Monday, 29 April 2013

Contagion Review

This is what happens when you merge Love, Actually with Outbreak.  You get an ensemble movie where all of the performances are very good, the premise is one that has the potential to be very tense, and all of the characters are interesting with compelling stories and motivation.  For some reason, that worked in Love, Actually.  The sometimes loose, sometimes not connections between characters kept us interested in what they were up to and we wanted to know what would happen next.  Contagion took the same type of formula and applied it to a new virus that has started killing people.  We see how it affects different people and their methods for dealing with it.  While it is written, filmed, and acted very well, something about it made it fall a little flat.

As I said, it is made very well.  Having it set mostly in the time between American Thanksgiving and Christmas gives it a bleak, wintry feel.  This sets the mood for the whole movie which is good because there is nothing "bright and sunny" about dealing with a killer virus.  They cast strong actors across the board and each one is placed into a role that suits them perfectly.  Jude Law plays a jackass conspiracy theorist perfectly.  Kate Winslet makes a great middle management scientist that is in a bit over her head with containment.  And Matt Damon did very well as the father dealing with the loss of people to the virus when he, himself, can't be affected by it.

I think the problem with the movie is that they may have made it too realistic.  This is exactly how I think an outbreak like this would occur in the real world.  There would be quarantines, deserted streets, etc.  But the efforts to find a vaccine and eradicate the disease would march on with very little fanfare and other pageantry that Hollywood would like us to believe would be present.  The press conferences, lab work, etc. in Contagion happen quite quietly with people who are remaining calm.  They never underestimate the importance of what they are doing but they also go about it like normal people.  There is some of the panic from the masses that we would expect in some looting and supply lineup violence.  But this film focuses less on that and more on managing the fallout and eradication of the threat.  Because of this realism, a lot of the tension that a film like this needs is lost and it makes it move quite slowly.

If you want a drama that has some good performances, see it.  If you're looking for more of a thriller, don't.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

42 Review

It's no secret that I don't like Harrison Ford.  He's one of the most over rated actors in Hollywood.  Going into this one, you got the feeling that his portrayal of Branch Rickey as a crusader for human rights was supposed to be an Oscar bid.  If it was, he failed miserably.  Everything about the character is overplayed.  The gravelly voice and forced delivery comes off so cheesy as to be completely unbelievable.

And that's a shame because, almost everything else about this movie is actually very good.  The rest of the acting performances are quite strong (with the exception of the kids but they're too young to be great actors).  I was especially impressed with Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson.  Everything about his performance was convincing.  it would have been easy to try and make the character bigger than the movie given the subject matter. but it was restrained just enough to be able to tell the story well.  I also like John C McGinley as the radio announcer.  His old-timey sayings and voice gave the right feel to baseball scenes that were well shot and thought out.  it really felt like I was watching a game from 70 years ago.

Finally, I liked that the movie didn't think it was bigger than it actually was.  In an era of ultra political correctness, it is easy to try and make a story like this bigger than it really is.  Don't get me wrong.  What Jackie Robinson did was groundbreaking and unbelievably important for human rights and the game of baseball.  I don't want to take away from that.  But in movies like this, they often put the characters on these soap boxes and have them make these grand speeches about how what they are doing is so important.  In 42. they addressed the overall good of what they were doing without being overly preachy.  It stayed grounded in a baseball movie and balanced it very well.

See it.  Ford is difficult to watch but the rest is done just fine.

Top Gun Review

It's been about 18 years since I've seen this movie and there are a few things I didn't realize back then.  First, Tom Cruise is Dorian Grey.  Take a look at all of the actors' current headshots on IMDB and you'll see that the guy is not aging at all.  Second, the guy in the back of an F-14 exists solely to jerk his head around and panick while looking for "bogeys."  Third, I think the beach volleyball scene was there only to reward girlfriends for allowing their boyfriends to drag them to a movie about fighter pilots.  Finally, the best part of this movie is Anthony Edwards.  The Goose character is a fantastic Millhouse to Tom Cruise's Bart.  He steals every scene he's in and when he dies, it's still heartbreaking.

But that's not to say that the rest of the movie suffers.  It's still quite good.  Many action movies don't age well but this one does extremely well.  The aerial scenes are still able to put the viewer on the edge of the seat.  Danger Zone is still awesome to sing along to while planes are taking off.

There's not a whole lot to say about the rest of the cast's acting.  Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt are solid in their supporting roles.  Val Kilmer is as good as he can be (which isn't much) and Tom Cruise is pretty solid even if there is more brooding than is necessary.  I think they tried to make the character too complicated with his sense of loyalty to Goose, angst over his father, and reckless attitude.  So there's a lot of confusion there.  The fact that Cruise could work as well as he did within those parameters is a testament to his abilities.

The one thing I don't like about this film is that the romantic interactions between Cruise and Kelly McGillis bring an otherwise fast paced action movie to a halt.  The pace is quite inconsistent.  It isn't enough to ruin the movie but it does make an above average movie out of something that could have been near perfect.

See it. It's always good for a nostalgic trip.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

48 Hours Review

The original buddy action comedy movie.  This is the one that inspired things like Lethal Weapon, the Last Boy Scout, Tango and Cash and even Turner and Hooch with its odd couple pairing and fast paced dialogue.  If those were the only requirements, this would be a great movie.  However, in order to make a great cop action comedy, you need more than just a run down dirt bag and a motor mouth colleague.  You also need to have decently written dialogue that not only moves the story along but also makes the viewer laugh.  You need memorable one liners.  48 Hours does not have that.  It's basically an hour and a half of Nick Nolte spouting racial slurs at Eddie Murphy.  There are a few instances where Murphy's reactions are well written and acted but these are too few and far between to save the movie.  I will concede that the delivery is done fairly well by both actors.  But the writing is so ham and cheesy that even the best actors wouldn't be able to save it.

Another thing a movie like this needs is great action.  While it may have been good for 1982, the action does not age well into today.  The shootouts are over acted and chases are nothing special.  I did enjoy the fist fight between Nolte and Murphy because it was reminiscent of Hugh Grant vs Colin Firth in Bridget Jones' Diary in the fact that it was two guys who can't fight but attempting it anyway.  Whether this was by design for the characters or just bad choreography is irrelevant.  It did entertain.

To wrap up those shortcomings, the movie is just out and out boring.  The story has no real intrigue or twists.  Without that, one would have to rely on entertaining dialogue or great action.  And as I mentioned, this movie has neither.  Instead, they use a lot of filler like a useless montage of Nolte driving towards the club that Murphy is in while an entire song is played.

I'm glad it was made because it paved the way for one of my favourite subgenres.  But what it spawned is so much better than what it is.  Don't see it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Inbetweeners Movie Review

An acquaintance told me that the TV show was really funny.  So I gave it a shot and he was right.  The TV show is absolutely hilarious.  It's very raunchy and almost like a British version of American Pie.  So I figured the movie would be great as well.  I must say I was a bit disappointed.  The American Pie movies were able to take the same subject matter and make it funny in a feature length film.  The Inbetweeners should have been able to do the same thing.  But in taking their half hour format and stretching it over an hour and a half, they didn't add enough to fill the gaps.

They do push the envelope a bit with the blue humour but it isn't enough to really shock the viewer that is familiar with the TV show.  After all, in England, they can show some nudity and swear a lot more on their TV shows than they can in North America.  So it really had to just be a capstone finale to the series.

It does achieve that end.  The show was about four average high school kids and the movie ends that era of their lives.  However, in the show, the funny insults and crazy situations come fast and furious.  In the movie, they really don't.  The pace and content lends itself well to a 30 minute show where, when it's done, it's done.  But in a movie it was almost as if they said, "OK, we've used a funny slang term for female genitalia.  What do we do now?"  Rather than find some other jokes, they just have the kids walk around and argue for a bit longer.

If you are a fan of the TV show, see it just to wrap it all up.  There are enough laughs that you will get because of your familiarity with the characters.  But if you are just looking for a funny coming of age story with a bit of a raunchy edge, this one isn't really for you.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Rounders Review

I find it odd that I had never seen this movie.  I've always been an Edward Norton fan and I do like Matt Damon.  And it was released in an era where I was going to see just about anything that was released.  But, thank goodness for Netflix because it allows me to dig up films like this on those evenings when Steph is out and there's nothing but reality TV on the networks.

Rounders starts off entertaining enough.  Once you get past the crash poker lesson so you can follow the story, the character development and interaction is witty and quick.  It was almost as if they were trying to capitalize on the success of Swingers with their fast talking, hip "lingo."  It does slightly cross the "reality vs ability for everyone else to understand" line with the terminology used.  I do play poker on occasion so I did understand most of the language used.  For the other, more confusing terms, I was able to get the meaning just from the context.  But if you aren't a poker fan, you may find yourself in need of some sort of poker to English dictionary and quick access to the "pause" button.

The acting performances are very strong all the way through with one exception (which I will get to).  Matt Damon and Norton have a solid chemistry and their timing is impeccable.  They make a very good team that I would like to see more of.  John Turturro also impressed as the "angel on Damon's shoulder" and voice of reason.  Turturro can often come off as a bit simple in his roles but he really stepped up his game as a wizened veteran of the poker scene.  The exception to the acting was John Malkovich.  If movie makers just let Malkovich be himself, he can be a very intense and scary individual.  But as soon as you give him a fake accent, he always comes off as phony and comical (just as he did in Johnny English).  The KGB character did not have to be Russian.  He could have just been a very, very bad American like Con Air's Cyrus the Virus.

I said it starts out entertaining enough.  But when Marvin Hamlisch has his advisory scene with Damon in the bar, the movie comes to a grinding halt that it never really recovers from.  By then, you have enough invested emotionally to care about the outcome.  But you do want it to wrap up quicker than it does.

Because it's likely available for free somewhere for you, I say see it.  But I don't know if it's worth a second viewing unless you really loved it 15 years ago.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Wizard of Oz Review

I have been known on these reviews to be critical of movies that don't age well with their effects, stories, acting, etc.  So how do you review a movie that is widely considered one of the greatest ever made and has entertained generations since 1939?  Part of me is a bit critical because the sets are shallow with hand painted backdrops.  The acting is that over the top melodramatic style that was all Hollywood used back in the day.  The effects, while the best they had at the time, really are nothing spectacular.  But this is all looking through the eyes of someone watching the film about 75 years after it was made.  For its time, this was a very elaborate production and, to an extent, it still is.

While the sets are obviously in a sound stage, what they do use is very elaborate and very well done.  The costumes, with the exception of the lion, are spot on.  And the only reason the lion is a little too human is because they just couldn't do song and dance numbers if they tried to be more realistic.  But I think the aspect of this movie that has aged the best is the makeup.  The Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Wicked Witch all still look fairly lifelike even if it is basically just paint.

If you made this movie today, it would be done a lot differently.  Just compare it with Oz, the Great and Powerful and you'll see what I mean.  Both go into the same magical land with a lot of the same aspects.  The new one relies a lot on the visuals to bring its story to life.  The original relies on light-hearted songs and a strong moral to basically reach the same end.  And I think that's the best part of the whole thing.  The songs keep this movie timeless.  We're Off to See the Wizard and Ding Dong the Witch is Dead are ingrained into our culture.  And it doesn't stop with the production songs.  The score for this movie is perfect as well.  It sets the mood brilliantly in every scene.  Even now, I get chills when the witch sends her army of flying monkeys to capture Dorothy.

Even though it is 75 years old, this movie still entertains.  The songs are catchy and it has an upbeat pace throughout.  It is an absolute classic that every one should see.  See it.

Friday, 12 April 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review (Spoiler Alert)

Nobody has been in the gym for years yet the power works.  That pretty much sums up the inconsistencies and nagging little questions that this movie has.  If you can get past those, you may enjoy it.

Many people (especially purists) did not like the first G.I. Joe movie.  And I'm guessing that many will not like this one for the same reasons.  It strays a bit from the canon of the franchise.  But, look at it this way.  If you made a G.I. Joe movie that was true to the campy 80s toy/comic book/cartoon franchise, it would flop completely.  G.I. Joe always had technology and weapons that were just out of reach of the time it was made.  They've actually done a very good job of doing the same thing and bringing it into the 21st century.  They have updated the uniforms, technology, and weapons to fit with the not-too-distant future feel that the original franchise had.  Anyone who says they need to stick to the character-specific uniforms and physically impossible vehicles needs to accept that these are movies, not comic books, toys, or cartoons.  As kids, we were able to accept and even embrace every outrageous aspect of the fantasy military world Hasbro thrust upon us.  But now, we are grown up and part of the disposable income masses.  As grown ups, most of us have left our puritanism behind and demand some sense of believe-ability and realism while still being to accept that it is an unlikely fiction.  When you look at it in that light, the G.I. Joe movies are actually quality updates to the franchise.  They upgraded the technology but kept the over the top cheesiness and camp that made G.I. Joe so enthralling for us as kids.  They've also kept the Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow story which was a very compelling aspect of the comics.

This is first, and foremost, an action movie.  Writing, acting, continuity, and story is secondary.  In the action elements of effects, makeup, etc., Retaliation gets an A+.  All of the action sequences are top notch and edited perfectly.  It also turned out to be a good thing to delay it so they could add the 3D.  Not only does a lot of stuff fly around and make you move, it really gave the rest of the movie a depth that was well done.  Sadly, as for the rest of the technical aspects, this movie is actually quite poor.  The film is mainly buildup to the plot and very little actual plot happens.  With the exception of Dwayne Johnson, the acting is quite poor.  Johnson was a great choice for Roadblock.  But the rest of the cast goes from phoning it in to downright hard to watch (RZA - who should never be on screen again).  The overall story seems pretty weak but it is actually something Cobra would have tried so I could actually embrace it.

But, the action outweighs the crappy acting so I give it a see recommendation.  If you don't want spoilers, stop reading.  But now I will address their use of characters.

G.I. Joe is very character driven.  It's a unit made up of very specific and unique soldiers.  I was and am a huge fan of the franchise and, as a result, have my own favourites.  I am disappointed in how the movies have used them.  They have killed off some of the most important characters in the franchise.  Duke, Hawk, and Zartan (especially Zartan) are some vital characters and they have all been killed.  Duke and Hawk are the leaders.  Roadblock, while important, is not a Joe leader.  (But Johnson makes a better leading man than Channing Tatum so I see what they were doing.)  (I also lament that Firefly is gone but that's just because I liked him.  He's not overly important.)  But what is worse is that they declined to use the Baroness and Destro for Cobra and Scarlet for the Joes.  In the overall story of G.I. Joe, these are vital characters that need to be included.  Scarlet has a calming effect on Snake Eyes that Jinx just cannot fulfill.  Destro is Cobra Commander's Starscream in the fact that they have the same goals yet hate each other.  The Baroness is a fantastic right hand for Cobra and they killed off the Commander's other two (Firefly and Zartan) in this one.  If they go with the idiotic Mindbender in the next one I may write a nasty letter (an probably not send it).

So I had to take a step back and realize that this is a film franchise and not a comic book that can go on indefinitely.  As a film franchise, it has a life of one (maybe two) more installments.  Then it may get a reboot a la Spiderman where they can go in a different direction and resurrect all of these characters.  If they keep this franchise as a contained story like that, they have to do something with these characters like kill them off or write them out.  There's only so much screen time to go around and in a franchise where everyone is a compelling star character in his or her own right, some difficult choices have to be made.  It's not like we have one hero with multiple villains.  We have a group of heroes fighting one group of villains and an insatiable demand from the audience to see all of their favourite characters.  The biggest problem is that same audience will also demand some sort of resolution in the story and we can't just leave a character in the background and bring him back 10 issues later when the comic book story allows for it.  So, the characters' shelf life falls dramatically.  Once I saw it as a smaller, finite story and not a video version of the action figures that I could play with over and over with new plots, I was able to accept the death of Zartan (and Firefly).

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

I've often said that I want my nine hours of Lord of the Rings back.  So why would I watch a prequel to the franchise?  Especially when it is based on a book that I still lament being forced to read in high school?  Well, 9 hours on a plane from London to Calgary makes you do odd things.

One thing I do have to give Peter Jackson credit for is that he knows how to use landscapes to his advantage in a fantasy movie.  That is one of the things that the Hobbit excels in.  The sweeping visuals on the screen and settings are quite well done.  I did notice, however, that the effects tended to be inconsistent.  There were times when it all looked so real but then there were other times when the green screen effects were fairly obvious.  I also thought that the animatronics were also substandard for such a big budget epic fantasy (especially among the Orcs and their dogs).  None of the animals seemed lifelike at all.

That aside, I do have to admit that the story is actually quite entertaining.  I guess it's something I didn't appreciate in high school.  It moves quickly (except for the scene with Gollum) and that could be because it's a set up for another trilogy.  So this one is all build up and doesn't have that mid-movie lull that most stories have.  So I imagine the second one will be fairly boring much like The Two Towers was.  The acting was also very good but I would expect nothing less from Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan.

I'm a bit torn.  Some of the technical aspects were a let down.  But, coming out of it, I did feel that I had been entertained.  So I would say you should see it.

Jack Reacher Review

Well, where do I begin?  If this is what Lee Child novels are like, I'll stick to my Jack Higgins books.  I can't find any redeeming qualities for this film.  The closest I can get is that Tom Cruise didn't do a terrible job in delivering utterly horrible lines.  It's sad really because the story is actually pretty good with a lot of potential.  A sniper kills people in downtown Pittsburgh and the accused gets them to bring in a former military cop that has the tenacity of a pitbull.  It could have thriller written all over it.

But all of that potential is wasted through the use of very poor writing and extremely poor delivery of said writing.  It's almost as if every other line was written in a half-hearted attempt to be the next cool action movie catch phrase.  And the director then told all of the actors to channel their favourite 1940s-50s melodramatic actor before delivering it.  It was all over the top, wooden delivery that made it difficult to watch.  Add in the fact that it seems that Rosamund Pike was only there for the cleavage factor and it really is laughable.

For the most part, it seemed actually plausible for the situation to occur in real life.  But the hero is some unrealistic phantom super man and the villain was like some James Bond reject.  Given what Bond had for villains and sinister plots in the 80s, you know it's just that bad.

I didn't think Tom Cruise could make an action movie worse than Knight and Day but he did it.  I hope Oblivion is a step up.  Don't see it.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Lincoln Review

I can see why this film got Daniel Day Lewis the Best Actor Oscar.  Nobody knows for sure what Lincoln sounded like or how he carried himself.  There's no moving visual or recorded speech that we can refer to when making a movie like this.  But Lewis makes the viewer forget that he is an actor and completely convinces us that this is what Lincoln was.  I was looking for flaws and found none.  The performance is one of the most perfect ones I have ever seen.

As for the rest of the movie, it is very solid and deserved the attention it got.  It's 2.5 hours long and I was watching it in an uncomfortable airplane seat.  Yet, it flew by and never felt tedious.  It had an outcome that we all know and still managed to create tension and even uncertainty.  Steven Spielberg did a very good job of telling the story of Lincoln's triumphs and not dwelling on the tragic end and thus making him a martyr.  Instead, it focuses on his personal battles to do what he knows is right even if it jeopardizes the relationships with people he loves.

There was really only one aspect of this film that I thought could be left out.  That was the political agenda and thinly veiled attacks on America's slow civil rights progress and the Republican Party losing its way.  There are two spots in the movie where specific dialogue points to these two things and they felt really out of place.  There's no way the people saying them could make these predictions especially in the context they were said.  It was blatant partisan politicking and it really had no place in the film.

That being said, it is still a great movie.  See it.

Shaun of the Dead Review

I don't care for the horror genre and zombies are my least favourite sub-genre.  But you have to know one thing going in.  This is not a horror movie.  When you put Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright into a project together, you can only come out with fantastic comedy.  It just happens to be a comedic tribute to the zombie horror genre.  So while it has the subject matter that I don't care for, that is outshined greatly by the superior comedy throughout the movie.

It's very similar to Zombieland in that it has a few people just trying to get to a safe haven during a zombie infestation.  The thing is, Shaun did it first.  Both are great movies but I have to give the edge to Shaun for its originality and more clever writing.  The jokes and dialogue do a fantastic job of working with the visual and physical comedy.  Right from the start, you know that you need to pay attention or you might miss something great.  And, like a good Pixar movie, they layered it.  If you're like me, you like it simply for the great comedy and timing of Pegg and Frost.  If you are a fan of the zombie scene, you like it for the great makeup, thrilling tension, and tributes to other films.  If you like good film making, you appreciate the allegories and symbolism (especially the colour red).  And, if you just like Queen music (which only soulless people do not), you like watching the crew beating a zombie to the rhythm of "Don't Stop Me Now."

From start to finish, this film has a tight story, excellent timing, and great makeup and effects.  It also has some of the best on screen chemistry you will ever see from the best comedy pairing since Wayne and Schuster in Pegg and Frost.

Definitely see it.