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.