30 December 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

National Treasure: Better than Expected

Well, this was not what I was expecting. I was not expecting an award worthy film, but I was not expecting an 8 minute Goofy short either. After seven previews, I thought the film was going to start. But, Disney attached a Goofy short about a home theater to the beginning. I was not aware of this. I went to a 10:30 am show; the movie itself did not start until 11 am. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as too many previews. But the Goofy short killed me. Finally, the film got rolling.

It opened with the assassination of President Lincoln and a conspiracy behind it. It then goes to the familiar faces of Ben Gates and his father Patrick played by returning Academy Award winners Nicolas Cage and Jon Voight respectively. Academy Award Nominee Ed Harris then makes his appearance as Mitch Wilkinson and accuses the Gates family matriarch as being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. We then see sidekick Riley Poole at a vacant book signing portrayed by returning Justin Bartha. He apparently has problems when people think that he is Ben Gates, but they are disappointed to find out that he was the other guy. Well, Ben ends up asking Riley for help breaking into his now ex-girlfriend Abigail’s house, also portrayed by returning Diane Kruger. So, now we have a funny quirky lovers’ conflict.

Now that we have the story laid out, the rest of the film consists of code cracking and fun adventures trying to find the truth about the conspiracy surrounding the infamous Ford Theater assassination. Along the way, Academy Award Winner Helen Mirren is added as Ben Gates mother and Patrick Gates estranged wife. Of course, they need her to help read an old extinct tribal language found on a board. Franchise player Agent Sandusky played once again by Harvey Keitel makes an appearance.

Some of the sequences of action and adventure seem far fetched. They actually kidnap the President of the United States by manipulating the Secret Service. A quick side note, Bruce Greenwood has played the President before in 2000 as John F. Kennedy in Thirteen Days. The finale with Mitch and Ben was kind of a let down. The Mitch character just does not play out as it should have. In the end, there is a funny tax joke.

After it was over, I had to admit that I had fun. I enjoyed myself. It was a bit off from the original, but it was not as bad as some people have said. It was a fun adventure and escape for two hours. This was oddly Nicolas Cage’s first sequel ever. Now, I think that his take on sequels will change. He has already expressed interest in another Ghost Rider and maybe another National Treasure. They set the ground work for a third. I loved the mystery surrounding page 47 in the Book of Secrets. Verdict: See it if you liked the original. If you did not like the first, you will not like the second. Be warned, with three Oscar winners and one Oscar nominee, you would think that it should be better.

11 December 2007

Hitman

Hitman couldn't Hit Water Jumping into a Pool

Why be corny live everyone else and say “Hitman Misses” when that is not even strong enough. Not only did it miss, it wasn’t even close. This movie should have been a great bad-action movie. I love action movies. I love bad-action movies, ie. Crank. Hitman was not at all what it should have been. There were few real shots of genius. Get it? Shots….movies….guns. Never mind. The movie opens with a silent montage of the Hitman Order branding and training the “soldiers.” We then cut to the here and now with Agent 47, Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood and Live Free or Die Hard fame, sitting across a desk from Interpol Agent Mike Whittier, Dougray Scott of M:I 2 and Ever After Fame. We then do a familiar Tarantino twist and start at the beginning to find out how we got to this point.

It cuts to an assassination of awesomeness orchestrated by Agent 47. Then we see Agent Whittier talking to the local government about how he has been tracking him. Agent 47 then goes to Russia for the remainder of the film. Here, we see Agent 47 in his signature black suit, white shirt, and red tie assassinate the Russian president Mikhail Belicoff. This is when the movie starts its decline, yet, I was not aware of that fact until then end. It turns out that he is set-up and then the rest of the Hitman Order come after him and he kills them. The start of the plot twists comes early that the president is still alive and ordered the hit on himself. Along the way, he says funny lines and is cold to the woman that he inadvertently saves and then decides to keep alive. She later takes off her shirt for no apparent reason other than to have nudity in the film. It was gratuitous and therefore, could have been left out, but why complain? Henry Ian Cusick, Desmond from Lost, shows up in the role of the Russian president’s brother. That was cool.

The movie lacked clarity in the end as to why I should care. The whole point was that the president had doubles like Saddham Hussein. One of the doubles had the original taken out. So? Why do I care? What was his ulterior motive? Why was this bad? I just didn’t care. So, the verdict: Rent it. Why waste your money? Again, I wonder why they make movies based on video games. This cost an estimated $70 million and will cap out at $45 million if lucky, domestically. I just don’t get it. If there is this much extra money lying around Hollywood, I have a few ideas that cold be done for around $10 million. Any takers?

August Rush

Do Not August Rush to See This

Well, I lost my right to drag my wife to movies after the horrific display that was Hot Rod. So, in return, I have to attend two movies that I do not want to. Now, with the financial situation the way it is, this arrangement seems to make any sense. Anyway, this was not my pick. I went kicking and screaming. I read the premise, didn’t want to see it. I read some reviews, still didn’t want to see it. So, when I didn’t like the movie, I was not surprised.

The movie opens with Evan Taylor, played by Freddie Highmore, talking about how he can hear music in everything. About how he thinks that if he can play the music, then his parents will find him. We then discover that he is in a very stereotypical foster care center. It was complete with making him seem like a freak and outcast with a side of mean bully older boys to go with it.

Then the movie takes a Tarantino approach and starts telling the story from the beginning, eleven years ago. But some quick math and you discover that Evan Taylor is 11 and that the beginning would have to be 12 years ago, or it just does not add up. That is fine; math may not have been the strong suit for the writer of this film. Maybe while he is on strike, he can take a math class. In the past we see Lyla Segwick and Louis Connelly playing in their respective venues. Lyla is a cellist in an orchestra; Louis is a guitarist/lead singer of a rock band. After their performances, they meet accidentally. They have a one night fling and fall in love to a street performer playing the harmonica and guitar. Well, clearly at this point, we know that she gets pregnant and is the mother of poor little Evan. Her father forbids her to stay in New York with Louis. We later find out that she gets hit by a car and while in the hospital, the baby is born while she is out of it and her father gives it up for adoption. This comes back later.

Back to the here and now, Richard Jeffries, played by Terrence Howard, is a social worker in charge of making sure the children in the foster care center are fine and that they find a home if they want one. Of course, Evan tells him that he is waiting on his parents to come for him. That night, he decides to leave the center and go to the city. Here he meets characters right out of Oliver! They are lead by a guy who goes by the nickname “Wizard,” played by none other than Robin Williams in his best Bono attire. He gives each of them a section of the city to perform on and then takes a portion of their tips. Evan stays up at night and discovers a guitar and how to play it. He becomes and instant success. So, Wizard re-names him, you guessed it, “August Rush.”

Now, from this point, Lyla and Louis, who gave up music after that fateful night of lovemaking, decide to get back on track with their music. Lyla learns that her son is alive at her father’s deathbed. Louis tries to track down Lyla to confess his decade old love that won’t die. August/Evan winds up at Julliard and becomes a prodigy. This whole movie culminates at the Julliard Concert in the Park. Once all the characters figure everything out, it ends.

My wife was crying, the old ladies to my left were bawling, and every other female that I could see had tears in their eyes. I, myself, thought about crying, then decided that all the sappy serendipitous-ness of this movie made me sick, and I decided that a tear was not required. My verdict: The music was exceptional with its little ditties, but movie lacked. I would rent this if you want to see it. If you were a fence sitter, don’t bother.

01 December 2007

No Country For Old Men

I am not sure when Cormac McCarthy wrote his novel, whether he ever thought it would be made into a movie by the Cohen Brothers or not. They are amazing filmmakers. This movie was absolutely spellbinding. From the opening scene to the final, I could not look away. All the performances were excellent, the direction was top notch, and the music, well, it wasn’t there. The movie had no soundtrack. The only music was from a mariachi band in a short scene in Mexico.

In the opening, we are introduced to Anton Chigurh, portrayed amazingly by Javier Bardem. He took craziness to the next level with this character. He shows no emotion at all when he kills. It is just a natural as blinking for him. His creepiness factor is through the roof.

We then see Llewelyn Moss hunting in the open range of the west. He wounds his prey and while tracking, comes across a drug deal gone wrong and finds the money man down the way. Being the upstanding citizen that he is, he decides to keep the cash setting into motion the rest of the film’s events. We soon discover that Chigurh is hired by someone to track down the money. Tommy Lee Jones plays the Sheriff in the area picking up the breadcrumbs left behind in the wake of Chigurh’s path of destruction.

The writing is beyond superb. The acting is flawless. Woody Harrelson plays a hired gun, Carson Well, who is hired by Stephen Root, to track down Chigurh and get the money from him. So, now you can see how the plot thickens. Everybody is after everybody and not aware of everybody else’s motives.

In the end, characters meet their respective demises, and the survivors are forever changed. Verdict: This is one of the best movies I have seen all year. This is the best movie I have seen since 3:10 to Yuma. But what I have seen since then has not been the best. After a record setting summer, Hollywood as dazzled us with nothing but sub par movies with lackluster performances, crappy stories, and it only looks worse. This has been the bright spot of the late fall season. This is a must see, and do not be surprised if it receives nominations this winter by every award show out there.

19 November 2007

American Gangster

American Gangster is not the Boss

Let me start off by saying that this movie was excellent. The only problem was that it was not what I thought it should be. It never achieved the greatness that it could have. It seemed content in its mediocrity. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe shared the screen for the first time since Virtuosity. That was back before Russell Crowe was an Oscar Winner and before Denzel was a two-time winner. Denzel gave one of his best performances. He would be deserving of an award nomination. Russell Crowe, on the other hand, did not give it his all. Anyone could have played Det. Richie Roberts. Mr. Crowe should stick to the hype on 3:10 to Yuma. Well, Ridley Scott did was he does best in this film. All the players were good, the direction was good, the story was good, but the overall movie was not that strong. Josh Brolin had a bit role in this movie, but he should help hype his role in No Country for Old Men.

This movie follows the rise of real-life crime boss/drug lord Frank Lucas. It starts with the death of his mentor and boss. Lucas then decides that he is going to become the ultimate drug lord by buying directly from the Vietnamese themselves. He brings his family from the South up and puts all his brothers to work for him. He puts himself into a position were the Italian mob is paying him along with other people, just to have his brand name, Blue Magic.

The other side to the story is the life of Detective Richie Roberts. He is a cop down on his luck in the force and in his personal life. His wife, Carla Gugino, is divorcing him. His partner and he find a stash of money and return it to the police department in a time of heavy corruption. This makes him a target to his own kind. So, he develops his own task force set to take down the drug cartel. The only problem they have is, they have to find who the head of the gang is.
This pursues for two and half hours until the anti-climactic apex. I will not give it all away. Look for cameos from Academy Award Winner Cuba “Snow Dogs” Gooding and Serenity’s own Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ruby Dee plays Lucas's mother, and she stole every scene she is in. Verdict: Definitely worth the watch. If you have the time, the theater is not the worst place to see it. If you don’t have the time, a rental would not hurt. This movie, despite its problems, could still play a major part in this year’s award season.

22 October 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Affleck Squared Scores

Ben Affleck should stick to directing and let his little brother do the acting for the family. With that said, Casey Affleck turns in an Oscar worthy performance as private investigator Patrick Kinzie in Ben Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. This film has many similarities with Mystic River, which was one of the best films to come out since the turn of the century. They are both films based on novels by Dennis Lehane. A third movie is set to come out entitled Shutter Island and the cast is building. Anyway, back to this film. The cast alone is filled with heavy hitters and Oscar winners and Nominees. Ben Affleck is a winner along with Morgan Freeman. Ed Harris is a three time nominee. The movie also boasts Michelle Monaghan as Angie Gennaro, Kinzie’s P.I. partner.

The movie opens with the kidnapping of a little girl, Amanda, from her home in Boston. We quickly are introduced to Morgan Freeman who is the Captain of a special unit of missing children ever since his own child was taken from him. Patrick and Angie are brought in as private investigators by the mother’s sister-in-law, Bea and her husband Lionel. For the first half of the movie, we follow the investigation and the trails left by the suspects. Ed Harris is the lead detective for the case assigned by Capt. Jack Doyle. In the middle of the movie, it ends. This is where the story shifts gears and then focuses on Patrick as a P.I. All the characters are really given depth and purpose.

Somewhere in the mess that is the lives of the players in this film, pieces start falling together about the kidnapping and trust is broken, lies are discovered, and the truth is revealed. I, personally, did not see the twists coming. In the final act of this tragedy, morals and virtues are tested. Right and wrong is challenged. After the credits started, I contemplated the decisions made by some of the characters and asked myself what I would have done in the same situation. And that is the thought I leave you with. Verdict: If you liked Mystic River or are a fan of the crime drama genre, then this is a must see. It is worth the theater ticket or at the very least a rent. I will be putting this on my list of purchases.

17 September 2007

3:10 to Yuma

Revival of the Western

Wow. So, last month in anticipation of this movie, I rented the original starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. That movie rocked. It was a great western that no one has heard of in this day and age. Glenn Ford owned the role of Ben Wade, the outlaw. So, this made me hesitant to see the remake. I made a deal with my father that I would wait to see this movie until we could see it together. All I can say is, it was well worth the wait. When is the DVD coming? This is the first movie since Zodiac that I think is worthy of any nominations. This could be the rebirth of westerns in this generation.

The movie opens with Dan Evans, an under-appreciated Christian Bale, watching his barn burn down. We see him struggle with his leg, and realize how poor he is. We then see him the morning after head into town with his boys to try and barter with the powers that be to give him more time to come up with the money he owes on his land. On the way, they witness Ben Wade and his gang robbing an armored wagon with the payroll for the local town. This is our first glimpse of Ben and his crazed number two, Charlie Prince. Ben Foster embodies evil and crazy in a role that could land X-Men: The Last Stand’s Angel an Oscar nomination. Byron McElroy, played by Peter Fonda, escapes the massacre of the wagon and lives to join the party set out to deliver Ben Wade to the authorities.

At this point, Ben Wade and his gang make their way into the local town and tell the sheriff that the wagon was hit. This allows them time to relax. Finally, they return and take Ben Wade into custody. This is where the movie really starts to roll. From here, they make a plan to take him to catch the 3:10 to Yuma for sentencing. They set up fake groups going in different directions to confuse Wade’s gang.

For the remainder of the movie, we see Wade’s intellect as he tries to get under the skin of his captors. We see Wade and Evans forge a mutual friendship. There is spectacular scenery and old western clich├ęs. Luke Wilson makes a short cameo. Gretchen Mol and Alan Tudyk have supporting roles as Evan wife and the local doctor respectively.

When the climactic finale arrives, it is nothing short of amazing. The original and the remake have the same story, the same destination, but get there in completely different ways. Both films are spectacular and worth the watch. Verdict: This is a must see for any western lover. I haven’t been this impressed with a western since Open Range and doubt I will for at least the same length of time. The original makes my top 10 westerns of all time, but the remake makes the top 5. This movie is worth the money, DVD purchase and any Oscar hype it can build up.

05 August 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne Goes Out with a BANG

So, for those of you scoring at home, The Bourne Ultimatum was the fifth “three-quel” to come out this summer, with Rush Hour 3 due out the following week. Anyway, I went to see Jason Bourne in his finale. All I can say is, if you have seen the other two, this one will not disappoint you in the least. Paul Greengrass knows what he is doing behind the camera of an action movie, and this is his second time in the series.

This time around, Bourne veterans Matt Damon, Joan Allen, and Julia Stiles are joined by Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Albert Finney. The only regret I have about this trilogy is that I have not read the books by Robert Ludlum that the series is based on. I hear that there are some differences, but I do not know what.

In this final act, Bourne (Damon) finally puts the missing pieces of his past together. The government chases him through country after country, but to no avail. Along the way, he runs into Miss Nicky Parsons (Stiles) who decided to join Bourne’s side putting herself at risk. Thank goodness for that. It allowed for a very good chase scene ending with an intense hand-to-hand fight. Noah Vosen (Strathairn) and Ezra Kramer (Glenn) seem to have a secret that they are trying to silence with the death of Bourne, but we are not privy to information until Bourne himself figures it out. They are trying to pin anything that could go wrong onto Pamela Landy (Allen).

Finally, Jason Bourne makes his way back to the U.S.A. Here, he goes straight for them, breaking into the very agency trying to capture him. Then, he is chased one final time in a hair raising car chase. He then runs into Dr. Albert Hirsch (Finney) who puts all the final pieces into place. At this point, everyone runs into each other, and the end happens. I will not give it away, but it is totally worth the ride.

Seeing The Bourne Ultimatum put faith back in the trilogy. I refused to pay to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Ocean’s Thirteen. I was disappointed in both Spider-Man 3 ans Shrek the Third. So, a good send off was satisfying. I would see this in theaters if you enjoy the franchise or action movies in general. I have said that a lot this summer, but, Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers both rocked.

17 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry P & the O of the P

So, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest book to date to be made into a movie, and yet the shortest movie to be made to date. Does that not sound weird? Well, the fifth book was kind of slow and boring, but it was a solid book, and better than four in my opinion. But when it comes to the movies, Goblet of Fire is far superior to Order of the Phoenix. The main reason being, Order does not focus on school. There is no Quidditch. There are hardly any classes. The OWL tests make a cameo. Luna Lovegood is played down to almost not existing at all. The only thing focused on was the DA and Voldemort’s return. The one thing I do give this series kudos for is that they get the cast back for each film. None of the main characters have changed, except for the obvious replacement of Richard Harris with Michael Gambon following his death.

The movie opens with Harry sitting on a playset and Dudley coming over to give him crap. Well, Dementors intervene and Harry is forced to save himself and Dudley by use of magic. This puts the Ministry of Magic on Harry’s case for underage use of magic. Dumbledore comes to his rescue and he goes free. It is important to note that at this time, the Ministry does not believe that Voldemort has returned.

Harry is then taken to 12 Grimuld Place, the home base for the Order of the Phoenix and the home of his Godfather Sirius Black. The Order was formed to fight the Dark Lord when he was in power the first time. His parents and Nevell’s parents were some of the early casualties the Order suffered. In the house, we get out first look at Kreacher the House Elf.

So, on to Hogwart’s we go. Harry first sees the XXXX pulling the carriages and is told that you cannot see them until you see death. Then, Dumbledore introduces Professor Umbrige, then new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. She is played by series newcomer Imelda Staunton. After this, first time director Yates and company start chopping the story up. Ginny and Ron do not have their moment on the Quidditch pitch. Cho and Harry have little to do with each other. The whole movie focuses on Dumbledore’s Army which is formed when Umbrige decides, with the backing of the Ministry, to not teach the students defense, but rather theory.

The climax scene in the movie takes place in the Ministry of Magic as Harry and the members of the DA are trying to find the prophecy that tells of him and Voldemort’s connection. This scene is done very well visually. It follows the book better than any other scene in the movie, but is sadly not as emotional. From here, the Order shows up to help fight the Death Eaters that have come to find the same prophecy. The first major death of the series takes place at this point. Finally, Voldemort makes his appearance and the whole wizarding world now know that he has returned.

Bottom line, it was not the best adaptation at all. It cuts the fat and only goes with what is important to the rest of the series. I find this odd because I like the books because they have all the little nuances going on in the background. SPEW never makes an appearance in the movies at all. And poor Dobby has not returned since being freed in the second film. Last thought, whose idea was it to release the book after the movie? This greatly killed the legs of this film. It would have easily made over $300 million if the entire audience was not at home shut in reading the final book. The repeat attendance had to be down. Stupid idea. Anyway, the movie is worth seeing in theaters if you are a fan of the franchise. If you are not, I do not know what you would be doing seeing this movie. Just beware purists, that it is not a faithful adaptation.

09 July 2007

Transformers

Transforms My Opinion of Michael Bay

When Michael Bay was announced as the director of the big screen adaptation of the toy line Transformers, my first reaction was, well, the action will be good. I was not wrong. Where I was wrong, however, was on the story. It was very impressive. I was worried that the story would be soft, weak, sub-par and insulting to my intelligence and my love for the toys when I was a child, or now, I mean……

The movie opens with Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, the leader of the Auto-Bots, telling the story of the Transformers home planet. Telling of how they were greedy and destroyed their own home planet. They then lost the source of power to create a new world, a cube. Megatron, leader of Decepticons, followed the cube to a new planet, but was not heard from again. Any guesses to what planet that was? That’s right, Earth.

Well, Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, the main human star of this epic action film. He ends up being the grandson of the one person who has seen Megatron. It just so happens that his antique glasses are the key for finding the cube and stopping the destruction that is sure to come. Now, poor Sam is selling his grandfather’s antiques to make money to purchase his first car. When he finally has enough, he and his father go purchase a car that mysteriously chooses him. It is an old Camero, that turns out to be Auto-Bot Bumblebee. Some humor for those of us old enough to know the original cartoon, Bumblebee was a yellow VW Bug and in the scene, the car salesman, Bernie Mac, tries to sell the Witwicky’s a yellow VW Bug next to the Camero. So, Sam leaves with his Camero.

On the side of the globe, US forces are attacked by a couple of Decepticons. The Decipticons also hack into the government mainframe in search of Project: Iceman. This leads the US Government to believe that some flagged hackers can help solve who is behind this.

Back in the US, Sam tries to pick up Mikaela Banes, played by Megan Fox, by impressing her with his car. It sort of works out for him. That night, Sam discovers the secret of his car, and this happens to also be the first time we see a Transformer battle. Bumblebee then transforms into the new Camero after being made fun of for his beat-up appearance. From this point on, there is more action than you can shake a stick at. The visuals are beyond words and mind-blowing. In the end, it all goes down in the dessert outside of Hoover Dam.

The cameos and small roles list is long. They include Jon Voight, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, and more. They even have a few recognizable names voicing the robots. I am not a big fan of Michael Bay films. Though, my favorite movie, The Rock, was directed by him. I hope that does not hurt my credibility too much. I was very impressed with the overall movie. So much in fact, that I am hoping that they make a sequel. See this in theaters if you want to see this movie. The rumors are that it will be re-released in IMAX. I’ll be there.

03 July 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

Keep on Dying Hard

This past weekend, I was able to talk The Wife into watching Live Free or Die Hard. It was a similar circumstance as Rocky Balboa. She is a huge Bruce Willis fan, but she has never seen any of the Die Hard movies. This was mind blowing to me. How can you be a fan and not see the movie that made him a star?!?! Anyway, we watched the first and then went for the fourth. Of course, I have seen all three at least 5 times each.

I had to be as skeptical as the next guy going to see this movie. I had “higher” hopes for this film. I wanted to see this movie in the worst way. I have not seen a really good action movie in a long time. Needless to say, I was not let down.

We get our first glimpse of our “hero” stalking his daughter’s dorm where her boyfriend is. This creates a great controversy for McClane, since his daughter, series newcomer Mary Elizabeth Winstead, uses Genero as her last name. After this conflict, McClane gets a call to go pick up computer hacker Matthew Farrell, played by Justin Long. Matt survives an attack on his life, which other hackers do not after helping a mysterious lady break into the government agency websites.

When McClane gets Matt to his destination, the Capitol is under attack, but not with explosions and guns, but through their computer systems. Matt recognizes the attacks as a “Fire Sale” in which the power, water, and other major utilities are shut down, putting the nation in panic.

After some deduction and help, they identify the mastermind as Thomas Gabriel. Timothy Olyphant joins an elite group of actors as Die Hard villains. He portrays an evil like no other. He is a techno-evil.

The rest of the movie follows John McClane and Matthew as they track down and try to put a stop to Gabriel’s plan. This involves many explosions and action sequences that are both mind-blowing and mind-numbing. They only one I could not make myself stomach involved a Harrier-type jet and the interstate. Look for Kevin Smith to make a hilarious appearance as “Warlock,” and Cyril Raphealli as a henchman from hell. He is a little known actor from Kiss of the Dragon and District B-13.

In the end, I did not feel the PG-13 rating until McClane utters his “Yipp-Ki-Yi-Ya” line without the final syllables. However, during this line of dialog, Det. McClane redefines the meaning of the word “badass.” Verdict: Worth the money all the way. If they can maintain this caliber of action and story, I would not mind seeing another one.

17 June 2007

Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer

The Not-So Fantastic Four

Well, after the “success” of the original, it was only a matter of time before the F4 would return to theaters. What surprised me the most about this movie, more than anything, was its lack in content. The movie had a running time around 90 minutes. That has to be the shortest superhero movie to date. Most are over 100. Also surprising was the focus on Lawrence Fishburn voicing the Silver Surfer. I think he had all of a dozen lines. I do not know why they spent the extra money on him.

For the sequel, the entire cast of the original is back, so that was nice. The F4 was joined by a mysterious being dubbed the Silver Surfer. Mr. Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Invisible Woman (Alba), who still looks more like Invisible Girl, are getting married. At the wedding, Stan Lee has a great cameo. Silver Surfer interrupts the wedding and Human Torch (Evans) chases him down. After catching him, Surfer grabs him and it messes with Torch’s powers. This sets up a chance for Michael Chiklis to be seen in human form as opposed to his alter ego, Thing.

The government intervenes and asks Mr. Fantastic to find a way to figure out what the Surfer is up to. When they are slow to figure it out, Dr. Doom (McMahon) is allowed to help, and is “trusted” by the government. Together, they figure out that they need to separate the Surfer from his board. This is the only part of the movie that was halfway entertaining to me. The Four figures out that Doom is going to double-cross them, and try to stop him. They talk to the Surfer and find out that he is the herald to a being known as Galactus, the Destroyer of Planets. They break him out and set off to do battle with Doom and Galactus.

On a quick side note, Galactus is a large “human” form being that is exponentially larger than Earth in the comics. In the movie, they took the liberty of making him a giant solar storm cloud.

Only eighty minutes after the start, we have reached the finale. They have a plan that has Silver Surfer doing battle with Galactus and the F4 going after Doom. Well, when one of the Four goes down, Human Torch, remember how his powers got messed up, takes all four powers combined, like Captain Planet, and does battle “one” on one Victor von Doom.

Well, it wasn’t the worst comic book movie I have seen. It was not as good as the original. It was better than Hulk, but probably not better than Ghost Rider. Worth the money? Not really. Just rent it.

28 March 2007

Zodiac

Zodiac Chills

At 2 hours and 40 minutes, this movie is a hoss. My wife has an attention span of about 2 hours on the nose. She really wanted to see this movie. I gave her the caveat about the running time, but it did not deter her. So we went. Zodiac is the shortest 160 minute movie I have ever seen. It was gripping throughout the film. Fincher is a remarkable director. The acting was solid from everyone in the cast. I just feel bad that this movie was so well done, and that the running time is keeping people from seeing it. I find that a bit odd. People complain about the prices of tickets these days. But when a movie is long, they don’t want to go? That is ironic. At $8.00 a ticket, you are paying $.05 a minute. A typical 90 minute movie is about $.09 a minute. If you were buying a calling card, which would you buy? Exactly.

The movie is based on a book written by Robert Greysmith, who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. So, it is his take on who the Zodiac killer is/was. The story follows Greysmith and his quest to uncover the identity of the serial killer that stalked California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It tells the story of a cop, played by Mark Ruffalo, who was on the case with his partner, ERs Anthony Edwards. The supporting cast goes on and on. Brain Cox plays a psychiatrist that tries to help the Zodiac. Dermott Mulrooney plays the Chief of Police in San Francisco. Donal Logue plays the head of the police department in a town of one of the slayings. Elias Coteas plays the head of the PD of another town of another slaying. Robert Downey, Jr plays Avery, the crime writer for the newspaper that is personally threatened by the Zodiac himself.

Watching this movie, helped me realize how far we have come in forensic science, and in inter-departmental help. In the early stages of the killings, the three police departments have a hard time cooperating with each other. Over time, they slowly learn to work together. It was interesting to see how all the suspects were cleared by their handwriting or their fingerprint. Now, this is interesting because they couldn’t even prove that the partial print was from the Zodiac. They also couldn’t prove any of them were the Zodiac because of the way they wrote the letter “k.” One interesting thing that the director does that I caught, was that each time the show the Zodiac killer, they used a different person. It was always a silhouette or a masked man, but it was a different guy. Very cool, Mr. Fincher, very cool.

I was amazed at how many people did not know the outcome of the Zodiac and his fate. All in all, I strongly encourage people to see this movie. It is so welled filmed, acted, and tells a story that you probably only know part of, unless you read the book by Greysmith.

Verdict: Totally worth the 160 minute running time and $8.00 ticket. AS for the $12.00 in concessions, well, that is up to you.

The Host

Well, once again, I found myself with free tickets to a screening. This time, it was for a Korean monster horror movie. I did some research into the film to discover that it was the highest domestically grossing, Korean made film ever made. The articles were saying that it was equivalent to Titanic in percentage of citizens who saw it in theaters. I found that piece of information useless, but interesting nonetheless. I went to this screening with an open mind. The last time I watched a foreign horror movie (the French movie High Tension), I was very impressed.

The Host opens up with an American doctor instructing a Korean assistant to poor down the drain, the contents of all the bottles that have a lot of dust on them. The Korean protests, but the American insists it be done. The portrayal of Americans as carefree about the polluting of the environment only gets worse and kind of hard to stomach at times. We then move a little further ahead in time and see two fishermen in the Haan River catch something that we are not shown. It bites one and they it go and comment on how many tails it has. We then cut to the present time.

A family runs a concession stand of sorts on the riverfront. They are watching an archery contest on the television when a weird creature starts this rampage along the riverside. There is one scene of pure brilliance on the part of the director and sound editor. In the end, the creature takes away/kills the daughter of the son of the grandfather who runs the food stand.

All the survivors are put into a gymnasium while the CDC decides what to do with them. Here, the aunt and uncle of the little girl meet up with the family. This is where the movie goes weird for a minute. There is a moment of pure over the top acting that is hard to watch.

Finally, they end up in a center for disease control. Here, the father of the girl gets a phone call from the girl. She is alive, and he and the rest of the family decide to go find her. Some funny, suspenseful, creative situations transpire while the movie continues on its course. It ends with the US dropping Agent Yellow and a protest against it.

Verdict: If you like the Godzilla style movies, you will like this one. If you like foreign films, you might like this one. It is not your typical foreign import movie. I enjoyed myself, and I do recommend seeing it. Does it have to be in theaters, not really, but that one scene I mentioned, would have to be seen in the theater for the full effect.

*UPDATE: After reading an article off the AP about this film, I have lowered my rating from 7 to 5. I cannot support a movie that admits that the main purpose of the film is anti-Americanism. I am just more patriotic than that.

Shooter

Shooter not original

The cast of Shooter is a bunch of has-beens, TV-supporting actors, and trying to break-out stars. First, the has-beens: Danny Glover and Ned Beatty. Neither one has had a hit or significant pull with the audience anymore. I think Glover’s last movie he had a top billing on was Lethal Weapon 4, which he shared with Mel Gibson. I can’t even remember the last time Ned Beatty was even on the billing. Next, the TV-side actors: Tate Donovan, Rhona Mitra, and Michael Pena. Donovan, of course, is from the ill-fated The O.C. He was on and off for the first three seasons. Rhona Mitra was part of the sick sibling duo in the third season of Nip/Tuck. Michael Pena kind of fits both the last two categories, as does Kate Mara. They both had guest appearances on TV shows, Pena on The Shield and Mara on Nip/Tuck and 24. But both have also been in some larger pictures as of late. Michael Pena was in Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Babel, and World Trade Center. Kate Mara was in Brokeback Mountain, We are Marshall, and Zoom. Both of these actors will be big in the next year or two. This movie will not make them a household name, but maybe a household face. Finally, there is Mark Wahlberg coming off his Oscar nominated role in The Departed. Like most first time nominees, his next role was already set, so, it was not his best. In Shooter, he plays the exact same role/character as he did back in The Big Hit.

As for the movie itself, it was very average. While it was fun, it offered nothing new. It is the same plot as Most Wanted, only with better actors and better action. It offered a few fun scenes though. It did have a few MacGyver meets Rambo moments. The story centered on an assassination where the shot was taken over a mile away. The FBI brought in a specialist, Wahlberg, to help them figure out how it was going to be done. Then, they set him up to be the assassin, like Lee Harvey Oswald. The rest of the movie focused on Wahlberg trying to clear his name. Sadly, that was the whole movie in three sentences.

Verdict: Bono should have made an appearance, you will have to see it to understand, but I recommend this for rental. With the tickets prices where they are, this is better left to home viewing or second run theaters. I enjoyed the action, explosions, and body count, but the overall feel was, I had seen this all before.

Stomp the Yard

Stomp the plot into the ground

There is not much to be said about this film. I saw it because I am a sucker for good choreography. I like martial arts movies for the same reason. This movie had nothing new to offer. It did have great step sequences. The plot is very bland and over done. While watching it, I felt like I had seen it somewhere before. Then I realized that I had. This is the same script they used for Drumline. Then I got to thinking, isn’t this also the same script from the classic piece-of-crap-film You Got Served? I think so. I was entertained by the dancing, but the plot left something to be desired.

We open with a dance-off, like Served. We then move on to a shooting and a moving, then we are in a school setting, like Drumline. Boy meets girl. Girl has boyfriend. Boyfriend is in rival fraternity. Boy doesn’t care, he will get girl, like Drumline. Boy is best dancer but gets kicked out and not allowed to compete, like Drumline. Then, and this was a real shocker, they tie in regulation with competition. I haven’t seen this storyline since Drumline and You Got Served. Luckily, Boy is back and allowed to compete and lead the team to glory. Oh, and Boy gets girl.

Verdict: Don’t waste your money in the theaters; it should be on DVD in about 2 months or less.

09 March 2007

300

300: Spartans, not stars

Last night I had the privilege of seeing this movie as a pre-screening on the local IMAX. I personally think that the IMAX can make any movie better. Thank goodness for that. I have plans to see this on Friday night with a relative. Unfortunately, I got these two free tickets for a time that my relative was not available to join me. The last time I was in this situation, it worked out for me better. That was Casino Royale. Anyway, let us get on with the review.

Frank Miller wrote the graphic novel on which this movie was based. He also wrote SinCity. I was hoping for something similar to his previous work. I am an avid reader of many movie news and gossip websites. According to www.the-numbers.com, he predicted that the total box office would be in the neighborhood of $45 million. I thought that was extremely low. I though that this would easily break $75 million. On Tuesday night before I went to bed, Rottentomatoes.com had 300 at 100% with only 9 reviews. When I awoke the next morning, it was at 60% with 15 reviews. Since then, it has wavered on the cusp of fresh and rotten. When I saw that, I became weary of the film. Last night, the screening was more than packed. So again, I thought the critics were harsh, the prediction was low, but then, I saw the film.

It opens with a Lion King-esque scene with a baby being decided on whether to keep or discard. Then the child grows up and we see the 8-year-old being taught how to fight. He is then dropped off in the middle of the winter with his loin cloth and his spear. He battles a wolf. The whole point of this opening scene, that has a voiceover that we soon discover is a Spartan telling the story to a crowd, was to show us that the child was raised to fight and not fear. The boy’s story is that of the king, Leonidas. Gerard Butler portrays the Leonidas and leads this cast of virtually no-names. So far, I am still with it.

Next we cut to “current” time in which the Leonidas is with his child, teaching him to fight. A Persian emissary shows up. This is where the story begins. The Persian asks for Sparta to give Earth and Water to Xerxes, the God-King of Persia.

Leonidas decides not to, and kills him. This brings the wrath of Xerxes upon him and Sparta. Leonidas then goes to confront the elders and the oracle to get their permission to go to war with Persia. After a display of gratuitous nudity, he is told no. We then see that a politician from Sparta paid the elders to deny Leonidas’s request. At this point, I am still with the story, but I see where it is going.Leonidas then decides that after talking to his wife, that he must go to war without the blessing needed by Spartan Law. Then, after more gratuitous nudity, and an oddly filmed sex scene, Leonidas and 300 of the best Spartan soldiers leave for a “walk.." They journey up north and put into motion the plan that the elders denied. On their journey, they meet a group of Arcadians that want to join them. There were a few great lines of dialog here.

At this point, the music is getting weird. It started out with a very Gladiator-Hans Zimmer feel. Then, it going to a heavy metal music feel. This is where I start to lose faith in this film.

The morning after a storm that wrecks many of the Persian ships, they meet a Spartan warrior’s offspring that was misshapen and would have been discarded as a child. He tells Leonidas that he wants to be allowed to fight with them to honor his father and bring pride back to family name. He tells Leonidas about an old goat path that the Persians could use to out flank them. Leonidas denies his request to join them. Again, more foreshadowing that was so obvious, it hurts.At this point in the film, the battle ensued and there was no shortage of blood, guts, gore, and severed limbs and heads. This was also where we get our first look at Xerxes. This was also where the script started to going seriously wrong. Jokes and humor that did not fit the times or the movie that, well, were delivered and it was just an awkward feeling.

So, this was the point that I started making jokes at how obvious this movie was becoming. It had a feel of Gladiator in the beginning, but the shifted to that of Alexander. When the movie reached its climax, it did not fail to entertain. As Crowe yelled in Gladiator,”Are you not entertained?” Well, that line of dialog from 2000 still sticks with to this day. I was entertained. I did enjoy myself, but I felt the movie struggled with itself. I feel that the prediction of $45 million is still low. I give it closer to $60 million. The problem is, the built-in fanboy audience is really all they are going to get. The other problem is that they have no big name actor or actress in this. In today’s society of movie goers, a name is needed to do well.

Verdict: It was definitely worth the viewing on the IMAX screen. If you are a fan of the Spartan era films, such as Gladiator, then you might be slightly disappointed. All in all, I would see this in theaters for the visual effects and sound. They will not be able to be reproduced at 100% in your house.

Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider not quite up to par for Marvel

When you go into a movie expecting it to be a ‘7,’ and it is a ‘7,’ does that mean it is a ’10?’ I mean it met my expectations. Does that mean that the movie is a success? Anyway, I went in expecting better than Elektra, Blade Trinity, and Catwoman, but not the next X-Men, Spider-Man, or Batman. It was right on par with Daredevil. The only difference, Jennifer Garner is hotter and a better actress than Eva Mendes will ever be.

Ghost Rider starts off like all other comic book movies. It starts with the origin of the character. Here, we see a young Johnny Blaze, a stunt cyclist, working with his father. His father is sick with cancer. Johnny, unknowingly, makes a deal with the devil to save his father’s life. Of course, it goes wrong. Johnny leaves his girlfriend and drives off into the horizon.

Now, we are about 15 years later, and Johnny is the best stunt man on the planet. He is getting ready to jump a lot of semi truck cabs. He wrecks and snaps his neck, only he doesn’t because the devil is watching over him. Johnny then sets up his next stunt, to jump a football field from goal line to goal line. Before the jump, he runs into his old girlfriend, who is now a successful reporter. He makes the jump, chases her down, and sets a dinner date for that evening.

We then are introduced to Blackheart, the son of Lucifer. He has escaped Hell to find an old pact of an ancient town where many people sold their souls. But the last Rider hid it from Lucifer to keep Hell from taking over Earth. Blackheart and his band of goons are out to find the scroll and overthrow Lucifer. Of course, this leads Lucifer to go to Johnny and make him make good on his deal. So, sadly he misses his dinner reservation, and becomes Ghost Rider. The visuals were not that bad, really. The effects were good for what they were. They could be a bit odd in spots.

After a fight, he meets Caretaker, who tells the story of the last rider. Caretaker is played Sam Elliot in his staple cowboy hat. I think that you can count the number of movies that Sam Elliot does not where a cowboy hat on one hand. Anyway, he tells Johnny what he must do in order to fulfill his debt to the Devil.

Finally, the showdown occurs. It was at least semi-creative. It reminded me a lot of the finale sword fight between Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush in the first Pirates film.

The film was no doubt ruined by the bad acting by the bad cast. Nic Cage was not a good choice for Johnny Blaze. Eva Mendes is just crap in everything she does. Donal Logue was decent in his role of Johnny’s best friend. Wes Bentley was an odd choice for Blackheart. And XX was an average villainous Devil. The only glimmer of hope was Sam Elliot. But then, how could he mess up being an old cowboy with words of wisdom for a young rider? The script did not offer this poor cast much to work with either. Some scenes of humor were over the top and not funny.

Verdict: I have seen all the comic book movies since X-Men in theaters, barring only Catwoman, so I felt obligated to see this one, too. If you are a comic book fan, then this is probably a must see for you. If not, then a modest rental would be sufficient. If you are not into the comic book universe, this movie would not change your mind. For the comic book fans, it is a great movie to fill your movie needs while we all await the arrival of the third Spider-Man film.

27 January 2007

Freedom Writers

Dangerous Writers

Well, I saw this movie because it is about a white teacher teaching poor students in the inner city. In case you are wondering, that is exactly what my wife does. So, we went to see this for inspiration. I was not 100% on board with this, but this is one of those sacrifices you make when you put that ring on her finger.

It opens with the LA Riots. Now, I am only 24 years old. So, I had to look into the LA Riots to refresh my memory as to what they were all about. Once that was established, I moved on. It then cuts to Hillary Swank, the main character, meeting with the head of personnel at the school in which she wants to teach. She soon realizes the mountain in front of her that she must climb in order to succeed.

Freedom Writers tells the story of her first year of teaching and how she got these students to open up to her and each other through these notebooks/journals. It is a story of how one teacher can make a difference, and did make a difference.

Without going into a great deal of detail, the movie dealt with gangs and their influence on young poor kids. It dealt with gangs and how to break those bonds. It dealt with different races coming together to make a difference. I thought I had seen this movie before in Dangerous Minds. The only bad thing about this movie is that it came out after Dangerous Minds and therefore, people like me, thought they have already seen this story.

Verdict: See this movie. Support its story. Buy the true life story book by the same title. Do whatever you want, but this story is more moving than Dangerous Minds and Stand and Deliver. I can say this because I have seen and enjoyed both of these films. This is one more that you need to see. I feel bad for the next story of this nature. Freedom Writers has set the bar high.

20 January 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

Well, if there is one thing that is certain, it is that Clint Eastwood can direct. That is for sure. The landing on Iwa Jima was the best filmed battle scene since Spielberg's landing on D-Day. Flags of Our Fathers was not the movie that I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be the defining WWII film of this decade. I did have my reservations based on the casting. But, with Clint, I expected more. The story itself was not that bad. It was a story that I didn't know. I didn't know what to expect. I liked that.

It opens with an old man, in present time, waking up in the middle of the night looking for someone. It reminded me a lot of the opening of Saving Private Ryan. We then move into the past, the war. We see the guys getting ready to go land on Iwa Jima. The supporting cast was huge and impressive. The movie moves through the story of the battle of Iwa Jima and the three guys who raised the second flag on the hill. It tells of three "heroes" played by Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford, and Ryan Phillippe. These three go on a Buy Bonds tour of America. They talk of the war, and that with the support of the nation, they will win the war. Adam Beach, Ira Hayes, is called from the front lines to join the tour unwillingly. He becomes an alcoholic to supress his pain from the war. Rene Gagnon, Bradford, loves the spotlight and encourages it. Lastly, John "Doc" Bradley, Phillippe, is the moral compass for the group. He takes it all in stride.

Throughout the movie, we see more of the battle and more of the tour. There is a wonderful balance. The story was extraordinary. The acting was par. The directing, well, I said it before, it was great. I also said the the movie was not what I wanted it to be. This is why. At the very end of the movie, we go back to the present to where the son of Doc is writing a memoir type book based on his father's life. his father is the one looking for someone in the beginning of the film. It became a Hollywood story. The father passes, the son is there to say good-bye, blah, blah, blah. I did not like the end of movie. I thought that it took away from the story itself.

Verdict: I was late to see this, so I recommend the rental of this film. It is a good film, but not what I was wanting it to be. It was one of the best movies I have seen this year though.