Sunday, May 23, 2010

Movie Review: Shrek Forever After

Four movies. Ten Years. A zillion laughs. A sea change.
All these phrases and more fit the Shrek franchise.
When Shrek opened in 2001, it was noted for the way it "stood traditional fairy tales on their head". It capitalized on elements of anti-establishment emotions and made a hero of the classical villain-figure.
In 2004 with Shrek II they expanded the characters and broadened the story lines.
The laughs in both were plenteous and the references to well-known tales and cliches easy, natural, and awesome. And the "filler", Shrek the Halls (2007) was classic.
Later, it turned out 2007 was a dark year. In Shrek the Third...or as I prefer to refer to it, Shrek the turd, they forgot what made the first two movies great.
They tried so hard to push a particular concept that they forgot a key part of the formula that worked so well in parts one in two...namely, that the jokes come as part of the story, not at the expense of the story.
Pushing jokes, "non-traditional" ideas and so forth led to it more closely resembling epic fail icon Happily N'Ever After (2006) than the first two members of the Shrek franchise. It was unfunny, unentertaining, and borderline unwatchable.
That was unfortunate, because it showed promise. It just never delivered...and the failure was so epic that the entire Arthurian legend portion of the add-ons was completely eliminated from what is supposed to be the closing number, Shrek Forever After.
The story is nothing super exciting or original...but that is not necessarily a complaint. There are only so many times you can "turn cliches on their head" before there are no cliches left to turn.
At its roots, the movie can be summed up in either of two ways; 1) Shrek (Mike Meyers) experiences a mid-life crisis and must learn how lucky he is or 2) "I did not know what I had until it was gone" as Shrek intones late in the movie.
The story revolves around a deal Shrek makes with the delightful Rumplestiltskin (Walt Dohrn) who, along with his goose, are exactly the type of villain the first two Shreks liked the villain nearly as much as Shrek. He was funny, entertaining, and a fitting counter-point.
There are many jokes, some nice one-liners, great animation, and a light but fun story. The "Do the roar" kid is outstanding.
They also do a nice job of drawing the story to a close. Shrek is no longer the feared, dangerous ogre....he has settled into life with wife, children, and friends...and he is happy about that. They conclude with a montage of some great moments for the series.
I have read several critics just blasting this flick for not being as fresh, original, or layered as the first one.
Maybe. But it is still very entertaining. We had a full theatre of people laughing from beginning to end and walked away satisfied. The bad taste from the third effort is gone and we can put it to bed with fond memories of this one.
Was it the best of the four? No...probably third best, but in a series like this...that is still pretty good.
And I saw it in just 2-d...really, it did not strike me as anything worth the extra premium for 3-d tickets. The animation looked spectacular, the jokes were every bit as funny, and this is a title that will end up on my shelf when it is released.
The Weasel is Full

Friday, May 21, 2010

Movie Review: Robin Hood

This is a hard review for me because there is simply no way I can be fair to the movie.

Much like my review of GI Joe was skewed by the ridiculous accelerator suits and my anticipation for the forthcoming Jonah Hex is shattered by the fundamental shift in his story, the things I heard about Robin Hood proved false.

When the movie was first green-lighted, the rumor was the "twist" to the story was that Robin Hood was also the Sheriff of Nottingham. That would be a fun take on it and center on the best part of the story...Robin and his Merry Men hanging out in the forest, doing good deeds.

What we got was nothing like that. It started on the return from the Crusades, had just a couple of the classic Robin Hood tales, and had the feel more of a "tent pole origin story" than a self-contained movie.

Not that it was devoid of its charms...Ridley Scott has an excellent eye for the camera, he pulled excellent performances from a strong cast of supporting actors, and had a richly developed, nuanced world.

This version owed more to the gritty, violent Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves version than to the light-hearted Robin Hood cartoon Disney put out, though there were elements of humor to it.

Ultimately, though, I think the movie failed on its own merits.

Instead of a bow-slinging Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) we get one who is more courtier than rough-hewn peasant, who wields a sword more than a bow and, in the climatic sea-battle, wields a battle hammer? What in the world?

This movie simply had too many gaping holes in it;
- why would the wild orphans steal SEED?
- why would they then decide to rescue the towns-folk and join Marian (Cate Blanchett) in battle?
- why would Robin abandon the bows (and how did he do it so quickly) and the sword for that ugly battle-hammer?

I should clarify; I did enjoy the movie. It had several likable characters, an interesting enough plot, was well-paced and had some depth to it.

It simply was not what was expected, and that harmed my personal enjoyment of it. It also felt like an incomplete story.

It is probably worth seeing at a second run theatre or on a Netflix release, but not worth full price admission.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie Review:John 3:33

John 3:33 is a low-budget, local production written and directed by Tim Burr with producing help from Tyler Travis. Since it starred a former teammate of mine, I went to see it.

The Story
John (Phil Stoddard), Jonathan (Phil Stoddard) and John (Phil Stoddard) are three potential life-routes taken that all encounter a terrorist attack in Willamina, OR in different ways.

John, guided/prodded/harassed by a mysterious stranger...maybe an angel, maybe a demon, maybe both or neither, looks at various incidents that may or may not have happened, what they reveal about him, and whether they reflect fate or his own choices.

The story is often confusing with incomplete, incoherent segments with little or no relation to other scenes. This, per Burr's admission, is partly by design. The resolution is left to the viewer's discretion, a tactic often used by movies that intent to be proclaimed "smart". Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

This story has potential, but also some rough edges and ultimately has too many threads which go nowhere. The journey is more important than a clear narrative. If you are willing to accept the vignette-unrelated methodology, it will work far better.

It contrasts with a movie like Crash where seemingly unrelated vignettes ultimately prove to be intimately interwoven and you will see a clear difference between a movie with potential for a memorable experience and a movie that is an ambitious, worthy attempt...but still an early, inexperienced attempt at a feature movie.

He tried to put in some nice touches, like the reoccurring dog appearances...but they were unmotivated and therefore did nothing to add to the story. Had the dog had some purpose for being in random locations, they would have been great.

He had several ideas like this which came close but juuuuuuuuuuuuusssssttt missed.

The Cinematography
One problem with filming a low-budget movie is the lack of budget for certain things. This feature looked like what it was; a low-budget labor of love.

I would guess it was shot single-camera. He did a nice job of de-emphasizing some of the weaknesses...he chose to go low-light as a mood-enhancer, for example, shooting almost universally in dark locations.

He also spent a lot of time with close-ups of faces, actions...even the tearing of a receipt got a double-dose of the close-up treatment.

At times this worked rather well, other times it was somewhat distracting.

This is not standard Hollywood fare. It is an off-beat, somewhat unconventional flick designed not to tell a story but to raise questions in the viewer and stimulate them to thinking about their own life.

If you like slick special effects, pretty cinematography, and a clear story this movie is not for you.

Conversely, if you like unusual, off-center, "personal films", this should be right up your alley.

It will never be confused with great cinema, but there is a place for material like this.

The Weasel is Satisfied

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Movie Review:Iron-Man 2

Comic books went through a massive change from their inception. Much early fare was basic escapist entertainment with outlandish story lines, fantastical feats of derring-do, and campy stories that delivered a high fun factor.

As the mood of the nation changed, so did the super hero comic. By the late 80s or early 90s it seemed many titles focused more on the personal, typically angst-driven problems of the titular hero with the action scenes providing the next beat in that story, almost secondary to the main point of the book.

In that period, when they were trying to be taken as a serious medium, they delved deeply into a variety of social issues and causes. For some, this was a wonderful thing. For others, they started to miss the fun factor that made the medium special.

That is not a criticism that can be leveled at Iron Man 2. The fun factor is high, the action sequences numerous and spectacular, the violence at near spaghetti western levels, and the scenery...just gorgeous.

Director Jon Favreau has a great eye for spectacular, eye-pleasing moments that border on the iconic, a sly sense of humor, and a talent for bringing out the best in his well-populated star list. Perhaps the moment that best displays this is the Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the donut.
From a story standpoint, Iron Man is excellent. The basic storyline is nothing spectacular, nor are any of the sub-plots taken individually...but when melded together they provide a very nice texture to frame an overall effect that has re-watchability.

Additionally, they show a knowledge of and respect for the fans of the comic book. This is shown by little things such as Stark using the phrase "war machine" in regards to the suit Rhoades (Don Cheadle) is wearing that had a brief run as its own comic titled War Machine. It was a very nice touch.

It is one reason the movie works on many levels. The non-comic fan gets a big, bold action-adventure. The comic fan gets to see little bits and pieces of the Marvel Universe on the big screen with homages to the "canon".

From a cinematography standpoint, I think most viewers can find many things to enjoy. The scenery...whether nature or the often spectacular and easy on the eyes. (When Stark says of Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johannsen), "I want one", many viewers probably already had that thought when they saw the Ironettes).

If you go into this expecting Schindler's List you will deservedly be disappointed. But if you go in expecting one-liners, double-entendres, over-the top action, gorgeous visuals, and a lot of fun you will love it.

Of course, being me, I have to find SOMETHING I did not love about this movie; how, exactly, did the rather light-weighing Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) manage to haul around a suitcase containing a full Iron Man suit? How did Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) make and retain all his money if nothing he makes works?

Those, of course, are things that are irrelevant. Just roll with them.

On the other end of the spectrum are two nice surprises for fans of the Marvel being the sighting of Captain America's shield and the other...well, stay through the end of the credits. Nice teaser to be found there.

If you like fun movies with beautiful people and high-octane action, great special effects and fun...this movie is a must-see.

The Weasel is full.