Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire Review

Overall Grade: B

The film that the critics and audiences alike are raving about this year is Slumdog Millionaire, and indeed it is a good film. Directed by Danny Boyle, Slumdog is a feel-good story about a boy from the slums of Mumbai triumphing over the odds and finding his life-long love.

It’s an interesting and involving story that’s made better by the director’s choices to film the story on location with a dynamic camera and a dynamic eye for color. The story is also helped by a clever decision to use the “who wants to be a millionaire” portion of the story to give us the platform to jump into the flashbacks of our main characters life. Each flashback is purposeful in that it gives us insight into how our main character was able to answer each question from his life experience.

I really enjoyed the early parts of the film and felt like I could really settle in with the film and walk out truly satisfied. However, as the film began to lengthen, it unfortunately begins to thin as well. While the excellent first half of the film begins to ask interesting questions about life, “Do we all have a destiny?”, “Will we be rewarded if we stick to the truth and goodness?”, “Should we persevere in the things we want?”; the second half of the film failed to investigate those questions with any depth. By the end of the film, while I enjoyed the story, I felt conflicted about several of the messages the film ended with. Was it destiny or was it sheer determination that led him to winning out in love?

The film seems to present both (which are inherently contradictory) without offering an explanation. At odds is also the overall tone of the film for me. It seems as though the film wants to be a gritty, this is how bad the poverty is, City of God kinda film; but its general idealism, romanticism, and belief that good people are destined for happiness (or at least our main character), is at odds with the reality of the situation in Mumbai.

Slumdog Millionaire is a good film, and is quite enjoyable as a great story well told. Unfortunately, I found any messages in the film to be superficial at best and contradictory at worst. Slumdog Miollionaire is a good film, just don’t think about it too much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Milk Review

Overall Grade: C+

If you would like to read a typical review of the Milk then I humbly suggest that you search out reviews on Rottentomatoes.com, because the following review will not be in typical format. It will be a summation of how I viewed the film, and what I felt about it. I feel I should tell you upfront that I am coming from a straight perspective as well as a Christian perspective. I went into the film with an open mind and hoped for the best. What follows is purely my opinion. (that sounded kind of dragnet didn't it?)

Harvey Milk’s story is an intriguing one and is definitely worthy of its own biopic. Harvey was elected City Supervisor of San Francisco in the 1970s and became the first openly homosexual man to be elected to political office in America. Milk portrays Harvey’s life from age 40 to nearly 50, mostly covering his political involvement in San Francisco. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the life of Harvey Milk going in, but I do have a basic knowledge of the homosexual movement in America, so it was with little pre-knowledge that I watched Milk.

Granted that the film is a biopic about Harvey Milk, I felt the film really shortchanged and simplified the entire homosexual rights movement and the critics of that movement as well. For a film that quotes Harvey as saying something along the lines of, “I’m not a candidate; I’m part of a movement”. I felt the film did little to help me understand the true nature and goals of the movement. The issues argued in the film about the homosexual movement and the treatment of homosexuals (police brutality, personal safety, the ability not to be discriminated against in the workplace, and the ability to advocate and be represented) are treated pretty fairly and I was enlightened by much of it. I was unaware that police would round up homosexuals and ship them off to jail for the crime of “being a homosexual in a bar”. The movie does a great job of portraying Harvey Milk’s fight for fairness from the police, to be able to walk down the street at night and be safe from attackers. To be able to work in the schools without being fired for the simple fact of “being homosexual”. In these scenes Harvey is portrayed as a true fighter with great charisma and a sharp political mind.

In real life, I would say that Harvey Milk was admirable for his courage and boldness. He was admirable for being a strong advocate for those with no voice (something Christians should be called to do), something that is not only needed and necessary, but noble and righteousness. I think these are things that can and should be embraced about the film. However, by offering the audience these issues in isolation, I feel that the film over simplifies the homosexual movement and is therefore guilty of being in the least misleading, but at worst purposefully dishonest. There is an exchange between City Supervisor Dan White (who would later assassinate Milk) that I think is insightful here. Dan White asks Milk, “Can homosexuals procreate?”, and Milk’s response is a very witty, “No, but God knows we keep trying”. Humorous quips (remarkably similar to the way shows like the "Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show" skirt legit dissenting opinions) are typical of the film’s treatment of any criticism of homosexuality. I think it does a disservice to the film, but it ultimately does a disservice to the dialogue on homosexuality.

The real principled oppositions that people have to the homosexual movement aren’t rooted in just the political ballot or incarnate in the likes of Anita Baker, but in certain beliefs about objective morals within the world. There are real concerns held by sincere critics of the homosexual movement that are never talked about or given any quarter. Were Harvey Milk and the homosexual movement JUST fighting to be represented, to be given fair treatment from police and employers (as the film primarily potrays)? Milk and the homosexual movement were also fighting to be seen as morally equivalent to heterosexual relationships. There are millions of people, myself included, who believe strongly in the RIGHTS movement of homosexuals, but would disagree completely when it comes to the aims of the homosexual debate to ask people to view homosexuality as the full equivalent biologically and morally to heterosexuality. Also absent is any commentary on the promiscuity within the gay movement during that time.

What am I really saying? I don’t mind if the movie offers views and perspectives that are different than the ones that I hold, but I do expect a film to acknowledge that a movement is more complex and nuanced than Milk does. It is fully possible that someone could’ve marched down the street side by side with Milk in trying to defeat Proposition 6 or to protest Police unfairness, but still disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. The film, doesn’t make that distinction. It provides the viewer with an easy either/or and I think its misleading in doing so.

Thus, I found Milk to be a much “smaller” film than I expected. Even though the film runs over two hours and features a rather expansive cast, it really doesn’t decide to cast its net too wide when it comes to the subject of homosexuality. This modesty unfortunately extends to the characterizations of the supporting cast as well. Although we spend a decent amount of time with several people, their contributions to Harvey’s life (outside of being friends, workers, and lovers)remained a mystery to me. How did they influence Harvey or his thought process? There is a scene that takes place at a wealthy homosexuals house where James Franco (who plays Scott Smith, Milk’s partner), goes skinny dipping while Milk carries on a discussion. Why did he do this? Isn’t this considered rude, whether straight or gay? Just puzzling to me.

That being said, there are some things to like in the film. I mentioned before that Milk’s advocacy is admirable and inspiring and I think it should be celebrated. Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is charismatic and likeable (a cross between his All the King’s Men role and I Am Sam role), and the rest of the supporting cast more than holds there own, even if they don’t do anything that interesting. Seen as a film with small ambitions and the willingness to showcase Harvey Milk’s service to those with no voice, I would recommend the film. However, given the film’s unwillingness to engage in thoughtful dialogue with the deeper criticisms of the homosexual movement (which I have no doubt Harvey Milk probably did), I would say it’s a disappointment and a missed opportunity. Throughout the entire viewing I couldn’t help but think that if you liked 2006’s Kinsey, then you’ll probably like Milk. In fact, both films choose to showcase a "You saved my life" sidestory as one of their closing subplots. While touching to hear, both are guilty of dramtic manipulation and only underscore the absence of any legitamte dialogue.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rachel Getting Married Review

Overall Grade: A-

Rachel Getting Married is a breath of fresh air in the 2008 film landscape. After watching so many disappointing or merely satisfying films, Rachel Getting Married (which shall now be refereed to as RGM) literally re-invigorated my interest and hope for the remaining films of 2008. RGM is an intimate and brutally honest film that works as a modern day Ordinary People.

Our lead in the film is oddly enough not named Rachel, but Kym. She is played excellently by Anne Hathaway and is the sister to our title character Rachel (who if you didn't guess it, is getting married). The film begins with Kym just getting out of rehab (for reasons best revealed by the movie) in order to attend Rachel’s wedding for the weekend. What follows is an entire weekend of wedding activities, including the wedding itself, and then the eventual goodbyes. What makes the film work so well for me is the way in which we (the viewer) are allowed to watch Kym interact with her family and friends. We are able to glean (as each conversation reveals more and more) past histories, and present conflicts. It’s a fascinating watch and one that reminded me of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park in its ability to naturally introduce an entire ensemble of fully realized characters.

The film is shot by handheld camera (in what seems to be every shot) giving the viewer a literal feeling of watching our characters through home movies. One would seem to get the sense that the handheld camera would give us the position of the causal observer, something akin to being a cinematic voyeur. This isn’t actually what takes place. Rather than placing the camera in neutral positions to allow us to observe the events, the camera operates with omnipotence, diving the emotion or truth of each scene and supplying us with the appropriate shot. There is one scene in particular where Hathaway’s Kym is confronted in a hair salon. Her confronter is in almost complete close-up and speaks so brazenly honest and confident to her, that I squirmed along with Kym. Rather than an observer to this families conflicts and dilemmas, I felt completely engrossed and found myself questioning how I would act in their circumstances. What more could a viewer ask for?

I’m reminded of how the director Jonathan Demme in his film Silence of the Lambs wisely made use of straight on camera shots. Several of the scenes in Lambs consisted of us looking directly at Foster or Hopkins, while they looked nearly directly in the camera. It fit perfectly the idea of objectification that was so crucial to the central themes of Lambs. The camera is no less truthful here, and its matched in truthfullness by the screenplay, and the natural performances (Rosemarie Dewitt and Bill Irwin are great). It has been a long time since I felt a family drama feel so honest and truthful, and much of that comes from the well-roundedness of the characters. Kym (a troubled problem child all her life) presents her family with difficult decisions. It’s her big sister’s big wedding weekend, but can they really focus on Rachel when Kym is out of rehab and making scenes and building tension with family everywhere? How Kym’s entire family responds to her features such honesty, that it brought me to tears several times.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film, but there are a couple reservations. You should be warned that the film does tend to linger a bit in scenes and can be slightly melodramatic at points. I felt as though the last twenty-five minutes of the film could’ve been trimmed dramatically without much loss as well. While maybe RGM isn't the types of stories that I seek out, or typically pop into my DVD player for re-watches, RGM is a fantastic film, filled with great performances, and great rewards for those willing to engage with this family and the questions they deal with it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Synecdoche, New York Review

Overall Grade: C+

It’s hard to review a movie like Synecdoche because the film is (even after my very best efforts) nearly indecipherable. Just twenty minutes in and the film already begins to tip us off that there will be some time twisting and funny tricks going on, but what eventually happens in the film is not at all what I was expecting. The time twisting isn’t in the flavor of Tarantino, Nolan, or even something Gilliam would do, its time twisting that doesn’t serve any purpose storytelling or narrative wise, its primarily thematic and character driven.

In other words, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character says its only been days since his wife left him, when other characters say its been over a year. There are several instances where the movie plays with the ages, voices, and names of characters in order to achieve this same goal. One of the character’s houses are on fire during the duration of the film, something that is never made mention of by anyone at anytime. Is this because Hoffman was drugged like in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or in a coma, or like in A Beautiful Mind to give us insight into how a disease works? Clearly not. So what exactly is it for?

This is probably the most frustrating aspect of the film for me. I don’t necessarily think that films should spell out completely what it is about, but at the same time, I don’t think that the film should feel so indecipherable and insular that it remains distant and hard to engage. Synecdoche definitely leans heavy on the undecipherable side. Clearly, there is a strong sense of nihilism that runs strong through this film. In fact, its this theme of nihilism that gives me my strongest Rosetta stone in trying to understand it. I feel like the movie is telling us that most of the things we experience in life (falling in love, falling out of love, grief, fear of death, selfishness, desire to love our kids, disappointment with others and life) is in reality vane and pointless. Synecdoche is not a film that endorses a nihilistic set of morals (although one could be extracted from it), but is more content to examine the meaningless of life and interpret it artistically. In this way, I think the movie has great merit.

However, your humble Part-Time Critic is more than willing to concede that there is probably much more merit to the film than I give it credit. In fact, there is probably mountains and mountains of meaning and purpose behind everything in the film. I, unfortunately, am not able to discern it.The fact that the movie doesn’t present a typical narrative and typical characters that presented me with a few likable features to them makes me hesitant to re-visit Synecdoche. It’s a disappointment for me because I am such a big Charlie Kaufman (he’s the writer of Synecdoche), with Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being two of my favorite films.

I’ve read several reviews that call it a masterpiece and a new achievement in art. If that’s true (and it probably is), then it’s one of those odd abstract paintings that people read so much into, yet remain remote and messy to me. If any of what I have said sounds interesting to you, then I recommend a viewing. In fact, a good rule of thumb might be David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, if you liked that, then you’ll get a kick out of this!

Anyone else seen this film that can help this Part-Time Critic out? Your thoughts are most welcome!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

Overall Grade: B

At 106 minutes (including the credits) Quantum of Solace is the shortest Bond film of all-time. I initially was afraid that this short running time really meant that this Bond was just rushed into production and thrown together. It’s clear now that the short running time is due to its modest reach and its economical approach to telling its own story. Almost as a counterpoint to how The Dark Knight deepened and expanded Batman Begins, Quantum of Solace seems satisfied wrapping up Casino’s loose ends. The result is a satisfying and solid companion film to Casino Royale.

Quantum of Solace immediately jumps you into the action and it rarely does let up throughout the entire film. I won’t really give you a synopsis of the plot (as there really isn’t much to speak of) except that it requires Bond to briskly move from location to location, giving the film an energetic pace that is maintained until the final credits. It was said of Casino Royale and it cannot be mistaken here, the Bond that is portrayed in Quantum of Solace owes much of its pacing, editing, and action sequences to The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Not only do the action sequences continue in the close-up, quick-cut tradition of the films, but a couple of the sequences actually reminded me of similar sequences in the Bourne films themselves, especially the Tangiers sequence from Ultimatum that is broken into three different sequences in Quantum. Now the fact that the film is influenced by Bourne, doesn’t mean that its bad or boring, the opposite is actually true.

The action sequences are well-shot and give the film a visceral and brutal aesthetic. There is a lot of close up shots and what others call shaky cam, but I have to say that the sequences were still clear and coherent to me. Like their Bourne counterparts, Quantum’s action sequences offer just the right ration of wide and establishing shots to give the scene some gravity and clarity, but just enough close-ups to provide the immediacy that it wants. I can’t tell you how much I prefer these sequences to any number of sequences in the later Brosnan Bond films.

Although I stated that the film’s reach was modest, I wouldn’t say that it was a bad thing. I honestly feel like each film in this re-booted Bond series is singularly focused on introducing and giving James a particular character trait we’ve always assigned to his character. Casino Royale introduced us to the Bond that has learned to “Love Em’ and Leave Em’”. After Vesper’s betrayal in Casino we understand how Bond has learned to treat women so callously. In Quantum we wonder if Bond will be a man led by duty to his country or by personal vengeance. By the end of the film we actually witness Bond earn his “its only business” demeanor. I am quite thoroughly enjoying this stripped down approach to slowly building the Bond character that we all know and come to love. There are certainly faults to Quantum of Solace. The film seems to meander at times and for a film with such a short running time, actually feature quite a bit of filler and repetitiveness. Our main villain, while much less cliché, is also a bit flat. There is a danger to providing a subtle, he’s just like everyone else villain. The danger is that the audience will sigh and be convinced that he’s just like everyone else! Unfortunately that’s exactly what does happen. Our new Bond girl suffers a little of the same fate, and actually suffers under the shadow cast by Vesper from Casino as well.

Quantum of Solace is not the action epic that Casino Royale was, but it’s a worthy sequel. It’s a fun ride thats over pretty quickly. The extremely high production values, craftsmanship (Forster does a great job of directing), coupled with its modest reach make for a good times out at the movies, just not a very memorable night at the movies.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fireproof Review

Overall Grade: C+

In 2006 Sherwood Pictures (Based out of a church in Georgia) released Facing the Giants to surprising success. Fireproof is their follow-up film and it’s got a bigger budget as well as a bigger star in Kirk Cameron. After watching the film, I felt as though it’s a film that ultimately works despite its flaws, of which there are many. Many of the gripes I have about the film do tend to wilt away (although not all of them), in the face of the film’s obvious good-natured intents.

The film follows the marriage problems between Caleb the Fireman (Kirk Cameron) and Hospital PR Rep. Catherine (played inconsistently by a beautiful Erin Bethea). Both Caleb and Catherine receive advice from their family and friends, and must ultimately decide whether or not to go through with a divorce. We mostly see the decision making promise of Caleb as his father asks him to put his divorce on hold for 40 days as he takes the “Love Dare”. The “Love Dare” is a forty-day journey that instructs Caleb to attempt different things to regain the right perspective on his relationship with Catherine. Complicating things for Catherine is a likeable co-worker showering her with the attention she doesn’t get from Caleb. Will the “Love Dare” work? Will Caleb and Catherine remain married?

I think you probably will already guess the answers to that question (hint: look at the title of the film), so I’ll move on to the more important question. Does the film work? There are times when Fireproof falls into the mistake of “telling” instead of “showing” in the film. At the beginning of the film, we are plunged head first into the marital problems between Caleb and Catherine. Although we have established them as likeable people, we never see “good” moments of them together. We don’t see a tangible loss that comes from them being apart. Later in the film, rather than allow Caleb to see how a devotion to Christ and unselfish love worked in his parents marriage, or to witness an unselfish moment in one of his workmate’s marriage, Kendrick just tells us through words of wisdom from Caleb’s father and fellow fireman. What works well as a spoken testimony in church, doesn’t really work well as dramatic storytelling on the screen.

I think the biggest problem with the film is that it wanted to handle “marriage problems” with kiddie gloves. The first problems we see arise between Caleb and Catherine are simple ones; cleaning up the house (the art department didn’t get the memo that the house needed to look unkempt in order to sell that conflict), fixing dinner, paying bills, and what things to save for. Are these the big problems that the looming divorce is stemming from? I am aware that these problems can lead to divorce, but these aren’t marriage specific problems, these are roommate problems.

We hear about possible problems with online pornography, but we never see its true effect on the marriage and Caleb outside of Catherine being upset about it. It’s not surprising that the film really doesn’t deal with the issue openly, the wife herself can barely bring herself to acknowledge it by name, she calls it “looking at junk”. Any scene to show the effects of the addiction would be good. I made up a quick one talking to one of my roommates about the film; show Catherine in bed, Caleb shuts off the computer and crawls into bed. She rubs his shoulders wanting to get more intimate and he just shrugs her off. BAM! Already, we are showing the real consequences and not just talking about it. Why even include such a weighty issue, if they aren’t even going to address it by name?

Despite these faults, the central marriage conflict between Caleb and Catherine is a compelling conflict, and it truly does provide some genuinely emotional moments when they decide to stick it out and not get a divorce. It’s hard not to be moved (and indeed I was moved) by the conclusion of the film, because although the initial conflicts may seem a little shallow (as I pointed out above), the director wisely delays the resolution. There are a few moments I expected the couple to happily re-unite, but Kendrick skillfully makes the couple work harder for it. It’s the best decision in the film, and the audience is really awarded for it. I mentioned earlier that the film was low budget and it unfortunately shows on the screen; odd lighting choices, several master shots when close-ups would do better, inconsistent performances, a couple superfluous scenes (why exactly include the car accident on the train tracks?), and poor editing.

However, the film has plenty of good intentions, good lessons to teach, and a fairly good story to tell; and that is something that the biggest budgets cannot buy. With a little technical refinement, a stronger commitment to showing rather than telling (or preaching in this case), and a willingness to deal with the issues in depth (however deep it goes), Sherwood Pictures will be making the best “Christian” films out there. Well, now that I think about, they already are making the best “Christian” films out there. I look forward to what they attempt next.

Monday, October 27, 2008

High School Musical 3 Review

Overall Grade: C

I am not exactly sure how someone like me (a 25 year old male) could review this film and truly give it a fair hearing; I'm not the target demographic this movie aims for (considering I've gone through puberty). For example, when Zac Efron removed his jersey during the film, it wasn't me giggling uncontrollably in the theatre. I thought the first High School Musical was alright and that the second one was mostly a disaster (Efron singing his solo "Bet On It" on the golf course being the lowest point). So why exactly did I even go see this film do you ask?

The initial reason I made the trip to the local AMC was because my friend Julie wanted to see it, and I thought if I was gonna watch it, I should watch it with her (besides, she has to now watch Saw with me). Outside of my film goals (attempting to watch any film that is of any significance; critical, popular, cult, etc.), the High School Musical series does offer a few pleasures. I feel the film is at its best when it presents a catchy pop tune with some great choreography. The series also wears a huge grinning smile in each of the films, and I have to admit, that smile does have its appeal. Its nice to watch a movie that is so gosh darn optimistic. So, having given all that background, how does High School Musical 3 fair?

For the most part, if you enjoyed the first two films, then you will enjoy this one as well. Nearly all the same elements are back in this one, which for many fans should be a comfort. However, for me, it made the film quite a bore. I know picking at the story in High School Musical is like picking at the story in a Jackie Chan film, but can we honestly get some new conflicts? Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) is still trying to decide between Music and Basketball (his shocking conclusion is that he will do BOTH!), Sharpee (sp?) is still trying to take the spotlight and snag Troy (even after two films of comeuppance), Troy's Dad is still an idiot and a terrible actor, and Sharpee's brother is still struggling to get noticed. Alongside these returning conflicts are also nearly the same conflicts for every other minor character in the film. Its as if film three just thought that everyone would essentially forget that the first two films also featured all these storylines as well. At least the filmmakers were smart enough to not bring back the "your not spending time with your friends" storyline in film two, probably the best decision the writing team could have made.

Two new characters are introduced in this film, and they are basically admirers of Troy and Sharpee who will rule East High when this Senior Year is over (Read: Disney making sure that this franchise could continue if they wanted). The characters basically do nothing and effect nothing, making them even more obviously a "securing the franchise" move.

Making the film even harder to watch are the songs and dance numbers, of which there are plenty (all featuring much the same beat). The first film had a few memorable numbers like "Stick to the Status Quo", "Breaking Free", and "We're All In This Together". The second film had a couple good songs, "What Time Is It" and "We Can Work It Out". However, this film really doesn't have one. Alongside several yawn inducing numbers are some truly bad "groaners" (The Boys Are Back being a standout). Top that off with the director's truly annoying habit of filming direct head on POV (point of view) shots with Efron and others staring straight at the audience (ala Jonathan Demme in Silence of the Lambs), and "uncomfortable" would be a good word to sum up my experience.

In the end though, High School Musical 3 retains that golly gee whiz optimism and good nature that make the first two films so attractive, and thats enough to forgive it of a lot of faults...just not all of its faults.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

W Review

Overall Grade: C-

W is film made by folks on the left side of the political spectrum that really only plays to...well...those on the left side of the political spectrum. It reminds me of those comedy movies you make with your friends when you’re young; broadly cynical about its subject matter and full of inside jokes. When you watch it with your parents, only you and your friends are giggling and slapping fives, cause only you get it. The only difference with Stone’s W is that Stone has millions of dollars to work with and W is not just playing in his parent’s living room.

I went into W with about as open a mind as I could muster. I honestly felt like Stone had a chance to give us some insights into what seems to be the most hated man in the world right now. If you’ve been alive and breathing the last 8 years, then you’ve no doubt become versed in all of the criticisms and arguments against George W. from both sides of the aisle (although primarily from the left side), and this was Stone’s chance to allow us to see behind the scenes. What makes this man tick? How has he accomplished what he has accomplished? I regret to report that W has nothing new or noteworthy to add to the discussion of one of the most important figures in history.

Stone delivers the leftist view of Bush; his life, his values, and his administration. W is an over simplified, caricatured view of Bush and the last 8 years of his administration. Except as a small catalogue of Bush moments seen through a liberal prism, I don’t really understand what true insights into the man or his administration that this film presents us with. Stone had ample time to flesh out a more detailed vision of the strengths and weaknesses of Bush, as well as some perspective on his failures and achievements, but only managed a very simplified and unsatisfactory argument. Let me summarize Stone’s insight into Bush for you… (Lets see how many worn out attacks on Bush are in this summary)
George W. Bush is basically a good old country boy (#1) with very low intelligence (#2), small ambition (#3), and given to drunkenness (#4). The only reason he got into politics is because he failed at every other endeavor in his lifetime (#5) (mostly because he couldn’t take more breaks or drink on the job) and has a child-like “Daddy” complex where he must prove to his father his worth (#6). The governorship and white house were only won because he was able to memorize what Karl Rove told him (#7). His religious views are fairly sincere, but really are misguided (#8) and they lead him to do foolhardy things (#9). This is the great insight the film has to offer. There is only one problem; it doesn’t do a good enough job of explaining the reality of George W. and the last 8 years.

George W. won the governorship of Texas twice, and it was against a very popular incumbent. He won the Republican Presidential Primary in 2000, as well as winning two elections in 2000 (against the VP of a popular president) and 2004 (garnering more votes in 2004 than in 2000). For better or worse, he was able to pass landmark education, tax, Medicare, and homeland security legislation, through a very divided and contentious Congress. For better or worse, he was able to get authorization (which the resolution really was for) from the Congress for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as continue to gain funding for them. These are not bumbling achievements, and the George W. that Stone portrays is not capable of what I just mentioned when you view him in the extremely negative and caricatured light that Stone does.
None of Stone’s answers are sufficient to explain the reality; not the fact that Bush Sr. was President before him, not the fact that George W. was just able to memorize better answers from Rove, and not the fact that George had a certain southern charm with people. Stone is simply incapable of truly trying to understand how this man could’ve accomplished these feats outside of his dogmatic presuppositions that Bush is a deluded bumbling moron with a bit of charm, that so happened to be blessed with the Bush name, and the politics of Karl Rove.

Stone’s inability to produce a fully rounded person extends to the members of his administration as well, as they all seen as nothing but caricatures. Condi Rice probably gets the shortest end of the stick as she really comes off as a Bush lap dog with ZERO ability to think on her own (I was half expecting her to just say “Yes Massa!” at any time). Dick Cheney is “nothing but” an in the dark schemer looking for American Empire. Rumsfield is a buffoon who is convinced everything could be done on the cheap. Powell is seen as the only levelheaded character in the administration that is in opposition with almost every turn the administration takes. The problem is that it’s a one-sided view of Powell as well; it doesn’t explain why he was willing to serve Bush (not to mention Reagan and Bush Sr.), why he made the vehement case against Iraq in the UN, as well as a number of other issues Powell side with the administration with. In fact, one could almost mistake Powell for Obama, the way that he was portrayed. The caricatures are unfortunate because the film, despite all the flaws above, is still interesting and engaging. The camerawork is great, and although I disagreed with the tone the music set, it was expertly weaved into particular scenes to make the point that Stone is arguing.

In the end, the film is little more than a film that speaks to the choir (much like An American Carol), and misses out on providing anything of substance for those who don’t like characters skewed to one dimension. There is not a single thing W does that hasn’t been parroted by the left for the last 8 years, and its Stone’s inability to conceive of Bush outside that view that undermines the entire movie. Sitting in the theatre, I half expected Stone’s parents to walk in the room with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of water. They’d sit down and smile because it was their son’s film, even though the film’s reality only really exists in the mind of Stone and his friends.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Current Projects

For various reasons, my movie-blogging habits have been very erratic lately and for that I do apologize. I am currently working on several different film "projects" at the moment, and I thought that I would share those film projects with you. When I say "projects", please do not think that I am actually doing anything of any real significance. What I am speaking of are mostly just personal OCD movie habits. As you saw with my "1500th" film, I take great pride in keeping careful track of the films that I see. Beyond just tracking the name of the films, I keep track of their director, year of release, genre, the date I watched it, their tag-lines, memorable quotes, best action scenes, best dramatic scenes, notable performances, technical achievements, and oh so much more. So, I take all these little items and constantly desire to rank them. Hopefully, these projects will find their way onto the site in some way or form, but it may take a little while, as these projects are still very early in development. So, without further ado, here is a small rundown of the current projects I am working on.

I have a current master list of films that I would like to see before I die. The list is sorted by year, and the films that are on it are any film that strikes my interest, has won serious awards, is seen as historically important, is a top entry into its genre, gained critical favor, gained popular favor, or gained cult favor. The list has allowed me to gain a good idea of what films I want to see for each year and decade. Obviously, this film list will always continue to grow because there are always new movies coming out every year that I add to the list. I have no ability to "finish" this list given the nature of it, but I am excited about "closing out" years. Closing out years to me is exciting, as I literally view every film from a given year that I want to watch. As I close out the years, I begin to include them on my next ongoing projects...

The Leaman Awards
Since the film year 2003, I have put together a year-end packet known as the Leaman Awards. They have evolved over the years into the current their current incarnation, which is a 40 page end of the year packet, awarding things from "Most Suprising Film of the Year" to "The Eric Bana Award" (which is given to the actor with the best performance in a bad film, as Eric Bana had in Troy). I'm currently working on my 2008 Awards, but every year I am also attempting to go backwards in time. Last year I re-made my 2003 Awards, and this year I am focusing on the year 1998. So I am currently focused on the movie year 1998, and closing out all the best films from that year. The most current one I've watched from that year is Jackie Chan's Who Am I?. Below is a fight clip from that film. Warning, the fight scene is incredible!

Best Action Scenes of All-Time
This is a fairly new database that I've created. I've always kept track of the good action scenes from a given years films, (in order to compile my top 15 Action Scene List for the Leaman Awards), but I am now putting all those lists into a database. Its long and taxing, but its ridiculous amounts of OCD fun for me. How else am I to compare the fight scenes I saw in Fist of Legend with James Cameron's True Lies?

Probably the hardest area to keep up with, but one that I hope to post in very soon. I've seen Burn After Reading and Ghost Town recently, and I really want to post my reviews for those fims very soon. In the meantime, Burn After Reading and Ghost Town each recieve a B- grade from me.

So there you have it, just a quick summary on where I stand at the moment. Got any idea's for any other great movie projects? Got any suggestions for great 1998 films that must make my viewing schedule? Seen Ghost Town or Burn After Reading recently? Let me know!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

1500: Fist of Legend Review

Overall Grade: B+

In a suble, laid back atmosphere, a small group of people (including myself) sat down and began to view what would become the fifteenth hundred film I have ever seen (and yes I have the database to back that up). I wrote recently about my thoughts on why I picked Fist of Legend as film #1500, and I must say that it didn't dissappoint.

Fist of Legend is an excellent example of a film being an excellent entry into its own genre. This is a martial arts film through and through. Where Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon used much of the martial arts genre as a platform for drama that transcended martial arts, Fist of Legend is content to stick to martial arts, and truly glory in it. To that extent, the film is a success. The number one question when it comes to judging a martial arts film is, "Are the fight scenes any good?" The answer here is an emphatic, "Yes". Fist of Legend contains several great fight scenes, three of which are some of the greatest I have ever seen. The first standout scene takes place in a Japanese Dojo, and we see Jet Li take on a number of combatants (in a scene based on the Bruce Lee fight in the film Fist of Legend is a remake of). I have seen several fights where one man takes on multiple opponents, but the direction and fight specifics are especially good here. Good enough, that the Matrix films would later take several of the moves in this fight and pepper them into their other fights (in fact much of this film is recreated in The Matrix).

The second standout fight scene is a one on one fight that includes blindfolds. Its an incredible fight and the back and forward between the two of them, reminded me of some of the greatest wrestling matches I've ever seen. For those scoffing at that wrestling comment, I dare you to come watch a few of the greatest wrestling matches ever with me, and I will opine about there greatness (I am not talking Hogan vs. Andre here, but Micheals vs. Angle!) There is an intelligent pyschological battle within the physical battle. This is my favorite of the three fights, and one of the only ones that really reveals some of the major themes of the film. The film argues that the true essence of martial arts is not just to conquer your opponent, but to maximize one's energy. By learning from your oppenent, by stretching each other, you are able to better yourself. As one of the characters puts it, "If you want to conquer someone, use a gun". Probably the strongest point the movie had to make.

The last standout scene is a nearly ten minute fight between Jet Li and the ultimate bad guy. Its an incredible and exhausting fight, if not a little hollow in the end. It is brutal and a fitting ending, but it isn't as standout or creative as the first two described above. There are several more fight scenes in the film, but mostly just what I would consider filler.

The film is an excellent martial arts film and it instantly has become one of my favorites in the genre. I can definately see how it has attained its legendary status. If your interested in any of the fight scenes I described above then just look below for the video, let me know what you think. I am definately pleased with Fist of Legend being my 1500th film, and I'm already beginning to wonder what will be the big number 2000! I saw film number 1000 in December of 2005, so it took me roughly three years to watch 500 movies. I am thinking, what big films come out approx. three years from this time, Dec. of 2008...oh...would you look at that...The Hobbit is scheduled for Dec. of 2011...well that just might have to be it!

Here is the Video of the Dojo Fight and the Blindfold Fight

Here is the video of the Final Fight in the Film

Thursday, September 11, 2008

1500: What Should It Be?

Several years ago, I began to keep a running database of all the films that I have seen. I scoured the databases at IMDB, Boxofficemojo, and rottentomatoes, looking to add to my database any film that I have seen in my lifetime. In December of 2005, I went to see King Kong in the theatres, and it marked film number 1000 of all-time. Its been a little under three years since then and I am fast approaching on film number 1500 of all-time. My tally currently sits at 1498, and I am beginning to wonder what film I should make number 1500.
I want to make it a memorable film, since its a big number, but I'm not sure what film I should bestow this great honor upon. Should it be a theatre film? I thought about Burn After Reading since the Coens took my Best Picture honors last year with No Country For Old Men, but the reviews are rather poor and this one is looking more like Ladykillers than No Country. I'm not willing to wait until October to make Body of Lies my big 1500, although that seems to be the next biggest theatre film I would want to see. If I won't wait for Lies than that puts Saw V and High School Musical 3 out of the picture (Sorry Julie).
Maybe a classic film that I have missed? The classics that I have put on my "maybe" list are, Brining Up Baby, It happened One Night, The Night of the Hunter, and The Lost Weekend. I want to see all of those, but none of them really get me excited. Then, all of a sudden, a particular film darted into my brain. Its a film that I have been wanting to see for some time, and its a film in a genre that I would call a guilty pleasure for me. So what film is it? 1994's Fist of Legend.
For some time now, I have been wanting to bolster my Martial Arts credentials, and this is the top film on my list to do it. I've already seen a couple of the fight scenes on Youtube, and they are flat out awesome. Right now, its going to be my 1500. THAT IS, unless you can suggest a better one! I am planning on throwing a 1500 party here in the next couple days, and I think this might be a great group movie to watch (considering all the action badness on display). So if you can think of a better group movie that should be my number 1500, then let me know. Till then, your cordially invited to watch Fist of Legend with me very, very soon!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Coming Soon.....

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching Up On Summer Reviews

Hey Everybody,
I've been MIA lately and I do apologize. Things have been quite hectic lately, and blogging on films has been the least of priorities. I am now in a new residence and things are beginning to settle down and I'll have a good chance to blog here soon. In this one, I'm just gonna catch up with some mini-reviews (and I mean mini) on the past few films that I have seen. So without further ado...

The Bank Job (B)
A fun heist film, that takes a while to get moving. However, once the film gets itself on a roll, then it really doesn't let up. Its one of the better heist films of recent years, and worth a watch. Warning though; the film does feature quite a bit of gratuitous nudity.

In Bruges (B)
Despite it's "B" rating, it really is a fun view. There is some great chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Farrell should really play more roles like this one because he fits it like a glove; I'm not sure there was even much acting to it. Out of all the films I've seen since The Dark Knight, In Bruges is my greatest reccomendation.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D (B)
Like the two films above, this one here is just a fun view. Forget Mummy 3, Brendan Fraser seems to be having more fun here. Its light and breezy and really takes advantage of the 3-D medium.

Tropic Thunder (B-)
An extremely uneven comedy film. There are parts to this film that really work well (the trailer parodies, Jack Black's drug withdrawals, and Robert Downey Jr.), and there are others that really fail to measure up (Tom Cruise's cameo seems to be rooted in the idea that saying vulgar things at random is inherently funny). On the whole, I laughed several times during the film, which is more than any comedy outside of In Bruges.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (C+)
I sit on the outside when it comes to this film. Its an interesting premise, and I know there is incredible artistry present, but I just found myself sighing, "Is that it?". There is some incredible art direction, costume design, and visual effect work here, but I failed to truly engage into the story and truly care for Hellboy himself. To top it off, the film's final action scene is completely underminded by the idea that this is an indestructable army. Why fight an army that is indestructable for 10 minutes? It reminded me of the the lengthy and unnecessary fight scene with the immortal pirates of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.

The Pineapple Express (C)
I've given Apatow several chances, and in order to give you a fair understanding of where I am coming from, I've not liked a single film under the Apatow name. I find them all to be hollow, crude, and insincere. The fact that this one had a decent action scene is what has given it an average rating for me. If you liked Apatow's other comedies like Knocked Up, then you'll probably like this one too.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (C-)
A complete mess of a film that's only salvaged by a couple decent F/x scenes. Everything that could go wrong in this film really does. Stephen Sommers is no Steven Spielberg, but at least he understood how to make a movie like this. Rob Cohen does not.

There you have it, some catching up. If you saw any of these films, let me know what you thought.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight Review

Overall Grade: A

It has been some time since I've walked out of a theater with a mix of depression, hope, exhaustion, admiration, and trepidation. Let me get this out of the way now, in my estimation, The Dark Knight is the best Super-Hero film of all-time. The experience of watching the film is something similar to allowing your emotions to run a marathon. Its a breathtaking and brutal affair, and I can't wait to do it again.

What The Dark Knight's director Christopher Nolan has accomplished is remarkable. Not only has The Dark Knight surpassed its genre mates, it has obliterated them. There are all the hallmarks of the superhero comic book genre here, but what Nolan provides us with, elevates the film into an epic crime saga between Greek Gods, where everything has implications not only for our characters but for humanity as well. The ideas of a costumed crusader and a villain with a flair for theatricality is squeezed for everything its worth. From these ideas spring a deep pool of themes ranging from what a hero really is, hope vs. despair, anarchy vs. civilization, and the basic goodness of humanity. We've left the simplicities of "I don't want to make weapons that harm our own soldiers" that we saw with Iron Man, and "With great powers comes great responsibilities" that we got with Spider-Man, and entered into a brave new world (not of the Aldous Huxley type).

Its as if the entire genre has come of age in one film. Nolan has given us a movie thats as dark as Zodiac, as nihilistic as No Country for Old Men, as dualistic as Heat, as noble as The Untouchables, as heroic and action-packed as Superman, Die Hard, The Bourne Supremacy, and as good hearted as The Lord of the Rings. One of the movie's tag lines is "Welcome to a World Without Limits", and it seems Nolan has taken that to heart.

I won't detail the plot here (its epic and its twisty), but I do want to take a moment from praising the film as a whole, to praising the film's individual ingredients, as they are all exemplary. The director and his brother Christopher Nolan co-wrote the screenplay and much props has to go to them. This is as layered a screenplay as I've seen since No Country for Old Men or Munich. Its equal parts engaging crime saga, as it is philosophical and symbolic. Its also the first adult, intelligent, and fair-handed dissection of the issues America deals with in a post 9/11 world. When Heath Ledger's Joker says to Batman, "You've changed things, there's no going back", its clear that there is more going on to this story than meets the eye.

Even though the film is a Batman film, it really is an ensemble piece. All the actors are given meaty parts, purposeful roles, and excellent lines. Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal (a welcome change from Katie Holmes), and Christian Bale all do exemplary work here. The real standout is Heath Ledger. What can be said? Ledger's Joker is spectacular. He is more than a villain, more than a nemesis for Batman to fight, Ledger embodies a Joker that in the end comes to represent chaos himself. While remaining completely human, Ledger transcends his character to create something of an archetype, a symbol of evil; much similar to the way Bale's Batman embodies Good in the end. Whether or not its nominated for any awards is outside the point, this role will be remembered for a long time to come. Its simply iconic.

I haven't mentioned the action yet, have I? Suffice to say, the film has some great action sequences that truly define grandiosity. I liked the sequences here a lot more than those found in Batman Begins because I felt like they served the story better as well as were just put together better. They are intelligent and smart, as well as pulse-pounding and fun. The technical aspects of the film are all top-notch. A special shout out to the score (Joker's theme is a revelation) and the cinematography, both are exquisite. The film has some minor flaws that I noticed, but they are easily forgivable flaws, and ones that never hurt the story or the central themes behind it.

Easily the best film of the year so far (will anything top it?). Blockbusters of this kind are the rarest of finds. Most of the time we are stuck with films that shoot for the usual and make it (Iron Man) or films that try to be ambitiously different and miss it (Hancock). The Dark Knight is that rare blockbuster film that dares to reach for the moon, and actually achieves it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Hey Everyone

I've posted new reviews of Funny Games and Wall *E (just scroll down a bit to see them) and updated my 2008 list with all apropriate movies. I've got reviews for Wanted (C+) and Hancock (C+) coming soon so keep a look out for those!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Funny Games Review

Overall Grade: B

Funny Games is a very interesting film. Its one of the best examples of a film where a director goes all out to support what he wants to say. Clearly the director is not satisfied in giving us just an entertaining story, the sole reason for the story is that it can be a vehicle for him to comment on society and how we view “entertainment”.

The story itself is fairly simple; Tim Roth and Naomi Watts play an upper middle class couple that travel with their son to their vacation home on a lake. Once there, they are visited by two young men dressed in white polo’s and white gloves (one of them played excellently by Michael Pitt), who initially seem harmless, but ultimately injure the father and force the entire family to begin play a game. The game is simple, the family bets they can survive for 12 hours and the boys bet they will be dead. The rest is simply the premise playing itself out.

What makes the film interesting is not how the rest of the plot plays out, but how the director decides to show it to us. Several times he makes some great decisions to either turn upside our pre-conceptions, or to obviously (with a wink) feed us what we think will happen. I don’t want to give away some of the tricks the movie uses, but it really forces the viewer to examine why this kind of story can be entertaining, as well as the motive of the viewer; and I really like that about it.

For example, the director at times will use long extended takes where the camera does nothing but sit and watch our captive family. It’s a brutal experience for the audience to be forced to watch this family go through this horror, but the extended takes actually began to make me squirm and feel very awkward; something the director wanted me to do, rather than the emotions of shock and awe or pleasure that a typical horror film might go for.

It’s a smart and bold film, but it’s not for everyone. Although much of the violence is off screen and there is no nudity to speak of (purposefully), it is still a very intense view and I recommend it only to those interested in films that like to present arguments and commentary. The film has a few faults, but its clear-minded vision and audacious boldness makes up for it in the end.

Some of you might not have heard of this film before, so I've included a trailer to check out below

Wall *E Review

Overall Grade: C+

The latest entry into the Pixar canon is a generally good one. Wall *E features all the requisite Pixar craftsmanship and truly does push the boundaries and standards have computer animated films yet again. Sincere congratulations and acknowledgment should be given for yet another step forward in the genre of animation for the guys and gals at Pixar.

This is Pixar’s most visually epic endeavor to date, and on visuals alone they succeed immensely. There is a simple charm about Wall *E that certainly does evoke some of the great silent comedians of the past, whether that’s Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Like those comedians (especially Chaplin), the Pixar team here (headed by director Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo) is able to use simple slapstick comedy and shtick to touch a deeper nerve, so Wall *E may have some funny moments with a few objects he finds left behind in the trash, its his connection and desire to keep those things that really hits home with us. I think Wall *E can be recommended for a viewing, on these merits alone. Unfortunately, there is much more to this movie than just what is mentioned above.

I included the positives of Wall *E within the first paragraph because if you just wanted to know whether or not it’s worth a viewing, the answer is yes. If you want my full opinion and review of the film, follow me for the next few paragraphs as I analyze what I felt to be major drawbacks and faults of the film. Please note that there are spoilers about key plot points contained in the following review, so proceed only if you don’t want to know most of Wall *E’s plot.

My main criticisms of Wall *E is that it’s half-hearted, convoluted and contradictory. The film takes place many years into the future when over consumption by the human population (that seems oddly limited to Americans only) has left the earth a barren wasteland of trash, completely uninhabitable by humans. The humans have taken off and live in a giant spaceship where they await their eventual return to Earth. Left behind is Wall *E, a trash compacting robot who’s job is to compact all the trash into little squares and stack them tall like skyscrapers. Eventually, along comes Eve, a sleek scout robot whose mission is to search for signs of life on earth, so that the humans may re-inhabit it. The film clearly blames over consumption by humans as the clear cause of the environmental disaster and apocalypse that engulfs the earth, and it also indicts large corporations like Wal-Mart for their comprehensive success (In Wall *E’s world the company is Buy-N-Large, or BNL for short).

This BNL Company also runs the spaceship that the humans currently reside in, and their reach is total. On the spaceship, humans (through years of inactivity and self-absorbing consumerism) have turned into fat blobs of human beings, eternally residing on floating sofa chairs while they chat away on their virtual screens, at times with their chat partner floating right next to them. Of course, this is all by design of the BNL company who wishes to cater to every need and I guess have 100% market saturation, they even created food in a cup, to make the job of eating even easier.

I charge the movie with half-heartedness because the setting that the film takes place in (post apocalyptic environmental disaster zone, spaceship filled with humans who have turned into gelatinous blobs) is a setting that begs for explanation. We are told that the humans are responsible for it, but we aren’t given any insight into just how this took place. What was the process that leads humans to a fate of inactivity and mindless chatting? I honestly feel that a setting that seems to not only blame humans for ecological disaster and then insult humans by insinuating that this is the eventual future for us, begs for more context and more specificity in how we can turn from this terrible fate. This is what makes the robot meet cute scenes a little disingenuous; for while they are having one cute slapstick moment after another, the movie never takes the time to explain itself. The movie is less interested in explaining its inherently insulting premise than bowling us over for cuteness. Even the film’s resolution and the return of the humans rings hollow, for how could the preceding events in the film have actually lead to real change from these humans?

I say the film is convoluted and contradictory because the messages of the film are all over the place and even at odds. If over-consumption is really the problem that the film wants to tackle, then why not show how over-consumption has ruined their spaceship as well, instead of the ship being a perfectly cleaned and pristine environment? Why not have dwindling resources? Instead, over consumption manifests itself as producing too much trash and producing all encompassing corporations. So is the film not so much about over-consumption as it is about producing too much trash? Or is really about the danger of companies that grow to large? These issues are not the same and they are only loosely connected to over consumption. On the spaceship, the movie seems to be saying that over consumption has lead people to be fat, lazy blobs, but I don’t see how that makes sense. Just because I consume things doesn’t make me lazy. If the film wants to take on human laziness that’s alright, but to connect it to over consumption is a stretch.

It’s the same with communication technologies, how are these part of the over consumption problem? Are cell phones, internet chatting and texting really leading us down a path where human interaction will be out the door? I tend to feel its opposite, humans interact with each other more today than ever before. Most people use these as tools, but I don't think the human spirit would ever accept the future that is presented. Isn’t the film really warning against becoming absorbed in a virtual world and not enjoying others around you? Isn’t that really an argument about true human interaction and not consumerism? One of my favorite examples is the food in a cup joke; point being that humans have become so lazy and consumer driven that we enjoy our meals in shake-style. Does anyone think that’s where our society is headed? I could never conceive of a future where humans accept that, we idolize food too much. Heck, we have entire TV channels devoted to it. It just rings not true.

I honestly believe the film has things it wants to say, and I want to give the film the benefit of the doubt, but reading an interview with the director himself has kind of cemented my view. Stanton says this,

“To be honest, I reverse-engineered the whole idea. My first idea was “the last robot on earth.” I knew I wanted him to be a trash robot because that would allow him to be able to go through the evidence of humanity and be able to convey that without having to use dialogue. Trash is very visual. I was raised in the 70s where I was told not to litter every ten minutes on TV. So I went backwards from that and I had to go “Okay, I still can’t talk about it. I still have to just get it in the first fifteen minutes going through this movie, so how would you explain so much stuff?” And I decided, “Well, we just bought too much.” So I reverse-engineered it. It wasn’t that I had an agenda of any sort.”

It’s a little telling of the movie and is a bit disheartening that the topic of over consumption and the destruction of earth from trash was born out of the desire to have a sole robot rummage through garbage. Wall *E isn’t truly aware of message, because its more interested in making a robot that rumaged through the remnants of humanity. Stanton then goes on to say, “I do think it’s a cautionary tale about taking anything too far. I wasn’t necessarily pushing “anti-consumerism,” I was just pushing against something that has gone to an extreme.” I think this is a bit disingenuous of him, how is it not anti-consumerism if your main cause (and the sole on-screen cause) of the apocalypse is (in his own words) buying too much stuff and all from one all encompassing company that controls and advertises to every aspect of our lives?

I know that my review is in the minority, but I feel strongly about it. As I stated in the beginning, it’s definitely worth a view, as Stanton and Pixar give us a beautifully conceived piece of art. It’s a marvel of art direction and sound as well. However, the story feels sloppy and at odds with the message in several parts. I ask everyone to look past the cute two robots (and boy they are cute, a point beaten to death), and ask of the film, what does it say about humanity? Is the message something that rings true? I think the answer to that question is no.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Coming Soon: Reviews for Wall-E and Wanted

Wall-E and Wanted reviews are coming in the next day or so. For a sneak peak at my thoughts here are the grades Wall-E (C+) and Wanted (C+). If you saw them this weekend and want to chime in before my reviews, go ahead and use this entry to comment.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Get Smart Review

Overall Grade: C-

Short and quick review here. Giving Get Smart a (C-) is a sad thing for me, and many people might even think I’m picking on the film, but I think it adequately relays my displeasure for the film. There really isn’t much to say critically about the film apart from the fact that I just didn’t care much for it. I felt that most of the jokes were oddly timed, and really out of context.

Although Maxwell Smart (played fairly well by Steve Carell) has a little more consistency to his character than the Guru Pitka did in The Love Guru, there were still several odd inconsistencies that ruined much of the character for me. What Maxwell supposed to be dumb or smart? Was he supposed to be a good fighter or clumsy? The film at times wants us to laugh at his ineptness, but at other times marvel at his action prowess. I liked the sweetness that they gave the character, but felt like many more of the scenes and jokes could have been rooted in this sweetness. There are a couple moments when Max’s sweetness is brought up, but I felt it was a wasted opportunity in total.

If I were trying to find something from the film to recommend to you, it would be the closing action scene, as it really is the best of the movie and it contains the films best joke. Outside of that scene, I didn’t care for the film at all and really saw some wasted opportunities. Get smart and wait for the DVD.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Love Guru Review

Overall Grade: D+

Mike Myers makes me laugh. I laugh at his critically acclaimed stuff, and I laugh at his critically scuttled stuff; I even laughed at The Cat in the Hat (and bought the DVD!). The Love Guru however, does not make me laugh. If I were to end the review here, it would give you an accurate recommendation for The Love Guru.

Instead of a review, what follows will be more of a rant, so prepare yourself. The Love Guru is a disaster of a film. It’s not only not funny or “anti-funny” as A.O. Scott in the New York Times called it, but it’s an offensively vulgar PG-13 film as well. Much like The Happening has done for Shyamalan, The Love Guru makes one look back upon the previous works and wonder how things went right. This movie shows no signs of being written by someone who has several comedy films under his belt.

There are several areas to begin with this film, but the one that stands out the most to me is the complete lack of context, depth, and consistency within the lead character, the Guru Pitka (played by Mike Myers). What we get on the screen is a weird mash up of Myers’ Cat in the Hat trickster personality (including the same out of breath style laugh and hand movements that the Cat featured), mixed with the “everything’s sexual” personality of Austin Powers. Its creates a weird mash of personality and ultimately the movie never provides an adequate back story or context as to why the Guru Pitka is this weird mix, and this causes a serious problem for the movie. It was ok when the Cat in the Hat fouled up and messed with the kids’ plans because part of his role in the story was to teach the children that rules are important. It was ok when Austin Powers saw the world through sex-colored glasses, because his character was a send-up of the swinging 60’s. It’s not ok to see Guru Pitka do any of these things (and several of the things he does are direct Cat and Powers rip offs), because his character is supposedly a Guru full of guidance and wisdom. Instead he’s an inconsiderate jerk horndog who spouts off nothing of use. This isn’t a character, this isn’t a send-up, this is just someone looking to make stupid jokes disregarding all story and context.

For instance, as seen in the trailers, Verne Troyer (mini-me of Austin Powers fame) here plays a role as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Guru Pitka first meets the coach we get him blurting out “Midget” (a rip-off the mole scene in Austin Powers 3 which was itself a rip-off of the glass eye scene in Wayne’s World 2), “Your small!” and then later making several more midget jokes every time he’s around the coach. When Austin Powers fought mini-me and made jokes it was because they were enemies, mini-me being the clone of Dr.Evil and attempting to kill Powers; that’s context and motivation. There is absolutely no motivation for the midget jokes in The Love Guru. In fact, if writers gave it thought, Pitka should be going the opposite way with the hockey coach instead of the cheap insults. What if Pitka was so loving and such a good guru that he was able to bring out abilities in midgets that no one knew they were capable of. How funny would it be to see midgets doing super things, rather than seeing them put down in this film? The joke would then work and a message would even be brought through.

Unfortunately the film isn’t concerned with things like context and motivation, and all we get is an hour and a half of Mike Myers acting stupid in front of the camera spouting off vulgar puns and entendre’s one after the other. Myers surrounds himself with even weaker characters (if that is possible); including an out of his league Justin Timberlake (who can be funny, just not here). There is nothing to recommend here, even for die-hard fans of Mike Myers. The film is not funny, its’ story is weak, characters flat, and its relentlessly crude (Elephants having sex is even a bit much for Myers). Do yourself a favor and stay away from this Guru.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Night in Casablanca (1946) Review

Overall Grade: B-

Over the years I have grown to love the Marx Brothers. I say “Grown” because I honestly didn’t initially like their films. The first film I saw of the brothers was their classic Duck Soup, and the film was so manic, and schizophrenic that I didn’t really get it. The plot was paper-thin, the one-liners were fast and furious, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, there were extended scenes of piano and harp playing; very weird. Over time however, and many more viewings of their films, I have come to understand that Marx Brothers comedy films (are there any other type of Marx Brothers films?) are a genre in and of themselves. There is a formula to their style, and once you become accustomed to it, then a whole world of comedy opens up.

So how does A Night in Casablanca stack up in the Marx Brothers catalogue? Its not a homerun or a triple, but the film is at least a solid double, with a wide turn looking to third. Most of the great Marx brother’s staples are here; Groucho’s one liner’s; Chico’s misunderstandings (including a classic game of charades with Harpo); and Harpo’s anarchic antics (including a sword fight that just falls flat). So if everything is present, what makes it not a homerun?

Comedy is a very tricky thing, its not just about writing a punch line, or an awkward situation; timing and delivery are also just as important. While the punch lines and delivery are spot on, the timing is quite another thing. It could be the director or the editor, but for some reason, several comedy gags are either too short, or (as is mostly the case) extremely too long. Certain gags are played well beyond their funniness, and past the point at which the audience is laughing. One scene in particular is reminiscent of the changing rooms scene in A Night at the Opera, where the three brothers have to hide in a room and slowly change items in the room, in order to drive someone mad. A good concept, but its played for what feels like 20 minutes, and with plenty of dead space in between the good laughs.

This seemed to be true of several gags. With that major criticism aside, the film really has some fun bright spots. Groucho gets some very memorable lines, and the musical numbers are top notch this go round. If I had to rank my favorite Marx Brothers films, I would place this one somewhere near the top rung. If A Night at the Opera, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, and The Coconauts are my favorites, this would fit in nicely right above Animal Crackers and Monkey Business. Comedic genius is on display here, but even comedic genius can be tempered without a good director or editor to end a joke.

Here is a clip from the film that I think you might enjoy. The genius of Groucho

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Happening Review

Overall Grade: D+

Night Shyamalan is one of my favorite directors (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable both being in my top 100 of all-time), and I always look forward to a work of his. Even his lesser works like Signs, The Village, or even The Lady in the Water all contained great elements whether it be camera work, the score, or the script. The Happening unfortunately doesn’t contain any exemplary work (with maybe the small exception of the cinematography, if it wasn’t for all those stupid shots of trees swaying in the wind), nor does it contain much to recommend. Sadly, the only thing worth going to see in this film is the depths to which Shyamalan has sunk since the standard that he set with The Sixth Sense.

Although the film doesn’t really contain any twists or turns (the cause of the happening is talked about early in the film), I don’t really want to spoil any of the plot for anyone venturous enough to see it. What I will say about the film is that like much of Shyamalan’s other work, The Happening tries to transcend its natural genre. Typically a film about nature trying to kill men, and men responding by running and trying to figure out the weakness of nature, would be in the sci-fi, monster-horror or disaster genre, but Shyamalan tries to make it several things at once; sci-fi, horror, suspense, thriller, political message, drama.. This attempt at transcendence really sinks the film. Had the film picked one of those genre’s and at least did it well (as Shyamalan did with Signs as Sci-Fi, and Sixth Sense as horror) then we would at least get a halfway decent film. As it stands, Shyamalan doesn’t fully commit to any genre, and we get an awful mess of a film.

He runs into the same problem when it comes to the nature of the plot. The details of the Happening are so ludicrous and crazy, that they seem straight out of some 1950’s science fiction film; and this would be fine if the film seemed to recognize its own ludicrousness. Instead we are asked to take it seriously, yet I found it hard to get filled with suspense when our main characters (who I knew were going to live) had to start running from the rushing wind. The movie is too ludicrous to take serious, and too serious to enjoy.

Lastly, I wasn’t sure what to make of Shyamalan’s political message in the film. Is the film pro-global warming, or is it just a horror story for entertainment? After watching the film, I honestly don’t know. If it was a message of warning about global warming than it was heavy handed propaganda, and if it was just a horror story for entertainment, then it failed to entertain. So on both counts, nothing happening (no pun intended).

It would be easy to hit on all the other aspects of this film that just didn’t measure up (Mark Whalberg’s performance, the subplot about bee’s), but really I’ve already given too much time to this film. Don’t pay money to see this film, and if you do end up seeing it, wait till Mystery Science Theatre does a commentary track, at least it will be a comedy then.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Incredible Hulk Review

Overall Grade: C+

Much of the time, grading a film comes pretty easy and naturally to me. Having seen several films, I’ve gotten a good sense at what I tend to like and don’t like, as well as what is well made and what is crap. Every now and then certain films will pose a problem for my grading system and The Incredible Hulk is one of those films.

What makes Hulk such a tough film to grade is the fact that I found it to be a very uneven film. The first half of the film is a marvel (no pun intended). Accomplished in the first half is the introduction of the characters, their relationship to each other, and the entire hulk origin story. We find our Bruce Banner (played decently by Edward Norton), hiding out in a South American slum still trying to find a cure for his radiation poisoning. Eventually the government finds out where he is and a capture attempt ensues. This leads to the film’s best action sequence, a foot chase through the alleys, and rooftops of the slum, culminating in Banner turning into the Hulk and laying waste to the government soldiers. The chase is well shot, extremely kinetic, and the obscuring of Banner’s first moments as Hulk (we don’t get to see him in his full glory till much later), is really a smart move. This whole first half is breathtakingly paced, well scored, and a pleasure to watch. In fact, much of this half really owes a lot to the Bourne series, and particularly Paul Greengrass’ direction of Bourne Ultimatum. Nothing in this chase scene is as well made as anything in the Bourne series, but its inspiration is directly derivative of it; from the camera work, the editing work, and even the scoring.

Unfortunately for the film, once it leaves South America and Banner returns home, the film comes to a screeching halt, and really goes nowhere. From here on out, the editing feels sloppy; certain scenes play for too long, or shouldn’t be in at all (like Hulk’s attempt to sap some of the emotion from Peter Jackson’s King Kong by creating a scene, that completely rips it off. Unfortunately for Hulk, Peter Jackson sucked that well dry); and the action becomes mundane and boring.

In my opinion, if your going to use a lot of CGI for an action scene, you have to be the first to plow the field, or at least up the bar to a height no one has seen before. Instead, we get CGI action between monsters that has been filling cinema screens throughout the 2000s. Jurassic Park introduced us to CGI dinosaurs, Twister introduced us to CGI tornadoes, Titanic gave us CGI ships, Matrix gave us bullet time, Lord of the Rings gave us Gollum and entire armies, King Kong gave us Kong battling 3 T-Rex’s, Transformers gave us giant transforming robots leveling cities, and The Incredible Hulk gives us…well, Hulk (which we’ve seen before). It was a mistake for the filmmakers to spend all that money on hulking smashing up some stuff, when we’ve seen all that stuff smashed before, and better. You’ve seen one CGI car get smashed, you’ve seen it all. In this year alone, Iron Man gave us that awesome suit, Caspian gave us that epic water god, and Speed Racer gave us those mind rattling races. The second half of The Incredible Hulk is content with giving us nothing original or even envelope pushing, and that’s too sad, because the first half was really a great 45 minutes of cinema.

The Incredible Hulk ultimately grades as a little above average (C+) for me. If the film had held to the pace and standard of the first half, we could’ve been looking at a really enjoyable B to B+, but its uneven second half is just a drag. I suppose that the great beginning did a good job to obscure the obvious about this film and this plot, the Hulk story is really about a big green guy who smashes things up. No matter the window dressings, you can’t hide the fact that the film is ultimately about smashing things.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coming Soon: Reviews for The Happening (D+) and The Incredible Hulk (C+)

Posted a couple reviews, but have two more coming. Check back as they should be up within a day or so.

Semi-Pro Review

Overall Grade: C

Watching Semi-Pro was a litle bit of an odd experiece for me, mostly because Semi-Pro is pretty much the same as every other Will Ferrell film, except in this one he plays basketball. Are there really many differences between his characters Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, and Kicking and Screaming (albeit he plays the straight man for a good portion of the film). Its an odd career choice, but the movie really isn't about his career choices, and neither should this review, really the main question to be asked is, "Was it funny?"

The answer is, "a little bit". Unfortunately, Semi-Pro is very hit and miss, and most of the jokes are miss. The biggest laughs of the film really come from two scenes, an odd game of russian roulette and a scene in a bear cage, that is widely seen in the trailer. One difference found in this film, outside of Ferrell's typical schtick, is that it's been infected with the Judd Apatow, vulgarness for vulgarness sake mentality. A well placed cuss word for a joke, I don't mind, but the repeated and gratuitous use of profanity can really be off-putting.

I cannot reccomend this film to anyone but a big fan of Will Ferrell, as it really doesn't have anything going for it, except for some funny adlibbing by Ferrell and his friends. If a couple funny lines is what your looking for, then go for it, but its just average to me.