I haven't read any reviews of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but I suspect that this adaptation of Hasbro's toy line is taking a lot of shit from critics. This is the kind of movie that reviewers take great pleasure in trouncing, and it'll doubtless receive disparaging comparisons to recent crap like Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Studios should get the hint and stop titling their pics with colons and subtitles.) It's a shame, because despite the fact that it's a big, loud, stupid action movie, G.I. Joe is actually quite fun.
In a summer of bloated, self-important event pictures, G.I. Joe comes as a breath of fresh air. Stephen Sommers, a director responsible for popcorn movies that are sometimes enjoyable (The Mummy) and sometimes unwatchable (Van Helsing), takes on the source material with tongue-in-cheek levity and puts Michael Bay in his place by making a toy movie that should actually appeal to children. I can't imagine a child enjoying the cracked-out chaos of Transformers much more than their unlucky accompanying guardian.
G.I. Joe, on the other hand, will likely become the new favorite movie of 10-year-olds across the world, and with good reason; Sommers knows that photo-realistic CGI can only go so far, and instead focuses on creating a rambunctious action movie that is brimming with personality (though it has preposterous CGI aplenty). It's campy, outlandish, and intellectually impaired, but is so upfront about its shortcomings that after ten minutes one has no choice but to surrender to their inner sugar cereal-eating 8-year-old.
Those who grew up on the toys and cartoon will likely have a nostalgic fit as characters like Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Duke, Scarlett and Ripcord are introduced. A few things have changed; in keeping with the current one-world climate, the Joes have been changed from American soldiers to members of a global task force. Cobra is still a terrorist organization hellbent on ruling the world, though it doesn't become Cobra until the end of the film.
As the title suggests, this is an origin story about the bad guys. A power hungry Scottish guy named McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) has acquired a new weapons technology involving nanomites (like termites, but worse) and plans on using it to destroy several major cities, sending the world's population into a panic and paving the way for him to become Earth's dictator. He has a faithful assistant in the Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a deformed, mask-wearing evil genius who looks like the love child of Darth Vader and the Queen Borg, and a lover in the Baroness (Sienna Miller), a leather-clad honey pot who might not be as bad as she seems.
The Joes, led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), know something's up with McCullen, and recruit foot soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) to help stop him. They join Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), a super-smart expert in stuff that requires reading and math whose day job is possibly as a Maxim centerfold, Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a hulking soldier whose gravitas feels out of place in a movie about Eiffel Tower-eating bugs, and Snake Eyes (Ray Park) a ninja who is silent and wears a mask to disguise the fact that he's actually caucasian. Snake Eyes has a mirror in his fake brother Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), an evil ninja who likes to off security guards and unlucky bystanders with chinese stars.
The plot is a mindless but entertaining map to a series of action sequences that are ridiculous by design but executed with flair by Sommers, who knows a thing or two about ludicrous action. As mentioned before, the nanomites are unleashed on the Eiffel Tower. McCullen and the Doctor are stationed in a massive station at the bottom of the ocean, beneath the Arctic Circle. Duke and Ripcord wear suits that allow them to leap tall buildings, dodge missiles and run faster than cars. It's all beyond silly, but it's the kind of silly that makes you smile like a little kid. After a summer of groan-inducing pap, a smile is a welcome change. G.I. Joe elicited a full theater's worth of smiles; it's exactly what a summer event movie should be.
Rhyme and Reason
The trailer for (500) Days of Summer is very misleading. Despite the narrator's warning, "This is not a love story, but a story about love," the preview presents a visually arresting fantasy romance with a sophisticated pop culture sensibility (boy meets girl over mutual Smiths infatuation), a hipster's date movie in the vein of Garden State and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist.
Visually arresting? Yes. Cool kid name-dropping? Definitely (the protagonist wears an Unknown Pleasures t-shirt when he's 10 years old). Date movie? Can't think of a better one.
But a fantasy it's not. On the contrary; Days of Summer is actually one of the more perceptive movies about 20-something love to ever come out of Hollywood. Rather than being about two precious creatures who meet-cute and then overcome obstacles like terminal quirkiness and differing tastes in music to live happily ever after, the movie focuses mostly on the pain of discovering that the fantasy doesn't exist.
Its characters are flawed, dysfunctional and sometimes flat-out unlikeable. The boy whines a lot and overanalyzes the relationship. The girl is the type whose independence is so pronounced that it's easier for the guy to assume she's flaky. They connect over surface interests like The Smiths, and then gradually realize that their relationship isn't working. The tagline could well be "This is not a hipster's love story, but a story about hipsters who kind of like each other but have a lot of problems."
When greeting card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spies the new office assistant Summer (Zooey Deschanel), he obsesses over her for days, makes awkward attempts to talk to her, and assaults his faithful friends' ears with updates on what revealing bit of info she spoke on the elevator. (In Tom's mind, Summer saying that her weekend "was... good" means that she spent it having sex with a gym worker.)
The narrator tells that a childhood infatuation with '80s British pop instilled a misguided sense of romantic yearning in Tom, which explains why he's such a whiny bitch throughout the movie--too much Morrissey and Joy Division--that and a fatal misreading of The Graduate's ending.
Summer is obviously aloof, possibly damaged and too independent to fit in his naive world of instant commitment and happy endings. She doesn't believe in love, which is a problem for Tom, who believes too much in it. She gives him a shot though, and despite her upfront warnings of, "I'm not looking for anything serious," he falls head over heels in a matter of weeks. He recklessly assumes that his feelings indicate that the coupling was meant to be; meanwhile Summer is souring the relationship.
The couple's gradual disintegration is chronicled in a non-linear fashion, with title cards indicating the day (one being the first day he saw her, 500 being the last).
Stylistic flourishes abound, such as the morning after their first night together, when Tom's euphoria is illustrated through an imaginary dance number involving a bunch of pedestrians and an animated blue bird.
Director Marc Webb and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber refuse to let the story digress into contrivance or easy plot resolution. Happily ever after isn't in the cards, and the filmmakers have no interest in tricking the audience into thinking otherwise. By fragmenting the timeline, they allow viewers to piece together why the relationship is doomed based on who the characters are, rather than what an artificial plot allows happening. This method makes for a more detached viewing of the highs and lows of the relationship; instead of getting swept up in the initial romance, the viewer is forced to actively think about the disparity between Tom's fantasy and Summer's reality.
This is the biggest secret to why (500) Days of Summer is so good; there's a rhyme and reason to every stylistic detour, every pop culture reference and every precious moment that could otherwise be perceived as shallow indie quirk.
It all serves the story, a familiar one that many people will inevitably feel a kinship with. In that sense, it should appeal more to the Toms of the world, the ones who, like the character, mourn breakups by watching movies and imagining themselves as the protagonist. As romantic comedies go, it doesn't get better than this.
Two-word movie titles that begin with the adjective American should be banned by the MPAA. It's gotten to the point that I zone out when I hear American anything. At this point, it's pretentious, unoriginal, and screams, "We can't think of a better title, so we're going with the old 'American' standby."
Since American Beauty, there's been a slew of titles that use our country as a modifier in order to assign some sort of broad, overarching meaning to the film's subject matter.
Now we have American Violet, a self-important but well-meaning film that is exactly what its title implies: earnest, broad and generic. It's not a terrible movie. As a righteousness prevails "based on a true story" courtroom drama, it could be much worse. But a shallow script that eschews real-life complexity for heavy-handed preaching combined with a modest budget put to unimaginative use makes for an above-average Lifetime melodrama, rather than the urgent docudrama it clearly wants to be.
In November of 2000, the DA of Melody, Texas orchestrated a massive drug raid on a government housing complex that resulted in the arrest of dozens of poor African-Americans. Many of them were innocent; the raid was conducted to make easy arrests on people desperate enough to make plea bargains. The plea bargains translated into convictions, and the convictions brought money from the federal government, which offered monetary incentive to cities with high drug conviction numbers. Because Texas law allowed indictments based on the word a single informant, it was remarkably easy for an indiscriminate person of authority, such as district attorney Calvin Beckett (Michael O'Keefe), to engineer these sort of mass convictions without any evidence.
One young lady arrested during the Melody raid was Dee, played here by promising new actress Nicole Beharie. Dee is a single mom of four who is on welfare, lives near her mother and supports her family through waitress tips and government subsidization. She can't afford the consequences a plea bargain would entail. Convicted felons are off the government payroll; Dee would be kicked out of her apartment, lose her welfare and her Medicare. This is not an option, and since she knows she's innocent, she refuses the plea bargain with the faith that the truth will emerge and set her free.
And it does emerge, in the form of ACLU lawyer David Cohen (Tim Blake Nelson). Cohen decides to take on Dee as a poster child case; under his representation, Dee will sue Beckett, the police and the city and hopefully instigate permanent change that will guarantee these raids don't happen in the future.
Once Cohen enters the picture, the movie unfolds like late '90s, socially conscious-era John Grisham. Part The Street Lawyer and part The Rainmaker, American Violet manages to be more simplistic and less entertaining than the pulp scribe at his most self-righteous. The fact that it's based on a true story doesn't soften the blow of director Tim Disney's heavy fist. There are some strong performances, specifically from Beharie, Nelson, and Alfre Woodard (who plays Dee's loving, no non-sense mother), but they can't save the sub-par production from what it's destined for: late night circulation on the Lifetime Network. And that's fine. It's just not memorable.
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