Monday, December 31, 2007
Judd Apatow, a guy who wants to make sure you are aware of every movie he has had a hand in, was the one who took up the gauntlet and went forth to make that movie. Unfortunately, the pre-views were largely devoid of laughs. The "It's the devil's music" guy getting punched seemed to be the centerpiece of every pre-view...and I did not laugh the first time. So I almost elected not to see it. However, after a careful recount, I discovered in my Near End of Year Review, I neglected to include Eastern Promises (2007) and, with my viewing of National Treasure;Book of Secrets (2007) I had the chance to average one new movie in the theatre every week for a year. So Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) would become the 52nd unique movie I saw in the theatre this year.
Obviously, I went in with low expectations. The pre-views looked marginal and the critics hated it. For some inexplicable reason I listened to the critics this time and waited to see this movie.
It took just a few minutes to change my mind. The first few minutes revolve around young Dewey Cox (Conner Rayburn) and his talented brother Nate (Chip Hormess). Nate plays the piano magnificently, but Dewey convinces him to play that day. Pa Cox (Raymond J. Berry) helps convince him to run along and play.
As they run out, one of the best lines of the movie is uttered. It is completely set up, believe it or not, by the pre-views. Anyone who saw the preview of Dewey singing the blues knows he cut his brother in half. So when Nate says, "Ain't nothing horrible going to happen today" it almost brought the house down.
The two kids engage in a variety of atypical kid activities...taking turns running with a bull in a pen, throwing live rattlesnakes at each other, playing chicken on a tractor versus a horse, fake sword fighting with machetes...oops. Dewey "halves" his brother.
This leads to one of the best running jokes in the movie as from time to time from here on Pa Cox will say, "The wrong kid died."
One of the best things about movies is the way they can move time. Walk Hard turns this, itself, into a joke as "14 year old Dewey Cox" is played by John C. Reilly...who is clearly NOT 14. Nor does Edith (Kristen Wiig). They deliberately do nothing to make the actors look young. Nor do the actors age.
The jokes come fast and furious, the actors take it with about the right amount of seriousness, and it only occasionally breaks the 4th wall, but when it does, it makes sense. '
It skewers a lot of musical conventions and, best of all, the songs are actually surprisingly good. It is clearly a spoof but they follow the correct path of making the music right and letting the jokes bring the laughs. This movie was much better than expected.
Also a lot cruder...and for an Apatow movie, that is saying something.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
There are multiple ways to view any particular movie. For example, a person with a keen interest in history such as myself my snort with derisive laughter at the outlandish, ridiculous claim that "Custer's Last Stand" was a treasure hunting expedition gone wrong having to do with the Black Hills in order to protect the fabled City of Gold.
Or you can recognize a "popcorn" flick full of action, adventure, and good times. I prefer to do the latter and ignore some of the more over the top references in National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007). It is famously the first time Cage has done a sequel. He picked a fun franchise.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is presenting a paper on his distant Grandfather when Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) interrupts with a document alleging that Gates was a co-conspirator in the Lincoln assassination. Desperate to prove his belief in family integrity is correct, Gates and his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) join forces. Aided by Library of Congress curator Abigail Chase (Diane Krueger) and wise-cracking electronics ace Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) they go hither, thither and yon following clues to find out what Gates was protecting when he died. They are pursued bu Wilkinson and gun-wielding henchman. Ultimately they follow the clues to discover the lost city with numerous chases, traps, and puzzles along the way.
The movie is chock full of ridiculous plot holes...like how 3 or 4 vehicles can be stolen, ram dozens of other vehicles and yet not one cop is ever seen nor are there repercussions for the perpetrators...or why Wilkinson would feel compelled to fire on the Gates crew. That made no sense at all.
But it was a fun movie. This is a time to ignore ridiculous plot holes, outlandish escapades and obscenely bizarre puzzles. Just relax, enjoy the ride, chuckle at the one-liners and let the good times roll.
Oh, and...this was my 50th movie this year. That is kind of sad...
Friday, December 21, 2007
2007 had a lot of movies I was really looking forward to seeing. Some proved every bit as good as expected, others were huge disappointments, and a couple just managed to meet my anticipation. On the other hand, several movies vastly exceeded expectations. So here is a brief rundown of most of the movies I saw this year.
We started out well. Code Name: The Cleaner (2007) was better than expected. It was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but it had a few nice laughs. It was completely forgettable, but movie prices were fairly reasonable at the start of the year. Cedric the Entertainer has an intriguing sense of humor and Lucy Liu always is great eye candy....
But then we hit Happily N'ever After (2007). Heavily promoted as being by the Shrek guys and with a "different take". It certainly did have a different take that Shrek...it tried to get by without humor or likable characters. Not a good start to the animated comedy genre. It was a movie I had looked forward to a great deal. I was completely stunned walking out of the theatre...were my expectations just too high? I do not think so. I doubt I will do the Shrek routine and watch it again to see if it was as bad as I thought. It was a complete, unmitigated disaster.
February started with Because I Said So, the Diane Keaton vehicle that continues to leave many of us stunned...why are critics so high on Keaton? This movie was much better in the portions she was not in. That is a running theme. Diane Keaton is one of those actors and actresses that make up the group that should be called "Acting critics love and people who enjoy being entertained hate". Be that as it may, pratfalls aside, this was a passable, mildly entertaining movie. Mandy Moore has a sweet innocence about her that lets her get away with playing the talented yet hapless girl who needs a man to complete her (apparently)...
February 14th brought us Music and Lyrics, yet another entry into the Hugh Grant as love interest in a romantic comedy genre. He and Drew Barrymore somehow click. The references to bad 80s hair bands and 2000s teenage sex pots were good for a few laughs and again we had a movie that about met expectations...worth seeing in a slow month, somewhat entertaining but nothing that will go down as a classic. The highlight might have been Haley Bennett's portrayal of a self-indulgent pop princess so lost in her own sensuality and completely invented, bizarre "spirituality" that bears no relation whatsoever to any reasonable or religious spirituality in existence. The riff on Spears, Aguilera, Madonna, and other "eye candy sensual dancers masquerading as singers" was hilarious.
Ghost Rider was the first entry into the Comic Book/Super Hero genre. It had some very cool special effects. It had Sam Elliott. It also had a nonsensical moment where Sam Elliott's character, in one of the least surprising "twists" this side of the revelation that Clinton did, indeed, have sex with that woman, turns out to be the Caretaker...which is all well and good, except after his "last ride" he fights nobody, does not go out in a blaze of glory, he just...rides along, assumably for the express purpose of having the brilliant special effects moment of his flame-shooting horse riding alongside Cage's flame-shooting motorcycle. His ride would have made much more sense if he had advanced the story with it...say, helped Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) fight Mephistoles (Peter Fonda) and his henchman, only to die there...thus having some point to the ride and making the bad guys look actually dangerous instead of easily beatable.
This movie was a disappointment, although it was still mildly entertaining. It just was not as good as maybe anticipated. I enjoyed it...but not enough to buy it until it is on the 5 dollar rack...
Breach continued the trend of disappointing movies. It was pitched as a true-life thriller but was a ho-hum melodrama with no suspense, no surprises, no drama and little interest. All the "secrets" were revealed in the trailers which was either really, really bad marketing...or it was a really weak movie. One suspects it would have been a much better movie if they left some suspense as to whether Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) was a traitor or not. Instead, Chris Cooper has probably, and unfortunately, seen the end of his starring roles. It is too bad because he is a magnificent actor.
Wild Hogs wanted to be a middle age road picture comedy. It mostly was. It had more and better laughs than expected, though a talented comedic cast was largely wasted. It was better than the reviews or pre-views but was a largely forgettable picture. It was another picture where several moments that could have offered some surprises and added to the fun factor were revealed in the previews. Woody Stevens (John Travolta) firebombing the bikes is a fine example.
Shooter had elements that could have made it great. Wahlberg did a good job of mixing super-patriot yet government-suspicious characterizations to weld an interesting, sympathetic character. The story was passable, the ending a bit ridiculous but overall it was as advertised, a mildly entertaining shoot-em-up. It had some fun technology moments and an interesting shootout in the snow with some mystery people who come from nowhere, shoot people for no discernible reason, and then disappear again. But it never claimed to be set in a believable universe, so I am okay with that. Yet another entertaining but forgettable flick.
TMNT was my third highly anticipated movie. Just as I had looked forward to Happily N'Ever After and Ghost Rider I had very high hopes for this one and had the release date marked down on my calendar. Unfortunately, the anticipation (and spate of pedestrian movies leading up to it) created expectations that were perhaps too hard to meet. The animation was spectacular. The story line was decent. The comedic lines were acceptable. But I walked out of the theatre very disappointed. When it came out on video I bought it anyway since I got it pretty inexpensively. Good choice. The movie was actually very funny. The combat scenes were excellent. It had references to old issues from when the Turtles were an underground phenomenon. It referenced the trilogy of live-action movies. Even the extras were entertaining. On second and third watchings (once it was released on video) I liked it very, very much. Initially I was disappointed. In the long run, this was a solid continuation to the Turtles franchise and well worth seeing.
Will Ferrell had been closing in on "Do not see his movies" territory after a few stinkers. However, with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) I had returned to finding him funny and decided to see his 2007 effort Blades of Glory with John Heder. To be honest, the previews did not make me laugh and it was against my better judgment I went to see it. Well, that was a wise choice. The premise was lame, the ending absolutely stupid, but in between there were a lot of laughs and this was the first really big surprise hit of the year for me. Will Ferrell tweaked his normal character just enough for it to be fresh and funny. Heder was screamingly hilarious as the effeminate yet masculine counter to Ferrell's masculine yet ...well, no yet in that case...skater. Hilarious flick and, hard as this is to believe, slightly more intelligent than most Ferrell movies.
Disturbia is not a typical movie for me. It is a horror/slasher flick. It was okay. It left some doubt as to the villain's identity for a few moments and had some nice eye candy but overall it was pretty much standard, by -the-numbers fare. I did not find it frightening, thought the character choices were pretty dumb and nonsensical, so it is nothing I would recommend.
Kickin It Old School, the Jamie Kennedy vehicle, looked very, very lame in previews. Still, Kennedy has a history of taking a lame premise and carrying it off so we went to see it. The premise was lame...most of the movie was lame...there were a handful of laughs and the old guy break-dancing was memorable. Overall, though, this was indeed a stinker.
Lucky You was a poker movie. At least, it was positioned as one, along with being a romantic comedy. When you do these things, you should do the game it is centered around correctly. They decided not to. It was a disappointing movie. The main character was unlikable, his Dad was not exactly sympathetic, and Drew Barrymore was whining and annoying. This one busted out quick.
Spiderman 3 was another movie I was really looking forward to. It did not disappoint. Action packed, comedic, entertaining. It hit the trifecta, a worthy conclusion to the trilogy. I know it caught a lot of heat from critics...and again, sometimes I think they have just forgotten how to enjoy movies. Peter Parker's (Tobey McGuire) dance scene when he is trying to make Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is hilarious, the character interactions deep, the pose in front of the flag cheesy and in perfect keeping with the Stan Lee mood...it was entertaining, action-packed, and left you feeling good.
Shrek the Third was another highly anticipated movie. Shrek II (2004) was one of my favorite movies of all time. The previews were good. The movie was HORRIBLE. This looked like it was trying to be an unfunny version of Happily N'Ever After...a movie which had no humor itself. This was hugely disappointing. They just tried too hard to push an agenda and the movie, as a result, fell flat. The girls were not funny, the whole Merlin/King Arthur sub-plot fell flat, and the interminable child vomit scenes stopped being funny a long time ago. Made me sad as I could see the potential for it to be hugely entertaining. I suspect when this video is 5 or 6 bucks I will take another shot at it.
May was a busy month as next up was Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third and final (?) movie in the franchise. The first one was great, the second one...well, let me put it this way; someone gave it to me that Christmas and I haven't opened it yet. This one was a continuation of the second. Loud, fast, confusing, and...oh, yeah...stupid. It lacked the sly humor of the first one, the sense of fun and not taking itself seriously. This was a miserable finale. It also stretched out interminably long. For example, the scene with the ship being rolled by the clams might have entertained if it were about 30 seconds long. Instead I think it was about 5 minutes. The franchise kept trying to work on numerous levels and got too busy and then did not make sense...Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) is Calypso...okay...her motivation for having Sparrow rescued is tenuous at best, her maelstrom in the final battle hardly seems worthy of the fear she engendered prior to her release...the final battle was somewhat entertaining but not worth everything you had to wade through to get to it.
Knocked Up was a crude, vicious movie. It was also pretty funny. The only thing it seemed to be missing to keep it from being an instant classic was that none of the characters was likable. Of course, late in the year I saw it again at a second run theatre. That time it fell completely flat. The jokes do not stand up and without good characters...well, it is a dead movie. Very funny the first time, not so good after that. Too many jokes rely on crudity or profanity. When you dislike the characters...those jokes stop being funny.
Fortunately, Surf's Up was right around the corner. I had low hopes for this one. The previews looked lame and the "Based on a true story" tag line really turned us off of it. We almost did not even go to it but then one day traffic was heavy so to out wait traffic we stopped in at the theatre. That was what is known as a happy accident. Great flick. The characters are likable, the sly humor (boom mikes "dropping in" to scenes, stuff like that) was classic, and the movie had me laughing beginning to end. Loved it. The cuts to interviews with numerous minor characters were nice touches, as were the "real-life" surfers showing up as penguins. Good times.
Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer was another comic book sequel and one I really looked forward to. The previews looked awesome, the special effects out of this world. Sadly, the movie blew chunks. It was another example of "Why sequels are a bad idea". Even 2 hours of Jessica Alba could not save this one. The story took too long to develop, there was too much angst and not enough showing how the friends could stay friends through it, and the defeat of Galactus was entirely too simple and easy.
You Kill Me was an off-beat, independent movie about a hit man trying to get sober. It had some weird, understated humor and some interesting beats. Not a classic and you can tell why it was independent, but still fairly decent. It did take the time to develop the story and sub-plots which sometimes big-budget movies fail to do...but the cinematography and dialogue were hardly brilliant.
At the other end of the spectrum was Live Free or Die Hard, the spectacular comeback for the Die Hard franchise after the abominable Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995). Heavy artillery, implausible destruction, clever criminals, and Willis cracking great one-liners ("I was out of bullets" after bringing down a helicopter with a taxi cab comes to mind) were all present, as well as a wink to the audience at how deadly he was...this was outstanding popcorn fare that fit the series perfectly.
Ratatouille had so-so previews, but I love animated movies so we went to it anyway. It started with a bang, providing fun, likable protagonists and unexpected laughs...and never came back to earth. This should be an instant classic and find its way into many movie libraries. It had a couple of nice twists...the health inspector versus the rats in a restaurant, the staff walking out on the hero...good stuff. Memorable movie and everything Shrek the Third should have been.
I had never seen more than the occasional episode of the old Transformers cartoon so the movie was not destined to be a disappointment for me. Indeed, Transformers had everything I want in an action movie...motivation for the action, however tenuous...cool special effects, eye candy, big guns, great shoot-outs...and in this case, a bit more with the transforming aspect. Very fun movie. Megan Fox is easy on the eyes, I am one person who thinks the Bumblebee upgrade was a great idea, even if the reasoning of Volkswagen was nonsensical. Bay did what Bay does...the main problem with this movie was the second unit director turning the actors into cheese-factories to deliver their lines. Nevertheless, I watched it again on video...and still loved it the second time.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was next in line. I am no fan of the Potter franchise. My wife, however, loves it so we went to see it. It was about as I expected...execrable. There was no internal consistency, it had one of the worst "Hand of God" random plot devices I have ever seen, the protagonists were not likable...in all, it was a poor story poorly delivered. Even the Goose hated it. I do not know why I do not like this franchise. I really like fantasy as a genre. Yet this franchise...I saw the first movie in the franchise, hated it, tried to watch a second, walked out, and this one I would have walked out except I thought she was enjoying it. I was wrong. Awful, awful movie. Of course, enough people saw it that I know some people really liked it. I just don't see it personally. And that still shocks me.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry felt rushed, like they just did not take the time to make it work. The camaraderie scenes of the firefighters felt forced, the chemistry between Sandler and Kevin James, his fire-fighting and marriage partner, never made you believe it, and the jokes just weren't funny. This was a swing and a miss.
No Reservations was badly mismarketed. It was pitched as a heart-warming romantic comedy with an emphasis on the romantic. Instead it was a dreary, tragic tale with a protagonist who you never liked. It never really had a chance at being a great movie but it could have been at least acceptable. Many screens must have shattered when contacted by this bomb.
But the one movie that I looked forward to more than any...probably more than all...the other movies was yet to come. My expectations were so impossibly high that I knew it would not match them. There was no way The Simpsons Movie could do anything other than disappoint me. Well, there was one way...by keeping me laughing non-stop for the first half-hour, by having numerous "in-jokes" to Simpsons fans, and by providing laugh after laugh after laugh from opening couch gag (redone as a theatre gag) to the closing "Sequel?" of Maggie's "first word". Awesome, awesome movie. Must-see for any Simpsons fan and even for anyone who likes barbed humor. I have seen it three times so far (counting once on Christmas Day :-) ) and have no doubt numerous repeat viewings are in the future.
August started off with a bang as The Bourne Ultimatum showed how good a spy thriller could be. High tech gadgets, cat and mouse games, cloak and dagger thrillers, bluffs, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and even, for those not paying attention, a huge twist. Very well done. I enjoyed all the movies in the Bourne franchise and would be willing to watch them back to back. Who knew Matt Damon would be a great action star? The only thing I can't figure out is why he deliberately traps himself in the CIA offices when he could be on his way before they could be on his tail...
Stardust was an off-beat fantasy with an all-star cast...where the big names were relegated to the background. Despite a slow start, the movie got very interesting and was worth the time to see for those who are willing to get off the beaten trail a little bit. It took a while for Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) to become likable...but on the bright side, he does.
Superbad was instantly called a classic. I saw it. I am not sure why. It is full of crudity and profanity. Seth is pretty annoying. McLoving is pretty funny and the cry, "NNNNNNiiiiiicccccceeeeee" should instantly enter the lexicon, but otherwise jokes about periods and where the outlandish profanity is itself the joke are hardly classic. Mildly entertaining at best. Not as good as people present it. Maybe I am just too old to "get" it...or maybe profanity for the sake of profanity stops being funny when brains start working.
The Last Legion, on the other hand, deserved many more viewers than it got. Sure, the legend of Arthur has been told a lot of times and ways, but this was one of the best. Likable characters, and ending that leaves it to the viewer to choose if it is myth as myth or truth as myth, good battle scenes, strong story...surprisingly good movie. It portrays one way a good story can become a great legend.
Mr. Bean's Holiday was classic Bean...watching his physical slapstick, ridiculous situations, and confusion for laughs. It was about what you would expect...not likely to make new fans or chase away old ones.
On the other hand, War was an excellent movie. It had a bit of everything...great fight scenes, multiple layers of plot, and a surprise at the end that just might catch you if you are not thinking your way along with it. Very entertaining movie. I am not sure why Jason Statham does not draw better at the box office. Possibly because for every War or Transporter (2002) he makes, he makes a Crank (2006).
Balls of Fury was another in a long line of spoof movies. Occasionally they work, usually they are just too incredibly stupid. This was on the edge of working but just missed. I really don't recommend spending more than 50 cents to see it if you don't want to feel like you got ripped off. It had a few laughs but managed to waste Christopher Walken. All his good lines were in the trailer. Actually, 107% of the laughs were in the trailer...
3:10 to Yuma had a lot of things working against it; it was a Western, it was a remake of a classic, and it was making Russell Crowe as a bad guy. However, they updated the story, made some not-so-veiled references to current events, and churned out a moving, strong story with a very satisfying shoot-out. Very watchable. I enjoyed it a great deal. I would be interested in watching the original back to back with the remake to see which is more entertaining.
Good Luck Chuck, on the other hand, started out with a lot of promise. It has the always easy on the eyes Jessica Alba, penguins, and was poised to be the next great romantic comedy. It even had some comedy in it. And some romance. And Jessica-related pornography. I still am not sure why it did not work. But it didn't. Somewhere along the way it fell flat and was another disappointment. Maybe it was Chuck's buddy...sometimes a movie misses and you can't put your finger on why.
The Game Plan was exactly as advertised...by the numbers misfit parent/sibling comedy aimed at the family audience. It hit exactly where it tried. No surprises...just a mildly entertaining feel-good film. Disney made dozens just like it, only funnier, in the 60s.
The Heartbreak Kid looked like another sure-fire Ben Stiller hit. It was written for his particular brand of comedy. It had some hysterically funny scenes in it. But it just never really gelled. It worked better as disjointed sketches with recurring characters than anything else. It was like watching an episode of Saturday Night Live or Mad TV where some of the writers were "on" and others were on a really "off" night. And it was just...tooo...crude.
We Own the Night positioned itself as a classic crime drama. It followed a format that is tough to do; a miserable, dreary setting, a miserable, dreary protagonist you don't like doing a tough job undercover to bring down criminals with no redeeming features in a violent confrontation. It ended up being a miserable, dreary, horrible movie. The very fact it is MENTIONED as a possible Best Picture at the Oscars shows you how irrelevant and out of touch they are. Did I mention it was miserable and dreary?
Despite my deep and abiding love for all things animated, the previews for The Bee Movie were so unabashedly stupd and lame that I almost skipped it. Another slow night of traffic convinced me to see it...especially with the paucity of watchable movies in October. Well, it proved to be much, much better than expected. There were a fair number of laughs and a couple of memorable scenes. November was off to a good start. I actually think had I not seen the previews, particularly the live-action ones, I would have really, really enjoyed this one. I did enjoy it...I just think the previews were so bad they actually inhibited my enjoyment by making me wait for that level of nonsense to enter.
American Gangster was supposed to be the next great The Godfather (1972). It wasn't. It was a so-so crime drama chronicling his real-life rise to power. The individual performances were excellent...Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were at their best. But the story did not flow...it had the potential and verged on greatness. I suspect history will show it as a good but not great bit of cinema that is largely forgotten.
Fred Claus rehashed The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006) and had about the same amount of humor. It had the potential to be great...it just...missed. And sometimes you cannot put your finger on how or why. There were some humerous moments but there was some really lame ones, too. This was too much Vince Vaughn playing the snarky, cynical, world weary guy and not enough fun.
Beowulf seems like it demands the 3-D effects. The story is decent but not great, the animation pedestrian...much like the source material, it is simply to dark and grim to allow you to leave the theatre feeling buoyed by your good fortune in having seen it. You don't really mind when the hero dies and don't care enough to think about what the inconclusive ending means.
Enchanted looked, from the previews, like a disastrous live-action version of Happily N'ever After (I must have REALLY hated that movie...as much as I have mentioned and panned it in here...). But I thought I would take a run at it anyway. I am very glad I did. Though some of it was annoying...the chipmunk, the lame, "I am villain and therefore must act stupid" ending...the movie overall was fun, vibrant, outstanding. The production numbers were well-choreographed and hilarious, there were some nice touches to give it layers of meaning for the more attentive...maybe the surprise hit of the year. I loved both the live-action dance numbers. I never thought I would say that. They just were so entertaining it was amazing.
This Christmas quickly brought us back to reality. It was a busy, predictable, lame bit of film that should be forgotten as quickly as possible.
I never played any of the games in the Hitman franchise but the Hitman flick was good at what it is; a violent, gunfire and swordplay driven movie with little time or need for meaningful, intelligent plot. So it dispensed with that and did what it does best...good entry into the genre. It joins a long line of movies that try to get by by being about assasins.
His Dark Materials; The Golden Compass was intended to be another tentpole picture that would lead to book sales, merchandise sales, and 2 follow up movies. The firestorm over whether they will "sneak" atheism in was perhaps predictable, debatably necessary...and will definitely prohibit the most important feature. The box office flop will be blamed on the debate instead of what it should be blamed on...the shortcomings of the movie. It simply failed to entertain, regardless of whether it would adversely affect the thoughts of children. To pass a message, a movie must first entertain. The Golden Compass never bothered to do that...or to make sense. I still cannot get past the armored bear who claims his armor is the very meaning of his life...yet separates from it as willingly as most people separate from bad sushi.
I Am Legend is nothing I normally look for in a movie. It is a disaster movie. It has a bleak vision of the world. It has not hope, no potential for positive outcomes. Yet I heard enough good things about it that I elected to see it. It was surprisingly good. Will Smith is fantastic. It presented a cohesive picture of a man with a god complex watching everything he loves and cares about be destroyed, only to be redeemed through self-sacrifice. I was surprised to find out I was actually entertained.
Alvin and the Chipmunks was another movie where the preview was disastrous. The infamous "raisin eating" preview led me to believe the jokes were going to primarily be flatulence and fesces related. I can live without that. It made me sad because the Chipmunks are a treasured bit of my Christmases. Well, happily the movie was far better than its previews. It was funny. The characters were engaging. The primary disappointment was the refusal of Jason Lee to sell out on his "AAAAAAAAALLLllllllllllllllvvvvvvvvvviiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnn!!!!!" scream of annoyance. Not a great movie, but certainly entertaining with a few nice laughs and some solid nostalgia.
There is a possibility I will see one or two more movies by years' end...but for now, this is my take on an overall very fun year at the movies.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
The centerpiece of the movie is Robert Neville (Will Smith), a military man, a scientist, and a survivor. He alone is immune to the virus that devastated the world population and lives alone with a city full of mutants. Along with his German Shepherd Sam he travels New York by day searching for supplies and, occasionally, test subjects to try serums on. By night he hides and barricades himself in a hidden home.
The overarching theme is loneliness. He talks to Sam like a real person. He sets up mannequins at the video store he regularly goes to. He leaves his radio broadcasting his location with when and where he can be found.
And he works. And works. And works.
There is a strange discrepancy between the verbiage of the movie and the visuals. After Neville uses a trap to capture a subject to try his latest antidote on he makes a "behavioral note" on the mutants in which he claims they have lost their survival instincts and social interaction has totally devolved.
Yet the viewer is led to believe the Alpha Male (Dash Mihok) endures the sun briefly for want of companionship with the captured Alpha Female (Joanna Numata). He also moves Sam, the mannequin "storekeeper" at the video store and catches Neville in the same trap Neville used to capture the Alpha Female.
In other words, it is easy to draw the interpretation that part of Nevilles' problem is inattention, refusal to believe the truth. This is reinforced as a picture of arrogance as he first proclaims to fellow immune survivor Anna (Alica Braga) that "God didn't do this (the plague), WE did!" and that there is no God, yet in the final few minutes of his life he "hears" the voice of God. It is then that his last cure works, the antidote for the virus comes to fruition and he must sacrifice his life to slay the Alpha Male and allow Anna to carry the antidote to the colony of survivors.
Other possible interpretations exist. Another obvious potential interpretation would be that mankind is itself the virus poisoning the world through racism and hate. Loneliness comes when that poison creates separation and can only be defeated if good people work day and night, never stopping, and are willing to sacrifice themselves to ensure its defeat.
This is amplified by the way Neville becomes more separated from others as first, his wife and child die in a helicopter accident when leaving New York, then his dog dies to rescue him from the mutant trap, and then he attempts to commit suicide while taking out as many mutants as possible, only to be rescued by Anna. Yet he proves unable to reconnect to other people because the strain of fighting the virus has taken him too far over the edge. He has systematically lost his family, dog, and belief in the effectiveness of the plan formulated to counteract the virus. In his arrogance he refuses to believe there is any other survivor or colony. He and he alone has the ability to end this plague.
As a general rule I can leave or not take zombie movies. Yet Smith gives a powerful performance, director Francis Lawrence keeps things together and makes it entertaining as well as a little bit thought provoking.
Fortunately, it was actually pretty good. The movie opens with Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) singing "You've Had a Bad Day" while stuffing a tree with nuts. Alvin pushes too hard and they lose all the nuts which leads to complaining about life in the forest. Meanwhile, tree farmers cut down the tree...with the Chipmunks in it...and put it up as a Christmas tree at Jett records.
Meanwhile, David (Jason Lee) was going to Jett Records to meet with Ian (David Cross) in an attempt to sell him a song David had written. On his way he runs into ex-girlfriend Claire (Cameron Richardson) who sees he is, as usual, late to be somewhere but agrees to come to dinner anyway.
At Jett Records Ian just blows up David's song-writing skills and tells him to get a different career, to give up on the songwriting. Angry, David steals a fruit basket. As he is walking through the lobby, the Chipmunks are trying to return to the woods and, to avoid danger, smuggle themselves into the basket. Thus is born the unlikely partnership.
At first it is a negative one as the Chipmunks wreck the house and foul up David's dinner with Claire. However, there are moments of tenderness as well.
David ends up writing Christmas Don't Be Late, the Chipmunks are a hit, and then a struggle for control of the Chipmunks erupts between the angelic David who wants to give them a healthy life with planning for the future and Ian who wants to market them heavily, take them on tours, and let them live a life with no rules. David's unwillingness to be open about his fondness for them causes the Chipmunks to head out on the road with Ian.
Soon their excesses render them unhappy but Ian is bent on marketing them heavily and making bank. In the finale David must rescue the chipmunks, admit they are his family, and get Claire.
First, the good.
The Chipmunks are well-animated, fun to watch, and the music is surprisingly good. There are more laughs than expected and Theodore steals virtually every scene he is in. David Cross gives an excellent performance and is a strong foil for David and the Chipmunks.
Then, the bad.
Cameron Richardson has little to do, Jason Lee is not as into his character as normal, and at times in the crowd scenes you can tell nobody is really into it.
Finally, the ugly.
The final chase scene does not fit with the movie. It is poorly choreographed and, frankly, pretty lame. It really lost me which is sad because up until then I was really, really digging the movie. But most disappointing was the Jason Lee version of Seville's (David Seville) famous, "AAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLVVVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNN" cry of disgust. Lee never sells out and gives one that resonates the way Seville's did.
Still, it was a very entertaining movie with some good laughs and was much, much better than expected.
Well, as it turns out, Ironman Al wanted to see it so off we went.
The story follows Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), a headstrong, dishonest, annoying little twerp sent to school by her uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). She is constantly in trouble, known as a liar, and basically is one of those annoying characters so often foisted upon us for protagonists.
Soon she is taken out of school by Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), an operative for the Magesterium. This does not go well, she escapes Coulter, joins up with a variety of people who help her and she develops a mastery of the use of the Golden Compass.
Through a pretty random series of events she ends up finding the location where the Magesterium is involved in separating children from their daemons, rescues the children, and then comes the best scene of the movie.
As the children escape from the exploding prison they are headed off by guards clearly reminiscent of the fearsome and murderous Cossacks of the Russians. However, the children are rescued by an alliance consisting of the Gyptians, witches, and an armored bear who spends more time out of armor than in it. The battle is pretty entertaining.
The movie missed the mark on many accounts. Lyra is very hard to like, her journey is guided by the writer saying "we need to go here for the next scene" instead of any internal consistency, the characters in the movie do not have internal consistency...
For example, Iorek Byrnison (voiced by Ian McKellan) has a long scene in which he talks about being an armored bear for whom his armor is like the daemons for people. Of course, if people are separated from their daemons for longer than a specified length of time they die...but Iorek spends most of the movie leaving his armor behind to head into danger. It makes no sense whatsoever.
In short, this was a movie with unlikable characters, weak plot, and inherent discrepancies. On the bright side, the acting was passable, the special effects excellent and the ending battle scene is almost good enough to redeem the movie. Key in on the word almost.
As it turns out, it was a movie with basically no plot involving numerous mini-stories loosely tied together by revolving around a family gathered together for Christmas.
And that is one of the problems with this movie. There are so many stories that none really gets fully developed.
You have Joe Black (Delroy Lindo) and Ma'Dere (Loretta Divine) hiding the fact they are living together from the kids. You have the tension between Joe and Quentin Whitfield (Idris Elba) because Quentin dislikes anyone replacing his father who left because of his music. You have Quentin running from violent hoodlums over some debt or other. You have Ma'Dere objecting to Michael 'Baby' Whitfield (Chris Brown) singing because Quentin and her husband both left for their music. You have Baby taking pictures and sneaking out to sing. You have Malcom Moore (Laz Alonso) and Lisa Moore (Regina King) trying to get the family to sell the cleaners so Malcom can finance a business project while he cheats on Lisa. You have Claude Whitfield (Columbus Short) and Sandi (Jessica Stroup) trying to hide the fact he married a white woman who is hiding from him the fact she his pregnant while he is hiding from her the fact he is AWOL. You have sisters arguing over the value of staying home to help with the cleaners versus going to college, of a sister bringing home her boyfriend for the first time, of college sister finding a boyfriend on the California coast while she lives in New York, of...well, you get the point. There are probably three or four other stories.
As a result, none of them gets anything more than a cursory, by the numbers treatment and you never really are able to get involved with the characters.
On a side note, the Joe Black character is interesting. It is a rare, positive portrayal of a religious figure. He is the tolerant one in the conflict with Quentin, he is the one who rescues Quentin from the thugs and then draws the family together, he is the one who provides the glue to hold the family together in spite of the obstacles...
Why, then, did they feel it necessary to have he and Ma'Dea living together outside of marriage? If he is indeed a deacon, as they represent and explicitly state, in what religion is extra-marital co-habitation acceptable? The film makers are creating their own morality here and it is unfortunate because otherwise the character would have had more consistency.
Overall, it was a predictable, busy movie that never really grabbed the heart the way it had the potential to do so. Fewer stories would have allowed more time to identify with the characters and consider their relationships.
One final note: this was brought up by the Goose or I would not have noticed: at the close of the movie, each character of any import at all, from the immediate family to the housekeeper to the thugs does a little dance. In fact, the only cast member of any import who does not go through the line dancing is Jessica Stroup...the white girl. To me it did not matter one way or the other, but she felt they were making a statement with that omission. I leave it to the viewer to decide...if you bother to see this flick that could have been really good but somehow ended up feeling like a half-baked Hallmark Special.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Hitman starts out with standard fare...a variety of children are shown being given strict, rigid training that turns them into cold, calculating, and efficient killers. He echoes scenes from the short-lived Dark Angel series, particularly with the scene where barcodes are tattood onto the heads of each kid.
Then it flashes to Agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) as he arrives home. The music in this scene is interesting as it strongly echoes the Bourne franchise music in moments when Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is about to do something based on his training as a specialized, renamed killer for hire by a secret governmental agency...of course, that might be expected since in Hitman the title character is trained to be a specialized, renamed killer for higher by a secret religious agency so referencing a highly successful franchise is not a mad move here.
Inside he faces Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), the grown-up version of, one presumes, the child we saw get his dome inked up earlier. Agent 47 asks Mike the key question...how and when does a good man decide to kill? Then the movie flashes back 3 months to show one of his hits.
Mike also appears in that scene, which takes place in Africa. Mike works for Interpol and is tracking "our guy" who, naturally, will turn out to be Agent 47. He is convinced the Africa hit is the work of his ghost, his unseen assassin who Mike is sure has made over 100 hits.
Meanwhile, Agent 47 gets another assignment...kill Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), the newly turned moderate President of Russia. However, against his normal protocol, he is ordered to make the hit in public. Agent 47 likes the low profile work as it allows him to stay hidden.
Before he can leave Russia he is told there was a witness and is told to hit Nika Boronina (Olga Kurylenko). However, when he approaches her, she does not recognize him and he realizes he has been set up. Just in time a random passerby comes between him and the guy sent to kill him, taking the bullet meant for Agent 47. He escapes into the crowd.
Then he is told he missed his first hit, that Belicoff is still alive. This sets in motion a chain of events as he is chased by The Organization (the group that trained him) who are trying to kill him, Mike and Jenkins (Michael Offei) of Interpol for being a killer, and Yuri Marklov (Robert Knepper) of the FSB, the Russian intelligence arm, to kill Nika for knowing why Belicoff hired his own assassination, and Agent 47 for now knowing the truth.
Inter-faction arguments between INTERPOL, the FSB, and in a tertiary role the CIA lead to chases, fights, killings, and basically turn it into a road fight picture.
In the end Agent 47 unravels the mystery, gets the girl...maybe...and convinces Mike to play off another assassin Agent 47 has killed as being the target of his hunt so Agent 47 can disappear in safety.
The acting is interesting. Agent 47 is a deliberately cold, unemotional, unfeeling character. However, for those who have not followed the video game franchise, this makes him hard to get involved with. Nika's roll seems to be to show lots of skin and try to seduce Agent 47 at 10 - 15 minute intervals, albeit unsuccessfully. Mike and Yuri have excellent rapport and byplay that really steals the movie.
But this is not a movie about acting, it is about shooting and sword-fighting, and spectacular, convoluted plans to kill bad guys. And for that, it does just fine.
It was a bit disconcerting in one scene between Agent 47 and Nika where her ridiculous dragon tattoo jumps from left cheek to right cheek and back. The scene was clearly shot at two different times as her make-up and skin texture change as well. There are other continuity issues, but this was the most jarring.
Overall, it was pretty good for what it was...popcorn fare based on a popular game. The storyline was better than expected, though it had huge, gaping holes that seem to have been left alone since there is no reasonable explanation...they simply provided a thin excuse for great heaps of violence. For example...why does the Organization elect to pursue Agent 47? In the confrontation between 4 Organization assassins and Agent 47, why do they point their guns at each other, then only fight Agent 47? Once the Russians have been killed, why is an assassin still sent after Nika? It is pointless.
Be that as it may, leave the questions at home, just sit back and enjoy the violence.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
This brings up an interesting point. The 3-D glasses can be quite annoying to wear...is there a huge market for movies that can be viewed with or without them, but look and feel better with the glasses? Maybe.
Be that as it may, Beowulf (2007) tells the story of self-indulgent, passionate, self-promoting hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone) as he struggles to defeat Grendel (Crispin Glover), a whining, mewling murderous troll who happens to be the son of the aptly named "Grendel's Mother" (Angelina Jolie) and the King. Once Grendel is slain the celebration is surprisingly muted until Beowulf insists on a celebration.
Unfortunately, when Beowulf is celebrating, all his men are killed. It is then revealed that Grendel's mother is still in the area so he must go after Grendel's mother. When he returns the King realizes he did not slay her but rather slept with her. He commits suicide, leaving the kingdom to Beowulf.
Years go by and finally the sins of Beowulf come back to haunt him as he must battle his son, the Golden Dragon (also Ray Winstone). In a final climactic battle he shows himself an actual hero, finding a way to slay the dragon, though it costs him his own life. As the movie ends, Grendel's mother is seducing his long time advisor.
The special effects were nice, but more for aficionados of special effects than a reason to see the movie. The animation was nice, but outside of 3-D it was hardly spectacular. It was actually a bit distracting. The story is okay but not gripping. It tends to be a bit longish and disappointing in that the most entertaining characters are killed off early. Overall, it was a movie with a lot of promise that failed to deliver.