Saturday, 29 September 2012

Looper Commentary

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Trouble With The Curve Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Goldeneye Commentary

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Lawless Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 September 2012

Escape from L.A. Commentary

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Escape from New York Commentary

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hysteria Commentary

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

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

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

See it if you get a chance.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Expendables 2 Commentary

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

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

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

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