Before I get on with the festivities, I wanted to take a moment to mention something I think is worthy of note because it could save you some money.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked a little bit about the difference between films shot in 3D and those that are retro-fitted for 3D.
I had purposely gone out of my way to see Clash of the Titans in 2D because of all the negative buzz concerning the crappy 3D rush job they did -- having pushed back the film's release date by only a month. Does that mean all retro-fitted films coming out this year (and I've been seeing release dates shift a bit due to all the band wagon jumping) will be equally shoddy? Not necessarily. But the arbitrary nature for the 3D push -- higher ticket prices -- doesn't lead me to think it'll be worth the extra money since it's not as immersive as true 3D. It certainly won't make a bad movie better. It just feels like paying full price for a cheap knock off.
So I thought it would be a good idea to figure out a quick way to learn whether or not a film was actually shot in 3D, and I think I hit on a fairly reliable guide. The Internet Movie Database has a series of links along the left side of the page for all its movie listings.
One of those links, Technical Specifications, provides information on how the film was shot, and on what type of camera. For 3D films, the cameras will generally be noted as 3D. So if you see an ad for something coming out touting it's crazy, awesome, 3D-ness (with a grudging mention of a 2D version), you can head on over to imdb.com and check to see if you are getting what you're paying for.
Don't encourage blatant cash grabs and the 3D gimmick, otherwise having to wear annoying glasses just to watch TV will be happening sooner rather than later.
Although on TV is probably the best way to see The Losers. (Apologies for that terrible segue.)
The titular Losers are a secret paramilitary group sent into the Bolivian jungle to take out a drug kingpin. Their leader, Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan) takes them off-mission when he realizes the bad guy is using children as mules, and the airstrike they called in will kill them. Clay quickly realizes they've been double-crossed by Max (Jason Patric), a shadowy insider with military connections. The double cross doesn't quite work, but The Losers are believed to be dead, so they go underground.
In the midst of their plans for vengeance, The Losers cross paths with the mysterious Aisha (Zoe Saldana), who offers the means to get to Max and extract retribution.
Based on the Vertigo/DC comic book series, The Losers isn't doing anything remotely original. The straight-forward story hits all of the familiar, clichéd beats and the wise cracking, motley cast of characters recall every men-on-a-mission film from The Killing to Predator. There's Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), the quiet, deadly sniper; Jensen (Chris Evans) the fast talking computer tech; Roque (Idris Elba) the knife expert with a bad attitude; and Pooch (Columbus Short) the good-natured pilot.
But while the story and characters sound as though they've been ripped from half a dozen '80s action flicks, the actors behind those silly names are actually pretty damn good.
If George Clooney should decide to retire, Jeffrey Dean Morgan could slip into his shoes and hardly miss a beat. Not to say that he's a clone, but Morgan has the same mature good looks and easy charisma that makes Clooney a born movie star. As Clay, Morgan plays a straight-up bad ass -- kind of like in Watchmen, if The Comedian were a good guy -- and he plays it straight, too, with the film doing the winking for him (lots of slo-mo walking).
It's not Oscar material, but Morgan knows what kind of movie he's in and he plays to it in all the right ways.
The future Captain America, Chris Evans, utilizes his comedic chops (all things considered, The Losers is pretty funny; for the most part intentionally) as Jensen. I haven't seen him exhibit a whole lot of range in his roles, but he's still a fun, capable presence on screen.
The former Stringer Bell (seriously, The Wire is the best television series ever made), Idris Elba is charismatically menacing as Roque, the prickly knife expert. Elba plays it straight, too, taking another one dimensional character and breathing life into it.
From Morgan to Evans and Zoe Saldana, the cast does a remarkable job of taking all these situations and people that we've seen so many times before and making them fun enough to not feel guilty for enjoying the silly, no-frills, things blowing-up-in slow-motion spectacle.
Directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) from a script by Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, The Losers is plenty loud and fast paced. It's a good thing Berg's script, which bears the fingerprints of his stripped down storytelling style, doesn't stop to smell the roses since the Ritalin-fueled pace of the film wouldn't allow it. That said, it looks good and the action is well-staged; mixing the familiar cinematic tropes of cheesy action movies with comic book visual flourishes.
It's quite a violent little flick, though not in the gory sense. A movie that sees dozens of guys getting mowed down is PG-13 because it's all literally bloodless. I'd prefer they'd gone bloodier if for no other reason than it was distracting.
At one point, Jason Patric puts four bullets into a dude's head and when they cut back to the wide shot, the guy still had a skull. Stuff like that takes me out of a movie. But then, I'm a little twisted.
Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a good time with The Losers. It's funny, talented cast make a film with little ambition towards originality something more than the sum of its parts.
Back on the Block
I can't remember the last time I saw a film with J. Lo. No wait. It was in the re-make of the fine Japanese film, Shall We Dance? Short story: see the Japanese version. Richard Gere is no Kÿji Yakusho.
But the last good movie I'd seen Mark Anthony's meal ticket in was Steven Soderbergh's legitimately great, Out of Sight. That was 1998 -- a long time ago.
Coming off a four-year hiatus, Jennifer Lopez returns in The Back-up Plan, the type of formulaic rom-com she was apt to star in before making me glad she went on hiatus.
I know these kinds of films aren't really directed at me, and to be fair it's not the worst movie I've seen this year (Cop Out. Never forget.), but it gets tiring watching interchangeably attractive people go through the same motions, with so little variation or ambition to subvert the conventions of the genre. Safe is dull.
Lopez plays Zoe, a career-driven, baby craving, New York pet store owner, whose failure to land the right guy with her ticking biological clock compels her to get artificially inseminated. Her clock must run fast because literally minutes later she meets Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), a hunky guy who takes an immediate interest in the frosty but beautiful Zoe.
It goes like this: romance, conflict, resolution, romance, conflict, resolution, orbiting characters commenting on the romance, conflict, resolution. Then, they mix it up with some conflict, comedy, resolution, culminating in a walloping dose of ... romance, conflict, resolution. Roll credits.
There's more to it than that, of course, but to say more might spoil things for people that have never seen a movie.
Directed by Alan Poul (Rome) from a script by television vet Kate Angelo, the film navigates its well-worn obstacle course plotting with workman like style. It's a cinematic looking enough film, but the comedic aspects, like the wacky single mother support group or Zoe's psychoanalyzing friend Mona (Michaela Watkins) reek of sit-com conventions. And that's putting aside the saccharine sweetness of its broadest possible appeal construction.
The Back-up Plan was not entirely without mirth, though. Anthony Anderson -- literally credited as "Playground Dad" -- scores a few laughs purely on his comic timing. And I was pleasantly surprised that Linda Lavin (as Zoe's grandmother) is not only still alive but is still funny. Robert Klein and Tom Bosley complete the trio of retro-television stars.
As Zoe, Lopez is still very beautiful, but her performance veered between troubled seriousness and near manic gesticulation. It's as though she were trying too hard. She still holds up as a screen presence, but it didn't help that her character is sort of self-centered and quite clueless as to exactly how schizoid she really is.
Beyond a certain point, I wasn't sure if it was her character that was annoying me or the considerable second act drag her neuroses were contributing to. The flick could have lost 10 minutes easy, and it wouldn't have made a difference.
Alex O'Loughlin is charming and charismatic enough, and he turns in a decent performance as Stan. He's another amalgam of romantic perfection; cut, handsome and a cheese maker. It's not hard to see why he's interested in Zoe on a superficial level (J. Lo still got the booty), but there wasn't a lot of chemistry between them which is a problem if we're expected to buy his undying affection when the script only gives them caricatures to work with.
Still, I imagine there are quite a few who might find The Back-up Plan to be an amusing and harmless enough way to pass an hour and a half, and the fact is I didn't hate it. It's too banal to really inspire any strong emotions. But that's a long way from like.
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