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.