Archive | July, 2012

The Adjustment Bureau – Review

31 Jul

Science fiction is a genre that can be blended with other unique styles of storytelling to make an original narrative like no one has seen. The master of this would be the late, great Phillip K. Dick, whose stories have inspired films such as Minority ReportBlade Runner, and A Scanner Darkly. Now we have The Adjustment Bureau, a movie that has such strong chemistry between its leads and a love story that is touching and difficult all amongst an atmosphere of science fiction and philosophy.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a New York congressman who has just suffered a terrible defeat for a senate seat, but his pain is alleviated when he meets the beautiful Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the men’s room of all places. They quickly fall in love, but this is not part of the plan. Soon Norris is being chased down by mysterious men in suits and hats who call themselves the Adjustment Bureau. Their job is to make sure everything goes according to the “Chairman’s” plan, which has David and Elise never meeting more than once. David can’t accept a life without Elise, so he begins to fight against the Bureau’s rules and the plan in order to escape with the woman he loves.

When you really stop and think about it, this is a beautiful story that has both thrills and romance, both of which are equally powerful. The connection between Damon and Blunt is incredible, and almost special in a way. The difficulty of crafting a romantic film is making sure the actors have believable and exciting chemistry. The chemistry is so perfect between these two actors that I was surprised sparks weren’t flying from my television.

Looking beyond the overt sci fi – romance elements of the narrative is crucial to really feeling like you understand the movie. There is a very open and unassuming religious and/or philosophical debate about fate vs free will. When asked who the Chairman is, the Bureau’s response cleverly dodges the answer. When asked if they are angels, they say that is only one interpretation. This gives people of all religions and philosophies to be able to discuss this movie without any barrier of ignorance.

The Adjustment Bureau is one of those movies where the entire situation seems hopeless for the main character, which only makes us root for them more. Damon’s character is very likable, and I couldn’t see him played by anyone else. The audience really wants him to succeed, especially since we can relate to love and the desire to hold on to it, despite what it may cause in our future.

I went into The Adjustment Bureau with high expectations, which isn’t always a good idea. Luckily, this movie exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen some pretty negative reviews of this movie, and it makes me wonder if those critics watched the same movie I did. It was suspenseful, thrilling, funny, and romantic. What else can you really ask for in a movie? I definitely recommend The Adjustment Bureau. 

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The Dark Knight Rises – Review

26 Jul

First off, I apologize for this being late. I should’ve wrote this a couple of days ago, but better late than never I guess. I think it’s fair to say that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are not only above average comic book films, but also two of the best films ever made, especially The Dark Knight. Therefore, The Dark Knight Rises had big shoes to fill, being not only the successor of The Dark Knight, but also the closing of a trilogy.

 

Eight years after the Joker brought Gotham City to its knees, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) spends his days locked in Wayne Manor, ignoring the people he once protected. When Bane (Tom Hardy), a behemoth of a man, both in intellect and stature, invades Gotham with ideas of terrorism and revolution, Wayne must don the cape once again. His help comes from his oldest friend and butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), Commissioner  Gordon (Gary Oldman), detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and jewel thief Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).

Even with all the hype and promising trailers and clips that I saw, I was worried that this film wouldn’t be able to stand tall next to the masterpiece that was The Dark Knight. I feel confident in saying that this doesn’t surpass that film, but is on the same level. The Dark Knight Rises is a long, intense, and dramatic film filled with complex characters, tough decisions, and surprises that will have the audience wowed.

 

As with its predecessor, the villain is the scene stealer for me. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is spot on. His fluctuating and confident voice is both a perfect match and contrast to his physical appearance. The only problem is that I sometimes had a hard time hearing and understanding what he was saying. Christian Bale gives his best performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman yet. He is more tortured than he ever was before. Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are also fantastic. I do wish that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were in this movie more, just because I love their characters.

The intensity of the situation is earth shattering. Imagine if the city that you live in or is closest to you is taken over by a maniacal genius and there is nothing your police, army, or government can do about it. America has seen its fair share of revolution and rioting, and this movie also goes to show that if the economy or politics get shaky enough, any person with strong ideals can be put into power. Just look at Adolf Hitler.

 

I don’t really want to talk about the ending because I don’t want any spoilers in this review. All I can really say about it is that it is one of the most effective and emotional ending that I have seen. There’s victory, loss, celebration, and sadness. Christopher Nolan has proved before that he is a master story teller and film maker, but the last 10 minutes of this movie alone only drive that point home more.

This is it everyone. It’s tough to say it, but The Dark Knight Trilogy is over. The Dark Knight Rises is what I like to call a perfect movie. For an almost three hour long movie, I feel like it went by really fast because I was so lost in Gotham. If you haven’t seen this film yet, go out and see it immediately. It isn’t just a great super hero movie, it is a great story that is expertly constructed and concluded.

Piranha – Review

26 Jul

Isn’t it great to put a movie on with an intriguing narrative that features complex characters, whose stories mirror real world issues and offer an intellectual social commentary? That’s a great thing, but then there are days where all I want it to see a trashy, gory, stupid movie that is good for outrageous laughs and no thought. That is exactly what Piranha offers.

It’s spring break once again in Lake Victoria, Arizona. A time when unruly college students get drunk, have sex, and dance like idiots. It’s also the most profitable time for this small town. This year, however, unexpected guests arrive in the form of prehistoric piranhas that were released from an underwater cave after an earthquake. Now, a group of friends and strangers must band together in order to save themselves and whatever students, while trying to find a way to destroy the piranhas.

This movie is absolute ludicrous and almost beyond a traditional review. I really have no room to talk about acting, writing, or cinematography since that’s not what this movie is about. Instead, it would be more appropriate to discuss how much fun I had watching it and what about the ridiculous plot points and happenings that worked well or not at all.

Piranha is certainly not made for the faint of heart. Along with Braindead, this is one of the goriest movies that I have ever seen. I’m not a huge fan of seeing the blood spray and gore being CGI, which is not uncommon nowadays, so it was refreshing to see the blood and gore effects to be mostly make up and prosthetics, with the exception of some green screen trickery. If you happen to have this on DVD, I would highly recommend watching the behind the scenes for the make up department. It’s very interesting if you’re interested in that type of thing.

Watching this movie in my living room only made me wish that I could’ve watched it in theaters with the 3D. There are a few scenes in particular that would have been a laugh out loud moment if only I’d seen it in 3D. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes rarely fall flat, but the cheesy extra dimension would have added to the mood.

Piranha is an absolutely ridiculous movie. There will be people who will argue that this movie is terrible, and that’s like your opinion, man. My personal opinion is that it is a worthy homage to the shlockey trash horror that was popular in the 1970s (this movie is actually a remake of a 1978 trash film that was a total knockoff of Jaws). If you like movies that don’t take themselves too seriously or you just want to have a good laugh at some over the top horror and gore, than check out Piranha. You’re guaranteed an equal amount of laughs and squirms.

TRON: Legacy – Review

24 Jul

After doing a review for TRON, I think it’s only fair to take a look at it’s predecessor that was released 27 years later. Whereas the original TRON was a stepping stone for the area of CGI, TRON: Legacy will be remembered as an important movie in the rapidly growing use of 3D and the continuing evolution of computer graphics.

 

Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) knew all about the Grid from the stories he would be told by his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), but he never though that one night his dad would go to work and never return. For twenty years, the mystery of what happened to his father has plagued Sam, and when a mysterious page is sent to Kevin’s partner, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), from the old arcade, Sam goes to investigate. While there, he accidentally transports himself into the Grid where he not only finds his trapped father, but also the program that has turned against him, Clu (Bridges again…sort of).

For me, TRON: Legacy is an all around better movie than the original. The effects are obviously better, but the story has also been improved. Mind you, it’s not perfect at all. In fact, it can be kind of bewildering at times. The pacing is a lot better, however, and there is clear and more serious motivation behind what the characters do.

There are some serious plot holes that I thought of after the movie was over. The strange thing is, I didn’t really realize them as I was watching it because I was so enthralled by the audio/visual overload that is TRON: Legacy. That’s also to say that the plot holes exist, but they aren’t serious enough to really detract me from enjoying the movie. Looking back on them, however, my experience may be a little soured the next time I watch it.

As you can see from the clip above the previous paragraph, the light cycles look a hell of a lot better in this one than the original, no surprise there. While that may be obvious, I just want to comment on just how cool the entire look and sounds of this movie is. The computer graphics are fantastic and the bright orange or blue lights on the costumes contrast well with the blue and grey world. The sounds are appropriately robotic or glitchy, and the often pounding score by legendary techno artists, Daft Punk, really help immerse the viewer in the cyber world. Also, the de-rezzing looks awesome.

The only problem that I have with the CGI is a big one. This bothered me throughout the movie, and I was really hoping that I wasn’t the only one who was annoyed. Thankfully, I wasn’t. Clu’s face is digitized to make it look like a younger version of Kevin. Therefore, Jeff Bridges face is animated on another person doing the body acting. This looks pretty horrible. The film makers would have been smart not to stay in any sort of close up for too long, but that isn’t what happens. Instead, the viewers are forced to watch and wonder at a good, but failed attempt at making Bridges young again.

All I can really say is that TRON: Legacy is a much better movie than the original TRON. There was no point during this film that I got bored, which is more than I can say for the original. The Grid looks fantastic and the characters are surprisingly believable. There are some plot issues that are minor, but can be noticeable and Clu’s face looks terrible. Other than that, TRON: Legacy is a good sci-fi escape that proved to be a great way to spend an afternoon.

TRON – Review

23 Jul

Using CGI has become the norm in blockbuster film making, but believe it or not, there used to be a time where that tool didn’t exist! Slowly, but surely, it came to be and one movie can be solely responsible for making it happen. This movie is TRON, a science fiction classic that helped kickstart a new generation in film making.

 

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a software engineer who runs a popular arcade. On his downtime, he hacks into ENCOM’s mainframe in order to prove that his own ideas were stolen by Ed Dillinger (David Warner) and used for his promotion and Flynn’s being fired. Flynn’s friends, Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Lora (Cindy Morgan), offer to help him break into ENCOM and try to find his evidence in the computers there, where he can more easily avoid the Master Security Program. Flynn is again caught and transported into the world of the computer where he must fight in gladiatorial games and defeat the Master Security Program and its army.

If there ever was a movie to be described as dated, this would most certainly be the one. From the games, to the lingo, to the special effects, everything is dated by over twenty years.  It was interesting to see how the world was using what we would call primitive computers. So the outdatedness isn’t a fault or a detraction from the movie, just something you have to get used to and learn to enjoy.

The CGI effects are really excellent, and this isn’t sarcasm. Put yourself in the 1982 mind set and imagine seeing this. It would be great. Still, in 2012, I still think that CGI has a really cool look to it that no other movie has. It’s a great way to distinguish this from anything else, and it was a stepping stone in the film universe that paved the way for the most popular summer blockbusters today.

But, what about the story, the acting, and the writing? Well…that’s an entirely different story. If you’re looking for anything other than interesting concepts and special effects, than about face and look for another movie. Let’s start with the writing and the acting. Bad acting doesn’t mean bad writing and vice versa. But with TRON, not only is the acting bad, but so is the writing. Combine both of those two and we have an extra cheese movie experience. The only saving grace for the acting was Jeff Bridges, who delivered his ridiculous lines with some believability. The rest are pretty bad.

The story and the way it’s told are total opposites. Having a computer genius literally put inside the computer and forced to go head to head with an evil program is awesome. The imagination at work here is awesome. The way the story is told is less than great. Despite the cool story and the great special effects, I found myself getting bored. The pacing was very strange and didn’t spend enough time in one spot to completely explain and show anything. Moving fast through a world as elaborate and intriguing as this is a big mistake committed but the film makers.

Even with all of these glaring faults, TRON is a major motion picture that can be considered one of the most important movies ever made. Certainly not one of the best, however. The special effects and ideas here are incredible and were new. The pacing, acting, and writing are something else. If you’re interested in film history and the progression of special effects, TRON is a textbook example to view. It is still not a very good movie in all other respects.

Middle Men – Review

20 Jul

When I first heard about Middle Men, I thought to myself, “Hmm, I never thought they would make a movie about this.” It never even crossed my mind that this story needed to be told, but George Gallo, the writer/director, thought otherwise. What we got is a occasionally funny, entertaining, albeit messy movie.

Internet pornography exists, even to the dread of parents and Republicans, but who would’ve guessed it was started in a dingy apartment by two loser best friends, Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht). Newfound success comes quickly along with a troubled partnership with the Russian mob. To fix this issue, Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is brought in and uses his expert negotiation skill to make everyone more money by becoming middle men instead of actual pornographers. With a rise this tall and steep, the fall is going to ultimately end in betrayal, murder, and sex…lots of sex, but that’s just business.

Middle Men didn’t sweep through the awards circuit nor is it destined to be some sort of classic. What we have is a purely entertaining movie with an interesting story. I can’t really tell you how much of it is real, however, but I still had fun watching it and seeing how the ensemble cast was going to turn out.

The casting of this movie is about as strong as any movie with this kind of budget is going to get. Luke Wilson brings the right amount of good and evil to his role, but we never really feel like he is a bad person. He is the Tony Montana of this rise and fall story, only nowhere near as crazy. Giovanni Ribisi is the scene stealer. Most of the laughs that are generated by this movie come from him, with his coked up persona and constant aggravation. James Caan and Rade Serbedzija also play their characters successfully and comically.

Don’t let the marketing campaign of this movie fool you. It is not 100% comedy. There’s a lot of comedy in it, but this movie can get dramatic, although that’s not what is memorable. The drama comes and goes, but never hits hard enough to make the viewer think about the morality of the characters. Everything keeps moving and just begins to blend with the rest of the the story.

The real problem with Middle Men is that there is much story in a movie that isn’t even two hours long. Movies that can be classified as “crime chronicles” are normally way over the two hour point, allowing their stories and characters to be appropriately fleshed out. Here, we are given information through flashbacks and cuts in time when it would have been easier and a lot less messy to just keep the movie more linear. The beginning of this movie has more flashbacks in the first fifteen minutes than I might have ever seen in an entire movie. Never use a flashback as a crutch. It makes the narrative messy.

Still though, everything was presented interestingly enough to make sure that I never got bored, and I didn’t. To put it more concretely, I never check to see how much time was left. I was totally engaged by the story and all of its players. The cause and effects of Middle Men are both hilarious and serious. The narrative has its choppy moments and the writing isn’t a masterpiece, but this movie is a lot of fun. It isn’t the best ever, but I’d say Middle Men is worth a viewing.

Spawn – Review

19 Jul

Even while I was a kid I still loved movies, but there were a select few that I really loved. There was Star WarsMighty Morphing Power Ranger: The Movie, and then there was Spawn. Until recently, I forgot all about Spawn, so I decided to revisit one of my favorite childhood movies and see how it stood up to the test of time.

 

Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is one of the best assassins in the business, but he’s beginning to realize that he needs to settle down and focus more on his wife and prospects of a family. His boss, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), offers him one last job. While on the job, Wynn betrays and murders him. Instead of simply dying, the devil Malebolgia (Frank Welker) and The Violator (John Leguizamo) offer him a deal to lead the hellish army and prepare for the apocalypse. Now Simmons is reborn as Spawn, and must decide who to fight for: good or evil, redemption or revenge.

Cool story, right? I can’t say I know anything about the comic books or the HBO animated series, but I would definitely like to check them out. As of now, all I have is this mess of a movie. I can see the obvious appeal it would have to me as a kid, but now it is borderline horrible. Once I started it, I was ready for it to end.

The problems here are many. For one, Spawn is a great anti/super hero, with a great origin story and powers. These powers and abilities make for some cool scenes in an otherwise bad movie. I feel like we don’t even really get to see him make use of these abilities until towards the end of the movie. That’s fine since this is an origin story, but that would be like having no web in Spider-Man or shield in Captain America. Instead, we get very quick uses of these powers that could have been so much more satisfying.

Let’s talk about the writing. Wow. Movies like this give me confidence in my aspirations of becoming a screen writer. The dialogue and character development is so cliché and generic that there is no possible way it could have been more bland. Martin Sheen is the CEO of a large corporation who talks tough. Surprise! He’s a villain that we’ve seen in hundreds of other movies. Thank goodness there is a nice family backstory that somewhat supports the character, Spawn’s, story arc. The characters and the writing were entirely two dimensional.

 

It’s one thing to talk about the writing in Spawn, but I almost can’t even mention the special effects. Before you say anything: yes, I realize this movie is from 1997 so the effects can’t compare to todays. Fine. But, look at Jurassic Park and The Phantom Menace (the only time I will positively talk about this movie), which only came out three years later. When Spawn is in hell, I could swear that it wasn’t finished. There’s no way that the special effects artists looked at the “finished” product and said, “Yeah, that looks good.” The only really cool effect is making John Leguizamo look like a short, fat clown.

It’s so disappointing to look at a movie that you used to love and have it let you down after years of not seeing it. This is exactly what Spawn did for me. The character and story seems really cool and interesting, but it was certainly not given ANY justice here. I’m going to start finding the comic books and watching the animated series in hopes that it will wash the hellishly bad taste that the live action film left in my mouth.