21 posts categorized "Fantasy"

March 30, 2013



Long Live Patty Hearst!

Trashmeister writer/director John Waters takes ironic comedy and social commentary to an all-time sleazy low in his new movie “Strap-On.” Waters deviates from his Baltimore roots to urban and rural areas of Afghanistan where Maya Stain (played by former SLA member Patty Hearst) fights for SOC (Socialism Over Capitalism), a left wing mercenary group caught in a cross-fire between Taliban fighters, the Mujahideen, American troops and desperate civilians. Hearst might be pushing 60, but she still knows how to handle a machine gun. You will never want to see another movie after seeing this one, and you won’t want to see this one again.

As the group’s gutsy feminist leader, Stain wears an 18-inch, neon-blue strap-on to symbolize her authority and to distract her enemies. The ploy works. Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS has nothing on Stain. At times Stain is content to keep the bulge inside her camouflage fatigues, but for most of the film, Stain allows the large member and its flesh-burning, squirting acid to protrude from her pants in a permanent semi-erect state.

Waters views the mercenary lifestyle as fodder for social camp. He satirizes the Afghanistan military and social structure of the country while also poking fun at things like their public bathrooms, which consist of a well from which the user must hang on a rope with a piece of wood as a half-seat. There is a scene where the strap-on-wielding Stain throws a knife into the back of a Tajikistan military officer, sending him down into the dung-filled hole, giving Stain the opportunity to lean back and roar like a banshee in devilish delight. Her victim is indeed left "stained."

However most of the film’s violence is directed at America’s private military firms. The SOC’s primary targets are private military contractors, i.e. rival mercenaries. “Strap-On” takes no prisoners. Stain’s torture of U.S. soldier — using her preferred method of violent personal intrusion — makes anything in “Zero Dark Thirty” pale by comparison. Think snuff-movie.

Tatyana (played by British comedienne Tracy Ulman) is an Uzbekistan national that Stain takes as a hostage during one of the SOC’s hostile take-overs of an American military facility. The movie really gets going when Tatyana, a cross between Deborah Harry and Hillary Clinton, becomes romantically-involved with Stain after the dust has settled. A wild pornographic lesbian love scene involves Tatyana singing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” while Stain pounds her from behind like a steam locomotive.


Waters’s “movie” satirizes death, sex, torture, weapons, military officials, the Taliban and the universal phallic obsession of all soldiers. “Strap-On” is yet another reminder that America has gone past the point of no return and dragged the rest of the world down with it. Just as America’s ethics have gone down the toilet, its films have followed suit. The stain cannot be contained. Cinema is dead. APRIL FOOLS!

Rated. 157 mins. (B-) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)

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February 07, 2012


Journey-2-the-mysterious-islandSliding By
Adventure Franchise Barely Passes Muster
By Cole Smithey

Though hampered by some uninspired efforts in the joke department from newbie cousin screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" is a passable PG-rated family adventure movie. Added to the film’s flat sense of humor is the misguided replacement of franchise-starter Brendan Fraser (“Journey to the Center of the Earth”--2008). Dwayne Johnson suffers the indignation of performing step-dad duties to Josh Hutcherson’s returning daredevil character Sean Anderson. The actor formerly known as The Rock nearly redeems himself during a stirring ukulele rendition of "What a Wonderful World." The musical interlude unexpectedly brings the scattershot adventure momentarily into focus with some assistance from an indispensable but ultimately squandered Michael Caine.


Childhood literary classics that include Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and Jules Verne’s “The Mysterious Island” inform the story in a sidelong fashion. In the burbs of Dayton, Ohio Sean receives a coded message from his long-lost grandfather Alexander (Caine). Sean’s stepdad Hank is an ex-Navy man with a knack for code breaking. The missive sends Sean off on a chaperoned adventure to reunite with gramps. A sputtering chartered helicopter, flown by Luis Guzman and his character’s comely daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), enables a suspense-free hurricane ride that spits our plucky explorers out on the shores of an island that could just be the lost city of Atlantis.

Dwayne Johnson is an actor who tries so hard to be likable that it hurts. Given his obsequious nature, it’s easy to understand why the filmmakers chose him to replace Brendan Fraser, whose famously nerdy need to please comes across as a central aspect to his Canadian heritage. But where Fraser has a frenetic internal rhythm of free-spinning animation about his physicality, Johnson is plodding and methodical to a fault. His muscle-bound comportment overpowers the relative diminutive actors around him. There’s no jiving chemistry between Johnson’s fatherly Hank and Josh Hutcherson’s Sean. Caught between playing up a subplot of budding romance with Kailani, and following Michael Caine’s lead as the kind of person Sean aspires to be, Hutcherson gets hung out to dry in every scene he shares with Hank.

Journey 2

An example of the film’s lukewarm wit occurs when Hank gives Sean a demonstration of something he calls the “pec-pop.” Johnson flexes his pectoral muscles so they tense back and forth in a flip-flopping fashion. This odd display of masculine muscle manipulation is intended to impress members of the opposite sex. Needless to say Sean doesn’t possess such physical attributes to execute the maneuver in the first place. Hank demands that Sean throw berries at his bouncing pecs for the apparently singular reason of supplying the audience with an overworked sample of eye-blinking 3D effects. The ridiculous sequence begs the question, “What were the filmmakers thinking? The whole thing is just to weird to be funny.


Director Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”) struggles to make the most of superficially impressive creatures that populate the mysterious island that grandpa Alexander calls home. Miniature elephants, gargantuan bees, and slithering giant centipedes supply innocuous eye-candy that never reaches beyond its CGI limitations to anything substantial. A giant electric eel boots the possibilities for spectacle during the story’s underwater climax. A few window-breaking 3D effects spice up the amusement in a visually entertaining but narratively trivial movie. It might not be the bee’s knees for adult audiences, but “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” meets the unsophisticated demands of its pre-teen target audience.

Rated PG. 94 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five / no halves)

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December 05, 2010


Treading Water
Not Even Michael Apted Can Save Narnia
By Cole Smithey

Chronicles_of_narnia_the_voyage_of_the_dawn_treader_ver4For the third Narnia franchise installment, veteran director Michael Apted takes over helming duties performed by Andrew Adamson on the first two films. Sadly Apted, the filmmaker famous for the hugely influential "7Up" documentary series, is confined by a script that is a mere sketch of C.S. Lewis's original novel. The result is a disposable children's adventure story that wears its well-worn primary narrative device like an afterthought. Instead of collecting five rings — a la the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, or seven horcruxes ala "Harry Potter," the characters here must track down seven ancient swords belonging to the lost (read deceased) Lords of Narnia in order to save a world of fantasy from some vaguely named threat. The opposing forces of evil may or may not affect the actual World War II reality from which our trio of young British protagonists temporarily escape. There isn't enough meat on the bones here to send potential readers in search of the novel that this disappointing movie is based. 



Youngest siblings of the Penvensie family, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are joined by their thin-skinned cousin Eustace (played for laughs by Will Poulter). Poulter ("Son of Rambow") surprisingly steals the movie out from under its sporadically impressive special effects with his arching eyebrows and a grating voice that miraculously makes him the film's most endearing character. Eustace is selfish and has no interest in adventure. As such he has more to gain, if considerably less to lose, than his well-connected cousins.


Underage Edmund desperately wants to enlist in the British military. Lucy wants to be adored, like her older sister, for her natural beauty. Inside their not-so-safe European home the trio are swept off to the fantastic dimension of Narnia by a painting of a ship at sea. Thousands of gallons of ocean water fill up their bedroom and transport Edmund, Lucy, and Will to Prince Caspian's sailing ship the Dawn Treader. Ben Barnes reprises his role as the good-natured Prince who chaperones the visitors to his kingdom. Edmund and Lucy have the status of King and Queen of Narnia, but you wouldn't know it.


Onboard the ship we're reacquainted with Reepicheep, a chatty rat who thinks he's a mouse, and the minotaur whose presence is barely felt. Potentially dramatic events, like the trio being taken prisoner by slave-traders, come and pass like so much unnecessary narrative sea foam. Sensitive audiences concerned with the material's religious underpinnings have little to be concerned about. Although there is some soft-peddled Christian mysticism that comes at the end of the third act, "Dawn Treader" is primarily concerned with spectacle set pieces involving a truly gigantic eel-like sea monster and a fire-breathing dragon who has been transformed from his human form by way of a curse.

Vanity, ego, greed, and cowardice are the pernicious enemies that threaten to overpower our young adventurers. These internal forces rear their ugly heads just long enough for audiences to give them a passing thought before the themes are smoothed over with pomp and circumstance.


"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is blandly enjoyable but never fun or gratifying. By the time the mighty lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) makes his obligatory appearance to expedite safe passage for the children back to their families, the best that can be said is that the special effects were good. It's a mantra film audiences seem doomed to repeat on a more frequent basis as Hollywood delves deeper into making films that are all surface and no substance. This is one time where you almost wish they'd pushed the religious allegories. At least then there might have been something to mull over.

 Rated PG. 112 mins. (C) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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