#99 - El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo

Dedicated To
Paul Naschy
1934 - 2009

Added 12/1/9

And we’re back! Sorry for going AWOL last week. I had fully intended to post a pre-holiday edition of the Electric Theatre but had a tough time doing so after a kitchen accident almost sliced off one of my fingers. For those of you thinking about experimenting with finger amputation, I don’t recommend it. Anyway, I’m healing nicely and I trust you were all so stuffed full of turkey and cranberry sauce that you didn’t even notice my absence. So let’s get back into the swing of things with admittedly, not the strongest lineup of films we’ve ever had. They can’t all be gems.


Ninja Assassin

When billboards and posters for Ninja Assassin started popping up around L.A., I found myself breaking into a giddy smile. I hadn’t seen a cool ninja flick since the 80s, although I half suspect that if I went back and rewatched those movies, I would discover that I have never seen a cool ninja flick. Produced by the Wachowski brothers and directed by V For Vendetta helmer (and go-to second unit action ace) James McTeigue, how could Ninja Assassin be anything other than 100 minutes of awesome bad-assery?

South Korean megastar Rain stars as Raizo, an orphan adopted by a ninja clan led by Sho Kosugi. Raizo becomes a star pupil but is left scarred, both physically and mentally. He rebels against the clan and comes to the aid of Mika (Naomie Harris), a researcher at an Interpol-like agency who is getting dangerously close to the league of assassins. If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because this is not the first movie you’ve ever seen.

OK, obviously I didn’t go see a movie called Ninja Assassin expecting a work of narrative complexity and deep insight into the human condition. I wanted fun, violent sequences of no-holds-barred ninja action and the movie sort of delivers some of that. There are a few undeniably exciting fight scenes here that are great fun to watch. But I have to qualify that because of the distracting overuse of computer effects. I am by no means against CGI entirely. The opening sequence makes good use of it with some wild, almost cartoonish slayings. But great big splashes of computer-generated blood get on my nerves. Filmmakers always seem to forget that blood has to go someplace. Instead of creating big pools on the floor, it just vanishes like a fallen opponent in a video game.

Ninja Assassin isn’t a terrible movie. Rain has a strong and appealing presence and it was great fun to see Sho Kosugi back on screen. On the other hand, Naomie Harris, who was so magnetic in 28 Days Later, does her best to be as forgettable as possible in this. My patience with her character wore out early on when she returns home to find the power out in her apartment building. She’s researching ninjas. She has just been told that she is in danger. Ninjas attack from shadows. So of course, she strolls right into a completely dark building. At this point, you want the ninjas to kill her because she’s clearly too stupid to live. In the end, Ninja Assassin is about 10-15 minutes of entertaining action connected by alternating scenes of interminable boredom and irritating CGI effects. For some of you, this will not come as a surprise. But if you’re like me and like your ninjas served straight up, it’s a major disappointment. (* *)


Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

A few months back, a little arthouse movie called Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen quietly crept into theatres. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. At the time, I had no interest in the continuing adventures of the Autobots, so I sent Junior JET Correspondent Max Haaga to file a report. Max’s review was extremely well-received. In fact, rumor has it that Max got a three-picture deal at DreamWorks out of it. But not everyone was amused. A small but vocal group of fans took me to task for the column, claiming I was going out of my way to make fun of a movie I couldn’t even be bothered to see. Fair enough. I suppose I was a bit. I explained that I don’t go to press screenings and that the reviews you see here are my reactions to movies I paid for just like anybody else. Sometimes I don’t want to shell out the money to see something I’m pretty sure I won’t like, just like anybody else. But I swore that I would give Transformers a fair shake when it came out on DVD. Here then is that shake.

At this point, you either already know or officially don’t care that Revenge Of The Fallen finds the Autobots teamed up with a covert military unit to ferret out the last remaining Decepticons on Earth. Shia LaBeouf is headed off to college and in a life-or-death struggle with girlfriend Megan Fox to see which one can hold out the longest without saying the L-U-V word. It turns out that the robots in disguise have been on Earth for thousands of years and an ancient, evil Prime called The Fallen is now ready to finish the job of destroying our Mr. Sun.

As I predicted, I did not care for Transformers Part Deux, although in its defense, I didn’t think it was any worse than the original. There are some impressive effects tossed around but it’s difficult to care too much. Apart from Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, I honestly can’t tell the difference between any of the giant robots and when they’re locked in battle, it’s even harder to tell them apart. The new additions to the franchise are especially annoying, whether they’re robots like Amos and Andy (or whatever the obnoxious jive-talking Autobots are called) or robot-like humans such as LaBoeuf’s roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez). Director Michael Bay takes a lot of heat for how he films action scenes but I’m more bothered by how he shoots everything else with a sheen that makes everybody look like moistened plastic.

One could argue that since I didn’t grow up with Transformers, these movies aren’t meant for me and of course I’m not going to like them. I disagree. The target demographic for giant Hollywood movies like this is everyone in the world. That’s the only way that can possibly turn a profit. So if there are folks like me who actively dislike it, there’s something wrong. I appreciate that not everyone is going to enjoy every movie. But what confuses me is the passion some fans have for this movie and its predecessor. If you liked it, that’s fine. I’m glad you did. But did you really like it that much? I can’t imagine this being anybody’s favorite movie. I’m no stranger to enjoying movies that many others hated. For example, I really liked last summer’s Speed Racer. I thought it was innovative, exciting and visually dazzling. Millions of others hated it with a passion and you know what? I get that. I completely understand why somebody might hate Speed Racer, just as I hope fans of Transformers understand why I didn’t like it. I wouldn’t exactly say the movie made my soul hurt, but it definitely made my head ache. (* ½)

Thanks to all those who wrote in with this week’s Tales From The Queue suggestion, even though I suspect it was more of a challenge than a recommendation. Next week, Jahnke’s Electric Theatre hits #100. Expect fireworks.

Your pal,