Sunday, May 31, 2009

Faster Angels Still Cannot Shake Old Demons.

Pricing for ticket packages to this years Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF.) are now available. For more information click here.

Angels and Demons

After the death of the current Pope, the Vatican begins to process of conclave to choose his successor from the top four cardinal prospects. Before the conclave commences the four candidates are kidnapped and the clues lead back to the Illuminati, an infamous group thought to be extinct. The Illuminati threatens to kill the candidates as revenge for persecutions they experienced in the past. They also plan on annihilating Vatican City by setting off the recently stolen, and high unstable, canister of antimatter. Despite their turbulent relationship, the Vatican reaches out to Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) for help in finding where the cardinals and antimatter are hiding. Langdon, accompanied by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), race to decipher hidden symbols within Rome that will ultimately lead them to a harrowing discovery.

While Angels and Demons is an improvement over The Da Vinci Code movie it is still burdened by a lot of the same problems. Director Ron Howard still has not been able to bring the right levels of suspense and tension to this franchise. If you really think about it, the last time Howard made a film that was remotely suspenseful was 1995’s Ransom. Sure Howard has made some great films the past, but I do not think he is the right choice for this series. The Da Vinci Code novel, regardless of whether or not you liked the book, was a fast pace entertaining read. The film on the other hand was painfully dull, as Howard could not serve up one thrill in the entire film. I have seen turtles at the Zoo offer up more exciting chase scenes than the one feature in that film…but I digress.

Angel and Demons is a vastly faster paced film than its predecessor, yet it still does not incite anything more than a “ho-hum” reaction throughout. This is due to the fact that you never really get to know anything about the supporting characters besides the obvious (i.e. priest, cop, scientist, etc.). So when certain characters do things not normally associated with their profession, such as fly a helicopter, you cannot help but scratch your head. I am sure the characters are richly detailed in the novel but, as I have not got around to reading the text yet, I can only go by what is displayed in Howard’s movie. Also, early on you get the sense that Langdon is attracted to Vetra, but the film seems to avoid developing this at every juncture. In fact, I would argue that Vittoria Vetra serves no real significance to the film. Sure she is an expert on antimatter but that is not a huge asset once you see how Angels and Demons ultimately unfolds.

Overall this film seems to take a less is more approach to most things (i.e. character development, etc). The Vatican is at the center of the film, but the religious aspect of the film is barely touched on. There are a few nice scenes where Langdon is questioned about his faith, or lack thereof, but they are quickly glossed over. I can understand that Ron Howard and crew wanted to avoid alienating religious minded audience members; yet there are ways to provoke intellectual discussion and still keep the pacing brisk. It would have been fascinating to see Langdon struggle more with working for a group whose customs and practices he inadvertently has been trying to bring down. Instead we are left with a watered down thriller that neither has the tension nor the character development it needs. I guess I will just have to break down and read the book instead.



For more reviews from 2009 click here

War Between Brides Truly A Horrific Sight.

Bride Wars

Last year both Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson were featured on this blog for two vastly different films. Hathaway was marvelous in the film Rachel Getting Married, one of the best films of 2008, and Hudson sleepwalked through the horrendous romantic comedy Fools Gold. In my opinion Fools Gold was the worst film of 2008, and it seems that I will have to make room for yet another Hudson flick, Bride Wars, on my “Worst of 2009” list.

Ever since they were little girls, best friends Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Liv (Kate Hudson) envisioned having their individual weddings at the illustrious Plaza Hotel. When Emma and Liv get engaged around the same time, they work towards making their life long dream a reality. This includes enlisting the services of the famous wedding planner Marion St. Claire (Candice Bergen) to orchestrate the big day. Yet when Marion's assistant inadvertently schedules both weddings for the same day, cracks start to appear in Emma and Liv’s friendship. Things really start to hit the fan when neither woman is willing to move their wedding to a different date and venue.

I know that I am not the demographic that this movie was made for, but I would be insulted if I was. The movie not only portrays women as vapid and shallow beings, but also has the nerve to try and justify there right to be this way. Apparently, engagement rings are to women what kryptonite is to Superman. Regardless of whether you are an accomplished lawyer, or a teacher, chances are good that as long as you are female your brains will turn to mush at the mere mention of the word “wedding”. It is nearly impossible to find one normal woman in the entire film. The majority of the females in supporting roles are just as dim and obnoxious as the leads. This is not to say that the men fair any better. Not only are men practically non-existent in the film, they are mainly used as catalyst to further the ludicrous plot. This includes such things as making the once loving boyfriend into jerk out of the blue, adding generic new love interest, etc. The worst thing about Bride Wars is the fact that neither Liv nor Emma really grows by the end of the film. Sure they may shed a tear here and there but both women ultimately stay the same. Which, I guess, is fitting considering that the audience experiences the same level of dismay they felt watching Kate Hudson’s last few movies.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Blooming Love Can Be A Con

This was originally posted in my 2008 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film was finally released in theatres today.


The Brothers Bloom

Rian Johnson follows up his brilliant debut film, Brick, with a whimsical tale about two con men trying to pull off one last con. At an early age, orphans Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) devised the perfect 13-part con. The secret to the 13-part con’s success is that everyone involved ultimately gets what they want. After years playing the romantic lead in the cons, Bloom decides he wants out. Bloom is tired of creating hollow physical connections with women and is longing for a more meaningful relationship. Unfortunately for Bloom, Stephen has different plans. With the assistance of brothers mysterious partner Bang Bang (Rinko Kikurchi), Stephen convinces Bloom to help pull off one final con involving a lonely eccentric heiress named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). Things get complicated for The Brothers Bloom when Bloom starts to develop real feelings for Penelope, and Stephen in counters a nemesis from his past. The brothers are soon forced to question their loyalties, relationships and the con game in general.

The Brothers Bloom is a smart and fun film in which its parts are greater than the sum. Although Rian Johnson does a good job juggling both the con and the romance for the most part; the latter half of the film is not as strong as the initial set up. I also felt that Penelope was a little flightier than she really needed to be. For an eccentric woman, who literally has the capability to learn pretty much everything, she has several moments where she comes off unexplainably dim. Also, despite the wonderful vintage clothing, the film seems to take place in a modern day setting. What wrong with this you ask? Normally this would not be a problem but in The Brothers Bloom characters react to situations as if they were back in the 1930’s. Apparently advancements in technology do not exist if at all hinders the con.

Still, despite its flaws, The Brothers Bloom is very charming film and provides many great laughs. All the actors have fun taking their characters to the limit. Especially Ruffalo and Brody, who have great chemistry and wonderful comedic timing. Personally speaking, the highlight of the film is Rinko Kikurchi who steals every scene she is in. Bang Bang is probably one of the greatest sidekicks to hit the big screen in ages. Despite not having any real lines, Rinko Kikurchi brings so much to the role physically that you cannot help but smile every time she is on screen. Based on her facial expressions alone, you could easily picture her in a film with Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin.



For more reviews from 2009 click here

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stars Make This Trek A Treat

Wolverine or Star Trek got you excited for the summer movie season? Maybe you are holding out for the new Terminator, Harry Potter, or Transformer films? If you think you know which summer blockbusters will swim and which will sink, try your hand at EZ's Summer Box Office Challenge. The game is simply, you pick the films that you think will be a hit and you watch your studio move up the ranks. Best part of all is that it is free!


Star Trek

J.J. Abrams’ revamped Star Trek takes the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise back to where it all began…well sort of. The movie follows both the young rebellious James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the conflicted Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto), from childhood to their turbulent first meeting at Star Fleet academy. Before the cadets can finish their training they are thrust into action when the Romulan, known as Nero (Eric Bana), shows up and start causing havoc. Nero has travelled back in time to avenge the lost of both his planet and pregnant wife in the future. Confused? Nero claims that the reason his wife will die 25 years in the future is because of Spock; so he intends to give Spock a huge loss of his own. In order to stop Nero, Kirk and Spock must learn to put their differences aside and lead an inexperienced crew into a battle they may not win.

Although I have seen all of the Star Trek movies, and random episodes from each of one of the series, I am rather indifferent when it comes to Star Trek franchise in general. Besides Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan and, to a lesser extent, Star Trek: First Contact no other Star Trek film has really entertained me. All this of course has changed after watching this “reboot.” J.J. Abrams movie not only reintroduces the characters in a new way, but actually makes you want to follow their adventures in the futures. While there are bound to be people who had problems with the “alternate universe” plot, I actually found it very liberating. It finally allows the franchise to break away from the mundane “captain, our shield are down to 10 percent” stuff that has been the bane of the series for the last decade or so. Finally, we get tense action sequences that actually excite the audience instead of merely forcing us to watch ships firing lasers back and forth. Kirk no longer wins every hand to hand fight; in fact, he gets roughed up more times than anyone in this film.

I also like that the writers now have more freedom with the characters development. You can have Spock get the girl instead of Kirk and it still makes sense. They can finally elaborate on characters that were once minor (i.e. Sulu, Uhura, etc.) and, more importantly, introduce completely new characters and villains. Sure Abrams and crew go out of there way to ensure that all the catchphrases you love are in the film but it never feels forced. This is a direct result of the great cast that Abrams assembled. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have great chemistry as Kirk and Spock. They truly embody the spirit of Shatner and Nimoy yet still make their own marks on their respective characters. Karl Urban is brilliant as Dr. “Bones” McCoy, he nearly steals the film from both Pine and Quinto on several occasions. John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Zoe Saldana are good as Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov, and Nyota Uhura respectively. Cho and Saldana are giving more to do than expected, although I still would like to see their characters explored a little further. Yelchin provides just the right mix of both inexperience and brains as Chekov. Simon Pegg seemed like an odd choice for Scotty at first, yet he adds a nice level of humour to the film. Come to think of it, humour was one thing that the franchise was once missing and now has in spades. Both Scotty and Chekov can provide laughs without having to resort to over-the-top slapstick, which is a bonus for any science fiction film.

The one major problem I had with the film - besides the annoying Trekkie…or is it Trekker?...that felt the need to clap, pump his fist in the air, and shout out every time there was an action sequence and/or references from the show – was the poor writing for the character of Nero. The problem with Nero is that he is a rather uninteresting villain. When you really get down to it, he is merely a miner who has been grieving for 25 years. While I can understand his motivations, there is nothing about him that displays cunning or flair. He basically has a cool drill to use but I am pretty sure that comes standard on most Romulan mining ships anyways. Also, when you place Nero’s rage squarely on the shoulders of the second in command, Spock, you eliminate all tension between Nero and Kirk. I mean, Nero did kill Kirks father for crying out loud. Fortunately, I was able to let most the Nero stuff slide as the rest of the film surpassed my expectations. The movie may not be a masterpiece, nor should hardcore Trek fans expect it to be, but Star Trek does have a high re-watch value. In short, Star Trek is exactly what it sets out to be, an immensely enjoyable summer popcorn movie.




For more reviews from 2009 click here

Friday, May 01, 2009

Tyson’s Punches Are Still a Knockout

The annual Hot Docs Festival (April 30 – May 10) officially started yesterday. The festival features documentary films from all over the world that cover a wide range of subjects. Whether you are interested in learning more about the life of a celebrity, racism in the modern school system, pills that claim to induce female orgasms, topics related to the environment, etc., there is literally a film to peak every interest you may have. To purchase tickets for Hot Docs festival, or to see the full list of film, click here.

Tyson

One of films being shown at Hot Docs as a special presentation is James Toback’s Tyson, a candid look at the life of boxing legend Mike Tyson. Once the most fearsome boxer to ever step into the ring; Mike Tyson has been reduced to being the punch-line of numerous jokes over the last ten years. In Tyson, Toback (Black and White, Two Guys and A Girl) focuses on Tyson’s rise and fall from grace, allowing Mike to tell the tale in his own words. Mike takes the audience through everything from his childhood on the rough streets of Brooklyn to the infamous Evander Holyfield ear biting incident. Throughout the course of the film the audience gets to experience the many sides of Mike Tyson. Mike gets emotional when he reflects on his father-son relationship with manger/mentor Cus D’Amato. He is most charismatic when dissecting his early victories in the ring, and most contradictory when discussing various encounters with women. Yet the rabid animal that many associate Tyson as being still lingers within, this is most evident when his charismatic tongue turns venomous as he discusses people such as his former boxing promoter Don King and former Miss Black Rhode Island, Desiree Washington. The latter of whom accused Tyson of rape and caused him to spend 3 years in prison.

The thing that makes Toback’s documentary so compelling is the fact that Tyson never holds back. Regardless of what stage in his life he reflects on, you are compelled every step of the way. Some of the best parts in the film are when Mike Tyson is detailing his boxing process. This includes the fear he has as he approaches the ring to his transformation once inside. The in-depth description of his thought process, movement, and punches are just as fascinating to listen to now as the matches were to watch back then. Regardless of the ultimate direction his life took, Tyson is, if nothing else, a captivating storyteller. Still, similar to the subject in question, Tyson is not a film without its flaws. Yet I found most of my quibbles with the film were minor. One of which was that the film glosses over Tyson’s relationship with King. I wish they had expanding on this a lot more. I am not sure if James Toback figured it was already a well known story, similar to the Washington rape charges, and decided to keep it to a minimum or what? Yet the segment felt a little incomplete and ultimately tacked on. Regardless of your preconceived views on Mike Tyson are, Tyson is definitely a film that will surprise, entertain, and ultimately provoke discussion.



For more reviews from 2009 click here