Payback: Straight Up – Review

Any of you remember Payback? I saw it years ago when it came out, and now it’s back for a Director’s Cut. Why should you care? Read the blurb:

Payback is bad guy Porter’s MO after his wife and partner steal his heist money and leave him for dead — or so they think. Director Brian Helgeland was cut from the project upon negative reactions to his originally dark, more violent action thriller. Seven years later, he was allowed to re-edit and re-score the film for this gritty director’s cut with a different ending.

Sound awesome? Yeah, I thought so, too. The problem was I had no recollection of the original cut. As this one went on, I remembered a few scenes, but for the most part, this was like watching a completely new movie.

Turns out, this is a completely new movie (I cheated and looked up the differences). Most Director’s Cuts just add a scene or two, but this has new music, a new look (the bleach effect is gone), and a new villain. Kris Kristofferson’s character is gone and several scenes change because of it. The ending is completely different. It’s not even close to what it was.

So how is it? Well, it’s hard to say. I think it’s a better version of the film, but I’ll forever be comparing revenge flicks to Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance. All three of those are brilliant because they cut deep into your emotions. I had no emotional response to Payback: Straight-Up. I didn’t really care if Mel got his money back so I’ll probably forget this version just like I did with the first.

If you’re interested in this one, I’d suggest watching both cuts back to back. I’ve also heard the special features on Straight-Up are really good, but I found that out after I’d sent it back.

If any of you see this, let me know what you thought about it. And for those looking for a good revenge flick, go watch Park’s movies. All three of ’em.

Grade: C+

The Kingdom – Review

Because Netflix is treating me like an addict and cutting me off from the good stuff, I had to make a visit to the dealer down the street. Mr. Redbox ain’t always reliable, but when I need a fix, the man comes through.

I missed The Kingdom when it came out last year and it’s been near the top of my “Must See” list ever since. Like most movies I really want to see, I kept away from all reviews and plot elements and went into it pretty clueless. All I knew was that there were guns and sand and Jamie Foxx. And if I knew anything about movie taglines, that would have been it. The Kingdom. Guns. Sand. Jamie Foxx.

The movie is as good as I hoped it would be. The first two acts play like a good crime thriller with act three hitting you like the mother of all Holy Craps. It’s crazy intense. And in a good way.

I did have a small problem with Jennifer Garner, though. Through the whole movie she looked like she was confused as to how to use the gun in her hands. So I’m thinking to myself, “I know you know how to use that. I saw four seasons of Alias and you didn’t have any problems with ’em then. Why now?” Actually, it’s probably just great acting on her part with the character she was playing and I’m just sad and bitter there’s no more Alias.

If you check this out, be sure to look at the bonus features. Like all graduates of American High Schools, I know nothing about Saudi Arabia and there’s an informative timeline that steps you through that nation’s history. It’s fascinating. There’s also another feature that let’s you watch the third act from an uninterrupted viewpoint of each character. It’s neat to see how it was filmed and what the editor had to work with as he pieced it all together. Cool stuff.

If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this one. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check it out and keep the disc spinning for the bonus features.

Grade: A

DOA: Dead or Alive – Review

OK, so I was surprised when Netflix shipped me this. First, that I had actually put it into my queue and second, that it was at the top. It was then I noticed that the top 15 movies in my queue had a “Long Wait” or “Very Long Wait” status. Curse you Netflix. Curse you and your stupid long wait queues.

So anyway, there’s only one of you who even knows what this movie is about, so I’m gonna spoil it. Why? So you can enjoy the hilarity buried within two hours of putrescence. It’s like a cream-filled crapcicle and I’m gonna spare you from the crap.

DOA is a movie based on a video game. Not just any video game, a fighting game. Think Mortal Kombat without the kool. Like every fighting game ever made, there is no story so they go with generic fighting plot number 1: invite people from around the world to a remote island to compete in a winner take all contest of skill and endurance. Blah, blah, blah.

But here’s the good part. The maniacal crazyman living on the island is played by Eric Roberts. Yeah, that Eric Roberts, who’s like 80 now. Anyway, when all the fighters arrive on the island, he injects them with nanobots that analyze their fighting styles. Actually, the movie calls it “moves” but I just couldn’t bring myself to say it.

After the tournament has almost wrapped up, Mr. Evil Old Man downloads the remaining fighters’ “moves” into a pair of sunglasses. Read that again. While wearing the sunglasses, Eric Roberts is a badass and cannot be defeated because he knows everyone’s moves. Seriously, I can’t make this up. Eventually, Eric Roberts’s Sunglasses of Ultimate Badassery (ERSUB) go flying off his head and the heroes finally beat him. I then realized that if this were a better movie, they would have “finished” him. Oh well.

The one person I know who has played this game may find the movie somewhat hilarious. For the rest of you, you’ve been warned.

Grade: F

Once – Review

Once is a movie that every single one of my movie friends asked if I’d seen. I also saw it listed on all those “Top Movies No One Ever Saw” lists the critics put out. So going into it, I had some pretty high expectations.

If you’ve not heard by now, Once is a musical. No, not that kind of musical. This is about as far away from John Travolta in drag as you can get. And by my standards, that’s a good thing. Instead, Once takes you along the life of a guy with a guitar (pictured on the poster). As Guy moves through life, he writes songs that just happen to relate to whatever situation he’s in. The songs blend naturally into the storyline, so you’ll not find any backup dancers that pop into scene as he’s watering the man-eating plant.

The somewhat observant of you probably noticed the girl on the poster, too. Yes, Once is a love story. But you won’t find our hero composing songs in his underground lair while hiding his freakish face with half a mask. Instead, what you get is a simple story of a guy and a girl with all the messiness and complications of love. The two of them don’t even have names. They are listed as Guy and Girl in the credits — a sign that the movie is intended to transcend the specifics of the story.

And you know what? Everything works. The music is fantastic. So good, I’m tempted to buy the soundtrack next time I’m out shopping. The acting is great. The story is sweet and messy and real all at the same time. So should you rent this? Absolutely. Will you love it? Hard to say without giving away too much of the story. But you still need to see it.

One word of caution here. The guy is Irish and the girl is Czech. Sure, they speak English, but you may need subtitles or a couple beers to get past the accents. So ladle yourself up some Guinness, settle in with your significant other (or cat) and check this one out.

Grade: B+

Superman: Doomsday – Review

I’m not the biggest fan of Superman. Sure, I’ve seen all the movies, caught a few seasons of Smallville, and seen a few of the animated cartoons. But I’ve never read any of the comics, so I feel I’m justified in my “not fan” categorization. But when I saw the trailer for Superman: Doomsday I said to myself, “Hmmm, I should check this out.”

There are three very important things you need to know about this film.

1) It’s animated.
That could be a huge turnoff for some of you, but it’s done by the same team who do the Batman, Superman, and Justice League cartoons. If you’re familiar with those, you know they’re pretty decent.

2) It’s rated PG-13.
Now, I bet you’re slightly intrigued. Does it deserve it? I’d say yes. It’s certainly not rated R, but it’s not a movie for kids. The fights are brutal and there are some fairly graphic murder scenes that shocked me a bit. But the rating really comes out of point 3, which is…

3) Superman dies.
Those of you whining about spoilers, shut up. If this wasn’t known from the beginning, not a single one of you would be interested in this. Now, you are saying, “Hmm, I should check this out.”

When you tackle something as heavy as the death of a superhero, your writing has to be spot on. And for those moments, Superman: Doomsday gets it near perfect. So much so, there are scenes that caught me off guard at how brilliantly they capture some real, heavy emotions. Unfortunately, those are just a few scenes and the rest of the movie reverts back to cartoon writing.

Just like the writing, the voice work is uneven. Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly/Serenity) voices Supes while Anne Heche voices Lois. I’ll let you decide if those voices work for you, but I didn’t have too many problems with ’em. Though I did wonder why Superman never declared his unending love for Vera. (That’s a Firefly joke for those of you not in the know).

If you’re at all interested in how anyone could handle the death of Superman, this is worth a rental. If you don’t care at all, well, you probably stopped reading at the title.

Grade: B-