Author Archives: J Caleb Mozzocco

Film review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Is it possible that George Lucas would okay a new Star Wars film for the express purpose of shutting down all the mean things film critics have been saying about him over the course of his second trilogy of Star Wars flicks?

Probably not, but one could make the argument; after all, one of the very few pleasure of the new computer-animated Star Wars: Clone Wars is ticking off the ways it responds to common criticisms of the past few films, proving critics’ assertions wrong.

For example, one of the most common complaints was that the reason the new trilogy was so goddam awful compared to the six-ilogy’s crown jewel, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, was that control freak Lucas was insisting on doing so much himself, instead of turning the scripting and directing over to more competent creators.

Well, Clone Wars is directed by animator Dave Filoni, not Lucas, and it’s screenplay is written by Steven Melching and Scott Murphy. Lucas only gets credit for the “story” (“Okay, so these guys fight these guys, and then they do it again, and then they do it again, and that oughta kill 90 minutes”) and for creating the “characters and universe.”

And you know what? It’s even more goddam awful than the last three movies. So there, smarty-pants critics! Continue reading

Film Review: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

It’s hard to say which summer movie suffers the most from the presence of the other: Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Obviously, the latter owes its very existence to the former. When writer/director Stephen Sommers launched The Mummy franchise for Universal in 1999, it bore far more in common with the Indiana Jones cycle than the 1932 Boris Karloff movie it was supposedly a kinda sorta reimagination of.

While George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg looked to old B-movies and serials for inspiration, turning out an A-list B-movie in their Indy franchise, The Mummy was a B-movie version of their A-list B-movie, taken the historical swashbuckling action flick back to its shoddier roots, with star Brendan Fraser’s self-aware charm and an at times nauseating amount of computer animation to separate it as a good-bad movie version of old bad-bad movies. Continue reading

Film review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Given the peculiar ambitions of the Hellboy franchise—would-be blockbuster special effects-driven eye candy horror action comedy—it should come as no surprise that the second go-round, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is all over the place.

The tone shifts from scenes of wacky slapstick to too-earnest melodrama to self-serious superhero movie-isms, and you can practically fell the gears grinding when it does.

It’s to writer/director Guillermo del Toro credit that the entire endeavor never completely stalls out, but manages to zip by thanks to copious B-movie charm, and genuinely amazing creature designs, a movie menagerie that could fill more than one of Pan’s labyrinths.
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Film review: Wanted

Like seemingly every third big studio movie this summer, Wanted is based on a superhero comic, a 2003 six-issue series of the same title.

In it, thinly-veiled versions of DC Comics supervillians have conquered the world and rule it from behind the scenes, lulling us into thinking that superheroes are just things in comics, movies and bad TV shows from decades ago. Perhaps due to legal reasons—I’m talking some thin, thin veils over those DC characters—the movie adaptation takes practically nothing from its comic source: The title, a couple of characters’ names, two lines of dialogue and…that’s about it, actually.

That in and of itself wouldn’t really be a problem, at least not as problematic as where director Timur “Night Watch” Bekmambetov gets his inspiration instead: The Matrix movies. You would think that Matrix Revolutions would have been the stake through the heart of Matrix mimicry, but here we have a guy with extraordinary superpowers in a business suit jumping through an office building, gun-fu, bullet time, a sleepy-eyed office drone recruited into a war he’s never heard of, and on and on. Continue reading

Film review: The Incredible Hulk

Last month’s Iron Man was the seventeenth feature film based on a Marvel Comics superhero since 1998’s Blade kicked off the current superhero movie cycle. Of those seventeen, none divided critics, movie-goers or fans as sharply as Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk.

It was by far the artiest and most experimental of them all, but something of a mixed bag—a well-acted, compelling melodrama with an all-special effect superhero that looked embarrassingly unconvincing, a badly botched ending and far too little smashing.

Which perhaps explains why The Incredible Hulk falls somewhere between a remake and a sequel, but far closer to the latter than a former. The entire cast is different, the creators are all different and the only reoccurring characters are the three principle ones. The origin of the Hulk, that which Lee occupied himself with for almost two hours before getting to the smashing, is told here in a minute or two, as flashes of information occurring behind the title sequence.

That’s how badly director Louis Leterrier (a disciple of Luc Besson whose filmography consists of action movies Danny The Dog and the Transporters) wants to make sure this Hulk movie delivers what the last withheld. Continue reading

Film review: Speed Racer

If there’s a problem with the Wachowskis’ kinda sorta live-action adaptation Speed Racer, it’s one of address—is this a movie for kids, or for grown-ups who grew up watching the early anime import in its late-sixties heyday (and/or its brief late nineties revival)?

It’s rated PG, and follows the basic structure of the cartoons perfectly (goofy melodrama and racing action for older kids, silly comedy relief involving Spritle and Chim Chim for younger kids).

But it’s also about two hours and fifteen minutes long, kind of heavy on the swearing and arty as all hell.

Will the same kids who enjoy a chimpanzee in osh koshes and think Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci mashing their perfect lips together is gross appreciate scenes of wicked tycoons talking about manipulating the stockmarket while profiles of their faces float across the screen, or the 2001: A Space Odyssey-like moment where the hero goes so fast he, like, transcends visual information?

I don’t know. This is a film that’s easy to see audiences both loving and hating, depending on the individual sitting in the seats, and their own ages, experiences and preferences. Continue reading

Film review: Iron Man

As subjects for superhero summer movies go, Marvel Comic’s Iron Man seems made-to-order. He may lack the deep multimedia adaptation history of a Batman or Superman, and the sprawling cast of a Spider-Man or X-Men, but he’s essentially a giant toy that causes explosions.

So it’s easy to see what Hollywood sees in the character, but, somewhat surprisingly, it’s hard to resist the film that director Jon Favreau and his four-man screen-writing team have built around it. Iron Man stands atop the increasingly large heap of superhero movies; in fact, it may be the current king of that particular hill. Continue reading

Film review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Well it’s about time.

There was a moment when the late-90’s Hong Kong invasion looked like it was going to be a boon for American cinema, but when some of the greatest stars and most promising directors of the far east finally arrived and actually started working in Hollywood, they immediately started cranking out inferior works.

Jackie Chan managed to become a household name, but he managed to do so mostly through a string of buddy action comedies pairing him Western co-stars (or, as I like to think of them, minders) that delivered diminishing returns.

Jet Li tried to go a more bad-ass route, but the results were simply bad, and he ended up the taciturn villain or sexless, speechless hero in movies with blaring hip hop soundtracks.

It really shouldn’t have taken a decade for someone to figure out that instead of diluting Hong Kong heroes’skills and star power with something homegrown, they should maybe appear in the same movies together.

Which brings us to The Forbidden Kingdom, the first time Chan and Li have shared the screen and, more importantly for kung fu fans, fought each other. Continue reading

DVD Review: Kurt Cobain About a Son


MP3: Put Some Sugar on It by Half Japanese, from the soundtrack

Documentary Kurt Cobain About a Son doesn’t contain any of the elements a viewer might reasonably expect from a documentary about Cobain.

The subject is never properly introduced or mentioned by name until the end. Footage and even photos of him are likewise mostly withheld until the very end. No one close to him, nor any experts or commentators who might provide any part of his story or its context, are called upon to opine.

The story of Cobain’s band Nirvana, i.e. the reason he’s famous and the fodder for projects like this at all, is glossed over. In fact, none of their music is played throughout the film’s 96 minutes, the soundtrack consisting instead of some of Cobain’s favorite bands and influences—Young Marble Giants, Queen, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Scratch Acid, The Butthole Surfers, and others—with the closest thing to a Nirvana song being David Bowie’s “The Man That Sold the World,” which Cobain and his bandmates covered in their MTV Unplugged performance.

There may be real world reasons for these conspicuous omissions—perhaps no one would talk to director A.J. Schnack, perhaps the rights for the use of the Nirvana catalogue were off-limits—reasons I don’t know, and don’t really care about. Whatever lead Schnack to make some of the unusual creative choices he made in constructing the film, the end product suggests this approach was ultimately the best one. In fact, when the film ends with a photo or two of Cobain’s face, and a pointless post-script telling us that Cobain committed suicide just a year after the end of the interviews, it seems like a mistake to include them at all.

If nothing one would expect in a Cobain documentary is present, what is? Schnack has access to over 25 hours of audio interviews that journalist Azerrad conducted one-on-one with Cobain for his 1993 book Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana.

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Filmmaker Pedro Costa (and his work) visit the Wexner Center


One of the most dramatic screenings at the Cannes film festival in 2006 was the new work by Portuguese director Pedro Costa (At least, that’s what I’ve read; I wasn’t there myself).

Reportedly, more than a few critics and audience members walked out, and weren’t shy about grumbling as they did. The film, Colossal Youth (Or Juventude em Marcha, “Youth on the March,” in its original Portuguese title), apparently divided the festival judges in addition to those at the screening.

And it’s not terribly hard to see why.

The two-and-a-half hour film is set in the claustrophobic kitchens and bedrooms of an apartment complex in the Lisbon slum of Fontainhas, home to many immigrants who came to Portugal from Cape Verde in Africa. It follows Ventura, a retired worker, as he visits a series of people, repeating the story of how his wife just left him, destroyed or stole all his possessions and stabbed him. Most of these might be his children—he seems to think some of them are, and some of them call him Papa.
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