Monday, 28 January 2013

Planes, Trains & Automobiles Review

I would imagine that when most critics saw Due Date, they said it was not much more than a retelling of Planes, Trains & Automobiles.  However, I had never seen Planes so Due Date was just another road trip movie with wacky adventures for me.  My first reaction when seeing Planes was "this is an awful lot like Due Date."  I had to remind myself that the John Hughes movie is actually almost 25 years older and did it first.

It's a basic odd couple tale where two guys are put into an absurd situation and the stuffy one learns a lot about himself and being a better person.  The fat one with the facial hair does wacky things that make us laugh.  Like most John Candy films, it is really just a vehicle to showcase his comedic ability.  The story is not supposed to be deep.  The resolution can be seen coming in the opening credits.  And the co-star exists simply to allow the jokes to come.  It's odd because Steve Martin can do all of that stuff on his own very well.  So making him the straight man to Candy's jokes was different.  And there are a couple of times when they do let Martin have some of the spotlight.  (His encounter with Edie McClurg at the car rental counter comes to mind.)  But, for the most part, the quality of this movie hinges on one thing: does it make you laugh?  Yes, it does.  It remains upbeat and the jokes and slapstick are quality.  It's a good thing too because, like most 80s comedies, they go all-in on that one aspect.

The one thing Due Date did to a greater degree was to polarize the characters more.  Robert Downey Jr was much more of an a-hole and Zack Galifinakis was much more of a doofus.  That allowed Due Date to be more of a zany and crude comedy.  But it also allowed Planes to be more down to earth and relate-able. The only downside is that the consistency of the characters suffers.  Candy is supposed to playing a doofus.  But there are times when he seems to have more depth than you would expect from a guy who would read a smut novel in the airport.

But, all in all, Planes delivers on it's promise for laughs.  See it.

Brave Review

I really don't know what to say for this one.  Pixar has been so good at making movies that entertain both the young and old.  Disney has a fine track record of making movies about people who find their way and discover who they really are.  So Disney/Pixar making a movie about a Scottish tomboy princess who rebels against convention to live her own life should be an absolute slam dunk.  But Brave is far from that.

There was a lot of potential for humour with the bumbling king voiced by Billy Connelly and the triplet younger brothers.  But that was all wasted and sent to the background.  It's understandable because the main story is about the girl's relationship with her mother.  The problem is that, in these animated movies, you need to weave the humour elements in with the overall story and they just don't do that in Brave.  Instead, when they push the story along, the humour is left back at the castle and is only picked up again when it is convenient.  The result is long bits of a rather boring and ridiculous plot of a mother getting turned into a bear for some inexplicable reason.  (You see, there are no bears in Scotland and it's widely accepted that there were none in medieval times either.  So the characters would have no knowledge of such a beast and there would surely be no opportunity to kill one and have it stuffed in the castle.  But how else could the girl teach her mother how to fish and ... oh, forget it.)

The one saving grace of this movie is the animation and art.  The scenery is very well made and is a treat to look at.  But that's really the only decent part of this movie.  Pixar was bound to hit a wall at some point and they did it with Brave.  Don't see it.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Review

I should start off by saying that this is a better movie than the second one.  Part of it is that the quest is something that I find more interesting than the one they used in the Temple of Doom.  The Holy Grail just resonates better with me.  The other reason is that having a quirky dynamic between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is much more appealing and of a higher comedic quality than they had between Ford and that annoying little kid.  Add in that they went back to their bread and butter of fighting Nazis and it makes it a much more appealing adventure.

If you take away the absolutely ludicrous intro of revealing everything that makes Indy what he is, this is actually a very strong movie for a second sequel.  That intro though is just plain idiotic.  It shows that every quirk that Indy has was the result of one days' events.  The hat, whip, chin scar, and fear of snakes all came at the same time?  Please.  We just didn't need to see it.  There's no value to the rest of the story at all.  They would have been better off removing it and adding another action sequence to the actual story.

Speaking of the action sequences, the ones in the Last Crusade are just plain fun.  Yes, they are over the top and unrealistic.  But that's the hallmark of Indiana Jones.  They are very well shot and timed for a film that was made in 1989.  They have aged very well.

I'm also not a Harrison Ford fan.  He always seems too intense and angry when the situation doesn't require it.  But I must say that I think this is one of his better performances.  I'm sure it has something to do with working with an actor of Connery's calibre.  And, after all, who could be angry when you have to constantly look at Connery in that ridiculous bucket hat.

See it.  It's a very strong adventure.

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Eagle Has Landed Review

Sometimes these movies from the 60s and 70s are hard to watch.  For the most part, cinema was just on the verge of becoming more realistic.  It's almost as if they knew they couldn't get away with the melodramatic acting anymore but had nobody who knew how to turn the corner.  They also didn't have the effects that we have today that can make a war movie more realistic.  The Eagle Has Landed is right on the edge of that.

What makes it a good movie is the source material.  Jack Higgins' book is what got me interested in reading and this is probably his best story.  He's a master of imagining a "what if" WWII scenario.  And the idea of sending Nazi paratroopers into England in a last ditch effort to turn the war tide is a fantastic premise.  So they had a great story to work with.  And the thrill of the story does keep you interested.  After that, it remains strong with the cast.  Put Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall in a movie and it's going to be at least decent.  It isn't any of their best performances (Sutherland's Irish accent is subpar) but they all do know how to deliver a line.  The lack of German accents for half of the Nazis is kind of distracting.  But I'd rather have that than a bad German accent.

Overall, it's worth your time simply because of the good story.  But there is a lack of good war tension that modern movie making techniques could fix.  It's one of the better ones that the era has to offer even if the era's limitations doesn't allow it to age as well as it could.

See it.  And if they ever do a remake, I'll be first in line.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Django Unchained Review

There's no denying that Quentin Tarantino has a very unique style of film making.  He has a way of taking some pretty serious subject matter and making it entertaining and humourous without diminishing its seriousness.  He also creates a world that very much resembles our own but everything has a touch of cartoon in it.  And then he wraps it in a cartoonishly violent and foul-mouthed bow.  He did this in Inglorious Basterds and he does it again in Django Unchained.  Over the almost three hours of this movie, you find yourself engrossed in the dialogue and enjoying the film.  However, you also, throughout the whole picture, appreciate the absolute evil of slavery.

Django Unchained falls somewhere between Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds for me on the Tarantino scale.  Pulp Fiction was a groundbreaking film that took "cool" dialogue and anti-heroes to a whole new level.  Basterds tried to capture all of that but was too comical in its delivery both verbal and visual.  Django is more subdued in the visual delivery from the actors but it doesn't take away from the impact of their lines.  The problem is that I always get the sense that, even though it is just his style, Tarantino is always trying to recapture the iconic "tasty burger" and "get medieval" lines from Pulp Fiction with things like "and I want my scalps" from Basterds and "the D is silent" from Django.  Maybe it's just his thing to write these lines and it's a sad side effect that they'll likely never get back to Pulp Fiction's level.  At least I can watch Pulp Fiction over and over.

Jamie Foxx does a brilliant job in transforming Django from an uneducated slave to an almost superhero of the south.  You can really see the development and it is paced very well.  I must say I was a bit disappointed in Christoph Waltz. I know he's an Austrian, playing a German whose second language is English.  But his delivery was over deliberate and over pronounced to the point that it was difficult to listen to.  The rest of the cast is strong (with the exception of some of the one-scene characters including Tarantino himself).  Samuel L Jackson does what he does best: swear a blue streak and talk sass.  Leonardo Di Caprio was good as long as his demeanor was calm.  When the character had to get angry, he became much less convincing.

Overall, this is a very entertaining movie.  I do appreciate suspending reality in movies for the artistic and dramatic effect.  If I want true history, I can read it or watch a documentary.  (Unless you are trying to tell a true story.  Then stay as close as possible.  But Django is never intended to be a true story.)  It isn't Tarantino's best.  But it isn't his worst.  See it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Five Year Engagement Review

Speaking of run of the mill romantic comedies, this is a perfect example.  There is nothing in this movie that really makes it different than any other.  It's the typical, "two people are in love, reach a crisis, and come to realize they still love each other."  We've seen it, or a similar story, time and time again.

That's not to say that there aren't some funny moments in the film.  There were a few times when I laughed out loud at something Jason Segel, Brian Posehn or Chris Parnell said.  But, for the most part, even their lines seemed to have no real effort in the writing and delivery.  That disappoints me because both Posehn and Parnell are some of the best at being the sidekick that confuses the hero and makes you laugh (Posehn's work on Just Shoot Me was quite good).  This all surprises me because this movie was written by Segel and produced by Judd Apatow.  Both are very talented people.

It's almost as if they decided at the last minute to throw together a film that would be able to make a few bucks.  Kind of like if Apatow and Segel found that they both had some free time to take up a little hobby and keep themselves busy.  I got the feeling that there was no real planning or original idea that sparked anything to make this project.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing because there is definitely a market for the basic romantic comedy.  And if people like it and you keep it within budget to make a few dollars, well, that's just free enterprise.

If you're into that kind of thing, you may enjoy it.  But I doubt it because even Steph said it was just OK.  And this genre is right in her wheelhouse.  Don't see it.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Seven Psychopaths Review

One thing is for certain.  Marketing materials for movies are deceptive.  The last movie I saw, Silver Linings Playbook marketed itself as a run of the mill romantic comedy.  It turned out to have a lot of layers and emotion and has been nominated for Best Picture.  Seven Psychopaths marketed itself as a hip and quirky underworld comedy; much like any movie based on an Elmore Leonard novel.  With one, the viewer is pleasantly surprised to be entertained comedically and still experience a deep movie.  With the other, the same thing is attempted but fails miserably.  (It also marketed itself completely false.  Neither Abbie Cornish nor Olga Kurylenko is one of the psychopaths.  It is completely not what the marketing would have you believe.)

Seven Psychopaths is about a guy writing a screenplay about psychotic people.  He wants the movie to have depth and be about more than just killing.  It's a commentary on almost anything Guy Ritchie has ever done or inspired.  Then, he gets sucked into a world of actual psychopaths.  I won't give away any more in case you want to see it.  The actual movie you are watching is trying to do the same thing that the writer is.  Ironically, they should have never made the attempt and it should have just been a movie about a group of psychos who kidnap another psycho's dog.

Keeping it shallow would have enabled them to really play off of the potential for the cool one-liners that they hyped up so much in the trailers.  They had the cast to do it.  Colin Farrell proved he could do cool, underworld comedy in In Bruges.  Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken can all play that very well too.  But Harrelson is cast as a mob leader and should have been an anti-hero.  Rockwell would have been better as the mob leader.  Walken was cast well as the aging weirdo but his lines were obviously written with his quirky delivery in mind.  It would have had more punch if they had just written the movie with clever dialogue and let Walken add his weirdness to it.

But the thing that really makes this movie fail is that they wanted to make a comedy.  But then they bring in very, very dark topics that make the viewer very uncomfortable when they're supposed to laugh at the dialogue.  Comedy mixed with violence often works.  But there's a line when, if crossed, they fail to mix.  Seven Psychopaths crossed that line with most of the back stories of the psychos.  If you don't laugh, everything falls flat and the movie seems boring.  If you do laugh, you feel guilty.  It's a lose-lose for the viewer.

Don't see it.

Goon Review

This one's a mix of Necessary Roughness, Rocky and Happy Gilmore.  An underdog discovers a hidden talent and is given the opportunity to be a minor star.  It sounds like a half decent premise for an ok comedy.  The reason it took me so long to see it is that I'm not a hockey fan and one of the main reasons is their unwillingness to seriously address the fighting issue.  Then, Karl told me it was actually very funny so I thought I'd give it a shot one afternoon on my day off.  Karl was right.  This is actually a very good movie.

One of the reasons is Sean William Scott.  We all know he can play a smart ass and jackass.  But what most people don't know is that he's actually very talented.  He veers off a little here in that he plays a loveable goofball with a slightly violent streak (like Happy Gilmore).  But he's even more "aw shucks" and it really works.  Some of the lines he delivers because the character is so dim are absolute comic gold.  The rest of the cast does a decent job of providing the needed caricatures that a sports comedy needs.  They all have them and this one is on par with the best.  In fact, all of the dialogue is very cleverly written and well timed.

The only beef I have with the film is some of the inconsistencies and continuity.  It's a Canadian made film and they really play up the stereotypical Canadian accent.  As a Canadian, it rubs me a bit the wrong way when they really play it up.  We don't all sound like confused Americans with head trauma.  In fact, most of us don't.  Yes, our "out" does have a lot less of a drawl than the Americans but it isn't that different.  When they had a character with a Canadian accent, the only one that was believable was Liev Schreiber.  It was just enough and he made it very convincing.  The rest were over the top and obvious attempts to make Americans think it was quaint and get them to watch the movie.  The other continuity issues are only recognizable if you know a little about Canada and hockey.  The MTS Centre is in Winnipeg but it was home to the Quebec team here.  There's lots of local Brandon, MB advertising on Halifax's boards, etc.  But that's OK.  There probably just wasn't enough budget to fully modify the sets for realism.  And even the big budget films don't get it all right.

See it.  The laughs are definitely worth the time.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Silver Linings Playbook Review

Here's another one that I was skeptical about.  From all of the marketing materials, it looked like it was going to be another run of the mill romantic comedy movie or drama that had no real inspiration behind it.  Then, as we were watching TV one night, an ad for it came on and it said it was up for some awards.  Steph also said that she'd like to see it.  So I figured the nominations and the fact that my girlfriend has gone to see a lot of movies with me that she would normally pass on was enough for me to give it a shot.  After all, it does have some acting talent in it with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.  After just a few minutes in, I realized that I had been wrong about it and was very glad to be in the theatre.

Like 50/50, Silver Linings takes a pretty serious topic that could have some serious and tragic results for the people involved and uses it to make the viewer laugh.  It's easy to take afflictions and make us laugh.  It's another thing entirely to make us laugh without having us lose respect and sympathy for those involved.  Silver Linings does a great job of using comedy to tell a story about finding the blessing in disguise when your whole life is turned upside down and there seems to be no way out (a situation that three characters in this film face).

Here's a few words I thought I'd never communicate: This was a great performance by Chris Tucker.  Even though he still had the annoying, high pitched voice (it's his voice and we have to deal with it), there was no air of the fast-talking "Vince Vaughnesque" personality that he almost always brings to his characters.  He actually steals almost all of his scenes and is a silver lining in his own right because you think, "at least they're not him."  And it doesn't stop there.  All of the acting performances are very solid.  But this is especially true of Cooper.  He naturally has this look in his eye that can convey a bit of "controlled crazy" that can come in handy for just about any role.  He used that in Silver Linings to portray a delusional character that slowly realizes what his life has actually become.  There is also perfect timing in all of his delivery and actions.

Definitely see it.  It's one of those that takes you through a range of emotion for two hours but the end result is "feel good."

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Producers Review

When you base a movie on a play that was originally based on a musical you get the same effect that Jimmy James on NewsRadio got when he wrote his memoirs, had them translated into Japanese and then translated back into English rather than just redoing the English version.  It's a good idea and has great source material but it becomes a shadow of what it could have been.

The problem with this remake of the Producers is that they tried to make it look like a play on the screen.  That was a huge mistake.  While both live plays and movies can entertain at the same level, they have to do it in different ways.  When the audience is there and you're doing everything live, you can do the over acting and looking off into the distance.  With a film, there's so much more that you can do with camera angles and such and if you try to recreate a play, it actually falls flat.  It's a shame because the Producers has fantastic comedic value and it was all wasted in the way they brought it to the big screen.

This is exasperated by the fact that they used the same two lead actors that they originally had on Broadway in Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.  Both are fine actors on stage and screen but they seemed to have forgotten that they were moving from one medium to the other with the same story.  I didn't get the same vibe from the other actors because, for the most part, they were only coming in as film actors for this story.  In fact, Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell are much more screen friendly in this movie.

For sheer comedy, it's good.  The idea of a Hitler play is just so ludicrous and Mel Brooks is a master at making something like that funny.  But for the rest of the production value, it is poor.  Sadly, the comedy does not outweigh the poor production.  Don't see it.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Les Miserables Review

I'm not normally a fan of musicals.  I find that they often don't accurately represent the emotion that traditional acting can bring out in a story.  After all, songs usually rhyme and are more poetic.  That can make it more difficult to tell a story.  So, it's a pretty big deal when you can tell such a grand story almost exclusively through song.  (I wasn't overly familiar with the story.  I did have to read Jean Valjean in grade 8 and act out the candlestick stealing scene as a class project.  I also remember reading an adaptation in Mad Clobbers the Classics. But that's the extent - maybe I should pick up the Victor Hugo novel sometime.)

I wanted to see this not because it's a musical but because it has some very good actors and looked like a very grand production.  It doesn't disappoint.  There is a lot of emotion throughout the whole story.  I may have liked it better if it had just been a film based on the book rather than a film based on a stage musical that is based on a fairly epic book.  So I was a bit torn.  On the one hand, they can use music combined with majestic visuals to really bring out the emotion.  And music can create tone in a film better than even the best dialogue delivery.  On the other hand, in telling an epic story exclusively through song, they limit themselves to using lyrics and poetry.  How do you find a balance?

In Les Miserables, they do it by sacrificing some of the poetic aspects of song in favour of exposition.  There are times when the songs resemble Alanis Morissette at the height of her pretentiousness when her songs didn't have to have rhyme or follow any kind of rhythm.  But, even when it does that, the emotion added by the actors makes you ignore it completely and it almost becomes like spoken word rather than song.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that the songs were done live rather than overdubbed so it was like delivering traditional dialogue for the actors.  The result is one extremely powerful movie where you come out exhausted and entertained at the same time.

The breathtaking sets, superb costumes and makeup, and its heart-wrenching grip on the viewers' emotions make this a "must see it."

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Iron Man 2 Review

Iron Man 2 follows some of the basics of action sequels.  The effects are bigger, the dialogue and one liners are more stylized and frequent and they got rid of a lot of what didn't work in the first and amped up the rest.  At least, that's what they tried to do with this one.  I would agree that the effects are bigger, but marginally.  They didn't do a whole lot more than just have more of them.  But, when you think of it, there's not much more they could do than just have a lot of robot suits flying around.  There are a lot more one liners and, for the most part, they're just as well written and delivered as in the first one.

The one thing they didn't do is the proper tweaking of what didn't work and fix it.  Ultimately, Tony Stark ends up having to fight a villain that is wearing a more weaponized suit than his own.  Sound familiar?  That's because it's the exact same thing that happens in the first one.  Granted, they had a better actor and villain in Mickey Rourke playing Ivan Vanko than they did with Jeff Bridges playing Obadiah Stane.  Vanko was a much more cold and ruthless villain because of his motivation for revenge rather than world domination.  But Justin Hammer had the domination motivation so Hammer and Vanko are essentially just Stane rolled into one (sort of like William Riker and data working together to make up Spock for Star Trek: The Next Generation).  Doing this isn't necessarily bad because it allows for more focused performances from Rourke and Sam Rockwell and you know where each one stands.  The performance they got out of Rourke in this instance is very good.

So, with that, they tweaked the right thing.  However, they did some more tweaking that was unnecessary and actually made it worse.  Terrence Howard was a very good Rhodes in the first one.  Replacing him with Don Cheadle was a mistake.  Don't get me wrong, Cheadle is a very fine actor.  But Howard suited the role better and they should have kept him.

The film is a bit too preachy in its "America can have toys but nobody else can because we can be trusted and you all cannot" message.  But it is a comic book movie made for American audiences.  If non-Americans don't like it, they need to step up and make their own films with their own message.  We're playing in their sandbox here.  It's just something we have to deal with.  Fortunately, it didn't dominate the movie as much as it could have and they turned more of the focus to Stark trying to cure his Palladium poisoning and his own growth as a hero.

It is very similar to the first one.  But the first one was a very good movie.  Ultimately, so is this.  There is less drop in quality than, say, the difference between Die Hard and Die Hard 2 but more than Rocky to Rocky 2.  See it.  Especially if you like all of the Avengers movies.