Monday, 30 April 2012

Invincible Commentary

I used to really love inspirational sports movies.  But that was back in the day when I only read Sports Illustrated and could sit through 3 full football games on a Sunday.  Times have changed and I’m a lot more critical of the inspirational sports movie now.  Had this movie been put out 15 years ago, I would have loved it.  But now, it felt like it was lacking some punch.  Overall, Invincible isn’t bad.  But it isn’t great either. 

I’m not sure how accurate the movie is.  I know it is based on the true life of Vince Papale, a nobody who gets a shot with the Philadelphia Eagles and makes the team.  But considering how inconsequential the Eagles were at the time, I’m not familiar with the story too much.  It also takes place in the year before I was born.  And I did spend a lot of the time thinking, “it doesn’t matter.  Through the whole 1976 season, nobody can hold a candle to my Raiders.”  Accurate or not, the story is still missing something. 

They take an inspirational story and try to give it some oomph by focusing on the recession and really turning it into a “local boy makes good against all odds” thing.  But they also try to make you think that he’s losing touch with his roots and becoming aloof.  This would have been a lot more believable if the character wasn’t constantly going back to his old neighbourhood and hanging out in his old bar.  That isn’t the only drama that they attempt only to have it fall flat.  There is no relationship development between Papale and his father or Janet Cantrell.  It could have been a football movie or a relationships movie.  They didn’t fulfill either. 

The good thing about the film is the authenticity of the era.  I felt that the props, costumes and sets were all done very, very well.  It is also very well cast.  Mark Wahlberg is a star that has the ability to make you believe he is an everyman.  He plays humble very well.  This is also the first time that Elizabeth Banks has been on a screen that didn’t make me want to put my foot through it.  Finally, Greg Kinnear really played Dick Vermeil well.  I found that I never took notice that it was Kinnear (like I did with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe in Moneyball).  He made you believe the character. 

So, overall, it’s a good movie to see.  But the story is a bit flat and it’s one of the few times I would say they could have made a movie longer and it would have been better.  That would have allowed for more character and relationship development.  While there are better inspirational sports movies out there (Rudy, The Rookie), I would still say See it.  Especially because it should be cheap to watch by now.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Pirates! A Band of Misfits Commentary

Anything made by the same people that do Wallace and Grommit is going to at least have a few laughs and most likely be good.  And when I saw the previews, I thought it looked like it would be really funny. And it is.  But it was a lot different than I thought it would be.  I was expecting a more multi-layered piece that had jokes obviously for the kids and jokes more for the adults.  That really didn't happen.  This one is squarely targeted at the kids.  But, because of the antics and that claymation style animation with the goofy faces, it is still enjoyable.  You just have to turn your brain off.

Another thing that I wasn't expecting was most of the story.  I was expecting more of a pirate adventure based movie (almost a spoof of Pirates of the Caribbean) and less of a "Romp Through Victorian England" story line.  I wouldn't say I'm disappointed but I was surprised.

There really isn't anything overly special about this movie.  It isn't like The Muppets where they took a family movie and went into the weird realm more than expected.  They really do keep Pirates down to earth and basic for the kids to just have some fun.  And from the reaction of the large number of kids in the theatre, they were successful at that.  As for me, I didn't find myself laughing really hard or for a long time at anything in particular (except maybe Ham Nite and the red dots).  But I did find myself smiling and laughing through most of the film.

It's definitely fun and worth a look.  See it but don't pay a whole lot for it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Moon Point Commentary

I really like watching independent movies at Saskatoon's Broadway Theatre.  I've been fortunate to find a lot of hidden gems that no other theatre near me would play.  I've also seen some pretty bad films there that I would never recommend.  Moon Point falls somewhere in the middle.  The movie has two main things going for it.  First, the overall story and concept has tremendous appeal for an independent film fan.  It has a guy who lives with his mother and his handicapped friend taking a weekend to go a couple of towns over to find the girl the first guy was in love with in elementary school.  But they go with an electric scooter pulling a wagon.  From every description and plot point, it has this quirky and loveable aspect that makes it appealing.

The second positive aspect of Moon Point is the humour.  There is a tremendous amount of very well written comedy in this movie.  There are numerous unexpected jokes and subtle visuals that kept me laughing for most of the movie.  I never felt like I had to force myself to laugh because something was supposed to be funny.  Most of the time, I just found it funny.  The best comedy bit is definitely at the Winchester Inn.  That's where it really took off for laughs.  A lot of it is also written in the same kind of fashion as the Cooper Harris character's lines from EuroTrip.  It has a lot of deadpan one liners delivered in a cool manner.

Unfortunately, the cool manner delivery falls very flat.  The comedy and story is very, very poorly delivered.  While the jokes are written well, all of the rest of the script is actually very poorly written.  The writers just couldn't string the comedy together with good, progressive exposition.  It is also very poorly filmed and woodenly acted.  The lighting, camera angles and editing made it feel like it was a homemade film shot in someone's backyard for the purposes of YouTube.  And, with the exception of a couple of decent scenes, the acting felt much the same way.  Also, the jumping back and forth with flashbacks and added graphics to portray emotion just made it inconsistent.  Rather, there should ahve been more focus on one style or the other.

I can't say it's a good movie.  It's just too poorly made.  But the comedy gives it just enough entertainment value; especially for its length (under 90 minutes).  If you can handle poor film making, see it.  But if you are enough of a connoisseur for that to bug you, you should miss it.  So my recommendation is to see it because I try to write these things with "would I recommend it to someone like me" in mind.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me Commentary

One basic truth about movies is that it is very rare for a sequel to be even as good as the original much less better.  Most of what makes a movie good is difficult to mimic in a sequel without making the viewer think it's just the same old thing.  I'm not saying that The Spy Who Shagged me is better than International man of Mystery.  It isn't.  In fact, almost everything that is done in the second one was also done in the first one.  But if those gags and jokes weren't so damn funny, then it would have been terrible.  Just like the first one, the second one has the complete randomness in many jokes and the preposterous satire of the James Bond movies that made us all love the first one.

I think it is this satire that makes it tolerable.  If you are a fan of the James Bond movies (and I am a huge fan), you will notice that they are very formulaic right up until the Daniel Craig reboot (and even that portion is following its own formula).  But that's a formula that I never seem to get tired of.  I can even watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service multiple times.  So it stands to reason that I would like a series of movies that does a clever job of making fun of them.  And, just as the Bond movies got more preposterous in the 80s, the Austin Powers movies get more preposterous as they go along.  Like I said, it's all the same jokes but they just take them a bit further and make them even more over the top.  This is well symbolized in having Elvis Costello join Burt Bacharach in the stupid little love song.

Technically, there is nothing very good about this movie save for the writing.  When you consider that they were really just regurgitating jokes form the first one in slightly different form, you must admit that they did it well.  They took a different story but gave it all the same elements because that's what Bond would do.  Yet, they still managed to make it funny.  Everything else about the movie is average.  it is obviously very much a sound stage movie (something they even allude to on a Southern California road) and the acting is average at best.  If anything stood out for me it was Rob Lowe as a young Number Two.    I thought that was a very good choice to be a young version of Robert Wagner.  In Mike Myers' three roles, he is always at his best as Dr. Evil.  Ever since his monologue in the first one, he is the villain we all love because he's just so odd and would fit in as a failed villain on the Venture Brothers.

Yes, it's inferior to the first.  Yes, the acting is average.  Yes, it isn't an overly well made movie.  Yes, the female lead is inferior to the first.  But I will always give it a See recommendation because it does the one thing it sets out to do.  It makes the viewer laugh and laugh a lot.  So, see it.  Leave all pretentiousness and movie snobbery at the door and have some fun.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Fifth Element Commentary

I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve seen this movie.  It is fantastic entertainment from beginning to end.  I even have a few friends who I can tell to turn on the light by simply yelling, “AZIZ!” at them.  But I cannot really explain why I like this movie so much.  Normally, a movie like this would irritate the hell out of me.  After all, the over the top costumes in a futuristic society was one of the things I didn’t like about the Hunger Games.  So why do I like it in the Fifth Element?  I think it comes down to the movie making itself.

Luc Besson does a fantastic job of bringing a comic book story and vision to life without the comic book to base it on.  While it is way out there and impossible to ever happen, there is just enough of the story grounded into reality that makes you care about the outcome.  This is made possible through some very good casting.  Bruce Willis in the 90s almost always played characters that we would root for no matter what they did.  He has slacked off some lately but he was really the epitome of cool for me back then.  Gary Oldman is always great as a sociopath, Milla Jovovich makes a very good her/victim and I can only assume Chris Tucker just took a little ecstasy and did whatever came naturally.  For what it is, the acting is very solid.  I’m a little confused as to why you would cast Tiny Lister as the president given that he’s terrible at his craft but, when you spend a lot on effects and other casting, you have to take what you can get I guess.

The movie is 15 years old so you know the effects are going to be dated.  But it ages OK.  The cgi effects are still pretty good but animatronics have come a long way since 1997.  So those are a bit painful to watch.  Set designs are very comic book like and actually quite a treat to look at.  Visually, this is a very solid movie especially for when it was made.  As far as the story goes, there are some holes and some pretty convenient plot developments but it is a science fiction movie and therefore it has to be placed in its own little universe.  What makes it good is that it sticks to the rules that were written for it.  There are no twists of convenience due to it being poorly thought out.  It appears to have been thought out start to finish and then turned into a movie.

The bottom line is that the Fifth Element is pure entertainment.  There is a small attempt at a moral pushed on you close to the end but it doesn’t envelop the movie like it could have.  The film starts out fast and never really lets up.  There are countless one liners and goofy facial expressions that keep it from delving into anything too dark, boring or preachy.  It is exactly what it sets out to be: a 2 hour fantasy that makes you smile and say, “that was pretty cool” a lot.

I highly recommend you See It.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Just Go With It Commentary

Adam Sandler has three gears.  First, he's known for the over the top, non-sensical characters like Billy Madison and Little Nicky.  Second, he has actually done some very good serious work in Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish.  Finally, there's the middle road that he has taken with movies like Fifty First Dates, Grown Ups and this one, Just Go With It where he tries to appeal to the masses.  I actually think that Sandler is a decent actor.  The more serious his movies get, the better he is at it actually.  When he does the middle of the road stuff, you can see the verge of a solid performance but there's always that lingering potential (and usual emergence) of him to do something crazy and yell "SHUT UUUUP!!!"  So, when he does these roles, it loses a little for me.

Because it is a romantic comedy, I will review it as one.  Just Go With It has about half of the ingredients that the normal romantic comedy has.  It has the guy going after one girl but realizing he's in love with the "ugly" duckling who is only plain because she shops at the GAP.  It has the plucky little kids and it has the Jiminy Cricket character.  But it doesn't have the girl's friend who hates the guy or really even the grand gesture to finally win her.  In a way, that was pretty refreshing.  Stepping out of the formula is a risk that I think should be taken.

The problem is that the film is really flat.  Right from the start, there's no real character development.  They try to portray Sandler as this womanizing a-hole but never have him do anything that would make you think that of him.  In fact, they make him quite charming.  This is done with all the characters and you never really feel any consistent emotion towards any of them.  Without someone to root for or against, it makes for kind of a boring movie.

Then, there's the kids.  In an attempt to have a cute little girl fake an English accent so she would say unexpected things, they wound up making me want to punch myself in the face to make sure I wasn't in some horrible nightmare.  Every time she was on the screen I would cringe.  And the character of her brother wasn't much better.  His "everything sucks" attitude was never developed to where it should have been and became superfluous.  Having two kids instead of one as a foil for Sandler made both roles suffer.

So, I always base romantic comedy reviews on two criteria.  First, did it make me laugh?  A little.  There are a few funny spots but most of the jokes are flat and there's too much inconsistency with real life (a doctor - even a plastic surgeon - cannot just go around pointing out who he's done work on to complete strangers).  Second, do I feel good for having watched it?  No.  I didn't feel bad or regret it.  But I also didn't get that feel good emotion that a good romantic comedy should bring.  Ultimately, it's really just milquetoast.

Don't bother seeing it.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Hunger Games Commentary

I have to keep reminding myself that I am not part of the target market for this story.  That’s not to say that the Hunger Games isn’t a decent movie.  It is a very well filmed, acted and directed movie.  The visuals are very good, the cinematography is decent even through the shaky work during action scenes to hide flaws in the choreography.  Given the quality of the writing, even the acting is good all the way around.  This is especially true of Woody Harrelson and surprisingly true for Lenny Kravitz (for a musician, it wasn’t bad).  And once the games get going, the film gets pretty emotional and quite gritty and real.  This is especially true of the scene when they first start at the cornucopia.  I won’t give it away but I actually got the same odd feeling of shock and almost despair as when I saw the Passion of the Christ or the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.  It hits that hard.  (And then gets derailed by convenient twists.  But I’ll get to that.)

The problem is that, even if you go all out and make a technically good movie, it will always be brought to a certain level – high or low - due to the source material.  The story in the Hunger Games just isn’t very good.  With post-apocalyptic and movies set in the future you are only as good as the imagination of the writer.  And, in this movie, there just seemed to be no real unique or creative thought.  The whole thing is an allegory for the devolution of man into a state of depravity and desensitization.  This is a theme we have seen many times through movies like Blade Runner and Death Race.  It is a theme that is not likely to go away and I think I can live with that because they can be interesting to watch.  However, the Hunger Games uses this to basically retell the history of the Roman Empire.  This is pretty obvious through the use of Roman names and a capitol city that governs and exploits provinces for their resources.  The provinces (districts in the Hunger Games) have varying levels of development and wealth and are raided regularly by the capitol for their brutal gladiatorial games.

The only real deviation from that is that the capitol is a utopia of wealth for those who live there.  In the actual empire, Rome was a cesspool of filth, poverty and constant danger that was worse to live in than most provinces.  Normally, this would be OK because you need to take some artistic license and make a story your own.  But the way it was done was just more irritating than anything else.  The entire city of the capitol looked less like a utopian paradise and more like Wonderland threw up on the Fifth Element.  Rather than being a treat to watch, you get distracted by seeing what idiotic costume they’ll come up with in the next shot.  That isn’t the only thing wrong with the story though.  The plot takes way too long to get going and dwells way too much on the buildup to the actual games.  The games start after the halfway point and by then I was getting kind of bored.  I will say though that, once the games get started, it picks up again and moves quicker.  But it still follows flawed writing and uninspired storytelling.  Plot development during the games is way too convenient and contrived.  This is indicative of the source material being a teen romance novel rather than more in depth literature.

So I have to base my recommendation on whether or not the film making outshines the lack of depth and originality in the story.  Ultimately, it doesn’t.  It isn’t a horrible movie but there’s a lot of eye rolling at the cheesiness of the plot.  Combine that with the slow pace and it just doesn’t seem worth it.  Don’t see it.  Well, maybe once to see what all the hype is about.  But I cannot see ever recommending a second viewing.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Star Trek Commentary

Reboots are always a tricky thing.  This is especially true for anything Sci-Fi and just gets magnified even more when you even think of touching Star Trek.  You have to be very careful because the typical fans are going to jump all over anything that they don’t like.  And they’re often like a dog with a bone.  They just won’t let it go.  So JJ Abrams had his work cut out for him.  I’m not a huge Star Trek or Sci-Fi fan but I have seen enough to recognize any problems and can appreciate issue people would have taken with this reboot.  For my money, Abrams hit a home run.

The biggest thing he had to consider was how to redo the franchise, make changes and not piss everyone off with the slightest changes.  The answer: time travel.  Have characters go back in time and create an alternate Star trek reality where the basics are there but some things can change.  The changes can be major or minor.  It’s all up to Abrams’ imagination.  The trick with doing this is to acknowledge that the original Star Trek timeline remains intact; just not in this thread.  The brilliance of how they did this was that they did not leave it up to the viewer to make that connection.  Sometimes, viewers have to be hit over the head to make them realize things like this.  With Leonard Nimoy and some decent expository scenes, the viewer is told outright that this is a different Star Trek history and does not try to change or ignore the original events.  They keep enough of the stuff people will recognize (green women in bed with Kirk, the Kobayashi Maru, guys in red who are obviously going to die, etc.) to keep it grounded but then aren’t afraid to take it and make it their own.  Ultimately, anyone who picks it apart based on this is just looking for reasons to not like it as a reboot and will likely never be convinced.

Without strong cinematic production quality, it may have been more difficult to bring people on board with the changes.  So making it solid as a movie on its own was important too.  As a purely entertaining film, Star Trek delivers.  The effects and action scenes are as good as you can get, the acting is strong all the way through and the writing is just campy enough to keep you in a Star Trek story.  But it isn’t so campy that you roll your eyes and want it to end.  The two actors I have to single out here are Chris Pine and Eric Bana.  While the rest of the cast was very good and believable, these two were above the others in making you believe the characters.  Bana took a character that had some questionable motivation to get him to the level of revenge that he did and made you believe you were watching someone who quickly descended into almost detached madness.  Pine had some big shoes to fill.  Not with acting quality but with mannerisms and attitude in the character.  Pine is not a great actor but he does cocky quite well.  At times it seemed like he was playing the character as if it was a DNA cross between William Shatner and Christian Slater but I think that’s just his voice and I can live with that.

So, I’ve established that it’s a good movie all around.  But what really makes it great is that I’ve seen it three times.  Each time I watch it, I think “I’d like to see that again.”  It’s got great re-watchability and that’s always the hallmark of a good film.  See it.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Wrath of the Titans Commentary

I have heard a lot of people say that Wrath of the Titans is worse than Clash of the Titans and Clash of the Titans wasn’t that good to begin with.  I agree about halfway on that statement.  Yes, Wrath is worse than Clash in story and acting.  But I actually quite enjoyed Clash.  I will admit it wasn’t anything ground breaking or fantastic.  But I thought it was enjoyable with some very good effects.

And that’s about the same way I can describe Wrath.  The story is not much more than a very thinly veiled endorsement for atheism.  There is a lot of talk about the humans being stronger without the gods in it.  Being a religious person, I did find that aspect a bit disappointing and insulting.  But it wasn’t enough to make me not enjoy the film.  One of the aspects that I thought was better than Clash was that this one was designed for 3D.  In Clash, the 3D was added later and it didn’t really utilize the technology well.  In Wrath, they made much better use of the destruction and motion to make you move in your seat.  They also used depth and wide, sweeping camera angles that really made the 3D pop.  The downside to some of that though was that a lot of the action is very fast and having it in 3D did make it a bit difficult for the eye to follow.  But I saw it as a net positive.

Outside the atheism angle, there is not much in the story of Wrath of the Titans.  It is very thin.  But this kind of movie relies on effects and other visuals.  The story is always secondary.  It would have been better, though, if the acting had been up to what you would expect from the cast.  Only one of them acted to their level.  Ralph Fiennes as Hades was about what I would expect which was very good.  The rest were below what they could have done.  But when you are not given really good dialogue to work with, a top performance is very difficult to deliver.  Another part of Wrath that was actually better than Clash is the fact that there are really no “release the Kraken” cheesy lines in this one save for one by John Bell as Helius.

As I’ve alluded to, what makes this movie is its use of visuals.  It is a very appealing movie that way.  There are a lot of things that had to be CGI and they were about as realistic as you can make them.  I was especially impressed with Cronus and the underworld.  So, if you’re looking for the effects and sound, you should like it.  But if you are looking for a balance with that and some more meat in a story, you may find it disappointing.

Overall, I think it’s worth it.  See it.  But be in the mood for action and effects.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Core Commentary

In the interests of full disclosure, I have seen this movie twice now.  The first time I saw it was back when it came out.  I thought it was a poor attempt then and I think it was a poor attempt now.  I really cannot find any redeeming qualities for this film.  it is full of very good actors and all of them underperform.  Any attempt at being dramatic comes off as just plain cheesy.  Any attempt at humour falls flat.  The best performance came from Delroy Lindo and it was just average.

Disaster movies are almost always disappointing.  I think it's because we secretly want the world to be destroyed in them.  It never is.  That's just a "rule" of cinema.  The ending has to be a net positive.  But that isn't the only thing that makes The Core a disappointment.  The production value of this film is downright bad.  Even nine years ago when it was made, the effects were ancient.  They look like something more akin to Fantastic Voyage than a fairly big budget 21st century action/disaster movie.  The sets were bad and had no real lifelike look to them.  The film is also very poorly researched with anything technical.  That whole thing with getting unlimited long distance in a phone by sending some sound frequency to it made me want to scream in frustration.  Everyone involved with that scene in any way right down to the guy who sold them the comb should be very ashamed of themselves.  And that's just one example.

So, you're probably wondering why I watched it a second time.  I thought there was no way that it was as bad as I remember.  And Karl was pushing to watch it for a while so I thought what the hell.  Well, it was just as bad.  But there is a redeeming quality.  It gives you over two hours to make jokes with your friends.  And that part of it was fun.

Did I mention I thought this movie was really bad?  Don't see it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Whip It Commentary

Sitting around on a Saturday evening with nothing to do, Steph suggests we watch Whip It on Netflix.  I'm sceptical.  It seems like a chick movie and stars that girl from Juno.  I didn't like Juno.  She was too angsty and too much of a jerk for me.  It's directed by Drew Barrymore.  I have nothing against Drew Barrymore but it seemed like it was going to be another lame attempt at actor turned director.  I'm glad I clicked on it instead of saying I'd rather not.  This movie was a huge surprise.

Yes, the story is a bit too hipster teen angst for my taste.  I'm starting to wonder if that's all Ellen Page can play.  (Maybe not because Inception was really good.)  But she plays it well.  Even though I didn't like Juno, her performance was good.  And in Whip It, she delivers again.  The whole subplot with the boyfriend in the band was completely unnecessary.  But it added to the angsty theme of the film and that's what they were going for.  Ultimately, it felt like a tacked on distraction.  But the rest was really good.

The supporting cast was very solid.  From Daniel Stern and Marcia Gay Harden as Page's parents to Alia Shawkat as the obligatory "less-pretty but oddly attractive and more controversial" best friend (all of these movies have one) to the entire roller derby cast, everyone plays their part at least competently.  Some go even farther and kind of steal the show.  Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis are all very, very good.  But I think the one who performed higher than expected was Andrew Wilson.  The younger brother of Owen and Luke has never gotten the chances he deserves.  While he isn't quite up to either of those, you have to admit.  He's no Frank Stallone either.  I thought he was very believable and funny as the coach.

While it has the angst feel to it, it never goes overboard in that.  Whip It has plenty of laughs to keep you entertained while not going into the crude, bathroom humour that many comedies are doing now.  Its got just the right mix of high and low brow for pretty much anyone to enjoy it.  See it.