Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Life of Pi Review

I thought the trailer looked cool and I had heard very good things.  Yet I was still skeptical going into this one because trailers often show you everything in the wrong context.  If you've read the book, you may think the story is unfilmable.  It's a pretty out there adventure and very surreal.  Fifteen to twenty years ago, this probably would have been unfilmable.  But thanks to the magic of CGI and deep producer pockets, there's really nothing they can't bring to the screen.  Life of Pi is actually the movie that 3D was made for.  Through the judicious use of 3D and some very good set design and CGI effects, Ang Lee brings the viewer into a world that is surreal yet very real at the same time.  A lot of the time, 3D is used to throw stuff at the audience.  And they do some of that here.  And it's so real that I actually ducked out of the way three times.  But only those three times.  The rest of the time it was just used to give the film a tremendous depth and feeling.

The film is a lot like Cast Away in the fact that there's a lot of screen time where Pi is the only human and he has to interact with animals and inanimate objects.  This is a lot easier to do in the book because the narrator can take his time and paint a picture of what is happening.  Translating that to an actual picture is a very difficult thing to do.  But Lee does it perfectly.  In the scenes where not much is happening on the ocean, you still get a real sense of loneliness and despair from the proper use of camera angles, a perfectly still ocean and the resulting abyss in the water's reflections.

Other than the fantastic visuals that absolutely envelope the imagination, there isn't a whole lot to say.  The book relied on painting that picture and so does the movie.  But I must say that the casting was done very well too.  In particular, Suraj Sharma is brilliant as Pi Patel.  Just like the fantastic performance by Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Sharma takes you through all of the emotions that you might expect in his predicament without fault.  From out loud laughter to tears, you feel just about everything due to his performance.  He also looked like he could grow up to be Irrfan Khan who does a very solid job as the adult Pi.

If you haven't read the book, you can still enjoy the movie first.  I don't think it would ruin the book for you.  But if you have read the book, you should still love the movie because it brings all those imaginations you had during the reading to life (the island in particular).  In either case, see it.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Review

I'm not a huge Harrison Ford fan.  He always seems angry and his line delivery is usually wooden and awkward.  When you add in the camp factor of the Indiana Jones movies, I should absolutely hate them.  But, for some reason, I like them.  I think it has to do with the combination of Steven Spielberg's directing and John Williams' music.  Overall, the film is really well made.  The story is intriguing and very dark and Spielberg keeps it moving at a very good pace.  The tension builds quite well to a great climax in the mine.  This is helped along by the fact that the effects are very good for 1984 and, while they haven't aged as well as some, they never seem too bad.

The flaws in this movie are with the characters.  I don't care for situations where a child is put in a heroic role.  That's what they did with Short Round.  They also tried to make him the source for all of the comic relief and did it in a very racially insensitive stereotypical way.  He was only slightly less annoying than Jar Jar Binks.  But, that's George Lucas' MO.  The second character flaw is the Willie Scott character.  Kate Capshaw just could not pull this off.  It may be her talent level or it may be that the character is just so shallow that there's no way any decent writing could give it depth.  And her lines were very poorly written.  The only saving grace of having Capshaw in the movie was the cleavage factor.

But, the action and film making outweigh the two crappy characters.  I'm willing to put up with those two for the action and tense situations.  See it.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Knight And Day Review

In an attempt to capitalize on Tom Cruise's success with the Mission:Impossible franchise, they decided to put him in a movie where he does a lot of the same action stuff but can be more flamboyant and "out there" with the character.  It's something he can't do with Ethan Hunt because Hunt is a well defined character.  But Roy is brand new and they can do whatever they want.  And they went too far.  Not just with Roy but with June (Cameron Diaz) too.

The biggest problem with this movie is that the characters are too flawed.  Cruise actually did a very good job with what he had to work with.  Say what you will about him in real life, the guy can act.  I'm willing to accept some unrealistic elements in many movies but Knight and Day is just too much.  Roy is in a very bad situation where he has to find the inventor of a revolutionary energy source.  Yet, he's acting pretty carefree and nonchalant in everything he does.  June survives a plane crash, is kidnapped and drugged by Roy, etc etc.  Yet she completely falls for the guy.  And the whole thing with Roy's parents is just too damn ridiculous to even bother with.

There's just too much away from normal right from the start that I couldn't get on board.  For instance, right at the start, June is told that the flight is full.  Then she's allowed on (for no explicable reason).  She then notices the flight is virtually empty but doesn't seem to question anyone at all.  The movie is full of these contradictions.  They tried to combine the suave James Bond with the situation of Jason Bourne and Helena Kreutz and failed miserably.

It isn't even that well filmed.  While there is plenty of action and the movie does move very quickly, they did not invest enough money in the effects.  Most of the action is very badly green screened.  So that couldn't even save it.  It's a shame because this movie could have been very good.  They relied too heavily on star power and neglected the base of a decent movie.

Don't see it.  There are countless better movies in the espionage genre.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Ghostbusters Review

So here's another classic 80s movie that I had never seen.  After watching it, I can see why it had the following that it did.  I had originally thought that Bill Murray's deadpan, subtle and sarcastic delivery was a recent phenomenon.  As it turns out, he's made an entire career out of it.  And that's really what makes this movie good.  Right from the very start it is Murray's delivery of calm, off the cuff lines in tense situations that keeps the viewer laughing.  If it weren't for that, I could see this movie getting actually pretty boring in spots. Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd are funny in their own right but without Murray, it just wouldn't have been the same.  It makes me a bit scared about a proposed new entry into the franchise because I've heard that Murray isn't going to be involved.  But time will tell I guess.

Overall, I'd say this movie aged pretty well.  Back in 1984 the only way to effectively do monster effects was to use stop motion animation and they may have done a little too much of it.  But the story warranted it.  It's also an entire story rooted in unrealistic fantasy so weird effects and makeup are easier to stomach than in something that is supposed to be a glimpse into our doomed future.  Aside from the stop motion animation of the dogs, the rest of the ghost effects are still enjoyable today.  And the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man was really well done.

There were some things that I found completely unnecessary.  First, Rick Moranis, while his character was necessary, the annoying aspect was not necessary to that degree.  I can see that they were trying to go for "nerd meets up with sexy lady" but he was just too annoying to find funny.  Second, Ernie Hudson is completely irrelevant throughout the whole film.  There is absolutely nothing in his character that is needed and there is no value to it at all.  It's sort of like nipples on men.  It would seem weird without them but they make no difference.

So, balanced all out, this movie is still gets a positive see recommendation.  There are enough laughs all the way through to keep it entertaining and it's always good to see Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd on screen.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Skyfall Commentary

So the reboot is complete.  I'm not sure why it took three movies to do this.  Quantum of Solace was completely unnecessary for the creation of a new James Bond.  But, all in all, I must say I'm happy with how the whole thing turned out.  More than the other two Daniel Craig Bond movies, Skyfall hearkens back to many of the things that we have come to expect in a Bond film and many scenes and elements actually reminded me a lot of certain films (eg. Silva is eerily similar to Goldeneye's Janus).  There are two girls (one working with him and one working for the bad guy).  There is an inexplicably well off super villain with an over the top plan and even a remote lair from which he operates.  There's the Q Branch, a martini and Bond acting detached and suave.

The difference is, they strip it all down to its bare elements (which is what they were going for).  There's very little window dressing and really "out there" stuff that Bond is known for.  Q Branch is more remote assistance than a toy store (something they acknowledge).  Bond's hot car is taken directly from the past and is cathartically and symbolically destroyed as if to say, "the old Bond is dead."  Even the remote lair is a no frills place with just the essentials for Silva to do what he needs to do.

So, with all of the elements there but in a different form, what about the action?  That is something they didn't get rid of at all.  While there are parts that move a bit slow for my taste, when the action heats up, it really heats up.  And they kept it over the top and very unrealistic which is something I like.  We watch the Bond films because we want to escape into a romantic super spy world where everything blows up and I think the producers realized that.  From the opening scene with the back-hoe on the train to the unbelievably thrilling climax in the Scottish countryside, all of the action sequences are very well shot and edited to make the viewer lose him or herself in them.

But the thing that impressed me the most was how, over three films, they really developed the character of Bond with his back story and motivations.  This one did a better job of that than the other two.  I don't want to ruin it so I'll just say that over the course of the 2.5 hours, they slowly reveal his character better than in any of the other films.  I think it's going to be able to take Bond in a great direction.  And it's a character that Daniel Craig plays perfectly.

Definitely see this movie.  It may wind up being my favourite Bond film yet.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Robocop Commentary

I didn't start really watching movies until 1992 so I had never seen Robocop. I was expecting it to be one of those 80s action movies that is way past its expiration date.  It starts out kind of like that.  There are some pretty cheesy melodramatic lines and some acting that was obviously not assisted by a police consultant.  But the film takes a huge turn in quality when Murphy goes down.  From the first person point of view during his construction onward, this is a very entertaining and well made action movie.

I have to remind myself that it was made 25 years ago.  Some of the effects do show the age of the movie.  But, if you can keep that context in mind, it doesn't draw away from the value.  The makeup and blood effects for the time were top notch and would still be considered good.  And the Robocop suit/body is still badass today.  Also, they did a very good job with their assumptions in future technology and keeping it realistic (the DVD comes to mind) which is difficult to do in any movie.  I can see why they want to do a remake because with today's technology, they can do a lot more with the effects. But you just know they're going to go too far.  A remake is a mistake because the original still entertains at a high level.

Another aspect I liked was the moral ambiguity in OCP for the most part.  Yes, the big villain there is definitely a bad guy.  But there's no big corporate conspiracy (like in, say, Resident Evil) that Robocop has to fight.  For the most part, the executives are very realistic.  They have corporate goals and may not be great people. But they aren't evil either.

If you're one of the few who has not seen it, see it.  Otherwise, see it again.

Friday, 9 November 2012

In Time Commentary

At first, glance, this looks like it could be a really interesting movie.  Everyone lives for 25 years and then gets one more year as currency.  The can work to get more, spend it, etc.  When you run out, you die.  Everything else is just like regular life.  There are people killing each other for their time and the elite who have more than they can use.  But this makes them immortal.  And everyone winds up being 25 years old physically regardless of their actual age.  Well, except for Justin Timberlake.  He looks about 30 for some inexplicable reason.

The problem is that I don't know how they could have made this movie good.  The whole thing is crippled by the overuse of cheesy "time is money" writing that makes you realize that the whole idea of time as currency is pretty ridiculous.  There's a weak attempt at a morality story about greed and inequality with painful attempts at Robin Hood with Stockholm Syndrome.  But the poor writing doesn't stop there.  It's pretty horrible all across the board.  And, in a future where they've figured out how to genetically engineer people to be immortal, they're still using gunpowder and the internal combustion engine?  Sorry, but when this all happens, we'd better have flying cars.  It's also crippled by the fact that, because nobody is over 25, almost all of the actors are jackass douchebags and it makes it hard to care about anyone in the movie.  And the girl just happens to know Darwin's birthday off the top of her head?  That one really baffled me.

Finally, for a movie that is supposed to be a thriller, it moves way too slow.  The whole time, they make you think they're building to some sort of amazing, edge of your seat twist and by the time they get there, you've just stopped caring.

Don't see it.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Argo Commentary

Wow.  What can I say?  I knew from the previews that I was going to enjoy this.  It has a compelling story and is made by, in my mind, one of the better directors out there.  I loved The Town and this looked like it had the same feel to it.  But I wasn't expecting it to be that good.  Almost everything about this movie is fantastic.  The cinematography, writing, acting ... everything.  It has such an air of authenticity to it that even the absolutely thrilling climax seems real even though it is a bit far fetched.  With that said, there was one aspect I thought that stood out from the rest and really exemplifies the audience experience.  They used subtitles when it was needed.  If the audience needed to know what was being said, then we saw it.  But if the audience needed to feel the same sense of panic and fear that the characters did, we never got to know what they were chanting or yelling in Farsi.  This is just one example of how Ben Affleck draws the audience in and they wind up feeling like they are part of the film.  These things are done throughout.

I don't know a lot about what actually happened in the true story so I did some research (And almost immediately found myself downloading the e-version of Antonio Mendez' book).  As it turns out, the movie left a lot of things out (as movies based on actual events tend to do).  There's a really good article about some of the inaccuracies here.  Mostly, they ignored just how much the Canadians helped in getting the six people out of Iran.  In the movie, the Canadians are seen as little more than innkeepers when they probably did more than the Americans in getting them out.  As a Canadian, you would think this would anger me.  But it doesn't.  This is an American movie made to sell tickets in America.  So it stands to reason that they are going to focus on Americans.  If Canada wants to get credit for the unbelievable stuff we do in the intelligence world, then our film industry needs to step up.  Second, when you adapt a true story (especially one so intricate), you have to leave some stuff out.  Otherwise, you end up with a drawn out, 3 hour film that will inevitably be very boring in spots.  So all the prep work that the Canadians did in real life had to be sacrificed for thrilling, cinematic value.

So forget any inaccuracies and see this movie for what it is: a near perfect dramatic thriller with great pace and fantastic comic relief from John Goodman and Alan Arkin.  It's perhaps the best movie I've seen this year and I've seen a lot of good movies this year.