Saturday, September 7, 2013

Movie Reviews-Pain & Gain, The Colony, Three Extremes

Pain & Gain
directed by Michael Bay
Back in the day there was a late night infomercial get rich quick scheme promulgated by Tom Vu. Like all good pimps salesmen Vu played on his audience's fears to convince them that they had what it took to make him money to make themselves rich. Vu stood apart because of his VERY strong Vietnamese accent and because he openly and unabashedly aimed at his apparently mostly male audience's base desires of women, cars and big houses. Especially women. In his commercials the diminutive Vu would be surrounded by numerous curvaceous women. To his audience this evidently proved his business model worked. Vu denigrated people who didn't believe in his process as "dummies" or "losahs". His thick accent and seeming earnest nature explained his appeal. It's probable that just as many people were laughing at him as with him but when your business model involves a "free" seminar followed by suckers buying your hugely overpriced semi-worthless materials, you only need to slaughter a few sheep to make big bucks. It's all about volume evidently. Vu is a high stakes poker player now.
Pain & Gain follows three bodybuilders who decide, after inspiration from the Vu stand-in, to grab the good life (women, cars and big houses) for themselves, legalities be dammed. 

The film attempts a broad comedic stance before flipping to black comedy. But because this story involves kidnapping, torture and murder there are few directors (Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie are among them) who could pull this off. I don't think Bay fully succeeded. The film is about 20 minutes too long. If you are sensitive to stereotypes there is a black man with a strong preference for fat white women, a Jewish man who would rather be tortured for days than surrender one thin dime and a dumb Eastern European woman who seeks work as a highly paid prostitute. YMMV. This was based on a real life story. There are some funny scenes but they a) mostly involve Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (damn that is one HUGE man) b) are few and far between and c) make you feel guilty for laughing at them.
Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a would be entrepreneurial ex-con and fitness fanatic. He works as a personal trainer in a body beautiful gym that he helped to make the hip and happening place to be. But he's unhappy with his life. He believe he's running out of time to make a mark. So he's fresh meat for Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) who urges people to be "doers". That is Wu's mantra, that is when the sexist Wu is not telling his assistants to get the "b*****s on the boat" so they can go on to their next gig. Duly inspired, Danny starts paying closer attention to his latest client, the smug, crass and totally unlikable Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a successful small businessman with his fingers in a lot of profitable pies, not all of which might pass IRS or other legal scrutiny. Kershaw just can't stop boasting about all the money he has, women he sleeps with, or taxes he doesn't pay. Danny decides that Kershaw doesn't actually need all of that wealth. In fact, as far as Danny is concerned, the congenitally irritating Kershaw doesn't need any of it. Danny is going to be a doer and TAKE his piece of the pie from Kershaw. Danny is ready for the big time right now!
Danny recruits Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a fellow trainer with a taste for plus sized women and a set of steroid damaged twig and berries, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a gentle giant of a man who's devoutly religious. Doyle sees himself as a peacemaker but his idea of making peace is to stomp a mudhole in someone's a$$. And he will praise Jesus while doing so. He's an ex-con and is prone to sudden attacks of conscience. These three men, none of whom are cursed with devious or even particularly quick brains, decide to kidnap Kershaw, force him to sign over his wealth to them, and then kill him. It's a piece of cake and as easy as pie. Yes? No. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong and before long all of the men are being trailed by semi-retired private eye and former cop Ed Dubois (Ed Harris). Dubois is both amused and insulted by this group. He can't believe how stupid or greedy they are.
And not even the gargantuan feminine pleasures of Robin (Rebel Wilson) or the more typically hourglass sultry stylings of Sorina (Bar Paly) can make these men's lives better, as one crime begets another and murder leads to more murder. Evil leads to evil and more evil and more evil and so on.
As mentioned because the trio's actions are so unpleasant it's difficult if not impossible to root for them or even identify with them. So I had a little bit of distance watching this movie. Kershaw is depicted as a real slimeball in order to try to gin up sympathy for the people who kidnap him. The humor is often jarring. Because Danny and company are both cheap and stupid they try to return tools used in crimes and get refunds. They attempt to set up a neighborhood watch group while high on cocaine. I thought Wahlberg did a good job of playing a person who's dumb but is somehow convinced he is smart. The Rolling Stones' song Can't You Hear Me Knocking, which was used to such incredible effect in Casino and Blow, makes an appearance here but just like Adrian, it's limp. Michael Rispoli, Peter Stomare, Rob Corddry, Tony Plana, and Larry Hankin also have roles.

The Colony
directed by Jeff Renfroe
Do you have a child of your own or perhaps a young niece, nephew, cousin or grandchild who creates some art and displays it to you with anticipation and hope in their eyes? Or perhaps you're married or otherwise involved with an artistic person who requests your feedback on their latest creation. Well you'd have to be pretty cold to laugh at that person's creation and tell them that it was derivative, empty and not very well done. Most of us would mute our criticism or couch it in the mildest terms possible UNLESS the relationship is so strong and everyone is so mature that 100% brutal honesty is both demanded and given. I was reminded of these sorts of experiences watching this film. It's a paint by numbers sci-fi/horror film. I don't blame it for being that. I knew that going in. The question is how well is the story executed and whether or not the characters and special effects grab your interest. I think the film falls a little short. The film was shot in and around former NORAD facilities which gave it some nice verisimilitude. The special effects are very obviously CGI.
In the future, because of global climate change humans have created a worldwide network of weather modification stations. It's not explained very well and for purposes of the film (and this review) doesn't need to be. These stations either malfunctioned or worked too well and large portions of the planet were cut off from the Sun via some sort of greenhouse effect. Shortly afterwards a second ice age ensued. Billions of humans perished. Small groups of survivors eke out pitiful existences in underground colonies. Food and water are at a premium while paranoia runs high. One such colony is presided over by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) who as a former soldier is tough but fair. Briggs' second in command and fellow veteran Mason (Bill Paxton) is more tough than fair. He has the responsibility of identifying and expelling/executing people who are sick and don't get better. He's supposed to give them a choice between expulsion and execution but of late just kills them. 
The colony receives a distress signal from another colony. Briggs intends to go help. Among other volunteers he takes Sam (Kevin Zegers) with him. Briggs is worried by Mason's attitude and after some harsh words he leaves Sam's girlfriend Kai (Charlotte Sullivan) in charge and departs, promising there will be more permanent changes upon his return. Obviously the colony should have ignored that distress signal. This was a classic B movie. It was recycled cheese with a side order of spam. It was okay to watch IF you do not have very high expectations. The Colony is a perfect movie for a lazy Saturday afternoon. Last stands abound. If I ever am in a last stand I want an automatic or at least a semi-automatic weapon, not a bolt-action. But I suppose bolt-actions work better for drama. Can you center the rifle sights on your target, aim, shoot, reacquire a target and rework the bolt in a smooth motion to keep up a steady rate of fire? Sure you can. Unless you happen to be an extra in a B movie when the script calls for a jammed bolt. That'll just ruin your day.

Three Extremes
This is an interesting collection of three short films by three different Asian directors. Obviously it is subtitled for the English speaking audience. The first short is directed by Chinese director Fruit Chan and is titled DumplingsSouth Korean director Park Chan-Wook helms the second feature which is titled Cut. And the last is directed by Japanese director Takashi Miike and titled Box. These are horror films folks. So if you don't like explicit horror this is probably not the film for you. Squeamish folks would do well to pass this by. Although it's not always or necessarily supernatural horror, it is incredibly creepy stuff. I'm serious about this. These shorts take themselves seriously indeed. Each is definitely trying to shock you, gross you out or make you think, sometimes all at once. Each short film is extremely well shot with very colorful cinematography. For my money Dumplings was the standout here. It was extended to a full length film. After I saw the short I ordered the full length version of Dumplings. But I will need to order a different version. The version I had ordered wasn't compatible with US area blu-ray players. Go figure. All three shorts were similar to, if harsher than, some of the best stuff from Tales from the Crypt or the Friday the 13th TV series. So if you ARE a horror fan you should definitely have this in your collection.

I'm not sure exactly when Bai Ling became a stereotypical joke of an actress, more famous for appearing half-nude in public than for her theatrical work but in Dumplings her acting was still on point. Obviously there is still some erotic display- the camera loves the down blouse shots of Bai Ling - but I had no problems with that. The story is pretty disturbing and disgusting once you realize what's really going on. Although cultures vary widely across the planet, one thing which seems to be pretty consistent is that youth and beauty are valued greatly, especially in and by women. Dumplings is an almost clinical look at what some women will do to keep their youth and beauty. It's not really a morality play. The people doing evil are not worried by their actions. This is the strongest and creepiest piece here. The subject matter, well let's just say not only does this film touch some basic worldwide human taboos it depicts the breaking of several. 
Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) is an middle aged woman who's losing her looks and intuitively knows that her husband (Tony Leung) is doing the do with someone else. Although hubby is polite and conscientious towards his wife, he never initiates intimacy or displays any passion beyond that which he might show to his grandmother. Dismayed and looking to get her groove back Mrs. Li meets with Aunt Mei (Bai Ling), a woman known for helping women regain and retain their feminine wiles. Mei is what you might call an organic foods enthusiast. She makes her special dumplings for Mrs Li. Despite Mei looking like well, Bai Ling, she gives off the impression of being older, MUCH older. You know how old people stereotypically just blurt out what's on their mind without regard to courtesy or propriety? That's Mei. 
Mrs. Li starts noticing some positive changes in her weight, skin elasticity and looks. Mei knows what she's doing. A big secret is revealed pretty early and although the audience will hopefully be shocked and horrified, Mrs. Li certainly isn't. How far would you go to regain your youth?  Beware the gross-out. 

This is basically Saw. I believe this came out at the same time as Saw. I don't know who influenced whom or if it was pure coincidence. Cut is indeed a morality play that asks you how good are you really and what would you do to save yourself or your spouse. A successful film director (Lee-Byung Hun) returns to his spacious mansion and is knocked out. Upon waking he finds that he, his wife (Kang Hye-Jung) and a small child have all been restrained by a madman with a grudge. This madman (Im Won-Hee) spends a lot of time trying to get the director to figure out who he is. Wrong guesses or refusals to play the game are punished by beatings, screaming fits or worst of all severing of the wife's fingers. She is a concert pianist.
The lunatic was a film extra. The director was kind to this man. But this nut was so twisted that he felt embarrassed by the director's good nature. Though he admired the director he hated that not only did the director have more money, fame, and a better looking wife than he did, but also that he was a nicer person. This sent him over the edge and now crazy boy wants to humiliate and destroy the director. He wants to bring the director down to his level. 

I can hardly write anything about this short without giving away spoilers so I want to see if I can describe basic things about the story and cinematography in five to seven sentences and shut up. It's a very weird flick. It once again shows that Freud and the Oedipus myth might have had some insights not just limited to the people of their time and culture but human beings in general. This film is VERY reminiscent of David Lynch's weirder stuff. It concerns a woman Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) who as a child performed in a circus with her twin sister with whom she had a romantic rivalry. Now she's having dreams of her dead sister and of being buried in a box.  And dreams and reality are starting to merge.

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