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.

Clueless (1995) Review

Overall Grade: B+

Caught a recent showing of Clueless on Bravo! the other night and I thought I would at least include a little mini-review here on the website. I remember watching this film way back when it came out (with a sister, it was impossible not to have watched this film), and I liked it then, but man o man did I miss 75% of the jokes or what? It may be slightly forgotten now, but this is actually quite a breezy and fun film.

Its two strongest features are the script and the acting. The script is whip-crack smart, and the one-liners, ironic quotes, and witty catchphrases just come fast and furious. The humor here suprisingly works on several levels, and its very refreshing that a movie like this can include such rewarding and layered jokes. Top that with a fun to follow story, and it really is a great watch.

Alicia Silverstone was absolutely made for this role. Although not really the best actress (see nearly all of her film catalogue), fitted with this character, Silverstone absolutely shines. Who would've guessed just two years later she would be already irrelevant in Batman & Robin (although to be fair, Batman & Robin made Batman irrelevant as well). Great supporting characters surround Silverstone to round out a standout cast.

Much like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (although this is more layered and intelligent), Clueless does a really good job of capturing a moment in history, and not only sending up the fashion obsessed beverly hills culture, but also humanizing the characters.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kung Fu Panda Review

Overall Grade: A-

Can we say surprise of the season? The early trailers and TV spots for this film did absolutely nothing for me, and actually served to turn me off to it. I watch about 100 films a year and the trailer for this one actually forced me to write this film off the list...that was until the early reviews began to roll in for this film. So what was it about this film that surprised me so much?

This is a film that hits every note its supposed to, and really delivers the goods. To start, Jack Black is perfectly cast as the panda, and his usual schtick here is kept to a minimum. In fact, I found much of his lines in the trailer to be poorly written and most likely just comedic riffing, but within the context of the movie and the story, the lines are absolutely perfect.

Secondly, the story is a spot-on parody and homage to kung fu stories. If you've ever seen any of the old chinese kung fu films, a Jackie Chan film (who is also in this one), any of the recent Zhang Yimou films, or even the Matrix films (as there is some Matrix thrown in as well), then you'll recognize some of the same story elements here as well. Its not exactly an epic and sweeping story, but its very light, good-natured, and most importantly, its consistent with its reality and characters. In fact, the world this story inhabits is beautifully drawn out and inhabited by its residents. Refreshingly gone from this world is the self consciousness of most animated fare these days, and suprisingly few scatalogical jokes.

Lastly, the action is expertly crafted and animated, and really beats most of the great action scenes I have seen this year. Several people have compared the action scenes in this film to those found in The Incredibles, but I actually think that they are much superior. I would put two scenes (a fight over a dumpling and a breakout from prison) in Kung Fu Panda against any action scene in any animated film I've ever seen. It was wonderful to walk into this film not expecting engaging and exciting action.

This is a film for all ages, and its really just a great film to enjoy. It fails to be an (A) film for me because its themes are well drawn, but not neccesarily true. Just thinking that something is special doesn't necessarily make it special, and it really flies in the face of the theme that The Incredibles pushe which is that there truly are some people who are special, and that should be celebrated and not brought down. Aside from that, this film is a great time. If you liked The Incredibles and you also liked Over the Hedge orThe Emperor's New Groove then I think that this film is for you!

For your viewing pleasure I've included the movie trailer below as well as a scene from the film. If you don't want any spoilers, don't watch the scene. If you want an idea of the action, here's a clip from that prison break scene I reference above. Skidoosh!
Kung Fu Panda Trailer
Prison Break Clip

Beverly Hills Cop (1984) Review

Overall Grade: C-

Heard a lot about Beverly Hills Cop over the ages and there is more talk about the making of a new one, so I decided to Tivo the first and check out what all the fuss was about. This review won't be long, becuase there really just isn't much to say about this train wreck of a film.

I have heard that this was the film that launched Eddie Murphy into film stardom, and that history I couldn't agree with, what I would question, is what about his performance made this legendary? Through much of the film Murphy gets to say foul mouthed and degrading things to people who are in superior positions to him, and I think much of the popularity stemmed from that. I mean the title and poster of the film itself speaks to what we should expect, a black guy as a cop in Beverly Hills.

I guess audiences in 1984 might have found this funny then, but it felt extremely dated to me. Not only does Murphy seem like he's sleep walking through the film (apart from the time he decides to let out one of his signature laughs or when he's at a strip bar), but he delivers his put downs, and witty responses in such a monotone manner, that the punchlines seem muted. Add to it, that he's so disrespectful, so often, that it strains credibility that he could honestly be a real character at all.

On the bright side, the film has a fun soundtrack (another aspect that extremely dates the film), and its obvious influence on later cop comedy films that would later come (hello Chris Tucker in Rush Hour) makes it worth a watch. Add to that a decent performance from Judge Reinhold and its not all bad.

Rambo Review

Overall Grade: B

I don't really have any history with the Rambo movie series, outside of some viewings as a kid, but most of my memory just remembers the cool ways that Rambo was able to hide in the woods, pop up and then kill someone. So its with little expectation that I went popped the Netflix dvd in and decided to give it a chance.

The movie is a surprisingly good watch. As an action film, Rambo really delivers, and from what I rememeber of the series, it really fits nicely into the mold. Sylvester Stallone was able to craft a solid entry into the Rocky series back in 2006, and again he shows that he really understands what the Rambo series is all about, and he truly delivers it.

The film is really formulaic, yet it because it knows what kind of film it is, it takes it's cliche's very seriously and really imbues some seriousness into the setup, which really makes the all-out action ending very satisfying. Thats really what this movie is all about, the buildup to Rambo springing free prisoners (this time its Christian missionaries), and it really is an engaging event. I enjoyed the central theme that a soldier shouldn't run from helping people (and that means killing enemies, in extremely brutal ways apparently), because thats the nature of a soldier. Its an admirable theme, but its been done before (in this series no less), and its really just a movie about action. For that, I give the film a solid B