Thursday, July 15, 2010

Playing Catch Up! The Last Air Bender

In a world where certain people are gifted with the ability to control single elements- one boy may have the power to control them all and so end a war.

Growing up my family had a dog named Lisa. As a puppy, Lisa was fascinated with the stove. Being a dog she didn't really register it the way we do- as a source of heat with which to do many things. She saw- or rather smelled- it as a source of fantastic treats that she never seemed to get. No matter how much we shooed and scolded and attempted to get her to understand how dangerous the stove and the oven within it were, we couldn't change her mind. So when she got old enough, big enough, and bold enough- it was really only a matter of time until something had to give.

One Sunday morning my mom was busy preparing breakfast as she often did on weekends. Lisa, as always, was watching from the doorway (we'd eventually banned her from the kitchen altogether). As she'd done countless times before my mother, at the behest of a dinging timer, pulled a pan of freshly baked bacon from the oven and set it on the stove. Now, this next part nobody saw but we can assume it happened something like this: My mother turned her back to get done a plate to serve the bacon out of the pantry, and Lisa saw her chance. She bolted in, and attempted lick up a burning hot piece of bacon from the hot metal pan and the superheated grease it was covered in.

To this day my family calls it "The Yelp Heard 'Round the World." My brother and I came racing from opposite ends of the house to find my mother stroking the Lisa's back while she steadily drained her water dish. Once we saw that she was fine, worry soon gave way to laughter. As horrible as it may sound, the episode became just one of many fond memories we all share of that pup. Within a few minutes Lisa was back to normal, but throughout the rest of her long happy life, she never so much as glanced at the stove again.

The moral of this story is a simple one: It only took once for my dog to realize something she should never do again. How many times do the movie studios have to be burned before they stop letting M. Night Shyamalan write, produce, and direct his own movies?

The Last Air Bender is a perfect example of what happens when great ideas end up in the wholly wrong hands. From the zombie-esque performances of the three leads, to the downright terrible writing ("We'll show them that we believe in our beliefs just as much as they believe in theirs.") to the fact that water doesn't seem to soak nor fire burn, Shyamalan has now proven that he can not only poorly execute his own ideas, but he can poorly execute other people's as well. When the costumes in your big budget summer blockbuster elicit memories of SciFi Channel originals- you know something is wrong.

When they announced a live action adaptation of the beloved cartoon, I remembered thinking to myself that it would be the easiest gig in the world to take on. The cartoon had such a loyal, diverse, and devoted following- not to mention smart construction built atop a foundation of truly awesome ideas. 'You'd have to work pretty damn hard to screw this one up.' I thought to myself. Apparently Shyamalan put in the hours. If this movie were a meal, I'd spit it out. If it were a phone call, I'd hang up. I would rather re-watch The Happening then sit through another viewing of this monument to ineptitude. Somewhere there's a movie studio steadily draining it's water dish.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Playing Catch Up! Twilight Saga: Eclipse

As tensions grow between the Cullens and the Werewolf pack, an unknown mastermind plots for all out war against both.

"...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." This was how I ended my review New Moon, the second (and previous) installment in the Twilight Saga. I had walked out of the theater impressed at such an about-face in the space of one episode. I don't care how much you may hate Twilight's approximation of Nosferatu- that's an impressive feat.

Unfortunately, Eclipse ensures that there will be no streak. It's no better than New Moon. It's no worse than New Moon. To be honest, I'm not sure it wasn't New Moon. Eclipse is the cinematic equivalent of left-over night. Despite the flash and exposition, I could not be fooled out of seeing that the movie had been running at 60 mph hour, but the overall story had only moved inches. Every major arc returns exactly where it left off and proceeds to take all the steps we saw it walk in the first two movies again.

Jacob continues to pine after Bella giving speech after speech about how he'll change her mind. Bella continues to lead him on through a series of overt actions given perfunctory explanation in hopes of keeping the audience from realizing how contrived they all are. The Cullen's chase Victoria through the woods, and we are reminded that the Volturi are bad. And of course, Bella continues to follow her man's will, defying Edward only when it comes to seeking Jacob. At one point the two of them have a conversation in which they all but decide Bella's life (and death) for her. That she's sleeping in this scene is fitting, as they talk about her as though she's not even in the room.

Director David Slade's dark accolades don't do much to save the day here. In the end, this is still a majorly bloodless vampire movie. Open discussion of the fact that the Cullen's actually do hunt (wildlife) is the closest we come to any real horror. The battle scenes are all kept chaste by the fact that the vampire's all seem to be made of solid pewter. Even the most "gruesome" "deaths" are completely bloodless.

Following the lead of Harry Potter, the Twilight movies have split their last installment, making five movies out of four books. It seems to me that they could have saved themselves the extension by combining this newest episode and the last, since the former is more a less a repeat of the latter. I say, as a fan of neither franchise, that what Twilight could really learn from Harry Potter is to attempt to craft better films- even at the cost of the higher ticket sales awarded when your willing to crank out mediocre movies while your audience is still craving more teen-titillation. It seems that Twilight is happy to thrive in the box office and languish everywhere else.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A slightly delayed review of Cyrus

"It's an endless parade of horny house wives begging for your man meat."

So let's get this out of the way right now: Marissa Tomei is beautiful. I might even venture breath taking. I have no idea why she doesn't age, but as soon as she shows up on screen I find that I don;t really care. Now that we have that out of the way- on with the review.

It would seem that Cyrus, not unlike the recently reviewed Splice, is a movie of two faces: the movie they pitch in the trailer, and the movie you see in the theater. The trailer would have you believe that this a comedy of Rushmore-esque styling, where an older and younger man compete for the affection of a woman with utterly hilarious results. The actual film is something much more emotional and touching. I say this in spite of the movies opening- which not only didn't fit the themes and style of the rest of the movie, but seems almost like it was purposefully tacked on to justify the lies the trailers were telling. Luckily it pulls up quickly. And from there pleasantly surprised over and over again.

Brothers as writing and directing teams is definitely a hit or miss dynamic. With the Duplass borthers (Jay and Mark) it's a hit. The script portrays more or less genuine characters- only pushing on the outskirts to get you to see what they are trying to say. As for the headline relationship the two use brilliant editing choices and oddly intoxicating pseudo-voice overs to massage the audience into complete and total belief of the romance unfolding on screen. Within minutes I was more enthralled with this simple couple than a hundred glittery vampire love stories. Get them invested in the relationship so they are, by extension, invested in what happens to it; sounds so simple, but it is so rarely accomplished- especially this well.

The previously swooned over Tomei turns in yet another performance full of emotion and vulnerability. Where a lesser actress would play stupid she plays cozened; where a lesser actress would play weepy she plays sullen. Her performance goes hand in hand with that of John "The C. stands for cosmopolitan" Reilly. Say what you want about the man, but he rarely plays the same character twice, and even when the movie is lack luster he gives off a an air of full devotion. Only occasionally does he resort to the abrasiveness that he's come to be known for and even then it fits.

the true stand out here is Jonah Hill, who seems to be out to show the world he is more than a jester. First he gave us a truly enjoyable performance as the straight man in Get Him to the Greek, and with Cyrus he delves into a more emotional place. What he delivers is a well done but in the end timid performance. He shows that he could indeed deliver on an emotionally charged role, but I use the word "could" because he's not given much of a chance to really engage. I saw enough to know I'm curious for more though, and that has to count for something.

Walking out of the theater I over heard a couple complaining that the movie wasn't nearly as funny as Step-brothers. I felt a little pity for them, seeing as they'd obviously missed the point. They were right, however, Cyrus is is not a comedy. It is funny in the way that life can be funny- but is more interested in being heartfelt and genuine. In this it is a complete success. Fans of Talladega Nights will surely be disappointed, but there's a an incredibly enjoyable movie waiting for anyone willing to ignore the trailers.


Reel Deal Recommends:
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: Tomei and an all-star cast.
Boogie Knights: Reilly in a much better movie than it gets credit for.
Superbad: Jonah Hill's break out role.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Karate Kid

"Sweep the leg."

A Chinese handy man agrees to teach an American boy who's become the target of bullies how to defend (and discover) himself through martial arts.

What's the only thing more unexpected than an enjoyable 80's remake? Unlike The A-Team, my knowledge of The Karate Kid is extensive and
seen through the warm fuzzy filter of a happy childhood memory. Just like The A-team, I went into The Karate Kid open to anything, but expecting very little- and came out quite surprised. So, what's the only thing more unexpected than an enjoyable 80's remake? Two in a row. But this one does much more to earn my acclaim than manage not to be bad, it seems it may very well have managed to bottle the lighting.

They would have you believe this is a whole new movie. 'The familiar is gone! This isn't just a remake, it's a reinvention!' they say. But that, my friends, is a filthy lie. Gone are Daniel and Mr. Miyagi, it's true. And a move fr
om New Jersey to California has become a one from Detroit to China. Under these very obvious changes, however, is a remake that spiritually follows the original with a nigh unheard of faithfulness. I would guess that Director Harald Zwart is a fan of the 1984 motion picture, he certainly handles the material like one.

While small the cast is strong, going out of their way to carry scenes that- in true Karate Kid fashion- are so completely full of sentiment that you wonder how they fit anything else in the frame. Of all the leads, Jackie Chan seems to be having the most fun. He plays the curmudgeon Mr. Haan so well that had I never seen him smile before, I'd probably believe that he never had. He manages to arrive at the end of the film with the audiences love deservedly heaped upon him. Conversely, Taraji Henderson is both spot-on and all but wasted, as
she is far to often. She reaps her revenge when she snaps up one of the biggest laughs of the movie.

As Dre (Daniel) Parker, Jaden Smith proves many things, one of them unfortunately being that he lacks his father's flare for comedy. Fed line after line of genuinely funny material (perhaps even at Will Smith's behest; He and mother Jada Pinkett Smith produced), Jaden struggles to deliver- shining instead in moments of high drama. That he can stand toe to toe with Henderson and hold up his end of the scene is enough to prove that. Even with out the laughs Jaden Smith proves himself here, showing his first and very impressive flashes of leading man material.

I will admit that Kung Fu is far more beautiful than Karate in my eyes, and this film only reinforces my belief. Add that to rather impressive fight choreography and you have one place I would easily choose the new over the old. But unlike Avildsen's original outing, Zwart wastes most of his beautiful martial arts on camera work that makes it all but moot. I often found myself wishing I could see what was going on but the shots given were tight and stifling, leaving me to imagine that something cool must have happened rather than actually letting me see it for myself. This alone comes up far short of what it would need to hurt the over all experience, but still- it's a lesson directors need to learn.

Something Zwart does very well, however, is balance the obvious cultural inferences of location and cast. He manages to impress upon the audience a sense of China's majesty and culture, without making the movie feel like a public service announcement, and at the same time, managing to side step pot holes full of stereo-types. In terms of race, Zwart gets the viewer to at once stare at it, and pay it no mind; no easy feat. The truth is that boiled down this is a story where a gang of Chinese kids repeatedly attacks the only black kid in the movie, just as the original pitted our dark haired, olive skinned "hero" against an Aryan main "villain". The story could easily be lost here in the wrong hands. But amid a myriad of moments reminding you that these are young men who are not devoid of conscience (just as in the original:"I'm sorry David, I'm sorry!"), Zwart keeps the focus where it belongs, (re)weaving instead a tale about the affect teachers have on their pupils, for better or for worse.

So, does the new Karate Kid work? Well, I saw it more than a week after i
t was released, early on a Sunday afternoon- and the house was still near full. In the audience were Karate kid veterans and new comers alike, all of which burst into cheers and applause at the end of that fated martial arts tournament. I will freely admit that this was easily the most uplifting movie I've seen in theaters in a long, long time- but I wouldn't pin it all on Zwart and company. I think that the success of The Karate Kid is not as much about the fine movie Zwart has crafted as it is a reflection of the universally accessible story it's built around. The same thing that made the original a classic for my generation, will very likely earn it the same treatment for this one.

The Reel Deal Recommends:
Rumble in the Bronx: A Jackie Chan must see.
Smokin' Aces: Far too little of Henderson in a great action meal.
The Pursuit of Happyness: A great victory story starring Smith Sr. and Jr.



I just thought this picture was hilarious.









Thursday, June 17, 2010

A review of the A-Team, from someone who knows next to nothing about the series.

"I love that show! ...Is that the one with the genie?"

A covert operations team searches for answers after they're convicted of a crime they didn't commit.

My entire awareness of The A-Team as a television series is having it's theme song memorized from when I was a little kid and my father would fall asleep with the T.V. on. He wasn't watching The A-Team, mind you; he was watching old Mission Impossible episodes. But after back to back burning fuses that red and black van would come roaring into view- and I would again be bored to tears. And there you have it, everything I know about The A-Team. Luckily, as a motion picture it manages to be a bit more memorable.

Through what may very well be one of the longest opening sequences in action movie history we are re/introduced to our team members: Hannibal, Face, Murdock, and B.A. Baracus- played by Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copely and Quinton Jackson, respectively. All find there way to shine -even Jackson, who's no Oscar winner but proves impressive for a U.F.C. Title-holder-turned-actor. The most interesting performance is, by far, Copely's. More important than the fact that it's highly entertaining, this role serves as elegant proof that his spectacular debut in last years hit District 9 was far from a fluke.

That the characters are the whole reason for this movie is a fact that shines like a beacon from it's first moment to the roll of the credits. No matter how over the top the action- and believe me, it's over- the people manage not to get lost in the shuffle, er, explosions. This I attribute to director Joe Carnahan, who proved with his well crafted actioner Smokin' Aces, and the dark and gritty Narc, that he's well aware action is no substitute for story- even if it's only enough story to justify the aforementioned action. The A-team manages to never come up short on booms, while still keeping us interested in the people behind them. No easy feat.

A television adaptation is tricky buisness -I think we've all seen how bad they can go (*cough* My Favorite Martian *cough*)-and while the The A-team is well done, it's far from innocent. Listening to Jackson drop 'Fool' after 'Fool' while desperately trying not to sound like Mr. T gets old very fast, though in his defence the plot takes care of that soon after. It's almost like the writers knew they couldn't get away with leaving something like that out, so they got it all out of the way right off the bat and then never looked back. Other Series throw-backs are delivered with more subtlety, and spaced across the film so as not to arouse too much suspicion, a fact I am very thankful for.

The A-team offers little to challenge the mind, it's true. But why would it? This movie is meant to be a good time, and in this it succeeds. I was in for a very big surprise when I sat down in my seat, and for what it's worth The A-Team gets my vote for best "Summer Blockbuster" yet this year... And I'd just like to mention how much I did not expect to be saying this. I have my doubts about how long it could manage to hold on to the title with so many heavy-hitters yet to hit the field, but for now it's in the lead. Whether it's short lived as king of the hill or not, The A-Team is back and, as far as I'm concerned, better than ever. But then, how could I hate it with Major Dad on the roster.

Reel Deal Recommends:
(I tried to walk away from this section but my heart just couldn't let go)
Darkman: Liam Neeson in a movie worth watching if only to have seen it.
Midnight Meat Train: Cooper and Jackson star; Oddity makes it worthy.
District 9: If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

"It kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic, Neil Diamond."

A meek record company intern is tasked with corralling an outrageous British rock star and delivering him to a show that could single-handedly make both of their careers.

By now we all know what you do when you assume... But all the same I have to admit some assumptions that I made. When I first found out about Get Him to the Greek and realized that the rock star in question was none other than Aldous Snow, the fictional mega music star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I made my first assumption: That Jason Segel wrote this movie as well. I've made no secret of my love of Segel's work, so under this assumption- my excitement piqued. Though Segel co-produced, I soon discovered that it was in fact written by Nicholas Stoller, who directed both movies. It was here, in my fan-boy-esque disappointment, that I made my second assumption: That because it was not written by Segel, it wouldn't be nearly as funny.

And that children, is why we don't assume. Though it can't come through on the same amount of poignant moments, I don't think Get Him to the Greek was ever supposed to. Stoller's goal is obvious and simple: pipe as much unadulterated Aldous Snow into the audiences face as possible, and give him a straight man side-kick to balance out the diet. This is exactly what he does- and he does it well. "Over the top" seems like a a misdiagnosis here. I would say instead that this movie was made under the assertion that there is no top.

This spiritual sequel follows in the footsteps of it's predecessor, lampooning the entertainment industry and celebrity culture. Not only does it knowingly jab at the ridiculous lives we encourage our celebrities to lead, but also how out of hand the pop music industry as grown. At one point we hear the "album version" of Infant Sorrow's track 'Let's Get Fucked', and then the radio version: 'Let's Have Fun'. These are the sort of jokes that work the best for me- and Get Him to the Greek is full of them.

As a straight man, Jonah Hill shows he still works, letting Brand and Elisabeth Moss -and in one scene my beloved Colm Meaney- dominate him, to hilarious result. While this is a chain of impressively strong links, by far the most surprising performance comes from Sean Combs (I'm sorry, I just don't think I can seriously refer to a grown man as 'Diddy'), who manages to turn what one might think is going to be a cameo into a decent (in rapper-turned-actor terms that reads: 'Oscar Worthy') and entertaining performance. The entire movie quickly becomes Jonah Hill's character in front of a firing squad, and as it turns out- all the rifleman are crack shots.

My biggest complaints come in the form of the transitions. While all of the set-pieces are hilarious, the set-ups aren't always that strong. At times you can feel the movie struggle to get to where you know it wants to be. It's kind of like a child sledding- getting back to the top of the hill can be grueling, but the pay off is worth it. The bigger the hill, the better the ride, the worse the set up. And then there's the fact the vomit money-shots still just aren't funny to me. I'm starting to feel like maybe I'm the only one... But neither of these things is enough to ruin the movie, especially since the vomit humor is pretty short-lived.

Get Him to the Greek is not a movie for everyone, this much I know. I think the simplest way to tell whether your in or out would be to think back. If you thought Aldous Snow was a hilarious secondary character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then this movie could be right up your alley. If even in the background he was still a bit much for you, or just plain wasn't funny, then I can't imagine Russel Brand sans collar and leash is something you should bother spending your money on. As for me, I laughed loud, and I laughed often. With a movie like this I think that has to be enough.

Watcher X says: "That was ridiculous... They did everything right."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Video Five!!

No, you didn't mis-read the title. The Video Five!! is an idea I've been batting around for a while now. So when the subject Impressive Eaters came around (inspired by an odd dream I had a couple weeks back) it seemed like the kind of list that was better seen in action than explained in text. And so here we are, five of my favorite gastrically talented beasties.

This is a first attempt so please, be gentle. And while I will definitely be doing more in the future, this is not a complete over haul of Five!! in general. Most will continue to come to you in the standard text/image form. But every once in a while, with a particularly apt subject...


Viewer Warning: It wasn't until I really got into making this Five!! that I realized just how much the subject lends itself to gore. While not pervasive, there are certainly a handful of gruesome images within the following video. If your the sort who lacks the intestinal fortitude for such imagery please refrain from watching, and I promise I'll make it up to you with a more universal topic in the next Video Five!! My apologies.

Honorable Mentions:
The Glutton, Se7en
While certainly a rather impressive eater, he dies in the end because he is unable to stomach his meal. Most unimpressive in my opinion.

Devastator, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Quality of the movie aside, his intake is quite impressive. However, not only does he not swallow the massive amount of sand he hoovers in (distributing it from vents in his back instead), but the one time he does actually try to "eat" something, he not only can't swallow it, but gets a hole in his face for the trouble.

So what do you think, did I miss any of your favorite buffet masters? Sadly after I completed the video I realised that I had left out one of the most impressive eaters of all, The Blob! *Sigh,nobody's perfect.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Splice

"We can keep her."

Two cutting edge geneticists attempt a final experiment before the autonomy of their lab is reascended, and knowingly open Pandora's box.

Perhaps the first thing I should write in this review is a warning: If you plan on seeing this movie but haven't yet, do not read this or any other review before doing so. Now let the review begin.

The trailers are telling you that Splice is just waiting to to be the next Alien, a horror thriller that will keep you up at night with fear of what's crawling through your air ducts. The trailers are lying to you. What your in for with Splice is a much more mental (and disturbing) experience. One that's razor sharp in every form of the word.

At it's core, Splice is a story about the appalling things we're capable of doing to those whom we deem less than human. Layered on top, is a subtly and expertly navigated exploration of at times enviable and at times dark as night family dynamics. Behind all of this is Director Vincenzo Natali, who co-wrote with Antionette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, looking every line he comes to dead on before happily crossing them. As a result Splice is a double-edged sword: the very qualities that will win it critical praise, will almost certainly cost it hearts and minds in theater.

Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody burn bright as the scientist in question, holding little back. They alone are the pieces that keep the movie together when it looses it's footing occasionally as it moves along. The entire movie is left to them to sell, even in the midst of it's longest reaches, and they come through time and time again.

The film plays like an Indy film, which is closer to what it was meant to be before it was (surprisingly) picked up for major distribution- something that Producer Guillermo del Toro had a hand in no doubt. As I said before, there is only the slightest hint of a traditional monster movie here- despite veiled references to Shelly's Frankenstein. But, on second thought, Frankenstein may be a good comparison as it too comes from a source that means only to explore the concept of humanity but gets boiled down to popcorn fair.

Unfortunately, one thing Splice has in common with it's jump-scare brethren is that it is much stronger in theory than in execution. Looking beyond the screen it's easy to see Natali's vision. It seems at times that he is too lost in it to remember to show it to us. I'm not one for having my hand held- but there are times where it feels like Natali forgot to tell us something. The info is there, it's not like the movie is broken, but at the same time it seems it would have served itself better with a little more explanation in places.

Even lacking the manufactured thriller elements in the trailers, Splice is still not a movie for the timid. The emotionally skittish need not apply, and if your not sure whether that means you- then it does. That it's a thing unlike most others goes without saying, and one can only hope that it earns enough money to tell the studios that the general public is ready for movies this smart. For all it's faults, Splice is still a beautiful, and horrible, creation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Role Call

In my ongoing quest to find more reasons to discuss long past titles, Role Call is a perfect organism. Put simply, it is a feature where I will randomly recommend a movie based on a particular actor's/actresses' part there in. These roles will rarely be said persons "best" role, if only because it seems to me that "best" roles are often pretty obviously agreed upon- and therefore no fun to recommend to people. They will simply be roles I found interesting or that stuck with me for any variety of reasons. Sounds simple right? Excellent, lets get started!

With my recent panning of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, I have found myself thinking about Russell Crowe's career, and the movie that his name always brings me back to. So for that reason, I figure what better choice for the inaugural post of Role Call.

The Role: Sid 6.7
The Reel: Virtuosity
The Reason: That Virtuosity is far from a spectacular movie goes without argument. Released in 1995 around what seemed to be the height of the low-light virtual reality buzz, it's premise is as most mid-90's sci-pop was: Complicated in explanation only.

In hopes of developing a new way to train law enforcement agents, The Law Enforcement Technology Advancement Center (yup, that's what they called it) creates a virtual world in which said agents could train against Sid 6.7, a virtual entity developed from the minds of more than 150 serial killers. While system is being beta tested on prison inmates, Sid escapes into the real world via a super powered android body. The only hope of catching him is ex-cop turned inmate Parker Barnes, who was the only inmate to ever catch him, and has his own score to settle with one of the killers inside Sid.

Sid 6.7 is certainly not Russell Crowe's best role (There are two I might choose for that honor, but I don't really feel a need to decide as he was nominated for an Oscar for both), but it's in interesting one in that it's a type of character we never really saw him play again: the over-the-top psychotic caricature. Though Sid 6.7 certainly can't hold a candle to the late Heath Ledger's Joker or even, (much) further down the scale, Wesley Snipe's Simon Phoenix from Demolition Man (a movie that Virtuosity is very reminiscent of), the role is enough to convince me that an older more experienced Crowe could take another of it's kind to the top.

Beyond Sid 6.7 Virtuosity is still a bit of a curious beast. It speaks to the time it was made in that not only is Denzel Washington's the only name to appear before the Title, Crowe's isn't even the first to come up after. This is a much different scenario then when they'd meet again in Ridley Scott's American Gangster twelve years later and theirs would be the only names on the poster. The movie is also rife with beloved B-list actors like William Forsythe, Louise Fletcher, Costas Mandylor and Willam Fichtner... Just to name a few. Most of which are looking rather baby-faced, just like Crowe and Washington.

In short, if your looking for a new favorite movie to push on all your friends, Virtuosity is not it. But if your looking for an interesting way to kill an hour and forty minutes (and win your next game of six degrees of separation) then Virtuosity is your movie. Whether it be all that, or just to pad your Russell Crowe portfolio, consider checking out Virtuosity.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Please Give

"She knew what she didn't want however, and it was exactly what Vicky valued above all else."

The grand daughters of a woman who's health is in decline make nice with the family that owns her rental.

I was impressed with the honesty of Please Give. To me it seemed full of accurate representations of the tiny scenes that play out in our lives everyday. Moment after moment hit my as accurate and uncontrived, and that in and of itself is one of the biggest compliments I can give.

Please Give was written and Directed by Nicole Holofcener, the same mind that brought us Friends With Money, and various episodes of Six Feet Under. And when I sat down to write this review I realized that just like with both the aforementioned titles, I enjoyed Please Give because of it's willingness to attempt a landing on subjects that are as common place as they are hard to define. Holofcener is not an editing visionary by any means, but she wields subtlety with skill and ease. Her dry production style is easily made up for by the delicious angles she shows us our own lives from.

Please Give is a movie that brings with it a great deal of laughs. But the laughs are born of realistic social awkwardness (did you hear that Wes Anderson? REALISTIC social awkwardness) more than delivered punchlines. An old woman sees her next door neighbor, and truthfully declares that he's gained weight since they last meant. You laugh because if you were in the situation you'd realize that you had no choice but to do just that- laugh.

Here is another place where Holofcener strikes a vital blow. Please Give is a movie that explores our need for balance in our lives. Most specifically the balances between honesty and civility. Between graciousness and the avidity we have culturally for consumption. The themes swirl like smoke through every frame, never thick enough to obscure- never thin enough to ignore.

The always enjoyable Catherine Keener leads a spectacular cast through the highs and lows, putting yet another notch on her hit-and-miss cinematic belt. She plays a woman who takes and takes, and no matter how much she gives can't seem to strike an internal balance for it. On the opposite side is the glorious Rebecca Hall, who plays a woman who can't find the strength to stop giving, and take just a little for herself for a change. Together these two comprise the backbone of the film- to the delight of all in attendance.

Even with he obnoxious laugher in our theater, this film was a treat. It suffers occasionally in the pacing department, but never enough to fully take me out of it's world. Hilarious and occasionally powerful, seemingly with no effort at all. There is not much more one could ask of a simple movie like this. Please Give deserves a Thank You.

Reel Deal Recommends
Death to Smoochy: Keener in a pitch black and hilarious comedy.
The Prestige: Where Hall first stole my heart- I will never stop recommending this movie.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Robin Hood

"Did I wrong you in another life, Will Scarlett?"

A disillusioned soldier, traveling under a false name, falls into a French plot to invade England.

When I was young, my friend and I snuck off to explore a plot of land in the process of being developed, one where my mother had expressly told me not to go. There were no buildings there, only tilled up earth and piles of sand. We didn't recognize the significance of the fact that it had just rained the night before, and we made it two jumping steps in before we realized it might have been a bad idea.

One sneaker clad foot sunk into the mud and it took all my strength to free it, which only drove the other foot deeper down. So far down in fact that another yank freed that foot, but left the shoe... Only a few moments after we'd embarked on our journey of exploration to the forbidden lands, we were returning to my house- carrying instead of wearing- our mud covered (and filled) shoes with our feet clad in socks and mud up to mid calf, and wondering how we could keep my mom from knowing. This is what came to mind as I watched Ridley Scott's re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, which unfolds in basically the same way: what you expect will be an adventure quickly becomes a quagmire of half hearted storylines, leaving you to walk home in shame- desperately trying to figure out at what point this became a bad idea.

I found myself surprised, for a movie that claimed to be the "Untold" story of Robin Hood in nearly all of it's trailers, just how much Scott's 2010 release had in common with Kevin Reynold's 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Russell Crowe is a long way from Kevin Costner I think we can all agree ("Not that there's anything wrong with that"), but both movies seem to bring the same humor, and many of the same emotional set-pieces- not to mention love stories that are virtually spiritual twins. You could say that's to be expected from two movies on the same subject, but to that I would ask exactly what about this is "untold" then? If it's the ham-handed political pseudo-commentary that this movie is rife with, then I would say we could have left that untold and lost nothing.

The two high points of this film are easy to spot. The first being Cate Blanchett, whom I am pretty sure could be cast as a rock and still be a memorable part a movie. Though her character in Robin Hood is set upon by horribly familiar/predictable scenarios, she manages to spin them into something interesting- at least until the final battle when everything falls apart anyway. The other thing that really struck me about this movie was production quality. The costumes and sets in use are top notch, so much so that watching them can occasionally be more interesting than the actually story. It's not often I am so impressed with reproductions of this time period. I cannot speak as to the accuracy, but the quality is top-notch.

That the apparel could out do a script written by the likes of Brian Helgeland is hard to believe, and I don't know that I would have it had I not seen it for myself. I don't know how a man with titles like L.A. Confidential, Man On Fire and Mystic River to his name could be behind this bramble patch. Maybe it's the subject matter? Maybe Robin hood just brings out the sugary-sweet hero side of anyone involved; who could say? It brought Scott Grimes back to the silver screen however, so for that I am thankful.

And so it seems that team Scott-Crowe's streak ends here. If Gladiator, American Gangster, and Body of Lies were all beautifully chiseled works of art, then Robin Hood is all the marble that's left on the floor. All the pieces are of the same quality, but they will never amount to a whole. As someone who's enjoyed all their movies together, and countless movies from them separately, I feel towards them how my mom must have felt after she found the mud splashed laundry room my friend and I had tried to wash away the evidence in: Not just mad at the mess, but mad because I should have known better.


The Reel Deal Reccomends
Master and Commander: Crowe in one of his best roles to date.
Babel: Brilliant direction featuring Blanchett in this ensemble piece.
Band of Brothers: Grimes in what is technically not a movie, but when you watch it you'll see why I made the exception.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dear Mr. Bay,

By now I'm sure you know that the Internet has been "buzzing" with the news that Megan Fox has been booted from your already scripted Transformers 3. If you aren't, read this- I'll wait. OK, all caught up? Good, let us continue. For the last week I've been reading posts and articles like that one, though not as hilarious. Some people say it was a terrible call. Others that it was a victory struck at the heart of evil. But one thing everybody agrees on is this: You better find a replacement- and fast! And then the rumor mills start anew. Whispers about this celebrities girlfriend, or this ex-pop star's daughter... Everybody has their opinion on who should replace her, but I say: Why replace her at all?

People probably don't assume this about me, but I actually like Shia LaBeouf as an actor. Sure, he's been in a couple bad movies here or there -and yes, one of them was part of a beloved franchise- but I challenge that assertion with one of my own. That the movies weren't bad because he gave bad performances. Even in the frightful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, LeBeouf was trying to sell it. It, just happened to be unsellable. And let's not forget the solid, or even downright good movies he's been a part of as well. He's got the timing, he's got the exposure, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps hasn't made it to Chicago yet but the word is he blows it out of the water. My point is, the kid can act. So what if you ditch the flash formula, and the forced ogle-shots and you let him?

Now, Mr. Bay, I know that's not really your thing. Your more a camera-circles-the-hero-as-he-stands-in-slow-motion-and-the-sun-glares-into-the-lens sort of guy. I get that. But don't you wonder what it might be like? The truth is that buried deep (DEEP) within even the second Transformers movie is the story of a boy becoming a man. There are allusions to it all over the two films; when things aren't blowing up or humping assorted objects I mean... OK, I'm being rude. I'm sorry. But my point still stands.

So how could you go about this approach? One of my thoughts is: this is supposed to be a war, let Mikaela be a casualty. Push your lead into a dark hole and let us spend the third installment watching him crawl out. When he finally arrives he'll be deeper, darker, and more dedicated to the fight then he's ever been. Instead of pounding out a new script that quickly replaces Fox with another visual party favor, what if you let Fox's absence be the lens that brings Sam Witwicky into focus. The catalyst that realizes his transformation from reluctant conscript to confident hero.

The truth is that no matter how much I complain or mock, I'll go see whatever the next chapter in this series brings. Like I told my best friend not to long ago, I'm the kind of movie goer that looks too deep and hopes to hard. It doesn't matter how bad Revenge of the Fallen is, I'm always going hope the next picture is better- right up until the credits role and I know for sure one way or the other. It's a trait that's gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years, but it's one I don't think I could bare to part with. And I assure you, I'm not the only one with it.

There are a lot of things being said about you out here Mr. Bay, and, if you were to even care, I'm sure my way isn't the only way to start wiping them out. But think of all the potential fans you could reign in if you managed to deliver a truly great sequel this time around. It would take some work, sure, and some risk. But it can be done. And maybe the process begins with you looking at the empty space- and doing nothing.



Image Found Here

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Just Wright

"I take hard earth and I make things bloom."

A physical therapist takes on her god-sisters fiance as a client. A client who just so happens to be the biggest star in the NBA, and the leading scorer for her favorite team.

Director Sanaa Hamri been hit or miss with me in her brief feature film history- the first of which was Something New, a movie I found myself rather impressed with as a first attempt. So when I saw that Just Wright was her newest project, Watcher X picking it as the first movie of this weekends double-header didn't strike me as a total loss. The fact that scribe Michael Elliot has definitely been more miss than hit not withstanding (I guess they can't all be Like Mike). I certainly wouldn't have guessed, however, that I would leave the theater positive it was the best Romantic Comedy I've seen this year.

Hamri's approach is one of simplicity, keeping the stories and characters simple, allowing them to speak for themselves instead of pushing on us her feelings on who might be wrong or right. Though a bit awkwardly, she avoids giving into the belief that there have to be true villains in a love story. That it has to be complicated to be worth smiling at when everything inevitably works out. I'm in no way saying that the end product is a revolution in the genre, just a welcome break from the usual.

Latifah carries herself with the air of sad confidence that we've come to expect from her in roles like these, a proud woman who finds her ways to be happy. Will she be getting any Oscars? No I wouldn't say so. But after watching Katherine Heigel desperately need a man in rom-com after rom-com, Latifah sells a content Leslie Wright, and I am happy to buy it. Placed on the same scale Common struggles to hold his ground, but in terms of rappers-turned-actors he's the new Robert Redford. The gorgeous Paula Patton turns in the best performance (another in a quickly growing line of them) as Leslie's selfish God-sister Morgan. Chief among the notable supporting actors in this small ensemble is Phylicia Rashad, a face I'm glad to see again outside of Jenny Craig commercials.

With no explosions or knock down drag out fights, no on screen vomiting or animated origin sequences, Hamri is left to keep the pace visually and does so with uncomplicated, yet interesting editing choices, and a fervour for pace keeping. Watching Just Wright I would assume that the director was no fan of basketball personally. The court action plays out in sequences that are clean and clear- if not a bit thin. They smack of the freshness that comes with an outsider being given the reigns, but also of someone who's not interested in the details. The game is a means to an end for her, nothing more. Is this the right approach? I don't know that I could say. It's no Hoosiers that's for certain, but it works for this story and that's enough for me.

Just Wright's success is bound inextricably to it's aversion to all things flashy. I've heard it said: "If you try hard, you die hard." I'm sure that's not something I believe in a galactic sense, but here it applies perfectly. Flying under the radar is this solid genre piece's greatest asset- Though I suspect it to be a double edged sword as I saw it within a week of it's release and the theater was all but empty.


The Reel Deal Recommends:
Stranger Than Fiction: Latifah plays a small part in a magnificent film.
Smoking Aces: A great action film, Common's best speaking role.
Deja Vu: A strong sci-fi romp, and the first place Patton stole my heart.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A rom-com rings true, and other miracles.

This weekend I found myself in one of those situations that even the most movie-shy of people has seen re-created at least a dozen times in high definition: A wedding. Not just any wedding mind you, a wedding in the family I'm about tomarry into... but that's a whole other story, with a whole host of movie tie-ins. This story is a simple one.

Sitting in the pew, watching as the ushers sat the mothers and fathers- I got to thinking. Thinking about movies as always. Thinking about all the times I'd watched perfect strangers pretend they were completely in love for a camera (to the more cynical of you, yes I am still talking about movies). The groom and the pastor made their way down the aisle, and I thought about the movies. The wedding party came through two by two and I watched my fiance look beautiful- and thought about movies. But this is where a strange thing happened.

The next part everybody knows well I'm sure- the music cues up, all in attendance stand, we turn and there at the end of the aisle is the glowing bride. But as we all anticipated the musical swell that would tell us the time had come, all the other titles fell away and I thought of one movie- 27 Dresses. While it was far from the worst romantic comedy I've seen seen in the last two years -Leap Year I'm looking in your direction- I wasn't a huge fan of the film. But with all that said it did have James Marsden, which automatically earns it points because I think he's just adorable (silly I know, but anyone who can make me even consider not hating Cyclops deserves my support), it showcased the song Benny and the Jet's, and it also took some well deserved shots at weddings in general- so all in all I can't excuse calling it a complete waste of time.

Good or bad, it certainly isn't a movie that comes to mind on a daily bases- but in this moment one scene was pinging around inside my head. A drunken Kevin (Marsden) admits, after spending the whole movie proving his complete hatred of weddings, that his favorite part is the look on the grooms face as the bride starts down the aisle. He tells Jane (Heigel) that when everyone turns to look at the bride, he looks at the groom.

So I tried it...

Not for long of course. I was in the second row and my turned head would have been rather obvious. Just a quick glance; enough of one to know that Kevin had a point. I turned towards the alter and saw the most sincere thing I'd seen the whole day. I can't say that this is always true at every alter, and I'm not trying to blow rainbows up everybody's... well you know. But the truth is that how they act when no one is looking is one of the truest measures of what people really feel. I don't know about all the weddings in all the world- but at this wedding, the groom was beaming. Way to be Kevin, way to be.




Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2 *Edited for fear of Spoilers*

"Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of SCRAPS!"

6 months after revealing his invention to the world, Tony Stark must deal with all the consequences of the thing he's created, and his choice to confess to his identity within it.

Almost exactly two years ago Watcher X and I sat down to see my very favorite super hero in his very first feature film- and were blown away. I felt a great sense of pride in knowing that, upon transitioning into a format even closer to my heart, my hero's film was among the best comic adaptations out there. Now it's 2010, and Director Jon Favreau has returned with Iron Man 2, a movie who's biggest flaw is that it's only good, and not spectacular.

Most of the original cast returns for round two: the uncontainable Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Gweneth Paltrow as the anti-Stark Pepper Potts, and Jon Favreau returning in front of the camera as Happy Hogan. Don Cheadle takes on James Rhodes for Terrence Howard, who left the franchise after contract and content disputes. I'm no hater of Terrence Howard, but Cheadle is a welcome member of the cast, playing the Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a slightly harder edge. Writer Justin Theroux was smart to focus as hard as he did on Tony and Rhodey's friendship, touching on some of my favorite story arcs from Iron Man history as he progresses towards Rhodes emergence as an armored hero himself.

As for new characters, I'm reminded of Meatloaf's musings on trio's. Sam Rockwell works his magic as Justin Hammer, managing to fill the "evil mastermind" role while still offering up a character that's equal parts entertaining and interesting. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko (a composite of multiple villains, the chief selections being Blacklash/Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo) is another good fit in his recent history of good fits. It's Scarlett Johanssons Black Widow that comes up short. She seems shaky in the bare bones role- unable to pull off Natasha Romanoff's trade mark "hard as stone, cold as ice" persona. For all the bells and whistles (insert joke here) and the small part of it that ties back into the story at the end, the character feels like time that could have been spent elsewhere.

And that elsewhere could have been shoring up the low points of the film. Iron Man 2's major failing is that it lacks the "ooh cool" effect of invention fromv the first. Those extra minutes spent watching Tony test and build the suit in the first film are spent on some extra action in the second, and a little of the wonder is lost. All the new things Tony "invents" in this film are talked about and then feel like they just appear, which just isn't as tasty. We get to see some enjoyable sequences of Vanko hard at work, but let's face it- we came to see Downey's Stark hammering red hot steel. The same from another character is, in fact, not the same at all.

Iron Man 2 has a great deal to offer fans of the original movie, but it lacks some IT factor that the original had. Some of what's lacking you can put your finger on- like an oddly shoe-horned scene of romance on the end- but others are just a feeling, or lack there of. This one has the booms to rival the original, but in it's quieter and more mental moments it can't always keep up.


So let's sum it all up with The Isit List

Is it a good sequel?
Yes. We find our characters slightly progressed. Still the people we loved from the first, but in new situations. The anti's are upped on all the action sequences, and the story harkens back to the original without leaning on it. In short, there's enough new to enjoy, and enough old to care.

Is it better than the original?
The answer to that my friends is a resounding NO. Iron Man 2 brings bigger and better to a lot of movie elements, but the key pieces just don't seem to gel as well.

Is it worth a third movie?
Speaking with out the fan side of me I still say yes. I think this is one of those middle pieces that could have it's overall score upped by where they choose to take the choices they made in the third installment. However, if the third movie backslides even a little, I can see it taking the whole thing down. Either way I'll be there.
All this could be a moot point however, amid rumors that a third movie wouldn't come until after Stark plays his part in the Avengers movie. There are some odd story arcs being followed in Iron Man 2- if they come back in whatever shows up next it could make it all click. Time will tell I suppose.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Five!!

Five!! Things Every Super Hero's Significant Other Should Know

So as you surely know if you've turned on a t.v. gone to a 7/11, seen a movie or driven on the highway in that past few months- they've made another Iron Man movie. It opens tomorrow (or today, depending on when I post this) to what I'm sure will be clamoring masses. And yes, I will be among them. Whether or not this second entry manages to rival the Dark Knight in it's pure sequel excellence remains to be seen. But rise or fall, there is a #1 slot that Iron Man 2 is already occupying- most beautiful female lead.

Virginia "Pepper" Potts, a ginger on whom the crush I had was already approaching dangerous levels long before the lovely Ms. Paltrow made her flesh and blood. I can't think of my favorite ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. Director without flashes of the days when these two thrived on a "will they, won't they" roller-coaster ride. And with love interests in mind, I began to think of how hard it must be to the one waiting at home when the world falls apart. So in honor of Pepper and all the other Cape-Lovers out there, here are Five!! things every super Hero's significant other should know.

A Super Hero's significant other should know...

1.) ...to always have a cover story on hand.
This seems obvious but I felt it was still paramount. There's no telling when your going to be put on the spot. And I don't just mean the "She was with me all night Mr. Reporter" kind. The inverse applies too, times will occur when you'll have to not know. "Oh hey random hero I have no personal knowledge of. No, I'm not sure which direction the bank robbers went."

2.) ...that if they start acting funny not to worry- it's a doppelganger... or an evil twin... or a Skrull...
Doesn't recognize life long friends? Doesn't know important facts about your daily lives? Thinks that Wolfy is just fine? Sit tight, and wait for the Calvary- your Love's been replaced! But know that this excuse does not apply to anniversaries and other general knowledge data- your cape is not a get out of jail free card Heroes!

3,) ...that jealous types need not apply.
Have you seen a super hero lately? Most of the men where skin-tight costumes that showcase their chiseled physiques. And the women, uh, tend to where less. You need to be aware that your suped up Mr. or Mrs. is going to be with some of these people all day and sometimes well into the night. If you don't have enough self confidence to shrug it off when you see him on the news with a blond who can bench press a semi and wears a scarf, knee high boots, and the equivalent of a one-piece bathing suit to work everyday, then no matter how much you love him- he may not be the one for you.

4.) ...that eventually you will be kidnapped, shot at, endowed with temporary super powers and/or wished/sucked into an alternate universe/timeline.
Let's face it, at some point everybody brings their work home.

5.) ...that in the end, they love you.
Be they a billionaire inventor, a psychic ninja, the super powered offspring of the world's most beloved hero, or just a college kid in the right place at the right time I think we can all agree that once you become a super hero, your romantic options open up. At the end of they day, they chose you for a reason. You can give them something nobody else can- even if that's just a quiet evening at home after a long day protecting the planet.
So when that super hearing, spider sense, or government ear piece tells them they can't finish dinner, don't take it personally. I guarantee, you wouldn't love them if they could just look the other way.

That's Five!! for this week. Thanks and I'll see you soon with my review of Iron Man 2
Image from NewYorkMagazine.com

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Secret In Their eyes

"You know I don't speak Spanish."

An investigator revisits two pieces of unfinished business that have haunted him through his career and into his retirement.

I was a bit disappointed the first time The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto De Sus Ojos) came through town and I wasn't able (read: "was out voted when I tried to") see before it was gone again. However, one of the -admittedly few- great things about the Academy Awards is that the winners tend to do a victory lap after taking home a statue- the industries way of capitalizing on the added notoriety. As this movie won Best Foreign Language, I got a second bite at the apple- and OH what a delicious apple it was.

Frankly I'm not sure where to begin... or end... or middle... Am I allowed to just scream at the top of my lungs that anyone who even slightly enjoys movies needs to see this film? Would that be enough, if I promise never to do it again? ...OK, fine... I'll try to flesh this out a bit.

The Secret In Their Eyes is Juan Jose Campenalla's (he wrote and directed) adaptation of Eduardo Sacheri's novel La Pregunta De Sus Ojos (The Question In Their Eyes). I admit freely that I haven't read the novel, though if my Spanish were better I'd certainly be in (it's gotten pretty good this last year but it's still nowhere near novel ready). His execution with pen and camera is polished smooth. The brightest comedy and the darkest drama all flow together with no ado or pauses for affect.

The story is one of being haunted. Haunted by the horrible things one can see in their life, and haunted by the regrets that a life can garner. The darkest sort of crime is put juxtaposed with as "simple" a problem as feelings never shared. Somehow each feels both compelling and, at times, debilitating. The truth of how much weight each sort of haunting can have is played subtly but effectively here. Maybe that's a good sum up of the movie: subtle but effective.

Campanella's fixation on the eyes of his characters sounds like a gimic but blends just as evenly as every other piece of the whole. By the time you realize your looking directly into them, the characters face has already left the screen. And yet, not unlike the Peter Jackson's personification of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, each pair of eyes feels like it's bringing it's own story to the screen. There are multiple points in the movie where a character's gaze quite literally replaces the lines that might have been said. This is an effect that is intentionally executed on the part of both director and the superb cast- led by Soledad Villamil and Ricardo Darin.

To keep this short, I'll just say that perfection is a word I try to avoid in my reviews. But occasionally the temptation does arise. Movies like The Secret In Their Eyes represent, to me, the moments when I get reminded why I love movies so much. They're a break from looking for the bright spots in shallow under takings. Breaks when we, the watchers, can let loose the full fury of our expectations and be repaid in utter satisfaction.




Monday, April 26, 2010

The Losers

"I can't get no... sat-is-fac-tion."

A Black Bag operations team, betrayed by their C.I.A. handler, takes on a mission from a mysterious young woman in hopes of reaping revenge and clearing their names.

When I first heard that there was a planned movie adaptation of The Losers I found myself a little confused, and very interested. My (then) knowledge of the title was as a comic set in World War II. Come to find that there was a much more recent (2003) revamp of the series set in (then) present day and upon reading the first volume I found myself, again, very interested. Upon seeing the film however, I found that a great deal was different (surprise, surprise). Characters and events were of course re-arranged and/or deleted entirely, to the point where comparing it seems like kind of a waste. I will say, however, that Director Sylvain White has managed to capture a lot of the essence of the series, a feat worth mentioning as it so rarely occurs.

The Losers strengths are few but well developed. The first being it's aesthetic. With the production design (or maybe "arrangement" would be a better word) and color scheme of the film, White has built something that evokes a comic book feel over all- without going frame by frame and shooting each image- the set pieces do much to reinforce this. Writers Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt help this "graphic novel" feel by entertaining some of the small asides that tend to make or break such a format while being trimmed, cut, or down right demolished when print turns to reel. These little side stories (thin as they may be) help to connect you to the rest of the story- such as it is. I don't fault The Losers for being a bit predictable. The truth of these commando/buddy cop sorts of movies (The Dirty Dozen, Mission Impossible, Navy Seals, Magnificent Seven etc.) is that they're all a bit formulaic and that's ok. It's ok because with these sorts of stories the joy is in the journey, not the where's and why's. Well, the journey and the strength of the characters taking you on it.

This is where The Losers shines, and inevitably fails. The characters are strong (even if chopped down to bite-size pieces), the laughs are fairly potent, and the cast shows up to try and make it work. In terms of comedy, none more than Chris Evans and Colombus Short, who are paired together to deliver some of the films best lines. The two riff off one another in a way that makes the simpler part of me wish they would do a straight "buddy cop" movie together, while the more complicated part of me chastises it and explains why that movie would most likely be horrible. On the other side of the spectrum we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba. The good news is, these two are paired together to play a sort of odd couple and it works for the most part. The bad news is we've pretty much seen all of their big hits in the trailer. With the rest of the leads paired off, the other two characters are left free to be stoic or, in Zoe Saldana's case, to deliver plenty of Lady-Kick-Ass schtick.

Ahh, but I said fails too, didn't I? This part is a little hard for me to say- quite frankly because I never thought I would have to say it- but for all the back-story and endless comedy sent our way, there is a severe lack of actual action. I know, I know, the exact opposite of my usual complaint, but walking away from The Losers I found myself wondering at what point comedy kills action. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of shooting and explosions to be had, but I feel as though White has fallen into the Micheal Bay trap of shoving so much comedic relief into his movie that the action (what little there is in this case) loses credibility. What would all the "Quarter-back is toast's" of Die Hard be with McClane chain lynching Nordic dudes to balance them out? You cry, you laugh, you punch the bad guy in the face- that's why all the movies/shows mentioned above worked. They had it all.

The Losers biggest mistake is that it is too front loaded with comedy to leave room for anything else. The action sequences are to short to be sweet- instead feeling a bit under developed. While it brings us a great bad guy moments in the form of Jason Patric, when our heroes finally catch up to him in the big climax, we find it's really more of a medium to small climax. I'm not a fidgety man-child who gets bored if there hasn't been an explosion in the last few minutes but, when the story requires it, I expect a decent throw down- and I never really got one. The Losers is very entertaining, but in the end unsatisfying, even as the confection I expected it to be. Call me picky, but I don't buy a black-ops strike team that shoots everyone with tranquilizer darts- and I don't think you will either.


Reel Deal Recommends:
Stomp The Yard: Directed by Sylvain, Starring Short, it's good- for a dance movie.
Push: Evans in a spectacular movie nobody saw.
Watchmen: Morgan stars, if you've read the book then you'll either love it or hate it.
RocknRolla: Elba in another Guy Ritchie insta-classic.
Star Trek: How could I say any other title for Saldana?
Narc: A gritty cop drama with Jason Patric.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Upon Further Review


I Am Legend
Spoiler Warning!

When my fiance (I love calling her that!) unveiled I Am Legend as her latest Netflix arrival I'll admit, I mocked her a little bit. It was something along the lines of: "If you wanted to see Will Smith with his shirt off, you could have just gone to YouTube- no need to spend a queue slot on it." What can I say, she likes the chocolate... Anyway- upon sitting down to watch it we were confronted with an interesting option. Watch the theatrical version, or the Alternate version? Seeing as we had both seen the theatrical cut already (and because I'm a sucker for exploring alternate anything) we went for option B- and I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, it included a handful of incredibly short but rather worthwhile scenes- not the least of which being Nevel mistaking Anna and Ethan as his wife and daughter as he first wakes up to breakfast. Most of the others consist of small parts of Nevel's daily/weekly routine that were deleted from original, and then a return to those things as Nevel shows them all to Anna and Ethan after they save his life- glad to be able to share them with someone new.

Another interesting thing to me was the scene in which Nevel points out that the trap he was snared in was indeed set by the "Dark Seekers". Many of you would say: 'of course it was silly.
Why would we need to be told that?" And it would seem Director Francis Lawrence agrees with you, since he chose not to include this scene. But for me (and other viewers prone to over thinking I'm sure) I found myself wondering after my viewing in theaters, whether it was a trap set by them, or whether he had unknowingly wandered into on of his own traps. A little bit of a stretch? Maybe. But then, there are so many deliberate examples that show us that Nevel has been mentally frayed by his time alone ("Fred if your real you better tell me right now!"). Not the least of which being the fact that when Nevel first notices the mannequin out of place, it turns it's head ever so slightly.

By far the best alteration delivered by this... well... alternate, is the ending. I won't detail it here, but this ending meshes much better with the piece as a whole, even without the other additions I mentioned before. Not only does it tie the movie just an infinitesimal but closer to the original book, but it also draws together other themes touched on in the movie, but left hanging by the original ending, the most obvious being the lions from the opening sequence. This is something Lawrence obviously felt was true as well, as he brings the trio back for the end sequence. Though obviously not as polished as the theatrical cuts ending, this alternate ending is a far superior resolution- making for a better overall experience.

Walking away I was immediately reminded of movies like Aliens, Abyss, even Attack of the Clones just to name a few (two of which were James Cameron's now that I think about it) where the theatrical versions had scenes edited out of them that actually made them much better films- though in the case of Attack of the Clones I think we can agree it wouldn't have been enough to stop the runaway train. Either way, for me it was definitely enough to save I Am Legend. The additional scenes and alternate ending took a blah movie and kicked it up a notch (BAM!). Had this been what I'd seen in the theaters, I might not have felt like this movie was a complete loss.

Upon Further Review
Movie: I Am Legend
First Impressions: Technically this was my first viewing...
Current Status: Upgraded (as compared to the original)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kick-Ass

"What the hell are we supposed to use man? Harsh Language?"

An ordinary high school boy decides he wants to be a hero, and in doing so accidentally stumbles across two ruthless vigilantes.

I won't lie to you, I've never read a single page of the 8 issue series that spawned Mathew Vaughn's latest motion picture. Though aware of it's existence, and admittedly curious, the closest I've ever come to picking up a copy of Kick-Ass #1 is passing it on my way to the M's. As for the movie version, I was entertained but certainly not floored.

Narrating the movie and taking the lead as Dave Liweski, Aaron Johnson introduces himself as the newest face on the lovable losers list. This is my first movie with the adult Johnson, and though entertaining, I quickly forgot about him completely as Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl stole the show. In truth I'm not even sure "stole the show" is the right term considering she did so in from her very first scene. A more true way to look at it might be that she didn't so much steal the show, as she made me wonder why the movie was named Kick-Ass and not Hit-Girl.

She swears like a sailor (why is fictional children swearing funny? And does that make me a bad person?), sasses people many times taller than her, and slices up gangsters to the tune of Joan Jett. The only thing odder than how enjoyable all this can be to watch is how she manages to work in a hint of adorableness to it all. I felt a great swell of joy as I watched her weave a talented tapestry since she'll be playing Abbey (Eli) in Matt Reeves remake of Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In. Being reminded how talents Moretz is helps me talk the fan boy inside out of tearing his fictional hair out at the very thought of Reeves undertaking.

Cast- Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and all the rest- is this movies strongest point. Writing however, is another story. That the movie is hilarious and entertaining is by nature of it's subject matter alone I would venture- as in terms of straight writing it's rather unoriginal. All together I think Kick-Ass will work for anyone who's ever seen a comic book movie. If you know what's supposed to happen when the music swells, or the hero is out gunned and out numbered, then you'll inevitably laugh at what actually happens here. This serves as both the movies rise, and it's downfall however, because for all it's intentional lampooning, in the end it lacks the courage of it's convictions. When it's time for the climax, all goes according to the standard plan, with all the good guys getting the girl and living happily ever after, all the anti-heroes dying in a semi-redemptive blaze of glory, and the bad guys either being righteously smyted, or left in their hideouts to brew up new schemes for the sequel.

If you are not of a sensitive demeanor (read: if foul mouths and gored henchman don't offend you) and you know your way around a comic book adaptation -or if you just want to hear Nicholas Cages awesomely bad impression of Adam West- than Kick-Ass is definitely worth your time. If any of these things doesn't apply, than I can't believe you'll have missed much when you see Why Did I get Married Too instead, as these are the best things Kick-Ass has going for it (though I'll definitely question your decision making skills). For me Kick-Ass was, if nothing else, an enjoyable, palette cleansing opener before all the comic worlds heavy hitters start dropping this weekend.

Reel Deal Recommends:
(500) Days of Summer: Moretz supports in a movie I'll take any excuse to mention.
Matchstick Men: Nicholas Cages best movie.
My Dreams: A perfect place to find Adam West.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Catching Up Is Hard To Do.

So with a couple pretty hectic weeks under my belt it seems I've fallen a bit behind on my review schedule. Normally I would just post the full reviews late but given how far I am behind, and my rather- and the movies in question- I thought maybe it would be best to just shave the reviews down a bit and post them together.w This way we can all get on with our lives. Let the abridged reviewing begin!

First up: Hot Tub Time Machine
Hot Tub Time Machine was written by Sean Anders and John Morris, the same team that brought us She's Out of My League. I think the thing that saved Time Machine from the swirling vortex of lost direction that sucked League down to Davey Jones' locker was the theme. Morris and Anders knew that all they had to do to make Time Machine work was reference as much 80's pop culture as they could, and where available throw in some comparison's to present day culture- which is exactly what they do. For all it's comedic power, only a few shots fell short for me (I've never found on screen vomit to be very funny).
In Short: If you've any sense you'll go for a stupid, good time and you'll get exactly what you paid for.

Next on the docket: It's Complicated
Nancy Meyer's succeeds in showing us yet again how hard it is to be rich and white. Meryl Streep plays one part of a poorly written foursome obviously meant to be evoke a sex and the city vibe in the over fifty crowd. This woman's "crisis" is that fact that the handsome, successful, sweet and thoughtful architect that's helping her add on to the already huge house she lives (alone) in is interested in taking it slow and getting to know her. This comes right as the husband she never wanted to leave expresses interest in coming back. What next,
In Short: It's actually quite simple.

Third we have: Crazy Heart
At first glance this the story of a burnt out star's path to redemption. Upon seeing it however, it struck me more as the story of how a song was born- for this I appreciated it. The story proves to be a bit predictable, which comes back around as a compliment in the fact that despite this- it remains interesting, though in the end not enthralling. Jeff Bridges hits rock bottom with all the skill we already knew he had, even if it's a rock bottom we've seen before. I don't know if I would call it the best performance he's ever given, but that doesn't mean he didn't deserve an Oscar for the many great ones he's given over the years.
In Short: A movie definitely worth seeing, even if only on your home theater.

And Finally: Clash of the Titans
Any one who read my last Five!! knows I went into this one with one nagging fear- well I came out with hat fear made reality. What's the only thing worse than cutting Bubo out of Clash of the Titans? Having him in it only for a moment as the butt of a joke! All fan-boy-edness aside however, this movie was far from what even the pessimist in me expected. Often with these re-makes, the very thing that excited you about the thought of it happening (the wild advances in special effects technology) turns out to be it's downfall. Not so with Clash of the Titans. No, the CG is phenomenal here, the problem is- quite simply- piss poor writing.
I have no trouble admitting that the original had areas ripe for improvement in terms of pacing, or just flat-out storytelling, but why bother with that when we can write cool one liners!? So instead we get new and for the most part uninteresting characters awash in a movie that smacks of multiple re-writes by multiple writers. Certain story lines are pounded to death at points only to be all but forgotten in others. Some great characters are erased, only to be replaced by others that just can't get the job done. And others just randomly explode (I'm not kidding). Overall the entire outing feels watered down and half-asked.
In Short: To put it in terms of modern tellings of ancient stories: Louis Leterrier tried to give us another 300, when the movie would have been better suited by for Wolfgang Peterson trying to give us another Troy.

And there you have it, the summation of my time away. But I'm back now, and I'll try to avoid another huge lapse in the near future. Believe me, nobody likes half a review any less than me!