Sunday, 26 August 2012

Super 8 Commentary

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Commentary

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Night at the Museum Commentary

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

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

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

See it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Bourne Legacy Commentary

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Total Recall (2012) Commentary

The one thing this movie needed was for Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel to tussle.  They did so See it.  But here's a commentary too:

There's really not much to say.  It's a pretty basic remake of what was already a good movie.  As with any remake, the basis of the movie is not going to be original at all.  So they rely on some story tweaking, updated effects, use of newer technology, and elaborate sets and locations.  In that, they did a pretty goods job with Total Recall.  If you haven't seen the first one, this will be entertaining.  Even if you have seen the first one, this should be entertaining.  There's enough story tweaking to make it different.  Also, the choice of lead characters was enough to make them very different in tone.  It's sort of like the difference in James Bond from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig.  Arnold Schwarzenegger is a lot of flash (and at his best when he plays a soulless robot) whereas Colin Farrel often plays more real and gritty characters (notice I said often.  Not always.).  Whether or not you like either or both actors is irrelevant.  The way they play this character is different enough to give the movies very different feels.

There's very little in the way of comic relief in this film.  There's a couple of references to the first film's more memorable moments that made me chuckle but that's it.  As a result, the film is very dark, tense and kind of depressing in many spots.  There's also a lot of symbolism with oppression and such but it didn't really take away from the film.  Finally, it was lacking a bit in action.  It took a while to get going and, when it did, I thought the choreography and action effects were a bit blah (I mean, come on.  Did he really think punching a robot in the face was going to have any effect?)

They did do a good job with making it not confusing.  A movie where you're not supposed to know what is real and what is in the mind can be very confusing and, without using obvious visual clues like in Inception or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Total Recall was able to stay away from falling into a state of confusion for the viewers.  So that is a real plus.

The bottom line is that this film isn't great but it isn't bad either.  After watching it, I'm not sorry to have seen it.  I didn't roll my eyes at anything cheesy.  But I also didn't come out with any "wow" in me either.  Girls tussling aside, I still say see it for the effects and sets but it won't blow you away.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Watch Commentary

When Karl told me that Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and the hilarious Richard Ayoade were going to be a bunch of suburban losers in a neighborhood watch I thought this would be a can't miss movie.  Then I saw ads and previews and thought, "oh.  They're going to ruin a terrific premise with tremendous potential with a weak and tired alien story."  I was right.

The film stars four of the finest comedic actors that are available (throw in the surprise appearance by Will Forte and it should be comedy gold).  (If you don't know Ayoade, watch all four series of the IT Crowd and you'll see what I mean.)  The film makers waste all of that talent by putting together a movie that has no real story and writing that does not play fully to the actors' strengths.  For example, Vaughn is always at his best when he can be a cool guy that talks a mile a minute.  He talks a mile a minute in the Watch but his character is kind of an awkward loser that would have been better played by a guy like Hill or a Kevin James type.  Instead of building a strong story, there is too much reliance on the four main characters being involved in escalatingly funny dialogue (you know.  The kind of obvious observations delivered in a comedic manner that everyone likes to do now).  But without a good story, it just becomes little sketches that aren't really funny to begin with.

In addition to the lack of story, the characters are very inconsistent.  Evan (Stiller) is supposed to be a straight laced, no nonsense guy but goes along with the crowd way too easily in places.  Bob (Vaughn) is sometimes cool and sometimes a huge wiener (the Russian Nesting Doll incident springs to mind).  The only one that really pulls it off is the Franklin character.  Hill does a fantastic job as a paramilitary police force reject who is really such a huge poser and pushover.

I was on the fence a lot for most of the film.  I think the stars really made me want to like it but the poor film making all around brought me back down to earth on it.  The final kicker though was the absolutely ridiculous and downright stupid solution to the whole problem.  I won't give it away but I just couldn't forgive it.  It is that weak and uninspired.

Don't see it.