Saturday, September 29, 2012

REVIEW: Dredd (2012)

Karl Urban called it a few weeks ago, when he told reporters his movie would be an instant cult hit. I wish he hadn't though. If we learned anything from Michael Bay or Summit, it's that moviegoers will more often than not choose bad movies in droves. And this instant cult classic is simply too good to have caught the interest of general audiences. Like Mad Max, Army of Darkness or Serenity before it.

From the opening minutes we are gushingly reminded of similar films that probably inspired the look, style and tone of this one, as well as their more (in)famous scenes. Bad guys mow pedestrians down in a gruesome yet matter of fact way, but the cherry on top is the title character reacting to it by calling for a "recyc" on the bodies. Paul Verhoeven is facing-palming a wish he'd thought of that one... We HAVE seen that future before plenty of times, in various degrees of effectiveness, but that doesn't make the post-apocalyptic Mega City 1 any less impressive and hard hitting.

For newcomers to the 2000 A.D. character AND those who sheepishly think it is but a remake of a Stallone atrocity, the story takes place in a future where most of continental America has been irradiated, and what's left of the population live in megalopolises that span thousands of square miles. The inability to keep such calamities under control has led to the creation of the Judge Corps where individuals are mandated to act as Judge, Jury and Executioner right on the spot. One of the more ruthless of them, the uncompromising Dredd, has to break a new recruit before she is left on her own to patrol the city. Their training day puts them in the cross-hairs of a powerful drug-selling gang whose control of an inner-city tower will prove a sizable challenge for both mentor and trainee.

Toilets of the near-future use a quite minimalist design

In a cinematic landscape where directors -and studios- bet on visuals worth the operations budget of a small country to make their product look much better than it actually is, director Pete Travis dared limit his enterprising sets and effects to a mere $50M, meaning the whole thing rests on the screenwriter and lead actor. Thankfully both were up to the task.

Karl Urban, who in accordance to the source material never once takes off his helmet, contrasts the current superhero trend of making crime fighters brooding, deep and driven by complex emotionalities. His Judge is coiled to the limit with anger and matches it only with his confidence in the rule of law. There's no loved one to avenge, no dead relative that triggers a quest, no need for something bigger and greater; he's the law and he'll kick your ass, period. Urban completely loses himself under the character and lets him do all the talking, in a performance that reminds Hugo Weaving's brilliance in V for Vendetta.

One Batman's trash is another comic book hero's treasure...

Dialogues and exchanges are wisely few and manage to reduce the cringe-inducing one-liners oft associated with the genre. Save for the over-sue of slow-motion that more than once made me wonder if Zach Snyder had commandeered the editing room, the quick-paced and tightly packed proceeding -clocking in at a brisk 85 minutes- makes for one of the more surprising and enjoyable action movies since Fast 5 (YES, I LOVED that one, problem with that?!?) and one who deserved better than the cold shoulder it got from audiences on opening weekend.

Final Word: 8/10

Friday, September 07, 2012

TV REVIEW: Elementary (2012)

Let's the get the obvious question out of the way right from the start: Elementary isn't as good as the BBC's Sherlock. Because NOTHING is. Period. It would be completely unfair to compare the two, seeing the amount of talent and money pooled into the Cumberbach/Freeman version which benefits a 90-minute, 3-outings-a-season formula that easily outshines any 26-episodes US Network show current or past. That being said, it IS nevertheless an interesting show that deserves a chance to prove itself.

Admittedly I was of two minds when reading the initial announcement; a modernized, junky Sherlock roaming the streets of New York sounds great on paper but the choice of Johnny Lee Miller seemed a little too fast-tracked (especially since his last US TV gig gave him the thankless task of succeeding the amazing John Lightgow as Dexter's villain-of-the-season) while other tried-and-tested shows already explored the concept of a 21st Century Holmes; Hugh Laurie's House  and Simon Baker's Mentalist pop to mind. After viewing the recently released Pilot episode, I can't say I'm entirely sold but my former opinion prevailed: a tattooed, 12-stepping lunatic is indeed an excellent transposition of the character into modern times, and given some clever writing could prove to be a serious hit, if not a cult one.

Purists probably won't agree however, since the first major change other than the country is the gender of loyal sidekick Watson. Jane, as she's now known, could only be unfavorably compared to her predecessors had she not been made a lady, here in the guise of TV already-vet Lucy Liu. So far the clich├ęs and pitfalls have been avoided; Liu brings a broken, sensible and surprisingly smart ex-surgeon who now serves as a hired nanny for the recovering sleuth. Thankfully there's no trace of a possible will-they/won't-they rapport, and Liu genuinely brings something fresh to a character that's been portrayed every-which way for decades. Rounding out the cast is one Aidan Quinn, who's in his 12th year of seeking his second wind on TV, playing a generic cop who plot-devices Holmes into investigating cases for the NYPD.

If the pilot's storyline is any indication, Elementary will be following its own independent plots with little to no reference in the general direction of the source material's supporting characters and lieux. The gamble would be promising as a cable-show format of 10-to-12 episodes a season, but here might prove to quickly run out of steam and originality in the hands of a broadcast network. Hopefully the emphasis will be to study the characters and their interrelations as opposed to trying for a new and clever Shyama-twist every week.  The one thing that can help make or break a new show, a recognizable score and title sequence, is so far unaccounted for, which adds to my desire to find out more. Not a hit in any sense as it is right now, but with the right touch could definitely become the welcome winner of an otherwise-bland vista of fall-TV start-ups.

Overall decent intro for a new show, but a long way to go before it gets the bona-fide thumbs up.