Monday, 19 December 2011

In the Loop Review

I heard about this movie on Twitter.  Someone I follow asked about good movies and someone tweeted this as a recommendation.  I investigated and saw it was a UK comedy that was nominated for a writing Oscar.  Being who I am, I had to see it.  And I also felt that Karl would like it.  While I think he enjoyed it more than me, neither of us was disappointed.  The easiest way to describe this film is it is what would have happened if Ricky Gervais had made the West Wing.  It has such a good mix of subtle and in your face humour that you find yourself at least smiling all the time at the situations.  But you also really have to pay attention because the entire film is very dialogue based.  There is little to no reliance on physical or context humour.  Everything in the movie seems very plausible.  It is really what would happen if the British and US governments were run by a bunch of smart asses.

Overall, this movie is very sound technically.  I already mentioned it was nominated for an Oscar.  And, given its reliance on dialogue, the writing has to be rock solid to hold the viewers' interest.  It is also very well acted.  From the main characters to the ones that are only on the screen briefly, they all provide strong performances with nobody really standing out and dominating.  It is very much an ensemble piece. That makes it seem even more real because the characters are all supposed to be "behind the scenes" members of the government.  Sadly, though, in trying to capture the realism, they decided to go with shaky camera work in an attempt to make you feel like you are moving with them.  When will film makers realize that this simply does not work.  The viewers' eyes cannot anticipate where the camera is going to move and adjust accordingly like it does in real life.  The only result is irritation and nausea for most people.

But, that's really the only drawback of the film.  See it.  It is a very well done piece of intelligent humour.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas Review

I knew what I was getting into.  While I'm not really upset that I saw it, I do wonder why I took the time.  I knew there was going to be gratuitous drug use, profanity and sexuality.  After all, it's Harold & Kumar.  I knew it was going to have no basis in reality for the same reason.  But, I was expecting more legitimate movie making (plot, acting, writing, etc.) than I got.  The third Harold & Kumar is not much more than a Christmas themed Jackass 3D with blatant crap flying at you (literally and figuratively).

It's weird because both Kal Penn and John Cho are very good actors.  But here, they just didn't seem to have the same chemistry or drive to perform that they did when they went to White Castle.  Almost everything that Penn said seemed really forced and the reluctant Harold seemed more indifferent to getting involved in most of the antics than adamantly against them like they were developing the character to be.  It seemed to bleed over into the supporting cast as well because there really isn't a good performance with the exception of Neil Patrick Harris.  His performance is right up there with what he did in the first two.  (Although I didn't care for the Jesus scene.  But that wasn't his acting.  That was the fact that it is a topic that I draw a line at for entertainment personally.  I have no problem with having it in a movie but how you portray Jesus on screen is a fine line with me.  But that is 100% a personal opinion and I realize that everyone is different with that.)

In addition to NPH, I will say that there are two good things about this movie.  First, Waffle Bot was funny.  Second, The Danny Trejo as a child character was good for a laugh.

But even without the Jesus scene, I would still emphatically say do not see it.  It's just really bad.  I normally have no problem with the drug use and raunchy humour in movies.  But it has to be done in a clever and interesting way (like Pineapple Express or the first Harold & Kumar movie).  This was just phoning it in.

Tower Heist Review

Tower Heist is a movie that has a hard time deciding what it wants to be.  Throughout the whole film, there is never really any consistent theme developed.  It starts out as a movie that seems light hearted but has the potential to get quite serious and dark quickly.  Then, Ben Stiller bails Eddie Murphy out of jail and it goes into a very dialogue based comedy involving those two and the core thieves.  My brother Karl pointed out that it almost became a buddy comedy which was a very apt description.  Then, it finally becomes the comedic heist movie that it was advertised as.  This inconsistency is really the only drawback of the film and it is far from enough to diminish the viewer's enjoyment.

The rest of the film is really quite solid.  The dialogue writing is very good and it is delivered through some very strong timing from all of the actors.  The ones that really stand out though are Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick and Michael Pena.  Murphy normally has a tendency to be either really on or really off with his hyper-speed line delivery.  In Tower Heist, he is on and he has a very good chemistry with Ben Stiller.  Broderick was a perfect choice for the geeky, soft spoken and timid character who comes out with the occasional line that makes you laugh out loud.  But (and I was very surprised by this), Pena steals just about every scene he's in.  He's one of those actors that you recognize but never really stands out.  This is by far the best work I've seen him do and, to me, it was very memorable.

The story writing and development was really decent for the most part.  For a lot of the movie, it seemed actually quite plausible that this could happen.  Then, it derails through some theatrics and plot twists that make it lose a bit of credibility.  It's pretty important to the plot and wasn't advertised in any of the marketing so I won't give away specifically what it is but I can say it has to do with where and when they find out where the money is hidden (anybody who knows anything about heist movies can't complain about giving that much away).  Again, it isn't enough to take away from the entertainment value of the movie.  But it does go back to the inconsistency of the film.

However, inconsistency notwithstanding, see it.  While it isn't the best heist movie or even comedy out there, it definitely delivers superior value for your money and time.  It is worth it for the comedic timing and interaction of the characters.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Muppets Review

When I reviewed Muppets From Space back in May, I said that people who work on Muppets movies always look like they are having fun.  That holds true for this one except they look like they're not only having fun but having the time of their lives.  It would also explain the sheer number of high-profile cameos.  I think everyone in Hollywood should want to be in a Muppet movie.  To me, it would be like guest voicing on an episode of the Simpsons.

In retrospect, when I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall and saw Jason Segel singing with a Muppet-like vampire doll, I should have known that this would eventually follow.  And, knowing some of Segel's past work and seeing him on How I Met Your Mother, I should have expected his weird, weird nature to come through like it did.  Because the Muppets have that zany "forget reality" nature as well, I did expect this to go in that direction.  I didn't expect the level of surrealism that Segel brought to it though.  Combining the odd nature of both the Muppets and Segel's mind creates a synergy of comedy that is just terrific.

Basically, it's this: the Muppets haven't done a show in years and Segel and his Muppet brother get them back together for a telethon to save the Muppet Theatre from the evil Mr. Richman (played very well by Chris Cooper.  Although I could have done without the rap number.  But, given that it is a surreal Muppet movie, I can let it pass).  Given that we haven't seen the actual Muppet Show in many years, this is a great way to bring them back into the popular consciousness.  Almost everything in this movie is meant to bring the viewers' minds back to a nostalgic state.  I liked that about the film.  Rather than just write a movie about the Muppets (which would have been good in its own right), Segel decided to blatantly make it a piece that makes us want to relive some parts of our childhood.  Because of that, it leaves us wanting more.

Being a Muppet movie, you are supposed to suspend reality in your own mind before sitting in your seat. After all, it involves people talking to puppets.  On the surface you may think something like, "it's a ridiculous story and the acting was bad."  But it has to be that way.  Because many of the characters are puppets, the film needs to be written more into what their world would be.  The acting also needs to be more over-done.  When you do these things, you bring the two realms closer together and the viewer has an easier time relating to the Muppets and kind of forgetting that they are not actually humans.  If you take that attitude going in (which most of you probably did or will do), you get a delightful, two hour movie where you just can't help but laugh and have fun.

Definitely see it!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Larry Crowne Review

I can honestly say that this movie, more than any other, was marketed truthfully.  Many times, you see ads and trailers for a movie and then, when you go see the actual film, you think you're watching something completely different.  With Larry Crowne, there are no surprises.  The marketing advertised it as a feel good, get a second chance and find yourself movie and that's exactly what it is.  While I wouldn't say it's brilliant or anything like that, it is adequate.

As usual, Tom Hanks is decent.  While not his strongest performance, there is really nothing bad about it.  And, while I'm not a Julia Roberts fan, she is decent in it too.  In fact, overall, the acting is OK.  I did have a beef with some of the characters though.  While I felt we were supposed to be focused and interested in the development of Hanks' and Roberts' characters, there was a little too much quirkiness in the secondary ones.  This really draws your attention away from the point of the film.  On the flip side of that, it is that quirkiness that leads to the main character development.  While I'm not sure how you would go about fixing this, it is a contradiction that I didn't really feel worked to its full potential.

Honestly, I don't know what recommendation to give this one.  It isn't a movie that will blow you away even though it has some very good actors.  But if you like Nia Vardalos' work as a writer, you may enjoy it.  I'm glad I watched it but have no desire to see it again.  So, when I get that feeling, I usually say see it and judge it for yourself.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Undercover Brother Review

Let me start out by saying that if you critique movies based on the quality of acting, directing, cinematography, special effects, writing, etc., you will not like this movie.  From that standpoint, almost everything is bad.  The plot is a ludicrous twist on those mid-range James Bond movies where the hero and his organization is ridiculous and the evil organization is even more ridiculous.  Basically, Eddie Griffin is trying to save African American culture from being set back fifty years through a mind control drug administered through a chain of fried chicken restaurants (yeah, it's that weird).

But the thing is, it's supposed to be what it is.  After all, Eddie Griffin is the star.  That, in itself, should indicate it was never intended for Oscar consideration.  They didn't set out to make some groundbreaking movie just to end up with crap.  They set out to make an over the top comedy and, when looked at in that light, they ended up with a hit.  I will say that, even though the formula worked, some of the acting is so bad that it is still difficult to watch.  Most of the peripheral characters (White She Devil, Smart Brother, Mr Feather and his sidekick), while decently inspired for the film, are brought to life in such an awkward way that is sometimes difficult to watch.  But, for the most part, the over acting adds some comic element.

There are two performances that do stand out though.  First, Neil Patrick Harris as the token white guy is really good.  He plays the geeky, stereotypical white guy well and when his character starts to empathize with the Brotherhood's plight, he transitions even better.  But the best performance by far is from Dave Chappelle as Conspiracy Brother.  He steals absolutely every scene he is in.  Almost every line is perfectly written for him and he delivers each one with terrific timing and comic inflection.  I still laugh every time I think about the 'Atomic Core" button.

See it.  It's an hour and a half of mindless fun that delivers laugh after laugh.

Monday, 14 November 2011

J. Edgar Review

The problem with biopics is that they are, by nature, episodic.  Only the very special ones can use this to their advantage and, somehow, not appear to be just stringing along a series of anecdotes from a figure's past.  J. Edgar, while not as episodic as, say, The People vs. Larry Flynt, still falls short of being able to rise above and be a great movie.  It is unfortunate because Hoover's story is one that is quite enigmatic and has never really been told.  But I think the fact that we actually know very little about his private life hinders a movie about his life from being one grand story.  All we really have are the anecdotes.  Clint Eastwood tries to overcome this by jumping between Hoover's earlier and later years.  Instead of losing the episodic feel, all he does is disjoint the story and ruin any flow that may have been building up.  The result is a bored viewer.

I have no idea if this movie is accurate.  In fact, I don't know if anybody could really tell you.  There's so much private stuff displayed that would never have been made public that makes the film scream "hearsay."  On the other hand, there are also a lot of other stories that would have been public record so those will have some accuracy to them.  But given the fact that I believe Hoover was an egomaniacal paranoid little man, who knows what is truth when he is involved?  So you can really throw any expectation for truth out the window with this one.  Instead, they try to depict Hoover's transformation from an ironically radical view of radicalism to over abuse of power.  This, in itself, would have made for a very good movie.  But then they try to intertwine it with his personal struggles with his sexuality and mommy issues.  That, on its own, would have made a good movie too.  But, put the two themes together and, again, the flow is ruined.  Nothing in this film grabs the viewer into a consistent story.  Instead, it is about 30 minutes too long.

Now, the technical stuff.  The film is very well shot and lit and is superbly acted.  Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer are terrific.  This is especially true of Hammer after Tolson's health starts to fail.  However, the great acting is overshadowed by some really, really bad makeup jobs.  Half the time the actors look like more like Eric Stoltz in Mask than ageing men (especially Hammer).  And some of the casting choices were a bit odd.  Jeffrey Donovan made a convincing Bobby Kennedy.  But I'm pretty sure that they just picked the first guy off the street with bushy eyebrows to play Nixon.  I know those characters are minor but I believe a biopic needs to make the extra effort on those things.

Don't see it.  It just isn't worth it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Big Year Review

Given the subject matter and knowledge I had of the movie going in, I had a feeling it would be a subtle but fun feel good story.  And that is just what it is.  The Big Year is a typical "learning what is important in life" movie.  It uses the activity of obsessive and competitive birdwatching and a metaphor for finding your way in life.  It's pretty thinly veiled (and sometimes not at all) but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.  While it is a comedy, it doesn't rely on getting laughs to keep the viewer interested.  Instead, it relies a lot on some good acting and a very strong story with some comic events mixed in.  The result is a really tight and light hearted movie.

I wasn't expecting too much.  After all, the film wasn't marketed much and really doesn't have much of a hook to compete with the plethora of choices out there.  Except for one thing.  It has an absolutely spectacular cast.  You get excellent and heartfelt performances from all of the three main actors of Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.  None really stand out from the other two but if I had to pick the best performance, it would be Martin.  He was the most believable and likeable of the three.  And then the supporting cast is full of strong and recognizable people.  Even if they are in only a few scenes (like Brian Dennehy or Anthony Anderson) or even one scene (like Steven Webber and Corben Bernsen), there isn't really a poor performance.

All of the strong acting mixed in with the right pace and a heartwarming story, makes the viewer actually care about what happens to the characters.  You even want the jerk (played by Owen Wilson) to succeed.  When that happens, you know you have a good movie.  And that is even strengthened by strong camera work in the tremendous scenery and some fantastic choices in music, especially in the brief but effective montages.  The end result is a very tight and strong movie (but I think I already said that).

See it.  Unfortunately, it wasn't marketed much so it likely isn't even in the theatre anymore.  But, thanks to on demand, DVD, etc, you should be able to find it and it is worth the effort.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Prayer for the Dying Review

Although I haven't read the Jack Higgins novel yet, I imagine that the movie is very true to the book.  It has all the hallmarks of a good Higgins novel.  There's the IRA guy who has become jaded towards the cause.  There's gangsters, an innocent girl and guns with silencers.  And the story is classic Higgins.  The problem is that they didn't do a really good job in delivering that story.

Higgins novels are melancholic and dark.  And while the film is shot and written that way too, the acting is pretty poor.  It's surprising because the film stars Mickey Rourke and features Liam Neeson.  While Rourke isn't horrible, he isn't anything to write home about either.  And Neeson's character is so minor that they don't even really need it.  The rest of the acting is well below average save for one.  Bob Hoskins is quite good as the priest.  He probably gives the best performance of the entire movie.

Being a thriller, you would expect there to be more action involved.  But there really is next to none.  I say this because Jack Higgins is known for writing compact action thriller novels.  So, if you are expecting that knowing that it is a Higgins story, you will be disappointed.  The movie moves very slowly.  It would have helped to write in a bit of exposition rather than relying on visuals to tell the story.  That would make it move it along quicker and allow for a couple of tense action sequences.  Those scenes work in the written word.  On screen, they slow things down.  Making those tweaks would have made for a better adaptation.

If you are a Higgins fan like me, you will probably want to see it just because it is a Higgins story.  But, other than that, I would have to recommend that you don't see it.  And it pains me to say that because I'm a huge Higgins fan.  I guess his books just don't translate well to the screen.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Johnny English Reborn Review

I guess the decision to reboot James Bond sparked something in Rowan Atkinson to revive his satirical character, Johnny English.  When the original came out, it was marketed as a James Bond spoof and, while a fun movie, came off as more of a goofy 90s comedy with unbelievable characters and wacky situations (my review is here).  Reborn is much more similar to the Bond movies through its use of locations, action sequences, gadgetry (although that was in the original too), hot women and music.  In fact, the two Johnny English films mirror the Bond movies in the fact that they go from outlandish villains and plots to a much more realistic situation.  Remember Moonraker?  Jaws?  Spectre?  Those were a lot like John Malkovich's nutty plot to turn England into a penal colony by claiming the throne.  In Reborn, you get a much more realistic and subdued plot of simple assassination, much like the villains and plots have come closer to earth in the Bond movies.

Bringing that back to reality really allows the film makers to focus on what we all want to see: Rowan Atkinson being a boob.  And he does it very well in this film.  Unlike Mr Bean, Johnny English is not a loser or an idiot.  He's actually quite good at what he does while being a bit odd and insecure in his abilities.  The character was a bit raw in the first one but Atkinson does a terrific job with him in Reborn.  And, unlike Mr Bean, Johnny English works on the big screen.  Because it's an English movie, a lot of the humour is subdued and subtle which won't please many on this side of the Atlantic.  We've gotten so used to the Will Ferrell style of comedy that everything has to be loud and slap you in the face.  Reborn does none of this.  Both the physical and verbal comedy are subtle and smart which makes it funnier to me.

There was one significant drawback.  As a James Bond spoof, they have to put in action sequences.  In doing this, they skimped a bit on the budget.  A lot of the action is poorly green screened and takes away from the visual quality of the film; especially in the exotic locations.  And many of the sequences went on a little long and weren't as fast paced as they could have been.  They did, however, do a decent job in mimicking and satirizing the stereotypical Bond action with the locations and shooting angles.

I say See It.  I think it is better than the first.  But keep in mind that I'm the kind of guy who likes the dry, subtle British humour.  If you don't like that, give it a pass.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Manhattan Project Review

A teenager steals some plutonium from a top secret lab and makes a nuclear bomb.  From that one sentence, this movie could have had some pretty dark and tense aspects to it.  Add in the fact that it features John Lithgow and it could have really gotten twisted.  The problem is that it was made in the 80s.  All of the potential for an "edge of your seat" thriller is wasted.  Instead of using ominous music mixed with dark lighting and camera work, they decided to go with music and lighting that made the montages feel like they were part of an episode of Charles in Charge.  To refresh your memory, Scott Baio never made a nuclear bomb (at least I don't think he did).

One good part about this film is the performance by Lithgow.  That isn't surprising though.  He is a very good actor.  The rest is average to bad.  While the general idea of the story is good, the way it was told is not.  There are just way too many holes in everything that allow the whole thing to develop.  I know it was the 80s and technology wasn't as advanced back then but I'm still pretty sure that security at a top secret nuclear facility would have been better than it was in this movie.  Then there's the question of the kid's motives.  They try to make it a morality play but you always get the feeling that it's all just to get into Cynthia Nixon's pants.  The motives are never clear and you just don't really care by the time it's all done.

Don't see it.  It may have been OK 25 years ago.  But it does not stand the test of time.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Perfect Host Review

Going in, all I knew about this movie was that some guy on the run from the law cons his way into David Hyde Pierce's house and interrupts plans for a dinner party.  I thought it would be sort of like that movie where Sinbad ended up at Phil Hartman's house or the Peter Sellers movie, "The Party."  Imagine my surprise to find that this is not a comedy at all but a very twisted psychological thriller.

The premise had a lot of potential.  There's a guy who robbed a bank and is looking to lay low and heal his wounded foot.  He ends up in the house of a very twisted and disturbed man who holds dinner parties with imaginary people.  And then it just goes off in weird and twisted places.  I can't really tell you a whole lot more about the plot without giving things away.  The robber is forced to participate in the charade or face some pretty serious consequences.  The movie never lives up to its potential.  It could have gotten very dark and, while it does start going in that direction, it never really gets there.

Through the whole film, they throw a twist at you that derails the film a bit.  It's sort of like the General Lee going on two wheels.  You think it's going to fall over but they manage to get it back on track.  They keep going around these curves and, each time, they bring it back and the viewer gets back into what's going on.  But, each time they swerve, they go a bit farther over until, finally, they derail it to the point of no return.  The last 15 minutes or so become this forced "tie it all up" thing that really makes no sense and does not fit at all within the theme of the film.

There are basically two characters: John Taylor (the robber on the run) and Warwick Wilson (the nutjob).  Taylor is a very poor character.  Through confusing flashbacks and exposition from tacked on detective cop scenes, they try to make him some kind of reformed criminal who is actually trying to do the right thing.  There are too many layers to the character and, as a result, none of them are believable.  The Warwick character, on the other hand, is quite well done.  He's the one who should have all of the layers considering he's a bats**t psychopath.  But he's really a quite shallow and simple character.  This comes across well through a very strong performance from David Hyde Pierce.  At the start, I was seeing nothing but Niles Crane.  But, once they do their first "swerve" he takes the character to some pretty dark and twisted places.

The performance from Pierce is not enough to save this movie though.  I recommend that you don't see it.  You may want to just to know what the twists and such are.  And, if the curiosity is too much for you, it's only an hour and a half long.  So you won't be wasting too much time.  But, ultimately, I'd say it isn't really worth it.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Guard Review

Karl gets the Broadway Theatre calender emailed to him.  When he saw this one, he knew he had to suggest we see it together.  When I saw that it was an Irish comedy about an oddball local cop and a straight laced FBI agent trying to solve a crime in a small Irish coastal town, I knew I had to see it too.  If you follow this web log, you've probably figured out that I like almost anything that has to do with that part of the world.  And The Guard is no exception.

First off, the movie is flat out funny; even with dialogue that is, at times, very difficult to follow and understand due to the thick accents.  Most (if not all) of the jokes still come through and there's very little that is lost from a cultural clash.  They also overcome the potential for misunderstanding with the fact that the context is never too confusing.  You always know what's going on even when a movie like this has the potential to get a bit confusing.  They never try to give too many twists and turns that crime movies try to do.  On the plus side, you get to focus on the humour and don't have to think too much.  On the downside, it gets a bit predictable.  There is very little subtlety in the foreshadowing events and, as a result, no real surprises.  There is no real depth to any characters.  Even though they try to make Boyle a bit of an enigma, that never really goes anywhere significant which is a bit of a drawback and a bit confusing at times.

That notwithstanding, the movie does what it sets out to do.  It makes the viewer laugh.  The deadpan deliveries of great writing are mixed with some really good physical comedy to make it entertaining all the way through.  I thought it was going to slow down a bit about 3/4 of the way through but it was a very brief speed bump.  I originally thought it would focus a bit more on Don Cheadle's character and make it a real "Lethal Weapon" type of movie.  But they rightly realized that would be a mistake and let the focus be on Brendan Gleeson and Cheadle could be Frank Schuster to his Johnny Wayne (you have to be Canadian to get that reference but it's the most apt I can think of).

See it.  Especially if you want a good laugh for an hour and a half.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Ides of March Review

Obviously inspired by Barack Obama quick rise to the presidency, the Ides of March combines that story with Primary Colors.  It's a really decent story with a terrific cast.  It has a lot of potential to be a gripping political drama.  However, it leaves all of that potential on the table.  The bottom line is that it is downright boring.  Ides never gets going.  It starts out confusing and, even though it seems to wrap everything up with no loose ends, you still come away a bit confused.

The only really decent part of the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman's little tirade on Ryan Gosling.  I said he was miscast in Moneyball.  But, PSH is meant to play roles like this.  He does the aging strategist very well.  And speaking of which, Paul Giamatti plays the secondary aging strategist very well too.  Those two are very believable in it.  In fact, the acting all around is very good.  It's just that the script is boring much like American politics in general. While they dress it up with controversy and debates and such, it is all nothing much more than grown people fighting based, not on what's right for the country but on the political colour of their state and what can get them elected.  In this, Ides makes a very poignant social statement about integrity and how there really is none in American politics.  It just does it in a way too boring way.  Instead of adding any intrigue or danger for any of the characters, they just let them get away with whatever with no real consequences.  As a result, you don't care what happens and, if you're like me, your mind wanders and you spend most of your time wondering if that's actually the shape of Ryan Gosling's face or if he's wearing about 1000 layers of pancake makeup around his eyes.

Don't see it.  It isn't worth your time.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Moneyball Review

I need to preface this review by disclosing that I am a baseball fan and an Oakland A's fan.  So any movie that lets me relive the winning ways of my team from ten years ago is one that I am going to enjoy on some level.

That being said, this is a great movie.  Any time you can take a film that is almost 2.5 hours long and not make me bored at any time is a good thing.  With something that long, there are bound to be lags and, while the movie slows a bit during the non-baseball Billy Beane moments, I found I didn't lose focus and those moments were short.  If you have read the book, you'd find that like another Michael Lewis sports movie (The Blind Side) they took a book that talks about technical sports stuff and turned it into a human story without losing too much of the sports jargon, etc.  I haven't read the Blind Side but a friend told me it was very sports skewed.  I have seen the movie and it is more a story about human nature.  Moneyball keeps even more of the sports angle while still letting you see Beane's transformation as a person (I'd say it's very true to the book without just being a statistics course - something the book almost becomes).  It is done so subtly that I didn't really even notice until my brother pointed it out after the film.  So you really have to tip your hat to Brad Pitt there.  He goes from a bit over-cocky to humility through subtle gestures and tone of voice very well over the course of the film.  And there's a lot of subtlety in the film that lets the viewer figure things out on their own.  They don't hammer into your face who each person is or what's going on.  They let the story tell itself.  A baseball fan will have the light go on quicker and enjoy it and a non-baseball fan will just say to him/herself, "oh, that must be the boss at the Cleveland Indians.

The way this film was made is terrific with a couple of exceptions that I will address later.  First, you can feel the dramatic emotion right from the start.  It starts with one of the most entertaining and dramatic baseball playoff series ever (New York vs Oakland in 2001 shortly after 9/11) and never lets go.  Throughout the movie they use music, brief montages and terrific dialogue (especially the dynamic between Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt - fantastic) to keep you hooked and almost mesmerized for the whole time.  They even manage to make the worst park in all of baseball (the Oakland Coliseum) seem like a cathedral for the sport.  (I don't recall if they were selling out during the big winning streak in 2002 but it was nice to see the Coliseum appear to be full for baseball.)

The authenticity was near flawless too.  Overall, this movie is exceptionally cast.  When you are making a film like this with so many true characters, you have to balance the acting with looks and believability.  For the most part, this is done well.  All of the old guard scouts and coaches seem like old cranks that will balk at Beane's new philosophy.  While I know most of the actors don't look at all like the players they were portraying (Chad Bradford, David Justice, Ron Washington, etc.), it was never a distraction.  In fact, the actors must have done their research well because they were able to get Bradford's submarine delivery and Justice's swing down well.  The best though was Scott Hatteberg.  Not only did he get the batting stance down, he actually looked like Scott Hatteberg.  The other top casting choice was Jonah Hill.  He is great as a nerdy, out of his element, statistician.  The only one I didn't like was Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe.  He's too big for the role and the fact that it was him overpowered what should have been a much more minor role.

The only things I didn't like were the little continuity things.  First, the typo on the Game Time posters in the clubhouse bugged me.  But maybe they are actually accurate for what is up there in real life.  Having never been in the A's clubhouse, I don't know.  The other is that, when listening to the game on the radio at the beginning, Pitt should not have been hearing Thom Brennemann's voice.  Brennemann was the TV guy and having his commentary for the TV footage was great.  But, when they cut to a radio shot, they should have switched to the radio announcer commentary.  While it keeps consistency for the viewer, it takes authenticity away.  For that one (And a couple others I won't mention), I would have erred on the side of authenticity.

See it.  A baseball fan should see it now during the playoffs.  A non-baseball fan can wait as there's nothing the theatre can really add to it.  But definitely see it before Oscar season because it should get a Best Picture nomination.

Friday, 30 September 2011

50/50 Review

Welcome to my 100th movie review.  (pause for cheers and applause)  I have enjoyed writing every one and hope you enjoy reading them.  I will continue to do this.

At some point, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to win an Oscar.  When watching 3rd Rock From the Sun, that never crossed my mind.  But he's become an absolutely awesome actor over the years since.   This is his best performance since The Lookout.  Honestly, he could win for his role in 50/50 and he should at least get a nomination.  This is a movie that is supposed to evoke feelings of happiness and sadness at the same time and JGL's performance does just that.  It's been a long time since I cried during a movie and I did at different times during this one.  I also laughed out loud a lot.  From start to finish, JGL delivers the emotion that is needed at that particular time.

The supporting cast is very good too.  Seth Rogen is perfect as the loveable and loyal "Larry Dallas" character (you know, Richard Kline on Three's Company).  Rogen's job in this film is to provide a lot of the laughs while still being the loving and supportive friend.  He does it very well.  This is how he should have performed in Funny People.  In fact, this whole movie is what would have happened if they had made Funny People properly.

The setting for this movie is perfect.  While it also led to one of my minor beefs (which I will address later), having the movie set in the Pacific Northwest is brilliant.  Everything is damp and bleak while still making the viewer want to be a part of the set.  That's what the Pacific Northwest is like.  Using this helps to bring out the emotional roller coaster that this movie is based on.  In addition to that, they do a terrific job with the music too.  I think that had a lot to do with making me cry as well.

Now, the minor problems with 50/50.  First, the pace is pretty slow, especially during the first 40 minutes.  It takes a while for everything to start.  But it isn't enough to make you lose interest and, once it gets moving, you stay into it.  Second, if you are going to make a point of telling the audience what city the movie takes place in, you should not make a point of obviously filming famous Vancouver landmarks (unless the film takes place in Vancouver).  Yes, the Lion's Gate Bridge and the Seawall are beautiful but they aren't in Seattle.  That just seemed to be lazy continuity to me.

But those are very minor beefs.  See this movie.  I don't just recommend it, I demand it!  See it and pay full price.  It is wonderfully written, has solid acting from both the main and peripheral characters, right up until the end, you have no idea how it's going to turn out, it is beautifully shot and it is funny and sad at the same time.  They do a brilliant job of combining a very serious topic with humour; something Funny People failed to do.

Also, given that it was filmed in Vancouver, pay attention to Set Rogen's license plate.  Did they do that on purpose?  I like to think so.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Killer Elite Review

Take the basic revenge story of Munich, add a little Jason Bourne and film it like the Bank Job.  You will get Killer Elite.

I knew basically nothing about this movie going in.  All I had seen was a few ads promoting it.  Those ads showed two of my favourite actors (Clive Owen and Jason Statham) kicking ass so i knew I wanted to see it.  in that respect, it doesn't disappoint.  Over the two hours, there is plenty of Clive Owen and Jason Statham kicking ass.  I didn't know that this movie was based on a true story.  In my mind, that makes it even better.  The story is great.  It's basically about assassins trying to kill assassins (hence the name).  There are no real good guys in this film which gives it a dark element that I really liked.

So, then, why did they have to try and further humanize Danny (Jason Statham)?  The whole angle with his girlfriend is really unnecessary.  Yes, they try to make it necessary but a bit of different writing could have gotten rid of that element all together and the dark theme of the movie would have been much more consistent.  It isn't enough to make it bad but leaving all of that in there was enough to make the film a little too long.

Technically, I'm torn about this movie.  The acting is solid all the way around.  But I am biased because, as I said, I am a fan of both Owen and Statham.  I did not like the casting of Robert De Niro though.  It has nothing to do with his performance.  That is quite solid.  But the role is secondary and his presence seems to take away from the tension between Statham and Owen.  If he isn't one of the leads, that tends to happen because he's Robert freaking De Niro.  I understand why they have him in the film.  It lends huge marketing support and will get people to see it.  But they could have cast a lesser actor in the role and really made it about the two leads.

The writing is a bit convoluted.  The big picture story itself is fairly easy to follow.  However, the exposition is not.  Too often, I was confused as to how they got from one target or plot point to the next.  I usually like it when the film makers leave the audience to figure some stuff out on their own but they leaned a little far towards that in this case.  As a result, it gets a bit confusing.

Finally, the camera work.  I alluded to it being filmed like the Bank Job.  By that I mean just about everything is fairly grainy and washed out.  This is done to make it look like it is taking place in its historical 1980 context.  It's a catch 22 though.  That kind of camera work lends itself well to the dark theme of the movie and the viewer feels it.  However, when it goes on for a full two hours, it tends to affect the viewer a little too much.  So the main point is, again, that the film is a little too long.

All that being said, I give it a see recommendation.  This could be based on my biases towards the actors.  But it does have the action that you expect and a decent story that is deeper than I thought it would be.  However, I would not suggest you put it high on your priority list unless you are a fan of the genre and actors.  If you are you might want to see it sooner.  Otherwise, wait for DVD or on demand where you can pause and back it up to figure out what the hell is going on from scene to scene.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Zombieland Review

I normally do not care for monster/zombie movies.  I think it has something to do with the fact that I often like to eat while watching a film.  And now it seems that most of these movies are trying to outdo each other in their gross out factors.  But I really like Zombieland.  Yes, it is very gross in its zombie effects and it is incredibly violent.  But it is also very funny and very cleverly done.

The writing and acting in Zombieland makes it stick out from other movies in the same genre.  Like Shaun of the Dead, it is not a horror movie.  It is a comedy that is set in a horror story.  A few things set it apart from Shaun though.  Shaun is more of a parody of zombie movies.  Zombieland doesn't parody other movies or pop culture.  it just uses humour to tell a post-apocalyptic style of story.  Using narration, deadpan line deliveries and excellent timing of jokes, Zombieland entertains right from the outset.  Both Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are perfectly cast.  After all, Eisenberg always comes off as a prototypical nerdy loser (eg. The Social Network and 30 Minutes or Less) and I'm not even 100% sure Harrelson knew he was being filmed for this movie (kidding).  The dynamic between the two works very well.  While Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin weren't terrific, they played their roles solidly and did a good job in supporting the comic deliveries of Harrelson and Eisenberg.

Really, the only part of this movie that I would have done differently is the Pacific Playland scene at the end.  It really seemed to go on for a bit too long.  In fact, the movie really grinds to a halt comedically at the Bill Murray scene.  (I apologize if I spoiled that for you but I figure it's been almost two years.)  While still staying as a comedy, it tries to bring in a deeper, more heartfelt story that really doesn't fit.  By this time, it's too late.  Had that element been brought in closer to the beginning, it could have worked.  (Also, a chainsaw is never used in the film.  So it should not be featured in the poster.  Those things just kind of bug me.)

That isn't enough for you to avoid this movie though.  See it.  It is very funny and entertaining.  The effects are good if you like gross zombies.  And the comic timing is terrific.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The History Boys Review

I normally don't mind seeing a movie based on a play.  The problem here though is that, most of the time I felt like I was watching a play and not a movie.  The great thing about film is that you can do so much more than you can on stage.  For the History Boys, they failed to take advantage of that.  Overall the story is very good.  It's about a group of English schoolboys trying to get into Oxford and Cambridge and the relationships they have with their teachers and each other and the lessons they learn about life along the way.  But it never decides if it wants to be a play or a movie.  There is too much jumping back and forth between that wooden, short lines dialogue you see in plays and the more fluid exposition that comes from a combination of decent writing and good camera work.  As a result, the History Boys never grabs the viewer.

While the premise for the film is very good, the delivery of the story is not.  Billed as a comedy, there is actually very little humour to be had.  It also never decides who the protagonist is.  Is it the group of boys?  One boy in particular?  Hector the teacher?  The examples can go on.  Just when it looks like there is going to be a plot that develops, it derails and goes in a completely different direction.  So, for most of the two hours, I found myself confused and uninterested.  It also doesn't help that I cannot see Richard Griffiths on screen without picturing him as Duncan from King Ralph.  So, just when it seems to tie everything together and wrap up, they throw a couple of twists at the end that are just completely unnecessary.  While sort of relevant, they don't seem to fit at all with the overall theme of the story and just confound the viewer even more.

Don't see it.  It always seems to be on the precipice of being good and then falls short.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Trip Review

I had to see this movie.  It's a British comedy playing at Saskatoon's Broadway Theatre.  I'm just wired that way.  I do have to throw in a disclaimer here though.  Last December my girlfriend and I drove through Northern England and I fell in love with it.  So seeing the countryside and the small towns and narrow roads was quite nostalgic for me and I enjoyed it just for that.  Your experience with the film may not have that.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon basically play themselves.  They are two semi-famous actors on a trip through Northern England.  Coogan is reviewing restaurants and Brydon tags along as a last minute replacement for Coogan's girlfriend.  Both are at the same point in their careers but are on different paths.  Coogan wants more out of his career and Brydon seems to be content being a one trick pony that entertains people.  In this regard it is quite derivative of Ricky Gervais' sitcom, Extras, where Gervais wants to make it big and seems to be stuck doing a catch phrase but realizing success in doing so.  However, in the Trip, they've split the Gervais character in two and had them interact with one another.  In these interactions, they basically try to change each other to be more like themselves.  The result is a very funny and well made movie.

The Trip is very well written.  Whether or not it was scripted or improvised is immaterial (improvisation is nothing more than quick writing in your head).  The resulting dialogue between Coogan and Brydon becomes laugh out loud funny.  The parts where they are in the car or sitting at the restaurants talking to each other have some of the best quick and witty dialogue I've seen in a while.  Coogan's understated deadpan (which they even acknowledge) compliments Brydon's over the top impressions perfectly.

But the movie is much more than just one liners between friends.  It is also a moral journey for Coogan who, through the course of events, learns that there is more to life than just his career and the fame that seems to elude him.  Over the course of the entire two hours you can really see the character grow.  The problem is that it takes two hours.  There comes a time about three quarters of the way through the film that you think, "that's enough.  You aren't doing anything new.  It's time to wrap up."  So it runs a little long.  I also said that the dialogue between Coogan and Brydon is great.  But when that ends and the more artsy, reflective stuff happens, the pace of the movie seems to slow significantly.  There is this constant roller coaster of laughing and reflection that seems to happen too quickly.

When all is said and done though, there is enough comedy in those reflective parts to keep you entertained.  While they do seem to be dramatic valleys, they aren't as deep as they could be. See it.  While it may go on a bit long the sheer number of laugh out loud bits makes it worthwhile to watch.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

CB4 Review

I loved this movie when it came out.  I bought the soundtrack and couldn't get enough of it.  I can still sing all of the lyrics to Straight Outta Locash.  And when people ask me what I'm going to do, I often say I'm going to go to South America and find Kurtis Blow.  I was a huge rap fan back in the day.  Then I stopped listening to hip-hop shortly after Tupac Shakur died.  If this movie was released now, I probably wouldn't be interested at all.  So, I'm glad I listened to a lot of this kind of music because it made me see this movie.  It's absolutely hilarious.  CB4 is a great satire of the Gangsta Rap explosion that hit in the late 80s and early 90s.  It delivers great jokes one right after the other.

That isn't to say that the movie doesn't have flaws.  From a technical standpoint it is riddled with them.  There's nothing too inspired about the directing or camera work.  The story isn't anything really new or innovative.  And the acting is pretty average leaning towards bad for most of the support which is weird because it is easily the best work Chris Rock has ever done.  The other two members of the group, Allen Payne and Deezer D are average too with Deezer probably being the better performer.  Payne just seemed a little too out of his element a few times for some reason.  Probably the most enjoyable performance though is from Chris Elliot as A. White, the documentary film maker.

But all the flaws aside, CB4 is great because it doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is.  The sole purpose of this film is to make the audience laugh and enjoy themselves.  There is absolutely no other message.  If you try to see any underlying theme or moral, you will be disappointed.  In that, it is very successful.  As I alluded to, the only really superior part of this movie is the humour.  It is actually very well written with both over the top and subtle humour.  There is nothing highbrow about it.  You don't have to think to get any of the jokes.  Putting that in it would have absolutely ruined it.

So, when all is said and done, you have nothing more than a fun, hilarious 90 minute satire.  If that's what you want and like, see it.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Devil's Own Review

While not based on a specific Jack Higgins novel, The Devil's Own is definitely inspired by the man's work.  It has many of the hallmarks of one of these novels: IRA gunmen, gangsters, illegal activity, a boat and a guy getting shot in the knee.  All we need is a short, fair-haired guy drinking Bushmills and we have a novel in the Sean Dillon series.  I had actually never heard of it which is odd because it came out at a time when I was going to see almost everything in the theatre and it deals with the IRA and the Troubles (a subject that fascinates me).  So, when I saw it on Netflix, I was definitely going to watch it.

I wouldn't say I'm disappointed in the film.  Like I said, it strongly resembles Jack Higgins' work.  Those novels, while they move quickly and have a lot of intrigue and action in them, they are not very deep at all.  Neither is The Devil's Own.  It starts out pretty slow actually and doesn't really get going until about the quarter mark.  Then it moves at a decent pace and never really bogs down in any kind of character play.  It does delve a little into the characters but it never lets that dominate the screen.  So, in that regard, it is well done.

The problems with the movie are in the casting and acting.  First, the acting from Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford is about as good as you'd expect from either.  Pitt is really nothing to write home about but he also isn't bad.  I think casting him was a mistake.  He's too much of a pretty boy to play an IRA hardman.  Even in his grittier movies like Fight Club and Snatch, he comes off as having too much hipster in him.  So a different choice would have been better.  Ford is his usual personality-less self except when he gets angry.  Then he's over the top cheesy and unbelievable.  Really, the guy isn't a great actor.  But he was Han Solo and Indiana Jones (two campy roles in campy - yet fun - franchises) so he'll always get work.  The supporting cast is slightly below average.  Some of it is good but, for the most part, they are fairly stiff and, when they have to show emotion, they do not do it convincingly.

While it isn't a total waste of time, I would recommend that you should probably not see it.  Unless you are like me and really enjoy the "Jack Higgins" genre, you will likely not enjoy it.

Monday, 29 August 2011

30 Minutes or Less Review

I chose this over the new Planet of the Apes movie because I had a sad day and wanted a laugh.  I did laugh so it was successful.  But ...

This is what would happen if you got a bunch of ADHD cases to try and write Pineapple Express.  Like Pineapple Express, 30 Minutes or Less is about slackers, morons and Danny McBrides doing crazy shit and saying funny things.  However, Pineapple Express is witty, original and well acted.  It's kind of weird.  There are times when I found myself laughing like Jack Gallo on Just Shoot Me (not nearly as much as the "lady" behind me who brought her child to see an 18A rated movie and, in turn, do her part to help ensure that mankind is a cesspool of morons and ne'er-do-wells in 20 years - but I digress).  But it is interspersed with the most wooden dialogue I've seen in a mainstream comedy for quite some time.

When you combine that with the fact that not one of the actors in this movie gives a good performance, you have a movie that is difficult to watch in spite of itself.  The best performance came from Nick Swardson of all people.  That should tell you just how bad everyone else is.  At times, it felt like I was watching a bunch of teenagers recite their favourite movie one-liners without context.

This movie is less than an hour and a half long and it still completely lost my attention.  Like I said, it has some laugh out loud lines and antics but they aren't enough to save it from how bad the rest of it is.  Furthermore, for some inexplicable reason, they try to bring some morality into it closer to the end.  By then, I was so bored with the wooden acting that I just wanted it to end so I could open my Blogger account and tell you not to see it.

Don't see it.  It isn't worth your time or money.  If you have a comedy that consistently makes you laugh, watch that.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Chocolat Review

I expected something a bit different.  I thought this movie would be much more a romance than it actually is.  It's really a drama about a woman and a town dealing with their own demons and growth.  So I'd say I was pleasantly surprised.  Even if it isn't much more than Footloose in 1950s France, it's a well made movie and a very good story.  I expected more Johnny Depp.  I actually thought it was a movie centred around him.  But his character is actually very minor.  That's not to say that it isn't important.  Depp's character needs to be in the movie.  Add to that there is less of an emphasis on Juliette Binoche than one would expect and you get very much an ensemble piece.  The acting performance that really stands out though is Alfred Molina.  He always plays the tool in a movie and he does this one very well.

Don't get me wrong.  This film is definitely targeted at the female audience.  It is very much a tragic, romantic drama in places.  But there are a handful of places where I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of the antics and lines.  The viewer does have to go in expecting to invest two hours that, at times, can feel more like three.  You have to go in expecting a slow pace where a lot of the story develops visually.

See it.  It is an exceptionally acted and filmed movie around a solid story.  Just make sure you are in a bit of a melancholic mood.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Angels & Demons Review

Whether or not you think the stories are inflammatory to the Catholic Church and sacreligious and whether or not you think Dan Brown reads too much into symbols and coincidences is immaterial.  One thing is for sure.  You cannot deny that Brown knows how to tell a good thriller.  The Da Vinci Code lent itself better to a movie and I think that's because it dealt with subjects and a legend that more people are familiar with.  Angels & Demons uses a legend and locations that are a bit more vague to the general public.  As a result, they have to spend more time in their exposition.  In a book, it works well because the author can use as many words as he/she likes to get the message across.  A film maker has less time though and all of the exposition in this story is rushed.

Brown's thrillers are so intricate that you really cannot omit much and still have a tight story.  So they spend the first half of this movie using the dialogue to explain things while trying to keep it moving at a fast pace.  (One thing they could have omitted was the shots of his Mickey Mouse watch.  It's taken from the books and never explained in the movie so it is completely extraneous and downright stupid.)  As a result, the dialogue became a bit cheesy and forced.  Add the fact that Tom Hanks (for some inexplicable reason) turned Robert Langdon into a condescending jackass for this movie and he immediately becomes unlikeable.  However, after the halfway point, the pace remains but they are finished explaining things and let the story unfold.

Ironically enough, what makes this movie good is the story itself.  The idea of science vs religion and the Illuminati vs the Catholic Church is one that I find way more compelling than the Holy Grail (Da Vinci Code).  Don't get me wrong, I liked the Da Vinci Code.  But I prefer both the book and movie versions of Angels & Demons simply for the story.  I especially like the resolution and conclusion for Angels & Demons more but I won't give anything away.  If you really want to know my thoughts on the endings for both, leave a comment with an email address and I'll get back to you.

I am disappointed that they reversed the order of this and the Da Vinci Code from the books but I realize they had to capitalize on the success of the second one quickly for the movie.  But you don't have to see these in order anyways.  They are really their own stories and are made separately quite well.  The only thing you need to know is that Langdon was involved in another adventure involving the church.

See it.  While it may not be the best acting or writing, the story is really tight and it moves very quickly.  I found, after multiple viewings, it still grips me and holds my attention.  So that makes it good in my book.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Beautiful Boy Review

Obviously inspired by the shootings at Virginia Tech, this movie becomes even more powerful in light of the recent shootings in Norway.  It's the story of the immediate aftermath of a campus shooting that focuses on the effects of the tragedy on the parents of the shooter/suicide victim.  In this, there is no real story.  It isn't a typical movie that follows a plot and comes to some sort of conclusion or resolution.  It really just is a snapshot of people's lives over a certain point in time.  This film is entirely set up to make the audience feel one emotion.

Beautiful Boy relies on strong acting performances.  It does get this from Michael Sheen and Maria Bello.  The emotional roller coasters that these characters are on always seems quite real.  When they veer off from each other, you feel the tension and when they collide, you feel the passion and sorrow.  There is only one spot where the writing is forced and the resulting dialogue on the screen seems a bit wooden.  Supporting performances are decent but nothing really to write home about.  I was surprised to see Alan Tudyk and Meatloaf in it.

As for the rest of the production value, there is nothing innovative or special about it.  But, as I said, a movie like this lives and dies with its acting performances.  While some of the camera angles seemed odd, it didn't take away from the film because the whole thing has a real indie feel to it.  I assume that was the intent.  I was not sorry that I paid $10 to see it.  While it seems to drag a bit because of the lack of a traditional plot, it doesn't go on for too long.

If you are in the mood for a drama with absolutely no comic relief, see it.  But, be warned.  There is only one emotion for this: sadness.  It is slightly less depressing than House of Sand and Fog or Requiem for a Dream.  If you can't handle that, give it a miss.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Captain America Review

I must be suffering from some sort of Comic Book Movie Fatigue or something because I should feel a lot better about seeing this movie than I do.  It really was not what I expected.  First, I expected it to be a lot more "hey Johnny" 1940s than it was.  With the exception of the big USO production number, it really wasn't at all like that.  I also expected it to be a lot more American patriot than it was.  After all, the character is Captain America.  If ever there was justification for over the top American patriotism in a movie it was here.  But, thankfully, they stayed away from that and made it more of a good vs evil type of story that audiences outside of the United States can enjoy just as much.

The best part of this movie is Tommy Lee Jones.  He really steals every scene he's in.  I think part of that has to do with most of the good one liners going to his character.  But he delivers them with his signature "deadpan yet oddly animated" style that only he can do.  As for the rest of the actors, there's really nothing bad except for maybe Stanley Tucci.  His German accent was slightly less worse than Vincent Schiavelli in Tomorrow Never Dies.  Between that and his look, it kind of reminded me of a caricature of my Dad's cousin, Bernd who is actually from Germany.

One thing a comic book movie has to be is visually appealing.  While Captain America didn't knock this one out of the park, it isn't bad either.  There are some shots where I thought they could have spent a little more money on the CGI to make it a bit smoother (especially when he's jumping) but, as a businessman, I understand the need to stay within budgets.  Most of the other effects are decent as well.  For example, the Hydra's weapons are well done.  The effects aside, the fact that this movie is set in the 40s doesn't actually help it.  Most of the costumes, props and lighting, etc. are overstylized and give it more of a Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen feel to it.  This is because they combine old analog technology with stuff that just didn't exist back then.  As a comic book movie, it needs to be a bit over the top but it doesn't seem to fit with the other Avengers movies in that regard.

If you are planning on doing the whole "Avengers" movie thing, it is obviously essential to see this movie (and, yes, stay until the credits are done).  But, if you are just looking for a stand alone action movie, you should probably not see it.  Especially with all that has come out this year.  And that's a shame.  If they had waited until they were out of the wake of Thor and Green Lantern, I'd probably feel different.  But, if you want to release the Avengers next spring, you have to cram as much of the preliminary material in before that as possible.  I just feel like we're being saturated with action this summer.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Arlington Road Review

It's a really good story that gets pretty dark as it progresses.  The problem is that, while the premise is good, the delivery is not.  Arlington Road is quite poorly written, acted and directed.  On the surface, I thought it would be quite good.  After all, it has three very good actors in Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack.  Add in that it is a thriller about domestic terrorism and it should get pretty exciting.  It starts out really well and ends decently.  But the stuff in the middle is quite forgettable.

The direction from Mark Pellington is a bit over the top.  Had he just stayed with it being a dark movie, it might have been better.  But his weird camera angles, odd lighting choices and overbearing music actually maces the movie seem like a bit of a parody of itself.  When you add in the fact that the dialogue is written quite poorly and cheesy, the entire tone of the movie suffers.  Furthermore, the writing, at times, is confusing.  I realize this is a conspiracy thriller so there have to be some twists.  But for a lot of the time, there was no proper exposition to explain how the story was unraveling.  As a result, the confusion compounds with the next twist.  If this happens too much (as it did here) the viewer can lose interest quickly.

As far as the acting goes, it seems that none of the three big names could really get it together at all.  Robbins and Cusack have great characters.  Both of those actors have the look and talent that should have been constantly sending shudders down my spine.  But, because of the poor writing, both performances became almost laughable.  Bridges, on the other hand, played his character quite well.  Oddly enough, his character was the laughable part.  Faraday is a history professor that specializes in domestic terrorism and he has a chip on his shoulder with the FBI.  He's constantly looking for conspiracies yet, when it comes to his wife's death, he's too quick to dismiss any conspiracy in either the government or the killers.  So, in spite of the decent performance, I could never really get on board with the character and didn't care about the outcome.

Don't bother seeing it.  If it were to come out now, I'd be one of the people rushing out to see it because I like thrillers.  But it came out 12 years ago and didn't age very well.  Maybe that's because it isn't really relevant anymore in the post September 11 world.  Had it been done well, it could still have some value in its historical context.  But the subpar production should put in pretty far down on your list of thrillers to watch.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Limitless Review

What happens when you take one of Hollywood's hottest commodities and give him a pill that will let him use 100% of his brain power?  That's basically the premise of the movie except that Bradley Cooper doesn't play himself.  Rather than do that, they should have given the screenwriter and director a pill that would have done the same thing.  Maybe they would have made a good movie then.

The premise is actually pretty cool.  But it had so much more potential to be a good dark thriller than it had for what it turned into.  Instead, they tried to make it a more upbeat movie that would appeal to, let's just say, the less cerebral of people.  I'm not saying that you're an idiot if you enjoyed it.  I'm just saying that they could have made a much more intellectual movie.  It is possible for the very intelligent to appreciate something a bit more shallow.  Rather than focus in on one or two plot developments and really getting into it, they bounce around a few different possible stories and never develop any kind of depth.  As a result, they rely on effects and distracting montages to move the story.  None of the villains have any meat to them and neither does Cooper's character.  In fact, you don't really care what happens to anyone.

For a movie where some of the characters are supposed to be using 100% of their brain power, they sure make a lot of illogical decisions.  I will give you one example that won't spoil the movie.  If you have to choose between hedge clippers, a baseball bat or a figure skate to use as a weapon against an assailant, what would you choose?  I'd choose baseball bat but that's because I can swing a bat well.  Some would choose the clippers for their stabbing and cutting power.  Only a moron would go for the skate.  But, that's exactly what she did.  And it's not like the skate was just lying there.  No.  It's attached to a LITTLE GIRL!!!!  Absolutely preposterous.  But most of the stuff is.

Don't see it.  It's pretty bad.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Review

John Favreau knows what he's doing.  He can take a comic book story, make an action movie about it and also make you care about the characters and story.  At first with this movie, I thought it was taking a bit long to get going and that there should be more action.  But, as it progressed, I realized that they were letting the story come to the audience and have it unfold naturally with action scenes used as a compliment.  Too often in these alien action movies, there are these big expository scenes that they rely on to explain things.  If you are anything like me, you tend to start tuning out long dialogue parts in action movies because you go in with your brain half turned off.  Often, I wind up confused because I missed something that was said and, if there isn't enough action going on through the whole movie, I come away disappointed.

With Cowboys & Aliens, a lot of the explanations are done visually and they don't get too deep.  Part of that I think is attributed to Favreau and the executive producers (Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard in particular).  But I think part of it can also be attributed to the subject matter itself.  The premise of an alien invasion taking place before our own technology has taken off is very interesting.  The gap between the alien technology and our own causes a lot more confusion on the part of the humans and they cannot develop any strategic defense or extract any knowledge from the alien technology (like they did in Independence Day).  So, the story becomes a bit more shallow and focuses on survival rather than any higher meaning.  There is no patriotic crap or underlying political message to this movie because of that.

Speaking of visuals, Cowboys & Aliens has some of the better ones I've seen in a Western for quite some time.  The locations that they used combined with the bright lighting are absolutely breathtaking.  Combine that with some really good special effects and you have a very appealing movie, visually.

The only real problems with this movie are, first, some of the sound editing was out of sync.  Sounds of fists hitting faces didn't match up with the shot in a few instances.  But the main problem was Harrison Ford.  I do have to give him some credit because he was saddled with a ridiculous character.  Is he good?  Is he bad?  Is he misunderstood?  Is he a schyster?  Make up your damn minds.  There were too many layers to his character and it didn't fit with the aforementioned shallower story and, therefore, became a distraction.  But, that notwithstanding, Ford's delivery of the character was still pretty bad.  Somebody get that man a lozenge please.  Or, just go off set, hork up that big loogie and let's move on.  Combine that with his wooden and cheesy deliveries and it's not his best work.

But, overall, see it.  It is well worth your money and time.  Even with Ford's performance, it is a very entertaining movie.  The other performances are really quite good even from the latest Maxim flavour of the week.  Favreau keeps the pace going and, before you know it, the two hours is up.  The climax even moves quite fast which is something that tends to drag on in an action/alien movie.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Quantum of Solace Review

I must admit that I like this movie a lot better now that I understand what they are doing with James Bond.  When I first saw it, I thought, "oh great.  The dirty, damn hippies have taken over James Bond."  But I now realize that they are trying to make Bond more realistic in leaving behind things like super cars and gadgets and having him escape some pretty stupid situations.  So, instead of gadgets, he has a state of the art smart phone.  Instead of super cars, we get to see eco-friendly Fords.  Instead of Jaws or Odd Job or even a Korean dude with diamonds embedded into his face, we get what is apparently Quentin Tarantino's malnourished and mentally deficient brother.  Instead of exotic locations, we get the Bolivian desert.

Quantum still has some of the hallmarks of a good Bond movie.  We still have two Bond girls.  One who is a bit dim and dies and one who helps him out.  We still have a super villain and even an organization that is determined to cause problems.  But, the villains now seem much more realistic and even if the method for domination is not.  An evil cartel trying to gain control of the world's water?  Sorry.  I'm not buying it.  And that's a good thing because we're never supposed to really buy into the evil plot in a Bond movie.  So, even if it was unintentional, I'm glad they still did something over the top.

Overall, Quantum is well made.  The action is still very good and a bit over the top which is what we want.  It is well acted all around and Daniel Craig steps it up as the gritty, new style Bond.  It will be interesting to see where he takes it in Bond 23.  I thought some of the decisions regarding music, sound and camera work were a bit too much on the artsy side but I can live with it.  Finally, it is a lot shorter than other Bond movies which is good.  I can handle over two hours when it is a ridiculous situation with a womanizing super spy blowing shit up in fancy cars.  When you strip it down like they have decided to do, it would get boring.  Instead, they shortened it and made sure it kept moving.

Like with my review of Casino Royale, I say see it.  It's actually pretty good.  Just be aware that you're going to get a bit of a bleeding heart environmental lecture.  But, if you don't like the direction Bond is going from Casino Royale, you should skip it because it really is more of the same from that.

The Smurfs Review

The Smurfs franchise has really done nothing new since the 80s.  So the film makers had the challenge of making a movie that would appeal to both the nostalgia of my generation and today's kids.  While they may not have hit a home run with the Smurfs, I think they did a decent job and made a solid movie.  It is definitely the best movie with blue people that I have seen in the past year and a half because it is definitely better than Avatar.

First, the acting.  Both Hank Azaria and Neil Patrick Harris are very solid in their roles.  This is especially true of Azaria.  He hit the Gargamel character spot on with his role.  His interactions with Azrael are perfect.  He stays true to the original character while making it very fun for kids to watch.  Harris' character is completely new so he didn't have anything to build on.  The character itself was a bit weak and without depth.  But it's a kids movie so that's OK and Harris played it very well using his strong likability.  The voiceovers, while nothing to write home about, were decent throughout with one exception.  Having George Lopez do the voice of Grouchy just didn't seem right.  I can't put my finger on why.  It just didn't fit.

Overall, the production quality was good.  The CGI in the Smurf village and forest was well done and looked quite cartoony without looking drawn on paper.  In this respect, it was modernized quite well.  But when the Smurfs were in New York (which is most of the movie), the green screening becomes quite obvious.  I know it is hard to make it all look real but there are times when the Smurfs look a little too added on to the actors and sets.  Maybe I have come to expect too much from CGI though.

I really only have two problems with the movie.  First, I know it's a fantasy story and they need to bend reality a lot.  But that doesn't mean that you should just break rules and reality for the sake of a cheap laugh if it doesn't serve any purpose for the story.  There's no way Gargamel would wind up in maximum security prison for taking a leaf blower and engaging in mischief in an FAO Schwarz.  There was nothing in that scene that necessitated the maximum security prison or other inmates and it should have been scrapped.  Second, Gutsy Smurf.  I know that they were trying to create a quirky, trendy character that would provide a lot of laughs etc. and make it fun for the kids and also provide better merchandising possibilities.  But this could have easily been done by utilizing an original Smurf in Hefty.   He could have provided just as many jokes and we would have been spared a tacked-on Scottish Smurf that was just unnecessary.  It would have been able to appease kids and purists alike.  Gutsy's jokes were only "funny" because he was Scottish (that makes him say, "mind the gap" when jumping onto the subway.  They say that in the United Kingdom.  That's funny, right?  Right?)  (But I'm beginning to think I'm the only Smurfs purist out there.)

Thos two fairly minor issues aside, see it.  If you are a fan of the comics and old cartoon, it's close enough to be entertaining.  If you aren't a fan, it's still a good distraction with some good laughs.  And it's still decent for kids.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Finding Neverland Review

From what I understand, this movie is loosely based on actual events.  If that is true, the actual events are very sad indeed.  Using the backdrop of the creation of Peter Pan to tell the story of a man who finds his way is quite interesting.  But, coming away from this one, I really don't know what to feel.

It starts out pretty slow and, to be honest, a bit boring.  But then it does pick up the pace and you find yourself being quite entertained.  However, one of the problems is that it is very predictable.  You pretty much know that, what happens has to happen because of the whole melancholic tone of the entire film.  That aspect is balanced off by superior performances from Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet though.  They both perform quite strong.  But that is really no surprise.  They are both very good at their craft.

One aspect of the film did bother me a bit.  The switches between fantasy and reality were kind of difficult to watch.  This might be because sometimes the transitions were too subtle.  For me, it seemed to hurt the flow a bit.  But it was needed for the very powerful ending (I won't give it away).

Overall, I say see it if you come across it.  But it isn't a lazy Sunday afternoon movie.  It would put you to sleep if you watched it in that setting.  If you are in the mood for a serious, melancholic drama though, watch it.

Winnie the Pooh Review

If you're anything like me, you remember sitting at home on a cold Sunday evening waiting for the Wide World of Disney to come on CBC.  You waited with anticipation to see what they would be showing.  Sometimes you were happy and sometimes you were disappointed.  The two that never disappointed me were Winnie the Pooh and Sport Goofy.  All those feelings came flooding back this afternoon when I watched the new Winnie the Pooh.

The thing I think I liked the best about this movie is the fact that they animated it just like the old one.  They didn't try to go 3D or CGI or anything stupid like that.  They stuck to the original formula and it worked.  There's no attempt to modernize the characters or story.  Because of that, it has a great nostalgic value.

It is also very cleverly written.  For the entire story, you feel like you are actually in the mind of a child playing in his room with his collection of stuffed animals.  The story follows this type of meandering imagination quite well.  In that respect, it is very much like A Town Called Panic.  The jokes are very well delivered by the voice over cast.  But it also doesn't hurt that all of the characters are complete morons.  I spent most of the 70 minutes laughing or at the very least, smiling.

See it.  It is a great escape from reality that makes you feel good.  And, if you have children, they should like it too.  Now if I could just get them to make a Sport Goofy movie ...