Friday, August 28, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

"Play it straight, or there's no doubt, I'll turn your eyeballs inside out. "

After losing their entire unit to an enemy force wielding never before scene technology, to servicemen join an elite Black Ops team in hopes of payback.

I tried to stay away (I really did!), but the five dollar theater and curiosity conspired to bring me down. And as the Black Eyed Peas song "Boom Boom Pow" played over the end credits a thought occurred to me: It was more than a your usual pop music tie in -it was a plot synopsis.

Anyone who's ever been a fan of something that gets made into a movie has been guilty of it at some point, and anyone who's read my review of Revenge of the Fallen knows I'm no exception. We fall victim to hope. We let our love of the original form make us cling to anything salvageable in what is usually a flawed adaptation.

And being a child of the eighties, you'd think that's what I'm about to go on about, but that wasn't really the case here. You see G.I. Joe isn't actually a take one the cartoon I knew and loved. It's actually based on the series that followed more than a

decade later- G.I. Joe: Sigma Six. So really I was broken hearted long before the movie even came out. Like I would have been had they called the movie Transformers but based it off of Beast Wars.

This discrepancy allowed me to go into the theater clear headed, and judge it based on it's quality alone- and it was still terrible. There is virtually no redeeming factor to this movie. Even the CG is bad. Seriously how, in 2009 when even the low budget art-house movies can afford a strong graphics performance, does a hyped up "summer smash" like this have crappy visuals?

I hate to say it, but it appears that the Hasbro update trilogy has gone the way many trilogies do. The first installment, '07's Transformers, was a strong entry for cartoon makeovers- even if it was only a 5 or a 6 on the total movie scale. Then came it's fatally flawed sequel Revenge of the Fallen, that tried hard but in the end couldn't stand the "second viewing" test. But they saved the worst for last, by far, with this wholly ridiculous attempt.

Ahhh, but now your saying: 'He said "Virtually no redeeming factor..." and your right dear reader. You see with a movie this bad there can still be one saving grace, the "riff factor". If you can't love it, make fun of it. Watcher X and I spent the entire viewing

trashing the movie and practically choking on our snacks laughing. Hey a good time is a good time right? So for that, G.I. Joe, we salute you.

Reel Deal Recommends:

A butter knife lobotomy.

Inglorius Basterds

"I'll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back."
Nazi occupied France sees a convergence of forces dedicated to one goal: causing the Third Reich pain. Not the least of which are the Basterds, dropped behind enemy lines to sew chaos in the Nazi ranks.

Say what you want about writer/director Quentin Tarantino but, the fact of the matter is- he makes darn enjoyable movies. Do they ponder the existential? No. Do they make for interesting political discussion? No. Do they entertain the crap out of me? A thousand times YES! And Inglorius Basterds lives up to it's pedigree, and then some.

With a refreshingly generous helping of it's dialogue delivered it French or German, the inter-lingual play that sometimes occurs is enthralling, and in many places offers up a huge boost to the drama. It also adds to the overall feel of an early '40s Europe- caught up in an escalating war with countries who's borders and cultures overlapped before hand. This is an angle I that too many WWII movies don't capitalize .

Tarantino's flare for character development through conversational dialogue takes full advantage of this as-well, sometimes even using the language being spoken to help define his characters. And ohhh the characters! So many just begging to connect with! Basterds is an ensemble piece through and through- even if the ensemble in question shares very little screen time.

In a film full of characters that draw the eyes and ears in deeper, there is a shining jewel, and his name is Christopher Waltz. Easily the owner of every scene he's in, Waltz, a new blip on my radar as he was a German TV actor for most of his career, plays Col. Hans Landa to perfection- forcing me to love hating him with every inch of my popcorn laden heart. The Best performance of the year so far hands down.

But with all this praise comes a complaint, or better still- a warning: it would be in his best interest for Quentin Tarantino to be mindful of how many like "themes" (scenarios, cast members, etc.) he brings from one film to another. It would be a horrible waste to see him fall completely into the same "recycle-reduce-re-use" trap some other directors can't seem to find their way out of. Using the same casts, composers, and color palettes in nearly every movie is not, in my opinion, quality cinema... Tim Burton, I'm looking in your direction.

This movie may be hyped to the gills, but this is one of those rare times when it's actually deserved. What's that rap lyric? "It ain't stuntin' if you got it"? Well I'm sure Basterds won't be for everyone, but it certainly has "got it."

Reel Deal Recommends:

Pulp Fiction: Really what else could I have recommended?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

"You are the inescapable result of your tragedy, just as I am the inescapable result of you."

A man with a condition that makes him shift back and forth through time meets a woman who claims she's known him all her life- even though his never seen her before.

If you ask someone who's not a fan of the genre what science fiction is, they'll probably give you one of two examples: either Star Wars, or Star Trek. And most of the movies Hollywood puts out only exacerbate this idea that sci-fi has to have spaceships and bad actors making out with blue women.

But every once in a while a movie comes around that defies the old standard. Open Your Eyes (or it's English language counter-part Vanilla Sky) is the first example that comes to mind. A movie that most people will watch and never realize they were watching science fiction. Like all good entries to the genre, what makes these movies work is subtlety. And this is where the The Time Traveler's Wife really shines. Subtlety not only in the effect used for Henry's time jumps, but also in the way they effect his and Clare's life.

When you love someone who has a condition, whatever it may be, it becomes a casual part of your life together. An epileptic having a petite Mal mid conversation. A mother changing the line on her diabetic son's insulin pump. A husband who has fits that push

him through time. This movie spends focus on evaluating Henry's condition sparingly, opting instead to spend it exploring how it effects his life and relationships, which are beautifully acted.

Gorgeous Eric Bana and the beautiful Rachel McAdams are enthralling as Henry and Clare. What really pops is not the fire and passion, but that they play weather worn live so well. Their chemistry lays in the fact that their romance feels like it's been through the wringer and made it to the other side; scarred, but still standing. In short, they feel married.

When I left the theater after the show I was convinced I hadn't liked The Time Traveler's Wife, maybe because I had been looking for that fiery romance we're usually sold at the box office. But by the end of the day I was singing it's praises to everyone I could find. This movie is well worth the price of admission in my opinion, but I know some people will be put off by the science fiction plot point. To them I suggest they watch it for the touching love story. Heck at the very least- go watch it to see Bana and McAdam's butts.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Munich: For an amazing drama with Eric Bana in the lead.

The Family Stone: For Rachel McAdams and a touching Dramedy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

District 9

"Don't you think that's worth a Nobel Prize or two?"
Two aliens, among thousands made to live in slums for over twenty years, strike an uneasy bargain with a man they aren't sure is an Allie.

Take a moment and think back all the way to Monday afternoon. Do you remember my chief complaint about Funny People? Well, my feeling on District 9 is the exact opposite. It left me craving further exploration if it's world, but I mean left me craving in a good way. And as much as I could have gone for more, it's 112 min. run time was kind of refreshing.

Directed and Co-written by Neil Blomkamp (with Terri Tatchell) District 9 was developed as a spiritual successor to his six and a half minute short entitled Alive in Joburg. I have seen the short, and I think District 9 is a beautiful evolution of it's core mechanics. There is a focus put on action in Joburg, and following in that vein District 9 can feel very action driven at times, but not so much that it relinquishes all control over the story to it- like some other movies that I will not name because I don't want to embarrass I, Robot.

Sharlto Copely makes his feature length debut as the ever awkward Wikus Van De Merwe, and does so with a very natural feel. Van De Merwe is a dynamic character, and Copely makes his progression very accessible with his unpolished portrayal. And I must say that the two main Prawn characters translate beautifully as just that- characters. I felt for their plight and connected with their relationship. The characters in this movie- C.G. or no -are striking, and I feel that anyone who approaches them with an open mind will agree will find themselves quite invested.

Honestly, I would love to say more about this film but would be hard pressed to do so and not feel like I was spoiling. The premise is intriguing, the characters are rich, the social commentary is well executed, and I am very pleased.

Watcher X says: "I didn't like how they treated them."

Reel Deal Recommends:

Alive in Joburg: Watching it again now that I've seen District 9, it so perfectly feels like the ambitious seed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Funny People

"Oh, it's twue- it's twue!"

A famous comedian turned movie star finds out he's dying, comes to terms with it, and then is miraculously heeled. Unfortunately, his new lease on life doesn't heal so well.

There's only one unforgivable transgression committed by Judd Apatow's newest movie, and it's one that, given how delayed I was in putting up this review, you've probably heard from other reviewers already. Funny People is two hours of lovable and hate-able characters wrapped up in an interestingly told and oddly affecting story- unfortunately, it's two and a half hours long.

I am not a person to be put off by hefty runtimes, IF said runtime is justified. Some stories just can't be told in 120, or even 150, minutes. But when you watch those stories, the time passes unnoticed. Given an editing suite you wouldn't know where to cut- because it all feels relevant.

Not so with Funny People. Here I would have no trouble finding the perfect birth for my scissors. I would start with the "roommates". I find Jonah Hill and Jason Schwatzman very funny when they're in their element- this movie being a perfect example of their element- but funny or no, they aren't necessary to tell the story. So as I was laughing, I found myself thinking: 'What does this have to do with the plot?' You can get away with that in a movie like Anchorman, where the sole goal is to make the audience laugh. But Funny People had a story to tell.

That story is where the real genius starts to show. It's an interesting and well total story- but that's not it. The genius is in George Simmons, Adam Sandlers character. Simmons' name is fake, and his movies are either lampoonings of Sandler's films or believably terrible story ideas, but everything else about George Simmons is real. Clips of him as a young man are actually real footage of Sandler's early career. All of his celebrity friends are actual celebrities, names and careers unchanged. He is a creation fashioned completely from reality, and it adds a depth to Simmons that is hard to resist.

Leslie Mann turns in that same enjoyable performance we've come to know and fantasize about... And Seth Rogen conjures a truly love-able character in Ira Wright. Along with an at times labored performance from Eric Bana (though it is really nice to hear his real accent), the core of this movie is an entertaining and occasionally touching romp. Unfortunately, you have to sit through a lot of extras to get it.

Reel Deal Recommends:

Spanglish: For a touching Adam Sandler dramedy.

Knocked Up: For a team-up between Apatow and Rogen.

Rushmore: For a quirky and hilarious Jason Schwartzman.

Accepted: For Jonah Hill hilarity.

Troy: For a bit better Bana, and more buff Bana body.

The Cable Guy: For Leslie Mann, though like a fine wine she got better with age. Ignore the reviews, it's funny.

I mentioned too many people in this review.