Monday, 23 November 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Director: Stephen Somers.

The box office success of a live action Transformers movie consequently made the green-lighting of a live action G.I. Joe movie inevitable. When I was a child I used to have a small collection of G.I. Joes, a line of toy soldiers that were all blessed with individual personas expressed in cool code-names, weaponsm and costumes that were unique to them; the army man as super hero. However, I can’t profess to any great nostalgic love for G.I. Joe (the only Joe I can really remember is Sgt. Slaughter and that’s because he was also a WWF wrestler); I mean I didn’t even remember that there was a difference between Destro (silver-face) and Cobra Commander (sounds like Skeletor). So, after having endured G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I won’t be using any silly phrases like ‘This film raped my childhood!’ That’s unnecessary. The film is pretty appropriate to the franchise since it’s basically an extended cartoon, but made with wall-to-wall CGI rather than cheap Korean animation cells.

Film kicks off with a strange Alexander Dumas opening set in France, 1841, where a Scottish arms dealer named McCullen is imprisoned with a burning hot iron mask that sears itself to his face. Then we get a the title card “In The Not Too Distant Future,” which is always a promising sign in any motion picture since it always says ‘Hey, things are pretty much the same, but we use advanced technology that could only ever be invented in THE FUTURE.” Former Dr. Who, Christopher Eccleston makes a bad career move in sinking himself into this franchise, playing the Scottish heir to the McCullen line of arms dealing and treachery, selling the hot new weapon to the U.S. Military. What is this new technology? NANOMITES! Green CGI beetles that EAT TANKS! The Not Too Distant Future is NOW!

Now we meet our heroes charged with transporting the Nanomite missiles: Duke, a thick-looking white-guy hunk (played by Channing Tatum), and Ripcord (played by Marlon Wayans), his wacky black-guy comic relief sidekick. Yes, this is the Not Too Distant Future and we have moved on from questionable racial stereotypes! Now Duke and Ripcord are trading lame quips in their humvee when they are attacked by a spaceship that shoots electro-pulse lasers in Matrix-slow-mo. While every other soldier protecting the Nanomites is obliterated, our two heroes survive the multiple explosions and confront the alluring visage of the Baroness (Sienna Miller) who steps out of the spaceship looking like a model on the runways of Milan (dark long hair, tight skin-suit, and shades) and who also shares a mysterious back-story with Duke (yes, they know each other so it’s like a meet-cute on the battlefield). Then some mysterious super-soldiers drop in and defeat the mysterious bad-guys. There’s the silent killer-ninja Snake Eyes (Ray Park), another hot model type in skin-hugging bodysuit but this time with red hair and is thus appropriately named Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), and a cockney guy built like a brick shit-house named Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agaje a.k.a. Adebisi in Oz). Who are these guys? Well, out pops a Dennis Quaid hologram, announcing that he is General Hawk and explaining everything with a voice that sounds like he’s swallowed a frog.

Duke: “What’s your unit?”
Hawk: “That’s classified!”

Cue to rocking Linkin Park styled music as the camera flies over the pyramids in Egypt for our introduction to the G.I. Joes. “The top men and women from the best units in the world,” croaks Quaid. “The Alpha Dogs!” As we see sexy female soldiers put on body suits that make them invisible, Quaid quips, “When all else fails, we don’t!” In no time at all, Duke and Ripcord have signed up to become G.I. Joes and grab back the stolen Nanomite technology. Before that we’re gonna need a montage set to an awful cover of T-Rex’s ‘Get It On’ as the two dunderheads suit up in Iron Man styled fighting gear (“Fully self-controlled fire power,” says Heavy Duty. “Perfect for a couple of cowboys like you two.”), shoot practice targets under Scarlett’s sexy gaze, and then are trained in hand-to-hand fighting by an unexplained Brendan Fraser cameo (Director Stephen Somers did the Mummy 1 & 2, so it’s like “Hey, Brendan, appear in my new movie and say ‘Go Joe!’ a lot”). Anyway, if you think this is ridiculous, the bad guys a.k.a. Cobra are also up to the task of equalling such over-the-top bullshit with a masked madman scientist injecting Nanomites into muscle-brained soldiers so that they “feel no fear, feel no pain, feel no concept of morality” (much like the people who produced this movie). All of this nonsense feels like you’re watching a James Bond movie but without the comfort of James Bond starring in it.

Now remember in Mission Impossible when they really pushed it with the one trick of spies pulling their faces off to reveal they were CGI masks? Well, G. I. Joe overloads on holograms – Eccleston appears in the G.I. Joe squadroom but it turns out he’s a hologram or Miller appears in Ecceleston’s jet but it’s like ‘Oh shit, she’s actually a hologram!” What’s the matter with the Not Too Distant Future? Are phones not acceptable forms of communication anymore? Another great technique that the film cannot get enough of is to introduce a character in close-up and then suddenly cut to a flashback that explains all their limited back-story and motivation. For example, evil ninja Stormshadow (white pyjamas) faces off against good ninja Snake Eyes (black pyjamas) when Cobra raids G.I. Joe HQ for the Nanomites. They face off, swords clash, and then Stormshadow says, “Hello, brother.” Cue flashback that shows them as little kids fighting each other for about ten minutes and making it clear that this film is targeted to children. The flashbacks help explain why the Baroness went from being the blonde airhead finance of Duke to his dark-haired heartless nemesis: Duke didn’t protect her dipstick brother played by Joseph Gordon Levitt who is quite a good actor (see Brick and The Lookout for evidence of this) and his presence is a puzzling sight, particularly when he’s top-billed in the credits but only appears in a total of three scenes (spoiler: he turns out to be the masked mad-man scientist who becomes Cobra Commander).

The action sequences are weightless. There is an abundance of CGI special effects, particularly in the extended set-piece where Cobra goes to Paris to blow up the Eiffel Tower, which they do in a scene that is like the opening of Team America: World Police but taken seriously (Consider this a live action remake pretty much). You see that they filmed a bit of location work in Paris (actually the Czech Republic masquerading as Paris) but used the old silicon chips to stick in flying super-soldier Iron Man suits and fast cars that whizz by unconvincingly through real French traffic. Oh, and Marlon Wayans puts on his million dollar super-soldier Iron Man suit and falls out of the team van with the quip, “My bad!” (Ahhhhhhh, the one-liner that never stops being funny! Thank you, Hollywood!)

What else can we mention briefly? Well, there’s the cat-fight hand-to-hand combat scene between Scarlett and the Baroness that had me thinking “Hello nurse!” and makes sure all those geeks watching this film have something to fantasise about. You also have Arnold Vosloo as Cobra’s Master of Disguise who is like Mystique in the X-Men movies but not female, naked and blue. There is the Marlon Wayans one-liner with regards to a Nanomite filled corpse, “Dead guys don’t breakdance!” Character actor favourite Kevin J. O’Connor pops up in the film for five minutes as a freaky scientist. There is also Eccleston turning into Destro in the climax with a silver metal face that makes him look like Kryten in Red Dwarf. The climax of the movie is an underwater version of the Star Wars Death Star attack with Quaid sounding the order, “Release the Sharks!” (the Sharks being the Joe’s vehicles but when he said that line without the context explained, I did laugh). In the end, G.I. Joe is a pretty dumb action film, but after awhile I was pretty bored, which is the worst crime that any movie can commit. At least I could use some semblance of imagination when playing with the figurines when I was younger, more so than what the filmmakers could dredge up from their bankrupt mind-tanks.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

2012 (2009)

Director: Roland Emmerich.
I was challenged by my friends Gabby and Zak to see Roland Emmerich's latest environmental disaster opus, 2012. Thankfully I sat next to Gabby as to hear her comments throughout the two hour and a half epic.

1. Danny Glover appears as the President of the USA:

Gabby [re: his slurred speech] "Did he have a stroke? What's wrong with Danny Glover?"

2. Close-up on a fake Mona Lisa's smile (the real one saved in storage for the upcoming apocalypse) and then cut to the title "2012"

Gabby [laughs] "Alright... bring it on, movie!"

3. John Cusack appears as the weary protagonist:

Gabby: "John Cusack? I thought Nicolas Cage was in this?"

4. John Cusack continues to perform in 2012:

Me: "Is John Cusack even in this movie? I know he is physically, but I don't know about the rest of him..."

5. As another character remarks in astonishment at signs of the impending apocalypse...

Gabby: "They should have really called this movie "My God!" as that seems to be what all these characters say."

6. On the mannered actor playing the bow-tie wearing background scientist with a crutch:

Me: "What an eccentric performance. This man should win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor."

7. Thirty minutes into the exposition:

Gabby: "Would something blow up already?!"

8. As John Cusack drives his limo through a crumbling L.A.:

Gabby: "Everything is exploding!"

9. Cusack looks in the rear view mirror as they outrace the devastation:

Gabby: "Watch out! The apocalypse is right behind you!"

10. Russian characters are introduced who help Cusack and his family:

Gabby: "This movie is packed with bad accents!"

11. Danny Glover continues to act as the President of the USA:

Gabby: "Man, what happened to Danny Glover?"
Me: "He's too old for this shit."

12. Sparks fly between the concerned scientist and the president's daughter:

Gabby: "Ah, they're going to be repopulating the species!"

13. The Vatican implodes and crushes all the praying Italians:

Gabby: "What is this? A snuff film?"

14. More people are swallowed up by massive tidal waves:

Gabby: "This movie is becoming really unpleasant."

15. During the mass exodus, a dog saves itself:

Gabby: "Oh, fuck you!"

16. During the tension-free climax where the USA ark is almost colliding with Mount Everest:

Gabby: "Okay, that's it... I've got nothing. This movie has drained the funny right out of me. This movie broke me. You win, movie."

17. During the end credits, Woody Harrelson's name appears:

Me: "Hey, remember when Woody Harrelson was in the movie?"

Gabby: "Yes, that was when I could still laugh and enjoy the movie, all those many days ago..."