Monday, May 31, 2010
Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies
The story of Dieter Dengler is one that director Werner Herzog loves so much that he felt the need to tell it twice. In 1998 Herzog directed the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which told the story of German emigrant turned American Navy pilot Dengler, and which relied heavily on the magnetic and joyous personality of its subject.
Herzog approaches the material this time around with a more traditional narrative telling the story in a more polished, Hollywood, style with famous actors portraying the roles of Dengler (Christian Bale) and his prison-mates. While "Hollywood" and "polished" aren't usually words associated with Werner Herzog, Rescue Dawn still contains elements of the director's obsession with man versus wild, exotic location filming (utilizing native peoples), and moments of absurd humor.
Excited to fly his first reconnaissance mission in Laos (pre-Vietnam War), Dieter Dengler is an magnetic and intelligent young man. Popular on his ship, the USS Ranger, Dengler is shot down during his air-run and subsequently captured by Lao troops. Paraded through towns, tortured, and humiliated, Dengler is finally taken to a POW camp, where he is introduced to the other prisoners, including Air America pilots Duane Martin (Steve Zahn), and Eugene DeBruin (Jeremy Davies). Refusing to be held captive, Dengler soon begins to devise a plan of escape, meeting resistance from no man in the prison camp except for Eugene.
Although Rescue Dawn is intense in parts and features scenes of surprising violence, it's obvious that Herzog isn't interested in making a by-the-numbers prison escape film. The near-misses of being discovered by the guards and the escape itself is first-rate nail biting stuff, but the director spends little time on build-up or post-violence carnage. Instead Herzog is curiously fascinated with minutia such as a little boy holding a wing-beating beetle on a string up to Dengler's face, or an ant-nest tied to Dengler as he dangles upside-down from a rope. What interests Herzog isn't the mundane day to day prison camp living or the treatment the prisoners received from their fellow man, but how being let-loose in nature (in this case the dense, wet jungles of Southeast Asia can be more of a prison than being held against one's will in a bamboo cabin.
All throughout Rescue Dawn we sense Herzog's desire to get the men out of the prison camp and into the wild (it is no spoiler to say that they escape and are rescued - but exactly who I will not say). Eugene, who threatens to sabotage Dengler's plan as he believes the military will come for them shortly, is as much an annoyance to the director as he is to Dengler. The character's fortitude to escape the camp goes hand-in-hand with the director's need to escape the movie set (an on-location set, but a set nonetheless) and shoot in the unpredictable and dangerous wild.
There are many things to like about Rescue Dawn, not the least of which is the character of Dieter Dengler. Christan Bale isn't the first actor you'd think of to play a jolly, good-natured man like Dengler, but his performance downright brilliant. When Dieter gives a monologue to Duane about why he left Germany to become an American pilot, it's as great a moment as any Bale has had in his career, and not since he played Patrick Bateman in American Psycho has the actor been so engaging. It helps that Herzog is completely in love with Dengler, but it's hard not to fall for an individual as effervescent and relentlessly positive as this one. (The real Dengler can be seen in great detail in Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The documentary rests very heavily Dengler telling his own story, and the man is a master storyteller.)
Surprisingly, Steve Zahn holds his own against his more lauded co-star. As the vulnerable and broken Duane, Zahn's performance is at times heartbreaking, and it's great to see the mostly comic actor do some serious, affecting work.
Davies brings a New Agey, incredibly fragile psyche to Eugene DeBruin. The actor's usual ticks and mannerisms work to his great advantage here, as Eugene's psychosis evolves throughout the film's running time.
Although it's by far Herzog's most mainstream film to date and, in the end, relies on a cliched Hollywood inspirational coda (which is actually fine with me - the story of Deter Dengler is so inspiring and magnificent anyway that it deserves a sentimental send-off), Rescue Dawn is a finely crafted and fascinating film. Werner Herzog continues to show the world that he is one of its best and most consistent filmmakers.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Directed by George A. Romero
Starring Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe
Even if you don't know the name George A. Romero you're certainly aware of the impact he's had on cinema since the late 1960's, horror cinema specifically. The influence of his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead can still be seen in everything from your local low-budget indie films to high-concept and polished films like Zombieland. While he didn't quite invent the zombie genre, Romero's early films define it, and you'd be hard pressed to find a horror director working in the medium today who doesn't owe a debt of gratitude to the grandaddy of zombie horror.
After abandoning the walking dead after 1985's Day of the Dead (sequel to 68's Night and '78's Dawn of the Dead), Romero returned to the world of undead flesh eaters with 2005's Land of the Dead, the only "Dead" film to be financed by a major Hollywood studio. A modest hit at the box office and well received by both critics and fans alike (including this one: Land of the Dead, although no Dawn, is classic Romero with studio backing), the almost 70 year old director decided he wanted to keep returning to zombie land. He followed Land up with another independently produced production, Diary of the Dead. An abysmal and shoddy piece of work, Diary failed to generate much interest from just about anyone. Anyone besides its director, that is. Undaunted by the reception to Diary, Romero went ahead with plans to make his first direct sequel to a Dead movie (Night, Day, Dawn, Land, and Diary, while all taking place in a world full of zombies, are not related character, plot, or storywise, therefore the latter four are technically not sequels to Night or each other), which resulted in Survival of the Dead.
Survival of the Dead begins with the introduction of a minor character from Diary of the Dead - National Guardsman "Nicotene" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang). While he and his men learn to cope with the oncoming onslaught of the undead, a separate story is taking place on an island off the coast of Delaware. Here, the residents of Plum are sharply divided between two families: the O'Flynns and the Muldoons. Patrick (Kenneth Welsh), head of the O'Flynns, believes the undead should be wiped out, as they only pose a danger to the living. Seamus Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), on the other hand, is of the mind that zombies can learn and become human again. Therefore he keeps them around - some as slaves, some locked in a barn, most chained up - until either a cure can be found or they can be tamed. After a spat at a local farmhouse, the O'Flynns are banished from Plum Island by the Muldoons. The O'Flynns soon run into "Nicotene" and his Guardsmen and, with trained military men and powerful weaponry at their side, travel back to Plum to reclaim their place on the island.
Romero has always, with his Dead films, buried social commentary in horror genre trappings. Night of the Living Dead dealt with race relations, Dawn took a bloody screwdriver to gluttony consumerism, Day of the Dead's nihilistic view pitted science versus the military with sickening results, a microscope was held up to class warfare in Land, and Diary of the Dead grappled with the ups and downs of Generation Youtube. Survival of the Dead is no different, although the lessons Romero is trying to teach are a little more convoluted this time around. It doesn't help that Survival is the second Romero Dead film to use voice-over, which the screenwriter (Romero himself) is terrible at. The first four (and especially three) Dead films work because the viewer isn't bludgeoned over the head with themes and soap-boxing. Diary and Survival's messages are diminished in overwrought prose designed to make sure the dumb get the point. Therefore, Survival's commentary on war and land-ownership is subdued by tepid narration and stilted delivery (admittedly the second part of the statement is not the fault of Romero).
Thankfully, the social commentary (normally something Romero is brilliant, if a little overbearing, with) is just about the only thing in Survival of the Dead that doesn't work. The rest of the film (all 90 minutes of it) is just about the best zombie film you're going to see outside of a Comedy Central showing of Shaun of the Dead. This time, Romero has decided to slip another genre into his zombie story: the Western. Taking cues from William Wyler's The Big Country, Romero has spliced in elements of the Old West into the tried and true Zombie Survival Story.
The best thing Survival has going for it is brevity. This may sound like a knock at first, but it's not. At an hour and a half, Survival of the Dead knows when to quit. It's the tightest film Romero has been a part of, and it breezes by. I'm not sure if the fat was cut in editing or if the original screenplay was as lean as a venison steak, but the movie is as economical in storytelling as they come. It's crackerjack pacing, and I was surprised when the film ended, after being tortured with the laborious effort it took to get through Diary of the Dead. Romero may not have won any fans with that previous work, but he certainly learned how to pace his next film better.
What also makes Survival work is both the acting and the humor, the former creating the building blocks for the latter. Romero's Dead films have always had a darkly funny streak (save for Day, which is so bleak and unrelentingly mean I imagine Hitler would tell it to lighten up), and Survival might be the funniest. It helps that the kills are creative (seriously, what would a zombie film be without creative and fun examples of how to kill the undead/have the undead kill the living?) and that the actors (especially Kenneth Welsh) play along with Romero's black comedy game. Not all of those in the cast can act, necessarily (a few run the emotional gamut from A to B), but they're all good sports, and as classy and fine as a Romero film can get in the casting department. Land of the Dead may have had movie-stars to its advantage (Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Simon Baker), but Survival has the D-grade, just about works, could be good if they really tried cast that Romero's films have had from day one.
Because Survival of the Dead is such a solid and tight film, it's a shame that Romero relied on computer generated effects to complete some of the more elaborate kills in the film. This is the third film the director has used CG in, and it's unfortunate that he's just not very good at incorporating it into the story. The visceral, comic-book violence of Dawn of the Dead and the graphic in your face kills of Day are memorable because they're practical; done in camera and on set. While I appreciate that doing the effects by computer is faster and, most of the time, cheaper, but when the CG is as noticeable as it is in Survival, well, George, pencil in some extra hours on location to make sure the shot looks at least serviceable.
I have to say I'm excited to have George A. Romero back on his game. Survival of the Dead was a film I enjoyed very much, and although it has numerous flaws and is somewhat workmanlike in the direction, it's a worthy entry into the Dead series, and a high water mark in the latter half of a legendary director's career. Congratulations, George. You're back.
Director: Jorma Taccone.
Cast: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillipe, Val Kilmer.
Celery up butt cracks, mullets, cheesy 80's music and a villain by the name Dieter Von Cunth? Art, complete #$%^ or something in between? Let's take a look, shall we?
MacGruber (played by actor Will Forte) first appeared in SNL as a 3 minute skit and is a parody of the 80's TV hit show character "Mcgyver". The original Mcgyver was a secret agent that could get himself out of any situation, diffuse killer bombs and save the world by concocting solutions made out of regular household or easy to acquire items. Apparently, any threat could be averted by a cleverly created mish-mash of duct tape, kerosene, paper clips and soap (I'm both kidding and not at the same time). The show was quite popular back in its day and ran for 7 seasons, eventually ending in 1992. MacGruber makes fun of that character's antics and kicks it up 10 notches with crude humor, vulgar jokes and deviant behavior characteristic of this generation's brand of comedy movies.
The question on many of our readers mind's right now probably is: "How did they turn a 3 minute skit into a 90 minute movie"? The answer: By taking the safe route and using the generic story template of a retired secret agent forced back into action due to news that his arch-nemesis (Val Kilmer in a funny turn as the malevolent Dieter Von Cunth) is planning to nuke Washington D.C. Oh yeah, Von Cunth was also responsible for ending the life of one of MacGruber's loved ones. Thus begins our adventure and I was quite surprised as to how well executed the film is. I laughed. A lot.
The movie's appeal lies in its sometimes hilarious story elements and character interactions. Ryan Phillipe plays the part of MacGruber's partner and their back and forth banter's believable, funny and irreverent. Kristen Wiig, MacGruber's female spy counterpart, chews every scene she's in and carries on her shoulders what is probably the best scene in the movie. Her facial expressions say it all and she makes me laugh just by looking at her. Powers Boothe (from the show "24") is perfectly cast as James Faith and plays the part of the US Colonel that brings MacGruber out of retirement in a competent manner. As generic as the plot of the movie may sound, it works. The required story elements are there, the plot twists work and the uncouth gags are plenty. I chuckled through most of the movie and even laughed out loud several times. I had a very good time.
In spite of all of that, I can't recommend you pay the $10.25 required to watch this movie. Had it not been for the fact that I had a free ticket, I would have been a bit upset at having forked the cash for it.
I think the movie works, but as a rental.
MacGruber will gather steam and become more popular after its run in the theaters. In about 4 months, round up a bunch of your buddies together when it comes out on DVD, grab some beers and get ready to have a wonderful time. There may even be moments of uncontrollable guffaws and disbelief at the insanity your virgin eyes will be privy to. Just wait 'til you see the cemetery scene. It will warp your fragile little mind.
Is the movie a bit to much? Maybe. I'll let you be the judge of that. The only thing I'll promise you is a good time. My recommendation is you have it at home and let "Survival of the Fittest" do its thing at the Cineplexes.
Discuss the movie here
Monday, May 17, 2010
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow
Before sitting down to watch Ridley Scott's new film, I hadn't the faintest desire to see a story about the man behind the legend of Robin Hood. I can safely say that when the credits began to role and the lights went up, I still do not have that desire.
Robin Hood '10 is a long, uninteresting, and tedious film that comes from talent that should know better. What had started out as an interesting project - the script began its journey as a flipped take on the tale that would posit the Sheriff of Nottingham as the hero and Robin as the villain - has been turned into another armor and sword epic that hits every cliche and brings nothing new to the screen. This is the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of Robin Hood films - both have a director going through the motions, a script touched by too many hands half baking ideas, and a cast that seems to neither care nor take interest in the material.
The film begins as Robin Longstride (a grumbly and pudgy Crowe) fights as an archer alongside Little John (Kevin Durand), Will Scarlett (Scott Grimes), and a war-worn King Richard (Danny Huston) in Muslim territory in the Third Crusade. When the King dies mid battle and his Knight, Robert Loxsley (Douglas Hodge) is slain by robbers while returning the crown to England, Robin and his men seize a chance to get back to their home land, steal the Knights' identities, and board a ship bound for London as noblemen. Robin makes a promise to Loxley that he will return Robert's sword to his father Sir Walter in Nottingham. Once there, Walter asks Robin to take the identity of his son, which means acting the part of husband to one Marion Loxley (Cate Blanchett). Meanwhile, spoiled and bratty Prince John (Oscar Isaac) takes the place of his brother, and bombards his land with oppressive taxes. The muscle to enforce these taxes comes in the form of the villainous Godfrey (Mark Strong, acting all villainy but not as villainy as his Kick-Ass villain), whose men rape and pillage town after town, collecting revenue for the King.
Oh yeah - there's also a sub-plot involving the King of France and his assassination attempts on King Richard, and an impending invasion of England by France. I gloss over these aspects of the story because, well, they just don't matter.
In fact, nothing in this movie actually matters. Neither Scott nor the screenwriters (the screenplay is credited to Brian Helgeland, with a story credit to Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, but I've read a few other names rumored to be involved in the final draft) seem particularly interested in any one of these elements (except for the battle scenes, which Scott could stage in a coma), and each scene passes by with a casualness that's borderline audience insulting. It's one thing to have a cliched "man rising up against oppressive forces" storyline, but to have people involved that are simply going through the motions is sad.
Scott has never been a director adept or even interested in finding and exploiting the emotional core of a story, instead focusing on extreme technical precision and cold detailing. But when he does make the effort to find the right amount of heart to inject into his films, he's a master at it (see the underrated Matchstick Men for an example). Robin Hood is Scott's coldest and most distant film yet. Very rarely do I find myself so disconnected with the images on screen. At one point the movie became nothing more than distilled to its literal form: individual frames being passed in front of a lens at 24 frames per second. I couldn't connect with what was in front of me on any level. I might as well have been staring at a spinning zoetrope, watching a man riding a horse for eternity.
Perhaps some day I'll come back to Robin Hood and find something to enjoy about it (the one glimmer of hope I saw in it was Max von Sydow, who is literally never bad. In anything). For now, however, I consider one of the lowest works Ridley Scott has ever been involved with. It's a disappointing slog of a film, and a grave misstep for a talented filmmaker.
Discuss this review here!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Director: Ridley Scott:
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, et al.
I love this movie. I truly and honestly had a super awesome time at the movie theater this past friday when I went to watch this, for all intents and purposes, prequel story to one of the most popular characters of the past century. And herein lies the reason why many people will not like the movie.
This is not the Robin Hood you know and love. Forget about the "Adventures of Robin Hood", forget about the Disney iteration of the character. That's not the story Mr. Ridley Scott wants to share with you. This is the telling of the harsh, backstabbing, politically charged and war torn times of England in the 12th century. This is the story of how a common archer, one of many soldiers in King Richard Lionheart's army, comes into his own. This is the story of how one man's promise and commitment to his inner word leads him to become a better version of himself. This story is about a man finding and connecting to his purpose and himself while inspiring others to rise to the occasion and be self-sufficient, fully functional and noble human beings.
This is admirable and it's a message not many movies portray nowadays, especially the ones in the summer movie season.
Remember in my Iron Man 2 review how I mentioned I didn't like to check my brain in at the door when I watch a summer blockbuster? Well, this work of art is proof that there are people out there with the intent to engage their audience in smart, plot-driven stories. To me, everything here just clicks, like well oiled cogs in a machine. The cinematography is beautiful and fits the period, the production design is exquisite and the attention to detail and costuming is a thing of beauty. The performances are believable, soulful, funny and honest. Everyone has a clear motive and they veritably change. The editing is well paced and moves the story along smoothly and the directing is solid, tempered where in needs to be and frantic when it is required.
This movie works and believe me, you need to pay attention to get the most out of this flick. If you want a visual smorgasbord of fast cuts, incomprehensible camera placements, loud, overly kinetic and detached editing... walk away from this movie.
If you want to be riveted, treated like a smart audience member and enjoy a combination of elements helmed by a master filmmaker, run, don't walk to your nearest theater and support this movie. I payed a full price admission and I demand to be treated like an adult audience member. Mr. Scott, I thank you for respecting your audience and gifting me with what is now, along with the fabulous "How to Train your Dragon", my favorite movie of the year so far.
Watch this movie.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
Marvel Comics's film production arm, Marvel Studios, previously announced that, with the ability to cross their characters from one film to another, they will create what president Kevin Feige calls the "Marvel Cinematic Universe." This means that any character in any film produced by Marvel can show up in any other Marvel-related film. It's pretty much unprecedented, what Marvel is doing. We've already gotten a taste of this cross-pollination when Robert Downey Jr., as Tony Stark, showed up at the end of 2008's The Incredible Hulk. Samuel L. Jackson has signed an unheard of nine picture deal with Marvel Studios to play S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury.
While it's an interesting and ambitious prospect on Marvel's part, it might also hurt individual films produced by Marvel, as fans will come to expect their favorite characters to cameo in films that aren't their primary vehicle, even if it means shoehorning them in inorganically. Such as the case with Iron Man 2.
For all intents and purposes, Iron Man 2 shouldn't (and doesn't, really) work. Marvel Studios' insistence on making sure the film connects to the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" hampers the arduous and inane second act. Pages of screen time are given over to setting up future Marvel films and ultimately The Avengers. Although there are interesting concepts and ideas in Iron Man 2, these are abandoned in favor of scenes that don't build on Tony Stark's story but end up being easter-eggs for comic fans. It's amazing, then, that I ended up not only liking Iron Man 2, but overall enjoying it more than the previous film. The sheer enthusiasm of the cast and character chemistry makes up for the gigantic shortcomings of the screenplay.
The film picks up six months after the first with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) defending his Iron Man weaponry against the U.S. government, which seeks to co-opt Stark's technology and utilize it for military purposes. In a long but funny and well-done senate hearing sequence, federal officials explain that they are worried that other weapons manufacturers will create their own Iron Man-esque technology. They are proven right when Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian weapons genius with personal ties to Tony Stark, builds a suit of his own and attempts to assassinate Stark, wreaking havoc at the Monaco Grand Prix in the process. Impressed by Vanko's handiwork, rival billionaire and weapons-tech junkie Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) recruits the puffy-faced Russkie to improve Hammer's line of Iron Man suit rip-offs.
For being such an imposing and outrageous looking villain, Rourke is given very little to do in Iron Man 2. Vanko is essentially driven by revenge, but he spends more time being yelled at by Hammer (who becomes frustrated when Vanko doesn't follow orders) than he does actively pursuing Tony Stark. When Vanko finally does take a pro-active approach to going after Stark, he spends twenty minutes of the film behind a computer, remotely controlling drones in hot pursuit of Iron Man. Many shots consist of Rourke finger-pounding a keyboard while the camera swoops back and forth. He's then given a chance to take Iron Man on one-on-one (or one-on-two, with War Machine in the picture) in an ending battle so short and anti-climactic as to be mind-boggling.
Meanwhile Stark is being consistently poisoned by the palladium in his arc reactor (that thing in his chest) and the constant threat of death hangs over his head. This causes him to act irrationally and, in a hilarious birthday-party bash sequence (seriously, Stark in Iron Man suit scratching "California Love" is one of the funniest images so far this year in film), an intervention is made on his behalf by his best friend James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) who steals Stark's War Machine suit and battles it out with his drunk belligerent friend in the middle of Tony's beach side mansion.
It is the relationships between Vanko and Stark and Stark and Rhodes that are dis-serviced by the addition of Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and the S.H.I.E.L.D. sub-plot. Not that the information doesn't contribute to Iron Man 2's main thread, but much of it feels tacked on shoe-horned in, against the better judgment of screenwriter Justin Theroux and director Favreau. There is a scene in which S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) advises Tony that Coulson is going to New Mexico. The scene exists simply as a set-up for Marvel Studios' next movie, Thor. It's a short scene, but it's one of many that could be excised with no damage to the plot or structure of the film.
It's a good thing, then, that Iron Man 2 has the cast that it does. Downey Jr. has found the role of his lifetime in Tony Stark, and the banter between him and his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) is delightful. Potts is more than just a bit player in Tony's world, she's he's support, and the two display their years of history through the time honored cinematic tradition of good acting and solid dialogue. Scarlett Johansson (never looking better) is convincing as the dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. member Black Widow. She gets some amazingly choreographed fight scenes towards the end of the film. Cheadle and Rourke are fine in their respective roles but unfortunately, as previously mentioned, their roles are reduced and truncated.
The film's secret weapon (and probably the main reason I enjoyed it so much) is Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. I've long been a champion of Rockwell; without a doubt one of the finest actors working today, and in Iron Man 2 he doesn't disappoint. Justin Hammer is Tony Stark if Tony Stark had to act like Tony Stark. Everything that comes natural to Stark is foreign to Hammer. Watching Hammer try to one-up Stark in every department (especially showmanship wise) is one of the best features of the film. It's clear that Favreau and Rockwell see Hammer as the true villain of the film and not Vanko, and Rockwell relishes every moment.
With some script revisions and some heavy editing, Iron Man 2 could have been the sequel that everyone was expecting after the solid first film. As is, it's good but frustrating film. It is not a better film than the first one, but it is one I personally enjoyed more. There are fascinating and fun elements of this film that I couldn't help but love, and these elements were enough so that I could forgive the film for its multiple flaws.
Discuss Iron Man 2 here!
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
The summer movie season is officially here, that time of the year where soda runs free, popcorn pops aplenty and big, fun, engaging blockbusters entrance our imagination and show us the power cinema has to excite us and take us to new and far reaching worlds. That's the goal, right?
You know, I don't like the idea that with the summer movies one has to check in their brain at the ticket booth, so to speak. I think there's an unspoken assumption that during the summer season, movies don't need to be that good, as long as they are entertaining. I vehemently disagree with that idea. Is it too much to ask for a film that engages all my senses, has a good story and pulls on my emotional strings? As District 9 proved last year, I don't think my request is too far-fetched.
Iron Man 2, to me, is not a better movie than the first one. The movie by itself is just OK. Whereas the first one had heart, witty comedy, good action sequences and an amazing performance by all the cast, the standout being -of course- the extremely charismatic and talented Robert Downey Jr., the second film delivers too much witty banter, action sequences, great performances (especially Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, the movie's "main" villain), slow pacing and not a lot of heart.
Slow??? Really? A Marvel superhero adrenaline-pumping summer action movie... slow? Indeed. I perceived two major problems with the movie, both interrelated: the first one was the way the movie was edited and the second one the script's structure and focus.
Iron man 2 would work soooo much better with 15 to 20min edited out of the film. There were parts during the film were it slowed to a crawl and became repetitive. After the first major action sequence of the movie (and the best one in my opinion), the movie settles into lull and I think that's where the movie's flawed script comes into play.
MAYBE MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!! TREAD CAREFULLY
The way the script is structured, something happens after that first action sequence -plot wise- that completely made me lose all emotional investment I had in the characters and in their journey. The movie's main drive, the obstacle or opposing force, is removed and then we are treated to a series of subplots that don't carry nearly as much weight as the main plot line. Add to this the fact that the other major plot line in the movie's resolved 45min before the end of the film, and you are left with a very vapid, kinda funny but ultimately bland third act.
END OF MINOR SPOILERS!!!
In summary, the movie blows off its charge way before the final, and required, third act big action sequence. By that point, I don't care any more and I am just watching for the sake of watching. I lost my interest in the story and I do believe, ultimately, that the problems started all the way back in the most important and oft-forgotten stage of making a movie: the script. Don't get me wrong, I think there are some pretty sweet special effects (Tony Stark's holographic-type research lab for one), very quick, smart and funny dialogue and an awesome fight scene involving Scarlett Johansson's character that proves she's the hottest woman in the planet (required primitive caveman-like male remark) but I truly felt a lacking in the emotional investment side of things. And to me, that is what ultimately separates a good movie from a great one.
I am disappointed to say the summer movie season started off in a somewhat lukewarm fashion for me. I just don't like to check in my brain at the entryway to the theater.
Discuss Iron Man 2 here!
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Director: Samuel Bayer
Featuring Jackie Haley, Rooney Mara, and Kyle Gallner
Greetings Film Watchers! I wish a tremendous day to you whichever it is! My name is Ulysses Ashburn, one of your wonderful new contributors. This is my first review on here. I have a take, and I definitely hope it doesn’t suck. So Here we go…
Usually I like to start my reviews with a quote from the film:
“A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)” opened in Theaters nationwide on April 30, 2010.
Hey, What are you complaining about? I haven’t even written my review yet… (Inside joke once you see the movie…)
The Story… Freddy Krueger (played by Jackie Earle Haley), a former gardener and alleged pedophile, appears in a group of teenagers’ dreams to terrorize and murder them as part of an ongoing afterlife vengeance spree. In case you were born yesterday, Freddy is one of America’s infamous fictitious serial killers along with Jason, Michael Myers, Chucky, Leatherface, etc. Freddy is mostly known for his shiny glove with knives at the end of the fingers, his badly burned face, his red & green Christmas sweater, and his wanna be Indiana Jones Hat. His rise to fame came through his sense of humor to die for (literally) and his priceless taglines a la “Welcome to Prime-time B*tch!”
The lead character in this remake, Nancy (played by Rooney Mara) and her love interest of the film, Quentin (played by Kyle Gallner) attempt to stay awake/alive and in the meantime investigate why Freddy exists. In the mist of their tired-some journey they witness other teenagers getting “unexplainably” murdered before their very eyes. Will Nancy and Quentin learn the truth and destroy Freddy so they can sleep or will they stay asleep & be stuck in Neverland Ranch with the gloved one who likes children. Whoops sorry, wrong guy… Can’t say I’m far off though, MJ did wear a famous glove, loved children, and was a scary figure at one point. (This joke is a little ruthless coming from me, but if you know me, you’ll understand that I’m big time Michael Jackson fan)
Anyway, let’s look at this film from a technical standpoint. A Freddy film, like any other slasher film, is usually dark as far as lighting. This film will be no exception to the rule. As a matter of fact the dark tone did help give this film a push for what the director was probably trying to do which was make every scene a possible dream scenario for every character which means we could almost see Freddy at anytime. This was also done in the original but only to a certain extent. In this new film it’s too obvious! Anyone would be able to tell when a “Freddy Moment” would occur because every dream, even day dreams are too dramatic and overplayed. I’ll admit they got some cheap “jumps” out of me but that wasn’t until the end of the film and they were very predictable. In the original they were at least a little more clever, unpredictable, and in some cases more elaborate. The sound of this film was ok meaning I wouldn’t buy this film to test an elaborate sound system anytime soon but they made it respectable for a modern day slasher film. As far as cinematography, most scenes were medium to intimate shots which work for Freddy films because he is a very passionate intimate dark character.
Storyline is where I believe most individuals would have the most problems. I’ll admit I’m very bias towards the original because it was a very good film. By very good I mean there is an argument for it being one of top ten, maybe even top 5 horror films of all time. For the majority, the new film follows the structure of the old film. In my opinion the new film should have stayed closer to the structure of its original.
For example (minor spoiler alert)
**Nancy’s father is not in the new film. If all you Freddy fans like me can remember right, Nancy’s father plays a key role in both the original film and part 3 of the series (the real sequel to the original).
But this film takes a daring route mostly at the end of this film which I have to respect because it is one of those “would have been good to maybe add in the original” type routes. I’m gonna save that part of the debate for those of you who may have seen it already. There are also different dreams as part as that route that pretty much take the “Rob Zombie” approach with Halloween and actually show Freddy’s origins on how he became so evil looking. We didn’t get to see that until the 6th installment in the Freddy series (well at least that was in 3-D right). All in all, I would say good risks to take, some them worked, but it fell victim to the slasher formula of today which is really this film’s main downfall.
The script wasn’t done to well either with this remake. The original’s script wasn’t much better but the cast had more talent a la Johnny Depp’s first film. Plus the actors and actresses just didn’t over act in the original, which made it work. In this new film it’s so obvious the film almost seems like its making fun of the original in some roles. But like I said, the modern day slasher formula is very evident in this film which is its major downfall.
Now let’s talk about Rorschach (Jackie Haley) as Freddy Krueger. Robert England will always be Freddy Krueger. Just like the late Christopher Reeve will always be Superman, Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter, Arnold will always be The Terminator, etc. So Jackie being Freddy is like accepting Brandon Routh as Superman, there are going to be those who like it and those who hate. I happen to like it in both cases. Routh had the upper hand because his movie is a sequel and really doesn’t have that much to lose, plus there have been other guys who have played Superman. Jackie Haley has it tougher because he’s the only other one to have played Freddy. He did make it sort of his own, he was a little darker than to what Freddy has become later in the series. However, I don’t believe he matched Mr. England in this original. I would be more scared of England’s Freddy mostly because of his eyes. England’s eyes sell the character a lot in the first 2 films although the 2nd film deserves nothing more than being a drink holder for my favorite beverage. They gave Haley beady eyes which is ok, because they make up in his make-up for his face. He has kind of that Two-Face look from “The Dark Knight” which worked well in the film. Haley’s humor was simple and worked well for what they seemed to approach for this film. I did like the new one-liners and will be using them on my dog (since I’m his worst nightmare now). If the torch is officially passed then I think Jackie Haley would be ok because he didn’t ruin it for me and he was a likeable villain. I would also like to say that he brought some evil innocence (since his character is a pedophile) to that role which helped this film from becoming a possible sinking ship.
So did I like it or not? From my standpoint it’s a 6 out of 10, 2 stars out of 4, a marginal thumbs up that could have been a thumbs down on a bad day. It’s a very average slasher movie. I do believe its one of the better of the remakes but in the end, it’s just a remake.
But either way I’m not going to worry; besides I know I won’t be losing any sleep over it…
Monday, May 3, 2010
Director: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jackie Earle Haley
I'm a horror fan. When I was little I used to sneak on my 12-inch TV (which boasted the fact it was a color television) and watch horror films long after my parents were asleep. Child's Play. Friday the 13th. Night of the Living Dead. And a little film called "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
For the next two weeks I had the reoccurring nightmare of Freddy Krueger chasing me down my road or taking me from my home. I began sleeping with my legs tucked up to my chest in fear he could grab my feet under the covers. I began jumping into bed with a running start so he couldn't grab my ankles from under the bed. As I grew up and the movie seemed more campy than scary I still believed that the premise of 'Elm Street was an absolutely perfect recipe for a horror film and yet the sequels never seemed to live up to the expectations.
Enter 2010. Over the last decade I've abandoned interest in slasher films and most of my horror watching seems to be supernaturally based. I've seen my favorite horror films remade into something so bad that Ed Wood would have walked out of the theater. I heard from a friend that "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was being remade and I expected it to be a failure. That feeling was amplified when Robert Englund was not expected to portray Freddy. Would a new 'Elm Street film work? Or would it be an atrocity like "Freddy vs Jason" was? Or a total joke like any other 'Elm Street sequel?
Sitting in the theater I began to feel excited but this excitement was almost always followed by the thought of how much I was going to hate this remake in two hours. Two hours passed and I felt... pretty good.
The remake of 'Elm Street has a lot of great things working for it. The backstory of Freddy is told a lot better than the original film. Although anything I would say about this backstory would spoil the film, I will say that Freddy's backstory is very similar to the original 1984 script before the producers felt that his backstory would be too controversial for the times and made changes to the shooting script. The diehard fans know what I'm referring to. This (finally) takes Freddy away from the black-humored villain that we had seen in the earlier films and into someone much more revolting.
I felt in the original, even with the changed backstory, Krueger's story was brushed over and we didn't get a good feel on why he does what he does. The remake ties up any loose ends that have remained untouched over the last twenty-six years and it's very effective. Not only does Bayer and company rid Freddy of the black-humor personality but have also made changes to the look of Freddy as well. I know a lot of diehard fans have hated the new make-up changes Freddy has but I feel they are more realistic and also distinguish Haley's Freddy from Englund's version.
A problem I had in the film, besides the often weak acting, was the overuse of the "jumpscares" in the film. The original 'Elm Street didn't have to rely on loud noises to scare the audience but instead used atmosphere and creepy images. I realize the place for jumpscares in modern horror films and I'm guilty of using one as well but when you have a such a rich atmosphere in the dream world to work with I don't think you need them. Nothing will take you more out of a film than a clearly super-imposed image of Freddy's face jumping out in a dark closet. I also feel the remake relied too much on cliches including my favorite when Nancy hides in the closet and watches through the cracks as Freddy looks for her. Really? This is his world that he knows everything about and he wouldn't know that Nancy is 3 feet away in the closet?
This version doesn't completely move away from the original 'Elm Street formula as fans of the original will notice that many scenes from the 1984 film have also been remade in this version. It still does use creepy imagery but I felt it should have been done more instead of Freddy jumping out of the shadows with a loud noise to let the audience know this should scare them. And I must admit that they new style of Freddy is definitely more dark and sinister (not to mention more dimensional) from the one in the past. I would make the metaphor of this being "The Dark Knight" to the Tim Burton "Batman" if this was actually as good as "The Dark Knight."
Still, it's pretty darn good. And that's something you don't see in many horror remakes anymore.
Jay's Rating: 8/10
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Discuss this review here!
Directed by Sean Penn
Starring Emile Hirsch, Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Vince Vaughn
2007 is widely regarded by critics as a banner year for filmmaking. The Coen brothers released their masterpiece No Country For Old Men, only one of three critically lauded films to come at the Western genre from an angle not quite seen before. The other two, There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, are carefully paced character studies that are lyrical and challenging, if overwhelmingly bleak. If cinema in 2007 had been made up of just those 3 films it would have been a decade to remember. But we also had David Fincher's epic police drama Zodiac, Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, Ben Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone (proving he's a much better director than actor), Frank Darabont's glorious tribute to B movie horror in The Mist, and a host of other great films.
Overshadowed at the Academy Awards by No Country, Blood, Atonement, and the more mainstream Juno and Michael Clayton (two very good films), director Sean Penn's Into the Wild is a magnificent film released during a year full of magnificent films. Thematically in-line with some of the other movies mentioned previously (nature and unforgiving landscapes will drive men mad when not destroying them physically) it is emotionally more powerful than those films, and ultimately hopeful and reassuring in its message that sharing human experiences is the path to true happiness.
The film (based on the 1996 non-fiction book by John Krakauer which I have not read, so no book to film comparison here) tells the story of Chris McCandless, a recent graduate of Emory University who is so disillusioned with his materialistic parents (and, by extension, American society) that he decides to travel west and then up to Alaska, essentially living off of the grid. Burning his money and taking with him only the bare necessities McCandless walks, hitchhikes, rides the rails, and kayak's across the country, taking odd jobs along the way to earn the little bit of cash he needs to make it to the wilds of the largest state in the U.S., where he plans to live an entirely self-sustaining existence. As it is a true story and almost twenty years old, I don't feel it's a spoiler to say he doesn't make it, succumbing to the harsh realities that come with living alone in the wild.
The first hurdle Penn had to get over when writing the screenplay is the nature of McCandless's narcissism. Chris is essentially embarking on a selfish journey, taken only to fulfill his longing to test his limits and remove himself from what he considers a shallow, greedy culture. Had he been forthcoming about his endeavor with at least his sister Catherine (Jenna Malone), someone he genuinely cares about as opposed to his distant and robotic parents, McCandless would have been infinitely easier to understand. As it is, he leaves without notifying anyone significant to him, and listening to his sister (who narrates) describe how hurt she is could have been devastating to the film.
Luckily Penn scored a casting coup with Emile Hirsch. With his earnest eyes supporting his matter-of-fact advice and wide smile filling up the screen with each wondrous adventure, Hirsch makes it easy to identify with Chris. It's a full-bodied and magnetic performance. There's a few times where Penn has Hirsch break the fourth-wall and although the film by no means mimics a documentary, these moments make us feel like we are partaking in Chris's journey. To watch Hirsch's emotional and physical (he lost 41 pounds to portray Chris near the end of his life at his most skeletal) is watching one of the truly great onscreen performances of the last 20 years. His mischievous side is infectious, and Hirsch sells McCandless's boundless love for nature with something as simple as a half-grin and a tear.
Supporting Hirsch is a mix of veteran actors, newcomers, and those in between, each one memorable. Vince Vaughn plays Wayne, owner of a harvesting company that employs Chris (who rechristens himself Alexander Supertramp) and straight-shoots the young lad, telling Chris that he's crazy to take on this adventure. Catherine Keener and Brian Dierker are rubber-tramp hippies who Chris stumbles upon early in the film and then comes back to later. Kristen Stewart (pre-Twilight fame) is Tracy, an arty and vulnerable sixteen year old who develops a crush on Chris, only to be crushed when he ups and leaves. Finally, Hal Holbrook, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film, has the most heart-breaking and affecting role in the film, playing Ron Franz, the last person to help Chris on his journey north, and an elderly man so taken with Chris's personality he offers to adopt him.
The supporting players aren't onscreen for very long in Into the Wild, but each is important and well defined. Stewart gets the least amount of screentime and her relationship with Chris is sudden and bare bones, but the acting between the two sells any shortcomings of the writing. Rarely does a film with this many cast members sharing such short scenes feel as rich and rewarding as Into the Wild does.
The only casualties of the large cast are William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden as Walt and Billie McCandless. Unsympathetic and dysfunctional to the extreme, it's difficult to like Chris's parents, although I suppose that's Penn's way of justifying Chris's actions. Walt and Billie are as stoic as any prole (but more well off) in 1984, and their reaction to Chris's disappearance is glossed over. Hurt and Gay Harden are fine in their respective roles, but the characters are grating and unlikeable.
I would be amiss if I concluded this revisit to Into the Wild if I did not mention two other stars of the film. The first is Eddie Vedder, who wrote eleven songs for the film - ten original and one cover. His folksy, minimalist soundtrack is the perfect companion piece to the wide-open, majestic landscapes the film captures. If ever there was an album to listen to while driving cross-country, this Grammy winning one is it. Sometimes primal, sometimes liberating, Vedder's 11 cuts are as good as anything he's ever been associated with, and the movie soundtrack is well worth picking up.
The second star of the film I haven't mentioned is America herself. Although McCandless (and Penn) are adverse to large urban areas saturated with human activity, it's quite obvious they're in love with the expansive American west and extreme northwest. If you had no desire to travel from southern California up to Alaska someday, you will after you watch Into the Wild. Eric Gautier's luxurious cinematography captures McCandless scaling mountains, hiking up hills, walking across gigantic fallen trees, and traversing white water rapids on a kayak. Chris McCandless was the ultimate camper, and with the images Penn has captured it's easy to see why he was so in love with nature.
The ultimate irony is that McCandless died after coming to the realization that without anyone to share these experiences with his journey essentially held no meaning. He claims in his journal and with notes left behind that had a joyous and revelatory existence during the few years he was on the road, but what good were those years if he pushed himself away from everyone he came into contact with? "Happyness only real when shared" isn't just one of the last things McCandless wrote in his journal before passing away from starvation, it's the central theme that runs through Into the Wild. The most memorable images and scenes come from those in which Chris is affecting others and vice-versa. Our relationships with those around us are central to our human experience. Into the Wild distills that notion down into an amazing and powerful two hour film.
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Eddie Vedder, "Society"