Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Once Upon a Time in China Review

I can't say I'm a huge fan of martial arts movies.  I have not seen too many of them and I normally like my movies to be well acted and shot.  The stereotypical martial arts movie is neither.  When Darren picked this one for Wednesday movie night, I was very skeptical.  Darren is known for his "interesting" taste in films and I thought I'd be in for a "treat" that I would immediately pan in this web log.  I admit it, I was wrong.

While this movie does have some of the aforementioned stereotypical problems, they are not bad enough to engulf the movie.  It is actually a very deep tale of a Chinese folk hero who sees his world slipping away from him.  In this, it is a lot like the Last Samurai (a movie I really like, by the way).  It is quite long (2.25 hours) but I never felt like it was dragging at all.  There were times when I was a bit confused but I think this may have been due to me missing a subtitle or the inevitable loss of meaning in a translation.  That is a big problem with films from other cultures.  But overall, this movie does not fall into that trap.  And, speaking of subtitles, a big reason why this movie did not get so cheesy was the fact that it was subtitled rather than overdubbed.

Finally, the fight scenes.  I should have known that, with Jet Li in the starring role, the fight scenes would be very good.  While there are obvious wire maneuvers and trampolines, I did not mind that.  I have yet to see a truly realistic martial arts fight scene because they do not exist.  The ones in this film were entertaining and well choreographed.  They also used just the right amount of slow motion for effect without relying on it for the "cool" factor.

I would recommend that you see this movie.  Even if you are not a martial arts fan, it will give you a good taste of the Hong Kong action genre without forcing you to watch something bad.

True Grit (2010) Review

I guess I should have known better.  After all, I normally do not like movies that have a precocious, courageous child as the hero.  And this is no exception.  I just couldn't get on board with the 14 year old girl (I even forgot her name).  While I have been a fan of the Cohen Brothers' movies in the past, I actually thought this one fell kind of flat.  The movie moves along at a snail's pace and never seems to get going until the halfway point.  And, just when it seems it's going to take off, it grinds to a halt again.

I also feel that the Cohen Brothers did the wrong thing when writing this for the screen.  The entire script is mind-numbingly incomprehensible.  It's like they tried to write a Shakespearean western.  It was literally mind-numbing as I often found myself either drifting off or thinking about nothing.  Add to that the over the top drunken acting of Jeff Bridges and I couldn't really follow the dialogue at all.  Note to Mr. Bridges: you are hard enough to understand with your normal voice.  You don't have to add the marbles to make that character convincing.

Anyways, there were some good things about the movie.  It was very well shot and the acting (with the exception of Bridges), was quite good.  They just didn't have the great script to work with.  I still don't know why this got such great Oscar acclaim.

I'd say don't see it.  There's too many better westerns out there.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun Review

Would anyone actually expect a movie called Hobo With A Shotgun to be anything more than a Grindhouse inspired gore fest?  Probably not.  And, if you did expect it to be something different, maybe you should spend your money on pursuits other than the cinema.  This movie can be summed up in one line: "when life hands you razor blades, make a baseball bat covered in razor blades."  It is over the top, unrealistic violence from start to finish.  In that way, it is kind of reminiscent of the Kill Bill movies.

Like Machete, it started as a fake trailer for the Grindhouse movies.  The difference is that Machete had better acting and a better story.  But Hobo is a more entertaining movie.  It moves quickly and is full of lines that are so purposefully cheesy that they are actually very funny.  Each act of violence seems to feed off the previous one in its absurdity.  I was never really bothered by any of it because it is just so over the top and exaggerated that it cannot be taken seriously (and it was never intended to be).

From a technical standpoint, it is actually quite good.  The use of technicolor gives it that high contrast, grainy feel of 1970s movies; which was intended, I'm sure.  It is also well shot.  The choice of Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia's slummy areas in either early spring or early fall (I couldn't tell which) gave it the bleak setting that the movie needed.  Another nice touch was the exclusive use of out of circulation Canadian currency for the money.  It seemed to add to the whole thing being set in a fantasy world.

Finally, the acting.  With a story and script like this, you cannot really expect acting to be good.  In fact, you would expect everything to be over-acted to fit in with the over the top nature of the film.  However, that can be better achieved with the use of good actors like Robert Rodriguez did in Machete.  Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey are all decent actors and can pull it off.  The actors in Hobo were just not good to begin with.  That just compounds the cheesiness of their performances.  There is one exception: Rutger Hauer delivers.  His lines and character are just as outrageous as everyone else but his acting talent makes it work.  His dialogue never seems cheesy; just comedic.

That seems like a very long review for a B movie seeing as how my Cool Hand Luke review was one paragraph.  But I just felt like getting a little analytical with this one.  The bottom line is that you should see this movie if its cheap.  Do NOT pay full, big theatre price.  It just isn't worth it.  (I paid $4.50 and thought I got my money's worth without getting a bargain.)  Also give it a pass if graphic, comic book style violence offends you.  But the title should have warned you of that.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Losers Review

I'm not sure why but movies based on DC comics seem to be better than their Marvel counterparts.  This is a decent movie even if it is not much more than the A-Team in comic book form.  It is very well directed with just the right amount of cool shots.  It also has a very good mix of action with cool dialogue.  While the action is often over the top and unbelievable, we must remember it is a comic book movie and it should be that way.  I really like all of the characters except one.  Max is way too over the top in his evilness.  What could have been a very witty villain comes across as just plain cheesy.  It isn't enough to detract from the entertainment value because I expect a certain level of cheesiness in all of my action movies.  But if they had dialed it back a bit, the whole movie would be that much better.  As for the rest of the characters, the Losers group is almost as cool as Vinnie Jones in a Guy Ritchie movie.  The Jensen character is especially good.  The worst of the group is probably Pooch.  He's a little too "aw, hell naw" for my tastes but that seems to dissipate after a while.  Wrap all that up with the uber-sexy Zoe Saldana and you have a well above average action movie.

See it.  Obviously, if you don't like action, you should give it a miss because it does not pretend to be anything else.  But I still recommend it as a good hour and a half of entertainment.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Unknown Review

If the Gaslight Anthem was the Bourne Identity, Unknown would be AM Taxi.  Very similar, almost as good, but without the longevity for successful follow ups.  I know that makes it sound like I didn't like it but put it in perspective: I have all of Gaslight Anthem's albums and they're one of my favourite groups.  I also have AM Taxi's album and very much enjoy listening to it.  So, I guess you could say I'm a fan of the suspense thriller genre.  And this is suspense thriller at its finest.  This movie is very tight.  You spend a lot of time wondering how they are going to wrap things up with no plot holes and they manage to do it.  While many of you will probably say you saw the big twist coming, I will admit that it took me by surprise.  And that's the hallmark of a good thriller: it surprises you.

From a technical standpoint, I thought the movie was very well done.  The directing is very consistent.  Having it set in Berlin at the end of November is genius.  It lends a bleakness and cold atmosphere to the movie that makes it seem real.  The only problems I had with the movie are first, January Jones' performance is below average.  She looked the part but her acting was just wooden.

Second, while I know why they made the Martin Harris character an American, I thought it was unnecessary (if he had not been American, this movie would never have seen the light of day in North America.  It's all about selling tickets after all.  And, as a businessman, I can respect that.).  I am a big Liam Neeson fan and while his American accent isn't horrible, he just seems more at ease when he can use his natural Irish accent.  So I would have preferred if he had been an Irish scientist.  But his performance is still good.  I wouldn't say it was his best.  Taken and Love Actually are still better performances.  But it is very solid.

The verdict: See.  If you like the genre, you should really like it.  Even if you aren't a suspense fan, it is a very well made and tight movie.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Cool Hand Luke Review

For my money, one of the greatest movies ever made.  An absolute classic tale of non-conformity when doing so would seem to be the easy thing.  The movie is filled with classic lines and scenes that are easy to watch over and over.  While the directing is very typical of the era, the acting is much better than anticipated.  It appears very authentic for the time period.

This movie is definitely a see.  And, if you like dramas that evoke just about every emotion you can feel, it is a must for your DVD collection.

Breathless (1960) Review

We do a movie night at my brother's place almost every week.  We rotate the choices and this one was Dave's.  When you watch it, you have to remember that it is a French movie from the early sixties that was using a lot of experimental techniques.  A lot of these techniques come off as choppy and hard to watch (hence, my headache at the end of it).  But I have to give them credit for trying new things.  B ut enough about the technical stuff.

As far as plot and entertainability, this movie is just OK.  For a while, it just doesn't go anywhere and seems to just be about this narcissistic jerk who is only happy when he is arguing with someone.  Then, you finally realize something is actually happening.  It really leaves it up to the viewer to interpret the story.  Sometimes that is OK and sometimes not.  In this case, it wasn't necessarily bad.  But with the difficulty in watching the technical aspects, it made it just have too much going on.

The verdict: see it if you are in an artsy mood and want something different.  But I wouldn't say you should go seeking it out.  If you stumble across it, it is worth the hour and a half.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Paul Review

Superb. But if you are looking for another Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, you will be disappointed. This is a different movie made by different people. It is very funny and extremely witty. You can really see Frost's and Pegg's nerd backgrounds flourish in the writing. There are a lot of sci-fi references but they are never cheesy and are justified in a decent and creative manner. The best performances, oddly enough, come from supporting roles. Hader steals every scene he is in. It wasn't quite what I expected. I thought Pegg and Frost would be more of the lead. But the way it was done was better. It is a story about Paul's journey after all. Finally, this movie is written well and never tries to be anything more than what it is: an entertaining comedy. Ant it does that very well.
Definitely see. And don't wait. It is worth full price and is a great night out.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Unthinkable (2010)

Ridiculous.  A situational morality play that just really doesn't make sense.  The whole idea is just so over the top as to make it unbelievable.  Jackson's performance as a sadistic interrogator is so over done that it is actually laughable.  It does get a little good with about twenty minutes left but then fizzles back to its previous mediocrity.  The only really believable character in the whole thing is Stephen Root's.  Carrie Ann Moss' performance could have even been pulled off by Cameron Diaz so we know that was average.  I also think it would have been good if Brandon Routh had been given a bigger part.  That all being said, there were some positives.  It is a very well shot and directed movie.  It just suffers from an uninspired story.  A good psychological thriller needs to be less predictable and have more twists.

Don't see.  Nobody can watch every movie and there's just a lot of other better ones to spend your time on.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Battle Los Angeles

First, the good. The battle scenes are very good. They are action packed and lots of stuff blows up. I also liked that the aliens, while they have superior technology, they don't have a "super weapon" that wipes everything out in one fell swoop like in Independence Day. Also, they didn't get into the American moral superiority like in Battlefield Earth. That's a definite plus.

Now, the bad. Everything else. You can't start with a character/morality movie, abandon it after 15 minutes in favour of action and then try to salvage it at the end. All the stuff at the start about the soldier's lives was unnecessary and never got resolved. So lose it and make a decent action movie. Second, shaky camera work is never necessary. In trying to make it seem real, all you do is distract the audience from seeing the cool things like explosions and aliens. And it isn't realistic. The human eye compensates when the body is in motion but it can't anticipate and react fast enough when watching film. Third, Aaron Eckhart + Michelle Rodriguez = bad acting. The acting all around is just not good. Fourth, the military strategy wasn't well researched. Even I know that, in a situation like that, the raised freeways will be impassable. Everything's being blown up after all. Finally, I'm not sure why they felt there needed to be a closet romance between Freddy Mercury and one of Theo Huxtable's friends (it may be worth watching just to find out what I'm talking about).

See if you like battles and stuff getting turned into rubble and don't have to pay more than $3. Otherwise, just watch Independence Day again.

Welcome to See Don't See

I watch a lot of movies and my friends always seem to want my opinion on said movies.  So I was reviewing them on Facebook.  But that limits them to Facebook.  I have decided to branch out into a web log for my movie reviews so I can share them on Twitter as well.  This also lets me put them out there for everyone to see.  I will try to review all movies I see: old, new, seen for the first time, repeats, theatre, TV, etc.  As long as it's a feature length film, I will try to review it.  I may or may not give them star ratings but I will always end the posts with a See or Don't See recommendation.  So, please enjoy.  And if you agree or disagree with anything I say, please let me know.  I enjoy debating movies in a good humoured manner.

For updates, you can probably follow this web log in some manner.  Or follow me on Twitter: @chupievelez.

First up: Battle Los Angeles.