Monday, 31 December 2012

Iron Man Review

This is what a comic book movie should be.  It has the unrealistic universe that is also supposed to make us believe that it could happen for real at any time.  I think part of why it is so good is that Tony Stark doesn't have any supernatural or unreal scientific powers.  Yes, I know that he's kept alive by technology that doesn't exist.  But are we really that far away?  That's an argument for another time.  Given that, the two things that make it superior to most comic book movies is that they cast the perfect actor as Stark and had a great director.

Robert Downey Jr is at his best when he's a slick a-hole that, for some reason, we all like.  That's what Tony Stark is and it's just a natural for him to play it.  And he does it to perfection.  Jon Favreau was a great choice to direct.  He proved his worth with this one bringing the suave one-liners that made the movies Swingers and Made so good (he was Vince Vaughn's foil for the one-liners in those) and brought them to the action arena.  He wasn't the first to do it and he won't be the last.  But he did a very good job at spacing them out and making them part of the film and not the film itself.

As for the rest of the film, it is all pretty solid.  When I first saw it, the effects blew me away and, even though I have seen many movies with the same effect quality since, it's still pretty damn good.  The acting was decent but nothing to write home about.  I'm not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan but will admit she is good.  I like Terrence Howard and am disappointed that he was dropped for the second.  Jeff Bridges needed a bit of help but he's not a comic book villain.  They went with name over ability for the role and that was a mistake (he was also reminiscent of Lex Luthor if he was trying to see how many marbles he could fit in his mouth at one time).  But comic book movies are about action, effects and comic relief.  Acting is secondary.  In the primary objectives, Iron Man is fantastic.

See it.  It is the comic book movie that most modern ones should be judged against as a benchmark.


Friday, 28 December 2012

A Fantastic Fear of Everything Review

This is a great example of why I like British cinema; especially the comedies.  Had this movie been American made, they would have made it a horror/thriller and I would never have even watched it.  But, because it's a British movie, it has a quirkiness that I just love.  It's the story of a children's writer who is also writing a series of TV scripts about serial killers.  The in depth research causes him to be paranoid that he is being stalked by murderers.  But it goes much deeper than that.  it also becomes a story of fighting your own demons and getting to the root of your problems so that you can move on with your life.

The two layers combine a good cinematic story with an underlying moral that I enjoyed.  Most of the time, I'm willing to let movies go without getting too deep.  I watch films to be entertained and I don't need any greater message.  If I want that, I can read a book written about that.  But sometimes, if it is done well, I can actually like having it in a movie as long as it doesn't take away from the entertainment.  Because Fantastic Fear has an air of surrealism and weirdness that is able to combine the reality of the story and Jack's imagination in such a way that it mixes fantasy and reality to the point where it is hard to tell them apart.  Most of the time, that would be confusing.  But this film is so well written and acted that it engrosses the viewer completely.

More than the writing, I think it the performance of Simon Pegg that makes this a hit.  Pegg has proven that he has a tremendous range and presence as a comedic actor.  Even in his more serious movies, he brings the comic relief.  In this, he owns the screen.  Granted, the film is centred around his character and his character's psyche and everyone else is more than secondary.  So he has to be at the top of his game because he is carrying the film.  Fortunately, he was.  This is one of Pegg's best performances.

See it.  It combines great tension with absolutely hilarious comedy.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ronal the Barbarian Review

Oh, those crazy Danes.  They took a concept that is usually reserved for kids and made a very adult comedy out of it.  Ronal follows the basic formula that made companies like Pixar so famous.  It takes the basic story of the underdog who is forced into an extraordinary situation that will make him the hero.  It's a story that we're all familiar with (the basic quest) and the delivery is very much akin to things like How to Train Your Dragon and Brave.  But, as I said, they made it a very adult movie along the lines of something like Road Trip or even Euro Trip.

On first thought, I didn't think something like that could work.  I'm very used to mature themed animation through things like Family Guy, the Simpsons and anything on Adult Swim.  But the animation in Ronal makes it look like it is geared towards children.  So it's kind of a surprise that it is as rude as it is.  But, for the most part, the jokes are very funny and clever.  There are a few throughout that are just predictable (like the fairy waitress in the tavern) but then they throw the Amazon warriors that act (and throw spears) like stereotypical bimbos and redeem themselves for any of the tired old jokes we all know.  It's things like the Amazons throughout this movie that makes it hilarious.

As for a story, there isn't much different that sets it apart.  Like I said, it's a basic story that we've all heard before.  But a classic quest story isn't the point of this movie.  The point is to make the audience laugh using the quest simply as a medium.  In that, they succeed.  Had it been longer, I would say it would have gotten redundant.  But it's just long enough to make it all seem fresh.

See it.  It's got a great time to laughs ratio.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Rum Diary

I've never read Hunter S Thompson's work.  I haven't even seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but I do know that it is a quirky and weird movie.  If that is the case, this one falls in the same category.  The Rum Diary has a solid basis in realism surrounding an American journalist working at a newspaper on a Caribbean island.  But the things that happen to that journalist are just a little to the left of realistic to give it this air of surrealism.  Most of the time, you aren't quite sure if you're supposed to take it seriously or not.  Then, something happens like Johnny Depp sitting on a guy's lap to drive a tiny car or Giovanni Ribisi putting on a Nazi hat to listen to a Hitler speech and it brings you back to the fact that this is a comedy.  But then they go back to Depp's internal moral conflict of whether or not he should let everything go and enjoy the ride or stand up and fight against the "bastards."  It goes too back and forth between the two and never gets traction in either.

For the most part, I think the humour was a bit lost on me.  Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind for cerebral comedy or maybe it was just a bit too droll and subtle.  I prefer to think it was the latter of the two.  While there are some really good comedic bits, Depp really toned down the weird for this one and the movie suffers for it.  Had he played it somewhere between what he did and Jack Sparrow (but closer to this character), I think this could have had a much bigger following.

That's not to say the performance was bad.  It was still pretty good simply because Depp is a good actor.  But I did spend a lot of time noticing that Depp in 1960s clothes resembles what I imagine a post plastic surgery Steve Buscemi would look like.  The rest of the cast was really good too.  I was really impressed with Michael Rispoli as Depp's "Jiminy Cricket."  He stole enough of the show to make me wish they could make a prequel about his story.  Even Aaron Eckhardt didn't make me want to put my face through a wall as he often does.

But, all in all, I would have to say that they were almost there and should have decided on either a comedy or a morality play and not a combination of both.  I'm not sad to have seen it and there were some parts that made me laugh out loud.  I just can't recommend it.  Don't see it.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Freeloaders Review

I had to see this movie.  It is produced by Broken Lizard and features my all time favourite music front man, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows.  I got pretty much what I expected as being a fan of the producers and Duritz, I had heard about it while it was in production.  It's really a straight to on-demand 77 minute classic that could have been produced by National Lampoon or some similar company.  So, going in, I kept my expectations low and I think that's why I enjoyed it.  It's about a group of people who have been living in Adam Duritz's house for years for free and, now that he plans to sell, they hatch hair-brained scheme after hair-brained scheme to raise the money to buy it and keep the evil Jane Seymour real estate agent from selling it.  It actually sounds like a half decent idea.

Even though Broken Lizard has yet to rediscover the comedic quality of Super Troopers (in fact, their efforts have gotten steadily worse since), they are still a group of guys that knows comedy and can make me laugh.  Had this film been fully made by the group, it could have been so much better.  Instead, they relegated themselves to the porn film crew that the freeloaders let use the house.  So you only get one scene where these guys can play off each other and use the comedic chemistry they are known for.  Had they been the freeloaders themselves, we could have had it through the whole movie.  After all, the individuals in the group of slackers each has their own quirky personality that is almost a caricature and that fits right into Broken Lizard's modus operandi.  It really was a wasted opportunity.

Instead, the route they took with other actors wasn't horrible but it wasn't great either.  The only one that really worked to its potential was that of Kevin Sussman (you know, Stuart from the Big Bang Theory) as the idiot, Henry.  The rest of the group tries hard to bring their own flakiness to their character and be funny and they all fall short; some shorter than others.  The romantic angle between the real estate assistant and the only moral person in the group is weak and should have either been beefed up or dropped entirely.  Outside of the official group of freeloaders, I do have to mention that the stuff surround Dave Foley was very funny.  Part of it is the fact that Foley is a fantastic comedian.  But it also has to do with how they played up his subtle pride at being Canadian and the fact that he can't even give away DVDs of of his movie, "The Wrong Guy" (which is a great comedy, by the way).

If you like the Broken Lizard style of comedy, it has just enough to keep you entertained (but only for the 77 minutes that it runs).  So see it if that's the case.  If that isn't your thing, don't bother.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Review

I think I may have seen this movie long ago.  But I had forgotten what had happened.  All I could remember was that it was about two con artists and the original promotional ads had a re-lyriced "God, Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" song in it ("Steve Martin wins their sympathy with heart so pure and true.  Michael Caine then collects their revenue.  Re-e-ven-ue.  'Cause they're Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through and through. 'Aaaaah' (as Martin pushes an old lady into a swimming pool - something that doesn't even happen in the movie.)."  Basically, it is just a movie about two con men who are competing against each other for a lucrative territory in the south of France.  As with most 80s comedies, there is nothing deep or revolutionary about this movie.  Back then, movies like this were almost churned out on an assembly line.  But that doesn't make them less entertaining.

The reason this one is entertaining is not because of any superior writing or quirky and different story.  Quite the contrary.  Most of the technical aspects of this movie are very run of the mill.  What makes this a good movie is the choice of actors to play the con men.  Throughout his career, Michael Caine has always been able to play "sophisticated scamp."  He could actually be a member of the royal family.  He's upper crust but you always get the feeling that he is going to misbehave.  Steve Martin does what he does best: be a goofball.  His portrayal of "Ruprecht" in some of the scams is classic Martin and will make me laugh every time.  For the rest of the movie, he's the typical, lovable, "aw shucks" kind of guy that we all like.  Put the two at odds with each other and it's a formula that works.  You're always anticipating how one is going to screw over the other.

Outside of the two main actors, the rest of the acting is actually poor to average.  But it isn't bad enough to take away from the entertainment.  I did like the choice of having the movie take place in Europe.  For some reason, it gave it an air of class that a contemporary setting like New York or even London would have failed at.

It isn't the best movie you'll ever see but it is solid as a comedy.  See it.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Love Actually Review

There are a lot of good Christmas movies out there.  But this one stands out above all of the rest as my favourite one of all time.  Rather than be a run of the mill Christmas movie where someone learns a valuable lesson and everything's all good at the end, this one takes you on a roller coaster of emotions where not everyone is perfect.  Granted, life is fine for most of the characters at the end but there are a few that are left to pick up the own pieces after their true loves fall apart for various reasons (Laura Linney, Alan Rickman and Andrew Lincoln).  Because of those three storylines, this movie has an odd sense of happiness and melancholy that can only be explained by watching it.  Even though those three missed their opportunities, you can tell that they are going to be OK in the long run.

The thing I like most about the movie is that it shows the whole gamut of love (and lust) that can actually exist.  From Colin who goes to America just to get laid to the kids who bring an elaborate sign to the airport to welcome their philandering father home, they show all the aspects of love that we can feel and intertwine them with characters who's lives are intertwined as well.  It really is symbolic of the fact that everyone is capable of every kind of love out there.  And it can be successful or it can fall apart depending on how we deal with it.  But, ultimately, it seems random.  Not everyone who takes a risk gets the girl and not everyone who does the right thing wins out.  I know that sounds sappy but, to me, that's really what this movie is all about.

So you may say it isn't really a Christmas movie.  To that, I say, "BOLLOCKS!"  Everything about this movie centres around the fact that it's Christmas and Christmas is a time for love and saying what you mean, etc.  Just because the season is the setting and not the focal point of the meaning behind the movie doesn't make it any less of a Christmas movie.

Definitely see this movie.  The only negative in it is that it spawned that insufferable "All I Want for Christmas is You" song.  And even that I can deal with once a year.  Everything else is near perfect.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Die Hard Review

Every Christmas, Karl has some of his friends over for a screening of his favourite Christmas movie: Die Hard.  So I've seen this one many, many times.  And it never gets old.  This is the epitome of good action movies.  It has everything: explosions, a hero you want to be, a villain that oozes cool but is despicable, a well defined area for the mayhem, fantastic writing and dialogue, and the right amount of comic relief to release any tension.  When it's done, you feel the adrenaline rush and yet satisfied.

It was released in 1988.  So there's technological limitations to some of the things that they do throughout like the lack of access to cell phones, etc.  But because they don't dwell on that or rely on the use of animatronics and CGI, the film ages very well.  It uses explosions, gunfights and Bruce Willis' wit to bring a quality action product.

Speaking of John McClane's wit, Die Hard represents the turning point from superhero action to just hero action.  He's not special forces or anything and has no training other than being an experienced New York City cop.  From the get go, he's trying to catch up to the terrorists and survive.  Even though he survives some pretty outrageous situations, he doesn't do it without a scratch.  You see him get wounded and tire out over the course of the film.  In short, he seems human.  And I think that's why this one stands the test of time.   Many people can relate to John McClane.

This is a definite See it.  It's one of the greatest action movies ever.  It spawned three (and hopefully, four) decent sequels and even an homage in the form of Paul Blart.  See Die Hard and then watch Paul Blart if you don't believe me.

The Three Stooges Review

When this one was in the theatres, I gave it a pass.  I had no interest in watching a remake of a franchise that I never had much interest in to begin with.  And, although I do like Will Sasso, I am not a fan of Sean Hayes' work.  Add in that remakes are usually not nearly as good as original franchises and it just didn't seem like a good use of my time.  Then, a friend from work recommended it and I had a couple hours and was in the mood for mindless comedy.  I must say, I was mistaken and this was actually a very good use of my time.

That is not to say that it isn't mindless.  It is very mindless.  But I believe the original Three Stooges were too.    And while constant bopping in the face and calling people "knucklehead" does get tiring after a while (ie. Jackass), for some reason, this one entertained all the way through.  The key to that is is that is was made by the Farrelly brothers (something I didn't realize at first).  Those guys really know comedy.  In order to remake the franchise decently, they did two key things.  First, they modernized it and made it a "fish out of water story."  This gave it a second dimension that allowed for a little bit of character development.  Second, they used some smart writing, both in dialogue and situation.  While the original stooges did get up to stupid shenanigans, it was all pretty much in your face.  The Farrelly's used some very clever subtlety in the writing to maintain the viewer's attention.

Another aspect that makes this a very good film is the casting.  All three of the stooges are cast perfectly.  Sasso was born to play Curly.  Hayes is surprisingly good as Larry.  And Chris Diamantopoulus is great as the a-hole, Moe.  All three acted like the originals in a modern setting and all three were done up well to look the part.

The only drawback I found was in the production quality.  It very much has a "sound stage" feel to it throughout that takes away from any realism.  But, it's a remake of a ridiculous franchise where people are perfectly fine after taking a running chainsaw to the forehead.  So realism isn't priority one.

See it.  It's surprisingly funny and smart.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Killing Them Softly Review

I see what they were trying to do.  At least, I think I see what they were trying to do.  Killing Them Softly is an attempt to make a gritty movie in the criminal underworld that mixes things like Training Day, Rampart, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and even a little Ocean's Eleven in there (but humour was the last thing this movie needed).  And, they have this underlying commentary on the economy and recent crash.  All the while, they're making this grand attempt to give Brad Pitt a lot of Oscar nomination scenes.  The problem is, it tried to do too much.

While Pitt is good in it, the rest of the movie falls completely flat.  Every other actor, with the exception of James Gandolfini, is average at best (as an aside, Gandolfini's character is completely unecessary and does absolutely nothing for anything in the plot, story or anything else.  The need for his participation is a mystery.).  And most are just downright poor in their line delivery, fake accents and everything else.  The only other actor that is even recognizable as a name is Ray Liotta who is normally solid but just didn't have enough screen time to care.  As for the rest of them, I can't even be bothered to find out who they are or what they've done in the past because I just don't care if I ever see them on screen again.

There is some interesting use of sound in the film.  The intense rain pounding on a car while intense fists are pounding on Ray Liotta's face was an interesting touch that almost had me hooked (had they just stuck to that type of thing).  The choices of old time music was interesting too given the scenes they were used in.  But the problem is that they couldn't find a consistent formula to use throughout.  It's almost as if they did some filming and post-production, then went back and did some more, forgetting what they had used in the previous run.  Had they stuck to a formula, it would have held my attention much better.  Finally, there's these constant political sound bytes regarding the economy on TVs and radios in the background.  I know that they set the movie in late 2008 when the whole system fell to pieces.  This movie is a commentary on how the whole country fell apart, even the criminal underworld, because of it.  But it wasn't needed.  It was a distraction and ultimately made the movie boring.  Then they tacked on what is supposed to be an iconic Pitt line right at the end that was supposed to pull the whole thing together.  But I had just stopped caring.

Don't see it.  The only redeeming quality is Pitt and he has countless other superb performances out there that you can watch.  If you want gritty crime, there's so many better films that you've probably already seen.  A second go round with them is a better use of time than a first with Killing Them Softly.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Beverly Hills Cop Review

Judge me all you want.  I really like Eddie Murphy and think his acting ability is very underrated.  It's a shame that the talent is often overshadowed by his reputation for vulgarity and his personal "antics."  He's at his best when he can let his mouth run wild and really get into a fast-talking character.  And he does that to perfection in Beverly Hills Cop.  Right from the start, you know that this is going to be a movie that is all about Murphy and his mouth and very little else.  The story is very thin and the rest of the acting is almost non-existent.  Everyone exists to fuel the Murphy fire.  But they do it very well by being the butt of every joke and letting Murphy shine.

More than in a lot of other Murphy movies, he really does shine in this one.  It has to do with the character of Axel Foley not being too deep.  He's a basic cop with a checkered past and a mile-a-minute mouth.  They don't dwell too much on the character or try to make Murphy do anything weird like be a high-powered Marketing executive or an African prince.  They just let him turn Axel Foley into Eddie Murphy and the result is 1.75 hours of fast-paced, funny dialogue.

But like I said, there is little else.  There really is no story, plot or character development to really write home about.  So, if you're looking for classic movie making, this is not the film for you.  But if you want to watch one of the greatest comedians of all time in his heyday, see it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Life of Pi Review

I thought the trailer looked cool and I had heard very good things.  Yet I was still skeptical going into this one because trailers often show you everything in the wrong context.  If you've read the book, you may think the story is unfilmable.  It's a pretty out there adventure and very surreal.  Fifteen to twenty years ago, this probably would have been unfilmable.  But thanks to the magic of CGI and deep producer pockets, there's really nothing they can't bring to the screen.  Life of Pi is actually the movie that 3D was made for.  Through the judicious use of 3D and some very good set design and CGI effects, Ang Lee brings the viewer into a world that is surreal yet very real at the same time.  A lot of the time, 3D is used to throw stuff at the audience.  And they do some of that here.  And it's so real that I actually ducked out of the way three times.  But only those three times.  The rest of the time it was just used to give the film a tremendous depth and feeling.

The film is a lot like Cast Away in the fact that there's a lot of screen time where Pi is the only human and he has to interact with animals and inanimate objects.  This is a lot easier to do in the book because the narrator can take his time and paint a picture of what is happening.  Translating that to an actual picture is a very difficult thing to do.  But Lee does it perfectly.  In the scenes where not much is happening on the ocean, you still get a real sense of loneliness and despair from the proper use of camera angles, a perfectly still ocean and the resulting abyss in the water's reflections.

Other than the fantastic visuals that absolutely envelope the imagination, there isn't a whole lot to say.  The book relied on painting that picture and so does the movie.  But I must say that the casting was done very well too.  In particular, Suraj Sharma is brilliant as Pi Patel.  Just like the fantastic performance by Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Sharma takes you through all of the emotions that you might expect in his predicament without fault.  From out loud laughter to tears, you feel just about everything due to his performance.  He also looked like he could grow up to be Irrfan Khan who does a very solid job as the adult Pi.

If you haven't read the book, you can still enjoy the movie first.  I don't think it would ruin the book for you.  But if you have read the book, you should still love the movie because it brings all those imaginations you had during the reading to life (the island in particular).  In either case, see it.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Review

I'm not a huge Harrison Ford fan.  He always seems angry and his line delivery is usually wooden and awkward.  When you add in the camp factor of the Indiana Jones movies, I should absolutely hate them.  But, for some reason, I like them.  I think it has to do with the combination of Steven Spielberg's directing and John Williams' music.  Overall, the film is really well made.  The story is intriguing and very dark and Spielberg keeps it moving at a very good pace.  The tension builds quite well to a great climax in the mine.  This is helped along by the fact that the effects are very good for 1984 and, while they haven't aged as well as some, they never seem too bad.

The flaws in this movie are with the characters.  I don't care for situations where a child is put in a heroic role.  That's what they did with Short Round.  They also tried to make him the source for all of the comic relief and did it in a very racially insensitive stereotypical way.  He was only slightly less annoying than Jar Jar Binks.  But, that's George Lucas' MO.  The second character flaw is the Willie Scott character.  Kate Capshaw just could not pull this off.  It may be her talent level or it may be that the character is just so shallow that there's no way any decent writing could give it depth.  And her lines were very poorly written.  The only saving grace of having Capshaw in the movie was the cleavage factor.

But, the action and film making outweigh the two crappy characters.  I'm willing to put up with those two for the action and tense situations.  See it.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Knight And Day Review

In an attempt to capitalize on Tom Cruise's success with the Mission:Impossible franchise, they decided to put him in a movie where he does a lot of the same action stuff but can be more flamboyant and "out there" with the character.  It's something he can't do with Ethan Hunt because Hunt is a well defined character.  But Roy is brand new and they can do whatever they want.  And they went too far.  Not just with Roy but with June (Cameron Diaz) too.

The biggest problem with this movie is that the characters are too flawed.  Cruise actually did a very good job with what he had to work with.  Say what you will about him in real life, the guy can act.  I'm willing to accept some unrealistic elements in many movies but Knight and Day is just too much.  Roy is in a very bad situation where he has to find the inventor of a revolutionary energy source.  Yet, he's acting pretty carefree and nonchalant in everything he does.  June survives a plane crash, is kidnapped and drugged by Roy, etc etc.  Yet she completely falls for the guy.  And the whole thing with Roy's parents is just too damn ridiculous to even bother with.

There's just too much away from normal right from the start that I couldn't get on board.  For instance, right at the start, June is told that the flight is full.  Then she's allowed on (for no explicable reason).  She then notices the flight is virtually empty but doesn't seem to question anyone at all.  The movie is full of these contradictions.  They tried to combine the suave James Bond with the situation of Jason Bourne and Helena Kreutz and failed miserably.

It isn't even that well filmed.  While there is plenty of action and the movie does move very quickly, they did not invest enough money in the effects.  Most of the action is very badly green screened.  So that couldn't even save it.  It's a shame because this movie could have been very good.  They relied too heavily on star power and neglected the base of a decent movie.

Don't see it.  There are countless better movies in the espionage genre.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Ghostbusters Review

So here's another classic 80s movie that I had never seen.  After watching it, I can see why it had the following that it did.  I had originally thought that Bill Murray's deadpan, subtle and sarcastic delivery was a recent phenomenon.  As it turns out, he's made an entire career out of it.  And that's really what makes this movie good.  Right from the very start it is Murray's delivery of calm, off the cuff lines in tense situations that keeps the viewer laughing.  If it weren't for that, I could see this movie getting actually pretty boring in spots. Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd are funny in their own right but without Murray, it just wouldn't have been the same.  It makes me a bit scared about a proposed new entry into the franchise because I've heard that Murray isn't going to be involved.  But time will tell I guess.

Overall, I'd say this movie aged pretty well.  Back in 1984 the only way to effectively do monster effects was to use stop motion animation and they may have done a little too much of it.  But the story warranted it.  It's also an entire story rooted in unrealistic fantasy so weird effects and makeup are easier to stomach than in something that is supposed to be a glimpse into our doomed future.  Aside from the stop motion animation of the dogs, the rest of the ghost effects are still enjoyable today.  And the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man was really well done.

There were some things that I found completely unnecessary.  First, Rick Moranis, while his character was necessary, the annoying aspect was not necessary to that degree.  I can see that they were trying to go for "nerd meets up with sexy lady" but he was just too annoying to find funny.  Second, Ernie Hudson is completely irrelevant throughout the whole film.  There is absolutely nothing in his character that is needed and there is no value to it at all.  It's sort of like nipples on men.  It would seem weird without them but they make no difference.

So, balanced all out, this movie is still gets a positive see recommendation.  There are enough laughs all the way through to keep it entertaining and it's always good to see Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd on screen.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Skyfall Commentary

So the reboot is complete.  I'm not sure why it took three movies to do this.  Quantum of Solace was completely unnecessary for the creation of a new James Bond.  But, all in all, I must say I'm happy with how the whole thing turned out.  More than the other two Daniel Craig Bond movies, Skyfall hearkens back to many of the things that we have come to expect in a Bond film and many scenes and elements actually reminded me a lot of certain films (eg. Silva is eerily similar to Goldeneye's Janus).  There are two girls (one working with him and one working for the bad guy).  There is an inexplicably well off super villain with an over the top plan and even a remote lair from which he operates.  There's the Q Branch, a martini and Bond acting detached and suave.

The difference is, they strip it all down to its bare elements (which is what they were going for).  There's very little window dressing and really "out there" stuff that Bond is known for.  Q Branch is more remote assistance than a toy store (something they acknowledge).  Bond's hot car is taken directly from the past and is cathartically and symbolically destroyed as if to say, "the old Bond is dead."  Even the remote lair is a no frills place with just the essentials for Silva to do what he needs to do.

So, with all of the elements there but in a different form, what about the action?  That is something they didn't get rid of at all.  While there are parts that move a bit slow for my taste, when the action heats up, it really heats up.  And they kept it over the top and very unrealistic which is something I like.  We watch the Bond films because we want to escape into a romantic super spy world where everything blows up and I think the producers realized that.  From the opening scene with the back-hoe on the train to the unbelievably thrilling climax in the Scottish countryside, all of the action sequences are very well shot and edited to make the viewer lose him or herself in them.

But the thing that impressed me the most was how, over three films, they really developed the character of Bond with his back story and motivations.  This one did a better job of that than the other two.  I don't want to ruin it so I'll just say that over the course of the 2.5 hours, they slowly reveal his character better than in any of the other films.  I think it's going to be able to take Bond in a great direction.  And it's a character that Daniel Craig plays perfectly.

Definitely see this movie.  It may wind up being my favourite Bond film yet.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Robocop Commentary

I didn't start really watching movies until 1992 so I had never seen Robocop. I was expecting it to be one of those 80s action movies that is way past its expiration date.  It starts out kind of like that.  There are some pretty cheesy melodramatic lines and some acting that was obviously not assisted by a police consultant.  But the film takes a huge turn in quality when Murphy goes down.  From the first person point of view during his construction onward, this is a very entertaining and well made action movie.

I have to remind myself that it was made 25 years ago.  Some of the effects do show the age of the movie.  But, if you can keep that context in mind, it doesn't draw away from the value.  The makeup and blood effects for the time were top notch and would still be considered good.  And the Robocop suit/body is still badass today.  Also, they did a very good job with their assumptions in future technology and keeping it realistic (the DVD comes to mind) which is difficult to do in any movie.  I can see why they want to do a remake because with today's technology, they can do a lot more with the effects. But you just know they're going to go too far.  A remake is a mistake because the original still entertains at a high level.

Another aspect I liked was the moral ambiguity in OCP for the most part.  Yes, the big villain there is definitely a bad guy.  But there's no big corporate conspiracy (like in, say, Resident Evil) that Robocop has to fight.  For the most part, the executives are very realistic.  They have corporate goals and may not be great people. But they aren't evil either.

If you're one of the few who has not seen it, see it.  Otherwise, see it again.

Friday, 9 November 2012

In Time Commentary

At first, glance, this looks like it could be a really interesting movie.  Everyone lives for 25 years and then gets one more year as currency.  The can work to get more, spend it, etc.  When you run out, you die.  Everything else is just like regular life.  There are people killing each other for their time and the elite who have more than they can use.  But this makes them immortal.  And everyone winds up being 25 years old physically regardless of their actual age.  Well, except for Justin Timberlake.  He looks about 30 for some inexplicable reason.

The problem is that I don't know how they could have made this movie good.  The whole thing is crippled by the overuse of cheesy "time is money" writing that makes you realize that the whole idea of time as currency is pretty ridiculous.  There's a weak attempt at a morality story about greed and inequality with painful attempts at Robin Hood with Stockholm Syndrome.  But the poor writing doesn't stop there.  It's pretty horrible all across the board.  And, in a future where they've figured out how to genetically engineer people to be immortal, they're still using gunpowder and the internal combustion engine?  Sorry, but when this all happens, we'd better have flying cars.  It's also crippled by the fact that, because nobody is over 25, almost all of the actors are jackass douchebags and it makes it hard to care about anyone in the movie.  And the girl just happens to know Darwin's birthday off the top of her head?  That one really baffled me.

Finally, for a movie that is supposed to be a thriller, it moves way too slow.  The whole time, they make you think they're building to some sort of amazing, edge of your seat twist and by the time they get there, you've just stopped caring.

Don't see it.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Argo Commentary

Wow.  What can I say?  I knew from the previews that I was going to enjoy this.  It has a compelling story and is made by, in my mind, one of the better directors out there.  I loved The Town and this looked like it had the same feel to it.  But I wasn't expecting it to be that good.  Almost everything about this movie is fantastic.  The cinematography, writing, acting ... everything.  It has such an air of authenticity to it that even the absolutely thrilling climax seems real even though it is a bit far fetched.  With that said, there was one aspect I thought that stood out from the rest and really exemplifies the audience experience.  They used subtitles when it was needed.  If the audience needed to know what was being said, then we saw it.  But if the audience needed to feel the same sense of panic and fear that the characters did, we never got to know what they were chanting or yelling in Farsi.  This is just one example of how Ben Affleck draws the audience in and they wind up feeling like they are part of the film.  These things are done throughout.

I don't know a lot about what actually happened in the true story so I did some research (And almost immediately found myself downloading the e-version of Antonio Mendez' book).  As it turns out, the movie left a lot of things out (as movies based on actual events tend to do).  There's a really good article about some of the inaccuracies here.  Mostly, they ignored just how much the Canadians helped in getting the six people out of Iran.  In the movie, the Canadians are seen as little more than innkeepers when they probably did more than the Americans in getting them out.  As a Canadian, you would think this would anger me.  But it doesn't.  This is an American movie made to sell tickets in America.  So it stands to reason that they are going to focus on Americans.  If Canada wants to get credit for the unbelievable stuff we do in the intelligence world, then our film industry needs to step up.  Second, when you adapt a true story (especially one so intricate), you have to leave some stuff out.  Otherwise, you end up with a drawn out, 3 hour film that will inevitably be very boring in spots.  So all the prep work that the Canadians did in real life had to be sacrificed for thrilling, cinematic value.

So forget any inaccuracies and see this movie for what it is: a near perfect dramatic thriller with great pace and fantastic comic relief from John Goodman and Alan Arkin.  It's perhaps the best movie I've seen this year and I've seen a lot of good movies this year.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Moonrise Kingdom Commentary


Wes Anderson is definitely an interesting director.  And a very difficult one to review.  He has this knack for taking pretty basic stories and plots and making them extraordinary and surreal through the use of clever writing and very quirky characters.  Some of his films have stories that are more out there than others.  The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums come to mind.  Moonrise Kingdom moves more to the other end of the surrealism spectrum.  It has a premise that seems quite plausible and there’s only a few instances where you really feel like what just happened couldn’t in real life.  Two misunderstood kids fall in “love” and decide to run off together.  The only problem is, they’re on an island and really have no place to go.  Anderson took that and put it into the hands of a perfectly cast group of actors and came up with a movie that is quirkily funny and heartwarming at the same time.  And, when you’re done, you have that signature “what the hell just happened” feeling that is prevalent at the end of all of his movies.  But that isn’t a bad thing.  While the viewer usually feels like that, they also feel very happy for having witnessed the film.  It’s a hard feeling to describe in words.  You just have to watch the movie.  You’ll either get it or you won’t.

I mentioned a perfectly cast group of actors.  This is just that.  Ed Norton is fantastic as the in over his head scout master.  Bruce Willis is strong as the island police officer.  Normally, Willis takes his comedic roles a bit too far.  I don’t know if it was good directing or just the surrealism of the movie but Willis reined it in and did a good job.  Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play supporting roles and keep it limited to that.  It would have been easy for any of them to dominate.  But they let the movie focus on Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the two runaways.  And both of them deliver.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Gilman became an Anderson mainstay like the Wilsons or Jason Schwartzman.  Anderson’s movies can sometimes be overwhelmed by the deadpan acting of everyone but it never took centre stage in Moonrise Kingdom.  I was a bit disappointed that neither of the Wilson brothers made an appearance but they can’t be in everything Anderson does.

See it.  You’ll either love it or hate it.  But you can’t take someone else’s word on a Wes Anderson film.  You have to see it and decide for yourself.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Here Comes The Boom Commentary

Like Happy Gilmore, this movie is about someone stepping out of their comfort zone to participate in a sport in order to help someone they care about.  It's a Hollywood story that is done a lot.  It is even made by the Happy Madison company.  But it is not so similar to Happy Gilmore enough to say that it's basically the same movie.  Happy Gilmore relied very heavily on the weird "out there" gag.  Boom doesn't rely on much of that at all.  Instead, it is a movie filled with heart and inspiration with the requisite laughs thrown in.

I can't really think of anything bad to say about this movie.  The only thing that I didn't really care for was the big, inspirational Hollywood ending.  But, given the type of movie it is, they really couldn't get away from that.  They also couldn't get away from Voss learning his lesson and changing as a person because that's just the formula for these inspirational movies.  Some will fall flat and some will be good. Like Happy Gilmore, Boom delivers.  But, as I said, it's for different reasons.

Boom is very well written and cast.  Everyone looks and plays their parts perfectly.  This is especially true of Henry Winkler.  He's a scene stealer throughout and delivers his jokes with a deadpan naiveté that makes the audience keep laughing after he's done.  Secondary characters are strong and allow Kevin James and Salma Hayek to shine.  James has always been able to play the loveable has been like in Paul Blart and Zookeeper.  But he really takes it up a notch with his delivery of both smart ass and simpleton lines in Boom.  He's played a lot of good roles (and is one of my favourites ever since King of Queens) but I think this is his best so far.

Even after the over the top and unrealistic (bordering on cheesy) moments, you come away with a really good feeling.  When that happens and you laugh as much as I did, that makes it a top feel good movie in my books.  Definitely see this one.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Taken 2 Commentary

The first Taken was a great movie.  It was fantastically written, shot and acted.  It kept you on the edge of your seat for the whole time with a terrific pace and tension.  Taken 2 is a prime example of going to the well once too often.  They tried to do the same thing and it fell completely flat.  It has the same great shooting and acting.  But the writing is where it suffers the most.  From start to finish, this story is full of holes and problems.  It is odd though.  I would have thought it could have been really good.  After all, in most movies where someone is avenging a death, it's the good guy going after the bad guys.  In this one, it's a very bad man avenging his very bad son who died at the hands of the good guy.  They could have taken that morality angle a little further.  Rather, they addressed it briefly and moved on trying to focus on the thriller aspect.  Normally, I would applaud this.  But I thought it was too good an angle to dismiss and, if they had executed the thriller aspect better, I could have looked past it.

But the thriller was executed very poorly.  There are just too many holes and conveniences to make it a realistic story that I can get lost in.  the first Taken had that element.  It always seemed plausible and portrayed a very nasty situation so vividly that it was almost disturbing (and, if I had daughters, I probably would have been traumatized by watching it).  Taken 2 loses all of that element of the movie. Sure, the action (what little there is - it takes a half hour for anything to happen) and fights (fist and gun) are pretty decent but it is overshadowed by things like Kim conveniently finding a whole ensemble of clothes that fit her perfectly in a maid's locker.  Or Bryan being able to figure out where he is and where to go later (two different places) using the same information he took in while blindfolded.  He also has a very intimate knowledge of Istanbul's slummy areas and then has to recall the sounds he heard in the van?  That whole aspect is just too confusing to really explain without a three pint conversation.  But the worst hole is just so preposterous; how does a person who has failed a driver's test three times suddenly become able to execute advanced driving maneuvers in a stick shift in unfamiliar, narrow and crowded streets?

It really was a waste of good acting performances and decent directing.  There's just too many of those holes combined with an uninspired and predictable story that it really failed as a sequel.  They should have just left well enough alone with the first one.  Don't see it.  Watch the first one again and get chills down your spine.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Looper Commentary

From the first time I heard of this movie, I wanted to see it.  It's a great twist on the time travel element that seems to capture everyone's imagination.  It's really difficult to review this movie without giving away anything.  Everything that happens is so integral to the plot and story.  Being a time travel movie, you have to be willing to not think too much in order to enjoy it.  That being said, I think this is one of the best ones at not getting too into paradoxes and problems with the issue of time travel.  Yes, they acknowledge it and it is integral to the movie.  But they don't dwell too much on the effects and, when they do, they make sense.

I think the best part of this movie is the acting.  It has two of my favourites in Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.  Through well used makeup and good acting, Gordon-Levitt is able to make you believe that he could be a young, impetuous Bruce Willis.  It was better to do that than the other way around because I don't think Willis could pull it off.  But through their performances and some good writing, there is an air of believability in a movie where the premise is scientifically impossible.

There really are no heroes in this one.  Everyone is kind of a bad person with the exception of Sara and she's got a past too.  With that, they're willing to break a few cinematic rules and it makes the movie much darker and grittier than I was expecting.  That's a good thing because I found when it did that, I was sucked in much more emotionally and enjoyed the movie that much more.  I will concede that there are times when it is a bit predictable and the foreshadowing isn't veiled very much.  But I think that helped keep it simple given the time travel angle and actually allowed for a better experience.  There also moments of deja vu and then the viewer will realize that there are some intangible elements that evoke memories of another great time travel movie, 12 Monkeys.

This is a definite must see movie.  It is one of the best I have seen all year.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Trouble With The Curve Commentary

I'm a baseball fan.  So I will admit that I spent some time picking apart some of the inaccuracies in this movie regarding the sport.  First, in what universe would the Red Sox or Braves have a top two pick given that it's a movie that takes place in current time?  Also, there is no way that, in a championship game, there would be a spazzy, "please just let me get hit" Charlie Brown type kid batting in front of "the next Albert Pujols."  But, the Red Sox and Braves have appeal for the masses and the wimpy kid allowed for a decent little scene.  After all, this isn't a movie about baseball.  Rather, it is a movie about redemption and second chances with a baseball background.  So I can forgive the numerous baseball inaccuracies.

Overall, this is a good film.  It started out a little boring and slow.  But, by the time I got halfway through, I found myself really enjoying it.  It has a very decent mix of heartwarming, heartbreaking and humour that keeps the audience interested.  Performances are strong from all of the main actors.  Amy Adams plays the "had to be strong to get by yet oddly vulnerable" daughter very well.  Justin Timberlake gives a fantastic performance as a former pitcher who has already adjusted to his second chance and, in turn, teaches Adams and Eastwood how to do the same.  The weakest of the three (and it wasn't that weak) was Clint Eastwood.  His performance was basically the same thing he did in Gran Torino: the stubborn old crank that refuses to change but can't help but soften a bit.  But, let's face it.  Isn't that all he ever really played?  Go back and watch the Dirty Harry movies.  That's just Eastwood.  He's never been a great actor.  But he's got that quality that just makes us want to watch him.  He used to be a bad ass but now he reminds us all of our own cranky grandfathers.

Most of the secondary actors are decent too.  John Goodman, Robert Patrick, the guys who played the other aging scouts, etc. are all good.  The only one I would say they needed to change was Joe Massingill.  While he looked the part of a high school baseball prospect, his acting was just too poor to make his character entertaining.  You're supposed to hate him.  But I hated him, not because of his attitude but because of his inability to deliver a line convincingly.  His character was too important to allow for that performance.

The writing, overall, is a bit weak.  The movie is very predictable and really has no surprises.  It follows basic movie formulas of things that need to happen in order for the heroes to win and the villains to lose.  But it isn't a thriller that would rely on surprise twists to keep you interested.  Instead, Trouble with the Curve is a drama that wants you to be vested emotionally.  Because the performances are decent, it can rise above slightly above mediocre writing and deliver a quality movie.

While it isn't a masterpiece, it's still worth two hours.  See it.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution Commentary

This is my 200th movie review.  YAY!!!  I have reviewed every movie I have watched since Battle: Los Angeles.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Normally, I hate horror movies.  While I see the Resident Evil movies more as monster action movies, they really are a horror franchise.  For some reason, I enjoy these movies.  OK.  I admit it.  It's probably because of Milla Jovovich running around and kicking ass while wearing tight clothing.  Most guys my age were hopelessly infatuated with her as Leeloo in the Fifth Element.  But I also do thing that these movies have terrific action and effects.  With that element, Retribution continues the great tradition.

The effects are top notch.  Everything looks quite real even though most of it is added after the fact.  The action sequences are very good and as lifelike as they can be with monster zombies, etc.  The fight scenes are well choreographed and use a terrific mix of regular speed and slow motion.  The 3D was also used judiciously and just enough to almost make the viewer feel like they are actually there.

But that's the end of the positives in this one.  There is basically no story development.  Given the end of the previous one, it seemed like it could be a good continuation of trying to find a safe haven.  But, if the ending is any indication, it was simply a bridge from that one to the next one.  It was almost as if the film makers knew they needed to make a film to keep the momentum going but had no idea as to what to do for a story.  So they just made a simple escape story with elements regurgitated from the previous movies.  And, in making that, the actual dialogue suffers because there's no development and you do not care about any of the characters except Alice.  Then, it's combined with some absolutely terrible acting.  Everyone except Jovovich is downright terrible in this movie and even she seemed to be phoning it in sometimes.  Some of it has to be because of the uninspired writing but, even with dialogue that could be good, every delivery is wooden and forced.  This is especially true of Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine.  I can't beging to express how horrible she is in this movie.  And Binbing Li and Michelle Rodriguez are only slightly better.

If you are a fan of the franchise, you'll want to see it for the effects.  You don't need to see the others to see this one because they spend the first few minutes giving a very concise exposition with everything you need to know (the overall story isn't that deep).  But, if you do want to see this as a stand alone movie, I suggest you think twice and don't see it.  There's really no story development and I'm sure you can pick it all up in the next one.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Goldeneye Commentary

I'm a huge fan of the James Bond franchise.  I think they do a good job of making top notch action movies that are obviously not feasible in real life.  That's a tough thing to do without making the audience roll their eyes for two hours.  And I think the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies have done the best job of that.  Goldeneye takes the epidemic of organized crime and corruption that plagued Russia after the Cold War and turned it into a Bond movie that has all the hallmarks and things we come to expect.  It has the two girls (one good, one bad), the syndicate that inexplicably has the resources to pull a huge crime off, single use gadgets and a second in command henchman that kills people in an absolutely ridiculous way.  But, because it is grounded in a historically real situation combined with a personal element between Bond and the villain, it feels a little more real than the Roger Moore Bond movies.

Technically, I think this is also one of the better movies.  It came out at a time when CGI was just coming into its own and, even though it is easy to see that it is heavily green screened, I've seen recent movies that do a vastly worse job than Goldeneye.  As far as settings go, it does what we expect in Bond movies.  There's cold Russia, the Caribbean, Europe, etc.  So there's really nothing special there.  One of the things that really stands out here is the innovative tank chasing Ouromov through the streets of St Petersburg.  Normally, Bond uses his own car with all of its gadgets.  In Goldeneye, he had to improvise with something he isn't familiar with and it results in some cool over the top property destruction.

I know why they had to switch to Daniel Craig to play James Bond.  And I like the Craig movies and the direction its going.  But I am saddened that Brosnan was made to stop.  I really think that he saved the franchise at a time when people were kind of tired of it.  He brought new life and coolness to the character that Timothy Dalton couldn't.  Fortunately, we have four Brosnan Bond movies and all of them are watchable (and Tomorrow Never Dies is my favourite of the franchise).  So see it.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Lawless Commentary

Watching this movie was an interesting experience.  It starts slow but then seems to pick up after about a half hour.  Then, about halfway through, I realized that there really is no coherent story.  Then, everything goes sideways.  What starts out as being about three vaguely related stories do actually come together to a resolution.  At the end, it still felt like there was something missing even though I did think it was a good movie.  So I decided to give it some time and let it sink in before I would review it.  And I'm glad I did.  Upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is a very good movie.

Yes, the story seems to be a bit vague and not tightly woven together.  But it is based on a true story and doesn't give in to the sensationalism that is often forced into Hollywood movies.  Instead, it relies on a decent true story (even though some of it is probably embellished) that has the comedic and dramatic elements that can make it stand on its own.  This is then magnified by some absolutely terrific acting performances.  Tom Hardy, Shia LaBoeuf, Gary Oldman and Guy Pearce are absolutely perfect in their roles.  This is especially true of Hardy.  He plays the enigmatic anti-hero very well.

Being a historical piece set in the Depression era of bootlegers means that it needed to have authenticity in its costumes, sets and language.  And I think it did a very good job of that as well.  At no time did it ever feel like any of that stuff was forced or fake.  I especially like the interior of the gas station/restaurant/Bondurant residence.  Right down to the newspaper "wallpaper", it really seemed like a lower-middle class "do what you need to do to survive" family of bachelors lived there.

I said it seemed to move a bit slow.  But it was done before I knew it.  And once it was done, I didn't feel like I had been in there that long.  I think that's a testament to the superior film making all around.

See it.  It's a great example of a very well made, truth based story.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Escape from L.A. Commentary

This is the exact same movie as its predecessor, Escape from New York.  There really isn't much else to say.  It has essentially the same story, characters and terrible delivery from Kurt Russel.  Even Snake's "do this or you'll die" motivation is exactly the same.  There are really only two differences.  First, they focus a little more on the intense moral decay that is the underlying agenda for these movies.  The reason for the prison is one of morality.  The barbaric "gladiatorial" spectacle is more intense.  They really pushed the same agenda rather than try something new.  As a result, it seems like more of a Mad Max ripoff than anything else.

Second, there is a heavier reliance on special effects and more action.  While I'm sure the effects were fairly groundbreaking for their time, there was that awkward period in the mid-90s where CGI was just coming into its own and in order to make it look realistic, you had to spend a very large sum of money.  They didn't spend enough.  The green screening and other CGI effects are very poor in this film and it does not age well at all.  They should have relied more heavily on building tension like in the first one and less on the explosions and fake helicopters and submarines.

There is just a huge lack of any originality in this movie.  Don't see it.  Watch the first one instead.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Escape from New York Commentary

If you remind yourself that this movie was released in 1981, it's actually pretty good.  Most of the time, movies that depict anarchistic situations in the near future do not age very well.  This is especially true when they are set up as being in an era of paranoia towards communism.  But, while Escape from New York is set up in that, it doesn't dwell on it.  Rather, it relies on the basic, self-contained story of getting the President off of Manhattan Island.  So it really is a story that could happen in any time period.

Don't get me wrong.  The situation is preposterous.  The notion of turning one of the most vibrant commercial centres of the world into a maximum security prison is laughable.  But, when you think of the time period, New York's crime rate was pretty staggering and the city was seen as a cesspool of urban decay and moral depravity.  While it's still a huge stretch, it isn't as preposterous as it would be now.  With this context, they do a very good job of setting the story in a wasteland of a city with very good set designs and locations.

Another reason this movie ages well is that it doesn't rely on special effects too much.  It relies on tension with Plissken working against the clock.  It does a very good job in moving through the story quickly.  A drawback to this is that it has to rely more heavily on the writing and acting.  For the most part, this is passable.  Lee van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, etc are all about what you would expect.  But Kurt Russel is downright terrible.  He looks the part very well.  And I can see that he was going for a guy who doesn't give a damn about anything.  But his portrayal of a badass is just way too wooden and lifeless.  (Another thing that bothered me is that it has one of the worst choreographed fight scenes that I have ever seen.)

Overall, though, it isn't a waste of time.  As I said, it moves quickly and does entertain.  So if you see it on one of those specialty cable channels, stop and see it.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hysteria Commentary

Really, what can you say about a movie that chronicles the invention of a sex toy in Victorian England?    Only the English could really pull this off.  Much like Burke and Hare, they take a true story and a lot of license and turn it into a fast paced, humourous story.  The difference is that Hysteria had story that lends itself much better to humour than the murder for organ harvesting that Burke and Hare had.  Because it has the base for a comedy, the film has to rely less on clever writing and can let the actors do their thing.

And the actors do their thing very well.  Maggie Gyllenhall is terrific as the "hysterical" woman who sees the whole therapy as quackery.  Jonathan Pryce is solid as the older doctor.  Hugh Dancy has the look of an up and coming doctor with crazy new ideas.  And Rupert Everett is fantastic as the quirky sidekick that helps out.

But I think the best thing about this movie is that they didn't bog it down in the romance story.  You know going in that there is going to be a budding romance between Gyllenhall and Dancy.  That's a given.  They could ahve really dragged out her trial and his feelings and such.  But they kept that part light with the rest of the film and made a very tight 100 minute movie that entertains at a decent pace all the way through.  From start to finish, Hysteria stays fairly upbeat and quirky to give the viewer a good time.

See it if you get a chance.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Expendables 2 Commentary

Director Simon West on the first day of shooting: "OK, Mr Schwarzenegger, before we film, I'm going to need you to stick your finger in this light socket.  Mr van Damme, we're going to pump you so full of Botox that you're going to resemble a Hollywood housewife when you take those sunglasses off.  Mr Norris, you're completely unnecessary in this movie but people seem to still love you so we're going to need you to forget everything you may have ever learned about acting.  Mr Willis, just be as cool as you've ever been.  Mr Li, what are you still doing here?  Everyone else, do exactly what you did in the first one but louder.  And why the hell does Randy Couture keep showing up?"  That pretty much sums up this movie but it is exactly what I was expecting.  The one scene in the church in the first one was an excuse to have a little banter between action legends.  In this one, it's spread out through the whole movie and kind of makes the whole thing suffer a bit.

Action sequels are made good if they take the best parts of the preceding films and build on that while losing the crap.  The Expendables tried to bring in some philosophy and a human element and I think they realized that it just didn't work.  The first one had some morality to it.  This one is just out and out revenge.  They took the action, amped it up, and made a throwback to the mindless action movies of the late 80s and early 90s.  For what it is, they did it very well.  There is a lot of action in this film and the violence level is pretty high (at one point, Stephanie said it was 'a lot of raspberry jam').

Also, they kept some of the banter between Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham that brought good humour to the first one.  Those two work well together.  The problem is that they tried to extend that to any time that any two of Norris, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis were on screen at the same time.  The references to their places in pop culture and other movies was not needed even if it was almost required by the viewing audience.  What many people will see as a cool and funny line, I just find cheesy.  And that is indicative of the story and writing as a whole.  The story is almost non-existent and the writing is pretty terrible too.  But, as I said, it's a mindless "blow everything to hell" movie so the story is very secondary.

There really isn't anything more to say than that.  Acting and writing are pretty bad, but the action is very good.  It's exactly what you expect and, with that, it entertains.  So turn your brain off and see it.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Super 8 Commentary

So this is what would happen if M Night Syamalan were to make Stand By Me.  It's a coming of age story that takes place around an alien backdrop and tries to bring in a human element with Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard.  I really liked the idea of the coming of age with the five friends trying to make a movie and accidentally discovering a military alien cover up.  What I didn't like was that they start out with that and try to make it a thriller.  Then they go off on these emotional tangents because they think that a thriller isn't enough.  And that is even reflected in the movie that the kids are making.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is very well written and well shot.  But when Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams are involved you know there's going to be a certain threshold of quality in that.  I also like that they don't try to keep the alien a mystery to us.  They reveal enough of it physically at the right points to keep you interested in that.  The acting is where this movie falls apart.  You get pretty much what you would expect from kids.  They haven't developed their craft a lot yet.  But the adults are just on the wrong side of average in this film.

Overall, this film is really a wash.  On the one hand, it's well filmed and written.  On the other, it gets bogged down in the wrong themes.  But it isn't a total waste of time so See it.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Commentary

There isn’t really that much to say about this film.  It’s really a rehashing of many of the elements of the first Night at the Museum.  They use a lot of the same characters and gags (monkeys slapping Ben Stiller, etc.) with very little attempt to make it better.  Rather, this one relies more on quirky dialogue and the characters at the Smithsonian not really understanding their situation.  This makes sense because this is their first encounter with becoming real so there would be an adjustment period.  So, instead of just having a clever little story, they have to use this confusion for the humour in the movie.  Really, it’s the only way they could go because the clever little story was used up in the first one. 

That isn’t to say that the new characters aren’t funny.  Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah and Bill Hader as General Custer were quite entertaining but Hader essentially played Teddy Roosevelt from the first one.  And that’s about where its entertainment ended.  The characters of Napoleon, Al Capone and Ivan the Terrible had potential to provide a lot of “Three Stooges” type entertainment and they never really go that going.  And, by the end of it, I was actually hoping Amelia Earhart would just disappear.  A good sequel takes what made the first movie successful and builds on it.  For me, that was the dynamic between Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan.  In the first one, their interactions were quite funny.  But they all but got rid of it for the second one and that was a mistake. 

Finally, I will get to the effects.  A movie like this has to rely very heavily on special effects to make everything come alive and look believable.  It was done fairly well in the first one (released in 2006) and very poorly in the second.  This one came out in 2009 and looks like it was using effects and animatronic technology from before the first one.  Even the same characters from the first movie looked worse in the second.  Everything is jerky and unrefined. 

Ultimately, the film is uninspired and I think everyone just got a bit lazy in making it.  There’s some laughs and it’s kind of fun in spots.  It's almost worth it just for Hader's antics.  But it’s inconsistent in its entertainment and quality.  Don’t see it. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Night at the Museum Commentary

My friend, Ryan suggested that I see this movie.  He said it was lighthearted and funny all the way through.  He was right.  Night at the Museum follows the typical, lighthearted comedy formula right down to the music.  It's got the hero with his own personal problems and he has to prove himself to his son (or some other person that is important to him).  He is thrust into an extraordinary and unbelievable situation and relies on those people to help him.  And it all ends up rosy.  We see this time and again in films like Groundhog Day, The Zookeeper and Mr. Popper's Penguins.  Ultimately, these movies are rarely average.  They either do really well or fall really flat.  This one did really well.

I can't really put my finger on anything specific that makes this one a good movie.  I think it was the choice of Ben Stiller for the hero.  He does a good job of playing the struggling father but not a jerk (like Jim Carrey in many of his films).  He is a guy that the audience can really relate to.  The rest of the casting was done very well.  Owen Wilson is perfect in those Rosencrantz and Guldenstern characters and plays off of Steve Coogan very well.

Overall, acting, writing and effects are only slightly above average.  But you go into this movie not expecting too much.  All you want is the lighthearted fun distraction.  And you get that.  While none of the gags are over the top, I did find myself laughing out loud at a lot of Stiller's interactions with the museum characters.  Finally, about 2/3 of the way through I was already thinking of when I would be able to see the sequel.  When that happens, you know that it is a fun and entertaining movie.

See it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy Commentary

I'm a big fan of the Bourne movies.  When I heard they were going to do a fourth one without Matt Damon, I was against it.  Then I saw the trailer and thought it looked really good.  It looked like a fast paced film where they would continue the Bourne theme with a different actor playing a different (but parallel) character.  Then I saw that it had Jeremy Renner, Ed Norton and Rachel Weisz and I figured it must be at least halfway decent.  I've done a 180 on my original thoughts.  This was a great film and I'm glad they've decided to continue the franchise.

Hollywood should take note.  This is the proper way to reboot a franchise.  Rather than give us the same old tired exposition of how the hero came to be, they recognized that it needs to be different from the original franchise with different characters and a different story.  I will concede that the story in the Bourne Legacy is quite similar to that of the other Bourne movies.  In fact, Renner = Matt Damon, Norton = Chris Cooper, Weisz = Potente and Stacey Keach = Brian Cox in almost every way.  But they've changed the back stories and motivations because they changed the characters.  In a way, it combines the recent Star Trek reboot with Prometheus.  Star Trek is continuing the familiar universe that we like and Prometheus took us to a point in a franchise and sent it off in another direction with different characters.  The Bourne Legacy is doing the same thing.  It starts out with events paralleling and involving those of the end of the Matt Damon movies and sending them on a course on their own while still maintaining the mix of character personalities that make the movies successful.

From a technical standpoint, there is really nothing that makes this one better than many other films of the same genre.  The film making is decent all around with some really good locales and cinematography.  The sets and locations used from the mountains in winter to sweaty Manilla streets do a really good job of evoking the right emotion in the audience.  The acting is believable which is good because it's easy to go overboard in a movie like this.  That's a testament to some very good casting.  Renner has emerged as a good actor and Norton has the range to play just about any personality.  The action is ok but not stellar.  It does have a very good chase scene in Manilla and some well choreographed fights.  But I think what makes this an above average film is that the pace keeps building and that makes the tension rise to a boiling point.  As a thriller, that is what it is supposed to do and they do it very well.

Normally, the fourth movie is a series is going to suffer.  But because they decided to refresh and reboot, it stands alone quite well.  You do have to be familiar with the first three to not get too confused (and the Bourne movies are good at confusing an audience) but I recommend all of those anyways.  See it.  It's a very good thriller.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Commentary

Any movie that has Anne Hathaway dressed in tight leather and bent over the Bat Bike automatically gets a See recommendation.  Now, on with my opinions.

This is one hell of a James Bond movie.  It's got a ridiculous plot about destruction, unrealistic villains, two hot girls and a perfect opportunity to make the evil plan airtight without the hero getting in the way only to let him off the hook and come back to save the day by exploiting the loophole so obvious that even I was able to see it.  That being said, it's actually quite entertaining and, for my money, the best of the three.  First, it wasn't oppressively dark like Batman Begins.  Second, it didn't push a political agenda like the Dark Knight.  The Dark Knight Rises is a basic superhero story of hope and vindication in a harsh world and I liked that.  There's also the fact that they made a 2:45 minute movie go by really quickly.  That means it entertains all the way through and, therefore, does its job.  In the other two, I kept feeling like they went on too long.  And this one even has some long, drawn out exposition that could have been cut.

I also have to keep reminding myself that these are comic book movies.  And as comic book movies, they are going to have some ridiculous things in them.  First, the ancient prison that you can only escape from if you are worthy of climbing out of it borders on the idiotic.  No, it is idiotic.  Second, I'm not sure why Bane had to sound like Sean Connery on his deathbed.  It wasn't really sinister enough.  But I will concede that it works because Bane (at least in this movie) has a detached nature about him that makes him a bone-chilling villain.  So the odd voice really adds to it.  While the Joker was this psycho who's motivation seemed to be only his own entertainment, Bane was a calculating and distant sociopath and had an ideological purpose (as twisted as it was).  And Tom Hardy got the mannerisms and body language down perfectly.

I also must lament about the location.  Gotham City has gotten to the point of being its own character in these movies.  Everything is done for the good of or destruction of the city.  Having it obviously in New York with the wide sweeping shots of famous landmarks - a flaming bat symbol on the most famous bridge in the world - (and have their football team play all the way out in Pittsburgh) is just distracting; especially when the last movie did the same thing with Chicago and the first one was completely fictional in its scenery.  But, in order for this plot to work, they needed the city to be on an island and, thus, painted themselves into a corner.  To have the same film makers take such an integral "character" and manipulate it to suit their own whims is too sloppy for me.  (You can argue about the symbolism of a changing Gotham to have the city represent some universality about us all needing to be saved all you want.  Save it.  I'm not buying it.  I'll take consistency over weak allegory any day.)

Finally, I will mention Christian Bale.  it is well documented that I do not like the man.  It is also well documented that I do not know why.  In this film, I did not have a problem with him.  I actually thought he did very well.  And they kept the absolutely idiotic and annoying gravelly Batman voice to a minimum so that made me happy too.

The bottom line is that this movie is entertaining and balances a moral with (finally) not trying to be too deep.  See it.  Unfortunately, to know all of what's going on, you have to invest the time in the other two.  But seeing as how I'm in the minority on the quality of the first two, you probably won't mind.