Monday, 30 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review

So this is how it all ends, eh?  From a cinematic standpoint, this one is a lot different from the others.  But, considering that it is essentially the second half of one movie, I'm not surprised.  It starts out fast and doesn't let go for quite a while.  The tension is pretty tight for most of it and it builds up to the big battle for Hogwarts.  Then, bam!  Deathly Hallows grinds to an absolute halt with this need to get all philosophical and it goes off in a direction that it never really recovers from.

That isn't to say that the final climax isn't exciting.  It is.  In fact, the action all the way through is some of the best in the entire series.  But after slowing down so much, it would have taken a lot more to get the momentum rolling to a pace that it was at before.  Because of that, the climax is actually kind of anti-climatic.  Right from when Harry goes back into the forest to face Voldemort alone, the film gets very confusing (almost to Prisoner of Azkaban levels).  For a story that was supposed to bring an end and some closure, they sure left some things unanswered.  I won't spoil it for anyone because I do believe that there are a lot of people out there who don't know how this story ends.  While Potter did permeate pop culture more than anything since Star Wars, the fate of Harry Potter hasn't quite gotten to the level of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father.  Case in point: if I hadn't asked my brother what happened when the Deathly Hallows book came out, I wouldn't have known what happened until I saw the movie.  And even then, I had forgotten all of it except for one line.  The world of fantasy is just too specialized in its followers.  If you're into it, you'll know.  If you aren't you'll know the story exists but you don't pay attention.  (This is an argument my brother, Andy, and I actually have had and I don't think either of us will ever give in on it ;-).)

So, while there are a few questions raised by the events in the climax, they are really limited to that small part of the story and can be just accepted by the viewer.  The overall questions that we asked throughout the whole thing are answered.  In that, it wrapped up nicely.  And, without spoiling it, I have to say I really, really like what they did with the Neville Longbottom character's fate.  For me, that took the theme of the movie from decent to very good.  And it just goes to strengthen my theory that this is not a retelling of the Christ story or an attack on Christendom.

Technically, I only really had one problem.  This one never seemed to find any consistency in its effects.  Some of the effects are absolutely brilliant.  The fire and magic effects are some of the best I've seen in recent memory.  But the goblin makeup effects were downright "Cabbage Patch Kids."  But, all in all, it was a net gain.

While I was disappointed for that 20-30 minutes of philosophical surrealness, I still recommend that you see it.  The two Deathly Hallows movies together make for a good evening's entertainment if you have the time and know the story.  But this one is better simply because it is the climax whereas Part 1 has the more dull buildup.

Tommy Boy Review

I'll start out by saying that the acting is bad.  In fact, in spots, it is very bad.  But it wasn't Chris Farley that was bad.  It was the performances by many of the peripheral actors and even David Spade.  But David Spade isn't much of an actor to begin with.  And Rob Lowe and Bo Derek really phoned it in too.  Given that, I don't think Chris Farley got enough credit for his abilities.  I will admit that his range was limited.  The only thing he ever really got a chance to do was play the loveable and hyperactive buffoon.  Sadly, we will never know if he could have made the transition into even more cerebral comedy much less drama.

This is the pinnacle of Farley's work and the movie he will always be known for.  And that's a good thing because it is one of the greatest feel good movies ever made.  I've seen it countless times and it still makes me laugh from start to finish.  I still want to punch Rob Lowe in the face and I still get sad when Brian Dennehy dies.  And I still feel good at the end when the wind starts to blow across the lake.  Because it can do all this, the movie is timeless.  For my money, it ranks right up there with any other classic mid 80s to mid 90s comedy.

And, speaking of which, it is very much of that era.  It's definitely got that feel to it.  That's largely due to the music and costumes though.  The music is that lighthearted score all the way through that feel good movies should have.  It makes the audience smile and enjoy themselves.  And that's really the point after all.

The chemistry and timing between Farley and Spade is classic and it further benefits from some very good writing in their scenes together.  But I think my favourite part of this movie is the little solo bits that Farley gets to do throughout.  Scenes like the crashing model cars, ordering chicken wings, martial arts with the hook conveyor and, my personal favourite, the "Guarantee Fairy" are scenes that you can repeat lines from and laugh about with your friends for a very long time.  And the Direct TV ads were right: Fat Guy In A Little Coat NEVER gets old.  You get the feeling that everyone really fed off his energy through the whole film making process.

See it.  It will never go down as one of the classic films of all time and it shouldn't.  But in its genre, it is among the cream of the crop.  Whether or not you like Farley, you have to admit that they captured something very special with Tommy Boy.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Review

After seven movies, I've realized that Harry Potter isn't a real wizard.  He does not have a comical cone hat with stars and moons on it and he's never even said "presto changeo."  That's a spell that even the most basic of wizards would use let alone "open sesame" and "abracadabra."

Seriously though, it's hard to really review this one because it was planned as a part one movie.  So you know going in that there's going to be very few (if any) questions answered.  I believe they did two parts because it would be very difficult to cut anything out of the last book and still have a cohesive story.  The problem is that, if this one is any indication, there still isn't enough material in the book to make two full movies; especially if you want to make the movies more than two hours long.  It's a Catch-22.  There's too much for one movie but not enough for two.  So, what do you do?  You're kind of stuck making at least one of them a bit slow in its building up to a final climax.  In this one, there is way too much "wandering around" and doing nothing from the main characters.  In that, it's a lot like Valhalla Rising (a movie I can only describe as unbelievably boring).  Had they left out a lot of that and sped it up a bit, they could have had a very gripping 100-110 minute movie.

After watching almost all of these now, I've come to the conclusion that JK Rowling has some very strong political views.  In this one, there's a very real air of commentary on the evils of tyrannical oppression.  Like the battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore a few movies ago, I got a real "Rebellion vs Empire" vibe from Star Wars.  Then, while the three kids are wandering around, there's a real Lord of the Rings feeling with the locket and its effects on the kids.  Add the "Top Gun" rivalry from the first movie and it's fairly obvious the Rowling is heavily influenced by other stories.  I'm not saying that it is a bad thing.  Everyone gets inspiration from somewhere.  After all, there's only about seven actually distinct stories in the world and everything is a variation of those.  I'm just saying that you will see this inspiration in the movie.

Everything else is much of the same.  The acting, effects and writing are similar to all of the others.  Performances are strong, effects are believable and the story takes too long to actually get moving.  It takes almost an hour to actually find out what the Deathly Hallows is.  Because this is just Part One, there is not big climax at the end wrapping up one story to further another along.

As a stand alone movie, I would recommend that you don't see it.  But I cannot talk about the story as a stand alone movie because, like the Lord of the Rings movies, you need to view this and Part Two as a whole rather than sequels.  While I haven't seen Part Two yet, looking at this one in the light of just the first half, I have to say See It.  Even though it gets a bit boring in spots, it's starting to answer questions and you can tell it is building to something big.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince Review

Hey, I have a good idea.  Let's take a bunch of horny teenagers and teach them how to use strong love potions.  That won't cause problems at all.  Seriously, though.  This installment of the Harry Potter story takes the same formula but then changes how it uses that.  There's the obligatory new year at Hogwarts with the new teacher that we have to learn about.  There's a self contained story that is used to move the much larger saga along.  But what is different about this one is that it is a bridge piece.  While they have the two levels of the story in this one, they were much more intertwined and reliant on each other than in the past movies which is what I wanted.

While all of the stories do bridge together the whole epic tale, I really got the feeling that JK Rowling didn't have the final pieces in her mind as to how the whole thing would unfold and end until the Order of the Phoenix.  I do believe that it was always going to have an end because Messianic stories of good vs evil have to.  There can never be a story like that without an end in sight.  Order of the Phoenix ended with basically a vow for the kids to defeat Voldemort.  Because these stories are so detailed and have fairly intricate plots with many characters, she couldn't just jump into the finale.  That would cause too many questions and holes.  So, this bridge story leading to the final battle had to occur.  And, as with most bridge stories, there seem to be more questions than before.  But now these new questions can be answered in an "all will be revealed" finale because they are questions that now have planned answers.

As bridge pieces go, this one is quite good.  Instead of using too many characters and plot points as they seemed to do in the previous movies, it seemed to be more focused on what I can only assume will be the more important people and themes in the finale.  After six stories, it seems like Harry Potter finally has some consistent direction.

Technically, the film is strong.  As with all of the others, the acting is very good and the effects are top notch.  The addition of Jim Broadbent was a really nice touch and he suited the role very well.  I would have like to have seen more of Robbie Coltrane but it would have probably distracted from the "Harry and Dumbledore" plot that was pretty important.  But what really stikes me after watching six of them is how well the film makers and Rowling have captured life in a boarding school.  I went to boarding school for three years and they are spot on.  There are cliques and awkward kids, superstars and every day joes, kids visiting late at night in dorm rooms and cacophony in the cafeteria.  But in this one, they do an awesome job of capturing the teen angst that comes with matters of the heart and seeing someone you want to spend time with enjoying someone else's company (something I experienced all too much in high school - but you're a blog reader, not my therapist so I won't dwell on that).  Let's just say that almost everything in all these movies that happens in the school is incredibly accurate when you strip away the magic.

See it.  Even though it can get a bit confusing and leaves you with questions, it is a fast paced movie with a really good story.  Next to Goblet of Fire, it is the best of the bunch so far.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review

When these films and books were current, I basically ignored any publicity surrounding them because I just didn't find it interesting.  Since then, I have not really researched what the public opinion was so I do not know for sure.  But there had to be some controversy surrounding censorship and possible banning of JK Rowling's work.  Because, Order of the Phoenix, she pulls out all the stops and doesn't even try to hide her political views on censorship.  Right from the start and throughout the whole movie, it is one big argument for freedom of speech and expression and allowing people to pursue who they are and their own path.

Do not get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  Even though I don't care for political agendas in my entertainment, this one is done very well.  The character development and story progression with this theme is done in such a way that it invokes the intended emotions from the viewer.  I wanted Dolores Umbridge to get what was coming to her and, by the time that is settled, I actually found myself taking pleasure in the fact that she was being dragged off by Centaurs into the dark forest (something I am not proud of considering how dark these movies are.  Who knows what they would do to her?).  In addition to that, they also do a good job of keeping a lot of it light through the story development montage and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the antics.  Most of the time, when you can make the viewer feel a lot of different emotions so strongly, I feel it is a good movie.

Order of the Phoenix is a lot like the Goblet of Fire though.  It follows the formula of the Harry Potter stories by having a self-contained main story that moves a bit slowly and weakly moves the overall saga along.  Then, with about 1/4 of the movie left, it wraps together and the overall good vs evil saga moves forward more.  For me, this makes the Potter movies a bit weak.  I would prefer if the self contained stories were more interwoven with the overall saga rather than have a movie then part of a bigger movie.  But that does not outweigh the all around great acting, superb effects and excellent casting.  I prefer the Goblet of Fire due to subject matter only.  Order of the Phoenix takes the same formula and produces just as good a movie.

See it.  It's a very good movie.

At this point, I feel I should address the controversy with Christianity surrounding the Potter story.  (I did hear a lot about this because I don't live under a rock.)  (You must also know that I am a Christian and firmly hold my beliefs close to my heart.  But I also live objectively and understand that not everyone shares my beliefs.)  I do see some similarities between the two with the impending apocalyptic struggle between good and evil and a young "messiah" given the task to defeat evil.  But that is where the similarities end.  In Christianity, there is no metaphysical connection between Christ and the devil.  Yes, the devil has minions and Christ has followers and Christ had a crisis of fulfillment of purpose that Potter feels.  But I do not believe Christ struggled with who he fundamentally was at any time.  Christ knew His purpose right from the beginning and had no confusion about how to go about fulfilling His destiny.  He did have an issue with whether or not He was able to go through with it or if He could just give up. While both heroes struggle, they are struggling in very different ways.  Honestly, if the parallel was intended by Ms. Rowling, she did a very poor job of portraying it.  The differences are just too numerous.

The Potter movies are just stories of good vs evil.  Nothing more.  And these morality plays have been told over and over.  Some have been controversial and some have been well received.  Nobody I know attacks the Chronicles of Narnia even though they are actively a retelling of the Great Controversy using magic and fantasy and are not just a parallel of the same overlying theme.  If anything, the Potter movies (especially Order of the Phoenix) are a retelling of Star Wars.  The movie poster (see above) even calls it the Rebellion.  In this film we even get the Obi Wan vs Darth Vader fight while Luke watches.  And they talk about people having both dark and light in them and what they choose is what matters.  This is a struggle that many people believe in.  Whether you think it is two metaphysical forces in the universe (Star Wars and Harry Potter) or a greater struggle between intelligent beings that we are caught in the middle of (Christianity) is up to you.

The Potter saga isn't original.  This story has been told since we were able to communicate.  It also isn't an attack on Christianity or any other religion.  It is just another way to tell the morality story in a way that children and other young people can relate and will pay attention.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Review

If you're going to have to raise up this child prodigy wizard to defeat the most evil wizard the world has ever known, you should maybe try some consistency with your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  That seems like it might be an important skill to develop.  It appears that these movies are going to have the formula of a new one each time.  To me, that takes a bit away from the flow of the entire story and makes it a bit too predictable.  Going in, you know that the new teacher is going to be a problem for Harry and there's really no surprise.

But that's really the only thing wrong with the fourth movie in the series.  Because Harry and his friends are growing up, they (thankfully) have gotten rid of all the little tidbits that children will titter over (like "all exams are cancelled" and "eating chocolate helps").  Instead, they have focused more on the growth of Harry and his own personal struggle with good and evil.  You can see him developing a crisis of conscience.  He's a teenager with incredible power and he seems to take some pleasure in using that power regardless of the consequences to other people.  This makes it a much more enjoyable movie for an adult to watch.  There really is no kids element to this one.  It is way darker and adult oriented than I thought it would be.  As the target audience for Potter grew up though, so did the themes of the stories.

They've still made the same mistakes in adapting such long books to the big screen.  I'm assuming that the books take a long time for character introduction, descriptions and story progression.  They are keeping a little too much of that in the movies and the film slows down.  However, this was needed in the first one to set the stage.  They kept it in the second and third ones which was a mistake.  They've kept the slow story progression in the fourth but they have dropped a lot of the introductory and extraneous stuff and made a much tighter movie with some really good suspense.  In fact, the last 30 minutes or so of this film are very, very tense and fun to watch.  The drawback though is that the two elements of the story are not woven together well.  They have the whole Tri-Wizard cup story and then they have the bigger Voldemoort story that is the plot of the entire saga.  They keep these a little too separate and it makes the film feel a bit disjointed.

But the bottom line on this one is that the tension and effects keep you riveted and it doesn't feel as long as it is.  The technical aspects, while nothing to write home about, are all solid enough to not distract you.  But the most compelling aspect of this movie is that the tension keeps building.  It doesn't start to taper off so your adrenaline builds a lot to the climax and you come away from that scene with the "wow" factor.

See it.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review

The mind of JK Rowling: "OK.  I've got to get this twit of a wizard child out of his abusive extended family and on his journey to Hogwarts again.  How shall I do it?  I know!  A bus.  But ... I'll make it ... a TRIPLE decker bus!  Oh, my.  How delightful.  And I'll include a shrunken Jamaican head just for shits and giggles."  Once you get past the eye rolling and ridiculous opening, the movie settles in like the two before it.  It is very episodic and takes forever to get going.  Each time, they waste a good 15 minutes reintroducing everyone and getting them on their way to the same place for the same stuff.  It works in books to do this re-exposition.  But in the movies, re-write it and, by the third one, assume your audience has had the sense to get themselves caught up.

Unlike the first two, though, when this one gets going, it actually doesn't get going.  When you make a movie that is over two hours long, you really need to make it entertaining to keep the audience's attention. In this one, by the time we figured out what the hell was going on, the end credits were starting.  It's so convoluted and indecisive that I just gave up halfway through and decided to just enjoy the scenery and effects.

Those are really the only redeeming qualities for Prisoner.  Visually, it is a very beautiful movie.  The effects are nearly flawless and the CGI and set design are great to watch.  And Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane deliver their usual strong performances.  Those flying wraith things (Dementios or something like that) are bone chilling and remind you that these really aren't kids movies.  But then, they claim that eating chocolate helps when you encounter one and it becomes a kids movie again.  And I think that may be my biggest beef with these stories.  Make up your mind.  Is it a dark fight between good and evil or is it a delightful little romp of adolescent wizards making mischief and experiencing these little anecdotes and tips for how the viewer/reader should live and enjoy life?  For all three so far, they go back and forth.

Finally, I was very disappointed to find that Gary Oldman didn't show up outside of the wanted posters until it was over half done and I had lost interest.  I thought they were really going to add some Hollywood clout to this with a tremendous actor.  But, instead, he comes late and gets very little screen time which is a shame.  I know: that's what the character is and they needed to stick to it.  But it was still a disappointment.

I will continue to watch them though because I want to give them a chance and I've been told that they get progressively better.  But, in my own experience, while they are getting better visually, they are getting worse in their story telling.  Hopefully Goblet of Fire will get us back on track.

Don't see it.  Obviously, if you want to do the whole gamut, you'll have to.  But I really cannot recommend it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review

If you're going to steal a character from the Star Wars movies, why would you steal the annoying one that absolutely nobody liked?  Man, that Dobby was annoying just like that idiot, Jar Jar Binks.  And he really set the stage for me in this one. From the outset, it seemed kind of ridiculous.  It was as if they were saying, "hey, look at all the cool new magic things we've added to this."  I know it's based on a book so I cannot blame it solely on the film makers.  But I don't know how much of it is JK Rowling's fault because I have not read the books.  I can only critique it as a movie.  So, rather than just tell a story, they keep all of this other, superfluous stuff and wind up with a movie that is really about 40 minutes too long.

Once they finally get the story moving (which, after two movies, would appear to be a common thing with these), it moves pretty slowly.  But I could have handled the slower pace if it had made any sense.  For the most part, this story is really convoluted and confusing.  As a result, there are times when they seem to have painted themselves into a corner.  Then, there's a way too convenient fix for the problem (ie. Phoenix tears).

I have yet to understand why Christian groups got their nuts in a knot over these stories.  Yes, I will concede that the magic goes against most Christian beliefs.  But there's no underlying attack on Christianity or religion that I can detect yet.  Maybe as the movies go on, I might piece some of that together if it exists.  But, if it isn't there, I won't try to force an analogy.  The religious groups need to start realizing that not everything is an allegory.  Sometimes this stuff is just a story.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I'd actually be more concerned about some of the action and story points being aimed at kids.  These stories seem to be pretty dark.  It's not the magic theme.  It's the giant talking spiders and evil snakes, etc.  In fact, I am finding that I will forget I'm watching a "kids" movie until Dumbledoor says something like "all exams are cancelled."  Then I just roll my eyes and try to remind myself that, when I was 12, I enjoyed things like the Hardy Boys and the Judo Yell (look it up) and thought they were mature reading.

I will say this though: the kids all grew as actors from the first one.  The effects were much better too.  It seemed like they took a bit more time and effort to make everything seem much more realistic.  But that is all overshadowed by, not a weak story, but a very poorly told one.

Finally, I just have to say that JK Rowling should have researched more what would make a good sport.  Quidditch makes absolutely no sense and, in the movies, it is just an excuse to have the kids fly around on brooms and flex the film maker's CGI muscles.  It's chaotic to the point of Aussie Rules Football.

If you want to follow the whole Harry Potter saga, you'll have to see it.  But, if you just want a decent fantasy movie, don't see it.  There's other fantasy movies out there that are better.  And I have to assume that, out of six more to go, there will be better ones in this series.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Slipstream Review

There is only one redeeming quality to this film.  The performance by Bob Peck is passable.  That is it.  The writing is incredibly bad.  The acting is pretty terrible.  That second one is surprising given that it has some fairly decent names in it.  But even the scenes with F Murray Abraham and Ben Kingsley were below what you would expect from them.  The effects and filming made it look like it was made around 1981 or 1982 but it was actually made in 1989.  That tells you how bad that part of it was.

They were trying to make a post-apocalyptic movie with some moral message about the fall of man and such but they never really fulfill that.  Right from the start, the movie is nothing but sad attempts at one liners from Bill Paxton and Mark Hammill.  The plot, if there even is one, is confusing and goes absolutely nowhere.  They wander around in these desolate wasteland settlements where there is no law and then, for some inexplicable reason, the group finds itself in a bit of a society with some order.  For the life of me I cannot remember how they got anywhere in the movie.  Granted, I was doing a lot of wisecracking with Karl during it.  But even when I do that, I can usually follow a movie this thin.

Don't see it.  There is really no reason at all to see it.  It isn't even entertaining for camp value.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Review

A friend of mine once said that she couldn't watch Twilight because if she liked it, she'd have to admit it.  I felt the same way about Harry Potter and whenever people asked me if I liked Harry Potter, I would respond with, "No.  Because I'm neither 12 years old nor a dork."  I will admit it here:  I was wrong.  Normally, I am not a huge fan of fantasy but this is a very good movie.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not going to rush out and buy the books (especially because I can borrow them from my brother if I ever change my mind and want to read them).  But I do think JK Rowling is a genius.  She took what I can only assume is going to be a very complex saga and made it relevant to kids ("kids" for the purposes of Harry Potter includes about ages 10-15 I would think).  Not only is it relevant to kids but the books are long and so are the movies.  If you can keep a kid's attention during all of that, you've done something significant.  But, as an aside, I do think some of the subject matter is a bit dark for kids.  But the world has changed a lot since I was 11.  That, and I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary stuff.

The most successful kids movies are the ones that can keep the attention of the adults as well.  Philosopher's Stone does that.  And for being the first in a series of 8 movies, that is saying something.  The movie is over two hours long and the real plot to the whole thing doesn't occur until there's only about 45 minutes left.  This is because it is an introductory piece.  They have to introduce all of the characters, the sport of Quidditch (or however the hell you spell that), the school, the concepts in wizardry, etc.  In this, I think they took a little too much time but they still keep you entertained.

The movie is now almost 11 years old and the effects show it.  There's still a lot of jerkiness in the flying around and the CGI is a bit dated.  But, for it's time, it was probably fantastic.  That being said, it did age OK.  I was looking for those things.  I think if you just sit back and enjoy it, you may not even notice. What really impressed me though was the casting.  I'm not at all familiar with the books so I don't know if the characters on screen are accurate at all.  But I do know that they were all very believable.  While I do think you could put the oversized John Lennon glasses on just about any 11 year old with a bowl haircut and they would pass for Harry Potter, the rest isn't that easy.  Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane are fantastic in their parts but that's expected from two very good actors.  The kids are all quite good given that their acting skills haven't developed fully.  The one I was least impressed with was Emma Watson but I'm sure I'll be able to see her improve in the next ones.  The most impressive choice though was Rupert Grint.  His facial expressions were absolutely perfect and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the three and how their relationship develops.

The only issue I had isn't really an issue but more of an observation.  The dynamic between Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy was so obviously a parallel to Maverick, Goose and Iceman from Top Gun.  If Emma Watson had become Kelly McGillis, I was going to start rolling my eyes.  Thankfully, that didn't happen.  I also thought the whole goblins as bankers had a bit of an air of anti-semitism to it.  But I'll let every viewer decide that for themselves.

Most of you have probably already seen it.  But I'm sure there's a lot of holdouts like me.  For those, I say see it.  Just know you are getting an introduction into the whole saga and not a self-contained movie.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Bridge on the River Kwai Review

It had been a while since I had seen this and when I saw that Galaxy was showing it for $5, I thought I should give it another go.  But I forgot a couple of things.  First, I had forgotten that it is basically two movies.  The first half is Alec Guinness being a belligerent and stubborn officer and actually putting his men at risk.  If I had been in the military I would actually have resented him for refusing to do manual labour beside his men.  But that's just me.

Second, once he wins that battle (and you know he will so that's not a spoiler - also, the movie is 55 years old so I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out), the real plot begins.  Guinness and his men take pride in building a bridge and William Holden is on a mission to return to the camp he was a prisoner in to blow it up.

This is a different kind of war movie.  In fact, it isn't even really a war movie as much as it is a movie that is set with war as a background.  There is not a lot of action and it's more of a morality play.  They cover a lot of questions about doing what's right in the face of adversity and what happens when you lose sight of what is right in favour of your own selfish ambitions.  In that regard, it is a very good film.  Guinness plays his role very well as does Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito.  You can really see his descent into becoming a broken shell of a man even as his task is getting done.  It's a quite well done juxtaposition.  Given the era that it was made in, the technical aspects are decent.  Through the whole 2.5+ hours, you do get a sense of realism that is often lost on the older movies.  The only real beef I have is that a lot of the scenes go on too long like the walking through the jungle, setting the charges, etc.  The pace slows right down and I tended to lose focus.  But that's how things were done in Hollywood back then.  Other than that, it's an excellent film.

If you want a war movie, watch something else.  But if you want a more human experience with some excellent acting (especially for the era), see it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Harry Brown Review

Basically, it's a vigilante "the world's going to hell in a handbasket" movie.  Michael Caine plays a former marine who served in Northern Ireland.  His wife and child are gone and his only friend is killed by the youths that are terrorizing "the Estate" (which I can only assume represents the slums of every urban area using a pathetically ironic name).  I saw it on Netflix and figured, "hey.  It's got Michael Caine kicking ass.  This might be good."  I was wrong.  The potential is there but it never lives up to it.

The pace is very, very slow.  It takes a long time for the story to get moving and, by the time it does, you realize that they aren't really telling much of a story at all.  Characters that should have been more major to the plot are shoved to the background and I cannot really figure out why.  The investigating detectives start out like they are going to be integral to the story but are then shoved aside in favour of some weird, over the top underworld gun purchase scene that goes on for way too long.  As the movie builds, it comes to this convoluted climax that, while they try to make it tense, it just makes no sense.  Then, the detectives come back and they go into this betrayal angle that is just done far, far too late.

Visually, it isn't too bad.  You get the real feel of the English underworld.  The acting, while nothing special, is ok.  And it is much darker and grittier than I was expecting.  While I thought it may turn into one of those gritty movies that you come away with that "wow" feeling like a Fight Club, I came away feeling like they did a little too much and some of it was just for the sake of making it controversial.

Don't see it.  There's way better movies in the genre.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Convoy Review

I think there's about 7 people who read this web log.  So, Beth, Tammy, Lori, Karl, Darren, Jason and guy in Ukraine, this one's for you.  My apologies if you read this semi-regularly and I forgot you.  Thanks for reading.

What do you say about a movie that was based on a novelty country song in the 70s?  Compound that with the fact that the DVD copyrights were purchased by a company called "Cheesy Flicks" and you know you are in for a "winner."  You know it's going to be a very poorly made movie and you'd be right.  There is really nothing about this movie that is good.  Except for maybe the fact that it actually stays quite true to the song.  But that isn't enough to make it good.

You do have to realize that this movie is never meant to be anything more than a 70s road movie.  But even for that, it doesn't have the production quality to make it worth watching.  The writing, directing, lighting, etc etc etc is all pretty rough and put together very halfheartedly.  The acting, on the other hand isn't terrible.  It does have a good cast with Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine and Bert Young (it was interesting that, being released a year after Rocky, Young was driving for a company called Paulie's).  While none of them give the performance of their lives, they are watchable.  (I like Kristofferson.  Karl and I figure that Chuck Norris asked Kristofferson for permission before growing his beard.  Kristofferson is to Norris as VHS is to Betamax.  Superior in almost every way but the latter gets more attention and success. - But I digress.)

Finally, the story itself.  Sam Peckinpah never really decides what he wants to do with it.  It starts out like a fun little highway romp.  It even has what Karl and I termed a "dust opera" with semis driving on dirt roads accompanied by a classical music version of Convoy.  But then, after the midway point, it becomes quite dark and tries too late to be a serious movie.

Don't see it.  But you probably already figured that out when I said it was based on a 70s country song.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

I'm not a huge David Fincher fan even though I think Fight Club was a groundbreaking film did enjoy the Social Network to some extent.  But I do have to admit that, after seeing Dragon Tattoo, Fincher does a great job of making a certain type of film.  I've read all of the books and seen the first two Swedish made movies.  So this is the third time I've experienced the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist.  The fact that I was entertained throughout and it didn't feel like it was 2.5 hours long is a testament to how well made this movie is.  Through superior set design, costumes, music (thanks to Trent Reznor) and lighting, Fincher creates a world where you really feel the dark theme of the story.  And this one is very dark.  But, while Fincher maintains the dark nature of the story, he also throws in just enough comic relief (like the Nine Inch Nails T-Shirt in a movie where Reznor does the score) to let the tension in the audience out.

But I think what makes this film even better is the terrific casting.  I'm a huge Daniel Craig fan and I originally thought he wouldn't be able to play Blomqvist well.  After all, Blomqvist from the books is a very flawed and imperfect character (as is everyone in these stories) and Craig seemed a bit too much of a hero to pull it off.  But they made it work.  Whether or not it is his acting or the costumes and makeup, I don't know.  But it worked.  He played the morally ambiguous yet likeable journalist quite well.  As for the rest of the cast, there is not one that is out of place.  All of them are almost exactly what you would picture while reading the books (even if Christopher Plummer had a bit of a "Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz" air about him - but I think that was just the moustache).  The one that really sticks out from the rest though is Yorick van Wageningen ar Bjurman.  That is exactly how I pictured Bjurman when reading the books and his detached depravity was played brilliantly.

So, from a pure cinematic standpoint, this is a very, very good film.  There are a few things that bugged me a bit and I will now address those.  First, while I appreciate how closely they stayed to the book, sometimes staying that close to a novel that is that long is a mistake.  I don't want to spoil it for those who aren't familiar with the story but, in the book as in the movie, the aftermath from the climax of the thriller story is too long.  The fallout from the Wennerstrom affair goes on too long.  It works better in the book because that type of thing can be done in literature.  However, Fincher does such a good job of building the viewer's adrenaline and attention into the climax that, keeping all of that content afterwards is too much of a letdown and actually becomes boring for the viewer.  When reading a book, the attention stays.  When watching a film, you cannot recapture the tense atmosphere for as long after the climax and it should have been wrapped up.

Second, as a business professional, I can appreciate the practice of product placement in a film to not only raise capital but to provide a medium for the advertiser.  As a film aficionado, I will tolerate it as long as it is done judiciously and subtly and the product placement fits the context of the scene/story.  There are two blatant product placements in this film.  One bugged me.  The other did not.  I was not upset about the Apple product placement here (as I was in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) because I think they used Macs in the book and it is obvious that they really wanted to stay true to the book.  And that's exactly why the McDonald's placement of Happy Meals irritates me.  The book made a point of saying Lisbeth would buy frozen pizzas.  Trying to stay so true to the film and then switch that to Happy Meals is a sellout of the film's integrity in my mind.  There is also no real need to go into the detail of what she eats in a film and it should have just been scrapped altogether.

Third, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to when English or Swedish would be used when there was text on the screen.  Between that and the complete disregard for accents when it is set in Sweden with Swedish characters and it just had an air of inconsistency in that aspect.  But, the positive there is that you can let the actors be good actors without rolling your eyes when one cannot pull off a Swedish accent.  So the third problem is really a wash.

Ultimately, those three problems are minor.  They are far outweighed by the fact that this is a very well done retelling of a very gripping and raw story.  See it.  It is definitely worth the time.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Adventures of Tintin Review

When I heard this was going to be a motion captured film rather than a live action one, I thought, "oh, great.  They're going to ruin perhaps the best memory of my childhood by making it look like Beowulf."  I'm so glad that motion capture technology has come a long way since 2007.  And we're even more fortunate that, for Tintin, they got the extra clout of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson behind it.  Because when you add those together, you get a film that they took time and spent some money on making it look real.  Don't get me wrong.  There's still some times when motion capture looks like Shrek riding a horse.  But there are times in Tintin where I actually forgot I was watching animation.  it is that detailed.  Some of the action sequences in this film would have actually suffered in a live action environment.  With live action, there's a lot of green screening and adding art in behind the real thing.  So, you often get a picture that looks really out of place.  By making the whole thing a very detailed animation with human movements, the entire set could be set up and done in a way that looks very seamless.  You also get to have Nick Frost and Simon Pegg play twin detectives without having to resort to bad makeup jobs.  And any time you get to have them on the screen together, you get comedy gold.

As far as the story goes, the main shell is there from the book.  They tell the story of The Secret of the Unicorn while adding some Crab With the Golden Claws to allow for the introduction of Captain Haddock.  But the writing team takes it to a new level with added comedy and dialogue and some much more intense action scenes.  My gut reaction to this is to be disappointed because they aren't staying true to a book; especially one that I loved in my childhood (and still love today).  After all, a comic book is basically a story board for a movie.  But, when you think about it, as long as the basics are there like the adventure story, the characters and some of the outlandish outbursts from Haddock, why not let them play around with the action and make it more intense.  It works.  The chase scene through the streets with the falcon had me riveted.

From an acting standpoint, it's hard to tell if it was good or not.  The motion capture cannot get every detail of an actor's gait and movements.  But from a dialogue delivery standpoint, it is very strong.  Not once did anything come off as cheesy.  Some of that may have to do with the context of an adapted comic book but I know I have a lot of eye rolling moments in most of the Marvel and DC movies out there.  The fact that Tintin didn't have that is a testament to very good writing and superb performances from Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig.  I really want to give a lot of praise to Pegg and Frost because I think they are the best comedy duo since Wayne and Shuster.  But they really weren't on screen enough to make or break the film.  I will say, however, that their time on screen did make me laugh out loud every time.

Definitely see it.  If you have the option for no 3D, take that. I didn't think the 3D added anything of real value.  But it is definitely a movie you should see.  Even if you weren't a Tintin fan, it is an entertaining adventure story.

My childhood memories of Tintin are safe.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol Review

I feel dirty.  Somehow, I got suckered into paying $9 to let Apple advertise to me for two and a quarter hours.  Being a Mission Impossible movie, it is supposed to be unrealistic.  But having international super spies use Apple equipment is just taking the realm of fantasy too far.  Apple doesn't let you modify anything!  And as good as the app store is, I'm pretty sure there isn't an app for having your phone self destruct in five seconds.  It would just seem counter productive to download it.  Although, most Apple fans see it as a privilege to keep feeding money into the cult so ... you never know.  Now, on to the movie.

This is another one where I have mixed feelings.  On the one side, it is a very good action movie.  The effects are top notch, the pace is good and the sets are fantastic.  Exotic cars, exotic locations, cool gadgets and a leading lady that, although she resembles Dwayne Johnson in drag, is still quite attractive.  It's got a very strong cast in Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner.  All three of those guys are very good actors. Crazy as he may be, you have to admit, Cruise can act.  And Renner has been strong ever since the Hurt Locker.  The irony of using Pegg though is that you take a guy who is at his best in comic relief when doing action and thrust him into a role that requires him to tone that down.  Unfortunately, they did not tone that down.  In fact, they let everyone else feed off of it.  This movie gets derailed somewhat by way too much comic relief.  Sometimes that is good in an action film (eg. The Last Boy Scout).  But the Mission Impossible movies are supposed to be more like James Bond and, every time you turn around, someone's making a wisecrack in Ghost Protocol.  It just doesn't fit.

And, speaking of James Bond, I felt the story, while OK and liveable, it was a bit too 1995 for my taste.  While conventional ICBM nuclear war is still a threat, it no longer provides the tense theme for an action movie that it did when the Soviet Union first fell and we all wondered what would happen to all of those arms.  So it was kind of dated.  Add to that the "of all the gin joints" William Brandt backstory, and the movie does get dragged down a little too much.  There was a lot of potential given the time between this one and the third one.  And frankly, the acting and writing are better in Ghost Protocol given the general story that it had to work with. But it lacked the pure evil and motivation for the heroes that Philip Seymour-Hoffman brought to MI:III.  I know that it is tough to re-capture lightning in a bottle but I think they could have tried harder.

If I rated movies rather than giving my recommendation, the few problems I mentioned would probably warrant a B- rating.  That's still a pass so it does get a See it recommendation.  But I think you'll have to be more of an action movie fan to really enjoy it.  It's a good action movie but not a great movie overall. Still worth a watch though.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Coming into this one I had heard a lot about how it was confusing and hard to follow.  Maybe I braced myself a little too much for that because I really didn't get that at all.  Going in, the viewer has to know that it's going to be a mystery and that there's going to be things that get explained along the way and you'll have to wait until the end for everything to be revealed.  That's what a good mystery is.  From all of the things I had heard, I was expecting absurd twists that didn't make any sense.  But that really didn't happen.  Granted, there may have been an action sequence here and there that seemed a bit out of place but nothing ever derailed the plot into anything incomprehensible and eye-roll inducing.  In fact, I thought they did a pretty good job of taking a plot that had a lot of potential to be confusing and making it quite easy to follow through some well placed and written expository scenes.

However, speaking of the writing, I did find it a bit distracting that a lot of the dialogue seemed to swing towards an over the top attempt at wit rather than story progression.  While they were able to use the dialogue to progress the story, the ratio was a bit too far the other way.  Being a sequel, they are going to try to take everything that made the first movie great and try to make it better.  In that, I think they tried too hard.  Not only was the dialogue too far towards wit and one liners, the use of slow motion in action scenes was over used as well.  It makes sense when Holmes is mapping out a fight in his head to use the slow-fast-slow etc. method because it shows that it is in his mind and let's the viewer see how his thought process works.  But to use it in a regular "real time" action sequence is just distracting and reeks of "look at how good my cinematography and special effects are" by the film maker.  While it is kind of cool to see the detail in the explosions and destruction, it takes too much away from the film to be effective enough.

Don't get me wrong though.  Other than those two problems, this is still a very enjoyable and fast paced movie.  The dynamic between Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law is still very strong.  Jared Harris is also excellent as the villain, Moriarty.  The rest of the acting is decent but average.  Not great but not anything to make it a bad movie.  But considering that it's all about Downey Jr and Law, that doesn't matter.  From a directing standpoint, I was impressed.  My judgement may be skewed because I'm a Guy Ritchie fan.  But he once again uses smart lighting and colour to create a melancholic world that is just on the edge of fantasy and reality.

See it.  It is one of the stronger sequels in recent memory.  But do pay attention.  If you let your mind wander, you may get lost quickly.  I had the benefit of being warned and I think maybe that is why I could follow it.  Because I forced myself to stay focused.