Dredd (2012)


Ma-Ma is Not the Law … I Am the Law.

Dredd (2012)Reviewing Total Recall got me thinking about another recent remake that I thought would suck.  Much like Total Recall, the original movie was a dumb, campy action movie starring one of the biggest action stars in history and, like Total Recall, it was a movie that I didn’t like nearly as much as everyone else seemed to.  I’m not really that forgiving of camp.  It can make a movie watchable, but not really re-watchable.  I just want to watch it once to laugh at it.  So, when they remake a movie like this, do they go heavy after that camp appeal, or do they instead try to make a badass action movie?  And do they succeed at either one of those things?  We’ll find out as I review Dredd, based on the British comic 2000 AD, created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, written by Alex Garland, directed by Pete Travis, and starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, and Warrick Grier.

The future (as always) is bad times.  Most of the United States has become Fallout 3 and there is one city remaining called Mega-City One, where people do not typically get along.  To fix that problem (as well as making the judicial system more efficient), the police have been made into Judges, who are judge, jury, and executioner all in one.  A new drug that slows the user’s perception of time to 1% of normal (called “Slo-Mo”) is running rampant, dealt mainly by a ruthless drug lord named Madeline Madrigal, or “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey), who punishes rival drug dealers by skinning them, giving them Slo-Mo, and throwing them from the top of a 200-story building.  Lead badass Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is sent in to deal with the situation, bringing along potential recruit Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has failed her aptitude tests, but still gets a shot because she’s a very powerful psychic.  When they arrive, Ma-Ma has her computer expert (Domhnall Gleeson) lock down the building, turning this shit into The Raid: Redemption.  Quasi-plagiarism is against the law, Dredd.  I guess that doesn’t matter.  After all, he IS the law.

I like to try to go into any movie with an open mind.  I usually try, but usually fail.  So I went into this movie pointing out a bunch of things that annoyed me, but we’ll get to those later.  We’ll get to those later because this movie was actually pretty badass and, much like the remake of Total Recall, blew the original bullshit out of the water.  And, by “original bullshit,” I mean the Stallone movie because I’ve never read the comic book.  The story didn’t annoy me or impress me, but it was leaning more towards good than bad.  It was just simple.  It really was basically The Raid: Redemption with Karl Urban in it.  But The Raid was awesome, and that still translates somewhat into this.  I guess there were some problems with the story though.  I took issue with the fact that Cassandra was in the situation that she was in.  I didn’t dislike the character, but she’s a psychic and she can’t pass her aptitude tests?  She seemed physically capable of the job, so I assume it was the Scantron section of the tests.  Were there no Asians in the class she could psychically glean the answers from?

The action in this movie was fantastic, and the visual effects were great, with only minor problems.  The action was great, and the violence was WAY over the top, but it was sweet.  Visually, the movie worked very well, but the Slo-Mo effects started to bother me after a while.  It looked good enough, but I started thinking that they chose this drug to pad out their movie because they didn’t really write enough of a story.  I also thought the drug didn’t really make sense.  I mean, it’s brutal to slow down perception of time when throwing someone over a balcony of a 200-story building, but what good does it do for regular times?  I could understand the appeal of a drug that allowed you to move through the world as if it was slowed down to 1% because you’d be able to get a lot more shit done, but just have it seem slower as you’re sitting around in a bathtub?  That feels boring.

The performances in this movie aren’t going to be winning any awards, but they do exactly what they set out to do.  Karl Urban is a fuckin’ boss.  End of story.  Olivia Thirlby did a good job, but I admit that I was scarcely paying attention to her performance.  I was too busy enjoying her hotness.  Lena Headey was in the movie too, and she performed adequately, but I was bummed out that they decided to ugly her up with a lesbo haircut and a gnarly scar across her normally pretty face.  I prefer to remember her face unscathed as it was in 300.  Also, Domhnall Gleeson is in this movie.  He did fine, and it’s cool that I recognized him from Harry Potter, but I really only mention him here because I hate myself and I wanted to punish myself for nothing in particular by making myself type his name again.

When I went into Dredd, I was wondering if it would even notice if I gave it a ‘D’ in my review because it already has three.  *Insert rimshot here*  But it doesn’t matter, because I’ll give it something it doesn’t already have, like a B or something.  This version of Dredd is way better than the original, corny version of the character.  Decent story, great action, Karl Urban is a boss, and the other performances were solid as well.  Definitely worth checking out.  I’ll probably be purchasing the movie on Blu-Ray.  Dredd gets “Judgement time” out of “The perps were uncooperative.”

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Juno (2007)


Pregnancy Can Often Lead to an Infant

I did my best to keep at arm’s length from this movie for no reason other than it seemed artsy and pretentious.  As we know from my review of Rushmore, I don’t like those movies.  The movie getting talked about so much did nothing to make me want to see it before I was reviewing movies, but now that I am it seems like it’s not the wisest stance to not want to see movies because they’re popular.  That being the case, I finally allowed today’s movie to reach the top of my Netflix queue.  This movie stars a lot of people that I’m fond of, but was written by someone I’ve no interest in, so let’s see how it worked out.  Juno was written by – and it pains me to type this – Diablo Cody, directed by Jason Reitman, and starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, Rainn Wilson, Valerie Tian, Kaaren de Zilva, and Sierra Pitkin.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a 16-year-old high school student in Minnesota with a bit of a problem on her hands … or, more accurately, in her womb: she’s preggers.  Having decided on a whim to have sex with her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) has left her eating for one more person than she’s used to.  Her original idea is to get an abortion, but she changes her mind once she finds out that her baby has fingernails and the receptionist’s boyfriend’s dick smells like pie.  She joins her friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) in searching through the Pennysaver to find someone to give the baby to.  She finds Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), and decides they are the perfect couple to give her baby to.  We’ll see how well that works out.  As far as I’ve heard, underage teenage pregnancies tend to work out pretty well.

I’m beginning to wonder about my mood recently, because it seems like it’s been a while since I last watched a movie that I found funny.  The last one was probably Cliffhanger.  Either way, I can’t say that I found this movie that funny, but it did play quirky very well.  The story of the movie was pretty good, but did not have any surprises that I could see.  You know that Juno isn’t going to go for the abortion because that would mean the movie would be pretty well over in the first 15 minutes.  You can easily assume a happy ending to most of these kinds of movie, and you get it here.  It works out mostly like I thought it would.  They throw a couple of speed bumps down along the way for Juno, but nothing too serious until the very end, and even that doesn’t really change the course of the movie.  I did wonder how the adoption thing would turn out, though.  When we first met Mark and Vanessa, it made it a little harder to predict the ending of the movie.  The most obvious happy ending would be that Juno would decide to keep the baby, Bleek would marry her, and then happily ever after … but not for Mark and Vanessa.  That’s not the way they went, but they did tie it up to be a pretty happy ending for everyone.  I had problems with the dialogue, though.  It really got on my nerves in parts.  Maybe Diablo Cody and her friends would confront a 16 year old pregnant girl with a phrase like “That’s one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet”, but most people would think it in poor taste and worse vernacular.  I certainly wouldn’t spend any time around someone that would say that.  I like Ned Flanders too, but I don’t talk like him.  They said more of these stupid little sayings in the beginning, but it was greatly toned down by the end, to the movie’s benefit.  The look of the movie was also interesting, usually being pretty colorful and with tons of little knick-knacks around the sets for the audience to look at.  I particularly liked the opening credit scene that seemed mostly hand drawn.  It was a nice look, but it made me think that whoever was responsible desperately wants to be Wes Anderson, and I don’t use that as a compliment.  I would generally think something along the lines of “take your shitty, pretentious bullshit elsewhere and make a movie”, but it was toned down to a level that wouldn’t annoy me for this movie, and I appreciated that.

The cast was all fantastic, but the characters were sometimes written in a way that made them tedious.  But you can’t really blame that on the actors.  I always like Ellen Page.  She usually gives very real performances, and this movie also shows that she can pull some funny along with the tears I’ve seen her pull before.  I did find Juno herself a little irritating at times.  I understand that she was playing a 16-year-old, but she seemed really stupid at times.  Her first conversation with Mark and Vanessa particularly, where she took “How far along” to mean “In school” and not in the pregnancy that was causing them all to meet, was cute.  I was also particularly annoyed with her misinterpretation of Greek and Roman mythology, but I blame this mainly on a certain stripper-turned-writer.  Juno claimed that her name was not from the city in Alaska, but from the Greek god that was married to Zeus.  WRONG!  Juno is the ROMAN name for the goddess Hera.  Hera was married to Zeus, but if you’re talking about the Roman versions of the gods, Juno was married to Jupiter.  I didn’t research that shit, so if you did to name your character, you should be embarrassed.  It also never made sense to me that Juno had such a hard time understanding what “sexually active” meant.  It means you are active sexually.  Not much more needed than that.  Michael Cera was a pretty small part of the movie, and he didn’t really do a lot of work in the parts he was in.  The character he plays (and seemingly the character that Michael Cera actually is) is not a very emotional person, so it’s understandable that he never had any really big freak out moments.  At the end, I did find out that Cera has a really bad singing voice.  Ellen’s was fine.  Jason Bateman was a good character in the movie, but I didn’t really appreciate the hints of his attraction to 16-year-old Juno.  If you’re going down that path, do it and get some story out of it.  But if you’re only going to hint at it and have them dance and get awkward, don’t even bother.  I’m not usually a Jennifer Garner fan (because I’ve seen Daredevil and Elektra) but I liked her in this movie.  She was mostly fairly cold and distant, but she has a couple of really good emotional scenes and seemed very real in them.  J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney were also very good as Juno’s parents, and I especially liked Allison Janney when she laid down a real classy verbal beatdown on the ultrasound technician.  I felt like they missed a good joke opportunity with Simmons, though.  Early on, he claims that he’ll punch Bleek in the dick if he sees him.  By the end, when he does see him again, he just walks on by.  That would have been a fantastic addition.

The charm of this movie elevates it higher than the somewhat predictable story and some of the poor dialogue would normally have made it.  Some of the charm comes from the writing, but I feel like the greater majority of it is from the fantastic cast.  In the end, I found myself to be much more fond of this movie than I had expected I would be going in (especially going in having already seen Jennifer’s Body), but I can’t say that I ever found it “funny”.  Then again, I may be comedically broken.  I haven’t a clue where I left my sense of humor, but I’ll get back to you.  Either way, Juno is at least worth a rental, if not a full purchase.  Juno gets “I’m already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?” out of “Honest to blog?”

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