Saturday, January 30, 2010

Can You Dig it?: Total Film and Pitch the LAMB

First I off, I have to send out a big THANK YOU to the folks at the Total Film website. Total Film recently compiled a list of the 600 Movie Blogs You Might Have Missed and included this little blog in page 4 of their selections. I am not sure how I made such a comprehensive list, but I am appreciative nonetheless. Also, you will notice that several of the blogs I have listed in my links column, and that I "follow" through blogger, made the list as well. Be sure to stop by Total Film and review the full list; a lot of great blogs out there.

I also wanted to alert you to a new feature, Pitch the LAMB, I am working on over at The LAMB. Pitch the LAMB is a column that will not only be promoting movie blogs, but the creative minds behind them as well. Each month I will provide a movie genre and bloggers are encouraged to come up with a premise for a movie in that genre style. Movie blogger often spend so much time critiquing other writer's works, that we rarely get to indulge in our own creative plot writing talents. Now there is an outlet to express our talents. Remember, even famed movie critic Roger Ebert found time to come up plot for Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. Visit The LAMB for full details on Pitch the LAMB and other great features.

Upcoming films I am hoping to watch in the next week or so: Black Dynamite, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Messenger, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Best Films of 2009

The end of January officially means it is time to close off the best of 2009 list. As much as I strive to see every film (both good and bad), there is only so much I can squeeze in before the “Best of…” deadline. Here is my selection of the 10 films I enjoyed the most from 2009.

Best of 2009 (click on titles for full review)

10) (500) Days of Summer – This film has made as many “worst of 2009” list as it has “best of 2009.” Regardless, it has been a longtime since I have enjoyed a romantic comedy as much as I did this one.


9) Coraline – The best animated film of 2009 in my opinion. Yes the first half of Up is brilliant but the film quickly loses steam and becomes formulaic in the second half. Coraline was consistently good the entire way through. The story is far more original and took bigger risks than Pixar’s latest.


8) District 9Avatar was the film that wowed everyone with its stellar 3D visuals. Yet District 9 was the science fiction film that entertained me the most. The film featured a great story, an original premise, and dazzling special effects. All of which was done on a relatively small budget when compared to most blockbuster such as Avatar.


7) Polytechnique – Denis Villeneuve took a tragic event and managed to tell the story in a beautifully artistic way. Polytechnique is powerful while still managing to avoid sensationalizing such a horrific event.


6) A Serious Man – This brilliant dark comedy from The Coen Brothers just did not catch on with mainstream audiences. I still think it is one of the Coen’s Brothers better films in recent years. If you happen to miss it in theatres, make sure you catch it on DVD.


5) Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – Raw, dark, and powerful. Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying that the film features two of the finest female performances of 2009.


4) More Than A Game – A vastly underrated hidden gem. Not only one of the better documentaries to come out in 2009, but also one of the best sports documentaries to come out in a longtime.


3) Up in the Air – This film resonated with me on a very personal level. A great film that was lucky enough to hit theatres at just the right time.


2) Inglourious Basterds – Tarantino’s latest may have divided many but I still think it rivals his best works: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown.


1) Hunger – No other film impacted me the way Steve McQueen’s debut did. Hunger is a tough film to watch at times but also extremely rewarding. Michael Fassbender was merely good in Inglourious Basterds, but he is simply brilliant here.


Honorable Mention: Advertureland; Where the Wild Things Are; Tyson; The Hurt Locker; New York, I Love You; Pontypool; I Love You, Man; Star Trek, Treeless Mountain. Here is the full list of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind’s 2009 Reviews .

Want to see what other bloggers listed as their top 10 films of 2009? Be sure to keep and eye on The LAMB as they are currently compiling the definitive 2009 top ten list voted on by movie bloggers from around the globe.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Only Two Lovers? I Call That A Slow Night

Two Lovers

It is always fascinating to watch a director work with his/her acting muse. The bond that forms on screen is electrifying as both the director and the actor push each other in bold new creative directions. Martin Scorsese had it with Robert DeNiro from the seventies through to the nineties. Now Scorsese has it again with Leonardo Dicaprio. Other examples of this can be found in the pairings of: Woody Allen and Diane Keating and/or Mia Farrow, Hal Hartley and Martin Donovan; P.T. Anderson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson, Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz, and the list goes on and on. For director James Gray, his muse is clearly Joaquin Phoenix as the two have worked together on three straight movies including Gray’s latest work, Two Lovers. The first thing that struck me about Two Lovers was how much of a departure it is from Gray’s earlier crime laden works: Little Odessa, The Yards (his strongest work to date), and We Own the Night (by far Gray’s weakest film).

Two Lovers looks at all the complications that arise as a result of being in love. In the film Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, a man who is so wounded by the demise of a previous relationship that he attempts to kill himself. After his failed suicide attempt, Leonard returns to his parents’ (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov) home, were he has been living for the last months, just in time for a dinner party. It is at this dinner where Leonard meets Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of the man who wants to buy the dry cleaning business from Leonard’s father. Sandra is clearly interested in Leonard and his love life may finally be back on the upswing. As luck would have it, Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his new neighbor upstairs, the very next day. Leonard is instantly attracted to Michelle and feels that she may be “the one”. Like Leonard, Michelle is carrying a lot of emotional baggage of her own, including an affair with a married man (Elias Koteas). Can Leonard successfully juggle relationships with both women at the same time? Should he even be in a relationship in his current state? One thing is for sure, Leonard will soon learn the hardest lesson of love…that there are no easy answers.

While there are technically “two lovers” that Leonard must deal with, the film plays more like “one and a half lovers.” James Gray is far more compelled with the dynamics of Leonard and Michelle’s relationship than he is with Leonard and Sandra’s. Gray, and fellow writer Ric Menello, really strive to make Phoenix and Paltrow’s characters fully realized. We understand how Leonard’s bipolar tendencies often blind him to the reality of the situation. Leonard believes that, because they share love induced heartbreak, only he can truly see Michelle for the person she is. Similarly, with Michelle, we see that her desperation to be love by Ronald (Koteas), is leading her astray. She clings onto a romanticized version of love that does not quite exist. It is obvious that Ronald is bad for Michelle, just as Michelle is bad for Leonard.

The problem with paying so much attention to making Leonard and Michelle well rounded characters is that Sandra is left floating in the wind. Sandra really should be the spark that ignites the tension in the love triangle. Unfortunately, she becomes a rather forgettable character as Gray gives her no real arc whatsoever. Sandra is identical to Betty in Archie Comics. She is the good girl who will always be there; providing Archie to spend ample time with Veronica until things between the two go sour. Two Lovers would have benefitted greatly had James Gray developed the character of Sandra a lot further. Not only would it provide much deeper complexity to Leonard’s situation, but it would allow the final moments of the picture to resonate much more than it actually does.

As Sandra, Vinessa Shaw did a good job with what little she was given, but I got the sense that she would have really taken the character to a great place had she been given the chance. As a result, Two Lovers succeeds mainly on the work of Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. Both actors do an admirable job keeping each other at the top of their game. There is also strong supporting work by Rossellini and Moshonov. The two really keep the parents grounded and realistic. They manage to be caring but never over barring, even when circumstances would force most parents to be.

Two Lovers is both compelling and uneven at times. It is a good movie that never fully lives up to its potential…just like some relationships.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Number of Sins on this Journey

Sin Nombre

America has always been viewed as the land of hope and prosperity. It is the bench mark that many countries try to set themselves up to, and apart from. People often risk their lives attempting to get to America, but sometimes the journey there is just as harsh as the conditions they are traveling from. Cary Fukunaga's film, Sin Nombre,looks at both the physical and mental journey that some people take to get to the supposed promise land.

Willy (Edgar Flores), known as El Casper to most, is part of the Confetti gang in Mexico. One night El Casper, El Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), and the leader of the Confetti gang, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), attempt to rob stowaways on a train. One of the stowaways happens to be Sayra (Paulina Gaitán). Having travelled from Honduras through to Mexico with her father and uncle, Sayra is one of many Latin Americans on board the train hoping to sneak into America and start a new life. Unbeknownst to Willy, the decision he will ultimately make this night will change both his and Sayra's life forever.

There was a point in Sin Nombre where I thought the film would go off the rails. It was just after a key moment on the train, where Sayra's intervention helps Willy, when I thought "this film is going to go downhill". I could see how future scenes were going to play out, and to a certain extent they did just that. I will not lie, this movie is filled with clichéd moments. Still, I found myself, by the end, completely engulfed with Sin Nombre. I could not help but root for Willy and Sayra despite knowing, deep down, what their outcome most likely would be. Cary Fukunaga provided just enough of both the Willy/Sayra story and the illegal immigrant tale to keep my interest throughout.

Although Fukunaga often juxtaposes hardships of gang life with the plight of fleeing Latin American, this is a redemption tale first and foremost. The theme of redemption is everywhere in the film. El Casper is the misguided soul who must atone for his sins several times throughout the picture. Whether he is taking his lumps from his fellow gang members for lying to Lil' Mago; taking his lumps in a hostel for wearing the trademark gang teardrop; Willy is constantly reminded of, and paying for, his sins. Even Sayra remarks in the film that a fortune teller said she would be delivered to the USA "not in God's hand but in the hands of the devil". Yet can redemption be achieve by using one illegal act, such as helping Sayra sneak into the US, to cancel out another?

It is only throughWilly's journey to salvation do we really get a true glimpse of the illegal immigrants plight in Central America. Fukanaga shows that the Latin Americans who stowaway on trains, not in but on top of, have to deal with many hardships along their journey. Not only must they keep a constant watch for border patrol but also: local gangs who want rob them, rock throwing villagers who consider them traitors for trying to leave, harsh weather conditions, and limited access to food and water. The hope and faith of their journey is embodied in the character of Sayra. Though Fukanaga points out in the film that the odds of making into America alive are slim; and even within the United States an illegal immigrant will never truly be safe.

Both Edgar Flores and Paulina Gaitán are charismatic enough to keep you interested in their budding friendship. They are the real standouts, acting wise, in the picture. They somehow find a way to transcend the formulaic aspects of the script. The clichés in the story are what hold Sin Nombre back at times. It is during these moments were the movie plays like a lighter version of City of God with a sprinkle of Y Tu Mamá También mixed in. In regards to the latter, this is more in terms of how Fukunaga uses the immigrant climate in Mexico as the backdrop of Willey and Sayra's journey. Still, despite its flaws, there was enough in Sin Nombre that warrants a viewing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Polytechnique Exams A Killer

Polytechnique

There is often debate over what real-life events should and should not be covered on film. Regardless of whether the subject is war, genocide, rape, or murder, the fact that it is based on actual events takes away from the escapist element of cinema. This is why films, such as Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique, often face a slew of harsh criticisms even before they are released. While some may feel that making a film based on real-life tragedy is insensitive to the victims and their families who lived through it; if done right, these films can serve as a reminder of how important it is to never forget what mankind is capable of.

Polytechnique is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal Massacre where Marc Lépine (Maxim Gaudette) killed 14 female engineering students, and wounded 14 other people (including 4 men), at the Polytechnic School of Montreal. The narrative of the films follows three individuals on that deadly day and the impact the massacre had on their lives. After the startling opening, we are introduced to Lépine as he is prepping his semi-automatic weapon and preparing his suicide note. Lépine’s note reveals his deep hatred of the feminist movement and how he felt women were destroying man’s role in society. The second person of note in the film is Valerie (Karine Vanasse), an engineering student who is struggling to overcome the confines that come with being a woman in a male dominated profession. Lastly we meet Jean-François (Sébastine Huberdeau), an engineering student who initially thinks that getting a grasp on the course material would be the hardest thing he would have to deal with on this day.

The film is sparse on dialogue but extremely powerful. Director Denis Villeneuve provides just enough dialogue to make his characters rounded enough for us to care about. All it takes is a few well chosen scenes to give us all we need to know about Valerie and Jean-François. The killer never really utters a single word in the film. All of his dialogue comes courtesy of the “voiceovers” when he is writing his suicide notes. Villeneuve skillfully uses other avenues, such as a class presentation on entropy, to provide a better understanding of Léger’s unstable nature.

While the actors do a terrific job in the film, it is Villeneuve who deserves the most praise. His previous films, 32nd Day of August on Earth and Maelstrom, one of my all-time favourite Canadian films, already proved that Denis Villeneuve was a talented director. Yet Villeneuve has truly outdone himself with Polytechnique. The film is both startling and beautiful all at the same time. Villeneuve’s film, similar to another stellar 2009 film, Hunger, is artistic without sensationalizing the horrific event.

I am sure many will see similarities in tone to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, which I saw at TIFF. a few years back, but I think Polytechnique far surpasses that film. Villeneuve’s film, similar to the Montreal Massacre itself, will stay in our conscious for many years to come. Polytechnique is easily one of the best films of 2009.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Worst Films of 2009

In preparation for my favourite films of 2009 list, which will be in the next few weeks, I thought I would take look at the pictures that annoyed me the most this year.

10) Observe and Report – I liked it better when it was called Taxi Driver. Sadly this is not the only mall related film to make this esteemed list.



9) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Robot Heaven, jive talking cars, a female terminator…did I mention robot heaven?



8) The Limits of Control – I really love Jarmusch’s other works, which is why this film was such a big disappointment for me.



7) Drag Me To Hell – Look, I enjoy Sam Rami’s horror classics as much as the next guy. Heck, I even went to see the Evil Dead Musical when it came to town. Yet trying to recapture that campy low budget feel through a big budget production just does not work.



6) 12 Rounds – This made Walking Tall look like Shakespeare…Walking Tall!!! Aidan Gillen goes from the sensation series, The Wire, to this? Gillen deserves better, Hollywood.



5) Push – As a comic book, video game, or a television series the premise is great. As a movie, on the other hand, this is an unsalvageable mess. Push way too much stuff into this film.



4) My Bloody Valentine 3D – Thanks, Avatar. Now certain movies will not just be awful…they will be awful in three dimensions.



3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine – X2 was great. X-men: Last Stand was awful. Which one would you assume Hollywood would follow?…yep, they fooled me as well. To prolong the pain even further, Deadpool is getting his own spinoff.



2) Bride Wars – Number 2 by a hair…or bridal tiara. This film was offensive beyond belief and single handedly set feminism back a few centuries…and this is coming for a male. Worst of all, Hathaway goes from being on my best of 2008 list, for Rachel Getting Married, to the worst of 2009 list. Hudson can take solace in the fact that she has now made my worst list two years running.



1) Paul Blart: Mall Cop – What is with Hollywood’s obsession with mall security guards? Is this really the last sect of the population whose stories have yet to be told? It was a close call for the number one spot but Paul came out on top.



Runners-Up: He’s Just Not That Into You, The Box, Race to Witch Mountain, A Christmas Carol 3D

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian 2012 No Blockbuster




I know that this blog primarily focuses on the escapist entertainment that world of cinema provides. Yet the devastation that the earthquake in Haiti caused is just too painful to ignore. I do not have any personal ties to Haiti, although the majority of my relatives live in the Caribbean, but I still want to do my part to help in any way I can. So instead of doing a piece on this weekend’s Golden Globes, and their possible Oscar ramifications, I merely want to highlight two organizations that are collecting money to help provide aide to the citizens of Haiti:


Red Cross
Primate's World Relief and Development Fund


For the all film buffs who are thinking “that sad news but not my problem”, I encourage you to go out and rent films set in, or are directly about Haiti, such as Miami Vice, Vers Le Sud, etc. Hopefully this will inspire you to donate at least one dollar towards the relief efforts. Let’s not wait for a documentary about this catastrophe to come out before we decide to get involved.


Thank you,

CS

Friday, January 08, 2010

Weight Loss Curbs Gorging to the Break of Dawn

Daybreakers

Way back in 2003 I saw a crazy little zombie movie at TIFF called Undead. The movie was not great but it did provide that guilty pleasure fun that often comes with Midnight Madness selections. The one thing that did strike me about the film was the style. The directors, The Spierig Brothers, showed a lot of promise from a visual standpoint. Seven years after tackling zombies, The Spierig Brothers have returned with their futuristic vampire tale, Daybreakers.

The year is 2019 and the world has changed drastically. Vampires now rule the earth and the remaining humans, who opted not to be turned into vampires, are being harvested like cattle for their blood. With the human population declining at rapid rate, and the vampire civilization on the brink of starvation, hematologist Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is working on finding a blood substitute that his boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neil), can market. Despite working for the company that harvests human, Edward refuses to drink human blood himself opting for pig’s blood instead. Yet even Edward knows that this will not last. His body is already starting to show the early stages of the horrific transformation that lack of human blood causes. Which makes Edward’s chance encounter with Audrey (Claudia Karvan), a key figure in the human resistance movement, so crucial. Audrey informs Edward that a sole human, Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), might be the key to stopping the vampire starvation epidemic, and saving the human race as well.

The first thing you will notice about Daybreakers is that it is not the action film the trailers lead you to believe it is. In fact, I would argue that the overall action is rather minimal in the film. What we get instead is a surprisingly smart science fiction flick where the directors really pay attention to the little details. Everything from how the vampires move around in the daylight to how society functions in general is well thought out. The Spierig Brothers somehow managed to make a rather unconventional vampire tale while still staying within the traditional aesthetics of the genre.

While the social commentary, which mirrors both our past and present culture, is interesting, the real strength of the film is its visual style. Despite the large amount of gore, Daybreakers never feels like it is all about excess. In fact, I was surprised how effective opting for a more subtle route worked for this picture. The directors made the right choice to stick primarily with a science fiction feel instead of going for straight horror. When the film does play it big, in regards to the gore, it never lingers longer than it should.

The element that really holds Daybreakers back is the script. The Spierig Brothers try to incorporate too many different ideas into the script. There is the conflict between Edward and his brother (Michael Dorman); the storyline with Charles and his human daughter; dealing with the bat-like monsters; the commentary on corporate greed, the human resistance movement, etc. With so many arcs in the air at the same time several plot points fail to connect the way they should. An example of this is Edward’s lab partner who is the catalyst for one of several unnecessary twists in the film.

As science fiction films go, Daybreakers is another promising step in the right direction for the Spierig Brothers. Their visual attention to detail is outstanding and they once again show that they can create original tales from even the most overused genre. Yet, by trying to do too much with the script, Daybreakers is merely an okay film instead of the great one it had the potential to be.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Youthful Revolutions Are Bad For Love

Youth in Revolt


Having sat through Superbad, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and Extreme Movie I was convinced that there were no more ways for Michael Cera to tell the tale of a horny teenager hoping to find love. Clearly I was wrong as Cera once again displays his well worn virgin crown in Miguel Arteta’s coming-of-age comedy, Youth in Revolt.

While on vacation with his mother (Jean Smart), and her latest deadbeat boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis), cynical teenager Nick Twisp (Michael Cera) meets the girl of his dreams in Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). Unfortunately for Nick, the distance between where he and Sheeni live is a huge road block in their budding relationship. The only remedy is for Nick to get kicked out of his mother’s house so that he can go and live with his father (Steve Buscemi). In order for this plan to work, an upstanding individual like Nick will be required to do some truly bad deeds. Luckily Nick’s suave alter ego, Francois Dillinger (Michael Cera), is an expert at creating havoc. As Francois sets plans into motion, Nick is forced to deal with the unexpected consequences.

First off, yes, as Nick, Cera is doing still doing the same deadpan teenager role we are all familiar with. Yet the role of Francois Dillinger allows Cera to finally breakout and show a bit of range. The majority of memorable moments in the film come courtesy of Francois. He is the one of the main reasons that Youth in Revolt is able to find common ground between humour and typical teen angst.

Personally I found Youth in Revolt to be a far more entertaining teen comedy than Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. While the two films touch on similar themes, Youth in Revolt does falter a bit in regards to the female lead. Despite her cool demeanor, Sheeni is just not as well rounded a female character as Kat Denning’s Nora was. Regardless, Youth in Revolt makes up for this flaw through its greatest asset, the wonderful supporting cast (e.g. Smart, Galifianakis, Buscemi, Fred Willard, Adhir Kalvan, Justin Long, Ray Liotta, etc.). Besides providing several great laugh out loud moments, the supporting cast also help to keep the overall pace moving briskly. The supporting players also make it much easier for the audience to handle the moments were Cera is going through his usual awkward teen routine as Nick.

Another thing that works in this films favour is the script. There is some great banter in the film that is witty without being pretentious. The breezy script also provides Miguel Arteta a chance to incorporate a few stylistic touches, such as animation, into the film. Arteta wisely does not overwhelm the film with it, but it never feels out of place when it is included. While Youth in Revolt may not bring anything new to the coming-of-age genre, it does have enough comedic moments to satisfy for a few hours.


Monday, January 04, 2010

It's Quite Elementary Indeed, Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a film that I may need to see again, yet the more I think about it the less I want to. I actually felt myself nodding off during one of particular action sequences. The loudest point in the film no less. While I think the holiday leftovers may have played a role in this, I am fairly certain the overall lack of originality was the bigger culprit. As much as I wanted to like Sherlock Holmes, I cannot deny that I was surprisingly underwhelmed with Guy Ritchie's latest work.

Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved character, Sherlock Holmes, has seen many different incarnations so it was only a matter of time before a blockbuster version rolled around. In this latest pumped up version, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty aide Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) foil the plans of a serial killer, Lord Blackwell (Mark Strong), before he can take the life of his latest victim. Lord Blackwell is sentenced to death but somehow rises from the grave three days after he is hanged. While many believe dark magic is responsible, Holmes tries to prove that there is a logical explanation for Blackwell's reappearance. Holmes must also confront his issues with Watson's pending marriage; and the re-emergence of the only woman to capture Sherlock's heart, the chronic deceiver Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams).

It took me a long time to pinpoint what irked me the most about this film. A line in which Holmes states "It's all about the small details" kept looping in my head repeatedly before I finally figured out the problem. By primarily focusing on the elaborate action sequences, Guy Ritchie actually makes Sherlock Holmes rather dumb. I am talking about both the movie and the man. The greatest asset Sherlock Homes has as a character is his mind. Like the films points out it is his ability to tell a lot from the tiniest of details that makes him so fascinating.

Once you place that key element of his character into the background, what do you really have left? A mindless action movie centred around a character known for his mind. We are forced to watch Holmes and Watson in a series of over-the-top action sequences that generate no real sense of thrill. At no point do we ever question if Holmes will make it out of a particular situation alive. This is most noticeable in the outlandish battle at the shipyard. The closest we get to real tension in the entire film is scene with the pigs and the electric saw, and even then we are only mildly concerned with Adler's life.

I am all for trying to make Sherlock Holmes more rugged but then at least provide him with a more challenging case to work with. At times the movie felt more like the next chapter in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code/Angels and Demons series. When Ritchie is not blowing stuff up, or staging slow-motion fights, we have to sit through a thin plot regarding the use of black magic. To top it all off, Guy Ritchie's version of Sherlock Holmes is an eccentric who needs work to keep himself sane. So when Holmes is actually collecting valuable information, such as licking a rock, Ritchie plays it off as just another one of Holmes' odd quirks. All these "quirks" are then overshadowed by the action moments, and serve no real purpose until "big reveal" during the last five minutes.

The one thing I will say in Guy Ritchie's favour is that he got the casting right. Robert Downey Jr. is the main reason to see this film. I loved his take on Holmes and he really carries the majority of the film on his back. Downey Jr. and Law have such great chemistry together that you could easily believe that Holmes and Watson have been in partnership for years. They react to things, both spoken and not, the same way an old married couple would. Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong is adequate as Blackwood but the character is not a memorable villain at all. There is nothing really sinister or lasting about Blackwood, chances are good you will be more interested in a certain professor lurking in the shadows. Strong's abilities were better showcased in RocknRolla and Revolver. The weakest link is Rachel McAdams but this is more due to how her character is written rather than McAdams' performance. Irene Adler is supposed to be a cunning woman that can pickpocket Holmes' heart as fast as she can most men's wallets. Yet she spends most of the time as the woman in distress, and only occasionally as the swindler. There is no moment in the film where you truly get the sense that Adler and Holmes are madly in love but their lifestyles keep them apart. Frankly one can argue that Holmes had more romantic sparks with Watson in the movie than he does with Adler.

It is fairly evident that this film is setting the stage for a Sherlock Holmes sequel, which might actually work if they provide Holmes with a cunning villain and a great mystery. I just hope it is not another mindless romp for the greatest mind on Baker Street.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Christmas Carol Out of Tune

A Christmas Carol

The massive success of Avatar only cements that 3D films are here to stay. So the question now becomes what requirements does a movie need to warrant this technology? Would Inglourious Basterds or Up in the Air be better or worse if they were done in 3D?

Robert Zemeckis follows up his Old English 3D epic, Beowulf, by revisiting the holiday terrain he first ventured to with his 3D movie, The Polar Express. A Christmas Carol finds Zemeckis tackling Charles Dickens classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) who is visited by three ghosts (all Carrey) on the eve of Christmas. The three ghosts will not only show Scrooge the errors of his past and present, but how Scrooge's decisions may lead towards an unsettling future.

Zemeckis has been one of the prominent filmmakers who has been championing the 3D movement for that past 5 years now. While the animation in Zemeckis's 3D films keeps improving, the 3D technology continues to thwart his overall storytelling. A Christmas Carol follows a ever growing number of films that serves no real purpose in 3D format at all. The flow of each ghosts' segment is constantly interrupted for no other purpose than to justify the extra price of admission. As a result we are provided with 3D scenes of Scrooge being shot into space, speeding down the street on a soda bottle, etc. Sure these scenes may please the really young kids in attendance, whose attention spans are small to being with, but for the rest of us this is just plain annoying.

The need to justify the 3D format hurts the one element of the film where Zemeckis actually got it right, the story. Although the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge has been interpreted numerous times, it was actually refreshing to see how close Zemeckis stayed to Charles Dickens' original story. While many incarnations of A Christmas Carol have glossed over, or simply left out, the religious element of the text; Zemeckis does not shy away from it at all. Robert Zemeckis even goes as far as making the ghost of Christmas-present God himself. There is even a great scene where the ghost of Christmas-present, after being questioned by Scrooge, chastises those who use his name as grounds for conducting evil deeds. It is moments like this, and not the 3D snowflakes, where A Christmas Carol really connects with the audience.

Another thing connects, but ultimately gets lost in Zemeckis' 3D excess, is Jim Carrey's performance. Carrey actually does a really good job not only as Scrooge but the three ghosts as well. As Scrooge, Carrey finds the right balance where we believe him as botha crotchety old-man and a misguided soul who just wants one last shot at redemption. In A Christmas Carol, Carrey is actually the best he has been since his 2004 combo of Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is just too bad that Zemeckis inadvertently overshadows Carrey's work with his need to have objects flying off the screen. If A Christmas Carol had just played it straight, it might actually be worth recommending. Unfortunately Zemeckis tries too hard to create a 3D experience for a picture that should not have been in 3D in the first place.