Friday, July 31, 2009

Walking Dead Have Luck Of The Irish

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jason Reitman and George Clooney added to the TIFF. lineup (Latest Press Release)

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.

50 Dead Men Walking

Jim Sturgess finally convinces me that he can carry a film through his great performance in Kari Skogland’s Fifty Dead Men Walking. Based on the book by Martin McGartland, the film documents the real life events of McGartland’s encounters with both British Intelligence and the Irish Republic Army.

Strugess plays Martin, a man who goes from being petty hustler to a British informant in Ireland during the volatile 1980’s. Recruited by a British Intelligence agent, Fergus (Ben Kingsley), Martin is forced to inform the British on all the activities of the Irish Republic Army. The higher Martin moves up the I.R.A. ranks, the more privileged information he gains access to. Yet Martin quickly discovers that the list of people “in the know”, regarding bombings etc., starts to dwindle the higher up the ladder Martin gets. Ultimately making it harder for Martin to both cover up his tracks within the IRA, and maintain his level of production for the British.

While an enjoyable film the one thing that might hinder your enjoyment of the film is the dialogue. More specifically, the fact that there will be many moments when you will have no clue what people are saying. Some of the Belfast accents are so thick, and the characters speak so quickly, that at times it is tough to keep up. Still if you can live with not understanding what people are saying every now and then, there is much to recommend in Fifty Dead Men Walking. Sturgess and Kingsley have good chemistry together. The bond that their characters form feels natural and you understand why certain decisions are made later on. Similar to Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, though not quite as good, Kari Skogland maintains the right level of tension throughout. Skogland always leaves the audiences with a sense that at any moment things could crumble for Martin. Fifty Dead Men Walking does not bring anything new to the double agent genre, yet it is still entertaining enough to keep the audience glued to the very end.




For more Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beware Of Cracks When Riding Bruno

New films by Werner Herzog, The Coen Brothers, Pedro Almodòvar, Michael Moore and Todd Solondz added to the TIFF. lineup (Press Release)


Bruno

Back in 2006, I was lucky enough to see Sacha Baron Cohen do his Borat routine live prior to a screening of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan at The Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF.) . Before that night I really did not know much about Sacha Baron Cohen. I had heard of Da Ali G Show but had never watched it. Yet I was instantly captivated as Cohen proceed to stay in character the whole night. Even when the projector broke down, Cohen/Borat hoped up on stage and had the crowd rolling with laughter with his adlibs. When the film finally resume in its entirety, it became clear that Cohen was truly a gifted comic. Coming off of the success of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen unleashes yet another Ali G alum, Bruno, onto the big screen.

After a wardrobe malfunction during Milan’s fashion week, Austrian fashion guru Bruno (Cohen) is fired from his television show. Bruno’s downward spiral continues as he his blacklisted all over Europe. Determined to turn his fortunes around, Bruno decides to head to America in search of fame and fortune. Yet Bruno quickly realizes that becoming famous is much harder than it looks.

One of the things that made Borat work so well was that, for all its outlandishness, it still maintained a fairly coherent plot. The problem with Bruno is that the movie cannot decide if it wants to be a comedy about celebrity culture; or a scathing look at homophobia in the states. Focusing more on the latter would have been the wiser choice. While the talk show scenes involving the black baby were amusing, most of the celebrity jokes fall a little flat. Partly because celebrities are now mocked on a daily basis on television shows like TMZ, Chelsea Lately, The Daily Show, etc. So pointing out star’s obsession with such things as overseas adoption, random social causes, etc. has become rather standard nowadays. Also, some of the people Bruno interviews, such as the PR twins, in the celebrity segments are not the brightest bulbs to beginning with; which makes some of the jokes far too easy.

Another element that hinders the film a bit is the fact that the “staged” comedy dominates the movie this time around. Frankly, the staged stuff is just not as funny. Sacha Baron Cohen is at his best when he is skillfully manipulating people that actually pose a bit of a mental and/or verbal challenge. Many of the big laugh out loud moments in the film come via Bruno’s interactions with ordinary people. Several of the staged gags serve no other purpose then to push the boundaries of the viewers shock tolerance. This would be fine if the movie did not follow Borat's template so closely. Yes the wrestling scene was funny in Borat, but there was no need to try and replicate it with the lame bondage scene in this film. Especially when the side kick, Lutz (Gustaf Hammerarsten, is a far less inspired character than Borat’s Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian.

To be fair, I understand that it is hard to make this type of film with all of the Ali G characters being household names now. Yet, judging by the parts that worked, they had the pieces required to pull it off once again. There are several great comedic moments in the film. The only thing Bruno really needed was more focused plot. By choosing the shock value over plot, Bruno ultimately plays like a fragmented sketch comedy show. Sure you laugh out loud in parts, but ultimately it is not strong enough to be truly memorable.

(warning red band trailer contains strong language)


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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wolverine’s Adamantium Claws Dull Rather Quickly

TIFF. has announced the Midnight Madness and Documentary films that will be screening this year (Press Release)


X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Here is the thing I do no understand about studios in relation to comic book movies. The studio sees that there is a huge cross section of people who either read comics regularly or grew up reading comics. The studio decides to adapt the comic book to the big screen and then proceed to eliminate everything that made the comic great to begin with. Now I do not expect comic book movies to be shot for shot interpretations like The Watchmen. I am fine with taking creative liberties as long as the essence of the characters remains intact. Yet I am getting sick and tired of these comic book movies that have no real significance besides taking money out of people’s wallets.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine provides further insight into Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) and William Stryker’s (Danny Huston) tenuous relationship. This includes a period were the two men work together on a special mutant ops team with the likes of Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber), Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), etc. The movie also displays both the events that make Logan become Wolverine; and his encounter with several young mutants who will eventually make up the X-men team.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a perfect example of a movie trying to survive on nothing more than name recognition. Despite incorporating a few elements from the numerous comics in which Wolverine is featured, Origins is primarily concerned with both creating a new movie franchise and linking up to the existing one. The problem with this is that a large chunk of X2, the only good flick in the X-men movie franchise, already explained Wolverine’s origins. Frankly, X2 not only told a more captivating story but it did so in far less time than in X-Men Origins. This new take on Wolverine’s past is both boring and silly.

Since we already know the procedure Wolverine goes through and William Stryker’s role in it from X2, you pretty much are just watching people go through the motions. What makes this movie truly ridiculous is both the lack of any real logic and the inept character interactions. Wolverine has a heighten animal-like senses and worldly knowledge, yet he is easily tricked by the weakest guises. Also, since Wolverine is pretty much indestructible, thanks to his healing ability, you never get the feeling that he is ever in danger. What made him so compelling in the other X-men movies was not his mutant ability but his interaction with other mutants: the love triangle he had with Scott and Jean, his reluctant father figure role to the younger X-men, etc. Sadly there is nothing in X-men Origins as interesting. Most of the movie plays like a pop up edition of the game “name that character.” While it was nice to see characters like Deadpool and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch), a personal favourite, I could not help but question why they were even there in the first place? All of the mutants featured in X-men Origins are dim and lifeless characters. Besides a few special effects there is nothing memorable about them at all. This is a shame considering that the movie actually featured a fairly good ensemble cast on paper.

After X-men: The Last Stand I did not think that the X-men movie franchise could get any worse. Yet X-men Origins: Wolverine proves that the bar can go even lower than you could ever expect.





For more Big Thoughts From A Small Mind's 2009 Reviews

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Half-Blood Prince Is Surprisingly Full of Spirit

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Picking up literally moments after the last film left off, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), as get ready for the new year at Hogwarts after surviving the battle with Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Deatheaters. As Voldemort is still on the loose, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) recruits Harry to get closer to the new potions teacher Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). It seems that the vain Slughorn has been hiding information that may key in unlocking a crucial piece of Voldemort’s past. Besides dealing with Slughorn, Harry must also figure out what Voldemort has in store for Draco Malfory (Tom Felton)? Not to mention what role that Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) plays in all of this? To top it all off Harry, Ron, and Hermione are quickly learning that affairs of the heart are equally as complicated as trying to stop Voldemort.

Surprisingly, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the second best film in the series behind Alfonso Cuaròn’s Prisoner of Azkaban. While I am a huge fan of the Potter books, the majority of the movies for this franchise have been average at best. I thought Yates fixed a lot of the problems I had with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I found Order of the Phoenix to be a sluggish filler movie with a mildly entertaining battle scene at the end. Half-Blood Prince felt more like a complete film to me. Sure the film may not be as dark as its predecessor but it seems that director David Yates finally figured out how to balance the dark moments with the humorous ones.

I also really liked how he handled both Harry/Ginny's and Ron/Hermione/Lavander's love stories. Trying to tell one convincing love story can be problematic for even the most skilled filmmaker. Now imagine trying to orchestrate two separate ones in a big budget film such as this. Not only did Yates keep both entertaining but, unlike Goblets of Fire, the love triangles never felt like they were weighing down the film.

One of the problems I had with some of the other Potter movies was the listless pacing. They often tried too hard to incorporate every key moment featured in the books. I like that Yates took a few more liberties with the story time out. By now we are very familiar with most of the main characters and there given roles. It was nice that the film did not drag out the scenes regarding the Half Blooded Prince or the memories of Tom Riddle. We are shown just enough to get the gist of the significances in this film and the ones to come. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince not only brought life back to the franchise but it has actually made me look forward to the next instalment; which is something the last two films were unable to achieve.



For more reviews from 2009 click here

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

...And Knowing Is Half The Battle

TIFF announced its open night film today and provided a small taste of a few films it will be screening this year festival (TIFF Press Release). The Full list of films will be revealed in August.


Knowing


There are some actors/actresses who evoke passionate detestation out of me just by the mere mention of their name. Nicholas Cage is one of those actors. For every one film of his that I like (e.g. Red Rock West, Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Matchstick Men, etc.) there are at least three others that are just excruciatingly painful to sit through (e.g. The Wicker Man, Snake Eyes, Sonny, Bangkok Dangerous, Next, Ghost Rider, Zandalee, etc.). After being burned one too many times, it will have to take either one heck of a movie or a director I love to get me to see a Nicholas Cage film in the theatres again. Until then I will continue to view his more recent works on DVD. This at least allows me to enjoy a bottle of rye while I angrily shake my fist at the television screening in disgust.

In Knowing, Nicholas Cage plays John Koestler a professor of astrophysicist who is raising his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), while struggling to come to terms with his wife’s death. When Caleb’s school digs up a time capsule, to see what children back in 1959 envisioned the future to be, each student is given on picture. Caleb is shocked to discover that what he receives is not a picture but a page filled with seemingly random numbers. After accidentally spilling some alcohol near the document, John notices that one sequence of the numbers refers to tragedy of September 11, 2001 and the number of dead bodies. The more John starts to look at the numbers, the more apparent it becomes that all the major tragedies in the world are listed on the paper. To make matters worst, the next tragedy in the sequence is dated for three days from now. Can John figure out what is going on before the next tragedy occurs?

Despite my general dislike for Cage, I must admit that I actually enjoyed Knowing to a certain extent. The concept of the movie was interesting and it did keep me guessing up to a point. The first part of the movie felt like a cross between the movie Signs and director Alex Proyas’ own Dark City. While I was not a huge fan of Signs, many of the elements that worked in that film are found here. Proyas (The Crow, I Robot) did a good job of building the suspense while skillfully not letting the special effects over power the movie.

The real downside to the picture is the final third, which is just a mess. Despite his best efforts, Alex Proyas just could not surmount the ridiculousness of the script. There gets to a point, about halfway through, where Knowing has no other option but to follow through with what it has set up. Yet the movie ultimately chickens out and struggles as a result. It was as if writer Ryne Douglas Pearson could not decide if he wanted the movie end up being bleak or optimistic tale. Unfortunately, the ending just turns out to be laughably bad. Still the movie held my interest far more than I thought it would. There is enough to warrant a rental recommendation at best. Just be prepared to turn off your DVD player before the last 20 minutes or so.



For more reviews from 2009 click here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Report Card

Please select the "Full List of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind Reviews" option, linked in the sidebar, for the most up-to-date list.

2010 Movie Report Card (click on titles for full review)

Exceptional (Grade Range A+ to A-)
Inception A+
Micmacs A+
The Art of the Steal A+
Toy Story 3 A+
Ajami A
Mr. Nobody A-
The Messenger A-

Good (Grade Range B+ to B-)
Shutter Island B+
Year of the Carnivore B
Youth in Revolt B+
Kick-Ass B
The Book of Eli B

Passed the time (Grade Range C+ to C-)
Life During Wartime C+
Daybreakers C+
The Joneses C+
Chloe C
Hot Tub Time Machine C
Alice in Wonderland C
Iron Man 2 C -

Please make it stop (Grade Range D+ to F)
Edge of Darkness D+
Brooklyn's Finest D
The Lovely Bones D
From Paris with Love D
She's Out of My League D
Cop Out F

2009 Movie Reviews (click on titles for full review)

Hunger A+
Inglourious Basterds A
Up in the Air A
A Single Man A
Polytechnique A
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire A
More Than A Game A
A Serious Man A
Gomorrah A
District 9 A
(500) Days of Summer A
Coraline A
Adventureland A –
Where the Wild Things Are A-
I Love You, Man A-
Tyson A-
Treeless Mountain A-
New York, I Love You A-
Black Dynamite B+
The Hurt Locker B+
PontyPool B+
Star Trek B+
Zombieland B+
Fifty Dead Men Walking B
Avatar B
An Education B
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans B
Cloud 9 (Wolke 9) B
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus B
Taking of Pehlam 123 B
Sin Nombre B
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince B
The Brothers Bloom B
Taken B
The Hangover B
Watchmen B
Two Lovers B
Whip It B
Moon B
The Road B
Good Hair B
Sunshine Cleaning B-
Up B-
The International B -
The Princess and the Frog C+
Broken Embraces C+
Che C+
Paranormal Activity C+
Gigantic C
The Men Who Stare At Goats C
Duplicity C
Monsters vs Aliens C
Friday the 13th C
Obsessed C
Public Enemies C
The Informant! C
The Other Man C
Bruno C
9 C
The Proposal C
Antichrist C
Knowing C
Crazy Heart C
Surrogates C-
Sherlock Holmes C-
Orphan C-
Outlander C-
Angels and Demons C-
Fast and Furious C-
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra C-
Ninja Assassin D+
A Christmas Carol D+
The Box D+
He's Just Not That Into You D+
Ponyo D
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen D
The Blind Side D
Transporter 3 D
Observe and Report D
Drag Me To Hell D-
The Limits of Control D-
12 Rounds F
Paul Blart Mall Cop F
X-Men Origins: Wolverine F
Push F
My Bloody Valentine 3D F
Bride Wars F


2008 Movie Reviews (click on titles for full review)

Doubt
Blindness
Milk
Gran Torino
I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)
Happy Go Lucky
Quantum of Solace
Rachel Getting Married
Death Race
The Secret Life of Bees
The Visitor
Saw V
Tropic Thunder
Pinapple Express
Mongol
The Happening
Kung-Fu Panda
Young People Fucking
Sex and the City
The Dark Knight
Hancock
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Wanted
Wall-E
The Incredible Hulk
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Speed Racer
Mr. Brooks
Iron Man
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Rambo
In Bruges
Funny Games
Jumper
Fool's Gold
La Vie En Rose


2007 Movie Reviews (click on titles for full review)

Children of Men
Primeval
Dreamgirls
Blood Diamond
Flags of our Fathers
The Good Sheperd
Black Snake Moan
Zodiac
Smoking Aces
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End
Little Children
Vers Le Sud
The Darjeeling Limited
Michael Clayton
Hairspray
I Am Legend
No Country for Old Men
Beowulf


2006 Movie Reviews (click on titles for full review)

The Pursuit of Happiness
Sherrybaby
Apocalypto

Vintage Flicks

Yojimbo A
Lenny A-
Roman Holiday B+
Sanjuro C

Film Festival (click on titles for full review)

2010 Shinsedai Cinema Festival
The Dark Harbour & Jellyfish

2009 Toronto International Film Festival
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

2008 Toronto International Film Festival:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Yearly Top Ten
Best Films of 2009
Best Films of 2008
Best Films of 2007
Top Ten Films of the Decade: 2000-2009
Worst Films of 2009

Adopting Love A Gigantic Step

Ticket packages for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF.) are now on sale. To purchase passes click here. The full list of films at this year’s TIFF will be available August 25, 2009. Single tickets will go on sale in September.

This was originally posted in my 2008 Toronto Film Festival Recap. The review has been fixed up and re-posted as the film has already been released this year in the U.S. (in April) and the U.K. (in June). There is still no word on whether it will get a theatrical or straight to DVD release up here.


Gigantic

Think only celebrities are obsessed with adopting babies from other countries? Well let me introduce you to Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano), a 28 year-old man who has wanted to adopt a baby from China ever since he was 8 years old. One day while working at a local mattress store Brian meets Harriet (Zooey Deschanel), a woman picking up a mattress purchased by her wealthy father (John Goodman). Brian and Harriet strike up a friendship that ultimately leads to something more. Just as things get moving on the romantic front for Brian news comes that, after several years of trying, his adoption application is finally moving forward. Not only must Brian re-evaluate his priorities, but he must also consider how this new development will affect his relationship with Harriet as well. Harriet already has deep fears in regards to commitment; will the idea of a baby push this young relationship over the edge?

Gigantic ended up being a bit of a puzzler for me. While the film was interesting, I could not help but feel that a something was missing. Gigantic seems to end before it really gets started. All the interesting aspects of Brian and Harriet’s relationship are in the final third of the film. Just as you really start to wonder how things will play out the credits start to role. While the film does a nice job of establishing Brian’s relationships with his family, Harriet, and co-workers; it spends too much time on trying to make Brian seem more complex than he actually is. For example, while I understand the symbolism behind Brian’s violent encounters with a homeless man (The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis), it gets redundant after a while. As a result of elements likes this, the rest of the cast are pretty much reduced to one-note characters. Characters, such as Goodman’s, end up being quirky for the sake of being quirky.

This even applies to Harriet’s character to a certain extent. She is not the fully developed character she needs to be for this type of film. Harriet’s issues seemed rather tacked on last minute, and come off as quirks rather than something deeper. I would have loved if her character was fleshed out a little more; especially since Dano and Deschanel have nice chemistry together.

Another issue I had with the film was the lack of real dramatic tension in the film. It seems everyone in the film except for Brian was extremely well off financially. Harriet’s father at one point grills Brian about raising a child on a mattress salesman’s salary. Yet you never really get the sense that Brian would be struggling that much anyways. The tight family dynamic between Brian and his family is featured prominently in the film. It is safe to assume his family would have no problem lending him a few bucks if he really needed it.

Writer director Matt Aselton shows a lot of potential as a filmmaker and Gigantic is a decent debut effort. Hopefully he his future works will have more developed characters to ensure that his vision is fully realized. As it stands, Gigantic is a film that will satisfy for a short time, but will ultimately leave you hungry for something more filling.



For more reviews from 2009 click here