17 December 2009

In Short: Vampires, Romance, Aliens, Dramedy,

During the long period of time where I neglected to review basically everything I watched due to the sole reason of me simply not being 'juiced' enough to think let alone write about some of these flicks, I watched plenty from the good to the really bad, though most of it wasn't stellar filmmaking. Now a majority of these movies I saw a while ago, so some of the details may not be so vivid and detaily. My apologies. So this is basically just a simple overview of my general impression without specifics. Besides, not like they're really relevant now: if you wanted to see the movie, yah did; if you didn't, yah didn't. Or are just waiting for DVD/Blu-Ray and are reading a few more reviews in which case this might actually be relevant...

Aside from plenty of school work and website building (nothing fancy, just had to construct school-related websites for poets and media industries - a world of yippie), most of my free time has been spent watching TV programs. They've become quite addicting. With the release of Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season 2, I was close to skipping school every day until I finished the series; and I've recently become addicted to The Big Bang Theory, watching both seasons within two weeks, however fast Netflix could ship 'em. So in the midst of my TV show watchin', I've viewed a few movies, but c'mon, let's be frank: with a few exceptions, movies haven't really warranted the "must-see" label.

Moral of the story: I got lazy, I dislike school, and I love me some Big Bang Theory.

Cast: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, JJ Field
Writer: Chris Chow
based on the movie "Blood: The Last Vampire"
Director: Chris Nahon
Asmik Ace Holdings, 91 mins., 2009

Heavy on the blood and effects, light on the substance that makes a movie worth watching. Surprise #1: 97% of the movie is spoken in English! And here I thought I was popping in a full-on Japanese production complete with some English subs, but alas, not necessary! Surprise #2: this flick is gory. It's not to an insane amount a la the Saw movies, or Hostel for that matter, but it's very gruesome cartoonyish blood. [Make sense?] Similar to Kill Bill, a simple slice to the flesh will result in massive buckets of blood spilling or sprinkling outwards like a rain fall. Surprise #3: the CG effects are really dodgy. Fake-y looking and far too reliant on said fakey CG work, The Last Vampire loses a few points from me for that, but I can't shake off the feeling I think it was a deliberate move on their part.

Honestly, I'm unsure of what type of tone the filmmakers were trying to conjure. The bad CG effects nearly scream 'deliberate' that I half want to say this movie falls under the category of a satire of the vampire story, but it's directed with such seriousness I'm hesitant to call it such.

In Blood: The Last Vampire, there's yet another one of those top-secret organizations only a few key people in the universe know about. This particular organization, dubbed "The Council", assists Saya, a half-human half-vampire sword-wieldin' gal who seeks revenge on Big Bad Demon Onigen for the murder of her mentor some many years ago. Along the way, she meets up with American gal Alice who also wants to kick some vampire ass to avenge the murder of her father.

A good waste of a hour and some change is the best way to sum up The Last Vampire viewing experience. Is it one of the better, awesome revenge-kickass-vampire films of the last decade? A world of nah. But it is fun, and Ms. Miller is pleasing to the eyes, and there's some awesomely bad performances from a group of English actors. The final, 'climatic' battle scene doesn't tread any new territory; Saya's background is unsatisfying, as is the stilted, unenthusiastic 'I-just-got-paid!' performance of Ms. Jun; and the script is far too familiar. Really, these days, it just seems no one tries to do something different with a concept. I get it - original ideas are a rare breed these days, and if they do get made, they're circulating around independent theaters and aren't very publicized. But making a tired formula movie without trying to spice it up with something really cool or 'movie defining' is just rather lazy. The most interesting thing about it is a rain-soaked vampire melee that's more awesome sounding than it is realized.

It's cool that it was made with a mostly American cast with English dialog, but the end product is just the tired same formula thang. But like I said, fun was had. So sit back, order a pizza, drink some Dr. Pepper (I'm their unofficial sponsor), and let the party begin.

Cast: Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe, Josh Hutcherson
Paul Weitz & Brian Helgeland
Based off "Cirque du Freak" by Darren Shan

Director: Paul Weitz
23 October 2009
Universal, 109 mins., Rated PG-13

News flash: vampires are all the craze these days. Stephenie Meyer did a number to tween and teenage girls with her Twilight Saga book series, which was then adapted into a million dollar movie franchise; HBO and The CW adapted The Sookie Stakhouse and The Vampire Diaries books for TV to huge ratings success; merchandise ranging from a Edward vibrator to a Twilight Christmas tree and Tru Blood drinks are all the range. So it makes sense that Universal Pictures - and for that matter, any company - would try to adapt a successful supernatural book franchise. Others that were Harry Potter imitators inevitably failed (The Spiderwick Chronicles), but Universal had the inclusion of vampires in the title and plot as a sure-fire money maker. And thus, they acquired the rights to the Cirque du Freak series by British author Darren Shan, and adapted the first three novels of a 12-part saga for the big screen.

The Vampire's Assistant presents a idea that interesting (and apparently not in the novels), but it's done in the same redundant, un-imaginative way that one really oughta wonder if the director's heart was in it [which, according to interviews, it was]. Sorry to go off on a warparth for a sec, but I think it's something that needs a moment: a lot of these fantasy/fun movies these days don't have a sense of creativity; it feels very much like a formula, a 'going-by-the-motions' kind of thing. It's almost like there's a ginormous lack of effort put into these movies, like everyone involved just threw their hands up and reasoned 'whatever, it'll make some big bucks anyway.' Not only do the actors seem unenthusiastic, but the script typically comes off something rushed and uninspired or remotely original, with classic and redundant lines of dialog, underdeveloped characters (basically everybody), and true lazy directing. And the sad thing is that I read interviews with these directors and they seem genuinely enthusiastic to be behind the camera on this picture. Then why do these movies so often feel uncared for?

Weitz at least throws in some creativity to the mix as far as cinematography is concerned. As Darren begins to harness his supernatural ways, or the editing style of the circus freaks near the beginning, there seems to be a want to make things look visually beautiful, a important factor in films that some book-to-movie directors who aren't helming Harry Potter seem to care little about. The Vampire's Assistant fails with the writing, and I speak in a general sense (it's been over two months since I saw it, so the specifics are a little fuzzy); it's near 99% predictable dialog. However, the high point, as I said somewhere in the beginning of this review, is a certain plotline that I find fascinating: (spoiler warning for future viewers) Darren and his best friend Steve become enemies, and thus must face each other. These two best friends are cast, by 'fate', to battle one another until the end of this vampire war. It's a cool concept that I really hope gets some good material in some future movie.

The acting in this movie is best left unmentioned, although I will quickly add that the cast of Twilight have a contender for 'worst performances in a major motion picture', as Cirque's teenage lead Massoglia is as monotone and stiff as one, I imagine, views Keanu Reeves. Oh, and Salma Hayek cracked me up every second she was onscreen - horrible, but hilarious. Judging by the unspectacular box office gross, I doubt the saga of Darren Shan will see similar treatment with future installments (if any), which is a shame, because the story of Cirque du Freak is actually quite interesting. If anything, this movie works as a good promotional tool for the 12-part series.

For a movie with a relatively chunky running time for a kid flick, there's a lot happening but very little that actually deserves being reviewed. There's a extremely, extremely lame attempt at a love interest. There's the way-too-caviler 'hey, I'm gonna be a vampire! Isn't 'dat kool?' attitude to this 16-year old boy's transformation to a being of the undead. There's the big climatic battle that also sets up for a never-gonna-happen sequel. And then there's the sense of bewilderment that for a book series that is so rich with material, this is the rather disappointing movie we get in return.

The Vampire's Assistant doesn't tread any new ground, and it isn't anything grandiose. But it is a fun flick for anyone who hasn't read any of the books; otherwise, this movie is absolute blasphemy, like Episode I was to Star Wars fans and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Indy lovers. Worth a check when it hits DVD.

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Batement, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Jean Reno
Writer: Jon Favreau, Vin
ce Vaughn, Dana Fox
Director: Peter Billingsley
Release: 09 October 2009

Universal, Rated R, 113

The very idea that Kristen Bell (TV: Veronica Mars) was in a bikini for 40% of a movie's running time is a automatic ticket purchase. The great cast line-up only further solidified my movie anticipating excitement! That's why it was rather disappointing that the movie hardly could live up to the interesting premise. Once again, the 'best' laughs were featured in the trailer, leaving all the deep and not-needed emotional baggage and lack of any really good LOLers a big surprise. Yes, the promise of attractive female leads in bikinis sold me the ticket - the Universal (?) marketing department did their job well - but at least deliver a movie that's really worth my time.

Looking back, I would have to say the movie starts breaking apart by the last 40 minutes - it's around that time utter seriousness, and a ridiculous Guitar Hero 3-min 'ad', ruin a otherwise okay movie. I will give credit to the screenwriters, however, that there was a sense of jeopardy with some of these relationships; but that credit is nearly canceled out by the shamefully lazy conclusion they slapped on to make this one of those 'sweet comedies' (as in: joke, Hallmark 'ahhhhh' moment, joke, another Hallmark 'ahhhhh' moment, repeat)

Now before I move on, take a look at that cast list two paragraphs above. Go on, take a lookie. One would conclude, with the talent being paid, that the film would have no problems eliciting a hoot and giggle, let alone create characters you can really, truly honest-to-Jebus care about. There is one relationship that particularly got my attention - Dave (Vaughn) and Ronnie (Akerman), a couple so down to earth and relatable I nearly wished all the other characters went away and we could simply concentrate on these two. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Joey (Favreau) and Lucy (Davis) is a couple that is obnoxious from frame one all the way to the conclusion, which is entirely unsatisfying. In fact, the finale is poorly written and unsatisfying. It's one of those particular scripts where by the film's conclusion you don't feel as though the characters deserve their ending, they didn't earn it, even with all the trials they went through at Eden.

Overall, an entirely skippable comedy/drama that misses the mark far too often to make it a worthwhile, entertaining flick to watch, which really sucks because I was rooting for it. Perhaps with the impending DVD/Blu-Ray release, I'll give it another go, as I'm sure my disappointment overshadowed the plenty positives.

Cast: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, Ben Affleck, Kristen Wiig
Written & Directed: Mike Judge

Release: 4 September 2009

Miramax Films, 92 mins., Rated R

Getting more publicity than its worth for being the newest production by Office Space director Mike Judge, Extract is a little dramedy that rises upon it's okay script with stellar performances from everyone involved: the always great Jason Bateman (Hancock), J.K. Simmons (I Love You, Man), Mila Kunis (TV: That 70's Show), Ben Affleck (Dardevil), Kristen Wiig (Whip It!) and Clifton Collins, Jr. (The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day). All of these actors were absolutely 100% on their A-Game: Simmons was as lovable as always, although I wouldn't have minded a more prominent role; Wiig was beautiful; Bateman kept to his regular ways, but at least he branches out his abilities more-so than his Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera; Kunis doesn't have too much of a opportunity to shine, but anything's damn better than Max Payne; but it's Affleck that steals the show every second he's on screen.

It's been a long while since I saw it, but I the general sentiment was this: funny at some parts, annoying at others, a all-around OK movie, but definitely not worth the $9.50 ticket apiece. By the time of this writing, Extract is making it's way to DVD, where it's doubtful it'll make the Office Space-home video-esque cult classic, but should get a look at.

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton
Written & Directed: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Release: 06 November 2009
Universal, 96 mins., Rated PG-13

Memory does not look back fondly to The Fourth Kind. A sci-fi thriller heavily publicized as a documentary reenactment of 'actual events' in Nome, Alaska, this flick is a hell lot of nothin'. Truth be told - Fourth Kind wasn't high on my 'to-see' list, but it was playing at a convenient time (biked to the mall, went to the local theater at a whim, and voilia, Fourth Kind), so I gave it a shot. Ladies and gents, I wasn't expecting a movie that would freak the frak out of me like Paranormal Activity did, nor was I looking for a movie with a intelligent script, but with, at least, something good. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver even that.

From the opening moments with actress Milla Jovovich lookin' right at the camera and professing her status as a actress reenacting these 'actual case studies', I knew this movie was doomed. The annoying camera rotation was ticking me off - I wager this is how moviegoers felt watching Transformers - Revenge of the Fallen this summer. And then the movie began. If there was such an award for 'Most Establishing Shots of Mountains in a Movie That's Not a Franchise', The Fourth Kind would win, hands down. More time is spent with the camera up in the sky (and zoomed up at a owl) than with our leads, and its' not to create a 'the aliens are watching us' feeling, it just seems to come out of laziness to make adequate transitions. And then there's the performances which are completely phoned in. Jovovich was probably preparing herself for the fourth Resident Evil movie, and the other guys were possibly contemplating their future careers in the television landscape (which isn't necessarily a band thing).

The movie tries to work as a supernatural suspense film. It does not accomplish this. Suspense is attempted by cutting in-between 'actual' hypnosis sessions and the dramatized reenactments. Not so much. Frustration, freakiness, and fascinating is meant to come out of the blurry, scratchy moments of the tape when something actually happens. Partially; particularly the 'possession' moments moreso than anything else (i.e., a hostage situation that goes wrong). That was a genuinely freaky moment, especially the talk about Sumerian and the "I am...God" moment - chilling (spoiler?). There's also a shot of a owl watching the camera as it moves across a driveway for about 40 seconds that sort of creeps you out, but that's about it.

Fourth Kind is a exercise in futility. Not matter how much you wanted it to be good and enjoyable, it just couldn't deliver. The script, which, if this was based off 'actual case studies', shouldn't really be considered a script, is rather rubbish. The dialog, the cliched characters, the lack of considerable tension throughout the film, and a lack of keeping audience attention through it's long, long running time - I can't recommend The Fourth Kind as a viewing choice of any kind: Netflix, Watch Instantly, Redbox, or a group riff track. Just skip it.

Cast: Gerard Butler, Jaime Foxx, Leslie Bibb, Viola Davis
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Director: F. Garry Gray
Release: 16 October 2009
Overture Films, 109 mins., Rated R

Some friends and I were discussing Gerard Butler and his re-emergence in 2009 as a actor who was nearly everywhere you turned around, but until Rob Pattinson's ability to haunt your dreams, Butler made you want to kick some ass and take names. Mom got into the conversation and offered this little bit: apparently from some TV talk show, Butler described his career right now as such: "I make two types of movies: the ones with my shirt off in which people try to kill me, or the ones with my shirt on which are really sappy."

Guess what category Law Abiding Citizen falls under.

Buildings blow up, people die, and Gerard Butler plays his awesome, cool demeanor every step of the way. Big-time lawyer Jamie Foxx attempts to reason with the man, but see's him more as a opportunity to get his name out their more. None of the characters are really all that appealing, but out of the bunch, Butler undoubtedly takes the lead. Cunning, manipulating, brilliant, and persuasive, Butler plays this betrayed man very, very well. A decade after watching his wife and child killed, Butler makes a choice to show the faulty system the law works under and expose humanity's waste. Luckily for him, he's quite a wealthy man so he can accomplish a lot of crazy shisha.

I'm not sure if we're particularly supposed to root for someone, but Jamie Foxx never grabbed my attention, sympathy, or understanding. His character wasn't brilliantly written, I'll grant him that; but Foxx's performance was also strikingly off to the extent I was never quite sure I ever bought this role as anything but phony. So when I say Butler kicks ass, I mean that he positively OWNS this movie, and for that reason alone, Law Abiding Citizen is a recommendation.

You already know what type of movie this is, and you can pretty much guess the film every step of the way. But it's enjoyable, and actually punches some real surprises. Absolutely give it a shot; I might even buy the bugger when it hits home video.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart
Written & Directed: Brandon Camp

Release: 18 September 2009
Universal, 109 mins., Rated PG-13

I hardly remember this Jennifer Aniston/Aaron Eckhart rom-com, but I recall my disappointment that it wasn't anything more than your typical, redundant, paint-by-the-numbers movie that didn't take full use of the caliber of actors they had at their disposal. I'd say rewrite the bloody script to better suit these people. Eckhart has some moments to shine, particularly a cool sequence in which he burns his feet trying to persuade a man not to leave one of his seminars.

Right, let me back up a bit: Eckhart plays this Dr. Phil-like guy who basically says the same things every other self-help therapy doctor dude spills, and Aniston is one of those hottish gals who pick the wrong guys and is free spirited. Eckhart's character is also emotionally burdened with the death of his wife, and feels he is to blame and thus can't confront her family or attend her funeral (not spoiling anything; it was in the trailer). Naturally, these two characters spark a connection. Maybe romantic, maybe just friends-with-benefits, but a connection apparently worth making a movie about.

How my watching Love Happens came about was mom really wanted to see a chick flick, and she was paying. So, why not? At the very least, I get to see Eckhart play another emotionally damaged character who is completely lost in his pain. That's interesting, that's worth making a movie. The resulting movie with the unnecessary but perhaps company-forced romantic element just feels uneven, like it really doesn't know what it's trying to be or what it wants to say other than 'open up, goofballs.' In the end, it's a okay flick, but entirely skipable. No career defining performances or a script to blow one's socks off, Love Happens just simply happened, and left unnoticed.

16 December 2009

EDITORIAL - Gots Me Some Monsters

It's finals week here at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and I just completed my Intro to Mass Communication final at 7:45 AM (those who know me know that the EARLIEST I get up is 9:00 post-high school) and I'm tired and cranky because I haven't eaten anything. I'm in the school computer lab, watching me the two latest episodes of the now-canceled Joss Whedon series Dollhouse on Fancast, and purusing through some blogs since Facebook's rather dull at the moment. And what do I find? Well...

The first railer for Kadokowa Daiei's New Daimajin series. As a sorta fan of the 1966 'DaiMajin' franchise, featuring a giant stone God brought to life by pissed off villagers to frak up some evil warlords, I'm intrigued. However, this trailer makes this new series (mini-series? actual series?) just look horrible. As far as I can tell, there's witches with supernatural powers, a motorcycle chase that looks just as bad as it did in "Godzilla: Final Wars", and a man dressed in a Kamen Rider-esque outfit. The actual Daimajin smashing was kept to a unsatisfying minimum in the trailer. In fact, the majority of the trailer featured footage from Daiei's big franchises - 'Yokai Monsters', Gamera, and 'Daimajin' - as well as sporting off the new Blu-Rays for said titles (well, with the exception of 'Yokai'). And judging from the reaction at the Monster Zero message boards, others aren't exactly receptive to it either, although some are also maintaing the 'wait and see' approach. I guess I'll reserve absolute judgment until I watch a entire episode (whenever that may be), but for right now, thumbs down, Daiei; thumbs down. (Really, how do you mess up a concept of a giant stone god exacting some vengeance?)

Ray Bradbury's 'The Foghorn' gets filmed. But, of course, not in America. In 2007, Daisuke Sato and his band of SPFX teammates actually filmed the 1953 Ray Bradbury short story. And boy does it look impressive. The sad part? It probably won't get released on DVD in any format, apparently due to legal rights. Sato explains: "There is actually a problem with the copyright of the original, and so that is why we haven’t yet released it to the public. But if there is enough demand for it and a lot of people want to see it, then we’ll definitely release it. If we do, it will be as a DVD or online.” He also said English subs will be avaliable. For the uninformed, 'The Foghorn' was the basis of the Ray Harryhausen-visual effected The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which then became one part of a vast series of inspirations to Tomoyuki Tanaka which eventually resulted in 1954's Godzilla. And yes, I dig the Godzilla series; wanna row? According to Monster Island News, fan demand might help see this flick through distribution. Well, I'm voicing my opinion now: I want it on DVD damnit, or at least avaliable online to order/watch. This is one piece of daikaiju filmmaking I definitely, really super duper wanna see. Perhaps a special screening at this year's G-FEST?