Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Review: "District 9"

August 16, 2009

I’m not sure I could claim with utter certainty that District 9 is the best movie of the summer. I didn’t find it as audaciously thought-provoking as I had hoped it would be, and the third act succumbs to a rather typical (though still entertaining) shoot-em-up, complete with a mechanized solder-suit. What I will say is that it’s one of the most unique and inventive movies I’ve seen in a while, a film that doesn’t quite fit the cliches of the many genres it seems to emulate; and in a decade full of sequels and remakes I found myself thoroughly enjoying watching something I realized I had never seen before.

If I could sum up what I thought District 9 was like briefly, I’d tell you it was a well-conceived combination of Independence Day, Iron Man, Hotel Rwanda, and The Fly. It’s certainly a science-fiction film, but it’s put in such a realistic, gritty tone that you’ll hardly recognize it as such.

About twenty years ago, in the film’s history (told in a documentary style), a large alien craft settled over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and stayed dormant for three years until humans finally cracked their way inside. They discovered rooms full of starving, emaciated alien creatures. Soon a civilization (of sorts) is set up on the ground in a place to be known as District 9, where the aliens are separated from the humans, apartheid style (Johannesburg was clearly chosen for a reason). Tensions mount, people don’t like them, they’re named after a sea shrimp they resemble (prawns); it’s tough being an alien.

Eventually the private weapons manufacturing company charged to oversee the aliens, Multi-National United, decides the aliens need to be moved to a new place, and charge a field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to give the eviction notices. In doing so, he comes across a strange cylinder which shoots black liquid on his face. He realizes within the next few hours that this liquid is altering his genes, and that he is turning into a Prawn. While this is naturally horrifying for him, MNU head-honchos realize this means he can fire the aliens’ DNA-specific weaponry.

The movie is, as I’ve said, original in many ways. For one, the aliens don’t land in Chicago or New York, but South Africa. Meaning they don’t blow up the White House in this one. Second, the alien civilization is shown to be distinctly, well, human. They aren’t all reptilian monster trying to eat us or laser-gunned invaders trying to gun us down, nor are they cute and cuddly E.T.s that snuggle nicely with stuffed animals. They have the good and bad, the black market and crime that come with any slum, as well as those that love and hate. It’s also kind of neat to see people treat the aliens like an everyday occurrence. We see that in more fantastic Star Wars-esque films, where aliens are all over the place, but I can think of few movies where character aren’t in absolute awe at the aliens walking over our homeworld. In this film, everybody’s adjusted to the initial shock. Now there are alien haters, alien rights activists, economies, and all other facets of human civilization entwined with the aliens existence, having developed over two decades.

The film is masterfully directed by Neill Blomkamp, who pulls off both the documentary and shaky-camera war-scene very well. And Sharlto Copley is fantastic as the kind-hearted and frantically terrified Wikus.

The obvious Apartheid analogy doesn’t quite pan out for me, just because the aliens didn’t really want to be around either. They were just sort of stranded. I can also understand why some people would be upset at the money spent towards the prawns when there were humans who could use it as well. But it’s still a harrowing, depressing look at the depravities that can become human nature, and while I felt the film took this a bit too far with just a bit too few good humans depicted (three, to be exact), I really did enjoy this film. It’s not some grand masterpiece, but it is imaginative and original. Which is saying a lot these days.



Review: "Funny People"

August 9, 2009

Funny People, the (relatively) new comedy by Judd Apatow starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen might be the first movie ever to release both the original and its sequel in one feature-length film.

George Simmons (Sandler) is a wildly successful comedy star, who can go nowhere without being recognized but lives alone, with no real companions. Ira (Rogen) is a young, broke, aspiring stand-up comic. When George is diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and given a slim chance of survival, he begins to question how he has lived his life. He sees Ira performing a stand up routine and hires him as an assistant and joke writer.

That’s the first movie. It then spins off into a second, tangentially related plot in this rather bloated, often grim comedy. I felt like there was a lot Apatow wanted to do with this film, and he ultimately decided just to throw it all in. It could have been an expose of the vapid lives of the famous who are recognized by everybody and k known by none. It could have been the story of the pain and agony that often lies behind the comic genius (the ‘sad clown’ parable we know all too well). It could have been about a man discovering what mattered in the last months of his life. It could have been about the rekindling of an old flame, or about the male camaraderie of an old veteran and a young novice. Instead, it tries to be all these things and more. While I wouldn’t claim it would be impossible to mix some of these themes into one film, Funny People is laden with multiple unimportant side plots and finds trouble un-jumbling and balancing all it tries to achieve.

I wouldn’t say it wholly fails, it succeeds in part with most of what it attempts. But had it trimmed the edges it could have wholly succeeded with all it attempted. It catches you by surprise, for instance, when Simmons’ old flame (Leslie Mann) appears one-third of the way through the movie and immediately starts crying because she had always loved him.

It’s a rather nihilistic, depressing comedy. Apatow said he was trying to make it “twice as serious, and twice as funny” as any of his other films. He succeeded with the former. But as I stated, it ends up feeling like two movies; one where George copes with death, another where he gets re-entangled with the love of his life. The way I ultimately felt about it was that the first half was a better film, but I laughed more in the second. But truth be told, I was anxious for the thing to end.

Sandler is the star of the show, playing a serious and complex character like he never has (well, at least since Billy Madison). He kind of lampoons himself throughout; his George Simmons is known for stupid comedies and characters that make really weird noises. But he’s lonely and isolated, and faced with his own demise. The first half especially showed me the Sandler with the real acting chops.

Apatow did a decent job of creating very flawed, very real characters. At face value, they are all somewhat despicable. Pretty much every character in the film does something disgusting, but somehow you come off liking them anyway. Eric Bana and Leslie Mann
are both disloyal people who ultimately want to save their family, and even though Bana’s character comes off as a tool for the first half of his time on screen, he is shown to be no more of an ass than Simmons; that it was all a matter of perception.

Laughs weren’t exactly commonplace, and were never fits of hysteria. But the film has strong characters and some good things thrown in, even if it gets a little muddled. You might not want to sit through in a theater, but it’s worth seeing at some point.


Review: "Green Lantern: First Flight"

August 1, 2009

Regular visitors here are aware of my love for comic book movies, particularly those of the Superman, Batman, DC orientation. And though those movies have been relatively scarce in theaters, Bruce Timm, the creative force behind nearly every awesome DC cartoon for the past twenty years including the highly respected Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated shows, has been pumping out some pretty good direct-to-DVD animated features that geeks like me eat up. I encourage you, though, to watch them as well. Some of them have been much better than many movies released in theaters (specific examples: X3, Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider). With exception of the rather abysmal Batman: Gotham Knight and the mediocre Justice League: New Frontier, the other three have been very good. Superman Doomsday packs in more action than we’ve ever seen the Man of Steel perform in any medium, and makes you realize how bad ass the character is, because the big movies haven’t quite done it yet. Wonder Woman absolutely blew me away, especially when I realized I really liked a movie completely focused on… Wonder Woman. And the most recent release, Green Lantern: First Flight gives an epic, action packed, science fiction story in the tone of Star Trek.

The action is high, and characterization for the star is rather low besides the “Hal Jordan acts heroic” aspect. His origin is greatly stunted, I imagine because it was featured prominently in New Frontier and will likely be told again in the live action movie coming soon. So it happens very suddenly; an alien crashes on Earth, his Green Lantern ring picks Hal Jordan to succeed him (it’s never explained that it does this because it recognizes his valor), and suddenly he’s off Earth for the rest of the movie encountering aliens and Guardians of the Universe and an intergalactic war. Is he ever surprised by this? Very briefly. The movie pretty much shows him accept it and be totally fine with bizarre looking creatures. But again, for this it works.

The more interesting character is Sinestro, whose betrayal of the Green Lantern is shown here. I’m not really spoiling you; it’s pretty clear from the get go that he’s got a few screws loose. But there’s a pretty nifty little twist about two thirds in that I won’t spoil, and actually made me say, “whoa.” It was very well done. But Sinestro is a great villain, and is shown perfectly here.

The action scenes and art is incredible throughout. I imagine it’s somewhat difficult to make the action seem real, since it’s all about a ring that takes the shape of what its wearer wills it to do. It sounds abstract, but is actually pretty cool, because it allows those fighting to have a physical battle that is actually a battle of inner strength. How very Zen.

There is a little camp here, but I let it go. Sometimes Hal makes his ring into a giant baseball bat, or a rocket launcher, but it’s all in good fun.

I don’t mean to think that this is just mindless action, there is more to it. It’s not completely devoid of character, and there are some nifty political undertones. It also packs a surprising dramatic punch when the rings of dozens of dead Green Lanterns all return to their source all at once, after a precise coordinated attack. It has great action, but there’s some maturity here as well.

This is also good because it shows WB is starting to allow their heroes to be showcased in multiple mediums. Since we’re essentially going to get a very similar story when the movie comes out in theaters, I was surprised they let this one go. But they might be starting to realize that exposure is very important, and since this film is great, I’m sure it will only make the live action one better.

If you’re a comic book geek, definitely see it. If you like comic book movies, give animation a chance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Review: "The Ugly Truth"

July 26, 2009

The RomCom is a formula tried and tested, but The Ugly Truth, starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, breaks the mold just enough to be recognized as something different. It’s not a great movie, and it’s forgettable enough that by the time it was over I had already forgotten half of it, but I do remember enjoying myself.

Abby (Heigl) is the producer of a failing morning television show, once known for its intelligence. Mike (Butler) is the host of a misogynistic, sex-charged late night show called The Ugly Truth that gives people relationship advice, which usually boils down to “All men want to do is screw, so ladies, spread those legs,” except in an even crasser manner. In order to pull in some ratings, one of Abby’s bosses brings in Mike to do “The Ugly Truth” as part of their morning segment, and ratings immediately skyrocket when he talks dirty to the camera, makes it known that successful women intimidate men to impotency, and shows two girls wrestling in a tub of cherry jello. Abby, meanwhile, watches in horror.

She has troubles of her own though, because she has zero ability when it comes to romantic interactions. She has a ’10 list criteria’ and makes it known on the first date how many the guy fulfills, and reveals that she has done a background check on them. I don’t came godliness when it comes to the dating game, but is anybody really that stupid? We can hope not.

Anyway, once Abby meets her hunky next door (doctor) neighbor, and since all women are shallow, stupid money whores, she begins her attempt to woo him, with Mike’s help. His advice: be overtly sexual and play hard to get.

We all know how this ends; the more he helps, the more they bond, yada yada yada. The movie is an R-rated, crass romantic comedy. It’s not the filthiest thing I’ve seen, but it earns its rating. I wasn’t offended by it, in fact I thought it did the whole ‘vulgar’ thing really well. It’s really easy to mess up a movie like this, but I thought it handled the dirtier parts in a manner that seemed borderline realistic.

Now Heigl is fine for what she was required to do, but this movie belongs to Butler. He is a pretty impressive dude. I’ve seen him sing in the Phantom of the Opera and kick ass and scream a lot as King Leonidas, but I’d never seen him do comedy, and wasn’t sure he could pull it off. Turns out he’s a funny guy, and if there’s one thing that makes this movie passable, it’s him. If there’s two things, it’s him and the scene with the vibrating panties.

I can’t decide if the movie was trying to demonstrate that Mike’s simple, dare I say, ‘cocksure’ attitude about relationships is real, or if the “ugly truth” wasn’t so easy. Mike certainly doesn’t approve of his nephew mimicking his tactics, and when they talk it seems that he reveals that he blows out a lot of hot air for cheap entertainment. I certainly don’t approve of his message, that men have no heart and only testicles, and that women are shallow resume loving dependents. But I would like to think that wasn’t the point.

The characters aren’t particularly deep, and they are offensively stereotypical. But I have thick skin, and can laugh at offensive stereotypes, so if they want to claim all men are pig-headed and still make me laugh I can accept it. You’ll likely chuckle, and the leads have pretty strong chemistry, so if you have to go to the movies and have already seen everything else, you’ll be fine choosing this.


Review: "Moon" Shines

July 20, 2009

I’d been hearing buzz for the smart, low-budget, limited release movie Moon by the time I got to see it in theaters last Saturday. My expectations were high, and I wondered if this film would do everything many people had said it would. Did I question my humanity? Did the movie ask what it means to be human?

Not as much as I assumed it would. But it did make me think, and is certainly a cerebral movie.

It’s sometime in the future, and Earth has started using clean energy that comes in the form of Helium-3, an isotope I wasn’t sure existed, but actually researched after the film. Turns out that it does, that it’s valued highly for nuclear fusion research, that it’s incredibly rare on earth, but that many people think it is on the Moon in abundance. Three points for accuracy. Anyway, an energy company is the sole supplier of Helium-3, and it gets all of it from a mining station on the dark side of the moon. The entire program is managed by one lonely occupant, who is under contract for three years before returning to earth, named Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell. With just two weeks remaining before returning home, Sam is starting to feel the weight of isolation of being away from Mother Earth for three long years. His only human contact is from pre-recorded messages from the company executives, and his wife and daughter. There’s a satellite for live communication, but it’s strangely broken and not set for repair any time soon. The job is taking its toll, Sam starts to have strange hallucinations and is on the cusp of insanity. Soon he finds himself interacting with somebody identical to him in every way, and also happens to go by the name Sam Bell.

He’s (They’re?) assisted at the base by GERTY, a high tech artificial intelligence system that speaks with voice of Kevin Spacey and shows emotion with the use of a select few smiley face emoticons on a small screen. What at first comes off as a creepy, HAL copy cat thankfully proves to be something much different.

I realized in October my freshman year of college, when I was still meeting new people in a place where I had known nobody coming in, that I had gone the longest duration of time without a hug. It was an odd, sad and sobering fact; something that had been daily routine for me, a natural human interaction, had suddenly vanished in my life. This movie takes that to the nth degree, viewing how somebody might act completely devoid of human contact. We then get what can only be described as a a ‘mind-fuck’ as we try to discern the circumstances surrounding this incident. Is he a clone, or has he completely snapped? The movie does a fantastic job of making it ambiguous and forcing you to think to discern what you think is true. In the end, I’m not sure it ever really tells you.

The cinematography on the film is perfect. It has a dated feel to it, where the CGI looks like it could be little models, but if it were little models it looks CGI. It gives it a rugged, realistic feel of what it would probably be like to drive a Humvee across the surface of the moon. Accompanied by a fantastic piano-heavy score by Clint Mansell, known best for his haunting music in Requiem for a Dream.

To say Sam Rockwell did a good job here is like saying Leonardo Da Vinci painted a pretty picture with the Mona Lisa. He has the whole spectrum of emotions to display, from despair to borderline madness, and it’s his performance that gives the film much of its intrigue. Also considering the entire movie consists of him talking to himself, it’s more than impressive to see what he’s done.

If Moon is playing near you, go see it. It’s the smart sci-fi film of the summer to balance out the bombastic fun that was Star Trek. My brain certainly churned more in this movie than in any other movie this summer, and it’s certainly one of the best releases so far. The rare gem of a film that comes out during the season of popcorn fanfare.


Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine Is One Ridiculous, Wild Ride!

May 2, 2009

About five minutes into X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hugh Jackman (as Logan) and his wife (Lynn Collins) leave their mountain-top shack and drive their beaten up truck through the Canadian forest to a lumber yard. As enormous machinery lifts gigantic trees in the background, Jackman, clad in heavy duty pants and a flannel shirt, with an axe slung over his shoulder and a chewed up cigar in his mouth, steps out of the car, kisses his wife goodbye, and throws the axe to one of his fellow bearded buddies, before stepping into the truck bed and riding off to work. The whole scene exists as if to say, “Look how manly Wolverine is! He’s a badass that’s hairy, tough, and gruff! He’s strong and looks like a wild animal!” In all reality, the scene actually sets up the film quite well, for that’s about as subtle as Wolverine ever gets. Bombastic, clichéd, cheesy, and explosive, Wolverine elicited much the same reaction as when I saw 300: It’s definitely not good, but it’s awesome!

The plot is roughly summed up like this: Logan was once a part of group of bad mutants that used their powers to accomplish some decidedly bad things. Alongside Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), John Wraith (Will.I.Am), Agent Zero (Daniel Henney), Bolt (Dominic Monaghan – LOST actor #1), The Blob (Kevin Durand – LOST actor #2), and his brother, Victor/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), Logan worked as a criminal for years. Somewhere along the line, though, Logan has a change of heart, decides to turn from his evil ways, move to Canada, get married, and live a humble life as a lumberjack. (Keep in mind, I never read the X-Men comic books, and I’m sure that massive liberties were taken in constructing Wolverine’s past, but I’m going on that I was presented with.) Logan’s woodsy life is all well and good until his brother shows up one day and wreaks massive havoc on him and his wife. Turns out, Sabretooth is working for William Stryker (Danny Huston), a scientist who wants to “help” Logan, who renames himself “Wolverine” because of some ridiculous fable, become much more powerful by bonding a newly engineered indestructible metal, adamantium, to his entire skeleton. For the record, I was so happy when this actually happened- the three boney claws that came out of Logan’s hands before were just gross looking.

Anyway, it turns out that Stryker has a hidden agenda, and Wolverine is not keen on helping him after his metalization is complete. He lets his inner animal rage, and he runs away. From there, the rest of the movie follows Wolverine’s journey to take revenge upon his brother and bring down the company that made him into his new self. Along the way, Wolvy gets into about 10-20 fights, almost decapitates his brother about 30-40 times, gets stabbed and instantly heals about 50-60 times, and entertains the audience for about 70-80 minutes. We also meet a myriad of other mutants along the way, and it becomes abundantly clear that Fox is planning on making many more of these “Origins” movies with the introduction of Emma Frost, Cyclops, and Deadpool. And while it’s certainly fun to see all these characters come to life on the big screen, one of them stands out above the rest:

Gambit! Thank goodness we finally get Gambit! As a fan of the 1992 X-Men TV series, I was always sad that he was left out of the original film trilogy, but I can see why- he’s so similar to Wolverine. Friday Night Lights’ Taylor Kitsch was perfectly cast as the sarcastic, rebellious, poker-playing, kinetic-engergy-controlling Cajun, and it was a delight to watch the Southern gent go up against Wolverine. In my favorite scene in the film, Gambit and Wolverine go head-to-head in a game of Texas Hold’em poker, and it appears that the filmmakers wanted to give a shoutout to the legions of online poker nerds, as the scene features poker pro, Daniel Negreanu! But the card game quickly escalates into an all-out brawl in the alleyway with some of the coolest special effects I’ve ever seen. Forget 2011’s Magneto, I want to see X-Men Origins: Gambit! The Gambit effects in New Orleans are second only to the effects in the Wolverine‘s final fight scene, which I won’t give away, but trust me: it’s amazing.

Wolverine is far from a perfect film. The dialogue is often ridiculous, and the story is completely secondary to the action. The film serves simply to show audiences how Wolverine got to where he was at the beginning of 2001’s X-Men, and the ending (I mean the first ending, not the other two that roll during and after the credits) feels very abrupt. Still, Director Gavin Hood had to spin a lot of plates at once, since Wolverine had to serve as a sequel to the X-Men franchise, a prequel to the X-Men story, and a foundation for all future X-Men movies that Fox and Marvel want to produce. Of course, a better script would have helped tremendously, but for what it is, which is a summer popcorn flick, I was more than entertained. Liev Schreiber plays the antagonist effectively, and Hugh Jackman has true screen presence, and even if he does flex and roar a few too many times throughout the film, Wolverine is definitely a fun character.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the perfect film for these recessionary (or if you’re a college student- final exam) times. It allows you to turn off your brain, kick back, laugh at the dialogue, and enjoy the special effects and excitement. For a couple of hours, you forget about the stress of life and instead walk in the shoes of an adamantium-lined superhero. Like I said before, it’s not good, but it’s awesome. I’ll give it a B.

Now I want to hear from you! Let’s hear what you thought about Wolverine in the comments!

Early Reviews Are Coming In, And It Ain’t Pretty For Fast And Furious

April 1, 2009

I don’t want to believe it! Fast And Furious is currently sitting with a whopping 0% positive reviews on RT. I mean, I never thought it was going to be great, but this is looking like its going to be disastrous. Also, I have not seen nearly enough ads lately to convince me that Universal has any hope in this title. Its box office prospects (and general interest) are going way down in my book, especially when the increasingly intriguing Adventureland is pulling in amazing critical response.

What’s your top pick for the weekend? Adventureland or Fast And Furious? Sound off in the comments!

Lars and the Real Girl

November 29, 2007

     Lars and the Real Girl, a fantastic, quirky little film about growing up and confronting life, eloquently reveals how all people naturally want to form relationships.  I have to say, for a movie about a sex doll, I never would have expected something as wholesome and heartwarming as Lars, but the film is an uplifting adventure.
     Ryan Gosling plays the titular character, Lars, who is the most socially awkward, strange character you could imagine.  Introverted and anti-social, Lars resents being spoken to and hates being touched. Not even a hug is not comforting for him- it’s painful.  Lars is utterly blind to the people that are trying to reach out to him.  His brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer), repeatedly try to pull him out of his shell.  Even Margo (Kelli Garner), the kooky girl who practically throws herself at him, can’t connect with him.

     In fact, there is only one thing that Lars seems to be able to connect with, and her name is Bianca.  Bianca arrives in a box on Lars’ doorstep, complete with shiny black hair, sensuous lips, ample chest, and a sequined mini-dress.  Lars introduces Bianca to his brother and sister-in-law, telling them she’s his girlfriend, a missionary on sabbatical.  Gus and Karin promptly visit a psychiatrist, Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), to find out what to do.  She tells them that Lars has a delusion, and the best thing to do is just play along.  “Bianca’s in town for a reason,” she says, and they will only be rid of her when Lars is ready to move on.  In light of this, the entire town comes together behind Lars to make Bianca feel as welcome as possible.  She works multiple jobs, volunteers in church, and even helps out in the hospital.  As Bianca takes on a life of her own, Lars finally confronts his deep-seated pain and loneliness, and he learns what it means to become a man.
     Ryan Gosling continues to impress with his engaging performance.  So often silent, Gosling speaks through his eyes, and I found myself totally fascinated by his unique character.  Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider provide top-notch (and genuinely hilarious) performances as the utterly confounded relatives of Lars.  They nail the scene where they first “meet” Bianca and have her over for dinner, and they garner sympathy in their stressful situation of hosting a sex doll for multiple months.

Much credit goes to writer Nancy Oliver, who crafted a simple, beautiful story, for as we watch the town folk become truly attached to Bianca, the movie reveals an inherent desire of all people to be connected to one another.  As they reach out to Bianca, they reach out to Lars as well, and though the premise of the film is undeniably silly, it packs a surprisingly emotive, poignant punch.  
     Special credit should go to costume designers Kriston Leigh Mann and Gerri Gillan, whose wardrobe selections for the quaint townsfolk perfectly capture the essence of the town.  Since Director Craig Gillespie has only helmed one other picture, the critcally dreadful Mr. Woodcock, that Lars and the Real Girl is so good is a wonderful surprise.  If you can’t catch in theaters, be sure to grab it on DVD in the future.  It’s weird and it’s quirky, but it was warm and delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  B+