Friday, December 30, 2011

One A Week Reviews #52: Captain America: The First Avenger

I wish you a terrific New Year's Eve - I for one have some BIG resolutions on deck (What other kind would I have?) - here's the last weekly review for 2011, but have no fear, because there's a whole new set of 52 heading your way for 2012. 

See you next week... year... week... 

Comic books. I love 'em. Always have, and admitted a long time ago, I always will. Captain America was never a favorite though. He was a character who never struck me as having many dimensions. He represents the indomitable, unstoppable will and tenaciousness of the American dream. However, he is not nuanced. Captain America: The First Avenger, however, is a surprisingly satisfying treatment of the character and his story.

What can be done with CGI now really does finally fool the eye and the mind. Backgrounds and chase scenes are one (still-imperfect) thing, and it's easier for the brain to go "that is clearly special effects." Many of the composite assemblages aim for a depth that isn't earned and not quite pulled off. It doesn't convince. CGI works best when subtle, and seeing Chris Evans' face pasted perfectly onto a skinny body is pretty disorienting. Any viewer not familiar with what he looks like probably gets pretty startled when he turns up into a bohunk. Scrawny Steve Rogers desperately wants to ship out to WWII but is simply too small and sickly to make the draft. 4F, though they should have altered Evans' deep, resonant voice, he's ready to do anything to help win the war. Recruited by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) into the Super Solider program, he becomes the one-of-a-kind slab of super-beef, Captain America. He even goes from being dwarfed by his friend Bucky to turning him into a sidekick. Colonel Phillips (a very weathered Tommy Lee Jones) and British Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) lead the program Rogers gets recruited for. To the stories credit, he trains as his sickly version and is shown to have the never-say-die spirit and ingenuity you'd hope for him to have.

 (Superheroics and a photograph of Chris Evans' chest... after the break)

Friday, December 23, 2011

One A Week Reviews #51: Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane

What other Christmas present would Big Lug Land have for you other than the review of a truly campy, trashy, and fun movie? It's a lump of fun for your stocking!

I love awful movies set on airplanes. Be it any of the four Airport flicks, Turbulence one, two or three, Snakes on a Plane, Murder on Flight 502 or even Skyjacked, dumb airline thrillers are a particular thrill for me. If anything it's a wonder I waited so long to see this. Maybe it's just because I never fly on any of these giant two-story wide-bodied jets... I fly Southwest (I'm not famous, no worries about getting thrown off).

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane is actually a smart conceit. It confines a ravaging, throat-ripping attack like this in one of the ultimate isolated environments. There's literally nowhere to go, and nowhere to land. Most zombie films turn into sieges, anyhow. You couple that with the fact that a) most people hate flying and b) planes are claustrophobic, and you have the makings of a good, high-concept, Saturday night potboiler of a flick... and "Zombie Hijacking" pretty much qualifies as "high concept."

This one opens up mid-flight with an Apartment 3-G trio of stewardesses excited to go to Paris, a criminal cuffed to a cop, and a group of scientists transporting one of their own who's stored in an icebox in the cargo hold... because she's infected with a ZOMBIE VIRUS. When the pilot, who's of course on his last flight before retirement, powers through some rough weather, the turbulence winds up opening up the techno Coleman cooler, she pops out looking and acting normal, but quickly goes the Full Brain-Munching-Monty. You can't blame her after her guard shoots an Uzi at her in the plane's cargo hold (which resembles my basement more than any airplane I've ever been on).

(Yeah, it gets ugly from here on out...)

Friday, December 16, 2011

One A Week Reviews #50: The Last Circus

A true original, and the most fractured of fairy tales, reviewed for DVD Snapshot.

The Last Circus

Official Synopsis:

Javier, a Sad Clown, finds work in a circus where he befriends an outlandish cast of characters, including the brutish Happy Clown, Sergio, who humiliates Javier daily in the name of entertainment. It is here that he meets Natalia, a gorgeous acrobat and abused wife of Sergio. Javier falls deeply in love with Natalia and tries to rescue her from her cruel and violent husband, unleashing Sergio's jealousy. With neither man willing to back down, this twisted love triangle evolves into a ferocious battle between Sad Clown and Happy Clown, escalating to unbelievable heights in this shocking, irreverent and unforgettable film.

Our Take:

There's little more satisfying for moviegoers than a strong, meaty story told in a dazzling manner. Alex de la Iglesia's The Last Circus (Balada Triste de Trompeta) is some fantastically theatrical eye-candy that offers style and substance. Visually there's1973 fashions complemented with cutting-edge CGI and a modern horror aesthetic. It's coupled with politically-influenced social commentary you can imagine being current in the Seventies. Even those who can't stand subtitles should like this film.
(Seriously, keep reading...)

Friday, December 9, 2011

One A Week Reviews #49: The Perfect Host

To tell too much about the plot of The Perfect Host is to spoil it. The basic setup is that thief-on-the-run John gets much more than he bargained for hiding out at Warwick Wilson's lovely LA home. He starts pulling a con but winds up the guest of honor. Between conga lines, cocktails, and even chess it winds up being a very unusual evening.

A showcase for David Hyde Pierce, he's roundly excellent as Warwick, and the star attraction here. That WASP-y, patrician poise he's famous for balances with suspense, surprise, and moments of violence. He's also clearly having a great deal of fun as his character constantly turns on a dime, going from one extreme to another. The goodwill he won over a decade as "Niles Crane" isn't at all the baggage one might expect, though Warwick at first seems quite similar. This, however, makes his character's personality changes throughout the story seem like a case of "trying too hard to butch up."

(Stay for the party: Read on!)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Big Lug Tumblr is GO

Well, I finally joined the 21st century and have added a tumblr to the mix. Feel free to follow as the empire grows!

Friday, December 2, 2011

One A Week Reviews #48: Prince of Broadway

This is one I warmed up to. A kitchen sink drama of the first order that I reviewed for DVD Snapshot, this is a refreshing change of pace.

Prince of Broadway
Official Synopsis:
Prince of Broadway is the story of Lucky (Prince Adu) and Levon (Karren Karagulian), two men whose lives converge in the underbelly of New York's wholesale fashion district. Lucky, an illegal immigrant from Ghana, makes ends meet by soliciting shoppers on the street with knock-off brand merchandise. Levon, an Armenian-Lebanese immigrant, operates an illegal storefront with a concealed back room where counterfeit goods are showcased to interested shoppers. Lucky's world is suddenly turned upside down when a child is thrust into his life by a woman who insists the toddler is his son. While Lucky copes with his new domestic dilemma, Levon struggles to save a marriage that is falling apart. The seedy side of the wholesale district is revealed through a journey that continually confronts the interplay between what is fake and what is real.

Set in the shadow of the Flatiron building and soaked in the colorful bustle of Broadway, the film is as much a brutal drama as it is a tender comedy, revealing the lives of immigrants in America seeking ideals of family and love while creating their own knock-off of the American Dream.

Our Take:

A low-budget, slice-of-life relationship drama about two different New York City hustlers and the families they create, Prince of Broadway practically feels like a documentary. A collection of belligerent hustlers muddle through trying to get ahead, all the while arguing. There's even fighting in traffic. Feeling improvised and free-form, the film is centered in the claustrophobic back room of Levon's store and Lucky's dirty rented room. There's an oppressive hopelessness to the characters' homes and workplaces that, from the very start of this movie, might make you reconsider watching. It's hard to root for being “aspirational” here. Even Levon's relatively well-appointed (but tiny) apartment is depressing. (Perhaps it's because I'm not a New Yorker. I'm used to space and occasional quiet.)