Monday, March 23, 2009

Bruno’s Inglorious Summer Treks Upward

Now that spring is officially here, it is time for my annual look at the top 10 summer movies that have caught my interest so far.

10. Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins - I have been on the fence about this film for a while. I loved the first to films but found to be Terminator 3 both unnecessary and awful. While I believe Christian Bale can raise the material back to the level of the first two Terminators, I am still not sold on McG as a director. Lastly, Bale’s vicious rant at the director of photography on the set of Salvation has been spoofed so much that it has become bigger than the actual film. Why is it on my list then? To be honest, I find the robot who thinks he’s human angle intriguing. Hey, it worked brilliantly on Battlestar Galactica.

9. Star Trek – I am neither a Trekkie nor a Trekker, yet curiosity is main reason why I want to see this flick. Having seen all the other Star Trek movies, I am curious to see what new angle J.J. Abrams will bring to this exhausted franchise.

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – While I enjoyed the books, I must admit that I have lost the zeal to rush out and see the movies. I still think The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best movie adaptation of the series so far. The footage from Half-Blood Prince seems very promising though. Hopefully it will stay true to the darker tone of the text.

Year One – Sometimes you just need a silly comedy to end off a rough week. Year One looks to fit that bill perfectly. Staring Jack Black and Michael Cera, while featuring the likes of Oliver Platt, David Cross, Paul Rudd and Hank Azaria, the comedic talent alone pretty much guarantees that there will be several big laughs in this movie.

6. Up – What is summer without a Pixar film? Although the early trailer has not wowed me, I am willing to give this movie a shot anyways. Will it be up there with the company’s best works (e.g. The Incredibles, Wall-E, Toy Story 2, Ratatouille, etc.)? Or will it fall closer to the bottom of the Pixar spectrum (e.g. Monsters Inc., A Bug’s Life)? Only time will tell…

5. Bruno – Can Sacha Baron Cohen duplicate his Borat-style satire on unsuspecting Americans once again? That remains to be seen. Regardless, it should be fun watching him try. The official trailer is not out yet, so this clip from the Da Ali G Show will have to do for now.

4. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra – I scoffed at the idea of yet another staple of my childhood being turned into an awful movie. After seeing the teaser trailer, I had to admit the kid inside me got a little giddy. I know that by paying to see this movie I am basically giving Hollywood permission to ruin my childhood even further in the future (please leave Thundercats alone!). Yet my strong childhood nostalgia will likely cause me to purchase a ticket for this flick. Excuse me while I go and bow my head in shame.

3. Funny People – Adam Sandler, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana and RZA in a serious Judd Apatow film? Definitely not the works many would expect to hear from an Apatow production. The question still remains how serious will the movie be considering that Apatow comedic regulars Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and the vastly underrated Leslie Mann also populate the cast? Regardless, this film, about a comedian’s near death experience, looks to have the right amount of drama and bittersweet humour.

2. Inglourious Bastards – While I am the small minority of people who think Quentin Tarantino’s segment of Grindhouse, Death Proof, was far better than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, there is no denying the fact that Tarantino’s star has faded a bit over recent years. The backlash to Tarantino’s style of films has been building for quiet sometime and I do not expect it to quell anytime soon. This remake is bound to stir up even more debate amongst both the pro-Tarantino and anti-Tarantino camps. Still there is something enticing about the idea of Tarantino bringing his over-the-top violence and stylized dialogue to the already saturated World War II genre.

1. Public Enemies – A film based on the life of Depression-Era outlaw John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and directed by Michael Man. Do I really need to say anymore?

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Why Does It Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me?..."


Set in an alternate version of 1985, Watchmen unfolds in a world on the brink of imploding. The Cold War has caused paranoia in both the streets and in the White House. The world watches as the doomsday clock, a symbol of how close the U.S. and Russians are to nuclear war, inches closer and closer to midnight. Clearly times like these call for superheroes, such as the famed Watchmen, to step and save the day. Unfortunately, due to laws banning “costumes”, most of the Watchmen have retired and taken up regular jobs. The world’s smartest man, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), runs a billion dollar corporation that makes everything from reactors to Watchmen action figures. The omnipotent Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) works on his experiments while trying to navigate his relationship with Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Night Owl II (Patrick Wilson) leads a quiet solitary life, only occasionally reminiscing about the past with his predecessor. Only the masked vigilante, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), remains on the streets dishing out his vicious brand of justice. When a fellow Watchmen, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is brutality murdered, Rorschach believes that the lives of the other members may be in danger as well. Can Rorschach solve the mystery behind The Comedian’s death before more Watchmen meet a similar fate? Will there be a nuclear holocaust? Or will someone be brave enough to intervene?

While I would love to say that these are the core questions of the film, the truth is they barely touch the surface of what Watchmen is really about. The film is an extremely faithful adaptation of the graphic novel. Due to the denseness of the source material, I was surprised by how much stuff director Zach Snyder was able to cram into the film. While some will ultimately grumble about the close to three hour running time, I would argue that the film actually needs to be longer to fix several of the pacing issue. This partly explains why a “Director’s Cut” is coming to theatres in July, followed up by an even longer “ultimate edition” (which includes the animated Black Freighter story intertwined) on DVD around Christmas. Does being this committed to the book negatively affect the movie? Well it all depends on how you look at it.

Studio cash grab aside, just by making the film Snyder falls in “a damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. Hardcore fans would have vilified him if he took too many liberties with the story in general. Movies such as From Hell (average at best) and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (horrendous) are perfect examples of how tinkering too much with the source material can kill a story. Yet by being faithful to the text, and hardcore fans, he opens the door for accusation of a lack of original vision. I have no problem with films retaining the essence of the source material while still providing its own unique variation. Yet I also feel that not everything needs to be made into a film. Watchmen is a perfect example this. The graphic novel is good, but at no point when reading did I think to myself “wow, this would make a good movie.” Not because I am a purist, but mainly because I did not think that the story could truly translate.

Personally, I liked that Snyder kept his adaptation fairly close to the text. While I did enjoy the innovated ways he incorporated the Minute Men into the opening title sequence; I was also glad Snyder did not try and update the era of the plot. I do not think the film would have worked in a modern setting (Iraq war, etc.). Granted, I did not need a shot for shot remake, but I was happy that essence of the characters stayed intact. Is it perfect? No. Yet Snyder did the best anyone could have done adapting this type of material. He ultimately made an entertaining that delivers despite its various flaws.

The main problem with the film is the uneven pacing. Some parts lagged, while others felt too short. In regards to the latter, the character of Night Owl II lost a little lustre because of this. While Patrick Wilson does a good job in the role, the awkward tension between Owl and Spectre in the novel is missing in the film. As a result, certain scenes between them come off as laughably bad (e.g. the “Hallelujah” scene). Snyder needed a little more time to develop the love triangle arc better. In regards to the parts that lagged, I would have made the following cuts to pick up the pace: 1) The fight sequences. To clarify, I would get rid of the “slow motion/speed up/slow motion” aspects to the fight sequences. While this may be Snyder’s signature style, I found the fight scenes tedious and distracting. I would have preferred if he just played the action straight. 2) I would make slight cuts to the scenes on Mars between Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II. The message would still be conveyed, just in less time. 3) Lastly, I would make cuts to the mother daughter scenes between Sally Jupiter and Silk Spectre II. Again, you get the gist of their relationship early on so no need to drag things out.

Still, these issues were not enough to ruin my overall enjoyment of the film. The performances are strong for the most part. Most notably Earle Haley’s Rorschach and Morgan’s Comedian (the weakest link is Akerman). Also, the visual effects and art direction are outstanding. Is the Watchmen film a pop masterpiece? No. Is it even the best graphic novel adaptation? Not even close. Yet I will admit that the film is far more entertaining than I expected it to be. I still do not think the movie should have been made, yet I was not disappointed with what Snyder presented.

For more reviews from 2009 click here

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pontypool Is A Town Known For There Killer Conversation Skills


If you walk into Pontypool expecting a straightforward zombie movie then you will be disappointed. The film is more like a distant second cousin to the zombie genre. Similar to 28 Days Later, Pontypool is about a virus that spreads throughout a small community, and turns people into zombie like beings. The interesting thing is that the virus is not spread through bites…but words. Yes, I said words. While you may initially scoff at the idea of words being lethal consider for a moment that entire film takes place inside a radio station.

Former big time radio personality, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), is now forced to work in the small town of Pontypool. The town only has one radio station and it is located in the church basement. Mazzy constantly clashes with his producer, Sydney (Lisa Houle), over how things are done in the big city versus in a small town. One day, while on the air, Grant receives word from a roving reporter that a large mob of locals are attacking a prominent doctor’s house. Soon more reports start flooding in about town folks doing horrific things. As the terror inches closer and closer, Grant and Sydney race to fill the airwaves with updates and save themselves in the process. Yet are the updates really helping people? Or are they just making the situation worse.

Bruce McDonald crafts a solid film out of a very unique premise. Pontypool will surely annoy many hard core zombie movie fans, as it takes a vastly different approach to what you normally expect to see in zombie/viral movies. First off, the film has a surprising amount of humour in it. The writing in the first half of the film is quiet sharp. Also, by setting the film in the confines of a radio station is a brilliant move. It not only helps to build the tension, but it also forces the audience to create their own images of what is happening outside. At times the film seems to trip over its own logic. This is most evident in the latter part of the film. Needless to say Pontypool is definitely an offbeat film, yet the first half was strong enough for me to recommend the film.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Only The Blind Can Truly See The Darkness In Man.


If you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be? The most common answer is usually the sense of smell, with taste following a close second. Sight tends to be the one thing people want to hold onto the most. Yet would people still hold onto it if the entire world were to go blind? Without being able to see, would we view the world in the same way? Would we still covet such things as Iphones? Would physical attraction still be a major component in relationships? Would we still pay obscene amounts of money for name brand clothing and accessories? Would the pursuit of commerce still trump the pursuit of art? Who would decide what value certain items hold? Would a car still be a sign of status? Who would enforce the laws? Would our current laws and social structures even exist anymore? Worst of all, what if the entire world were to go blind and you are the only person left who could see! How would you cope?

Theses are the questions that simmer underneath Fernando Meirelles’ film, Blindness. Bleak and thought provoking all at the same time, Blindness looks at how the world would cope with a sudden outbreak of widespread blindness. Instead of the traditional darkness that is associated with blindness, the “infected” endure a white light when they lose their vision. Julianne Moore plays the wife of a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who is somehow immune to the disease. As the epidemic begins to grow the government decides to quarantine all those affected. Longing to stay by her husband’s side, Moore does not let on that she can see and is locked away in a hospital-style complex. As the cases of blindness spread, the quarantined building becomes overpopulated and three distinct wards emerge. Left to fend for themselves, a struggle quickly emerges between those who wish to maintain a certain level of structure and those, such as the King of Ward 3 (Gael Garcia Bernal), who want to make their own rules. As tensions rise, Moore quickly realizes that seeing the darkness in mankind is a tougher burden to bear than not seeing at all.

I wanted to love this film. I mean I really wanted to. It had all the ingredients for a seemingly delicious dish. Director Fernando Meirelles previous two films, City of God and The Constant Gardner, both made my top ten lists in the respective years they came out. The international cast featured a strong pedigree of talent (e.g. Moore, Ruffalo, Bernal, Danny Glover, Don Mckellar, Yusuke Iseya, etc.) that could handle such weighty material. Yet ultimately I found myself I a little unsatisfied with the meal. Leaving me ultimately on the fence regarding the whole production. I loved the concept, and found that the film affected me on several levels. Yet the latter half of the film left me feeling empty. The films focuses so much on the quarantined segment that it felt like Meirelles had to tack on a lot of stuff near to end in order to arrive at the ending that is vaguely optimistic. This is not to say I wanted a joyful ending. On the contrary, I would have loved for the film to have a far more unsettling and ambiguous ending. Especially after Meirelles takes us down such a dark and animalistic path. Yet if Meirelles really wanted to include the stuff outside the complex, he should have cut down some of the quarantined sequences.

The ending excluded, there are lots of elements to the film that will keep you captivated…and disturbed. I like that the film never delves into what causes the blindness. To be honest, you could substitute the current financial crisis or any disease and the results would still be the same. This is a film that looks at how easily society can crumble when faced with both a national and global crisis. What really stands out about the film are the choices that Moore makes at every juncture. Whether she is playing the role of an observer, or is forced into action, you cannot help but ponder her decisions. Would you handle the situation in the same way? The film is constantly showing that having sight is a far greater disadvantage, as you are forced to watch society decay. At times Blindness shows glimpses of brilliance; at others the film is frustrating beyond belief. Is it worth picking up the next time you are at your local video store? Yes. If anything you will want to watch it twice before returning it just to let the good and bad parts sink in. Although it will definitely provide good food for discussion, do not expect a completely satisfying meal.