Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Ugly truth

"Ah... Flashback humor."

Serial single Abby despises Mike. She hates everything about him, especially his opinions on men, women, and love. But when Abby meets the man of her dreams, she is willing to do anything to get him- even take Mike's advice. But as Mike tooters her, Abby gets to know him and starts to find that he, and her dreams, aren't all their cracked up to be.

People (i.e. women) often accuse me of being anti-romantic comedy. I'm pretty sure there are two reasons they do this. First, because I'm a man- which I really can't argue with. And second, because I roll my eyes whenever someone mentions watching one. Now that second one might sound iron clad, but let me explain.

You see, romantic comedies are only as good as their ability to warm the viewer's heart. And most of this genre's viewer's hearts will only be warmed by a happily ever after. This presents a problem, since your average viewer will also be bored by a "boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl" story (though as long as it's well told I don't see the problem). So, a long long time ago one writer decided that the only way to meet both criteria was to add in, between "boy woos girl" and "boy gets girl", a fourth section in entitled "boy royally pisses girl off".

Here some sort of misunderstanding leads to one of the main characters leaving. This ramps up the drama and allows for a "running after you" scene that can then lead directly to "boy gets girl". And there you have it, the formula used to bang out 99.99% of today's romantic comedies. And this is where I roll my eyes.

I am sick to death of this formula. Sure, as time went by they kept finding ways to mask the numbers. And as with any rule there are a few (usually interesting) exceptions. But for the most part, if you've seen one you've seen them all.

Which brings us to The Ugly Truth. This movie plays like a romantic comedy Chimera. I found myself entertained by a great many of it's situations, but each time I did I also found myself thinking of four or five other romantic comedies that had entertained me with the same one. I will say this: if The Ugly Truth is just a conglomeration of other romantic comedies, then they must have been rather funny.

And I wish it ended there dear reader- but it doesn't. This movie has a run-time of 97 minutes and the above applies only to the first 82. Remember the third part of the formula, "boy royally pisses girl off"? Well they've switched the genders but it's still present, and starting there this movie goes from delightful rehashing to just plain stale. The climax and finale to this movie were so contrived I very nearly booed at the screen. At least that would have been entertaining.

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler have entertained me across so many genres, this being one of them. So I was excited when I heard they were coming together, and I'm not willing to say my hopes were totally dashed. Most of this movie is utterly enjoyable (if unoriginal), unfortunately the parts that aren't are the scenes your left with when the lights come up. Save for a couple of cute lines there in, the ending to this movie was worthless to me. The Ugly Truth had me at hello, but lost me at goodbye.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Knocked Up: For a hilarious and sweet romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl.

P.S. I Love You: For a heartfelt romance with Gerard Butler.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top Five: Favorite Fight Scenes
Spoiler Warning!!
As long as there have been movie's there have been fight scenes. But where two burly men throwing a few punches used to be enough, it takes extensive choreography to impress today's audiences. Luckily we have minds up to the challenge.

5.) King Kong: Kong vs. The V-Rex pack
It's the brutality and the scale of this fight that brought it to mind when I was making this list, but it was that beautifully line less moment with Anne towards the end that got it a slot. My apologies for having no clip to offer, I couldn't find an un-altered one.

4.) Equilibrium: John Preston vs. Dupont
I tend to shy away from gun fights. I prefer more elegant weapons, from a more civilized age. But since, in my opinion, this movie elevated the bar on gun play, it's only fitting that it would out do it's brethren and make it all the way to slot #4.

3.) Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix: Dumbledore vs. Lord Voldemort
I had waited through countless movies, my hopes always being met with pure disappointment. Who would have guessed that Harry Potter of all movies, would succeed where Lord of the Rings and so many others failed. This is what a battle between two wizards should look like.

2.) Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith: Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi
First, they were the Chosen One, and the Skeptic. Then they were Teacher and Student. As a mutual respect grew the became friends. As times grew dark they became brothers in arms - and then simply brothers. But in the final hour- they were none of these. The two men who had been everything to one another were now ,simply, a Jedi and a Sith.

1.) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Yu Shu Lien vs. Jen Yu
Yu Shu Lien has found herself in the presence of a spoiled brat in desperate need of a spanking. The one problem: the spoiled brat has trained her self from a manual created by some of the greatest fighters in history, and is in possession of a nigh unbreakable sword.
The coolest thing about this scene to me is how telling it is of Yu Shu Lien's character. Throughout this movie we are shown time and again her sensitivity and gentleness. But I think it's here that were are truly shown the flip side. Gentle and sensitive she may be- but do you notice how she pulls weapon after weapon from the racks that line the walls? Each one is a different tool requiring mastery of different technique- and she is deadly with them all. Well... all but one.
And it doesn't hurt that it's fought by two beautiful women.

Honorable mention goes to:
Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace: Darth Maul vs. Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It was hard leaving this scene off. Anyone who knows me knows it is near and dear to me. I had originally had it tied
for second place, but in the end I felt that the emotions
backing Episode III's scenes ran much higher. As the finale and a more personal battle- I felt it was the better choice. Darth Maul if your out there... I'm thinking of you.

R.I.P Darth Maul 1999-1999

All videos courtesy of youtube.com. Special thanks to the posters:
Hammertime, picscrazy, L30x, SpellTube
All Movie clips are used simply for entertainment purposes. I own nothing.
All rights to Star Wars reserved to Lucasfilms.
Please don't sue me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Hurt Locker

"You just can't switch off can you?"

A three man bomb disposal unit for the U.S. Army struggles to come to grips with a new leader, the impending end of their tour in Baghdad, and the strain that comes of knowing that nearly every citizen is a potential trigger-man for the bombs they disarm.

What do the movies Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker, The Weight of Water, and Blue Steel all have in common, my personal tastes aside? Each had a sense of dry intensity that permeated even the "relaxed scenes", each had an oddly poignant sense of life and death, and each was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. So it's no wonder she's the director behind The Hurt Locker- a movie that not only delivers enough intensity and stress to make you crush your soda bottle, but tells the story of three men who's job is eat, sleep, and breath it.

The movie operates off the same principals that make the bombs there-in so terrifying: You have know idea when or where one might go off, but you know that when it happens it will be petrifyingly big, and perfectly deadly. And after a nearly eight minute opening sequence designed specifically to teach you these two things, that tension is perpetuated throughout nearly all of the remaining hour and twenty-three minutes.

The handsome duo of Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty play Sgt. Sanborn and Spec. Eltridge, two-thirds of the bomb disposal team. They play there parts to perfection. Remember the chemistry these two shared in their scenes in We Are Marshall? Well multiply that by 10 and you have their chemistry in The Hurt Locker. The third man, and new team leader in the unit is played by the unstoppably good looking Jeremy Renner who, like the rest of this movie, deserves every ounce of praise he's been receiving. At times his character plays a Training Day-esque game of keeping the audience (and his subordinates) guessing at whether he's the hero or the villain. Together these three are an amazing ensemble that takes an already incredible movie to the brink. These are three faces I am glad to see getting the spotlight, and that I will definitely be keeping an eye out for in the future.

One of the things that I really liked about this movie was it's lack of political charge. For every "good" character just trying to do their job and go home, there was a "bad" one out to abuse their position or impose their own will. Rather than focus on the political ramifications of the war, writer Mark Boal chose to look at the personal ramifications for three men who are fighting in it. Which makes the story so much more compelling.

There were two things about direction choices of this movie that had caught my eye as odd. These would be the closest things I have to complaints. But upon sitting down to write this review I could barely remember what they were- that says something. In a movie that aims to be a dose of anxiety from beginning to end, there was only one scene that I felt was predictable- and it was still gripping to watch.

This movie is an experience for the big screen, but even if you have to wait for the DVD make sure you see it. The Hurt Locker is for sure in my top five favorites of the year, and easily in the running for top three. A truly spectacular movie.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Jarhead: for another great military movie with Brian Geraghty that chooses the personal over the political.

Million Dollar Baby: for a beautiful told story and a stand out performance from Anthony Mackie.

28 Weeks Later: For another bloody U.K. adventure and more Jeremy Renner.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

"The boys pheromone levels suggest he wants to mate with the female."

In his sixth year at hogwarts Dumbledore pulls Harry aside yet again to see to a special task. This time he is to uncover the missing portion of a tampered with memory, and in doing so comes across a mysterious book belonging to someone who calls them self the half-blood prince.

I am not a Harry Potter fan. I tried to read the books when they were still new but they simply didn't draw me in. That said, having as many friends as I do that are avid followers, I've seen all of the movies thus far. I didn't mind Prisoner of Azkaban, but Order of the Phoenix was the first one I truly enjoyed (and yes, I have noticed that Gary Oldman is the common thread there). As number 5 of 8 movies, I was hoping that the series would be compelling from there on out. Then I saw The Half-Blood Prince...

There have been a few complaints on my part that have run the entire length of the Potter movie series. I guess that just makes it my good fortune that this, the first installment released since the birth of The Reel Deal, is still making the same mistakes. Would you like to here what they are? I thought so.

1.) Daniel Radcliffe is, at best, a mediocre actor. And seeing as he plays the main character, the entire movie suffers at his hand. I guess that's what you get when you choose a child actor for the lead in a decade long project based on how much he looks like an illustration.

2.) Dumbledore, played now by Michael Gambone, needs more screen time. I think how little of this character's personal story is shared is a squandered opportunity. Or maybe it's not even so much about amount as it is about focus. One of the strongest points of the original Star Wars episodes was the amount of interest generated in Obi-Wan, even as a character who doesn't see the three quarter mark of the first film (fourth episode). Dumbledore's wisdom should be more of a touchstone. He's one of few characters, if not the only character, who saw everything unfold- what happened before Harry, and what's happening now with Harry. He is the bridge that connects the lore to the ongoing story- and I think that his underdevelopment in the films shines through more than ever in this chapter.

3.) Steve Kloves, writer of all but one of the Potter screenplays, seems to have an affinity for including plot points from the book without including the story lines that support them. Now I'm all for putting in little gems for those who follow the source material to notice and smile at- such as the cameo of Jubilee in X-men, or the appearance of the news vendor and boy reading "Tales of the Black Freighter" in Watchmen, but what's important about these things is that they were not plot points in their respective movies. You didn't need to catch and understand them to follow what was being shown to you in the rest of the scene. There were moments where, had I not had my favorite Harry Potter fan with me to explain, I would have been lost to certain things happening on the screen. That goes beyond fan pleasing- that's just bad writing.

Hmmm, I've decided that other complaint shouldn't be listed as a chronic complaint because this is the first movie where it's bothered me. I know that the saga's heroes are getting older. It's their Jr. year in "High school" and hormones are racing- but the troubled young love angle, while interesting, ran annoyingly long for me. There's only so much weeping I can take over High school love, especially when most of us old enough to be done with High school know it doesn't matter in the end anyhow. And no it's not just jealousy as Emma Watson gets closer and closer to full fledged "hottie" status in real life.

But this shouldn't be a bash-fest. This time out we again have some very strong scenes mixed in to reinforce the weak. The scenes between Jim Broadbent as Slughorn and Frank Dillane as a teen-aged Tom Riddle were utterly enthralling to me. And of course, Dumbledore gets a huge boost in screen time this go-around, though I fear it may be too little too late.

You see, The Half-Blood Prince isn't a bad movie, I just found myself constantly wanting to turn and re-focus the camera throughout the scenes. The movies points of interests more often than not didn't mesh with my points of interests when it came to the characters and events, and it's the movies burden to make it's points of interest my points of interest. Instead, while being shown one thing I would find myself thinking: "I wonder what's going on over there..."

The Harry Potter films always have their high points. It's just that they are sprinkled in among films that tend to run at two hours and change. That's a long wait between interesting moments for your average uninvested movie goer. Though for true fans I'm sure it's barely a wait at all. I mean let's face it, they've already been waiting eight years for this series to finish. And from the looks of the opening weekend box office for their newest adventure, they'll have no problem waiting two more.

P.s. Do you know what screenplay was the only one Kloves didn't write? That's right dear reader, it was Order of the Phoenix, the only Potter movie I truly liked. Coincidence or lesson for the kiddies? You make the call...

Reel Deal Recommends:

Well if you saw this one you've probably already seen all the movies I could recommend for most of this cast.

Hot Fuzz: For a hilarious romp featuring Jim Broadbent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Momma always said: Best to be on time, but better late than never.

Instant Cassette
Where in the Reel Deal gives abridged reviews of movies and series recently released on DVD.

Today's episodes: Revolutionary Road, The Savages, and Fan Boys.

Revolutionary Road
I have said of the movie Closer, that it's most stunning quality is how well the break ups are written.  In truth the entire movie is a bad break up and exist as such so authentically (read brutally) that it almost makes you call your ex and apologize.  Such is the way of Revolutionary Road.  Anyone who's ever stayed in a relationship after it's gone sour will feel the arguments (and the silences) like a punch in the stomach.  And the scenes are so amazingly acted that it's hard to believe Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet don't really resent each other.  Even with all that heat, however, the movie plays in a very somber tone.  And something about those two features mixed together fits this tale of two people lost in a world of conformity perfectly.    
Every character in the movie is written in a way that simultaneously garners them disdain and sympathy from the audience at the same time- which adds even more to the realism of how the situations unfold.  The ease of relating is sometimes heartbreaking,  and the ending finds as much resolution as it can without breaking the mood of self imposed helplessness, and the sense that every home may have been as perfect on the outside and embroiled in turmoil on the inside as the Wheeler's.
In short:  This is not one of those times where all the buzz is just praise to the names on the poster.  Revolutionary Road is an exceedingly well done film.

Queue It or Don't Do It?
Well if that last sentence didn't bring it all together for you I'll lay it out there:  QUEUE IT.

The Savages
Though the main characters are a brother and sister well into their lives, this movie plays i like a coming of age film.  Especially for Laura Linney who plays the sister, and does an amazing job at it- as always.  I would also like to take this moment to mention that I have yet to EVER see Philip Seymour Hoffman give a bad performance, which is pretty amazing seeing as I've seen him play everything from the funny fat friend to one of the coldest, hardest villains this side of a certain wheezing sith lord who shall remain nameless.  This movie was written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, who also wrote and directed Slums of Beverly Hills, another movie with a well written, off beat family dynamic. 
This movie is the simplest kind of heart warming, which makes it feel so good to take in.  I picked it without any prior knowledge of it's existence.  I was simply browsing, saw those three names in the credits and thought: "Hmmm, can't be all bad."  It seems I was right.  The Savages comes out of the gate with no tricks up its sleeve,  if your looking for something flashy look elsewhere.  But if your looking for a film that delivers a poignant and personal story on nothing but the basics, you just found it.
Queue it,  most definitely queue it.

I had seen previews for Fan Boys before it came out and thought it would be at least worth a try, but when it's release was so limited that I didn't even know it had happened- I went on about my life and never gave it a second thought.  But even when the wonder that is On-Demand brought it back to my attention- I had second thoughts.  After picking movie after movie over it, Watcher X threw it on as a late night distraction... and we were utterly pleased.  
But really before anything else I wanna make it clear:  though it has moments that any general audience can enjoy, this movie was most obviously made for Star Wars fans, by Star Wars fans.  The more you enjoy and know about Star Wars, the funnier you'll think this move is.  And I guess this is the part where I mention that I thought it was HILARIOUS.
The main characters are played by young faces you'll most definitely know from somewhere else, and each one brings something needed to the ensemble.  But in the end, the best part of this movie is the story piece that got left out of all the previews.  Though it's an under laying piece of the entire adventure, it shines through the most in the last ten or fifteen minutes, and bumps the movie up from simply funny to truly enjoyable.
As if that weren't enough, expect cameo's through out the entire thing from Star Wars cast members, Hollywood's fans there of... and one more.  And as a strange aside, I'll mention that Seth Rogen randomly plays three different roles in this movie- I just thought you should know.   Queue it and be ready for more than you bargained for.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blood: The Last Vampire

"Do you know what this means? It means that this - THING- doesn't work at all!"
Young woman is inserted into a high school on a military base to deal with strange murders that are occurring there.

I have never been a huge fan of Anime. But it is my opinion with all forms of art, that no matter how much you may not like the mass majority, there is always at least one thing you can find to like. And so it was that the original short film Blood: The Last Vampire became one of the first Animes I ever saw, and one of the few I really like.
Flash forward nearly a decade, and imagine my surprise when I hear they are making a live action adaptation for the big screen. Now I knew the risks going in, but sometimes you just have to see for yourself- even if your seeing a train wreck. And now, having seen for myself, I must say I was very relieved. I had been afraid the change over would mutilate the character and story I had come to love in Blood, but now I know they are both safe- since this movie has little to do with either of them.
Gone is the mystery of the lead character, and with it the mystery that swirls about the story. It's no wonder then that they completely ditched the "leave the audience in mostly darkness until the end" approach. It built intensity in the original, but would have been lost here. I could go on and on really, but with each lost virtue I point out in this movie I am further disappointed by all the squandered potential there in. I'll just save myself sometime here and put it like this: Aside from the title, the only things Blood: The Last Vampire shares with the original are two sequences and a high school uniform.
One of those sequences, I might add, culminates in the pivotal moments of the Anime. However, all it's meaning and intrigue are completely lost when put in the context the screen play creates for it. Instead of being the moment where the viewer looks on and thinks: "Wow, I wonder what she's thinking? I wonder what this means?" I found myself thinking instead: "What the F is this and why is it in here?"
Comparisons aside this movie is terrible. Parts of it reminded me of seeing Mortal Kombat live as an early teen... Yeah, it was that bad. The special effects are unimpressive, the fight scenes make obvious and terrible efforts to emulate 300's unique style, and the story and characters play like the writer sat down with Grandpa Cinema's Big Book of Cliches and set about flipping through the pages and circling the one's he liked in red pen like a giddy girl with a bridal magazine.
Oddly enough the first thing I thought of when I finished this movie was 2005's Constantine. Coming out of the theater when I first saw it I found myself wondering if it's screenplay hadn't been written as it's own complete entity, then given an established properties name to draw audiences. It was the same as I walked solemnly from the theater yesterday afternoon. But let's not get confused here, that's where the similarities end. True to the cannon or no, Constantine is a spectacular movie that was criminally under seen. Blood: The Last Vampire is an obvious money grab, that will probably have fans (at least American ones) in an up roar.

Reel Deal Reccomends
Blood: The Last Vampire: Yup, the original anime- like you didn't see that coming.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

"No toon can resist the old 'shave and a hair-cut' trick."
The collective memoirs of a family trying to cope with their eldest daughters impending death of cancer, set against the back drop of a court case filed against the family by the youngest daughter- who's was conceived as a donor but no longer wants the role.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you know a certain thing is expected of you? And the more and more people look to you to do this certain thing, the more you are unwilling to? If only because it was so blatantly expected of you? That's how I felt sitting in the theater watching My Sister's Keeper. The thing they were expecting of me? Tears.
Through this whole movie I got the sense that the entire crew was out to get me all choked up. Now you might be saying to yourself: "But that's fair right? Romantic comedies are out to make you feel romantic while laughing? Dramas are out to make you feel dramatic? What's the problem?" But here I would have to disagree with you person I've created for the purposes of this review. See I think a great movie with a great story's only goal is to tell that story well. If it is a truly great story, then your reaction will come on it's own. See the difference?
I think that a good example of this is the amount of montages. Director Nick Cassavetes (who also directed the Notebook, another movie where got the same feeling) apparently has become another convert to the montage mantra: The belief that for every half hour of run time, there is to be at least one montage. Also known as the Baywatch rule. With a run time of nearly two hours, you can see where I'm going with this.
Two things that rose above this din of posturing, however, were the performances from Jason Patric, as Brian Fitzgerald- and Sofia Vassilieva as Kate Fitzgerald. Playing the Father of the family, Patric easily could have filled every scene with hot emotion- but instead played them all with worn down understatement. This choice bound me to the character, and drew me into a movie that otherwise didn't have much going for it. Sofia Vassilieva, as a character who's been facing her own death almost her entire life- runs the emotional gauntlet, but is always believable. Beyond these the performance were all very good, but felt a bit labored.
I think this movie will feel just right to anyone who loved movies like, well, The Notebook to be completely honest. But I think other viewers will find it comes up just a bit short for their taste. As for me, my tears stayed safe in their ducts.

Reel Deal Reccomends:
NARC: For a riveting performance out of Jason Patric.
???: Sofia Vassilieva has done most of her work on t.v. and apparently below my radar. Let me know your faves of hers!