Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
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!
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?
Happy Holidays if I don't see you before then!
Monday, December 21, 2009
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
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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.
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
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.