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.