5 Quick DVD Reviews (April 2014): Swords & Sorcery Edition

5 Quick Reviews is back with April’s new releases and nerd eating dragons.

This time out I’m calling it, the Swords and Sorcery Edition because all these films involve swords, sorcery, monsters, magic and epic battles and of course… nerds (That’s right, I use the n-word in this post. I use it a lot)

Nerd Dragon

“Nerdssssss!!!”

Hey! We can use that word. You CAN’T use that word.

April’s new releases are a mixed bag, ranging from the epic blockbuster to the ultra low-budget indie and all points in between. Also I go on a rant about people using the n-word as an insult and/or adopting nerd-culture “just for the jokes”. I’m looking at you Smaug.

Smaug

“I hate nerds …and I hate hobbits … and dwarves”

That’s more than just a little racist. But enough with the preamble.

To the reviews…

47 Ronin (Universal Pictures)

47-ronin-movie-poster

Directed by Carl Rinsch

Written by Chris MorganHossein Amini and Walter Hamada

Starring Keanu ReevesHiroyuki SanadaKou ShibasakiTadanobu AsanoRinko Kikuchi & Min Tanaka

47 Ronin is a fantasy film based on an ancient story of 47 samurai who lose their master to sorcery and betrayal. It is the story of their struggle for revenge. It is a very pretty film.

47-lang-nhan

With beautiful costumes and sets and nice effects, it paints a pretty picture. And at its core, it’s a good story. A fable with magic and demons and swordplay and Keanu Reeves.

Keanu

But what 47 Ronin doesn’t have is the best directing or the best acting. It suffers from slow pacing, even while the pace fits the subject (the patience of the samurai), and from bad performances (completely in English, everyone speaks with the thickest accents).

47 Ronin

But 47 Ronin has some cool battles and a powerful theme about honor and duty. So, I’m saying I enjoyed 47 Ronin despite it failings. But mostly because I’m an unapologetic Japanophile since High School. I love the culture, the art, the philosophies, the fighting styles and history of the island nation. Samurai, Ninja… all of it.

"What about the nerds?"

“What about the nerds?”

I am a Japanese culture nerd. 47 Ronin, while not a great film, is an entertaining and beautifully filmed one with a wonderful story about honor and service and duty.

Rent it (It has bad acting and bad directing, but a cool story with pretty pictures)

Next up… comedy acrobatics without a net.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures)

Anchorman 2

Directed by Adam McKay

Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay

Starring Will Ferrell, Steve CarellPaul RuddDavid KoechnerChristina ApplegateMeagan GoodJames Marsden & Kristen Wiig

Anchorman 2 is not very funny. I think I laughed out loud twice for the entire film. It’s a good story, about the rise of 24 hour news and the fall of journalistic integrity. It was good writing, for what they wrote but Anchorman 2 is yet another Judd Apatow improv movie.

Anchorperson 2

If you are a regular reader of my blog, there are two things about which I have complained in the past that Anchorman 2 is guilty: First. If they’re going to just point the camera at very funny people and let them riff then you really ought to be there. No really, it needs to be at a live improv show and not a movie. Second. If you’re going to replace all the spontaneous jokes for the DVD release, what does that say about the original jokes?

Meagan Good and Will Farrell

“They told me there would be comedy nerds here.”

Will Ferrell is great as Ron Burgundy and there are a number of surprise cameos all thrown into one epic battle scene. But it’s just not a very funny movie. And I’ve grown tired of the Apatow style of filmmaking. I don’t care what they came up with on-set. It is only precious to the people on-set. It’s voyeuristic. You’re not performing this for me. You’re trying to make the people on-set laugh. I want to hear words that were painfully extracted and nursed to maturity over weeks of staring at a blank page but then interpreted by the likes of Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate. Bring back the scripted comedy.

Anchorman 2 news team battle

Anchorman 2 is a series of outtakes edited together to form a story. I’d call it lazy but you can tell these people worked really hard to get what they got. It’s just not that funny as a movie. Or, as I suspect, I think you just had to be there.

Skip it (wait until they release the 500 hours of raw footage)

Next up… Part two of three of a one part saga…

The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

The Hobbit 2

Directed by Peter Jackson

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro  Based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Starring Ian McKellenMartin FreemanRichard ArmitageBenedict CumberbatchEvangeline LillyLee PaceLuke EvansKen StottJames Nesbitt & Orlando Bloom

The second Hobbit film is even better than the first. More exciting, although I’m seeing a pattern in the chase scenes turning into amusement park rides, and much more dramatic.

Dwarves in Barrels

Desolation shoehorns a budding romance into the story; A welcome addition with the lovely elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner), one of the taller dwarves.

Legolas

And Desolation introduces the dragon, Smaug. A satisfyingly evil and deliciously frightening, (in a Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong way) nerd eating dragon.

Smaug and Bilbo

“Come here, nerd boy.”

But when I heard they were extending the original two-part Hobbit movie into three parts, I knew there would be a bunch of filler. So I decided that I would shell out the money only for the first film and for the last but I would wait until I received the disk to see the second, as my own little, sort of, protest of their blatant money grab.

Orc

“I smell a Tolkien nerd fresh from complaining.”

While I don’t regret waiting for the second film, I regret not seeing it on the big screen (if that makes any sense). Especially for the dragon and the battles… and Evangeline Lilly (one of the most beautiful women/elves on the planet)

Evangeline Lilly

The movies are stretched to two and a half hours each. And though very well made, there is a heck of a lot of filler added. While the Lord of the Rings films could each be four hours long and still not seem long enough. The Hobbit films need editing. They need it badly.

Desolation

There have been two great films so far in this trilogy prequel but they’re nowhere near as good as Lord of The Rings. And not everything has to be a trilogy, guys.

Rent it (The movie is fantastic even if it is a good half an hour longer than it needs to be)

Next up… something to rant about.

Zero Charisma (Tribeca Film, Nerdist Industries)

ZCharisma

Directed by Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews

Written by Andrew Matthews

Starring Sam Eidson, Anne Gee Byrd, Brock England, Garrett Graham & Cyndi Williams

Zero Charisma is a dark and depressing drama about, what the movie would call, a nerd but what I would call a loser. A role-playing gamer, with anger issues and family troubles, who is slowly losing his mind. Wait… it’s supposed to be a comedy? Who says?

Scott Smash

The main guy, in D&D parlance, would be a character with ZERO charisma. It is actually pretty clever. No one, not even his family, likes him. In fact most people hate him. He is an awful person who has run a weekly RPG with the same five guys for four years before one of his “friends” (I use the term loosely) has to quit to repair his marriage. So “our hero” sets out to find a new player. Someone who doesn’t already know what an asshole he is.

Gaming

“Wait… We all get eaten by a nerd eating dragon? That’s not fair.”

He of course makes a mess of that… Zero Charisma is a very well-written movie for what it is. But what it is, is yet another film that equates nerd with loser. Yet another film where four out of five of the pimply faced adults who role play in their spare time are still virgins and the fifth is married to a shrew. I am so tired of this stereotype.

Grandma

“Oh boy. Here we go. Get ready for the rant.”

I would expect more from the producers, from Nerdist Industries especially, a company founded by the proclaimed king of the nerds, Chris Hardwick (@midnight, Talking Dead). But Chris does this all the time. His entire stand-up act is just him endearingly insulting his core audience. It’s okay, guys, because he’s a nerd too, guys. No really he is… 

RPG

Chris complains about people questioning his nerd cred… a lot… and there is a reason. Because instead of working to break the stereotype or even holding himself up as a nerdy success story. He derides us and makes nerd jokes. Like a Jewish comic doing jewish jokes. But then it turns out that they were only a quarter Jewish …on their father’s side. Never even been to temple. Just claiming it for the jokes.

Upper Nerd

Here we see the Nerd Lite or Upper Nerd (he has a girlfriend and social skills)

Not all gamers, nerds, geeks and role players are socially awkward virgins with Zero Charisma. And I know Chris didn’t write this movie but his name is on it and he’s an easy target. Okay, that was my rant about using nerd as an insult. Sorry Chris.

So while still being a good movie, (yes it is a good movie) Zero Charisma hammers home this image of the nerd in the most annoying way. Maybe I missed the point and this was supposed to be a comedy after all. But I thought of it as more of a drama / cautionary tale.

Scott

Or maybe we were supposed to find it flattering. Holding up a mirror to the ugliest creases of the culture so we can all yell, “I’m not that bad.” Because normally the so-called nerds are the smartest, the nicest, the sweetest, most passionate people in the room. Not this ogre. This Zero Charisma guy. I liked this movie. I really did. I just didn’t think it was funny.

Rent it (It is a good movie but it shows a bad nerd image)

Next up… yep you guessed it. more NERDS!!!

Knights of Badassdom (Entertainment One)

Knights-Of-BadassdomDirected by Joe Lynch

Written by Kevin Dreyfuss & Matt Wall

Starring Steve ZahnRyan KwantenSummer GlauMargarita LevievaJimmi Simpson & Peter Dinklage

Knights of Badassdom is another movie about role-players. But these are LARPers. These guys combine cosplay and sparring with role play and camping. I’ve always been fascinated by the culture but I would never be able to stay in character.

Larpers

Knights of Badassdom, unlike Zero Charisma, is about (the elusive) likeable nerds and it does not take itself seriously. It is actually a very silly film. But it’s a lot of fun. It uses the same old stand-by plot that I’ve seen a bunch of times before; Real magic finds its way into the role-playing world and wreaks bloody havoc on people who don’t know that it’s real until they’re dead. And yes there is a dragon that literally eats nerds.

KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM

“Is that a nerd eating dragon? For real?”

This is not an amazing movie by any stretch of the imagination but I love the cast, which includes Peter Dinklage and Summer Glau as well as a bunch of other familiar faces from True Blood, Community, It’s Always Sunny… all my favorite shit.Knights_of_Badassdom

Knights of Badassdom has the absolute silliest ending I have seen in a long time and while gory, the violence is completely over the top and the effects are intentionally bad.Peter Dinklage Badassdom

I still enjoyed it as a low-budget, tongue in cheek, send up of LARPing that doesn’t insult its subject, its characters or its audience. It ain’t Shakespeare. But its cute. It’s cute as fuck.

Rent it. (A fun low-budget comedy adventure with a bunch of cool people in it)

So to recap… 

There were two films about a bunch of outcasts who take on the establishment; 47 Ronin and Anchorman 2. Neither one that good but both of them pretty to look at.

There were two films about a bunch of misfits who set out to slay a dragon; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Knights of Badassdom. Both of them a lot of fun but one of them cost more to make than the other.

Here are two good-looking and cool elves…

The Elves

And a comedy about a loser I thought worked better as a drama; Zero Charisma. Which made me rant about how nerds are portrayed by other nerds, didn’t make me laugh a bunch, but that I still thought was a good movie… as a drama.

And that’s all for April. (I tried to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but turned it off. It was so bad. Go find the one with Danny Kaye. It ranks as one of the best films of all-time)

See you on the couch,

– Mel

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3 thoughts on “5 Quick DVD Reviews (April 2014): Swords & Sorcery Edition

  1. Good reviews. I also really enjoyed the Desolation of Smaug. Benedict Cumberbatch was great as the voice of Smaug and I really loved the CGI work on the dragon. The Hobbit movies have been a lot of fun so far but I agree they aren’t quite up to the epic level of LOTR. I think if they had been trimmed down to a leaner run time, that would have helped.

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  2. I had high hopes for 47 Ronin but the weak reviews turned me away. I’ll check it out now that it’s out on DVD. Between the sorcery and samurai fighting there’s plenty of nerdy stuff in there to look forward to.

    The barrel escape in Smaug is one of the best action sequences of last year. The elves are terrific, great casting Evangeline Lily. It really does need to be seen on the big screen, that’s how I also felt about Pacific Rim though it’s still fun to watch on TV.

    The thing with improv/riffing is it can come across as a bunch of dudes trying to make each other laugh or trying to be silly which doesn’t necessarily translate as funny to the audience. I’ll still check out Anchorman 2 eventually, but won’t expect much.

    The cast of Knights of Badassdom looks pretty cool. Good to know it has fun with Larping but doesn’t insult it.

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    • I hear you. That barrell chase sequence is sensational. I just noticed that it’s more like Indiana Jones than Lord of the Rings. The goblin chase from the first movie and the barrell chase from this one are very Spielberg and Indiana Jones. I loved the elves chasing the orcs chasing the dwarves. That was genius.

      I also love improv but no one wants to see the same improv performance more than once. Which is why they switch all of the jokes for the DVD release. The things that made me laugh were the other actors trying to keep a straight face as Will Ferrell tries to make them break. Except that if he is successful they can’t use the take.

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