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.