Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Young People Having Sex In The City

Young People F***ing

This film has been immersed in controversy since its debut at last year Toronto International Film Festival. The majority of the uproar centers around the films racy title rather than its content. Granted it is really is hard, no pun intended, to sell a title like Young People F***ing (YPF) anywhere outside of a adult movie store. Yet if you are willing to get past the blunt title you will be rewarded with a humourous look at the complexities of relationships for people in the twenties to thirties age group. Taking place over the course of one night, YPF follows five separate situations (the first date, the couple, the friends, the exes, and the roommates) all linked via the act of copulation. What separates this film from a movie one might get at your local adult video store? Well the fact that YPF is more focused on each character’s motivations than it is on the act itself. Essentially this is the younger version of television's “Sex and the City,” minus the shoe obsession. Each couple has their own baggage that supersedes the actual sex. We see what it is like for the couple struggling with communication in their marriage, the player who may not be as suave as he thinks, the former flames that pretend the spark is gone, etc. Using the six stages of intercourse (i.e. prelude, foreplay, sex, interlude, orgasm, and afterglow) as chapter guides, we see how each couple works their way through to self-discovery. As the couples commence on their journeys it quickly becomes clear that, at its heart, YPF is essentially a romantic comedy. While some of the scenes are a bit over the top, the majority of the comedy is ground in the real world. The young cast perfectly handles material that, in with lesser hands, could easily have falling of the rails. YPF is a small but refreshing hidden gem in a summer predominantly filled with mindless big budget fare.




Sex and the City

Only a few television shows have successfully made the jump to the big screen. “Sex and the City” is not one of them. Granted I am not the target demographic for this movie, but even the most hardcore fan must concede that the film pales in comparison to any episode in the shows canon. The show was a witty and intelligent look at women the plight of upper class single women in their thirties and forties. The amusing banter that once came natural on the small screen now seems forced and dull. The film pretty much has to resort to juvenile potty humor to get any life out of the script. Part of the problem is that the characters went through so much change over the course of the series; that there is not much for them to really do in the film. Which explains why half of the film feels like a product placement infomercial. There is so much designer name-dropping going on that it constantly breaks the flow of the film. Frankly the women come of completely shallow in the film, which is a huge insult to multi-layered characters that the television show built. Sure the women were fashion obsessed in the show but, for the most part, they were still grounded in reality. Well, everyone except Carrie. While Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha dealt with issues revolving around cancer, infertility, death, etc. Carrie pretty much remained in her fairy tale world where she ultimately gets her prince charming, Mr. Big. Unfortunately, the film spends the majority of its time in this world by focusing on Carrie’s pending marriage to Mr. Big. As a result, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha each get stuck with a minor subplot that really goes nowhere. Yet their subplots are convenient enough to be solved in the last ten minutes. When you step back and really look at all the storylines in the film, you quickly realize that the two-hour plus film is really much ado about nothing. It is just an excuse to get the women on screen again and sell some products. While it is great that that four women back together again; a television reunion would have sufficed. At least there their issues would seem graver than they actually are.





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Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Dark Knight For Hancock

The Dark Knight and Hancock

Although they are vastly different films, there are two very important facts Hollywood can learn just by sitting through a double bill of “The Dark Knight” and “Hancock”. The first is that no matter what the studio executives think "origin stories" are not needed when making a superhero movie. Especially when you are making a film of about an already well-known comic book character (i.e. Superman, Spider Man, Batman, etc.) Even the most casual movie watcher could tell you that Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider. Or that Bruce Wayne lost his parents in a random act of violence. You do not need a whole movie to point this out. Most origin films get so bogged down in the back-story that by time the superhero actually arrives on screen the audience is already half asleep. Yes both "Iron Man" and "Batman Begins" were fantastic films, but they are the small exceptions to the rule. After you sit through "The Dark Knight", you realize that the film would still have the same impact even if "Batman Begins" had not been made. Without a "making of" story to hold it back, "The Dark Knight" is free to give the audience what they really paid for: a gripping story involving everyone's favourite caped crusader. “The Dark Knigh” is everything a Batman film (heck, everything a crime film in general) should be. The film is dark, the characters are richly layered, and the plot is flawless. "The Dark Knight" does not need to spoon-feed the audience a story they already know. In fact, it takes already well-known characters and provides a completely fresh take on them.

While "Hancock", does not center around well-known character, it seems to take a similar logic to "The Dark Knight" when it comes to throwing audiences right into the action. In the film, characters interact with Hancock like he has been around forever. The film does not even bother to explain why Hancock is an alcoholic and misanthrope. It is summed up by saying Hancock is "merely an A—hole." And you know what? The audience is perfectly fine with accepting that. It is only when the movie starts to divulge a little insight to Hancock's past does the film's brisk pace slam on its breaks. Sure the film relied on too much potty humour and the overall story was uneven. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to see a superhero movie, especially a newly created black superhero, finally get rid of the origin story. Hopefully more films shall follow “Hancock's” lead in this regard.

Another thing that Hollywood can learn from “Hancock”, which is the second important fact, is that a hero is only as good as the villain you pair them with. This is one of the major downfalls of “Hancock”. Similar to “Superman Returns”, there was no one who could really match Hancock's strength...or at least outwit him. The main villain in the film is nothing more than a too bit criminal. Worst of all, he does not even get a memorable line or scene. There is no moment in the film when the audience is left to think, "How is Hancock going to get out of this one?" The exact opposite happens in "The Dark Knight". There were numerous moments in the film when you really get the sense that Batman is in well over his head. Heath Ledger brings such vigor to "The Joker" that you are not only worried for Batman, but the citizens of Gotham in general. The film does not even bother to go into how The Joker came to be. He is merely a man that will stop at nothing to see the world in chaos. Even more disturbing is the utter joy he has in doing it. He can shock you with an extremely violent "magic trick" on moment, and have you laughing with him the next. On top of that, he shows now fear when is life is being threaten by Aaron Eckharts' equally vengeful villain "Two-Face". Normally I cringe when superhero films try to incorporate two villains (i.e. Spider-Man 3, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, etc.), yet "The Dark Knight" pulls it off without ever losing the film's pacing or emotion.

After the record numbers that superhero films have been racking up at the box office, it is quiet certain that Hollywood will be filling our summers with even more comic related films in the future. While I fear the majesty of the “The Dark Knight” will not be duplicated anytime soon, I at least hope Hollywood take notes of what worked in that film and what was missing in “Hancock”.







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Sunday, July 13, 2008

This Golden Army Is Silver At Best

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” marks the fourth film in a blockbuster season that can easily be called “The Summer of the Superheroes”. This sequel follows Hellboy and his paranormal fighting team as they try to stop a rogue prince from unleashing an ancient Golden Army. The Golden Army consists of hundreds of indestructible mechanical soldiers that were locked away when mankind made a truce with the forest creatures. As if the Golden Army was not enough to deal with, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) must also come to terms with his desires to be treated as a human and his relationship woes with girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair). The scenes between Hellboy and Liz were one of the highlights for me in the original Hellboy movie. To be honest, Hellboy’s interaction with his team is by far the most entertaining aspect of this sequel as well. I enjoyed his scenes with Abe Sapien, especially an amusing Barry Manilow inspired moment. I also thought that the power struggle between Hellboy and new team member, Johann Krauss, was developed well. Yet in terms of big budget summer films, there is nothing that really makes Hellboy II standout from all the other films currently on the market. In fact, it does not even standout that much from the original “Hellboy”. The action is pretty much more of the same stuff that you have seen before. Hellboy makes witty banter while fighting, or shooting, creatures of all shapes and sizes. Yes Guillermo del Toro is a master at creating visually stunning creatures; but his work in vastly lower budget films, such as “The Devils Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”, was far more breathtaking. Even the Golden Army, which should have been the films big crescendo, was not as eye popping as one would hope. In fact a lot of the strictly CG creatures were under-whelming. The only real creature that was truly inspired was the faceless creature, with eyes attached wings, who was both “the giver and taker” of life. It is one of the few scenes were you get flashes of the genius displayed all throughout “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Still I did find “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” to be an entertaining way to kill a couple of hours. While not the best superhero film out there, it does keep you content until The Dark Knight hits in a few days.





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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wanted For Several Crimes Against Logic

Wanted
Despite some pretty invented moments (e.g. the keyboard scene, the rat’s demise, and the “I’m sorry kill”), I couldn’t help feel that “Wanted” was nothing more than a series of senseless vignettes taken from far better films. Sure there were parts where a laughed out loud, yet most of that was at the absurdity of it all. The original “The Matrix” was over the top, but at least the world the film created was cohesive. This film felt like it was the sequel to Crank, another film I detested, as it was all adrenaline and no substance. The movie wants to be grounded in “the real world” so we can identify with Wesley, yet it also wants to live in this other realm where assassins randomly have “super strength” depending on the scene.

My main problem with this film is that it tries so hard to be “bad ass,” that it completely ignores the unique structure that it is trying to create. I tried my best to suspend my disbelief, but “Wanted” had way too many leaps in logic. We are told that only select people have the ability to do what the assassins do in this film. So if you wish to drive a car off the side of a bus, it can be done. Fine, I have no issue with this. You want to shoot a hole in a guy’s head and use the body, with said head still attached to your gun, as a shield. Hey, I’m still with you. You accurately shoot a bullet halfway across town, yet you cannot hit a guy in a garbage truck below. Okay....a minor oversight maybe. You crash a car into a moving train and the train still functions fine. Yet once the conductor pulls the emergency breaks, the same train goes off the rails and kills everyone on board. Wait a minute….what?

While I am sure the graphic novel was fully realized, as a movie, “Wanted” left me wanting more substance. Especially after the film spends so much time on showing us how big of a loser McAvoys’ character, Wesley Gibson, is. They could have spent half that time on developing a better back-story of “Fraternity of Assassins”. Seriously they get their assignments from a “magical” a fabric machine? Also, the big “revelation” felt rather anti-climatic considering the audience figures out the whole plot before Wesley has even made his first kill. Sure “Wanted” had its moments, but this film is a rental at best.





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