Sunday, December 27, 2009

Upon Further Review
Maybe it's not even fair to give this movie the Upon Further Review treatment, considering I was actively avoiding seeing it again. But then one of my funniest friends offered to watch it with me; even then it took a sold out showing of Sherlock Holmes and a snow storm to get it done. Watching it again unavoidably brought back memories of the event itself. When the movie was first released, and I was willing to believe...
X-men Origins: Wolverine (XO:W) hurt more than it really should have the first time I saw it. The problem was that I was still raw from X-men: The Last Stand, which in turn did more damage then it should of because it's predecessor, X2, was absolutely spectacular. More over, XO:W was- in the words of a friend: "Hard to call" from the previews. Viewed fairly they honestly made it look like the movie could go either way. Viewed through the wounded eyes of hope, they were a potential bright spot in a darkened world. Fast forward to a few months after the DVD release and I'm free of that baggage. Free to appreciate this movie on it's own merit, or rather it's nigh complete lack there of.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, there are more ways to make a good adaptation than just a spot on, word for word re-tell. This movie misses the mark for all of them. I understand that when it comes to comic characters -especially one as beloved and widely used (read "worn out") as this one- there are literally decades worth of, angles and ret-cons to attempt to amalgamate. But if one can't sift through all that and detect at least one common theme, one could at least do the audience the service of making something up.
XO:W has no point from a literary angle. It tells us almost nothing substantial about the character, and offers a lot in the way of reactions ("he ticked me off so I punched him") but gives almost no insight into the characters actual motives. By it's conclusion we've seen a good deal of what happened to Wolverine before the X-men trilogy (and I use the word "trilogy" loosely) but for all that have learned very little about him. Indeed the closest he comes to being a dynamic character is having his memories blown out the back of his adamantium plated skull.
As a stand alone movie XO:W has little more to offer. Aside from the gaps in it's own continuity, it also introduces plot holes into the rest of the X-men films. That the movie was plagued with re-writes shines like a neon light. For example, the movies biggest most advertised action sequence is all but negated by the very next scene in the movie. This is what happens when you off set every staffing choice with a decent track record (Richard Donner as Executive Producer, David Benioff writing the screenplay) with one that has nothing but scratches to show for themselves (Gavin Hood Directing, Skipp Woods writing). To say nothing of the "spectacular here, miserable there" special effects, and the ridiculously etched story lines.
X-men Origins: Wolverine is not the worst comic-book adaptation out there, but that doesn't stop it from trying. At it's best it delivers morsels of decent story telling, all strewn willy-nilly about the trackless cinematic landscape. At it's worst it is a deep, clouded, mud puddle good for either making a horrible mess or being completely side-stepped.
Upon Further Review
Movie: X-men Origins: Wolverine
First Impressions: A note-worthy Crap Fest.
Status: Down-graded

Saturday, December 26, 2009

This was my first experiment with scheduled postings... apparently it didn't go very well since this was supposed to go up on Wednesday the 23rd. My apologies!

Five!! of My Favorite Species
Technically if you've seen the movie already they're not spoilers...

Not since the eighties has a race of blue creatures been so well advertised. Indeed the hype machine has gone into overdrive on this one. I'm writing this Friday (the 18th) morning and still haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm not able to say whether it's well deserved, barely deserved, or complete hog-wash.
But what I can say is that, good or bad, Avatar is bringing us a new culture developed painstakingly and thoroughly (with even a fully functioning language created for them by linguist Paul Frommer) to get to know, which got me thinking. I've been privy to a rather large amount of fiction in my life, some of which is created so thoroughly that it takes on a life of it's own. As a chaser of motives and details, I've found more than one of these that was just so interesting I had to know more.
So in honor of the birth of the Na'vi, the newest people to join the universe of imagined culture, Here's a bonus Five!! for the weekend. Enjoy!

Who are they?
A race of shape shifters from the boundless expanses of Star Trek.
Why so interesting?
A Changelings ability to shift into virtually any alternate form stems from the fact that their bodies are a gel-liquid. For all the Changelings in the universe, only one hundred live outside their home planet. I find it interesting that those few end up with such different outlooks on life. They also view things from a different perspective as they are always evaluating, trying to understand that which they are not- but could be.
My Favorite Facts!
1.) A Changling has to return to it's original liquid state every 16-18 hours. If this is not done, it can have mental affects not unlike sleep deprivation, and intense physical pain.
2.) Though they can take almost any shape, human facial features are extremely hard for them to reproduce and their attempts often have swept and rounded features as a result.
3.) Two changelings can "join" in their liquid state, allowing them to share thoughts, emotions, and memories. This is considered highly intimate.

The "Fix-its"
Who are they?
A race of small autonomous machines from the movie *Batteries Not Included.
Why so interesting?
Honestly, it's the mystery. There's never any real answer given on why these benevolent machines are what they are or do what they do. This allows me a lot of room to ponder, which I appreciate.
My Favorite Facts!
1.) Steven Spielberg developed the story into a feature film from an (intended) television episode.

Who are they?
The terrifying race created by H.R. Giger for Ridley Scott's Science Fiction thriller Alien.
Why so Interesting?
Beyond the mystery of this ground-breaking monster, it has to be the life-cycle. In particular the idea of a bee like "Hive" ruled over by a single queen, with the drones serving her unflinchingly. As for their birth-- well you know all about that. It's a fact so disturbing it has to be real, and indeed many animals lay their eggs using other animals as hosts- and then eventually food...
My Favorite Facts!
1.) They have no form of verbal, written, signed communication; their race has no true name.
2.) Like bees, only the queen can lay eggs. Though protected ferociously, if the queen is lost a drone can eventually grow into another queen.
3.) A queens eggs can wait indefinitely for a life form that can support implantation.

Who are they?
The "walking carpets" that exist among thousands of other races in the Star Wars universe.
Why so interesting?
Wookies are a race that appears feral but are actually highly intelligent and capable of profound gentleness. That they are honorable to a fault is something that's always piqued my interest... Plus they're Wookies, I mean come on!
My Favorite Facts!
1.) Underneath all the hair wookies have sharp claws. In Wookie culture to use your claws in anger is the highest crime. Doing so is seen as giving in to the feral side of yourself, and is punished by a complete stripping of honor.
2.) Wookies are extremely long lived by human standards; Chewbacca is over 200 years old in Episode 4.
3.) Wookish cannot be correctly spoken by human vocal chords, nor English by theirs.

Who are they?
The main antagonist of the cult classic Blade Runner.
Why so interesting?
The story of Blade Runner is an evolution of the novel 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' by Philip K. Dick. One of the main themes of the book (and movie) is the exploration and discussion of intelligence and awareness. At what point does processing become pondering? And how deep must one ponder before it's deep enough to constitute personal contemplation. To me the Replicants are an embodiment of this question.
My Favorite Facts!
1.) To this day there is still debate over whether the character Rick Deckard was a Replicant, even among those involved in the movies production.

Happy Holidays if I don't see you before then!

Monday, December 21, 2009


"Knew this was one way ticket but you know I had to come."

A paraplegic marine is offered a slot in an experimental program designed to aid relations between human beings and an alien race called the Na'vi on a distant moon. He accepts, completely unaware that the experience will change him, and the moon Pandora, forever.

Watcher X and I saw Avatar on Friday afternoon. Less than 24 hours later we were in line to see it again. I haven't pulled a move like that since Jurassic Park debuted in theaters- I was 13 then.
Though perfectly paced, Avatar can't afford to waste any run time on pleasantries. It introduces itself like a child: "Hi, I'm Timmy. My mom says I have to shake your hand so, here....OK! Wanna see my fort?!" Quite frankly, Cameron has created an entire planet and he can't wait to show it to you. He's packed it full of bright, beautiful, flora and dangerous, intriguing fauna and by the time you find yourself among it you'll have forgotten anything the nay-sayers told you. When you go to see this movie, you spend 150 minutes on another world.
Among it's many amazing inhabitants are the Na'vi, a race of 10 foot tall humanoids indigenous to the forests the covered the planet before human beings arrived (Yup you guessed it, humans are jerks in this movie- who'd have thought). As you can imagine, among them is the main love interest for this piece. Beyond the nigh endless beauty of their culture, they are physically breathtaking. I haven't fallen so hard for a woman who wasn't human since The Little Mermaid. I'm sure it didn't hurt that her voice, (and through motion capture) her movements, her facial features and expressions all belong to the gorgeous Zoey Saldana- who delivers a spot on performance.
The same is easily said for Sam Worthington. If you'll remember, my first encounter with this talented Englishmen was in Terminator Salvation, and I spent a great deal of my review ranting about how impressed by him I was. Well, nothing has changed. He leads a magnificent (and star-studded cast) through a triumph of an adventure, albeit it a bit of a predictable one.
Avatar's story is one that will feel very familiar, and there's a very good reason for that: You've seen it before. I won't name the movies (that's something you can do on your own time), but I feel no shame in telling you the story here isn't groundbreaking. Some of the characters (especially Col. Quaritch) exist as such a stereotype that it's a wonder your willing to accept them at all, but you are.
I think this is what's so interesting about Avatar. By all accounts it shouldn't work. It should be hokey- but it's not. It should feel done-to-death; it doesn't. The reason why is this movies strongest attribute: the depth of it's creation. Here is a helping of characters you've seen before, in a story you already know- but they are delivered within a proprietary world unlike any you've seen in cinema. The Na'vi are all computer generated, but Cameron completely commits to them as characters, actively and effectively alienating anyone unwilling to prescribe human emotion and attachment to "cartoons". "If you can't accept it, this movie is not for you," he says. "Get out."
This is Cameron's world to be sure, and it suffers a bit for that. Some of his views come off the screen so pointed and hot that they nag at your imagination, never truly taking you out of the moment but scratching at the immersion none the less. With the more platitudinous characters come certain lines that just don't fit (though they're rare), and then there are a couple of obviously 21st century terms that forcefully roll your eyes. These are shoe-horned into the script as neon, flashing arrows for anyone not bright enough to decipher the thinly veiled metaphor. Though even with these the movie still works. Better then works really; the movie soars.
And then there's Avatar in 3-D. I've already had a few friends ask me (both of my viewings were in 3-D) whether it's "good". By good, they mean exactly what I wondered when I sat down to watch for the first time. In the past 3-D was always a gimmick, and one I wasn't very fond of. You would come watch a 2-D movie and have swords or other props jump out at you occasionally. When I gave Superman Returns a try in 3-D they didn't even bother rendering the entire movie, only certain action sequences.
Cameron has risen above this method. Instead of the obnoxiously throwing the occasional image at you, he's built the movie around the feature. The 3-D effect is used to give the entire film depth, and add to the immersion. Indeed, there are certain scenes where the insects buzzing around the verdant jungle were the only things coming off the screen. The point is to pull you in not shoot things out, and it works wonderfully.
You see, the hype machine was out to pound into our brains the thought that Avatar was going to revolutionize modern cinema. In terms of 3-D, I say it has. As for the rest of the movie I don't know that I'm willing to confer that title. For all the ground breaking creation and technology that brought us this beautiful creature, we shouldn't have to sacrifice originality of story. To revolutionize cinema- I think you would have to find a way to affect both sides of the coin.
Saying your not the greatest in history is far from a dig however (though for a guy with Cameron's accolades I guess it may not be). I see it in a very simple way: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We've been eating them all our life with various results. Now imagine someone made you one with the best ingredients you'd ever tasted. Creamy (or chunky if you prefer) peanut butter made from perfectly roasted, flavorful peanuts. Jelly crafted from the sweetest, juiciest of fruit. All served on two slices of a whole grain work of art, and toasted to perfection. Some may argue that it was more than just a sandwich- that it was so good it deserved a new name. I would simply call it the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I'd ever had, and that's more than enough.

Watcher X says: "Wow." (and then ten minutes later) "...Wow..." (and then ten minutes after that) "Seriously, that was awesome!"

Reel Deal Recommends:
Terminator Salvation: Feel free to ingore John Connor for Sam Worthington's sake.
Star Trek: Anywhere I can get a Zoe Saldana fix, I take it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Five!! One Trick Ponies, Part II
Sins of the Father

*Warning! Warning! My spoilers are flailing wildly!*

So here we are, One Trick Ponies Part II. Last time we went through five people who always seem to play the same characters. This time we're taking a look at ones that always play themselves. And I must say this list, at the planning stage, was even longer than the last. In the end I whittled it down using two basic criteria:
1.) The picks with the least number of exceptions.
2.) The people who made me think of doing this Five!! in the first place!
And even then there were still so many! So I decided to put up the most obvious; the ones that you would see and be able to run down a list off the top of your head and think: 'Yup, yup, I see that.' And even then I had to take an extra day and debate.
Disclaimer time: We here at The Reel Deal do not pretend to claim any sort of personal relationship with anyone- anywhere. I barely know myself. The phrase "play themselves" is meant to refer to the persona they craft for publicity coenciding with their on-screen performances. In other words: The way they act in, say, an interview seems to be the exact same way they act in a big budget movie.

Actor: Kevin Costner
Exceptions: Mr. Brooks (see it)
Here he is folks, the man who started it all for this Five!! I've been saying this about old Kevy for as long as I've been choosing my own movies. But really, Costner has been at it since long before my cinematic time, even opening up his own acting school: The Kevin Costner Institute of Living Off Your Looks. Graduates include George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and our next pick...
Actor: Mathew McConaughey
Exceptions: Reign of Fire
Yup, everybodies favorite, washboard stomached Texan. I was ready to tag him with a "none" for exceptions (he's more like a Ken doll: there's pot-smoker Mathew, repentant Mathew, lawyer Mathew... They're all still Mathew) but in the end I gave him Reign of Fire because he gives a pretty un-McConaughey performance as the hard as nails, ex-army, cigar smoking Denton Van Zan... though a case could be made that this is really just post-apocalypse Mathew.

Actor: Denzel Washington
Exceptions: Training Day, Malcolm X
I know I'm probably going to catch some flak for this one but look- I'm a fan and I still can't help but notice so hear me out. It's the euphamisms! The way he walks, the way he phrases things, the way he rubs his head when he's flustered- none of it changes from role to role. The exceptions are the ones where he really seemed to be crafting a character as opposed to inserting his... and even then I'm still a bit undecided on Malcolm X.

Actor: Keanu Reeves
Exception: The Devil's Advocate
Now this is in interesting one. You see the name, think of Neo, and scream: "Wait! What about Bill and Ted?! What about The Parenthood?!" My answer? The character changed when he did. It's all in the interviews my friends. Reeves played Teds and Tods as the young surfer dude he was. Then as he began to make the transition into stiff-as-a-board action figure he made Point Break (a movie I like by the way), which has him as an interesting blend between "Surfer Reeves" and "Robo-Reeves". It's really the truning point too because from then on he is the "I can't turn my neck" Neo we know and... well, know.
As a side line I don't know that The Devil's Advocate is really an exception per say, but to me it's one of his most dramatic performances so I gave it to him.
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Exception: Hercules In New York
When you have an Austrian accent thicker than your own massive torso and the only movie that bothers explaining it is one where your supposed to be Danny Devito's twin brother, that's when you know there's a problem. What's worse, the role he's best in is one where he plays an emotionless, humorless, machine bent on one thing and one thing alone- and he's still comes across as himself! I have no doubt that these movies get pitched as: "Arnold fights an alien." "Arnold fights a machine." "Arnold tells small child to stop eatign other kids lunches."
But like I said in Part I, sometimes the person you play every time fits. Now if only they'd make "Arnold is a womanizing, egotist."
Whew! What a hard Five!! There were dozens more I could think of which means there must be hundreds more out there. I was hard pressed to limit it to five so feel free to add more! Especially female picks.
And as a "Thank You" for sticking with me I'm going to give you a sneak preview of the next topic, coming this weekend. In honor of what, after all this hype, will either be a cinema explosion or a box office implosion: Five!! of My Favorite Alien Species.
The image came from a blog called Simply Marvelous. Thank You!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Princess and The Frog

"Impress her with your rapier wit...shower her with compliments..."

A young woman who dreams of opening her own restaurant sees that dream dashed and resorts to an old story she'd heard as a little girl, only to find a less than fairytale result.

I'm 26 years-old, which means I was born at just the right time to be old enough, and yet young enough, to find these hand made Disney movies accessible while they were in their prime- which I see as 1989 through 1994. The Little Mermaid through The Lion King... though I may only call that their prime because that was my prime. Either way, this is the first one that's been made with me at an age where I'm thinking more about bringing my non-existent kids to see it than seeing it personally. I have to say it's an interesting perspective to have.
The Princess and the Frog is set in 1920's New Orleans (Given the extended production cycles on these "paper" animated movies that is really no surprise- Katrina hit in 2005) and I was very impressed with the fact that the dialects were not undone for the sake of child ears. There's always one character who's voice is thick with the accent of the setting, but usually their the only one; case and point Lumierre from Beauty and the Beast -we miss you Jerry Orbach. I wondered what they would change here, where the accents aren't necessarily that of non-English languages, and was happy to see the answer was nothing. Southern accents abound, there's even a creole character mixed in.
It is, of course, another set of interesting characters out to tell a great story and instill a moral with song and dance. The music for this movie was interesting to me as a musician because I found it to be very different than the other "Disney Princess" movies. The songs for these movies always seem to be developed with an ear on the music of the places their set in: Mulan uses Chinese instrumentation, The Lion King (which Watcher X tells me should not be compared to these other films because it isn't actually about a "Princess") has very prominent African melodies and percussion etc. But being set in Jazz-era New Orleans, the music from The Princess and the Frog follows suit. As such these songs are not quite as catchy as the others, but in turn are a bit more advanced musically.
Something else I noticed about this movie was that, the main character Tiana's best friend was a spoiled brat, but she wasn't evil. It used to be that spoiled characters were evil characters, or characters that had complete changes of heart. But this character was selfish, and yet still a human being. She saw that others had feelings; she was still a good friend. I just thought that was kind of interesting- really it's neither here nor there.
And before I rap this up there's one more thing I'd like to mention. Something I've always said about the movie The Patriot (for example) is that I appreciated it's honesty. In this movie, Benjamin Martin is a slave owner. Now of course they make him out to be the "good" kind of slave owner- but they don't hide the fact that that's what a man of his means, in that time and place, would almost assuredly be. The same thing applies here. This is 1920's New Orleans we're talking about here. While it's certainly not a major plot point, the makers of this film didn't simply pretend the racism didn't exist, and I think that's something worth pointing out. It is addressed; subtly and quickly (both good things) but addressed none the less.
So, there you have it. "This just, in Disney makes good movie, read all about it!" A surprise? No, but still a fact. The Princess and the Frog (a title which I completely butchered in the Coming Attractions! window) is another in a long line of quality kid friendly movies as far as I'm concerned. It takes a few departures from the brand to be sure, but in the end tells another sweet story that the whole family can enjoy; even if their imaginary.

Watcher X says: "Nothing you idiots. Watcher X is dead, he's locked up in my basement."

Monday, December 14, 2009


"That's not flying! That's falling- with style!"

A young security guard, trying to support his younger brother, decides to aid his co-workers in the robbery of the armored cars they've been assigned to guard, only to have them turn on him when he refuses to take part in a murder.

I can't say this movie is entirely unremarkable, just mostly. Even then, I'm not sure I'm ready to say unremarkable is entirely bad.
From Next Day Air, the second review I ever posted, to my review of 2012 not even a month old, I've said again and again that this is an entertainment industry and when your dealing with entertainment sometimes a good time has to be enough (I believe my catch phrase is: "It's not going to change your life."). If that's a valid thought for the Hangover, then it's a valid thought for these others.
Armored, boiled down, is popcorn fair. Decent popcorn fair, but that none the less. The performances are all strong, if beset shallowly, with Columbus Short proving he's leading man material (something I've been saying about him for a while now)by pulling a quality performance from less than epic scripting. The music is by and large ignorable, as is the cinematography outside of one, kind of genius shot that seemed really out of place as such. Not that anybody was expecting such- but all the same I wouldn't hold my breath for Oscar nominations out of this one.
The films action sequences are lean and by the book; no credit card kills in this piece. In fact the crown jewel of this movies action offerings comes by way of an armored car chase (you see what I did there?) that seemed necessary story wise but oddly drawn out to me. It's locations are simple as well, with the bulk of it's scenes taking place in either an abandoned steel mill or one of two armored trucks. Though I will say the armored trucks make for interesting set pieces to someone like me who is completely ignorant to their functions and capabilities. Suffice it to say if your looking for sweeping Middle Earth-esque vistas- boy did you stumble into the wrong theater.
And at this point your asking: "Why did you start off defending 'good time' movies if you were just going to pan this one anyway?" Believe me, I was wondering the same thing coming out of the theater. My head was full of ho-hum observations, yet I wasn't willing to dispraise the movie. "Why?" The characters dear reader, the characters.
Writer James Simpson (In his debut attempt) has done a superb job writing six "Everyman" characters to make up the larceny bound security crew, and the cast puts that writing to good use. A surprising amount of attention is paid to offering back story, insight, and motives. Matt Dillion hands in an interesting "villain" in that I found myself never being able to fully hate him. I saw him more from the point of view of Short's character, to whom he is god father, and felt more betrayed than anything else when Dillion finally did turn on him with the rest of the crew. And even the other members of the crew are treated not as faceless bad guys to over come, but relevant personifications... though one wonders how Jean Reno ended up in there. By far the characters are Armored's strongest attribute, out doing the basic story (and it's execution) with ease.
I don't think anyone will find themselves cheering out loud. The "hero" is one of the thieves after all- and maybe that's rightfully so as we see very early in the film that redemption is what he's after in the first place. When all is said and done Armored is a good "just out to see movie" pick. You'll have a good time, eat some good popcorn and leave happy- but it's not going to... well you know.

The Reel Deal Recommends:
Accepted: A rather enjoyable comedy with Colombus Short that I'm mentioning becuase I already recommended the underestimated Stomp the Yard last time.
Crash: For another great performance from Matt Dillion.
The Professional: Jean Reno as the lead in a movie I don't have enough space to gush about.

Monday, December 7, 2009


"I am haunted by waters."

A young man who never quite got his life in order tries to comfort the family of his older, much more successful brother- a marine Captain who's gone missing in Afghanistan.

I find it fitting that we just discussed portrayal of family relationships in the last Upon Further Review, as this is a movie that not only focuses on the same- but does so with a profound sense of honesty and realism.
Brothers is a film driven by top notch performances. Individually these performances would still stand out, but as an ensemble they are simply breath taking. I can think of few movies where it seemed that every single speaking character blew their part out of the water- but here is a perfect example. I don't even want to name names here, because I would feel if I site one I would have to site them all.
It is this what allows the film to deliver so spectacularly on it's exploration of family infrastructure. For the most part, the film takes delicate care not to stray too far from the discussion of family dynamics and how a shift in one can make for a shift in all. At some point in the movie I found myself relating to every member of the extended family being chronicled- which I think is as much testimony to the universal nature of family roles as it is to the quality of the screenplay- adapted from the original Danish.
I over heard one of the two girls sitting behind me telling her friend with a scoff: "I hate preachy war movies". I would have to disagree with her. I definitely do hate preachy war movies, I just don't agree with the insinuation that that is what Brothers is. This is, far and away, a film about exactly what it's title suggest: brothers. Family. How we can spend our whole lives filling roles dependant on those of our family members, and how we can often feel like we don't get any say in what those might be. Calling this movie a "preachy war movie" is like calling The Last Crusade anti-christian.
One problem I did have however was the ending. Though fitting, it's execution seemed a bit off kilter with the rest of the movie. Maybe that's just me however; and though I might have done it differently myself it still works.
Never the less, Brothers is high grade, unadulterated drama. Something you don't see much of these days, in my opinion. A thought which is further proved by the quality of it's performances. It is just as much a must see for those who appreciate powerful, well executed drama as it is an "avoid at all costs" for anyone who needs more than that for a movie to keep their attention. It is high on tension, but short on action- which is nowhere near a complaint. IT not be for you, but know that if you do decide to pass- you will be missing out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Five!! One Trick Ponies, Part 1
I hereby dub thee: Sir Spoils-Alot

Watching Fantastic Mr. Fox I came to the realisation that this was the perfect time to post a Five!! I've been brewing for sometime now. But with all that thought came I've come to the conclusion that it simply can't be contained in a standard post.
You see, I think there are two sides to a concept like the "One Trick Pony". There are the actors and actresses who always seem to play the same character, and then there are the actors and actresses who always seem to play themselves. Some might say that they're the same thing, but I believe they deserve a distinction, even if they don't warrant a complete separation. However with that said, I think a case could be made to put some of these names on either list- so I just went with my gut.
And remember, this doesn't necessarily mean I hate these performers- sometimes the character they play is not only spot on, but necessary. And of course, these are generalizations.
We'll start with the category that contains the man who inspired it all: Actors/Actresses who play the same character.

Actor: George Clooney
Character: Danny Ocean
Exceptions: None
George Clooney has been doing the same shtick since The Facts of Life (and don't forget "Booker" from Roseanne!), the only difference from role to role is how much the character talks.

Actor: Topher Grace
Character: Eric Forman
Exceptions: None
The first place I ever saw Topher Grace (I think the first place anyone saw Topher Grace) was in the movie Traffic. He played a skinny, drug smoking high schooler getting himself into trouble... Sound familiar?

Actress: Angelina Jolie
Character: "The Sultry Mystery"
Exceptions: Changeling
I'd say with Angelina it's more a kind of character than one particular role, but the theory still holds. Jolie doesn't seem to have a range so much as two sliders that read "Sexpot" and "Hard ass"; for each roll they raise or lower them accordingly.

Actor: John C. McGinley
Character: Dr. Cox
Exception: Identity
McGinley has made a living as the ego-centric, fast talking jerk who (sometimes) eventually reveals a heart of gold... like I said, Docter Perry Cox. In Identity he plays the fast talking introverted, yes man. Kind of the mirror image of Dr. Cox, so I'll give it to him.

Actor: Ving Rhames
Character: "The big, intimidating black guy."
Exceptions:Mission Impossible: III
Just like with Angelina, it's not a character so much as a caricature. From Striptease to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, it's usually the same drill: scowl, cross arms, repeat. I'm not positive that MI:III should really count as an exception- but as that his size and ability to come across tough as nails never really plays into the story, I felt it deserved a notation.

To Be Concluded... with Five!! One Trick Ponies Part 2: Performers Who Play Themselves.

Special Thanks to Kello who produced this Reel Deal picture.

The Road

"Watch, as your world ends."

In the adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy, a man and his son struggle to survive against the elements, starvation, and other scavengers in a wasteland that was the United States.

I admit that I am a man prone to flights of fancy, but I am not prone to accepting them as reality. I also tend to avoid, at all costs, making huge sweeping generalizations (though i think technically that may be one right there)- especially when it comes to movie reviews. So please keep all that in mind when I say what is coming next. In my world of post-apocalyptic movies there are now two categories: The category which contains The Road, and the category that contains everything else.
Truthfully I feel I could leave this review at that, but the movie was so good I just really want to keep talking about it.
It is hard not to begin with Viggo Mortensen when discussing all the reasons why this movie shines (and by shines I mean is coated in dirt and grime). This is the best performance I have ever seen out of him. That is no paltry praise coming from someone who had his jaw dropped by his performance in A History of Violence and then was floored by him in Eastern Promises.
He juggles the emotional tenderness of a mourning man, the endless wrath of a father protecting his son, and the broken spirit of a man who's lost nearly everything he holds dear with the kind of skill that convinces you it must be easy.
With Mortensen at it's forefront, we are shown -or rather forced to watch- just how ablative civility and morals can be in the face of survival. It is a film with a surprisingly large and emotional core. The physicality of it is undeniable and unapologetic (in one scene we watch our lead -billed simply as "man"- perform his own barbarous first aid) but it is the emotional presence throughout the movie which allows it to strike so hard at the watcher. Tender moments occur but do so without ceremony; in a world like that there is simply no time for pomp.
There is a sense of horror to The Road, but horror unlike that of the genre. It is not exerted by a latex monster, and it is more than just bodies left by zombies or an axe armed killer. It's horror comes from just how plausible it all seems. The characters are unnamed, and the disaster that brought civilization to a close is left unexplained. It is telling us that any of the the people in this movie could be any of us. That to those who might find themselves in this situation, pondering the cause easily looses out to thoughts like food and shelter.
If your going to go see this movie be prepared to be emotionally wounded by it. Amazed and satisfied, but wounded none the less. The Road is emotionally brutal, approaching it's substantial emotional content as it does all the rest- with no holds barred.

Reel Deal recommends:
Eastern Promises: Viggo Mortensen in another dark and affecting role.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Upon Further Review
"If I had a spoiler, I'd spoil in the morning..."

I first saw the movie Garden State during it's run in theaters back in 2004. And though I enjoyed it, I've just- at the end of 2009- gotten around to watching it a second time. It's interesting how much your perspective can change over five years.
The first thing I noticed about Garden State the second time through was how much of the humor still worked. For the most part the comedy lays in casual social observation-so the jokes have a rather impressive shelf life. No matter what year it is, it's still a hilariously awkward situation when you sit down to breakfast with your friend, his mom, and her new boyfriend- who also happens to be someone you went to high school with, and haven't seen since. Found myself laughing more this time around actually, as I have since gone around the block a few more times and have more to relate to.
The overall message of the movie still rings true as well. As I was a much less analytical movie watcher back then, I'd like to think I gathered more this time around. Braff points out a little more in the "don't waste your life" message than some other writers might. He proclaims that it is not only the chemically imprisoned Andrew Largeman who's lost these last nine years, or the cliched 26 year-old pothead who still lives at home. It's also the bored millionaire, and the haunted widower. This side of the story I saw much more clearly this time around, and appreciated the movie all the more for it.
Along with these welcome additions to the experience, however, come some quirks I definitely didn't notice my first time around. Though there are moments in Garden State that just feel a bit forced. The first and most prominent being the scene in which Andrew finally confronts his father.
First, I have to compliment the writing in all the other scenes dealing with this strained father son relationship. Let alone the powerful underlying story of how these two became estranged, Braff captures amazingly (and with a proper amount of subtlety) the way that resent and love can mix so seamlessly when it comes to family. But with that said, the final scene between the two felt a little underwhelmed to me. Nine years of pent up resentment and anger and it all gets resolved in a tidy little chat? Not even a raised voice in sight, less than a week after burying the matriarch of their family? I think not.
Along those same lines is what irked me about the ending this time around. Natalie Portman turns in a great performance as Sam; a clever and adorable pathological liar. She and Andrew meet and fall for one another in what is a most enjoyable "two strangers" romance. When he goes to return to Los Angeles they share a goodbye scene that at the time didn't really strike me, but now that I've said a few more hard goodbyes myself, I realize is a truly well written one. And that's when things take a turn for me.
Andrew boards his plane, but then realizes that leaving may be another missed chance in a life full of missed chances, and comes back. So where does he find Sam? Not in a taxi, or waiting to see his plain take off; he finds her bawling in a phone booth... Really? She's known this guy for four days and when he leaves she's openly weeping alone in a phone booth, completely in pieces? Reminds me of another, more recent, female lead I know...
Five years later, Garden State is a movie that still works for me. For every thing I noticed in the second viewing that took away from my initial opinions, there's something else I noticed that makes me think more of it than I already did. I would say that, for the most part, what doesn't quite make the cut in this movie can be attributed to a fledgling writer penning the screenplay. As a debut for Zach Braff as both writer and director int he feature film world, I still call Garden State a home run. Now, just like then, I look forward to his follow up.

Upon Further Review
Movie: Garden State
Initial Review: A beautiful first attempt.
Status: Maintained

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

"O, R they?"

When Mr. Fox steals one too many times, three vengeful farmers endeavor to rid their land of him and his family

It seems that it is only a matter of time before every last word that Roald Dahl ever penned has been adapted for the silver screen, and with varying results. Fantastic Mr. Fox is really a blend of these results, a series of layers presenting everything from genius to annoyance.
There's an ingenuity to the adaptation of this story that can't be ignored. Obviously, first it had to be extended, which I think was done in a relevant (if not labored) way. And the choice to further personify the characters, especially to the degree at which it is done, was brilliant one. This allows the characters to be a bit more complicated than in the original story, which lends itself to extending the story in the first place, and might allow a deeper connection to the characters if I didn't hate them.
And there in lays "the rub". The problem isn't the choice to further personify the characters, the problem is the choice to let Wes Anderson do the personifying. I'm sure this statement might see my name slandered over more than one iced soy mocha frappacino, but in my opinion Wes Anderson is one of the most over-rated film makers I've ever come across. His stylized cinematography is something I've really come to enjoy, however it seems that's the only thing. Apparently stocking your films full of inhumanly awkward, shallow characters who's selfishness makes them so unsympathetic that by the middle of the movie you could careless what happens to them at the end is exactly what people my age find funny and poignant... Which I guess means I'm secretly forty.
This movie is a well put together and uniquely adapted adventure with yet another set of Anderson's standard characters, which overshadows all the ingenuity and creates a sense of repetition not helped at all by the "here we go again" performances offered by George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman. There are, of course, moments of genuine comedy sprinkled throughout the film- but more often they are null or odd spaces that Anderson's followers have trained themselves to laugh at.
Where Mr. Fox was originally a character able to garner sympathy through the necessity of his actions, he is now simply an egotist who deserves to be chased. This simple tweak unraveled the quaint draw of the original story- and though the space it left definitely could have been filled, Anderson's script was not up to the task. Fans of his work will find little not to love in Fantastic Mr. Fox, but your average every once in a while movie-goer may find themselves nudging their companion and asking: "Was that supposed to be funny?"

Reel Deal Recommends:
Solaris: Still everyday George Clooney, just everyday George Clooney in a mesmerizing movie.
Rushmore: Jason Schwartzman in the only Wes Anderson movie I enjoy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Twihard II: Twiharder
Where in The Reel Deal pontificates self-importantly on life and cinema.
*I here by swear there are NO spoilers below*

I had (what I'm going to assume was) a Twilight fan post a comment on one of my most recent posts. After reading my Review of New Moon (again I'm assuming) they posted, simply: "Whats your problem with Twilight?!". I found this very surprising given the way I approached my review of that film. I declared myself from the outset as someone who wasn't familiar with the books. Then preceded to give- really the only review I could give.
Even though I unabashedly say that this film has flaws, the review certainly wasn't a pan. I went to great lengths to say that while at times this film faltered, it also had it's high points. I even went on to say that this particular installment has shown me the potential in the series. I am perfectly willing to like it, I just don't yet. So I really don't see how one could assume I have a "problem" with the entire series from that.
But there's more. You see I feel as though I have to make a confession now. I wonder if the angry poster (let's call them twihard17 from here on in) didn't some how have a bit of insight, because there is a certain something that really gets on my nerves about this series so far. Something that I purposefully left out of my review, an action which I now spitefully regret.
So even though I'm thoroughly convinced that you are an agressive fan-boy, twihard17, who assumes that anyone who doesn't revere your beloved franchise as much as you do is just being closed minded (or is just plain stupid)- I'm going to go ahead and answer the question anyway. My problem with Twilight is the character Bella.
Bella is an emotionally spineless character. Without her man she slumps over, unable to support herself. Indeed the only things she seems to be able to do without her beloved Edward there to carry her through are A.) chase him, and B.) find another man to take his place. In the entirety of New Moon she has only one line that even hints at emotional independence, and it is quickly undone by everything she does in the remainder of the film. I find it sad that in a medium with such a serious lack of female main characters at all, let alone strong ones, this series would be so popular, and have such a weak heroine. I find it scary that a property as revered by teen-age girls as Twilight showcases such a blatantly dependant girl as it's lead.
I made the choice to leave this out of the review because, even though I felt very strongly about it, I questioned whether saying all of this was really relevant to a review of the movie. I see now the answer is: When I review a movie, I'm not only reviewing how it tells it's story but the quality of said story. In my opinion these observations about the character Bella are not just artistic license, but a genuine fault of the story, and as such, my responsibility to bring to light.
So to all (read: both) of my readers, I apologise for failing you here, but please know it won't happen again, just as it has not happened before; I have learned a valuable lesson. And to Twihard17, where ever you are, thank you for showing me the error of my ways- even if it was a complete accident. And in the future, if you have any more zealotry-inspired accusations for me, at least deliver them as more coherent and flushed out thoughts, that I may respond more poignantly. Or better still, become a follower of the blog; as all opinions are welcome here at The Reel Deal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon

"So your saying there's a chance."

In fear that he's dangerous for her, Edward vows to leave Bella forever. In her grief she turns to anything she can find, including Jacob who offers a simpler life. But as Jacob's secrets come to light, and with Victoria still craving revenge , simplicity is the last thing she finds.

As someone with no familiarity with the book series, and who hated the '08's Twilight with a vengeance, I have to say I was in no rush to see this newest installment. But, because of the fan of the preternatural that lives in me (and Watcher X and I's blatant curiosity), I knew I would be going to see it eventually. And now that I have, I have to say it wasn't all bad.
But it still has it's fair share. The worst of which being the acting. Maybe it's the age of the main players in the cast, but every once in a while things tend to turn rigid. This can be very distracting, and takes away from the few opposing moments when you really feel some chemistry on screen. Overall you get grey performances- which are somehow enough to move the movie along.
A welcome addition to the Roster of leads this time around is the character Jacob, played by 17 year-old actor Taylor Lautner. Lautner has the body of an olympian, and the face of a 14 year-old- which causes mental conundrum I like to call the "A.C. Slater" complex. On screen, Lautner is obviously the youngest cast member as his performance seems to waiver the most. I will say when he's on he is truly on, unfortunately when he's off he seems very forced. Either way, it's nice to see a Native American lead that's not wearing a head-dress.
Though New Moon seems to stutter and stumble at times it does have it's merits, and it's strongest attributes come through in it's quietest moments. There are some truly beautiful moments of cinematography when the teenage melodrama manages to get out of its way, and I think future ventures would do well to remember that.

Watcher X says: Team Jacob for sure!

So now let's go through the Isit list, a new tool for reviewing movies that belong to a series.

Is it better than the first one?
Almost without exception, though that's not very hard. Call it a new director, call it a cast that's another year older, call it blind luck, but a lot of the most annoyingly "teen" aspects have been removed- a lot but not all. Gone is Kristen Stewart's tendency to deliver every other line as though mid-climax. And The main lover's romance is a bit more down to earth this time around... well for a vampire romance at least.
There seems to have been a bit more subtlety added when dealing with the preternatural characters (no more soaring through the trees sequences!) which I consider a lynch pin in movies like this. Unfortunately the sparkling remains, but I guess it's not fair to expect that to go anywhere.

Is it a good sequel?
Yes. While in the end I felt as though we hadn't gotten very far from where we left off, New Moon does a lot of expanding on characters, and does it in a way that keeps you from getting bored.

Is it worth a third movie?
This one's hard to say from here. New Moon is a strong sequel but still only a decent movie. Decent, however, is a huge step up from god awful- which is exactly what the first movie was. I will say this: if the third movie improves on the second as much as the second improved on the first, then I might actually find myself looking forward to the fourth. As apposed to the pure curiosity that brought me to this one. I suppose time will tell.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Five!!: Lovable Losers
Spoilers spoilers everywhere, and not a drop to drink...

No matter how much you may like or dislike the franchise, Twilight had made a place for itself long before the first movie ever debuted. And now that the first movie has come and cemented the saga 's place in pop culture- ignoring it is a bit, well- ignorant. We both know that New Moon is going to leaving a smoking crater where the box office once was (and indeed already has, I just read that it set a new midnight showing record last night) so- glittery or no- these vampire's don't seem to be going anywhere. To maintain a movie blog and not mention these films would be just plain dishonest.
So I've decide to post a Five!! Inspired by the story arc anyone half paying attention knew was coming about 15 minutes into the first film. Lovable losers is dedicated to all the male characters that are just as handsome, just as smart, just as interesting, and often even more devoted than guys they inevitably come in second to. It's also my male answer to Beautiful Ugly Girls, as you'll usually find these two character architypes in the same movies (and because I felt a little sexist). So, without further ado here is my list:

The Loser: Lon Hammond Jr.
The Winner: Noah Calhoun
The Movie: The Notebook
We'll start with a straight forward pick to get the ball rolling. Lon lost the girl because he was honest, dependable, and had a decent haircut- things everybody knows will scare off any self respecting hottie. Maybe if he'd been off banging his dead best friends wife too, Noah wouldn't have been able to get an edge on him. But Lon was to busy actually being there for Allie and proposing, actually trying to build a life together... you know all the boring stuff.
The Lesson: Actions speak louder than words, gifts speak louder than actions, and a free house speaks loudest of all.

The Loser: Dr. Manhatten
The winner: Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl)
The Movie: Watchmen
Far be it for me to put down a woman who can't say no to a man who looks like Patrick Wilson, but I don't think I really have to list all the things Doc had to offer. Sure he can be a bit stiff, but how do you complain about the one thing a guy can't do when he can do everything else! You ask me, a girl willing to let a tiny thing like a guy leaving the galaxy stop her doesn't deserve such a catch.
The Lesson: Ladies dig pants.

The Loser: Alfred Ludlow
The winner: Tristan Ludlow
The Movie: Legneds of the Fall
This pick may seem a bit off since in the end she marries Alfred, but let's take a closer look. There's the marriage sure, but she chooses Tristan first, only marrying Alfred when Tristan dissapears and continues to want him long after she says "I do." And let's not forget that when career jerk Tristan comes back she's still in love him (though married) and sneaks chances to see him. Then, as if that's not enough- she kills herself when she can't handle the fact that Tristan's moved on. So who's the real winner here?
The Lesson: There's nothing more irresistable than an uncaring jackass.

The Loser: Chuck Noland
The winner: Gary Lovett
The Movie: Cast Away
Here's one that as much as you root for the loser, there was no other way for things to go. We may have wanted Chuck to fight for Kelly, but we also knew he would have had to break up her family to win. And doing that would undo the "Lovable" part of "Lovable Loser".
The Lesson: Sometimes you just have to take your ball and go home.

The Loser: Johnny 5
The Winner: Newton Crosby
The Movie: Short Circuit
He's not just interested in learning more about you, he's absolutely excited to. He craves input! Not to mention he's caring, willing to change, and has treads for feet. Also, Johnny 5 is alive- something nobody can know for sure about Steve Gutenberg these days... Johnny has an armor piercing shoulder mounted laser cannon for pete's sake! Unless your the Predator, you can't really top that. And we all know Predator is way to into his career to even think about right now. The Lesson: Never trust Steve Gutenberg.

Have any lovable losers you swear by? Let me know! Unless it's Duckie... Five!! out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


"Enough with the fat lady! Your obsessed with fat ladies!"

Two families struggle to survive, and a scientist working with the government races to sustain humanity, as devastation envelopes the world.

Civilization is standing on the precipice yet again, and surprise surprise- it's Roland Emmerich's fault. As disaster movies go, it's ambitious. In Independence Day it was the world's major cities. The stakes got upped with The Day After Tomorrow, with the entire northern hemisphere being put to the screws. But on the irreversible devastation scale, 2012 out does them all. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the only difference between director Roland Emmerich's newest nigh apocalyptic outing and the ones that came before. That and the fact that it doesn't have the word "Day" in the title.
The problem isn't that it's a bad or poorly done movie, the problem is that by now we've all got the formula down. It starts with picture perfect sunny days and a divorced couple. Then we watch the only guy who truly understands what's happening get ignored while explaining it. We'll spend the next 10-20 minutes (increasing with each new release) watching all hell break loose. Then take a breather while the president talks about it dramatically.
Of course when he's done there's even more destruction. Then a brave few make their stand, where in there's even more destruction and death, an outrageous and over the top joke, at least one act of self sacrifice (sometimes these two come at once "In the words of my generation...!") and the divorce fences get mended through acts of heroism. And somewhere in there at least one (though rarely limited to one) father and son pair learn that they really do appreciate one another.
I understand that movies of a certain genre often end up having certain things in common, but this is something more. I have to say for me it's getting old. I (nor anyone else I would hope) go into these movies with any hope of truly being moved, but even so- knowing the pattern kills a lot of the fun. I am reminded of my growing disdain for Tim Burton's work. But where he uses the same pallets for each movie, Emmerich uses the same emotional set pieces. Though in his defence, Emmerich is still doing much better than Burton as that the bulk of these "repeat offenses" only apply to his disaster movies.
John Cusack brings his trade mark sarcasm to the pot, which is always enjoyable- but the real stand out performance comes from Chiwetel Ejiofor (your pronunciation is as good as mine). Here's an actor I've been watching for a while, and I'm glad to see him as a leading man. His character is full to the gills with sentiment, but he does well with it anyway. In the end I think the lack of brilliant performances comes more from the material than the talent. Watching this movie it's obvious that the focus is on the destruction, not the characters.
I don't mean to get overly aggressive here, but I think the point is valid. 2012 is porn for disaster junkies. An enjoyable adventure through the end of civilization, I just think that it could use a little more focus on the human element of the story. How will we care whether humanity survives if we don't care about any of the people fighting to be the ones left. Not to mention that it's awfully hard to sit patiently through two and a half hours of brutal apocalypse sustained only on eye candy. That's a long time to spend watching the world end, no matter how good it looks while it's doing it.

The Real Deal Recommends:
Identity: For a spectacular film starring Cusack and Amanda Peet.
Serenity: What? A chance to plug Chiwetel Ejiofor and Firefly? Score!

The Box

"What hurts the most is the lack of respect, you know? That's what hurts the most."

A young family is offered the chance to bail themselves out of financial trouble. All they have to do is press a mysterious button, brought to them be an even more mysterious stranger, and they'll receive one million dollars, but somewhere someone they don't know will die.

Yet another review I'm really having trouble getting started. The words are escaping me, though I chase them with all my strength and speed. So instead of going straight after it, I'm going to try a sort of end run. If this counts as me being a bad reviewer- guilty as charged.
There are people who dismiss the adaptation of books right off the bat. As most often this is the case in terms of movies- I feel it's relevant. "It can never be as good as the book!" they say. "They cut that great scene where..." they holler. But it is my personal belief that anyone who feels this way is missing the point. The movie is not supposed to be the book. Often times they attempt to tell the same story, or expand on what was already written (more on that in a moment), but cinema is a completely different art form.
Saying that one must be exactly like the other is like dismissing a 3rd graders detailed rendition of the Mona Lisa because they did it with finger paint. "Well that doesn't look the same as Davinci's little Billy/Cindy. And you really should have used canvas, construction paper doesn't capture her presence." Your missing the point, and there for missing the joy. If you come to the movie expecting the book you will be disappointed, and what's worse, you'll deserve it.
As I said before, sometimes the movie attempts to tell the same story but within the boundaries of it's medium. Sometimes it tries to tell the same story, and also tries to update it as well. Sometimes it tries to take the source material and expand on it. Sometimes it tries to do all of this. And sometimes, it fails miserably. But this is no reason to discount the attempt straight out of the gate. I think a successful adaptation does a little of all of these things. It retells, updates, and expands on the source material- keeping the main themes alive while making sure it stays relevant and enjoyable. A great example of this is Zack Snyder's 2007 treatment of 300 (bare with me).
Anyone who's familiar with the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley (Yes, I think she deserves to be credited. No, I don't know why nobody ever does) knows that if it had been translated directly to a script it would have been around 35 minutes long. So Snyder and company sat down and built on the story to make it feature length, and update it a bit in terms of making the players a little more 3 dimensional, especially the Queen. But here's the key, they did so while adhering to the overall themes and mood of the source material. Obviously 300 was enjoyable but wasn't the greatest movie of my generation, but it pulled off the difficult balancing act that is pleasing to fans of the book, and yet remaining accessible to any who were unfamiliar with it. And thus proved that movie rights are not a death sentence.
Which brings me to my point. We have seen that it is difficult but possible to take a book and make it a movie without sacrificing the story told there in or the quality of the movie. Which means that the makers of The Box have absolutely no excuse for what the it did to Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button" -about the divides that can grow between two people, even if they sleep in the same bed. The first forty-five minutes or so of this movie is the Twilight Zone episode based on the same story, and once it's off that track it spins out into oblivion like an unfortunate astronaut. And like the same, once all attempts at rescue have been exhausted you have no choice but to either watch it hurtle towards it's fate, or shield your eyes and cry.
Gone is the emotional core of the short story. instead of focusing on our couple and their emotional journey, we are informed very early on that they are nothing but flies caught in an increasingly elaborate and ridiculous web. Only the web has not been spun by a meticulous and patient spider as one might assume, because I can't imagine such a skilled creature would create something so full of loose ends and meaningless (and sometimes confusing) strands. Case and point: At one point we're told that the mysterious stranger heals eight times faster than a normal human. 'Really?' I thought to myself. 'Than how exactly do you explain the fact that a third of his face is gone? Oh wait, you don't.'
Nothing about this movie works. The performances are decent at best, the special effects are good but completely out of place, and the cinematography is completely without ambition. One could make the argument that it's going for a 70's feel, but if that's true than again, why are all the special effects there? This movie just rattled round and round in my head after I saw it. I grimace when I think about it, and try to forgive myself for not just walking out.
I have a soft place in my heart for James Marsden. 1.) Because he's handsome, and 2.) Because anyone who can make Cyclops and interesting character to me can't be all bad. But even so- it's not nearly enough to save The Box. Short stories and books can become great movies, I've seen it- I know it can be done. But this just isn't one of them. It lumbers and drools like a half tranquilized animal. If anything, it's a case study on what NOT to do with your adaptation. A wise person once said: "If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning." Consider yourself warned.

Real Deal Recommends:
X2: Easily the best X-men movie, and currently my favorite place to see James Marsden.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pearls Before Swine
"Houston, we have a spoiler"

I believe this is something we've all been through. You sit down to share a movie you absolutely love with some friends who have never seen it, only to find looks of confusion and disgust when the lights come up. And as your heart breaks you think to yourself, silently, as your inner child weeps: "Why? Why am I the only one?" Pearls Before Swine is a new feature meant for discussing the phenomenon.
With each new post, I will discuss a movie that I am in the minority on, be it love or hate. Sometimes it will just be movies I disagree with friends on. Sometimes it be movies that apparently I disagree with the entire North American market on. but to keep it simple, this first title will be one that strikes close to home.


Surrounded by people on all sides who'd been swearing by this movie for years, it was really only a matter of time before I saw it. I wasn't against watching it, so much as i just had no real interests. For me it was one of those movies that you always seem to catch the same twenty minutes of on UPN at 1:24 on a Saturday afternoon. But since I had nothing against the movie i sat down to it completely willing to love it- I didn't.
Here's a movie that's directed by Steven Spielberg, with music composed by John Williams, starring actors like Robin Williams, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith (the list goes on)- what a pedigree. And yet, I was unmoved. But wait, there's more! It takes the beloved classic Peter Pan and advances it beyond J.M. Barrie's conclusions- and if you don't know, I'm a sucker for artists messing with established narratives. But still, nothing.
So where did Hook go wrong for me? Quite frankly, it never really went right. It's an innovative story that was well written and executed, but in the end it just felt like two and a half hours of a 45 year-old man's naval gazing to me. I'm sure that this is exactly what it was meant to be, but apparently I'm not the intended audience then- cause I wasn't interested. For all it's posturing it felt like little more than a grown man lamenting about getting older. But not in a "at least I've gained wisdom" sort of way. More like in a "Waah, I don't wanna grow up I'm a Toys R' Us kid" sort of way.
We go back to his youth and reminisce with him. See all the friends that he had to out grow in order to have a family. His old haunts, and set pieces; all the things he used to love doing before he got tied down. Even old girlfriends that he still wonders "what if" about. It's all there. Done in beautiful metaphor mind you, but there none the less. And I think we've just outlined the essence of Hook: Peter Pan as a metaphor for mid-life crisis. The story is innovative, the metaphor is beautifully disguised, but in the end it is what it is.
Production wise I think the movie offers all that it can. I spent most of my time with it trying to ignore that the entire thing was probably shot on a sound stage- not that there's anything wrong with that per say. I just feel as though the set design could have used a little more, for lack of a better word, umph. The C.G. elements are quality for 1991, and the plot unfolds with little more than a few pacing issues.
So I guess it just comes down to me then. I was simply unimpressed. I am perfectly willing to agree that the movie is uber quotable ("Ru-Fi-OOOO!") but that and a few other clever moments (plus Julia Roberts' gams) does not a great movie make. If it weren't for a spectacular performance from Dustin Hoffman ("Bad Form!") I would say there is nothing remarkable about the entire thing. Yes, Robin Williams is funny, but not in any way that you can't get from any of his other movies.
The movie is an adventure, and a decently fun one at that. So if it comes down to Hook being the pearl and me being the swine on this one- then so be it. But according to Hook debuted and grossed more than $21 million less than Spielberg's career averages for both. So maybe it's not all me? I am certainly no stranger to movies remaining beloved for the childhood memories they evoke long after childhood has ended. But that doesn't say anything to the quality of said movie- and I didn't see Hook as a child. So if your hanging on and still loving every second of this romp through neverland, more power to you. But as for me, I just don't get it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Sell the Dead

"Needs garlic."

On the eve of his execution, a convicted grave-robber recounts his odd supernatural encounters.

There are some movies that you just can't feel 100% about. For all that you might have loved about them, there's one thing that takes away from the over all experience- much like how I felt about Law Abiding Citizen. This is a case of the exact opposite; for all that your unimpressed with about the movie there's that one thing that really works- and keeps you from being able to completely hate it. And that one thing for I Sell the Dead is the cinematography.

I harbor no illusions about being a trail blazer on this subject, considering it won a Vision Award for that very same thing, but still- I call 'em lik I see 'em. And this one deserves the call. The scenes transfer are at least interesting, and at most beautifully done. I watched sequences like the the telling of Cornelius Murphy's upbringing with a smile on my face. But as enjoyable as this one attribute may be, it couldn't save the rest of the film.

If the cinematogrophy was moist and tender, the rest of this movie was dry as a mouthful of sand. Aside from two mostly enjoyable leads (Dominic Managhan as Aurthor and Larry Fessenden as Willie) the cast stirred no real emotions in me. Characters it seems like I was supposed to be interested in died without so much as a batted eyelash- and most of the ones that lived were utterly ignorable. Ron Perlman's performance feels as though he'd read the script the first day of shooting, but then again, listening to him struggle with an (on again, off again) Irish accent was so entertaining it of makes up for it.

Even with all this, the real let down is the story. The premise is incredibly interesting but not much is done with it. This movie is the spiritual successor to a short film called The Resurrection Apprentice, which I admit I have never seen. But after finishing I Sell the Dead I must say it can't have been to much of an expansion as it still felt like a short story rather than a novel. I find myself wishing the story itself had been undertaken with as much flare as the cinematography. As it is it feels as though it was shot as a series of shorts and then sewn together.

The remarkable is out weighed by the completely unremarkable in this cleverly inspired but drably executed comedy. Believe me, it's no more fun for me to say than it is for you to hear, but the truth is the truth. I'd say it's worth a viewing anyway; maybe you'll disagree and have a wonderful time with it. It could be I'm being too hard on the poor movie but- oh well. If I am than I'm too hard on every movie, and am therefore being fare.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Lost: The first and second (A.K.A. the Good) seasons with Dominic as Charlie.

Hellboy: Ron Perlman at his best, minus as the narrator from the Fallout series.

Alas I've not seen Larry Fessenden in a major role in any other movies. I looked him up on IMDB and apparently he's in The Brave One, which I don't remember him in. And even if I did, I would never recommend that movie to anyone.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

"It's a little bit funny, yes."

A reporter in search of a story he can use to validate himself stumbles across a man claiming to be a member of a secret military group of mental warriors, and who is obviously less then sane. But, as he follows the man on his latest "mission", the reporter finds that the man proves stranger and stranger- and more and more interesting.

Shortly after I saw the spectacular film Good Night, and Good Luck it came to my attention that the man who co-wrote it also played the comic relief character Arpid in The Scorpion King (if you don't know why that's funny I can't explain it). It was at this point that I decided Grant Heslov was someone worth watching. And his most recent directorial release The Men Who Stare at Goats proves my claim. It also suggests that he may have a thing for unusually long titles.
With a cast of heavy hitters this movie must be a bit intimidating to anyone looking to dismiss it out of the gate. All big names are in their proven comedy elements: Bridges is the chemically altered philosopher, Spacey is the smug antagonist, and McGregor is the hilariously uninformed straight man. I've said for a while that George Clooney only has two modes: the "Cool Guy", and the "Quirky Cool Guy". With This role he shows his acting chops and stretches himself into a new realm: the "Zany Cool Guy". Along with all that sarcasm must come praise however- because it works.
We are introduced to Lyn Cassidy (Clooney) and immediately let in on the secret that he might be off his rocker. As the movie progresses we become more and more sure of this and one more fact: what he's saying makes sense. The entire story unfolds on one lynch pin thought process: "Just because I'm crazy, doesn't mean I'm wrong." The words Cassidy uses to explain how he sees the world may sound silly, but by the end you agree that they're also accurate.
Nearly every comedic nugget in this movie comes from that dark, mysterious land called irony. You laugh because it's so odd and because it sounds just about right. At one point two sets of rival private security companies (that's mercenaries in layman's terms) have a shoot out on a crowded city street- each believing the other to be terrorists who fired first, and you laugh because it's ridiculous- and because it's uncomfortably believable. Maybe that's the term I'm looking for here. The Men Who Stare at Goats is both hilariously out there, and uncomfortably believable.
Although the talkative pair of high school girls next to me in the theater seemed to feel otherwise, this is a solid, enjoyable movie that left me chuckling. It is full of, at times Cohen-esque, humor and strangely emotional moments that go as quickly as they come. I enjoyed it for the fact that it made me laugh but thoughtfully so, and for it's resisting the urge to conclude the story with heaps of sentiment. And conversely, I hated it for getting "More than A Feeling" stuck in my head for the rest of the weekend.
And in case your wondering: Yes. I did laugh each and every time the word "Jedi" was mentioned near McGregor. And No. I'm not ashamed that it never got old to me.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Good Night, and Good Luck: Great movie directed by Clooney and co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov.
Arlington Road: Jeff Bridges leads this mind blowing thriller that not enough people saw.
Stay: An interesting psychological drama starring Ewan "You'll Always Be Obi-Wan to Me" McGregor.
The Scorpion King: Because then you'll think it's funny too.