but there's no saving this sinking ship.


I can only assume Egoyan and everyone involved took this as an opportunity to try and raise a dreadfully bland project to another level - to both titillate and entertain as well as providing opportunities for each actor to bring something special to the project. Sadly, my only real reaction was how embarrassed I felt for every single person involved.

Chloe isn't a good erotic thriller. It's not even a fun movie because it can't find a way to enjoy the insanity it creates with every line of dialogue. The only message of the film seems to be that love and sex are messy. But if that's the case why does the film's ending tie up all the insanity into a neat package, with a bow on top?

The film is neither erotic nor thrilling. Except for some genuinely good acting from Seyfried, and strong performances by both Moore and Neeson, there's almost nothing of here of note (other than the obvious sex scenes some might seek out). Save yourself some time and money and wait for this one to find it's way to late night paid cable where it will undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms.

How to Train Your Dragon


Aside from the fact that How to Train Your Dragon includes Vikings and dragons it's very similiar to many teenage comedies Hollywood has put out over the years.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is your typical Ugly Duckling character. Although the term "nerd" is never uttered it's fair to say if the Vikings had a word for Hiccup this would be the modern translation.

On the Viking island of Berk the clumsy Hiccup is as far from the Viking ideal as one could get, and a constant irritation to his father (Gerard Butler).

Much like nerds of our era, Hiccup struggles with his ineptitude. He thinks too much, makes crazy inventions, and is the butt of jokes by not only the gang his own age but everyone in the village. And, of course, our hero has a crush on a girl (America Ferrera) who's everything he's not: athletic, self-assured, and a true warrior.

Though he might not be a typical Viking, Hiccup does want to take part in his peoples' most important mission - fighting dragons. After trapping a dragon with one of his many inventions Hiccup is unable to kill the wounded creature and instead decides to try and help the creature fly once more.


The film struggles initially with Hiccup's narration describing his world at the same time it is attacked by a swarm of dragons. Some of the narration is lost due to the sounds of battle, and the entire sequence is a little more scatterbrained than I'd like.

There's a possibility that the added effects in the 3-D version might help distract from these issues. Although the version I saw wasn't in 3-D, the way many scenes were laid out it was obvious that if the 3-D was done well the film could really jump off the screen (so to speak).

However, true to its name the movie doesn't really start to click until Hiccup begins training his dragon. And here I'll give some props to screenwriters Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (who adapted the story from the British children's novel by Cressida Cowell). Toothless isn't simply trained. These scenes are actually used quite well to have both characters learn from each other. Toothless learns to trust Hiccup, and Hiccup, through his actions to try and right his wrong, learns more about dragons than any Viking in history.


There are also plots involving Hiccup's relationship with his father, his training to kill dragons, his evolving relationship with Astrid (America), and the tough decisions he's forced to make about his own destiny and place in the world.

I also need to take a moment to mention the true star of the film - Toothless the dragon. I'll give credit to the animators for creating a character that can appear fierce, playful and intelligent. It would be easy to simply dismiss him as Hiccup's pet dragon, but thankfully the script finds ways for Toothless to chose his path as well.

How to Train Your Dragon may not be a great animated movie (at least not in 2-D) but it has all the ingredients for a good pre-summer popcorn flick that all of the family can enjoy

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm glad I'm not the only one


I'm sorry if this means some people want to take away my nerd card, but I've just never gotten the appeal of Kitty Pryde. She can walk through walls...great.

Unlike many, who were attracted the to the character's plainness, the blank slate onto which they could fantasize the perfect teen girlfriend, I was always bored with the character. Even giving her a pet dragon didn't change my opinion.

I could never understand the nerd love for Kitty. With a group that included Storm, Rogue, and Jean Grey, why would anyone go for wallflower Kitty Pryde?

Sorry, just don't see it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Top 10 Movie Dragons

Seeing how DreamWorks' new "How to Train Your Dragon" is about ready to swoop into theaters it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at the history of dragons in feature films. What you will find below is a a list of Top 10 Movie Dragons. Some come from good films, and others... do not. All however are memorable characters who do the title of dragon proud.

A couple of notes before we begin. I was pretty unforgiving on the term dragon (with an exception or two). You won't find demons, dinosaurs, Godzilla, or even Hydras. This list is about dragons. Period. I'll also offer a half-hearted apology for not including the likes of "D-Wars" and "Q - The Winged Serpent" (which I haven't seen) and "Dungeons and Dragons" (which was so awful I can't even remember if it included dragons or not). I'll also take the opportunity to throw out an honorable mention to the dragon from "Shrek" who barely missed the cut.

Enough with the foreplay, now on with the show...

10. Saphira from "Eragon"

Now, Eragon is no Harry Potter, but as dragons go, the last female dragon in all of Alaga√ęsia ain't too shabby. In the film, the blue dragon hatches from the egg growing rapidly to full-size before bonding with her "dragon rider," allowing both to become stronger than either would be separately. Saphira's abilities include a telepathic bond with Eragon along with flight and fire-breath. Even with the armor the dragon wears in the film's climactic battle, Saphira looks every bit the CGI creation she is and never quite becomes the fully-realized character promised in the script.




9. Draco from "Dragonheart"

Speaking of CGI dragons in so-so fantasy flicks, Draco (voiced by the original James Bond) sacrifices part of himself to save a prince (David Thewlis) only to later see his gift wasted when the new king proves to be a brutal tyrannical despot. Blaming Draco for the evil in his heart of his former apprentice, Bowen (Dennis Quaid) begins hunting all dragons. The movie is a preachy and sappy trainwreck, but the design of Draco and the idea of a dragon with the ability to share his life with a mortal does add something distinct to the genre.




8. The Hungarian Horntail from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"

It's only the fact that the Hungarian Horntail has so little to do with the film (and has a very limited, though memorable, amount of screentime) that it doesn't score higher on the list. The Horntail, we are informed, is the most dangerous breed of dragon with a spiked tail almost as fearsome as it's horned head, capable of fire-blasting young Mr. Potter into next week. Of all the dragons on the list, this is the most primal. It's a mean beast to be sure, and menacing as hell, but not evil.




7. The Dragon's Breath from "Excalibur"

Although the dragon himself never appears on camera, the legend and magical properties of his breath are crucial to the heart of John Boorman's adaptation of the King Arthur legend. Even if it only appears as fog or mist, the breath of the dragon is the most powerful force in the film, and, as we learn, something to be respected - and not trifled with. It is through this magical fog--the breath of the dragon hidden deep in the earth--that both Morgana Le Fey (Helen Mirren) and Merlin (Nicol Williamson) are able to use the "Charm of Making" to perform their magic.




6. Mushu from "Mulan"

Mushu might be the smallest dragon on the list, but that doesn't mean he's to be ignored. Once the guardian angel of Mulan's family, the fallen Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is given a chance at redemption by turning the young runaway (Ming-Na) into a Chinese war hero. Aside from offering Disney's usual brand of sidekick comic relief, Mushu's abilities also allow him to communicate with a variety of animals over the course of the film, as well as breathe fire. Oh, and he also excels in getting Mulan into all kinds of trouble.




5. Dragons from "Reign of Fire"

From one of the most singular dragon characters on the list we change gears dramatically for a horde of nameless dragons. The dragons in "Reign of Fire" individually may not be all that memorable, but, unlike the other movies mentioned on this list, what the film lacks in quality in more than makes up for in quantity. Though there is only one male dragon the band of survivors (led by Matthew McConaughey) hunt, the film is filled with with many flying dragons that allow for some good action sequences, if not always good writing.




4. Falcor from "The Neverending Story"

Falcor stands out (and almost didn't make the cut) because he's a far cry from the image I have of a dragon. Though his appearance (puppy dog face and floppy ears) is far removed from the original German novel, Falcor is a luckdragon, and as such belongs on the list. Though he lacks scales, or magical abilities, our luckdragon is a powerful companion who flies, breathes fire, and is both intelligent and lucky. Falcor also seems to have a lasting legacy as you can see his reflection in at least two of the dragons we've already covered: Saphira and Draco.




3. Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty"

Of all of Walt Disney's villains, both classic and contemporary, there are few (if any) that can match both the power and menace of the "Mistress of All Evil." Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) diabolically curses the recently born princess. Years later Maleficent is forced to throw everything in the path of Prince Phillip (who alone can wake the sleeping beauty) including a dungeon, countless minions, and a forest of thorns. When all else fails, the witch transforms herself into a gigantic black dragon in one of Disney's most memorable moments.




2. Elliot from "Pete's Dragon"

With the possible exception of Falcor, none of the dragons on this list have the spirit nor the heart of Elliot. Decades before "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Disney created a live-action film about a young orphan (Sean Marshall) and his animated invisible green and purple dragon. Though a good friend, Elliot's clumsiness often gets Pete into trouble with both the townspeople and traveling salesmen. However, when Pete finds himself in danger, it's Elliot who rescues him, along with Nora's fiancé, and reveals himself as a real hero to the rest of the town.




1. Vermithrax Pejorative from "Dragonslayer"

It's been almost 30 years and Hollywood still has yet to create a dragon, or a movie about dragons, that matches "Dragonslayer." "Ally McBeal's" John Cage (Peter MacNicol) is a young wizard apprentice who is tasked with killing the ancient dragon Vermithrax Pejorative who has been terrorizing the kingdom of Urland for years. The dragon presented here might show his age a little, and might not quite rate as high in terms of design as some of the newer CGI creations on this list, but this dragon has definite presence, a cunning (if still primal) mind, and a hidden cave perfect for the movie's final showdown. This dragon includes the best qualities from many of those on the list and that's why it earns the number-one spot.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Green Hornet: Year One #1


Somebody please send a copy of this to Kevin Smith. Smith may have fumbled the ball with his new interpretation of the Green Hornet for Dynamite, but Matt Wagner proves there is a spot for the character in comics today.

Taking the Year One approach, Wagner gives us bits of the early lives of both Britt Reid and Kato inter-cut with the Green Hornet's first appearance on the scene. Those who have been reading Wagner's work in Zorro will see much the same here.

Though Wagner gets a little cute once or twice for me (such as the "green hornet" Britt sees in his father's entomology collection) there's quite a bit to enjoy here including the art by Aaron Campbell.

My favorite moment is the image above where Reid's first attempt at heroing is only partly successful, but, in keeping with the origins of the character, he immeadiately decides to rebrand the Hornet. Reid realizes he may be able to do more good if people believe the Green Hornet is a rival gangster to be feared than a hero to be worshipped.

Definitely worth a look.

[Dynamite $3.99]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Siege #3 (of 4)


'bout time! This is more like it. The return of Captain America and Iron Man both to the battlefield, the first real appearance of Norman Osborne's alter-ego, one kick-ass battle for Asgard, the helplessness of the U.S. Government watching these events unfold, and the final word from The Sentry. Yeah, this one's got it all. Now let's just hope all the tie-ins actually continue to move the story (instead of pausing it yet again) helping to set-up the final issue wrap-up.

Pick it up!

[Marvel $3.99]

Dark Avengers #15



The action's picking up. Doctor Doom gets his ass handed to him by The Void (so Osborne's ace-in-the-hole was, and wasn't, the Sentry), and Bullesye takes the opportunity the confusion calls to do Norman Osborne a favor and kill Bob's wife (rather graphically). Actually, I would have liked more of the Doom storyline, but at least events in this issue are moving the story forward (which is more than I can say for much of the Siege tie-ins).

[Marvel $3.99]

Booster Gold #30


The conflict, whether explicit or implicit (depending on the issue), central to the current Booster Gold comic is how a hero can allow awful events to unfold when he might have the power to stop them.

Here Booster is reunied with Michelle just minutes before the end of Coast City. It’s in these moments that time traveler Sondra Crain asks Booster the question our time-traveling hero still hasn’t work out quite yet: How can he call himself a hero and let millions die at the same time?

Sooner or late,r whether it’s current write Dan Jurgens or someone else, Booster is going to have to sit down and make some hard decisions and come up with his own definition and philosophy of a time traveling hero. Here where given a tiny glimpse of the future of our hero, but for now I guess we’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride.

[DC $2.99]

Have a Guinness on the Dark Lord of the Sith

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Deadshot...


...is a total asshole.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catman...


...wants his friend back.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It may be a day late, but Batman...

...wants me to have a happy birthday

Friday, March 12, 2010

She's Out of My League

Take your average Ben Stiller vehicle (such as Meet the Parents or Along Came Polly), sift it through a Judd Apatow filter, and what you get is something like She's Out of My League. Original? Not really, but that doesn't mean there's not some fun to be had.

Jay Baruchel your typical slacker loser you'll not doubt recognize from similar movies. He's got a dead-end job, absolutely no confidence or self-respect, a crappy car, and appropriately riotous friends (T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrence). Kirk's life is even more pathetic thanks to a family who cares more about his ex-girlfriend (Lindsay Sloane) and her new boyfriend than our star.

In his job as an airport security officer Kirk meets the lovely Molly (Alice Eve). Without really realizing it Kirk does a couple of favors and the beautiful damsel in distress. Molly, who's just getting out of relationship with a real jerk (who wants to bet he's the opposite of Kirk in every possible way?), decides to give this unsuspecting loser a try.

What follows is a burgeoning love story in-between comic moments of everyone either disbelieving Kirk's dumb luck or endlessly preaching that he's not good enough for Molly. Throw in a slew of absurd and embarrassing situations our hero attemps (and usually fails) to extricate himself from, and the story is off and running.

There's nothing all that special about She's Out of My League. We've seen this basic set-up before and there's absolutely no doubt how this one will end. The film also struggles at times being almost as awkward as its leading man. We're given little reason as to why Kirk continually returns to the far less than loving embrace of his family (other than to provide more absurd comic fodder), and the film falls back on cliche with the trademark romcom final act fight intended only to bring our lovers closer together.

That doesn't mean it's not worth a look. Along its rather predictable run the film does provide some funny moments, a nice (if somewhat schmaltzy) lesson about measuring someone's worth, and Baruchel and Eve both prove likable leads.

Learning a lesson from Apatow, the film's best parts aren't from the overly-elaborate Stiller-esk stunts, but from the male bonding scenes between Kirk and his pals. It's in these moments the film not only feels the most authentic but also provides some of the best laughs.

You could probably do better, but if you're looking for nothing more than for a fun night at the movies than this one is definitely in your league.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Secret Six #19

I love this comic. Let's see: Bane's now in charge of the team, Ragdoll's acting normal and has feelings for Black Alice (which she seems to reciprocate), Cheshire is back (and under siege), and Catman's been given an offer that he may not be able to refuse. Okay, none of these things sound particularly good for our "heroes," but that doesn't mean it doesn't translate into a awesome story. Yeah, things are getting GOOD!

BUY IT!!!

[DC $2.99]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Batgirl #8 & Red Robin #10

Dealing with exes can be tricky business (especially when your common interests involve dressing up in tights and beating up criminals). If you're going to pick one of these issues up you're going to need both of them. If you haven't been reading Red Robin (shame on you!) Tim Drake (sorry, I just can't bring myself to call him Tim Wayne) has royally pissed off Ra's al Ghul who has declared war on everything Tim holds dear.

So, yeah, Tim's return to Gotham isn't going so well. First, in Batgirl he's put-off by the idea of his former girlfriend as the new Batgirl, and then further troubled when he needs her help to stop the League of Assassins from killing Leslie Thompkins. They are successful, but that's just the tip of the iceberg...

The storyline continues in Red Robin where the pair learn that Thompkins is only one of a dozen targets on the League's hit list including Hush who Ra's has decided to meet with personally.

I've consistently liked Red Robin (and surprisingly liked Batgirl as well - despite my lack of affection for this version of the heroine) and adding throwing the pair together makes for some fun reading.

I'm also glad to see that Tim's recent betrayal of the League of Assassins is having immediate, as well as possible longterm, consequences. Even with Bruce Wayne these two Bat-books are proving to put out good material every month, and both are definitely worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Green Hornet #1



Wow, is this awful! Dynamite Entertainment puts out some good titles, but when they miss they miss badly. Kevin Smith takes the opportunity to grab the reigns of this Golden Age crime-fighter and basically give us his watered down version of The Mask of Zorro complete with long monologues, insipid dialogue between spouses, and puns. Bad ones.

I like the character of the Green Hornet, and I am hopeful that Matt Wagner's upcoming "Year One" series might do some justice to the character. But whether it does or not it will almost certainly be better than this. It certainly couldn't be worse.

[Dynamite $3.99]

Monday, March 8, 2010

Batman...



...loves people of all colors, creeds, and nationalities.

(Except the Dutch)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Red Sonja...



...wants to know more.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Ghost Writer


Historically not all of Roman Polanski’s choices have been good ones (and I’m not just talking about Pirates). Say what you want about the director’s personal life, the man knows how to tell a story and how to build and hold dramatic tension without relying on unnecessarily cheap plot twists.

Adapted from the Robert Harris novel The Ghost, The Ghost Writer begins with the death of a ghost writer working on former British Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) autobiography.

Into the fray steps the new Ghost (Ewan McGregor), never referred to by name, who soon has second thoughts about taking the job. Our new writer’s job is made more complicated by his subject being charged publicly with war crimes, a sneaking suspicion of other dark secrets hidden in the shadows, a media frenzy, and a growing paranoia of his over his safety.

Although the film presents us with everything we need to solve the mystery, when it’s revealed there’s no disappointment. On the contrary, the story plays out (unlike many Hollywood films) not to shock or surprise the audience, but only to complete a compelling tale.


Even as the film gives us many of the pieces to the puzzle, it keeps just enough in reserve to allow for several possible outcomes. And the one chosen is just right. Polanski is a master in giving the us not always the ending we expect, or even want, but he almost always delivers the ending the film deserves. And Ghost Writer is no exception.

To help keep us in suspense Polanski gives us a character that, though smart, is constantly making bad decisions. This central flaw allows our Ghost to repeatedly put himself in situations where a more prudent soul would fear to tread.

McGregor is well-cast in role that allows him to play equal parts curious and paranoid. Brosnan is a smart choice for the Tony Blair-like Lang, and the supporting cast includes strong performances from both Olivia Williams and Tom Wilkinson. I’ve also got to give a little love to both Timothy Hutton and an almost unrecognizable James Belushi for their small roles in the film.

The Ghost Writer may be more Frantic than Chinatown, but it’s still a damn good time at the movies. Aside from the possible exceptions of few Oscar favorites still playing in theaters, you’ll have to look long and hard to find a better time at the movies this time of year.

Monday, March 1, 2010

WWBCD?



A question we should all ask ourselves more often.