Monday, 31 December 2012

Iron Man Review

This is what a comic book movie should be.  It has the unrealistic universe that is also supposed to make us believe that it could happen for real at any time.  I think part of why it is so good is that Tony Stark doesn't have any supernatural or unreal scientific powers.  Yes, I know that he's kept alive by technology that doesn't exist.  But are we really that far away?  That's an argument for another time.  Given that, the two things that make it superior to most comic book movies is that they cast the perfect actor as Stark and had a great director.

Robert Downey Jr is at his best when he's a slick a-hole that, for some reason, we all like.  That's what Tony Stark is and it's just a natural for him to play it.  And he does it to perfection.  Jon Favreau was a great choice to direct.  He proved his worth with this one bringing the suave one-liners that made the movies Swingers and Made so good (he was Vince Vaughn's foil for the one-liners in those) and brought them to the action arena.  He wasn't the first to do it and he won't be the last.  But he did a very good job at spacing them out and making them part of the film and not the film itself.

As for the rest of the film, it is all pretty solid.  When I first saw it, the effects blew me away and, even though I have seen many movies with the same effect quality since, it's still pretty damn good.  The acting was decent but nothing to write home about.  I'm not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan but will admit she is good.  I like Terrence Howard and am disappointed that he was dropped for the second.  Jeff Bridges needed a bit of help but he's not a comic book villain.  They went with name over ability for the role and that was a mistake (he was also reminiscent of Lex Luthor if he was trying to see how many marbles he could fit in his mouth at one time).  But comic book movies are about action, effects and comic relief.  Acting is secondary.  In the primary objectives, Iron Man is fantastic.

See it.  It is the comic book movie that most modern ones should be judged against as a benchmark.

Friday, 28 December 2012

A Fantastic Fear of Everything Review

This is a great example of why I like British cinema; especially the comedies.  Had this movie been American made, they would have made it a horror/thriller and I would never have even watched it.  But, because it's a British movie, it has a quirkiness that I just love.  It's the story of a children's writer who is also writing a series of TV scripts about serial killers.  The in depth research causes him to be paranoid that he is being stalked by murderers.  But it goes much deeper than that.  it also becomes a story of fighting your own demons and getting to the root of your problems so that you can move on with your life.

The two layers combine a good cinematic story with an underlying moral that I enjoyed.  Most of the time, I'm willing to let movies go without getting too deep.  I watch films to be entertained and I don't need any greater message.  If I want that, I can read a book written about that.  But sometimes, if it is done well, I can actually like having it in a movie as long as it doesn't take away from the entertainment.  Because Fantastic Fear has an air of surrealism and weirdness that is able to combine the reality of the story and Jack's imagination in such a way that it mixes fantasy and reality to the point where it is hard to tell them apart.  Most of the time, that would be confusing.  But this film is so well written and acted that it engrosses the viewer completely.

More than the writing, I think it the performance of Simon Pegg that makes this a hit.  Pegg has proven that he has a tremendous range and presence as a comedic actor.  Even in his more serious movies, he brings the comic relief.  In this, he owns the screen.  Granted, the film is centred around his character and his character's psyche and everyone else is more than secondary.  So he has to be at the top of his game because he is carrying the film.  Fortunately, he was.  This is one of Pegg's best performances.

See it.  It combines great tension with absolutely hilarious comedy.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ronal the Barbarian Review

Oh, those crazy Danes.  They took a concept that is usually reserved for kids and made a very adult comedy out of it.  Ronal follows the basic formula that made companies like Pixar so famous.  It takes the basic story of the underdog who is forced into an extraordinary situation that will make him the hero.  It's a story that we're all familiar with (the basic quest) and the delivery is very much akin to things like How to Train Your Dragon and Brave.  But, as I said, they made it a very adult movie along the lines of something like Road Trip or even Euro Trip.

On first thought, I didn't think something like that could work.  I'm very used to mature themed animation through things like Family Guy, the Simpsons and anything on Adult Swim.  But the animation in Ronal makes it look like it is geared towards children.  So it's kind of a surprise that it is as rude as it is.  But, for the most part, the jokes are very funny and clever.  There are a few throughout that are just predictable (like the fairy waitress in the tavern) but then they throw the Amazon warriors that act (and throw spears) like stereotypical bimbos and redeem themselves for any of the tired old jokes we all know.  It's things like the Amazons throughout this movie that makes it hilarious.

As for a story, there isn't much different that sets it apart.  Like I said, it's a basic story that we've all heard before.  But a classic quest story isn't the point of this movie.  The point is to make the audience laugh using the quest simply as a medium.  In that, they succeed.  Had it been longer, I would say it would have gotten redundant.  But it's just long enough to make it all seem fresh.

See it.  It's got a great time to laughs ratio.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Rum Diary

I've never read Hunter S Thompson's work.  I haven't even seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but I do know that it is a quirky and weird movie.  If that is the case, this one falls in the same category.  The Rum Diary has a solid basis in realism surrounding an American journalist working at a newspaper on a Caribbean island.  But the things that happen to that journalist are just a little to the left of realistic to give it this air of surrealism.  Most of the time, you aren't quite sure if you're supposed to take it seriously or not.  Then, something happens like Johnny Depp sitting on a guy's lap to drive a tiny car or Giovanni Ribisi putting on a Nazi hat to listen to a Hitler speech and it brings you back to the fact that this is a comedy.  But then they go back to Depp's internal moral conflict of whether or not he should let everything go and enjoy the ride or stand up and fight against the "bastards."  It goes too back and forth between the two and never gets traction in either.

For the most part, I think the humour was a bit lost on me.  Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind for cerebral comedy or maybe it was just a bit too droll and subtle.  I prefer to think it was the latter of the two.  While there are some really good comedic bits, Depp really toned down the weird for this one and the movie suffers for it.  Had he played it somewhere between what he did and Jack Sparrow (but closer to this character), I think this could have had a much bigger following.

That's not to say the performance was bad.  It was still pretty good simply because Depp is a good actor.  But I did spend a lot of time noticing that Depp in 1960s clothes resembles what I imagine a post plastic surgery Steve Buscemi would look like.  The rest of the cast was really good too.  I was really impressed with Michael Rispoli as Depp's "Jiminy Cricket."  He stole enough of the show to make me wish they could make a prequel about his story.  Even Aaron Eckhardt didn't make me want to put my face through a wall as he often does.

But, all in all, I would have to say that they were almost there and should have decided on either a comedy or a morality play and not a combination of both.  I'm not sad to have seen it and there were some parts that made me laugh out loud.  I just can't recommend it.  Don't see it.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Freeloaders Review

I had to see this movie.  It is produced by Broken Lizard and features my all time favourite music front man, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows.  I got pretty much what I expected as being a fan of the producers and Duritz, I had heard about it while it was in production.  It's really a straight to on-demand 77 minute classic that could have been produced by National Lampoon or some similar company.  So, going in, I kept my expectations low and I think that's why I enjoyed it.  It's about a group of people who have been living in Adam Duritz's house for years for free and, now that he plans to sell, they hatch hair-brained scheme after hair-brained scheme to raise the money to buy it and keep the evil Jane Seymour real estate agent from selling it.  It actually sounds like a half decent idea.

Even though Broken Lizard has yet to rediscover the comedic quality of Super Troopers (in fact, their efforts have gotten steadily worse since), they are still a group of guys that knows comedy and can make me laugh.  Had this film been fully made by the group, it could have been so much better.  Instead, they relegated themselves to the porn film crew that the freeloaders let use the house.  So you only get one scene where these guys can play off each other and use the comedic chemistry they are known for.  Had they been the freeloaders themselves, we could have had it through the whole movie.  After all, the individuals in the group of slackers each has their own quirky personality that is almost a caricature and that fits right into Broken Lizard's modus operandi.  It really was a wasted opportunity.

Instead, the route they took with other actors wasn't horrible but it wasn't great either.  The only one that really worked to its potential was that of Kevin Sussman (you know, Stuart from the Big Bang Theory) as the idiot, Henry.  The rest of the group tries hard to bring their own flakiness to their character and be funny and they all fall short; some shorter than others.  The romantic angle between the real estate assistant and the only moral person in the group is weak and should have either been beefed up or dropped entirely.  Outside of the official group of freeloaders, I do have to mention that the stuff surround Dave Foley was very funny.  Part of it is the fact that Foley is a fantastic comedian.  But it also has to do with how they played up his subtle pride at being Canadian and the fact that he can't even give away DVDs of of his movie, "The Wrong Guy" (which is a great comedy, by the way).

If you like the Broken Lizard style of comedy, it has just enough to keep you entertained (but only for the 77 minutes that it runs).  So see it if that's the case.  If that isn't your thing, don't bother.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Review

I think I may have seen this movie long ago.  But I had forgotten what had happened.  All I could remember was that it was about two con artists and the original promotional ads had a re-lyriced "God, Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" song in it ("Steve Martin wins their sympathy with heart so pure and true.  Michael Caine then collects their revenue.  Re-e-ven-ue.  'Cause they're Dirty Rotten Scoundrels through and through. 'Aaaaah' (as Martin pushes an old lady into a swimming pool - something that doesn't even happen in the movie.)."  Basically, it is just a movie about two con men who are competing against each other for a lucrative territory in the south of France.  As with most 80s comedies, there is nothing deep or revolutionary about this movie.  Back then, movies like this were almost churned out on an assembly line.  But that doesn't make them less entertaining.

The reason this one is entertaining is not because of any superior writing or quirky and different story.  Quite the contrary.  Most of the technical aspects of this movie are very run of the mill.  What makes this a good movie is the choice of actors to play the con men.  Throughout his career, Michael Caine has always been able to play "sophisticated scamp."  He could actually be a member of the royal family.  He's upper crust but you always get the feeling that he is going to misbehave.  Steve Martin does what he does best: be a goofball.  His portrayal of "Ruprecht" in some of the scams is classic Martin and will make me laugh every time.  For the rest of the movie, he's the typical, lovable, "aw shucks" kind of guy that we all like.  Put the two at odds with each other and it's a formula that works.  You're always anticipating how one is going to screw over the other.

Outside of the two main actors, the rest of the acting is actually poor to average.  But it isn't bad enough to take away from the entertainment.  I did like the choice of having the movie take place in Europe.  For some reason, it gave it an air of class that a contemporary setting like New York or even London would have failed at.

It isn't the best movie you'll ever see but it is solid as a comedy.  See it.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Love Actually Review

There are a lot of good Christmas movies out there.  But this one stands out above all of the rest as my favourite one of all time.  Rather than be a run of the mill Christmas movie where someone learns a valuable lesson and everything's all good at the end, this one takes you on a roller coaster of emotions where not everyone is perfect.  Granted, life is fine for most of the characters at the end but there are a few that are left to pick up the own pieces after their true loves fall apart for various reasons (Laura Linney, Alan Rickman and Andrew Lincoln).  Because of those three storylines, this movie has an odd sense of happiness and melancholy that can only be explained by watching it.  Even though those three missed their opportunities, you can tell that they are going to be OK in the long run.

The thing I like most about the movie is that it shows the whole gamut of love (and lust) that can actually exist.  From Colin who goes to America just to get laid to the kids who bring an elaborate sign to the airport to welcome their philandering father home, they show all the aspects of love that we can feel and intertwine them with characters who's lives are intertwined as well.  It really is symbolic of the fact that everyone is capable of every kind of love out there.  And it can be successful or it can fall apart depending on how we deal with it.  But, ultimately, it seems random.  Not everyone who takes a risk gets the girl and not everyone who does the right thing wins out.  I know that sounds sappy but, to me, that's really what this movie is all about.

So you may say it isn't really a Christmas movie.  To that, I say, "BOLLOCKS!"  Everything about this movie centres around the fact that it's Christmas and Christmas is a time for love and saying what you mean, etc.  Just because the season is the setting and not the focal point of the meaning behind the movie doesn't make it any less of a Christmas movie.

Definitely see this movie.  The only negative in it is that it spawned that insufferable "All I Want for Christmas is You" song.  And even that I can deal with once a year.  Everything else is near perfect.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Die Hard Review

Every Christmas, Karl has some of his friends over for a screening of his favourite Christmas movie: Die Hard.  So I've seen this one many, many times.  And it never gets old.  This is the epitome of good action movies.  It has everything: explosions, a hero you want to be, a villain that oozes cool but is despicable, a well defined area for the mayhem, fantastic writing and dialogue, and the right amount of comic relief to release any tension.  When it's done, you feel the adrenaline rush and yet satisfied.

It was released in 1988.  So there's technological limitations to some of the things that they do throughout like the lack of access to cell phones, etc.  But because they don't dwell on that or rely on the use of animatronics and CGI, the film ages very well.  It uses explosions, gunfights and Bruce Willis' wit to bring a quality action product.

Speaking of John McClane's wit, Die Hard represents the turning point from superhero action to just hero action.  He's not special forces or anything and has no training other than being an experienced New York City cop.  From the get go, he's trying to catch up to the terrorists and survive.  Even though he survives some pretty outrageous situations, he doesn't do it without a scratch.  You see him get wounded and tire out over the course of the film.  In short, he seems human.  And I think that's why this one stands the test of time.   Many people can relate to John McClane.

This is a definite See it.  It's one of the greatest action movies ever.  It spawned three (and hopefully, four) decent sequels and even an homage in the form of Paul Blart.  See Die Hard and then watch Paul Blart if you don't believe me.

The Three Stooges Review

When this one was in the theatres, I gave it a pass.  I had no interest in watching a remake of a franchise that I never had much interest in to begin with.  And, although I do like Will Sasso, I am not a fan of Sean Hayes' work.  Add in that remakes are usually not nearly as good as original franchises and it just didn't seem like a good use of my time.  Then, a friend from work recommended it and I had a couple hours and was in the mood for mindless comedy.  I must say, I was mistaken and this was actually a very good use of my time.

That is not to say that it isn't mindless.  It is very mindless.  But I believe the original Three Stooges were too.    And while constant bopping in the face and calling people "knucklehead" does get tiring after a while (ie. Jackass), for some reason, this one entertained all the way through.  The key to that is is that is was made by the Farrelly brothers (something I didn't realize at first).  Those guys really know comedy.  In order to remake the franchise decently, they did two key things.  First, they modernized it and made it a "fish out of water story."  This gave it a second dimension that allowed for a little bit of character development.  Second, they used some smart writing, both in dialogue and situation.  While the original stooges did get up to stupid shenanigans, it was all pretty much in your face.  The Farrelly's used some very clever subtlety in the writing to maintain the viewer's attention.

Another aspect that makes this a very good film is the casting.  All three of the stooges are cast perfectly.  Sasso was born to play Curly.  Hayes is surprisingly good as Larry.  And Chris Diamantopoulus is great as the a-hole, Moe.  All three acted like the originals in a modern setting and all three were done up well to look the part.

The only drawback I found was in the production quality.  It very much has a "sound stage" feel to it throughout that takes away from any realism.  But, it's a remake of a ridiculous franchise where people are perfectly fine after taking a running chainsaw to the forehead.  So realism isn't priority one.

See it.  It's surprisingly funny and smart.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Killing Them Softly Review

I see what they were trying to do.  At least, I think I see what they were trying to do.  Killing Them Softly is an attempt to make a gritty movie in the criminal underworld that mixes things like Training Day, Rampart, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and even a little Ocean's Eleven in there (but humour was the last thing this movie needed).  And, they have this underlying commentary on the economy and recent crash.  All the while, they're making this grand attempt to give Brad Pitt a lot of Oscar nomination scenes.  The problem is, it tried to do too much.

While Pitt is good in it, the rest of the movie falls completely flat.  Every other actor, with the exception of James Gandolfini, is average at best (as an aside, Gandolfini's character is completely unecessary and does absolutely nothing for anything in the plot, story or anything else.  The need for his participation is a mystery.).  And most are just downright poor in their line delivery, fake accents and everything else.  The only other actor that is even recognizable as a name is Ray Liotta who is normally solid but just didn't have enough screen time to care.  As for the rest of them, I can't even be bothered to find out who they are or what they've done in the past because I just don't care if I ever see them on screen again.

There is some interesting use of sound in the film.  The intense rain pounding on a car while intense fists are pounding on Ray Liotta's face was an interesting touch that almost had me hooked (had they just stuck to that type of thing).  The choices of old time music was interesting too given the scenes they were used in.  But the problem is that they couldn't find a consistent formula to use throughout.  It's almost as if they did some filming and post-production, then went back and did some more, forgetting what they had used in the previous run.  Had they stuck to a formula, it would have held my attention much better.  Finally, there's these constant political sound bytes regarding the economy on TVs and radios in the background.  I know that they set the movie in late 2008 when the whole system fell to pieces.  This movie is a commentary on how the whole country fell apart, even the criminal underworld, because of it.  But it wasn't needed.  It was a distraction and ultimately made the movie boring.  Then they tacked on what is supposed to be an iconic Pitt line right at the end that was supposed to pull the whole thing together.  But I had just stopped caring.

Don't see it.  The only redeeming quality is Pitt and he has countless other superb performances out there that you can watch.  If you want gritty crime, there's so many better films that you've probably already seen.  A second go round with them is a better use of time than a first with Killing Them Softly.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Beverly Hills Cop Review

Judge me all you want.  I really like Eddie Murphy and think his acting ability is very underrated.  It's a shame that the talent is often overshadowed by his reputation for vulgarity and his personal "antics."  He's at his best when he can let his mouth run wild and really get into a fast-talking character.  And he does that to perfection in Beverly Hills Cop.  Right from the start, you know that this is going to be a movie that is all about Murphy and his mouth and very little else.  The story is very thin and the rest of the acting is almost non-existent.  Everyone exists to fuel the Murphy fire.  But they do it very well by being the butt of every joke and letting Murphy shine.

More than in a lot of other Murphy movies, he really does shine in this one.  It has to do with the character of Axel Foley not being too deep.  He's a basic cop with a checkered past and a mile-a-minute mouth.  They don't dwell too much on the character or try to make Murphy do anything weird like be a high-powered Marketing executive or an African prince.  They just let him turn Axel Foley into Eddie Murphy and the result is 1.75 hours of fast-paced, funny dialogue.

But like I said, there is little else.  There really is no story, plot or character development to really write home about.  So, if you're looking for classic movie making, this is not the film for you.  But if you want to watch one of the greatest comedians of all time in his heyday, see it.