Archive | September, 2012

Paul – Review

27 Sep

In all my years of being a movie fanatic, I’ve never heard anyone say something bad about Simon Pegg’s and Nick Frost’s films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Whenever these two are in something, it’s pretty much a guaranteed success. Even though Paul a popular movie when it came out, I don’t really hear too much talk about this one. So, I’m here to break the ice and talk about what I think, because that’s just what I do.

Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are two British science fiction enthusiasts who’ve come to America for the San Diego Comic-Con. After Comic-Con, their plan is to travel to all of the UFO hotspots in the west. They certainly get more than they bargained for when the happen upon a crude, yet innocent extraterrestrial Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). All Paul wants to do is get home, but that’s now what the government has in mind, especially Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) who is hot on their tail. Now on the run from the government and an overly-religious hick (thanks to the trio inadvertently becoming kidnappers), the chances of Paul getting home are becoming slimmer and slimmer.

The first thing I was worried about was that the character of Paul was going to get annoying quickly. I automatically assumed he was going to be crude the entire way through the movie, but he was actually a great character. So was everyone else. Pegg and Frost’s characters are relatable and very likable and the villains are cold and are still able to remain funny. There are a few “villains” that are really no threat at all, and they provide some of the biggest laughs of the movie.

And when I say laughs, I mean I was hysterical. These two never fail to make me laugh, and their writing is as quick as it’s always been, albeit a little more crude. To compare it to the last movie I reviewed, Your HighnessPaul seems like a children’s movie. There are some jokes that are juvenile, but it never goes overboard, and there’s a self-referential tone that stays throughout the entire movie. Speaking of self-referential, there are loads of jokes in this movie that are homages to science fiction classics of the past from Back to the Future to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and an excellent Star Wars reference that was very clever.

Something that really surprised me though was the clearly present anti-Christian agenda that really seemed to come out of nowhere. Personally, this didn’t really bother me. I thought it was pretty funny, but at the same time really got the point of views across. At times, I will concede, it did go a little overboard and sort of shoved the opinion down your throat. Subtlety is sometimes a lot better. I do know that a lot of people were offended by this, but you have to remember, it’s just a movie. People have differing ideas on different topics and they are allowed to express them.

 

For me, Paul was a very entertaining movie that kept me laughing from beginning to end, and I’d even go so far as to say that I liked it better than Hot Fuzz. I’m sure a lot of people disagree, but go right ahead. The characters were very likable and the humor was consistently strong and loaded with in jokes and references that were always fun to pick out and appreciate. If you’re looking for a good R-rated comedy, look no further than Paul.

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Your Highness – Review

25 Sep

I can honestly say that Pineapple Express is one of my favorite comedies. It’s a great blend of action and comedy, so when I saw the previews for Your Highness with Danny McBride’s, James Franco’s and David Gordon Green’s names attached to it, I thought it was going to be another classic. For all intents an purposes, it’s not. But, and this is a big but, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

When Prince Fabious (James Franco) returns home from a quest with a woman, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), his younger brother, Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride), becomes fully aware of how pathetic he is. Fabious is a skilled warrior who’s been on many quests, while Thadeous is a stoner who hasn’t gone on any. When Belladonna is kidnapped by the warlock Leezar (Justin Theroux), Thadeous is forced to join Fabious on his quest to get her back before she can be impregnated by the warlock and give birth to a dragon. Along the way, they run into a plethora of strange creatures and people, including the warrior Isabel (Natalie Portman), who joins them on their adventure.

Ultimately, this is a parody of those cheesy fantasy films from the 1980s. Warlocks, warriors, and magic are all mocked, but praised in a special nerdy way. This combination of jabs and admiration actually made me get into the storyline and the action, all the while laughing at the jokes. But, a lot of the jokes fall flat on their faces in an embarrassingly awful way.

Vulgar humor is funny to me, especially when it doesn’t hold back. Danny McBride and Ben Best have written a script that is certainly not afraid to hit below the belt when it comes to scatological and anatomical humor, and a lot of it was really funny. In fact there was one point towards the end of the film where I was in stitches from laughing. Then there were times when I heard another penis joke or another f-word and it felt forced. It would have been totally acceptable to take a break from the vulgarity and move onto something else. There were so many opportunities for some funny weed jokes, but they stopped coming by a half way into the movie. Instead we were forced to hear one sex joke too many.

The action is good and actually pretty exciting as far as a movie like this goes. There’s one particular scene that I was really impressed by the imagination of it all. The special effects, however, are a little bit cheesy. It sometimes looks like a really good special effects tv movie made for the SciFi channel, and that isn’t saying too much. If you can get past how crummy it looks sometimes, then there is a good deal of fun to have with the action. It was surprisingly bloody, too. Definitely a lot more than I expected.

 

Will Your Highness be a comedy that everyone’s going to be talking about in the years to come? Of course not. Is it a great comedy? No so much. Did I have an ok time with it? I sure did. I liked it better than a lot of the comedies that are released. It knows what it is, and it sets out to offend with it’s nonstop penis, sex, and poop jokes. Unfortunately, it gets to be a bit much, but the action makes up for some of the comedic failures. Give this one a try, but I’m not promising anything.

The Orphanage – Review

25 Sep

I have a feeling that I’m going to get some heat for this review, but I guess it was bound to happen sometime. It seems like everyone loves The Orphanage and praise it as one of the scariest movies of 2007. Well, I must have watched a different movie, then. It was certainly well made, but the scares were few and far between leaving this film to be a mixed bag of a movie if there ever was one.

Laura (Belén Rueda) spent her childhood in an orphanage. As an adult, she has returned with he husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), and their adopted son, Simón (Roger Príncep) in order to open a home for special needs children. Simón spends his days with Laura, but always seems to have his min on his invisible friends, particularly Thomás. One day, Laura is confronted by Thomás, and Simón disappears without a trace. Laura begins to believe that Simón’s “invisible friends” had something to do with this, and heads down the supernatural rabbit hole in order to find her son and solve the mystery of the orphanage.

Before I even begin talking about the movie, the marketing campaign for this film really blows the big one. The trailer made it appear as if it were a flat out horror and the reviews were making claims that people would run out of the theatre in horror. I didn’t run out of my living room, but I did leave for a while, and not out of horror but boredom.

Ok, ok. That might have sounded a little harsh. The Orphanage is certainly not a bad movie. Far from it. The problem is that it didn’t really deliver on the level that I wanted it to. That being said, it was filmed beautifully, the acting is great, and the overall story is really intriguing. The plotting really made it feel like it was stuck in the mud and the scares were few and far between. Look at The Shining. Objectively long and slow, but there were plenty of unique scares that happened throughout the movie. The Orphanage offers, in my opinion, three memorable ones.

I will also admit that the entire story is horrific. Without giving too much away, there is a great twist at the end that forces the viewer to re-evaluate everything they have seen and add a whole new layer of drama to what is already there. This makes for complex storytelling that would have succeeded if the movie only had a little bit more to offer. Maybe it was how it was marketed or maybe I was just genuinely not too interested after a while. I have a feeling it might be a combination of the two, but I blame myself mostly.

 

My final consensus is that I was pretty disappointed with The Orphanage, especially after hearing nothing but good things about it. Sure, it’s very well crafted and acted, but there isn’t much depth when it comes to scares. The entire plot has a mortifying mood and conclusion, but there weren’t many particular frights that really grabbed my attention. Who knows? Maybe I just need to give it another watch. I can’t not recommend it because I certainly do respect it, but I can say that it didn’t really tickle my fancy too much.

Beyond the Black Rainbow – Review

20 Sep

There are special movies out there that are so imaginative, so expertly made, so unbelievably complex that I feel paralyzed after watching it. I guess that makes me weird, but I don’t care. Proudly, I can say Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of these movies and was more than worth the wait.

 

The Arboria Institute promises happiness through a wide range of psychotherapy and pharmacology. A young girl Elena (Eva Allan) has yet to see any of this happiness. Her whole life has been spent in Arboria with the sadistic Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) toying with her psychological well being and crafting her into something mysterious. One night, Elena’s cell door opens and she begins an odyssey through the depths of the Institute for her only chance of freedom.

This is a very deliberately paced film. There is a lot of time spent taking in the atmosphere of Arboria, e.g the sounds, lighting, and what secrets other areas hold. Woven with in this is a story that is present even when it doesn’t seem like anything is going on. Paying attention to the details of someone’s facial expressions can add a layer of the story that wouldn’t be present if you momentarily drifted or stopped watching.

 

The soundtrack in this is incredible.  Jeremy Schmidt has created a fantastic mono score using only a synthesizer. It’s ambient and haunting, when need be, and perfectly compliments the scenes. Anything music that’s more cinematic or sweeping would have been too much. It’s the minimal score that really gets the mood across. Sometimes the only music for a very long time is this wave like noise that sounds like it could be one of the machines in the institute.

The look of this film is also one of a kind. Set in 1983, and hearkening back to the time of midnight movies, there is a great blend of actual early eighties style and the exaggerated science fiction look. Some of the set design looks like it could come right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clearly, Beyond the Black Rainbow got a lot of inspiration from that film. The incredible lighting effects and other special effects really stand out. When Elena first begins her escape, we see her ghosting behind her actual person creating this strong illusion of disorientation for the viewer.

 

It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine Arboria Institute. The entire mood of this film is very off putting and disorienting forcing the viewer to get caught up in its psychedelic web of mania, paranoia, and despair. After my first viewing of this, and I’ve watched it two days in a row, I thought, “Why?” What is Panos Cosmatos saying with Beyond the Black Rainbow? At this point, I’m still not 100% sure. There is a lot to wrap your head around, and a lot of questions that will pop up like weeds.

This is really a fantastic and unique film that demands a lot of patience and your full attention. It’s very slow, but very beautiful and the pacing is used to immerse you totally in what’s happening on screen. For me, this is a perfect movie. I’m sure other people can find faults with it, but I can not. It exceeded my expectations and gave me a ride that I will never forget. Tune in, tune out, drop in, drop out, and enjoy Beyond the Black Rainbow.

True Lies – Review

19 Sep

James Cameron is another one of those directors whose name is synonymous with action films, and very good ones at that. Before Avatar, he did such films as Aliens, Terminator and Terminator 2, and he even did well with drama in Titanic (although I’m not a huge fan of it myself). True Lies is another one of his films that is a nice combination of intense action and funny romantic comedy.

 

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) isn’t quite what he seems. To his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis), he is a boring computer salesman whose excuse for not being home for long periods of times are business meetings and conventions. What she doesn’t know is that he’s a secret agent working for a ghostly government program. While he has no problem saving the world, Tasker is having a bit more trouble saving his marriage. On top of everything else, a Middle Eastern terrorist organization has nuclear warheads on American soil with threats of blowing up major cities unless their demands are met. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they brought Harry’s family into the mix thinking it would give them the upper hand…

True Lies can pretty much be broken up into two separate movies. One movie is a high octane action/spy film that will impress any action junkie with its nonstop barrage of over the top gunplay and explosions. The other movie is a goofy romantic comedy about a secret agent trying his best to save a marriage that appears to be doomed. Both ideas are good and well executed. The problem is the strange and abrupt transition from one to the other at a certain point. This movie also feels long, very long. But, unlike Bad Boys II, this isn’t a problem and the film is able to sustain itself.

 

The action se pieces are truly remarkable. At the time, this was one of the most expensive movies ever made, and it shows. What else would you expect from James Cameron? There’s planes, helicopters, car chases, huge explosions, and from a certain point non stop gun fire. Not only is there lots of it, it’s all really cool. There’s one particular chase that is hysterical involving a terrorist riding a motorcycle through a crowded hotel, being chased by Tasker on horse back. Yes. Horseback. Honestly, one of the most creative chase scenes I’ve seen in all my days.

As a bit of a history lesson, I think it’s noteworthy to say how much shit this movie got by a couple different groups. Women found it to be incredibly sexist how Curtis’ character is portrayed. She’s pretty ditzy and there is a pretty random strip tease that really got people worked up. Middle Easter groups were also offended by how their culture were portrayed, as in terrorists and crazy. While I see where these groups are coming from, I have to say that I’ve seen plenty of other films that have characters similar to the ones people were angry about in this. I don’t know if it was the time period or what, but people were furious. I’m sure Cameron shed a tear while he was on his way to the bank.

 

While True Lies isn’t Cameron’s best film, it’s still a great action movie. If the climax doesn’t get your adrenaline rushing, you might want to get yourself checked out. It’s funny and loud, even though it’ll take up most of your afternoon. I’d say check it out, it’s worth a watch or two.

Three Kings – Review

18 Sep

War movies about World War II, the Vietnam War, and most recently the War in Iraq and the entire crisis of the Middle East get pumped out year after year with excellent box office returns. Let’s face it, war is a topic that interests a great many people. Think about this though, how often do you see a war film about the Gulf War? It was a quick conflict that doesn’t get all that much attention. Three Kings examines the tactical and human side of this conflict that is both comedic and difficult.

 

The Gulf War is coming to a close and the soldiers couldn’t be more thrilled. Parties are thrown on bases with alcohol, sex, and music. Determined not to go home empty handed a group of soldiers decide to go on a quest to recover for themselves a portion of the stolen gold bullion of Kuwait. This team is made up of Maj. Archie Gates (George Clooney), Sgt. 1 Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), SSgt. Chief Elgin (Ice Cube), and Pfc. Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze). The personal mission for the golden fortune soon turns into a violent crusade against the Iraq military in an attempt to escort a group of Iraqi citizens over the Iran border, all of this against strict military protocol.

The opening of the film plays out wonderfully as a madcap/screwball kind of comedy. The entire cast has thickly layered characters who have their own personalities that are intentionally or unintentionally funny. All of the actors play very well off each other making the bond that they all have feel strong and the growth of said bond over the film play out truthfully.

 

At a certain point in the movie, however, this shit hits the fan with a harrowing sequence that knocks the viewer back to the real world. I can’t say this happens to me a lot, but I actually began to tear up. I’ve seen lots of violence before in film, but something about this scene and the rest to come made me think of how this isn’t really fictional. Sure, the story may be, but the rest of it is clearly based off of the people’s lives in the Middle East. We only get one life to live, as far as I know, and to spend it in the desert being murdered by your own leader is not a way to spend it.

Along with the exceptional story structure and characters there is a phenomenal display of artistic talent at work. David O. Russell isn’t your average director, he’s well above it. A few of his other films are I Heart Huckabees and the wonderful movie The FighterThree Kings is on a totally different artistic playing field. There was actually a message in the beginning of the film explaining that this movie is loaded with symbols and otherwise unconventional  film making. This shouldn’t have to be there. I understand symbolism and artistic freedom. There is one beautiful low shot of George Clooney with the clouds speeding by above him. It was remarkable.

 

I’ve seen plenty of war movies in my day, and Three Kings is one of my new favorites. It blends drama, action, and comedy just as well as Stanley Kubrick did with his Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket. It’s a side of humanity that I feel people try to ignore in order to get along with their lives just a little more comfortably. If anything, this movie will certainly entertain, but it should hopefully enlighten as well.

Casablanca – Review

14 Sep

It’s pretty exciting to be reviewing one of the greatest films of all time, and one that has been a true inspiration in terms of writing and storytelling, for me. Casablanca is a gem from 1942 that is timeless, but still exposes a slice of dangerous life that was very real in the days of World War II. This is a near perfect film.

Casablanca is constantly welcoming different types of people. People trying to make a living, and people trying to get out as fast as possible. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has no intentions of leaving. He has established a life as head of a saloon where French police, Nazi soldiers, and refugees all flock to for time away from the world. Rick’s life is thrown a curveball when an old flame, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), comes walking into his café with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). The Nazis don’t want them to leave Casablanca, and Rick is left with the decision to help them or turn his back.

From the beginning, the viewer is hooked by a sweeping score and an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of everyday life in Casablanca. On the surface, it seems like an unassuming cit that is  just trying to get along, but underneath is a swirling underworld of black market activities that is expertly revealed throughout the course of the narrative. Anything and anyone can and will be sold in order to get a chance to escape.

Humphrey Bogarts performance feels very real and is absolutely believable. The viewer has no difficulty in seeing the emotional confusion and relentless cynicism that he suffers through over the course of the film. Ingrid Bergman is beautiful and certainly does he best at overacting. Paul Henreid is the perfect balance as the freedom fighter who is at present fighting for his own survival. The supporting cast is excellent support, even though a lot of them aren’t on the screen for very long.

I really enjoyed how most of this movie took place in the café. There were a few other sets that were used, but the majority of the scenes are spent at Rick’s It’s excellent atmosphere with a lot of visual and auditory commotion that completely envelops the viewer in the scene. If this movie accomplishes anything, it’s at making the viewer feel like it is part of the scene, allowing us time with the main plot, but offering glimpses of life outside.

There is also great history to be seen here, not just for cinema, but for world history. Casablanca was made at a time when the future of the war remained uncertain. Watching this knowing the outcome makes me feel more hope for the characters, but at the time it must have been almost like a loose ending. No one knew how long or how bad the war was going to be, so the ending here is almost hopeless.

Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made and for good reason. Everything fits perfectly into place to create a coherent and beautiful narrative that spans love and war.It is a much watch for any cinephile, or for any human being.