Monday, December 29, 2008

Movie Review:The Spirit

Frank Miller is infatuated with color schemes of black and white with splashes of red. In The Spirit he uses these to great effect. As a director he has a great eye for stunning visuals and iconic moments. As a writer he has a wry, twisted sense of humor that translates well to the stylized movies he likes to put out.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) is a super-hero whose primary super-power is his ability to repeatedly come back from death. He acts as a sort of detective/spy for the police force while battling his arch-nemesis the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), a villain who has the same ability and a wicked sense of humor.

For example, the Octopus has a bizarre preoccupation with eggs. He also has a never-ending series of cloned minions (Louis Lombardi) that die with regularity only to come back with new names ending in -os; Pathos, ethos, Adios (the last one we see) and, after one long monologue about not getting egg on his face, he names his next minion Huevos...Spanish for egg.

The Octopus is trying to attain the blood of Heracles to make himself immortal. Silken Floss (Scarlett Johannsen) is is assistant trying to pay her way through college. Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) is tyring to attain Jason's Golden Fleece because it is shiny. The Spirit is trying to end crime in his city.

That is about it as far as story, which is fine. This is a pretty action-filled romp with occasional spots of humor and some outstanding visuals. If you like those sorts of movies, you will love The Spirit. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Movie Review: The Tale of Despereaux

If you saw the trailers for The Tale of Despereaux (2008) you probably thought it was a cutesy movie about a mouse, Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) who doesn't realize he should be afraid and how he overcomes the teaching. It was expected there would be several scenes of him in class learning mousely things and a few events around Mouse-town interspersed with occasional interactions with Princess Pea (Emma Watson).

Imagine our surprise when about ten minutes into the flick we still had seen hide nor hair of Despereaux. We had spent the time with Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), a sailor rat, who was responsible for getting soup and rats banished from the island.

The school scenes I expected so much from were disappointing...there could not have been more than a minute or so of them I had not already seen in the trailer.

Essentially, everything concerning Despereaux was shown in the trailers and the majority of screen time was characters who never showed up in the trailers. This was unfortunate because it painted a very skewed view of what the movie would be like.

You went in expecting Shrek and got The Secret of Nimh. 

This is not to say it is not a good is hard to tell because it takes some time to readjust expectations and figure out the movie is not about what you thought it was.

Short form of the story; Roscuro wants some soup, startles the Queen who then dies, causing the king to banish soup and rats, then sit around playing his lute all the time. Roscuro banished to rat kingdom where he doesn't fit in. Despereaux doesn't fit in and is banished to rat kingdom. Farm Girl becomes Princess handmaid, wants to be princess, captures Princess, Roscuro and Despereaux rescue her, King sees error of ways, everyone is happy again.

Okay story, terrible comedy with very few laughs. Animation was decent at best. Nothign special here, this one is no better than a rental.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Movie Review:Australia

Australia (2008) is the story of a young aboriginal boy Nullah (Brandon Walters) who does the voice over...wait a second, no, it is the story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) battling to save her farm from King Carney (Bryan Brown), wait a second, it is her trying to save the farm from Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), wait a second, he just lost all to the Japanese and no longer troubles her,  it is a love story between Ashley and Drover (Hugh Jackman), wait a second, it is the story of Ashley learning she cannot control everyone and everything around, wait a second, it is the story of Drover standing up for, wait a second, it is the story of King George (David Gulpilil) passing on the old ways to Nullah...oh, never mind.

Nobody really knows what this movie is about because it changes themes, goals, and rules repeatedly. Of course, by the end, nobody cares, either, they just want to escape the teatre. It also ends, then goes on for another two hours. If you thought the ending of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) was long and overwrought, particularly the extended edition, then you definitely do not want to see Australia because it takes even longer to end. 

Nor is it worth waiting for the end. The pointless sacrifice on the island adds nothing to Drover's character, the resolution of the tension between Drover wanting to be free and Ashley wanting him to not leave Far Away Downs makes no sense...

ah, lets face it; the film is a bit of overwrought crap that nobody in their right mind should see.

Movie Review:Seven Pounds

Will Smith is probably among the most bankable stars in Hollywood right now. He can do action, comedy, or drama. In  am Legend (2007) he was more or less alone onscreen for the vast majority of the movie...and carried it off. Clearly, he is more than just another pretty face.

In Seven Pounds (2008), widely considered his attempt for an Oscar, he plays Ben Thomas, a man haunted by some tragedy in his past.

Throughout the movie he tries to help seven random strangers. The most important is Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a woman dying due to heart problems. Thomas is also dying of a heart ailment...but his is mental rather than physical.

Seven Pounds then refers to the weight of a human pounds on average. It also refers to the theme of the story. Emily becomes the healing needed by Ben as she becomes his friend and shows him recovery from past tragedy is possible. 

Unfortunately, the script is extremely weak and the story rather shallow. As a result, director Gabriele Muccino is forced to rely on flashbacks, playing with time, and essentially hiding the story to stretch it out to feature film length. the story might be worthy of feature length, but as written it would have done better as a 30 minute after school special or Hallmark Holiday movie. 

There are some nice moments in the movie, but for the most part it really drags and also manages to irritate. The flashbacks and playing with time are more of a story than anything else and somehow manage to take what could be an excellent story and turn it into drek.

The movie is slightly redeemed by the two twists at the end, though all the clues to the result are there. I caught them, my wife caught one of them. The end was depressing, maudlin, and disappointing. This movie could have been great. It wasn't. It wasn't even good. Blech.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Movie Review:Punisher Warzone

If you ever watch the old 1980s television series the A-team and thought, "Wow, they made a mistake. Take the number of shots fired in the series and instead shoot them in each episode and you would have something," then Punisher:Warzone is for you. 

If you ever thought, "The only thing that interferes with a great action movie is an involved plot, then this movie is for you.

If you ever thought, "I really need to see the inside of more heads, preferably extremely bloody" then this movie is right up your alley.

If you ever thought, "Action movies are far and away best when everyone plays their role seriously and to the hilt except the villains who need to be extremely cartoonish...adopting bizarre, exaggerated walks, maniacal cackles, and weird speaking styles" then this movie is definitely one you need to see.

Rumors abounded as to why director Lexi Alexander had all her blogs about the process taken down and that she had been removed from the project. If the antics of Jigsaw (Dominic West) and Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) had anything to do with her point of view...she did very well because they detracted from what otherwise would have been a great take on the Punisher.

Fans of the comic know what I am talking about. The Punisher, aka Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) was a brutal vigilante who was notable for his high body counts, creative uses of a variety of weapons, high body counts, the number of shots he fired in each issue, and his high body counts.

On the third try, they finally got the Punisher right. His costume is outstanding, with the ghostly skull on his Kevlar making a real impact statement unlike the cheesy T-shirt from the 2004 Thomas Jane bomb The Punisher. 

Unlike the brooding, moody Jane, Stevenson's Punisher indeed seems driven by vengeance but aware of what he is doing. He has developed a network of helpers who identify when, where, and how many mobsters will be gathered. He then shows up to dispense his brand of justice...a high-octane bout of gunfire, physical decimation, and killing.

The movie is a really solid action movie. 

Unfortunately, Dominic West looks like he thinks he is playing a cartoon character. His walk, his facial expressions, vocal inflections, and interactions with Doug Hutchinson move them from "believable, intense villains" status straight to "How in the world did you get (mis)cast for this part?

Still, there is plenty of solid acting, a decent plot, and lots of action that should make non-fanboy status Punisher fans go home happy. Definitely an enjoyable effort despite the ridiculous twosome. 

Naturally, there are a few loose, what happens to the Russians in the climactic hotel shoot-out? We can assume...but it is certainly not clear.

On the bright side, the movie is enjoyable, action packed, avoids becoming maudlin, and has a nice conclusion. If you like good shoot-out movies with a healthy dose of hand-to-hand combat, go see Punisher Warzone. Just ignore the Jigsaw and his gang.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Movie Review:The Transporter 3

Jason Statham is quietly building a very respectable action star resume. A lot of that comes from the Transporter series. 

They all have similarities. Statham plays Frank Martin, a former military special forces guy who works as a transporter. He gets details from people regarding weights, package sizes, and price. He shows up, picks up the package, and delivers it. No questions, no modifications to the deal, no problems.

Obviously he runs into enough problems to have made 3 movies. They are not intended to be realistic. However, if you like high-octane adventure stories with a lot of car chases (and in this case bike chases), improbable stunts that are eye-catching and pleasing, basic plots that give you a clear-cut bad guy and plenty of fun, then these movies should work very well for you.

Frank, as usual, relies on Inspector Tarconi (Francois Berleand) to do the technical work and be his ace in the hole as he works to deliver the package. In a surprise to nobody in the audience, the package turns out to be the girl Valentina (Natalya Rudakova).

Frank drives maniacally to elude everyone chasing him, puts on a couple very entertaining martial arts shows, demonstrates the agility of his car, and saves the day.

The one quibble would be the mystery of the appearing window. Sure, the movie is not meant to be realistic. Nevertheless, there was still the glaring continuity error of the window Frank kicks out reappearing and disappearing during the gas station stop, only to reappear for good. 


When that is the biggest was an entertaining flick. If you like action or car chases or bike chases, this movie will entertain you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Movie Review:Four Christmases

Holiday movies. They are omnipresent it seems. Some are good, others are not... they are smarmy and predictable. Smarmy and predictable can work. Shrek the Halls is enjoyable if not necessarily the "instant classic" it has been anointed. Then again...How the Grinch Stole Christmas is brutal but well loved for some reason that eludes me.

What differentiates Shrek the Halls from smarm that is take it or leave it fare is they remembered to put in some humor. That is a formula for entertaining Christmas fare.

Four Christmases (2008) manages to be smarmy, predictable, and still fun. Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) get off some pretty good one liners, there are laughs to be had with family interactions, pee on a stick in a mouth, and so forth.

At the same time, there is some heart in the flick. It is bizarre, smarmy heart that leaves you wondering if you really just saw that...but it is heart.

So we have a holiday movie with a few laughs. If you expect anything else, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for brilliant, incisive dialogue or if you are looking for an intricate, intelligent plot then you will be sadly disappointed. 

But if you want feel-good holiday fare with a few laughs, you should see this movie.