Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Italian Job (1969) Commentary

I'm a big fan of the 2003 remake of the same name.  I like heist movies, Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Ed Norton.  I also love Mini Coopers.  So it's pretty obvious that I would like that movie.  But I had never seen the Michael Caine original from 1969.  I decided to get a copy of it and give it a go.  While there are many similarities between the two, they are two very different movies.  And they have to be because they are made 34 years apart.  The original is not what I expected.  It's still a decent movie but it took me a bit to get into it because of how it was made.

First, I was expecting a grittier heist movie that was more like The French Connection in tone.  Rather than that, The Italian Job is very much more comedic and light hearted.  It is really really more of a comic romp that has the suave, womanizing Charlie Croker (Michael Caine) trying to pull of this great heist whilst surrounded by complete buffoons.  While the remake has some very good comic bits in it, it focuses more on the action and heist whereas the original seems to be focused more on the comedy.  I should have keyed into this when I saw that Benny Hill was in the opening credits.  And he plays is own pervy self throughout (a part he plays very well).

Second, this movie is very indicative of the era it was made in.  It is your typical sixties movie where characters aren't developed like they are now and things seem very choppy.  There is little exposition and many blanks left between plot points that the viewers are left to figure out on their own.  The acting is also very over the top just like in most movies made in that time.  The only one that seemed believable was Caine which is good because he's almost constantly on screen.  Finally, it's got that typical, "why the hell would they do that" feel to it.  If you've ever seen movies like Hello Down There or The Party, you'll know that these movies tend to follow a coherent plot for a while and then deviate off into some bizarre happening close to the end almost as if the film makers really didn't know how to wrap it up.  The Italian Job does the same thing with no resolution at all for the film.

But, when all is said and done, I didn't feel like I had wasted my time.  It is entertaining enough through its humour and a great car chase with old Mini Coopers that it is worth while for a rainy Sunday afternoon diversion.  See it but don't make it a priority.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark Commentary

We've all seen it.  So the question is, is it worth seeing again?

I need to start out by saying that I am not a Harrison Ford fan.  I don't think he's a very good actor and he always seems exasperated and angry when the scene doesn't call for it.  One of the reasons the Indiana Jones movies are so good is that Indy finds himself in such perilous and tiresome situations that Ford's exasperation and anger are often warranted (for example, the "I can't deal with you and your sword so I'll just shoot you shot - that's one of the most priceless movie moments of all time).  Either the role perfectly suits him or he's constantly trying to recapture lightning in a bottle in all of his subsequent roles.  In any case, it works here.

Another reason this movie is so good is that it's timeless.  The legend of the fate of Ark of the Covenant is 3000 years in the making and will always capture our imagination.  Also, we will always see Nazis as incredibly evil so the villains will also always be relevant to our own set of ideals.

Finally, Raiders of the Lost Ark is just out and out a great action movie.  They go to exotic locales and engage in well-spaced out action sequences that are brilliantly choreographed and shot.  The fight in the Nepalese bar, the fist fight by the Nazi airplane, the chase through the market street.  These are all fantastic scenes that, while they may be done in an older style, it's done so well that it's still fun to watch 30 years later.  In fact, I really like the way Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made the film to really feel more like a film that was 40 years older than it was.  Because most of us only have film to find out what the World War II era was like, we tend to get more of a sense of authenticity in the melodramatic actions of Indy and the rest of the cast.  It's ironic because I'm pretty sure that film in the 30s to 50s was less of an accurate reflection of society than it is today.  Nevertheless, it makes it better to watch and adds to the longevity of the whole franchise.

As I said before, you've seen it already (or likely have anyways).  But this one is always rewatchable.  So see it again.  But have some friends over.  Indiana Jones movies are always better in a group.

Panic Room Commentary

I saw this movie back when it first came out in 2002 and remember that I really liked it.  But, ten years later, I had basically forgotten everything about it except that Kristen Stewart plays a precocious little girl with diabetes and her and Jodie Foster had to try and protect themselves agains a home invasion by one very bad man (Dwight Yoakam), a somewhat bad man (Jared Leto), and a man who has been forced into doing something bad (Forrest Whitaker).  When you wait that long between screenings of a movie, sometimes you are just as entertained as the first time you watched it.  That is the case here.

The success of this movie is really due to two things: the writing and the directing.  While the acting is strong all around, it never becomes anything more than that.  In fact, Yoakam's performance goes downhill when his ski mask comes off and he goes from detached sociopath to crazy sociopath.  Stewart's performance is quite good and probably the best of the cast.  This is because I actually found her annoying as a spoiled, bratty only child from a rich broken home.  When that is the intent and the result, it's a pretty good performance.

As I said, the writing is very good.  Panic Room is a very tight movie that has few, if any, holes.  Karl and I thought we had found a couple and then realized we were wrong.  The only problems I could find maybe had to do with how to deal with a diabetic teenager in a situation like that.  But I'm not an expert and will assume that it was all close enough.  The end result surrounding that plot point was quite satisfactory because it made you care about Whitaker's character more (even though just the fact that Whitaker is playing the character is usually enough to make you care about his fate).

Because this is a thriller of the first order, the intent is to build tension from the start until you are almost ready to pop.  In order to do this properly, there has to be a few small releases through comic relief and this is done very well through Leto's character.  There are just enough shots of his bumbling to make you relax a bit and then it build up again.  It is fantastic work from director David Fincher.  Because it is a Fincher movie, it is very darkly lit with only enough colour for the situation.  There is also a fantastic blend of closeups of things like cables and ducts leading into the panic room and slow motion to keep it different for the audience.  Finally, one of the things that makes Fincher a good thriller director is the use of music.  If you look at his IMDB page, you'll see that he has a strong background in music videos.  Time and again, he has taken that background and translated it well to feature films.  Even with the superior camera work and writing, I would say it is the use of music and sound in Panic Room that really builds the tension to the proper heights.

Definitely see it.  If you like thrillers that are self-contained in one act and locale, this is definitely for you.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Battleship Commentary

I'm really trying to figure out why they had to "base" this movie on the Hasbro game of the same name.  There are really only two things that could be construed as being like the game and both would have been easily tweaked to avoid it.  First, the grid battle (that's all I will say) could have easily been done differently.  Second, the ships didn't have to be in a uniform formation like a rookie Battleship player would put them in.  But it would have taken some writing with some effort and thought put into it and this movie definitely did not have that.

Don't get me wrong.  There are aspects to this movie that are very good.  The effects are absolutely top notch.  The action is as good as you can get in movies today.  Everything looked realistic and well groomed.  The aliens are pretty decent too even if their fatal flaw is something that could not happen to a species from a planet that is almost identical to ours in its proximity from its sun.  The fact that they are the most humanoid aliens we've seen outside of Star Trek was an angle that I liked.  It also allows for less budget to be spent on alien effects and more on explosions and such (I like watching stuff blow up in AVX).  But maybe some of that could have been funnelled to decent writing or actors.

The movie is actually engaging as long as nobody is talking.  It's over two hours long and I didn't feel that because there's a lot of action and tension building which keeps it moving.  It looked like they were going to dwell on a human relationship story too much like in Pearl Harbor or Armageddon and completely slow the pace to snail.  But, thankfully, they didn't do that.  As long as they stick to that action it's OK.  But then the actors start talking and you find yourself laughing regardless of what is being said.  The comic relief is actually decent and you laugh at that (especially the burrito "quest" at the beginning.  That was great).  But the dramatic dialogue is just so bad that you laugh at it as well.  It gets to the point of actually being difficult to watch when this happens.  For example, in Hawaiian, "mahalo" means "thank you."  Trying to use it followed by "mother******" in conjunction with shooting an alien at point blank range with a cannon to be the next "yippee ki yay" makes no sense.  It would have been better if you actually said the second word because you'd have the alliteration factor but it would still would make no sense.  The fact is that "thank you" just doesn't work in that context.  "Aloha" would have been a much better choice.  And the movie is full of more examples of cool oneliner attempts that are just so bad.  Add the terrible acting to the terrible writing and it almost makes the movie unwatchable.  Even Liam Neeson couldn't save it because he's hardly in it.  Instead, we have to put up with Alexander Skarsgard and Rihanna leading the charge to crap.

Don't see it.  While the action is great and the effects are fantastic, for an alien invasion movie it's almost as bad as Skyline.  It's easy to do the effects in a movie now.  Film makers need to start balancing that with better writing and acting.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Safe Commentary

You can tell right from the poster that this is not going to be an overly successful or well made movie.  Actually, if you just glance at it, you may think it's nothing more than Transporter 4.  Watching it, you may also think that it is nothing more than Transporter 4.  The story is one that's been done countless times.  A disgraced cop finds a way to redeem himself by protecting an innocent person with information from some very bad people.  Sound familiar?  That's because it's basically the same thing Bruce Willis did with Mos Def in 16 Blocks.

For what it is, they actually did an OK job but really nothing to write home about.  Throughout the movie, the viewer can really tell that the whole thing was slapped together pretty quickly and without much refinement.  Everything about the movie seems a bit too raw.  It's almost as if the writers and director woke up one morning and said, 'oh, crap!  We have to produce an action movie in a week!"  The writing is very average except when they try to say something witty and profoundly cool.  Then it becomes bad.  Overall, the acting is OK though.  I was really impressed with the Russians.  They did seem to be depraved and downright evil.  Overall though, the Chinese gang didn't come off the same way.  Maybe it has something to do with "Seinfeld, four!" going through my head whenever James Hong is on screen.  That's unfortunate because it was a bit part in an early Seinfeld episode and he's done a lot since then.  Also, ironically enough, the Chinese actor that came off as the baddest was Catherine Chan as Mei; the innocent girl who is supposed to be good.  She just had this "Children of the Corn" detachment about her that gave me the willies whenever she talked.

Finally, Jason Statham is what you expect.  He can do the fight scenes and talk with that "bubbling just beneath the surface rage" gravelly voice.  But when he's the lead without good support in a movie, it usually falls flat.  He needs an ensemble around him to really shine (The Expendables, The Italian Job, Snatch, The Bank Job, etc).  Ultimately, I can see what they were trying to do but they just missed the mark on almost all of it.  Having three different rival factions looking for the same thing just made it all a bit too confusing as to what anyone's motivation was.

Don't bother seeing it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

French Immersion Commentary

It's a good thing I watched this one on my way back to the West from Montreal.  It allowed me to see the differences between French and English Canada in a much more comedic way because I had just experienced them.  That comedic portrayal of the differences is the point of the whole movie.  French Immersion is about some people from all walks of life coming to a small Northern Quebec town to learn French in a two week immersion course that is the town's sole means of survival.  Throughout the time, you see them develop relationships and have their eyes opened to a different culture and way of life that is really not that different from their own.

This oddly synergistic dichotomy is basically the point of the movie.  It talks about how Quebec and the rest of Canada hate each other (which is largely true) but yet we still have a strong nation.  Through the relationships and interactions of the characters, you can see them growing closer together into a more cohesive unit even though they will always be separate on some level.  Fortunately, they didn't dwell too much on the political angle and get too philosophical with the audience.  That aspect of the movie is used more as a backdrop to develop a decent comedy.  And the comedy is good.  The pace is good and the writing is very smart.

The production of this film is very Canadian.  There is a fair amount of self-depricating humour and just slightly off the wall comedy that lies on the scale between typically American and typically British.  It's the kind of humour that allows us to poke fun at ourselves without contributing to the stereotypes about Canadians that some of us have come to detest.  The only way to fully understand this Canadian feel is to go out and watch movies and TV shows like this.  Once you've seen things like Men With Brooms, Corner Gas, Black Fly, etc., you will understand what I mean.  There isn't a lot of exposition as to why things happen. They just do and it's up to the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks that don't happen on screen.

In a way, that is also a setback for French immersion.  Because it is an ensemble cast, there are a lot of subplots going on all at once.  Without the proper expository scenes and dialogue, nothing is really developed in a properly synchronized way.  So the bouncing between story lines and character development seems a bit chaotic at times.  With this, I also need to talk about the story line with the Indian restauranteur and his new wife.  This subplot was completely unnecessary and was a real distraction from the rest of the film.  While it ran parallel with the others, it seemed to always be out of place.  And it ultimately led to an ending that winds up being bizarre and confusing.  Had they replaced that with some more focus on the rest of the ensemble, it would have been much better.

That notwithstanding, French Immersion is a very good contribution to a more mainstream style of Canadian movie.  It has the production quality and intelligent story to hold its own.  And the laughs are there to keep you entertained.  See it.

Contraband Commentary

So, Air Canada has video screens on a lot of their planes now.  When I saw this available for my trip to Montreal, I immediately decided to watch it.  I had wanted to see it in theatres but the stars never aligned for that to happen.  So I got to sit back on a plane and watch one of my favourite actors (Mark Wahlberg) in a thriller; the genre he's best at.  Sadly, I was a bit disappointed by the whole thing.

Contraband is basically Gone in 60 Seconds from 2000.  Wahlberg (Nicolas Cage) plays a smuggler (car thief) who was the best at his craft but has gone straight and has to do one last big job to save his brother in law (brother) from being severely punished by some very bad men.  Contraband does deviate somewhat from the same premise and has a few differences.  But not enough to really make it a wholly different movie.  And the big twist isn't even that much of a surprise.

Where Contraband differs the most from Gone in 60 Seconds is in its mood.  Contraband is a much darker movie that relies a lot less on cool cars and witty one-liners from people like Nicolas Cage, Chi McBride and Scott Caan.  While both movies had villains that would do very, very bad things to punish people, you tend to feel that Tim Briggs in Contraband is a much more depraved and desperate character than Raymond Callitri.  However, Givanni Ribisi should stick to playing the younger brother victim rather than the villain.  Perhaps it was just the unbelievable New Orleans accent but he was very unconvincing in his role in Contraband.  And the rest of the cast wasn't that much better.  Wahlberg really underperformed in this one.  Rather than making the audience feel that he was really desperate to save his family and reluctant to get pulled back into the smuggling game, he came off as going on just another job with no real consequences, moral or otherwise.

If you like Wahlberg, there's better movies with him.  If you like heists, there's better movies for that.  Don't see it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

21 Jump Street Commentary

This is what The Other Guys could have and should have been.  On the surface, you would think that Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell would be a much better buddy cop duo than the pretty boy from GI Joe and the fat kid from Superbad.  But, rather than rely on an actor's one quasi-funny trick (ahem! Will Ferrell), Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill let their characters develop and actually become people that the viewer cares about.  My brother, Karl, said you could really see that they both put a lot of effort into becoming those characters and he's right.  During the movie you can really tell that both of them cared a lot about making this a good buddy cop movie.

Yes, the plot is completely impossible and Ice Cube is in it so I automatically cannot say that the acting is good all around.  But, those flaws notwithstanding, this is a very tightly made movie.  (Don't get me wrong.  I don't mind Ice Cube but he really isn't a good actor.)  It never drags on.  I never once felt like they should start wrapping it up.  The over the top comedy bits are very well placed and spaced out so that you never feel like you're watching a movie that has to rely solely on crazy humour (like the last two movies I reviewed).  This allows 21 Jump Street to be smarter than it should be.  After all, it is a remake of an 80s TV show and completely unoriginal (a fact they make fun of early on).  However, I never saw the TV show so I may have seen this movie as smarter than it is.  But even with the over the top language, they never really have to rely on anything too "American Pie" crude to get laughs. There are a couple of instances of that but, for the most part, it is very well written comedy.

Finally, the casting.  Overall, it was very well done.  Chris Parnell and Rob Riggle play exactly what we've come to expect and they do it well.  Parnell is a subtle dweeb and Riggle is basically an over-caffeinated UFC fan; character parts that are exactly what they need to be.  And, if you want a film where you have an awkward, nerdy guy mixed up with a pretty boy dufus, Hill and Tatum are pretty much born for those roles.  Finally, though, did you ever see the latter episodes of the show Sliders when Jerry O'Connell quit and they got his brother to replace him?  It was OK but really awkward.  That's the same feeling I got watching Dave Franco playing a role that his brother James would have played better.

Anyways, as I said, it's a tight movie that moves fast and is smart but doesn't take itself seriously.  Hill and Tatum play off of each other as well as any comedy duo in recent memory.  See it.

Division III: Football's Finest Commentary

Following in the great tradition of football comedies that includes Wildcats, Necessary Roughness, and The Replacements comes a movie that can really only be described as odd.  Andy Dick plays a head coach that is hired for his colourful background to give a hopeless Division III team some life and recognition.  My first thoughts were that there is no way that the same guy who played Matthew Brock on NewsRadio could ever convincingly play a football head coach.  Andy Dick just doesn't have the Je ne c'est quoi to pull it off.  But, what you quickly realize is that the character of Rick Vice isn't much of a football coach at all.  Instead, he's an insane, dangerous, and downright weird character that you could actually see being Matthew Brock's crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner.

The whole film is less about making a football comedy and more about seeing what kind of crazy stuff they could get Dick to do.  And they get him to do some really crazy stuff.  From his rants that trail off to mumbling to the way he parks his bike by spinning it around and chucking it like a hammer to the absolutely comic genius of him chasing his players while on a bike and using a yard marker as a joust to stab at them, watching Rick Vice is one of those movie experiences that is utterly painful yet hilarious to watch.

Like I said, it's really not much of a football movie.  There is a bit of a plot and some half-assed character development with a romantic sub story.  But the film makers realized that any real attempt at building those up would make the movie terrible because they're using stories that are done to death.  So instead, they focused on what makes sports such an attractive backdrop for movies: hilarious violence and over the top characters.  And this movie has that in spades.  Ultimately, it seems like an excuse for some old Mad TV cronies to get together and be weird.  But Mad TV was funny when Mo Collins, Will Sasso, Bryan Callen and Debra Wilson were on it.  So getting them together for this is pretty funny too.  Throw in a little Adam Corolla as the play by play announcer and there's a lot of potential for some really clever banter (which is fantastic between Corolla and Sasso during the final game).

Technically, this movie is terrible.  But just look at the poster.  Do you really think they want to do anything but film Andy Dick being Andy Dick and make you laugh.  Because it does what it sets out to do, I say see it.

Beer League Commentary

When you see that Artie Lange produced a comedy about beer league softball starring himself and Ralph Macchio, you pretty much know what you're going to get.  Then, when you put the DVD in and the rating comes up as R for constant foul language, nudity, drug use etc., you're convinced that you're in for an 87 minute "classic."  And, if that's what you want, this movie doesn't disappoint.  If that isn't what you want, why would you even pick up the DVD?

Yes, Beer League delivers everything it promises.  It aims to entertain the viewer through offensive humour, wackiness from the characters and the triumph of an "everyman" over the inexplicably successful jerk villain.  Because it's 87 minutes long, you don't get sick of the over the top nature of the film.  The story moves fast because it has to.  And, even though you are inundated with crude joke after crude joke, it isn't too much.  The acting is downright terrible from everyone involved.  But that's to be expected.  It stars Artie Lange after all.  But the movie is actually quite well written for what it is.  There is a balanced mixture of the over the top jokes with the subtle observational/explanatory humour that we saw in Dirty Work from Lange and Norm MacDonald.  This could have easily been Dirty Work's Black Sheep.

Production wise, everything is average.  There was really nothing that would stand out as great but also nothing that would stand out as poor or sloppy.  Beer League is ultimately boiled down to one thing: a movie that is not to be taken seriously in any way.  You're supposed to just sit back, turn your brain off and laugh for a while.  And it makes you do that.  If that's what you want, see it.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Avengers Commentary

The worst thing about going to a comic book movie is that there is always some a-hole geek sitting near you that feels he needs to give his companions a full volume running commentary during the film.  But I can't judge the film on that.  I just needed to vent.

A friend of mine saw this on the first weekend and said it was nothing more than you expect it to be but more than you want it to be.  I would change that to it being not everything you want it to be but about what you expect it to be.  Over the past few years, we have been innundated with comic book movies; especially the lead ups to this one.  So we've come to expect a certain formula of action, comedy and more action with fairly thin stories.  That's pretty much what we get.  We also get a lot of hype and (at least I do anyway) seem to want something that is going to come out of left field and absolutely blow our minds.  Instead, we get decent effects and lots of things getting destroyed.  And we're OK with that.  The Avengers doesn't do anything that the others leading up to it didn't do.  It just took all of them and made them into one movie.  But it did it well.  There's good and bad but the net result is positive.

Being an ensemble story from other movies, they have to spend way too much time getting them all together.  As a result, the story takes too long to get going and I had to wait too long to see the destruction and smart assery from Robert Downey Jr that I used good Scene points on.  There's too much time spent reintroducing characters.  If you haven't seen the others, you should know better than to come into this one completely blind.  But once it gets going, it moves well.

Second, the characters and acting is pretty much what you would expect.  You get over the top dialogue from Thor, great, sardonic wit from Tony Stark and the Great American heroism from Captain America (even though they don't throw American values as global values at you which I appreciated).  You also get a very good villain performance with Tom Hiddleston as Loki.  The best decision though was casting Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner.  And it pains me to say that because I am an Ed Norton fan and thought the Incredible Hulk was the best of the lead ins.  I was disappointed to hear he wouldn't be included in the Avengers.  But the way they took the Bruce Banner character would not have been good for Norton.  Ruffalo does a fantastic job as a more neurotic, mild mannered Banner than Norton did or could play.  So I'm happy with that.  I am not happy, though, with Scarlett Johannsen. Her character was completely useless right down to fighting the invaders with tiny handguns.  Her performance was even worse.  It was wooden, lifeless and all attempts at comic relief were downright terrible.  That is outweighed by two absolutely fantastic comic moments from the Hulk that I will giggle about for a long time yet.

Finally, a couple of observations.  First, am I the only one who sees a huge logic flaw with having a flying aircraft carrier as a headquarters?  I mean, come on!  The only added element was making it fly and, therefore adding one more way it could become a disaster.  Second, the battle resolution is stolen straight from another action movie (I won't spoil it by saying which) and lacked any originality.  But it was visually cool and it's a comic book movie so I can let that slide.

So, it lacked some originality and surprise.  So what?  We got to see stuff explode and laugh at Robert Downey Jr doing the only thing he can: be an a-hole.  And that's really the only reason we go see these movies.  So see it.

The Forbidden Kingdom Commentary

I got this movie as a two-pack Blu-Ray with The Bank Job for $10.  For that, I can't go wrong.  I figured I would get a couple hours of two of the best Chinese kung-fu stars that Hollywood has to offer.  It's sort of the equivalent of when we got Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro together in Heat.  The only problem is, Heat had a great story and didn't have to rely on DeNiro and Pacino.  The Forbidden Kingdom didn't have that and, sadly, having those two martial arts stalwarts together wasn't enough.  It is basically just another Asian martial arts epic that does absolutely nothing new.

The Forbidden Kingdom tries to be more than it actually is.  It takes elements of other martial arts and action movies and tries to blend them together into a timeless tale of mysticism and finding your way and honour and so on.  It tried too hard and ultimately falls short in all of those endeavours.  It's almost as if they took Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and mixed it in with the Karate Kid and a bit of Back to the Future.  The setup with Jason and Old Hop was a bit too short and the Jason character never really had the foundation he needed to be the unlikely hero.  The background and character of the Monkey King was more annoying than anything else.  Finally, the adjustment of Jason to this new world where people inexplicably understand everything he's saying is just too lazy for me to have really gotten engrossed as a viewer.  I don't mind creating a different reality in movies but you do have to establish the rules a bit and how the characters adjust to those rules; especially if the start of the story is in our world like this one is.  In the Forbidden Kingdom, they just ignored that.

There is some good in this movie though.  The visuals are what we've come to expect from Asian martial arts epics.  They are great.  Even though some of the wire fighting could have been done better, the locations, costumes and CGI scenery is really top notch.  Action effects are also done very well over all.  And the choreography with Li and Chan is up to par with what they've done in the past.  Their fight over the staff was a thrill to watch.

But, effects notwithstanding, there is just too much lacking in this movie with regards to story and originality.  Don't see it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Empire Strikes Back Commentary

I told a guy at work that I had only seen this movie twice.  He said he was very disappointed in me and said I should watch it because it's the best in the series.  So, because of my insane need to be liked by everyone, I did and he is right.  It is the best in the series. But I still have a hard time understanding why there is such a following surrounding the original three Star Wars movies.  The acting is bad, the story is really nothing that special and every time you turn around, people are actually making fun of them.  Everyone continues to get angry with George Lucas for modifying them and he still makes money on the re-releases because the world cannot get enough of the series.  You can get as philosophical as you want about the importance of these movies.  They're still just sci-fi retellings of the ancient good vs evil story.  That's not to say that they aren't enjoyable.  I, for one, enjoy all six of them (even Phantom menace).  The things that make them subpar are also the things that make me take them not too seriously and I don't get bogged down in any message.

But, this is a commentary on one of them so here we go.  Empire is one of those rare sequels that is better than the first.  They take what made the first one good and built on it.  This is no small feat because, as the the second in a trilogy, it could have easily been simply a boring bridge piece like The Two Towers.  Instead, they took the bridging story of escaping from the Empire and made it into a two hour chase that has a lot of tension and suspense.  The plot line of Luke learning to be a Jedi was likely supposed to be the focus but it actually gets pushed into the background.  And that's a good thing because it really grinds the action to a halt.

Character wise, they made the right adjustments.  Luke is less whiny, Han is still cool and Leia is less prissy.  But where they really shine is with Darth Vader.  In A New Hope, Vader was introduced as being a bad guy but in Empire, he is brought out as a purely evil villain that is completely obsessed with his goals.  Take that and combine the completely badass costume, voice of James Earl Jones and the fantastic music from John Williams, and you get the most likeable yet most evil villain the movies have ever seen.  Overall, the character development woven into the overall story is very well done and the timing of revealing Vader's relationship to Luke was perfect (hint: it rhymes with "bother").

Even though I don't understand the high status these movies have in our culture, I still say that Empire is a must See movie.  For its time, the effects are great and the story moves along with a good pace (except on Dagoba).  And I can't believe I'm even mentioning this but, you do have to see them all to get the full picture and effect.  But if you just want a stand alone Star Wars movie, it's still the best.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Symbol Commentary

I knew going in that this movie was about a guy trapped in a white room where he had to press "switches" in order for things to happen.  And, by switches I mean little penises protruding from the wall. I knew that it had another story where a Mexican wrestler was preparing for a match.  I knew it would be weird and yet I went anyways because sometimes these artsy movies can be pretty cool.  All in all, I was rather disappointed.

First, the two story lines don't really have anything to do with each other and the flipping back and forth is  more distracting than anything else.  When they do converge, it is in such a haphazard and simple (yet quite comical) manner that I really didn't care and it seemed too convenient.  For the most part, I found myself thinking that the Mexican storyline had tremendous potential to be a heartwarming and inspirational story of a father who teaches his son to never give up on a dream.  Sadly, it could not do that because we had to keep watching a weird Japanese dude make an ass of himself.

Second, rather than engrossing myself in watching the guy in the room try to find a way out, I found myself getting more and more annoyed as to how stupid and illogical his choices with the items that would appear were.

Third, the movie got to be preachy near the end.  They took a seemingly random and bizarre event and tried to give it some sort of moral that we should all follow.  The only problem is that I have absolutely no idea as to what that moral is.  I don't think the film makers do either.  I believe they just saw an opportunity to be really artsy with a big music crescendo and it would make the audience want to be better people.  It really misses the mark.

Ultimately, the film did belong at the Dark Bridges festival because it was definitely different.  But the best thing about it was the United Colors of Bean short they showed at the beginning.  if you don't know what that is, check it out here.  Just don't blame me when you get the tune stuck in your head.  Although that's only half.  There was another half that explained the "origin" of democracy through a Romeo and Juliet scenario with the beans.

I don't think it is necessary or even advisable to see Symbol unless you really like the bizarre.  But I will give it a See recommendation solely with the hope that, if you see it, you can explain just what the hell it is to me.

War of the Arrows Commentary

Another movie that really didn’t belong at the Dark Bridges Film Festival as there really wasn’t anything different about it.  War of the Arrows is basically another ancient Asian war/battle epic that deals with honour.  Set against the Manchurian invasions of Korea, it is the story of a brother and sister who have been disgraced and forced from their home to live with another clan.  They are then separated again when the Manchurians invade and take the sister (Ja-In) and her new husband into captivity.  The brother (Nam-Yi), an accomplished marksman with a bow, sets out to rescue her.

Unlike many Asian epics, this has very little in the way of martial arts.  Instead, most of the action is guerilla warfare and pursuit of Nam-Yi by the Manchurians.  Visually, the film is very appealing.  There are lots of scenic shots and the camera work is very steady and easy to watch during the action sequences.  I thought the action was quite well spread out and it is very realistic.  While there are a couple of instances where it slows down a bit too much, there is enough comic relief to break things up a bit.  There are a couple of instances where the effects were subpar (the tiger is one) but it isn’t enough to take away from the movie.

I think the best part of this film though is its ability to bring out emotions for all of the characters.  Not only does the viewer really want to see the hero and heroine win, they also will likely care about what happens to the Manchurian villains.  I found myself hoping for some sort of mutually beneficial resolution at the end.  The film makers did a fine job all around in bringing depth and reality to characters that didn’t really need it.

See it.  It is definitely worth the time.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Bullhead Commentary

The Broadway Theatre is currently having its Dark Bridges Film Festival.  While most of the movies are horror, they do bring in some other genres as long as the movie is different than the mainstream.  I'm not sure why this film made it into the festival.  There is really nothing that sets it apart as different or "weird."  The only thing that really winds up being gripping or overly dramatic is the main plot point and scene of Jacky getting mutilated as a child and it was no worse than many events like that which we see in many darker dramas.  That's as descriptive as I'll go on that point because I don't want to spoil anything.  Basically the story is just another one of one man's tortuous journey through life as he deals with his personal demons.

And it doesn't grip the viewer really in any way.  It starts out very slow and takes a half hour to get to explaining anything about anyone's motivation.  The exposition is lacking throughout the movie and we are left too much to figure some things out on our own.  Furthermore, the plot point about Jacky's past is not integrated well into his current situation.  There are too many pieces brought together in a haphazard way and it just leads to out and out confusion for the viewer.

This is compounded by the fact that it isn't even a well made film apart from the story.  The lighting throughout is downright horrible.  It is actually very difficult to watch because everything is so dark.  The viewer has a hard time making out any emotions and body language of the characters resulting in even worse exposition.  Add that to the very slow pace of the movie and it just fails.  How this got nominated for an Oscar, I'll never understand.  I will give it some credit though.  Matthias Schoenaerts is very good as the anti-hero "Jacky."  He is convincing throughout.  But that's really the only upside.

Don't see it.  While it may have a few artistic merits, it just isn't worth the time.