Sunday, August 9, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Rating: 6/10

Tonight Esther and I braved G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. We went in expecting an average, run-of-the-mill, weak plot, CGI heavy summer blockbuster and we weren't disappointed. The movie was decent and moderately entertaining. I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it good but I will call it watchable.

For the uninitiated, the story revolves around a top secret NATO military group (no "Real American Hero" here) trying to stop a mysterious, unnamed organization from destroying a few capitol cities with a weaponized form of nanotechnology designed to eat metal. Yup, that's pretty much it. Most of it was as cliche as expected. I did think that Christopher Eccleston's transformation from McMullen to Destro could have been made more interesting but it still worked for the most part. Suspension of disbelief will help but at some point we just need to stop and say "wtf?" Walking over arctic ice w/o special clothing? Sinking ice? A soldier flying a jet that he's never seen before and miraculously figuring out the voice commands based on the heritage of its designer? What is this, the Matrix?

With few exceptions the acting was what it needed to be. Channing Tatum was good as Duke. I typically like Dennis Quaid and he didn't disappoint as Hawke although his part was pretty minimal. Marlon Wayans played a convincing Ripcord and his comedy wasn't over the top; no "In Living Color" humor here. I have to admit that I wouldn't mind seeing Rachel Nichols (Scarlett) in a few more films either ;) I walked out of the theater wondering why Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo had cameos then I remembered that it was directed by Stephen Sommers and he was just giving his Mummy stars a job.

The dialog was bearable for most of the movie with very little that was memorably stupid. The shout-outs to the original cartoon did seem really forced though, particularly the "knowing is half the battle" line as delivered by Dennis Quaid. Something about his body language at the time gave me the feeling he was thinking something along the lines of "I can't believe I'm saying this" as he said it. The remainder just seemed to be scattered randomly throughout the movie wherever there was room.

The bottom line is that if you like summer blockbusters and/or generic popcorn flicks G.I. Joe is worth a viewing even if it's a rental but don't expect too much.

** SPOILER ALERT **
As an aside, Roger Ebert said in his review that he thought there were four missiles and the plot forgot about one of them. There were actually four warheads but only three missiles. The first warhead was launched in Paris from a rocket launcher while the other three were loaded into the missiles. The three remaining rockets were targeted at Beijing, Moscow, and Washington DC.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Rating: 10/10

I've fallen a bit behind on reviews lately. I've seen everything listed in the Coming Soon section plus a few others but I've been a bit preoccupied with some other things - work and photography mainly. I decided it was time to put up another and what better film to review than one my favorite movies of all time, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to make one thing clear - I HATE Musicals! There, I said it! To me there's very little worse than watching some mindless song and dance that does nothing to advance a story line. Sure, the singers and dancers are typically very talented but when I'm watching a film I want to see a story. I don't want to see something that tries to force as many dancers performing intricate choreography into a scene as physically possible while a character or two drones on and on about some minor plot point for twenty minutes. Sweeney Todd does none of those things.

Sweeney Todd is a very dark story and is not for those with a weak stomach. It is the story of a barber that was unjustly accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit so that another man, the powerful Judge Turpin could steal his wife. Fifteen years later the man having assumed the persona of Sweeney Todd returns to London and is seeking revenge.

Todd’s first stop upon his return is Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie shop which is downstairs from his old parlor. Mrs. Lovett tells him the fate of his wife and daughter and takes him upstairs where he is reunited with his old razors.

In a strange twist of fate the sailor that rescued Sweeney out on the sea discovers the whereabouts of his daughter and concocts a plan to rescue her from the judge. This plan kick starts a sequence of events involving deception, cunning, and ultimately murder.

Murder, of course, comes with its own set of problems. The most obvious of which is that of what to do with the bodies. Mrs. Lovett quickly solves that problem though when she connects the dots of her slow meat pie business and the fresh supply of meat made available by Mr. Todd. Business was never better.

This movie had me from the start. The story was perfect for Tim Burton’s imagination which is proven by the film work and artistic direction. The Academy Award for Best Achievement in Art Direction was well deserved. As usual, Burton’s casting is spot on. Johnny Depp was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Sweeney Todd. Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as Mrs. Lovett. Alan Rickman is great in nearly everything and he definitely does not disappoint as Judge Turpin. Timothy Spall is always a fantastic henchman and proves it once again as the Beadle.

What really surprised me about Sweeney Todd though was that even though the majority of the movie is sung it doesn’t feel like a musical (did I mention that I hate musicals?). The songs are more of a dialog set to music than a mindless rambling about some mundane detail. There are no elaborate full town choreographed dance scenes. In fact, the closest that Sweeney Todd comes to an elaborate dance scene is whenever Depp is pacing the room with his razors. And speaking of the music, these people can sing! Until Sweeney Todd I never once pictured Hans Gruber/The Sheriff of Nottingham/Rasputin/Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) sitting in a barber’s chair singing about pretty women. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Die Hard the same way again.

Those that know me personally know that I wouldn’t lightly give a movie a 10 unless I really thought it was worthy and Sweeney Todd definitely is in my book although it is not for everyone.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

3:10 To Yuma

This was originally posted on my other blog on September 14, 2007.  I decided it fit better here on my Movie Perspective blog so I moved it.

Esther and I went and saw 3:10 To Yuma tonight. I typically don't like westerns but this was definitely worth the time. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe gave exceptional performances as we expected.

The movie focuses on the moral dilemas that Dan Evans (Bale) must face as his family is dealing with financial hardship, disease, and a son heading down the wrong path in life. After having their barn burned down by an agent of the railroad company Dan and his sons run across the last moments of a coach robbery masterminded by Ben Wade (Crowe). After the brief encounter Evans and Wade go their seperate ways only to have another encounter in the local tavern.

During the second encounter Wade is arrested and it is decided that he will be transported to Yuma prison but the train station is several days journey away. Several men including Evans must escort Wade to the prisoner car at the train station.

Throughout the movie, Dan Evans is constantly struggling with right and wrong and trying to teach his eldest son how to live an honorable life by example. He is constantly battling the temptation to take the money and run or take the money and let the prisoner go free. He struggles with whether to kill Wade or let him live. He struggles with whether to give up like everyone around him has done or continue pushing forward despite the odds being stacked against him. Bale does a fantastic job of bringing an element of true emotion to the screen as his character faces these challenges.

At the same time, Russell Crowe does a fantastic job of being the hardened criminal with a soft side. One moment he's showing a tender side by capturing the beauty of the world in a drawing and other moments he's brutally murdering someone with a dinner fork. There are many opportunities for Wade to escape but yet he fails to even try most of the time.

Despite appearing to be polar opposites, the movie manages to show how Evans and Wade are much more alike than they appear. Throughout the movie the characters are simultaneously admiring and despising the other. The dichotomy of the characters is superb. I highly recommend seeing this movie.

Of course, one of the best parts of going to this movie wasn't the movie itself but rather something that preceded it. I know a lot of people hate trailers but I typically enjoy them and tonight was no exception. Along with the usual trailers that I've seen at other movies (Good Luck Chuck for instance) there was another trailer that I hadn't seen yet and even if 3:10 To Yuma hadn't been good, this trailer would have made my evening anyway.

[Arrrrggghhhh, here's a paragraph I should never have written...]
The trailer was for Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. This movie just looks spectacular. The Alien and Predator franchises have been two of my favorites for many, many years and I even have to admit that I enjoyed the first AVP movie but as far as one can tell from a trailer, Requiem is going to blow away many of the other movies in either franchise. I can't wait for Christmas 2007!

If you're a fan of either franchise and haven't seen this trailer yet, be sure to check it out at Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Am Legend

Rating: 7/10

I’m writing this after my second viewing of I Am Legend. The first time I saw the film was in the theatre with a rude audience. This second viewing was in the comfort of my living room. Amazingly, my opinion of the movie didn’t change much between viewings other than I think I got a bit more out of it the second time since I wasn’t struggling to hear it over the running commentary from the other viewers.

I Am Legend begins by introducing Dr. Krippin (Emma Thompson) who has developed a cure for cancer by genetically modifying a virus to only attack cancer cells. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse and the modified virus mutates and begins killing the hosts. Many of those that it doesn’t kill turn into nocturnal zombie-like creatures. These creatures come to be known as “dark seekers” as the story progresses.

Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) is one of the few people that is unaffected by the Krippin virus and has managed to avoid being killed by the dark seekers. He is first seen driving on the empty streets of New York (in a spotless, new Ford Mustang) hunting deer. He comes to a road block where he leaves the car and starts hunting on foot. When he finds a deer standing alone he lines up his shot but can’t fire before the deer is taken down by a lioness. Her mate and cubs are nearby and the alarm on his watch is sounding that sunset is coming so he returns home empty handed.

Upon returning home he pours bleach on the stairs to remove his scent, prepares dinner, and locks down his fortress. He falls asleep with his dog in the bathtub and dreams about life with his family before the evacuation. He has a handful more flashbacks which do a nice job filling in the back story. In the morning he checks some of the rats that he’s using to test potential cures and sees one promising result which he notes will need further human trials. He then resumes his daily routine and so the story goes. The story doesn’t really get interesting until his dog chases a deer into a dark building.

I actually really enjoyed this movie. I think the correct amount of time was spent on establishing the character and situation. I think the dark seekers were revealed at just the right time as well. What really surprised me the most about this film though is that I actually liked Will Smith’s performance.

Unlike Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Will Smith managed to really capture the emotion of being completely alone. Perhaps the difference comes from Will Smith having a dog instead of a volley ball or his being in New York rather than on an island but I’m not convinced of that. Will Smith’s performance here is really among his best work.

I Am Legend is not without flaws. One of the biggest things that struck me during both viewings is that the creatures probably should have been actors in make-up rather than the CG creations they were. I’m usually a fan of CG but this is truly a case where it should have been left out. Had this been done in a more traditional style I think the movie could have been much more believable.

I was also kind of disappointed with the ending. The original ending just seemed so contrived and didn’t really make much sense. I found out about an alternate ending and saw it online about two weeks ago and couldn’t believe how much better it made the last five minutes. Now that this is on DVD be sure to watch both endings and see which one you prefer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enchanted

Rating: 7/10

I have to admit that when I first heard about Enchanted I wasn’t exactly well, enchanted by it. I really didn’t like the early trailers. Gradually though, through repetitive exposure to the trailers and my wife reminding me about how much she wanted to see it I reluctantly agreed to see it in the theatre. Today we brought home the DVD to add to our collection. I can’t believe I’m about to say this but with few exceptions Enchanted is a great movie!

Enchanted begins in the animated land of Andalasia with a voiceover by Julie Andrews describing the kingdom and how the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) dreads the day when her stepson finds love and gets married. When that day comes she will lose power. The queen enlists the aid of Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) to ensure that that day never comes.

Giselle (Amy Adams) has just woken up and is describing her dream prince to her animal friends. The animals are helping her construct an ad-hoc statue that represents this prince and she thinks it’s complete but then realizes that he has no lips. She then breaks into a song about True Love’s Kiss. The scene then jumps to the heroic Prince Edward (James Marsden) taking down a troll when he breaks into another verse of the song being sung by Giselle. As he finishes his verse he hears Giselle singing in the distance. He jumps on his horse and hurries in her direction.

In his rush to find Giselle, Edward leaves Nathaniel alone with the troll. Nathaniel releases the troll and sends it to kill Giselle but the troll fails. As is typical in princess movies Giselle immediately falls in love with Edward for saving her and promises to marry him the following day.

Upon arriving at the castle for the wedding, Giselle is greeted by a mysterious old woman that leads her to the wishing well. The old woman pushes her into the well where she is magically made real and sent to New York City where she meets Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter, Morgan (Rachel Covey).

The story then follows Giselle as she tries to adjust to this strange new place while she waits for her prince to come rescue her and take her home. Over the course of the next few days she and Robert develop a friendship that quickly turns to romance and Giselle is torn about what to do.

This movie was actually a lot of fun to watch. The humor was kept in check and the writing never really tried to be too clever. There were actually several things I really enjoyed about this film.

The first thing that got my attention was how well Disney recaptured the style of hand-drawn animation and story that made them so famous to begin with. The beginning of the movie really feels like a traditional Disney princess film.

The second thing that I really enjoyed was how well Disney caricatured their old films! Throughout the movie we see both subtle and blatant references to their previous works. The old lady at the castle is nearly identical to the stepmother/witch in Snow White. Building the statue is done in a manner almost identical to building Cinderella’s dress. Giselle and Robert are eating dinner in a manner (intentionally) reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp. Giselle and Edward fall in love and plan to wed only moments after meeting. The list of references goes on and on and that makes the movie all the more enjoyable.

Enchanted is most definitely not without its flaws though. After two viewings of this movie I still have two major problems with the plot that I think are inexcusable. The first major flaw centers on the relationship between Giselle and Robert. The second centers on the queen.

A great deal of the story is spent on making sure that people take the time to get to know each other before committing to long-term commitments such as marriage. Robert has been seeing Nancy (Idina Menzel) for approximately five years and is getting ready to propose to her when Giselle enters his life. This story takes place over a matter of days (yes, days!) and Robert breaks up with Nancy to be with Giselle! How can a plot focus so heavily on this point and then throw it away so easily?

The other major flaw is Queen Narissa’s behavior at the end of the movie. Like the first major flaw, this problem is caused by completely ignoring another point that the movie had been focusing on. From the very beginning of the film we’re told that Queen Narissa wants to hold onto her power and much of the movie focuses on her and Nathaniel working to prevent Giselle and Edward from getting married. In short, the queen wants Giselle dead. At the end of the movie it becomes apparent that Giselle and Edward are not going to wed yet the queen transforms into a dragon and tries to kill Robert…a man that has absolutely nothing to do with the land of Andalasia! Also, it is made clear through some dialog early in the movie that Giselle is not actually a princess so there is no danger of the queen losing her throne if Giselle and Robert wed. The queens attempt to kill Robert made absolutely no sense to me. What am I missing?

Despite these flaws though, Enchanted is definitely worth watching. It will always be good for a few smiles and laughs.

The Last King of Scotland

Rating: 8/10

The Last King of Scotland is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite a while. This was a film I had intended to see while it was in the theatre but I never made it and only recently remembered to rent it. I was so impressed with this film that about 45 minutes into it I commented to my wife that it was going to be added to our collection and the next day a copy found its way onto our DVD rack.

The movie is inspired by the real-life events involving the Idi Amin regime in Uganda during the 1970s. It starts off by introducing us to Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who has recently graduated from medical school and wants to make a difference in the world (luckily this is where the similarities with Bee Movie end) By spinning a globe and deciding to travel to where ever he stops it, he randomly decides to make a journey to Uganda.

Upon arriving in Uganda Dr. Garrigan travels to the village that is host to the clinic where he will be assisting. During his journey to the village his bus encounters a military unit. When he asks about the presense of the soldiers another passenger informs him of the coup but insists that all is well because these soldiers are General Idi Amin’s (Forest Whitaker) men and he fights for the people.

At the clinic he meets Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife, Sarah (Gillian Anderson). Dr. Merrit regularly leaves the village to attend to various emergencies. During one of these emergencies Nicholas learns that President Amin will be giving a speech in the village and convinces Sarah to go with him to hear the general speak. Amin’s words of peace, freedom, and prosperity bring hope to the villagers but Sarah isn’t convinced and persuades Nicholas to return to the clinic.

As they travel back to the clinic they are stopped by a pair of soldiers that inform them that the president’s motorcade has collided with some livestock and the president has been injured and needs immediate medical attention. Dr. Nick and Sarah follow the soldiers back to the accident and eventually Nicholas is allowed to treat President Amin.

Dr. Garrigan diagnoses the injury as a sprain and bandages the president’s wrist. Unfortunately, the steer that was hit is in pain and making a lot of noise and Nicholas is having difficulty concentrating. He grabs a nearby pistol and shoots the steer. Now, with automatic weapons now turned on him, he apologizes, explains his actions, and hands over the gun. It is then that President Amin inquires about Dr. Garrigan’s nationality by asking if he is British. Dr. Garrigan explains that he is actually Scottish and the President immediately takes a liking to this Scottish doctor.

Nicholas and Sarah return to the clinic and the next day Sarah informs him that there are some “men” there to see him. Nicholas is greeted by the president’s top advisor and is invited to the capitol city (Kampala). In Kampala, Nicholas is wined and dined and otherwise treated to the life of luxury that awaits him should he accept the president’s offer…to become his personal physician. After repeatedly declining the offer Nicholas succumbs to the temptation and accepts. It is at this point where he truly enters the world of Idi Amin’s madness.

This movie is great for several reasons. First, both the script and acting are top notch across the board. Second, James McAvoy splendidly portrays the innocent yet na├»ve recent graduate that is unaware of the evil in the world. Finally and most important, Forest Whitaker is unmatched in his ability to portray a paranoid delusional dictator. Mr. Whitaker makes us believe that we’re seeing the actual events unfold. His on-screen presence is commanding and leaves no question as to who is in charge. He excels at changing character to calm and friendly to angry and merciless and back to calm in the blink of an eye.

The Last King of Scotland is an incredible portrayal of life under a paranoid dictator. Mr. Whitaker’s Academy Award for his portrayal of Idi Amin was well deserved. I cannot recommend this movie enough.

Monday, March 17, 2008

No Country for Old Men

Rating: 7/10

No Country for Old Men is the latest creation of the Coen Brothers (Fargo, Raising Arizona). In 2008 it was nominated for seven and won four Academy Awards including Best Motion Picture of the Year. With such great credentials I thought “Hey, I’ll give it a try,” but once again, I was disappointed.

The film begins with a voice over by the local sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), describing how the world is changing. He reminisces about how his father was the sheriff before him and about a time when some sheriff’s didn’t even need to carry a side arm. He alludes to how the world is changing and leaving him behind. Focus then shifts to Sheriff Bell transporting Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to jail.

Meanwhile, Llewelen Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting (poaching?) in the open desert when he stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and nearly everyone is dead. He travels a little further and finds another dead man and a briefcase full of $2 million. In the first bad decision of the movie, Llewelen takes the money…all of it and returns to his home.

Cut back to the jail where one of the deputies has radioed out to Sheriff Bell about some of Chigurh’s possessions. When the conversation ends, Chigurh strangles the deputy, breaks free of his handcuffs, and escapes and so begins his search for the drug money.

The majority of the remainder of the movie is a cat and mouse story involving Chigurh and Moss with Moss making bad decision after bad decision. Neither character will go down without a fight. Eventually a bounty hunter named Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) is brought in by a businessman to try to control the situation with Chigurh but I failed to see the point of this and didn’t think it really added anything to the story.

Overall I enjoyed this movie. I thought the film work was impressive and the acting was right on for the characters. Even though the Academy obviously disagreed with me (how dare they!) I thought this film fell short. This movie is supposed to be about how the world is changing and leaving the “old men” such as Sheriff Bell behind but beyond that his role in the story was basically non-existent. Since the local sheriff does basically nothing in this story, of course the world is leaving him behind. Expecting that the world won’t carry on without you is like expecting the bus to be there when you’re an hour late.

In short, this movie is definitely worth renting if you’re in the mood for a decent thriller but I wouldn’t go into it with the expectation that this is without a doubt one of the best movies ever produced.