Posts Tagged ‘art



09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

Male Bonding and the ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’

Just whisper “great white buffalo…”

Starring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke. Directed by Steve Pink

Crispin Glover: more hilarious than advertised.

It was bound to happen. Forget portals, wormholes, telephone boxes, DeLoreans, watches, or even an intricately-designed machine. All this crew needed was a “special” hot tub and a can of a Russian energy drink called Chernobylee. I honestly would have no clue as to what method Hollywood will use for time-travel next…

Adam (Cusack), Nick (Robinson) and Lou (Corddry) have been friends since high school. In the past twenty years, life has gone downhill for each. Adam is a workaholic whose wife just left him. His nephew Jacob (Duke) spends time living in the basement playing Second Life, where he’s currently doing prison time waiting for a court hearing. Nick gave up his dreams of music to marry his wife and now works at a vet clinic called ‘Sup Dawgs where he does anything from dog-walking to cleaning out an animals bowels. He also finds that his wife is cheating on him with a guy named Steve. Lou is a career alcoholic prone to suicidal attempts, the most current landing him in the hospital after closing his car in his garage and running the engine while drinking to death, singing “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue. Nick and Adam meet at the hospital where they take Lou home. They come to the conclusion that the one good part of their existence happened twenty years earlier at a ski lodge during the 1986 Winterfest. So, they pack up and go to the lodge.

Time is not as forgiving as memories and the small town the ski lodge is in looks to be the victim of recession. Once at the lodge the realize the bellhop Phil (Glover) is missing an arm, one of the staircases has been destroyed, etc. On the bright side they get the same room they rented twenty years earlier with a hot tub. After a night of serious drinking and bonding they wake to find themselves…

In 1986. Adam, Nick, and Lou look exactly as they did in that year (sorta like “Quantum Leap”) while Jacob, not being born yet, looks like himself. The unknowing time-travelers freak-out about the fact that they have their one glory weekend back. Do they do what they want to do? Can they remember what they did in the first place? Jacob brings up the “butterfly effect” theory which states that they have to do EXACTLY the same things as not to mess-up the space-time continuum. Adam has to endure his eye being stuck with a plastic utensil by a girlfriend he’s breaking up with, Nick must go up on stage and sing with his band, and Lou has to get his ass kicked by a member of the ski patrol. The events get even more mysterious when the hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase) seems to know what’s going on (kinda like Don Knotts in “Pleasantville”) and Jacob “phases” in and out (sort of like “Back to the Future”). If that wasn’t enough head ski patrol leader Blaine (Sebastian Stan) is convinced that the group is infiltrating the sky lodge for the Russians. Partying, sex, drugs, and hair-metal music keep things rolling as the group go from event to event and each person must come out of their shell and find out who they really are.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” may be one of the better mid-life crisis movies out there and one to be deep without being too deep. Yeah, there’s the piss-and-vinegar juvenilism of people in their early 20’s, but that’s only partly what it’s about. It’s about how we become who we are and the ever-immortal question of “knowing what you know now, would you go back and change anything?” I have several of those instances that I won’t talk about here…

As I noted earlier, Crispin Glover is one of the funniest characters in the film. When the group travels back in time he still has both arms and every scene has Glover almost losing his arm for one reason of the other (using a chainsaw to make an ice sculpture, getting it trapped in the elevator doorway).

Is it worth it? In a “weekend afternoon, got time to kill what’s on cable?” sorta way, yes. I liked it and it wasn’t as bad as the trailers made it out to be. It’s a comedy with a degree of heart and some substance.

My grade: B-

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

A Medical Credit Crunch and Its “Repo Men”

I wonder what they charge for a spleen.

Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia

Some movies really do sound like good ideas. In our current economic situation, and with passing of the healthcare bill, and with previous mentions of a “medical FICA” score, a movie like “Repo Men” seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. What would happen if in the future you could buy a new heart/liver/lung/etc.? What would then happen of you ran behind on your payments and repo men actually came to take away said organ? And what happens if a repo man himself had these things happen to him?

Such is the premise for “Repo Men,” the latest and (not so) greatest sci-fi movie since “Surrogates” (itself based on a graphic novel). Here’s the thing: the premise is good, but the execution… not so much. Imagine “Blade Runner” without the noir or “Brazil” without Gilliam’s humor or ambition. Someone once stated that science fiction was supposed to be dramatic elements with a hint of techno-do. The problem here is that the technology, and the premise, are far more interesting than the dramatic elements.

The movie begins with Remy (Law) in someone’s apartment. The guy gets home with a hot blond woman, they start getting hot and heavy, and that’s when Remy introduces himself. Using his stun gun he disables both of them then quickly suits up to do some quick surgery to remove one of the guy’s organs. He claims that it’s “just a job.”

Which is what he continues telling himself, reiterating it over a few beers with buddy Jake (Whitaker). Remy narrates the fact that if you run behind on your car or house payments, the bank takes them but if you run behind on organ payments, that’s his job. The company he works for gets people to sign up for a new, state-of-the-art organ at 19% interest and if you fall behind… well, Remy and Jake are two of the best at knocking on your door and collecting.

Problems ensue with the fact that Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) isn’t too thrilled with her husband’s job and wants him to go into sales. Remy has a problem with this because it means that his pay will be cut in half and Jake doesn’t want to lose his best friend/partner who he’s known since 4th grade when he kicked Remy’s ass on the school playground. During an outdoor cookout Jake pulls a job in front of Remy’s house, collecting a kidney from a guy taking a cab ride, and Carol is quickly upset and takes their son Peter away. Remy decides to talk with his boss and take a sales job, but does one last “pink slip.”

He awakes in the hospital. Apparently the defibrillator he used to “shock” the heart of a musician with money problems short-circuited and knocked Remy out. Now he lays in a hospital bed with a new artificial, top-of-the-line heart. He doesn’t want it but the longer it stays in the more he grows accustomed to it. Jake and him hit the streets again to collect on some pink slips and he has… problems. He can’t do it. Going from collector to potential collectee client is not what he had in mind and his attitude towards it all changes. He falls behind on payments and leaves it all behind to become like those he hunted.

Meeting and saving Beth (Braga) he finds that she’s opposite of him: her heart is real but the rest of her body is made from replacement parts from other companies and countries. Meanwhile, back at the company ranch, their boss Frank (Schreiber) gives Jake the assignment of finding Remy and collecting his heart. Jake at first refuses but after breaking in and threatening Frank, he has no choice. The movie goes into action as Remy and Beth evade Jake while trying to find a way to get their accounts closed.

What a statement on the credit industry, if not a slightly muddled one. There are several problems with the film which are not just limited to the fact that it comes after a same-themed movie called “Repo! A Genetic Opera.” While I have not seen the “genetic opera” I can say that while the premise for both is intriguing, there’s a squeamish factor to the two; namely, opening someone’s skin and pulling out an organ, Not my idea of a fun time and I squirmed every time I saw it in the theatre (and yes, I know the organs and blood are all fake… it’s just the thought of it happening).

The main problem: structure. The beginning narration leads to a feeling that the character is ruminating on his job and that maybe there’s a social statement involved. Maybe. I’m all about sci-fi social statements (see: “District 9”). And “Repo Men” could’ve a wake-up slap in the face for the modern moviegoer in the same vein as “Fight Club” was a wake-up call against commercialism. It could’ve been. Instead, director Miguel Sapochnik gives up that idea once Remy is on the run and opts instead for action sequences which, while degrading the concept of it all, actually improves the movie because the beginning is so… muddled.

Which brings me to another point: without the core concept of organ repossession, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 30 minutes. I could’ve really cared less about Remy and Jake because their characters do exactly what you think they would do and there’s nothing really interesting about them. After Remy goes “off the reserve” he becomes interesting, but that takes a while. Forest Whitaker as Jake is okay and let’s face it: doesn’t Whitaker play the same “best friend” he’s always played? I’m not a big fan of Schreiber and in this one he looks like he’s cashing a check. He may have been.

There’s one last thing: there’s a difference between homage and building a movie based off of scenes one loves from other science fiction movies. “Blade Runner” was a big influence on this (as noted in the overhead blimps advertising, etc.). There are a few others the movie harkens back to but I can’t think of them except to say that the end was seemingly “stolen” from “Brazil” (director’s cut). If you’ve seen it and you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

This is the type of movie that ends up relegated to cable where those who watch it will go, “It’s not bad.” It wasn’t overly great either but if you find yourself stuck in a snowstorm and it’s the only thing on, at least enjoy the concept.

My grade: C

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

07
Jun
10

Movie Review: The Wolfman

Werewolves of 19th century London, ahhh-oooooo…..

Starring Benecio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. Directed by Joe Johnston

If I were thirteen years old, this would be the awesomest werewolf movie ever made. But, I’m not and it isn’t.

The time and place: late nineteenth century England. Gwen Conliffe (Blunt) is writing a letter to her brother-in-law, Lawrence Talbot (del Toro). Her husband Ben, Lawrence’s brother, was mauled by something in the forest late one night. The police aren’t sure who or what did it and the speculation (this being post-Jack the Ripper) is that it was some sort of madman. However, giant claw marks and the fact that only half his body were recovered from a ditch suggest a “werewolf.” With no real leads and the fact that you just can’t get a “werewolf” lineup down at the station it’s all just hearsay and rumor, but everyone is pretty sure it was a werewolf.

Lawrence arrives at his boyhood home, a giant castle that he was initially sent away from. He was sent abroad to New York City and studied theater, his last production being “Hamlet.” With the murder of his brother shrouded in mystery, he plans on getting to the bottom of what really happened. He’s greeted by his father Sir John (Hopkins), a man who he doesn’t so much despise as feels detached from. Sir John has a dog as well as a servant named Singh (Art Malik). We find out later that he sent Lawrence to an asylum for a year before sending him abroad to America. If my own father did that to me I would never speak to him again.

Upon meeting Gwen again we realize the two have something between them. Yes, she’s his sister-in-law currently living on his creepy father’s residence but they have feelings for each other, or else why did she bother writing him? Not really sure on that one, but now is not the time to question story or plot.

Lawrence finds that his brother was a liaison between the gypsies and the townspeople. He heads to the camp to find out more info when suddenly it’s attacked by a fierce, malevolent creature (or, a werewolf). Shots are fired, people run around, there’s a lot of bloodletting and amputees… Going into the fog-filled forest Lawrence is attacked but saved by the main gypsy woman who knows that he’ll eventually become a werewolf. Maybe she took the Hippocratic Oath…

He’s sent back home and wakes up days later after having some intense CG-filled dreams (and one that questions how his mother had died). He had some claw marks left on his neck but other than that, he checks out alright. His father has shifty eyes and a smile that seem not to make any sense, or at least gives the idea that there’s more to what’s going on than he’s letting on.

Scotland Yard Investigator Abberline (Weaving) comes to question Lawrence but doesn’t get that much more info. It’s not so much that he suspects Lawrence but seeing as how the rest of the town despises Sir John and consider his family cursed Abberline just wants the facts.

To hit the fast-forward button and save you some cash, Lawrence is in fact a werewolf who was bitten by his father. Lawrence goes to get revenge, a giant melee ensues, the father is killed, and Gwen puts a silver bullet through his heart. The end.

This is the type of movie you show to others and say, “See? This is where Hollywood went wrong.” Having watched so many movies within 10 minutes I know where most movies go off the track. The problem with “The Wolfman,” is that, like “Transformers 2,” you’re not sure that it was on the track to begin with. Hell, after 10 minutes I wanted to go home and pop Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” into my Blu-ray player and watch that. But, I digress.

Where did this movie go wrong? I think part of it lies in the fact that -supposedly- it was staying close to the original source material. Unfortunately movies made in 1941 are not movies made in 2010. Secondly, for a film taking place in England Hopkins, Blunt, and del Toro do NOT have any type of accent. In fact, del Toro -painfully- delivers an accent that sounds so ambiguously straight-forward that NO person talks that way. Third, Hopkins looks as if he’s channeling the spirit of Montgomery Burns (“The Simpsons”) in the way that he’s eyes constantly shift (or maybe that’s him making sure that the producers are signing his paychecks). Last, there’s a love scene so stilted I could almost hear George Lucas say, “See? The scene from ‘Episode 3′ was better than THAT!” Honestly, I can’t remember what point in the movie I stopped caring about what was going on but it just made it THAT much longer…

Blame the horrible writing (was it a direct translation?) Blame del Tor’s accent. Blame Hopkins’ character. Blame the CG effects and plastic prop-looking set design. Hell, just blame Joe Johnston.

I cannot recommend this movie. While not horrible, I wouldn’t bother watching it on cable or even as an in-flight movie. I wouldn’t even recommend downloading it illegally.

My grade: D

11
May
10

Mythology Returns to the Movies with “Clash of the Titans”

A black pegasus?

Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Louis Leterrier

NOTE: I watched the film in Real 3-D.

I was all of four years of age when the original “Clash of the Titans” was released in 1981 and like every kid who grew up in the Eighties, I’ve watched the original at least a dozen times. Not to have a “back in the day” moment, but mythology was one of those cool things that sprang up on occasion. There was only one universal book on the subject by Edith Hamilton and aside from the fact that my “gifted”/really intelligent kids program did a unit of study on it, I might not have known anything about it save for the fact that the movie production company Orion was named after the constellation named for the mythological character. I have no idea or clue if kids are interested in it nowadays.

This remake directed by Louis Leterrier (“The Incredible Hulk”) brings back that since of nostalgia for Perseus, Zeus, Athena, Io, and the myriad of characters that deep down we find fascinating. Mythology envelopes us in a time and place where incredible feats were accomplished and the gods did way more than just place dice with the universe.

Loosely following the structure of a film that played pretty loosely with actual mythology, the story opens with the constellations in the sky and explains the creation of the Kraken (which comes into play later, if you didn’t know) as well as what happened between the god brothers Zeus and Hades. After creating the Kraken (a hideous, evil creature) Zeus sent Hades to sit immortality out running the underworld (a little Christianity with your Greek mythology, folks?)

Perseus is a baby laying on his dead mother’s body inside a coffin when he’s picked up by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite) who brings him up as his own son. On a particular trip in his late teens Perseus (now a grown Sam Worthington) and his family watch from their boat as the tides of change have enacted against the gods and a ginormous statue of Zeus is being toppled from a cliff by soldiers. The world of men no longer needs the gods; they can make their own.

Which doesn’t bode well on Mount Olympus where Zeus looks down to see that Man has turned against him. He needs the love and worship of Man to have power and he’s quickly losing it. When his brother Hades (Fiennes) shows they make a deal to teach mankind a lesson, not knowing that Hades has bigger plans. In the meantime Zeus sends winged creatures to pick-off the soldiers and Perseus’s family drowns when their boat is capsized by the falling statue.

At Argos a ceremony is being held by the king and his wife who decry the gods and goddesses. When the queen states that her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is better looking than the goddess Athena, Hades makes his play on the kingdom of Argos: unless the king sacrifices his daughter for his wife’s insolence to Athena, the kingdom of Argos will be destroyed in ten days. Oh, and by the way Persues, the guy they pulled from the ocean, is a demi-god. Thanks.

Which causes Perseus a lot of problems. First off he blames Zeus for the death of his family. Second, the gods aren’t exactly winning any population contests with the people. Third, he’s just a fisherman and really doesn’t want to answer to being any more than what he is (an ongoing theme in the film). Meanwhile, we find out more about the birth of Perseus. His father Acrisius (Jason Flemyng) got screwed-over by Zeus in the beginning of Man’s war against the gods when Zeus came to Earth in the form of Acrisius and made out with his wife. Acrisius finds out, Zeus flees the scene and Acrisius waits until Perseus is born before putting his wife and him into a coffin and throwing it into the ocean. The demi-god Io (Arterton) guides the coffin to the boat of a fisherman while Zeus punishes Acrisius by deforming him (he now becomes Calibos) and banishing him to be Hades’ neighbor. Speaking of, Hades hires Calibos to kill Perseus because he has big plans.

Perseus meets Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) the leader of the Argos soldiers sent to prevent the death of Andromeda by… whatever. We in the theater (and at home) know it’s the Kraken, but the characters aren’t exactly sure what’s going on or really where they’re going; for all they know they could be on a suicide mission to chuck a ring into a volcano. They pick up two travelers and a Djinn (decrepit guy who can wield ancient magic) on their way to the witches and to Medusa and finally back to Argos to save the princess and keep Argos from being obliterated by the Kraken.

It’s better than I thought it would have been. Honestly. I loved growing up watching the original and was more than cautious on seeing this one. Having picked up the original on Blu-ray I can see it through a different set of eyes and –yes- it’s not the greatest movie since the train station one by the Lumiere Brothers, but it’s good and worthy of seeing at a theater.

Leterrier’s remake parallels the original but keeps its distance. Instead of “one man making a journey” it becomes a sort of “Fellowship Against the Kraken.” In the original Perseus went through self-imposed training to become PERSEUS and save the day whereas in this version the character doesn’t want to answer “the call of destiny” opting to rebel against it either because he just wants to be a fisherman or his self-esteem really is that low. The white Pegasus was traded for a black one, and the Kraken is a verifiable sea monster with tentacles as opposed to the giant Harryhausen creation.

My main complaint on the movie is that it lacks imperative nature. At no point in the film is there a time countdown; in fact, the film feels like it took place over two or three days at most. While there is camaraderie among the rag-tag group, they’re all sure of pursuing certain death so that Perseus can become who he needs to become in order to save Argos/the Princess/the day but Perseus doesn’t believe in himself nor what he’s being expected to do. Meanwhile, those around him get killed. And at the end of it all everything is righted again but it doesn’t stop from feeling underwhelming.

And that’s a concern: that our culture has divided everything into being either super-soft touchy/feely or super-action hero incredulous; there seems to be no middle ground. This is a movie for a generation of kids who grew up on “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” antidepressants, etc. On one hand not having more anima hurts this film and keeps it from being great. On the other, Leterrier makes a case about friendship, love, worship, the gods, and becoming one’s own self, regardless of fate or destiny.

Another minor adjunct complaint: everyone in the movie seemed to know what was going on/what they had to do but ignored the audience. Maybe this is a “gutsy” move to make audiences think, or maybe Leterrier is harkening back to olden days when everything wasn’t explained to its final detail. I don’t remember what led them from one place to the next except for a clue, and not one person questioned what was going on. Maybe I’ll chalk that up to “lack of character development” and letting the characters serve the story.

Special effect fight scenes were really well done. Acting was pretty good. The filmmakers attempted to take the original and make it their own and for the most part (given the source material) they did so. As for 3-D content… I have problems with 3-D glasses. Aside from putting them over my own I have a stigmatism and it takes ten minutes for my eyes to adjust to the image and as long as the picture stays in place I’m fine. The problem with 3-D (and me watching it as well) is when quick-cut fast-paced action sequences occur; they give me a headache. If you have the same problem, you may wanna skip seeing it in 3-D.

I can recommend this as a good matinee film or you may want to opt for full-price. It’s good for a remake and I would consider seeing it again.

Watch for Bubo (the mechanical owl) to make an appearance.

My grade: B

26
Mar
10

Movie News and Views Catch Up Part 2

“The Losers” – An elite U.S. Special Forces group get double-crossed and betrayed. After thought dead, they go after the mastermind behind it all. Based on a comic book. Stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, and Idris Elba. Opens April 9, 2010

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” – Shia LeBeouf is a successful investment banker whose firm is being threatened with bankruptcy. Douglas’ character has just been released from prison and teams up with Shia to take on a greater evil: Bretton James (Josh Brolin). Opens April 23, 2010

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” – Part One of the latest in the Harry Potter series. Opens November 19, 2010

“The Joneses” – The “perfect” family moves into a neighborhood but when the nosy neighbors try to find out why, they don’t exactly ‘fess up. Stars Amber Heard, David Duchovny, Demi Moore, and Lauren Hutton. Opens April 16, 2010

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” – Jackie Earle Haley puts his spin on the horror icon in this re-imagining/re-booting of the franchise. Opens April 30, 2010

“Get Him to the Greek” – Jonah Hill is a record company intern who has to get out-of-control British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to the L.A. Greek Theater. Rawk! Opens June 4, 2010

“The A-Team” – I love it when a plan comes together, but how about a movie about that plan? “Smokin’ Aces” director Joe Carnahan helms this re-imagining of the 80’s TV series with Liam Neeson heading up the team. Also stars Bradley Cooper, Jessica Biel, Sharlto Copley, Patrick Wilson, and Quinton Jackson. I pity the fools… Opens June 11, 2010

“The Karate Kid” – Wax on, wax off. Jaiden Smith plays Dre, a kid whose mom moves to China. After getting into a few fights Dre is taught karate by Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). Watch and see if they’ll do the crane kick on June 11, 2010

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – A live-action version of the Mickey Mouse segment of “Fantasia,” but starring Nic Cage and Jay Baruchel. I hope there aren’t any dancing hippos… Magically brought to you by Disney on July 16, 2010

“Salt” – Angelina Jolie is “wanted” as a CIA operative accused of being a Russian spy who must prove her innocence. Also stars Liev Schreiber. Opens July 23, 2010

“Don McKay” – Thomas Haden Church is the titular character, a janitor who returns to his hometown after 25 years. He tries to rekindle a romance with his old flame (who happens to be dying). Also stars Elisabeth Shue, M. Emmet Walsh, and Keith David. Coming soon!

26
Mar
10

Movie News and Views Catch-Up

All the Hollywood news you can digest in one sitting!

– According to a recent article James Cameron relayed that he sold the film rights for the “Terminator” franchise for $1. WHUH?!? It apparently happened during the 80’s when every-other filmmaker sold the rights to their first movie hoping to buy them back (see also: Wes Craven)

– Info on the new “Tekken” movie: Plot: Set in 2039, the greatest fighters from around the world come to compete in the last and greatest sporting event of all time, the Fist Tournament. After World Wars destroy much of civilization as we know it, the remaining territories are no longer run by governments, but by corporations the mightiest of which is Tekken. In order to keep the masses down, Tekken sponsors the Iron Fist Tournament in which fighters compete to the death for ultimate glory and receive a lifetime of stardom and wealth.

We are introduced to this violent world through the eyes of Jin Kazama, a street fighter that enters the tournament in order to avenge the death of his mother that he blames upon Tekken’s powerful and controlling Chairman, Heihachi Mishima. He knows that the only way to get close enough to Mishima to kill him is to win the tournament. With the help of Lucas, an ageing Iron Fist Champion and fight trainer, Jin makes his way through the tournament, but in doing so, he begins to uncover his own past and inner demons as well as exposing a dark underbelly to Tekken that threatens the very existence of humanity. With futuristic and imaginative sets, a compelling story, and fight sequences combining fighting styles from all over the world.

– Christopher Walken prefers to raid the wardrobes of the movies he’s in as opposed to buying new clothes.

– “Star Trek” became the most downloaded movie of 2009.

– And, the plot for the “Yogi Bear” movie: Plot: Jellystone Park has been losing business, so greedy Mayor Brown decides to shut it down and sell the land. That means families will no longer be able to experience the natural beauty of the outdoors — and, even worse, Yogi and Boo Boo will be tossed out of the only home they’ve ever known. Faced with his biggest challenge ever, Yogi must prove that he really is “smarter than the average bear” as he and Boo Boo join forces with their old nemesis Ranger Smith to find a way to save Jellystone Park from closing forever.

– “Da Vinci Code 3” based on the book “Lost Symbol” is in the works. Did anyone bother watching “Angels and Demons?”

– Sandra Bullock was the voted the top money-maker for 2009 and the first actress to break the $200 million mark. Really?

– Mel Gibson’s production company Icon Entertainment has signed on to produce “Mad Max 4.”

– In Hollywood, sex apparently does NOT sell. According to research done on movies released between 2001 and 2005, those that had more gratuitous/graphic sex scenes did not perform as well at the box office for both critics and audiences.

– The Number One Trailer on Yahoo! For 2009? “Twilight: New Moon.”

–  According to a recent Vanity Fair poll, most Americans would love to star in a Clint Eastwood Western. Do these people not realize that no one BUT Eastwood survives an Eastwood Western?

– The release date for “Star Trek 2” is June 29, 2012.

– Art Clokey, the guy who created “Gumby,” died on Jan. 10, 2010 at the age of 88.

– Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire have left “Spider-Man 4.” The current director is Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”). Sam Raimi is now set to direct “World of Warcraft.”

– Brendan Fraser didn’t know the name of the character he played in “G.I. Joe” until he read the movie’s credits.

– Ivan Reitman is set to direct “Ghostbusters 3”

– Joaquin Phoenix is in post-production with his rap documentary. Yay, we were all waiting for that…

– Shane Black is attached to direct a Doc Savage movie, based on the comic book character.

– Atari’s “Missile Command” is slated to become a 3-D movie.

– Dean Koontz’s “Frankenstein” series of books are heading cinematic adaptation.

– Kevin Smith took a pay cut in order for “Cop Out” to keep its R-rating.

– Daryl Hannah claims that she is “blacklisted’ by Hollywood because she has Asperger’s Syndrome.

– The rights for the “Terminator” franchise sold for $29.5 million.

– MTV has finally admitted that they are no longer a music channel and have changed their logo to reflect that.

– A coroner’s office has revealed that Brittany Murphy died from a combination of pneumonia, anemia, and prescription drugs.

– Get ready for “Fast and the Furious” 5 & 6. Yay.

– For those of you with enough lose change, Miramax is on sale for $700 million.

– Actor Rip Torn (“Men In Black,” “Dodgeball”) was arrested for armed b & e of a bank in Connecticut.

– Guy Ritchie set to direct a sequel to “Sherlock Holmes.”

25
Feb
10

Movie Review: Youth in Revolt

I know this because Francois knows this…

Starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifianakis, Fred Willard, Justin Long, and Ray Liotta. Directed by Miguel Arteta. Based on the book, “Youth in Revolt: the Adventures of Nick Twisp” by C.D. Payne

Meet Nick Twisp (Cera), certified and bona fide wuss. His unemployed mother Estelle (Smart) lives off the child support checks of his dad, George (Buscemi) and shacks up with any guy who will look her direction; the guy she’s currently with is Jerry (Galifianakis), a trucker and habitual liar. Nick’s dad is doing the midlife crisis-thing; he drives a BMW and his live-in girlfriend Lacey (Ari Graynor) is young, hot, and blonde.

Nick is a sixteen-year-old sitting in a sea of sexual stagnation. He’s the “nice guy” when all the attractive girls are looking for macho jerks. His record collection contains jazz love songs and would love for Frank Sinatra to be played once a day. French films are his specialty; at the video store he was renting a copy of Fellini’s “La Strada.” In short, there’s no way he’s going to get laid and even he knows that. His only solace is the fact that his friend Lefty (Erik Knudsen) isn’t getting any and his weird neighbor Mr. Ferguson (Willard) is too busy being a political activist.

Fate intervenes in the form of three sailors who show up with a 70s clunker they paid Jerry $900 for. The car blew up a few blocks down the road and they found a banana peel in the engine; they’re pissed and they want their money back. Upon Nick relaying the info Jerry decides to take them on vacation with the new Cadillac he just bought (with the sailors’ $900).

Cut to Ukiah. Jerry is borrowing a friend’s place (read: decrepit trailer) by the beach. Upon return from the showerhouse Nick meets Sheeni Saunders, a girl his age. She takes to Nick’s awkwardness and finds it cute. Showing Nick around her home he finds out that her dad is a lawyer and both are majorly Christian. Nick finds that Sheeni wants to move to France but really wants to travel the world. By the end his vacation, Nick is in love and must find a way to get back to Ukiah.

Enter Francois Dillinger. The Tyler Durden to his Jack; the devil on his shoulder. Francois wears a light blue long-sleeved shirt and white pants, smokes cigarettes, and acts like the badass Nick wishes he was. Through a series of events involving the Cadillac and a POS trailer Jerry bought, Francois sets a business on fire. Nick’s mom’s new love interest Officer Lance Wescott (Liotta) suggests getting Nick out of town so it’s back up to Ukiah.

But everything doesn’t go as swimmingly as possible. Sheeni’s parents know what’s happened and send her to a private, all French-speaking school. Her better-than-you well-to-do boyfriend Trent (Jonathan B. Wright) is also switching to the school. Sitting in Ukiah with newfound friend Vijay Joshi (Adhir Kalyan), the two hatch a plot to meet up with her to bring her back. When the police here of Nick’s location, he tries to keep the tailspin under control in the ultimate hope of getting laid before going to Juvenile Hall.

I liked the movie and it was funnier than I thought it would be. Let me address some questions up front: is it funny? Yes, far funnier than you would think although it may not be for everyone. This is designed more for “emo”/indie likings as opposed to having a strong, male character presence (that I don’t think Cera could pull of just yet). Is it funnier than the trailers? Yes. There are moments in the film, specific for it, that are laugh-out-loud funnier than what you see in the previews.

Cera is definitely in his element here with the character Nick feeling somewhat like Paulie Bleeker from “Juno.” Both are awkward, sensitive, aware of their surroundings (with deep cynicism), and do not have any clue as to how to act/re-act to women. Bleeker went into sex casually while Nick beats himself up trying to get to it.

The rest of the cast do well enough and Portia Doubleday holds her own. Justin Long shows up as Sheeni’s druggie brother Paul (who ends up running off with Lacey). M. Emmet Walsh plays Sheeni’s father. Steve Buscemi (where has he been?) and a few others show up just to be a part of it. Really, this movie is more for Portia and Michael.

My only complaint about this movie is that I’m not a huge fan of animation and certain segments of this movie “wrapped up” events via animation. Some of it was funny but again, not a big fan.

Do I recommend this one? If you’re of the emo/nerd/geek/indie variety of person, yes. Would I recommend full price? I recommend matinee initially but if there’s nothing else to be watched, sure.

My grade: B

06
Jan
10

Top Ten Movies of 2009

What a year it has been for movies. From a film for fanboys (“Watchmen”) to a teeny-bopper supernatural romance (“New Moon”), from a Jarhead visiting a world of blue people (“Avatar”) to ugly aliens visiting our own (“District 9”), from man’s continuing struggle to against the machine (“Terminator Salvation”) to the machines having taken over and a scientist’s soul divided into mini-creations trying to survive (“9”), from the return of 80’s cartoons as live action (“G.I. Joe”) to the return of 80’s horror (“The Stepfather”) and everything in between (there were TWO movies about mall security cops), it truly has been a year.

As far as film goes and in my own opinion it’s been a tough year. One can blame the economic recession/depression for monetary aspects, but it’s been an overall success for the Industry for the year. This year was more about the aftermath of the 2007-2008 writers strike than any other single factor.

It was difficult making this year’s list because the overall feeling from watching movies this year was “meh.” I enjoyed quite a few movies, but the indies seemed to have peaked the year that “No Country for Old Men” saw release and the blockbusters haven’t held the caliber of “Iron Man” (although “G.I. Joe” was more fun than “Transformers 2”) Another problem with constructing the list was that three of my favorite films I saw this year (“Frost/Nixon,” ‘The Wrestler,” “Gran Torino”) were limited release 2008 in cities such as NY and LA and therefore had to be struck from the list.

Here, in order of release/when I viewed them, are my Top Ten movies of 2009 and my thoughts:

“Star Trek” – “Alias” and “Lost” creator JJ Abrams was given the keys to Kirk and Company and made a fun and enjoyable movie that was truly a reason to go to the movie theatre. Chris Pine channeled a bit of Shatner while Zach Quinto did a spot-on Spock. Some have called it “Star Trek for Star Wars fans” and that may have a bit of truth to it, but it doesn’t take away from being a solid, enjoyable film.

“Up” – If this year had a theme it would be “films that other people thought shouldn’t work but did.” “Up” was being crucified before it got to the theatres. I saw an article where “Wall Street” experts were predicting it as a failure for Pixar. The result? A heartfelt, beautifully colored solid story about a former balloon salesman uprooting his house for the ultimate adventure of his life taking along a stowaway who needs a father figure. It may not have the technology of “Avatar” but the story was original and solid and Pixar up’d their technology work with the brilliance of their color palette.

“The Hangover” – A movie I probably would not have watched had it not been for the free screening. The initial WB test screening went so well they ordered a sequel, which I had never heard of happening before. My brother and I went to a PACKED screening at the Commerce Crossings theatre two weeks in advance. Walking out of the movie my brother gave it the best endorsement I’ve ever heard for a movie: “I would pay to see that again.” So would I.

“District 9” – Following “Moon,” (which gets Honorable Mention) director Neil Blomkamp took racial prejudice in South Africa and changed it to alienation of aliens. Shot on a limited budget and handheld/doc-style, it was an innovative sci-fi film and one that should raise the bar for doing science fiction films.

“Inglourious Basterds” – Tarantino threw everything but the blender into this one: a hodge-podge of war films, exploitation, film geekness, and World War II. This film ran the risk of being exclusively for those who love films and/or Tarantino and while that concept may seem to be running on fumes, and trust me it has its faults, overall it tied together at the end. It’s not “Kill Bill” or “Pulp Fiction,” but it’s a worthwhile addition to the Tarantino catalog.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” – One of the most personal of Michael Moore’s films and his best since, “Bowling for Columbine.” It got snubbed for next year’s Academy Awards and that just goes to show Californians DO love their money…

“Paranormal Activity” – Most likened to being this decade “Blair Witch,” this really IS the little movie that could. Done for $15,000 and shot in one location this preyed on those times when you sit in a house, alone, and hear the creaking of the floors, strange noises, etc. This is a film that works best on people who have imaginations, as opposed to those who enjoy the “idiotic group of college teenagers going out to an abandoned shack” formula. I caught a late showing on a Tuesday night and couldn’t get the final scene outta my head. On DVD next week!

“The Blind Side” – So I had to put another “heartwarming” movie on the list. It wasn’t groundbreaking and you could tell the smarminess from the get-go, but I enjoyed the film. Not everything I watch has to be earth-shattering or socially conscious; sometimes it’s nice to fit in an “uplifting” movie.

“Me and Orson Welles” – Charming, amusing movie rooted in its when and where. I am not a big fan of Orson Welles as a person or his personality, but Christian McKay did such a spot-on job with playing Orson Welles it’s uncanny. It was great speaking with Ed Hart about this one; it truly deserves to be recognized. I wish it luck.

“Avatar” – I initially thought against putting this in the Top Ten but Cameron’s attention to detail and use of 3-D technology make this one to be seen. It’s not a great story; in fact, you’ve already seen it as “Dune,” “Dances with Wolves,” etc. The attention to detail and world of Pandora that Cameron created are what sets this above the others.

There are others that deserve mention (“Moon,” “Zombieland”) but these were the ten best for the year (that I watched). Feel free to give your comments. Happy holidays and see you at the movies!

Chas Andrews

06
Jan
10

In Passing… 2009

The following is a list of entertainers who have passed on in 2009. Rest in Peace.

Pat Hingle (July 19, 1924 – January 3, 2009)

Patrick McGoohan (March 19, 1928 – January 13, 2009)

Ricardo Montalban (November 25, 1920 – January 14, 2009)

James Whitmore (October 1, 1921 – February 6, 2009)

Ron Silver (July 2, 1946 – March 15, 2009)

Natasha Richardson (May 11, 1963 – March 18, 2009)

Bea Arthur (May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009)

Dom DeLuise (August 1, 1933 – May 4, 2009)

David Carradine (December 8, 1936 – June 3, 2009)

Ed McMahon (March 6, 1923 – June 23, 2009)

Farrah Fawcett (February 2, 1947 – June 25, 2009)

Michael Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009)

Billy Mays (July 20, 1958 – June 28, 2009)

Karl Malden (March 22, 1942 – July 1, 2009)

Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009)

John Hughes (February 18, 1950 – August 6, 2009)

Patrick Swayze (August 18, 1952 – September 14, 2009)

Soupy Sales (January 28, 1926 – October 22, 2009)

Edward Woodward (June 1, 1930 – November 16, 2009)

Brittany Murphy (November 10, 1977 – December 20, 2009)