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"Haywire" Review

If there is a more apt for Steven Soderbergh's misbegotten Haywire, I don't know what it is. What else can be said for a movie that manages to take a supporting cast with Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum in service of a script by the writer of Soderbergh's The Limey and a genuine kickass babe and make it boring and confusing.

The trailer below spells out the plot in rather spoilery detail, so I won't rehash it here except to say that there's far less action overall than the trailer would imply and that the dull parts aren't really filled with much in the way of deep characterization or intricate plot. While it's nice to have an action chick who doesn't look like she'll snap her arms throwing a punch (see: Angelina Jolie after Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Charlize Theron; Milla Jovovich; Zoe Saldana; Maggie Q) and to have fight scenes that don't rely so much on shakycam and edit fu, it never amounts to anything. The double-crosses and misdirections just keep things confusing as well as a superfluous flashback story structure - this could've been told in a linear fashion and may've made more sense, too.

Gina Carano has been dinged in some reviews for her performance, but considering the script is crap, I don't think much blame should be assigned to her. She looks and sounds remarkably like Linda Fiorentino, albeit a shorter, buxomer version who looks like she could actually fight. (She's a MMA fighter whom Soderbergh built this whole mess around.) It's indicative of how freakish "Hollywood beauty" is when a woman who looks like this... considered fat. (She's 5'8" and fought at 143 lbs, but she was pretty ripped then; I'm guessing she's 10 lbs. heavier in the movie.) As I saw someone caption a sports-bra-and-shorts-clad weigh-in photo of her, "I'd hit it, but it might hit me back." Yep.

On top of the poor script and pacing which feels flabby at less than 90 minutes - more happens in a typical 42-minute episode of Nikita - is Soderbergh's craptastic cinematography under the nom de screen of Peter Andrews. He can shoot a decent looking frame as the Oceans' movies show, but too often (since Traffic) he prefers to shoot and grade so that everything is a single color like yellow or red. It's junk, not style. He says it's to provide guidance to the audience as to where things are, but compare his sloppy methods to movies like The Matrix where scenes in the Matrix are a sickly yellowish-green while the real world is blue-gray, but not totally those colors. (i.e. Underworld movies which are basically black, blue and white.)

I was seriously let down by Haywire, a movie that I'd planned on seeing in theaters and ended up glad I didn't waste money on.

Score: 4/10. Skip it or catch it on cable while you're multi-tasking.

"The Cabin in the Woods" Review

The Cabin in the Woods, the brilliant meta-horror deconstruction co-written by Nerd God Joss Whedon and Cloverfield scribe Drew Goddard (and directed by him), has been held hostage by MGM's bankruptcy for a couple of years, finally making it's way into theaters now. It premiered at SXSW and all the reviews were uniformly rapturous but with a common element: They all said to take their word for it that it was very good and you should see it but to avoid learning anything about it because it will spoil the fun.

This is another one of those reviews.

As the trailer below shows, it's about five young people who go to the titular cabin and then bad things happen to them. What the trailer only provides glimpses of (and even those spoil things a little) is what's behind these events and it's impossible to even hint at what's going on without defeating the purpose of taking this ride.

What's interesting about the storytelling is that instead of waiting until the end to reveal what's going on, Whedon and Goddard are dropping details every step of the way while still leaving viewers wondering WTF is going on? I'd pretty much figured out what was happening and why about 2/3rds of the way through, but there was still plenty more to come.

Sorry to be so vague, but I diligently avoided spoilers in the run-up to visiting The Cabin in the Woods and only want you to have as much fun as I did. You're welcome.

Score: 8.5/10. Catch a matinee.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Review

In a Tokyo subway station is a tiny 10-seat sushi bar that is run by an 85-year-old ninja (euphemistically speaking) who has dedicated his life to mastering preparing the world's best sushi and as a result it is the only sushi-only restaurant to receive Michelin's top three-star rating. The story of Jiro Ono, his two sons, and the restaurant (Sukiyabashi Jiro) is the subject of the whimsical documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Despite the inauspicious location, reservations are taken a month in advance and customers pay in the neighborhood of $400 for dinner, with Jiro serving up approximately 20 pieces of sushi of his choosing. There are no drinks or appetizers or fancy-shmancy rolls - just sushi. (I'd have to win the lottery to be able to eat there and, even if I had the means, I don't see how I could possibly enjoy a piece of fish, no matter how wonderful, that cost more than I'd pay for a Blu-ray or some games. It's not as if you get a souvenir waitress to take home.)

Jiro seems driven by a combination of strict Japanese work ethics and a touch of OCD - he takes the same turnstile on the subway every day - but the results speak for themselves. His relationship with his two sons, one of whom started his own place that's literally the mirror of the father's, is interesting and there's a fascinating twist towards the end about who served the Michelin's inspectors. However, for all the discussion about the process of purchasing and preparing the fish, some basic details aren't addressed, starting with how did he manage to gain such notoriety in such a pedestrian location and what of the mother of his sons who obviously raised them as Jiro admits not being around much while he worked.

If you like sushi and want to see how the stuff you'll never be able to try is made, check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but prepare to be very hungry for some sushi before it's over.

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

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