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.