28 August 2009

In Short: Disney Singer, 'Funny' Comedian, Traveling Naked, and Angry Man

School is back in session, and my time to write reviews or update this blog is becoming increasingly more strained (not like I updated like an insane lunatic with massive amounts of free-time anyhow), so I've decided to give a few recent viewed movie's a critique in a short manner, right down to the nitty gritty and throwing away all the blubber that makes my reviews. So, without further ado, I write about the much-anticipated Hannah Montana: The Movie, Tony Scott's remake (this is no "re-imagining", this is a blatant, uninspired remake) of The Taking of Pehlam 1 2 3, the tiem flux love story that reminds me why I'm in love with Rachel McAdams: The Time Traveler's Wife, and finally, Judd Apatow's third dramatic comedy Funny People that is really one of those "love it/hate it" flicks.

starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana
written & directed by Judd Apatow
Universal, 136 mins., Rated R

Earlier this year, Seth Rogen also starred in a non-Judd Apatow production called Observe & Report, a comedy that a large amount of the general public found hilarious. Me? Not so much. The only reason I bring this up, is that I'm suffering through the same thing. It also happened with the much-praised about Adventureland (publicly and proudly advertised as "from the director of Superbad"). Judd Apatow's third movie (great Gatsby, only his third?) is an interesting one, and I completely respect what Apatow was trying to achieve with it; there's some great performances, and there's one ginormous tud. When the movie ended, I was left with a feeling of, 'Why did I just watch that movie? What was the purpose?' Perhaps it's that the marketers advertised this as a comedy, whereas it is undeniably a drama where its main characters are comedians, I would have understood and liked it a little more. And speaking of comedians, I never once smiled, smirked, chuckled, or laughed during their "stand-up" routines. If I were a ginormous company such as Facebook hiring a famous comedian/actor, I sure as hell wouldn't pick friggin' George Simmons. Luckily, Seth Rogen's Ira does a far better jobs with the jokes.

As it stands, Adam Sandler (who I used to have respect for and actually laughed with his movies) as main character George Simmons gives THE most annoying acting job of his career, never once making me laugh, chuckle, or smirk. Not only is his character unlikable (67% deliberate), but the guy's voice is so damn irritating in the flick I sorta didn't mind if he didn't get better. In fact, even when he's saying Ira's pretty good jokes, they come off as 'holy-crap-shut-up-dude' annoying. However, there are some career highs for many people in the creidts: first and foremost, Seth Rogen gives his second best performance to date (Pineapple Express is still The Empire Strikes Back of comedies, hands down), bringing on the chuckles where no one else could; and Eric Bana (Troy), who completely stole the show during its final act as Leslie Mann's new husband concerned about George's resurfaced presence in her life (Mann being George's ex-wife, see).

The idea of Funny People is an interesting one, and with an (mostly) good cast, he could have made a good movie. But honestly, the script sucks. The last half with George's ex-wife and the on again/off again relationship they form was sorta dumb and half-assed and, well, felt like an entirely different movie that would be far more interesting. I wouldn't mind knowing about the life of a comedian, but there's so many unlikable qualities about George that I find it hard to root or give a damn for the poor bastard. But even though I didn't really dig Funny People (or Knocked Up for that matter), I'm still sorta looking forward to Apatow's next flick.

starring Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus
written by Dan Berendsen
directed by Peter Chelsom
release: 10 April 2009
Disney, 102 mins., Rated G

There's really no effort evident in Hannah Montana's theatrical debut; similar to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, it felt very much like a by-the-numbers, mundane and uninspired screenplay with the mandatory cheesy lines and acting required in a Disney flick. The lines between the life of Hannah Montana and that of Miley Cyrus is becoming even more blurrier, as Hannah's life is beginning to interfere with Miley's and is straining her friendships and family (prompting one friend to say "I'll never forgive you!" only to totally forgive like nothing ever happen and not even apologize for her lameness). As a brilliant solution, Papa Cyrus whisks Miley back home to her country roots, and it's there that she gets off her high horse and as a 'consequence' a romance blossoms with a clean-shaven, annoyingly cute boy who is helping out the family.

More or less a big screen production of music videos placed between cringe-inducing dialog which, I'm a little embarrassed to say, did result in a chuckle or two. And I'm also a little embarrassed to say that some of the song ain't that bad. Yeah, the movie's not great - didn't really expect it to be - but there's maybe two songs that might just be worth havin'. Oh, and there's a named cameo of Taylor Swift. Highlights: there's one badly done, unoriginal 'funny' gimmick where Miley runs and changes between two simultaneous dinner dates; there's the moment where Miley reveals herself as Miley and not Hannah Montana, and a young blond girl cries out for her to be Hannah Montana again after Miley does one of her own personal songs (taken out of context, it sounds mean, but in the spirit of the movie, it's one of those 'Awww, shucks' moments).

I'm sorry to say it's not going to be on my Christmas list this year, but it was a fun, if entirely forgettable and cheesebally way to waste a hour and a half. But, c'mon Disney, put some effort into your products! There used to be a time when Disney movies were something to be eagerly anticipated, to sit down in the darkened theater and expect something of actual quality and substance with a damn good script riddled with great characters, endurable cheesy moments, and overall funness. Bring that back.

starring John Travolta, Denzel Washington, John Turturro
written by Brian Helgeland, David Koepp (uncredited), Morton Freedgood (novel)
directed by Tony Scott
release: 12 June 2009
Columbia, 106 mins., Rated R

The real draw of this movie is to watch Denzel Washington play a character he's played thirty times over; a character that never gets old and never loses your attention; a character he plays really, really, really well. He's the draw because he's charismatic, tough, able to play "good cop/bad cop", and is just a damn good actor. Co-star John Travolta just isn't Vincent Vega anymore, and I've never really liked anything Tony Scott's done (Alexander was a jumbled mess; Domino and Man on Fire became more or less endurance factors than anything else: just how much can a person stand this acid-looking, quick-cuts that would make the Saw directors get massive boners?). In fact, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 wasn't one I was going to see theatrically, but it was the third in line at the nearby drive-in next to District 9 and The Ugly Truth, so why not see it, y'know?

The basic plot is that a train, Pelham 1 2 3, gets jacked by Travolta's mysterious Ryder, who thinks himself threatening by yelling "motherfucker!" at the end of nearly every sentence. Ryder ends up being in communication with Walter (Washington), a train dispatcher currently under investigation for taking a bribe in Japan. During the course of one hour (the time Ryder demands a sum of $10 million), Ryder and Walter share oh-so-fun time together as Ryder forms a really clingy bond to Walter, and makes Walter reveal the truth as to what happened with this Japanese bribe business. The movie has moments of intensity, thanks more to Travolta and Washington more so than Scott's kinetic, quick-cut camera frenzy that he's grown an annoying fetish for. Performance-wise, not Travolta's best or Washington's greatest moment, but they both do well enough to make the paycheck worth it.

There's a unnecessary dramatic car zoom-zoom through the city to get the money at the destination in time, unnecessary camera nuttiness, crappy music, and all around not all that suspenseful of a movie. Apparently the movie cost over $100 million to make. Um, where did all that money go, folks? The movie looks low-budget and feels like a rushed production. Maybe Scott spent most of the money on its hideous color schemes? If you've exhausted your Denzel Washington collection and have no interest in watching Glory, this is a nice time waster with a good amount of slightly above-average moments to make it worth a viewing.

starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams
written by Jeremy Leven & Bruce Joel Rubin, Audrey Niffenegger (novel)
directed by Robert Schwentke
New Line Cinema, 107 mins., Rated R

"Pretty good, mate!" That was my quasi-Vinnie Jones/Eric Bana proclamation that The Time Traveler's Wife is actually a worthwhile romance movie to check out. Fantastic performances from both Bana (who, as written above, was the absolute highlight of Funny People) and McAdams (a woman so very lovely and thank the Lord she's coming out of hiding since her 2005 surge), and a competent, coherent, and twisty screenplay by Leven and Rubin make The Time Traveler's Wife an endurable movie for both men and women and simultaneously pretty interesting to watch. Let's break it down this way: manly geeks get to analyze the "correctness", shall we say, of the time/space continuum while girls can ga-ga over McAdams and her tribulations whilst gawking at the hotness of Eric Bana (girls, see Troy).

Henry is burdened with a genetic disorder that allows him to time travel, and it's one sure-fire of a pain: he basically has no control over it, and the really sucky thing is that clothes don't so much time travel with him. But on one breezy afternoon, he runs into this stunning woman at his place of employment, named Clare (McAdams) who knows everything about him. Apparently, it's in his future that he meets this woman as a little girl on several occasions and striked up a bond, and eventually resulted in Clare falling head-over-heels in love with the guy. Romance blossoms, but once all that lovey-doveyness fades away, there's the stark and haunting loneliness that comes with being the soul mate of a man not in charge of his life...

My only real complaint is that the believability factor of all these relationship steps happening in such quick speeds is a little low. Here's this guy, Henry, who hasn't had time for a relationship, but once this girl says she's ga-ga for him, he warms up to her and eventually falls in love. It more or less comes off that Clare is a convenience for him moreso than an actual romantic partner, at least from my viewpoint. Nevertheless, once the pre-wedding part of the relationship is over with, the movie picks up considerable speed, and the script and actors are in perfect harmony, and the flick becomes one of those engrossing movies you can't take your eyes off. The downbeat but predictable ending is absolutely right, and I loved the fact that due to the wonderful time travel device, there's a brief indication of Clare's future which is oh-so-lovely. A dramatic romantic sci-fi-y movie that does most everything right, I'd say Time Traveler's Wife is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

20 August 2009

RiffTrax Live: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Rifftrax Live: Plan 9 From Outer Space
featuring Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphey
date: 20 August 2009
Fathom Events, 120 mins., UR

Back in the 1990's, there was this cult phenomenon called Mystery Science Theater 3000, a two-hour show that had a guy and two robots doomed to watch horrible, horrible B-movie flicks like Robot Monster and Manos: The Hands of Fate. Forced to endure these masterpieces of cinema, they coped by completely riffing and dissecting them, beating them to a bloody pulp, and all-around having massive fun. Since the show's cancellation, it's cult status has remained strong with 13 DVD box set releases and even spawned a movie.

Three of the folks involved with MST3K (at least, I think...) developed a new platform to riff movies without dealing with that annoying rights issues. They created RiffTrax, a website where folks can download .mp3 files of basically these guys dissin' the hell out of movies, big budget (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) to B-grade (something). My absolute favorist is the Twilight riff, which is freakin' sublime. Anywhoot, the RiffTrax team held a one-night only live performance for the classic "worst movie of all time", Plan 9 From Outer Space, directed by a one Ed Wood (world renowned for his bad movies, even famous enough for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to unite in a biopic on the man). Luckily, the local Marcus Oakdale UltraScreen were showing the movie, presented by FathomEvents (who are apparently going to be showing a big-time Anime movie event for Eureka Seven in September). Overall, it was a fun time, but I gotta say, $12.50 for a single freakin' ticket is a tad too much. OK, like a lot too much.

The event was fun. The show began with one of those training or docu specials back in the heyday, this one called Flying Stewardess or something along those lines. Honestly, that was downright hilarious, and it's even funnier as jokes from this segment are brought up again during airplane sequences in Plan 9.

There were two faux advertisements as per "a word from our sponsers", which were quite funny. One talking about grapes and a 'GrapeWatcher' which updates a customer every two minutes on the status of ones grapes, the other being about some convention about...plants? Memory's a little fuzzy now. Anywhoot, these 2-minute sketches were then followed up by a musical guest whose name I think was John. A self-professed horror/sci-fi geek, he sang two songs with his guitar about zombies (the first might not have been, not entirely sure due to my going to get some popcorn). Overall, the guy was great; the lyrics of his song was hysterical, it being a conversation between an employee who just turned into a zombie who was once friends with a member of the Resistence. Funny guy. Mike, Bill, Kevin, and the musical guest (whatever his name may be) also came up and sang a little brilliant diddy about plans 1-8 and how they all miserably failed. Apparently, this skit was done similarly for the colorized Plan 9 DVD release, but this was new to me, so I found it absolutely brilliantly hilarious.

Yes, sirs, I found a lot of things about RiffTrax Live quite hilarious. I don't remember many of the things that left me so ROFLing, my lack of foresight to bring anything to write with let alone on, but it was simply great, geeky fun with an absolute tongue-in-cheek atmosphere.

Now, as for Plan 9 From Outer Space (originally titled Grade Robbers from Outer Space), this was the first time I ever watched the entire movie (never made it past the first five). The first thing I want to say is that the color print they used looked splendid. In fact, I really wouldn't be surprised if, just for cult movie classic sake, Anchor Bay or whoever owns the rights release a Blu-Ray version of the title. So, yeah, the print looked pretty, and there were many times I became distracted looking at the nifty coloring effects, especially when it came to Tor Johnson (the really big dude with his always-open mouth; speaking of which, there were some hilarious food jokes from the trio).

Speaking of the trio, there were some great moments. The commentary on the "Ruler" and the alien space ship grapes, the lack of fleeing or helping not being "invented" yet on earth, the 'sound effects' of the flying saucers, etc., etc. Mike & Co. were on their top game.

Overall, cool event. I hope there's more in the future (doubtful, but I can hope), maybe with Robot Monster or maybe even a Godzilla or Gamera movie!!! (now that's really living in a fantasy world) It was a fun experience, but the price tag is a tad high. Oh well, at least I got to hear some nifty original zombie songs. Now although I may never be able to watch the flick the same again, I'm ready to see Plan 9 in it's original form, endure it as much as possible, as I will do with Manos: The Hands of Fate. In fact, now I'm just itchin' to watch B-movies. I might just take a cue from Freddy in Space and do my own chronicle of bad flickaroos.

18 August 2009

Road Trip: Beer Pong

Road Trip: Beer Pong
starring Preston Jones, Michael Trotter, Nestor Aaron Absera, Danny Pudi, Julianna Guilli
written by Brad Riddell
directed by Steve Rash
dvd release: 11 August 2009
Universal, 95 mins., Unrated

There's Frakking Worse Things

I initially wrote two opening paragraphs that weren’t all that funny with me sarcastically writing that when I popped in Road Trip: Beer Pong, I was expecting a movie of utmost excellence, and the second paragraph would basically lead in with “…it’s not.” Hilarious, no doubt. But honestly, I knew what I was getting into; everyone who picks up a Universal direct-to-DVD title does, especially with one that includes a “2” or “3” at the end of a title. Beer Pong is not cinematic gold, nor is it all around a really good movie, but it’s serviceable, and at the very least, made me laugh every once and a while, basically accomplishing what it set out to due. I was sorta hoping that with the trend of rather good American Pie sequels, that it would sorta rub off on these other DVD franchises, like Bring It On.

It hasn’t, at least not fully.

Nearly a year ago, Universal announced a slate of new direct-to-DVD titles that would be sequels to “hit” movies. On the list included but not limited to Grease 3, Mean Girls 2, The Naked Mile 4, Bring It On 5, Deep Blue Sea 2, American Pie 7, and Road Trip. Universal knows the franchises that will make money, and they completely plan to juice it in the DVD market. I myself am a sucker for the American Pie presents... titles, and I have rented the Bring It On and Asylum Productions, so I'm one of the evil blokes who are helping these relatively no good projects be green lit. Well, the first title of this new wave has been released, with unspectacular results. Here's hiping the next Bring It On with Christina Millian (Pulse) will at least be above average.

While best-friends Korkin (Trotter) and Jake (Absera) enjoy the benefit of bachelorhood in college, Andy (Jones) remains with long-time girlfriend Katy (Guill), who just recently transferred to his college to put an end to that pesky far-distance relationship agitation. Initially troubling Andy, Korkin pleads that he needs to go out more and party, to indulge in temptation with no-string casual sex with all the feisty ladies on campus. It just so happens a short lived relationship in Andy’s past has resurfaced, and is more than ready to rekindle the flame. While on a road trip to participate in a Beer Pong tournament, Andy seeks to meet up with his sexy ex behind Katy’s back and reclaim his “manhood.” As with anytime there’s four teenagers in a car together, hijinks and ‘hilarity’ inevitably ensue.

Direct-to-video movies I judge a little more leniently, knowing before viewing that more likely than not, its sole reason for existence is to yank some poor bloke's cash and rat away their minds with dodgy scripts that don't really matter and footage of a ton of boobies with bad and even dumber sex jokes. So, I rate the movie well if I found it entertaining, if the performances were at least subpar, if I laughed, and if there was at least some apparent effort put forth. 1) Yes, the movie was entertaining, though I found myself not giving a damn about the Beer Pong tournament which is, y'know, supposedly a large component of the movie. 2) The performances...well, eh, read below. 3) I actually DID laugh! Yes, surprised the hell outta me. 4) I haven't seen this lazy of directing since Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.

The script doesn't work for the sole reason that Andy just comes off as a douche, conciously making the decision to embark on a road trip just to screw a old passion while his perfectly fine mentally and physically girlfriend is at home wondering what the frak is going on. Doesn't help that most of the side characters aren't worth remembering after the movie's over, either, with the sole exception of Arash, which I'll talk about in a sec below.

Luckily, the cast is all-around likable, with the sole exception of our main character Andy, with Preston Jones not giving one iota of a performance but instead attempting to get by with his ‘charming’ good looks. Trotter as Korkin is only noteworthy because he plays essentially the Stifler role, but never once being likable enough to understand how he scores with a Chastity Girl. In fact, much to my surprise, the best and most hilarious moments come from Danny Pudi, playing the horny Middle Eastern Arash, never failing to elicit at the very least a chuckle with his dialog that must have been improvised by him, since it was way too funny to be in this rather arbitrary script. The only returning cast member from the first installment is DJ Qualls, looking older than ever, playing the function of Tom Green’s character in the first – bad narration with small moments of funny involving a cougar-ish mom and her slutty daughter.

Road Trip: Beer Pong is for the most part enjoyable. It's weighed down by its overall unoriginal plot, jokes, and one-dimensional actors, but the performance of Danny Pudi alone makes this movie at least worth a Netflix rental (gosh no, I would never recommend someone buy this unless it was in the Half Price $3.00 bin). Just, please Universal, try a little harder with the next title.

16 August 2009

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer
starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zoey Deschanel
written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
directed by Marc Webb
release: 07 August 2009 (wide)
Fox Searchlight, 95 mins, Rated R


“You should know upfront, this isn’t a love story. This is a story about love.

Quite a brilliant summation of the movie, indeed. And you should know upfront that I dearly, head over inexpensive shoes in love with this movie, a flick that I would call about the next best thing since Love Actually (2003) made my jaw drop in its awesomeness. Phenomenal performances, a freakin’ brilliant script with honest and appropriately humorous dialog that could very well surpass Diablo Cody’s Juno screenplay, and of course – a wide selection of indie music that will probably make the CD a top seller. I could very well end this review right here and not gush on and on about how great of a movie this is, but I sorta wanna continue…

The basic gist (aka plot) is greeting card writer Tom (Gordon-Levitt) is introduced to the bosses’ new secretary, Summer (Deschanel) and pretty much instantly falls for the girl. Through a mutual attraction, a trip to a bar, and a common affection for the band the Smiths, Summer and Tom become, well, a “thing” for lack of a better term. You see, Summer doesn’t want to put labels on whatever’s going on between them, which off puts Tom a bit, a tad uncertain as to what they really are – boyfriend, girlfriend, what? Everything’s going good, though there’s a few bumps in the road, and then…WHAM: it’s over; Summer breaks up with him, leaving Tom in a state of anger, bitterness, and sorrow, which doesn’t bode well for his job that heavily involves happy messages to cheer a person’s day!

The movie doesn’t end at the break-up because it’s not solely about this relationship, this lost love. The relationship isn’t the important part, what it does and how it affects Tom is the thing that matters. We see Tom wallow in his grief and anger, we see the good times and the bad times, and we even get to watch Tom receive counseling from his twelve-year old sister as he tries to deal with his crumbling life (in about four humorous scenes). (500) Days is about love and life. The search for the ‘right one’, and the question whether or not you actually are destined to be with that particular person, and the devastating effect of a breakup (though let’s look on the bright side of things…LOVE!).

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who took a break from brilliant performances to go all-out zany in this month’s action extravaganza G.I. Joe) gives a phenomenal performance as Tom. Hell, even when Tom’s moody and angry at the world Joseph’s performance is riveting, hilarious, and captivating all at the same time, an ability not often found in even the most seasoned actors. Zoey Deschanel (Elf) is absolutely adorable and lovable, but gotta admit, I didn’t quite care for her character, either it being the way it was written or her performance, though I have troubling feeling it might be Zoey. Adorable, yes, but it was difficult at times to get a hold of her character and to like her enough to understand Tom’s nutty infatuation outside of her undeniable gorgeousness and favoritism towards the Smiths. Eh, well, love is blind.

I especially loved the brilliant use of its non-chronological set-up. For example, a particular shared moment of fun on day 120 (give or take) becomes a redundant, ‘yeah whatever’ moment of boredom and tediousness by day 274. Just watching these scenes of different days and different moments of emotions is quite fun and interesting to watch, a device that isn’t often used in romantic flicks. It’s a nice way of showing the development of a relationship without the two plus hours running time that filmmakers seem quite fond of these days. I am simply in love with the movie's structure, basically.

The script deserves high praise as well. There’s definitely several lines that I’ll be quoting for quite a while (including my favorite happy-go-lucky card yet: “roses are red, violets are blue, you’re a whore. Bitch.” You can sorta tell when in the relationship this takes place). Aside from the brilliant, quirky, sometimes self-referential dialog, I love that the script doesn't dumb itself down for cheap laughs or dumb jokes; I love the completely bizarre but freakishly not out-of-place dance sequence "the morning after" which includes a blue cartoon bird landing on Tom's finger; I love Tom's friends 'discussing' their 'love' life to hilarious effect; I love the exchanges between Tom and Summer and the very real, very honest relationship between them and how it never feels forced. A great, great script with wonderfulness in every page.

When the movie ended, I sat there a completely satisfied audience member who just watched a great movie that I rather wanted to watch again right away. Joseph and Zoey are great together, and the script is witty and intelligent, and I can’t think of a reason not to recommend the movie. Sure as day and night, I will definitely be picking up the DVD and will see it before it leaves theaters. Much to my absolute surprise, August is thus far boasting more treasures than most of the summer season (Star Trek, obviously, excluded), and I’m quite enjoying seeing one recommendable movie after another (and watch as soon as I write this, I see a movie so horrible I barf out of obliterating brain cells). Anywhoot, see (500) Days of Summer!

14 August 2009

District 9

District 9
starring Sharlto Copley, Robert Hobbs, Jason Cope
written by Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
directed by Neil Blomkamp
release: 14 August 2009
Columbia TriStar, 113 mins., Rated R


Oh my god.
Oh my God (!!!)...
Double Woah!

That, in a nutshell, was my experience watching District 9, basically one of the most visually stunning, brilliantly crafted science fiction/adventure stories ever put to film. Granted, I haven’t seen as many alien movies as I’d really like to, so I probably should judge this movie in accordance to what has come before it, but this flick is so damn fun, interesting, and gripping that any sort of comparisons I’d make, we’ll, I really don’t give a damn. I love District 9. Yippie for the influences of the alien epics that came before it, but this really is its own little beastie.

A giant spacecraft suddenly hovers over Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon landing, the parts that make the craft function apparently broke off and couldn’t be found, leaving the alien beings stranded on earth. Dubbed “prawns” as low-level life forms, the South African government created a zone for the aliens to inhabit. With no way get back home, the aliens prawns make the most of their time on earth: erecting housing, attempting a friendly co-existence with the humans, etc., etc. After twenty years of suffering through the troubles of the prawns, the South African people become a bit tired and want them out. Here we meet the films central character, Wikus Van De Merwe (Copley), a recently promoted employee at MNU, a government-sanctioned division existing to ensure continued peace with the aliens. Heeding the public’s outcry to move the aliens, the government sanctions a raid to District 9 to hand the aliens eviction notices. During this raid on the 1.5 million alien inhabitants, Wikus is exposed to a black alien fluid of some sort. Gradually, the fluid begins to show drastic side effects. From there, things just go horribly, horribly wrong.

Right off the bat, the story is very enticing. From the moment Wikus is exposed all the way to the movie’s climax, which leaves it open for a sequel but also gives enough closure to be a sufficient stand-alone experience (which I hope isn’t the case), the movie holds your attention with 100% rich and realistic characters acting precisely how a person matching their particular personality would act or react (not to mention the nifty aliens). Nothing seems contrived or directed simply to arrive at this next plot point. Everything is completely believable and makes sense. Wikus turns from a happy-go-lucky guy to a man looking out for himself, even nearly betraying a comrade in the name of self-preservation. [Reminds me of Gaius Baltar of BSG fame] The script is intelligent, the characters and aliens completely three-dimensional and never wavering in their believability and actions. And even with the spoiler-ish trailer and massive marketing campaign, I was surprised as hell as to what exactly this movie was about, and many of the developments took me aback.

These aliens aren’t just aliens in the vaguest sense; they all have an individual personality and feel so completely real, and not just because of the CG (although that’s a pretty big component). They have their own identity and life, never feeling like...well, an alien. The two prawns that Wikus interacts with for most of the movie are especially gripping and three-dimensional, their plights and desire to get home pretty much heart-breaking.

D9's first twenty minutes is all newscast & interview footage. The interviewees discuss the rumors of District 9, how the prawns were treated, the reaction of the people and government of the aliens' new home. Normally, I'd find this gimmick to be a cheat, but it's used so effectively here I nearly don't care. And the newscast footage of the aliens living in their environment day in and day out - outstanding. I know I talk about it a lot, but when you see these prawns onscreen (especially in the first twenty), you won't feel like you're watching digital pixels.

Cinematography is just like Children of Men, but less intense and with absolutely believable aliens onscreen. And no Clive Owen. Part of me wishes Blomkamp handled Cloverfield after seeing how splendidly real the camcorder hand-held shots are. Thankfully, the hand-held never gets in the way of the drama or the action, never interfering or being buggy-ish. And on an unrelated although absolutely-need-to-be-mentioned note, the score by Clinton Shorter is, well, brilliant. If there's a CD available, it'll be mind before weekend's end. [Note: apparently a deal has been brokered with Sony Music, and a pre-order for Amazon will be forthcoming; so, no CD available yet]

Any review of District 9 will not be complete without specific mention of the movie’s special visual effects, which I would pretty much call groundbreaking. Granted, what’s been accomplished here has been done by the likes of Gollum and King Kong, but there has never, ever been completely digital creatures that felt truly and completely real. In the news cast footage – absolutely real. The spacecraft – absolutely real. These creatures feel like they live and breath in the same atmosphere as our main cast, them never sharing a scene with an invisible object later put in digitally. Even the robot thingy that shows up in the climax – absolutely beautiful to behold, and all the more impressive considering its level of realism in broad daylight, usually the death stroke for heavy CG flicks. Even more, the prawns are able to elicit an emotional response from this viewer, which I wager it'll accomplish with many others: one particular scene sees a prawn looking upon the remains of another of its species, and even amidst a shoot-out, it just stands there, eyes fixed on its blood and organs on the operating table, distraught and angry. These are real creatures inhabiting the screen, ladies and gents.

I love District 9. I think it’s a beautiful movie to look at, unquestionably; the performances from every single person involved were exceptional; the music was simply marvelous and (sorry to use this word so often) strikingly beautiful; and the film grabs you in literally within the first seconds and doesn’t let up. I do sadly ponder if I will feel this same overwhelming feeling with a second or third viewing, if the movie’s success is based solely on the emotion of a given scene, or if it has some dodgy editing and thus doesn’t flow well. But mostly, I know that I love this movie, and I know that I haven’t been this into a movie in a while. Splendid, splendid job, everyone involved. I honestly will be one of the first in line for a (hopefully) sequel.

Blomkempt stated in a recent Entertainment Weekly that he wanted D9 to be as "un-Hollywood" as he could make it. He succeeded. There's not the typical Hollywood happy ending, things don't happen just for the conveinence to the script, and even what I wager we can call our protagonist shows signs of not being very heroic, being instead rather self-centered and looking only to reunite with his family. The much-talked about visual effects is one thing, but it really is secondary to the story of opportunity and hope for the prawns (and even social invasion, as per the military collective eviction).

I can’t recommend District 9 enough. Don’t bother with Funny People or G-Force or G.I. Joe, this is the movie to see.

12 August 2009

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Season 1
starring Lena Heady, Thomas Dekker, Summer Glau, Brian Austin Green, Richard T. Jones, Garret Dillahunt, Dean Winters

developed for television by Josh Friedman

based on the characters created by Ja
mes Cameron
FOX, 9 episodes, 3 Discs,

Pretty Frakkin' Good

Bloody Friday nights, and bloody FOX for putting The Sarah Connor Chronicles on bloody Friday nights. See, most of the time, channels dump shows they don’t have too much faith in on Fridays, and of course, with most of the population out celebrating the new weekend on that night, these programs are unable to garner a big enough audience for said channel to find it financially worthwhile and will inevitably cancel the show within four episodes, maybe more if the show’s lucky. The most famous offense was Joss Whedon’s Firefly, a program that I admittedly didn’t get into during its initial broadcast and thus am one of the people who got the show canceled. Most recently, the FOX Friday sci-f lineup consisted of The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ second season and the freshmen year of Joss Whedon’s experimental Dollhouse. By May, T:SCC was canceled, and Dollhouse renewed.

It’s unfortunate that The Sarah Connor Chronicles is no more, because judging by this first season alone, the show had potential to be very, very good. Boasting a great cast, a brilliant composer, intelligent and suspenseful scripts, and did I mention a great cast? Developer and show runner Josh Friedman clearly knows his Terminator mythology, and his affection for the series is evident through each script which stays faithful to what has come before and expounds on story plots and themes from the motion pictures. It’s about as good of a Terminator series as any fan of the sci-fi epics could ask for.

Keep in mind, a creative decision was made that the show’s continuity stays in tune with
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but seems to neglect the Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines canon. However, the subject of Sarah’s cancer, a plot brought up in T3, is integrated into the storyline.

It’s 1999, and the Connors (now under the guise of last name Reese) are living in comfortable secrecy. Although Sarah (Heady) still suffers nightmares of Terminators, she and John reside in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, paramedic Charley Dixon (Winters), living relatively normal lives: Sarah works as a waitress, and John goes to school. There are two unfor
tunate variables, however – one is Agent James T. Ellison (Jones), a FBI Special Agent determined to capture Sarah who he reasons to be out of her mind, and T-888 Terminator named Cromartie ambushes John at his high school. Saved by an oddball of a girl named Cameron, John escapes. Turns out that Cameron is actually a Terminator re-programmed by future Connor and sent back to assist himself. Abandoning their life with Dixon, the three of them go on the run, but John wants nothing more than to stop this from happening all over again, meaning to stop Skynet permanently. Cameron offers one way out, a way that no Terminator will be able to track them and they will be able to maneuver freely: a time jump.

Constructed inside a bank, the Connors and Cameron jump to Los Angeles 2007, free to stop Skynet and avert Judgment Day. The only problem is that unbeknownst to them, the head of Cromartie, who was pursuing them in the bank and got blasted by a special gun used by Sarah, made it through the jump. As the Connors set out to ensure a robot apocalypse never comes to pass, Cromartie’s chip reactivates, and uses any means necessary to reconstruct a body and re-engage the Connors and fulfill its mission. The increasing amount of dead bodies in Cromartie’s wake arouses the attention of Agent Ellison, and the evidence left at the crime scenes strain his religious beliefs and forces him to reconsider Sarah Connor’s testimonies. Even jumping nine years, the Connor gang is running out of time: with Cromartie and Agent Ellison on their tails, it’s rather difficult to stay out of sight and do what must be done…at least they have their very own Terminator on their side, who may be something more than meets the eye (bad Transformers reference, forgive me).

One of the main concerns any average to die-hard fan of the Terminator franchise had was that the movies featured plenty of action sequences, and it’s not necessarily possible to execute such scenes in a TV show week after week, especially with their limited budget and even more strained filming time.
This is easily and effectively handled – although T:SCC does feature action (oh yes, it features action; there are plenty of awesome scenes to geek out over), its central story and main focus is a very intimate, non-explosivey type: the relationship and life of Sarah and John Connor. The emphasis is on their story and the choices they’re forced to make more so than the impending Apocalypse, a strategy I think works very well and entices the viewers.

The main thrust of the season (and perhaps series?) is this little machine called The Turk, an intelligent chess-playing computer developed by cell phones salesman Andy Goode, a past assistant to Miles Dyson at Cyberdyne Systems. It’s inferred that Andy’s little machine may very well have started Judgment Day, or at least was an extraordinarily important component in making it comes to pass. Thus, it becomes a moral game for Sarah: kill Andy and potentially stop a possible way for Judgment Day to never happen? But before she can mak
e a decision, the Turk itself goes missing, and there’s not much hope in finding it. Although the concept of the Turk and the idea that this little dinky chess-playing computer is an important catalyst for Doomsday, the storyline feels like its ran its course rather quickly, and the remaining episodes with it sorta made me wish it was all resolved and done with. Though, I will admit ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ (106), or ‘the future episode’ as it’s no doubt commonly referred to, was interesting with Andy Goode’s inclusion as part of the Resistance, which develops into another plot that directly links to 2007 and what Sarah’s doing.

Lena Heady (300), pulling a Hugh Laurie and hiding her native accent, while not being a perfect Linda Hamilton match, nonetheless embodies who Sarah Connor is brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly. Here’s a woman who has gone through some serious shit – working as a waitress in the ‘80’s (if memory serves me right), run after by a killing robot and saved by a future military fighter, gets pregnant, later put into an asylum, attempts to break out but saved by a similar model of the very thing that tried to kill her, forced on the run again not only by Terminators but by the law, living in hiding and embracing multiple identities, and above all, the struggle to ensure that her son lives at all costs. That’s enough to weigh anyone down, and Heady is able to show us the strength of this character (and even warmth), but at times – rare as they may be – her vulnerabilities. And the best part is – I totally buy it and believe it. The only thing about the characters use in the show is the much overdone voice over’s in nearly each episode.

Casting for John Connor, future leader of the Resistance musta been a bitch to do, but I feel Thomas Dekker was a good enough choice. Widely known for his few episode stints in the first season of NBC’s
Heroes, I confess I wasn’t exactly the most assured camper with news of his casting. But, surprisingly, Dekker fits perfectly, absolutely feeling like a teenage John Connor that could plausibly be the inter-years between Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl. The unfortunate part is that occasionally, the scripts make John come off as a little whiny, a little bratty, but I wager that can’t be helped: here’s a young man who’s under amazing pressure about living in rather mostly solitude. Here he is in seclusion, living double identities and never fully able to connect with anyone, and is being prepped on ways to save the future, or at the very least be an amazing military general. There are moments where John’s frustration at never being able to go out and do things like normal kids that ring a little annoying, but in retrospect, it’s perfectly understandable and forgivable. But I guess I gotta give him and Sarah some slack with the whole being the only defense humanities got thing.

However, there are plenty of opportunities for John to shine, for inklings of the future leader of the resistance who soon will be to glimmer through. Episode 104, ‘Heavy Metal’, is a perfect example of the continuing development of the John Connor character; basically abandoning the pleas of Sarah and Cameron, John attempts to take out this cargo that contains the metal that will eventually be used to make Terminators. It’s a real treasure watching John take a stand against Sarah (albeit on rare occasions) and make choices of his own, showing little bleeps of the future leader he will become.

Pretty boy Brian Austin Green’s mid-season appearance as a Resistance fighter who is personally quite important to John, spices up the story and makes things a tad more interesting (not to mention a rather perfect set-up for a post-Judgment Day storyline), but as a actor, he just didn’t do it for me. Frankly, he looked like he jus
t came off the set of The CW’s One Tree Hill, and just grew a little facial hair to look rugged and dirty. To his detriment, he just has that ‘I aspire to be a supermodel look.’ However, when the time comes for his character to be totally and utterly badass, Green does it, and he does it good. He may not come off as the most realistic Resistance fighter, let alone a fighter in general, and he may not be able to deliver all that the script requires of him, but when it comes to intimidation and ferocity, Green gets the job done.

And finally, we have Summer Glau, who plays the ‘unknown’ cyborg Cameron, sent back in time by Connor himself. Cameron is an interesting T
erminator, able to eat food, mimic human traits flawlessly, and also has the trust of future John. Speaking of “future John”, I absolutely loved it when Cameron refers to both Johns, and how when Sarah asks if she must follow his every order, Cameron replies: “Not this John.” Sarah, quizzically, asks: “Are they one of the same?” Cameron forebodes, “not yet.” Its little moments like that that just makes me fanboy giddy. Anywhoozle, Glau’s performance is plain black and white awesome, and it doesn’t hurt that she has a lot of interesting material to work with – Cameron is perhaps the most intriguing Terminator of the franchise, holding many possibilities as to what she is and what her true motives are.

My only real complaint with the show would be the Terminators and how they move. I understand that Cameron was required to act human enough to fool even the viewers with no pre-knowledge of what she was, but even after her identities revealed, Glau sometimes comes off as far too human, echoing many human traits and tendencies. It seems with everything she does right (and there’s a ginormous amount), there’s a small few cyborg inconsistencies. Same thing goes with the main Cromartie actor, who (aside from never coming off threatening) never screams ‘robot.’

For a TV series on FOX, the effects are pretty good. Not as spectacular as, say, the SPFX in
BSG, but they’re better and more realistic than I would have anticipated. Though, sadly, the full CG shots of the robotic endoskeleton just look…well, CGI, lacking any sort of reality to it at all. I recall when watching the ‘Pilot’ being absolutely stricken by how awesome Sarah’s dream sequence was, with a giant nuclear explosion and a Terminators human body bursting off to reveal its mechanical structure. It’s an amazing sequence with some really spiffy computer imaging work. Another episode that boasts some spiffy CG work is ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, as the future L.A. looks pretty close enough to Cameron’s original vision. There’s some dodgy composition work, as evidenced by a sequence in which Cameron jumps off a moving vehicle that’s about to fly off a cliff. But, hey, the effects are passable.

Battlestar Galactica
’s Bear McCreary shows off his beautiful talents as composer for this series. There’s plenty of action tunes and some brilliant themes, including ‘Sarah’s Theme’, which is basically in every episode with occasional mixes that make it all the more wonderful to listen to. I’m not much of a music critic, but I can safely say that thus far, McCreary has never disappointed me with a score. I am happy to say that I own all four of the BSG soundtracks, the T:SCC soundtrack, and the Caprica soundtrack. McCreary is unchallenged as composer in the television world, in my opinion, and although this isn’t his absolute bestest (BSG S03), it’s still grand and great.

I received the three discs from Netflix, and with my anxiousness to get to the next episode, I didn’t spend a lot of time lingering on all the bonus material. However, me being the commentary freak that I am, I made sure I gave a listen to the three commentaries present. Up first is commentary for ‘Pilot’ (101), with Friedman and director David Nutter stealing the show discussing inspirations and ideas. Although none of the commentaries really feature bewildering and/or worthwhile information, they are mostly enjoyable to listen to, especially due to Friedman’s nonchalant tone in which he’s quite earnest with what went right and what went wrong, and then there’s the moments where he geeks out discussing the franchise and how giddy he is to be involved in it. His love and enthusiasm for the series almost made me as giddy and ready to work as a writing consultant for the show! Co-stars Heady, Dekker, and Glau make their way on commentaries, with Glau offering virtually nothing, Heady not really bringing much to the table, but Dekker jogs in-between joking and seriously discussing his character and arc. There’s also behind-the-scenes tidbits found on Discs 1 & 2, all of them being quite informative and interesting enough to keep one’s attention. There’s dissection of CGI and sets in some of the more episode-centric behind-the-scenes found on Disc 2, with Disc 1 housing the more overall show info, such as the initial idea for the series and the particular Terminator models used in the show. More bonus features than I expected, but all of them are worth giving a look at.

You either like the Terminator franchise or yah don’t.
T:SCC doesn’t have all the action as the movies, but it relies on the characters, grounding this series in the same world as the movies and having its main drive be exactly that of the movies, but more intimately dabbled with the Connors and their constant running in lieu of pretty explosions. The series is very interesting, very suspenseful, wonderfully acted, wonderfully scripted, majestically scored, and highly entertaining. I guess the best compliment I could give is that in the movies, I didn’t much care for Sarah or John and their plight – I just wanted to see the Terminators; well, now it’s the other way around: Sarah and John are my first priority. I want to know about them, I want to know what’s going on with their lives and their continued fight against this seemingly inevitable future. Aided by the wonderful behind-the-scenes talent, Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles grabs the viewers into their story and doesn’t let go.

07 August 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
starring Channing Tatum, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Eccleston, Marlon Mayans, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Sienna Miller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonathan Pryce
written by
Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, Paul Lovett; Michael B. Gordon, Beattie, Stephen Sommers (story)
directed by Stephen Sommers
release: 07 August 2009

Paramount, 118 minutes, PG-13

There's Frakking Worse Things

Wow. That was just…wow. I’ve never before had so much trouble following the action of a movie, not in
Bourne Supremacy, Star Trek (2009) or Star Wars. And yet this action/adventure flick is so filled with giant explosions and fancy state-of-the-art gadgetry and special effects it all boggles the mind a little.

Well, the movie that has received the most negative pre-buzz of the summer has arrived, and it’s neither extremely awful nor really good; it’s simply one of those mindless, fun action movies that serve no other purpose than to thrill and entertain for nearly two hours. Now, for G.I.JOE fans, this is probably the kiss of death – a horrible monstrous atrocity; basically, their Legend of Chun-Li and Dragonball: Evolution all rolled into one, but with more dazzling special effects. If the rumors about Paramount’s not-so-happiness about the movie is true, it’s perfectly understandable. I doubt a franchise is about to spark from this (though now that I said that I wager a sequel will be arriving July 2011), and I doubt director Stephen Sommers is getting tons of accolades. Though, I can’t really picture why they think this movie is so horrible they needed multiple multiple editors to sort through this mess.

But while on the topic of editing,
Rise of the Cobra is actually pretty tightly edited. Granted, it’s basically one action scene after another with minor moments of what I guess they think constitutes exposition, but it really feels like no time has gone at all.

And as far as story – well, I can honestly say that I didn’t bother to intently pay attention. I know there’s something about nanotechnology and these little bug thingies that devour basically any substance and can’t be stopped unless a ‘Kill’ button is pressed, and there’s four warheads with these little buggers in them. Of course, the Joes are the one tasked to stop them, but things, of course, get worse before they get better. Joe pulls a
Watchmen, with about four or five flashbacks during integral parts of the story. But I’m not too distracted or non-loving of them, because there are two separate flashbacks to two young boys in China basically pulverizing each other. Seriously, these fights were brutal.

The other flashbacks mainly belong to Duke and Cobra, fleshing out their backgrounds and filling in why one particular character doesn’t exactly fancy another particular character at the moment.
For a movie basically all about action (really, the story absolutely takes, like, fourth fiddle to all the fights and action beats), the only real totally awesome and intense duels are the ones between the mute Ninja looking Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Completely awesome, and I may watch the movie again just for that.

G.I.JOE also boasts a pretty nifty cast. Channing Tatum has swooned the female audience with his roles in Stop-Loss and Step Up, and basically plays a one-dimensional grief-stricken action dude; Marlon Wayans, who I will always remember as Snails from the much-despised (but I liked it) Dungeons & Dragons flick, is simply the comic relief with snappy one-liners; Rachel Nichols of Star Trek (2009) is the gorgeous body who kicks ass; Darth Maul/Ray Park as the show-stealer Snake Eyes – silent but absolutely deadly; Brendan Fraser as some guy who gave orders for 120 seconds; The Doctor (Doctor Who) himself as the villainous businessman James McCullen whose motivations for being evil I don’t remember (all the action mostly blocked out any sense of logic or plot); the uber-talented Joseph-Gordon Levitt letting off some steam and going totally bonkers as the evil and movie titled Cobra; Sienna Miller as Duke’s ex-girlfriend who is just oh-so-hot and only the second reason to see this movie (Snake Eye being #1, by the way); and then evil incarnate, the Mummy, Arnold Vosloo as a horribly named baddie known as Zartan who ends up getting a pivotal make-over. Sommers regular Kevin J, O’Conner (Deep Rising, The Mummy, Van Helsing) shows up for a really brief flashback scene, but aside from eliciting a ‘man, he’s getting old’ response, it was still a pleasure seeing him onscreen and hearing his crackily voice. Oh, and Elizabeth Swan’s deceased father, Jonathan Pryce, shows up as a completely unconvincing President (seriously, this is about the lamest ‘President’ since X-Men: The Last Stand), but the ending leaves me sorta anxious to see what Pryce does with the storyline.

It's joyfully obvious Vosloo, Gordon-Levitt, and Eccleston had an absolute blast with their roles. Arnold Vosloo just has this sinister glee in his eyes, walking around with that 'I'm a bad guy! hehehe' smirk. Joseph just goes all-out wacky emulating a mad scientist with some harsh Anakin Skywalker facial burns and gives a fun-to-watch performance; and Eccleston basically comes off as a man-in-suit that gets cranky. All the actors basically signed on to this endeavor for the paycheck, undoubtedly, but you can tell that they're having one helluva blast just enjoying these nutty, unrealistic roles and simply let loose creatively.

For a movie with three screenwriters credited and three ‘story’ writers credited, the movie’s really lazily written. Obviously, not looking for a masterpiece here, but they could have at least put a little bit of effort.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine had more development and clearer plot than this, and that movie barely had any (although I’m sure many will disagree). There's one particular writing ooboo I'm not too pleased with: (minor spoiler) when it's revealed the mighty Cobra is actually Rex, the long thought dead brother, Sienna Miller's character (Amanda?) shows absolutely no expression. The revelation that ones brother is still alive and is actually the evil mastermind behind everything bad and that you've been working for him the past four years is sorta important, and yet it's completely glossed over without even one line other than "You sure that was Rex?" Badness. (End spoiler) I am happy that the writers were at least smart enough to have one of the bad characters in jail, and not give ‘em a ‘get-outta-jail-free-card’ just because they’re a romantic interest and thus needs to be around for some good ol’ Channing Tatum snoggin’.

I just got out of the theater about two hours ago, and the movie’s still replaying through my head. Unsurprisingly enough, it’s the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow fights and flashbacks I’m thinking of the most, and quite fondly. And the beautiful Rachel Nichols, can’t forget her. Basically, if you’re a fan of the
JOE franchise, you’re probably going to find this movie adaptation to be the abomination of the year, a horrible atrocity that cut a knife right through your childhood memories of playing with those wonderful Hasbro action figures; but if you go in with a open mind with the sole intent of being entertained by nifty gizmos, interesting action scenes, and a helluva lot of explosions, one might just enjoy their time.

As for me, I think I liked it. I can’t really say either way. Now, is that a good or a bad thing? I will say that it’s a lot better than I was expecting, me with my low, low, very low expectations. At the very least, funness has been had.