31 March 2010

Geek Bits: Godzilla Raids Again!!!

Godzilla, the legendary beast that has spawned over 25 feature films worldwide, has been resurrected by Legendary Pictures (300, The Dark Knight) and Warner Bros. for a projected 2012 release date! Rumors circulated in August 2009 concerning a new American Godzilla project in the works, but Variety just recently confirmed it.

In the official press release, Thomas Tull, Chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, stated: "Godzilla is one of the world's most powerful pop culture icons, and we at Legendary are thrilled to be able to create a modern epic based on this long-loved Toho franchise. Our plans are to produce the Godzilla that we, as fans, would want to see. We intend to do justice to those essential elements that have allowed this character to remain as pop-culturally relevant for as long as it has."

All I can say is: YES! YES! YES! YES!!!!!!!

Now I don't want to get too giddy, but this is fantastic news. With Toho Co. Ltd. not really all that enthusastic resurrecting Godzilla back in Japan (monster films, and Japanese productions for that matter, don't make much mullah compared to American productions), I'm even more excited with this announcment. Hopefully this film will be a success, and a new age of monster movie craziness will be upon us!

Probably not, but here's to dreaming.

Also worth noting is that amongst the producers behind the project, Godzilla vs. Hedorah director Yoshimitsu Banno is listed! So with his involvement, I'm going to make the guess that Banno's Godzilla in 3-D project is on the back burner, and its fate entirely depends on the reaction of this new Godzilla production.

Although I wager there's not many Godzilla fans left in the world - Ryan evidently being one exclusion - I'll nonetheless be updating with any big/major news surrounding the project, including the (hopefully) soon-ish announcment of director. Personally, I'm still intrigued what Jan De Bont and the Rossio/Elliot script could turn out to look like, but I wager Legendary is going in a fresh direction. Either way, I'll be there midnight showing 2012. It'd be a nice End of the World present.

30 March 2010

A Serious Man


Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Wagner Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Written, Produced, and Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Release: 02 October 2009
Features, 106 mins., Rated R

Plot: Larry Gopnik is a religious man, teaches physics at college, and is a family man; by the film's conclusion, his life's a shithole.

The Coen Brothers. Ah, they make interesting bits of cinema, don't they? In 2009, they debuted A Serious Man, a work that they've been quoted to call their most 'personal' production to date. The funny thing with this picture is that a lot of critics don't really get it, or can't relate to it because of its large amount of Jewish overtones, and here I am - a not-so-lover of the Brothers Coen - and I quite like it. Plus, I don't know squat of Jewish tradition, but this is the type of movie that doesn't require you to. In fact, it's a film that any person of any faith can relate to.

Larry Gopnik and his family attend church regularly, although his family doesn't really seem to be following the church guidelines. The young adults of the house swear excessively, care only about their friends and what's on TV, and the whole religious part of their lives isn't exactly high on the priority list; especially with Larry's son, Danny (Wolf), where his commitments to the church is secondary to his lifestyle. It's either something he does to appease his parents, or he just doesn't care. The film doesn't spend enough time with the daughter, Sarah (McManus), to get a real feel for her character, although it's apparent her primary concerns is friend time.

With his kids well immersed in pedestrian problems of their own, one would think Larry's wife Judith (Lennick) would be right there to support him. Instead, she reveals, in a comically straight-forward manner, that she's been having a affair with Sly Ableman (Melamed). Larry appears to be the only one trying desperately to make the right choices, and every single time he tries to do right, he's hit with some new crappy turn of event - a car accident, cheating wife/divorce, a supposed 'bribe' with a student, money problems, employment complications...

And yet through it all, Larry tries to maintain professionalism and cool-headedness. Perhaps to his detriment, Larry is quite the passive individual, allowing himself to be pushed into corners, and hardly steps up for himself. I'm sure he finds this quality of his to be a just one - no action but kindness, that sort of thing. Eventually, as one new bad thing after another piles on top of him, the film features Larry near a cracking point. He even consults three rabbis, with none of them giving anything remotely sounding like a answer, and he's knee-deep in desperation.

The great part about A Serious Man is just how damn comedic these situations are. Everything is played in a 100% straight manner, nothing set-up like a punch line, and it's the seriousness of the situations and the 'holy crap, really dude, that just happened?' moments that create a LOL factor. Think Burn After Reading: how the whole thing escalates to preposterous heights it ends up being blissfully hilarious. The same applies here. A particularly funny sequence involves the father or attorney of Clive, a student who asks Larry for a passing grade but Larry doesn't consent and ends up leaving a envelope with money in it, and tries to explain the 'culture clash' and the bribery that has just taken place, much to Larry's disbelief. Another quite humorous scene is when Larry, Judtih and Sly Ableman sit in a restaurant to discuss 'living arrangements.' Major kudos to the script and actor Fred Melamed.

A large part of peoples distaste for A Serious Man is the highly 'ambiguous ending'. I, personally, think it's brilliant. Just the right conclusion for this type of story. And it's sort of ironic for me that I dig this finale (which most dislike) and absolutely hate No Country for Old Men's conclusion (which receives plenty of giddy analysis). I absolutely love those final shots of Larry in his office, staring straight at his list of students and their respective grades, internally fighting a moral war as to what he should do. And then the phone call, and then the stuff at Danny's school, complimented by some nice music selection - it all comes together to make a fantastic finale that stays true to what happened before, and it's 'ambiguous' for the sake of being artsy or what have you. The movie presents this religious man facing moral and life-changing complications, and concludes on the note of, so what is this man going to do? A new storm of crap is headed his way, so how is he going to handle it? What will be his response, his answer, so to speak?

Honestly, for me, the ending put a large majority of the picture into perspective. The film wanders into multiple plotlines and subplots, and the finale sort of ties it all together...in a way...

The performances that grace the screen here are nothing short of awesome. My favorite character has got to be Sly Ableman, played to utter perfection by Fred Melamed with his cool, reasoning, logical voice, given fantastic dialogue by the Coens. Michael Stuhlberg (Cold Souls) is equally awesome as the main protagonist Larry, and brings this well written character to life so splendidly. He portrays a man who wants to do the right thing, and he wants to be a good, serious person, even in the midst of all these ginormous, gargantuan problems. Stuhlberg also does a fantastic job showing the progression of Larry's mentality - for the first 40 minutes, he's trying to stay on control, near the middle section he's sort of losing it, and by the last stretch home, he's become a little frazzled. Their co-stars are just fine, although I could have done with replacements for Larry and Judith's teenage children.

Believe me, a good review for A Serious Man surprises none other than me, a bloke who doesn't really like Coen films (with the exception of Burn After Reading). The movie is a great character piece; a nearly two hour documentary of a man's life turning upside down. I don't really know if there is a 'point' per se, if you're supposed to walk away from the movie with some grand message or philosophical outlook, but I enjoyed it. I liked it. I appreciate the movie the Coens set out to make, and I appreciate they made it their way without some sort of studio intervention which woulda saw the family fight extraterrestrials who moved onto their street or something like that.

Oh! One last thing before I conclude this - the first 10 minutes were awesome! Spooky, chilly, wonderfully scripted and shot (in full frame, no less), I would nearly recommend the entire movie just for that. I'm not sure I quite get the total relevance of it in regards to Larry's story, but it's freakishly cool, nonetheless. In the bonus features, the Coens analogize it to those short cartoons that preceded a feature film, like a Mickey Mouse production or what have you.

In conclusion, I liked A Serious Man, and I recommend. May not be for everyone, but take a few hours or - heck, even a day - to think about it, there's a lot to love.

26 March 2010

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths


Voices of Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, William Baldwin, Vanessa Marshall, Gina Torres, Jonathan Adams, Josh Keaton, James Woods
Written by Dwayne McDuffie

Directed by Lauren Montgomery, Sam Liu

Release: 23 February 2010

DC Comics/Warner Premiere, 75 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Parallel Earth Lex Luthor arrives on the newly erected outer-space Watchtower in our dimension to ask the Justice League to say his world from the sinister crime syndicate who threaten to destroy all realities.

Crisis on Two Earths
was exhilarating. It's not as O-M-G!!! awesome as, say, Wonder Woman, but it is quite spectacular. Initially, I thought this whole thing was Clark having to deal with his arch nemesis Bizzaro, and the other members of the League would have to get into the groove to save humanity. Turns out that wasn't so much what they were getting at. Instead, it's a really awesome, complex-ish tale about multiple realities, cause and effect, making a choice as opposed to not making a choice, and some other stuff that gets meddled by a lot of punching and lasers.

The whole movie is full of cool. First cool thing - alternate dimension Lex Luthor being a good guy, and not only that, but the last living member of his Justice League. Probably a running reversal through several billion comics, but considering that my main dose of comic book geekdom is Batman and Ultimate Spider-Man comics, I appreciate these things I didn't know and other blokes who watch these flicks are probably bored of. Second cool thing - although Batman (my favorite character of all time) is left in the shadows for the first 50 minutes, the final act more then compliments the Caped Crusader: in fact, he's quite instrumental in the whole world-saving part. His intelligence is on full display here, as he's completely out of his league in reference to strength, seeing as the baddies this time around are super-powered honchos. Really, it's just awesome watching this guy work. Third cool thing - the Justice League members are literally fighting to save all universes, and it's jaw-dropping to watch. It's not just a punch-punch-ouch (!) thing, it's a true slugfest. Totally awesome.

But at the same time, it's a little unfortunate that a lot of the movie is action-heavy, although I wager I shouldn't be so surprised since a lot of animated hero movies are exactly that. I guess I was spoiled by Gotham Knight's extensive depth into the Batman psychology, and Wonder Woman's excellent story that offered so much in characters, story, and mythology.

However, there is one extremely notable character and storyline that is well written and very intriguing. The Owlman, voiced with chilling subtlety by James Wood, is a frighting, intelligent character who sets his sights on the destruction of reality itself. I could literally watch a entire movie with this character. Every time the Owlman was onscreen, I was always on edge. The Joker may be a brilliant maniac, but he's not as cold and calculating as Owlman, and that's entirely freaky. Also really cool is the killing-happy Superwoman, who just relishes the idea of universe-wide death.

Overall, a very good installment in DC's animated film line, and I'm extremely excited for their next project, Batman: Under the Hood, which appears to be going even deeper into Batman's psychology after his failure in saving his apprentice (scheduled for July). Crisis on Two Earths was epic, and featured multiple characters that had their own agendas, their own personalities, and it was spectacular to watch this Armageddon-scenario unfold and the Justice League doing their damnest to stop it. Very much recommended for any fans of superheroes in general - Crisis on Two Earths is a buffet of awesomeness.

24 March 2010

Death Note: L, change the world


Starring Kenichi Matsuyama, Mayuko Fukuda, Shingo Tsurumi, Masanobu Takashima
Written by Kiyomi Fujii, Hirotoshi Kobayashi
Based on the manga "Death Note" by Tsugumi Ohba
Directed by Hideo Nakato
Release: 9 February 2008
Horipo, 129 mins., Not Rated

Plot: With only 23 days left to live as a necessary sacrifice to end the reign of 'Kira' and the Death note, the enigmatic L tackles one last case: a bio-terrorist environmental organization hellbent on condensing the number of human inhabitants on earth.

I became sorta hooked with the live action adaptations of the Death Note anime/manga franchise, and so my looking into this third and final installment, a spin-off of sorts, was inevitable. Although not nearly as enticing, heart-pounding, thought-provoking, and all around spectacular as those two movies were, L, change the world is nonetheless a very entertaining movie, and is the final chance to enjoy Kenichi Matsuyama's riveting portrayal of the enigmatic L.

The very idea of finishing the Death Note trilogy with a film chronicling L's final days is a extremely interesting one. Although I'm not entirely sold on the basic idea of this terrorist organization and their ultimate goal, it's nevertheless a 'big' case worthy of L that is fitting for his final days. This particular organization, which is very 'pro-GREEN', wishes to kill a good portion of humanity so we can stop polluting and destroying the earth - the atmosphere and soil, etc. - so that the planet can be saved from our wicked ways. Sorta understandable. I guess it's a better solution than turning everyone into zombies and just bombing the place.

Kenichi Matsuyama brings his A game, as always. The depth of how well he knows this character is amazing. His physical nuances he brings to the performance is akin to Heath Ledger's work as The Joker, his eyes and nonverbal expressions that work of a master of subtly. Plus, the character of L is equally as fascinating - his ability to pick up seemingly mundane clues that end up saving the day...I'd love to see L square off against Sherlock Holmes. In conclusion, Matsuyama is riveting, and there is simply no reason his extraordinary work in this trilogy should be missed. Maki, the daughter of the scientist who was working on creating a vaccine, ranges from annoying (mostly near the beginning), to actually sympathetic. I like her arc - her lust for revenge, even at such a young age, to the point she'd sacrifice herself for it. As for the boy L befriends, I couldn't really care less, sadly. I was just happy the boy didn't turn out to be one of those 'Ken' characters from Showa-Era Gamera films.

The bad guys are overly unspectacular, with the exception of the money-hungry Matoba (Takashima), who was just awesome to watch get pissy and violent. Kimiko Kujo, the female scientist who double crosses the guy working on the vaccine, is equally stellar to watch. Her clear belief in her goal, her ability to be a compassionate woman and in a blink of a eye, a cold-hearted bitch: simply awesome.

There's only one major complaint I have about the film, and it's the god-awful English the performers put on every once and awhile. The kid that L befriends speaks English, but it's so high pitched I haven't a clue what he's saying (which happened during a rather pivotal sequence that I still don't understand what the big 'realization moment' was). A worse offender was the character of F (who I assume is from the same organization L belongs to), played by Kazuki Namioka, who tries his hardest to get his English groove on, but I didn't get a damn thing he said. Something about 'very important' and a lot of digits. Attention directors: unless you got a actor who can actually do a decent enough English voice, don't bother. Please? There's a reason I got the subtitles on and the Japanese audio.

Shusuke Kaneko leaves the director's chair for this outing and is instead replaced by Hideo Nakata, who by no means should be a random name, having worked on the successful Ring franchise (both Asian and American), as well as Dark Water (which was also Americanized). Nakata definitely brings a cool visual style to the film, as it compliments what Kaneko accomplished before but also giving it it's own, er, jazz (?). Unique camera angels, wide shots that pan over a remote countryside in Thailand, and plenty of tracking shots of characters running for their lives (a common thing with the Death Note movies, no?). Overall, Nakata did very well, which considering his lackluster work with the aforementioned horror movies (at least in my opinion; it's a claim I doubt many others would share), it's quite the compliment. Although I'm sure the superb editing helps his direction seem even more cooler than it probably is. Er, that was meant as a compliment.

All in all, even at a little over two hours, the movie runs at a swift pace, with plenty of action, mind games, and double crosses to keep the viewer interested. And again, Kenichi Matsuayama. 'Nuff said. L, change the world is a fitting finale to the franchise, and is highly recommended. I'm just sad to see the saga end.

16 March 2010

Animation Domination! DC vs. Marvel

Cast (v): Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber
Writer: Alan Burnett, Michael Allen, Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Release: 28 July 2009

DC Comics, 75 mins., Rated PG-13

I didn't know a single thing about the Green Lantern character, or its vast mythology when I popped in First Flight. Turns out the Green Lantern property is actually pretty darn cool. Cool enough that I am now really looking forward to a big-screen adaptation of this character, although I'm not entirely 100% on the Ryan Reynolds casting choice. Anywhoozles, First Flight works great as both a film for first timers and for those who know this franchise inside and out. For the newbies, we get all the necessary backstory that's relevant, as well as some quick notes about the race of Lanterns and their role in the galaxy (note: coolness!).

Hal Jordan witnesses a crash in the far distance, and rushes to their aid, only to find a dying green man who spouts off something about destiny. The great warrior Sinestro and other Lanterns hold Jordan under supervision while they investigate their fallen comrade's death, but find that perhaps Jordan is meant for a greater destiny, as the deceased's green ring of power (which harnesses the 'green element') chooses himself as the successor. Hal finds himself in the middle of a war, with a key member of the Guardians of the Universe betraying the others and in search of the 'yellow element', the only weakness to the Guardians. Basically, Armaggedon all over again.

I love every single one of these films, and unfortunately I'm not going to go into too much detail, but the fine line is that these are all superbly crafted animated movies. Green Lantern, however, does suffer from a small flaw: lack of character development defeated by a short running time. A flaw that I don't quite understand; it's a animated flick, they could write and animate any scenes they want. Watching Hal Jordan come to terms with this whole galactic order of peace keepers, and come to terms to his powerful role in events - I wouldn't have minded a few scenes of him trying to grasp it. Terry had more emotional moments in the Batman Beyond pilot.

First Flight is high on action and plot, but sadly light on character. However, I can't blame them too much. They have a product to sell, and more likely than not, youngsters and teens are picking these up to see some planetary explosions and aliens doing universe-saving deeds. So plot, not exactly high on the top of their list. Still, it was fun, and the story is highly intriguing, so I demand sequel.

Cast (v): Fred Tatasciore, Bryce Johnson, Steven Blum, Matthew Wolf, Nolan North
Writer: Craig Kyle & Christop
her Yost
Director: Frank Paur & Sam Liu

Release: 27 January 2009

Marvel Animation, 82 mins., Rated PG-13

A title with "VS." in the title has a certain league of battleage that it needs to match in order to meet expectations. "VS." as in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason, Somebody vs. Somebody Else that I Don't Know [not a actual movie title], etc., etc. And holy potatoes, Hulk vs. matches expectations many times over, and even offered elements that were very welcomed.

First up, "Hulk vs. Thor." That was EPIC! Just judging this story as a stand-alone, pushing "Hulk vs. Wolervine" out of my mind, the second installment had a lot to live up to. It's not just a mano-a-mano fight to the death between The Hulk and Thor, it integrates and ties all these multitude of elements - Odin's sleep, Loki's rebellious nation, Hela and the Underworld, Thor's issues with all manner of mortals, immortals, and Gods - into one pleasant, cohesive, and all around EPIC storyline. [My apologies for tossing around the word EPIC a bazillion times; I just can't think of another way to describe how massive this story is] This is a brutal battle, with the rage-fueled Hulk, the puppet of the God Loki who wants Thor out of the way, pulverizing the Norse God to the brink of death.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Hulk vs. Thor" relied heavily on The Hulk instead of being a Thor vehicle. And the biggest and happiest surprise was the role of Edward Norton-esque Bruce Banner in this story. He's ripped from the Beast, his own, free self. And when faced with the most difficult choice he'd ever have to make in his life - forfeiting a life of happiness for the sake of the people of Asgard (which looks a lot like Helm's Deep, but with more buildings behind its giant walls), watching Bruce struggle with his decision is as dramatic and engaging as any My Sister's Keeper type flick. It's a personal story, really, with a lot of ass kicking thrown in to appease the male audience. If I was rich enough, I'd help finance a live action adaptation of this into a feature length film, because it's that damn cool.

"Hulk vs. Wolverine", on the other hand, isn't as awesome. There are, of course, highlights: the ever talkative Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, who is on his A game here; Wolverine fighting Hulk instead of Weapon X; Deathstrike's obsession with killing Wolverine; and a lot of explosions and limbs coming off. However, it's not as personal, not as deep, and I guess that's a given with the title, but "Hulk vs. Thor" kinda spoiled me. In the story, taking place during Wolverine's early years (I assume), Logan is sent to Canada by Department H to track down and eliminate this giant green beastie. Turns out he and the Hulk are part of a larger picture masterminded by The Professor of Weapon X. Hulk and Wolvie fight Sabertooth, Deathstrike, Deadpool, and some other baddies and a lot of havoc ensues. Good, but not great, "Hulk vs. Wolverine" is fun, and a tiny bit shorter. The inclusion of Weapon X into the plotline was initially a little jarring, but as piece of plot after piece unravel, I can dig it more.

Overall, Hulk vs. was a enjoyable experience, and it's been awhile since I got to watch some good pulverizing going on, yah know? This is just getting me even more pumped up for Planet Hulk. "Hulk vs. Thor" is the clear victor - being smart, jaw-dropping, and EPIC; "Hulk vs. Wolverine" is cleverly written, dialogue-wise, bloody and indulging in limb-severing hysteria, and generally pretty good.

Cast (v): Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Xander Berkley, Allison Mack, CCH Pounder
Writer: Stan Berkowitz

Director: Sam Liu
Release: 29 September 2009

DC Comics, 67 mins., Rated PG-13

First night this gem came out, I rented it from a Redbox. I sadly haven't had the opportunity to revisit the movie, so don't really count this short review as a, well, 'review' per se. From memory, I can say that it was phenomenal watching Superman and Batman fight against super-powered enemies, both friends and foes. To watch Lex Luthor turn the world against these costumed heroes, place a bounty on their heads, and see all the individuals who would gladly turn them in - and those who decide to stick with them...it was all very interesting, very engaging.

If there's one thing in the entire universe that will instantly grab my attention, it's a story of Lex Luthor meddling with both Superman and Batman. Lex barging into Batman's territory in the graphic novel Batman: No Man's Land was delicious, and I keep wishing (although I'm sure it'll go unfulfilled) that some 'event' like this happens in the movie adaptations.

Aside from the premise, what I liked many consisted of Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprising their world renowned vocal roles, basically every fight scene, and Lex Luthor. Although the movie itself was good, the animation came across as a little sloppy - it seemed like not a lot of effort was put into it. Watching the film, I was sorta missing the good ol' days of animation (the 90's) when everything seemed to move fluently and nearly lifelike. And by lifelike, I mean everything you saw onscreen, you experience almost like it's a real, live-action movie, and you're right in the middle of it. One disappointing aspect of this and some other animated Marvel/DC films of late is that it doesn't accomplish that. It feels like animation. It's simply dodgy. Oh, and that stuff with the Toyman in Tokyo....yeah, that was bad.

Public Enemies may not have excelled in the animation department (at least in my opinion; I seem to be one of the very few on the planet to express such), but the overall product is powerful.


Cast (v): Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Rosario Dawson, Alfred Molina
Writer: Gail Simone & Michael Jelenic

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Release: 03 March 2009

DC Comics, 75 mins., Rated PG-13

Why are they having trouble getting a live action Wonder Woman out of Development Hell? This is the perfect presentation of how the character should be done, adapted to the big screen. This flick has it all: a lot of action to keep all audiences entertained, very witty and exact dialogue that's absolutely marvelous and definitely one of the script's strong suits, great musical cues, fine editing, etc., etc. There's basically not a bad bone in this movie's arsenal.

The movie opens with a epic fight between the Amazons and Ares centuries ago; Ares loses, and is imprisoned. Cut to present time, as Princess Diana (Russell) comes into her own as a Amazon, and proves herself to be a powerful weapon. A incident involving a American fight pilot entering their lands inspires the Queen to open themselves to the outside world. Plans don't exactly follow through as, well, planned - Ares is released from bondage and decides to unleash Hell on Earth. Diana, endowed with extraordinary powers, leads the Amazons into a battle that will decide the fate of the world.

Awesome. Does that synopsis sound like one of the coolest stories on planet earth? Well, it should. These Amazons are brutal. The direct-to-DVD line allows DC to go all-out, and Wonder Woman and Marvel's Hulk vs. perfectly display this. Washington, D.C. gets demolished as the Amazons fights Ares and his seemingly never-ending goons, and it's glorious to watch. It's equally glorious to really see a female character that is by no means bound by cultural views of being a woman. By this, I mean Diana/Wonder Woman's just as amazing and powerful as any Batman or Superman. However, the whole 'feminist power' thing does show up sporadically, and that got kind of annoying after awhile; c'mon, folks, show it, don't tell it.

The script is superb. The characters, the dilemmas, the choices and consequences, the role of mythology ever present, the storyline - all of it, I love it. My only problem would be the American pilot, Steve Trevor, acting as a love interest to Diana. If they were going to introduce romance into a Wonder Woman movie, wait for the sequel. Her first outing as a action star should be all about her; men shouldn't be on her radar - the fight should.

In summation, I can easily attest to all the rave review for Wonder Woman: it's absolutely the best of the DC Original Animated Movies line....yet....

And Hollywood? Hire Joss Whedon the hell up again pronto and get this project rolling before cameras, because he is the absolute best person in Hollywood to be spear-heading this film. And yeah, I'd definitely be first person in line.

15 March 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire


Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Written by Geoffrey S. Fletcher

Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Directed by Lee Daniels

Release: 06 November 2009

Smokewood Entertainment, 110 mins., Rated R

Plot: Overweight 16-year old Precious lives a shitty life, living with her Evil mom and pregnant with her second child, fathered by her...well, father; but Precious isn't going to allow this anymore, and decides to make changes.

20 minutes in, I found myself comparing Precious to Will Smith's 2008 drama Seven Pounds. I personally enjoyed it, and found it a thoroughly phenomenal movie of personal pain and redemption. The majority of folks found it a manipulative exercise in redundancy. This is where my feeling of Precious lodges. Thanks to a already depressing and sad story, all director Lee Daniels had to do was hire a decent enough actress and film it just right (i.e., nitty gritty, hand-held docu-style) to invoke just the right level of emotion, and make the viewer believe they've just seen a brilliant movie by the time the credits and sweet dedication ("for precious girls everywhere...") roll.

Geoffrey S. Fletcher adapted an apparently X-rated novel (producer Tyler Perry's words) and transformed it into a brutal hard R film, with legitimate cussing (as opposed to, say, Tony Scott's Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), fantastic fantasy sequences, and eventually ends up with a overall average screenplay. There's a fragmented feeling to the script - that what we have onscreen isn't the entirety of the story, and is instead a 'best of' collection of scenes that had great emotional impact in the original novel. The script adaptation doesn't do a adequate enough job making everything flow fluently: the pacing is off, sequences don't seem to connect as well, characters evolve at a rate faster than 1980's montages...

But what Precious is getting notoriety for isn't the subject matter as much as it is the powerhouse performances by its stellar cast consisting of the unlikeliest suspects. Relative unknowns with a few to zero movie credits, and a actress best known for her comic routines, the film boasts plenty of surprises.

Comedian Mo'Nique gives a performance as powerful as everyone says. She takes that stereotypical role of a lazy, bitchy, monstrous mom and she revels in it, she makes it a force of nature, a storm of sadistic slurs and disses. By the film's conclusion, where her character breaks down completely and a shred of humanity is identifiable, it's almost heart-wrenching. And that is one helluva feat considering that throughout the film's running time, you probably wouldn't give a second glance to a giant piano falling ontop and killing her character; in fact, you might just have your own little dance diddy. So for Mo'Nique to make this utter bitch a human at the end, and for the audience to at least have a shred of understanding towards her - um, wowage.

Taking on the role of
Claireece "Precious" Jones, Gabourey Sidibe is good. For the most part, she spends the film showing off her sad voice, not really hitting any real emotional punch until a freakin' eye-watering, heart-flutterin' scene of gut-bustingness in which Precious just rages at Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) for all the horrible stuff that's happened to her. Speaking of Ms. Rain, Paula Patton (Hitch) just has that look of someone who you've seen in a gazillion movies before, but to my surprise, her filmography isn't all that extensive.

As a overall product,
Precious is fine. But I can't help but shake the feeling that it's nothing more than manufactured fodder to make audiences gasp, see that life like this (which is commonplace) is horrible, have the credits roll, walk out and go back to their lives a little bit happier with their problems. It's just not powerful enough; it's just not honest enough. And then, at the end of it all, I gotta wonder: what's the point of Precious? By the film's end, the best that can be said about Precious is that she's improving in her academics, and that she got out of her mom's house. Nothing about if Precious herself has evolved as a person, whether she can stand up for herself and stop being a victim, nothing that shows a real evolution for the character.

So what's the point? What we have is a nearly 2-hour clip of a 16-year old's life, watch the tragedy that is her existence, and then it ends.

If the goal of the film was simply to showcase a young girl's turmoil, than it succeeded with flying colors. If, as producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry say, the film is 'inspiring', then where's the inspiring stuff? With Clint Eastwood's
Invictus, you got all the inspiring you need from the trailer itself - same goes with The Blind Side, but Precious has none of that.

Without going into it further, I'll just conclude this review by saying that no matter what I write,
Precious is a movie that seems to appeal to the public (simply judging by how many times I hear the film brought up in conversation and the bucket load of DVDs we sold the first week of release), and they want to experience the movie, so they'll give it a view. You want a good cry fest? Yep, this it the film for you. See some fine actresses in phenomenal performances? Check that a 'yes.' Just please, notice the lack of a really polished script, and the manipulative techniques trying to cover the film's faults. Oh, and keep some Kleenex close by.

13 March 2010

The Ninth Circle

Written by Alex Bell
Golancz, 2008, 262 pgs.

The 2008-2009 season on The CW featured a little known show (at the time) called Supernatural. That program, which typically followed the Freak of the Week formula, suddenly uped the ante when it introduced Angels into the mix, and furthermore, a impending Apocalypse. Instantly, I fell in love with the idea. As the fantastic story progressed, the writers created such rich, interesting characters: these Angels were fierce warriors who took no bullshit; and repeatedly, the character of Lucifer was cast in a tragic, human-esque light, something I hadn't encountered before (but has since been duplicated, like, a lot). Completely new and original to me, this superb tale of a army of Angels fighting to stop Lucifer rising - man, it was invigorating. Every new episode that furthered the mythology was extraordinary - a awesome piece of writing.

Supernatural is now concluding its fifth season, and furthermore, concluding the Apocalypse storyline. My thirst for storylines similar to this - of warrior Angels and a tragic fallen power from grace all grounded in relatable reality - was and still is pretty damn big. The first book that I was referred to was Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee. A very well written book, it delved head-long into pre-creation days to post-Adam and Eve, all told from the perspective of a demon telling his tale to a publication agent. Hearing the demon's interpretation of events, hearing about the event of their fall from grace and Lucifer's subsequent feeling of betrayal by God...brilliant.

The second book in my Que was The Ninth Circle, the first book written by a young Alex Bell, who is becoming quite the up-and-coming UK author. She already has two other book written and published (Jasmyn, Lex Trent versus the Gods) to great success. Reading the back synopsis, seemingly about a Angel named Gabriel Antaeus and some stuff about a lot of Evil, it was a sure bet read. Two for two, it is. Both Demon: A Memoir and The Ninth Circle are 100% recommended books, but enough of my backstory giving, onto my Ninth Circle gushing:

Gabriel Antaeus wakes up in a Budapest flat bloodied and struck with a really bad case of amnesia. There's a good million(s) dollar on a nearby table, a lot of religious books, and no hint whatsoever to who he is or what the life he leads is. To make matters weirder, he has strange dreams, sees a burning man in the mirror every once and a while, and receives strange packages with biblical writings by some unknown party. Gabriel begins to unravel his many mysterious one question at a time, but at the end, the truth is horrifying beyond his grasp, and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have minded staying amnesic.

For a first timer, Alex Bell definitely displays a firm grasp of language, pace, and utter brilliance that would have fooled me. The Ninth Circle is truly a engaging book; the narrative structure used - journal entries, not too dissimilar to Dracula - creates such a energy to the reading, it's contagious. I read, my tummy goes gurgle, I need food, and I energetically consume some food, zooming around the kitchen, and then run back to this freakin' awesome book. See? Contagious. Alright, bad example. Moving on. Not only does the structure of the book make it seem like no time has passed at all from when you opened its pages to the concluding words, but the characters introduced as so rich, so three-dimensional (even in journal entries!) that I was turning page after page anxious to find out what they'd say or do next.

The book doesn't get bogged down by needless exposition scenes or completely unnecessary scenery descriptions (I'm looking at you, Stephen King), it gets right down to the nitty gritty; it has a tale to tell, and damnit, it's gonna be told!

The big revelation happens 40 pages before the climax, and I can confidently say I didn't see that one coming. At first, I was sort of taken aback; this wasn't what I signed up for, but as the story progressed and Gabriel's role in events were explained, I became a little laxed about it.

A final note, because I don't want to give too much away, I applaud Ms. Bell on her rich characters. Specifically, a particular big-name demon. The personality attributed to this demon was phenomenal, and I'm sorry to say, but I sometimes found myself rooting for him moreso than the Angels. By the end, Gabriel has found himself in one hell of a pickle, and boy wiz is it exciting. It's a familiar plot point reached at many supernatural stories, but there's a renewed sense of freshness to it, I felt like I was reading this storyline for the very first time, as surprised as a kid getting his first happy meal or check or something...

The final journal entry leaves me hope that a future installment will be forthcoming. Gabriel Antaeus and his religious plight has sucked me in, and I want more. I want to know about the choice this one particular character has to make, and what their final path will be. I want to know about these Angels and Demons and their absolutely brilliant personalities.

In conclusion, don't pass The Ninth Circle up. It's a fast, entertaining read with plenty of twists. Furthermore, Alex Bell is a new talent to be on the look-out for. Although her sophomore effort, Jasmyn, doesn't exactly float my boat, I'll give it a read anyway. Lex Trent sounds a little more my field, but a little hoaky at the same time. One way or another, I just read a really good book. Share the awesomeness.

11 March 2010

BATMAN - Nolan Talks 'Batman 3' and 'Superman'

I'm a pretty freakin' big Batman fan, and as such, I've decided I'm going to cover the development of the third Batman film as closely as I can on this blog (limitations of dial-up willing). The first bit of coverage the film is going to get here is pulled from a recent posting on Slashfilm, quoting from a article that ran by the LA Times.

In it, Christopher Nolan, director and co-writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, reveals some tidbits about the third installment of the Batman franchise, and the going-ons concerning Superman's return to the big screen.

Nolan says:

"The key thing that makes the third film an great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story. And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story…I’m very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we’ve done with the characters. My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff. Unlike the comics, these thing don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we’re telling."

I half expected the Nolans to conclude their Batman tale with this third installment, but I was sorta hoping that wasn't the case. Nevertheless, I respect him for wanting to finish the films on top, and conclude with a story that he's pretty excited about. And the fact that he's excited makes me excited - this may just be as good as The Dark Knight. I know, I know - premature judgment. Suffice it to say, I'm very, very anxious to find out this brilliant story idea the Nolan clan have come up with...

In regards to the new Superman movie, which is officially not called The Man of Steel:

"It’s very exciting, we have a fantastic story. And we feel we can do it right. We know the milieu, if you will, we know the genre and how to get it done right…[it] is a way of approaching the story I’ve never seen before that makes it incredibly exciting."

Well, the guy has enthusiasm. As long as Nolan is able to make Superman actually, y'know, interesting, I'm game. [Sorry to offend any Superman fans; I just don't get the big love for the character, who is quite one-dimensional, even after nine seasons under its belt in TV land] And one final tidbit: it's not confirmed whether Nolan will direct either Batman 3 or Superman, and an announcement probably won't be forthcoming until post-Inception.

On the Inception front, in a recent interview, Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Cobb (one of the main leads), revealed that the film will be "about two hours long, give or take." Another cool tidbit, straight out of the newest issue of Empire magazine, is that Nolan came up with the idea for the movie at age 16 (!). Inception comes out 16 July 2010.

10 March 2010

A Couple of Dicks


Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan, Rashida Jones, Sean William Scott, Adam Brody, Jason Lee
Written by Mark Cullen & Rob Cullen

Directed by Kevin Smith

Release: 26 February 2010

Warner Bros., 110 mins., Rated R

Plot: Two longtime NYPD partners clumsily fight the Mexican mob while trying to sort through their own family issues - financing a daughter's wedding, finding out if the wife's cheating on you, all with bullets flying around. Fun times.

Once Kevin Smith's name was attached to the project, my ticket was instantly sold. For some, that basically was the deal breaker. For me, the biggest 'ahh, shit' moment was the news that Tracy Morgan, who I find to be one of the most obnoxious human beings on the planet (although I have no doubt his 30 Rock co-stars would vehemently disagree with me), was co-starring opposite the awesome Bruce Willis in this buddy cop flick. 'Ahh, shit' is right.

For Smith's first outing directing a script that's not his own, he couldn't have selected a better project. The script is reminiscent to something Smith would write - random conversations, 'interesting' characters, and a helluva lot of swearing - but not nearly at the caliber of his skills (yes, I say he has skills). There's the true-and-tried/tired plot of a Mexican gang going all Punisher on folks all because they need to get to something the main baddie lost. And speaking of the baddie, he's your typical one-note character. To the Cullens credit, they do try to craft both humanity and menace into Poh Boy, but actor Guillermo Diaz just ain't good enough to pull it off. Not only is the familiar Mexican gang device used, but there's also the two familiar storylines that are central to this: a father unable to pay some big fee of some sort for a family member (estranged wife, daughter, mother), and a man unsure of his wife's fidelity. I'd be more ticked at the script's unoriginality if it wasn't for the dialogue, which is undoubtedly the movie's strong-point.

The characters, Jimmy (Bruce) and Paul (Morgan), and the dialogue they have is what makes or breaks this movie. Luckily, it's some damn good dialogue.

Bruce Willis is fine, absolutely fine in his role, because he knows this type of character backwards and forwards. He could literally have sleepwalked through it. But he appears to be having a blast; there seems to be a genuine smile with his banters between him, Morgan, and Dave (Scott). And of course, he looks completely at ease with his gun. Willis stars opposite Tracy Morgan, who I can't find any reason to enjoy. His voice is annoying, you could barely understand what he says sometimes, and his idea of a punchline is raising his voice 10 vocals high. But somehow, someway, Willis and Morgan come across as a fully functional, nine-year time/friendship duo. So, fine, I'll accept it, but damn if I don't dislike Morgan.

It's great to see Sean William Scott onscreen again. As to be expected, I enjoyed all of his scenes. Same said for Adam Brody, who I haven't seen much of since The O.C. concluded - which is weird, 'cuz he has the acting chops, he just doesn't seem to really wanna do anything beyond small independent flicks and thus, less notoriety. Brody is a strong comedic force, and it's saddening he's not in more projects. Surprising stars to show up: Jason Lee (Mallrats), a Kevin Smith regular, who didn't even look like himself without some sort of ruggedly beard, and Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), who shows up in two scenes as Willis' daughter. Rashida Jones is simply beautiful. No other word to describe her.

A Couple of Dicks isn't receiving generally positive reviews, and I get that. There's the Kevin Smith haters, there's the folks who just find this a sub-par 'homage' or uninspired throwback to the 1980's buddy cop comedies/dramas, and there's those who just don't like it period for whatever reason. It's possible that if it wasn't for my Smith bias (if I wasn't clear: I love the guy), perhaps my judgment of Dicks wouldn't be so favorable. But honestly, there's some good material in this film, and it deserves to be recognized.

Is it a really good movie? No. Is it decent as a homage to said '80s films? Yeah, sure. Is it Kevin Smith's best work? Nope.

But it has a above average script, a (mostly) likable cast, and I can honestly say I enjoyed my time watching the movie, and after it was done, I had a nice 'ol smile on my face and satisfied with my comedy and bullety action craving for the week.

It's difficult to recommend A Couple of Dicks. The best option I can present is provide you with the suggestion to check out the Red Band trailer for the film, as it gives you more of a clue as to what type of a movie it is moreso than the rather underwhelming theatrical trailer. If it seems halfway funny or interesting, than yeah, go see it. The trailers don't do the film justice. Plus, if you're any fan of Bruce Willis...c'mon, yah gotta.

Note: I am firmly aware that the title is officially known as Cop Out, as directed by Warner Bros. and Kevin Smith, but I've decided to use the original script title, A Couple of Dicks. Really, I just dig it better, although I do have love towards the new title - it should, and always shall be, known as A Couple of Dicks

09 March 2010

Shutter Island


Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kinglsey, Max Von Sydow, John Carroll Lynch
Written by Laeta Kalogrids, Steven Knight
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Release: 19 February 2010
Paramount Pictures, 138 mins., Rated R

Plot: It's 1954, and Special Agent Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck arrive at Shutter Island - a institute for the insane and disturbed - to find a missing patient, but their search brings them closer to cover-ups, bizarre situations, and untrustworthy guards.

Everybody and their grandmother already have their two cents in on Martin Scorcece's Shutter Island spoken. I'm a little late to the game, and I probably won't cover any new ground, but I thought I'd give it a go anyhow.

Very effective as a mystery thriller, Shutter Island has got a lot of lovin' for its major twist in the last 20 minutes. I won't go as crazy as to say I figured it out early on, and I did start to get some of the clues, but once the major revelation came, I was satisfied, a little shocked, and completely in love. I dig this revelation so much, and it completely changes the dynamic of the story being told [which I love/hate - I came to the film to see a thrilling story, not a story about...well, y'know; but I still love it!].

Leonardo DiCaprio has left a large impression on me the last few years. Notably, his work in Blood Diamond and The Departed impressed me more than any performance of '06. Here was a guy who made big with his pretty looks, and actually evolved to be a actor with range, with talent, with the ability to glue the audience in to every word he says. In Shutter Island, his performance is overall quite good, but it seems to range from bad, good, to corny every other scene. Although, the corn factor could be attributed to a directorial choice to help along the 1950's atmosphere. DiCaprio's co-star, Mark Ruffalo, definitely seemed to be spicing up the cornball performance, as he ranges from cartoonish to overblown, although he does have one really cool dramatic sequence in a cemetery.

Ben Kingsley, who threw me for a loop using a regular everyday voice instead of his Lucky Number Slevin accent (which I initially thought to be his normal voice), is terrific as Dr. John Cawley, the man who is basically in charge of the facility and the patients. When he needs to be a freaky dude who can be both a villain and a cunning individual, Kingsley sells it in spades. When the script calls for him to be calm, understanding, compassionate, civilized - well, he's got that covered as well. Kingsley owned. The much-praised Jackie Earl Haley (Watchmen) had but one scene, but it was a memorable one. Second biggest surprise (next to Ben) was Michelle Williams, who has really grown into her own as a actress, after enduring three seasons of Dawson's Creek (no, I didn't miscount; I just gave up after the third). Michelle plays Teddy's deceased wife, and she is quite beautiful and quite wonderful in her role.

The cinematography, provided by one Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds), is marvelous. Take the opening shot for instance: pure gray mist, and then a ship emerges, a ship looking nearly as eerie as the surroundings. [The music - devoid of a original score but instead a compilation of previous released compositions - and several well constructed sound effects help sell a good 60% of this movie's power] Not only are the outdoor shots glamorous (and spooky), but even the inside stuff is nicely composed - and in this instance, I'm thinking about post-storm, where Teddy walks through the 'off-limits' building and comes face to face with some unbound crazies. It's films like this that exemplify the beauty of cinematography, and it's great importance to a viewer's overall opinion of a film.

The general story - a escaped patient becomes a case for the FBI who arrive at Shutter Island to investigate - is simply the set-up for a larger story, and it's a juicy one. There's Teddy Daniels, a man cursed with memories of his days in World War II - the atrocities that he witnessed and help commit (beautifully realized through quick flashbacks), and also suffering from bizarre nightmares of dead children and his wife, and with a lot of fire and water thrown into the mix (a running motif). Then there's the subplot of what Teddy's real reason for arriving at Shutter Island is, and then the other subplot of who to trust? and is there something up with this place? To say that all these story-lines are completely engrossing is a understatement - my eyes were glued to the screen the entire time, and I was clinging onto every little ounce of dialogue. Even with its over two hour running time, which I know many have expressed objection to, I think the pace was pitch-perfect.

An thoroughly engaging storyline complimented by phenomenal actors, beautiful cinematography, freaky eerie music, good pacing, and overall awesomeness, Shutter Island is a damn good flick. But...

With the hype surrounding the movie since late last year - after countless times watching the same trailer nearly every visit to the theater - I guess the expectation was that I would be watching a mystery/thriller to end all thrillers, or at least be something so profound that all other thrillers must live up to this flick's excellence. That's not the case here, but that's far from saying Shutter Island is a meager movie. It's not. It's a movie that, even after a week and a half seeing it, still resonates with me - certain scenes, flashbacks, dialogue still float through my head. The whole last 20 minutes replays multiple times, and I continue to appreciate it. Shutter Island is a very, very good movie, and is absolutely recommended. Just don't go in believing it to be a masterpiece that the advertisements hype.

Fantastic Mr. Fox


Voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman
Written by Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Based on the book by Ronald Dahl
Directed by Wes Anderson
Release: 13 November 2009
Regency Enterprises, 87 mins., Rated PG

Plot: A family of foxes relocate to a tree to call home and live a happy family life, but Mr. Fox can't control his dangerous impulses and raids nearby factories which get the attention of their owners, who want retribution.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is simply fantastic. There's very few animated movies in the last few years (especially 2009) that left me feeling like I saw something completely original, fresh, and completely worthwhile. Eh, let me back up a bit: the animation world has been taken over by Pixar and DreamWorks, the two of them fueding as to how many completely digital productions they can chum out a year. Pixar is nice enough to do one a year, and each and every year, they're looked at with pride and admiration by the public, and deservedly so. The guys at Pixar strive to put characters and story first (in that order), all at the same time delivering the goods in the digital animation department and the LOL-area of theater going. DreamWorks tries to imitate that same sense of strong character and narrative, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but their animation is a little dodgy (Kung Fu Panda being the rare exception), and doesn't hold a candle to Pixar. What I'm trying to get at, is that it's been a long while since the theater was graced with a type of animation style that took me off guard, and eventually had me fall in love with it.

Eh, never-mind, new approach: there has been such a surge of computer animated movies that it's refreshing to go back to the old days - the 'roots', so to speak - but be presented with something that feels brand spankin' new and as fun as anything you've seen the past decade.

Let me also back up some more: the entire movie is fantastic. The voice actors are splendid and I couldn't possibly imagine anyone else filling these roles, the screenplay is top-notch, the pacing of the film is sublime, and the soundtrack is some of the grooviest music since (500) Days of Summer [which I know doesn't sound too long, but considering that studios try to chum out a 'quirky' movie with 'quirky' songs every other week...yeah, it's an accomplishment].

The style is stop-motion animation, which I fondly recall used terrifically in Chicken Run (by DreamWorks in one of their rare brilliance), and although it's nothing new to the cinemas, there's something so very unique about this film's style. It could be the level of detail in each and every animal, but that's not the whole story - I think it's the animation itself, the odd movement of all the characters, the sort of deliberate proclamation that 'hey, I'm a cartoon!' that works so well. There's also some fantastic sense of style during burrowing sequences - when Mr. Fox and his family chum their way through the soil to get away from some bad guys, or invade some factory. Oh, and the giant 'X' in characters' eyes that represent bewilderment, etc., etc - fantastic. Before I go on babbling about something I can't really describe, I'll just leave it at this: the animation style if unique, mesmerizing, and I'm pretty sure I was smiling watching its awesomeness onscreen.

Equally as awesome is the script. First and foremost, I loved how each and every character, when they want to just lash out with vulgarity, just say the word 'cuss.' Secondly, I loved the family dynamic. Each and every character had their own story, their own thing, and none of them were ever made second fiddle, or just stick figure characters. It almost felt like Anderson captured this family on film, and we're barging in on their disagreements (I recognize this phraseology is used quite often, but this is the first time I've really felt it applies). Mr. Fox and his weakness for danger, the rivalry between Ash and Kristofferson (his mom's cousin), Felicity's anger towards Mr. Fox, Bean's security guard Rat (surprise voice guest star of Willem Dafoe) who comes across as a John Travolta Greaser, and all the factory owner's single-mindedness to find and kill the fox family...all the characters have motives, have their own voice, and is damn well entertaining.

Compliment a good movie with a 'Must Buy Immediately' soundtrack and a phenomenal voice line-up, you got the makings of a great, fun, family/adult-friendly movie. It's one of those rare films that's 'quirky' without outrage comparing their film to a 'mandatory quirkyness' meter, having it's own voice, etc., etc. Fantastic Mr. Fox was a lot of fun, and boasts a great script with some pretty stellar animation. In my opinion, better than Up, and is a definite DVD/Blu-Ray purchase.

07 March 2010

Oscar 2010: This Image Has Made my Night...

This image of Ben Stiller, dressed head-to-toe as a Na'vi, was the single most entertaining segment of the 82nd Academy Awards, and I have no doubt I'll be cracking up to it at entirely random points the rest of the week.

Overall, the award show didn't hold too many surprises. The obviousness of The Hurt Locker taking home the majority of the nominations sort of spoiled the funness, as did the 30 minutes of congratulatory speeches for the Best Actor and Best Actress awards. I'm pleased with a good amount of the awards - most notably Christoph Waltz for his amazing work in Inglourious Basterds, and Michael Giacchino winning, although I think the Academy chose the wrong score to nominate (it is of my opinion that the score for Star Trek was the best of the year).

On the plus side, for the first time I'm actually interested in watching Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. The brief clips they've show peaked my interest, as did their music choice for Hans Zimmer's work in Sherlock Holmes, so I might just have to check that score out again.

So...general thoughts. Before yesterday, I would definitely have supported Disney/Pixar's Up, but upon seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox, I believe that the Academy made the wrong choice. The first 10 minutes of the Pixar film is pure splendor, but the overall product, I feel, is a fun ride, but hardly amongst Pixar's finest work and not exactly worth the amount of recognition. Fantastic Mr. Fox, on the other hand, was phenomenal: the direction, the characters, the dialogue, the flow of the story, and especially the music. I simply find it overall superior. Basterds should have absolutely deserved Best Original Screenplay, as it truly was one of the most original, invigorating scripts of the year. I'm torn about the Best Editing award, but the more I think and think about it, I guess I must concede that The Hurt Locker was the best choice. The un-nominated Star Trek 100% deserved it - the editing of that film is flawless I tell you, flawless! But Hurt Locker for Best Cinematography? That I wholeheartedly disagree with. The erratic camera of the Paul Greengrass Bourne movies had more pizazz than Locker.

And note to self: get my ass up, cave, and rent The Cove from a nearby Redbox. Oh, and put some of these Foreign movies on my damn Netflix Que. (And speaking of which, I just got A Serious Man in the mail yesterday, so I'm totally gonna watch that soon! Yippie!) In conclusion, I guess I should also see The Blind Side. Wah.

Well, not a horrible night by any means. There were a lot of good acceptance speeches (notably Mo'Nique), and the inevitable long-ass ones (Jeff Bridges), and the ones that need to cram some sort of message. And Neil Patrick Harris better damn well be a host next year, or super pissed I shall be.

Now we can officially close the 2009 plate of films and push it behind us. Onward to 2010! To Greek Gods, wizards, rebels, and yet another damn vampire installment in that shitacular franchise that I'll still see anyway and am thus helping this demonic plague flurish!

^Oh gee golly wizz - I love Ben Stiller.

The Wolfman

Cast: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker & David Self

Based on the screenplay "The Wolf Man" by Curt Siodmak

Director: Joe Johnston

Release: 12 February 2010

Universal, 125 mins., Rated R

Production delay after production delay, bumped release dates about three or four times, composer changes, editing redo, and finally Universal released Joe Johnston's The Wolfman in theaters to mostly negative reviews. Of course me, being the Universal Monster lover that I am, saw it immediately first day, and was disappointingly underwhelmed. It's not really, really bad, nor is it 'OMG! That was awesome!' Simply put, there were some things that were done really well, and there are other aspects of the film that could have used some work. But overall, the experience was still fun, and it was great seeing such a beastie cinematic icon come back to the silver screen since....Van Helsing (?).

Renowned stage performer Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returns to his family estate to investigate the murder of his brother by some terrible monstrosity. His homecoming isn't exactly super happy, as things are as awkward as ever with his father (Hopkins), and hormones are a-boomin' with his brother's fiance Gwen (Blunt), and finally, he gets bit by a werewolf. Things just get worse from there.

Notes & Reflections
Director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) and creature effects Oscar-winner wizard Rick Baker collaborate with Benicio Del Toro (Sin City) to remind audiences what a real werewolf is like. Quick, vicious, and bloody, with a human soul trapped as the host of this terrible beastie. Well, almost there. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there's something missing from this 're-imagining.' And since I've had this review under 'Edit' for awhile, pondering what to say, I'll just make things simpler and bullet my thoughts down:

1) The creature design was very, very nice. I liked that. Watching it in motion, however, when not animated, was not as spectacular. Just didn't real sell it. Ironically, the digital werewolf that runs amok in London was quite phenomenal, and that whole sequence of events was genuinely thrilling.

2) Benicio Del Toro...yeah, I didn't like this guy. Sure, he can play a man pained as much as Bruce Banner innerly tormented by his green side, but I didn't care about his character - either the fault of Benicio or the screenwriter - and I couldn't really understand what he was saying sometimes. He seemed to make a artistic craft out of low, low, low speaking tones. Plus, that guy just looked tired. I felt bad for him, seeing his eyes look all old and 'guh, I need some damn sleep.' I just wanted to give the bloke some pills so he could go night-night.

3) The editing was 50/50. Very tight during some sequences, and very good at making suspenseful scenes actually suspenseful, but the flick just felt long.

4) The romantic subplot involving Lawrence and his brother's fiance, Gwen, was kind of lame. It felt like a script contrivance to manufacture another form of 'tragedy' that Lawrence can endure - take his brother's lass, or not take his brother's lass? Oh, crap, I'm a werewolf, can't be with her anyways. Boo. But by no means is this a diss to Emily Blunt - I quite like her as an actress, it's just that she really got the short end of the stick.

5) Hugo Weaving, on the other hand, stole every scene he was in from the moment he first appeared. The probability of a sequel to this remake is unlikely, but I do confess it would be interesting to see where his character goes from here after the events of this flick...

6) Anthony Hopkins kicked ass.

7) There's some really awesome sequences, but then there's the Wolfman vs. Wolfman fight near the end, and although it was filmed and acted quite straight-forward, rather intense-like, I couldn't help but smirk. It was a little cheesy. And I was easily distracted with the remarkable similarity of the Wolfman suit to Hopkins, who reveals himself to be the original Wolfie.

8) Thank you Universal and Joe Johnston for not making this into a PG-13 mess, and instead going for the hard R. Show is the damage of these Wolfmen, show us the carnage that results from these hungry beasties; and that they do. So I commend you folks for that. The wolf was genuinely creepy, and I'm perhaps most thankful for that.

9) There was a sense of predictability to the overall story. But the more I think about it, there's really not much one can do with a werewolf film, and especially one that's a re-imagining of a older film. If a sequel was commissioned, I wager the writers would have nearly free reign to come up with whatever original storylines they would want.

10) Danny Elfman's score, which got reinserted into the movie after the score by that Underworld composer wasn't satisfactory to the company, didn't actually feel like a Danny Elfman score, so thank you for that. It's been awhile since I saw the pic, but I do recall that Elfman effectively created a intense and eerie atmosphere which nicely compliments the film. There's nothing inherently wrong or spectacular with the score, so I don't quite understand Universal's disagreements about it.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness
Lawrence, believed to be the murderer of several people by Francis Aberline (Weaving), is sent back to the asylum he was once institutionalized in as a young lad. The Doctor, believing his patient to be suffering from delusions by mental strain, presents Lawrence in front of a large group of colleagues as they wait for the full moon to shine through the window and show him that this 'monster' is all in his head. Well, they were wrong. Chaos ensues. And it's awesome.

Final Verdiction
The first movie of 2010 I was desperately waiting for, and sadly, it sorta underperformed. It's still quite a good movie - not even close to the wretched mess I and many other critics were expecting - but I feel there still could be so much more depth to the movie. And that Benicio Del Toro was completely wrong and must go bye-bye. Still, I enjoyed my time, so I'd recommend it.

01 March 2010

FD - Jack the Giant Killer

Directed by Nathan Juran
Screenplay by Nathan Juran
Based on the novel by Orville H. Hampton
Special Effects by Jim Danforth, Howard Anderson
Music by Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter

Kerwin Mathews, Judi Meredith, Torin Thatcher, Walter Burke, Don Beddoe, Barry Kelley, Dayton Lummis, Anna Lee
Release 13 June 1963
United Artists, 94 mins.

First up on the 'Fantastic Dinosaurs!' list is Jack the Giant Killer! Doesn't the name itself stir up some sort of excitement? The very title - a man named Jack, perhaps a man of nobility, or maybe simply (and more interestingly) a simple farmer man who has the power (or mere fortune) of killing a giant! And with each successive baddie he meats, he conquers them one by one, and hence the powerful and egocentric name! The actual movie itself is a tad underwhelming - which is unfortunate given my excitement to see this 7th Voyage of Sinbad Redux - but there's plenty of stuff that goes on in its short running time to keep a viewer entertained.

The story behind the movie seems to get more attention than the film itself. While special effects master Ray Harryhausen was shopping around for some funding for 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), he encountered a man from United Artists, a producer by the name Edward Small. He passed on the project, but when 7th Voyage earned Columbia
Pictures $12 million (a good profit) upon it's release, Small saw a opportunity to get some dinero. Not only did Small decide to replicate the successful film nearly to the T, but he also hired two actors from Sinbad (who basically play the same roles they did in that film) - Kevin Matthews and Torin Thatcher. In an attempt to not get sued by Columbia (FYI: didn't work), the film is a cited as a (very, very, very) loose adaptation of a European fairy tale (which apparently is the same as Jack and the Beanstock?).

In the end, Jack the Giant Killer wasn't the runaway success Edward Small (and United Artists) were banking on, and the movie's reputation is mainly that of its backstory, moreso than any jaw-dropping visual effects or unique storytelling. Anywho, onforth to the tale of legends!

Jack begins with a voice over informing us of the city of Cornwall's history, that it was once ruled by the Evil Wizard Pendragon (Thatcher), and it wasn't a very happy experience. Luckily, a powerful wizard stopped Pendragon and banished him (and his minions of freaky looking hobgoblins and witches, etc.) to some remote island. Equally luckily for Pendragon, his being immortal (somehow, someway - it's never explained) allows him to spend the next infinite centuries plotting his revenge.

Fast forward many years later. Cornwall is flurishing with live, everybody's happy, and the much-loved King Mark (Lummis) is celebrating the birthday of his daughter, Princess Elaine (Meredith). A huge party is being held, and Pendragon-in-disguise infiltrates the party, and gives Elaine a gift - a small creature that walks out of a house, dances, then returns to said house. Well, later that night, that little 'awwww, adorable!' gift turns into a freakin' giant Cyclops (apparently named Cormoran) and steals the Princess!

The giant just happens to make its way to Jack's farm, the farm of Jack (Matthews), a simple man who just wants to live the good life, but then this giant with some damsel in distress comes waltzing in, and what's a man to do? So he gets his sword or whatever weapons available to him, and slay the giant down he does! (At this point of time he still doesn't know the gal is a Princess; he just figures her a hot gal who'd want to personally 'thank him' for his service) Jack and Elaine's flirtation is interrupted when the King and his men on horseback arrive for Elaine. Gracious for Jack's saving of his daughter, the King makes Jack a Knight, and bestows upon him the responsibility of protecting Elaine from Pendragon.

A plan is devised - Jack will take Elaine, under the cover of darkness, out of the city, board a boat, and sail to a convent some ways acr
oss the sea. But, y'know, discretion is key, 'cuz they don't want Pendragon to know. But little do they know, that one of the King's royal members is actually a Pendragon supporter in disguise, and gives this info to Pendragon via a flying birdie.

Just as Jack and Princess Elaine confess their love for each other (in less than a 24 hour period, no less!), the ship is attacked by 'witches'! Blue translucent 'witches' that resemble demonic ghouls than anything else (there's even kaiju similarities), they're friggin' freaky to look at. Complimented with the eerie music and the equally eerie sound effect 'cries'...yeah, I got goosebumps. The witches set fire to the flags, kill crewmen, and blow extremely powerful gusts of wind against the crew, stopping them from attempting to save Elaine from their wicked clutches.

They win, swooping in with a mystical flying chariot and capture Elaine, and then go on with their business to show their new catch to Master Pendragon. Back at the ship, all the sailors just wanna go back home, but Jack, being a man of valor and virtue, urges them to head on and save the Princess. No dice. So Jack and the Captain's orphaned son are thrown overboard and into the sea. The witches arrive at Pendragon Castle and produce Elaine. Pendragon is most pleased with events turning to his favor, and uses some voodoo hoodoo magic stuff to make her into a green-skinned, yellow-eyed demon bitch. With the Princess under his thrall, Pendragon goes to Cromwell and reveals his evil plan to King Mark: vacate within a week, and allow Elaine and him to rule.

Jack and Peter, the son of the murdered ship captain, are rescued by the Viking Sigurd on a small 'ittle boat. However, this turns out to be super extremely day-saving lucky, for Sigurd recently found himself a wee small little leprechaun in a bottle. A leprechaun who can grant three 'tokens' to someone with a honorable heart, which is why Sigurd hasn't been able to utilize the little thingy because of his killing streak. Jack proves himself pure of heart, and the wonderful, orange-haired leprechaun who only speaks in rhymes ("Pick up the bottle - I dare you to. A caution - if you've told a lie, the glass will grow, and your hand will fry!") promises to help Jack fight against the evil sorcerer, as long as Jack promises to release him after his duty is completed.

Jack, Sigurd, Peter, and the leprechaun land at Pendragon's Castle of Doom; Sigurd and Peter stay at the ship, Jack (with his spiffy sword) and the leprechaun (still in the bottle) go to confront the baddie. Jack faces such obstacles as a magically closing gate, and four or five magically created guards ('dragon men') who have a habit of staying in place (whilst wobbling back and forth) when they really should be attacking. Intrigued at Jack's resilience to his powers and lack of being dead, Pendragon grants Jack a audience with him. Simply put, Pendragon is baffled: where is the source of Jack's power? Finally, in a rather awesome sequence totally spoiled by the trailers, Pendragon warns Jack (rather creepily, I might add) that if he advances at all, he will be turned into a dog. Gathering all the strength he can, Jack holds his sword in front of him, and advances - and Pendragon's magical curses are useless!

It's a cool scene, but it'
s strange that Pendragon, a master 'witch' of such extraordinary power, is thwarted by a mere leprechaun. At best, this experience has definitely heightened my excitement to see the Leprechaun horror series. Pendragon submits to Jack, and allows him and Elaine a few moments alone. Elaine's real motive is trying to figure out the source of Jack's magic, and Jack just wants to get her out of the Castle and get to a bed. One thing leads to another, and Jack finds himself poisoned by Elaine, and brought back to the castle, chained and tortured. Pendragon has turned Peter into a monkey, and Sigurd into a dog (an improvement, I'm sure).

Well, thanks to Jack breaking the spell that Elaine was under (she's now back on the side of good!), Jack, Elaine, Peter, and Sigurd (those two still in animal disguise) run for their lives out of the castle to the ship. However, Pendragon isn't too happen, and erects a two-headed Cyclops to deal with them. Ah, but not too fast. The leprechaun manages to call out a sea bea
st that works for the side of good, and they wrestle in a gargantuan battle, with the sea beast wrapping its tentacles on the Cyclops, trying to win. Unfortunately, the sea beast gets the short end of the stick, and is beat up pretty bad - but it saves the day in the end.

Finally getting aboard Sigurd's ship, they set sail, more than ready to go home. Pendragon, pissed the frak off that some freakin' mortal messed up with his thousands-year plan of ruling Cornwall, turns himself into a bat-looking dragon to exact his revenge. Elaine screams (AHHH!) and Jack engages in combat. He hacks and slashes at the dragon (!), it GRRRRRRRSS (!), and Jack finally plunges his sword deep into the beast, and they fall into the water.

The slaying of the dragon, and by extension Pendragon, signals the destruction of his castle, crumbling and killing his minions (
including Garna). Pendragon's spells broken, Sigurd and Peter return to their human state, Elaine and Jack make moon eyes to each other, and the day - and Cornwall - is saved with smiles. Ladies and gentlemen, Jack the Giant Killer.

Minnesotan director Nathan H. Juran, a Jewish-American who was behind the camera for such classics like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and First Men on the Moon (1964), brings his experience from directing the really awesome 7th Voyage of Sinbad and somehow lazily directs a bad movie. I don't know about you, but if I'm given a run-of-the-mill, paint-by-the-numbers script (read: Hallmark Channel productions), I'd use this opportunity to do whatever I please with the camera. Juran chooses the point-and-shoot approach for most of the running time, creativity slightly peaking towards the finale, as
Jack is captured by Pendragon and the Big Epic Battle Scene ensues from there. Still, I can't fault Juran too badly; this production had a reduced budget from what he had to work with in 7th Voyage, and it was made relatively quickly to get the studio some major bucks.

Aside from the directing gig, Juran was also put in charge of the screenplay. The script, as I expressed, doesn't offer anything new to the genre, although I think I might be too hard on that. These stories thrive on the typical set-up: a Evil Sorcerer, a dame to fight for, and a brave, valiant man with a sword ready to fight some baddies. So the overall story, I can get. It's just a little sad that the characters have nothing more to do than hit the plot points at just the right time, not having a ounce of personality to 'em. But if it was sheer, 100% entertainment Juran was striving for more than a good script, I'd say he absolutely succeeded. This is the type of story/movie that kids will remember - the brave farmer who turned into a knight and fought a giant, a dragon, and a sorcerer. Good, epic stuff, no?

With the exception of the stop-motion creatures, Jack the Giant Killer looks and feels like a film produced with a shoestring budget. The sets aren't that lavishing, although Pendragon's Funhouse is the exception. The King's residence in Cornwall looks especially fake with its cardboard walls and breakable doors. Pendragon's pad just looks awesome - skulls, red color tones to spice up the evil feeling, spider webs, chains, weapons, fire-lit candles...everything a bad guy could ever want to make his lair look villainous.

The special effects are epic in scope, but pedestrian in presentation. Shepperd by Jim Danforth, who tutored under Ray Harryhausen (It Came from Beneath the Sea), there's no shortage of imagination: a dragon-like monster in the finale, a sea beast with multiple hand
s/legs/whatever, and even two giants, one being a two-headed, pissed off motherfrakker. The only sad part is that the cyclops is nothing more than a pale replication of Harryhausen's beastie in 7th Voyage. It's regrettable that Danforth didn't attempt to add his own 'spin' to the mythic figure. However, the sea beast that fought the cyclops was pretty damn cool. Horribly cheesy and completely unrealistic (I can only imagine what my reaction would be like if I saw that image for the first time on the big screen back in it's release - I'm sure I probably would have laughed my ass off the seat), cool nonetheless. The finale's dragon that Jack fights to save the day is alright. Pretty menacing looking, but not all that well rendered.

Jack the Giant Killer was released on DVD by MGM Home Entertainment in 2004. The flick was basically barebones - the only supplement material being the theatrical trailer, which I wager many a fan will find satisfying, as it helps with the nostalgia factor. Plus, the trailer is the thing that ended up hooking me, so I guess kudos to you guys for including it. The DVD apparently also suffers from aspect ratio problems, as it seems to hop ratios at the beginning and end (the end I noticed). Additionally, it's been reported that the film isn't being presented in it's original aspect ratio. As to whether or not this is true, I'll leave all that technical gibbero to the blokes who actually know that stuff, like DVDTalk for example.

So as I walk away from Jack the Giant Killer, in all probability never watching it again, what would I say about it? If you're looking for one of those tales where an everyday man becomes a warrior and fights monsters and eventually saves a Princess and a Kingdom before breakfast, this is a fine addition that doesn't improve or tarnish the story. If you're looking for amazing visual effects that'll make you feel all kid-like again and believe that monsters are real and slay a dragon, the film will leave you a tad disappointed. But it's fun, and you could definitely do a whole lot worse!

...hmmmm, me thinks that last bit wasn't exactly the bestest way to leave off this review...

Well, there's good cheese and there's really bad Manos: The Hands of Fate-type cheese. Jack the Giant Killer comes from the good cheese.